Friday, May 08, 2009

Not Your Father's Star Trek

So, my beloved Star Trek has been given a new, 21st century treatment this week in a new release by Paramount Pictures. I just got back from the showing, and, although it’s almost 0100 hours, feel compelled to put some of my thoughts down as I regurgitate the film in my mind.

Let me begin by saying that I enjoyed the movie very much. I went in with high expectations and wasn't disappointed - that’s a bonus (and is saying a lot for me). However, despite the fact that it was a truly great movie in and of itself, I have to say that the 2009 version of Star Trek, slightly offends the inner-Trekker in me. Yep, it's true... though, probably not in the way you think. I mean, never mind the fact that this movie offers the first-ever product placement in a Star Trek production, or that it features a poor performance from Eric Bana as the movie’s villain, Nero. I can overlook all of these things. It’s the fact that this movie radically alters the Star Trek universe to which I have become accustomed over the last 20 years that really gets to me. And what’s worse is that I kinda of liked it. Let me start with a few basic facts.

First, it’s no secret that the Star Trek franchise has been in trouble for the past decade or so. I admit this, despite the fact that I genuinely enjoyed the last television iteration, Enterprise, and fought hard to save it from cancellation. So even I, the most die-hard of fan, had to admit that things weren’t the same. Perhaps after 5 series, 10 movies, a cartoon and a gazillion episodes based on the same format, I knew something had to change if the overall concept was to survive.

Second, and I need to be honest and candid here (and let my true colors show at the same time), I loved the Trek universe. By that I mean I loved the so-called “canon”, or established back story that intertwines all of the Star Trek movies, television shows and books together. A canon where every fact or plot is checked for consistency against the other shows in the franchise. A daunting work for anyone willing to take on the creative task of writing for something based in this universe. And something that producer J.J. Abrams of the 2009 movie obviously felt was holding the show back from its potential, which is why he departed from it altogether. Had I been given a choice, I would have fought tooth and nail to make sure this quasi-religious canon was adhered to, strictly, in any future movie. But, because I wasn’t consulted, tonight’s film took me in directions I would have never allowed, or expected. The movie boldly went where no Trek movie has gone before… and you know, it wasn’t all that bad.


Third, as a Trekker, I feel somewhat obligated to support a large part of the fan-base that was utterly pissed off at this movie. Let’s be clear, not only does this movie depart from canon, it rips some of the accepted Star Trek universe to shreds. Vulcan is destroyed. Spock’s mother is killed. Fans of the show know that all of these things play major roles in the movies that are set after this prequel. How can you call a movie Star Trek when Spock’s homeworld is destroyed, yet is there again in older movies that are chronologically set after the events in this prequel? The answer – and this is pure genius because it is all too familiar to Trek fans – use a plot device that is so Trekkish, fans can’t possibly scoff at it: time travel.

Yep, this movie crushes the Star Trek we know, and creates something new using something that is entirely within the possibility of the canon, and at the same time, utterly frees any future writer from having to worry about canon again. In a nutshell, because Spock went back and time and altered the past, the future that we all accept as historical canon (bear with me, I know this is confusing) is wiped away. There can be 10 sequels to this movie that don’t have to worry about anything that went on in previous movies or television shows, because Abrams has created a brand new universe! I know, it poops on what we’ve come to love about the show, but did it by using the things that made the show so much fun to love: science fiction!

Can you see why I’m torn over this movie? It was fun, but it wasn’t Star Trek because it was Star Trek! Get it? Only a Star Trek show could take the viewer for such a ride, forcing him to abandon his preconceived notions and boldly take him on a strange, new mission!

But does the viewer have to go through this transformation alone? No! He has a cast of characters who were developed to phenomenal perfection for this movie. The old chemistry that exists between Kirk, Spock, Bones and Scotty are all here, easing the viewer into his new surroundings with stunning familiarity. The cast (with the exception of Bana) was positively fantastic. If we’ve lost everything else, we’ve gained a new depth to the characters that made Star Trek into one of the greatest franchises the entertainment world has ever seen. To see this cast work together in the spirit of Trek is worth the price of admission.

In the end, am I sad that history has been changed (or should I say, future)? Yes. I loved Vulcan. Yes, it hurts that there are only 10,000 Vulcans left in the universe down from 6 billion, and that their great civilization has been destroyed. I mourn them. I truly do. But to quote a true legend from the Star Trek universe, I need to keep some perspective and remember that in the end, “it’s just a TV show!” And let me tell you, once I did that, I truly enjoyed the picture for what it was – a great Star Trek movie!