5.12.2009

Why I hated (and loved) Star Trek

Everyone knows when it comes to Star Trek; I am by far the biggest authority and fan among the circle of people I know. I’ve seen each episode of each of the five series and all of the movies. I know Star Trek, its history, its planets, its people and its culture. That being said, I obviously have some pretty major things to say about a new Star Trek movie. So without delay, here it is… You’ve been hitting my website hourly to see it. I’ve finally compiled my thoughts on the new Star Trek movie. It’s less of a review than it is just random rants and musings. But be warned… If you haven’t seen the movie, I will ruin it for you. Here is the customary and required by internet law…

*SPOILER ALERT!*

If you’re still reading this, you’ve already seen the movie or don’t care if it’s ruined for you. Here we go.

Let me start by saying I understand the need to reboot Star Trek. It had been failing for a while. Rick Berman, the man in charge after Gene Roddenberry’s passing, was hard at work digging a shallow grave for the franchise. A franchise I’ve invested a lifetime of memories into. Literally a lifetime. Re-runs of original Trek were on TV from the time I was old enough to comprehend. The first movie I saw in the theater was Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan, and cringed as a child when “they put creatures in our bodies”. I saw the movie at a drive–in theater no less; something that should’ve never gone away, but that’s a point for another rant. In my mind the movies were all good, except for the first one, great story, but executed a little boringly (is that a word?) When Star Trek - The Next Generation appeared, I was semi-interested, but not enough to catch it when it started. I just HAPPENED to catch it a few episodes into the first season, and became hooked immediately. Like the original Trek, they were just great stories and great characters that grew on you and with you.

Deep Space Nine appeared a few years later, which bored me at first but refreshed itself by season 4 and is still known to this day as my favorite Trek series. Never as well received as Next Generation by the masses but is by far the finest Star Trek story ever told, and really took the Trek universe as far as you could take it. I’m convinced that the reason Deep Space Nine was so successful, was because Rick Berman was hard at work on the next Trek series, Voyager. He made that show his baby, which shows because I thought it was terribly lame, leaving Deep Space Nine in much more capable and creative hands. Rick Berman’s problem is he’s an “idea” man, but not a “follow-through” man. He conceived the idea of Deep Space Nine, which struggled in its first couple seasons under Berman. As soon as production on Voyager began, Deep Space Nine became an amazing series. Meanwhile Voyager bounced around uncharted space, meeting aliens I didn’t care about and never really stopping to develop its characters at all. Star Trek is a very character-driven series. If you don’t care about the characters, there’s no show. On Voyager, there were Borg in high heels, little Borg children, a captain who I could never respect because she stranded her crew across the galaxy for personal reasons in the pilot episode, and really weak adversaries and poorly conceived characters. Meanwhile on Deep Space Nine, The very survival of Starfleet and the Federation are threatened as they fight on the losing side of a full scale war with the Dominion. Which sounds more exciting?

Berman’s next abortion was Enterprise. By this point he’d driven the franchise so far into the ground that they didn’t even want to put “Star Trek” in the title for fear of lost ratings. No matter though, the show was perfectly capable of losing ratings on its own. It was supposed to be the beginnings of Starfleet before Kirk’s time, but again, we have poorly conceived characters bouncing around with aliens I don’t care about. This is the birth of Starfleet man!! Show Klingons! Show the founding of the Federation! They finally got to the business at hand in season four, but by then it was too late, the show was cancelled. Around this time the final two Star Trek movies, (starring the Next Generation cast) Insurrection and Nemesis, came and faded from memory fast. It was unfortunate, but Star Trek was dead.

Here comes the new movie! Everyone’s hopes are on board, Rick Berman is nowhere to be found and KABOOM! The movie is number one, beating out Wolverine, which just premiered last week. A Star Trek Movie, at number one. How did that happen?

I’ll tell you…

This movie panders to the masses, AS WELL AS the Trek fans (by the way, I do not refer to fans as “Trekkie” or “Trekker” let’s leave that to people with time to argue what they’re called, I call us “fans”). Oh there are tidbits mixed in for fans to be sure, they know their history well, but it’s a sci-fi action flick, it doesn’t feel like a Star Trek movie, and that’s what makes it so accessible. Anyone can watch this and be compelled by its story and characters. But there is nothing nerdy about this movie. There’s very little techno-babble, and everything is laid on the table and explained. The sound effects and music are different. The bridge looks like an Apple store, and is littered with not viewscreens, but windows to the outside with heads-up displays. Pretty cool modern technology that should’ve always been on the bridge of the starship, but always being tied to the original, these additions were never made. This was a good refresh to make to the bridge sets.

First the bad… TIME TRAVEL! STOP USING TIME TRAVEL! I HATE IT! Time travel is a lazy man’s crutch. We can’t think of a way to make these things happen, so let’s use time travel. There had to be a better way to reboot the franchise than to destroy two major planets. When I say major planets, I don’t mean Betazed or Bajor or Telor or Andor, or even a Klingon mining moon... I mean VULCAN AND ROMULUS. Both gone! Just like that! Vulcans and Romulans are two of the most important aliens in Star Trek, right up there with Klingons. Yeah they’re gone now. Well the Romulans aren’t gone yet, but they will be (again, time travel). WTF I say! WTF?! I sat in the theater with my wife and Dilip and cursed the movie as it ended for doing this. And this is why I waited until now to write down my thoughts, I wanted to allow time to process it all. I’ve since seen the movie a second time. I still don’t like the WAY the series was rebooted, but I understand the NEED to do it. I just think there was a better way than using time travel to create an alternate reality where these events take place. I was promised the origin of the original series cast. What I got was their origin, in an alternate reality, not their REAL origin. I want to see THAT origin. Was the REAL origin not exciting enough for me to see? I guess it’s not exciting if Kirk’s dad doesn’t die saving the crew of the U.S.S. Kelvin. I guess it’s not exciting if Vulcan isn’t destroyed by a vengeful Romulan. Either connect it to the events of the future, or don’t! This movie sits on the fence in an alternate reality, afraid to do either.

HOWEVER…

To be fair on the movie, we Star Trek fans are a tough lot to please. What other way was there to make an exciting Trek movie where you can do the things you want while not messing with Trek history that we hold so dear? Create an alternate reality I guess. I’m not happy with some of the events that took place and I thought there must be a better way, but since I can’t think of it, I have to accept what’s happened. The only way I’m able to accept it is through a throwaway line by Uhura who recognizes these events have created an alternate reality. This is the writer nodding to me, the Trek fan that “Hey, the Star Trek you love is still alive and well out there, but we’re going to tell this story now. We cool?” Yeah… I guess we’re cool. But I still miss Vulcan.

Now the good… First the characters. Awesome, each and every one. Some of the actors chose to emulate their predecessors. Karl Urban is a good example. He was just bitter with a scowl on his face the entire movie. The perfect McCoy. Chris Pine’s Kirk was not William Shatner’s Kirk, but he was a fine interpretation. I hear a lot of people ripping on him, but I didn’t have a problem with him. One of his shining moments was cheating on the Kobayashi Maru exam we’d heard about in Star Trek II. Munchin’ on an apple in the captain’s chair with that same smirk he had in Star Trek II as he munched on a different apple and recounted the events to a young Lieutenant Savvik. Zachary “Sylar” Quinto did a great Spock interpretation as well. Although they didn’t really get the Kirk, Spock, McCoy dynamic down just yet, but again to be fair, the characters all just met. We got some great classic lines, “Dammit man, I’m a Doctor, not a…” and “I’m givin her all she’s got captain!” We also got to see the death of a no-name red shirt on an away team, and Kirk gets it on with a green chick.

I liked the updated look of the Enterprise itself. They sleeked it up a bit and added some curves, making it look less “model on strings” like. I already mentioned the bright bridge and heads up displays. Like I said, a nice refresh.

The villian, Nero was played by Eric Bana. I liked the fact that he was a simple Romulan miner, nothing grand or amazing about him. Just a miner whose wife and child were killed and he’s “troubled”. He doesn’t waste time or words, just yells a lot and gets to the point “Hi Christopher, I’m Nero” is my favorite line, he’s just no-nonsense. BUT, the movie didn’t really need him. I sometimes enjoy the threats with no face, like the probe from Star Trek IV. The characters were enough to drive the movie. And his character was a bit inconsistent; at the beginning of the movie he was content to sit and be ominous and let his underlings speak for him, and later he was doing everything himself.

Overall I’d say I liked it, I’ll buy it when it comes out on Blu-Ray. And if I was in the mood for a Star Trek Movie, I’d watch this one before I watched Star Trek Nemesis. I have some major problems with time travel and destroying of major Star Trek worlds, but this is the new “alternate” version that I must accept. It also didn’t need Leonard Nimoy. He wasn’t bad in it; but I was fine with the new actors. But despite the weak story, it made up for it with compelling scenes, great characters and cool sci-fi action. It was not the Star Trek I remember, it didn’t feel like Star Trek, but by the end of the movie, it had convinced me I WAS watching Star Trek. My wife reads Entertainment Weekly and tells me these actors signed on for two sequels. I’ll definitely be interested to see those. Sure I had some major issues with this movie, but as long as the sequels use these characters properly it can only go up from here.

I’ve found myself watching a lot of original Trek lately so if nothing else; it seems the movie succeeded in bringing Star Trek back to life in my mind. Go check it out. Even non-Trek fans. You won’t hate it. I’ve also been listening to the soundtrack in my Jeep. I especially enjoy this track

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