8 problems I have with J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek

If you haven't seen Star Trek yet, don't even THINK of clicking on this article…


Before I launch into a welter of criticism, I have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised by J.J. Abrams’ vision of the federation when I went to see Star Trek this weekend. The film delivered what the director of Wolverine promised, but could not deliver – an action-packed movie with characters you care about at the centre of it. It’s one of the most expensive-looking films I have seen since the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, and the core cast are remarkably solid. In short, it’s a 4-star movie, and they’re thin on the ground in any year.

Why then is it not a five-star movie?

1: UhuraIs it me, or is sexualising Uhura as much as Abrams has done a bit, y’know, incestuous? I know she’s the only gal among the original TOS bridge crew, but does she really have to serve quite as much double-time as sex-symbol and love interest as Abrams seems to have mapped out for her? We’ve long since seen Kirk hitting on Uhura in the trailers and in last Autumn’s preview scenes, so we knew Kirk was going to grab her bust like an extra in a Carry-on movie. But why, having shown so much (and I admit that it was no hardship to me!) of Rachel Nichols’ green flesh when smirky Kirk seduces her, do we then have to have Uhura interrupt them and do a striptease while Kirk ogles her under the bed like an insert in a porno movie? I mean this is Uhura, and a significant role created by Nichelle Nichols and endorsed by Martin Luther King.

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And what the hell is this business with Uhura and Spock? I very much understand the emotional dynamic that draws a woman to an unreachable or remote man, but where did this come from? And where will it lead, now that…

2: Vulcan is no more?I admit it – it is a stroke of genius to completely reset the Star Trek timeline into an ‘alternate’ history. I was shocked when Vulcan was destroyed, but even more shocked when no time-travel shenanigans were attempted to in order to ‘pull a Superman‘ and just put the planet back again. From hereon in, anything is possible, and any of the crew can kick the bucket. I suspect Abrams will find it necessary for sheer dramatic impact to dispense with one of the core crew in Star Trek 2, just to show that he means business, and I’m guessing Chekov is on the way out (which would be a shame, as Anton Yelchin is doing a fine job).

Trouble is, whilst the loss of Vulcan and the acceptance of a new time-stream gives the new franchise leeway to create suspense and go where it will, it also gives Abrams (or whoever might succeed him) endless scope to dick around with canon. And why not? Now the canvas is blank, I guess we can expect a ton of Pon Farr between Spock and Uhura, and maybe even a love triangle as Kirk continues his interest in the communications officer (where is Yeoman Rand, by the way? I didn’t spot her, though I did see a Nurse Chapel look-alike).

I respect the right of a new voice to take Star Trek in a slightly new direction, but, taking a phrase from another cinematic sci-fi franchise, ‘I have a bad feeling about this’.

3: Instant promotion!I expected Star Trek 2 to begin with the closing years of Captain Pike’s command, the appointment of Captain Kirk to his former mentor’s post and perhaps some detail on the heroic radiation incident that crippled Pike. But no, smirky Kirk obtains the captain’s chair on his very first training mission, and that’s all she wrote. Bogus! This is but one example of the potential liberties that will be taken with the original time-stream – but more importantly, it smacks of Hollywood pragmatism. This problem needed a smarter solution.

4: Camera shakeThis is something that bothers me so much about the SFX in Star Trek and in Hollywood blockbusters in general that I couldn’t contain it to just one entry, so read my extended rant here.

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5: Chris Pine does very little ‘Shatner’In the very final scene of Star Trek, Chris Pine does a pretty damn fine job of imitating the Shat’s staccato line-delivery. Why did we have to wait the whole movie for this to emerge, when Karl Urban’s McCoy is such a terrific tribute to DeForest Kelley and Zachary Quinto’s Spock an almost pitch-perfect Nimoy Spock? These actors weren’t cowed by the need to keep faith with the original interpretations, and they’ve done wonders both with the characters they were hired to play and in keeping respect with the actors who preceded them. It’s clear from the final scene that Chris Pine could have done as much from the get-go, and by the time he ‘Shats up’, we’d lost all hope of it anyway. More, much more Shat-phrasing in Star Trek 2 please, Chris!

6: Not enough Dr. McCoyKarl Urban’s excellent performance as Doctor McCoy both pays tribute to the beloved work of DeForest Kelley in TOS and the six original-cast movies, and to his own prowess as an actor. Benny Har-Even has already commented on the fact that the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Kirk/Spock/McCoy seems to have become a tryst between Kirk/Spock/Uhura in the promo posters, for the sake of mass-market appeal – but surely that doesn’t mean they have to short-change us on the doc in the movie itself…? More McCoy, please! There are a million sexy space-women for Kirk to kiss, but the relationship and bond between these three core male characters is at the very heart of the appeal of Star Trek.

7: Scotty is a bit of a twitI thought Chekov was the humour quotient in Star Trek, along with the passionless demeanour of Spock as frequently criticised by DeKelley’s McCoy in TOS. Why then is Simon Pegg suddenly brought in to play the fool? James Doohan created the role with an air of good-natured seriousness, and the fact that he was willing to lampoon that base-character a little in the Trek movies of the 1980s shouldn’t stop Abrams showing him a little more respect in Star Trek 2. Pegg has shown, in Shaun Of The Dead and elsewhere, that he can summon dramatic gravity if he needs it, so please don’t consign him to the dramatic equivalent of juggling and pratfalls in future Trek.

8: Kirk – rebel without a shipOne of the reasons that Kirk’s almost instantaneous assignment as captain of the Enterprise irks me so much in Star Trek is that he boards his first mission as pretty much the same bad-boy that he is shown as being in the earlier ‘car-chase’ sequence and the bar-brawl. This is a character very much at odds with the original vision of young Kirk as described in TOS (always ‘weighed down with books’ in Starfleet academy). Have four years in the academy done nothing for his outrageous arrogance? This is another reason why we needed to see Pine’s ‘Shatner Kirk’ a little earlier. The transition from country roughneck to reasonably-disciplined commander is too rapid.

I have to qualify these whinges by noting that, in my opinion, J.J. Abrams has done more with the core concept of a Star Trek reboot than I dreamed possible, and I am really excited about this new franchise. Just don’t forget the Trek crusties, J.J.; you’re playing with our dreams…

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