Star Trek, 1966-2009, R.I.P.

For the record, I should have stuck to my guns. But I didn't. I caught J.J. Abrams' Star Trek (from here on out to be known as the Abramanation, for brevity's sake) a few days back. By the time it was over, I knew that the universe had changed.

Abrams said he was creating a film that was entertaining, and true to his word, it is. From the initial scenes of the massive Romulan ship appearing and spawning an alternate timeline (this is not a spoiler, this happens two minutes into the film. Spoilers ahead though, be warned) when it engages in a fierce battle with a clearly more archaic Federation vessel, to the final scenes with a triumphant Captain James T. Kirk at the helm of his (way too shiny) Enterprise, this blockbuster is most definitely entertaining.

It's just not Star Trek.

A good portion of the audience applauded at the end of the film. The group I went with all enjoyed it (ages 10, 18 and 55. Definitely the target audience) I even found myself enjoying it. But just as the re-launch of Lost in Space (the film I was most reminded of viewing this one) redefined (in a good way, in my opinion) what Lost in Space was about, the Abramanation has redefined what Star Trek is about, and something significant has been lost in translation.

It isn't a problem with the cast, they all performed admirably. It isn't a problem with the dialog, a good portion of which seemed to be lifted word for word from previous episodes and movies. I think the problem is that Star Trek has always been more than just entertainment to me (no matter how many times I repeated the mantra "it's just entertainment, don't take it seriously") and to see it "dumbed down" to the level of blockbuster entertainment (a process started several films ago) leaves me feeling a bit hollow.

I find myself at a loss now. Unlike many fans, I'm not insulted by the content of the film. I just can't grasp what it is that the vast majority of the fans and viewing public see in the film. It's first weekend returns exceeded all other Star Trek films to date, even adjusted for inflation.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979): $11,926,421 (opening weekend)/ $82,258,456 (cume)
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982): $14,347,221 / $78,737,310
Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984): $16,673,229 / $76,389,860
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986): $16,881,888 / $109,713,132
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989): $17,375,648 / $52,210,049
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991): $18,162,837 / $74,888,996
Star Trek: Generations (1994): $23,116,394 / $75,671,125
Star Trek: First Contact (1996): $30,716,131 / $92,027,888
Star Trek: Insurrection (1998): $22,052,836 / $70,187,658
Star Trek: Nemesis (2002): $18,513,305 / $43,126,129

Adjusted for inflation:

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979): $34,668,706 (opening weekend)/ $239,115,674 (cume)
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982): $35,038,451 / $192,290,437
Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984): $35,629,102 / $163,237,856
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986): $32,671,686 / $212,328,919
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989): $31,267,457 / $93,951,918
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991): $30,976,050 / $127,720,425
Star Trek: Generations (1994): $39,707,107 / $129,980,545
Star Trek: First Contact (1996): $49,896,339 / $149,493,266
Star Trek: Insurrection (1998): $33,761,058 / $107,451,468
Star Trek: Nemesis (2002): $22,918,195 / $53,387,173

(numbers compiled by Daniel Garris)
(From Boxoffice: The History of 'Trek')

I've read dozens of posts in support of the film on Trekbbs. Fans are dragging their friends out to watch it; in much the same fashion as if the average American needs to be convinced to chew bubblegum. The Abramanation is bubblegum. I don't see the point in promoting bubblegum; people will chew it anyway.

No, I don't like the film. If you really want to know why read through...

!Spoiler Alert!

Paramount finally gets it's way and removes those pesky Vulcans that are so hard to understand and write for (logic, what's that?) by having Vulcan destroyed by an artificially generated black hole (the explanation for which would be technobabble, had they only attempted to explain it) thus insuring that the only Vulcan they will have to write parts for in the future is the half-Vulcan Mr. Spock, who seems to have a lot more trouble restraining emotion in this universe.

Uhura in essence sleeps her way onto the bridge of the Enterprise by having a relationship with Mr. Spock, who is not only one of her professors, but also a superior officer. The moral issues of this arrangement are never questioned, leading me to wonder if we haven't somehow stumbled into the Mirror, Mirror universe (Sylar, is that you?) where that type of behavior is run of the mill.

James T. Kirk becomes captain of the Enterprise largely influenced by the career of his father. In this alternate timeline, the now fatherless Kirk (dad being killed in the opening sequence of the film. The com conversation between the two parents, as George Kirk is about to be killed, being one of the silliest parts of the film) still becomes captain of the Enterprise; proving the modern belief that fathers are irrelevant in the scheme of things, and can be disposed of with no ill effects for any required plot device.

Then there's the running gag of Bones McCoy infecting the recently reprimanded Kirk with a mock disease in order to smuggle him on the Enterprise. This leads to a subsequent series of injections in order to cure him of humorous side effects. Or the transwarp beaming accident that leaves the recently found Scotty floating in engine coolant until conveniently rescued by Kirk through an inexplicably placed access hatch in the coolant tube. both situations so clearly contrived as to almost be cringe-level uncomfortable for me.

I could go on, but I won't.

!End Spoiler Alert!

I can't help but wonder what Leonard Nimoy (whom I will hold blameless) saw in this film to recommend his tacit approval and his venerable image to it. Spock prime stands in sharp contrast to the new cast, carrying with him into history a mantle of respect this revisioined Star Trek will never achieve. Because unlike Star Trek and it's 42 years of history, the Abramanation is just entertainment.

With this film, Paramount can pat itself on the back for finally successfully milking this franchise the way it wanted to when the property was acquired with Desilu Productions. Like so many entertainment properties (Lost in Space, the Brady Bunch, Bewitched, the Flintstones, etc.) before it, sucked dry of nostalgia dollars, Star Trek can be safely shelved in long term storage, probably never to be heard from again.

If there is any mercy in this Mirror, Mirror universe, it won't be. Rest In Peace Star Trek. Say hi to Gene for me.

5 comments:

  1. I personally boycotted this movie because I am a life long Star Trek fan. I believe in the core philosophy espoused in the original show. I can accept that it is now just entertainment for the masses and perhaps that is what it really ever was. However, I found more in it than just entertainment and nothing, not even the abomination that is the Abramstrek movie can alter that.
    I knew that the wizz-bang effects would please the crowds.
    But for me... Star Trek Lives, it lives in the hope for advancement, the hope for exploration of space and the belief that human beings can be free and accept the cost of that freedom. Part of that freedom, may indeed mean that I have to turn the other cheek on this one. I don't have to acknowledge it and indeed it doesn't exist to me. The last movie that was even remotely close to being part of the Star Trek story for me was Insurrection and even that was truly pushing it.

    T'khula

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  2. I cried for Gene's betrayal during this movie, and was motivated to dissect it. Would like your comments:
    http://structureddream.blogspot.com

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  3. the working link for STBTM is Here. Should take you to the first entry, where if you read the comments, you'll see I have a lot to say there as well.

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  4. Thanks for the correction. Other than when I had an opinion column, and working on the PMBoK, STBTM has certainly been the most popular thing I've ever written.

    I can't even begin to waste my time doing the same for "Prometheus"...

    Damn your incompetence, Lindelof!

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  5. Prometheus I also enjoyed, but was left feeling flat when the credits rolled. In subsequent reflections on the film I kept stumbling across new objections to virtually every part of the film. I'll have to see it again just to verify, but I doubt that it will ever make it into my library. Alien & Aliens will apparently be the only two films to ever exist in that universe, as far as I'm concerned. SGU contributor Steven Novella has a decent breakdown of Prometheus Here.

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