13 May 2009

Confessions of a Closet Utopian

Spoiler Alert! This post will undoubtedly give away plot points of J.J. Abrams’ new Star Trek movie, so if you haven’t seen it, & you’re affected by ‘giving away the ending’ read no further.

Nerd Alert! Though I will endeavor to remain analytical, intellectual, and generally charming, I can not be held entirely responsible if I occasionally fall into bouts of gleeful gushing, obscure referencing, or utopic dreaming during the course of this post, as I am, admittedly, a Trekkie

J.J. Abrams’ reboot of Star Trek was, at least to this fairly hard-core Trekkie, superb. The new movie not only opens up the possibility for new fans to get their feet wet in the Star Trek mythos without feeling overwhelmed or mildly embarrassed, it also significantly ‘cools up’ a franchise that has been in desperate need of a make-over. (Nerd translation: Think Vampire: The Masquerade for role playing)…

While both earlier movie Enterprises had moments (say, Wrath of Khan and First Contact) of thrilling, adventure sci-fi, I’m sorry to say that what has most held Star Trek back over the past 15 years or so are its ties to Gene Roddenberry’s original vision (I know, I know – sacrilege). I don’t mean by this that that vision isn’t central to what makes Star Trek great (I’ll do whatever I can, short of wearing a uniform around town, to help foster the creation of our first warp engine sometime in the next 50 or so years), but it’s impossible to look at Trek’s more recent forays (Voyager & the later Next Gen movies particularly) as being overly tied to the somewhat false mission of Gene Roddenberry’s of creating not only a utopian world, but a utopic lesson-book of sorts. (Though the most recent Star Trek series, Enterprise, certainly had its share of fable-ous episodes, I think it might have been able to redeem itself with a full run of 7 or 9 seasons – the larger, more complicated story arcs of the Temporal Cold War and the Xindi were an attempt, I think, to keep the show driving toward something {namely the Star Trek timeline}). These longer narrative arcs also tend to give writers something better to do than moralize, the utopianism is embedded rather than being explicitly taught every week (or 5 years)…

To my mind, Abrams’ solution to the ‘problem’ of dealing with the canonized history of Star Trek was truly inspired. Of course there will be purists out there who will mourn the loss of certainty of things to come, but not knowing just how much of the future history of our galaxy has been altered makes for a much more interesting work of utopian fiction. Though critics may be right to point out that Star Trek’s time travel based plot might be a bit pieced together (likely just for an excuse to plop Leonard Nimoy in), it also brilliantly allowed Abrams (& Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman) to blur the Star Trek historical record. This Kirk (well played by Chris Pine) need not necessarily be our Kirk – hell, this Kirk wasn’t even born in Riverside, Iowa. This allows the movie some breathing room. We know Spock & Kirk & Bones will eventually become the very best of friends, but there’s a new pleasure in the unfolding.

And, speaking of pleasure in meeting old friends, Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is not only wonderfully sexy, but also slides perfectly into her pre-future-historical role. If you look back over the original series, all those sidelong glances and quiet smiles from Uhura make much more sense in lieu of what we learn from this new Uhura. And Scotty (Simon Pegg), oh my god, Scotty. When I first heard Scotty would be played by Pegg I was simultaneously ecstatic and flummoxed. I love Pegg from his work on Shaun of the Dead & Hot Fuzz (& anywhere, really), but I didn’t see the peppy Brit fitting the role of Scotty very well. But what Pegg gives us is a fuller understanding of the character of Scotty. Sure, we know Scotty’s a fun-lovin’ drinker, an engineering miracle worker, and a chronic nay-sayer, but Pegg wields all of those previously caricature-istics simultaneously, effortlessly. It’s the Scotty we see in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, when he’s playing around with a 1980s PC, but rarely see anywhere else in the entire run (at least not that fully). And Zachary Quinto as Spock, enough has been said about how perfect a choice this was, but to watch Spock’s emotions deep below the surface occasionally bubble up in a facial tick or a glance, really quite remarkable.

But all this, the casting, the characters, the plot (was anybody else concerned about starships flying around the galaxy opening up black holes everywhere? Jess Peterson told me it was ok, that black holes in fact have no more gravitational force than a normal star, but I’m not convinced… It seems like some sort of set up for a future galacto-eco-crisis in Abrams’ Star Trek 7: This Place Sucks) is really secondary to the fundamental vision, the fundamental voice of Star Trek. The stories are, at heart, truly utopian. It’s imagining something that might unfold tomorrow that’s a little better than today. It’s figuring a way that we make it, but what’s so great about Abrams’ take on it, is that his movie need not hit you over the head with these ideals. Instead, it hits you over the head with a good, crazy villain – awesome new/old beaming technology – Slusho – great fights… but through it all, that hope that makes Star Trek great is still there.

Score: 3 Shots


Shane said...


thought it was cliche and poorly written. starting the think that abrams is a one trick pony.

still fun, watchable.

Grant said...


This movie was a big dumb shiny retard. The most generic and boring plot in Star Trek history tacked onto a series of scenes designed for no other purpose than to illicit shit-eating grins from stupid people who like to be reminded of things they already know.

The characters are held up by nothing more than makeup and catch phrases. People jerking off over how well the actors did must be judging them for their haircuts, as there was no real dialogue in the picture. There was nothing for them to do but look recognizable.

But, not much pisses me off more than when technology is used as a plot device (almost always a bad idea) and doesn't even follow it's own rules.

If Scotty had invented relativity-breaking transportation, why the fuck did old-spock have to take "the fastest ship in the fleet" to fail to save the Romulans? Why couldn't he have just transported?

The technology they used to get Kirk/Luke and Scotty/Han (and the Spikey Ewok) off of Hoth completely negates the need for SPACE SHIPS in the Star Trek universe.

Not to mention taking away from the already-contrived and retarded "i'mma blow up your planet cuz you tried to stop my planet from blowing up but weren't quite good enough and i hate u" mentality that fuels the derivative and motiveless baddy.

This movie had no redeeming qualities other than branding and lens flares.

joel said...

Ok, Grant - Yes to your No.

The movie was big & shiny, but it surely is not the most boring plot in Star Trek history (have you seen Star Trek: Insurrection or Star Trek: The Motion Picture?). In fact, the movie seems to be targeted to me toward a popcorn-crunching, summer tent pole crowd, rather than previous fans looking for something to be rekindled in Abrams' movie.

As far as the acting, surely you're not subscribing to the idea that the only way to be a good actor is through 'saying lines properly'... If you watch Quinto closely, you see a really complicated character in Spock, that I don't think Leonard Nimoy ever really realized... Besides, again, the movie is a summer blockbuster... Who has time for dialogue when you have characters jumping out of space vehicles landing on hovering drills?

As far as your tech critiques... You may be right occasionally, but my understanding of Scotty's transporter innovation was that it allowed people to transport from planet to planet WITHIN a single solar system, not from Vulcan to Romulus (say)... plus, who knows if you can transport Red Matter... shit might really go down...

And Eric Bana's villain is motiveless in some sense... He's mad, utterly crazy, but what makes him so interesting is the way he plays out Nietzsche's concept of ressentiment to a T (to a tea?)... The idea that there's nothing in the world I (or anyone) can do to really improve their situation, so to make myself feel better, I can do something to make yours a bit worse...

Plus, you just hate everything... Find a little joy in things, man. Make a list of good things about this season of Lost... Tell me why you like bourbon... It's too easy to just say everything fails, it's more work, but more worthwhile to figure out what worked.

Oh, and Shane... what's the one trick? Or do you mean to say that Lost is the only worthwhile thing Abrams has done? That would be a bummer...