About Me

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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Monday, May 11, 2009

Star Trek - a review

Warning: spoilers follow

As I said in my earlier post, I enjoyed Star Trek greatly. Despite its length (running over two hours), I found that it never flagged for a moment. Well, the fist-fighting, um, leitmotif did eventually become slightly tiresome, but even that was in keeping with the original 1966-69 series, in which James T. Kirk was always both impetuous and handy with his fists.

I loved the way the look and feel of the original series was recreated, with the characters aboard the starship Enterprise genuinely appearing to be younger versions of those we (baby boomers) knew from our first encounters with the show when we were children. Such touches as the introduction of an ancient Ambassador Spock from the future, played by Leonard Nimoy, gladdened my heart, and the Enterprise itself, inside and out, was everything it should have been ... with just a bit of visual updating to make it a plausible representation for a young audience.

The production also captured the slightly naive and clumsy, but nonetheless endearing, strand of utopian optimism that was so important to the original Star Trek. As ever, we see the franchise offering hope for a future in which all humanity has formed a benign United Federation of Planets. It boldly imagines humanity's survival, maturity, and eventual flourishing in space - a pan-human society on a scale far beyond that of a single world or solar system. It suggests the possibility of a time - not many centuries hence - when technology is employed wisely, and there has been an end to racism, sexism, nationalism, poverty, and gross inequalities of all kinds. As a creative mega-text, Star Trek is the Enlightenment with rocket boosters. It offers the vision of a future to die for, one to wish for, romantically or not, and hold out for if we possibly can, a vision that its loyal fans quite naturally love with their whole hearts, and which gave the classic episodes their extraordinary mystique. The moviemakers - perhaps surprisingly - have absorbed the vision like true fans, absorbed it all the way into their bone marrow.

So many things are right about this production that it seems almost churlish to mention plot contrivances. But I'll mention just a couple anyway. Sigh.

In a movie that was striving for a kind of superficial verisimilitude, the touch of having Kirk chased by alien predators right into the caves where the older Spock had been exiled shortly before was ... just a bit hard to take.

Indeed, the idea that Kirk has been marooned by the younger Spock on the exact same square mile or so of a whole planet where the elder Spock had lately been marooned by the Romulans for quite different reasons was just too contrived, especially as the elder Spock (or Spock Prime) was exactly the person who could give Kirk vital, plot-resolving information. Okay, so perhaps they both had to be near the same outpost for some reason (but why in Spock's case?). That Scotty, conveniently equipped with what amounts to a secret weapon, also happens to be within walking distance of where Kirk landed is just too much. Lots of contrivance is mounted on contrivance in a brief set of scenes that is critical to the good guys' success and the salvation of Earth.

Then there's the motivation of the rapacious, piratical Romulans. They have accidentally gone back a century and a half in time, and they are able to obtain red matter once the elder Spock joins them. Indeed, there's plenty of years ahead for them to work on a plan to save Romulus from destruction in what is now the longish-term future. So why pursue a vendetta against Spock Prime? Nero plots a meaningless, comic-book revenge for events that were beyond Spock's control, when he could be doing something constructive such as contacting the Romulans of the time in which he and his crew have miraculously found themselves. And don't tell me that Nero is deranged with grief and therefore acting in ways that don't make sense. Apart from that being a cop-out, why do all his crew put up with this destructive madness (even if these space-miners are bound by a very strict code of discipline, that's not how they act; rather, they seem to be relishing Nero's mad plans as much as he is, even after hanging around in space for twenty-five years).

Enough gripes for now. There's also the point, of course, that this movie wipes clean almost the entire Star Trek slate, enabling the creation of a new canon for the alternative reality that has now emerged. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

I'm not sure I'm all that worried, as long as future movies, following on from this lovingly made reboot, remain just as true to the tone and spirit (as well as the appearance) of the original series. I never became much of a fan of all the TV series that followed classic Trek, but even if I had, events in those series remain canonical in their "original" reality, while enabling a fresh start in this one. It will now be possible to produce new movies involving a version of the original crew, without needing to worry about consistency with the precise events of the 1960s episodes.

Presumably the sequels to come should remain consistent with anything that has previously been established as happening prior to the arrival of the Romulan ship from the future, and broadly consistent with everything prior to the destruction of Vulcan, near-destuction of Earth, and surrounding events in the early 2260s. Up to this point, there's no need for anything to have changed greatly, as seen by much the same group of cadets entering the academy at much the same time.

That seems like a good plan to me, but others may beg to differ.


386sx said...

I wish they would have had better aliens. But they just put people in makeup or painted them green or whatever. I was expecting better aliens.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your take, pretty much completely. There were some minor inconsistencies (e.g. Uhuru spoke three dialects of Romulan, and "everyone knew" that the Romulans and the Vulcans "shared a common ancestor", although in the original series not much at all was known about the Romulans until one particular episode...kvetch kvetch), but I believe the original series was itself inconsistent...surprise surprise.

But I was also bothered by the (to me) overly light emotional responses on the Federation side---light-hearted banter with Nero at the end as Kirk opens fire on him being one example; friendly smiles all round as young Spock is (re)conciled with Kirk---all in the context of the recent deaths of six billion plus of the most peacable, reasonable beings around... fine, so the theatrical contrivances and plot twists are ridiculous, begging for some benevolent transcendence or historical force trying to move things back to "the way they were" at least, to explain them. The emotions simply weren't reasonable or human.

But, explosions were ok (weird that one could hear creaking in vacuum, as the Romulan ship opened up, in the first scene...) and yes I enjoyed the fist-fights too.

And of course I enjoyed predicting the doom of Ensign Toast, on the away team...

Magpie said...

The one-location-planet thing has annoyed me in popcorn scifi forever.

Regarding the timeline stuff: I've not seen the movie, but my understanding from other stuff I've read that this is not an alternate universe only by virtue of a deviating time line, but alternate in a range of subtle ways.

So significant variations from the starting time of the two versions of the Star Trek canon are acceptible.

And of course, they'd wave that hand, wouldn't they? Why restrain yourself if you don't need to?

Has anyone read the "graphic novel" (they called 'em comics when I was a kid) that apparently adds material?

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