I saw the new Star Trek film over the weekend. Aside from a slightly missed beat in the big reveal I enjoyed every minute of it. JJ Abrams and crew truly paid the series more respect than most fans were willing to believe.
As I often do I went back and checked out reviews to see where my opinion fell. Most of the major critic’s opinions were in line with my own but Roger Ebert was not among them. Now, two and a half stars is not necessarily a poor review of a film but the fact that it’s half a star removed from Matthew McConaughey vehicle Ghosts of Girlfriends Past is more than a little troubling. Scores are only numbers and it was the text that truly bothered me, particularly the lede:
“Star Trek” as a concept has voyaged far beyond science fiction and into the safe waters of space opera, but that doesn’t amaze me. The Gene Roddenberry years, when stories might play with questions of science, ideals or philosophy, have been replaced by stories reduced to loud and colorful action. Like so many franchises, it’s more concerned with repeating a successful formula than going boldly where no “Star Trek” has gone before.
I think he’s got it all wrong. Firstly space opera is a subgenre of science fiction. Genre gaffes aside, The Star Trek series has always been a space opera. The warbling aria of the original series’ theme is practically a winking nod to this. Ebert’s argument may still be that the film is content to play within the safe waters of a subgenre, but I think he misses the point here too.
The idea that the new Star Trek doesn’t play with questions of philosophy is completely baffling. Star Trek is very much a film about destiny and identity. It’s difficult to go into any depth without spoiling the film, something I do not wish to do here, but suffice to say the theme is somewhat subtle compared to the main plotline.
If the subtlety of the deeper themes is the source of Ebert’s complaint then I need only point to the first series of films to make my argument. When the Star Trek films have tried to tackle weighty issues with less subtlety we got The Final Frontier at worst and The Voyage Home at best. With Star Trek, as with anything else, symbolism is best when it doesn’t reach out and smack you in the face. The interesting musings should be the theme not the plot.
Ebert goes on to complain about some of the science, which he may not know is surprisingly plausible, and appears to have missed some of the plot in doing so (the away team must parachute onto a platform because the transporters are being jammed). But none of this really matters, what matters is what I think, and what you think. As far as I’m concerned Star Trek is every bit as good as The Undiscovered Country and light years ahead of the abysmal Nemesis.