Monday, May 23, 2011

Why Every Star Trek Movie except The Wrath of Khan Has Sucked

I first posted this article on my web-site in 2010 shortly after the 4th of July. Given my recent post regarding Space Seed, I thought it only fitting to repost this article.

Every Star Trek movie except The Wratch of Khan has sucked.

What about the rebooted Star Trek movie some of you may ask.

That didn't suck, right?

That is true but it is my contention that while the reboot was entertaining, it wasn't Star Trek. If anything, it owes more to Star Wars than the venerable original series. I'll elaborate on this later.

Just why did The Wratch of Khan work while others fell short? Simply put, the film was crafted in such a way that people who weren't Star Trek fans could follow the story line and enjoy the movie while it provided enough continuation and development in the story arcs for beloved characters to satisfy serious fans of the show. Just look at the story. It's fairly simple and basic. Khan Noonien Singh is pissed off at Kirk and wants pay back and woe be to anyone standing in the way of his vengeance. The script rapidly establishes that Khan Noonien Singh is willing to kill innocents to accomplish his goal but also hints at some depth to his character beyond being a homicidal maniac as he blames James T. Kirk for the death of his wife. This is something that someone who hasn't even watched the episode Space Seed or even a single episode of original series can understand and the fact that this is all a build up to an epic cat-and-mouse space battle reminiscent of the battle of wits between Kirk and the Romulan commander in Balance of Terror results in the casual viewer being entertained and feeling that his money was well spent.

As for the die-hard fans, they get to see how James T. Kirk deals with getting old, his new responsibilities as commandant of Star Fleet Academy and then, later, with the consequences of some questionable decisions he made in the past. They get to see Kirk develop and mature and in his interactions with Spock and McCoy, see how they're also dealing with the passing of the years. They also get to see the return of one of the more compelling villains (and there were many) of Star Trek and a resolution of some unfinished business that was begun in Space Seed.

Now that I've discussed why The Wratch of Khan worked, I'll discuss why the other Star Trek movies all sucked. The first movie was nothing more than the original series episode The Changeling except longer and devoid of any action. The first movie's flaws reveal some salient points on how not to go about bringing a television series to the big screen. First of all, what works on a 45 minute television episode will not necessarily work in a 120 minute movie. A story like The Changeling when told in 45 minutes is a tightly paced example of classic science fiction story telling. When stretched out to 120 minutes, it becomes a pretentious mess. It didn't help that the first movie lacked a critical component of original series:


The original series had plenty of action. In the second pilot episode Where No Man Has Gone Before, Kirk and Spock (there is no McCoy, yet) debate on how to deal with a decent man who has acquired god like powers (and a very scary dose of megalomania). However, while there's plenty of philosophizing, there's also plenty of action. Spock, the supposed pacifist, advocates dealing with the problem with a phaser rifle and the episode ends with a knock-down-drag-out brawl involving phasers, boulders, fists and a display of god like powers that would put Emperor Palpatine to shame. In fact, there are numerous points in the original series where Spock argues that logic dictates that they blow shit up! If you don't believe me, watch Balance of Terror, Errand of Mercy and Arena.

But where was I?

Oh yes, the first movie.

No action. Thus, nothing to entertain the non fans. Also, no real development of the main characters, no real continuation of their story arcs. So nothing to entertain the fans of the original series except maybe the thrill of seeing the Enterprise and the cast on the big screen.

What about the movies after The Wratch of Khan?

Well, they all had a number of problems but chief among them was that at that point, the cast had gotten old and with a franchise in which action was an important component, especially when it comes to drawing in the casual viewer, the movies were no longer really "believable".

What about the Next Generation movies? I think they just didn't work because they tried too hard to draw in the casual viewer which resulted in a bunch of generic, somewhat shallow science fiction action films. For the fans of the show, there wasn't any real development of any of the characters and the closest that the Next Generation movies came to recreating some of the magic of The Wratch of Khan was Star Trek: First Contact. However, although it had all the ingredients that The Wratch of Khan had, it seems the screen writers completely missed the point. There was no development of the main characters and Captain Picard acted in a very uncharacteristic manner (possibly to make his normally cerebral character more palatable to the casual viewer) which was explained by a bit of retconning, something which really annoys this viewer.

Instead of development of Picard's character, we have him acting like a completely different character. With this being Star Trek, one could be excused in thinking he was possessed by an alien, but alas, this was not the case. To make things worse, the tone of the movie was inconsistent, with the atmosphere being dark and oppressive on board the Enterprise-E with the crew fighting the Borg for its survival as well as the integrity of the time-line while on Earth, the tone is almost comical, resulting in a movie that's about as schizophrenic as Star Trek Generations. What made Star Trek: First Contact such a frustrating movie was, as I mentioned before, all the ingredients were there to make a movie that could have surpassed The Wratch of Khan. Compelling villain from the show? Check. Action? Check. Character development? Errr...not really. Having a character suddenly act in a manner completely at odds with how he has acted over seven seasons is not character development! And retconning to justify it is cheating! Alas, no one involved in the film (and subsequent Next Generation films for that matter) seemed to have a clue.

Which brings us back to the reboot.

Why wasn't it Star Trek? Because Star Trek, aside from the action, aside from the interaction between the characters, was still pretty good science fiction, that is fiction that deals with the effect of advances in science and technology on the human condition. There was none of that in the new movie. If you don't know what I'm talking about, I suggest you watch a few episodes of the original series and look beyond the knock-down-drag-out fist-and-phaser fights and the interactions between the ensemble of likable characters.

There's some good science fiction in there, something which the reboot didn't have.

And that ends my explanation of why every Star Trek movie except The Wratch of Khan has sucked (except the reboot which didn't suck but doesn't count since it isn't really Star Trek).

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