I seem to be strangely alone in my intense dislike for the new Star Trek film. The critics have bafflingly given it an enthusiastic bumming, but I really can’t see why.
The most important thing to realise is that this is not supposed to be Star Trek canon. While it is set in the time between ‘Enterprise’ and ‘The Original Series’, it features time travel and irrevocable changes to critical elements of the established trek universe, and so everything that happens must be considered an alternative reality, where all the events contained therein have no bearing on the integrity and continuety of the star trek we’ve always known. This is just as well – to attempt to rewrite nearly 50 years of established canon, where everything that’s ever been written suddenly becomes non-applicable, would never be accepted by the fans.
That being the case, this isn’t really Star Trek then, is it? It’s a reimagining (or ‘reboot’ as the tedious nerds call it) of Star Trek from square one, that merely diverges into an alternate reality where everything happens differently. It has the advantage of being able to create a new and diverse plot without having to establish the underlying principles of the universe in which it is set, but conversely isn’t something in which you can really invest yourself. Plenty of episodes of TNG dealt with alternate realities (‘Yesterday’s Enterprise’ was particularly good), as well as the ‘alternative universe’ referenced in TOS and DS9.
Those were good episodes that added a little spice now and then, but they were nothing more than an occasional curiousity that didn’t really affect the overall core of the series.
So why do we care about an alternate reality where Kirk starts life as a bit of a reckless arsehole? Where is this going? Are we going to have a series of new films that go down this alternate path? When the producers tire of reinvented ‘original series’ cast, are we going to have some kind of absurd alternate TNG later on?
We’ll ignore that for the moment and have a look at a few basic elements of the film itself. While a modernisation of the original design was a given, the Enterprise looks like it was made by Apple Mac. It’s not technologically gritty (which, for all its failings, ‘Enterprise’ was), everything is a little too crystallic and clean, and in me doesn’t engender a lot of familiary with the original. I could get used to it, I suppose, but as a long time and moderately faithful fan, I wasn’t immediately drawn in by it.
Let’s have a look at the characters. Kirk has gone from being a serious consideration to a rebellious dick with a superiority complex. The transition just doesn’t fit – Kirk is a temeritous cadet and a late starter, but for some reason gets promoted to acting first officer by a captain that just happened to like his dad. That wouldn’t happen, for fucks sake. Picard was breaking the mould when he made Weasily crusher an acting ensign in TNG, so the idea of making a cadet an acting, ranking officer is just not credible.
The United Federation of Planets has a fairly well established hierarchy of command that rewards performance and experience over the course of many years, so suddenly bumping someone up to a high rank is just absurd. Moreso the fact that this cadet somehow manages to wangle becoming the acting captain by pissing Spock off momentarily, and the biggest objection we get is from Uhura; “I hope you know what you’re doing”.
It just doesn’t work, and in that vein Bones the cadet is suddenly Chief Medical Officer after the other one gets killed. Do these people have no hierarchical redundancy? Isn’t there a Second Officer, a Deputy Medical Chief, someone slightly more senior than mere third year cadets?
As I watched the film, hoping and trying to like it, a growing sense of bullshit came over me. Nothing I was seeing was believable, even if you take into account the alternate reality wonkiness of it all. I mean, Spock is banging Uhura.
I say again, Spock is banging Uhura. Where on earth (or Vulcan, for that matter) did this come from? It’s like JJ Abrams was sitting around with dolls of all the major characters, idly musing about how he could shake things up for the purposes of the movie, and casually picks up the Spock and Uhura doll and pushes them together, making kissy-kissy noises. I can’t fathom any other basis for these two characters suddenly being in a relationship.
I understand the crop of available characters was small, with very few female roles to choose from, but to create this utterly unlikely partnership just heaps another shoval of shit on my perception of this film. It’s doing something for the sake of it, and it certainly doesn’t add any value. Spock banging Uhura, by god.
I appreciated the attempts at interlinking previously established trek history with the emergent parts of the film. Sulu fencing made me chuckle, and Christopher Pike being the original captain, with his experience on the Romulan ship being the cause of the paraplegia seen in his appearance in TOS. Still, it doesn’t feel natural. It smacks of a writer trying to link together things that were never intended to be linked. Explicitly shoe-horning in explanations of classic trek lore, because you happen to have the opportunity in a prequel film, detracts from their worth.
Take the Kobayashi Maru test that Kirk ‘cheats’ on. This is a well-referenced piece from what remains the best film of all time, The Wrath of Khan. Kirk cheating to win the unwinnable test was believable with Shatner, but seeing the new upstart eating an apple and chatting casually really ruins my original impression of what it was ‘really’ like.
We must remember this is an alternate reality, and so I have to hope that the original Kirk whose father didn’t die was much less of an insufferable twat, and my precious ideals will be preserved.
Let me just skim over a summary of the plot before I finish up this piece, which is dragging on already.
In the future, at a point a few years after our last ‘known’ experience of the Trek univerise, Spock attempts to save Romulus from the supernova of a nearby star. To do this he uses a never-before-seen element called ‘Red Matter’, the physics behind which are not explained, except that it creates a singularity in order to absorb the energy.
Spock cocks up and the Sun goes Nova early, and destroys Romulus. For some reason a singularity is created anyway, and is now a convenient time-travel device that ships can travel through without being destroyed by the gravitational forces. Spock goes through along with a pissed off Romulan miner, whose ship is, for some reason, enormous beyond the scale of anything previously seen in your average alpha-quandrant species, along with powerful fragmentary weapons that beat the shit out of anything it feels like.
For some reason, this miner is entirely clued up on both Red Matter and how to use it, and despite the fact his passage through the singularity was accidental, is unpeturbed by the knowledge that he has gone back in time, and contentedly waits around somewhere in space for 25 years, awaiting the eventual appearance of Spock. Why he’d have any reason to think Spock would appear at all isn’t explained, but suffice to say that 25 years later he’s still just as motivated by anger and angst as he was before, and plans revenge.
To this end, when Spock appears, he captures him, and instead of killing or imprisoning him, merely chucks him on an ice planet so he can see the destruction of Vulcan (via another singularity, c/o the captured Red Matter) from a great distance.
Christ, this explanation is taking too long. Blahblahblah, Kirk and young Spock make another singularity and the miner ship goes in it and presumably explodes, THE END. Kirk, despite only being a cadet, is promoted to full captain of the Enterprise and Spock is perfectly content to sit under him as first officer.
The whole thing is just ridiculous, a million miles away from the realms of possibility. The writers have made up a load of non-sensical shit and thrown it together into a claptrap of plot macguffins and needless exposition in order to create a film that is essentially a lot of standard bang-bang explosion action. Phasers now apparently shoot in pulses instead of beams, by the way. Funny that.
One of the things that has always run through Star Trek like lifeblood is its awesome and instantly recognisable music (‘Enterprise’ as the major exception). James Horner and particularly the Star Trek II soundtrack is a feat of sheer brilliance. In that film when the Enterprise clears moorings (and has a theme track of the same name), my hair stands on end and I’m completely entranced in the majesty of the scene. It’s just fucking awesome.
However, in the new film (and who thought to call it ‘Star Trek’ anyway? It’s stupidly indistinct), the music just ran right off me. It was immemorable and insignificant, and fuck me if I didn’t think I’d wandered into a repeat of Spiderman, so similar that it sounded. Throughout the entire film there was not one faithful melody to the original music, save for the end credits where they play a re-styled TOS theme, except by that point I’m already on my way out of the cinema cursing the film as a fucking joke.
The Romulans aren’t well represented here, because to look at them they don’t look like any kind of Romulan that’s ever been seen in Star Trek before. Why they all needed to look like bald-headed, tattoed white guys was lost on me. Throughout the film I had trouble identifying captain Nero (famous on Romulus for his CD-burning skills) from any of his other cloned crew members. As a character he’s badly explained, and to use the word again, not believable. The whole combination of the random plot elements is just stupid.
So there we go, my ‘review’, which its really not, sounds like a bit of a rant, but so confused as I am as to why this film has received almost universal critical acclaim has compelled me to set the record straight, at least in one tiny corner of the web. I can’t see anything in the film that I’d want to see again in an alternate-reality sequel, and if you’re the kind of drone who is impressed by fluffy nonsense like the new transporter effects, or the standard staple of ‘special effects’, then you’re welcome to it, but I hope to christ I’m not the only fan who regards this as another trek installment that has flown far wide of the mark.
To my mind there are only two trek films worth watching. Wrath of Khan, obviously, and First Contact, although if the two were in a footrace, the latter would be far behind.