In defense of ‘Abrams Trek’


A lot of people don’t like the 2009 Star Trek re-boot directed by J.J. Abrams. A lot of these people are Star Trek fans.

I think they’re insane though. It’s a great film and a great way to revitalise a frankly tired franchise.

There’s a lot to like about Star Trek, but Abrams realised what its best asset was, and consequently hit the nail square on the head when he made his film…

I should confess that I’m not a massive Star Trek fan. I always quite liked it, but I was never obsessed. I like the values of Star Trek, I like many of its ideas and many of its characters, but I also feel that the writing was often a bit formulaic and schlocky, and thusly that it never reached its full potential. Sure, some of the many Star Trek adaptations were better than others, I prefer the Original Series and the Wrath of Khan, but Star Trek was never quite what I wanted it to be.

Sometimes Star Trek was less than perfect

Abrams got a hell of a lot right with his re-boot, such as the fact that he made an actual film. Previously, most of the Star Trek films haven’t actually been films, they’ve been more like extended versions of a TV episode. But the 2009 Star Trek had film written all over it. I’m not talking about pace and action scenes here, I don’t particularly need either in a film, in fact I prefer my films to be slow moving and cerebral, as opposed to a Michael Bay-style explosion nonsense-fests.

Good films tend to have a number of common structure; they begin by introducing characters, usually including a protagonist who we can relate too, then in the second act they introduce a problem, usually the impending end of the world of something, then in the third act the heroes resolve the problem. In previous Star Trek movies they tend to ignore the first act, skipping straight to the problem, probably on the assumption that we already know all of the characters so why bother focussing too much on their back stories? This is generally what happens in Star Trek episodes too. But I feel that they’re skipping in important part of cinema that builds the initial emotional investment.

Oh, and whilst we’re talking about building initial emotional investment, how about that opening scene? Holy f*cking wow! That’s cinema at is best. Not the special effects, the emotion. George Kirk sacrificing his own life to help the crew of the USS Kelvin (brilliant name by the way) escape as his wife gives birth to Kirk. When has Star Trek ever been so emotional? Honestly, I’m not crying, I’m just watering my eyes. Shut up!

Some of the other things Abrams got right include the visuals and art design. The USS Enterprise looks absolutely stunning, from its clean and crisp bridge to its industrial looking nether-regions, and the external shots of the Enterprise whipping through space are dripping with gorgeous, the scene when it rises out of the thick atmosphere of Titan is a real visual treat.

The casting is brilliant too. Karl Urban was an unconventional choice to play Bones, as he’s more likely to be seen playing a Rohan warrior or a space marine than a mild mannered and conscientious ship’s doctor, but he played the role wonderfully. John Cho as Sulu was perfect, and Anton Yelchin playing a 17-year old Chekov with a thick Russian accent was adorable.

Yomayo!

Zoe Saldana as lieutenant Uhura was superb, sure she’s breathtakingly beautiful, but she proved she’s no mere eye-candy, particularly in the Kobayashi Maru scene with her irreverent mockery of Kirk. And Simon Pegg as Scotty. That was inspired casting. Pegg absolutely radiates pleasure at being in Star Trek and his interpretation of the crusty old engineer is a breath of fresh comic air. I strongly suspect he wrote some of his own lines too, as they certainly stand out from a lot of the other dialogue.

Most of the criticisms of the film have centred on two key issues, the fact that Abrams broke a number of Star Trek conventions/ interfered with its history (stuff like Kirk not being able to drive, or Kirk not meeting Captain Pike until after he’d taken over the Enterprise, stuff like that), and the fact that the plot is a bit crap.

On the first criticism, I get it. Star Trek is very dear to a lot of people and I’m sure they cherish its rich history and detail, so a remake that sweeps away a lot of this is probably horrifying. I felt the same with Star Wars when those appalling prequels were made, suddenly Jedi’s weren’t rare mystic warrior-monks anymore, but shit intergalactic police with midi-chlorians, and Anakin Skywalker was no longer a righteous warrior and “dear friend” of Obi Wan Kenobi, but a whiny little emo kid with crap dialogue. I was horrified.

But in the case of Star Trek I think Abrams was right to do this. After all, he wasn’t trying to progress and build upon the Star Trek Universe; he was re-making it from scratch. Despite not being an obsessive fan I’ve watched a lot of Trek, and I was pleased to see that Abrams had riddled his film with in-jokes and references to the existing Star Trek cannon, stuff like Sulu being a trained fencer, Olson the red shirt dying almost instantly on an away mission, or the way Chris Pine leans on the captain’s chair just like Bill Shatner did. For me, all of this showed a respect and appreciation for the original material.

Tribble!

I know a lot of Trekkies feel different through. But trying to stay 100% true to a body of work with such a history and with so such detail would have undoubtedly constrained the film. I think it was a much more sensible choice to begin again from square one, but to include some knowing references to Star Trek’s past. As annoying as this must have been for the die-hard fans, nothing stays the same forever, the franchise needed to evolve and Abrams gave it the kick up the arse it so desperately needed.

As for the crap plot, yes, I admit, the plot wasn’t great. There are a couple of gaping holes in it and the “red matter” felt like a lazy plot device (crystal skulls anyone?), but this is totally missing the point.

Star Trek hardly ever had a good plot (apart from that one Next Generation episode called The Inner Light, that was beautiful storytelling), it’s a bit like criticising Stephen Hawking because he’s not very good at football, or Al Pacino because his soufflés are a bit flat, soufflés aren’t the point of Pacino, the Godfather is.

The best thing about Star Trek was always the characters and how they interacted, particularly the dynamics between Kirk, Spock and Bones. Bones represented the compassionate side of humanity, despite his external grizzle he was a real softy and a true humanitarian. Spock represented the cold logical capacity of humanity, showing both its benefits and weaknesses, whilst Kirk represented our egos. All Kirk ever really wanted was to be in charge, and to be either fighting something or fucking it.

Abrams clearly understood this, and so he made a character movie.

This was what Star Trek was always about

The film isn’t really about Nero and red matter, it’s about establishing the characters and their relationships, particularly Kirk and Spock. Chris Pine plays a brilliant Kirk, an arrogant dick but still lovable, whilst Zachary Quinto gets Spock just right, a mix of pompous know-it-all and child-like vulnerability. These two guys are the real focus of the film, and are the only part of it that has a true arc, with the initial animosity between the two growing into a reluctant understanding and respect, which builds to friendship in the final scenes as they begin to realise they’re a perfect fit for each other.

That’s why “Abrams Trek” is superb, because he understood that the most important thing in Star Trek is Kirk, Spock and the other fine characters. He’s set-up a great foundation in revitalising these roles and I look forward to the sequel with an ill-advised level of optimism.

LLaP.

I leave you this this…

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4 Responses to “In defense of ‘Abrams Trek’”


  1. 1 efranklin002 October 3, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    I pretty much completely agree with everything you said. I personally have never been a Star Trek fan but I decided to watch Abrams version because I’m a big fan of Abrams other works (especially LOST). I was completely blown away by the visuals and characters. I honestly loved it and can’t wait for the next movie.

  2. 3 stuffwhatiwrote October 4, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    Absolutely agree with everything. Think a lot of Star Trek fans didn’t like it because there wasn’t a 45 minute discussion on Star Fleet regulations. I’ve watched enough Star Trek to know that it’s the characters that hold everything together, otherwise it’s just a group of people and giant gas clouds that have emotions (or whatever…). Abrams has got the casting and the dialogue dead on and opens the franchise up to a whole new audience that might have considered it before.

    We have to remember that movies have to make money and Abrams walked a fine line between playing off the popularity of Star Trek and appealing to the existing fans. For me he does this brilliantly.

    One question though: where the hell is my sequel?


  1. 1 kunjungi website kami Trackback on August 2, 2014 at 9:14 am

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