Films: Can the New Star Trek Ever Please Old Fans?

by Rick Rockwell

The answer to the title’s question: maybe.

But that possibility will come only through a difficult process. Director J.J. Abrams and his mostly new cast have given it their best shot with the new Star Trek feature, the eleventh film in the series. However, the problem is that old fans know the entire process is exploitive at its core.

First, some necessary truths: 1) this author fell in love with the series when it debuted in the 1960s; 2) this author has tracked the series and its spin-offs ever since; 3) this author believes producer Rick Berman ran out of ideas for the franchise in the mid-1990s, leaving several poor films (Nemesis and Insurrection) and various foundering television series (Deep Space Nine and Voyager), all with the Star Trek brand attached, in his wake. The final spin-off television series Enterprise was a poorly designed prequel. Although some critics say that series found its way by its third season, the damage was done. Star Trek had imploded on the weight of its inconsistencies and plot holes, propelled by the corporate greed that compels media corporations to wring one more cent out of once creative ideas. Many old fans had given up on what the new producers had done to the Star Trek franchise and the idea wasn’t attracting new audiences. The ratings for Enterprise were testament to that.

The corporate media — in this case Paramount Pictures which is owned by media giant Viacom — are aided in their greedy efforts by the mainstream media. (This theory, of course, is not new. Note: most major newspapers and television outlets are owned by the same corporations that push these products. Does it make sense for them not to aid in the marketing of their products?) Take, for instance, this essay by Hank Stuever of The Washington Post (owned by a multimedia company with concerns in magazines, newspapers, television stations and cable television, among others). Stuever argues that Abrams needed to “re-boot” Star Trek (why not just rewrite?) to reach new audiences and enliven the franchise.

Let’s apply some logic to this, as one of Star Trek’s key characters, Spock might. This idea at its core assumes the old fans don’t matter, or that they will buy just about anything with the Star Trek label, doesn’t it? Stuever’s argument comes from the same book as the newspaper executives who have been searching for their new audience for more than a generation. Meanwhile, as they tinkered with their product to find that elusive new (and younger) audience, they kept ticking off the old audience with the changes. The same can be said of television executives who also continue to redesign their product in search of ever younger or different audiences while the old audience grows more frustrated (and is also moving elsewhere beyond standard over-the-air television).

Credit Abrams, screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, and their young cast with trying hard. The new Star Trek film is fun. But try as they might with the intricate explanations and an interesting (if flawed) speech by original cast member Leonard Nimoy (Spock) at the end, the film falls apart about midway through. Abrams’ action film directing attempts to distract from the huge plot problems and the breakdown of character development. Throw in enough explosions, special effects and fist fights and maybe folks won’t notice, seems to be the philosophy. And many won’t. But this is not a great film. It’s not even a great Star Trek film. It doesn’t rise to the level of The Wrath of Khan, or The Voyage Home or even First Contact.

Was the $10 spent on the new Trek film worth it? Probably. Did the new stewards of this franchise need to create an alternate Star Trek universe using the hoary Star Trek devices of time-space singularities and time travel to wipe the slate clean and give themselves some creative elbowroom. Perhaps. But in the end, it seems like much of the philosophical core of the original series has been lost along the way. And this film consumer and former fan can’t help but feel just a little manipulated.

(To read about the media hype and reviews of the new Star Trek film, please see: "Who Needs the New Star Trek Movie? We Have the Reviews.")

(The promotional photo for Star Trek is from Paramount Pictures. To see a trailer for the film, please check below.)

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Jeff Siegel said...

Rick Berman never met a Star Trek problem he didn't try to solve with a time travel plot. He pretty much ruined Voyager that way, and it didn't help Deep Space Nine much, either.

Once, Star Trek was clever, cutting edge, moral and philosophical. And Gene Roddenberry didn't have to blow anything up to do it. But that was a long time ago.

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