So I finally got around to seeing “Star Trek”last night. The much anticipated, much ballyhooed J.J. Abrahms reboot of the classic sci-fi franchise was, in a word, entertaining. The action, special effects, pacing, humour, and sex made this an outstanding romp of a summer blockbuster. And that’s about it.
Now don’t get me wrong: as I mentioned, I was thoroughly entertained. There were plenty of little gold nuggets (especially humorous ones) for fans of the original series and movies to sink their teeth into. The efforts of Abrahms and his young cast to capture the original characters’ quirks, quips, and quaintness were not “lost” on me whatsoever. In fact, I have no gripes with any of the film’s technical or artistic qualities. From casting, through design and special effects, to acting and directing, the film is solid (although I wasn’t too keen on all the hand-held cinematography). Still, this post is not intended to be a movie review per se, so I’ll get on with the crux of my argument.
When the credits rolled, I couldn’t help but leave the theatre feeling a little disappointed, and more than just a little saddened for Gene Roddenberry, and his vision for the future of humankind. This was a new incarnation of Star Trek, to be sure. Whereas the original series and films appealed to our appetites for adventure, sex, and violence (you would be hard-pressed to deny this point, however “cheesy” the action and special effects may seem in retrospect), they also stayed true to Roddenberry’s vision of a more enlightened human race–intellectually and morally.
For an entire generation, Star Trek was not defacto pop-culture sci-fi fantasy, but rather very possible future sci-fi fact. It inspired a generation of young people to enter engineering, electronics, computers, even the space program to create the technological advances they dreamt of and that we enjoy today. Do you think it’s by accident that some of the first cell phones were “flip phones” a la the communicators of the original series, and that now “touch screen” technology is all the rage, not unlike that seen in “The Next Generation”? But where is the science in Abrahms’ Trek? Hidden: like in a carefully crafted video game for American young people, for whom Xbox LIVE achievements and high scores in Halo 3 consistently trump academic achievements and math scores on their list of priorities. Abrahms’ Star Trek has plenty of IMAX ride at the amusement park, but not nearly enough IMAX film at the science centre.
What’s worse, Roddenberry’s Trek always had a sense of morality: that membership in the universal commons was based on a code of conduct worth striving for. That is why in “Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan,” we see the agonizing suffering and devastating results of such human failings as the desire for revenge. The Star Trek reboot literally gives the boot to any idea that vengeance is a bad thing. In one intimate scene between two vulcans, the elder of the two essentially equates the emotions of love and revenge, and encourages the younger to freely embrace both these emotional elements of his “human side.” Even when his captain is prepared to show mercy (albeit for utilitarian reasons), the young vulcan insists on satisfying his human–and apparently “noble”–desire for retribution. This is not a portrait of humanity’s future as Roddenberry envisioned it, but rather a snapshot of the kind of ancient thinking that perpetuates hatred and conflict in the world today.
It is truly sad that at the beginning of the 21st century, the one hopeful sci-fi vision of the future our culture inherited from the 20th century has essentially been dumbed-down and muddied to boot. It is sad whenever someone squanders an opportunity for greatness. Abrahms’ had an opportunity to achieve greatness here: to not only contribute an entertaining piece of pop-culture to society (which he most certainly did), but advance SEE Culture (Society Enriching and Entertaining Culture) in the process. Abrahms’ Trek is the prototypical work of pop culture reinforcing the mythos of our times: satiate your desires, embrace and feed your ego, win at any cost, et al. Is his take on Star Trek “good?” Like any fast-food meal, it sure “tastes good” in your mouth while you’re consuming it; but, after a while, in the depths of your stomach, heart, and mind, it leaves you with a certain emptiness inside. What exactly was it you were satisfying? What more do you need that has not been left even a crumb? Yes, you realize you haven’t had what you would call a well-BALANCED meal.
If J.J. Abrahm’s defense of his re-boot of Star Trek is to say that he’s “only giving the people what they want,” then that is the saddest thing of all; and, perhaps Roddenberry’s vision for the future truly is “Lost.”
SOCIETY ENRICHING AND ENTERTAINING CULTURE: