Bamboo Reviews: Star Trek
So, the trailer for “Star Trek” sucked me in. That, and relatively good ratings the critics gave it. Well, and I like “Lost”, and so I figured J.J. Abrams could deliver on the promise to “reboot” the Star Trek franchise, making it interesting to people like me who aren’t necessarily opposed to sci-fi, but who haven’t ever really been interested in “Star Trek”. “Battlestar Galactica” has, whatever you think of the ending, conclusively proven that you can take hokey source material and turn it into something imaginative and intellectually challenging. Consider that, and then consider how much more you have to work with when it comes to “Star Trek” as source material. J.J. Abrams has proven with “Lost” that he can handle the complicated, confusing plots that “Star Trek” is (I hear) famous for. And Abrams promised that the movie would be accessible to people who don’t know much about “Star Trek”. That’s me! I’ve only ever seen the first two movies, and bits of the original series and none of the spin-offs, not even a minute. So I went in with high hopes.
What I do know about “Star Trek”, from just absorbing it culturally, is that it’s based on the premise of a utopian Earth that aligns itself politically with other planets to create a Federation that funds massive amounts of space exploration, and that a large amount of the appeal of the series goes to the fact that it advanced progressive views and values in a sci-fi environment that usually inculcates reactionaries. This strikes me as a great place to launch a clever blockbuster that packs in lots of action, but explores some interesting progressive issues without being pedantic. But apparently, the producers and writers decided that this was impossible, and decided that interesting themes are mutually exclusive from action-packed thrill rides, and chose the latter over the former. For a movie that shows the genocide of an entire race—one that’s enshrined in the public consciousness like the Vulcans are, no less—I felt nothing. Which is terrible, because the movie’s entire emotional impact turns on how Spock’s grief over the loss of his mother and his planet, and so if you can’t sell his tragedy as a tragedy, you’re losing the audience. Zachary Quinto brought some gravitas to the role that mediated this problem, but it just wasn’t enough.
If you knew nothing about “Star Trek” going into this movie, you would come out with very little understanding of the Federation or the people of Earth in which these characters lives’ are grounded. If I hadn’t read up on Wikipedia, I’d have exactly no idea that the Earth on the series is one that has gotten past most of its political problems, and that the Starfleet is about exploration more than making war. Again, I think this sort of thing can be coupled with one action piece after another, so I don’t know what their excuse is.
Plus, J.J. Abram’s obsession with pregnancy is beginning to get on my last nerve. There’s an excuse for it on “Lost”, since the island kills pregnant women, but outside of the decent character of Uhura, you’d think the main thing women can do in the “Star Trek” universe is give birth. I don’t have a problem with the first scene in the movie being Kirk’s birth, or the fact that the main bad guy is motivated by the death of his pregnant wife, or that you actually have Kirk taunt Spock over his mother’s death by indicating you have to love your mother because she gave birth to you (not, you know, because she raised you). But taken together, it’s tedious, especially since Spock’s poor mother gets like two lines of dialogue before she’s killed. I don’t know why they bothered paying Winona Ryder to play her, and I also object to Ryder moving into the middle-aged mother role already, since she’s only 6 years older than me. I’m not asking Abrams to completely remake the characters, or do something like they did on “Battlestar Galactica”, and turn some male characters female, so that the stated values of the community line up to the portrayed values. You can’t get away with that when it comes to “Star Trek”. But while I loved the character Uhura, I just felt like the portrayal of all other female characters was rubbing your nose in how unimportant women are to this story.
My highest hope for this movie was that it would correct some of the things that drive non-Trekkies away from the franchise: the hokeyness, the pedantic plots and dialogue, and the obviously stupid fake science. But no. Apparently, the producers thought these elements were necessary to any Star Trek product. I think “red matter” should now be the phrase for any magical element in a sci-fi story that tries to pass itself off as science. Time travel, warp speed, and beaming people? Okay, all something I can buy could be possible with the right technology. But red matter was fucking stupid, especially how they used it. The hokeyness was inexcusable, as well. A few jokes, okay, but by the end of the movie, they were trying to generate interest by shoving new actors in old roles, without doing anything interesting with those roles, with Simon Pegg as Scotty being the most egregious example.
Worst was the pedantry. You’d think that since all politics were drained from the script, you’d at least be spared the pedantry. But no. We’re subjected to a tedious moral about how Vulcans need to be more in touch with their emotions, which actually offended me, for two major reasons. First of all, and call me a cultural relativist all you want, but right after a genocide is not the time to start bagging on a people about how their culture’s value systems are all wrong, particularly when they have a fairly admirable, education-oriented, peace-loving culture. Second of all, the offensiveness of this is driven home as Kirk taunts Spock about his dead mother in order to take command of the ship. What we learn from this is that Spock should feel bad about his desire to live by Vulcan values, at least just a little bit. Meanwhile, I’m stuck on the fact that Kirk is a mega-asshole.
It was a highly entertaining movie, so I’m not saying don’t see it. But don’t have any expectations for it. It’s definitely one where turning your brain off makes it go down much easier.