I got into Star Trek when The Wrath of Kahn
was first released in the theater. I have saw the initial release of about half of the ten movies in the theater. Likewise, I have enjoyed about have of following series. Season 2 of Next Generation has to be the pinnacle of the all the TV shows. I never got into Deep Space Nine. I even liked Enterprise
. Enterprise suffered from one fatal flaw that it shares with any prequel — we already know how the story is going to end.
When I first heard about the new Trek movie the rumor was to star Matt Damon. Damon would make a perfect Kirk except for one thing, He’s too old (my age). If you are going to reboot the series then you need to go back and start with a younger captain on his first command. Chris Pine was born after The Motion Picture was released. Then I heard that J.J. Abrams was attached to the project. I like Lost and even Cloverfield so I know I was not in for the usual Trek adventure.
The story opens with a Lieutenant Kirk on a starship facing a bad guy. This seems like any other Trek movie with updated computer-generated special effects. Looks like we have graduated from models like the later TV shows did. The story progresses through a checklist of things that they must complete and characters we need to meet. It seems to be plodding along checking off each item.
There are several small references that are probably lost on non-Trek fans. For example when Kirk is speeding down the back roads in the Corvette he passes his older brother George on the side of the road. George appears later in the original TV series.
There are also difference from the original canon. For example, Trek lore states that the Enterprise was built in space yet we clearly see it being assembled in Iowa. I think we can relax on this point with the following arguments: (1) it was never actually specified in any of the movies or TV shows that constitute the actual canon of Star Trek, (2) the very nature of the time travel story allows for the variance, perhaps the construction was moved to honor a certain captain who died 26 years earlier. (3) it was a dramatic element the J.J. Abrams used to help his story along. You get to pick which of these choices you like better.
The story moves on. Kirk meets Spock. Spock meets Uhura. Kirk meets Bones, and so on. By this point J.J. Abrams has started to throw little twists at us. The commercials make us think that Uhura and Kirk would get intimate which is not true and just a bit of clever editing. Each actor has taken a TV character and given it more dimensions without changing the character so much that it is unrecognizable.
I love the xenolinguistics conversation between Uhura and Kirk. Uhura is clearly more than a switchboard operator. Her contributions to the plot are critical. I also liked her love-interest in the story. Imagine that this happened in the original timeline and now knowing it recasts several scenes from the original TV show.
All the characters are spot on. Simon Pegg’s “Scotty” is believable and very enjoyable to watch. Sulu and Checkov are deeper than their stereotypes. I know we did not see Checkov until the second season of the original series. See the above option for how you plan to deal with this inconsistency. We never saw Checkov meet Kahn either, so deal.
Karl Urban usually plays dark characters. It was nice to see him lighten up. Two things bugged me about his portrayal of our favorite doctor. He was the only one who seemed like a parody DeForest Kelley playing the character. And his eyes never really engaged the other characters. These may actually be the same complaint. Perhaps his performance will grow on me in a later viewing.
At one point in the story the main bad guy is on screen. We see Nero full screen. Usually the bad guy is very stilted in his commands to our beloved captain, but not Nero. He says “Hi Chris”. I was taken aback. Who is this Nero. Is he from Heavy Metal or what (think “She dies, you die, everybody dies”)? This was the first sign to me that J.J. Abrams was not playing by the rule book. He planned to complete the obligatory checklist but then he was on to do his own thing.
At one critical point in the story Nero fires a weopon toward Vulcan. My mind race to fit this into the timeline. I immediate whispered to a buddy “Vulcan has no moons” which is a statement from the original series that is contradicted by a scene in the first motion picture when Spock looks up from Vulcan at the moon. I assumed the J.J. Abrams was attempting to reconcile these two versions of canon. He wasn’t. I watched in horror as I realized that J.J. Abrams had just taken my beloved canon and flushed it right down a black hole. I watched in horror as a recurring character from the TV shows and movies died.
The tag line and subtitle for this new movie is “The Future Begins”. This clearly was the moment for me in the story when J.J. Abrams had completed all the character genesis items on his list and made a complete left turn in the canon. The future is wide open. There are no rules. This is the only way the series could survive. Without a future history of Star Trek, future films can reveal that history to us without consequences in the timeline.