A good swath of the geek part of the internet is lit up with fury about Star Trek Into Darkness. It’s manifested on the familiar nerd hubs like Wired, Ars, and io9, especially io9, which is downright incandescent with rage about the movie’s choice of villain. Numerous calls have been made for the heads of J.J. Abrams and his crew on platters, to soothe the angry Gods of Trek, while fans of the franchise are busy offering ideas for what would’ve made the movie better, which, surprise surprise, involve following the canon of the original series and the spin-offs. But this was a given when you consider the source material and the fan base. You can’t reboot a franchise simply by continuing the story arcs already decades in the making, you can’t make an exciting movie that focuses on tedious exopolitical negotiations in the neutral zone, and you will ruffle some feathers when you try to boldly go (or go at all) where the franchise has never gone before.
For example, one of the big complaints about Abrams’ vision of Star Trek is the militarization of the Federation’s fleet. But here’s the thing. It’s a fleet of spaceships that might face adversarial life forms (like the Romulans and Klingons), the ships are armed with lasers and missiles, and a botched first encounter can turn a peaceful delegation of explorers into a military incursion. So it’s kind of hard to blame Abrams for seeing the potential of the Federation to wage war, and in dire circumstances, use ships that were once meant to explore the galaxy for force projection, as the Enterprise is used in Into Darkness. And of course there’s the commercial consideration. A sci-fi movie sells best when there’s war involved because that makes a good popcorn flick that’s going to attract big crowds. People generally struggle with peaceful meditations on life from all those little green men, and often don’t try to apply it back to the world they inhabit.
Yes, I know, Star Trek was supposed to rise above these commercial considerations but today, sci-fi is a hard sell. For studios, it’s either popcorn munching military science fiction or another rom-com because they’re a business and movies are expensive to make, especially those which require lots and lots of special effects. If you’re a die-hard Trekkie, you’re going to have to make some concessions to people who live outside your bubble and really couldn’t care about all the intricate stories to which you dedicated countless hours. Who knows, they might like the idea so much, they go back and rediscover what you saw in the source material. But if you’re going for mass audiences, something has to give and compromises have to be made. And here is where we run into the biggest complaint of them all, that Abrams was recycling deep material from the original rather than creating something completely new out of it. Unfortunately, this is an area in which every reboot director is facing a lose-lose proposition by the nature of the project.
Had Into Darkness essentially been an updated Wrath of Khan, Abrams would’ve been pilloried for simply giving the classic a coat of fresh paint, just like io9 was savaging him for using classic material and inverting it, with the writer sounding nearly apoplectic with fan rage. If the movie’s plot resembled nothing ever seen or done on Star Trek, the Trekkies would’ve been infuriated that they got their Star Trek without anything that made it like Star Trek, asking why Abrams did not make and references to the original and just borrowed the names, ships, and logos to make something completely different under the same brand name. That’s the nature of a reboot. You won’t be able to please the fans either way unless you simply continue where the last episode of their franchise left off without missing a beat, and that sort of defeats the whole idea of a reboot in the first place. Into Darkness was a fun movie, it had its moments, and it was technically very, very well executed for what it was supposed to be. And at least it has people interested in sci-fi, which is more than we could say for many past and upcoming sci-fi flicks…