I am wistful about the new film, which I saw yesterday. Yet despite being disappointed, I am oddly resigned, even cheerful about the fact that Star Trek has moved on and left Gene Roddenberry's good (though flawed) vision behind. In my opinion --which seems not to be shared by anyone I know O.o -- they've created something new, not Star Trek any more despite the name, by borrowing details of the old Trek myths and stories while losing 90% of the spirit and flavor, the essence of what Trek used to be.
It reminds me of the way Ovid could take the main characters and plot points of classical Greek myths, inventing new episodes, telling them from a completely different perspective, and fundamentally LOSING the heart and soul of what he was rewriting most of the time -- yet his rewrites were just such rollicking good entertainment that you almost forget the original, and don't see what you're missing.
I'm afraid my nitpicks about the film may cause those who enjoyed the film to like it less. Or maybe you'll totally disagree! So... um... caveat lector.
It was the interactions between people, and the people. I don't mind hackneyed dialog and horrible delivery (after all, I'm skilled at writing both!), but beyond the FX and technobabble and morality plays and space battles and aliens and badly-choreographed fight scenes, it was about the characters. Picard's Tea, Earl Grey, Hot. Scotty's aversion to shore leave. Dax's fondness for Klingons. Sherlock Data and Sulu the Mad Fencer and Broccoli and all the rest.
There is also a quiet element of kindness: kind intentions, even if the characters are sometimes callous and ignorant in ways that can be traced back to clumsy plotting or writers not thinking things through. But the characters are presented as compassionate to others and caring a great deal for one another, having unspoken bonds, something TOS didn't do on purpose, but which evolved very early in the history of the show. It was subtle, almost never expressed openly, like the love been between old Avengers' Ms. Peel and Juhn Steed, vs. new movie Avengers where Steed blatantly has a crush on her, she's trying to seduce him, and that "love/romance" thread is an overt plot thread. The new Trek movie bumped up the relationship between K/S (with Uhura as the passive end of a love triangle) and reduced it to monotone in the same way the Avengers movie killed the Steed/Peel dynamic. And the new Trek movie characters were seldom kind. They were too busy being dysfunctional, delinquent, distrustful.
There also isn't much room for laughter or camp in the new franchise. Trek usually has buttloads of somewhat facile humor, often woodenly delivered. . ("Captain! There be whales here!" "I am not a merry man." "Gah is always best, when served live." "Checkov, Pavel. Rank: Admiral.") Nor was there room for pithy banter or melodramatic yet satisfying dialog. Khan's "Revenge is a dish best served cold... it's very cold in space." "We are the Borg. Resistence is futile." "I am, and always shall be, your friend." "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." Kirk's awful speechifying, and Picard's lovely speechifying. ("I was making a speech again, wasn't I?" Troi: "You're entitled.") In the new franchise, I miss the banter, zingers, and clunky yet memorable meodramatic punchlines.
There was also the violence aspect, which again may have overwhelmed me so much that I'm forgetting the character study moments. A lot of recent movies want to be edgy and gritty by showing people as imperfect and dysfunctional. The latest movie moved that down a notch to "brutal". The fistfights were not campy and badly choreographed. They were horrifically cruel. What was the point of Uhura standing there telling the boys to stop beating each other while they ignored her?!!! I have never seen so many beatings in one film. Admittedly I don't watch too many.
Also the aamount of horrible deaths, explosions, carnage and devastation makes the angst-ridden "the Enterprise gets beat to a pulp" movie, Star Trek II, seem about as dangerous and deadly as a game of bocce. Remember in Star Trek III when the Enterprise came home, and everyone in spacedock rose to their feet in silence and awe, gazing out at the scarring on the grand old ship's hull? No room for that in the new world, where all the damage and explosions kinda blur together.
The reality of Starfleet also suffered. Starfleet may have been poorly-researched by nerd SF writers who didn't fully think through all the details of a military organization, but that's what it was supposed to be: a logical hierarchy with rules, discipline. (Gosh, all those orders and regs). Kirk occasionally skirted them or reinterpreted them, but even he generally followed them.
The contrivance needed to get ALL the Trek regular characters catapulted from raw cadet (or, in one case, graduate student) to the navigator, chief engineer, chief communications officer, pilot, first officer and CAPTAIN were ridiculous. Why would raw cadets be put in charge of the most advanced new ship in the fleet? How could Pike promote a cadet who was suspended to ACTING CAPTAIN? And how did Scotty suddenly become chief engineer -- there wasn't one before? It was horribly flimsy.
Even more trouble was Spock, graduate student instructor (I think?) having sexual relations with a student. Um er. Not very Spockish, if you ask me. He was a terrible stick in the mud when he was younger, by all accounts, and it took decades of brainwashing by Kirk and McCoy (and yes, Uhura flirting with him on the rec dec) to get him to loosen up.
The sexism caught me offguard.
Good gods, how could they make Uhura smarter yet turn her into nothing but a kissing machine for The Smexy Guy? Other than giving Kirk disapproving looks and solving one little Communications Puzzle, she basically was there to be Spock's teddy bear. You'd think the Uhura role would be strengthened, not weakened, by a new generation of writers. I know I'm biased, but come on, it's Uhura!
And the only other female character in the story is Kirk's Mom AKA Baby Machine, who completely disappears after the touching birth scene is finished. Even though she raised him (presumably) and we're shown bits of his growing up.
Oh wait, no, Winona Ryder made a cameo as Amanda. Mostly by making Big Soulful Eyes at Spock and smiling sweetly. I miss Jane Wyman's gracious, quietly powerful presence. And the movie's idea of Sarek was just odd. New!Sarek had the charisma of a piece of cardboard. There was nothing there. Mark Leonard just OOZED presence, and such a lovely voice, even when he was playing the epitome of Vulcan buttheadedness. Most Vulcans in the old franchise were sexy in hard-to-explain ways, because they were so charismatic. Enterprise and new-movie Vulcans are simply putzes.
So how did I like my Curate's Egg?
As a random battle movie with lots of explosions, exciting music and action scenes, and excellent effects, it was admirable. My animal brain, the same one that reads bad smut, was completely satisfied. I was satisfied too with isolated scenes and sequences which were cute fanfiction interpretations of the characters.
But the torch has been passed to a new generation. I gather this is what they want out of Star Trek. And Old Trek wasn't a perfect enough animal for me to cling to it overmuch. So despite my own feeling that Gene Roddenberry's vision is dead, and a new vision of it has lost its soul... that's okay. That well had just about run dry anyway. The new one doesn't work as well for me, but myths get changed and remixed. Better that a world should be reforged for a new group of inhabitants, even if the Elves have to pack up and sail west.
But my Star Trek?
I'll be over here with Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, Tim Russ, and the creators of the ironically-named Of Gods and Men, that fan-made Trek movie I was raving out a few months ago. (Towards the end, Uhura tells the Big Bad Guy of the story that he is NEITHER, and she is clearly the hero of the story.) It was flawed, low-budget, and had rough patches, but it smelled, tasted, and felt like the spirit of Trek, in all its imperfections.
... of someone I still admire very much.
*(Nichelle Nichols once wrote a poem to Uhura that ended that way.)