Most nerds seem to grow up one of two ways: Star Wars fan or Star Trek fan. That’s not to say that a fan of one can’t be a fan of the other but if you ask people they will invariably identify one way or the other when it comes right down to it. Simon, for example, is a Star Wars fan. I am a Star Trek fan. A Trekkie, through and through.
So tomorrow, for me, is a big day: there’s a new Star Trek movie coming out. I haven’t seen it yet but I will be tomorrow at least once, and potentially twice because that’s how much of a nerd I am.
If you follow my twitter at all you may have noticed though that while I’m excited about new Star Trek I’m also rather worried about it. People have asked me why so here are the answers.
I’d like to stress that I’ve been purposefully avoiding news about Star Trek Into Darkness. I’ve gleaned a few things from trailers and some insinuations on twitter but for the most part I’ve been tuning out whenever it comes up so there is a good chance I’m wrong about a lot of this. That said I’d absolutely love to be wrong about all of it.
So let’s just get this out-of-the-way: Benedict Cumberbatch is Khan, right? It’s apparently been spoiled in various places on the web but this has also been pretty much the worst kept secret in the world for the last several months. “Why is this a problem?” you’re asking. Benedict Cumberbatch is an amazing actor and Khan is one of the all time great Star Trek villains, right? Well it’s not a worry in and of itself, but it is a symptom of a few others.
My first worry is that they’ve just remade Wrath of Khan. Now it definitely appears that the details are different, sure, but if you think about it they’ve already remade Wrath of Khan at least twice. Think about it: An enemy from the captain’s past comes back to exact vengeance upon him. In Star Trek: First Contact that’s exactly what happened. In Star Trek: Nemesis they changed the enemy from being in the captains past to basically being the captains past but really it’s the same story right down to the big last battle in the nebula and the death of the one without emotions who we were all emotionally attached to. It’s ridiculous.
Even 2009’s Star Trek is similar. Sure, Nero was out of Kirk’s future but it was still basically a one on one between Kirk and his equal with the big last confrontation around an anomaly (black hole this time rather than a nebula, but still). Other films have cribbed details from Wrath of Khan as well (Star Trek V and Insurrection in particular).
My point here is that this story has been done to death and the themes explored, namely the obsession with vengeance on one side and the ability to grow, change, and let go of the past on the other, haven’t really changed in any of the retellings.
That is to say, if they are going to remake the Wrath of Khan I worry that they are not going to do anything more with it. I happen to think that Star Trek is at it’s best when it’s a mirror for the times, when the character study taking place has something grounded in reality that we can all relate to. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country did this amazingly, the fear of change that drove the plot was analogous to both the dissolution of the USSR and the transition to a new central cast in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Wrath of Khan is an amazing character study, but there hasn’t been much else there in its various retellings.
This leads pretty nicely into my second worry: that Star Trek is more like Star Wars than it ever has been. 2009’s Star Trek is a fun movie, but setting aside the ridiculousness that is how Star Fleet advances people in rank and position in that movie, where are the scenes in the engine room? We get one, just one, where Scotty tells us “he’s giving her all she’s got” but that’s really about it. Star Trek has always been science fiction where Star Wars is Science Fantasy, and 2009’s Star Trek replaces all of that with “punch the engines, weapons to maximum!”
Science Fantasy isn’t a bad thing per se, but Star Trek was never that and it shouldn’t be.
My third worry is that while J.J. Abrams is a decent film maker, he’s also bloody obsessed with his “mystery box” bullshit. If you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about you can just go watch his TED talk but the basic idea is that surprises in films are a good thing. Now, he’s not wrong, but the problem is that he has no idea how to keep a secret. He keeps his projects so shrouded in secrecy that things get built up to the point where when I finally see his movies I’ve actually been disappointed at just how normal they really are.
When I finally watched Super 8, after months of teasing the film and what was in it at the end I basically said “wait, is that it?” I mean, that movie was a nice little homage to Spielberg’s movies from the 1970s and 1980s, but that’s all it was. There was nothing mind blowing or revolutionary going on there. THe same thing happened with Lost on more than one occasion, and other projects he’s been involved in.
So basically JJ Abrams is really good at making me think his movies are going to be incredible but they usually turn out pretty ordinary.
That’s probably my greatest worry actually, not that the movie won’t be great or that it will be bad, but rather that it’ll just be ordinary. Mediocre. Maybe even boring. At least if it’s bad it’ll be memorable.
Obviously, I still have to see the movie so I have no idea if any of this is true or not. Like I say, I’d absolutely love to be wrong about any or all of this. I’d love to see an action packed thinking man’s Star Trek again. I’d love to have my faith in JJ Abrams as well as writers Kurtzman, Orci and Lindelof.
I’m having a hard time believing that’ll be the case though.