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May 12, 2009

Filed under: movies»reviews»action

Boldly Gone

Torie Atkinson at Tor notes that the new Star Trek movie is a pretty good action flick, but it's really bad Trek:

Nero's just seen his entire planet destroyed, yet when he goes back in time he utterly wastes the chance to change things. Why on earth does he not get his ass straight to Romulus, tell them about that supernova thingawhatsit that's gonna happen in the future, and give them some of his technology to plan for the eventuality? No, he's a boilerplate villain hellbent on a boilerplate revenge plot.

...There are Big Issues tossed around, but they're not explored in any meaningful way. The destruction of Vulcan is only there to make Spock emote--there's no hint as to what this means for anyone else, including humanity, the Federation, or the future. Nero annihilates his cousin race. The implications are astounding and interesting and never engaged with at all. We're talking about full-scale genocide. If you can't address that idea beyond 'It makes someone sad,' then you shouldn't be using it in your film.

Atkinson also, as you'd expect from a geeky sci-fi blog, points out a whole host of science-related plot holes. And although it's tempting to dismiss that kind of complaint as nerd nitpicking, particularly given Trek's non-reputation for scientific accuracy, there is a deeper point to be found there. Here's the thing: when the writers in the original series threw another minute of 'technobabble' onto the page to cover up a blatant last-minute deus ex, it was entirely in keeping with the earnestness of the show as a whole. It sprang from the same source as the preachiness that sometimes overwhelmed it. Fans mock its silliness, but there's also fondness there, since it meant the writers were still trying to say something.

Star Trek could be a painfully sincere program, a tendency that only got worse with TNG. It had faith in people, in progress, in technology, and it wore its heart on its sleeve. The technobabble was a part of that sincerity--sure, it said, we're just papering over the cracks in this episode's premise, but we refuse to let it slip by. We'll even draw attention to it with a jarring, pseudotechnical expository speech, that's how deeply and awkwardly we've bought into Roddenberry's vision of the future: one that might still have contemporary problems--racism, the Cold War, William Shatner--but can overcome them with a little human ingenuity and logic.

In the new Star Trek movie, they don't bother with the technobabble. Magical plot black holes created with 'red matter?' Scotty's transporter formula that can somehow hit a spaceship in warp from light-years away? (One wonders why anyone bothers with the ship in the first place, then.) Time travel that's a paradox only when the script demands it? Taming the franchise's runaway explanation habit was probably a good idea, but Abrams takes it too far in the other direction. It's just lazy: trying to get to the next action scene while avoiding any of the pesky social commentary (no matter how outdated) or sincere moralizing of the original. It's thrown away the heart and soul of the show for the sake of streamlining.

It's a pretty good movie. But it's not really Star Trek.

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