Pharyngula

Star Trek gets retconned

I finally saw the new Star Trek movie — I really do live way out in the boondocks, you know, and we only have one theater, with a single screen, and we had to wait for the Hannah Montana movie to run its course before we could bring in something interesting. Although, I’m afraid, it ultimately wasn’t that interesting.

There were some good elements to the movie. Star Trek was and is character driven, with these now-familiar personalities bouncing off of each other while resolving some esoteric skiffy crisis. That’s always been the fun part of a Trek movie, and this one preserves that and even turns it up to 11…so while I was in the theater, I was able to sit back with a bag of popcorn and enjoy myself. It’s definitely not a bad movie, and it even taps into fond old memories very effectively.

But here’s the problem: the plot was crap. The plot was mostly irrelevant to the movie, but even there, it was a series of semi-random events strung together by a need to reassemble the Trek cast of characters. The bad guy was just a madman with a great big spaceship and a doomsday weapon out to demolish the Federation of Planets because he thought he’d been wronged, and the starship Enterprise ping-pongs about chasing him down, picking up members of the cast, getting fresh Star Fleet Academy graduate James T. Kirk promoted, etc., etc., etc. Beating the evil villain seemed secondary to showing how Kirk met Spock, how Scotty got his job as engineer, and how uncannily Karl Urban channels the ghost of DeForest Kelley.

And then the real purpose of the movie emerged: it’s a retcon, a retroactive continuity adjustment, in which time travel is used to create an alternative history timeline for the characters. It’s plainly an attempt to restart the franchise, and this movie felt like a preliminary scene-setting effort, where the story didn’t so much matter and the important thing was to reconcile the fan base to new actors and variations from Trek canon.

That would be fine, except…this show has been going on for 43 years. I watched it avidly in its very first incarnation, and fondly remember pleading with my parents to stay up late on a school night so I could watch it. But there is a time to move on. I found myself wondering why actors would want to risk the fate of settling into comfortable archetypes — the original actors were pretty much type-cast after the show, and they at least had the advantage of being the people who forged those personalities. I thought about another series of movies with Kirk and Spock and Bones and Scotty and all those others, and many more plots with planet-destroying space villains, and yet more resolutions via deus ex Jefferies tube, deus ex particle polarity reversal, deus ex warp in the space-time continuum, and I just felt tired. Very tired. What I like in my science fiction is the new, not the familiar, and I don’t think this franchise is going to deliver what I desire.


I shall fan the flames and point out a couple of other things that bugged me.

  • Miniskirts. Uhura was one good flounce away from a major wardrobe malfunction. If it’s a matter of weird future fashion, they should go all the way and put the guys in g-strings and tube tops.

  • Did anyone notice the interior design of the Romulan ship? Funky weird platforms with no guardrails suspended over a huge empty space. Only the Mario Brothers could like that layout.

  • Somehow, all the familiar characters of the old show get themselves instantly put in charge of the bridge of the flagship of the Federation fleet. This does not compute.

  • People seemed to like the action sequences in space. I didn’t. In particular, there’s one scene where the Enterprise comes out of warp into a field of wreckage, all closely packed, and Sulu maneuvers his way through it all, bumping into a few bits here and there. That only makes sense if the velocity of a starship is like something under 20 miles an hour. (By the way, Firefly also did this. Hated it there, too.)