One of the biggest complaints about the J.J. Abrams Star Trek movies from hardcore Trek fans, this writer included, has been that they have not been true to the spirit of Star Trek. There is certainly plenty running and explosions and shooting. They are definitely exciting. They are good, strong action movies, but what they aren’t are good Star Trek movies. There is no heart, there is none of the spirit of exploration – inward and out – that Star Trek is all about.
Part of the problem is that the best Trek stories have always been told on the small screen, with the notable exceptions being The Wrath of Khan, The Undiscovered Country and to a lesser extent the other TOS movies. Often they have to “dumb,” these movies down to appeal to a much broader audience. (No offense intended). Good Science fiction has always been about the adventure within one’s self, allowing us an opportunity to examine the human condition from an outside perspective.
“Science fiction is the most important literature in the history of the world, because it’s the history of ideas, the history of our civilization birthing itself. …Science fiction is central to everything we’ve ever done…”
With the addition of two new writers to the Trek franchise, there stands before us now an immense opportunity to broaden the scope and impact of Star Trek on the Big Screen. J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay are the new minds writing the new Star Trek film, and much is being made about the fact that they are Mormons. Say what you will about their religion, but Mormons are good people. And it seems these new writers are bringing a few aspects of their faith into the writing process. Payne had this to say recently when asked about where they are at in the writing process for the new movie:
“We’re trying to set up a kind of situation where you really could — and not in just an ‘everything’s relative’ sort of moral relativism — you could be a good person of any creed or philosophical background and come down on both sides of how you should respond to this opportunity that the crew has…. that also has some pitfalls to it. Where you could argue very, very, very compellingly that ‘this’ is what you should do, and if you’re advocating ‘this’ then it’s actually evil.
It’s sort of the Adam and Eve thing, where should we eat the fruit or not eat the fruit? Well, there are some very compelling reasons why they should and why they shouldn’t. So, similar kinds of things here that really give the whole movie and opportunity to sort of play with that, and have people come down on different side and wrestle with it; then come to an ending where you can walk out and say, ‘You know, I don’t know what I would do.'”
This should give all the Trekkies out there hope for the future of Star Trek movies. This is exciting, the idea that we might get a movie focusing on character and story instead of lens flares and cataclysmic explosions.
Let us look at the Original Star Trek Movies and their respective stories:
–Star Trek: The Motion Picture: This was about bringing the family back together, and about coming together to take on a common foe, a foe whose mission then turns out to be a reflection of our own quest to find meaning in existence.
–Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: That movie was all about family, love and sacrificing ones self for the good of those you hold dear. What would you give to save those you hold most dear? Would you sacrifice your everything without thought?
-Star Trek III: The Search for Spock: This film was about those that were sacrificed for, putting their futures in jeopardy, to save one of their family. Its also about coming to terms with the no-win scenario. Kirk saves Spock, but in the process loses the son he barely knows. Kirk never fully recovers from this loss.
–Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home: This Film is all about not destroying our planet! (Simple story huh???)
–Star Trek V: The Final Frontier: As bad as this movie is, it has some of the best Star Trek Moments–Kirk, Spock and McCoy around the campfire, singing, “Row, Row Row Your Boat,” Kirk confessing that he’s always known he’d die alone, the revelation that Spock has a brother, the need for our human soul to find heaven–it’s all there.
-Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country: Racism and dealing with one’s own personal demons, the Cold War, the falling of both the Iron Curtain and the Berlin wall, the beginnings of peace with an implacable foe…all in Space.
“Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today – but the core of science fiction, its essence has become crucial to our salvation if we are to be saved at all.”
These films meant something, they were about exploring ourselves and our humanity just as much as they were about the journey into the vast intrigue of the galaxy. The fact that there are writers on board that want to return to that kind of mindset is reason to rejoice, in hopes that the, “Final Frontier,” may once again make us expand the boundries of our own hearts and minds…and excite us with lots of action and explosions.
Here is a quote from a trailer for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. It really sums up What Star Trek means to us as a culture. This is from 1991, Star Trek’s 25th anniversary year, so it’s a little dated as Trek hits the big 48 in 2014.
“For one quarter of a century, they have thrilled us with their adventures, amazed us with their discoveries, and inspired us with their courage. Their ship has journeyed beyond imagination; her name has become legend; her crew, the finest ever assembled. We have traveled beside them from one corner of the galaxy to the other. They have been our guides, our protectors, and our friends.”
This is what Star Trek is, and hopefully will continue to be.