Why I hated JJ Abrams Star Trek movie

Hate is such a powerful word. And over time it can turn into something else. However, I can’t overlook that this is how I felt after first seeing the new Star Trek movie. Like all fans I was euphoric upon hearing that a new Star Trek movie was coming out, and admit the story was quite intriguing too. A Kirk & Spock – The Early Years film. What could be better since the TNG story line had come to a quasi conclusion in Nemesis. The cast of TOS were all a little to old to make a believable comeback (sorry Shatner) and besides they’re missing a crew member. Any thought of a DS9, Voyager or Enterprise movie is laughable.

Let me say now that I don’t consider myself a Trekkie or Trekker. There are no pointy ears hiding in the dresser drawer. In fact there are only two Star Trek related items in the house. The Star Trek Compendium which runs up to the Final Frontier and a Klingon communicator that came out of a box of Corn Pops the other day. I am Star Trek purist and fan of TOS, TNG and the movies. In college, I befriended two others who share the same level of passion for Star Trek. Whereas at times Seinfeld obsessed over Superman, we had Star Trek.

So with eyes wide open I ventured into the theater. The first part of the movie, basically an introduction of the characters we feel as if we’ve known most of our lives is a lot of fun. The exchanges between Kirk and McCoy early on very enjoyable as we hear many of Bones’ trademark phrases uttered. Absent however was the classic “He’s dead, Jim.”

Uhura’s character got considerable screen time which was refreshing, and long overdue considering her lack of it on the small screen. The romance thing was not very plausible, but I suppose warranted by Paramount execs who preferred not to have intimate scenes between Mr. Scott and the Enterprise’s engines. Sulu and Chekov (the Russian accent was a bit over the top though) both had some character buildup as well, but let’s face it – this movie could have/should have been called “Kirk & Spock – The Early Years”

Every good Star Trek film has a villain. Ricardo Montalban set the bar very high in Wrath of Khan and Eric Bana doesn’t even come close. A quick hologram shot of his deceased wife is not the way to get us to invest in this character. There was no depth to this villain.

About half way into the movie I started to get worried. Spock announces to the bridge crew that their timeline has been altered so they are not the persons they were going to be. They are now all different. In other words, this ain’t your daddy’s Star Trek no more. I took this as JJ Abrams saying screw you Star Trek fans, I’m doing what I want in this film and don’t have to adhere to the ST canon. This was confirmed soon after with the total annihilation of Planet Vulcan. As the planet was erased from existence so was the hope that this or future Trek movies would even attempt to tie in to the existing body of work. Goodbye continuity.

One of the things that captivated a number of Star Wars fans was how George Lucas planned to complete his saga by rolling out the prequels (Episodes 1, 2 and 3). Continuity was always a key factor in measuring the success of Star Wars. You can argue the quality of the product Lucas put out in the last three films released, but there was a logical timeline that can be traced from Episode 1 to the conclusion of Episode 6. The way things were wrapped up at the end of Episode 3 with the twins split up – the boy given to his Aunt and Uncle, and the girl given to the Senator and his wife. It all pretty much made sense at the end of the prequels.

This does not appear to be the case with JJ Abrams Star Trek. A friend on Twitter hinted that having the young Kirk drive a vintage 1966 Corvette over a cliff was significant in that it was the year the original Star Trek debuted. Again, was this the directors way of saying I’m ditching the Star Trek of old and doing a “reboot” of this entire thing?

From the start of the movie it was quite noticeable that the outer space sequences were shot in a stylistic manner similar to SciFi Channel’s Battlestar Galactica series. It’s a very physical design versus the more traditional way in which SciFi genre films have been shot over the years. This didn’t really bother me, but it did produce more of a lackluster visual effect in that the exterior shots of the ships were not as long. A very good friend and Star Trek purist pointed out that in a way he missed the achieved effect of using actual models in the film production over CGI. In Star Trek II the story was enhanced by portraying two battered ships as if they were battling it out on the high seas.

Another thing, the movie started off on the wrong foot for me. Where was the instantly recognizable Star Trek thematic music? We had to wait till the very end to get any satisfaction whatsoever. I don’t even recall hearing it when Kirk and McCoy were in the shuttle approaching the Enterprise for the first time. And where were the extended exterior shots of the Enterprise. Star Trek is just as much a story about a man and his ship as it is about the bonds of brotherhood shared between humans (and half-humans).

And yet another thing…at what point in the movie did you have a breakthrough moment for Kirk and Spock? My good friend also pointed out that Star Trek movies are “buddy films” like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Famous duos of the silver screen such as Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon, Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines in Running Scared, Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte in 48 Hours, Wilder & Pryor in Silver Streak all have something in common: moments where the characters go outside themselves to demonstrate their devotion to one another. Where is that moment with Kirk and Spock in the film? How do we go from Spock wanting to kill Kirk and having no qualms about marooning him on Delta Vega to Kirk welcoming him back to duty as his first officer? Mr. Abrams, you’ve got to show us the love.

The appearance of Leonard Nimoy was not satisfying either. What struck me as odd is that he seemed to be playing Leonard Nimoy on the screen more than the character of Spock. It was awkward and old & tired at best. If this was an attempt to quench the thirst of the die hard, it failed with me.

Not one to give up easily, as the credits started rolling I marched into the adjacent theater to watch it again…with a thought dangling on the edge of reason that this is an odd-numbered ST movie versus an even-numbered one.

The second time I had a better feel for the plot and rather than focus on how things were unfolding I instead focused on the visualization and action of the movie. This is a good sci-fi action film with a lot of references to my beloved Star Trek. But again, I felt it was separate from that body of work. As a movie, it can stand alone and anyone without much familiarity with ST can immensely enjoy it, and maybe that’s another problem I have with the film. This is not so much a Star Trek film as it is a sci-fi action movie.

Hollywood of late has been drawing from the well of older movies, TV series and genres only to morph them into more modern versions. Mission Impossible, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, King Kong, The Day the Earth Stood Still, War of the Worlds to name a few. I know these are remakes or a retelling of stories whereas the eleventh installment of Star Trek is a prequel meant to show us how these characters all came to be together. I submit that’s not really the purpose of the film. It’s more about having a blockbuster summer hit. I imagine Abrams shouting, “Damn the Trekkies – full speed ahead!” And Paramount has every right to want a movie that makes a ton of cash.

And I have every right to be disappointed by what Mr. Abrams has done with Star Trek. Did I cry? No. Is my life ruined? No. Has my Star Trek joy been robbed? No. Do you even care about what I’m saying here? Maybe not, but I felt it important to voice my opinion since everyone I’ve talked with seems to be gushing about this movie. My reaction has been vindicated after talking with one of my aforementioned college buddies. He agreed completely with my thoughts here. The other one is unreachable since he went boldly where no man has gone before, but I have a good feeling about what he’d have to say.

So there you have it. Star Trek – The Abrams-ized Version – is a good scifi action film. It’s not, in my opinion, a great Star Trek movie. You could change the names of the characters and still have a film to watch. With Star Trek XI do we have foreseeable departure from what is, what was, and what shall always be Star Trek? I sure hope not, but it sure looks that way.