Cate and I finally went to see Star Trek on Memorial Day. I had been lokking forward to it for a while, and I was hopeful — it has gotten pretty good reviews. But I wasn’t going in blind I wanted to see it live up to the billing.
The Star Trek franchise has had some issues lately. The last movie (Nemesis) came out in 2002 and, while I thought it was underrated, I’ll be the first to admit it’s been a while since I found myself really impressed. First Contact was, I think, the last really excellent film, and that came out in 1996. So, it’s safe to say that if Star Trek was going to keep going, it needed something big.
I don’t think it pulled it off.
I’m sure there will be sequels. This is clearly a setup movie, and it’s already made a ton of money, but, and here comes the nerd part, I don’t think it was much of a Star Trek.
Four things have contributed to my being an embarrassingly large Star Trek fan:
1. It’s character based, not story based. More than any other sci-fi movie or franchise, Star Trek has always been about the people. Yes, they are in outer-space, but they are still human (or half-human) and they still have human stories. I like that. I like that it isn’t usually your standard “defeat the bad aliens” kind of thing. Or, at least, that when it is, there is more going on under the surface.
2. It’s like Shakespeare, but in outer space. Really, it is. I don’t know what else to say about it, but go watch The Wrath of Khan or The Undiscovered Country and tell me it isn’t Shakespearean.
3. It isn’t afraid to tackle issues. And, generally, it does it pretty tastefully. Star Trek has always been very, very good at pointing out something relevant in society and then sort of letting you look at it. It’s been a head of the curve on race, sexuality, and host of other issues.
4. There is always a sense of discovery. Or almost always. Sure, there are bad guys and whatnot, but almost always there is also something new that hasn’t been seen before in this fictional universe. This one in particular was important in hooking me as a child.
So, how does the new one do?
1. Character based? No, not really. Mostly because it tried to introduce us to too many characters, even Spock and Kirk who, theoretically have pretty compelling story lines don’t come off as characters so much as cliches. In the old films, the characters were often archetypes, but there is a difference between and archetype and a cliche.
2. Shakespeare? Maybe. I mean, there is sure as hell a lot of death, but where as in the old films, the emotions were wonderfully complex and the characters conflicted, here it’s just sort of basic revenge/quest for power stuff without any of the mess that makes Shakespeare and the old Trek so good.
3. Issues? Nope. Nowhere. No discussion. Not even close.
4. Discovery? Maybe a little, but nothing that fills you with wonder, and discovery never seems to be the object, which is disappointing.
Finally, I have to point out that there are big problems with the story. Sure, the old Trek would take some scientific leaps, but this one goes so far that there a times when everyone in the audience knows enough about black holes. for example, to understand that much of what happens isn’t even remotely theoretically possible. Additionally, elements of the human story are totally unbelievable. I won’t get to deeply into it except to say that absolutely nothing explains the ending beyond a need to make everything set up nice and neat for future films.
Did I enjoy it? Yeah, I did, but there is nothing to distinguish it from any other science-fiction blockbuster. There is no aspiration, and that, more than anything, is a disappointment.