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Star Trek Discovery: early impressions

2 Oct

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After the first two episodes of Star Trek Discovery, my reaction wasn’t the resounding “Yes! Yesss!” I had so hoped for. Instead, it was a much more muted, “Okayyy…it’s not terrible.” There were a couple of interesting things there. It was visually stunning. There were some intriguing characters and performances (most especially Michelle Yeoh’s). The perspective of a secondary officer as the lead character showed promise…

After watching episode three, my attitude has shifted from “Is this good?” to “Is this really Star Trek?” and not an action / special effects show masquerading as Star Trek?

Even before the typical Trekkie arguments (Canon versus non-canon? “Prime” or reboot timeline? Why do the Klingons look like blue-skinned, earlobe-less Ferengi?) I find myself searching for the core elements that define Star Trek for me. I appreciate that they are trying to appeal to a new, younger audience. I just wish that direction didn’t have be at the expense of people like me.

[SPOILERS AHEAD] Mainly, I am still searching for a  character I actually like. The lead character Michael Burnham (played by Sonequa Martin-Green) is an imperfect, damaged character. While flawed characters make for compelling television, especially in modern science fiction (The Expanse, Black Mirror), this hasn’t compelled me to root for her so far.

Star Trek is meant to represent an ideal: the pinnacle of mankind’s noble aspirations. At this point in the series, I am still searching for a character that represents that ideal. (Yeoh’s Captain Philippa Georgiou came very close until a Klingon stabbed her through the heart in Episode 2!) Instead we have key players who disobey orders, choose violence over peace and justify deplorable means to achieve questionable ends.

I’m also looking for the camaraderie, the spirit that makes very different people come together around a common cause each week. I’m looking for that sense of hope that mankind’s future is brighter, much brighter, than its past. These are all core elements of Star Trek so far absent from Discovery.

Disney somehow manages to win new audiences with each new Star Wars project while still satisfying its most loyal fans. But after the disappointing recent movies and this long-awaited new series, I may be forced to accept that longtime Star Trek Fans may never get what we want.

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Why I hated Star Trek: Into Darkness

19 May

JJ Abrams takes my best memories of Star Trek and then shits all over them in his latest movie

The Enterprise in ruin: a fitting image to accompany this review.

I went to see Star Trek: Into Darkness with much trepidation. JJ Abrams’ first Star Trek film, although pretty decent, was not one of my favorites in the series. In the lead up to Darkness, I was anxious about how the trailers and promotional materials bore little resemblance to the Star Trek I remember. I was bracing myself for a brainless, blockbuster summer action film … and STID did not disappoint.

And that’s exactly the problem. Star Trek was never brainless action material. As a long time follower of the series, I feel like JJ Abrams has taken my favorite Star Trek memories — in particular, scenes from the franchise’s best film, The Wrath of Khan — and taken a giant, steaming, $190 million shit on them.

I’m going to put aside the inconsistencies and the plot holes so big you could fly a Constitution-class starship through them to zero in on Into Darkness‘s core issue: this movie has no soul.

The Star Trek I know asked questions about our place in the universe. It took critical looks at how we treat one another as a species. It reminded us of the consequences of our actions. And it explored the possibilities of science and the vastness of the universe we live in. It was not about laser beams and explosions strung together with occasional witty one-liners. But most importantly, Star Trek — through all its incarnations over the years — was about the relationships between a special group of people who could always find courage and come together to overcome adversity.

That doesn’t mean to say that Star Trek shouldn’t have any action in it. Star Trek‘s most successful films The Wrath of Khan, The Undiscovered Country and First Contact all saw their fair share of action (and blockbuster box office returns). But even the most fast-paced action movies need good storytelling and character development. Into Darkness has neither. Worse of all, Abrams disrespects the franchise because he ignores nearly 50 years of lore and tradition by not delving deeper into the characters’ relationships.

SPOILER ALERT

Most of all, you never get the chance to empathize with the central character: James T Kirk. Chris Pine’s Kirk is a complete dickhead. He is reckless, never follows orders or procedures and is fired from his job as Captain of the Enterprise in the first 20 minutes of the film. Does he show any remorse? Does he reflect on his decisions that put his entire crew at risk and cost him his job? No! Instead, he remains indignant and blames everything on Spock.

Throughout the film, you never get a sense of progress in the relationship between Kirk and Spock, a hallmark of the original series. (This is a shame since Zachary Quinto’s performance is one of the few good things about the film.) On the contrary, you are constantly reminded of how much they dislike each other. Suddenly, in what should have been the most dramatic moment in the film, Kirk sacrifices himself to save the ship (a reverse version of the events famously played out in Wrath of Khan) and suddenly Spock is disproportionately grief-stricken. (“What? They were friends?”)

The rest of the characters are simply wasted. Simon Pegg as Scotty is relegated to providing comic relief. Anton Yelchin as Chekov is constantly frantic and stressed out about … something. And Karl Urban as McCoy is reduced to spouting cliches, like a standup comic attempting a tired “Bones” impersonation. This is another huge waste as Kirk’s relationship with McCoy is one of the richest and most meaningful in the original series.

And what exactly was the point of this scene?

There is a new crew member, Carol Marcus, whose role is to look good with her clothes off and sound British (even when her father is clearly American). Benedict Cumberbatch plays a good Khan but, again, we never get the chance to really hate him. Is he a villain or is he just a captain trying to protect his crew? It doesn’t matter because there are too many phaser beams zipping past and spaceships exploding all over the place.

Most people who never followed the original TV series, their movies, or The Next Generation, etc all seem to enjoy it: big, loud special effects, fast-paced action, a good looking cast … what’s not to like?

Except, it’s not Star Trek. At least, not the one I know and love.

Gene Roddenberry (1921-1991), creator of Star Trek

Gene Roddenberry (1921-1991), creator of Star Trek