Star Trek, Rebooted

by Jeff Abbott on November 19, 2008

The first adult dramas I really remember watching (and liking) as a kid were Mission: Impossible and Star Trek (in afternoon reruns). When I was about 12 I was a serious Star Trek fan–I’d watch the reruns every day after school. Sometimes the show was brilliant; sometimes it was awful. But after a while, I lost interest, although I thought the Kirk/Spock dynamic was one of the most interesting friendships ever portrayed on television. I did like Star Trek: The Next Generation–I thought Captain Picard was much more like what a real starship captain would be like than the daredevil Kirk, and Data was a terrific character, but I didn’t religiously watch the show. And I never got into the subsequent Star Trek spinoffs.

I greeted the news that one of my favorite TV/film writers, J. J. Abrams, was rebooting the Star Trek franchise with a new film about the early years of Kirk and Spock with optimism. I think Abrams is a terrific writer and creative force, but of course, this is an undertaking fraught with peril: some hardcore fans would no doubt be up in arms about any tinkering or dramatic licenses that Abrams and team took with their show. At the same time, he faces the challenge of making Star Trek mainstream–giving it the same appeal to a moviegoer that a Batman Begins or Spider-Man or X-Men has to someone who’s never read a comic book and knows nothing about the franchise. This is the litmus test: is Star Trek really an embedded part of our pop culture to the point that it can withstand reinvention, the way that Batman and James Bond have?
I realized, with shock, yesterday that my oldest son has no idea what Star Trek is. (He asked me if it was like Star Wars, which he loves.) And to many other kids who are slightly older, it’s just a cheesy 60s sci-fi show, redone in the 90s with the bald guy who plays Professor X.
So–Abrams and team have released a trailer that gives us an idea of what the film might be like. I, for one, liked it a lot. Why?
Because in the trailer’s opening, it’s all about character.
We see Kirk as a young rebel and rule-breaker, fighting for his place in the world. We see Spock, torn between two worlds–human emotion and Vulcan logic. These struggles are the hearts of these characters, and have always been so. This is a huge part of what made Star Trek appealing in the first place to people who weren’t much into science-fiction, like me. Kirk and Spock, close as brothers, but representing two sides of solving conflict. If Abrams and his team’s focus is on character–the same kind of focus that made Batman Begins and Casino Royale such strong films– then I think this has a chance to be a good movie.
That’s the only thing I’m basing a good opinion on: the rest of the trailer can be flash and smoke. It might be mindless action or it might have huge emotional pull, it’s too hard to say. (We’ve all seen trailers that looked great but then the movie was bad.) The other elements I liked immediately:
–the music. Loved the music.
–Karl Urban as McCoy. He’s not mimicking DeForrest Kelley, but his quote in the middle of the trailer is pure McCoy pessimism.
–I’m a big John Cho fan, so I hope he’ll make a great Sulu.
–I like that they are paying homage to the original costumes, even if the idea of female military officers in miniskirts seems so 1960s.
I found and visited a couple of online hardcore fan forums to see what their reactions to the trailer were. Many were positive, but I couldn’t help but be amused at some of the ire: such as the Enterprise being built on the ground instead of in Earth’s orbit as a reason to avoid the film. (I guess the construction site of the Enterprise was part of the show’s history). Again, this goes back to character: being able to see the young Kirk on motorcycle, watching the Enterprise being constructed, is important in showing his character. The ship is a beacon for the life he wants or the life he needs, but doesn’t have yet. To me, showing that scene about Kirk is far more important than sticking to some long-ago bit of show trivia. Story trumps all.
My final point: this trailer had more action in it than the entire first Star Trek movie, which brought back the original cast. It was wonderful to see, but it was not an action film and was boring. Some of the fans may feel that Star Trek should only be about peaceful exploration of new worlds and new civilizations; Star Trek can do that, but now it must be more. We live in a time of war and uncertainty. I think Star Trek–with its themes of emotion versus logic, of making our place in the universe or having it decided for us–can be much more reflective of today’s world, without losing any of what made it fun back in the 1960s and 70s.

    { 4 comments… read them below or add one }

    JT Ellison November 19, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    I can’t wait for this movie. I love the idea of the prequel, how did they get there, why are they so bonded? Why did Spock choose Kirk? All of it. And the casting looks cool, though I’m going to have a hard time seeing Spock and not Sylar…
    Live long and prosper.

    Jeff Abbott November 19, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    I’ve never watched Heroes, but I do know the actor playing Spock is on Heroes–is Sylar his character on that show? For me, he looks very much the part of Spock. (He’s also on the season of 24 I’m currently watching on DVD.)

    JT Ellison November 19, 2008 at 5:25 pm

    Yes, Sylar is his character on Heroes. He’s so consummately evil, embodies that character so well, I’m excited to see how he can pull of Spock. Coldly logical is definitely within his range.
    That’s right, he was on 24…

    Meg Gardiner November 25, 2008 at 11:13 am

    I’ve already got the date the movie opens in my calendar — my kids have told me we’re going to see it.

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