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
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KATEY: That shot really is amazing, as is the one that follows where Kirk and Sulu parachute down to that drilling platform. That scene, by the way, is an introduction to one of the best Trek running jokes-- that the redshirts always die. Notice the color of the shirt on Olson, the guy with the chargers who gets incinerated?

MACK: Let's talk about that parachuting scene for a minute.... We've touched on my plot problems with this movie, but as far as character development and formatting, I've already said I think Abrams did a wonderful job here. The only thing with character development I left the movie questioning was why the hell Olson was such a throwaway. I mean, after all, viewers like me (who I think account for a higher percentage than people realize) have no way of knowing who is important over the long haul and who is some meaningless dude. Yet, I knew instantly he was going to die because he wasn't presented as a potential main character. I thought that was a serious opportunity to up this movie's pretty impressive body count of important characters, but if I'm to believe what you're saying, the pros of doing that were ultimately outweighed by a desire to please the hardcore fanbase and get in a "red shirt" joke. Do you think that's what actually happened?

KATEY: I think that's essentially it-- every action movie is going to wind up with some kind of collateral damage, and a lot of movies have a tradition of inserting someone who's immediately going to die off. The term "redshirt" has transferred over to a lot of other properties for a reason. Olson's death gets in a redshirt joke, but it also puts Kirk and Sulu in even more dire straits and makes the movie more exciting. Upon r-watch I also realize that the contrast with Olson-- who's so reckless it gets him killed-- is important for getting to know Kirk as someone who is cocky and reckless but not a moron.

MACK: If the important part here was to draw a contrast then you may be right. I'm not sure it would have gone over very well with audiences if a fully fleshed out character we'd hung out with for a solid portion of the movie recklessly died from his own incompetence.

KATEY: Oh absolutely-- but I think the Olson moment works. One of the things I love best about this movie is how well humor mixes in with action and character development. The movie never really takes a breath.

Were there any moments when you felt like it lagged?

MACK: Not particularly. I felt like it lost a slight bit of momentum when Kirk was marooned with older Spock, but with a great call to the bullpen, the movie brings Simon Pegg out of left field and his high energy lifts everything back up. For a two hour run-time, it zips by.

KATEY: Were you as moved by the opening 10 minutes as people familiar with the franchise were? I kind of get weepy every time I see it.

MACK: No. I thought it was a very well done, very smart introduction that made me view the older Captain Kirk as a hero, but it wasn't the main thing I took away from the movie nor the most invested I was at any point.

KATEY: It's funny to realize that when Chris Hemsworth was cast as Thor, we wrote the headline "Captain Kirk's Dad Cast As Thor." [Ed. note: OK, close enough] He's come so far!

MACK: I know. I was shocked to see him and wondering why he would take such a small role. Then I realized this was a big role in his eyes at the time.

KATEY: It was-- and he sells it really well in that short period. When it got so emotional like that so early, did it sell you on the idea this might be sci-fi you could invest in?

MACK: Yes. It sold me on the idea that this was a sci-fi movie for everyone and that an honest attempt was being made to reach out to people like me.

KATEY: See Mack? J.J. Abrams really cares about you!

MACK: Besties.
MACK'S BURNING QUESTIONS

Is Nero a regular character in the Star Trek Universe, or are he and his planet totally new inventions?
The Romulans are a race that has existed since the first Star Trek series, and have always been either antagonists or vaguely unfriendly to Starfleet-- there's a joke in Wrath of Khan about Kirk acquiring some Romulan ale, which is banned because of trade embargo. Nero, on the other hand, is a total invention for this movie.

I now understand the origin of the phrase "Beam Me Up, Scotty." Is that mostly what Scotty does in the other movies, or does he also solve crazy science problems like he does here?
There's definitely more of an emphasis on seat-of-your-pants problem-solving in this movie, but Scotty was the go-to guy for anything in engineering, which also included his other famous catchphrase, "I'm giving it all she's got, Captain!" (You see that in the big final scene where they shoot out the missiles to avoid going into the black hole). Any time when Kirk wants to do something weird that involves the way the ship is built, he uses Scotty, and Scotty is usually a good conspirator the way he is here.

Going into this movie, I was under the impression that the female characters in Star Trek were sort of there to look pretty. I'm not sure where I picked that up, but over the years, that's the viewpoint people gave me. After seeing this movie, I wouldn't say that at all. Uhura might not be Captain Kirk, but she has clear and necessary skills. Is that something this film changed, or was the impression I had going into this movie completely wrong?
Uhura always had clear and necessary skills, and her role on the Enterprise-- as the translator of languages and communications from other ships-- is the same as in the original series. She didn't always have a ton to do in the original movies, at least not as much as the central trio of Kirk and Spock and Bones, but she was definitely as important as Chekov and Sulu. And she's actually a major part of Star Trek's role in history-- she and Kirk shared one of TV's first interracial kisses.

The original ideals of Star Trek were very much about imagining a better future, so that there was a lot more racial and ethnic diversity on board the Enterprise than anywhere else on television, and also that women were a bit more equals than elsewhere in the 60s. That's one of the ideals that a lot of Trek fans miss from the new movie as well, for what it's worth.
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