So it appears that my colleague, Benjamin Kerstein, was somewhat underwhelmed by the latest Star Trek movie. His criticisms are interesting and well-argued, but I think that he does the movie an injustice. To be sure, Star Trek won’t win any Oscars, but in many respects, the latest film served not only to reboot the franchise, but to given Star Trek fans a deeply satisfying, enjoyable and (dare I type it?) moving cinematic experience.
Start with the opening sequence of the movie, which shows how, in an alternate timeline, the Romulan mining ship Narada traveled through time to encounter the U.S.S. Kelvin, a Federation ship with one George Kirk as part of its crew. Because of the death of the Kelvin’s captain, who went to the Narada to forge a truce, Kirk is forced to assume command of the Kelvin, and in his short captaincy, he saves 800 lives on his ship by sacrificing his own. The saved include Kirk’s wife, and his newborn son, the future Captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Action-packed and filled with special effects though it is, the opening is also replete with emotion; the sight of George Kirk listening via an open channel to an escape shuttle as his wife gives birth, the affection-filled conversation Kirk and his wife have about what to name their son, and Kirk’s final, and repeated declarations of love before the Kelvin slams into the Narada–a kamikaze act designed to ensure that the escape shuttles are able to get away–all serve to ensure that the audience is emotionally invested in the characters of the movie from the very outset.
This is made easier by the fact that there is already a great deal of emotion redolent in the attachment moviegoers have to the Star Trek franchise, but that does not detract from the movie’s ability to draw us into its storyline.
Benjamin is displeased that James Tiberius Kirk, the baby whose birth took place in the midst of such death (including his father’s) is seemingly “generated by a cliché machine.” I can appreciate the point that Kirk’s Rebel Without A Cause persona may be somewhat overdone, but at the end of the day, I don’t buy it. Perhaps if this latest movie were the start of the Star Trek franchise, rather than a continuation of it, I could more readily accept Ben’s point. But as we all know, James Tiberius Kirk is not a conventional starship captain. His rebellious nature has been established throughout the franchise, and it only makes sense that the rebelliousness is shown to have deep roots in his childhood. This is, after all, the man who “changed the conditions of the test” when it came time to encounter the Kobayashi Maru simulation. He defied the Prime Directive more times than can be counted and he disregarded other Starfleet regulations innumerable times for the sake of his crew, his planet, and the galaxy at large. Should we have expected that he would be a by-the-book kind of youth?
Benjamin’s concerns with the other characters strike me as being similarly misplaced, given that their characters were already established by the franchise as well, and given that those characters were represented in a story about the professional and personal origins of those characters. Changing the personalities of the characters just so that they would not look as if they were “generated by a cliché machine” might have satisfied demands for cinematic originality, but it would not have been true to the Star Trek franchise.
None of this is to say that the movie was perfect. At best, Nero was a serviceable villain, and while I don’t agree that he was a remake of Khan Noonien Singh (Khan was an infinitely more interesting character), I cringed–as Benjamin did–when we essentially saw the reappearance of the Ceti eel to get information from Captain Christopher Pike. The alternative timeline will make for the creation of new stories that (conveniently) won’t interfere with the established canon, but while there were certain large changes in the storyline that resulted from the creation of the alternative timeline, plenty of other elements of the storyline remained the same, perhaps too many to be plausible, in fact. And the removal of Spock from command of the Enterprise seemed to make little sense–save for the need to put Kirk in the Captain’s chair, where he is presumed to belong.
But none of these flaws should take away from the movie, which was more than just a successful reboot, but also a loving tribute to the whole of the Star Trek franchise. It was deeply affecting to see Leonard Nimoy’s presence as an older, avuncular Spock, seeking to ensure the camaraderie among the crew of the Enterprise–and the friendship between Kirk and Spock–that defined the franchise. Whatever the quibbles with the specifics of the alternative timeline, its presence helps ensure the generation of more stories that capture the imagination. A great franchise has been given new life, and new relevance for a younger generation–everything that a Star Trek fan could want.
“Thrusters on full,” as Spock would say. The U.S.S. Enterprise has more voyages in her still. I can’t wait to watch them.
Read more and comment at Pejman Yousefzadeh’s blog.