Tonight my wife and I took in the latest entry in the Star Trek franchise, an attempt by Paramount Pictures to rebirth and reinvigorate a long running classic in television and cinematic science fiction. Previously I had seen the trailers for the film on television and had mixed feelings in connection with the possibility of seeing the film. Like any extended project, the various television series, and the films, have been of varying and uneven quality. As I’ve stated in previous posts, I am a long-time fan of the original Star Trek series from the late 1960s, and with these biases stated up front, I present the following reflections on the new film.
My primary concern with the new film was that it would be heavy on action, low on science fiction. Much that passes for horror and science fiction these days is better classified as action-horror (as in Underworld) or action-science fiction (like Transformers), rather than a more pure form of these genres (if there is such a thing). This doesn’t mean that such projects aren’t enjoyable, just that they represent a current marketing and storytelling trend. This is obviously a result of the need to have the most appeal to contemporary audiences, particularly younger movie viewers, who prefer action and special effects many times over substance. But in my view, one of the most appealing aspects of the fantastic, particularly science fiction, has been its ability to not only capture the imagination through action, adventure, and special effects, but also provoke thought and reflection. My concern with the new Star Trek was that it would be heavy on action and skimpy on storyline. If this were to take place Paramount would be taking a risk in that if this film is to be successful it must appeal not only to a new audience possibly unfamiliar with the original series, but also those longtime fans who are very familiar with the early mythos.
To the credit of Paramount, the director, and the screenplay writer, Star Trek strikes a balance between an emphasis on action supported by strong special effects, coupled with a good effort at connecting the current film to the characters and aspects of the original series. This had to be done carefully so as to avoid a cartoon appearance to the film. The last thing the Star Trek franchise needs is something akin to the relationship between the classic Looney Toons and Spielberg’s Tiny Toon Adventures for kids. Although action is an important part of this film, the producers recognized that one of the keys of Star Trek‘s success was the relationships between the characters developed over its initial three seasons, into years of syndication, and eventually through several feature films. The new film continues this process by taking the audience back to the beginning by introducing how each of the major characters came together at Star Fleet Academy, with an emphasis upon the relationship between Spock and Kirk.
But even with these commendable aspects the film is not without its difficulties. Before reading further I should warn the reader that what follows will include plot spoilers. The new film involves a familiar narrative device of time travel common throughout Star Trek’s various incarnations. This introduces elements in conflict with the original series, including the destruction of Planet Vulcan and the death of Spock’s mother. At the end of the film when the villain is destroyed, in part by suction into a black hole which also brought them into a timeline which resulted in the overarching storyline’s contradictions, I assumed all would be set to right as the alternative timeline and life stories of the characters on the Enterprise would be reset to those consistent with the original series. Not so. As the movie ends Vulcan is still destroyed leaving only a fraction of survivors, and Spock’s mother is still dead which will make it very difficult for her to appear in a “future” episode of the series in the franchise’s overarching storyline. Given that those who wrote the screenplay must be aware of this inconsistency my assumption is that the studio hopes this film will be successful and will lead to future films with this cast pursuing this alternative scenario, and in the future a storyline will be introduced that brings the film and the original series into harmony.
Beyond this major story problem other inconsistencies are present that may be noticeable only to Trekkers and those with a detailed familiarity with the Star Trek mythos. For example, Kirk’s first tour of duty out of Star Fleet is on the newly commissioned Enterprise, and yet episodes of the original series indicated that Kirk served on at least one other vessel before taking command of the Enterprise. In the new film Kirk and Spock serve under Captain Pike, who is promoted to Admiral at the end of the film. In the original series we learn that Spock served under Pike, but there is no indication Kirk ever did, and when Spock visits Pike in the two-part episode “The Menagerie,” he addresses Pike as Captain, not Admiral.
Another aspect of this film was a little wierd for me. In this alternative storyline Spock and Uhura have a romantic relationship, something never hinted at in the original series. In addition, this seems to be in conflict with the original series where it portrays Spock as having little interest in females apart from a seven year mating cycle. I’m all for Spock exercising his libido from time to time, but the relationship between Spock and Uhura in the new film seemed a little much in light of the original series.
Overall I’d give Star Trek a B-. It’s a good initial effort at revitalizing and reimagining the franchise. It has it’s problems, but it could have been a lot worse. And that’s saying something from a classic Star Trek fan. Perhaps this bodes well for a summer with lots of promise in science fiction cinema. Here’s to hoping that Terminator Salvation does as well, or better.