A friend was surprised at the tone of my last post: he thought that earlier, discussing the new Trek in the pub, I’d been more positive about it.
Which leads me to wonder, just why is my praise so damningly faint for the new Star Trek movie? As far as I’m concerned, it was enjoyable enough. The acting and the actors’ portrayal of their characters were overall good, brilliant in spots and OK in others. In fairness to the script, they go out of their way to show Uhura as being exceptionally competent, and contributing to saving the ship. And the visuals were beautiful and spectacular as appropriate. All of the details are just as they were in the original series and in the more exciting of the OS movies.
I think this is the core of my problem. I am not one of those who goes to an ongoing TV series to see the familiar faces go through the familiar paces. Although I will happily re-read favourite books, even many times, if an author’s new book is too much like the last one or the last several, I will stop buying them. This is why I stopped reading David Gemmell, and why I think David Eddings was just taking the piss. I would not have been one of those fans who would demand thirty Rincewind novels of Terry Pratchett.
Which means that although it is pleasant to see Kirk, Spock, Bones and their happy crew just the same as they were before, I am not overjoyed. They are not a comforting safety blanket to me the way that they might be for some others. I don’t have a vast amount of emotion invested in seeing old familiar characters go through old familiar situations and repeat old familiar lines. And I am less than impressed by JJ Abrams’ spending tens of millions of dollars to make a film that we have substantially seen already, several times before.
Surely the old familiar characters with their pretty re-shot ship and scenery could have been put into a new and challenging situation? If we’re going to reboot the universe, could it not have been with a story that was suitably epic? And here I think I have hit on just why I am less than blown away. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu and Chekov deserved to have a real coming-of-age story, not to be manipulated as pawns of the plotline. What they were was spectators and spear-carriers in a conflict between a new disposable character with no history in the Trek universe, and a secondary character who did not need to be there except to pander to fans. And when the deus popped out of the machina and started telling us how it “should be”, then the characters lost their integrity for me. Kirk had to be told by his old sidekick how to get his position on the ship, which by me means he doesn’t deserve to have it. The film, good up till then, was fanw**k from that point on as far as I was concerned.
To me, this is another visual-effects blockbuster; good as far as such things go, but no better. Comparable to the Star Wars prequels, say.
I saw the new JJ Abrams Star Trek in the IMAX cinema this afternoon. Here are my impressions. If there are spoilers here, I’m sorry because I don’t know how to hide them in WordPress.
Simon Pegg totally stole the show. I think he was the only character there who wasn’t either a caricature or a stereotype. He served as the comic relief very lightly, except for one forgivable scene (in the tubes), and just fit in brilliantly. Given that they went with movie tradition of hiring a non-Scot to play a Scotsman, I’m impressed with his portrayal and also with his accent. There have been many much worse, including James Doohan.
The next most noticeable character was Bones, who was set up well and played well according to the expected type of the old character in the original series, and he delivered his irascible Vulcan-bashing lines according to formula. (Southern States racist? You tell me.)
Kirk? Bad-boy bluffs his way on to a ship and then saves everyone when it hits the fan … if that’s not a stereotype or even a straight-out cliche then I’m Robert Heinlein and I’ve written the same story several times already.
And I’m afraid that my reaction to the rest of it has to be … meh.
I have seen the story several times before. Alien menace threatens Earth, check. Old enemy confronts Kirk, check. Time-travel shenanigans, check. Confronting Spock’s emotionality, check. Spaceships and planets blowing up because of a vengeful madman, check. The movie was nowhere near as original as Encounter at Farpoint, which was deliberately drawing on old Trek tropes to make the new generation feel acceptable to the old fans.
There is this whole ’seek out new life and new civilisations’ thing that has been dropped in favour of blowing the crap out of stuff in wide-screen. And that is fun as far as it goes. Extreme skydiving down an orbital cable is exciting stuff. Fight scenes. Marvellous. Everything was very pretty in the CGI world. But there was no substance.
Once upon a time Star Trek was a thoughtful and ground-breaking show that dared to have a multicultural cast with - gasp! - a black woman in a senior professional position. (And just how that character has been cheapened by being Spock’s fancy woman, it is difficult to adequately describe. Apparently no woman, let alone a black woman, should be a person independent of a white or at least alpha male, in the world according to Hollywood.) The stories involved ethical conundrums and while a lot of the time they might have been resolved by either blasting or beating the problem out of existence, the ethical problem was still the major driver of the story.
In this case, not so much. Eye kicks, yes. Petty personal revenge, yes. Petty personal revenge leading to universal-scale genocide is going a bit far, especially for J Random mining ship captain, but hey, it worked for Hitler. The number of such genocidal maniacs in the Trek universe seems rather high. Or maybe the screenwriters might want to look at some other avenues of motivation for their adversarial characters? Like being politically motivated to look after their own constituents’ interests at the expense of the Federation, thus leading to conflict? And then the conflict might be resolved by diplomacy to end the fighting rather than execution? Not the American way, I know, but last I heard, the Federation wasn’t America.
Also I was less than convinced by the interior of the various starship engineering spaces, with the steel I-beams and other evidence that they had been shot in a factory without much set-dressing. I feel that Starfleet corps of engineering should look at the quality control of the fit-out of their ships.
Re-boot, yes, fair enough, in the sense of start again with everything being the same, but no re-imagining. In fact less imagination than first time round.