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.

Star Trek opens this week. Ho Hum?

I just realized I've missed the opening of the new Trek film, an unprecedented event in my adult life.

I took my first high school date to see Star Trek: The Motion Picture (proving conclusively that trekkies do get dates, by the way) cried my eyes out when Spock died in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan; in fact, I watched it two days ago after watching a full day of Biography tribute to Star Trek. (should have known the new film was coming out) Cried that time too.

Watching Star Trek first run in 1967 introduced me to Science Fiction. Since that time I have tried to watch and read everything SF and SciFi (there is a difference) that I had time for. I've read the Larry Niven story that the animated episode Slaver Weapon was drawn from; started reading Niven because of that linkage. I have a fondness for 'hard' SF, exhibited in my interest in series like Babylon 5, Firefly and Battlestar Galactica. But Star Trek, with all it's quirkiness, remains my alma mater, my raison detre, my first love.

One of the first films The Wife and I watched together was Star Trek: The Search for Spock; which was also the first time I witnessed her assault a fellow movie patron for being loud during a film; she hit a friend of ours with her purse for cheering when the Enterprise blew up (That's nothing, she's since punched a total stranger for talking during a film. If you see us in a theater, you better be quiet...) we've watched every Star Trek film together since that one.

...until now. She's not going to see it (she's liable to punch me if I suggest it) and I'm not going until next week. Maybe not even then.

I was opposed to a Star Trek Babies film as far back as the original announcement for the 11th film in the series; and having been burned by Paramount twice before, I'm not inclined to trust their decisions this time. The first one being the decision to hire J.J. Abrams to direct the film. While Abrams insists he didn't shoot a Star Trek Babies film, he did say this on Colbert's show this week;

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Specifically, he says "I made a film that was supposed to be entertaining [and] not necessarily for Star Trek fans" 11 films, 5 series, countless books, and he's not doing a film (necessarily) for the fans. Clearly, he doesn't need this fans $8.50 on opening weekend.

Now, I like J.J. Abrams, in general. I'm a LOST watcher (it stumbled a bit over the last few years, but this season has been very good) and his film Cloverfield was probably the best creature feature I've seen (not that that's saying much) Still, if you start mucking around with peoples fondest memories, you better be ready for one hell of a backlash. Because it's J.J. Abrams at the helm, I'll concede to viewing the film at some point. But...

With the impact Star Trek has had on the world in the last 42 years, that's a lot of pissed off fans to deal with. For his sake, the film had better be entertaining, at the very least. Otherwise, he might consider finding a different career.