Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Star Trek Beyond Criticism

star trek beyond
Pew pew pew

The teaser trailer for the third installment of the new Star Trek movie series made its appearance this week (what's up with all the jackets?) and, as a result, a lot of digital ink spilled (surely those digital squids must be dry by now).

Starting back in 2009, we saw countless Trek "purists" complain that the new movies jettison everything cerebral about ST in favour of action-adventure. This hasn't changed in 2015. Just look at some of the reactions to the ninety seconds of Star Trek Beyond (STB) we've seen:
For Trek fans, many are surprisingly close-minded. There's a division within Trek fandom now, with some fans claiming the purist high ground, thinking themselves gatekeepers of all that is Trek. If you don't fall in line with their notion, then you're not a "true" fan. Poppycock, I say!

Can we all stop pretending that the Trek movies were all about philosophy and morals? Or even that they were great films? Sure, there are a few gems among them, but the others range from bad to meh. Like Fry said on Futurama,
"You know what movies average out to be really good? The first six Star Trek movies!"
So people are criticizing this short teaser for not being full of the philosophy that Trek is known for. Because everyone knows that a ninety second ad of people talking about the prime directive will really get butts in the seats. And to be honest, the one time they did go full-on Trek for a movie was with The Motion Picture and we all saw how that turned out. (Hey kids, you want to stare indecently at the Enterprise for five minutes! Now's your chance.)

Look, I'm a huge fan of the original series (TOS); it's in a different class compared to the spin-offs. And from what I can tell, this new movie (and this series as a whole) is trying to emulate TOS. For all the bellyaching about abandoning the core principles of Trek, people forget that TOS was mostly an action-adventure show, a Western in space. Of course, they had their share of sobering, forward-thinking episodes but they had just as many fist-fights and shoot-outs.

But we're not talking about a show. This is a movie and that's the real issue, the double-edged sword of Trek: movies vs TV. Trek's traditional ideals are better serviced in a TV series, something that all Trek fans can likely agree upon. A movie doesn't have the luxury of coming back every week to make a point about something. Paramount wants to make money with a Trek feature every few years, to get the brand out there to eventually come back to episodic TV, and talking heads won't accomplish that. If you want a weekly dose of morality, go watch The Next Generation. (Seriously, go back and watch TNG, a lot of it seems dated now; it's not as good as we all remember it to be.)

Tangent: A big reason the TNG movies didn't work was because they tried fitting a square peg into a round hole, namely pushing the TNG cast into action-adventure movies when the series was rarely about that. True, the most popular TNG movie was, yes, also its most action-adventure-y one, but that's not why it's the best. First Contact is tops because underneath the action, it's based on an emotional core established in one of the most beloved episodes of the show. 

TOS was much more action-oriented, which is basically my point: that it's okay for TOS-based movies to be likewise. Just give me an inkling of a Trek-y theme and I'll be satisfied. More on this below.

All that being said, the morals in TOS often seem pushy. How many episodes did the crew encounter some new species whose ethics didn't mesh with those of Kirk, so he takes it upon himself to force Federation ideals on these people, basically spitting on the Prime Directive? Answer: a lot! ...which is a pretty non-Trek thing to do. The gatekeepers are often silent about the matter.

And this brings me to my final point: I'm not convinced there isn't a kernel of Trekkiness to this new movie, however surface-level. We've only seen a tiny teaser, so I can be totally off-base, but I found the line:
 "This is where the frontier pushes back."
to be telling. It seems to be to be a deliberate response to the "my way is better than your way" manner Kirk often imposed in TOS. I suspect the new story is about the Federation pushing out, discovering new worlds and new civilizations, and foisting their philosophy on other cultures. That is, until one alien species is not receptive and fights back. It could make for an interesting villain, someone fighting for his people's way of life in the face of Federation imperialism.

Maybe I'm giving this movie way too much credit but if my theory (wishful thinking?) comes to pass, watch for Fox News to rip STB apart for being an anti-American allegory to Middle East foreign policy. :P

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