By REED TUCKER
In one of the more memorable scenes from 2009's "Star Trek," a young James T. Kirk speeds through the desert behind the wheel of a vintage Corvette as a Beastie Boys song blasts. He points the speeding car towards a cliff, before bailing out as the car careens into the abyss.
To certain "Trek" fans, the scene was more than a simple bit of cinematic action. It was a metaphor that spoke to the state of the franchise in the 21st century. The car, you see, was supposedly a 1966 Corvette - the same year the original "Star Trek" TV series went on air - and its destruction represented "Trek" unshackling itself from the past to move in a bold, new direction.
That direction continues with Friday's "Star Trek Into Darkness," the second film in director J.J. Abrams' reboot of the sci-fi epic. This time out, the young crew of the Enterprise - including Chris Pine as Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock, Zoe Saldana as Uhura, Karl Urban as McCoy and Simon Pegg as Scotty - heads to a Klingon planet to confront a rogue Starfleet officer played by Benedict Cumberbatch.
The 2009 movie conquered the box office, earning $257 million in the US, and generally pleased critics. But the question many longtime Trekkies - Trekkers? - are left asking is, at what price? To many who fell in love with the late Gene Roddenberry's original series or the multiple TV spinoffs and movies since, this new "Star Trek" doesn't quite feel like "Star Trek."
"On the original, we had so much less to work with, we ended up doing so much more," says John Black, a writer and associate producer on the 1966 series, who isn't a fan of the latest incarnation. "We had less money, less time, less effects. So we did more with the characters and the themes."
Marc Cushman, a writer for the 1987-1994 TV show "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and author of the upcoming "These Are the Voyages: The True Story of 'Star Trek,' the Original Series," says he was entertained by the 2009 film, but didn't think it felt true to Roddenberry, whom he worked with.
"It's lost a lot of its reality," Cushman says. "It's also lost a lot of its political and social statement, because it's in too big of a hurry in order to keep younger people watching. It has to move at a breakneck speed.
"The original had dialogue sequences that would go on for three or four minutes," he adds. "This is nonstop action with clever one- liners that look great in a trailer, but don't say much."
To purist fans, who have taken to knocking J.J. Abrams as "Jar Jar Abrams" online, the surplus of action and lack of layered commentary in the new "Star Trek" is the biggest sticking point.
Roddenberry launched the 1966 TV series hoping to use science- fiction to tell stories that commented on social issues, including war, racism and colonialism.
"Although 'Star Trek' had to entertain or go off the air, we believed our format was unique enough to allow us to challenge and stimulate the audience," Roddenberry once said. "Unless it said something and we challenged our viewer to think and react, then it wasn't worth all we had put into the show."
"Gene Roddenberry was the only producer I ever pitched to who would ask what the theme was," Cushman says. "'What are you trying to say with this story?' Everyone else told the plot, the hook. The theme was really important to him."
The 1968 episode "A Private Little War," about Starfleet and the Klingons arming opposing sides in a conflict, served as an allegory for the Vietnam War at a time when NBC forbade mentioning current events in its entertainment programming.
Another episode, 1968's "Plato's Stepchildren," dealt with race and philosophy, as the crew lands on a planet where the society is modeled on Plato's teachings. In one scene, Kirk tells a slave, "Where I come from, size, shape or color makes no difference." The episode also featured a liplock between Uhura, played by the actress Nichelle Nichols, and William Shatner's Kirk, marking one of TV's first interracial kisses.
To many, it's this lack of social commentary that the new "Star Trek" is missing. Late film critic Roger Ebert wrote that Roddenberry's stories of "science, ideals or philosophy" had been "replaced by stories reduced to loud and colorful action."
"They're good action movies, but my girlfriend and I re-watched the 2009 film the other day after having watched some older 'Star Trek' more recently," says Chris Wales, special features editor at fan site TrekCore.com, "and both of us felt that it held up quite poorly by comparison when it came to the moral punch that 'Star Trek' usually packs."
Some of the high-profile former cast members have also expressed reservations. The original Kirk has said he enjoyed the reboot, but felt it fell short of the original series. "It's a great ride, a great opening up of 'Star Trek' to modern audiences," William Shatner told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. "It doesn't have the story heart that the best of my 'Star Trek' had, but it's a glorious motion picture."
George Takei, who played Sulu originally, has said he also enjoys the new movies - he just thinks that they shouldn't necessarily be called "Star Trek." "I hope the next one will have some sort of a number or label," he told the Detroit News. "I take umbrage with it being called 'Star Trek.' We were 'Star Trek.' This 'Star Trek' is a progeny of our 'Star Trek.' "
To the studio, especially those working in accounting, "Star Trek" had to change in order to survive. The last big-screen adventure, 2002's "Star Trek: Nemesis," earned just $43 million stateside. The franchise had to be retooled to connect to new audiences - preferably ones younger and more international.
Unlike other science-fiction movies, "Star Trek" has never performed well overseas. Compare the $24 million international haul of "Nemesis" with more brainless eye candy like "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," which raked in a massive $771 million in foreign markets.
As a satirical Onion headline put it, "Trekkies Bash New Star Trek Film As 'Fun, Watchable.' "
Abrams has said that "Star Trek" was not his thing growing up and that he doesn't make these movies for the hardcore fanbase.
"You can't really make a movie for them," he told the AP. "As soon as you start to guess what you think they are going to want to see, you're in trouble."
Some blue-chip Trekkers are withholding judgment on the reboot - for now. "The first movie got a pass because Abrams had his hands full introducing characters," says LeVar Burton, who played Geordi La Forge on "The Next Generation." "I am really, really curious as to what J.J. wants to talk about in the second movie. If it's gonna really be 'Star Trek,' he needs to have something to say."
"They wanted to bring in a younger generation, and from that point of view, they've done a great job," says Trevor Roth, COO of Roddenberry Entertainment. "I think ["Into Darkness"] will be very telling as to whether they get to that thinking-man's level. I hope that they will, but I haven't seen it yet. To me, that's the difference between a long-lasting movie that we're going to be talking about for a long time, and something that does well at the box office but is easily forgotten."
Early reviews of "Into Darkness" reveal that it incorporates characters and plot elements from the original series and movies to an almost fan-fiction level. It also appears to at least be trying to impart a message, in the classic "Trek" tradition. As the Sydney Morning Herald declared dismissively, "The film does work round to a statement about the dangers of unbridled militarism, though you might not catch it in the midst of all the explosions and fist- fights."
Defenders of the evolving "Trek" brand point out that each new incarnation, be it "Voyager," "Deep Space Nine" or the previous movies, has made hard-core fans nervous.
"This is just like when 'The Next Generation' came out," says Grace Lee Whitney, who played Yeoman Janice Rand in the '60s show and is the author of "The Longest Trek: My Tour of the Galaxy." "There was a whole group of fans who wouldn't watch it."
"It's true there is a coterie of purists for whom the new movies are an abomination," says Greg Cox, author of multiple "Star Trek" novels, including "The Original Series: The Weight of Worlds." "But there's a refrain out there that all true Trekkies hate this movie. This isn't true."
To those Trekkers in the con column, most dispiriting of all is the feeling that "Star Trek" is turning into what they consider an inferior, more shallow space franchise: "Star Wars." They might have a point. Next up for Abrams is 2015's "Star Wars: Episode VII."
Originally published by and REED TUCKER.
(c) 2013 The New York Post. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.
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