My Thoughts on the New Star Trek Movie (Spoiler-free!)

“Come, come, now, Scotty. Young minds, fresh ideas.”
“Aye, and if my grandmother had wheels, she’d be a wagon.”

Kirk, Scotty; Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
(line order reversed deliberately)

The new Star Trek movie by J.J. Abrams was always intended to be a so-called reboot of the franchise, an opportunity to take the Star Trek universe in a direction that would allow for new ideas in a familiar setting. I went into this movie really excited at the potential of this, but came out pretty disappointed: as a long-time, details-oriented fan, there were too many changes for me to accept, and for reasons I can’t yet put my finger on, it didn’t quite *feel* like a Trek movie.

I grew up watching the original Star Trek series (in reruns: I’m not quite *that* old!), and from there, moved into the novels which fleshed out the characters, and especially their pasts (many of the novels in my collection deal with the time before the 5-year mission). From there came the first 4 movies (Star Trek V? I’m pretty sure they didn’t make that one…), and then it started: The Next Generation (TNG). At first I was skeptical: “that’s not really Star Trek”. But it grew on me, and they did a pretty good job of referencing things that had come before. I watched (and re-watched) every TNG episode. When Deep Space Nine started, I was watching, and liked what they did with it, but I don’t think I saw much of the last season. Then came Voyager, and I watched some episodes, mostly in the first season. While they had a great concept, the execution didn’t really hold up for me. I saw even fewer episodes of Enterprise (a show I really wanted to like), mostly because they started to take liberties with what had come before.

What has to be understood is that there isn’t just the shows, the movies and the novels. People invested into this universe in a big way (geek alert!): there were time-lines, technical manuals, and lots of meta-information that either pulled from canon (the accepted authoritative body of work), or became so. At that point, for the people who were paying attention, there was an enormously detailed universe available. Of course, that can be a curse too: there were inconsistencies, and it becomes increasingly difficult to write well in such a universe.

So while one might not blame Mr. Abrams for not wanting to bring along all this baggage, the trade-off is throwing out 40 years of world-building, and throw it out he did. Interestingly, the one thing that would have saved this movie for me (and I honestly sat through more than half the movie hoping this would happen) was if they had employed the classic Trek (and others!) device of a reset of the original time-line once the major plot-point was resolved. Of course, that would preclude sequels using the world that was built for this movie.

As for the film-making itself, I went in prepared for the shaky camera and the lens flares. The shaky camera I didn’t really notice, but the lens flares were way over-done, and became annoying after the first few minutes. I think they (overly-) contributed to portraying a bright, shiny future, but the movie failed to capture the traditional, idyllic Utopian setting which characterizes early Trek. (Oh, and Mr. Abrams? With all of those easter-eggs/references/in-jokes you put in there, to have *that* many pipes in engineering, and *not* label any of them “GNDN” was just a major oversight!)

One quick note about the characters: even accepting that this is a new Trek universe we’re dealing with, and there will be changes to the familiar characters, I really didn’t like the new histories of Kirk and Spock, especially Kirk – something just felt wrong, even if it did serve to explain later motivation, and trying to reconcile this with the fact that these were supposed to be familiar was … jarring.

This movie is an opportunity for a new generation of fans to experience Star Trek, and that’s not a bad thing. I do feel sorry for them if they then want to go back to experience the last 40 years: they’re going to be a little confused. For me, when they make the sequel (and that’s pretty inevitable), I won’t be going to see it, and I’m not at all happy about that. I wanted to like this movie, wanted to have an excuse to get back into Star Trek. But I can’t help wondering, was this movie really necessary? I think about all of the wonderful, unexplored science fiction material out there, begging to be transformed into other mediums, and wonder if the money put into this film wouldn’t have been better spent bringing something new.