Treknobabble is a continuing series of columns written by uber-Trekkie Reed Farrington in anticipation of the upcoming J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie.
â€œNobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.â€
– Maria Robinson.
It has been over a week since the future began. Disappointment. In a word, that’s what I felt by the time the ending credits started to play for the new Star Trek film. Despite the probable irrelevance of my opinions and the superfluous nature of another Star Trek review, I feel obligated to review the film given that this column, Treknobabble, was started in anticipation of the film. I have been ruminating and trying to put some perspective on my disappointment before committing my opinions into words. Was it the heavy anticipation that created unrealistic expectations, especially after the ecstatic reactions from preview audiences? I did enjoy Star Trek to some extent, but if it wasn’t a film set in the Star Trek milieu, I would have enjoyed it less. So I am sort of wondering why other people are raving about the film and wondering why the majority of reviewers have been effusive with their praise as well.
I had read that some news outlets were looking to film some reactions from Trekkies who dislike the film, because a sensationalistic headline could easily be applied to this newsworthy type of story. I feel as though some Trekkies are even expected to have a strong negative reaction opposite to popular opinion. The Onion hilariously made a false news story with this expectation. It feels like my opinion is reactionary and without any validity. Knowing that I have this Promethean task ahead of me, I must credibly argue why the majority of people have this mass delusion of thinking that Star Trek is wonderful. And then I realized the futility of rationalizing my opinion. I cannot deny that people enjoyed Star Trek. I wish I could be flippant and cite Talosian interference.
I suppose if the majority of the opinions were negative towards the film, I might defend the film and highlight some of its merits instead, but I would hope that I would concede that the film was â€œbad.â€ (After all, I am one of the few Trekkies who defend the fifth Star Trek film that won the Razzie Award for the worst film of the year.) I didn’t want to repeat all the things that have been covered in other reviews. I wanted to find a new angle at which I could approach this review. One of my thoughts was to dispassionately dissect the film scene by scene. But I thought that might get too didactic of which Star Trek has always been accused. One interesting approach was to delve into what makes a movie fun and to provide an academic psychological perspective. But I couldn’t easily find any reference material on which to base my opinions. And then I came up with the perfect approach! I’ll reveal my approach at the end of this review in case it’s not apparent by the end.
Before I talk about Star Trek, I should comment on the concepts of what makes a film entertaining as opposed to what makes a film â€œimportant.â€ I believe that what makes a film entertaining is subjective. You can be entertained by Star Trek whereas I may not be, and neither of us would be wrong. I believe what makes a film â€œimportantâ€ is objective; however, a problem arises if we can’t reach a consensus as to what makes a film â€œimportant.â€ With a review being a one-sided conversation, if you don’t agree with what I think is entertaining or â€œimportant,â€ then I can understand why you would not agree with me in thinking that Star Trek is â€œbad.â€ With that said, I’m not here to convince you that Star Trek is â€œbad.â€
Star Trek’s story is simple. It’s a revenge story. Variations of it have been done in past Star Trek stories. The Wrath of Khan, arguably the most popular Star Trek film, was a revenge story. Some people have said that over Star Trek’s 40 year history, Star Trek has told every story imaginable. I would disagree, but I would be hard-pressed to come up with an original story myself. I suppose there are a limited number of basic stories, but it’s the nuances in the way a story is told that make the retelling of stories so enjoyable.
The introduction is typical for a Star Trek film and I suspect it will be the most boring part for general audiences. We are then shown a few moments in Kirk’s life interspersed with a few moments in Spock’s life before they encounter each other at Starfleet Academy. And then the remainder of the film is composed of action set-pieces held together by a straight-forward narrative as Kirk, Spock and crew deal with Nero, a Romulan villain.
Coincidences are a part of everyday life and I normally excuse them in films in order to allow myself to be entertained except when a film is plot-driven. For example, if the movie is a comedy, then I’ll overlook a coincidence for the price of a laugh; however, in a thriller, if a mystery in a plot is solved through coincidence, then I’ll tend to be disappointed. In Star Trek, the writers have explained away the coincidences by stating that the universe was conspiring to arrange things in the way they occurred in other timelines. Some people think that the introduction of an alternative timeline was clever in order to accommodate Star Trek fans who feared that their revered Star Trek canon would be negated. I don’t accept that it was necessary to reboot Star Trek in order to add an element of unpredictability.
In literary and film criticism, the significance of new works relies on their ability to reference the classics either metaphorically or through continuation of past themes. I don’t mind that this Star Trek does not follow canon, but I would have preferred if it had, because there potentially would have been greater meaning in the story. I suppose in trying to reach a greater audience, the new Star Trek film loses the opportunity for a more enriching experience for Trekkies. One thing I did not like is that the changes in Star Trek canon did not seem to me to be an improvement. Perhaps the changes offered an opportunity for different stories in later movies, but sticking to canon would not have ruined the film for general audiences. I know it’s easy to counter my argument so let’s just leave this as my subjective opinion.
There was very little in the film that seemed fresh or new to me. I had previously seen all the promotional clips and previews from the film, but there was nothing fresh or new in these clips and previews either. I was not awed by the visual effects. In fact, I wonder where they spent the 150 million dollars. Most critics acknowledge that the story is lacking. I may be exaggerating here, but Star Trek felt to me like a well-made fan film. I didn’t feel any suspense or tension. I was prepared for a thrill-ride, but the conclusion was definitely a let-down. All the nods to the fans were fine, but I wanted something new! As far as empty calories go, I didn’t enjoy the aftertaste.
I am happy that so many non-fans have embraced the new Star Trek film even though I have no illusions that any of them will take the time to investigate any of the previous available Star Trek material and appreciate the richness to be found. I do realize that Star Trek was meant to attract people outside of its core audience. And in that respect, it has succeeded admirably. Were future Star Trek movies not to incorporate the virtuousness of the Star Trek ethos, I think I will be disappointed even further, but if Star Trek is able to continue as a result, then who am I to stand in the way of the universe?
I know I haven’t talked much about the film itself. I haven’t talked about the enjoyable aspects that would have undercut my thesis that Star Trek is â€œbad.â€ And I haven’t explained in detail why the Star Trek film is â€œbad.â€ I could say that the film was so â€œbadâ€ that it left me without anything to say about it. Maybe the film is â€œgood.â€ And maybe I don’t care enough to convince you that Star Trek is â€œbad.â€ Or maybe my evidence is groundless. So, for the sake of my sanity, my approach to this review was to avoid reviewing the movie. (I think I need therapy.)
Many of my quibbles can be excused if one lays out a defense with the main arguments being that this film is a reboot and it’s a summer block-buster. That is, the only requirement for the story was to re-introduce the characters in an entertaining and exciting way. In the final analysis, perhaps my emotion is overruling reason. And no amount of argument will sway what the human heart has decided.
â€œIn any case, were I to invoke logic, logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.â€
â€œOr the one.â€
– Spock and Kirk
The Wrath of Khan