In 2009, Paramount Pictures released “Star Trek,” a modern, big screen, retelling of the classic science fiction television series created by Gene Roddenberry. Directed by J.J. Abrams (Lost, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), the film offered fans an alternate beginning to the life of Captain James T. Kirk, played by Chris Pine.
Abrams’ take on nearly a half-century of Trek lore angered a good portion of the fan base. In this first foray into Trekkie land, he managed to hit the delete key on some very important story canon. And, just to make the point that he could do whatever he wanted with the franchise, in the second film, Star Trek: Into Darkness, he did it again.
This time, he brought back Khan (played by “Sherlock’s” Benedict Cumberbatch), Kirk’s nemesis from the original series and again in 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Since the origins of Kirk and company were altered, the Enterprise didn’t stumble upon Khan’s derelict spacecraft as it did originally, but ended up fighting him anyway thanks to a power-mad Starfleet admiral.
Once again, fans reeled. As a fan myself, my opinion is that it was a terrible film. It was a bad copy of the first Star Trek II (now that’s not confusing is it?). So where would they boldy go next? Well, fortunately, with Abrams having been snatched up by Disney to take over the Star Wars world, they needed new leadership.
When the first Abrams Trek was released, I had the privilege of reviewing it for my hometown newspaper. While I enjoyed the film, I, like many of my fellow fans, found it lacking a “Star Trek” feel. It was more action and less “human.” I could live with the alternate universe concept, after all, it’s “Star Trek” and you can do anything you want with it. But the complete disregard for the character-driven humanity that Roddenberry injected into the franchise in favor of a nauseating level of lens flare and CGI effects was a bit much for me.
This summer, Paramount released the third in the alternate Trek series, “Star Trek: Beyond.” And, in my humble opinion as a lifelong fan, this time they got it right. Co-written by Simon Pegg, who plays “Scotty” in the films, “Beyond” offers more of what “Star Trek” is famous for – the human struggle to achieve and make a difference.
With numerous nods to the original by way of images, original series dialogue and character interactions, “Beyond” is the first in this series to make this fan actually want to see it again – and again. It’s just a fun movie. It’s “Star Trek” again, well, almost.
As good as it is, “Star Trek: Beyond” still lacks something, but we can’t have Shatner and Nimoy back on the bridge. Nor can we go home to the comfortable captain’s chairs of the 1980s feature films. But, with a fourth film already given a green light and a new TV series set for streaming video in 2017, “Star Trek” may have finally found its second wind.
I’m still in favor of J.J. keeping his director’s chair over at Lucasfilm and staying away from the Starfleet world indefinitely. He just doesn’t get it. Not that I really think he gets “Star Wars” either, but I don’t care as much about that.
To me, “Star Trek” is not space fantasy, but science fiction in the best sense. It offers a positive vision of our future and suggests that we can be better people, that humanity is worth saving and any film or TV versions from here on should perpetuate that concept.
With the passing last year of Leonard Nimoy (Spock prime) and the recent tragic death of Anton Yelchin (Checkov), this film could have been a painful reminder of loss. Fortunately, “Star Trek: Beyond” is a wonderful tribute to original Enterprise crew, all of whom get a quick photographic cameo, and it’s a fitting celebration of Star Trek’s 50th Anniversary. I’ll be seeing it again for sure, and so should you. Live long, and prosper.