Problems with the New Star Trek Movie Reboot

Before I get into this, let me just warn that this post contains spoilers.  Don’t read any further if you haven’t seen the new Star Trek movie.  Or at least, don’t read any further and then complain to me.

First off, I know that the movie is doing really well.  I also know that almost everyone seems to really like it.  So I don’t expect this post to be popular.  Still, there were a few small things (and one large thing) that bothered me about it, and it seemed blog worthy.

The big issue is the premise of the “reboot” logic.  This movie was explicitly designed to appeal to a whole new audience, and as a result, it deviates in many ways from the previous “canon”, ie, the character & future history established by the other movies and TV Series.

Unlike Superman Returns, or The Dark Knight, however, this movie tries to explain away the differences with a plot device.

The plot device is as follows:

A Romulan captain of a mining ship, in the late 24th century, witnesses the destruction of Romulus.  Infuriated, he blames Spock for failing to save the planet (and his wife and child).  He attacks (old) Spock, falls through a black hole and ends up in the early 23rd century.  As a result, the timeline is forever changed, because the first thing he does (almost) is kill George Kirk, James T. Kirk’s father, putting him (and Starfleet) on a different path.

Ugh, it sounds worse when I write it.  It felt pretty par-for-the-course in theater for a Star Trek time-travel plot.

Here’s the big problem. The last two years of the Star Trek series Enterprise were literally based on the Temporal Cold War.  (In fact, this was an extension in some ways of the “Relativity” episode in Star Trek Voyager and the “Trials and Tribble-ations” episode of Deep Space Nine.)  Without descending into a geek singularity, the basis premise is that in the future, time travel technology is mastered, leading to a set of accords among governments to “protect” the timeline.  Some people violate those accords (“The Temporal Accords“), and thus there are future Federation people and ships whose purpose is to help apprehend these criminals and restore the original timeline.

I’m not talking about one or two flaky episodes here with a minor inconsistency.  I’m talking about dozens of episodes and a major timeline of future history with key events between the 20th century all the way to the 31st century.

In any case, in order to believe this plot reboot, you have to believe that somehow with all those time ships and policing, Agent Daniels, the USS Relativity, and all those others just let a random mining captain from Romulus rewrite the history of the Federation without correction.  They go to huge lengths to save Captain Archer, but not Captain Kirk?

Sorry.  That doesn’t work.

I think what I’m more disappointed about is that the movie didn’t even try to explain it away.  For example:

Old Spock from the future, for example, could have added 30 seconds to his explanation to either New Kirk or New Spock to say that this timeline is permanent, or why it won’t be fixed.

Spock: “In general, major timeline changes in the past have been corrected by the Federation in future centuries.  However, we had been warned that the use of “red matter” could leave us vulnerable to untrackable temporal events.  In my rush to save Romulus, I have put the entire future at risk.”

This really wouldn’t bother me if the movie was a clean reboot of the series, like Battlestar Galactica.  But J.J. Abrams is trying to have his cake and eat it too.  He clumsily and awkwardly brings everyone together for the new Enterprise crew (exactly how unlikely was it that Scotty would be on that one base on that one moon…)  In some ways, the half-hearted attempt to maintain continuity with the time travel device is worse than just doing a straight reboot, no questions asked.

Now I realize I fall into a very tiny minority of people who even watched Star Trek Enterprise (or Voyager for that matter).  And I realize I fall in an even smaller fraction who liked Enterprise.  (1 in a million?)

Still, if they wanted to hardball ignore the series, they could have just asserted something early that made it clear that the series Star Trek Enterprise didn’t exist in this universe (ala Superman III/IV being axed in Superman Returns).  For example, they could have just asserted that this was the first human starship with the name Enterprise.

The most ironic element to the reboot plot device is that the one series it doesn’t change is Star Trek Enterprise, because that series takes place before the federation was founded!  So in this timeline, we don’t know whether there will be a Captain Picard, a Deep Space Nine, or a Captain Janeway.

But we do know, of course, that Scott Bakula was captain of the NX-01 Enterprise.  Rich, rich irony for fans who hated that series.

Don’t get me wrong – I liked the movie enough to see it again, and I think it achieved its goal of reaching out to people who have never seen Star Trek before (or didn’t watch much of it.)  I was actually surprised to see so many “wink wink, nudge nudge” moments in the film – references to other characters, catch phrases, moments, etc.  When Spock gives the transwarp transport formula to Scotty, I half-way expected some reference to transparent aluminum (Star Trek IV).

Maybe that’s what bothered me the most – they clearly put some effort into lining this up with canon in minor ways that didn’t really matter, but then ignored the big gaping hole around time travel.

Anyway, just for fun, here are some other small nits that bugged me:

  • There is a canyon in Iowa?
  • Was the Nokia placement really necessary?  Did it even make sense?  There are still private companies in the future?  They still operate?
  • Wow!  The Enterprise is really big now.  Huge.  How big is the crew?  That Romulan ship must be immense.  Kirk can just run around and find his way?  It must be miles long!
  • Captain Pike decides to make a not-quite-graduate with 3 years in the academy First Officer.  Really?  Maybe they know more about nature vs. nurture in the future.
  • Sulu carries a sword around with him?
  • Movie jumps the shark when Kirk crash lands on the ice planet/moon.
    • First, he plays Empire Strikes Back with the native wildlife (unnecessary).
    • Second, he just happens to crash within a few miles of Spock?
    • Exactly how close is this moon/planet to Vulcan, so that it appears huge in the sky of this world?
    • Spock is placed within walking distance of a Federation outpost, and is waiting for… ?
    • Scotty just happens to be stationed at this outpost?
    • Spock doesn’t go with Kirk because he doesn’t want to hurt the bonding experience for Kirk & Spock?  Seriously?  He’s really taking this new timeline thing in stride.
  • “Red” matter?  That’s what they went with?  “Red” matter?  Was this sponsored by Bono or something?
  • Flagship of the fleet goes to new graduate.  I know there isn’t supposed to be a lot of politics in the future, but I have to think someone got passed over here and is kind of pissed about it.

Looking forward to Terminator Salvation (which deals with timeline inconsistencies better), Up, Transformers, GI Joe, Harry Potter…