Sunday, November 23, 2008

Star Trek

Cross-posted from

Hi. My name is Larry, and I'm a Trekaholic.

Hello, Larry.

So, I look at this trailer, with the way-cool effects and the amazing Zachary Quinto and all, and part of me says, "This is going to be even cooler than Iron Man." Part of me salivates in anticipation. The part that secretly wishes he had more time for movies by Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay and other guys who know how to make stuff Blow Up Good.

The human part.

The coldly logical Vulcan part, however, notes that the filmmakers seem to have crammed into about two minutes of trailer as many deviations from canon as possible. Constitution-class starships were assembled and refit in orbit, not on the ground. Kirk never met Christopher Pike until Kirk was assigned to replace him as captain of the Enterprise. Kirk didn't know how to drive, and spent his teen years off-world. Chekov wasn't a member of the Enterprise's bridge crew until well after Kirk took command. And most importantly, the Federation and Romulans had had no contact for 100 years prior to the "Balance of Terror" episode of the original series, and nobody -- certainly nobody on the Enterprise -- even knew what a Romulan looked like; so what's with the hand-to-hand combat?

If the filmmakers care so little for the established facts of the Trek universe, it's hard to believe they'll care all that much for Roddenberry's guiding vision. What Star Trek was originally about, when you boil it down, was getting along: humanity getting along with each other, and getting along with other species in an often dangerous universe. Often the best episodes didn't feature a villain per se (we never even heard about Klingons until the end of the first season). Rather they were about ideas, and morality, and the need for understanding.

Think about the two pilots, "The Cage" and "Where No Man Has Gone Before". In neither was there a true villain; in the first there was a dying race struggling to survive, and trying to help a crippled human in the process; in the second there was Kirk's best friend, unwillingly made something both more than and less than human. Roddenberry was pitching adventures in which the antagonists weren't monsters, but moral dilemmas.

Or think about series episodes like "Devil in the Dark", or "The City on the Edge of Forever". Most people (who care) would rank these in the top tier of Kirk-era episodes, and again, neither features a true villain at all. Rather, they're about big ethical questions, like when it's acceptable to kill (or allow to be killed) and when it isn't.

Kirk-era Trek was often heavy-handed to the point of cheesiness, and way too sexist for the 23rd century. I'm sure there are people who can't forgive those failings, and I may on occasion be one of them. But neither cheese nor sexism was what the stories were about. Judging by what's in the trailer, the new film is about ... well, I'm not sure. I see that it's about young Kirk and young Spock and slightly-less-young McCoy and all, and I see that it's about a big fight with Romulans that never happened in the Trek universe I know, and I see that it's about things Blowing Up Good.

I just hope there's a point to it all other than "Make lots of money and crank out a few more."