Is New Trek, New Coke?
After seeing the new Star Trek film and giving some initial reactions via Twitter, people are asking me for a fuller explanation of what I thought of it. The 140 characters that Twitter offers with each tweet does not lend itself to expressing my thoughts on this new re-imagined and reboot of Star Trek, so I will use this space to explain a little further about and will most likely do a full review in an upcoming podcast.
So the new Star Trek reboot has opened. Let's not be coy about it, it is indeed a reboot. It's a relaunch of the series or "franchise" if you will. It is Star Trek for a new generation, not The Next Generation.
OK, fine. Clearly Paramount needed some jumper cables to spark some new interest in the series since it had been lingering off as evidence with the cancelation of the last spin-off series, Enterprise.
We have seen reboots before. They are becoming more and more common in fact as of late. Perhaps the most notable may be the recently concluded Battlestar Galactica. Unlike the reboot of Battlestar Galactica, this new Trek tries to tie this reboot with the existing Star Trek we have known and loved for over forty years now. Whereas Battlestar didn't make any bones about the fact it was a reboot (pun intended). It was a straight forward retelling of the tale in a re-imagined way. It was not a sequel or prequel to the original 1978 series, but it gave nods to the original series whenever possible. The same goes with the Tim Burton's remake of The Planet of the Apes film, though in a less successful way. This re-imagined new Trek would had done better if it was simply a reboot without attempting to pry it into the canon of the original series (but more on this later).
Before I explain why it would had done better as a straight forward reboot let's review a little about this new film, it's strength and weaknesses without getting into spoiler territory (yet.. I will warn you before I do). The film on the surface is fantastic. A fast paced adventure with incredible effects and good performances all around by the cast. The music, while not memorable except for the instances incorporating the original recognizable Alexander Courage signatures, was used quite well in the film. One of the aspects of the previous Star Trek films that was somewhat disappointing was it's lack of use in the hand-to-hand fights on the big screen which we had came to know as a staple of the original television series. When William Shatner and Christopher Lloyd went at it on the Genesis planet (in Star Trek: The Search for Spock), it seemed all too quiet music-wise. The turmoil of the planet instead served as a soundtrack to the fight sequences. Not here in the new Trek, it is a return of the glorious days of the original series with sweeping music during the action scenes of not just the starship sequences but also one-on-one fighting, etc. Though I suppose that is what is expected of "action films" these days.
So without giving anything way right now, the movie starts in Star Trek's past. No spoiler here if you seen the trailer for the film, you know we see Kirk as a kid and learn what made him turn to the dark side and how he would eventually become Darth Vader. No... That's another series. That's right, with Star Wars there was a hunger to see how it all came about before the prequels came out. The original films made references to the past, the clone wars and such, Luke and Leia's birth, etc.. We wanted to know how it all came to be, but we had enough references in the Star Trek series already of the character's past without it generating any great demand to see it on the screen. So my point here, if you are going to bring Star Trek back, why are we going backwards? When Star Trek creator and producer Gene Roddenberry brought the series back to television in the 80's, he made the brave leap of setting it some 78 years into the future of the established series. That is what Star Trek is about, moving forward with the human adventure, not retreading and boldly going where we all have already gone before. But this new Trek is a reboot and a retelling of the tale, only forcibly twisted to make it fit into what we know as established canon (more on this later).
So here we see how Kirk, Uhara, McCoy, and Spock all come together. Now at this point, for a long time die hard Trek fan, the movie is riddled with incorrect bits of history. They certainly got good deal correct, but for every correct aspect there must had been two or three glaring incorrect aspects of what we know to be established Trek lore. The casual fan or viewer over the years may not pick up on them, but for many of them it made no sense to ignore them if they got the stuff correct. This is explained later in the film with a sledge hammer to our heads, no worries. I won't go into the details of it all here for the sake of keeping this brief (or rather not making it any longer than it is already). Though some aspects of what they got wrong could not be explained way by the story telling device implemented later in this film. For example, they acknowledge that Vulcans have green blood, we even see a little it on screen, yet all the Vulcans depicted on screen have human-like pinkish complexions. There is a wonderful scene with young Vulcans where you can see the light coming through the cartilage of their ears. Something they couldn't do in the 1960's... but it's pink, just like caucasian human ears due to the red blood in them. While not always evident on screen in the original series, Spock skin color was more of mustard tint. In the new HD versions now available on Blu-ray, it seems like there may even be some green tinting applied of the ears to cover the make up lines that would show up now in HD. Well done if this was the case when they remastered the series for HD. Though perhaps this is all pedantic. Except for hard core fans, I doubt movie-goers will take note of any of this and it certainly does not take away from the fun or excitement of this film.
As the film progresses we see thrilling exploits of our heros Kirk, Spock, Sulu, etc... but why am I not on the edge of my seat? Why? Well, because we know their future, we know they will live. So some terribly exciting action scenes where they face almost death is wasted in knowing the fact that we have seen these characters already in their future, and know they live. It seems eventually the film itself realizes this and eventually it comes a time when they must try to remedy this situation. This is where it all becomes unfortunate that it is not a straight forward reboot but instead it tries to pry this reality into the establish reality of series. This is also where I must dance on the edge of what could be considered spoiler territory. Though I will attempt to stay clear of anything that could possibly be considered major.
Slight Spoiler Alert
As you may already know, Leonard Nimoy is in this film to tie it all together with the establish series. If you don't want to know how this is tied to the established Star Trek, stop here.
The reason why so much of this new Trek representation of what we know to be Trek's history is flat out wrong, including the once beautiful design of the Enterprise into awkward eye-sore we see in this film (which from what we can see was constructed on Earth -- how they got it into space, I am unsure), is due to the established timeline being tampered with, history had been changed which caused a snowball effect (or butterfly effect) that changed so much, perhaps too much. Now without giving any details away, the result is that all the Star Trek we have come to know and love over the last 44 years is now destroyed. Gone. If we are to accept this new Trek as canon, it means the Trek we know and watched is dead -- no worse than that, it never existed! The timeline is never put right, and thus this alternate Trek supplants the history and future of what we know to be Star Trek!
So instead of leaving the theater feeling energized and excited about the rebirth of Star Trek, instead I came out mourning the death of all we know to be Star Trek.
This is why I feel a straight forward reboot like what was done with Battlestar Galactica would had worked better. Don't get me wrong, I love seeing Leonard Nimoy as "Spock prime" in this film. But the changing of the timeline, changing history is simply a story telling device to excuse all the changes that had been made. It's that simple. Similar in some ways to the "Time War" in the current Doctor Who series, let's muck around with time to explain away changes. In fact, there are other parallels here with Doctor Who's Time War, as in that series it used to make the Doctor the last of his kind by destroying his home planet of Gallifrey. Without giving too much away, new Trek does the same thing concerning one of its characters.
This new Trek is an exciting well done movie, but it is at the expense of almost a half a century of established Star Trek storytelling that is now obviated instantly because history has been altered to the point where it is almost unrecognizable. Characters and situations from the original television series and films destroyed and their stories won't exist anymore in this altered reality of Star Trek. We didn't ask for new Coke, and we didn't ask for new Trek. Both have now been forced on the public. While it may taste good, it may be rotting your teeth.
For long-time die-hard fans, we may choose to ignore this new Trek as being part of established canon. It is another version. It should had just simply been another version without wiping out the past/future of established Trek.
So while new Trek is wonderfully exciting and enjoyable, it comes with a terrible cost.