I went and saw Star Trek. It’s good. Not great. Not even the best Star Trek film. But I liked it. And that being said, the debate about whether it is or is not Star Trek is a little absurd. The thing that really impressed me about this movie is that they did something that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a franchise like this. They managed to maintain narrative continuity while changing the past. Old Spock from the future is not from the same future that New Spock will one day inhabit. It will be a totally different future with all sorts of different adventures and, probably, a lot more sex.
This means that they can produce a number of new films (probably somewhere between three and four) set in a new alternate world that remains cohesive with the original series and films. It’s actually a pretty elegant solution to a problem with origin stories. Look at the disaster that is the Wolverine movie. They tried to make a film that outlines Wolverine’s back story but also introduce some sort of new story, and they find themselves in the position where they try to do far too many things with one film. I mean, the film I wanted to see was Wolverine in his youth, fighting all sorts of wars, living in Victorian Canada, etc. That would be interesting. Better yet, they should have had Ang Lee direct it; he’s got lots of experience with Victorian films and action films. Combine the two and we’ve got something very interesting.
“I say, Logan, those are some very sharp claws you have?”
“Why, yes, I believe they are. Why, did you know, that I can slice through metal with these?”
“Indeed? What are they made of?”
“Oh, it’s this wonderful new material called ‘adamantium.'”
“I say, that is fascinating. Will you be coming round for tea this afternoon?”
“I do think that sounds delightful.”
“Wonderful, I’ll have the butler make up some cucumber sandwiches.”
That’s the film I wanted to see. Instead we got garbage that was obviously written by fourteen-year-olds.
Instead of falling into these usual pitfalls, we got something unique, quirky, and altogether new. They rewrote the story, made it something fresh, and included some things that old Trekkies can relate to without having the opportunity to be overly critical about plot continuity. Zachary Quinto’s Spock is not Leonard Nimoy’s Spock, but he captures the same essence of what it is to be Spock. Since he’s the only one we see on screen with his future (and former) self, he’s perfect for comparison, but I’d even say that Chris Pine manages to pull out a pretty convincing Shatner without actually being too Shanter-ish. I mean, the only one who can really do Shatner and not be a parody is Shatner. He makes the character his own, while managing to convince us that he is, in fact, James Kirk.
Simon Pegg was brilliant.
Another thing that’s truly remarkable about the film is the fact that it is not a parody. It does not poke fun. Perhaps it’s the fact that Star Trek has already been parodied to death that made something like this possible. It couldn’t be a parody. It’s been done. They were forced to do something new. Something that really seemed like serious science fiction in the vein of Star Trek became inevitable. And that’s what it is: standalone science fiction in the vein of Star Trek. It is not the original series. It’s not TNG. It’s not the original films. It’s an entirely new beast and whether or not it’s actually Star Trek is beside the point. The film is damned fun to watch and has a lot of things going for it.
The first time I encountered the idea of alternate realities was Back to the Future II. You know, the one where Michael J. Fox goes to the future and buys the sports almanac and then future Biff Tannen (not unlike future Spock) steals the Delorean and brings himself the sports almanac in the past so that he can get rich and not be an old loser. In fact, it’s pretty much the same plot as Star Trek, now that I think about it.
In many ways, by making this an alternate reality film, they’ve freed themselves of the constraints of a franchise held in the clutches of legions of anal retentive fans and fact-checkers.
As a parting word, I think it would be best to say up front, that while I am not a “Trekkie” I did once go to a Star Trek convention and found myself sitting right next to John Delancie. Yes, that John Delancie. But that’s a story for another day. Suffice to say, I was too star struck to say hi, but I did get his autograph.
The film is not without its logical flaws (why exactly did they send Spock with quite so much of the doomsday goop?), but it just goes to show that a solid narrative style, reasonably good acting, and a fun tone can keep any story from falling flat.