Monday, May 20, 2013

Star Trek Into (Spoiler-Free) Darkness

Four years ago I wrote, “In the Star Trek universe, yesterday's movie is only as good as tomorrow's.” Well, I saw “tomorrow's” movie — yesterday — and thought it was roughly as engaging as Abrams' first franchise movie had been. Which is to say, the sense of diminishing returns is setting in, big time.

I did have fun, yesterday, watching the kids explore and play with the grown-up roles they've been handed. And it was mostly fun tallying up the “alternative” tweaks the new time-line introduces. But here the strain of the premise is beginning to creak — at times quite painfully.

"Captain: he did say 'creak,' did he not?"

J.J. Abrams' is resolutely non-Trekkie — which needn't be a problem. Nicholas Meyer wasn't a Trekkie, either, and he single-handedly resurrected the franchise with his narrative instincts. But where Meyer demonstrated a novelist's capacity for depth of character and irony patiently cultivated for the distant pay-off, Abrams and his (assuredly) Trekkie writers are resolute storyboard dazzlers, opting for flash and distraction and perpetual one-upmanship. “You liked ____ in The Original Series, right? Well, we do it too — only this way!” I burst out laughing at one such tweak — unfortunately at a time when Abrams & Co. were hoping I'd be dabbing at my eyes.

“This new franchise is starting to feel like the young trophy partner we left our soul mate for,” says Locke Peterseim, in a terrific (spoiler-free!) deconstruction: “sleek and alluring and lots of fun, but eventually blithely inane.”

I wanted to send our mutual trophy partner a little post-coital reading — David Gerrold's TOS corrective.* But two realizations stalled this impulse: a) Trek has always worked best as television, where it can be oh-so-patiently developed into a vehicle with legs. And b) this Trek isn't really for Locke or me, or our generation — not primarily, at any rate. That we can willingly take our kids to see these movies and not complain too bitterly on the ride home is pure gravy for Paramount. In another four or five years the kids will be taking their dates to see the next instalment, while we old-timers stay home and content ourselves with DVD memories of the soul mate that slipped away.

And Paramount is super-fine with that, too.

"You say 'trophy partner' like it's a bad thing!"

*Gerrold calls out, among other howlers, the egregious absurdity of a Starfleet flagship staffed by over 400 professionals playing host to three or four hot-shots who do all the work and have all the fun.


Joel said...

The new Star Trek movie still hasn't come out in my area of the world, so I'll have to with hold comment on it for now, but I enjoyed your review, and found those links interesting.

Without seeing the new movie, my own view is that it would have to be really really bad to seriously get under my skin. Over it's 50 year history, Star Trek has already hit so many lows already (Nemesis, for example) that I'm no longer shocked or disillusioned by a bad Trek movie. In another 20 years, this movie will just be another footnote in the franchise's history, and in the future I'm sure we can expect plenty more bad Trek to come as which makes it all worth while.

Darrell Reimer said...

The new movie is a lot of fun, and nowhere near as bad as Nemesis or Generations. And if you can somehow avoid spoilers until the movie gets to you, you'll probably have a really good time.