Just saw the J. J. Abrams "Star Trek" film and I have to say that I have almost no complaints, which is a sign of its amazing success in meeting two seemingly mutually exclusive objectives. It retained a good bit of the the spirit of The Original Series (TOS), yet was still an exciting ride with with great action and superb special effects.
I have to admit that it's a bit weird to find no "cheese", a Star Trek film devoid of dragging scenes of overly intellectual dialogue or (in post-TOS incarnations) Political Correctness.
Of course, to the true believers, those things are not defects but virtues treasured for the richness they add to the mythos and its associated subculture. Imagine how boring TOS would have been if William Shatner could act, and if so much screen time hadn't gone to observing the personal chemistry of the "trinity" of Kirk, Spock & Bones. Imagine Shatner had been replaced by Russell Crowe of "Master and Commander." Such a mix might have been more watchable as pure entertainment–assuming they could've afforded it back in the day (action is expensive)–but infinitely less memorable and inspiring on the human level.
My only complaints are 1) that ridiculous monster scene, which which neither moved the plot forward nor added to Kirk's character development, nor was it even an effective nod to the old Kirk-vs.-the Monster of the Week tradition of the TOS; and 2) the Vulcan twist (which I will not elaborate on to avoid being a spoiler).
Admittedly, it's unlikely to have an adverse affect on subsequent movies, but in a series that move would've been unthinkable. Still, it changes too much of the basic Star Trek backdrop for my tastes. Surely such gifted writers–and every detail of this movies is brilliantly thought out and executed–could have avoided so radical a departure from the canon.
I liked the way the film dignified all the secondary Trek characters who usually played second fiddle to the Big Three. Uhura in particular got a lot of screen time this time around, even if she was surprisingly useless on the bridge (not unlike TOS, which made her a glorified telephone operator).
I was relieved they managed to integrate Leonard Nimoy in a meaningful but unobtrusive manner. There was nothing cheesy or forced about his sudden appearance. (Which is why it's probably for the best that Shatner didn't make it in.)
The beloved catchphrases were woven in beautifully. I particularly liked how they slipped "Bones" in.
Would've liked to have seen more of Eric Banna's character, especially at the end. Perhaps one shouldn't always expect a predictable fight scene, but it's carthartic and you almost feel cheated if it doesn't happen. He did a decent job, but I think a bit more "Khan" was needed called for to bring his character to life.
There's no way one could capture the magic of the personalities of TOS in an action movie full of shiny young faces–for that you'd need a different medium (i.e., a slower, more inherently intellectual, character-driven series)–but all things considered I think they did an amazing job.
As one reviewer in my local rag astutely observed, Trekkies had bettter brace themselves for an influx of very different fans.
One thing I found irritating in much of the media coverage of this film is this idea that Trekkies are into Star Trek because they're social misfits. The subtext is that their love of Star Trek is a slightly sad coping mechanism for "losers" who can't handle the real world. Take this comment in USA Today, for example.
Nygard points out that Trek aficionados are frequently outsiders who feel the Trek world was a place they belonged. "This science fiction is different from virtually all the others in that it portrays a positive future," he says. "Here are human beings going forward, boldly, and all races and both genders are treated equally. If you feel like a misfit, and who doesn't in some way, here's a group that will accept you."
What a load of crap. Sure, such feelings inevitably play a role for some Trekkies, but they apply no less to sports fans. When's the last time you heard the popularity of professional sports explained in terms of arrested development, grown men trying to escape their hum-drum lives with fantasies about victorious heroes?
I'm an enthusiastic and unapologetic fan–in fact, I eschew "Trekker" for this reason, as I think there's nothing wrong with being a "Trekkie" in the first place–but I doubt I put enough time into Star Trek to fall under this rubric. I'm not into it enough to be a bond fide Star Trek "geek", I suspect.
But I still object, on factual grounds. Trekdom certainly has its share of extreme fans and all around eccentrics, but the ranks of professional sports fans surely include far more "losers." Whether one defines "loser" in the superficial conventional sense of those lacking professional success (i.e., the average professional and educational demographics), or whether one treats unpleasant anti-social personality traits as the basis for that label. Trekkies tend to be passionate, knowledgable, articulate and successful. They have a good sense of humor and are accepting of people, and, let's face it, it isn't hard to find the proverbial dregs of society at sporting events (even if they're a minority).
Moreover, is a person who devotes a significant amount of spare time and/or creativity to Star Trek really any more "out of touch with reality" and ultimately weird than a person who obsessively follows (and passionately identifies with) the fortunes of professional sports teams, groups of rootless, overpaid hired guns (not to mention obnoxious prima donnas in many cases)? How is a person who pours his heart into the ups and downs of a bunch of people hitting balls around–and who really feels them to represent him in some fundamental way–not living in just as much of a fantasy land? (And who wastes more time in unproductive pursuits, Trekkies or sports fans?)
Then there's the idea that Trekkies aren't productive members of society. To the contrary, I think that if one were to compare the average stats, the average Trekkie would probably come out ahead professionally and materially.
Most importantly, I think this perception overlooks what really makes this subculture tick. What keeps bringing Trekkies back to Star Trek is its sense of humor, unpredictability, and interesting characters. It's naturally suited to lively debate and analysis, not unlike sporting events.
Finally, in my experience the average group of diehard Trekkies is a lot more fun, interesting and pleasant to be around than a comparable bunch of hardcore sports fans. Super Trekkies don't swagger about like little boys in a school yard or shame each other over who knows more irrelevant-in-the-real-world minutae, much less get drunk and fight to protect the honor of "their" teams.
Don't know about you, but I'll take the geeks with funny ears and Klingon bat'leths any time over the geeks in bland baseball caps pounding their chests at the tail gate party.
P.S. There's an interesting write-up on the political context of the film in the New York Times.
Here's an interesting comparison between the politics of Star Trek and Star Wars.
Under President Obama, “we’re starting the era of the 1960s in 1967,” said H. Bruce Franklin, a professor of English and American studies at Rutgers University who was the guest curator of the National Air and Space Museum’s “Star Trek and the Sixties” exhibition in the early 1990s. “Culturally we’re reinventing the ’60s, but economically we’re reinventing the ’30s.”
In recent decades, Mr. Franklin said, “Star Trek” ceded its position as America’s dominant science-fiction mythology to “Star Wars” — both the Reagan-era missile defense program and the George Lucas movies (which in turn were influenced by Depression-era serials and World War II dogfights).
This is off-topic, but I happen to have a book by Franklin. Vietnam and Other American Fantasies includes a fascinating assessment of the relationship between the Vietnam war and Star Trek. It also documents the sinister way Hollywood quickly swung into action to after Vietnam to rehabilitate militarism after its defeat by the anti-war movement.
Franklin makes a compelling and disturbing case for the idea that Hollywood–for all its alleged leftist sympathies and "anti-Americanism"–almost immediately after Vietnam embarked on a revisionist project to rewrite American history so that the most important lessons of the Vietnam War (i.e., that militarism is dangerous and that the US shouldn't have been there in the first place) were forgotten, in the process demonizing the peace movement.
The peace moment was, contrary to the reactionary mythology that has taken over in American pop culture, diverse and often led by veterans. Let me repeat that: Veterans were at the forefront of the antiwar movement during Vietnam.
Similarly, Franklin shows how the image of nasty hippies outrageously spitting on veterans returning from duty Vietnam is as bogus as it is ubiquitous (thanks to Hollywood's enthusiast backing of post-Vietnam revisionism) and completely unsupported by the archival evidence (i.e., there are no reports of this happening in the media at the time).