Friday, April 24, 2009

I Guess I Need to Talk about Star Trek

No doubt you've heard the news.

I mean, the early reviews are everywhere!

Star Trek - the franchise-reboot film from director J.J. Abrams - is good. Real good.

OK, my hopes are now definitely up. My expectations are very high. And when that happens there isn't usually a good pay-off.

I'm a big fan of classic Star Trek--the original Enterprise, Kirk, Spock, etc. I love the original series and the films (Star Trek V, excepted). But I have always been leery of a prequel film, one that goes back to show us the early years of the characters we know so well. I have no doubt that Abrams' new movie is slick and exciting and contains edge-of-your seat thrills. I have no doubt that we will have two hours of great fun, that we will get our money's worth. I just hope we also get Star Trek.

What do we need?

  1. A good science fiction story. There has to be some high-concept idea at play--not just a plot featuring a villain who attacks the Federation and tries to kill Kirk. Good Star Trek always has a sense-of-wonder. Even the much-maligned Star Trek: The Motion Picture had a solid SF tale at its core.
  2. A depth of character. The early promotions feature a hot-headed Kirk and a stuck-up Spock. OK, fine, these characters need to start somewhere and we want to see them grow and change. But Kirk has to be smart and Spock has to feel. And they have to become true friends--characters who come to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each other. (Alright, that may be too much for one short film, but there has to be some element of this at play.)
  3. A mission statement. That's right, a mission statement! Right from the start, Star Trek told us what is was about: "To explore strange new worlds . . . to boldly go where no man has gone before!" That is the essence of Star Trek--to see what is beyond the horizon, to embark on a journey of discovery in a galaxy full of wonder and risk. I fear that the new film may forget this critical aspect of Star Trek, that it may be too concerned with a good-versus-evil plot and therefore become too . . . earthbound. It appears that the threat in the film comes at Kirk as he is thrust into events beyond his control. This is typically the way Star Trek films work. Even the great Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan followed this pattern: Kirk was pulled into a conflict he did not go looking for. In fact, after the first film (which closely followed the promise of the original series) the Star Trek movies became more about heroics than about exploration. The crew was always "saving the day" rather than seeking out new worlds. OK, films are different from television. The Star Trek mission statement described the series as a whole, not necessarily each individual episode. Still, I long for a return to the promise of Star Trek: the wonder of exploration and the thrills that came with it.
I'm sure I will like the new film. After all, I've never seen so many rave reviews, even from die-hard fans of Star Trek. But I am worried that a really good, fast-paced action film will be mistaken for good Star Trek.

I will be expecting a lot from the movie. And I will bring with me my checklist of "What makes Star Trek, Star Trek."

Expect to hear back from me.


  1. I dunno, for my money, I thought there was maybe too much old Star Trek in there. But maybe that's because I always end up feeling cheated/robbed whenever (spoiler alert?) they use a time-travel based plot-line. I mean: either its hard and rare, and no one can do it, but maybe 1 person in a billion, and only once in a lifetime, or its easy and we've figured it out, and everyone can do it.

    On the other hand I guess this gives us a whole new timeline and reality to explore. And whenever anyone shouts "that's not consistent with episode XXX", they can just say: "its an alternate reality because of such and such"

    Best wishes,
    Tom M.

  2. I just posted my review of Star Trek. I liked it very much. I still pine for that old-fashioned sense-of-wonder, but I'm happy with what we have. But no more time travel.