Well, I almost hate to say it, but this Onion video pretty much nails my reaction to the new Star Trek. I thought it was great fun - a highly entertaining and extremely well-produced thrill ride. Visually, this may be the best space opera to date. All the creatives involved seem to be die-hard fans trying to bring the concept back to basics and make it appealing for today's audiences.
But therein lies the rub, as some obscure Trek villain might say.
Hollywood seems to think that "today's audiences" have been dumbed down to the point that the only characters that are allowed to speak anything resembling proper English are either bad guys or androids. As much fun as the story is to this film, the kind of jokey, ironic fan-speak that you hear on the various Stargate or Joss Whedon franchises took me out of the story time and again.
Why does this matter? Well, the kinds of young, ultra-achieving military types we're supposed to believe these characters are simply wouldn't speak and behave the way these characters do, because these characters relate to one another like fans at a cosplay con. I realize you don't want them to be so earnest they're impossible to relate to, but I really needed to feel there were some stakes involved here. As exciting as this film looks, there is no trace of the gravity of the original series. The villain was especially casual. I can see wanting to escape that portentious villain cliche, but hearing something to the effect of "Hi Christopher, I'm Nero" didn't fill me with dread.
The cast looked like Dawson's Creek in space for the most part, most especially James Tiberius van der Kirk. The fact is that outside of Quinto as Spock and Pegg as Scottie, you could've gotten anyone to play these roles, simply because the amazing infrastructure Abrams and crew create around them is so idiot-proof. Millions of folks are going to see this movie and have a wonderful, good old-fashioned night at the movies, but I'm willing to be that no one's life is going to be changed by it.
The funny thing is that I've seen people bash Nemesis time and again writing about this new film, but in fact the new Trek grabs a boatload of ideas from the last TNG film. We have Romulans, a doomsday weapon, a planned attack on Earth, two incarnations of Trek icons encountering one another, a lost crewman on a desolate, dangerous planet, a captain held hostage and probably a ton of other bits I'm forgetting at the moment.
So this is Trek for the masses - or today's masses. I'm OK with that. To be honest, Voyager and Enterprise nearly extinguished my enthusiasm for the franchise. But the signals I'm getting from my tinfoil hat are telling me that maybe there's a reason to rejigger the concept for all of the Justin's and Courtney's out in the food courts of Anytown, USA. Here's what I wrote about the Trek weltanschuang a year ago:
Let's just say that the Trekkers you see milling around a Creation con might be perfectly nice folks, but probably not the targets of any potential social engineering messages embedded in big budget sci-fi. But certainly the high school jocks and preps attracted to this new age Trek might be. Of course, this is all just blue sky here, but there a few themes in this film that caught my attention:
Under the smiley veneer of humanism, politically correct pandering and New Deal-vintage liberalism, the Federation certainly feels like a socialist military dictatorship. At the core of the Federation and at the core of Starfleet is the presence of a expansionist philosophy (the Federation must grow to survive) and a Masonic, heirarchal world view. And these stories are all told exculsively from the point of view of elite military officers on spaceships armed with world-destroying arsenals.
- As in previous Treks, the message is clear- civilians are either trouble-makers or just plain trouble.
- Young people who can't fit into society need to be militarized, like Kirk and Spock.
- The best place for ambitious young people to make their mark is in the military.
- Even individuals in their 30s or so who can't cut it out there should try enlisting, like McCoy.
- Exactly as in Dark Knight, we see that the world (or the galaxy, in this case) is filled with psychotics whose mission in life is pure, mindless destruction. Only complete militarization can save us.
Now, don't get me wrong- this kind of thing has been part of sci-fi since Doc Smith's heyday. Sometimes you just have to accept the in-universe logic of these things. On the other hand, I was struck that Starfleet's vibe in this new Trek is more Starship Troopers than ever before, right down to the 30s vintage dress uniforms. If you were looking to get the youth pumped up for the militarization of space- or society, for that matter - this is a very good start. It will be interesting if any particular interests try to capitalize on the film's sucess for any kind of agenda in the months to come.
In the meantime, go see Star Trek and get yourself a big old bucket of popcorn. You'll probably have a blast. If you need me, I'll be up watching some old-school Quatermass with the missus.