To Not So Boldly Go …

Okay. I broke down and took the family to see Star Trek last week. I was prepared to love it and hate it, and I wasn’t disappointed.

First the good. It was nice to see Paramount finally put real effort into special effects for a Star Trek movie. And it was also nice to see the classic characters as youngsters. It was excellent to see Sulu, Uhura, and Chekov get some real action. The huge advantage of all the “Next Generation” Star Trek series is that they were true ensemble casts. The acting levels after STNG we more uneven than ever before, but they tried. The script, plot, and direction were all good–better than expected.

A few small nods. Great to see the bowels of the Enterprise–truly where no one has gone before. Nice to see continuity on small stuff, like McCoy’s divorce, Spock serving on Pike’s Enterprise, Sulu’s swordplay, Pike in a wheelchair, and even Uhura channeling Hoshi as a linguist. Of course, instead of being Pike’s female Number One, Majel just does computer voice-overs.

Now the rest. Nice going, Mr Abrams for blowing up not just a planet with six billion people, but hundreds of tv episodes and the ten movies where we have gone before. Sure, sure, some neo-Trek apologist will say it’s all in good fun, and it’s just an alternate history they can rejigger Bobby Ewing style if they don’t like where it’s heading … at the box office.

tuvokMy wife and I had a long talk about alternate universes on the way home.

“You realize that Tuvok’s grandparents were sucked into a black hole tonight, don’t you?” I asked.

“No, they got the bad guy and they saved everything, right?” she said.

“To save Vulcan, they would need to go back in time and defeat Nero.”

“So they didn’t save Vulcan?”

“They saved the Earth. Remember Spock’s crack about being an endangered species?”

“Grandpa and Grandma Tuvok might have been saved though.”

“I calculate the odds of survival of any Vulcan individual at one in 600,000. For all of Tuvok’s four progenitors to have been saved, the odds are one in one-hundred twenty-nine sextillion, six-hundred quintillion.”

And the young miss started giggling in the back seat.

Okay,  I didn’t have the 129.6 sextillion figure at hand when I was driving home. But you get the drift. Tuvok won’t be around to save Janeway’s butt in the Delta Quadrant in the 24th century. Heck, he won’t even get to infiltrate the Maquis and make nice with Chakotay. One series blown up before it gets off the ground. Maybe it was by design.

I sure hope Kirk pays more attention to Khan when he bumps into him in the Abrams universe, because if Spock croaks while saving the Enterprise in the Mutara Nebula, there’s no going back to Mount Selaya to sort out his soul when it’s all done.

My biggest complaint is the sheer unwillingness of the franchise to live up to its billing, Boldly Going where None Have Gone Before. After classic Trek, arguably the only great move was shooting ahead eighty years to a “next generation.” After that, the three series concepts were meek and tame.

“Hey guys, if a ship exploring the galaxy is so great, let’s nail down a whole series to a space station with a mall.”

“Okay, the station idea wasn’t so hot. Let’s strand a woman captain on the other end of the galaxy for no decent reason.”

“Let’s go back in time and see how all the cool stuff like phasers, shields, warp 7 and miniskirts got invented.”

And now we have a movie that got the special effects right, the banter right, and the casting nailed picture perfect. The only problem is they didn’t set it in the 27th century. Where we truly haven’t gone before.

I’ll be the first to admit that Kirk and Spock sell this movie, even if they are kids and even if they are different actors. (Bill Shatner take note.) And the franchise was indeed desperate for new life after previous errors of not going far enough. It just seems like a cheap way to do it, rewriting history. When I look for good science fiction, I usually look to the future.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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9 Responses to To Not So Boldly Go …

  1. Cautious Man says:

    May I suggest that the new “Star Trek” movie uses a clever device to deal with the “it’s not the old ‘Star Trek’ history” issue?

    My comment requires a “spoiler alert”, for anyone reading who hasn’t seen the movie (don’t know who that may be, but nevertheless, some scrolling first) –
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    In the movie, they accept that there has been a break in the time continuum. The “old Spock” explains that in his history and experience, Kirk grew up knowing his father, and the “old Spock” knew his mother for many years after the “young Spock” lost his. It’s an alternate universe, created by events that “old Spock” set in motion.

    Another example. Scotty is found on some backwater planet as a caretaker, and in his workroom – he has a Tribble under glass, purring away. In our old “Star Trek universe”, Scotty didn’t see a Tribble until, well, “The Trouble With Tribbles”. But in this different timeline, Scotty arrives at the Enterprise by a different path, but still arrives there.

    In other words, the new “reloaded” “Star Trek” admits that it’s an alternate time-line, from the “Star Trek” “universe” that we know and love.

    And not to get all philosophical about a movie, but one of the themes is (I think) the fact that even though the timeline has been disrupted, these same people still arrive together as the crew of the Enterprise – as if there is some sort of “destiny” which draws them together.

    Anyway, I enjoyed the movie, and thought they dealt with the whole anachronism issue in a clever way.

  2. Cautious Man says:

    Oops, I forget one point.

    The great part about the “alternate universe” ploy is that the “old” universe is still there – again, as represented by “Old Spock”. It’s not that all the old “Star Trek” events didn’t happen – they just happened someplace else.

  3. GodsGadfly says:

    Perhaps, and that is the official explanation, but the problem is we’ve had X number of episodes and movies (“The City on the Edge of Forever,” ST IV, “Yesterday’s Enterprise” and First Contact, to name a efw) where a shift in the timeline was seen as a horrible disaster. How many times have the crews of Kirk’s and Picard’s Enterprises gone back in time to save earth from being destroyed, or to save Earth’s population from being wiped out in 2065 by the Borg, or whatever, but they didn’t try to go back in time to save Vulcan?
    *This* time, we’re supposed to think it’s just a parallel universe?

    As for subtle differences, I took those to have been caused by the first time shift, and the destruction of Kirk, Sr.’s ship, which would have a) inspired the Federation to up the speed of its R&D, and b) caused a gradual chain reaction in Starfleet personnel assignments.

  4. Gavin says:

    Todd, face it: you’re a traditionalist. Next thing you know, you’ll start buying fiddlebacks for your church.

  5. crystal says:

    I haven’t seen it yet but I’m looking forward to it.

    So does it posit an alternate time line or an alternate universe? If an alternate time line, wouldn’t the original Spock cease to exist in the new time line?

    I miss The Next Generation and Voyager – thank goodness for Netflix.

  6. Gavin says:

    As for the substance of the movie:

    Sloppy canon, Todd. Vulcan is destroyed in 2258, Tuvok was born in 2264 (recall the Voyager episode where he was on the Excelsior). So the question is whether his parents, not grandparents, survived.

    And to Gadfly, I see the point, but the movie is going off of present conceptions of time travel, namely the “many worlds” model, which states that time travel which affects past events merely creates an alternate timeline, with the “prime” timeline being unaffected.

    As for the movie, yes, I was sitting there at the end thinking “…ok, when will they restore Vulcan?” And another -20 points for Todd for liking that disaster of a main engineering set (chosen for cheapness, in fact). But besides that, I was happy with it because the producers went out of their way to make it in small ways faithful to Star Trek. Note that the sound effects were mostly derived from TOS sounds. The rival starship was the Farragut (in the prime universe, Kirk’s first posting). There were many other very subtle nods to canon that, again, they didn’t need to put in there. And I appreciated that quite a bit.

    In reading the comments to the movie, you really might as well have been reading a trad review of an OF Mass. It’s amazing how similar they are – “Chekov wasn’t on the enterprise until 2267!” “That priest doesn’t have enough lace!”

  7. Gavin says:

    Ah, it’s the quotes, I just remembered:

    “A little suffering’s good for the soul”

    (TOS) “Bones, aren’t you the one always saying a little suffering is good for the soul?”
    “I never say that.”

    “You asked me why I married your mother…”

    (TOS) “She has always been [emotional]”
    “Indeed. Why did you marry her?”

    “Logic offers us a serenity humans rarely experience…”
    That same line was said verbatim in a Star Trek: The Animated Series episode.

    That’s the kind of thing the writers didn’t have to put in there. The fact that they did shows a great reverence for the established show.

  8. Dear Todd:

    I offer two thoughts-

    1. Use of alternate timelines as an excuse for changing the past in SF stories reminds me of Robert Frost’s critique of free verse (i.e., verse without rhyme or cadence): “It’s rather like playing tennis without a net.”

    2. This one is from my brother, who upon hearing the objection that you raised in your main comment (I’m the guilty passer on), said: “Anyone who expects consistency from a series of motion pictures, and especially from the Star Trek series, needs to get a life, a grip, and over it.”

    I reserve comment as regards whether my brother has a point here.

  9. Gavin says:

    Bernard, I resemble your brother’s comment!

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