“Flashback! To “Star Trek 2009…!”

And okay, everybody: let’s be serious here. Serious enough not to shoot the messenger?

Yes.

Because you may have liked it, you may have found it fun, but this was a hardcore geek’s movie all the way around, and the sooner we all accept that, the sooner we can get down to recognizing what was genuinely good and genuinely bad about it, and put our liking for it in the appropriate perspective. The story that it wasn’t a hardcore geek’s movie, that’s very flattering I’m sure, but then spin always is — and the thing called “good marketing” has always been distinguished from bad marketing by just this: its willingness to flatter its intended audience with something mostly true, instead of mostly false. So, let me be (as the politicians say) “very clear about this” — in that I don’t want to give the impression that I think anyone’s wrong to like it. We all like the stuff we like, and obviously much of it is horrendously geeked-out and narrow-niched, and none of us are immune to marketing, and none of that is anything like a crime against good taste…but at the same time, I’d be horribly remiss if I didn’t point out that this thing made me laugh my head off in as many places as it made me groan, which is coincidentally the same number of places where it stimulated my inner fanboy’s, ah…

…Let’s call them “reflexes”.

And that isn’t necessarily all good stuff. Because there’s an evident calculation in that: this isn’t a movie, it’s three movies, because somebody somewhere decided that those fannish reflexes couldn’t be “properly” stimulated in just one movie…which is kind of, what’s the word, bad of them…and even worse, none of those three movies are really “movies” either, not even really pastiches of movies, just a memory quilt sewn from bits of other movies and shows and scenes and tropes and (let’s face it) fannish ideas about what would be cool, propped up by the somewhat-crazy and inordinately fan-servicey supposition that there are “good” Star Trek fans who are members of a basically-ungeeky mass market that is well-socialized, and then there are “bad” ones who just live in a little nitpicky ghetto of bad taste and daddy issues, and this movie’s for the “good” ones. Which, I should be sure to say in plain English, is pretty much horseshit…even, from a certain point of view, offensive horseshit…but horseshit that’s at least guilty with an explanation, horseshit that gets saved at the last minute with a Hail Mary pass as Mr. Spock accomplishes the cold restart of the warp engines, because thank goodness for the fact, Bloggers, that there aren’t actually any specially Star-Trek-ized daddy-issue geeks out there in truth as a genuine demographic, that the marketing charge can be fairly levelled against. But rather the existence of those fans as a category of human weirdness is just a fannish idea in itself…after all, who is it that even bothers to watch that “Trekkies” movie, anyway? I’ve told someone about that (awesome) movie, my words all flowing scrupulously from the Hipster Chakra so as to seem as palatable as possible, but then receiving this response no matter how much normal-guy topspin I tried to put on it:

Yeah, I’m not really into Star Wars, man.”

Because you see, there’s the people who think it’s fucking bullshit, and the people who don’t, and those are the only demographics that exist…

…Whatever we tell ourselves because we happen not to be the guy dressed as Riker who thinks the presence of spirit gum on his face means he can be lewd in a “turbolift” to some girl. The “bad” Star Trek fans…

It isn’t Star Trek that makes them bad. Hell, I’ve been to a Thin Lizzy convention where two harmless people in wigs pledged their love to one another. Massive applause and cheering; everybody had a tear in their eye.

It wasn’t Thin Lizzy, that made that happen.

And so I know that this seems like a way over-the-top statement in terms of blind boldness, to some, but until and unless we can see our way clear to accepting its basic truth, we’re never gonna be able to see what was good about this movie and what was bad — until we can see that the “bad fans” are rare as green rubies, in other words an empty category jury-rigged by someone as a temporary demographic barrel for a temporary marketing gun, then we’re going to be victimized by the parts of this movie’s brilliant marketing scheme that aren’t so nice, and be convinced by them to give up our ability to critically evaluate a thing that we all love, all in the name of despising people who would be exactly like us but for the fact that they practically don’t exist at all. Or do we really want to be in a foxhole with that non-fan online who says things like “dude, it’s just comics; dude, it’s just big dumb fun?” I tell you honestly, brothers and sisters, when someone says something like that, what I hear really coming out of their mouth is “comics are stupid and childish, but I hate this self-identification I’ve chosen anyway so it all evens out”…

And so I reject the elitist sentiment, the negative aspect of the genius marketing plan for Star Trek 2009, in favour of the positive…and thus come to what I hope is honest criticism. “We’re” certainly all the good Star Trek fans

But this isn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, the best Star Trek movie.

And: now that the preamble’s over, let’s quickly begin again. With a fact we should all be able to agree on: that Star Trek (note how I italicize it) was once a fairly large mass-market entertainment machine, and that this is what the “bad fan” stuff is glossing over. My parents have seen “Wrath Of Khan”, for heaven’s sake. Everybody knows about “Beam Me Up, Scotty”. These aren’t deeply subcultural trivia, rare gems of secret knowledge, they’re more like dandelions: they’re everywhere. And yes, some people are allergic, but I humbly submit there’s a real simple rule of thumb, here. My grandmother knew the words to Yellow Submarine despite never having heard it; meaning she knew more about the Beatles than she knew about cooking spaghetti. Yes. That’s what a mass-market entertainment machine is, and the line’s pretty easy to draw. It’s easy to find people who know who Darth Vader is, a lot harder to find people who know who Commander Adama is. More people know Lois Lane, than know Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Star Trek used to be like that.

But not anymore. Of course no one could possibly have come to Star Trek 2009 who didn’t already at least know Jim Kirk, Spock The Ears Guy, Dammit Bones and Scotty…but then there are plenty of people like the “I’m not into Star Wars” guy who didn’t come, and they’re not fans…and do you and I and him and her really make all that much of a common cause with the “Dammit Bones” guy? Or, who are we really claiming to be, who is it we’re trying so desperately not to be? Nothing in Star Trek 2009 was made for the people who only knew those Jim-Bones Spock-Ears characters, because they weren’t the target audience: they were part of the marketing machinery that targeted the real audience in the first place, that audience which is actually much larger than their weird-ass “sure I’ll see it why not” demographic. But the existence of the Jim-Bones folks were only another method — albeit a very clever method, and one that paid for itself into the bargain! — of cashing pop-cultural credit out of the mass-market entertainment phenomenon that used to be called “Star Trek”. And I know I sound like a grouch, but you have to remember that (as I said) it’s no shameful thing to be successfully marketed to. My old friend Emma could tell you that. After all, she went through it way back when, when she confided in me that “actually I liked Grosse Point Blank”.

And I laughed, and said “Well of course you ‘actually liked it’, Emma! After all what is it, but something that was made to get you to say so, and say it in exactly so many words? You and your media-savvy eclectic hipster ways, they really totalled you up and marked you down! High-school outsider John Cusack returns to his class reunion, to a soundtrack you’ve been making mixed tapes of for more than ten years? Is there any way you could not like that?”

And: “Oh,” she said, frowning. “Well…shit. I guess they got me. Damn.”

“But hey,” I said, “why worry about it, you know? So we can be marketed to now…well, so what? What’s the harm? You did like the movie, after all; so would you rather they hadn’t made it, just so you could hang onto your impenetrable hipstress cred another year?”

And okay, Bloggers, I confess it: I did not sound quite this world-weary and wise at the time, and Emma’s both funnier and smarter than me anyway. But let’s take the right kind of gist out of this admittedly self-serving little microdrama…which is just that there’s no shame in developing your taste to a point where you can sometimes, under the right conditions, be handled as a part of a demographic. The irony, at least, oughtta be instructive: since when you started to make all this stuff up about what you liked/didn’t like, you spent at least as much time dreaming of replacing the Establishment as you did revelling in your outsider status. I mean, did we really know what we wanted then, either way? Did we really want to “take over”? Or did we really want to simply wash the old staid formulae away? You can’t live in the complex of undecidedness, the complex of opportunity, forever — eventually all your impulsions do recollide as you inherit your own cultural capital, but the question then is just the question that always was, which is: what kind of story is that going to end up being, as you get older? Will you still be able to own your own taste, once it becomes possible to commodify it? What postures will you be able to adopt with respect to it, that will still let you zig, and zag, and break new unanticipated ground? Or…are there even such postures to be had?

Well, sure there are, and no one’s saying there aren’t. If you’re like me and Emma, you don’t have to look at “Grosse Point Blank” as the point where you were forcibly cashed out, because you took your time about selling out…because nothing’s stopping you, after all, from engaging with that story…slapping the pen out of the marketers’ hands, and picking it up and turning it around to the page yourself…!

And thus it is, even so it is, with Star Trek 2009. That they got you doesn’t mean your story’s done, or become stupid or futile or pointless. HOWEVER!

HOWEVER…!

You’ve still got to get to grips with it, don’t you? Look, this movie’s pretty fucking cynical in places, honestly. You don’t think that first shot of the Enterprise isn’t her spreading her legs for you? What, do you think it’s a “real” picture of the Enterprise, you think that’s just what she “looks like” when seen from “that angle”? But there is no real Enterprise, and there is no “accidental” angle you can see her from, and it isn’t you that’s even doing the looking — it’s only you that’s doing the seeing. So, yes: they meant it like that. And if you think I’m saying that’s a bad thing…no, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. I’m saying it’s a thing that made me laugh my head off, I’m saying it truly was a meant thing — listen up, for God’s sake, that image was MEANT! — but I’m not saying it made the movie a bad movie, or not even really a movie at all, or not even really three different bad-not-movies cut up into one.

Hell, I’m not even saying I didn’t like it.

But come on, it’s there. How is it not there? And somehow I don’t think it’s aimed at the casual Star Trek semi-fan, do you? And so maybe we would (naturally) like to excuse it by saying it is aimed at the “bad Star Trek fan”…but knowing deep down that this Bad Fan business is really code for us, maybe it’s better we pretend it isn’t there at all? The Enterprise legs-spreading thing? Is it possible we can laugh at it? But we like it too much, see that’s the problem. And we know it really isn’t for the people everyone tells us the movie isn’t made to please, don’t we? So we know that, at any rate.

The word, as I’m sure you know, is “self-loathing”. And we might take a moment to wonder what that concept really consists of. “I am this, but there are people who are every bit as this as I am, that I don’t like to think I am similar to.” Well, natch. Happens all over. But it happens more, sometimes: where real love, real idealism, real caring are called into the circle…it happens a lot more, then. Where nerves get raw, is where something’s really at stake, on both sides; and there’s perhaps nothing so alarming as a fellow fanatic, because you are not free to withhold your respect from them unless you are also willing to withhold it from yourself.

Succinct enough for you, Bloggers?

I mean there’s just one sort of GEEK, isn’t there?

Understand, I’m not saying there aren’t things in this movie I thought were fantastic. I thought the scene with Spock and Uhura in the turbolift was fantastic. But it was fantastic because I’m a Star Trek fan. As a reinvention, as an example of how this stuff can still be made fresh while simultaneously trading on tired old fanwanky expectations…well, there’s no other scene quite like it in the movie, and I mean that both sincerely and sadly. And as an example of things you can do in a movie, if making a “real” movie’s what you want to do, it’s really rather good. Not exactly stuff we’ve never seen before, true. But decent stuff, stuff with some emotional pep to it, a place in the script where acting can be done, a place where directing can be directing and not just CAD-work…but let’s not kid ourselves, the punch it had for dedicated and hopeful fans, that’s a different punch than the punch it had for casual fans who know Spock-Man and little else, that percentage of its audience made so remarkably low, by the fact that the original series was so remarkably good, and so appealing to the mass market. But then that’s also part of what makes it such an effective scene: that it invokes that semi-fan appreciation that our self-loathing (to the degree we have it) encourages us to identify with. And so in this sense, to the right sort of eyes, it’s got two different complexions. It’s got two different kinds of roots, it’s of two different worlds if you take my meaning…and that appeals to just a certain type of Star Trek fan anyway

That is: to every Star Trek fan, if the truth be known. And yet not everything in the movie cooks out so felicitously. The Rebel Without A Kirk opening is pure nonsense, for example: one of the most unnecessary bits of paper-folding I’ve ever seen in any movie, I am telling you that whatever that Roy Scheider “Sealab” TV show was called (damn, what was it called?) (okay fine, so I know damn well what it was called, it’s an O’Bannon joint after all, I mean jeez), it did this same thing better and to more purpose. You know? And in fact that’s where the whole passage was lifted from, not from James Dean at all. (By the way, did you know J.J. Abrams is only three months older than me? Believe me, I know his influences cold, that guy. I could go as him on Hallowe’en, if I wanted to. Honest to God.) But anyway I won’t bore you you with all the nitpicky ubergeek stuff in that scene, that I could go on for hours and hours about, all the reasons it’s wrong, all the reasons it’s dumb because it doesn’t fit, all the reasons it’s amazingly ridiculous beyond all semblance of science…little “WhatNot” reference for you guys, there…except just to say that every complaint that’s ever been made about it is dead right, yes the supernerds are right about it all, I’m sorry folks!…even sorrier that you are the supernerds, because there are no other nerds but you here anyway!…because “dumb” is entirely as bad as that scene gets, and lots of movies have dumb crap in them, and therefore so what? When it’s just summer fun, right? People responded to that silly scene, it grounded their expectations of Chris Pine’s Kirk even if it it grounded them in remarkably inelegant style. But they knew what they were looking at, and that was the point.

It’s the only point this movie has, when you bake the shit out of it. You always know what you’re looking at. This is where the crosshairs are, you guys. You know when you’re looking at comic relief. You know when you’re looking at dramatic confrontation. You know what you’re looking at when you’re looking at “The Big Reveal”. You can almost imagine Jeff Probst sitting in the seat behind you saying “now wait for my go”. This isn’t a movie, not even three movies, it’s a telegraph transmission: message follows stop act surprised end. One-two punches?

I gotcher one-two punches right here.

Everything here is from something else. The original Star Trek series is mercilessly ripped-off every twenty-two minutes like clockwork, sometimes inelegantly in sense, sometimes elegantly in the copying of its highly-skilled rapid-fire should’ve-been-impossible-given-the-constraints quasi-Olivier-movie-style Shakespearean shot-framing; and the Star Trek movies are on a similar cycle, only exactly out-of-phase Mr. Spock…and the rest is stuff you saw in other places growing up. We’re missing John Cusack in alien nose make-up saying “come with me if you want to live, plate o’ shrimp”, sure, but that’s about it. It’s Photoshop filmmaking, a lot of the time: the effect of the big-ass sea-urchin Romulan ship with the rotting Caesar in its heart, so familiar from the Nemesis movie that gracelessly beamed down “Wrath Of Khan” into its scriptwriting process, is made infinitely more watchable by the hybrid filmmaking techniques born of computer colouring in comics, and whoever it was who did Firefly’s (and then BSG’s? am I right?) external action sequences — man, I’m telling you, this is a Wildstorm movie in so many ways! — and yet of course it’s still essentially dull no matter what tableaux are successfully made, because, how does one put this, no one cares. Seriously, the fucking vendetta-bound Romulans, it’s too much now. TOO MUCH. This guy’s like a Romulan space-trucker. , this Shakespearean villain-dude, here.  It’s stupid. But then it’s the first time the casual Star Trek fan has seen that shit since ST: TMP, right?

That’s what it is, right?

It’s a mash-up.

And one of the things that is worst and most wrong about it, is that it never aspires to be much of anything more. However, let me pause a minute to give some praise where it’s due…before I charge up the phasers again. Zachary Quinto’s momma’s-boy Spock? That’s some beautiful stuff, honestly: as good as the Thor-dude they had in the Ultimates, and possibly in exactly the same way. The pugnacious little dickhead Kirk, the burnt-out mid-thirties McCoy whose backstory is lifted from New Voyages pre-Vonda McIntyre (and do not tell me I don’t know the inside of J.J. Abrams’ skull as well as I know my own, damn you!), all just brilliant, the “pump-up-the-lens-flare” business on the hyperlit Ikea bridge, it’s all fine and good and good and fine. Bring the bar fights, bring my countryman Bruce Greenwood who played such a great sociopath on St. Elsewhere and…elsewhere…playing against against-type here, Canada’s own Dennis Quaid, and by the way we always knew one day he’d play Bobby Kennedy, that was always in the cards, guys…I believe he used to put in on his resume: “one day will play Bobby Kennedy”…

…And bring the callbacks to Marvel’s “Starfleet Academy”, bring that Claremont/Byrne X-Men shit too while you’re at it (Simon Pegg = Nightcrawler, FYI), bring every ingredient. The green chick. The Kobayashi Maru. The goddamn apple-biting in the Kobayashi Maru. You guys see this happening, right?

Truly, I hope to God you do: because it literally was made for you.

And, in places: extraordinarily well-made. But now enough with the praise for the influence-peddling: let’s talk movie-ness.

I keep saying there are three bits of movies stuck onto this thing. That’s because there are. One is the movie that’s the essential component of what you might call the whole “Star Trek Begins” business…the one with a young Kirk going to Starfleet Academy and being all Kirktastic. And that’s nostalgia-stuff, sure…but it’s also the movie we most came here to see, and for the best of reasons. Because the TNG stuff went hopelessly wanky and narrowcast long, long ago; because the TOS stuff needs rebooting in a huge way, if this franchise is going to stay a franchise. And because thanks to Gene Roddenberry’s Runyanesque work habits back in the Sixties it all still works as well as it ever did…and so somewhere in all those facts (but particularly in the last one!) there’s the opportunity once again to make the Thing With Two Symbolic Complexions from it. And genre fans like us are used to seeing our old favourites, franchise-wise, undergoing reconstructive surgery…if you like superhero comics you’ve seen practically nothing but this for going on thirty years now, and wondered if the time of the Nostalgic Reconstructionist would ever, ever ever, ever really end…and to be honest it hasn’t exactly been easy to watch TV in this time either. But truly vital art-forms, Captain, have already penetrated this particular veil; gone on to make new really new stuff. So why can’t we?

Star Trek Begins. We could’ve cleared the decks, for real.

It’s just possible that my Dad would’ve watched it.

But that movie got abandoned after about forty minutes, and the first ten minutes of it was taken up by Rebel Without A Kirk, anyway. Understand, I’m not saying it would’ve been a good movie, necessarily. Indeed, I wouldn’t really have asked it to be: hey, I like fun as much as the next guy. But it would’ve been — and this is important! — a movie.

Which is something that my Dad, though I think he probably doesn’t know how to say it (because he assumes every movie will be a “movie”), really cares about. But he wouldn’t’ve liked this one, because instead of a movie, we got an extended trailer, a Star Trek music video, basically “Hungry Like The Wolf” with tricorders. And then jumped sideways to the next movie, which was basically like someone doing an impression of Ron Howard doing Steven Spielberg. I mean that as a compliment, actually: because at least it didn’t seem as desultory as the “first” movie did. An actual problem, a couple of real character moments. I mean you hardly noticed the failure of will that fell back on notions of alternate timelines and Romulan vendettas and better movies, to make it all go forward. For a moment — for a couple of moments, actually! — I forgot that this wasn’t a Hard Reboot, a true Star Trek Begins

But maybe that’s because the plot of this second movie was so darned familiar, so I just thought they were doing it “again”. I mean, no wonder I liked it! It was actually Star Trek. I mean: Star Trek with annoying cutesy bits, why I half-expected to see E.T. sitting in a closet pretending to be a stuffed animal at some point…perhaps talking in a Wussian Accent…but WHATEVER! At least to see some original Star Trek, you know? Or some shadow of it. Young dickhead Kirk: I did not see enough of him in the first movie in this movie. I was told plenty about him, of course. But see him I did not. Listen, I’m not going to kid myself: that Rebel Without A Kirk business was not showing, but telling. It was TELLING. It was lame. But here, for a precious forty minutes or so, I actually did get to see him in motion, in action, in justification. And not by accident!  Because you can tell where the good parts of this movie are: the McCoy character’s in them.

And:  what a huge problem, really!

They didn’t know what to do with him, once he’d got his plot-point thing over with!

Fucking McCOY, they didn’t know what to do with…!

Just as Sexy Uhura turned as desultory as all get-out when it came to the part where her loyalties ought to have been divided…and sure, that could’ve been a beating heart in this movie…but this was never supposed to be a movie anyway, okay? It was never supposed to be, and so it never was. So don’t blame the messenger. And of course it was all in service to the big black sea-urchin of lame-ass time-travelling no-name Costco-cheese-sample Khan, and his complicatedly useless plan of revenge, but do I blame the actors? Do I blame the second unit? I most certainly do not: they did their best, with what they had. It minds me of Crystal Skulls, where for a moment some filmmaking genius was seen in a wheel almost going over the edge of a cliff, just as the snake slithered through Marion’s shoe in Raiders…and here is where I don’t blame myself for my ridiculous tastes: yeah, I liked it. There were moments, and I wanted to see them. I wanted to believe we could take Star Trek on into the land of the new really new, and for a brief clutch of moments here, we could. Of course Ham-Fisted Kirk blows the scene: that’s unfortunate. It seems deliberate. It seems perverse. But can’t you smell the fear here, Bloggers? These are highlights from three movies; don’t you wonder why things were so arranged? Can’t you see why there’s such a dependence on what’s worked before?

Can’t you see, in fact, that the filmmakers ate from the fruit of their own poisonous marketing tree?

If they weren’t fans themselves, they might’ve been up to the task. But: undecidedness. In all this undecidedness, here’s the closest they get to a decision, but they blow it. But they tried? Well at least they tried. And this second movie might’ve been good, too. It looked good; like that ad for The A-Team where they try to fly the tank, and then Face-Man goes topside like the total loon he always should have been. And if that was only the come-on, then I’d probably plunk down some money…but unfortunately these days the come-on and the payoff are usually identical…sigh

And so on into the third movie, the aggressively head-patting one. Bloggers, do any of you really think this movie wasn’t made for the hardcore geeks to marvel at? Do any of you really think there are such things as non-hardcore-geek-fans of Star Trek? It’s just that being one isn’t such a bad thing, that’s all. We’re all Star Trek geeks now. These dreams are what our stuff is made on, has been for twenty years. But let us also bear in mind that this bathlith cuts both ways: no one who isn’t a geek ever saw a Star Trek movie past “The Voyage Home”. Just didn’t happen. That movie attracted tens of millions; “Generations” attracted dozens of hundreds. “Final Frontier” I’m not sure anyone even saw. I wish I hadn’t seen it. Come now, brothers and sisters: this shit got unpopular a long time ago. A hundred million Star Trek fans went to sleep for the simple reason that the money wasn’t left on the screen. My grandmother knew more about the Beatles than about cooking spaghetti; my parents know more about the Sex Pistols than they will ever know about the Borg Queen, or Marina Sirtis getting drunk. If they’d seen this third movie (and they never will or would), would they not have thought “jeez, that’s some pretty harsh and fucking expensive discipline Starfleet’s got, sending off a guy in an eight-million-dollar escape pod to the surface of some fucking moon or other…I mean what, they couldn’t’ve just taken away his key to the executive washroom or something?” Of course they would have, because they would’ve demanded the mass-market Star Trek stuff, the RunyanRoddenesque stuff, the stuff that made sense. And they wouldn’t have got this marketing missile’s impact, so they wouldn’t have liked it. Nor would they have thrilled to the weird distortion of Kirk going through several blends of Galileo Seven, Empire Strikes Back, and All Our Yesterdays…and the Farscape one where Aeryn dies…and the goddamn X-Files movie…and Red Dwarf…I mean pastiche is pastiche, people, but this is ridiculous, this isn’t desultory it’s insultory, and what in the hell’s going on, here? Oh yes, I forgot: the extremely bad and derivative and take-it-away-already overplot, and the grotesque light-fingered parody of the fan-service. Not that the two aren’t the same, eh? Trust me when I say I had scrupulously avoided any spoilers for this thing when I saw it, but I KNEW…Good Christ, I knew it all. Suddenly I was the time-traveller, suddenly I had the perfect foreknowledge. May I go so far as to say it was “icky”? ICKY, my friends: that’s what it was. Is it wrong for me to say I “hate” the character of Mr. Spock now? I HATE him; who the hell is he to be so goddamn cavalier? Do you want your future self to come back to you and say “oh, you know what you should do, divergent self who’s totally different from me? EXACTLY WHAT I DID, and never mind I’ll take care of everything else…” I mean the basic dramatic misunderstanding here is immense, I know it all graphs out tickety-boo on paper but the movie itself is at pains to establish that Spock has MOMMY ISSUES, not DADDY ISSUES…! Holy Hannah, one wonders how this could’ve been misunderstood, one wonders why whoever let Zachary Quinto act in Movie #1 suddenly withheld that permission from him in Movie #3…and why they never really understood the original Spock character enough to make all his changes in this movie stick. They know what inside-out looks like, and they do that pretty fine…but unfortunately they also can’t tell upside-down from right-side-up, and the movie – I should not say “movie”, I should say effort – suffers because of it. We should’ve just had a Hard Reboot, honestly. In the third movie they are simply losing it, simply going on the stuff that appeals to the “bad fans”, that the people who liked this movie are not supposed to be, it degenerates into junk like the Genesis planet, it’s head-patting garbage, it doesn’t even bother to slap you on the back and create bogus cameraderie, it just sends you to bed with a Bad Fan Cookie. And it’s sort of horrifying, and it has a sort of horrifyingly undeniable appeal. I like this Spock, I like this Kirk, I would like this McCoy if he was only onscreen long enough to register as McCoy…but more than any of them I like Simon Pegg, and it pisses me off to no end that it just doesn’t work with Simon Pegg. I mean, can we just cut him free to either be Scotty or a Pegg-ized version of Scotty, or at any rate not the venerable Australian dude who plays the looney-tune in Cosi Fan Tutti guest-starring on Farscape with an alien pet/sidekick that might as well be out of Gremlins? I don’t really care if the movie’s any good, if Simon Pegg’s in it: that is, if Simon Pegg being in the movie is what it’s all about. I’d take an Ape Lincoln moment. But it seems the Ape Lincoln moment here is all about getting Christopher Pike into that space-wheelchair. AND IN EVERY OTHER RESPECT IT IS THE SAME AS THAT SHITTY POTA REMAKE, except there is no real “Ape Lincoln” bit to speak of. Chris Pike might just as easily not have been paralyzed; because we’re rebooting, remember? But there is no commitment here: at the end of the trick, there’s nothing to show. Nothing happened. You just recognize things that you see, and that’s all.

In “Wrath Of Khan”, say this for it: something happened.

In “Nemesis”, even: something did happen.

But here there’s nothing.

And was the the Dammit Bones He’s Dead Jim Mr. Spock! contingent really not turning to themselves and going “what in the…?” at the Chris-Pike-In-The-Chair bit? With the rising chorus of “aaah”s all around them?

Christ, can we really even believe they were there, this time around?

Or that they even existed, or were we just sold a bill of goods. Not to beat a dead horse to death, but “Wrath Of Khan” and “Voyage Home” required nothing of any audience member but that they had heard of the show Star Trek. A friend of mine, on reading Watchmen for the first time, admitted that he felt a lot of stuff going over his head, because he wasn’t well-versed in the vocabulary of superhero comics. My mother didn’t know what the hell happened in Lord Of The Rings, even though I’d read it and ranted about it and tried to independently re-invent Elvish grammar (hello, Holly!) for about six years as a kid…until I told her “psst, Mum…the Ring is like Alberich’s Ring in The Ring…”

Then she said “OHHH!”

“I wondered what the hell everyone was going on about it for…”

But where was I.

Oh yes: the next movie.

Will it be Klingons?

I would be happy if it were, even though it’s clearly impossible for Mr. Spock’s time-travelling escapades to have produced new really new Klingons. But I am not one of the “bad fans”, Bloggers, and I would dearly love to see some new Klingons, no matter the justification so long as we the members of the audience don’t have to fuck around with knowing what a retcon is, or with having to have any opinion of it one way or another. I was in favour of a Hard Reboot, remember? And I still am; and maybe that could be the Ape Lincoln moment, the moment that fails to make sense but doesn’t matter: that the next movie truly and honestly won’t give a damn about that embarrassingly crucial pointless stuff. Just throw in some good new Klingons, and maybe I’ll choose to believe. Hey, there were a lot of new things in Star Trek 2009 I might’ve chosen to believe, actually!

But they didn’t give me the chance.

This stuff was well-made, back in 1966. Anybody could believe in it. It could go all over the world and be as famous as John Wayne, or Pepsi-Cola. There might even be movies made of it.

However, as yet, the “movies” thing is still part of the unwritten future.

I hate to tell you that it sucked, I really do. But it did.

But don’t shoot…!

Honestly, I’m unarmed.

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28 responses to ““Flashback! To “Star Trek 2009…!”

  1. “And was the the Dammit Bones He’s Dead Jim Mr. Spock! contingent really not turning to themselves and going “what in the…?” at the Chris-Pike-In-The-Chair bit? With the rising chorus of “aaah”s all around them?

    Christ, can we really even believe they were there, this time around?”

    That’s me, and say 19 out of 20-odd people I saw this movie with. We’re all geeks, of course, and feel an ancient tribal loyalty to star trek, but it doesn’t really matter to us.

    And we all had a great time and enjoyed it immensely, and the one guy who was really into it also enjoyed it, but got more of the references.
    Another guy, behind us, in tophat and tails (I don’t know why), got extremely annoyed at how much fun we were having watching and joking about, the movie, and I nominate him for bad fan.

    I might have had a point, but I’ve been distracted.

  2. Ha! Guy in top hat and tails with snooty attitude certainly sounds like Bad Fan. I bet he’s no fun at the opera, either.

    So…you knew who Capt. Pike was? Had no idea? No impoliteness intended, but I can’t exactly tell; you throw a bit of distance between yourself and the old ST, here, to my eyes…

    We might just as easily be talking about the “Bond James Bond” crowd, those for whom the details can get fuzzy…maybe they don’t quite remember his code number, was it “107”? Something like that? His boss’ name is “Ten”, or maybe they just don’t remember anything about him past the oil slicks on the Aston-Martin, no idea he’s got a boss at all. But off the top of my head I’d guess the last Casino Royale was made more for them, than Star Trek 2009 was made for the Dammit Jim Bones crowd.

    Although…you know, now that I think about it…

    …This might actually be interesting!

  3. I am in Dan’s Venn-diagram-sector. Like, I hated the “you’re out of your Vulcan mind” nyuk-yuk, but apparently it’s from the Wrath of Khan.

    But are we really Star Trek fans in the same way the good fan tells himself he’s not a bad fan? I didn’t get the Kobayashi Maru (it sounded… familiar?), the Vulcan/fuckin’ or the wheelchair, but I have seen a bunch of Star Trek. I knew Pike was the Captain from the pilot. (I used to share a bedroom with my brother who watched TNG, and I was a horrible prick about it, like that awful – how is it popular – MST3K thing.)

    I was furious that Uhura said “…an alternate timeline”, so I’m definitely a GEEK. Heck, I spelled Uhura right without looking it up.

  4. Well, you know…a friend of mine who liked this, and does not consider himself a big Star Trek geek, has seen a whole lot of Star Trek…must we interrogate ourselves so, when Star Trek was, as I say, a massive broad-spectrum pop-cultural phenomenon? If you saw “Wrath Of Khan” (and many people did!), you might remember the name Kobayashi Maru as easily as you remember the name Tatooine.

    When did knowing things about Star Trek, or even liking Star Trek, suddenly make people huge geeks all by itself? But if that is the definition of “geek”, then the geek base is pretty damn broad. Lots of people know what “the Gorn” is — the show was in really heavy re-runs for decades, and still is!

    Why would someone even go to a Star Trek movie? If I may ask a Socratic question…

  5. This:
    a) is a fantastic post
    b) is an entirely accurate summary of the film
    c) Also sums up every superhero comic published after about 1985…

  6. I have nerd osmosis abilities. I have seen two (2) entire episodes of any Star Trek television series (Space Seed and City on the Edge of Forever), and less-than-a-minute snippets of some others, I think the Space Lincoln one, and God knows what. I have seen Wrath of Khan (it sucks. Space Seed, that’s where it’s at). And yet, I know who Captain Pike is and I know what a Kobyashi Maru is and I know all the catchphrases and the names of all the Enterprise captains (okay, I don’t remember who Avery Brooks was, but I know it was Avery Brooks and I can never tell which one’s Voyager and which one’s DS9) and blah blah. I’m not a Trek guy *or* a Wars guy *or* a Lord of the Rings guy.

    So I saw the JJ Abrams thing (because Simon Pegg was in it) and it was empty spectacle, an attempt to please newbies and hardcore fans. But what about the rest of us?

    I had friends that really enjoyed it, but they couldn’t explain why. Point: me. But I dislike all JJ Abrams productions. Especially Lost. So that’s me.

  7. I saw the movie and liked it well enough. Despite the number of TNG and Voyager episodes I’ve seen, I’ve never really developed my trek-fu to the point where I could parse this movie the way you’re doing here, but:

    this response no matter how much normal-guy topspin I tried to put on it:

    “Yeah, I’m not really into Star Wars, man.”

    I read something a while ago, I forget what, but it caused me to memorize a new all-purpose dismissal just in case I ever need to be really obnoxious. It works like this.

    Somebody: (tries to tell you about something vaguely nerdy. Doesn’t matter what; could be the Wu-Tang Clan or Star Trek or the Fantastic Four)
    You: (as patronizingly as possible) Yeah, I’m not really into Pokemon. (For added effect, smile and walk away immediately.)

    Or do we really want to be in a foxhole with that non-fan online who says things like “dude, it’s just comics; dude, it’s just big dumb fun?” I tell you honestly, brothers and sisters, when someone says something like that, what I hear really coming out of their mouth is “comics are stupid and childish, but I hate this self-identification I’ve chosen anyway so it all evens out”…

    Well, there can be some of that, but what I hear when someone says that is me restraining myself from saying, “Just because you’re too scared of your own brain to pay attention to what goes into it doesn’t mean that I should live the same way!”

    Is there any way you could not like that?

    Yeah, there is! How about if the movie had an ending that was something other than just another freaking gunfight! I’ve already seen movies that end with gunfights, and I was hoping this wouldn’t be one of them!

    As for being marketed to, well, I won’t go so far as to say that I enjoy it, but it sorta comes with the territory, so fine, whatever. This doesn’t mean I want to let the marketing bullets actually pierce my body, though; I’d much rather catch them and look at them than just get mowed down by them.

    The word, as I’m sure you know, is “self-loathing”. And we might take a moment to wonder what that concept really consists of. “I am this, but there are people who are every bit as this as I am, that I don’t like to think I am similar to.” Well, natch. Happens all over. But it happens more, sometimes: where real love, real idealism, real caring are called into the circle…it happens a lot more, then. Where nerves get raw, is where something’s really at stake, on both sides; and there’s perhaps nothing so alarming as a fellow fanatic, because you are not free to withhold your respect from them unless you are also willing to withhold it from yourself.

    Succinct enough for you, Bloggers?

    I mean there’s just one sort of GEEK, isn’t there?

    To me it’s tied in with the concept of the “guilty pleasure”. Something you like, but you don’t think you should like, so you call it a guilty pleasure. That way you can like it without having to be a person who likes it. I don’t have it with Star Trek, which I’ve always been able to take or leave, but I’m a guy who can name the secret identities (and, on good days, home planets) of all 83 members of the Legion of Super-Heroes throughout history, and I’d like to think I’m not hypocritical enough to deny that that’s what I am.

    Let me make sure I understand your argument: you’re saying that this movie was made for hardcore Star Trek fans, but it was pretending that it was made for casual Star Trek fans, which serves two purposes. First, to get more people into the theatres, and second, to allow the hardcore Star Trek fans to pretend that they’re casual Star Trek fans. Is that about it? I mean, I don’t disagree; I just want to make sure I’ve caught up.

  8. As it happens, today one of my co-workers mentioned that her stepdaughter, who’s 14 or so, absolutely loved the movie — and what’s more, it turned her on to the original series. Now she is dismissive of NextGen and all the modern shows, but she loves any flavor of Kirk and Spock.

    That, I wouldn’t have predicted.

    Me, I still get chills just thinking about Old Spock’s “live long and prosper” to young Kirk. Whatever kind of fan I am, I am an old softie….

  9. Take me back to when science fiction comprised a tiny clique of electrical engineering geeks going about the proper task of SF, imagining machines. Possible machines, impossible machines, fantasy machines, hypothetical machines, thought-variant, paradox and parable machines. Sometimes I want to yell at the internal critics of the ’50s … You’ve got your characterization, your humanity and irony and the sex. Happy with it now?

    Especially I want to yell, when J.J. Abrams is rescuing the Star Trek premise — swashbuckler plus logician, a simple, universally appealing combination, applicable in endless ways — from its supposed superficiality. How? Freud by Numbers. In the absence of the castrating father the boy goes wild but cannot accept manhood status until he has appropriated the father’s legacy. Deprived of the nurturing mother, the boy puts the blame on his starved emotions and acts out emotional ego repression. Oh how sodding deep. And J.J. tells himself, what a favour he’s doing for sci-fi, and what a great thing he’s doing for family values.

    It’s easy. We are ushered to the cafeteria queue and in minimum time we are provided with the dinner tray of the week. SPOTLIGHT ON Hugo Hurley. Next week it’s SPOTLIGHT ON John Locke. Or James T. Kirk or Spock. I won’t say this was predictable in ST++, because I was hoping for more.

    And I’m going on in this vein when Tom brings up his co-worker’s stepdaughter, and I’m totally disarmed. Go for it, sweetheart, ignore us old fools, the future is yours.

  10. I can relate to the unease of recognizing you’re being marketed to and accepting it anyway. 30 Rock is pretty shameless about it in its way, but it doesn’t keep me from watching (and, like you said, nor should it).

    But New Star Trek wasn’t a movie that was marketed to me, actually, because I figure I’m in that uncomfortable middle grown Bill Reed referred to, neither hardcore nor n00b. I certainly don’t need to see Freud by numbers applied to Star Trek either; everyone on the old show was just a type and that was the point, so I never needed to pretend to care who exactly Kirk is and how he came to be.

  11. I thought the new Trek movie was fun, but nothing to write home about. I was never a fan of original Trek (I didn’t get on board as a “Trek fan” until TNG, but I had seen all of the Star Trek movies and episodes prior — mostly in support of friends who WERE Trek fans) — so nothing about the movie particularly bothered me. EXCEPT for the relationship between Spock and Uhura. THAT bothered me. It seemed so out of character for BOTH of them.

    Oh, and I love Casino Royale. I’m a lifelong Bond fan, both of the films AND Ian Fleming’s original stories, and Casino Royale is currently my favorite Bond film. It’s the Bond film that’s the most loyal to the original source material. :-)

  12. Matthew, I am pretty much of the opinion that the “casual fan” is a marketing illusion, but otherwise you have it right. I just find it hard to believe in the casual fan, because it seems like if I did, then I’d have to call everyone who went to see Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible a casual fan of the TV show just because they know the theme music. Which doesn’t seem right; surely those people were Tom Cruise fans, or action-movie fans, or summer-blockbuster-experience fans? Not that you can’t imagine the Dammit Spock Bones guy going to the movie, but when even my Dad is that guy, and isn’t even anything like a “fan” of Star Trek, but could watch and like a ST movie so long as it was a movie, I can’t help thinking that the whole idea of the casual fan’s existence must fall down somewhat. Except it’s convenient for the hardcore fans, a way for them to pretend to more aloofness than they really have: my friend considers himself pretty much the epitome of the casual fan, but he could win a Star Trek trivia contest. And he went to the movie. So what metric is left to separate him from the hardcore, just “willingness to attend conventions”? Amount spent on collectibles in a calendar year?

    An instructive comparison here might be The Rockford Files — because no one talks about the newbies, the hardcores, and the casual Rockford fans, and yet although it never spawned fifty million supplementary novelizations there is quite a lot one could know about Rockford, that isn’t necessary for enjoying any given episode. But, the thing is…Rockford has fans too, and all those fans know all that stuff, simply because they watched the show. People who weren’t fans of Rockford just didn’t watch it. That’s the end of the story, as far as the definition of what makes a Rockford fan goes. So why do we think Star Trek fans are so different? There may well be proportionally as many Rockford fans who dress in checkered coats and do Jimmy-Joe Meeker impressions as there are Star Trek fans who don blue tunics and pointy ears, so what’s really the difference?

    I’ll throw in something here: the scene with Kirk and Spock on the transporter pad, and Spock saying goodbye to his girlfriend. If you look carefully, you’ll see that staging is lifted directly from an old Star Trek episode…only now there’s banter between the two leads, placed there to normalize and leaven and lighten and telegraph. In the original series it was played for a bit more gravity, and a bit more intensity; here, for reasons I consider a bit cynical, it’s largely stripped of that. And yet it can’t be entirely stripped of it, because of what the scene is lifted from — the attractive part of Star Trek was all in the design and the look, which were part and parcel with the ideas. People will respond to the Kirk/Spock relation, because it was well-drawn from the beginning and it’s still there underneath the banter. Really, the banter is the worst of it, the most pandering part of it: fan-fic always panders, always puts the fans’ words in the characters’ mouths. TNG and Voyager, of course, were absolutely freakish in this respect…I like to say, if you have a bad thing a character needs to say, try not to save it so much that you make it worse. Like, suppose you need a bit of exposition about a character…you could do it ugly:

    PICARD TO RIKER, ABOUT NEW CREW MEMBER: “She’s a metamorph: a shape-shifter.”

    God, that’s awful, isn’t it? You just look at everything that’s wrong with it and you have to shake your head…it is just so congratulatory to use that “metamorph” word, isn’t it? Latter-day ST was always far too fond of incorporating non-ST elements into itself, I think…but consider how much worse that exchange would sound if it went like this:

    PICARD: “She’s a metamorph.”

    RIKER: “A shape-shifter?”

    PICARD: “That’s right.”

    Now that’s beyond bad writing, that’s embarrassed writing…though it is still not the worst kind of writing one sees in latter-day Trek. Said worst writing being, in my opinion, not even the hyperaggressive Astro-Sugarness of Voyager, but the bit in the TNG episode where Picard makes a great show of calling some alien dude by his last name first, first name last…and then the guy thanks him for respecting his culture and language enough to put the surname first. Now this, I thought, was self-congratulation that went beyond mere flattery, and on into the suggestion of a colonial mindset — I couldn’t trust Picard after that, could you?

    But back in the land of Star Trek proper, there is not usually any time or space available for those particular exercises in self-flattering nonsense, because what’s important is always the relationship between the three leads. Usually explored in the plot, of course…but not always, as this movie shows. After all there is nothing special the plot does, here — nothing’s particularly integral, it’s all just kind of bolted-on. ST: TMP had more of a functioning theme, for heaven’s sake.

    (Well, I guess that’s not really fair…it’s the same theme “Wrath Of Khan” uses, when you get right down to it…only Kirk fucks up far more hugely, and his redemption’s far more problematic…)

    But Kirk and Spock are still there, right? So no wonder Tom’s friend’s daughter loved it! And she did see quite a bit of the, ah, let’s call it fortunate posing, that made me a Star Trek fan way back when…for her, all those bits in this movie weren’t duplex, as they were for me: the fortunately-posed scene lifted from wherever didn’t also remind her of something she’d seen before that was called “Star Trek”, it was just the thing itself.

  13. Sea, my dream was always a straight B+W period piece of Fleming’s Moonraker…marrow-spoons and benzedrine at M’s club, humiliating Drax at bridge, the missile, the tunnel…

    To think we could get something even a little bit like it now is a pretty thrilling prospect, eh?

  14. I am pretty much of the opinion that the “casual fan” is a marketing illusion, but otherwise you have it right. I just find it hard to believe in the casual fan

    I see your point, I think. I guess being a casual fan is like being an atheist, in this sense: it’s a valid category, but a negative one, and not useful for describing the person in question. Saying that someone’s an atheist says nothing at all about what that person really does believe in; saying that someone’s a casual fan of something says nothing at all about that person’s actual interests. There are quite a few things that I am probably a casual fan of, and I wouldn’t dispute the accuracy of describing me as such, but it’s not a category I’d ever bother signing up for.

    As for your friend, well, I’d say he’s a real fan but is pretending not to be.

    my dream was always a straight B+W period piece of Fleming’s Moonraker

    The last time I reread a few of the original Bond books, you know what I was struck by?

    James Bond never accomplishes anything. He pokes around and gets into trouble and the plot works itself out without him. Maybe there are some others I need to reread that will contradict that impression, but I’m pretty sure Moonraker isn’t one of them.

    I still like the books better because they weren’t afraid to play for small stakes. You don’t need a nuclear laser satellite in every story!

  15. That’s a good way of putting it: a “casual” fan isn’t really a demographic, just the product of obsessive listmaking that tries to sort everything under one heading, regardless of whether the heading covers much. You can imagine if you were to split the hairs finely enough you could figure out what kind of a Star Trek fan Gorbachev was, or start defining ancient philosophers as “pre”-fans of Star Trek. It turns into theology at a certain point — reminding me a little bit of something on Geoff Klock’s blog, I think it was maybe the New Gods reviews, where someone noted how Kirby’s 70s work was reminiscent of some 90s TV program, or something. But of course that’s reversing the relationship: the Forever People might remind you of [whatever it was], but it wouldn’t be reminiscent of it…in being reminded, you would realize that the 90s work was reminiscent of the 70s, rather than the other way around.

    However this is a game (I’ll speculate) that’s only of interest to hardcore geeks anyway, a reasonably fun little “all birds are ducks” exercise that no “casual” fan of anything would have any interest in…because they wouldn’t identify themselves as “a kind of not-particularly-into-it passive absorber of SF-based pop culture”, they would identify themselves by what they genuinely like and are interested in, rather than as some sort of incredibly diffident filter of somebody else’s taste. Probably the idea that there can be species of fandom is an opinion impossible to hold unless one’s a crazy loon for whatever that fandom is focussed on in the first place. My brother’s spellcheck recognizes about one word in ten, here, so aggravating…

    Like that other thing I saw on Geoff’s blog, about — was it Klosterman? — defining “coolness” as cultural capital in such a way as to make all cultural capital of any kind partake of “degrees of cool”…which is obviously the natural bias of a pop-music and pop-culture geek who makes his living writing for Spin magazine about superfine (and evanescent!) distinctions between a bunch of stuff that’s all pretty much the same, apples to apples and all that. Being a geek myself, I like to make lists too…but at thirty or something, he thought the generational cut-off for the importance of “cool” was about fifty…and me being in my early forties I could see that was just a really prettily self-flattering idea, and that the cultural capital of coolness starts to lose its value pretty much as soon as you get out of high school at least…unless you find a way to keep hanging onto it and justifying it, for which problem “becoming a music critic for Spin” is probably a really excellently effective solution.

    That works too well.

    Sorry, that’s probably the coffee talking. And oh yeah, my friend is definitely a big Star Trek geek, but it suits his amour-propre better to consider himself a “casual fan”…as of course a truly “casual” fan would not bother to do, since they would more likely think of themselves in terms of what they actually are interested in. Marketers, too, wouldn’t have much truck with hyperfine category edges like that (I would assume), because how do you sell to a hyperfine edge? When the goal is receipts, whoever spends money is the audience…and whoever doesn’t, isn’t. And that’s all the boundary that counts for anything, surely?

    And, hey, James Bond totally accomplishes something in the Fleming books: he manages to stop short of having a complete nervous breakdown!

  16. And, hey, James Bond totally accomplishes something in the Fleming books: he manages to stop short of having a complete nervous breakdown!

    No he doesn’t! He totally loses it after OHMSS, and puts himself back together just enough to make it through You Only Live Twice, at which point he lapses into amnesia and can only be reassembled enough to handle one more overrated pistolero before the books come to an end. Never mind the rough shape he was in at the beginning of Thunderball.

  17. Well, now I feel a bit of a heel because I’ve always described myself as a casual Star Trek fan.

    And any attempt at arguing the case would only result in me defining “fan” in extremely snobbish terms (“So you don’t own any of their albums except for the ‘1’ compilation but you still think you can call yourself a Beatles fan??”)

    Hm. Damn these THINKIN’ blogs!

  18. Great post, great comments!

    Writer/critic Adam Roberts introduced me to a new word which he used to describe Star Trek (2009): meretricious. Good word.

    Speaking of which: bathlith?

  19. It’s a strange world where knowing such a word can serve as a credential, isn’t it?

    Uh…unless I got it wrong…always preferred the John Colicos school of moustache-twirling Klingonry to all the Bullshit Honour Aliens, anyway…

  20. Pingback: Flashback! To “Star Trek: Into Darkness…!” | A Trout In The Milk·

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