(Caution: minor spoilers in the next paragraph.)
I am going to tell you a story. A headstrong farmboy with father issues gets into a brawl at a bar frequented by aliens, joins a space fleet, and gets pulled into a war against a bad guy with a planet-destroying weapon. Farmboy gets stranded on an ice planet with a giant predator that attacks him in a cave, then a wise old man from a different time tells him what to do next. His love interest falls for his Rival, who is equally headstrong but has a different belief system, but it’s OK because Farmboy and Rival become best friends and stop the bad guy together. This is, of course, the plot of J. J. Abrams’ new Star Trek movie.
In condensing the plot of Star Trek I may have exaggerated the importance of a few details, but where it really apes Star Wars is not in plot details, but in feel: an action-packed, romantic romp through the galaxy, with few pauses for thought.
I love Star Wars, and the approach adopted by the makers of Star Trek worked to create an enjoyable movie. But it had none of the best part of Star Trek, the reason why I’ll take an hour out to watch an episode of The Next Generation when it’s on—the little bits of sci-fi speculation that make you think about some problem in ethics or science. Case in point: the TNG episode “Cause and Effect” which I fired up after seeing Star Trek in theatre to console myself. Sure the production values were lower than I had just seen in the big-budget blockbuster movie, but the conceit was much more interesting. Rather than the usual bad guy blowing up a planet routine, there was a neat little presentation of a problem in causality and free will. Not bad for 45 minutes of my time.
Star Trek, on the other hand, was not interested in raising questions. This surprised me, especially given J. J. Abrams’ history with Lost of doing nothing but raising questions. Usually asinine ones, whose answers are typically either irrelevant or nonsensical. (Sorry, I don’t like Lost.)
So I would say Star Trek was fun, good maybe, but not great. Not everyone seems to agree with me: it currently holds a 95% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes. I can see why: it’s difficult to really dislike the movie, but I would hardly rank this movie in the same class as other movies that have lower scores—like Fargo (93%) or even Raiders of the Lost Ark (94%). Unsurprisingly, the “Average Rating” for Star Trek is lower, but not as much as one might think, than that of both of these superior movies.
Speaking of critical reception, this most recent Star Trek film seems to have cemented the reversal of the so-called “odd-numbered curse”—that even-numbered ST films are generally much better than the odd-numbered ones. I made a little graph to demonstrate this:
I guess the Insurrection-Nemesis double-whammy was bad enough to mess up the whole even-odd system. Of course, two points don’t make a trend, so we’ll have to wait for the upcoming sequels to tell for sure. Like Star Trek itself, I have hope for the future.
The production team has gotten rebooting the franchise out of the way. Now, instead of banking on favourable reactions engendered by the pleasant surprise that this beloved franchise was not totally ruined by a new movie adaptation, I’m sure they can come up with something more interesting the second time around.
At least I hope so, for J. J. Abrams’ sake. The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am.