Getting Philosophical

Written by Dan

Published May 17, 2013

I’m slowly trying to get a sense of my conflicted feelings about Star Trek Into Darkness. I definitely enjoyed watching the movie, but I’m still not sure if I think it was a good movie or not. I want to like it, but I’m very leery of this trend of turning Star Trek into an action franchise.

In the mean time, I think that my uncertainty is made worse by this gem of a quote (he wrote sarcastically) from J.J. Abrams in an interview earlier this week:

I never liked Star Trek as a kid. My friends loved it, and I would, like, try, and I would watch episodes. It always felt too... philosophical for me.

I couldn’t help but exclaim to an empty room, “Are you out of your goddamn mind?!” I had to stop and rewind the video to make sure I’d heard that right. I’m so glad I missed seeing this clip before I saw Into Darkness, because it definitely would have colored my reactions to the film. Even so, this quote has started to epitomize the problems I see in the entire reboot series.

The entire point of Star Trek is its philosophy. Gene Roddenberry’s goal was to tell stories about contemporary society by couching them in terms of a fantastic future. If you just wanted to watch exciting stories in a futuristic setting, you watched Lost in Space. If you want to see stuff blowing up in an absolute good-versus-evil contest, you watched Star Wars.

Star Trek may have been “just” a television show, but it strove to be more than that: it wanted to show that the problems of the present could be overcome, that the things that we think divide us can instead unite us, and that the things which are unknown or different should not be feared. Classic episodes like “A Taste of Armageddon,” “A Private Little War,” and “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” were compelling precisely because they lacked nonstop action, yet presented a futuristic but recognizable interpretation of modern and important issues which seemed impossibly huge.

As I already discussed a few weeks ago, making a successful summer blockbuster movie is very different from making a successful television series. Previous Star Trek films—even the most popular and best-selling ones—were generally less action-oriented. Maybe that’s the reason the 2009 movie was so fantastically successful by comparison. But given a choice between being popular or being intelligent, I’d choose intelligent any day. (...Oh, the classic choice of any geeky Trekkie while growing up, right?)

It's becoming clear that Abrams doesn't really understand what made Star Trek a great series in the first place. While he was looking only at the explosions and cool ships (and honestly, we all love those aspects!), the very “philosophical” aspects he’s dismissing are what made the series special. In which case, it seems that Abrams is in the process of reviving the Star Trek franchise by destroying its identity.

My only hope and consolation in all of this is that the popularity of these movies will bring renewed interest into the previous series, where new fans will discover the fascinating stories that are both exciting and insightful at the same time.