The Star Trek Experiment: Can J.J. Abrams Convert A Sci-Fi Hater?

By Katey Rich and Mack Rawden 2013-05-15 15:12:49discussion comments


MACK: I would say I respect it more than I like it. So much about this movie was really well done. It does a masterful job of handling a large supporting cast. It mixes in a fair amount of jokes that are well-timed. The special effects are incredible. It's really the type of thing you hope for with a big-budget, PG-13 movie, but that being said, I was left with so many questions and confusions, I have a hard time saying I really loved it or even unreservedly liked it for that matter. Maybe my questions are actual plot holes or problems. Maybe they're just me having a hard time than most getting on board with sci-fi.

KATEY: I thought about warning you ahead of time not to focus too much on the plot, and to think more about the characters. Because while I think Star Trek does a great job of introducing newbies to a few things-- the relationship between Kirk and Spock, the ideas of warp speed travel and Starfleet as a force active across many planets-- the actual plot gets really, really bogged down in the time travel, which makes the movie possible but also crazy confusing. But before we get into the plot, how did you feel about the characters? Any in particular that you liked or wanted to see more of?

MACK: Before I get into the specific characters, let me pay JJ Abrams a more great compliment about introducing the characters as a whole. Throughout the movie, he's really good about using the tone of voice of the characters to make it clear to non-Trek fans that this person is important. For example: the way Leonard McCoy introduces himself makes me, as a novice, know that this person is incredibly important to the Star Trek universe.

As for specific characters, I was particularly impressed by how much actual screentime many of the supports got including Pavel, Scotty, Sulu and Uhura. I left the movie feeling like I'd gotten a great sense of their basic personalities and the ways in which they can contribute to the team as a whole.

KATEY: And you felt like you understood why it was important that these people are a team? I think it helps to have Leonard Nimoy in there to be like "Hey, Kirk, these people will be important to you, even though you hate Spock right now"

MACK: Yes. There's a great balance on the Enterprise. Honestly, they're a team of Vulcans/ humans/ whatever the hell Scotty's ogre-looking friend is that I would actually enjoy watching work together and solve problems. For example: I like that Sulu can steer the ship but is also passable in fighting situations. The hallmark of a great team that you watch over the course of multiple movies or TV seasons is that when things happen, you instinctively know..." Ohhh ___ would be good at that." I've watched Trek for 128 minutes total, and I could now tell you if there's weird science shit going on, Scotty is the man for the job.

KATEY: I'm really happy to hear that from you, because that's something I adored about this movie-- but I had just finished this marathon of watching the original 6 movies with Josh, so I knew these characters incredibly well. It was so satisfying to me to see each of them get a moment, but it was hard to know if that gratification would come through for a neophyte. And that Sulu thing you point out is a place where the new Trek actually succeeds a little better than the old one-- Sulu never got to have that much fun in the original movie series.

As someone who doesn't really get into sci-fi, did the more fantastical parts of the story, or the way the ship worked, trip you up?

MACK: Well, I was familiar with the idea of jumping or warp speed from watching Star Wars, and I was familiar with seeing Captains speak to one another during battle situations from Galaxy Quest. So...the ship itself wasn't a big problem, but I had some serious issues with the plot. Is Red Matter something that comes up often in Star Trek? Is that like Star Trek's version of harnessed antimatter? And I still don't understand why we needed time travel. Doesn't the villain destroying an entire planet in real time work just as well? Why the added layers? I get that it's convenient to have Spock explain to Kirk that they're going to be BFFs, but I'm just not sure the pros of that outweigh the cons of confusion.

KATEY: The red matter question and the time travel question are essentially the same thing, and the answer is no, neither of them are part of established Trek canon. Both of them were brought in to establish the alternate timeline, so that you can have familiar characters-- Kirk, Spock, Bones, etc. -- and be able to tell new stories around them. You need the time travel because you need to be able to reboot the franchise, without also saying "Oh, and all the stuff that happened with Shatner never happened." It's a neat bridge between two worlds... but it's also massively confusing, even if you're familiar with Trek.

MACK: Ohhhhhh.... See, I didn't even understand they were doing that. I thought this was a completely fresh start, just a new take on familiar characters. Were the fans clamoring for that, or was Abrams just trying to cover his bases?

KATEY: So how did you explain the fact that Leonard Nimoy was in this film?

MACK: I thought Leonard Nimoy was just a fun perk for the hardcore fans who were hoping their favorite actors would be given cameos. I thought he was a convenient way to explain everyone will eventually get along.

KATEY: So the whole thing where Spock is explaining how he traveled through time and that's what kicked off all this action... too much to process in one monologue? I do not blame you if this is true.

MACK: Okay. So, I understood Spock traveling back in time 120 years of whatever, and I understood the villain traveling through time. I got that this made two Spocks essentially exist, and I definitely noticed the very heavy-handed comment where Spock tells Jim his father was proud of him in the other life, but I never thought of this as being a manufactured way of making sure years of movies/TV shows weren't invalidated. I guess I instinctively thought when you reboot something, you reboot something. It doesn't invalidate anything else. It's just a different take....sort of like how Christopher Nolan's take on Batman doesn't mean we can't all still love Tim Burton's take on Batman.

KATEY: Yeah, that definitely would have been one way of approaching it... but unlike comic books, which reinvent their characters and have them die and all the like, the Star Trek universe has all been narratively consistent. In all the Voyager and Enterprise spinoffs and the like, the adventures of Kirk and Spock on the original Enterprise had happened. So this movie fits within the established world, just with a nifty alternate universe timeline. But they get there through a villain and a time travel device that somehow get even more confusing when you look back at it.

Did you spend the whole time saying "Wait a second, what's Nero's plan exactly?" or did you enjoy the action as it unfolded?

MACK: I was under the impression for a long time that Nero was pissed at Spock's dad and figured we would get a backstory on that at some point. I wasn't really blown away by him as a villain, but the fact that everyone on the Enterprise always treated him as a real threat made me view him as a real threat and just go with it.

Since I'm not a science fiction fan, I'm forced to sort of roll with the punches when I watch sci-fi movies because if I truly question everything, I won't be able to stay current with the story. So, gigantic plot points, I'll look into. Details like exact motivations of characters or how science works, I try to hold my questions until the end of the movie.

KATEY: That's definitely the best attitude to take with this version of Star Trek, which just asks you to swallow a lot of stuff in the interest of setting up the characters the way they are at the end of the movie. Which of the action scenes was your favorite?

MACK: The scene where they jump into the middle of the battle field and there's utter chaos and broken ship parts everywhere is one of the coolest flash images I've ever seen in an action/ science fiction or fantasy movie. When it happened, I immediately thought Abrams could have gotten a 150 million dollar greenlight to make this movie based on that 45 second snippet alone. Just awesome.
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