With the recent announcement of Justin Lin as director of the third Star Trek movie in the JJ Abrams reboot series, I’ve noticed a resurgence of dissatisfaction among some Star Trek fans with the reboot series in general.
I don’t think that their complaints are particularly invalid (maybe some of their complaints) but a recent image that’s been circulating had me metaphorically shaking my head.
Although I appreciate the spirit behind the message, that classic Star Trek was more than just action (and lens flares) I felt that this comparison was unfair to JJ Abrams.
In particular, the image (in my opinion) is cherry-picking elements from the television series (I’m confining myself to the original series Star Trek for this discussion, since Abrams’ reboot is sharing those characters) from elements in the reboot movies.
There is no Star Trek television series from JJ Abrams for a proper comparison. Movies and television are different forms of entertainment entirely. (Even though my dad insists on calling HBO’s Game of Thrones television series the Game of Thrones movies.)
Movies vs. Movies
Looking at the handful of classic Trek movies, most contain elements from the right-most “bad” column. There are explosions, there’s a lot of action.
Certainly special effects are highlighted, like the fractal landscape-generator developed for the genesis effect in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan or the floating globule effects in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
Revenge? Khan quotes the Klingons on the proper temperature of revenge casserole.
What’s missing in those movies are a lot of things from the left column. They’re still mostly action movies, not big idea social commentary movies or the awe of science movies. You’ll have to watch District 9 or Interstellar respectively for that.
I’ll give credit where credit is due: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home elevated itself among most of the others. It was more story-focused on the characters. I don’t remember any fistfights. There probably was a lens flare, though.
But the best example of the desired exemplar movie being described on the image’s left was Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
ST:TMP was a tremendous big-idea movie and certainly reminiscent of classic Trek since the plot was very close to the episode “Changeling.” V’ger itself and the machine-based civilization that created it was an excellent example of the speculative nature of science fiction. Science! Technology!
V’ger’s desire to commune with its original creator, and the interaction between humanity and the bald replicant envoy hit the philosophy marks.
The resolution was brought about by negotiation, diplomacy, and exploratory self-sacrifice, and not by blowing something up.
Which is why Star Trek: The Motion Picture is considered a beloved Star Trek success movie, right?
Look, allies, we had a chance to get Star Trek movies that were similar in spirit and tone to the original series episodes. That chance was pretty much sunk with our reaction to the first Star Trek movie. And that’s a continuing reaction. Movie-makers are aware that cerebral, non-explosiony, non-fist-fighty movies just don’t do well.
How many people saw Moon when it was in theaters? I didn’t, and I should have, because from everything I’ve heard it’s the kind of science fiction movie I tell people that I want to see. But don’t.
Anyway, I’d rather be happy that we have something resembling Star Trek in theaters, with characters that are close analogues to the original cast. Hopefully, in time the franchise will feel comfortable to do stories that the original series rarely attempted, and with mixed reception.
Live long and eat your vegetables, yo.
Images mostly from Star Trek the Original Series and Star Trek II: Into Darkness. (The Trek comparisons image found in my Facebook feed. I wish I could credit the originator, whose meme I appear to be at odds with.)
I make no claims on the artwork, but some claims on the text. So there.
© Patrick Sponaugle 2014 Some Rights Reserved