After the release of Star Trek Into Darkness in 2013, the state of the Star Trek franchise had once again been called into question. No doubt, the film was a success at the box office and initially received high critical acclaim. But vocal critics of the film and director J.J. Abrams’ handling of the revered franchise soon drowned out any good will. Many of them decried how dumbed down Star Trek had become, how it just pandered to the action crowd at the cost of Star Trek’s loftiness.
Abrams’s films should be lauded for resurrecting Star Trek. Before he came along, the franchise was considered dead; the last film Star Trek: Nemesis was a box office flop and the last show Star Trek: Enterprise was cancelled for poor ratings. Star Trek felt tired and used up, which necessitated the reboot. And frankly, the reboot did the job of bringing back Star Trek as a flashy, exciting and invigorating property, but many felt alienated.
These critics saw a ray of hope when J.J. Abrams jumped ship to direct Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which precluded him from directing the next Star Trek film. That hope turned into disbelief and exasperation when screenwriter and producer Roberto Orci was hired by Paramount Pictures to direct the upcoming film. Even though he is a professed Star Trek fan, Orci didn’t have any directing experience and such a decision to entrust the franchise on a novice was troubling. But once again, the director’s chair went empty when Paramount announced this past November that Orci would no longer direct the film.
For a brief moment, hopeful fans opined on who should direct the film. The rumor that Abrams’ production company Bad Robot was trying to woo Edgar Wright was heartening. Some fans even started a campaign to get veteran actor/director Jonathan Frakes to return for a third turn as director. Then Paramount released a short list that precluded Frakes and Wright. Soon after, they announced that Justin Lin, the director of many Fast and Furious films would take the helm.
That announcement was applauded by some, but it confirmed the suspicion that Paramount is only interested in making more shallow, action-packed fare. Many feel that reducing the Star Trek films into pyrotechnics-laden, empty adrenaline fests besmirches the property’s name. Most of the films and TV shows were lauded for offering something more. They had themes, messages, and commentaries of current topics. In Star Trek Into Darkness’ defense, that film did explore issues about terrorism, security and the need for Starfleet to get back into exploring, but those messages got lost in the lens flares, high-octane thrills, and sloppy plotting.
True, many fans have a romanticized view of Star Trek. The old shows and films weren’t strictly intellectual fare, they did have their fair share of action episodes and flashy special effects. It’s part of Star Trek’s legacy. Think of how often fans would hum the pulsing action music from episodes like “Space Seed” while acting out Kirk’s famous drop kicks and fisticuffs. But Star Trek struck a proper balance between action, storytelling and food for thought.
One of the many reasons why Star Trek and its spinoffs have endured in popularity has been due to provocative episodes like “City on the Edge of Forever”, “The Visitor”, “The Inner Light”, and “The Naked Time”. These shows didn’t rely on action scenes and stunts, though they were welcomed when they did occur. Instead their selling points were character development and morality plays. That is why Star Trek continues to resonate. The action scenes and spaceship battles were just icing on the cake. This reverence also extends to many of the films. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek: First Contact are universally beloved for exploring many themes and character development. This especially applies to Star Trek II which was an action film, but presented memorable themes about revenge, growing old and renewal. Meanwhile, Abrams’ two Star Trek films were initially well received, but later derided by many for pandering to adrenaline junkies and betraying the spirit of Star Trek.
That is why there has been a call for Star Trek to return to its roots and have stories about exploration and so on, and the best way to achieve this is by returning to television. Continue reading