J. J. Abrams Killed Star Trek

I watched Star Trek Into Darkness last night. What a disappointment. To say Abrams killed Star Trek is probably a bit of a stretch. Between the original series, the spinoffs, and the movies, we’re talking something like 728 stories. To say Abrams killed all that with two hours of dross is an exaggeration. Surely, in a few years somebody will spend another quarter billion dollars and make another Star Trek film that isn’t complete crap. Star Trek fans will be able to deny the Abrams films much like Bond fans ignore the Peter Sellers version of Casino Royale. We can hope.

Abrams “rebooted” the series. A very clever tactic on his part. He piggy-backs on his predecessors, people who spent their careers building a franchise, and is allowed to discard all that familiar back story. He gets to leverage the Star Trek name, has a cast of fully formed and familiar characters, and inherits a galaxy populated with enemies we all love to hate. Because he doesn’t have to create any of this stuff, he’s free to concentrate on story. And no matter how badly he executes, he’s guaranteed a certain minimum amount of box office success. Yes, a clever plan.

I wouldn’t call my self a Trek fanatic, but I’m sure some have. I’ve seen every episode of the original several times each. I had big sections of dialog memorized. (I’ve since killed those brain cells.) I watched all the other TV series. I don’t think I saw all the episodes of Deep Space 9, but probably caught every episode of all the others. I’ve seen all the movies. I enjoyed the great majority of it. Many of the episodes are very interesting and compelling stories. A lot of them are forgettable.

The special effects for the original series were quite primitive. Things had to be kept very simple and on the cheap. The effects could never really add to the story, but if they weren’t careful, the could have taken away. From TNG on, though, there were a lot more options. And today, a film maker can show us vision he has the capacity to imagine.

So here we have Abrams with $185 million to spend and a clean slate, a list of familiar characters, a robust setting, and the technology to tell whatever he dreams up. Which leads me to wonder how he managed to make such a bad movie. I think the entire amount was spent on colorful explosions. It certainly wasn’t spent on the script.

It was mostly a cut and paste job. Parts of old Star Trek episodes – characters, back stories, dialog, even tribbles. (Did shooting them up with Khan’s blood cause them to multiply so fast? But they didn’t get shot up with Khan’s blood before the reboot. I’m so confused!) Big chunks of Space Seed and Wrath of Khan. Even a bit of Amok Time – that was the first time they “killed” Kirk. (Was there any major character in the original that didn’t get “killed” at least once in those 80 episodes? I don’t think so.) And, finally, he destroyed the Enterprise for about the eighth time.

But they didn’t just crib from the Star Trek canon. They sampled liberally from buddy cop movies – the cop who breaks the rules and his lieutenant who takes his shield away. And old B-movies about WW II – she says he doesn’t care if he dies, he stoically tells her it’s his duty to return to battle.

Cardboard cutouts

Cardboard cutouts

By giving the characters such cliched dialog, Abrams managed to take these fully-fleshed out characters and flatten them into cardboard cutouts of themselves. But he didn’t stop there. He had these cardboard cutouts do ridiculous things.

Yes, it’s Star Trek, and they routinely did ridiculous things. But even in the context of accepting the Star Trek premise – technology advanced enough for faster than light travel, tractor beams, photon torpedoes, transporters, miracle medical gadgets – Abrams manages to jump the shark.

The movie starts with the Enterprise sitting on the ocean floor. It appear to be hundreds of feet below the surface, even though it’s only a few feet off-shore. Why is it there? We can’t allow the local inhabitants to see a star ship! But the star ship is just waiting for the shuttle to do something. Why not just orbit the planet and send the shuttle – something done dozens of times in other Trek stories? Well, if we did that, we wouldn’t get to show the Enterprise rising out of the ocean!

Later, we see a meeting of all the star ship captains and their first officers. It’s an emergency meeting because there’s been a disaster. Rules tell them all to assemble in that one room together. No using the 23rd century version of Skype here – it’s got to be face to face. I wonder what they’d have done if they were actually on board their ships, exploring or monitoring the Klingons, or doing something otherwise useful. But no, they all have to be right there. In a glass room at the top of a skyscraper. Because that’s the best place to have an emergency meeting during a disaster.

Spock is stranded in an erupting volcano. Lava bubbles and bounces all around him, towers over him thirty feet at times. Sure, he’s in some sort of magic space suit. But not one speck of lava lands on him.

Khan and Kirk are shot out of an airlock as if from a cannon to the other ship. Sulu dutifully lines up the ships. Their target is another airlock that’s only a few feet across. A very difficult shot in the best of conditions. But wait, there’s some debris between the two ships. Of course, the debris is like flying through a junkyard at mach 3, dodging old Buicks. What could go wrong?

And on and on. There wasn’t an action sequence in the whole movie that didn’t drag on for way too long.

I’m glad I didn’t spend the big bucks to see this at the theater. The biggest screen and best sound system in the world can’t help this disaster of a movie.