Saturday, May 18, 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness

I first saw an episode of Star Trek:  The Original Series in reruns of the first season.  The program launched while I was in Vietnam, so I was surprised when I returned to the States and discovered it.  My family and I watched that series in reruns for years.   I have also followed the four subsequent TV series and the ten movies that featured the original cast and the cast of Star Trek:  The Next Generation.  Not all of these incarnations of the franchise have been satisfying experiences, but I have tried to follow the various twists and turns of the Star Trek universe.

This brings me to the current version of Star Trek which was introduced with by J. J. Abrams with Star Trek (2009) and continues with the current movie Star Trek: Into Darkness.  (Spoilers ahead.)

Abrams has reenvisioned Star Trek by taking us into an alternate time line from all of the other movies and television shows.  This is Star Trek for the big screen (as well as 3D).  He has refashioned the feel of the franchise with a lot of action, expensive and effective special effects, and fresh young actors.  The actors in the new movies are for the most part young (most appear to be sophomores in college), attractive, and very engaged in their parts.  They seem to be enjoying their work.

Is this your father’s Star Trek?  No.  For one thing, Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the original series, was an unabashed humanist.  He conceived of a time when human beings had learned how to work together with no poverty or hunger and a respect for all cultures, races, and philosophies.  The primary conflict in the original series came as the central characters explored new planets and encountered and alien races.  Although Roddenberry was an idealist and created an idealized future, his scripts addressed racism, prejudice, and other social issues.  This carried over in The Next Generation series as well.

I must admit that I struggle to understand the philosophy behind the new version of Star Trek.  In many ways, it is Christian fundamentalism at its worst.  Characters are rarely complex—they are either good or evil—and those who are evil have no redeeming values.  Even the good folks don’t seem to know why they are doing good things.  There is a lot of anger and destruction driven by a desire for revenge.

My second reservation is the conscious efforts in Abrams’ movies to reference the original series in both its TV and movie presentations and “the original timeline.”  It is especially clear in the current film that brings back a villain from a TV episode and one of the better movies, as well as inverting a very familiar scene from that movie.  Even a character from the original series has a cameo.  Who is this for?  Is Abrams attempting to appeal to and appease the Trekkie fan base?  If so, it gets in the way of good, interesting story telling.  I almost expect the whole film to be revealed as a Saturday Night Live sketch but one with little substance or originality. If Abrams wants a fresh start, then get on with it.

The special effects are dazzling, the cast is attractive (although their personalities are not well developed), and the action is continuous.  But this is not great film making.  If anything, it is Star Trek light for an audience with a short attention span.  My rating:  Two out of a possible five stars.

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