When “Star Trek debuted as a television series in 1966, it was designed to be a Western flick in space; think “Rawhide in the Alpha Quadrant.
But it soon became so much more as writer/producer Gene Roddenberry probed the most pressing issues of his contemporary society – racial inequality, the Vietnam War, and the Iron Curtain, to name a few – and applied his logic within the context of science fiction.
By 1969, despite the most pointed of Spock s prosthetic ears, the show was cancelled. Thankfully, and in large part due to the cult/pop iconization, the crew of the Starship Enterprise lived on in animated shorts, followed by conventions, and then the cash dream of every production company – syndication.
When “Star Wars hit the screens in 1977, “Star Trek had already become a worldwide phenomenon (and so had its cast), and helped pave the way for other space operas like “Battlestar Galactica and the subsequent “Galactic remakes.
However, when “Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) came about in 1987, the original series cast had become the target of some parody, particularly William Shatner s acting methods as he portrayed the larger-than-life dynamo that is Captain James Tiberius Kirk.
He often engaged in overacting, pushing the dramatic factor to well beyond what the scene normally required, appearing as a space-faring cowboy on Prozac, amphetamines, Viagra and Red Bull to wash it all down.
And that is precisely the problem with J.J. Abrams’ rethink of the new Star Trek, which opened in theaters around the world last week.
Before I go any further, I think it in order to list my credentials. I am a Trekker, not a Trekkie. I have watched the original series from 1976 onwards, picking up most episodes of “TNG along the way and firmly gluing myself to my seat when Captain Sisko battled Kardasians and the Dominion on “Deep Space Nine.
Captain Janeway never really did it for me in “Voyager, but I watched when I had time. By the time “Enterprise swung around in 2001, I was entering my third decade as a committed fan. (I still regret Archer’s team was taken off the air in 2005).
The wallpaper on my cell phone is of the USS Enterprise, circa 1970s; I own – and have read – about two dozen “Star Trek books by James Blish, Alan Dean Foster, Judith and Garfield Reeves, and Shatner himself, and like any dedicated Trekker catch re-runs of “Boston Legal (Denny Crane!) when I can.
To sum up, I have been raised on Trek fodder and the philosophies of Roddenberry s cities on the edge of tomorrows.
But the latest “Star Trek film (there have been 10 previous films) has me as conflicted as Spock between his human and Vulcan halves.
Action-packed, the new film is. Maybe too action-packed and like Shatner, it tries to do too much. Phasers, photon torpedoes, disruptor rays, high-speed chases through the fields of Iowa to time-travel – the viewer is left little time to think or to connect the themes in the new film to official canon.
Even the Enterprise itself, from its engine room to its bridge, seems convoluted – like too much packed into one floating sardine can.
This is where the new movie loses me – it takes on so many themes all sushi-rolled and packaged in the technical wizardry of special effects; from temporal rifts caused by imploding singularities to exploding planets which all serve to seriously challenge not only official Trekdom but also the timeline continuity.
Spoiler alert: The opening scene has a very oddly-shaped Romulan ship (which beckons images of “Babylon 5 ) traveling back in time to destroy the USS Kelvin, captained for 12 minutes by a George Kirk, our hero s father.
The Romulan ship is searching for the futuristic Spock who failed to save a future Romulus from being eaten up by a future super-nova. As the Kelvin is destroyed we find out James T. Kirk is about to be born into the universe with a bang.
Okaaaay … Fast-forward a few years; Kirk is a disgruntled, rebellious kid who drives his uncle s vintage car over a cliff with Beastie Boys “Sabotage blaring. What – Beastie Boys survived the Third World War?
Warp-speed to planet Vulcan where a brilliant young Spock is quite a disgruntled, rebellious kid as he beats to a pulp another Vulcan. Fast-forward again to a bar scene in which a teenage Kirk is bloodied in a fight after trying to seduce Uhura.
Captain Pike intervenes and convinces Kirk to enter Starfleet Academy. Fast-forward yet again another three years and Kirk is an eager cadet at the Academy.
And I will stop with the spoilers right here, but suffice it to say, the film is disjointed.
In the massive advertising campaign which began nearly two years ago, Abrams urged Trekkers and regular viewers alike to forget everything and prepare for a whole new approach but in the new film he comes tantalizingly close to exploring the possibility of alternate timelines (could mirror universe s be next?)
Unfortunately, the uninitiated will understand very little; only those familiar with the canon will get the irony and the familiar themes only alluded to in previous films.
For example, what relevance does the Kobayashi Maru simulation have on the film other than to tie in with later (previous film) events?
On that level, the film does work. I did find myself excited like a 14-year-old at a comic’s convention every time a piece of the “Star Trek puzzle was resolved.
Bones meeting Kirk for the first time; heck, we find out just why Leonard McCoy is called Bones ; Pavel Chekov, a cheeky Russian in space who is far more likable then Walter Koenig s original.
But Simon Pegg s Scotty is just downright silly; Uhura is beautiful but not sexy, or sultry like Nichelle Nichols , and Chris Pine s Kirk is hit and miss throughout the movie. Zachary Pinto s Spock comes off disillusioned, questioning and doubtful swaying between logic and emotion like a pendulum – with near fatal results.
In my opinion as a humble Trekker, Karl Urban saves the day by giving the best southern drawl performance of the whole film, even managing to sound like DeForest Kelley in a few scenes. For a few moments, I did feel I was back on the bridge of the original Enterprise hearing Bones uttering, Damn it, Jim, I m a doctor, not an escalator.
To boldly go? Perhaps. Hate Abrams rethink or love it, one thing is for sure – the final few minutes prepare the groundwork to launch this leviathan into the sequel zone (2011) and sales of original Trek films, books and merchandise will skyrocket.
According to some film database websites, visitors to Star Trek pages have increased by more than 250 percent in the past week.
As far as official canon goes, Abrams is precariously close to committing blasphemy but if initial box office returns are any indication ($100 million and counting), the force is strong with this one.