Monday, May 18, 2009

I Didn't Like STAR TREK (Spoilers Included)

No, I don't think the new STAR TREK movie is a ripoff of STAR WARS. But you have to admit the comparison is funny.

I feel like a dinosaur for not liking the movie, but also like I'm the only guy who can't see the emperor's snazzy new outfit. I'd heard a lot of good things about the movie, but mostly from people who think the original series (TOS) was "cheesy."

I had no problem with most of the changes from the original, like the crew knowing each other from the academy. The destruction of theVulcan homeworld was disappointing, because we'll never get to explore their unique culture as in episodes like "Amok Time." I didn't even need the alternate timeline explanation; I would've embraced a good reboot. It's a great fun action movie - but it isn't STAR TREK.

TOS wasn't an action show: it was a drama with enough action to satisfy the network executives who thought it was "too cerebral." Reflecting the Kennedy era's optimism and its space acheivements, it featured "mature adults solving problems in a reasonbale manner, usually cloaked around a parable about the cold war or racism or dealing with the changing forces within society. The characters acted and interacted in a believable way, akin to real officers in command of an aircraft carrier."(1)

That's exactly what was missing. TOS was Roddenberry's philosophy in action. I had hopes that in the Obama era, we'd get something similar. Instead we get a super villain and an action film. TOS had no super villains and very seldom solved problems by blowing things up (They even dealt with Khan peacefully!) JJ Abrams is a competent creator of universes on LOST and FRINGE; I'd rather he'd developed his own space movie without tarnishing the memory of somebody else's work. He did it with GODZILLA, okay?

But even if it had been a new series, there were plot devices ranging from irritating to just dumb. Kirk decides overnight to join Starfleet and just walks in; no applications, interviews, tests, psych evals? ALL of Starfleet is busy with one mission, so all they can send to help a founding member is some cadets? A computer with universal translator can't handle Chekov's accent? McCoy's gripes about space travel made no sense given that he was voluntarily joining Starfleet. (2)

Basically, the movie fails the Bat Durston(3) test for bad SF: make Starfleet the Cavalry and Nero a renegade Indian and it could be rewitten as a western.(4) It fails to introduce thought-provoking ideas, to really boldly go where no one has gone before.

I confess that I watched enough of the movie online to decide I didn't like it. People have told me I need to see it in the theater to appreciate it. I probably will, and enjoy it for what it is. It is just a setup, an origin story. Maybe future installments will be more about exploring strange new worlds, etc. It's disappointing to think that the series' creator's vision may be lost in all the action.

(1) from a fan on the Gene Roddenberry Philosophy Sphere site.

(3) The original Bones was wary of the transporter, but more on spiritual grounds, whether you left your soul behind; he didn't hate space nor technology. He considered anything but 23rd century medicine "barbaric."

(3) In the 50s GALAXY magazine defined a "Bat Durston" as nonSF, a story from which the SF element could be removed and the story rewritten into a western with only cosmetic changes. See details. For example, SERENITY was NOT a Bat Durston because the evil Alliance creating the Reavers has no western counterpart. But if you remove the time travel element (which was not a necessary part of the plot, just a device to set up an alternate timeline and distinguish the movie from TOS), STAR TREK is a space western.

(4) "Roddenberry did tell the network he saw the show as "Wagon Train in space" when he was trying to sell them on it. At the time, westerns and especially "Wagon Train" were big hits and his idea of having the Enterprise on a mission to explore new places was the same kind of open-ended storyline, with continuing characters encountering new communities and situations each week, that made "Wagon Train" successful." ~ from Movie Mom
In other words, that was his pitch to the networks, but TOS was so much more than that.