The new international trailer for Star Trek Into Darkness is out. Take a peek and then I’ll go on:
Ok. Now catch your breath. Or stop shaking your head and frowning, depending on what you want and expect from science fiction and from Star Trek in particular.
As I’ve posted before, I don’t have any problem with Star Trek going dark or into action hero mode. Over the almost 50 years (!) it has existed, Star Trek has been there, done that on just about everything. It isn’t one thing, one style, one mode. Never has been. Woven into it all along (sometimes prominently, sometimes subtlely) are comedy, horror, crime, romance, period drama, mystery, fantasy, and even the western.
So I disagree with anyone who says that J.J. Abrams 2009 Star Trek isn’t “real Star Trek.” Nor do I see anything in the trailers to date or the 9-minute preview that cause me to arch an eyebrow higher than Spock in skepticism. Abrams is presenting his version of Star Trek. He is drawing on the elements that he feels are strongest and/or that interest and inspire him and then leaving the rest behind.
I recently reread some quotes from Nicholas Meyer, who directed Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which is still widely considered the best Trek film or certainly no worse than in the top three. He also directed Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, another strong entry in the film series. Meyer said, “There are only two kinds of art…good and bad. The only allegiance to the content of Star Trek that I felt owed was to that which struck me as good. I felt that I owed no allegiance to anything that was bad, for any reason whatever. My feeling, when I was working on Star Trek II was to divide things up with that in mind. I didn’t like the costumes in any other version, so I made new costumes. I didn’t like the sets, so we reworked the sets.” He proceeded to infuse his movies with a high seas adventure aesthetic. It worked very well. Why? Because the core characters and their relationships were both recognizable from what had come before and revitalized with new ideas. So it is with Abrams.
I do have one lament. It’s not even a Star Trek lament, really. I regret that so many high profile science fiction films are working solely in the action flick mode. The reason why is obvious: money. Studios fund Star Trek films because they think they have a good shot to make a lot of money every time out. They also think that their best chance to make a lot of money is to tell big, exciting Star Trek stories with a lot of action/adventure. All of the better Star Trek films work fairly exclusively in that mode…except one. (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, a time travel comic romp, is the exception.)
What we’ve wound up with is a steady cinematic diet of excitement and thrills and an almost total absence of awe and wonder. And that is regrettable. Because we could all use a little more awe and wonder in our lives, moments when we catch a glimpse of something that evokes the grandeur of the universe/Creation. Stories that remind us that we’re only a very small part of the whole, while eminently capable and driven to reach out and connect with the rest. The desire for those stories, our primal curiosity and urge to explore, is why the age old Star Trek voice over still works when read over an image of an endless star field.
Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. It’s continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.
Of course, it helps if you have someone with the vocal talents of Leonard Nimoy or Patrick Stewart reading those words and William Shatner does fine as well. But a very large part of Star Trek and of science fiction in general is the feeling we get when we look out at the stars and wonder what else is out there. Star Trek and other mass audience science fiction (or space based, if you prefer) films don’t feed us much of that anymore.
There’s a counterargument: You want that? Turn on the television. Stream something. Buy a DVD or Blu-ray disc.
I’ve recently started introducing my sons (10 and 7) to Star Trek and we began with the Original Series episode “The Man Trap” that aired on September 8, 1966. I streamed it from StarTrek.com. (Terrible viewing experience, steer clear.) Then I found the magnificently restored versions on iTunes and bought “Space Seed”, “The Trouble with Tribbles”, and “The Devil in the Dark.” Then I realized I didn’t want to buy them all and should look in the library and we borrowed more. After about 20 episodes, we have now moved on to Star Trek: The Next Generation.
We just watched the two-part premiere, “Encounter at Farpoint.” It tells exactly the sort of story that isn’t typically presented in the Star Trek films. The Enterprise is way out at the edge of charted space (The lure of the blank area beyond the current map never fails.). Picard and Co. have their first encounter with Q, a member of a godlike species who toys with them. They later encounter another completely unknown and extraordinary species that would probably benefit with a bit of a redesign, but is nonetheless wondrous. The Enterprise crew succeeds not by defeating a villain, but by solving a mystery, although Q repeatedly threatens them with extinction. They prove to Q that humanity is more than he/they/it assumed and should be allowed to continue to exist and explore. (We’re left to assume that the android, Klingon, and Betazoid on the senior staff, not to mention all the other non-humans aboard are OK too by association.)
There aren’t many explosions in “Encounter at Farpoint.” Everything about it suffers from it being the first time out for what eventually became an outstanding show. A lot of it isn’t good art, when placed on Meyer’s scale. Despite all of that, I was glad to see it again and be reminded of what’s been missing from the Trek films for too long.
I’m looking forward to Star Trek Into Darkness. But I would like to see Star Trek set thrills aside and evoke awe and wonder on the big screen again someday soon.
PS: I’m bemused that the YouTube screen cap for the trailer winds up being Alice Eve in her underwear, an image which sails by in the trailer. There are any number of more representative images, but I can’t figure out how to change it. Then again, I’m reminded that women who aren’t wearing very much isn’t new to Star Trek either. I also expect that Eve’s Dr. Carol Marcus will be a formidable person once we get to meet her in May.
PPS: As of 9:00pm EST it appears that YouTube has changed things and Alice Eve is no longer in her underwear at the top of this post. Instead you get Benedict Cumberbatch nose-to-nose with Chris Pine, which makes far more sense.
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