Friday Night at the Movies: Star Trek

This review is from James-Michael Smith, who writes at The Examiner.
When it comes to nerds there are basically two kinds in the world: those who love Star Wars and those who love Star Trek. 
Occasionally you will find ubergeeks who equally enjoy both, but most often Trekkies (I know, they prefer to be called “Trekkers”, but who cares?) and…well…whatever Star Wars nerds are called are bitter rivals in the kingdom of the dateless. 
As a kid, I was a big Star Wars fan.  To this day there are few individuals outside the pages of Scripture who are cooler than Yoda.  I remember getting pumped about seeing Return of the Jedi in the theater as a kid and LOVED my Jabba the Hut playset. 
However, as I got older and my geekiness matured, I became more and more a fan of Star Trek.  I had always watched reruns of the original series (and even the cartoon version of it on Nickelodeon.  ANYONE remember that one??) and liked the movies okay–though they weren’t as good, cinematically speaking, as the Star Wars trilogy.  But once I hit middle school and Star Trek: The Next Generation came out, I was hooked.  It didn’t have the blasters, cantena bands or golden bikinis that Star Wars had…but it had something they were missing: intellectual depth (and crazy shaped foreheads!). 

Now before all the Star Wars nerds put on their Boba Fett suits and try to hunt me down in order to change my mind, let me just say, yes, I’ve read all the “Theology of Star Wars” type articles, interviews with George Lucas on philosophy, and heard all the hipster preachers’ comparisons of the Force with the Holy Spirit.  But rather than try to engage any of those, I simply point to the final three prequel films and rest my case.  No matter how good looking Natalie Portman riding a monster-lizard is, or how cool it is to see Yoda finally flippin’ around with a lightsaber, those movies were crap and we all know it.
Of course, the Star Trek movies have equally been crap (except for the even numbered ones, of course!), but that didn’t matter to me because it was the TV show that was the flagship (pun intended) of this franchise–and the TV show was fantastic.  Okay, so sometimes the special effects were bad by today’s standards…but it was the late 80s-early 90s, so that can be forgiven.  What the show had was intellectual depth in dealing with philosophical, and at times even theological, issues in a way that wasn’t preachy or presumptuous (with the possible exception of the “Ryker falls in love with the gender-neutral alien” episode that was a veiled attempt at tackling the gay-rights issue in a roundabout manner).  But at the same time, those of us nerds who were raised on lightsaber fights and crazy epic spaceship battles of Star Wars, but who had moved on to the headier fare of Star Trek, knew deep down in our perpetually girlfriendless hearts that Star Trek could be every bit as cool as Star Wars in all those areas…if they wanted to.  (At least that’s what we said to our fellow geeks on teh other side of the fanboy feuds!)
Fast forward to this afternoon.  I finally had some time on my hands and six bucks in my wallet.  I decided to go see the new Star Trek movie by “LOST” producer J.J. Abrams.  I heard nothing but great reviews (even by those outside the borders of geekdom!) and though I stopped watching LOST after season 3 (sorry, but I got tired of endless plot twists and any storylines that took place off of the Island!), I really liked Cloverfield.  So that combined with my nostalgia for my nerdy childhood got the best of me and I headed into the theater.
It was the best movie I’ve seen in a theater in years! 
Period!
Now, being a former (okay, still a closet-case) Trekkie steeped in all the backstory of the Star Trek universe (up until The Next Generation stories, that is.  Anything after that, I treat in the same way I treat Rocky V and Alien: Resurrection…it never happened!) there were TONS of homages and slight nods to the original stories and events.  But even with no knowledge of such dork-lore, the movie had enough character development, storyline clarity and awesome action scenes that non-Trekkies would totally enjoy it.  Just like you can watch an episode of LOST with no knowledge of the backstory and still know that you’re watching really good TV, you can watch Star Trek with no knowledge of the original characters and still know that you’re watching a really good movie. 
But for those who love Kirk, Scotty, Bones, Spock and even the obligatorily-killed “red shirt” security guys, you’ll be tickled tribble-pink by the way Abrams and Co. went out of their way to capture the nuances and essence of the original crew.  Karl Urban’s McCoy is definitely the real McCoy–especially given the fact that he normally has a thick New Zealand accent!  (Most will remember him as Eomer in the Lord of the Rings movies).  And the fact that even at Starfleet Academy, Kirk was known for his success with green alien women was a perfect balance of kitzch and subtlety for the uninitiated noob masses.  (That’s easily the geekiest thing I’ve ever typed!)
But beyond all the inside nods and backstory reveals (i.e. we finally see just how Kirk cheated to pass the infamous Kobyashi-Maru scenario!), this movie was just a full on action-adventure flick that rivals the original Star Wars films (you know, the GOOD ones!) in its blockbuster appeal.  Of course it’s not groundbreaking in its scope or subject matter (the genre has already been defined and the effects are now in every major sci-fi flick), but it does finally settle the one issue that us nerds have debated for decades…
Star Trek is SOOOOO much cooler than Star Wars…when it WANTS TO BE! 
Disclaimer: This article has pretty much zero theological/spiritual merit.  But what can I say?  It was a great movie!  :)
About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Rick

    Good review, but if failed to even mention the key character/star in much of the Star Trek franchise: The Enterprise. “The finest ship in the fleet.”

  • http://transformingseminarian.blogspot.com Mark Baker-Wright

    Recognizing that this isn’t Scot, but simply the guy he’s quoting…
    but most often Trekkies (I know, they prefer to be called “Trekkers”, but who cares?)
    Errr, people who care about what other people prefer to be called.
    That is, people who aren’t jerks.

  • http://janariess.typepad.com Jana Riess

    It WAS a great movie–imaginative, fun, intelligent, unpredictable. And isn’t that inherently theological?

  • ChrisB

    I enjoyed the movie (of course I grew up loving both ST and SW). My wife didn’t, and she enjoyed it.
    That said, the ending made me crazy. Spoiler-free version: Who could possibly believe you-know-who’s promotion at the end? Just out of the academy?! Come on!!
    /venting

  • http://thesometimespreacher.blogspot.com/ Andy Holt

    You lost me at “I stopped watching LOST”… How. Could. You?

  • http://www.jmsmith.org James-Michael

    Mark Baker-Wright,
    The review was thoroughly tongue-in-cheek. That combined with my self-affinity as a Trekkie should negate any jerk-iness you may detected (possibly with your scale-model Tricorder?? I admit to owning one. If that isn’t enough Trek-cred to justify my use of the term “Trekkie”, I don’t know what is!) ;)

  • http://www.jmsmith.org James-Michael

    Andy Holt,
    If they would’ve cleared up the freakin’ Polar Bear mystery sometime within THREE SEASONS I would’ve stuck around! But there’s only so much off-key violin cliffhanger endings I can take before I walk away. :)

  • http://www.ill-legalism.com Rick Presley

    Scot.
    This is by far one of the best posts you’ve had in months. MONTHS. It is so nice to see that you have not only become more cerebral (aka Star Wars –> Star Trek = Growing Up), but you have not lost your appreciation of fine moviemaking.
    And yes, Lost post season 3 is the same as Heroes post season 3 and SG-1 post Richard Dean Anderson. They are dead to me. And apparently lots of other viewers as well.
    Keep up the good work.

  • Rick Presley

    Wait!
    You didn’t write this? I’m so heartbroken.
    Good review anyway.
    rick


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