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2009: The Year ‘Star Trek’ Became Popular

30 Dec, 2009 By: John Latchem

Star Trek

It’s time to finally close the books on 2009, the year the world turned upside down. I know I’m not alone in thinking that at times during the past 12 months it has seemed like we’re living in some alternate reality, where down is up and up is down and people are flocking to see Star Trek.

In 2009, the venerable yet nerdy sci-fi franchise returned with a vengeance. J.J. Abrams’ “Trek” remake, itself about an alternate reality, is the perfect metaphor for our changing times. What’s old is new again, fresh off the line for a new generation of fans. I’ve encountered people I would have never in a million years suspected of liking anything to do with “Star Trek” suddenly loving this new movie, calling it awesome and beyond belief. The critics are in love with it. Audiences flocked to it more than any other film in the franchise.

And according to TorrentFreak, Star Trek is the most-pirated film of 2009. It claims this honor, much to Paramount’s chagrin, by beating Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. (Warner’s RockNRolla, with barely $25 million in worldwide box office, somehow came in third. Can we say “cult hit”). When mainstream and niche tastes collide, that says something.

People have asked me how I react to the new Star Trek movie, and I must say, as a long-time “Star Trek” viewer and fan, I’m a little dismayed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to see something called Star Trek do so well. But at the same time I look back and realize how much we’ve grown apart.

To me, Abrams’ Star Trek is a good action adventure movie, with great special effects and solid performances. But the problem I can’t get past is that it’s called Star Trek. Having seen everything that has ever been labeled as "Star Trek," I’m pretty well versed in what to expect from that universe.

When the film is trying to pull off a "Star Trek" moment, I’ve seen it before. Grandiose shot of the Enterprise being introduced as the music swells? It’s been done, and with ships I thought looked better. Time travel? Done. Ice planets? Done. Space battles? Done. Fights? Done.

The film tries to play off a nostalgia I don’t think it ever earned. Leonard Nimoy’s presence certainly contributes to this feeling, but also widens the rift. Part of the reason I endured with Star Trek before wasn’t just the characters, but an affection with the actors playing the parts. There was a certain satisfaction derived from the idea that this storyline was being played out over decades, with the same actors.

Someone tried to defend the film to me by saying it offered something we hadn’t seen before, the origin story. But I don’t think we needed that, really. I could accept that Starfleet was a military organization, and these people were assigned to this ship over time. And this isn’t really the origin story that applies to any of the characters we know. These are alternate versions of the characters. It’s a new start. So the connection to old "Trek" is lost.

I could probably accept this film easier if it were a straight reboot. Or another sci-fi experience. But it is trying to be "Star Trek." It is trying to have it both ways. It is trying to justify its reboot by connecting the plot to the previous incarnations of the franchise. While most people will undoubtedly dismiss this as just another gimmick and move past it, I am having trouble doing so. My long memory and affection for a majority of prior "Trek" experiences is forcing me to judge this film by its attempts to connect to the earlier versions of the franchise. On this level, I believe the film not only falters, but offends my sensibilities in the way it warps what came before. And I found what came before much more interesting that what it is now.

Well, to be honest, I found most of what came before to be better. My favorite of the shows was "Deep Space Nine," which ended in 1999. The subsequent series and movies after were disappointments to me, and when those came and went I moved on. But I wasn't unwelcoming of a new incarnation of "Star Trek."

However, the new film seems more influenced by Star Wars and Starship Troopers than "Star Trek." The characters are named the same and share traits with those we know from before. Ironically, “Stargate SG-1” warned us of what to expect, half joking that greedy studio bosses would try to make the story of "Stargate" sexier by casting younger versions of the team. That’s essentially what we are getting here.

Again, don't get me wrong. I love Star Wars. It's just I liked "Star Trek" in a different way. It's like a guy cheating on his blonde wife with a brunette, only to find the mistress trying to spice things up with a blonde wig.

Over time, I think, I will appreciate the new Star Trek for what it now is, and distinguish it from the franchise history I currently cannot divorce myself from. And that’s on me. I believe this process is already well underway, as I find myself re-watching scenes and admiring the craftsmanship. Other aspects, such as the over-the-top factory look of the engineering sets, are too hard to accept.

With time, and sequels to come, I will probably experience these new "Trek" films for the distinct entities they are, and not what they are attempting to replace. But I think a part of me, like a ghost in the nexus, will always look back and feel a tinge of regret that something has been lost in the translation.

Like living in an alternate reality, it’s going to take some getting used to.


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