Like everyone else, I was totally excited about the new “Star Trek” movie. After a hiatus of several years, it’s great to see “Star Trek” back in any form. And I’ll admit that I was skeptical. Sure, J.J. Abrams is great, but some of his stuff has, how do I put it, not really followed the tenets that Gene Roddenberry had in mind when he created the Enterprise and its crew. And I’m one of those who doesn’t feel like there’s anything wrong with the way “Star Trek” was before--Utopian, non-violent, optimistic. Not dark.
NOTE: SPOILERS AHEAD. DO NOT CONTINUE IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW. SERIOUSLY.
With that intro, I‘ll now say, yes, I loved the new movie. I never got the Kirk (Chris Pine) being a hottie idea until now. The half-formed fears I was fostering about Abrams “modernizing” the show did not materialize, and for that I’m grateful. The story was interesting; the bad guy was more compelling than some of the usual enemies-of-the-week you see that aren’t really suited for big-screen status. He’s not the Borg, but he’s okay. I got a kick out of all the right things--Bones’ (Karl Urban) first “I’m not a ….I’m a doctor.” Spock’s (Zachary Quinto) first “Fascinating.” All that “origins” stuff (Kirk meets Scotty! Chekov’s crazy Russian accent! Sulu’s fighting skills! Christopher Pike! The glimpse of Leonard Nimoy, the first strains of the original theme song) that is meant to be funny, and thrilling, and to kickstart the hearts of fans. I reacted correctly to all those things.
I even thought the whole premise, in which the bad guy’s (Eric Bana) coming into the past and wreaking havoc in Federation space causes an alternate reality, was a rather clever way of explaining why the movie departed from “Star Trek” canon. There’s very little technobabble, and what there is actually advances the plot. This is one of those movies where you don’t have to think much. Some of the performances are really excellent--Simon Pegg as Scotty and Karl Urban as Bones stand out.
But, I don’t love the new movie unreservedly. There are faults. My husband calls it J.J. Abrams’ attempt to be Michael Bay--too many explosions, heart-pounding action and heart-wrenching mass disasters; plot holes you could drive a truck through; some fairly obvious audience kowtowing. For one thing, if you’re a scifi fan you can’t miss the blatant tributes to “Star Wars.” In one scene, Kirk lands on a planet that looked so much like Hoth I kept expecting Tauntauns and Wampas to come bounding over the snowy hills. And the bad guy’s cavernous spaceship, an organically-designed “Babylon 5”-ish behemoth, just happened to have all kinds of high, intersecting walkways that would give the framers of the American with Disabilities Act nightmares for a decade--just like these Imperial ships I know. Perfect for fight scenes with people falling from one level to another.
In one scene on the ship, the bad guys utilize a bug that made me want to yell “Khan!“ And again, though I thought it was quite good the way Kirk was in one sentence catapulted from persona non grata to First Officer, it was still a “huh?” moment blatantly designed to put him in his right place. I didn’t buy the byplay between Spock and Uhura (Zoe Saldana)--didn’t seem “logical” to me, even though his reason clearly had a weak spot when it came to her (although I admit I'm biased--I mainly wanted to see Kirk kiss Uhura for nostalgia reasons). And does Earth have no defense system at all except for some vaguely-referred-to codes that every random starship captain apparently knows?
Here’s the thing. I love “Star Trek,” and the movie was everything it should be. It was better than previous “Trek” films, without a doubt. It was an exhilarating ride, and every time you’re introduced to a character or situation you know fits into the world you feel a little thrill inside. There’s no doubt in my mind it’ll please fans and newbies alike, and I plan to see it again. It re-starts the series with style.
“Star Trek” is the original, the show that started it all. Fandom wouldn’t be the same without it. It is arguably the most important scifi show--even TV show--in history. Our TV landscape wouldn’t be the same without it, and part of me feels sad that such a show has to be “re-imagined” at all to fit with “contemporary” sensibilities, in order to be interesting or “good enough.” “Star Trek” is larger than life in a way that few franchises will ever become. And it deserves that.
And having said this, the ideas and philosophies and worlds postulated by “Star Trek” do seem a bit dated, just by virtue of their originality. We’ve taken those ideas and run with them, exhausted them in a myriad of different scenarios all influenced by “Trek.“ In a way I feel that what made “Star Trek” the institution that it is, can’t survive a re-start. And shows that are truly innovative today have, by definition and by necessity, surpassed “Star Trek”’s accomplishments. “Star Trek” made shows like “Babylon 5” and “Firefly” and “Battlestar Galactica” possible.
Ultimately, if you’re going to stay true to Gene Roddenberry’s vision, there are certain directions that “Star Trek” can’t go in. And that’s as it should be. “Star Trek” may still have the ability to entertain audiences, but this movie seems to prove it no longer has the ability to provide daring new ideas and situations. After 43 years, it doesn’t need to. Everything about “Star Trek” is a “favorite.“ We have favorite episodes, favorite characters, favorite moments, favorite planets, favorite bad guys. But some of us do yearn to experience the excitement of something almost totally new, the discovery of something no one has figured out yet. When “Firefly” aired, many of us got that thrill. That is something “Star Trek” can no longer offer us. It's too much of an institution now, an ingrained worldview with engraved ideas. So while I can unreservedly say that I loved the new “Star Trek” movie, I will also keep on the lookout for the next new thing in the tradition that “Star Trek“ pioneered, a TV show that breaks the boundaries in bold new ways and truly goes where no one has gone before.