For some reason, everyone except me seems to be looking forward to next year’s Star Trek remake from geek Golden Boy J.J. Abrams. I’m not sure why – I’m much bigger Star Trek fan than most of my friends. Some people still love campy, rickety Doctor Who because they grew up watching it. Other people can’t get enough of those ropey B-movies in the Star Wars series. For better or worse, my indoctrination into true geekery occurred over preachy, philosophical episodes Star Trek. I recognise its flaws, but I love it nonetheless.
Perhaps, in fact, it’s those same flaws that make me worried about Abrams’ Star Trek. Bond reboot Casino Royale jettisoned the wise-cracking, smug, gadget-ridden Bond in favour of Daniel Craig’s stripped-down brutalist version, virtually unrecognisable as the same character. Fans of the traditional Bond choked on their muesli while audiences – me included – hailed Craig as a genius, suggesting that Casino Royale had made Bond relevant again.
Now Star Trek’s the series getting the reboot, and with that, there’s the fear that I’m going to be the muesli-chomping fan, scoffing at how badly the Star Trek name has been sullied by someone who just doesn’t get it – but maybe there’s more to it. There are a number of elements that are making me worried about the fate of Star Trek – and here they are, as I present my “top 5 reasons to be worried about J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek remake.”
1. It’s made by J.J. Abrams
A controversial one to start with, perhaps, but look at the evidence – Abrams’ career has just as many downs as ups. His breakout show Alias started out as a tense, cinematic action thriller, but became a convoluted mess too wrapped up in its own mythology by the time it ended. His follow-up series Lost varies wildly in quality from season to season, and it’s hard to tell, when his involvement waxes and wanes, which he’s responsible for.
Far more worryingly, the last time Abrams was called on to re-invent an existing franchise, it was Superman. His proposal famously involved a super-powered Lex Luthor and a Krypton that didn’t explode. Despite all the bluster over Cloverfield (which, let us not forget, Abrams neither directed nor wrote) there’s plenty in his past to make us concerned at what he might personally bring to the Star Trek table. An Enterprise without Warp Drive? No transporters? If that Superman proposal is anything to go by, Abrams has proven that no cow is too sacred for the slaughterhouse.
2. It’s been delayed
Remember when Star Trek was scheduled for a December 2008 release? In February this year, ten months before release, the film was pushed back until May 2009. Paramount explicitly denied it was anything to do with the writers’ strike, instead maintaining that they think more people will see it in May rather than at Christmas – but under any circumstance, pushing back the release date for a film is the universal symbol for panic over quality. Can you think of any other high-profile films that faced major delays? How did they turn out?
Well, how about these? The critically-routed Ghost Rider was pushed back a whole YEAR. Richard Kelly followed up Donnie Darko with flop Southland Tales, which faced seemingly endless delays even before audiences got a look and tore it to shreds. Meanwhile, the sequel to the Bond reboot, Quantum of Solace has actually been brought FORWARD. There’s not always a direct correlation between the quality of a film and the direction its release date travels, but there’s certainly enough of one to justify getting antsy about it…
3. It’s a prequel
It’s well-known that Star Trek is going to feature younger versions of the classic Trek cast. Leaving aside the very simple fact that it’s virtually insane to think you can separate Kirk & Shatner, Spock & Nimoy, or even Bones & Kelley, so synonymous have the characters become with their actors, the idea of a prequel is worrying in itself. The presence of Leonard Nimoy as the older Spock marks it unashamedly as a prequel rather than a reboot, and the last Trek prequel was the occasionally campy, often outright dire Enterprise – and yet the concerns go even wider than that.
Consider this: The dictionary defines a prequel as “the stuff that happened before the interesting bit.” We can all name a few sequels that are better than the original, but who among us can think of a movie PREQUEL that can make the same claim. (note: if any of the prequels you’re thinking of involve George Lucas, you’re incorrect.) If you can name more than three, then please leave a comment doing so, because nothing would please me more than to find out that movie prequels do work. So far, though, I think history agrees with me – prequels are a mistake.
4. It’s got Simon Pegg playing Scotty
Virtually every British geek around will rave for hours, given the chance, about how brilliant Simon Pegg is. In Spaced, in Shaun of the Dead, in Hot Fuzz – the man can write up a storm. Unfortunately, in a seemingly desperate bid to crack the US market as an actor, he’s squandering his almost-unlimited goodwill on tedious rom-coms and David Schwimmer vanity projects. I cringe every time I see him appear in yet another movie that mistakes his natural comic ability for actual jokes – much like that other ubergeek actor, Kevin Smith, the man just needs his own script to work properly.
And now he’s been cast in Star Trek as Scotty, presumably to score a few points with the nerdy audience who universally (and not unreasonably) love him. Having a big star like Pegg alongside a cast of virtual unknowns immediately smacks of stunt casting – the next most popular cast member is Zachary Quinto. You know, Sylar. From Heroes. The thing with Hayden Panettiere in. No disrespect to Pegg’s considerable talent, but it’s going to be near-impossible to watch him on screen without waiting for him to crack wise about George Romero or eat a Cornetto. There’s every chance his presence will simply be distracting and make the film look like a Comic Relief mock-up of Star Trek instead of the real thing.
5. It’s using the Romulans. Again
In a move clearly designed to save the Klingons for the Bigger, Badder Sequel ™, the main villain in the Abrams Star Trek movie is Nero, a Romulan. Ish. The last time a sort-of Romulan was used as the villain in Star Trek, it was in Star Trek: Nemesis, undeniably one of the poorest Trek films to date. The smart money, then, says to stay away from the Romulans altogether – but Abrams apparently laughs in the face of good sense. Not only is he using the Romulans, the fact that the villain is called “Nero” suggests that he’s going to play up the “we’d rather forget it” Roman aspect of the characters as seen in the original Trek series, wisely abandoned from TNG onwards.
In fact, there’s a good reason you can finds hundreds of fanwank explanations (including a story arc on Enterprise) about how the human-looking Klingons of TOS became the bumpy-foreheaded versions we know today, and yet you find NONE to suggest why the Romulans abandoned their bafflingly-accurate Roman stylings. It’s because even us Trek fans know when to tacitly agree that things are better off without it. You only have to look at the plaster falling from the ceiling of Romulan STARSHIPS when they get damaged in TOS to know that.
So there we have it. Perhaps I’m being melodramatic, but all of my fears seem wholly rational and reasonable to me. I don’t like judging films before they’ve come out, and I’m not saying it’ll definitely be rubbish – certainly, nothing will please me more than if I’m wrong and it’s a complete masterpiece – but based on what I’ve seen, I can’t help feeling nervous. Between the twin failures of Nemesis and Enterprise, Star Trek as a whole is weaker than it’s been in decades. Another crap film could knock the franchise down for decades to come!
What’s worse, even if the film is a huge success and Trek makes it through Abrams’s gambles unscathed, there’s no guarantee it’s going to be recognisable as Star Trek afterwards. Some people say Star Trek has to change or die. All I can say to that is… what was the first option again?