Sunday, 6 April 2014

The Legend Began...Again


April 6th 2009 was the day that Star Trek fans had waited for since the closing credits of These are the Voyages in 2005.

For the first time in four years there would be new Star Trek to watch, produced and directed by Lost creator JJ Abrams - and it would be on the big screen. How could this not be good?

The 2009 movie was the ultimate game-changer in the franchise. Taking the original series crew, messing up the timeline a little bit and effectively starting from scratch with a little help from Leonard Nimoy just to remind us all that it was still Star Trek in a way. Just.

It split fans clear in two with no Neutral Zone to sit in. You loved it or you hated it. It had rebuilt the franchise or it had destroyed it overnight. As the box office receipts show (and the recent IMDB comparisons of the movies), it was no failure and we all flocked to the cinemas to experience this rebirth of an apparently flagging sci-fi epic. 

Not only has it been that long since the reboot kicked off but we've also had a sequel in that time, several graphic novel tie-ins, TV series rumours linked to it, models, figures and even a so-so game on XBox and the like.But have my opinions - or yours changed over the last five years? Have we welcomed this re-envisioning more warmly now? Did we always? Or do we still view it with the same distain and prefer to watch Threshold and Shades of Gray on endless loop?

From my point of view when I saw it I was excited, impressed and tinged with disappointment all in one go. There was no doubt that seeing the Enterprise back on the screen was the best thing in years to happen to the franchise. The music if nothing else adds such an ambiance to the movie, echoing the classic films and series - and I do listen to it a lot. It's one of the the best Star Trek soundtracks of any of the movies hands down but that's not all. Prime Spock was great, the crew were brilliant realisations of the original generation, the effects were stunning and it was a great action/adventure movie. 

That was the problem. It was an action/adventure movie and five years on I still have that issue as many fans do. It's wonderful escapism watching Chris Pine run across a frozen wasteland away from some huge CGI monster about to eat him whole, seeing the Enterprise under construction in that Star Wars homage shot or marvel at the opening sequence on the Kelvin as Thor Chris Hemsworth bids farewell to his wife and newborn son. Trouble is that the human element seems to have gone walkies. True it's updated for the more media-savvy and information-snapshot desiring modern audience but they were never going to make up the majority of the people seeing Star Trek at the flicks or buying it on DVD. 

Now five years on I do like it. A lot more than I used to. It's a spectacle of a movie that I now think does a lot of things right. When I saw it originally it was difficult to believe that these were the same characters because of the huge leap in technology and production since those three seasons in the 1960's. It was a visual marvel at every step that brought a faltering franchise into the present. It had to be updated to survive and that's what JJ Abrams movie does whether we like it or not. So Scotty was a little overused as comedy relief, Bones was sidelined for Uhura and the ships were a big departure from what we were used to (although still at least recognisable) but this is what Star Trek has now become. 


Abrams destruction of Romulus and Vulcan pointed to the fact we had to prepared to change and the constants that we knew from the Roddenberry-founded shows had to be adapted, altered and rethought to appeal. It is once again a sci-fi power to be reckoned with after the wildly varying standards that pervaded Enterprise over a decade ago. Updating meant there had to be sacrifices and they came no bigger than the oblieration of those two key worlds. Star Trek had become cuddly, familiar and we'd been used to watching rerun after rerun or sticking that old DVD in for 45 minutes of escapism. Abrams went for the jugular; no holds barred and Into Darkness went further than that with colossal ships, Pike dead and Khan. But that's for another day.


I had reservations over the whole Starfleet Academy set up early in the movie and Kirk's rise to captaincy is meteoric if nothing else. Fortunately that second point does get addressed in sorts during the sequel but with hindsight you can see that this is just a way to start fresh and bring the familiar crew together - something we were never privvy to in The Original Series. It's a moment we've seen in books and suggested many times over the years but someone finally had the guts to turn those rumours and suggestions into reality. It paid off and the box office receipts prove that, at least in 2009 it was all looking good. The academy is a great twist on establishing the regulars here. We watch them grow (at velocity) and forge their relationships. It's a very clear beginning, a jump point that welcomes new audiences who may never have seen the show and just like the actors or Abrams' work while ensuring that the established fans get their fix in the way that JJ wants us to.

Times change, people change and this is a new interpretation that means, if nothing else, survival. Star Trek into Darkness won't be the last we see of this crew I am certain but after that is still open for guesses. Five years on from Kirk and co's return we're still waiting to see the first encounter of their five year mission. 

In the future 2009's movie will be seen as the turning point for the franchise; the moment we realised that it could feel young again, fresh and with another 50 years of life. While I was never a total hater I had reservations but now I'm more than happy to embrace this movie as part of the Star Trek franchise, giving it a boost and providing a new, exciting edge to familiarity. Star Trek has tried, many times, to push the boundaries and in a big way, the JJ movie was pushing the boundaries of what we deemed "acceptable" within Star Trek itself. The show was always about testing the waters and here it tested the fans; it tried our understanding and beliefs on a larger scale than perhaps Roddenberry did with many of the original episodes - and it tested our loyalty. For that I now respect the movie. Star Trek was all about differences and 2009 was that in spoonfuls.

I firmly believe it's time to accept this as a firm part of the franchise and look forward to 2016. In fact, just to celebrate the fifth anniversary it's time to stick it into the DVD player one more time.