Star Trek XIV: The Wrath of Fans
While checking my Facebook the other day, I noticed a friend had posted the following: “Hey nerd friends, how does the new Star Trek movie look to you? Based off of the trailers I’m thinking this movie is way off base with Gene Roddenberry’s vision. Star Trek isn’t about non stop action and explosions… I’m really hoping for some life lessons or mind opening ideas. Of course we won’t know ’till its out in theaters but what do you think?”
I should mention outright that not just nerds respect Star Trek. Far from it. The series has made a massive cultural impact on global society, more so than most people probably realize. I and many of the people I know make connections to Star Trek every day. I have adopted Vulcan meditation techniques into my daily meditations, and I have a friend who uses the bridge of the original Enterprise as her “Happy Place” during psychology sessions. This demonstrates the vast personal impact the show has on a legion of viewers.
Cell phones, iPads, tablets, personal computers, thumb drives, even the sliding doors from the super market, all owe some degree of their design to Star Trek. Dr. Martin Cooper, inventor of the cell phone, credited the show as the inspiration and driving force behind his invention. This impact doesn’t stop with technology. Star Trek also influences the choices people make when deciding what career field to go into. Whoopi Goldberg became an actress because of Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura in the original series. Goldberg later went on to have a recurring role in The Next Generation. Doctors, scientists, and engineers have also given the show credit for what initially sparked their interest in their respective fields. NASA even named their Enterprise shuttle after Kirk’s ship. In return, the series has paid homage to the real Enterprise in some episodes of Star Trek. Even Pop Culture has felt this impact. For instance, quite frequently in television and film, a character meets his evil identical twin, the only difference being a goatee. Hollywood insiders rightly credit this to Spock and his alternate self in the classic episode “Mirror, Mirror.”
At times, Star Trek’s profound significance reaches into the loftiest cultural circles. For instance, at one point, Nichelle Nichols wanted to leave the show part way through the series. While talking with a devoted fan, she mentioned her desire to leave. This fan convinced her that as a non-stereotyped Black woman on T.V., her influence on Black society would have a more important impact than Nichols acting on her own desires. That fan was none other than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Throughout the five series, guest stars have included actors, musicians, scientists, writers, astronauts, and even royalty. The Dalai Lama’s monks even visited the Next Generation set because of the number of fans in their ranks. In fact, His Holiness loves the science behind the show and the “man with the big ears.”
Star Trek has brought its fans together into one greatly expanded family. I met one of my closest friends in a philosophy class. As we sat around a table studying before class, she asked if I had ever seen Star Trek so we could make a personal connection to our assignment. The studying stopped immediately, and we talked Trek. She’s now one of my closest friends. In fact, I’m as close to her as I am to any of my siblings. Recently, two Next Generation episodes came out in select movie theaters for one night only. I went to the showing with a group of Trekkie friends. Afterwards, we stood around outside discussing the series when two complete strangers who had also gone to the show walked up and joined the group. We introduced ourselves and talked for about fifteen more minutes about Trek and why we loved it. I have talked with fans from as young as five years old to people in their sixties about Star Trek, men and women ranging from multiple social and economic backgrounds. These differences that normally may prevent us from talking to each other in a meaningful way have been obliterated by our common bond. Star Trek isn’t always the focal point of our conversations, but it certainly is a reference frame from which everything else proceeds.
Unfortunately, the Bridge is now seething with animosity, and for good reason. Current director J.J. Abrams has taken away this sense of family with his new Star Trek movies. He’s best known for directing and writing popular television series such as Lost, Alias, and Fringe. His productions are often composed of convoluted storylines, plot twists, and supernatural / science fiction themes. For a galaxy of loyalists, Abrams’ signature style doesn’t mesh well with the Star Trek universe, except for the science fiction, of course. Granted, Abrams and the producers of the 2009 Star Trek quite intelligently gave the fans enough lip service to keep us happy to a degree, such as including elements from the television series as in-jokes for fans, but he altered the show so far from Roddenberry’s vision that the movie isn’t even Star Trek anymore. For instance, he flooded the show with special effects. While special effects have their place, Abrams went overboard. Star Trek typically relies on storyline and message to speak to its audience. Instead, Abrams chose to rely on a lens flare.
An unknown Trekkie created this picture mocking Abrams’ use of the lens flare. Devoted Trekkies have even invented a drinking game where the player must take a slug of alcohol every time a lens flare is used during the Abrams production. One fan claimed that he counted the number of lens flares at 1,013. Don’t play the drinking game. Abrams also decided to set the new trilogy in an alternate timeline. This allows him to dramatically alter the characters or stories from the original series, which also means he has abnegated his responsibility to honor Gene Roddenberry’s true spirit and intentions. Abrams does whatever he wants with the characters, technology, and places of the Star Trek universe, just like Eric Cartman.
Abrams seems to have focused on making as much money as possible, and in this he succeeded. His film made $257,730,019. The next highest grossing Star Trek film, The Voyage Home, made less than half this amount. Nevertheless, financial success doesn’t always equal a successful reception. Many Trekkies were furious with Abrams’ treatment of the franchise. Along with the numbing overuse of special effects, he cast Pop Culture icons into the roles to attract a younger and larger audience, such as Chris Pine, Simon Pegg, Eric Bana, Zachary Quinto, and now Benedict Cumberbatch. There’s no fundamental problem with this in most cases, but now the show’s new audience tends to focus on the actors themselves (and the special effects) instead of plot and well-developed character qualities.
To return to the question asked at the start of the discussion–what we thought of the new movie–our response was nearly unanimous. The 2009 Star Trek, while a passably good science fiction movie, failed to capture the essence of Star Trek. Keep in mind that J.J. Abrams was never a Star Trek fan. One has to wonder how a scenario like this could have ever come to pass. If a fan had directed the movie, he or she would have surely invested it with that special quality deserving of such a magnificent global tradition. Fortunately, Abrams doesn’t appear to be directing the third and final part of the trilogy that has been in production for several years, now, as he has decided to jump ship and direct another classic Sci-Fi show, the seventh Star Wars film, believe it or not. And fear not, the Trekkie family remains strong. Not long ago, William Shatner started a movement to name one of Pluto’s newly discovered moons, and guess what? One of the baby moons orbiting Pluto has just been named “Vulcan.”