As noted earlier, I didn’t get to see the new Star Trek trailer on the big screen as anticipated last week… but as is the way of things these days, it was released online this week, for all the world to see. And comment upon. (And satirize. And annotate shot-by-shot. Yes, while I would never deny my own geek status, there are people in this world who score much higher on that meter than I do.)

My personal reaction? Mixed, I have to admit. Certainly not as jazzed as I was by the first “teaser” trailer last winter.

There are two aspects to this, I suppose:  what the trailer tells us about the story, and what it tells us about the style of the film. Both involve a certain unavoidable amount of guesswork… but at the very least, insofar as the trailer is presumably intended to entice me, I should explain why it’s not quite hitting the mark.

As noted previously, I have no fundamental objection to the idea of “reimagining” Star Trek. Based on the dribbles of information and imagery released thus far, I don’t necessarily agree with every aspect of what’s being done with this film, but I’ve been willing to remain cautiously optimistic.

Bruce Greenwood as Christopher Pike

Bruce Greenwood as Christopher Pike

That remains mostly true in the wake of this trailer. It appears from what we see (and it’s been largely confirmed in interviews with director J.J. Abrams and others) that this is first and foremost a coming-of-age film for James T. Kirk. Nothing wrong with that—and it opens up a genuinely unexplored niche in Trek history, never previously touched on except in scattered bits of dialogue. It’s set years before the Five Year Mission, when Kirk is still a cadet and Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood, in the role originated by Jeffrey Hunter) is captain of the Enterprise.

I do think it’s important to respect established Trek canon where possible, but I’m not obsessive about it. Other long-time fans mostly seem willing to split that difference as well:  e.g., as Tom Bondurant writes,

Without canon, Star Trek is merely a collection of stories. With it, though, Trek is a vast centuries-spanning galactic tapestry. …

[The new Trek] all looks familiar, but obviously it’s been changed — and for some, those changes are dealbreakers.

[But] when you get down to it, Star Trek is about the boldly going… and for something like this to work, it can’t be hamstrung with minutiae.

It’s got to be a dicey proposition to attempt to please both dedicated fans and broader audiences, and I don’t envy the screenwriters. Certainly, as Bondurant also notes, the path of least resistance would have been simply to connect the dots of those scattered bits of dialogue from the original series… but that would offer little that’s novel or imaginative, and probably please nobody. This film will no doubt be full of Easter eggs for the fans, but it won’t build the story around them.

To my eyes, most of the tweaks to canon that are visible here can be accepted as either (A) artistic license, or (B) side-effects of the film’s time-travel plot, which apparently involves a Romulan villain from the future. Putting all of the familiar bridge crew on Pike’s ship may be a bit of a stretch, but in general I’m willing to play along. Co-screenwriter Bob Orci has promised that most of this stuff will be explained along the way. (Perhaps the most disconcerting aspect is the presence of Chekov, who as we all remember was an Ensign fresh from the academy during the FYM, easily 10-12 years younger than Kirk—so I can’t imagine how he could be part of the bridge crew years earlier, when Kirk himself was not yet an officer. Was it really necessary to include him at all? Does Chekov have fans?)

So if we learn here how Jim Kirk first met his future friends and colleagues, and in the meantime helped defeat a spectacular threat to the Federation… well, the broad strokes sound good, and I hope the story and characterizations make sense and live up to their potential.

But stylistically?

That’s a whole other kettle of tribbles. Perhaps the trailer’s not really reflective of the film as a whole:  frankly, I hope not. Because this thing is shot and cut at such a frenetic pace that it could induce heart arhythmia. Almost every moment seems to focus on super-fast, in-your-face action. The music is much the same:  nothing familiar (nor particularly dramatic; I certainly hope it’s not the actual score from the film), it serves mainly to drive home the roller-coaster pace of the thing. Every frame is bursting with sights and sounds, to the point where it blurs into sheer chaos.

Trek has never been about roller-coaster rides. It’s not about sensory overload. It’s about a sense of wonder, and imagination, and idealism. It’s about stories that unfold at a more measured pace, and action that (when it comes) makes sense and has maximum dramatic impact. When there’s an adrenaline rush, it’s earned.

What this trailer’s sensibility reminded me of, more than anything, was Star Wars. (And not just any Star Wars—worse, the Star Wars prequels, with an aesthetic that leaves you feeling overstuffed yet undernourished.)

That’s why my reactions are mixed, and my expectations, unavoidably, somewhat lowered. I just hope that the red flags raised by this trailer aren’t representative of the finished product. That would undermine Trek far more than any story point or set redesign possibly could.

Updated to add: It seems that (former Trek actor, now surprisingly enjoyable author and blogger) Wil Wheaton expressed similar thoughts six months ago, reacting to interviews with Abrams:

…At least the people who totally fucked Star Trek up aren’t involved, but why does anyone need to “reinvent” Star Trek at all? There’s a good reason it managed to endure through four decades and several generations of Trekkies and casual viewers alike. I hope JJ Abrams groks that, because I really want to like this movie.

Couldn’t have said it better.

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8 Responses to “The new Star Trek trailer: boldly going awry?”
  1. Andrew says:

    Quite a sophisticate theory surrounding these star trek movies … But in truth only time can tell if they are worth it or they are not!

  2. He’d be able to bring the drama without driving the VFX budget through the roof, as well!

    Makeup expenses, though…that would be where it’s compensated for.

  3. Now *there’s* a train of thought with really dissimilar cars… Aaron Spelling to Aaron Sorkin. 🙂

    Can’t you just imagine the Sorkin version of Trek? We’d certainly see a lot more of people walking (and talking) through the Enterprise corridors…

  4. Ah, for the likes of Aaron Sorkin…

  5. michael says:

    Well, the trailers look pretty good. They don’t look remotely like Star Trek, of course. But there is little chance that they represent the film in any meaningful way. There is an excellent chance, however, that J.J. Abrams should never have been entrusted with this franchise. As I said in an earlier post, keep your expectations very low. This is like asking Aaron Spelling to “reimagine” Tolstoy.

  6. phil from new york says:

    Chris and other Star Trek fans,

    Although I was watching Star Trek when most of you were either in diapers or weren’t even born, I’m too old and too stupid to qualify as a geek. But I have been immensely interested in following your discussions of the new movie amd I marvel as your command of the detail about the Star Trek franchise. I have only one main comment to make:

    When Star Trek surfaced during the troubled ’60s as I entered college, Roddenberry’s idealistic vision of the future gave us hope that ultimately the good guys would prevail and we’d create a better world, er, gallaxy, even if it would take a long time and there would be pain along the way. I have come to think of Star Trek as science fiction’s science fiction, because, to me, more “realistic” science fiction is Blade Runner, Babylon 5 or Battlestar Gallactica (the outstanding current TV show, not the old one).

    Chris, you wrote: “Trek has never been about roller-coaster rides. It’s not about sensory overload. It’s about a sense of wonder, and imagination, and idealism. It’s about stories that unfold at a more measured pace, and action that (when it comes) makes sense and has maximum dramatic impact. When there’s an adrenaline rush, it’s earned.” That’s so true. If the new movie is only about “in-your-face action,” that will be sad, indeed.

    Let’s hope that the trailer is only their “sales pitch” and the complete movie still offers that sense of wonder and imagination. Because we desperately need the Roddenberry message again today. Thanks to world events mixed with eight years of unmitigated disaster in the White House, we face times as perilous in many ways as the ’60s. If a new generation of Star Trek movies — even if somewhat flawed — can recreate Roddenberry’s vision of hope and idealism for a new generation of Americans and others around the world, then the new franchise will be a good thing.

    Thank you for your commentaries. I will follow your future discussions and analysis of the new movie with interest.

  7. Does Chekov have fans?

    I’d be interested to see your reaction to the fanfilm “To Serve All My Days” from the Phase II gang.

    That aside, I share the misgivings and the concern even as I find this or that aspect of the new trailer to “ooh” or “aah” over. The architecture of the 1701 sets that we’ve seen thus far…well, it’s certainly possible from a technical standpoint nowadays – especially after watching the US Election facilities CNN set up for this year’s installment. That wraparound interactive monitor alone…

    That aside, it’s akin to reinventing a perfectly good wheel simply because you can. I don’t see the need. Not at this point, anyway.

    And yet, Nimoy agreed to involve himself in this…

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