Star Trek: Into Obsolescence
I saw the new J.J. Abrams movie last week and I’m just now beginning to process how I feel about it. I came out of the 2009 Star Trek feeling like many liberties had been taken with the established universe, but that the movie stayed true to the characters. I was excited by what was to come, what new directions would be taken with these iconic figures.
I walked out of the action movie that J.J. Abrams just released (I’ll drop the ‘Star Trek’ and just call it ‘Into Darkness’) with a flurry of emotions. Had I just been thrilled by what I’d seen on screen? Yes. Was it a well-made motion picture? Sure. But something gnawed at the back of my mind. Something was bothering me. What was it? Today, I finally figured it out.
It wasn’t Star Trek. And not only wasn’t it Star Trek, it didn’t care that it wasn’t Star Trek. It flaunted it. What do I mean when I say it wasn’t Star Trek? I mean that it had no qualms about co-opting characters that were established almost 50 years ago and using them to tell a story that had no relation to what had been established before. It was an action movie, plain and simple, that just so happened to use characters named Kirk, Spock and **SPOILER ALERT** Khan.
And what’s more, no one involved cared. And that’s what bothers me so much. From J.J. Abrams down to Damon Lindelof (who, by the way, needs to stop putting his fucking hands on much-beloved franchises), they didn’t care about alienating established fans of the franchise. For the first time in my life, I felt irrelevant. This movie is for the kids. For an audience that wants to see a whiz-bang action movie. Fuck the characters. I truly believe that the makers of Into Darkness don’t give a shit about people who grew up loving Star Trek. And the sad thing is, it makes sense. Financially, they’re better off going for a target market who knows William Shatner as the guy from the Priceline ads.
I bled for Star Trek. I grew up as a nerdy kid in Arkansas who was laughed at for coming to school dressed as Spock and Data for Halloween. But all that was redeemed because I knew that it was worth it. That the stories being told were worth the derision of my peers. And now I’m being left behind. Star Trek is being given to a new generation. And that generation doesn’t give a damn about what came before it.
I guess my biggest objection to Into Darkness is that it’s cynical filmmaking. You want to take Star Trek in a new direction? Fine. I don’t want to be one of those nerds standing up saying “But the Bones we know wouldn’t use the tricorder like that.” But the movie straight up rubs that new direction in the faces of everyone who loved the old Star Trek. Iconic scenes and characters are obviously in the film purely as “fan service.” But it’s counterintuitive. It’s cynicism at its worst. It’s an insult. I could almost hear the writers saying “Let’s have Spock say this…you know, because people loved it in that other old piece of shit.” You want to make Star Trek into a 21st century CGI Nolanized action franchise? Fine. But don’t pander to me and devalue what I hold dear about the old guard as well.
I’m going to make a controversial statement here. In principle (but not in quality) Into Darkness is worse than the Star Wars prequels. At the very least, George Lucas tried (and failed) to entertain the fans of what had come before. Into Darkness rebukes those fans, uses whatever scraps it wants, and flips a big middle finger to those who disagree. Do I recognize the reality of why it does that? Yes. But I don’t have to like it. And I don’t have to respect it.
Live long and prosper.