The Star Trek Movie of 2009 and the Original Star Trek: Signs of Their Times
Different Sensibilities, Loads of Fun
Star Trek became one of the first blockbuster movies of 2009. As science fiction always does, it reflects the times in which it is made. When Star Trek the original series appeared on the small screen in 1966, it too was representative of the day. Here are a few ways in which the two compare and contrast.
First, to make sure this doesn't get dry and serious, both the series and the movie are loads of fun. In the original series, Gene Roddenberry swore he was not making a series filled with space battles. His was to be a series based on the interactions of the characters, who would strive to work for peace and keep the weapons of the Enterprise in reserve for when all else fails. In 2009, J.J. Abrams felt no such constraint and fans would have been disappointed if he had done otherwise. The opening sequence is filled with phasers, photon torpedoes, and Romulan weapons of high yield, hull shattering destructive force.
In the 1960s, Gene sold the idea of the show by swearing he could do it on the cheap. The network really liked that idea. So, he purchased potted plants, pulled them out by the roots, knocked off all the soil and jammed them back into the pots upside down, then spray painted the unfortunate, inverted flora silver to make alien vegetation. Actors dressed in bulky and unconvincing costumes became alien wildlife ... remember the white, behorned gorilla? Then there were ship effects. Inevitably, diplomacy did fail time and again and Enterprise or another Federation Constitution Class ship waded into battle. Ship damaged was portrayed by crew members flung from chairs, flash pots popping on the set, and an exterior view of the unfortunate vessel tilted at an odd angle (how do you get an odd angle in space where there is no up or down) to show it was badly damaged.
By comparison, J.J. was under no such constraint. In the 2009 movie, in battle sequences, hull plates fly off stricken vessels and debris fields are created when ships are destroyed. Alien flora was in short supply on Vulcan or a certain ice planet, but alien fauna was wonderful and horrible to behold. A scene with a large red beastie with an incredible set of nightmare mandibles was truly memorable. CGI graphics have replaced the actor in the suit to good effect.
Now one might think I'm being hard on the original series. Not at all, I'm a fan. I love the morals to the stories, the constraints the actors and actresses worked under, the limits on the effects. It all combined to give Star Trek the television series a unique look. Born in an age when Rod Serling's anthology series Twilight Zone was on TV making statements about life in the day, Star Trek also made plenty of social commentary. The interracial crew was quite revolutionary back in the 1960s. The interracial kiss between James T. Kirk and Uhura was unheard of. Today, the interracial crew of the Enterprise draws not a blink, just a happy sigh of recognition as the modern cast does a wonderful job bringing the characters to life and adding new dimensions to them.
In the original series, James T. Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Dr. McCoy were the three main characters with the most filled out personal histories. Sulu, Checkov, Scotty, and Uhura played lesser roles. Let's face it, back in the 1960s, Uhura was an interstellar switchboard operator who fell out of her chair with a shriek every time the Romulans, Klingons, or other hostile aliens attacked.
In the 2009 movie offering, all the characters are rounded. Everyone has a broader skill set. Uhura for instance is a zeno-linguistics expert and also in a loving relationship with one of the other members of the crew. It's surprising if you haven't seen it yet and I'm not giving away any of the details. Montgomery Scott is a wonderful character. My favorite line of his comes after he rescues several people with the ship's transporters and crows with delight, "Three people from two locations to one pad, I've never done that before!" One thing you old time fans will note, no named crewmen wearing red shirts are not immediate cannon fodder doomed to a quick death in the movie. I remember writing them off every time they appeared on the small screen in the original series and wondered how long it would take. Usually, not very long at all before that unfortunate no-name security guard was dust.
The movie explains away all the differences between itself and the TV series with the time honored favorite of an altered timeline created by time travelers. See for yourself who the culprit is. It's satisfying and the role is well played by an old friend.
To conclude, I'd have to say, J.J. Abrams has breathed new life into an old franchise. Star Trek had suffered a warp core breach a while back, the antimatter pods were losing containment and the core jettisoned. Now, the warp engines are back on line, a new, promising young cast is available to create new adventures for the original crew of the Starship Enterprise, and the series is ready to boldly go once more ... provided you all do your part and see the movie and convince Paramount to do theirs.
Boldly go to the theater so that Star Trek can boldly go into the future with more entertaining movies filled with fun and surprises.
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