To Boldly Go …

KirkNobody can split an infinitive like James T. Kirk.

The instantly-familiar Paramount franchise that is Star Trek is one of the most important contributions America has made to popular culture … right along with jazz, baseball and comic books. Star Trek (and I should state for the record that I am an avid fan of the original series) has influenced its own future and our present, with the design of personal computers, communicator-style flip phones, and a host of other technological developments that were more or less inspired–or at least influenced–by the 1966-1969 TV show. [Check out the Shatner co-written book I’m Working On That: A Trek From Science Fiction to Science Fact for more.]

Star Trek, in short, is IMPORTANT. It’s not only entertainment–it’s a cultural benchmark for our interest in space exploration, scientific and technological advances (in Kirk vs. computer, you know who’s always going to win), and attitudes on building the future. And given the increasingly bleak depiction of said future in YA books and movies, the science-based, egalitarian and peaceful future of the Federation is more significant than ever.

Which is why I’m so disappointed in the latest film.

Granted, JJ Abrams can crank out action scenes that will keep you riveted. “Into Darkness” was like a roller-coaster ride, and–unfortunately–about as mindless as one, too. My own trajectory was something like this:

3 min: This isn’t Star Trek and I don’t like this at all

10 min: OK, that was kind of fun

40: It’s not Trek but I like it

70: God, Benedict Cumberbatch is awesome!

100: Go, Spock, Go!

End of movie: That was fun!

3 min after movie: That wasn’t Star Trek and I feel exploited.

orig_uss_enterpriseY’see, Star Trek has always been about more than action and popcorn and all the superficial “fan” bait the screen writers throw in to make us bite. A tribble reference does not make it Star Trek any more than an Elvis impersonator singing “Hound Dog” makes him Elvis.

In fact, that’s what “Into Darkness” felt like to me … an engaging enough Elvis impersonator who can’t really move or sing like Elvis but can curl his lip and looks good in rhinestone jumpsuits.

Case in point: Kirk. Chris Pine’s Kirk is a pastiche of “Kirkisms” that don’t hold up under watching the actual series. Kirk liked the girls–yes–but he was also a romantic (“no beach to walk on”). Kirk bucked the system–sometimes–but has the utmost respect for discipline and (surprise, surprise) mostly followed the rules. When he didn’t, it was usually for the purpose of “winning” (i.e. Kobayashi Maneuver), which translated, as Captain, into saving his crew and ship at all costs. He didn’t break the rules because he was inherently a petulant, pouty rebel. He broke the rules because breaking them was the only way he could win or survive.

Under Abram’s direction, Pine is a leader because we’re told he’s a leader. Yes, I know no one is Shatner other than Shatner, but Zachary Quinto demonstrates far more leadership charisma than Pine (and of the major cast members, is the most convincing … Karl Urban is vastly underused). I can believe Pine as, possibly, Kirk’s wayward son, but even in this twisted, alternate future, I can’t see him growing into Kirk. And that’s not because Pine’s not a good actor–it’s because he isn’t conveying the confidence (not swagger), self-assurance (not arrogance), and maturity that characterize James T. Kirk.

Zoe Saldana, while decorative, is also no Uhura. Nichelle Nichols–despite having to repeat “Hailing frequencies open, Captain” ad infinitum–made Uhura a strong, private, proud and regal woman. She had bearing; she had sophistication. Check out her reactions in episodes like “The Squire of Gothos”. Of all the  original actors, she did the most with the least. Uhura had gravitas. Saldana is likable, but forgettable–and there’s no way Uhura would have discussed her private life in front of Kirk, as she does in a supposedly comic scene in “Into Darkness”.

The real problem, of course, is that Abrams was never a fan. He was never intellectually engaged by the series, ever captivated by its mixture of social messages (“Devil in the Dark”, “Taste of Armegeddon”, “The Mark of Gideon”, etc.), drama and adventure. He knows how to package up an action movie and take you on a roller coaster ride, but there is no vision behind the thrill, no imagination behind the voyage. His Trek would never have survived nearly 50 years or contributed to both developments and dialogues of the future.

I only hope that first-time Trek movie goers take the time to check out the “real” show … and don’t settle for an Elvis impersonator.

Thanks for reading … and live long and prosper!

0 thoughts on “To Boldly Go …

  • pamelacallow

    I have been a trekkie since I can remember. I am a huge fan of both the original Star Trek and TNG, and have read many of the SF classics. I am also a fan of JJ Abrams (Alias, anyone?). But, like you, I was extremely disappointed with this film. Your analysis of the character weaknesses is spot on. In addition, I deeply disliked the fact that Spock had a romantic relationship with Uhura.

    But my main objection to the film is that instead of the story revolving around the final frontiers of space — and that is a topic rich with possibility — it was a Marvel Comics storyline staged in the USS Enterprise. Flawed superhero vs. one-note supervillian. I’m not a fan of movies based on comic book franchises, so I was really looking forward to seeing Star Trek, as it is one of the few action films released this summer that is NOT based on a comic book franchise. Or so I thought.

    The final scene of the movie should have been the first scene, and the story should have been about the challenge, dangers, rewards and suspense of exploring the unknown.

  • Norb Vonnegut

    Kelli, I loved this installment of Star Trek. But then again, I’m not a student of the original series. I just disappeared into the action, appreciated the cameo by Leonard Nimoy, and enjoyed the dusting off of Khan. Great villain.

  • LaDonna Cole

    I liked your blog. Good review. I too had some difficulties until I realized, this is an alternate time line. These characters won’t grow into their predecessors. It is a whole new ball game. This Kirk doesn’t have a father figure, he is going to be different, less disciplined, more broken. I love what Abrams and the writers are doing. They are keeping the legacy alive and taking us on a completely different roller coaster ride. Anything goes! I love it!

    • kellistanley

      Thanks for stopping by and reading, LaDonna–and sharing your view! And we completely agree on keeping that legacy alive! I’m personally hoping they allow other directors/writers on board (as the Bond franchise has done) … Sam Mendes directing Star Trek would be awesome! 🙂