William Shatner’s comic contribution to "Saturday Night Live" is resounding strongly in my mind right now as I reflect on the trailer for "Star Trek: Beyond."
Shut up John, it’s just a trailer.
But it matters. Let’s face it, if you were to say to a Montreal Canadiens fan that hockey is just a sport, then you’d get a response that would cause a sailor to blush. The same perspective applies to a favorite musician, actor or a beloved author. People value these things greatly, while seemingly childish, they actually matter on a personal level because people identify and resonate with the values they represent.
That’s how I feel about Star Trek.
I think fans would agree with me as well. While I don’t want to seem presumptuous and speak for them, Star Trek has been an international cultural phenomenon since the 1960s. It has lasted this long because of the presence of specific and much-lauded values Gene Roddenberry instilled within every episode. It was reflective of the time, but it was also reflective of the need to look toward the future and reading the headlines of today’s newspapers; I don’t think that has changed.
Shut up John, it’s just a trailer.
Yeah, I know, but what bothered me about this trailer was the fact that I didn’t see any of those values represented in it (view the trailer here). What I saw was an advertisement for an action-packed film, with lots of stunts, special effects and some admittedly pretty damn funny lines. I saw some evidence of really great acting and what seems to be an entertaining movie.
I didn’t see a Star Trek film represented. In fact, I saw a pretty generic space adventure film, which I probably will enjoy watching. Hey, who doesn’t like to see a motorcycle jump a gorge? I love action and thrills like the next guy, but that’s not at all what Star Trek is about.
So the better question to ask is what are these values? It’s probably a safe bet if I address them individually to better explain my perspective.
Okay, there has to be some conflict in the future in order for there to be a decent story. So it’s not all tribbles and roses in the Federation, but there is the presence of hope in Roddenberry’s future. First of all, all the countries of this little dustbowl of a planet, in the western most end of the spiral galaxy known as the Milky Way, get along with each other. In the 23rd and 24th centuries, humanity has put aside national borders but not cultural heritages. Kirk’s love of history complements this perspective and was often Roddenberry’s voice of social commentary in the show. It’s important to add this dimension to any attempt to add to Roddenberry’s legacy and to appeal to the fans who love it.
There will always be conflict — with the alien as well as with ourselves. That’s what makes a story. But it’s the pursuit of achieving the values within those stories like the attaining and maintaining this future that I want to see. Where is that in this trailer?
Again, it’s one of the underlying principles of Trek that really hasn’t been advertised well in this trailer. Sure, we have aliens galore featured, but we don’t really know what their roles are. In fact, it seems that they are mostly adversarial in nature and while an alien threat makes for a great story, that’s really not part of Star Trek’s original conception in which the Federation embraces alien species as part of its own. As far as I could tell, I didn’t see any alien allies represented in this trailer, save Mr. Spock — and as one of the principal roles in this film, that’s kind of expected.
Where’s the diversity? It’s the sum of the parts that make the whole, and in this case, the parts are pretty nondescript and lacking in diversity. For the '60s, Roddenberry’s diversity was represented in the different cultures of Earth coming together in service onboard the USS Enterprise. In later years, the Klingons were featured as allies or even crew members. In iterations like "Star Trek: Voyager," even the greatest enemies of the Federation — the Borg, for example — were seen to have value that was added to the whole of the Federation culture. There’s something to be said to that.
In this trailer, it’s nothing but combat and death-defying stunts. Even the one instance in which Kirk looks to have an alien comrade, she seems warlike and simplistic in nature. She’s there to kick some serious butt, and that seems to be the only value she brings to the film. What a lost opportunity.
Exploration and discovery
It’s pretty safe to say that there really aren’t any of these two values represented in this trailer. Let’s face it, the Enterprise goes down and the crew are in for the survival fight of their lives. This doesn’t represent any of the exploratory aspects that viewers watched for in any of the Star Trek series. Originally there was a five-year mission, followed by the continuing voyages to seek out new life. This was then enhanced by different alien cultures visiting and defending a Federation space station, or the greatest exploration of all: an entirely new galaxy. Even "Star Trek: Enterprise" discovered new species that were unknown to fans even though the show was set in the early days of Trek.
What is there to discover about Star Trek in this trailer? The one line that could even remotely connect to this value is “this is where the frontier pushes back,” which resonates the antithesis of Roddenberry’s ideals. It suggests that the Federation is simply about warlike expansion without any of the sense of adventurous discovery and scientific exploration that was a fundamental part of the show. It’s an advertisement for shock, thrill, fast-paced action, but the experience behind those sensations lasts for a brief moment before the need for another one is felt.
It’s like fireworks … and judging from this trailer, it should be explosive and scintillating, but it takes more than flashy lights and explosions to make a Star Trek film.
The one aspect of this trailer that seemed to convey some of the original Trek was Karl Urban’s remarkably accurate portrayal of Leonard McCoy. The man does seem to be channeling DeForest Kelly’s performance of this iconic character. Sure enough, the greatest line originates with Dr. McCoy and capitalizes on the inherent back-biting camaraderie between Spock and McCoy. In both rebooted versions of Star Trek, this never really seemed to emerge, yet it was a fundamental aspect of Roddenberry’s Trek. With Spock’s disappearance in the transporter beam, McCoy’s observations of the moment are not only funny but they also illustrate the relationship between the two significant characters in the film.
That, I liked. Kirk, however, was portrayed as a black-eyed brawler who boasts and makes snappy one-liners. True, it’s a trailer that doesn’t really reflect the full spectrum of Chris Pine’s James T. Kirk, but to be fair, how is this any different from the Kirk we were introduced to in the rebooted first two films?
It was really difficult to see any similarity between the rebooted Kirk and the traditional one that has been replayed in subsequent films and novels past the 1960s. Aside from exaggerated philandering and the occasional swagger, I didn’t see any of the calculated risk-taking, the tactician or the educated aspect of Kirk that has been portrayed in film and print so many times. The rebooted Kirk is little more than a jock who lacks the maturity of the other Kirk.
Where’s Spock’s friendship? In the first film, Spock really had no emotional investment in Kirk and in many ways was his superior. In the second film, he was little more than a dutiful shipmate. If it takes three films for this relationship to appear, then I would venture to say that the first two were lacking in this crucial element to begin with and the sudden presence of it — though unadvertised as it was in the trailers — would seem to be a sudden and jarring appearance that would only add to the artificial and clumsy replication of the franchise.
Shut up John, it’s only a trailer.
Yeah, but if I can provide this much of a reaction to it, then I’m sure there are other fans out there far more eloquent than I who could say the same. I just think it’s telling that Simon Pegg already launched an appeal to the fans to wait until they’ve seen the film before they pass judgment (see our story on this here). Also, Star Trek alums Wil Wheaton and George Takei have also go online to disavow the trailer. If these respected actors and acknowledged veteran fan boys have issues with it then so should we. At any rate, it’s clear that the trailer did not represent the values that made Trek great, and these guys should know.
With apologies to Shatner’s comedy bit on "Saturday Night Live," the bottom line is: This franchisee has a great deal of value for a lot of people out there. They’re the fans who are the primary audience for this film, and out of respect to them, they’re the people who deserve to get what they want: a Trek film that’s consistent with the original values that made this show an international phenomenon.
I respect artistic integrity and artistic interpretation. Maybe J.J. Abrams and director Justin Lin should have done the same before they released the trailer on an expectant audience of fans.