Star Trek Sunday: The Reboots

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I am on record in several locations as saying that I am not a fan of the Star Trek reboots. I want to be. I really do. Anything that puts the words Star Trek on the front of its name has my intention, and if it has even some redeeming qualities, I will probably enjoy it.

And I have enjoyed parts of the reboot movies. They each had their moments.

As a matter of fact, if we look at the first of the splinter timeline movies, way back in 2009, I enjoyed most of the first half of the film. The casting was excellent, and while I didn’t like the arrogant douchebag they turned Kirk into, that arrogant douchebag still had the best interest of his crew at heart, though he had to learn that about himself.

But about halfway through the movie, things started to fall apart. Not going to go in detail with all of the problems I had with it (I’ve done that elsewhere, and here’s the link if you like), but the second half of was full of weak/bad writing and contrived bits of plot designed to lead us by the nose to the conclusion that the writers wanted. Writers. It took more than one person to come up with this script.

The second movie had similar issues, but in a bigger way. It suffered from many of the same weaknesses in writing to a larger degree and from much earlier in the film. In general, it had insufficient respect for either the original source material or the fan base and that made it a failure on almost every storytelling level.

The third film was… okay. Not great, but okay. When I left the theatre with a solid ‘meh’ in my heart, I had to admit it was better than the first two but I wasn’t sure it was going to be enough to save the franchise. It’s been four years, less a month, and there’s been no real movement (beyond vague threats of horrible script ideas, that someone is interested or maybe is the director) to make it happen, making it seem likely this run is dead outside of novels and comics.

But my biggest problem with the new movies doesn’t come down to any individual flaw in the films themselves. Rather, my issue is the overall concept of the films. Wherever you look, wherever Star Trek was good, it was about ideas. Sometimes precise, sometimes vague ideas, but large or small, Star Trek needs things to think about, things to explore. Star Trek 2009, Into Darkness, and Beyond all fail on this basis. They’re not about ideas, they’re about action, explosions, and lens flares (especially the first two), and the good guys beating the bad guys.

That’s all. There’s no thought, there’s no doubt, there’s no real struggle to be more than we are, there’s no big idea or dream or concept to make us think about or reconsider some part of the human experience or how we view the world and the universe.

And I find the new films tremendously disappointing as a result.

After the first movie, I had many glowing things to say. The casting, the acting, the visuals, the aesthetic in general were all awesome. The writing failed miserably. My one wish, my one desire was that the writing team would do better next time. Well, they made me wait four years, and not only did they not do better, they did a lot worse.

There were some (not many) awesome things about Into Darkness: the opening sequence was worth the price of admission, and the Klingons had so much potential. But there were too many things that didn’t make sense, and the emotional impact of Kirk’s death scene doesn’t work. Originally, Kirk and Spock had been in our consciousness for more than 15 years and longer, with 79 episodes for us to experience them. They’d been through a lot together seen a lot of things, done a lot of things. They were friends with that decade and a half of history. They both knew it and we felt it every time they were on screen together. When Spock flips out over Kirk’s death in Into Darkness, the new duo have had barely 3 hours of screen time, and most of it hasn’t been together. They haven’t earned the emotional reaction from the audience the writers thought they should get by reversing things, not nearly to the same level, and the scripts we’ve seen them in didn’t help that.

Into Darkness was a failure, and my plea remained the same to the writers: do better. In fact, it was such a failure in my eyes that the next movie was going to be my last one if it didn’t.

Beyond was better, if not quite good. Mediocre, middle of the road, adequate. The ideas weren’t quite there, though we started to get back to some fundamentals of inclusion and understanding. IDIC. But the action-adventure aspect was still the primary goal of the film. It was a science fiction action movie with Star Trek trappings and just a hint of what things could be. It wasn’t really a Star Trek movie. None of the three of them are.

There is a lot to like about the reboots, and so much more to not like.

And yet…

I have to consider them a success on some level. Not commercially, that’s a given (well, almost – Beyond didn’t make nearly as much as it should have as a 50th anniversary movie, but if you hadn’t known 2016 was the 50th anniversary, you wouldn’t have from the marketing campaign). Because if you’re not a commercial success, you don’t get to keep going.

But they are success in one way. They’ve brought more people into the Star Trek universe. Some people who have never encountered Star Trek before are enjoying, on some level, the universe as presented by Abrams and crew. It’s flashy and exciting, even if it doesn’t always make sense. People get to the end of Into Darkness or Beyond and ask, now what? And some of them find the original series of Star Trek. And some of them find the other series. And some of those watch just the right episode or just the right character to hook them.

And Star Trek fandom grows.

Considering that Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future, as seen through Star Trek, was one where we grow up, figure things out, make things better, I can’t imagine that he would be all that happy with the new version of the franchise. It would be hard for me to blame him, it’s so far removed from the original vision.

But I do think he’d be happy that more people are being led by it to that original vision. And I think he’d be happy that, fifty years on, now 54, it’s still a growing phenomenon.

Live long and prosper.

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