Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

*** Contains spoilers ***

For a series with such a proliferation of time-travel storylines, Star Trek has always struck me as somewhat lacking in foresight.

Specifically, the number of episodes that feature a 'regular' crewman, paradoxically making their only appearance.

While I could forgive this in the episodes that had been made before I was born, the show's big revival in the 1980s surprised me by copying this shortcoming. How could the programme-makers not have spotted this recurrent flaw, when so many viewers had?

The biggest repeat-offender had to be the even later 1990s series Star Trek: Voyager. Right from the pilot it was firmly established that the ship was stuck in the Delta Quadrant on its own. There was a finite number of human personnel, which over the course of the series could only go down. Clearly, when the scriptwriters wanted to introduce a new crewmember, they would have to cast an existing extra from the background.


Years into Voyager's run they were still hiring additional actors to fill these new roles, even despite scenes in which the whole crew had appeared to be present at once.

A few years ago I read an interview with J J Abrams (I now assume that it was with him) about his upcoming new series Lost. I was impressed that his new show about a finite group of people trapped on an island had addressed this very issue, and cast everybody in episode one. I don't know how that panned-out over time.

Now the same guy has found himself in charge of a reboot of the original Star Trek. Cool!

Except that this isn't only a reboot – it's also a continuation, and a What If? story.

After the events of the last Star Trek movie (the by-the-numbers Star Trek: Nemesis), the planet Romulus gets destroyed. This hurls its apparently last survivor, and Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy – yay!), back through time to the early days of the original Starship Enterprise. Back when Captain Christopher Pike was still at the helm, and Kirk etc. were still meeting each other for the first time at Starfleet Academy.

For the first half of the film, as far as I could tell, everything tied-into established Star Trek lore more tightly than I could have possibly dared hope. There are so many tiny references to the original, and to witness events like Kirk's legendary rigging of the Kobayashi Maru test actually taking place made the whole thing, for me, very believable.

I was quickly won-over. These writers 'got' the original series, knew it inside-out, and cared. They also knew how to write a story well, weaving all these elements into a tale that, to a non-Trek-aficionado, must have looked like a fresh imagining. Nothing here seemed out-of-place for a completely original movie. (apart from, arguably, the plot)

Perhaps the greatest testament to all the trouble they'd gone to was in the realisation of the main characters. Young Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto) and McCoy (Karl Urban) all just about resemble the original characters, albeit a little younger. So many tiny mannerisms are present from the original performers' interpretations, and they really have it in the eyes.

Here's McCoy having a go at Spock:

Dr. McCoy: "Are you out of your Vulcan mind? Are you making a logical choice, sending Kirk away? Probably. But, the right one? You know, back home we have a saying, 'If you wanna ride in the Kentucky Derby, you don't leave your prized stallion in the stable.'"

Spock: "A curious metaphor, Doctor, as a stallion must first be broken before it can reach its potential."

Dr. McCoy: "My God, man, you could at least act like it was a hard decision..."

Spock: "I intend to assist in the effort to reestablish communication with Starfleet. However, if crew morale is better served by my roaming the halls weeping, I will gladly defer to your medical expertise. Excuse me."

Dr. McCoy: [as Spock leaves] "Green-blooded hobgoblin..."

Quoting it out of context there, it almost sounds like a caricature of the original characters, but there is tremendous subtlety to nearly all these performances.

Simon Pegg was a tough sell as Scotty, simply because I'm so familiar with his other work. His was also the only character to elicit laughs from the rest of the London IMAX audience who I saw the film with, although this may be down to his more comedic take on the role. Pegg's Scotty has a joy that somewhat robs James Doohan's original portrayal.

Anton Yelchin's Chekov also is more of a comedy figure here, but in both these cases this is a good thing. Even Ben Cross' Sarek contained something of Mark Lenard's original musical delivery.

Zoë Saldana's Uhura was a bit hard to accept, but only because of her youthful appearance. Captain Pike's (Bruce Greenwood) greying temples had me trying to reconcile whether Jeffrey Hunter's The Cage had already taken place or not, and if so how Spock's appearance and/or age could therefore fluctuate.

But that's about where I jump off from examining this too closely. The precedent that the main characters can be reinterpreted by new actors was set decades ago with Robin Curtis' replacement of Kirstie Alley as Saavik in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, so this is all consistent with that.

So, by the middle of the film, all was going extremely well. This was indeed Star Trek XI! Or, if your prefer, Star Trek 0.

Then Romulus' last survivor from the future – a guy called Nero (Eric Bana) who quite brilliantly looks like a cheaply made-up alien from the series' later years – destroys the planet Vulcan in the past, and along with it Spock's mum. (Winona Ryder)

This was a big surprise. Spock's mum had been alive in the later-set TV series, and the movies. Apparently they had thrown away all that story-integrity just for the sake of some short-lived emotional baggage for Spock to inwardly deal with. I didn't like that at all.

It had completely passed me by that Spock's whole planet had just done the big firework – a slightly more major continuity error. When I did realise this a few moments later, I supposed that the Vulcans could have all moved to another world, taking the same name with them. Then episodes like Amok Time could have retroactively just taken place there. But Spock's mum? There's no replacing her.

However, then there's a great scene in which they're all arguing about how to outwit this villain from the future, especially considering his tactical advantage of foreknowledge.

Kirk: "But you say he's from the future and knows what's gonna happen - then the logical thing is to be unpredictable!"

Spock: "You are assuming that Nero knows how events are predicted to unfold. The contrary - Nero's very presence - has altered the flow of history, beginning with the attack on the USS Kelvin, culminating in the events of today, thereby creating an entire new chain of incidents that cannot be anticipated by either party."

Uhura: "An alternate reality."

Spock: "Precisely. Whatever our lives might have been if the time-continuum was disrupted - our destinies have changed."

So, after half a movie of arguably canon Star Trek, the second-half shakes-off the inherent inevitability of prequels, and benefits tremendously from a completely open storyline. From this point on, we actually don't know what's going to happen.

Once those continuity-errors had been acknowledged, I was able to thoroughly enjoy the rest of the movie, secure in the knowledge that the writers weren't talking-down to me after all. As a result I found the rest of the movie to be a great mix of action, comedy, and that all-important characterisation that I was talking about above.

The film finishes with the timeline remaining changed, and almost none of the last 40 production-years of Trek mythology still intact. (Star Trek: Enterprise predates this film, so is safe)

Of course, as is usually the way with time-travel, this doesn't seem to have quite been thought-through. How many of Star Trek's other time-travel tales are necessary to have still taken place for history up until this point to remain intact?

For example, in the Star Trek: Voyager story Future's End, the time-travelling actions of the USS Voyager indirectly cause the computer revolution of 1990s. However, now that that future is uncertain, the USS Voyager may well never be built, so that crew are no longer certain to go back in time and cause that event. So... without the computer revolution of the 1990s, Earth's history is changed, and the events of this film cannot, and therefore do not, take place either.

Of course, you might argue that in this new history, Voyager still gets built and that event remains unchanged, but I doubt it. History has diverged, and will continue to do so, especially for someone like Voyager's Vulcan Tactical-Officer Tuvok.

You can't just wipe it all out that easily...

A popular misconception, which mistakenly drove the production of this film, is that the original Star Trek canon had become stale.

In my opinion, it's only the scripts that were stale.

When the scripts get stale, what you do is hire new writers for their new ideas.

With the whole universe to choose from, even the sky is not the limit for any space-fiction's theories. Star Trek can be about anything, absolutely anything. The only limit is the creators' imagination and budget.

The people who were in charge of Star Trek should never have restricted their creativity to such a flat formula. There were plenty of fresh writers out there who would have helped.

You want proof? Well, how about these guys?

Had they employed the creative team behind this movie on, say, Star Trek: Nemesis, then I very much doubt that Trek would have died the awful protracted death that it did.

We'd have had Picard and co. in a fresh, original and exciting film like this one. Instead Nemesis' script retrod safe familiar ground again, so of course Trek became stale.

So here's my beef with this current - otherwise terrific - film:

While this is a very well put-together Star Trek film, its remit to dismiss all ten movies and 24 TV series looks like creative and financial suicide, because it offers only one film as a better alternative.

I've seen the film now, it's over. So - how are you going to make any money from me now, Paramount? Maybe with just one more film that you won't have ready for another two years? It's hardly the ubiquity that the original popular product so excelled at.

Maybe Paramount are hoping that, as a result of seeing this film, I'll go out and buy the original TV series on DVD? Ah, no, wait, there's no point, those stories didn't happen any more. Well, maybe some of those episodes still took place. Nobody's quite sure now. Well okay then, how about The Next Generation? Nope, same problem, I watched seven years of that for nothing. Deep Space Nine? Oh, maaan...

I've chosen to bale Paramount out and suppose that, when 'our' Spock travelled back in time, he also unknowingly slipped into a parallel universe, as opposed to the alternate history that this appears to be. (Uhura is wrong above)

Maybe one day he'll make it back again, and hopefully take the audience, and these writers, back with him.

Refresh the creative team, sure, but not our reason for watching them.

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3 comment(s):

At 4:26 am, Blogger KlownKrusty said...

"go out and buy the original TV series on DVD? ... there's no point, those stories didn't happen any more."

Damn you, Mephisto! Kirk never married Uhura after all! Actually, Superman comics had the same problem after the 1986 revamp - the back issues were no longer "real".

However, I think the most alarming part of your review for me was this:
"Robin Curtis' replacement of Kirstie Alley as Saavik".

Kirstie Alley can never be replaced. Never. You can change history and visit all the alternate realities and parallel earths that you like - you can never replace Kirstie Alley. It's the Alley Way or no way, my friend.

At 8:36 am, Blogger Steve Goble said...

Boy, you must have hated those first five years of Cheers.

At 1:58 pm, Blogger KlownKrusty said...

I travelled back in time and fixed it. In the Long run, it was worth it.


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