STAR TREK: DARKNESS AHEAD

J.A. Fludd By J.A. Fludd, 16th May 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Reviews>Film & TV>Science Fiction

In anticipation of the release of Star Trek Into Darkness, a look back at the last Star Trek film and the present creative state of the Star Trek franchise: where Trek is now and where it needs to go, and what makes something truly "Star Trek".

STAR TREK: DARKNESS AHEAD

As I write this, we are entering the opening weekend of the movie Star Trek Into Darkness. And as I look forward to seeing the film, I have somewhat mixed thoughts about it. I will follow up this piece with a formal review, but for the moment I wanted to put down some impressions of the current creative state of this Star Trek that I have loved all my life.

At the end of the 2009 “reboot” of the Trek franchise, no one cheered more loudly than I did for the job that J.J. Abrams and company did in giving Trek a fresh start. In fact when I see Into Darkness I will continue my custom of applauding the name of Gene Roddenberry in the credits. I thought, and still think, that the new Star Trek is beautifully cast and beautifully, excitingly produced. But with time—it's been four years now—comes perspective, and while I still like the current iteration of Star Trek, I've been able to think a little more critically about it since that last film. I'm thinking this is still good stuff, BUT...

This is my own opinion and yours may vary, but I think the J.J. Abrams version of the Gene Roddenberry universe amounts to about two-thirds of what Star Trek really is. They are about 67 percent of the way “there”. What's missing? Well, let's see. They've got the characters down for sure. Chris Pine is not exactly William Shatner in personage, but he's all “Kirk” in attitude, the same brash, wenching swashbuckler of outer space. In fact I will go so far as to say that while Shatner defined Kirk, Pine is far sexier in the role. For our favorite Vulcan, we couldn't have asked for a better nouveau Spock than Zachary Quinto; he's practically “Leonard Nimoy Point 2.” And they're giving Zoe Saldana as Uhura a more substantial role than the beauteous Nichelle Nichols usually got. Everyone else is a perfect fit for his part, and every character is written exactly the way he or she ought to be. There's one third.

Next: the action. This is where the new Star Trek really excels. What we're given here is Star Trek reconfigured as a hard-driving Hollywood movie action piece: lots of chases, lots of fights and battles, lots of things blowing up, plenty of special-effects eye candy. It's visually rich and knows how to keep the old adrenaline pumping. It's Hollywood doing what Hollywood does best, and what Hollywood knows will get people into the cinema seats. Gene wanted Star Trek to be about exploration, both of ideas and of humanity itself. The corporate powers that run TV and the movies would only buy Star Trek when Gene pitched the idea as a space Western, because that's all they understand and that's all they think anyone else appreciates (even though the entire history of Star Trek has repeatedly proven them wrong). There's another third, and that's also where we come to the third that's missing.

Here is where they fall short: the core of what Star Trek really is. Gene always wanted Trek to be a “think piece.” It's about the exploration of the galaxy, and about humans going Out There and learning about what is Different From Us to gain a better understanding of what humanity is. I like to say Star Trek is about what the human race wants to be when it grows up. It is at its core a very intellectual, philosophical piece of work. And that's what we're not really getting from the “rebooted” Star Trek—yet. It wasn't present in the 2009 release, and the impression I'm getting from the first reviews of Into Darkness is that it's “sort of” there, but in a way that seems recycled and rehashed—perhaps even regurgitated—from previous films and episodes. It's as if Abrams and company could find a way to repackage and update everything about Star Trek but its essential mind and heart. And if the mind and heart are absent, is it really Star Trek? To me, that's a matter for debate. I'd say it's almost Star Trek, but not quite. One third of what Gene intended Trek to be is missing—and conspicuous by its absence.

If you're going to put the name Star Trek on a film, you need the characters and you need the setting—but you also need the mind and the heart. Otherwise you're not, in the parlance of Uhura's job, hailing on all frequencies. Star Trek is supposed to be smart. It's supposed to be thoughtful and thought-provoking. It's supposed to ask questions about humanity and the future and the universe around us. That's what it's really for. I'm nowhere near giving up on Star Trek. I have always considered it the single most meaningful thing that ever came out of Hollywood. I'm going to see the new film this weekend, and as I go I'm hoping to see a light at the end of this particular “Darkness”. I'll let you know what I think shortly.

Tags

Action, Battle, Cast, Film, Franchise, Future, Gene Roddenberry, Intellectual, Kirk, Philosophy, Reboot, Science Fiction, Spock, Star Trek, Uhura

Meet the author

author avatar J.A. Fludd
J.A. Fludd is a writer and artist in upstate New York specializing in comics and science fiction, and interested in entertainment and mass popular culture in general.

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