“Hailing frequencies open”

17 05 2009
Zoe Saldana as Uhura

Production still of Zoe Saldana as Uhura in director J. J. Abrams' 2009 film, Star Trek. Courtesy of Wikipedia. Property of Spyglass Entertainment, Bad Robot Productions and Paramount Pictures.

So I finally saw the latest Star Trek film — the one directed by J.J. Abrams — and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The writing was solid, the visuals were nothing to sneeze at, and the acting was superb. Zachary Quinto‘s portrayal of Spock would make it worth seeing all by itself.
And yet, I walked out of Cincinnati’s Esquire theater tonight feeling like a guy with a Vulcan father and a human mother — conflicted.

Somehow they managed to make a film that appealed to new audiences unfamiliar with the franchise while throwing in plenty of material a long-time Trekkie like me would still appreciate. Just ask your friendly neighborhood scifi nerd about Kirk’s green girlfriend or Scotty’s time travel or Sulu’s fencing. There was even an expendable “red shirt” or two. And yet, I was still pretty sure a less nerdy friend of mine — who had reservations about anything remotely related to Star Trek — would have had had a good time if he had gone.  (More on that later.)

But in the back of my head, I couldn’t help feeling disappointed on an ideological level. This Star Trek was a smart (if occasionally unscientific) sci-fi/action film – but lacked the trailblazing change-the-world vibe of the original series. The sense of scientific discovery that was once strongly associated with the franchise was minimal in this film. And this installment’s cavalier attitude about violence — and even vengeance — was a jarring at times.

A lot of the best stuff the franchise has come up with over the years incorporated intellectually engaging, socially conscious material. Star Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, had very obvious progressive views that frequently played themselves out in Star Trek in ways that sometimes bordered on preachy. Don’t believe conservative revisionists like James Pinkerton who try to rewrite Trek history. (Check out the whole convo here.) A.V. Club does a good job of cataloging some of Star Trek’s progressive roots here. Slate and Newsweek also have also mentioned Trek’s lefty past, too.

But the most recent incarnation of the franchise leaned far less on the moral conundrums & idealistic dreams of social and economic harmony and relied more on character development and (well written) action.

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