Which Star Trek has the better vision of the future?

Illustration for article titled Which emStar Trek/em has the better vision of the future?

It's a battle between the original Star Trek and its movie re-boot to decide which vision of the future will triumph! Two Star Treks enter, one leaves.

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In response to this piece on the decline in optimism in science fiction movies, commenters lightninglouie and Eric took a closer look at the way the imagined-future in Star Trek had changed over the years, from an optimistic anomaly to a much darker take on the source material:

lightninglouie

The future sucked plenty in '70s SF movies. You had futures with deforestation (Silent Running), mandatory euthanasia (Logan's Run), overpopulation (Soylent Green), rising crime and anarchy (Mad Max), and oligarchic corporations (Rollerball). You had humans transformed into mindless workers (THX-1138), hedonists (Sleeper), mutants (Omega Man), or far-future slaves (Planet of the Apes), or sport (Zardoz), or food (Soylent Green, again). And on top of that, you had the stuff that would carry over into the next few decades — robot uprisings (Westworld), unfriendly space creatures (Alien), and zombies (Dawn of the Dead). The bright, shiny future of Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a total anomaly by comparison. And even the "upbeat" Star Wars could be considered dystopian, since the heroes were fighting a despotic Empire. The notion that movies about bright and optimistic futures used to be commonplace is a myth. By the mid-'80s, and for most of the '90s, the major studios had more or less stopped making movies set in the future or in space altogether. (The big exception was the Trek movies, but they were cheap to make and had a built-in audience, so easy money.)

I think the big problem with the Abrams movies is that they're not really Star Trek, just generic Hollywood action movies with a Star Trek desktop theme. This is a problem with just about any updating of a "classic" property — look at Lone Ranger. If you're spending $200M on an "event" movie, they're all going to be running the same software underneath.

Eric

Star Trek—The Motion Picture isn't just an outlier, it's basically a throwback to the 1950s fare like Forbidden Planet. Exploration is its own reward! We'll solve problems through reason!

D'ya remember: in ST:TMP they fire the ship's weapons exactly once in the entire movie? At a rock that gets in their way.

Then they face something that threatens the entire human species, and they talk to it and ask it what it wants. And then a crewmember sacrifices his mundane, meaty existence to save the human race by evolving into some kind of higher being. Negotiation and altruistic self-sacrifice, that's Roddenberry's version of problem solving, as opposed to Abrams' version of shooting everything and then shooting it some more and then skydiving at it and then shooting it again (or maybe punching it, punching is good). TMP isn't a very good movie, but the by-the-numbers-cynicism of Into Darkness makes it look like some kind of weird masterpiece.

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What do you think? Should Star Trek go back to its optimistic roots or run full tilt towards its darkest possible timeline?

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DISCUSSION

So here's the thing right... I get Gene Roddenberry's "view" that the future could be "perfect". Unfortunately 99.9% of all storytelling is based in conflict. This could be anything from good vs evil to a scuffle over a parking space. I seem to remember the writers of TNG having tremendous difficulty with this problem.

Now, I'm going to answer your question but with a twist:

DS9. Over all of them.

Yes there was a massive fucking war. But What you saw was all the positive aspects of war: like unity, loyalty and whatnot and the fight for peace. When the war wasn't on we saw what you'd usually see in ST - exploration, first contacts, even mining and colonizing. To me DS9 gave us the image of what heights any being in the galaxy can reach, human or not. Conflict is unavoidable. But there is always, as you put it the "optimistic roots".

I completely agree with the statement that the Abrams movies' are just Hollywood blockbusters. I sum them up as great movies just not great Star Trek movies.

I don't think I've made my argument. I have a feeling I'm going to remember something the second I click publish. But here goes...