A Less Than Positive Reaction to the Star Trek Movie

I’m starting to wonder if I’m the only person – or at least the only science fiction person – in the whole United States who didn’t like the new Star Trek movie.

[Warning: spoilers ahead.]

Actually, “didn’t like” is putting it a little strongly. I had a good time watching the movie. I mean, it was true at its heart to the original Gene Roddenberry show. The actors and writers nailed the characters from the original series. The special effects were entertaining. And who doesn’t have a soft spot for Leonard Nimoy, who has clearly made peace with having his life defined by Spock?

But in the opening minutes – as Jim Kirk’s mom was giving birth to him and his father was bravely dying for the sake of others – my internal critic took up permanent residence in a corner of my brain and refused to shut up until the credits stopped rolling at the end.

I mean we’re hundreds of years in the future, we’ve got warp drive and know aliens, and we still don’t have decent family leave policies? What the hell are Kirk’s parents doing on this mission? They ought to be home on leave. But I guess in the Star Trek reality a pregnant woman still has to work right up until the contractions are a minute apart if she wants to keep her job, and no real man would ever pass up a mission just to prepare for a new baby.

What the hell is red matter and why does it turn planets into black holes? I don’t mind a bit of hand waving over the science – I was fine with Scotty’s yet to be discovered tricks with the transporter – but red matter stopped me in my tracks. I mean, couldn’t they come up with a name that at least sounded like physics?

And who exactly did Winona Ryder play in the movie? I’m sure she didn’t play Uhura, who was was the only woman on-screen enough to deserve a credit. I’m reliably informed she was Spock’s mother, but that character was on screen for such a short time that I didn’t get a chance to see who she was.

I guess I’m just a curmudgeon. Just about everyone I know loved it. Every review I read praised it. William Shatner didn’t have anything to do with it. I walked into the theater fully expecting it to be good.

And if what you wanted was well-made homage setting up new Star Trek stories, it was great. Kirk is a hell-raiser who chases women (and non-human females) while still managing to show he knows how to make the right decisions when the chips are down. (I think this Kirk is smarter than the original, but that might just be the actor.) Spock of the present day is brilliant, but a bit stiff. (Spock from the future is more laid back, which also might be the actor.)

It gave a lot more scope to Uhura, Chekov and Sulu than the TV show ever did, but they were still the characters we knew and loved. McCoy was suitably grumpy; Scotty was excitable. Everybody was damn brilliant even though they mostly weren’t even out of the academy yet.

Hell, they even sent a red-shirted guy down on an away mission with Kirk and Sulu and had him die. Now that’s homage.

But I was expecting something more than an new version of the basic show with better acting and special effects. I was looking for something true to the principles of Star Trek, not just its trappings.

After all, the original program put on shows that dealt with race, with violence, with interracial (even interspecies) love, with moral principles. There may have been a lot of fistfights and intersteller battles, but they usually tried to talk to the enemy first. In the 1960s, Star Trek was revolutionary TV. It had enough vision and depth to pull people past its weak points. So what if the science was hand waving; the story was good and the principles were dead on point.

Real homage to the original would be a show that challenged our current preconceptions the way the original challenged those of the 1960s. Written science fiction – which, of course, is always light years ahead of the movies – is doing this. We have plenty of adventure stories in which it becomes harder and harder to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Maybe blowing them all up and letting God sort them out is not the only way to deal with conflict.

I was looking for a movie version that fulfilled the show’s promise, one that would “boldly go where no one has been before.”

Instead I got one that lovingly recreated every place the TV show ever went.

I went looking for cutting edge science fiction. I got a high end remake of 1960s television. Once again the movie makers are offering us nothing more than a repackaged version of our childhoods.

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Nancy Jane’s flash fiction this week is “Thank God for the Road.” Her collection Conscientious Inconsistencies is available from PS Publishing and her novella Changeling can be ordered from Aqueduct Press.

Check out Nancy Jane Moore’s Bookshelf for more stories.

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A Less Than Positive Reaction to the Star Trek Movie — 4 Comments

  1. Perhaps Kirk’s mother is a Starfleet officer who maybe, you know, actualy chose to work as long as possible — or who went into labor early, unexpectedly.

  2. It’s fine with me if women want to work right up until labor begins and to start up again as soon as possible before giving birth. The political issue underlying my crack about family friendly policies is that so often women feel pressured to either work as if pregnancy and childbirth weren’t changing their lives, or else to give up their careers. And fathers are often constrained from rescheduling their work lives so as to provide support to their partners. Seems to me that a civilized modern society can find a way to cut parents some slack while still giving them plenty of room to develop their careers.

    But my point in this case is not so much political as it is a statement about bad storytelling and bad science fiction. The Star Trek movie used one of the hoariest cliches in fiction: a woman giving birth at the worst possible time without her husband because he has to go out and die for the sake of others. If you’re going to use something that overdone in a story, you need a reason. And the fact that the plot needs for Jim Kirk to grow up fatherless is not a good enough reason.

    I can think of logical explanations that would work — early labor being the most obvious — but they didn’t give us any reasons at all. They didn’t even say if Jim’s mother was working on the ship or a passenger due to the status of her husband.

    I suspect they didn’t even think about the issue. And that’s bad science fiction as well as shoddy storytelling. Star Trek sets up a reasonably enlightened society that exists far enough in the future that we’ve got FTL drive and matter transporters, but it gives virtually no thought to how gender relationships might have changed in that same period. There are a few token women, but none in positions of serious authority.

    And that’s the problem with essentially re-making the 60s TV show with better effects. Star Trek was radical for TV of its time: the bridge was integrated racially and ethnically, and even included aliens. And there was a woman officer — Uhura, doing double duty for race and gender — which was reasonably radical for a show made when women weren’t even allowed to be astronauts.

    But rest assured, the Star Trek world of the 60s was essentially run by white men, and the others were tolerated to the extent they acted like white men would act in those circumstances. The 2009 movie is no different.

    A real homage to Star Trek would challenge the things the producers didn’t think about in the 1960s. That would be worth seeing.

  3. Thank you! Finally, someone who agrees with me! I am a long time Star Trek (and many other forms of Science Fiction) fan and I did not like it at all! This was not like the Star Trek we ans all grew to love over the many decades. This was cheap, weak plotted, garbage. It was made flashy and edgy for a supposed new generation of Star Trek fans, and it lost all coherence to classic Trek. It really surprises me how many old-school Trekkers loved it! How is that possible? It was a typical “new twist” on something old that ruined it, complete with product placements and pretty people. These things are all the rage these days and I can’t stand these types of movies just on principal alone. All we needed was Jar-Jar Binks and we would be all set!!