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Star Trek 2.0 – Does It Work?

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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.

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There are 11 Comments to "Star Trek 2.0 – Does It Work?"

  • Cory Gross says:

    I don’t know if you read that famous interview with the writer where he kept going on and on about quantum theory and assorted gobbledygook. It was mostly nonsense except for one line of win. In addressing the issue of how the original timeline and the new one could coexist as quantum parallels, he used the example that when this film is released everyone’s DVDs of the original Star Trek will still exist.

    I don’t think “restoring the timeline” is their major concern ^_~

  • Ken Brown says:

    I think the idea is that the black hole sent Spock and Nero not merely into their own past, but into an entirely different timeline, a la “Mirror, Mirror.” This gives the writers the freedom to explore these beloved characters all over again without having to worry about continuity. Personally, I like that idea, as it means that anything could happen: things don’t have to (and probably won’t) turn out the same as they did in the original timeline, so we can’t know in advance that everything will be alright.

    What bothers me about this new Trek is not the continuity issue, but the impression that they are replacing substance with image. There was a lot of action and CGI–and it was certainly exciting and beautiful–but there was very little story or theme. In fact, the plot was marked more by coincidence than anything else, and every time they approached an important issue–destiny vs. free will, logic vs. faith, revenge, genocide–it was quickly pushed aside in a rush to the next battle.

    The characters carried the film, and for now I’m content with that, but I really hope they can find some more intellectual depth for the next installment.

  • admin says:

    Cory and Ken, thanks for the thoughts on black holes and quantum gobbledygook. I figured there had to be something this going on to free up a little storyline creativity. Still, I prefer a little more continuity in my overall story arches. It will be interesting to see how well this is received, and what future installments may hold for the franchise. Hopefully a little mroe substance will surface.

  • Cory Gross says:

    Continuity is a sticky wicket.

    On the one hand it’s a testimony both to a franchise’s capacity for sustaining a lengthy narrative and for it’s ability to engender a fan base that cares about it enough to have that concern. Related to something else entirely, I watched an interview with Jeff Burke – the Imagineer who developed the Phantom Manor at Disneyland Paris – where he was telling fans to get over trying to make a story out of the ride. I thought he underestimated how much these fans loved it enough to try.

    On the other hand, I’ve learned an important lesson in the last few years of watching GALAXY EXPRESS 999 and DOCTOR WHO about not letting continuity interfere with telling a good story. I had some seeds of it before too… Trekwise, the flat- vs. ridged-foreheads on Klingons never was an issue, and the “explanation” Worf gave in DS9 was entertaining and good enough for me. It wasn’t something I ever felt required an in-continuity answer.

    I think the point for me where that all implodes is where continuity is ignored for the sake of sloppiness. That was the whole fault of ENTERPRISE… They kept spitting in the face of continuity in a show that was supposed to fit into continuity in order to tell stories that just plain sucked. The only times they ever managed to nail it was the primiere and the body of the fourth season.

    I haven’t seen the new Trek yet, and I’m a bit mixed on the whole idea. I had thought that the progress towards it told the creators something, but I’m not sure. Basically, it starts with ENTERPRISE and people getting excited about returning to the original series setting, aliens, concepts, etc. but with modern production values. ENTERPRISE blew it for the most part, until they brought on Manny Coto who understood what it was supposed to be. Thus the fourth season delivered in spades: Augments, flat-headed Klingons, Mirror Universe, Tholians, Gorn, uniting the four founder races against the Romulans, Terra Prime… Too little too late, so they move on to updating the original series with new effects, and it was great. There was a little disconnect between the old sets and the new space scenes, but I was satisfied.

    Then they announce a movie that theoretically fused the two: the “origin story” of the original series. Sure they changed the costumes and sets and look of the ship, but so what? Flat- vs. ridged-foreheads. Big deal. But now we’ve got time travel and planets getting blowed up and everything else and it’s giving flashbacks of the Temporal Cold War. And if it’s in-continuity, where the Hell is Starfleet Temporal Investigations? They’ve delt with less important changes to the timestream in regular episodes.

    The last part is being pedantic, but it’s hearkening to my belief that if they wanted to reboot it, they should have just rebooted it. Ultimate Star Trek. Cool. However, I haven’t seen it yet and maybe it’ll stand up once I do. I am planning on seeing it and it’s the first Trek show that my girlfriend has actually wanted to have anything to do with, so I guess that’s a point in favor ^_^

  • xTc says:

    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.

    You must have missed the part where the red matter mixed with the energy of the sun. They said that the red matter had the potential to create black holes, then mixed with the energy of the sun that black hole formed a worm hole.

    At the end when spock annihilates the ship, there is no sun energy so it just forms a black hole, essentially ripping apart the ship.

    Please, if you’re going to criticize at least understand what’s going on in the story.

  • XTC, I am very familiar with the story’s plot, which I mentioned in my post, and thus am well aware as to the alternative timeline issues and why they are there. The next time you critique a critic please try to do so more courteously and read the original post more carefully before offering your thoughts.

  • Eric says:

    I liked it, and I am a HUGE Star Trek fan. I am much more impressed with this movie then I was with “Enterprise”. Your timeline of Kirk serving on the Farragut is out the window if that ship is destroyed in the first moments of the film. Timeline changes, everything is fair game. Their are a couple of notebable problems that should not have been affected by the convient time thingy. Like Kirks OLDER brother not existing at all!

    Also, if you could use “story arches” more in your posts and responses that would be great. I just don’t think society as a whole uses that phrase enough.

    Cheers

  • Lester says:

    This stupidity is the typical example of what you should not do in Science Fiction. It does not respects what science fiction MUST respect. The science in SF is very important. But also, the movie is totally inconsistent with itself. The bad guy who attacks those who tried to help him, who has the possibility of preventing the destruction of its planet but prefers to wait for a hypothetical vengeance etc…. The Vulcans transformed into racists, a down-market humor, promotions which fall of the sky, the federation transformed into cowboys etc… etc… the list is very, very long…

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