Thursday, May 14, 2009


The title of this post represents my description of the new Star Trek movie – you know, the one that every reviewer seems to love. The fact is that I enjoyed it as well. The pace was excellent, the characters were likeable, and the by-play between those characters was worthy of the original series. Perhaps as a result of those assets, the movie never left me bored – unlike, say, the much decorated “Slumdog Millionaire,” which definitely dragged at times.

Even though the new Star Trek introduced events that were inconsistent with the events of the original series, I enjoyed the movie enough that I was willing to give it a little license to stray from Star Trek orthodoxy. After all, it wasn’t like the original show was perfectly consistent either.

All that said, there was nothing about the new Star Trek that was memorable. Nothing poignant, nothing that evoked even the most elementary insight, and no vision that sticks in your mind – except, perhaps, for how damned good looking all the actors were, male and female. In short, it was the perfect movie for its time, requiring neither emotional nor intellectual energy from its audience, yet remaining continually pleasant. After a long day at the office, or an even longer day spent looking for work, who in this society has the energy for art that requires you to think or feel deeply?

I should have known that this movie would be less than ambitious when I saw the coming attractions. Every last one of the flicks advertised were action movies emphasizing special effects or violence, with the occasional low-brow joke mixed in. I realized then that the Star Trek franchise had become just another “action” film, a genre for which I rarely have any use.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve enjoyed a few of those flicks. The first two Terminator movies, for example. Die Hard was another. And I’ve liked several Bond movies. But the reason why I remember those movies was because the characters of the heroes and/or villains truly stood out. By definition, that’s an unusual occurrence, and there was no character in the new Star Trek that would have “stood out” to anyone who was not already smitten by the earlier series.

Watching the movie unfold, I began asking myself whether my “Trekkie” status was merely an accident of birth. Star Trek came out when I was six, and I began watching it at age eight, which was just about the time that the show was cancelled after only three seasons. From that point until the time I graduated from high school, its 79 episodes were televised over and over again every weekday afternoon, and I had them practically memorized. The show stoked my lifelong love for philosophy, and probably even shaped some of my values. Collectively, it influenced my childhood far and away more than anything else Hollywood produced.

As an adult, I’ve often wondered whether my love for the original Star Trek is purely a function of the fact that I was first able to watch the show when in elementary and junior high school. Are the show’s philosophical ideas so rudimentary and superficial as to be worthy only of children? Are the show’s characters compelling? Or did I like them so much merely because my 8-10 year old mind wouldn’t know how to process characters that possessed any depth?

Perhaps I know the answers to those questions all too well and simply refuse to believe them. Truth be told, I have never been riveted by any of the Star Trek movies or by any Star Trek TV series other than the original, and it hasn’t been lost on me that I was an adult when all of that came out. But … loyalty is one of my favorite vices, and I don’t apologize for that either. If I can count any person, institution or TV show among my greatest benefactors, I will be hard pressed to cast that benefactor aside. I will, it seems, extend to that benefactor the benefit of quite a few doubts. (If that undermines one of the premises of Empathic Rationalism, so be it.)

With all that as introduction, let me say that I am anxiously awaiting the NEXT Star Trek movie. I look forward to seeing these likeable young actors and actresses attempt to recreate the roles that I’ve enjoyed so much over the years. I can’t wait to see whether the producers of these films intend to challenge the audience. Will the ideas they summon be as stimulating as those of the “The City of the Edge of Forever” episode? Will they tug on our hearts, as in “Balance of Terror”? Or will they instead give us just another cookie-cutter action flick, pleasant enough to view, but ultimately unmemorable?

I’m going to cut plenty of slack for those who made the recent Star Trek movie because their primary job was to introduce a new cast to the audience, and they performed that task quite well. But I won’t be so forgiving when the next film comes out. Let’s boldly go where no Star Trek movie, not even the beloved “Wrath of Khan,” has gone before. Let’s introduce some real art, or some profound philosophy, and thereby put this franchise back on the map. The person-stages of my childhood could use the vindication.

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