star trek into nowhere: an unreview

Though I never came close to reaching the peak of pointed-eared fandom seen in conventions, there was a time when Star Trek was, if not an obsession, than at least a pleasant passion. As Roddenberry’s concept changed from an iconoclastic and, above all, earnest science-fiction vision to a profitable franchise, that passion gradually weakened with each successive Trek series and movie not involving the original crew. Despite inevitable and often more than quibbling reservations about characters and storylines here and there, I did develop an affection for The Next Generation, once it grew into its own, as a vehicle for genuinely outstanding and humane science fiction – the first and last episodes of the series, for example, count among the best science fiction stories. Deep Space Nine started strong and collapsed into a distinctly un-Roddenberrian heap of militarism, cynicism, and religiosity. Voyager, though compelling on account of its premise and characters, often suffered from a lack of ambition and a lazy overreliance on time-travel or Borg stories. Enterprise held a lot of promise, although like many I had my suspicions about the viability of a prequel series. Still, the Trek show with the lousy theme song managed to be likeable on account of its characters even though its militaristic narrative arcs were contrived and unsatisfying.

If I were to sum up what it is I love about Star Trek in general, it would be the blend of speculative science fiction, human drama, and optimistic vision of the future (which wasn’t as Pollyanna-ish as many people seem to think). And while any individual Star Trek story might have been more strongly focused on character operatics than sci-fi concept,s these stories earned it because of a rich history of episodes that built up the Trek universe and made significant efforts at offering narratives that were, indeed, rooted in  high-concept speculative science.

This brings me to J.J. Abrams reboot, which left me unimpressed the first time around. Now we have a second, which I’m even less enthused about on the basis of this “official” synopsis:

When the crew of the Enterprise is called back home, they find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization has detonated the fleet and everything it stands for, leaving our world in a state of crisis. With a personal score to settle, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction. As our heroes are propelled into an epic chess game of life and death, love will be challenged, friendships will be torn apart, and sacrifices must be made for the only family Kirk has left: his crew.

Force of terror? Personal score to settle? Weapon of mass destruction? Sounds like the first film, which involved a force of terror (vengeful Romulan) with a personal score to settle (the death of his family and home planet) using a weapon of mass destruction (a time-travelling ship with devastating weapons). Setting aside the gorgeous production design and solid casting (characterizations notwithstanding), J. J. Abrams and his scriptwriters Orci and Kurzman entirely failed to deliver, in their first foray, an actual Star Trek film. Since the arguable failure of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the studio system has struggled to take Star Trek away from Roddenberry and, despite the sincere efforts of individuals committed to his vision if not his continued involved, finally found in J.J. Abrams the man capable of decisively clipping the Great Bird’s wings.

What he delivered was a story predicated on violence and destruction, delivered with style and special effects capable of deceiving audiences into thinking they watched a better movie than they had. And judging from the previews, synopses, and a few reviews, it seems like they’ve done it again with Star Trek Into Darkness. Once again, Hollywood proves itself the carnival barker that promises a classly striptease in the red velvet tent only to deliver a moonshine-soaked hoochie show instead.

However much I respect those who click with Abrams’ vision for Star Trek and wish them well in their enjoyment, I have no intention of watching Star Trek Into Darkness. Perhaps my impression of the film as yet another exercise in boldly going nowhere is wrong…however articles like this one by Spinoff’s Anna Pinkert suggest I’m not. We could debate the quality of the script writing (poor, in my opinion, and overly riddled with plot holes and inconsistent characterizations) and other aspects of the film, but ultimately I’m not interested because there’s little about this rebooted Star Trek that recalls to me what I loved about the original. Crucially, it’s not even a science fiction story, merely yet another plot about violence and aggression in an industry obsessed with exploiting violence and aggression for entertainment.


Catherine said...

Despite having had an industry screener of the first film in this series, it took about a year for me to get around to watching it. My trepidation was justified as I found it so contrary to everything I enjoyed about the original series, with all the beloved characters turned mere caricature. For all the talk of it being faithful to the original, I don't see it. So the likelihood of me seeing the next installation is remote.

However, that is our point of departure. I found Next Gen boring and juvenile and don't get me started on Voyager. On the other hand, I became a devotee of DS9 and Enterprise. The former dealt with the nature of otherness, the futility of militarism, and the existence of religion in an advanced technological era in very thoughtful ways. The more the show was run by Ira Steven Behr, the better it became. What I loved about Enterprise was the sense of aloneness, being out in the universe with no backup, no Federation, finding a way to dealing with our newfound place in the galaxy where we are the newbies on scene.

In any event, each of the TV series (and original cast films) addressed a specific attitude based on our place in the cosmos in which action was ancillary. Now action seems to be the sole raison d'etre.

Frederik Sisa said...

I enjoyed Enterprise, particularly Scott Bakula as a captain and Jeffrey Combs as the Andorian Shran; I just didn't think it lived up to the potential of its premise, and often suffered from mediocre writing. The fact that the showrunners put in the temporal cold war without knowing how the narratic arc would end exemplifies how directionless the show was.

DS9 started strong for me, then went downhill. There was no theme the show addressed that Babylon 5 didn't handle better...in my opinion. We all get different things out of any given show.

We do agree, however, on the point that Hollywood is compelled to make action the centerpiece of everything. And how anyone can think Abrams has been faithful to the original series is a mystery to me.

As always, thank you for sharing your perspective. Much appreciated, Catherine!