Star Trek: the Awesome Generation

by Arthur B

The new Star Trek movie is the first product of the franchise in decades to break out from under the shadow of The Next Generation.
I have to admit that I was mildly concerned about the new Trek movie. While I've never been immersed enough in the franchise to actually buy any DVDs or read any of the spin-off novels or study Klingon, I'll happily watch it if it happens to be on TV - provided we're not talking Enterprise or one of the Voyager episodes that doesn't quite reach "so bad it's good" territory and remains mired in "just bad" - and I'll go along to see the films in the cinema.

The problem is, the whole Trek idea has seemed somewhat sickly of late, with both the movies and TV series running out of ideas. I personally hold the opinion that the biggest mistake Paramount made with the series was cancelling The Next Generation. Let's leave Deep Space 9 out of the discussion for now, because what we tend to forget when we wear our gold-pressed latinum-framed rose-tinted sunglasses and gaze fondly back at DS9 was that it was never actually permitted to be the flagship show of the series; for pretty much the entire run it was being produced simultaneously with The Next Generation and Voyager. Perhaps, if it had been allowed to step up and take the place of The Next Generation, then DS9 would have taken the franchise down a very different path from the one it eventually chose.

You see, when The Next Generation ended Voyager was rolled out almost immediately, with the first episodes hitting US screens less than a year after the demise of The Next Generation. And the problem with Voyager was that, despite the ostensibly different premise, it was really intended to be a replacement for The Next Generation, and it basically followed the format used by The Next Generation (which was itself a revised version of the format of the original series). You had the same crisis-of-the-week format, you had the same basic assumption that the general circumstances of the ship would return to normal at the end of the episodes, you had an attempt to provide a cast of interesting characters whose interactions and development would in theory be a major draw for the show (although by and large this aspect of Voyager failed to recapture the magic of The Next Generation's character arcs), and by the end you even had the same old bad guys showing up because the writers had failed to come up with anything interesting at all to reside in the Delta Quadrant.

This need to follow the lead of The Next Generation crippled Voyager. There were many interesting things the writers could do with the premise of a lost starship well out of contact with Federation space trying to get home; the lack of Federation-specification starbases to do repairs at - and more significantly for the ship's culture, the lack of Federation worlds to recruit replacement crew members from as redshirts died off and needed replacing - could have allowed for an interesting evolution of the ship from a bog-standard Federation vessal to a weird hybrid thing, with new bits of technology and repaired sections of alien design here and there, and with a number of newly recruited crew not steeped in the cultural traditions of the Federation. Unfortunately, this would make Voyager unfit for the purpose it was commissioned for - namely, to ensure that there was a Star Trek series showing on TV which had the general characteristics of The Next Generation. Perhaps if Voyager had replaced DS9 in the "side-story" slot, the "marooned in unknown territory" angle could have really been played to the fullest extent, but it was not to be.

The less said about Enterprise of course, the better. Shifting the story to the early years of the Federation might have made for some interesting character interactions, but in general the show failed to distinguish itself from what had come before: changing the scenery a bit and making the tech grungier couldn't hide the fact that the show essentially was following the Next Generation model yet again. The series ended with an entire episode that was merely a simulation of the original Enterprise's voyages based on the Next Generation-era ship holodeck; this inspired keening and wailing from the fanbase, who were justifiably annoyed at the insinuation that the entire prequel series might have been a simulation, but at the same time made perfect sense since the shadow of The Next Generation hung over both Voyager and Enterprise anyway.

Like I said at the beginning of this massive tangent, I think The Next Generation should not have been cancelled. Granted, they were beginning to run out of original ideas, but let's not kid ourselves; they were recycling ideas from the original series in their first season. What made The Next Generation compelling viewing were the character arcs, which were explored far more than in the original series; space battles that occurred because the enemy of the week was feeling bitchy were always less interesting that space battles where the honour of Worf's family or Data's tenuous groping towards humanity or Riker's relationship with Troi were at stake. Even the holodeck episodes could be elevated from lazy, inconsequential nothings to really interesting instalments if the writers remembered to include the character development. (My favourite of these remains A Fistful of Datas, a bog-standard holodeck-goes-wrong story made wonderful by the interactions between Worf and his son as they try to sort the situation out, as well as Brent Spiner being given licence to run amok.)

The Next Generation had to end when it did not because the writers had run out of ideas for cool space battles, but because they'd run out of ideas for the continued development of the characters. However, Chief O'Brien and Worf were able to get a new lease of life by transferring over to Deep Space 9, the new context granting a new perspective on their characters, which inclines me to believe that the reverse could have worked: The Next Generation could have kept going with regular introductions of new crew members. I'm not talking scorched-earth replacements of the entire bridge crew - that was effectively what happened in the transitions to Voyager and Enterprise - but gradual replacement of characters as their actors tire of the series, or as the writers decide that the characters in question have run their course. The secret of The Next Generation was that it was a space opera soap opera, and it could have used a soap-opera style approach to cast changes to keep the show interesting and vibrant. How much more interesting would it have been if we were introduced to Captain Janeway as the new Captain of the Enterprise - or if Voyager had run in the Deep Space 9 slot alongside an evergreen Next Generation, liberating Voyager of the need to mimic the previous series' success?

But now having established my capacity to waffle pointlessly on what I think went wrong with Trek, an important prerequisite in convincing tribes of Trek fans that you are one of them, I want to spend the rest of this review being positive, because the new Star Trek movie is not only the best thing to come out of the franchise at least since the Twin Towers were still standing and Bill Clinton was still President, it is also one of the bravest and boldest moves ever attempted by the franchise. Essentially, Star Trek nukes the canon that had ossified about the series from orbit, and boldly refuses to be constrained by the events of any previous Star Trek story; furthermore, it presents us with an ensemble of new actors playing familiar characters, but gives them free reign to interpret the characters as they see fit rather than trying to impersonate the original actors. And yet, simultaneously, it also recaptures the fun, energy, and excitement of the original series, recreates the classic interactions between Kirk, Spock, and Bones that drove the old stories, and reinvigorates the secondary characters to bring them closer to the spotlight. Go and watch it now and finish this review later, because I'm going to toss out a whole mess of spoilers from here on in.

The antagonist in Star Trek is a time traveller from the future of the franchise we know, who has been flung back in time (along with his timeline's Spock, as played by Leonard Nimoy). He immediately blows up Kirk's father's ship, as Kirk is being born. Later on he also blows up Vulcan. These two events are primarily designed to establish that this Trek takes place in a brand new timeline - an alternate universe to the old franchise, which is no longer bound by the precedent set in that franchise. (A mild side-effect is that this inflicts some very modern angst on Kirk and Spock, although true to form they cope by just by being a bit more awesome than they previously were). But although, as Nimoy-Spock informs us, the characters live in a new timeline and have a new destiny ahead of them, and although the actors do a fine job of not worrying about impersonating the previous actors, we are still recognisably dealing with the same people. Kirk is still an impulsive womaniser with a thing for green girls. Spock is still a theoretically icy-cold logician who is able to convey deep, withering contempt or genuine respect and admiration through the facade. Bones is still a grumpy old bastard who can get away with calling the Kirk and Spock out on their bullshit to their face. Sulu still has a sword, Scotty still gets frantic when the engines get pushed to their limits, and Uhura still rolls her eyes and gets on with it while the egos clash on the bridge.

It helps that the writers are 100% on form this time. One gets the impression that they were locked in a room with access only to materials from the original series when writing this film, because the movie wonderfully recaptures the early, pre-Next Generation spirit of Star Trek. The movie presents a crew who can clash, loudly and sometimes even violently, over matters of principle but pull together in the end; it presents a future that is optimistic but not sanitised, a Starfleet where the Captains go forth with the best of intentions but do not hesitate to kick ass when the chips are down; in its largest departure from The Next Generation, it presents a Captain who does not haver over the rights and wrongs of a particular course of action, but chooses quickly what needs to be done in a situation and then goes forth and does it. At the same time, even though the writers are effectively doing a scorched earth on the franchise, they retain a certain amount of respect for its history and traditions. As soon as we realise we're dealing with Captain Pike we know he's going to end up crippled, if not dead outright. When he realises he's been outwitted by his lifelong nemesis the bad guy screams SPOOOOOOOOCK in an awfully KHAAAAAAAN-like tone of voice.

In combination with these little homages to the conventions of the show, the writers also retain a sense of humour, something that has been in the franchise from the start but has occasionally been neglected. There's a brilliant bit where Kirk and Sulu are going on a dangerous mission outside the ship. We notice that there's a security officer we haven't previously encountered going with them. We notice that whilst Kirk's drop suit is blue and Sulu's is a fetching gold colour, the security officer's suit is a familiar shade of red. Instantly, everyone in the cinema realises that the redshirt is going to buy it, and the film does not disappoint on this score, and respects the audience enough not to even pretend that the guy isn't wormfood.

Of course, the technobabble makes no sense, and you can poke great gaping holes in the plot if you stop to think about it hard enough, but this has always been the case with Trek, and as with the best Trek episodes JJ Abrams keeps the action rolling at a sufficient pace that you don't care. (The technobabble is handled especially well - the actors always talk louder and faster and with more confidence whenever they are dishing out pseudotechnical crap, as a nice way of flagging that you're not really meant to follow what they're saying and you'd be happier if you just accepted the conclusion and moved on). The approach of taking the character relationships seriously but being lighthearted when it comes to the technology and the plot suits the franchise especially well.

Star Trek might refresh, renew, and generally resurrect the franchise. Alternately, it might kill it stone dead. I think it is worth the risk, though; if there is never a Trek film or TV show made ever again, Star Trek is a wonderful swansong, and if it forms the basis for a new series - whether on the big screen or the small - I'd be glad to follow it. If you followed my admonishment to go and see the film before finishing the review then I hope you agree with me; if you didn't, then go watch now.

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Comments (go to latest)
Dafydd at 23:03 on 2009-05-10
TribeS of trek Fandom (plural) is the Point. Arthur, you have established your credentials as a Trek fan. But those are the credentials of a fan from a different Tribe. You enjoyed the Retcon. I doubt that I will. I do not intend to pay good cash money to see the Retcon, I will wait till it comes out on Sky TV.

Arthur,you have seen the Show. Your Trek fan Tribe enjoys that sort of thing. I doubt that my Tribe will.

Planet of the Gangsters prooves that in Canon, Kirk can't drive a car. Prequel Movie turns Kirk into Fonzie on Virginia snake Root.

Star Wars and Indiana Jones and Superman and Enterprise prequels turn me off prequels in general.
Rami at 23:14 on 2009-05-10
I have to agree with you, Arthur, I really loved it. But then perhaps it's precisely because neither of us has invested enough in the series -- whether that's studying Klingon or having memorized all the characters' autobiographies -- to really lose much when the old timeline was nuked. We got our fun and our geeky moments.

I don't know if the idea that the writers and directors are winking at all the fans (e.g. when Bones retorts "Dammit, I'm a doctor, not a physicist!") will do it for the hardcore Trekkies.
Arthur B at 00:01 on 2009-05-11
I agree that the film probably won't work for the really hardcore people.

At the same time, I think it would have been a terrible mistake for the film-makers to cater to the hardcore. Hardcore fans, by definition, have a very clear and defined definition of what Star Trek is and is not, and get extremely upset at even slight deviations from that. (This isn't universally true, of course, but it's more likely to be true the more hardcore the fans you're talking about.) And as with any fandom the hardcore fanbase is not a single, homogeneous lump, but a highly factionalised bunch at that. Someone was always going to be upset with this film, and I think JJ Abrams took the wise decision to simply accept that and make the film he wanted to make rather than trying to please everyone.

The Onion has a nice feature on this. ;)
Dafydd at 00:35 on 2009-05-11
Th bvs nlgy s "Stnc Vrss" rd th Bk nd njyd t. Hrdcr Mhmmd fns rfsd t rd th bk nd brnt dwn th mrcn mbssy.

Tht tm, ws n Rshd's sd. Ths tm, m hrdcr fn. wn't py Lcs gd csh mny t rp ndn gn.

Note from the editor: Ferretbrain will not tolerate racisim from any commenters. This is a final warning. Any further inappropriate comments and your account will be banned.
Arthur B at 00:37 on 2009-05-11
Which is your prerogative, but I think there's a striking difference between the way George Lucas has handled the Star Wars prequels and how Abrams has handled this prequel. Lucas stayed rigidly true to the canon he had established and lost sight of the spirit of the thing; Abrams wilfully ignores the canon in pursuit of the spirit of the show and the characters. Whether or not he succeeds is down to you, but for my money he did.
Planet of the Gangsters prooves that in Canon, Kirk can't drive a car.

Canon changed as re-imagined Kirk was being born. This Kirk grows up within different environment than Kirk Prime (original series) so anything is possible including driving a car into a deep canyon in ever-flat Iowa. Or is it a strip mine? I don't know.

Lucas was too close to the material to make the prequels the kick ass movies they could have been. This "video" reflects more articulately my feelings on Lucas.
Rami at 08:49 on 2009-05-11
The obvious analogy is "Satanic Verses" I read the Book and enjoyed it. Hardcore Mohammed fans refused to read the book and burnt down the American embassy.

Equating a global religion and its traditions to Trek fandom is pretty fucking offensive. Not only that, but I don't think they're at all the same -- in some ways analogous, perhaps, but completely different in scale and intent, among other things.
Arthur B at 09:40 on 2009-05-11
This Kirk grows up within different environment than Kirk Prime (original series) so anything is possible including driving a car into a deep canyon in ever-flat Iowa.

Good point. In fact, 9-year-old Kirk in this version actually out-and-out stole the car and went for a joyride, presumably because unlike Kirk Prime he didn't have his father's influence to keep him on a steady path as he grew up. Nothing can instil discipline more firmly than the pimp slap of an Original Series-era starship captain, and it's no different in the new movie; Captain Pike is able to blow away Romulan scum even when he's crazy with the brain torture and tied to a table.
Dan H at 14:48 on 2009-05-11
Equating a global religion and its traditions to Trek fandom is pretty fucking offensive

Umm ... seconded. Seriously, casual racism is not okay here guys.
Arthur B at 15:17 on 2009-05-11
I won't pay Lucas good cash money to rape Indiana again.

I would totally see this movie. If we're talking about the state, that is. Imagine: Lucas cruising around rural Indiana, raping every man, woman, child and beast he encounters. A high-speed car chase through the cornfields, Lucas playing the dogfight music from Star Wars on his car stereo, blood matting his beard, an idiot grin fixed upon his face. He's cornered in a sewage treatment plant and as the firearms officers move in he reaches for his gun, only to discover in his horror that in this cut of the film, the cops shoot first. He falls backwards into a vat full of human waste and is lost to our sight, as a montage of the most harrowing rape scenes from the film fills the screen.

The lead cop, played by Harrison Ford, returns home, shaken to the core by the human evil he has witnessed. He enters the kitchen to find his wife dead on the floor and Lucas kneeling on the floor, having his wicked way with the family dog, holding the mutt by the scruff of its neck with one hand as the other hand aims a gun nice and level at Ford's head. We hear a gunshot and the screen cuts to black.

The whole viewing experience is still more pleasant than watching The Phantom Menace. at 20:51 on 2009-05-11
Good point. In fact, 9-year-old Kirk in this version actually out-and-out stole the car and went for a joyride, presumably because unlike Kirk Prime he didn't have his father's influence to keep him on a steady path as he grew up.

And because Kirk Prime didn't have a stepfather/mother's boyfriend who restored antique cars for a hobby.

So far the people I know who consider themselves huge fans really loved the movie, even as they discuss how far it is or isn't from the original canon. So it actually doesn't seem to me like it's hardcore Trekkies vs. the rest of the world.
Wardog at 23:15 on 2009-05-11
Confession time: huge, nerdy, humiliating, barely admittable in public, unironic Star Trek lover.

Loved the film, loved it to bits.
Guy at 14:40 on 2009-05-13
I tend to think of myself as the kind of po-faced jerk who can suck the fun out of anything by quibbling interminably over details, and I was pretty much expecting to hate it, but I loved this film. I consider myself a huge fan of ST:TNG, lukewarm on the original series, and a fan to varying degrees of bits and pieces of the other spinoffs. I also am a bit of a J.J. Abrams hater, because I got sucked into Alias before realising that it was a never ending chase-the-new-mcguffin carousel, then got sucked in to Lost before realising it was an endless-chase-the-changing-mcguffin-roundabout, and fully expected him to find a way to bring this vastly overrated storytelling technique to this film, too. Instead, I think he did a bang-up job. I think Arthur gets it exactly right in his comment above; Abrams was pretty cavalier - not totally disrespectful, just not reverential - towards canon in terms of the established "facts" of the ST universe, but he really went after the *spirit* of the original series. And it works, and it's fun. J.J., what happened to you?
Wardog at 21:18 on 2009-05-13
Well we don't think of you as a po-faced jerk :)

I've only seen a season of Alias (and, then, mainly I was watching without any particular agenda beyond seeing Sydney run ... and run ... and run ... sorry, drifted off a bit there) and, thankfully, we avoided the Lost Black Hole over here.

I'm really rather into the original series (isn't that embarrassing) even though I know it's sexist and actually quite crap, but, you're right, blowing up the canon feels much less offensive if you're true to the spirit of thing you just blew up.

The thing about Star Trek is that it's so rubbish sometimes - even if you love it - that it's genuinely difficult to be precious about it, I think. Although I'm sure the thousands of outraged fans prove me wrong.

Gina Dhawa at 21:27 on 2009-05-13
1: I am a Star Trek nerd.
2: I loved this film.

It's not perfect - I wish there were more female characters, I wish the plot was a little stronger, I wish Uhura, Scotty and Sulu had more to do, I wish Nichelle Nichols got her cameo. On the other hand, what we did get was a fun movie with enough of the original to keep my nerdy Trekkie heart happy, but never allowing nostalgia to get in the way of telling the story. We got characters who felt right, even without looking a thing like their counterparts. Karl Urban was especially good as McCoy. I hope we'll see more Star Trek from this reboot.

Also, there was Zachary Quinto and Leonard Nimoy sharing screentime. Yay.

Wardog at 23:51 on 2009-05-13
Hehe, it's like Star Trek Anonymous here.
Viorica at 04:13 on 2009-05-14
See now my confession is that I'm not familiar with the franchise at all *g* And I'm kind of terrified of the massive canon I need to familiarize myself with in order to participate in the fandom. The closest I came to being a Trekker was when my parents watched TNG while I was in the room as a baby (and that got cut short when I suddenly announced "Thpace!" as the opening theme began). I did however, love the movie. My one pet peeve was that even though it's been updated and modified from the original sixties standards (apparently Gene Roddenberry originally wanted Spock and Uhura to be an item, and the network put their foot down) and yet the women are STILL dressed in miniskirts. Let them put on some damn pants!
Arthur B at 09:57 on 2009-05-14
A timely story: audio slideshow of very early Star Trek conventions.

Interesting tidbit: apparently, the early cons were very much female-dominated affairs.
Gina Dhawa at 11:06 on 2009-05-14
Let them put on some damn pants!

Roddenberry tried that too, after all. (Original pilot).
Arthur B at 11:07 on 2009-05-14
Interesting that the uniform standards changed as soon as Kirk replaced Pike...
Rami at 11:18 on 2009-05-14
Roddenberry tried that too, after all. (Original pilot).

FYI, link not accessible to the general public...
Arthur B at 11:22 on 2009-05-14
I had that problem at first, but then I tried again and it worked. Looks temperamental.
Wardog at 11:36 on 2009-05-14
Am I making this up but I'm sure there's something footage somewhere of early TNG trying to gender-equalise the miniskirt thang by having male crew members wear them too...

Or was that a dream I had?
Arthur B at 11:54 on 2009-05-14
No, it happened. (And naturally, Trek fans have documented the maniskirt, the rationale for it, and every episode it appeared in...)
Gina Dhawa at 14:10 on 2009-05-14
FYI, link not accessible to the general public...
That's odd, I'm not sure why. It is a direct link to a picture, but I don't know why there would be a problem viewing. It's in this album on TrekCore, it's the away team, including the (female) first officer and another female officer, both of whom are wearing trousers.

I don't think I could refer to anything as a "skant".
Rami at 14:16 on 2009-05-14
That's odd, I'm not sure why

I was able to get to it through the albums, but not directly -- I suspect the site admins are concerned about direct linking to their images and have a prevention system in place.
Arthur B at 14:17 on 2009-05-14
I think TrekCore must have set their site up to check people's referral information and block access to people attempting to directly access images when coming from another site; it's a common thing to do if you want to stop people draining your bandwidth by embedding images hosted on your site on their pages.
Gina Dhawa at 14:31 on 2009-05-14
My bad, apologies.
Guy at 15:52 on 2009-05-14
Well we don't think of you as a po-faced jerk :)

Aww, shucks. :)

The thing about Star Trek is that it's so rubbish sometimes - even if you love it - that it's genuinely difficult to be precious about it, I think. Although I'm sure the thousands of outraged fans prove me wrong.

I think this is spot-on, too. Given how silly so much of Star Trek is, then if you're really stiff-necked about having logical consistency and whatnot you really should have given up on the whole thing long ago. It looks like, on the whole, Trek fans are on board though, so I guess it's smiles and hugs all round. :)
Viorica at 22:53 on 2009-05-14
Honestly, the only real outraged fans I've seen are Kirk/Spock shippers who are upset at the pairings in the movie. And even then, I suspect that a large majority of them are Zachary Quinto fangirls who just don't like seeing anyone other than themselves with their idol.
Arthur B at 15:26 on 2009-05-15
This guy seems to have objections that aren't based on the Original Slash Pairing, but then again he likes Dollhouse so he might be made of concentrated antiFerretbrain.
Wardog at 18:52 on 2009-05-15
Oh no, I read him quite regularly - I usually find him very insightful, although, actually, now I think about it, I rarely agree with him about anything... =P at 22:19 on 2009-05-15
Yeah, I get that a lot. ;-)
Arthur B at 03:46 on 2009-05-16
Hi there, welcome to Ferretbrain! :D

I was ribbing you slightly there mainly because I was bristling at your Lankhmar review, where you gave up after Swords Against Deviltry. (For what it's worth, I strongly recommend persisting with the series; in general, it's better to read those stories in the order they were written rather than in the chronological order of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser's lives, because the later ones were written during a decidedly rocky patch in Leiber's writing. They're a bit like the Elric stories in that way: the main sequence of tales have a vibrancy and colour all of their own which, on revisiting the same characters later on, Leiber couldn't quite recapture.)

I noted in the comment section of your post speculation that the high regard the new Trek film enjoys is a consequence of fans feeling a profound sense of relief that the film wasn't anywhere near as bad as Nemesis or Enterprise. Which might be the case for me; at the same time, I think dragging Star Trek out of the ditch it had ended up sinking into is a pretty damn monumental achievement.
Viorica at 05:40 on 2009-05-16
he likes Dollhouse so he might be made of concentrated antiFerretbrain.

I like Dollhouse
Wardog at 18:46 on 2009-05-16
Yeah, I get that a lot. ;-)

You know, I don't know why I'm always so terribly surprised to discover the Internet is connected to itself...

Also, Viorica, I like *watching* Dollhouse. I'm just not sure I like Dollhouse. at 22:16 on 2009-05-16
Arthur: well, OK then, maybe I'll give the rest of that omnibus a go sometime. (Not soon, alas, given the number of other things I should be reading ...) But I have a feeling I just don't get on with Leiber -- I really wasn't that taken with The Big Time, either, and "Space-Time for Springers" has always left me cold.

As for Trek: I'm not sure that's from my thread, is it? Though I'm sure it's a factor for some people. For two more substantive negative reviews, though, I'd recommend those by Abigail Nussbaum and Adam Roberts. In particular I agree with Adam when he talks about the value of Old Trek being in the way it models a society; that's what I was really getting at when I talked about it being aspirational, I think. I re-watched "Emissary" this evening, just to make sure I wasn't imagining it, and for all its flaws (though in itself, I should say, I think "Emissary" is Good Stuff) I prefer that version of Trek quite a bit.

Kyra: I like what I think Dollhouse is trying to be. I would be willing to allow that I probably like that idea of the show so much that I am able to selectively ignore some of what it actually is...

As for the small-internet thing: no kidding. But hey, hi! Nice to meet you all. Fun place you've got here. And seriously, I really *do* get "insightful but WRONG" a lot. :)
Arthur B at 02:26 on 2009-05-17
Hmmm, I think Adam is correct in pointing out that the original series wasn't about individuals so much as it was about people pulling together as a team in a microcosm of a future society. On the other hand, the very point of this prequel is showing how those disparate individuals formed said team in the first place.

Also, in general, the social structure of the Federation in original Trek was a vehicle for the social commentary that Gene Roddenberry wanted to push, which seems to have been toned down for this film. I think this was a sensible choice, because the social commentary of original Trek does look horrendously preachy and dated these days, even though at the time it was obviously incredibly bold. (This was, remember, the show which had an episode with two guys who were white down one half of their body and black down the other half fighting a bitter and eternal race war, all because one guy was black down the left side and the other guy was black down the right. Subtlety wasn't Roddenberry's forte there.) It's not that the issues that original Trek tackled have gone away, it's just that a) the discussion has moved on, and b) a discussion has actually occurred and we're all much more aware that there's something to discuss than we used to be.

Also, a bunch more social issues have crept in and would want addressing if you wanted to go down the road of Trek as vehicle for social commentary, and to be honest I think a TV series would be a far better context for this than a movie. In fact, to my mind the best social commentary in Trek for the past couple decades has pretty much exclusively been in the TV shows as opposed to the movies, thanks to the ability of TV shows to develop an idea over a long period of time.
Wardog at 09:24 on 2009-05-18
Actually having read all those sensible negative reviews, and found myself intellectually agreeing but while simultaneously believing the film was as awesome as ever, I suddenly realised why. I think I watched the movie as a huge piece of AU fanfic.

Also I kind of didn't mind the arsification of Kirk. I mean, there are have always been two Kirks, the Kirk the original series thought he was or tried to portray him as, and the Kirk you inadvertantly get after the combined weight of episodes have sort of re-created him to a crazy maverick horndog. I was struck, actually, when watching that DS9 episope - Trials and Tribulations - at the gap between the original series and Trek in its then-current incarnation. And I'm sure the enormous gap in professionalism is connected to more than letting their women wear trousers. I mean even compared to Sisko, who is occasionalliy a bit out there, Kirk seems like a total nutter who shouldn't be allowed to open a tin of beans, let alone command a starship.

Don't get me wrong, I love Kirk, always have, always will. But there is a genuine gap between the way he's supposed to be and the way he comes across.

So the Kirk traits the movie exaggerated - recklessness, horndoggery, selfishness, thrill-seeking to the extreme, cockiness - I think it can be argued were all there in his character make-up, just moderated by his upbringing and training. Whereas obviously New Kirk doesn't have any of those tempering influences.
Arthur B at 10:08 on 2009-05-18
Also, note the whole bit surrounding the Kobiyashi Maru training exercise, where Kirk cheats like a motherfucker to pass the test: that incident is actually referenced in Wrath of Khan, in which it transpires that original universe Kirk not only was not punished for the incident, but eventually got a commendation from the Academy authorities for lateral thinking. So it's established in canon that Starfleet Academy not only accommodates mavericks, but actively encourages them. People have complained that discipline seems insanely lax in Starfleet if the movie is anything to go by, but it's already established that Starfleet are incredibly indulgent of Kirk's foibles. at 11:10 on 2009-05-18
I think a lot of this does come down to how fond you are of Original Flavour Trek, and in particular how fond you are of what the series claimed to be vs what it actually was. I mean, to a large extent you're right -- Starfleet is textually established as indulgent of Kirk, and Kirk is textually established as an arse, and so on; and on one level all the film does is draw on and exaggerate those aspects of the show. It's just that those things were never why I watched Trek (though clearly they were part of the appeal for many people), and the relative absence of those things in later incarnations of Trek is one of the reasons I prefer them (well, not Voyager or Enterprise) to Original Flavour.

The same thing applies to the social-commentary aspects, to an extent. Arthur, as you say, the discussion has moved on; the problem is that this version of Trek hasn't. As has been pointed out, Chekhov in particular stands out awkwardly now -- given the stated aim of the character, you can't help feeling it would make more sense to have replaced him with an Iranian or Iraqi character. But it's not even that I want explicit social commentary of some kind, it just feels to me as though this Trek isn't even as socially progressive as we (for certain values of we, admittedly) are right now.

I don't know; I think we just fundamentally view Trek through different lenses, and this discussion ultimately comes down to "yes, but ...". Trek is big enough and multifaceted enough that different people can take different things from it. Per Kyra, I can appreciate that it's fun and exciting while I'm watching it, but I'm left feeling hollow afterwards. It's perhaps not a coincidence that I'm not a big fanfic person.
Arthur B at 11:20 on 2009-05-18
As has been pointed out, Chekhov in particular stands out awkwardly now -- given the stated aim of the character, you can't help feeling it would make more sense to have replaced him with an Iranian or Iraqi character. But it's not even that I want explicit social commentary of some kind, it just feels to me as though this Trek isn't even as socially progressive as we (for certain values of we, admittedly) are right now.

If this were a completely new incarnation of Trek - new ship, new characters, new crew - then bringing in some up-to-date social issues would be easier: just insert the appropriate characters and make sure you have a socially progressive team of writers.

But making what is essentially a tribute to the original series makes handling the social commentary enormously difficult. Partly it's because characters like Chekov and Uhura lose their original context when you're not settling down to watch Trek after watching Cold War posturing and civil rights protests on the news, but partly it's because you'd be faced with an impossible choice: do you handle the social commentary in the same way the original series did, and be faced with accusations of being ludicrously heavy-handed, or do you handle it in the way that modern TV series handle it, at which point you're deviating still-further from the spirit of the original series? Perhaps the only acceptable solution is to just give up and leave the social commentary to films which aren't steeped neck-deep in nostalgia.
Arthur B at 11:42 on 2009-05-18
Hmm, having given this a bit more thought there's a couple more things I want to say:
It's just that those things were never why I watched Trek (though clearly they were part of the appeal for many people), and the relative absence of those things in later incarnations of Trek is one of the reasons I prefer them (well, not Voyager or Enterprise) to Original Flavour.

I think this is the big difficulty the film faced; if it embraced the evolution in the Trek concept we've seen since The Next Generation, it wouldn't have been a genuine prequel to the original series, and if it took the "lock the screenwriters in a room with only DVDs of the original series for company" approach it wouldn't have been a genuine prequel to Trek as a whole (and, after all, the Next Generation and its successors represents the majority of Trek material, at least if we restrict ourselves to hours of screen time and ignore tie-in novels and other secondary sources). I think, at the end of the day, the filmmakers chose to make a prequel to the original series rather than the franchise as a whole, and I'd argue they were wise to do so - writing a film which acts as a prequel to Kirk and co's adventures but at the same time encapsulates everything else Trek has accomplished since would be a nightmarish task.

Of course, this does probably strike at the heart of our different interpretations of the thing. I like the fact that the new film emphasises the differences between the original series and the Next Generation and its offspring, because a) we've had 20 continuous years of TNG's approach ruling the roost, and b) I wouldn't enjoy a reimagining of TOS with TNG sensibilities - it'd strike me as homogenising the franchise a little too much. But I can definitely concede that anyone who feels that the changes in approach between TOS and TNG were almost all improvements probably won't enjoy the latest film.
Wardog at 11:56 on 2009-05-18
Per Kyra, I can appreciate that it's fun and exciting while I'm watching it, but I'm left feeling hollow afterwards. It's perhaps not a coincidence that I'm not a big fanfic person.

Actually I'm a incredibly suggestible person - the more sensible criticism I read the more wavery I become. I'm wondering if the part of the reason the movie is so embraceable, and we're so willing to embrace it, is because of the ways it is Not-Trek rather than the ways it Is-Trek. By which I mean, you can safely like this movie and not have to lose all your Cool Points.
Arthur B at 02:19 on 2009-07-15
James Maliszewski, who ordinarily spends his time blogging about early editions of Dungeons & Dragons, makes a point about the original Trek series which addresses something that didn't bother me at the time that I watched the film, but has bothered me more since then.

A big part of what distinguishes the original series from post-Next Generation Trek is that, as James puts it, the original series was "never about itself". There was barely any canon beyond "people have made it to space, Starfleet has sent the USS Enterprise to explore strange new worlds, its crew are these people", pretty much all of which is explained in the title sequence; you can start watching at any episode and it will make perfect sense.

This movie didn't do that; it was married to the canon previously established, and spends a lot of time winking at the camera and saying "Hey - remember this?" Which means that it could only ever be a prequel - an addition to the extant canon set at an early point in the timeline - and couldn't rise above its origins to become a reinvention or reboot of the series. This made it impossible to recapture the dimension of the show Maliszewski talks about. at 04:32 on 2009-07-15
Um. Well. I'm not sure I have anything much to say except that this movie reminded me of nothing so much as "Harry Potter" (but then, I guess EVERYTHING reminds me of "Potter" these days!) and that I disliked it for many of the same reasons I ended up disliking the Potterverse. And I am a fan of TOS and (especially) DS9, who was initially irked by TNG.*

You can find my review on my blog, here:

My initial reaction was more positive, and you can find it further down. But, briefly, in response to your last comment, the reboot does not work as a prequel. If you accept it, it negates all of Trek to date. TOS will never happen, never mind the following series. That's one of the things that made me angry about this movie. As a smart young man pointed out on IMDB, this movie basically throws Trek in the trash and replaces it with Star Wars.
I do like Star Wars as well, but whatever it is, it is not Trek. And this really isn't Trek, either.

*Of course, I ended up a huge fan of TNG because of episodes like "Darmok" and "The Inner Light". Picard! I love Picard! I like him a whole lot better than Kirk. OTOH, I love Spock and McCoy, and I wasn't terribly taken with either new Spock or new McCoy. New McCoy, in particular, falsified the part, I think. The reason is something someone else pointed to - he lacked the warmth, the idealism, even, that are so obvious in the original character. And the reason given for his nickname is just silly.

My two cents.
Arthur B at 09:44 on 2009-07-15
But, briefly, in response to your last comment, the reboot does not work as a prequel. If you accept it, it negates all of Trek to date.

It is an extremely strange creature; I'm inclined to call it a sequel in prequel's clothing. We're supposed to assume that it shows us the past of most of the characters (bar Kirk) straight, at least up to the point where Nero kicks off against Vulcan, but at the same time it isn't the past of the main Trek universe - rather, it continues old-Spock's story into his retirement in an alternate universe. And to that extent, we only really care about what's happening because we already know who old-Spock is and what sort of adventures he had with old-Kirk and old-Bones and the rest.

The big dilemma of the film is "oh gosh, how will things end up like they do in the series?", which is about as self-referential as you can get.
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