Since Star Trek: The Next Generation came onto Netflix in the UK I have — like many, I must imagine — been binging on it. And, in watching these old episodes of Star Trek, I think I’ve finally managed to nail down my issue with J.J. Abram’s recent reboot of the franchise.
Now, I shall say up front that I don’t dislike Abram’s Star Trek. I think the 2009 movie was a decent enough reboot of the series, and I appreciate that he didn’t take a wrecking ball through almost 50 years of canon and go on like it never happened, and it allowed for “classic” story-lines to be reimagined for, and told to a modern audience.
This year, when Star Trek Into Darkness was released this year, I said that I thought it was a “good action movie, but not a good Star Trek movie”. I’d stand by that statement. It’s a horribly flawed movie: the characters make no sense, not just when compared to The Original Series, but even to the 2009 movie; it’s riddled with plot-holes.
Let’s take Uhura, for example. On the first movie, she’s a driven woman. She’s dating Spock, yes, something she never did in The Original Series. But that’s a minor part of her character. She’s intelligent, and she doesn’t let that relationship get in the way of her duties on the ship: when Kirk “emotionally compromises” Spock, and relieves him of command of the Enterprise, she doesn’t question his authority. She doesn’t stand by Spock, and refuse to answer to her new commanding officer. She’s a professional.
In Star Trek Into Darkness, however, that’s different. She stops an exceptionally important, and life threatening mission so she can bitch as Spock for not sharing his feelings. That she knows, as a Vulcan (well, half) that he does not show externally.
And now, we have magic transporters that can transport people to planets thousands of lightyears away, that make travelling by Star Ship obsolete. We have magic blood that can cure death.
I tell you, the next Star Trek movie will be a lot less interesting, with all these Deus Ex Machinas floating around.
And Khan, in this incarnation, is far more justified in what he’s doing than Kirk. Khan was trying to protect, and then avenge his crew, whom he thought he had lost. And when he discovered that his crew were alive, he resolved to help Kirk take on Admiral Marcus and save the Enterprise. Khan risked his life, journeying over to the Vengeance to this end. And Kirk repaid him by stunning Khan when he got what he wanted.
And he wonders why Khan got all pissy. Kirk had just proven himself untrustworthy, and he now has Khan’s crew. If their roles were reversed, and Khan had stunned Kirk, and taken the crew of the Enterprise hostage, we would have been expected to cheer Kirk on in doing exactly what Khan did.
But to be honest, all these flaws in Into Darkness aren’t really my problem with it. As I said, it’s a good action movie, but not a good Star Trek movie. It’s a decent enough movie when you can turn off your brain and just enjoy the ride. But that’s not what Star Trek is really about.
Science Fiction is an existential metaphor, allowing us to explore humanity — our flaws, and our weaknesses — from an outside perspective. We can see humanity, the way others might see us.
Star Trek was about explorers. They very rarely used weapons. The tension in the episodes were not caused by fighting a “bad guy” each episode, but rather, by forcing situations to arise that would test the crew’s personality, and skills. The “good” Trek movies, while they did possess an antagonist to bind the plot together, they always took the back seat to the characters’ development. Picard’s turmoil at having to face The Borg in Star Trek: First Contact, Data’s temptation of the prospect of attaining some semblance of humanity. Even minor characters in the movie, such as Lily, and Cochrane were given such depth.
Yet in the latest incarnation of Star Trek movies, this character development is given a back seat to flash special effects, and action sequences. Instead of dealing with the issues in Spock and Uhura’s relationship, we get 2 minutes of fast-talking, then a firefight with some Klingons.
We don’t deal with Carol Marcus’ distrust and disillusionment with her father, and then her loss — the mixture of emotions when the man who raised her, and then betrayed everything she thought of him, was killed. That would have made for an excellent character study. But instead, we get about 10 lines, and see her in her underwear.
Scotty, who just got fired out of spite, and ire, by someone that he trusted. Someone he considered his friend. And then, because that person calls him, takes a shuttle, goes to a secret military installation, and sneaks aboard an experimental ship.
Star Trek wasn’t about wars. It wasn’t about conflict. Yes, those things existed, but only because those things have always existed, and probably will always exist. But Star Trek didn’t want to have those things at the forefront. The joy of Star Trek was in exploration. It was about discovery. This is something that modern reboot has lost. It traded the tricorder for the phaser. It it saddens me that modern generations view of Star Trek will be this interpretation — that views violence as the solution to problems — rather than Kirk, or Picard, or Jayneway, or Sisco, who used intelligence and cunning. And who only resorted to violence if it were completely necessary.