Sunday, May 17, 2009

Captain's Log: Star Trek Wars (and President Obama Groks Spock)

Among the many comments and commentaries on Star Trek JJA, the most intriguing to me involve the perceived resemblances between this movie and Star Wars. There's a short video from College Humor deep in this Trek Movie thread that depicts the main points succinctly. I'm linking to it rather than the original source because of one of the comments, # 12 from Magic Al, which adds this:

The Star Wars comparison could be extended to the young hero lost and running from monsters on a snow planet until an old friend rescues him and tells him was he has to do next. It’s relevant because JJ Abrams is known to be a bigger Star Wars fan than a Star Trek fan. The comparison film illustrates the common “hero’s journey” mythology of these two films.

It reminded me that seeing J.J. Abrams on a Star Wars documentary prompted me to suggest here on this site, almost two years ago, what Abrams might do with his Star Trek movie. Abrams, I wrote:

... speaks about the first step, the hero's "Call to Adventure" (as [Joseph] Campbell called it). "At the heart of the story is some kid who is being called to service, to deal with something so much bigger than him."So of course I immediately thought of the Star Trek movie, and wondered if it might begin the Kirk story farther back than many have speculated--even earlier than at Starfleet Academy. With a boy in Iowa perhaps. What is his call? What is the crisis that changes his life? What is the "threshhold-crossing" event, in which (as someone said) you realize you're not in Kansas anymore. Or Iowa. That takes Kirk into a bigger world?

Later I wrote: Abrams talked about the appearance of the mentor. "In moments of absolute disconnect and loss and confusion and fear...these characters arrive that give purpose and confidence" to the hero. Who will be Kirk's mentor, I wondered, and the film gives us Captain Pike, challenging him at that crossroads moment. I also wondered:

The classic hero has companions to help on the quest, the journey. We know who Kirk's companions will be by the time the five year mission begins. Are they with him from the beginning?

That's what this film does--the story of how the hero's journey begins-- though how well or how meaningful it does it is an open question. There are lots of other questions in commentaries and comments since then, some of which the movie's writers addressed, as summarized in the above noted Trek Movie thread, or more directly at Darth Mojo.

I don't know that the answers are entirely consistent or satisfactory. But the basic question--reflected in a number of comments here--is how true to Trek this movie really is, beyond the superficial. Since it's become so popular, some of the possibilities JJA says he's entertaining for future stories worry me as well--like bringing back Khan, etc. This takeover of the classic characters was always dangerously close to exploitation. I would hate to see it go clearly over the line.

In general I'm sticking to what I said, possibly too far down in my commentary last time, concerning the differences between this movie and Star Trek GR: "Ultimately what we’ve got are stories. They may now occur in two separate Star Trek story universes, but they rise or fall on what they are as stories." So far, Star Trek JJA has but one story--even if you include the comic book prequel. Naturally we're talking about this one now because it's the newest and the biggest in awhile. But soon, this site will be getting back to those many other Star Trek stories, and what they tell us about the soul of Star Trek and the soul of the future.

It was the meaning in those stories, after all, that influenced several generations, including the current President of the United States, who has just screened the new movie at the White House, and talked about Star Trek to Newsweek. "Everybody was saying I was Spock, so I figured I should check it out and—[the president makes the Vulcan salute with his hand]." "I used to love Star Trek," the President said, not for its special effects but for its "evocative" stories and meaning, even to him at ten years old.

Speaking of this site, Soul of Star Trek appears recently on some fascinating lists: Top Ten Star Trek Blogs, the select Star Trek blog roll at UK's the Guardian, and the select Trek blog link list at Ex Astra Scientia. To which I humbly say, cool, and thanks a lot!

Final note: since torture is so much in the news again, I keep being reminded of the posts I did on the topic (also two years ago) and especially the TNG "Chain of Command" episodes (famous to fans for Picard's cry of "There are four lights!") It was in the second of those episodes, made all those years ago, that Picard says what was known even then: torture doesn't work in eliciting accurate information, a lesson that's more public than ever now.

So here's a link to that "Star Trek vs. 24" posting. I've also given the label "torture" to those and other relevant posts, which you can find in the label list in the sidebar column to the right, and see all those posts.


Vanya said...

I agree with the STar Wars comparison, and the whole "beginning of the hero's journey" tale. But it is a tale not very well told, IMO. In Star Wars we saw every step of the progression of Luke from rebellious farm boy to inter-galactic hero. In Star Trek these steps are not shown, or are glossed over. Furthermore I think any writer that uses time-travel in a story not specifically about time-travel (like The Time Machine) is lazy and copping out.

But I can set all that aside and enjoy the movie.

This Old Blog said...

Star Trek JJA... It's got a nice ring to it. Could come into common use even. I felt like such a super geek when it was brought up with my Trekkie mate a week ago and I offhandedly refered to the film as Star Trek JJA. He agreed it was catchy and made it easier to distinguish from GR. I do love the direction JJA is taking though and its one of the best executed series reboots I have seen.

Pertinacious pineapple said...

Warning: Minor spoiler alert for anyone that has not seen the movie yet.

When someone says it was a good movie, I always ask them to specify what criteria they are using to justify that statement. Sure there were flashy lights and action, and if that is the only criteria used then it could be argued that this was an entertaining movie. However, to be a good Star Trek movie, I have higher standards.

I have to disagree that this was a good movie. It ranked about where Star Trek V does which is at the bottom of the pile. It was basically Star Trek: Nemesis redone with a sprinkling of other Star Trek movies thrown in (I mean they already did the slimy critter in the orifice to control someone: Ceti Eel from Star Trek II). I did not rate it below Star Trek V because the special effects were much better. However, that being said, they tie for the bottom of the list.

The external ship designs were done well enough, however, there were a multitude of problems with the interiors; least of which was having the engineering section of the Enterprise looking like some half-baked industrial complex. As far as the Romulan mining ship goes, I must ask how is it that a MINING ship was as heavily armed as that one was with that kind of firepower?

The outpost on the frozen planet near Vulcan was a design cop out since why would such a crappy outpost be situated so close to one of the founding members of the Federation itself. It looked like they went and found some abandoned basement and said "Hey, this might make a good outpost on the hind end of nowhere." Also, having an ice planet in such close proximity to a desert planet stretches reality to the breaking point.

Dr. McCoy was probably the one primary character I enjoyed along with Christopher Pike. I thought they wrote those two characters decently well. However, having Uhura and Spock in any kind of romantic relationship was abhorrent and akin to watching your parents making out like a couple of teenagers. It should not have been done and I still get the feeling it was done to satisfy one of the writer's fan-boi-hentai-fetishes. Kirk did not even display any glimmer of what makes someone a great Starship Captain. He displayed no internal motivation and needed to be shoved along to do anything noteworthy. Another question, why is some stowaway/ academy delinquent appointed to XO on a Starship rather than a ranking member of the existing crew or more qualified cadet?

They (the writers) turned technology on its ear when it suited their purposes. The most blatant example was having Spock's mother fall to her death when the cliff fell away. Aside from displaying the writers' ignorance of the Trek Universe technology, it was a shallow effort to bring tragedy to a character for motivation later. The special effects crew need to do a little brushing up on their technology manuals and ship design since when they ejected the core, it looked like they were tossing photon torpedo casings rather than dumping an anti-matter/matter reaction chamber.

I could have dealt with a new cast portraying characters if the writers did not utterly ignore established canon principles in favor of their own view. And also if it had been a decently written story and not just a re-hash of a previous movie.

Eric V. Kirk said...

Furthermore I think any writer that uses time-travel in a story not specifically about time-travel (like The Time Machine) is lazy and copping out.It was a technique that did introduce a surprise element however. I didn't really believe Vulcan was gone for good until Spock argued the "alternate timeline" with Kirk. It wasn't a very artful way of presenting it, but all of the sudden we were faced with the permanence of something we assumed would be undone. I thought "wow, Vulcan's really gone and Wynona Ryder won't be in any sequels."

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fraser said...

Star Trek is so much better than star wars! star wars fans must just get so bord of watching the same 6 films again and again star treks so much better not only because of its univers but becuase it just has so much it has had 6 sereis and 11 films now fans dont get bord of watching that much star trek becuase there is just endless episdoe not like star wars were it just the same borning 6 films!