Is Star Trek Beyond Intellectualism?

The following was pitched to and commissioned by Flickering Myth

Henry Bevan on whether the Star Trek movie franchise is beyond intellectualism…

What is the Star Trek franchise?

As this month sees the release of Star Trek Beyond, the third entry in the alternate Kelvin timeline, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Gene Roddenberry’s phenomenon, that question will be asked a lot. Is Star Trek the wham-bang space opera that has been on screen since the 2009 reboot or is it the intellectual chess games played by William Shatner’s Kirk and Leonard Nimoy’s Spock?

Stoking the flames whilst talking to SFX Magazine, and picked up by, the current Captain Kirk, Chris Pine, said a cerebral Trek adventure would not work in the modern movie marketplace. Whilst a movie like the ponderous Star Trek: The Motion Picture would possibly be rejected by audiences today, something like Wrath of Khan could work.  Star Trek Into Darkness “borrowed” from Nicholas Meyer’s 1982 hit and earned more than $400 million. However, the fandom rejected the film as it deviating too far from the original series’ principles. To some, J.J. Abrams’ films are too reliant on explosions and come across as generic action-adventure movies — not Star Trek movies.

When the fan service nose dives //©Paramount Pictures // source: Flickering Myth

This, it seems, is by design with co-writer Alex Kurtzman saying in the 2009 film’s DVD extras:

“Star Trek was beautiful classical music and Star Wars was rock and roll. It felt like Star Trek needed a bit more rock and roll to a modern audience.”

In other words, keep the Trek symbols (the Enterprise, Kirk, Vulcan social dissonance!) but play at a faster pace. You can sum the new films’ attitude towards science as ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ and it is sacrilegious and futile to compare Star Trek and Star Wars in the same sentence. But, George Lucas’ galaxy far far away set the template for modern space adventures and to most five-year-olds, the fight between the Jedi and the Sith is more accessible than the political disputes between the Klingons and the Federation. Making Trek more Warsian was the best decision J.J. made because it made Trek more accessible.

For proof, look at me. The release the 2009 reboot coincided with my 15th birthday and I had no interest in the adventures of the U.S.S Enterprise before this point. Trek was seen as the king of geekiness. Then, the teaser trailer of the Enterprise being constructed dropped and I was hooked. This new Trek looked fun, it looked cool with its Apple Store sheen and lens flare. Everyone knows J.J. is Hollywood’s best hypeman and he hooked me for the first time: the explosions were working. By dialing down the technobabble, the filmmakers had made a film I wanted to watch again with the kineticism (that, on reflection, is overcooked) making the two-hour film flash by. Once I left the cinema, I gorged on Trek lore. I searched for classic episodes, watched the old movies and googled the hell out of the product. The explosions and faster pace allow the new films to act as a gateway drug and with the original series now being on Netflix, kids will be able to watch the old episodes with ease.

The Enterprise Crew look on at something //©Paramount Pictures //source: Flickering Myth

Just because there are explosions doesn’t mean a film can’t be smart — it is possible to make a smart action film that can be a blockbuster (like Inception) and with Star Trek Beyond being co-written by Simon Pegg, a man with an in-depth knowledge of Trek lore and a writer of smart scripts, there is hope the new film can achieve this blend. If the early Twitter reaction is to go by, Star Trek isn’t beyond intellectualism and hopefully, it’ll make lots of money because, in this increasingly xenophobic world, a cultural touchstone that celebrates different races working together needs to be seen.


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