I Don’t Understand What They’re About

Nicholas Meyer, director of the best of the Star Trek movies, gets at what always bothered me about the Abrams reboots.

There’s no question as to J.J.’s expertise as a filmmaker. Jesus, he’s fantastic. But I think our understanding of the material is so different. It’s just… I have nothing but respect for what he does. But it’s so different from… [] I know what II is about. II is about friendship, old age and death. I know what IV is about. It’s about extinction. It’s about taking care, ecologically, of the only home that we have. I understand what VI is about. It’s about the collapse of the Soviet Union, and it’s about change and fear of change and “Have we reached the end of history?” as Francis Fukuyama wrote when the wall came down. Those are the themes and the ideas of those three movies on which I worked. I don’t know what the ideas are in the new Star Trek movies. I understand that they’re rebooting them, but that’s a mechanic chore, that’s a technical chore. I don’t understand what they’re about. Does that make sense?

 

It does. My issues with the reboots was that the reason for their existence seemed to have  much more to do with market forces than with having something of interest to say. Of course, greed is in the DNA of most movies (an ironic exception is the Atlas Shrugged series, which goes on in spite of having lost its blinkered backers hillions of jillions of dollars). Star Trek became a film series only because Paramount, like every other studio in the late ’70s, was desperate for a tentpole to rival Star Wars. But Star Trek retained its thematic interests nonetheless. It remained human drama set against a science fiction background, with political and philosophical allegory mixed with action and adventure, and an optimism about the human ability to put aside our worst impulses to explore the universe.

I can’t speak to Star Trek Into Darkness, which I’ve never summoned up the interest to see, but Star Trek (2009), though certainly well paced and well made in a technical sense, left me cold. There was little philosophy or politics. The human drama, such as it was, seemed trite. (Kirk as a roguish hotshot pilot with lost-daddy issues? Sorry, J.J. I’ve seen Top Gun. This movie adds nothing special to the trope.) The Kirk-Spock animosity seemed like a screenwriter’s device more than a character driven conflict, and it didn’t so much resolve as stop. The same goes for the villain’s approach to revenge. Nero’s entire plot line was so predictable the movie could have been called Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Attack the Enterprise. The result was zippy and amusing enough, but I saw no evidence that the filmmakers ever got together and asked the most important question, “Okay, we’re going to reboot Star Trek. Why does this matter to us?”

 

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