Friday, May 15, 2009

Time Travel, Again?!: Or, Letting Blockbusterphilia Ruin Another Hollywood Retread

I watched the new, J. J. Abrams Star Trek reboot recently, and let me just say: wow. Now, that's not a good "wow," mind you, but rather a jaw-dropping, "What the heck were they thinking?!" sort of "wow." Though I mostly enjoyed the movie for its well-cast actors and slick production values, the story has to be one of the worst I've seen--and that's saying something for a franchise which had a long-lost brother of Spock searching for God in the center of the galaxy (thanks, Bill Shatner; we won't be needing your services as screenwriter again...)

In the interest of full disclosure, although I came to the theater with as open a mind as I could manage, I must admit to approaching it with misgivings.

Here's the thing: a lot of fans of the film are dismissing the Hostel-treatment of Star Trek continuity with the excuse that the film represents a "reboot," a leaping off point into a parallel universe where the franchise can go in new directions using the same beloved characters of the past (this is, mind you, a favorite tactic both of comic books and Hollywood retreads). That's all fine and dandy, in my book... but why resort to the cliche-even-for-Star-Trek plot device of time travel to do so? Of the eleven Star Trek feature films, this is the fourth time they've resorted to time travel in some form as a central plot device. Honestly, are they making Star Trek or Dr. Who here?

You didn't see mega-blockbuster film franchises like X-Men or Spiderman resorting to time travel or alternate universes to explain their departure from prior incarnations of their millieu; no, they simply presented the stories and said: "Here are the characters you (mostly) know, with a story you (mostly) know, done a new way." The James Bond franchise reboot has a few nitpicks, but they didn't try to claim 007 somehow caught the time tunnel to the future (wouldn't that be Austin Powers, perhaps?)

Removing the time travel plot device from Star Trek would have made for a far better film--not in the least through the ability to create a better, more convincing villain, rather than a retread of Malcolm McDowell's disappointing Star Trek: Generations baddie. A baddie, mind you, who when finding himself back in time prior to the destruction of his homeworld and the loss of his family, the very events that lead to his rampage for vengeance, and in possession of the very material (red matter) needed to prevent said destruction, wastes his time getting killed on stupid vengeance for which there's no need? Come ON, J. J.; give us a break. Surely one of the guy's subordinates might have said, "Hey, Nero, uh, maybe we ought to go prevent Romulus from being destroyed, eh?"

And what the heck is "red matter?" Please, I know Star Trek has always been more about the "social" sciences than about hard physics, but "red matter?" Get rid of the time travel aspect, and you can dispense with the ridiculous McGuffin of "red matter," too.

So yes, Trek fans: bash me all you like. But take a moment to ask yourself: had Abrams the intellectual honesty and regard for the fans enough to simply state, "Hey, guys, you'll recognize these characters, but keep in mind, we're starting over here," instead of dragging in a hackneyed time travel galactic Swiss cheese of a plot element, wouldn't it have been a better film? Wouldn't it have been far better to simply say, "Hey, here's Kirk's first mission, and how he meets the rest of his crew in our new take on the franchise?" Seems they could have come up with a far better story to tell, kept the blockbuster special effects and production values, and have come up with something other than refried summer movie mush.

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