JJ Abrams' Star Trek Movies are Being Held to a Higher Science Fiction Standard
The Wrath of Khan versus Star Trek Into Darkness
Paramount Studios, Poster
A lot of Trekkies don’t like JJ Abrams and his rendition of Star Trek. But I hope to show that detractors don’t hold the previous films to the same standard, and I’m going to favorably compare The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek Into Darkness to do it.
Star Trek is about three things. Science Fiction that makes you stop and think, interpersonal relationships that makes you laugh and cry and a certain amount of adventure.
“The human adventure” that is, and little did Star Trek: The Motion Picture know that the paradigm was about to shift. The financial failure of the first film did not care that true Trekkies paused and pondered at the prospect of “touching the creator.”
Yes Star Trek:TMP is the only one of the original six films that feels like the bridge of the enterprise where adventure goes in search of the human soul rather than the large expanse of the silver screen.
So to ensure survival, the movies were forced to first leap off the screen instead of making us look in. That's not to say that the science fiction is absent. It just takes a back seat.
The Wrath of Khan leads as Action Adventure Movie
This brings us arguably to the best of all the films - The Wrath of Khan. It made us laugh and certainly made us cry. Of course, in deference to the new business model, Star Trek II got us out of our seats and made the likes of Corbomite Manuever seem pretty one dimensional in comparison.
In other words, the thrill ride made the science fiction “sauce for the goose.”
No matter, the idea of technology serving as a tool for creation and destruction is a worthy quandary, and so too is the manner in which the lust for revenge can cloud human rationality - regardless of one’s the intelligence quotation.
But I was never that struck by the signature notion of the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few. A nice sentiment but weren't we at odds on the world stage with those who thought such an ideology could be imposed on the world and clearly succumbed to a gross perversion?
Additionally, are not our basic democratic institutions based on individual rights at the expense of the societal whole? The same goes for individuals who see beyond societal consensus and deliver innovation - despite the initial dismay of the many. One Gene Roddenberry comes to mind in floating wagon train to the stars.
JJ Abrams Star Trek makes a Case for the Needs of the Few
In fact, Star Trek Into Darkness actually tips The Wrath on its head in the form of Admiral Marcus. On a smaller scale, he's ready to sacrifice the crew of the Enterprise to contain his secret and preserve the greater good as he sees it. And at the macro level, the civil rights of the individual (Khan), do not apply since they interfere with the security that Marcus believes he alone can provide.
Of course, the film juxtaposes our own September 11th on the 23rd Century, and the ongoing debate as to the way forward. “There will always be those who mean to do us harm. To stop them, we risk awakening the same evil within ourselves,” Chris Pine reflects.
Unencumbered by the conundrum, Admiral Marcus had no problem disabling Khan’s snooze button in hopes of preemptively putting the Klingons at bay. As such, Marcus counts on the inability of others to rise above the descent to push his agenda. “Our first instinct is to seek revenge when those we love are taken from us, but that’s not who we are,” Kirk finally comes to his.
I Can’t Explain
Nonetheless, The Wrath of Khan is still a better movie. But both give you plenty to think about so why the double standard. Maybe you just don’t remember complaining about the action/adventure moving to the forefront the first time around.
If you’re not liking the character backstory that JJ Abrams has filled in, and the Star Trek camaraderie that carries Roddenbury’s vision forward, I’m at a complete loss.
It makes me wonder where you were when The Next Generation was first presented. An absolute abomination many of your thought back then, but you can be late to this party too. We won’t hold it against you - especially if Star Trek Discovery follows the TV series tradition and puts Science Fiction first.