Star Trek (2008)


Star Trek XI Poster Labelling any fictional universe, any story, any work as a ‘franchise’ couldn’t be considered anything, but demeaning to those that love it. Yet I am lost for words when I try to determine how the Star Trek series of movies and TV episodes could be called.

After 2002’s ‘Nemesis‘, it was all but clear that the beloved The Next Generation (TNG) crew was long overdue for retirement. One might say that it was apparent well before that movie hit the cinemas; even 1998’s Insurrection lacked the feel and canon that defined the TNG series, the last Star Trek that Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek’s creator, participated in. At the same time, ‘Enterprise’ the latest TV series to hit TVs just after the turn of the century was demonstrably, obviously so far from universe, æsthetics and philosophy of the ‘franchise’; there was little of the sophistication, little of the idealism, little of the sense of responsibility that defined the Star Trek TV series that came in the previous two decades: TNG, Deep Space One and Voyager — The Original Series being the exception, having been created at a time when science fiction on TV was clumsy at best and it being Roddenberry’s first outing — that first attempt, largely devoid of the technical sophistication of its successors, deficient of skill and execution, still included enough of the brilliance of Roddenberry’s universe that would make it successful in the long term; akin in some ways to early adventure computer games: it wasn’t so much the execution/implementation, it was about the concepts, the ideas.

In 2002 the Star Trek universe was dying; lacking direction, vision and the charismatic crew to bring it forward it was more of a rotting ‘franchise’ than art. It made little money to Paramount and there were few ways out of the decay. So, yes: Star Trek needed a reboot. And a reboot it got.

Gene Roddenberry’s Vision. ‘Lost’.

JJ. Abrams is probably best known for ‘Lost’, the successful TV series that essentially realises what could be the TV equivalent of a blended mix of spicy mexican food, profiteroles and lots of alcohol. While undoubtedly ‘talented’ — his direction of Star Trek is at the very least ‘polished’ — he’s also very obviously clueless. Clueless of the universe, the deeper traits that made Kirk, Spock et al. ‘fascinating’. His Star Trek tries to hard to be smart. In the same way ‘Lost’ tries too hard to be smart [and fails miserably]. He’s toying with time-travel [that fantastically popular tool in directors’ sheds as of late], familiar cues and mannerisms from yesteryear, Nimoy’s role — a Star Trekesque hypercameo — and a bunch of ‘borrowed’ scenes, tricks and æsthetics from previous movies [the straight-from-wrath-of-khan alien-bug-that-wraps-around-human-brain and the very Nemesis-like Captain Nero spring immediately to mind].

In many ways Abrams’s Star Trek is refreshing; it is a clear cut from everything that came before it. It skillfully retains the beloved crew of the Original Series, portrayed by beautiful, young actors that are certain to keep [similarly young, new] audiences coming back. It also — somewhat surprisingly — does away with the original TOS timeline and wipes the slate clean for Kirk, Spock et al in a wholly different timeline (I’m curious to see how they’ll follow this up in the years to come).

Abrams has managed to do what was previously considered near impossible. It has rebooted Star Trek in a way that’s certainly going to please quite a few of the fans of the series, more of the fans of the shallow-n-entertaining-action-scifi that seems to have evolved from old school action flicks and science fiction.

Yet, Abrams’s Star Trek is most assuredly not Star Trek. It looks like Star Trek on the surface. Sure, there’s lots in common with TOS too. But this is not the 1960s and the universe has moved on so much since then. At the same time it is missing so much of what made TOS interesting (despite its problems) and practically everything that made TNG one of the best, most popular science fiction series to ever grace the small screen.

At a time when science fiction is defined by subpar condescending soap operas that strive to mix mythology, religion, politics and romance in nonsensical ‘epics’ [BSG anyone?], Abrams Star Trek puts an end to any hope that the brilliance of Roddenberry’s universe is coming back on the big screen [TV or computer screen] anytime soon.

Star Trek is — if it ever wasn’t — a franchise. Correction: it’s a rebooted franchise. I’m guessing it’s gonna be a very successful one too in the years to come. Sadly it will have very little to do with what many of us have come to know and love as Star Trek and what so few other works in late 20th century science fiction have achieved to that scale: the deeper, yet accessible look into important issues and notions challenging civilisations, commonality, ethics. I guess there’s little room for that in today’s scifi anyway.

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3 Responses to “Star Trek (2008)”

  1. papo says:

    I enjoyed the movie, a lot. If you think so everything is a franchise so why bother thinking too much about this one, or what it used to be. I can imagine one or two more movies based on this ‘new’ crew. The time travel trick it is a convenient basis for re-writing Star Trek’s history!

    I wont be surprised if we have …something moving on the Star War’s front!

    live long and prosper!!

  2. Kostis says:

    It was good, but not great.

    You know I don’t consider myself a trekkie and that I think that the original series and TNG were both, despite their bright spots, rather ridiculous on the whole. Actually their exploration of the various issues you discuss is part of what I think made for such bad television. But anyway, the merits of the original series is a long story.

    Regarding the movie itself, I thought the time travel mechanic was ridiculous. Why reboot the series endogenously? Why justify and explain it? Why not just…reboot it?

    Anyway, on a lighter note, have you seen this?

  3. cosmix says:

    @Kostis: first of all, TOS and TNG are not comparable by any stretch of the imagination; I will probably agree that TOS was bordering on ‘ridiculous’ on many occasions — but that was due to acting, bad directing and the horrible, totally unconvincing sets, effects etc. of the time, rather than the scriptwriting in my opinion.

    TNG, however was and remains one of the smartest, most engaging science fiction series I’ve ever seen, despite its numerous, undoubted and major flaws. Most series, however, that have come out since, pale in comparison, both in terms of originality, acting, coherence and overall quality. I’d think twice before labelling it as ‘Bad Television’, as that’s a more or less objective term: 18 emmy’s, one peabody and a couple of hugo wins (and some more nominations) probably mean enough to take it out of ‘bad television’ realm, as does its success with ratings during its original airing and continuous reruns. So, no, TNG was not in any way bad television; you may have disliked the universe and the scripts — I can accept that — but ‘bad television’ is too far from this series. TOS on the other hand; I couldn’t possibly disagree.

    Bottom line: bundling TOS with TNG or DS9 is far more ridiculous a proposition than anything, even if you don’t like either.

    The time-split is a ‘smart’ way to keep making more movies in that time segment without hitting the TOS timeline. I will agree that — for the true Trekkies, those familiar with Star Trek, aware of the universe and expecting a true reboot — it’s very annoying.

    I don’t think Abrams is targeting them; well within blockbuster territory, with multi-million budgets and much higher profit expectations, he’s got a whole new demographic that grew up with dumber than dirt hollywood action sci-fi and who’ll be happy to keep watching stuff like that for the foreseeable future.

    Alas, what’s become of sci-fi!

    P.S.: Re the collegevideo vid. Funny! And more or less my point exactly (see post); Abrams is totally unoriginal, which is very sad given Star Trek’s earlier works; while the video is more of a joke than a critique it rings true: so much of the new Star Trek is just ‘borrowed’ from earlier films/episodes in the franchise, other sci-fi works etc. It makes even BSG seem original, rather than the pathetic excuse for a condescending blatant-rip-off-of-others’-ideas soap-opera in space it is =)

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