A New Star Trek for a New Generation

08-May-09 6:32 PM by
Filed under Reviews, Star Trek; 6 comments.

My father with his oldest and youngest sons

My father with his oldest and youngest sons

After years of cautious optimism, this is the week we've long lived and prospered for: the return of Star Trek to the silver screen. Much has changed in the seven years since the last film, including the cancellation of the TV series Enterprise, marking not only the end of a continuous 18-year run for the franchise on the small screen, but also a changing of the guard. A familiar cadre of talent had run Star Trek for decades — into the ground, some would say. The 2009 film, directed and produced by J.J. Abrams and starring mostly unknowns, could either invigorate or distort Star Trek. With my father (who introduced me to the show in 1987) and my oldest brother, we were there for last night's premiere. How did we — dedicated and casual Star Trek fans, young and old — react?

I'll answer for me: The first ten minutes had me in tears. That isn't hyperbole or dramatic effect; it's literal truth. This action-packed opening sequence is so tragic, yet so heroic; and what it does to the Star Trek universe is terrible, yet also elegant and necessary. This film is both a prequel and a reboot, documenting the first voyage of Kirk, Spock, and company — but it's not the same ship and crew we remember from 1966. There are differences, both subtle and profound, which the opening sequence makes possible, thus giving the creative team the leeway they need to make something both fresh and familiar.

Fans will find much to like here, such as in nods to Trek lore that don't feel forced, be it the death of a character or Chekov's accent. But there's more going on here than in the details, such as the recasting of the iconic crew. I found it surprisingly easy to accept fresh faces in roles that we've long identified with particular actors, and these newcomers' performances are mostly true to the characters as originally written, without being mockeries. Sulu, Chekov, and Scotty each get notable scenes; Bones and Uhura, a bit more. But this adventure is really about the young, brash Spock and Kirk. These aren't the older, wiser Starfleet officers we're accustomed to, yet I can imagine Chris Pine's Kirk acting and reacting just as William Shatner's Kirk would've under these circumstances.

More difficult to swallow are the earth-shattering alterations to the Star Trek universe. This is not Roddenberry's sandbox: it is dark and disturbing, with protagonists defined not by heroism as much as tragedy, whose victories are pyrrhic at best. For someone as immersed as I am in the details of this timeline, I'm disturbed to think of the ramifications this film has for everything that has come before. I just have to remind myself there are those charged with preserving Trek's heritage, and that nothing can take away my memories of those voyages.

As a Trekkie, I loved this movie, despite my conflicted feelings. That perspective aside, Star Trek is still a fantastic film. It has humor, conflict, breathtaking action sequences, space and hand-to-hand combat, and more. There several coincidences and inconsistencies, but what Star Trek has been immune to those? Certain liberties need to be taken not only to be freed from 40 years of backstory, but to still acknowledge it and tie it together into one neat package. It's astounding that a plot this complex and nuanced could've come from the same writing team that gave us the detestable Transformers, or the entertaining yet predictable Mission:Impossible III.

Despite an almost empty theater at last night's premiere, Star Trek seems to be doing well with both hardcore fans and newcomers to the franchise, if we can believe Rotten Tomatoes' 96% rating — the highest of any Star Trek movie. I can only speak from my Trekkie status, as I cannot excise the passion or knowledge that precludes that perspective. But I saw the film with a teenager who'd never seen any Star Trek before and who'd been attracted to this movie by the previews — a leap of faith which I found encouraging. When the credits rolled, he was quick to praise the film though, when pressed, admitted he found it "a bit" confusing.

If, unlike this next generation of Star Trek fan, you've been around the galaxy a time or two, this film may cause you the same turmoil it did me. I've loved this series for decades and, never found it to be stale, even after 716 episodes. The show's declining ratings, culminating in Enterprise being the first Star Trek since the original to be cancelled after fewer than seven seasons, indicate I was in the minority. For the franchise to live, Star Trek as we've known it must die, or at least evolve. I can see its spirit in J.J. Abrams' creation, and not just as a shadow of its former self, but as something cherished and integrated into something new. May this direction give us another 40 years of Star Trek, whatever shape it may take.

(The review ends here. For those who have seen the film and wish to discuss plot particulars, there are spoilers on the next page.)

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6 Responses to “A New Star Trek for a New Generation”

  1. Jake adds:

    My answers: I don't think Nero did know when Spock's ship was coming through. I think he was just waiting, knowing it'd have to show up eventually.

    And I think the answer to Kirk meeting Spock is that in both cases, there was a reason to put them on that planet or moon. It's apparently near Vulcan, so it was a place Nero could put Spock to watch the destruction, and the Enterprise was still near Vulcan when they needed a place to drop him.

    And the first black hole was outside the two ships, so they could pass through it. The second one was created inside Nero's ship itself, so the ship was falling in on itself. Even so, at the time I wondered why they were bothering to waste ammunition on it, and I decided it was to make sure it was destroyed and didn't reappear, damaged but with Nero still alive, somewhere else.

    My question: the drill shaft could be destroyed by a one-man ship's weapon. Doesn't Earth (didn't Vulcan) have any planetary defenses that could have managed that?

  2. Ken Gagne adds:

    Jake, thanks for these potential answers. Some thoughts in response:

    If Nero was just sitting there for 25 years, wouldn't someone have caught and stopped him by now? (And what was he doing attacking all those Klingon ships, anyhow?)

    I understand why Spock and Kirk were on the planet. But still, it's a BIG planet — the odds of them bumping into each other seemed unlikely.

    Your last question is a good one and something that occurred to me when I was watching the movie. Why didn't Earth take a more active role in stopping Nero's attack? Silly humans…

  3. Jake adds:

    At first I thought Nero went back into the black hole after the opening battle, then came back out again. But I'm not sure, and I didn't really follow the whole thing with the Klingon ships.

    And yeah, it was kinda lucky for Kirk to find the same cave Spock was living in. But you know if ST puts two friends on the same planet, they're going to run into each other.

    Speaking of that planet–what do those creatures eat in all that ice and snow when there isn't human prey around?

  4. Dain Neater adds:

    Just got back from seeing the movie. I enjoyed the heck out of it. I really like the old Star Trek and I really appreciate this fresh turn.

    One thing that really impressed me is how the people that put this film together managed to put a film together with all the special effects and somehow still give it a tone and spirit that I've not seen since the likes of Star Trek II and the early 80's Star Wars movies.

    It's an interesting concept… all this time travel has finally resulted in a universe askew. I look forward to this new reality, and will enjoy the old reality just as much.

  5. GeneD adds:

    I also enjoyed the new Star Trek movie, despite a few reservations. While I and some friends would have been happy if Gene Roddenberry's universe had continued moving forward from the point of Deep Space Nine, I understand the reason for going back to the best-know, archetypal characters and trying to open up 40 years of continuity.

    I agree that despite the importance of free will, Kirk and Spock Prime were fated to meet, thanks in part to younger Spock's bouts of illogic.

    After being damaged by the U.S.S. Kelvin, it may have taken a few years for Nero and company to repair their ship while waiting for Spock. They may have decided to avoid the Romulan Empire because then they'd have to answer to someone else, preferring instead to conduct raids in the Neutral Zone and on remote Klingon and Federation outposts, at least at first. I'm sure others will try to fill in the blanks, just as the Trek in-between comics have.

    I agree that the second black hole was created too close for Nero's damaged mining ship to properly pass through it. The problem with many of the Trek movies (vs. the more leisurely pace of the various television series) is that focusing on a villain and action comes at the expense of exposition, especially for newcomers to the long-running space opera franchise.

  6. Ken Gagne adds:

    After seeing this film a year ago today, I asked in my review: "Where was Nero for the 25 years after he destroyed the U.S.S. Kelvin? Shouldn't Starfleet have investigated whatever destroyed their ship? Did Nero completely escape notice all those years, just so he could wait for Spock — and somehow retain his crew for that purpose as well?"

    I finally watched the deleted scenes on the Star Trek DVD, which answer these questions. After the Kelvin crashed into Nero's ship, it was left inoperable, forcing Nero's surrender to the Klingon patrol that arrived shortly thereafter. Nero was a prisoner on Rura Penthe for the next two decades before escaping and reclaiming his ship and crew.

    So that's how it should've begun; see also how Star Trek should have ended.

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