Click to viewAs long as we only saw glimpses of the new Star Trek, we could convince ourselves it was going to be cool and sexy. But as soon as the first proper images from J.J. Abrams' movie turned up the other day, the truth came out: it's going to be dorky, retro, cheesy and a little embarrassing. In other words, it's going to be exactly what you'd expect a semi-faithful remake of the 1960s cheesefest, written by the Transformers scribes, to be like. Abrams is the master of misdirection, so it makes sense that he kept us guessing so long. Just like with Cloverfield, where we only glimpsed the monster but saw tons of splodey footage and crying hipsters until the movie finally came out. Or Lost, where tons of hand waving obscures a premise that will probably turn out to be a bit silly when it's finally explained.
But this time, he may have miscalculated: if Trek was coming out in December as originally planned, the images of miniskirts and way-too-shiny sets would just have time to percolate through our consciousness, priming us to greet the movie eagerly in a couple of months. But as it is, we're going to be pretty saturated with retro-schlock images by the time the film actually bows. The biggest problem with a new Trek is one we fingered months ago: nostalgia. And the 1960s original series is the most overloaded of them all - it's like some sixties band that played Woodstock, which has two of its original members left and goes around doing the classic songs. People will throw beer bottles if the band doesn't do the song from the truck commercial, the one everyone knows the words to. Trek is like that - Star Trek is Country Joe and the Fish.
So you're kind of screwed either way in remaking the original series - you either stick too close, and it's retro and silly. Or you change stuff around, and it's just sort of generic. Because Trek influenced everything, the less faithful your imitation of Trek, the more it'll look like every other science fiction franchise. So inevitably, you pick and choose: which embarrassing elements do you keep, and which do you discard? And judging from the pictures, J.J. Abrams made diametrically the wrong choice: he tossed out the clunky Enterprise bridge, and kept the miniskirts and go-go boots.
Why would I have done the opposite, if my name was suddenly J.J. Anders? Let's start with the cocktail waitress uniforms. Even in the 60s, I have a feeling they were a bit hard to take seriously. But today, the idea that a paramillitary research organization would outsource its women's uniforms to Forever 21? It feels a bit odd. You lose a bit of credibility as a space navy by putting your womenfolk in those outfits. And then there's the "Apple Store" bridge, which J.J. insists is actually cooler than the Apple Store. I can believe that, because I've never found the Apple Store especially cool. It's the place I used to go every few weeks when my old ibook's faulty logic board died for the umpteenth time, so a "Genius" could stare blankly at me. To me, the look of the Apple Store says 2002, so the new Enterprise bridge looks instantly dated. Here's what I would have done: first of all, duplicate Captain Pike's bridge, which looks sort of the way you could really imagine a first-generation starship might look. Complete with those weird lamp things coming out of the captain's chair and consoles. That version of the bridge is accurate to the time period where this movie is set, but it also looks as though the ship could blow up at any moment, because it's an early model. I kind of like that slightly grungy submarine-esque aesthetic. And you'll also notice that in the original pilot, "The Cage," the women have pants. Or at least, Number One does. So you could be canonical and slightly less ridiculous. (I should be clear, though: I don't really care about canon. The moment there were more than two episodes of Star Trek, the show started contradicting itself. And this movie isn't aimed at the die-hard fans. So Abrams could have ditched the bridge and the miniskirts, and I wouldn't have complained.) Anyway, that leads me to the bigger problem with these images: everything is so shiny. I know that it's airbrushed to hell for Entertainment Weekly's readers, but still. Everything has a sort of plasticky action figure like sheen. The images remind me of nothing so much as the Bill Paxton live action Thunderbirds movie.
The other thing that really hits me after looking at these images is the thing many people have commented on: these stars look hella young. Especially Kirk and Spock, but some of the others as well. It's another thing, similar to the miniskirts, that makes me not really take Starfleet seriously as a space navy: this group of young whippersnappers apparently meet up as cadets and end up forming a little clique, which then takes over the flagship of the fleet. They don't all advance separately through the ranks, in the whole wide fleet, and then meet up as crewmates later. But at least Kirk and Spock are still homoerotic, as you can see from the Entertainment Weekly cover where their nipples are grazing. (Super giant version here.)
So, to sum up: it's ridiculously retro, it's unthinkingly homoerotic, it's a cheesefest worthy of Michael Bay, and it's a gift to fanboys, who will probably hate it anyway. And yet, I predict Star Trek will be the biggest money-maker of the summer of 2009 anyway. To the point where I'll be writing articles with headlines like "Can Any Other Space-Cowboy Movies Measure Up To Star Trek?"
Because the way things are going, we're going to need some brain-candy. In the throes of an economic shitstorm the likes of which our grandparents only dimly remember, we're not just going to need massive escapism and fluffy fun, we're going to need a massive dose of nostalgia. The only way the United States gets to be a major space power - or a superpower, period, the way things are heading - is by looking in the rear view mirror. And despite all of the multi-culturalism and the token African, Russian and Japanese crewmembers, Trek was always about America. It was about an America that was big enough to absorb people from different cultures, or even different species, and strong enough to explore the four corners of the universe. (If the universe had corners.) It's the happy, here-to-help version of American imperialism, and we probably need to wallow in it a fair bit right now. If I think of this as a generic B-movie space adventure, then I actually feel sort of excited and intrigued. It's only when I realize how retro and self-indulgent this Trek rehash will be that I feel a bit more meh. New Trek images from Entertainment Weekly's new gallery, which collects all the images released so far. Obscenely large version of Spock image is at AICN.