Vox Nova At The Movies: Star Trek

Vox Nova At The Movies: Star Trek May 8, 2009

How do you reboot Star Trek? Look to what they did in Doctor Who and repeat. That at least is what the new Star Trek movie felt like.

Before going further in my review, I will state that I did not, and still do not, think there was a need for a “reboot.” I will also point out there will be a couple “spoilers” contained in what follows.

When Doctor Who returned to the BBC screen, the Doctor became the last of his people, his home planet destroyed in war. To bring the Doctor out of his grief, Russell T. Davies decided it would be best to add a romantic interest to the show, changing the dynamic and feel of the companion/Doctor relationship. Moreover, in the new series, the story is told on the fly, often leaving little to no room for explanations if things did not appear to be right. Finally, the Doctor has found himself in a universe in which he has the ability to change time, to change what he knows – and, as to be expected, this is used to explain away inconsistencies between the new series and its classical counterpart.

Fast forward to the new Star Trek. Here it was decided they wanted to create an alternative universe so that the story can move forward without being burdened by the show’s history. In this universe, Vulcan becomes destroyed, with only a handful of Vulcans left; while Spock isn’t the last of the Vulcans, he is one of the last. Finally, romance is brought into the show – not, as expected, through James T. Kirk, but through Spock – where Spock and Uhura fall in love. No mention needs to be had that the pace and speed of the new movie is on par with the pace and speed of the revised Doctor Who – save for one slow, over-explanative scene between the young Kirk and an elderly Spock.

For many, this new Star Trek will be supported because it is “hip” and “bold,” but for me, I felt, despite all the changes, as if it rehashed all the previous Star Trek movies and put them together as one. The villain, Nero, feels too much of a mix between Khan and Dr. Soran. And that, in my mind, is a part of what is wrong here. It isn’t as fresh as it could have been, should have been. To camouflage that problem, there is an attempt of humor in the movie. But it just doesn’t work. It’s not Star Trek IV comedy, it’s Starship Troopers. And that just isn’t right for this.

The story itself is a bit weak. Nero wants to destroy the Federation and set up Romulus as the last remaining power. But the plot seems as if it were a secondary concern. The primary interest appears to be in bringing the characters together. While some elements of that setup works, some of it does not. Everything for Kirk is too forced. I didn’t like the emotional Spock. I really didn’t see why Bones took to Kirk as he did. I didn’t think it was right to have Scotty off the ship for so long. But the central problem is that I don’t see how this Kirk and Spock and Bones could become the trio of friends as they should be. Spock, more or less, is forced into a friendship with Kirk by his older self. And this Spock is far too emotional, and, I suspect, will be in the future (I suspect he will now follow his “human route” as a way to give him an edge over the old series) And yet, with all these changes and problems, it also felt as if, despite them, they wanted to hedge everything in, following a line from the Doctor Who audio story, Kingmaker, “Change, the story, the ending remains the same.” That is what ends up here. The story is changed, but the ending remains the same. If you are going to change the personalities and characteristics of the heroes, why do you have to make them end up in the same kinds of positions with each other? If you wanted to reboot, and to do something bold, don’t give up with what you set up, such as having Spock as captain over Kirk, or keeping Kirk and Spock as rivals. Just do something. Saying this, I do think the actors do a good job with what they were given. I have no complaints there. The direction, on the other hand, just felt a bit too pedestrian.

What was the need for a movie like this? There is so much more one could have – should have – focused in the Star Trek universe. I fear I will be one of the few voices to say – this just doesn’t work. It close, but not there. And I think in the future, once the hype is over, and people start to pick apart the storyline, they will see that it is the truth.

7/10

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  • I had kind of a sinking feeling when I saw the trailer, and your review confirms my fears, Henry. It seems there are many more interesting directions this could have been taken – the formation of the team that would command the enterprise, maybe some back-story on vulcan where we see an adolescent Spock struggling to establish his identity as a member of two species…

  • Matt

    We do see Spock wrestling with his identity, it’s one of the key things in the film for Spock, starting with his youth; but with the reboot, I think they plan to make it go the “human” way. Just hints of it here. And this I think also explains why he becomes almost an instant rival for Kirk here — Kirk hurts his pride.

    We also see the “team” forming — though, in ways which I think just is too much too soon. What I think could have been done, and would have been right, is to have Kirk NOT take command in this one, might not even have Kirk in it. That would have given room for something for the next one.

    I also didn’t believe his “taking command” in this really worked for me. Spock had well, done something really nasty to Kirk, and in that, I would think he would have lost his being “first officer” status when that happened. So I don’t see how or why people would accept his command as they did. And that I think is the kind of “sloppy writing” which lies behind this. It will just be more apparent later.

  • Henry:

    I was confused by Kirk getting to be First Officer too. It was weird that the time travel felt natural while the crew’s assembly didn’t.

    In a sense, I felt that this movie really did serve to just restart the franchise-eliminate the need to go by previous cannon, allow enough explosions to interest moviegoers and studios, and move on. It did that very well. Could it have been more? Probably.

    But then again, considering the forced “follow your feelings” talk Spock Prime (said so in the role list) gave to Spock, maybe the lack of a more profound direction was a good thing.

    • Michael

      What I wonder: will the elder-Spock bring his memories of the future with him? Will the Federation go searching for those races he introduces to them? Will he give them technological aid to help deal with threats like the Borg, threats which, now that the Federation is weakened without the Vulcans, will need all the help it can get? I really think there would be too many temptation by him, and those who find out who he is to get the information out of him that he can provide, that it would be best for him to find his way back to his own version of the ST universe.

      Nonetheless, I think I still don’t get the need for the reboot, so I know I will be more critical of this than others.

  • David Raber

    Henry, I just saw the movie and agree it doesn’t work. They have made a movie mainly aggrandizing the he-man commander type, while there is very little here of the examination of deep human questions that the original series (and some of the movies) tried to carry out. Everyone wonders why the original short-lived TV show has become such a hit long-term. Maybe because it had a degree of intellectual content that the usual action-thriller does not.

    The “entertainment industry” these days suffers from the same short-sided focus on money-making that our whole economy suffers from–not even seeing that genuine success of the long-term, solid type comes from offering a product of real quality.

  • The new Star Trek keeps the audience’s attention so much better than the other Star Treks… there is something fundamentally wrong with a movie that feels like a chore to watch (as are so many of the original Star Treks)

  • ari

    Henry,

    Thanks.

    Worse fears confirmed.

    Wait ’till the DVD then.

    Regarding Doctor Who, I did think it clever the way they were able to preserve the continuation between the Classic and the current series and, yet, keep things fresh with a certain hint of witty reinvention.