Movie Review: Star Trek
I am, admittedly, a Star Trek nerd, of sorts. I am not a “Trekkie” nor a, God forbid, a “Trekker”, but I am a fairly serious Star Trek aficionado. The problem is that I really like the future history of the Star Trek universe as established by the original 1960’s series, and therein lies the rub: Ever since Star Trek: The Next Generation, the writers have been reinventing Star Trek history by over-using time travel plots. The original series did engage in time travel in a cavalier manner in Assignment: Earth, but subsequently they pretended that time travel was unusual and difficult. In my view, as the resident Star Trek historian, it is better that time travel be a sort of unusual accident; otherwise there is no linear history that we can follow. But these are the rantings of a details-focused nerd. What is the fundamentally important element of Star Trek that can inspire college kids, forty years after the fact, to perfectly simulate uniforms from the show and greet one another with odd split-fingered salutes and “Peace and long life” to which the initiated reply, “Live long, and prosper”?
Perhaps the secret lies in the new movie: Star Trek. This film is a work of pop art, beautifully done with convincing actors and, of course, spectacular special effects that would have been unthinkable in the 60’s. Karl Urban was an eerily good Leonard McCoy – he channeled DeForest Kelley magnificently. Simon Pegg’s Montgomery Scott was a total reinvention of the character, but that is OK by me – the original was both ingenious and tough, but not terribly interesting, and he had an atrocious Scottish accent. And, while Chris Pine is no William Shatner, and never will be, it is better that he not try to channel the original. His Kirk was acceptable, and in the last scene, I thought that I glimpsed Shatner for a moment.
And then there is Spock. I have a particular attachment to Vulcans as portrayed by the now ancient Leonard Nimoy and the late, brilliant, well nigh perfect, Mark Lenard. Since the original series, the Star Trek franchise has had cute nutty Vulcans (Lieutenant Saavik), wooden Vulcans (Tuvok), and hottie Vulcans (Sub-Commander T’Pol), but never a truly correct Vulcan. The Vulcan culture is dominated by the mind: the cultivation of and the rigorous discipline of the mind. They consciously suppress emotion from a very early age in order to have full access to their tremendous brains. In the new movie, they did portray some of this super-child-rearing technique, showing the children in the computer controlled school. When it comes down to it, I was able to accept Zachary Quinto as Spock. He was neither Nimoy nor Lenard, but he was closer to being a Vulcan than anyone since the original series. Sadly, his papa, Sarek, portrayed by Ben Cross, was all wrong, but his part was small enough in the movie as to be inoffensive.
In short, they put together a great crew for the beautiful new USS Enterprise, NCC-1701. So, what’s the problem? I’ll tell you what! Once again they felt the need to totally reinvent the Star Trek universe, destroying Vulcan and killing off Kirk’s dad and Spock’s mother before either of them develops to manhood. These characters were fundamental to the creation of the James Tiberius Kirk and Spock that we knew and loved.
Nero is a pleasantly evil villain with a gargantuan spaceship, and I could buy him as a working-class Romulan, but I would have really appreciated an interesting, rambunctious Star Trek plot that did not involve more time-travel. I liked having some big monsters, I loved having a great variety of interesting aliens. The fights were great, the phaser blasting was appropriate and interesting.
So, what is important about Star Trek? Is it the continuity of the time-line? Is it a sound uniformity of technology? No. The beauty of Star Trek, the timelessness of Star Trek, lies in the beauty of Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future. When he envisioned Star Trek, he saw a future where the human race succeeded. A future where racial harmony was the norm. Where technology was the friend and servant of the human race. It is not a future where the machines terrorize us or a future where we have destroyed ourselves. It was a future where the human race was unified in a desire to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations and to boldly go where no man had gone before. Star Trek is a story of optimism, and the new movie has captured some of that. I am very hopeful that this brave new cast will capture more of that in the next installment.