Monday, December 15, 2014

Ask JKM a Question: J.J. Trek Haters?

A regular reader, Jason, writes:

“There are a lot of Star Trek fans who seem to hate the JJ Abrams reboot series. From your blog, I can tell you enjoy these movies (as do I).  

What are your thoughts on the haters?

That’s a great question, Jason.  It is also, no doubt, a controversial topic.

First, I would stress for the record that there is a galactic-barrier sized difference between people who possess aesthetic concerns or reservations about the new Star Trek movies and those whom we can accurately categorize as haters.  

Unfortunately, the manner in which some folks generally debate films on the Internet reduces the distance between poles. People who may not intend to be "haters" can come off that way in a brief comments section response that lacks...nuance.

Vis-a-vis Star Trek, I enjoy and admire the Abrams Trek movies very much, though not without reservations and caveats. 

In general, I feel they are entertaining, dramatically valid modern translations of the core Star Trek principles and characters for a time period in which genre film is an homogenized format and must therefore appeal to the widest possible demographic base.  

In other words, these films are about as good as we can hope to get given our current historical context. And given what they could be (see: The Transformers, Wrath of the Titans, Snow White and the Huntsman or Thor: The Dark World), they are pretty damned good.

A parallel: to get Star Trek sold to a network in the 1960s, Gene Roddenberry had to go heavy into action for the second pilot, "Where No Man Has Gone Before," replete with fist-fights and crackling lightning beams, as well as a rather obvious, easily digestible message: "Absolute power corrupts absolutely."  

Star Trek, at that juncture, had to be a slightly re-contextualized cowboy story, or it would have been...nothing. 

I still get a kick out of "Where No Man Has Gone Before." It's an exciting, emotional episode, and it works efficiently, from start to finish, even if it isn't nearly as "cerebral" as "The Cage," the first pilot. 

And obviously Star Trek grew well beyond the Wagon Train to the Stars "cowboy" handle, and delivered some of the finest science fiction storytelling that television ever saw. The TV format allowed the concept to breathe, grow, and even have room to fail.

In this day and age, the blockbuster feature film venue is a much less forgiving world, however. You get one shot every three years, and your film must win the opening weekend, or it is a failure. Directors generally know by Friday night if their film is going to be a hit or a bomb. There is no wiggle room, and rarely a second chance.

Rightly or wrongly, modern audiences demand expensive special effects and action (and IMAX, and 3-D...) from blockbuster franchises, but to afford those things, you need an astronomical budget.

And if you have an astronomical budget, you need to bring more folks into the theater.

And to bring more folks into the theater, you have to cut off some of the more daring edges and make a franchise like Star Trek more widely appealing, and less "niche."

Talk about your no-win scenario.

Just compare budgets. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) cost about thirty-five million dollars twenty-five years ago. That's a hill that can be climbed.

Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013) cost 185 million dollars, not counting marketing.

There aren't enough Star Trek fans alone to make a film of that budget profitable.

So again, the franchise goes back to "Where No Man Has Gone Before" territory, dealing with broader storytelling and messaging, in a sense, than a generation of fans -- weaned on the kind of boutique, individual storytelling of The Next Gen, DS9, Voyager and Enterprise -- would prefer.

So the first thing to understand is that the J.J. Abrams Trek films are representative of this time period in film history, and the art form they are bound to.

And yet that's not an apology for them. They are good, solid films.

Furthermore, I can't understand how anyone can insist, straight-faced, that these movies are somehow inadequate representations of the Star Trek philosophy or mythos compared to efforts such as Nemesis (2002), Insurrection (1998), or even Generations (1994).

Star Trek, especially in the Next Gen era, boasts a spotty history so far as movie quality is concerned.  Here are some highlights to jog the memory.

And the box office returns tell us the same story. Nemesis earned less than a forgettable Jennifer Lopez rom-com in its first weekend of release. Yes it had tough competition, as well, from A-list franchises like 007 (Die Another Day) and The Lord of The Rings.

And so a lesson was learned. To continue as a flagship movie franchise, Star Trek needed to be resurrected in a way that fans of those other franchises would appreciate, and embrace.

As a Star Trek fan do I find that approach galling?


Star Trek has been a remarkable and valuable experience in my life since I was old enough to walk. I would like it to survive to the next generation -- to my son's generation -- and that means that, at some point, kids are going to have to be intrigued and fascinated by it again.

They need an entrance point, and believe me, Nemesis isn't it. Picard, Worf and Data singing Gilbert and Sullivan in Insurrection isn't it.

The Abrams movies succeed at making Star Trek something it hasn't been since around 1996: visually-appealing, exciting as hell, and yes, sexy.

Would I prefer that our society value a highly-intelligent, cerebral sci-fi movie franchise over these surface values?

Yes, of course.

But this is where logic and history again play a role. After 1996, the Star Trek movies weren't really that, either, as the clips featured above abundantly reveal.

I've written about it before, but during the late 1990s-early 2000s Star Trek movies were pretty much the same story told again and again. Evil villain wants revenge against the Federation/Earth using a weapon of mass destruction to get it. Enterprise intervenes. Meanwhile, the crew looks increasingly overweight and haggard, and cracks inside jokes that only Trekkies understand or think are funny.

So it's not as though the J.J. Abrams two Trek movies are in direct competition with great, high-minded, cerebral, recent Treks.  Rather, they're competing with a movie franchise in serious decline. And...they saved Star Trek, at least in the blockbuster movie format.

That's the history. Those were Star Trek's problems (as a movie series)  as J.J. took the center seat.

Now my thoughts on haters -- of anything, not just J.J. Trek -- is that they are always going to do what haters do: spread hate.

Haters, by definition, are folks who do not respond or adjust to context, facts, reason, logic, or any other reasonable avenue of debate. Instead, they cling blindly to their hostile viewpoints.  

All the context I laid out above is a drop in the bucket to them. I can write 2500 even-handed words about this topic, with multiple debate points and arguments, and they can respond in a comment below simply by saying "too much lens flare!!!" Or "Abrams sucks!" 

Or more likely: "you suck, and you're an idiot. I want Jonathan Frakes to direct an Enterprise movie!!"

So to expect reason from a sub-set known as "haters" is not, as Mr. Spock would notify us, "logical."

On the other hand, people of good motives and real intelligence can and will disagree on things, for certain, and can share a reasonable debate about movies or TV shows. That's part of the fun.

These non-hater-y folks can be civil, and cede ground, or be civil and take ground. 

They can leave a debate without being nasty or disagreeable, even if they disagree with what was written.

But yes, certainly, a very vocal segment of fans on the Net qualifies as “Haters” (under the definition I wrote above) when it comes to the new Trek movies. 

They do not respond rationally to what they call NuTrek, and their responses are not temperate.

There are reasons for this widely-seen hate.

The first is, frankly, elitism.

It is always fashionable, for some reason, to hate that which is popular, or new and current..  

It’s the “I can’t be part of any club that would have me as a member” syndrome that Woody Allen enunciated in Annie Hall (1977).

These haters distinguish themselves by liking older, less popular iterations of Trek, but not the new ones which are, indeed, rather popular with the general audiences (and, in fact, with the vast majority of movie critics).

The m.o. of this hater is to say. Oh yes, I absolutely adore Enterprise (2001 – 2005)…but Into Darkness is pure dreck! 

This elitism has a sub-set too: Cranky Old Person Syndrome. 

Folks who suffer from this condition just can’t bring themselves to praise something new, something that doesn’t have the blush of nostalgia attached to it. 

To them, something produced in the past is always, no matter what, better than what is produced now. I encounter this COPS (Cranky Old Person Syndrome) in every facet of fandom -- not just Star Trek.  I see it in horror film fandom as well, and -- of course -- Doctor Who. 

On a personal note, I battle COPS, myself, all the time. Honestly, I believe that anyone of a certain age (35 up?) understands this daily internal combat. It’s a constant fight not to become brittle. 

But I don’t want to become a curmudgeonly bastard, because then I’m no longer open to new stimuli. If I succumb to such closed-mindedness, I will simply watch what I know I already like, and my horizons will become narrower and I will become more rigid.

And then I will shrivel up and die. 

And if I ever let that happen to me, I should shrivel up and die. (Which is no doubt what the NuTrek haters will recommend, after reading this essay.)

This doesn't mean you have to watch everything that comes out or, by any means, like everything that comes out.  But it means you should go into every movie you watch with an open mind. 

But a lot of haters won't afford a movie that leeway or grace. They dwell in rigid, ideologically-closed bubbles, and don't have the self-awareness to recognize how closed off and ugly they come off when defending "their" productions (a surrogate for their personal experience and childhood, essentially), and deriding the "interloper," the project that must measure up to their subjective, internal rose-colored memories of the "historical" franchise.

I think it may help, at this juncture, to look at some of the hater-ish responses to Into Darkness and really consider the ideas underlining them.

Oh, and please notice I didn’t write “all negative criticisms” of the movie. I’m writing about the hater stuff here, not legitimate criticism. 

Here's #1, and it deals with not just elitism, but hypocrisy too.

It goes: By using Khan’s blood to save Captain Kirk’s life, the writers of Into Darkness have eliminated death from all future Star Trek productions! That’s just sloppy writing. How could they do something so stupid! That never would have happened on MY Star Trek.

But of course, it did.

For instance, take the episode “The Changeling” in 1967.There, the probe Nomad killed Scotty outright, and erased Uhura’s memory. But then Nomad brought Scotty back to life, and Uhura was re-trained in sick bay by Doctor McCoy so that by the start of the next episode, she not only had her identity back, but all of her years of Starfleet training as well.

Using the logic of the hater, why not have Starfleet engineers construct a bunch of Nomads, and order those drones to bring people back from the dead every single week? 

Long before Into Darkness did it, “The Changeling” erased death from Star Trek. Who even needs Dr. McCoy if you have a Nomad hovering about?

Note too, that “The Changeling” is not actually considered a particularly weak episode by most fans, even though it absolutely gives the Star Trek universe a remedy for death going forward.

"The Changeling" "damages" the universe in another way too. 

Starfleet Academy is also apparently really bloated and wasteful: McCoy teaches Uhura everything she needs to know to function capably as a starship bridge officer between two episodes in the second season. Therefore, this episode also negates the necessity for a four year stint at the Academy, thereby knocking down another pillar of the franchise. 

Do I believe this?  Of course not.  "The Changeling" is a good episode. I have very little problem with it.

My larger point is, simply, that Star Trek: Into Darkness is not alone in devising a big character death and then a last minute resurrection.  

It happened in TNG too. Picard beamed out into deep space, possessed by an alien, in "Lonely Among Us." The Enterprise used his last known transporter pattern, stored in the device, to resurrect him, essentially. Thus, each time someone dies on an away mission, why not just restore the data from the transporter pattern back-up?

Was this the point of "The Changeling?" Or "Lonely Among Us?" Or Into Darkness? Of course not. 

So let's be intellectually honest here, and stop pretending that Abrams and Orci first opened up this huge can of worms that somehow imperils the internal future of Star Trek.

Here's another example from Star Trek history of death being impermanent because of a last minute gimmick.

Please, tell me how often Vulcan souls or “katras” were discussed in the Original Series. 

I’ll provide the factually-correct answer: Precisely zero times.  

Spock was near death many, many times (“The Galileo Seven,” “The Immunity Syndrome,” “Operation Annihilate,” and more) but the topic, for some reason, never came up.

Yet Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) was all about reuniting the living Vulcan soul (katra) with Spock’s resurrected body, just the thing that could save our favorite science officer. 

After roughly 80 hours of drama (plus the animated series), who knew that Vulcans had a removable, transferable soul? 

Yet Star Trek III -- a movie that I admire, and which is stronger than critics claim -- absolutely treated the katra as established fact, and fans embraced it as such. 

They did so, largely, because they had that nostalgic bond for the Original Cast, and wanted to see the crew back together again.

So what we can detect here in regards to Star Trek: Into Darkness is, again, elitism.

As these examples suggest, fans who irrationally “hate” the new Star Trek are unwilling to grant it the same creative leeway that they grant productions they grew up with. 

Instead, they hold back their approval and vocally, relentlessly criticize the film when, in point of fact, Star Trek has told stories with gaping plot holes since almost the very beginning (“The Changeling.”)


The second “hater” argument that I have read far too many times is that Into Darkness abandons Star Trek’s history and tradition by not boasting a social conscience, or including social commentary.

This is the kind of "false benchmark" hater test.  

Into Darkness can't be legitimate Star Trek because it is just dumb action and doesn't mean anything important.  

This argument is especially appealing because J.J. Abrams' is known for preferring Star Wars and not really "understanding" (or liking) Star Trek.  Here the hater gets to feel smug superiority. Oh, well J.J. doesn't understand Star Trek.  Not the way I do!

Again, the facts don't bear out this interpretation.

Star Trek: Into Darkness is very much about the way that societies in “fear” respond irrationally to enemies and threats, sacrificing freedom and liberty for the illusion of security. 

To wit, Kirk becomes so obsessed with catching the man who killed Captain Pike, his mentor, that he is willing to ignore Starfleet regulations and Federation law. He takes aboard illegal cargo, and plans an invasion of sovereign territory to catch a criminal.

Fortunately, Mr. Spock reels him back, and the movie notes in its final narration that we can’t respond to terror with only mindless vengeance, or our value system means nothing. If we succumb to fear, we lower ourselves to the level of our enemy.

And yes, this is a rough -- but clear -- analogy for America in the War on Terror Age.

You can read more about this allegory in my review of the film, here.

Now, please, inform me, what specifically of Gene Roddenberry’s vision or social commentary is present in Generations?  Or Nemesis?  Or First Contact, for that matter? 

Picard absolutely learns personal lessons in those films (not to long for the life he can’t have, not to forget that all people have the capacity for evil, and that there is no profit in revenge, respectively).  

I’m not talking about that, however. I’m discussing ideas that have a pro-social currency in the larger national dialogue.  That is a core precept of Star Trek, and you can't find it in the Next Gen movies.

Rather plainly -- like or hate the message itself -- Star Trek Into Darkness is the first Star Trek movie, quite possibly, since the Glasnost entry The Undiscovered Country (1991) to carry a relevant societal message. 

It might therefore be considered, rightly, a restoration of Gene Roddenberry’s vision, not an abandonment of it.


A third“hater” argument is a familiar one.  It goes, simply: Rip-off!!! 

You know this one too. Star Trek Into Darkness rips-off the ending The Wrath of Khanand is therefore unoriginal, and a hack-job. After establishing this, the film can be dismissed as not being "real" Star Trek.  There are no new ideas in it!

I probably shouldn't point it out, but Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) -- a brilliant and thoughtful film, I feel -- re-uses a lot of material from "The Doomsday Machine," "The Immunity Syndrome" and "The Changeling," even down to the name Decker. Does this fact make the film devoid of original ideas, or a rip-off or hack job?

Of course not.

And similarly, the haters have not recognized in Into Darkness the artistic and character point behind the similar circumstances in the two films. I touched on this in my review of the film as well, but it’s important to repeat. 

In every alternate universe, the Enterprise crew teams up.  The universe is such that it must do so.

And in every universe, when Khan is encountered by the crew he is only defeated by the sacrifice of one of the team members in accordance with the philosophy that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one. 

In the prime universe, Spock dies to save the ship. In the alternate universe, Kirk dies to save the Enterprise. 

Rather than dumbly ripping-off Wrath of Khan, this plot point is a sort of crack’d mirror that reveals to us the depth of the Kirk and Spock friendship and their individual sense of loyalty, no matter the circumstances.

Therefore Into Darkness actually deepens our understanding of Wrath of Khan because we are asked to step back and look at these common personalities and events -- Kirk, Khan, and Spock -- and see their true essence, no matter the specifics of the challenge or circumstance.  

Kirk and Spock’s characteristics then, become truly universal, or perhaps, trans-universal.

Even if Vulcan is destroyed, even if Kirk has no father, he and Spock will become the people the universe needs them to be, perhaps because of the strength they draw from one another.

This idea is not without precedence, either, in Star Trek. In "Mirror, Mirror," Kirk sees changes in the Empire by "reading his Spocks" right, to paraphrase. In other words, Spock is a man of honor in every dimension or reality. Into Darkness's crack'd mirror structure and perspective reveals the same point. Kirk and Spock will always be friends, and always be heroes -- to the point of self-sacrifice -- no matter what "facts" change in the universe.

What I’m saying here is that Into Darkness boasts an artistic purpose in featuring a climax that is similar (though inverted) to The Wrath of Khan. 

Again, one may not like that artistic purpose, or one may even feel it is dumb as can be, but one can’t deny it exists, and say that the movie just “rips off” The Wrath of Khan, and have that statement be true. Any more than it is true that The Motion Picture "rips off" "The Doomsday Machine."

On the contrary, the crack’d mirror ending comments meaningfully on what happened in The Wrath of Khan, and says that those events -- particularly the sacrifice of a beloved character -- are representative qualities of these particular Starfleet officers.

Haters are simply not willing to engage that deeply with the film, or extrapolate what it means that two similar events happen in two universes when the same three characters (Kirk, Spock, and Khan) meet up.  


This will be my last example because I don't like giving these hater arguments any more air-supply on this blog, a place that, I hope, tends to be a place for a positive exploration of genre film and television. 

But haters have blinders regarding plot holes, or the movie's lack of scientific accuracy (in relation to Spock's volcano cold fusion).

Oddly, scientific accuracy or consistency didn't seem to bother these Star Trek fans in the past.

The Reliant actually went to the wrong planet in The Wrath of Khan, and neither the ship’s computer nor the science officer realized it before running into Khan. Orbits had shifted, one planet was missing, but not one highly trained Starfleet officer figured it out before the captain and first officer beamed down into life-threatening danger.

I think most of us agree, The Wrath of Khan is the greatest Star Trek movie yet made, even though it is premised on such a sloppy conceit.

And in First Contact, the Enterprise traveled from the Romulan Neutral Zone to Earth in time to join a battle against the Borg already in progress. (And remember, we saw in "The Best of Both Worlds" how quickly a Cube could take down the defenses of Sector 001.)

So I suppose Picard ignored the warp speed limit again and went to Warp 500 to get there in time? 

Once more, First Contact is the best Next Gen movie, by a mile And yet it too is the product of sloppy plotting and questionable science in places.

What seems plain is that Into Darkness boasts exactly the same sort of flaws in logic and narrative and science that these other productions do. Yet it is widely pilloried for possessing them, whereas "old" Trek gets an absolute pass, and sometimes even veneration.  

Once more, let's call out the elitism of the hater.

To re-state: haters give the movies they like and grew up with the benefit of the doubt, and overlook their (sometimes substantial...) problems

In a new production -- one that isn’t slathered in the warm golden light of nostalgia -- every problem is magnified and talked about again and again, whether it actually exists or not. That problem then becomes a meme which is mindlessly repeated.

These voices are aided and abetted, and granted a certain air of legitimacy by a pervasive YouTube culture of nitpickers that cantankerously dissects each and every detail of movies.

That's fine, it's the bread-and-butter of a lot of people. 

I am not exempt from dissecting films which are poorly constructed, or inconsistent. Indeed, it's part of a critic's job description to think analytically. 

Yet in many cases -- and this is crucial -- all sense of proportionality has been lost, and haters use rampant negativity and sarcasm to attack art and artists. 

All that energy could be better used to instead to gaze at the artistic purpose of a film and see how all the pieces fit together, or almost fit together.

Instead, the supposed fact that Into Darkness is "bad" is now the starting point of virtually every article written about the franchise circa 2014. Even though they are intellectually dishonest, the haters have drowned out reasonable voices in the debate.  Not because they are right.  But because they are loud.  And relentless.

Certainly, we've seen this with Prometheus (2012), The X-Files: I Want to Believe (2008), and the visceral attacks on the Star Wars prequels as well. There seems a to be a certain level of glee in the modern fan culture pronouncing yourself "smarter" than a work of art, rather than attempting to study what the film has to say, and how well it makes its case. Or perhaps, even describing, with facts and reason, why the film in question falls apart.

As I noted above, haters don't understand proportionality, and that is why, in the final analysis, I have such trouble with them. It's a binary world in which they dwell: love or hate. Praise or tear down. Life is much messier than that, and so are movies, actually. Even a bad movie may feature remarkable ideas, or good execution in spots.

To which I might add: only a Sith trades in absolutes.

Sorry, I mixed my franchises there.

Are the new Star Trek movies perfect? Absolutely not. No way.  Are they sloppy at times? Yep.

But I’ll let you in on a little secret: The old Star Trek movies aren’t perfect either. And an honest accounting of them would tell you that several -- and I mean several -- verge on terrible.  

Just imagine, for a moment what fans would have said if J.J. Abrams had put his Enterprise crew in a dune buggy with rubber tires/wheels. Or had them roast marshmallows and wear denim jeans on shore leave. Or had Spock get a zit.

Cue the torches, folks. We're running that fucker out of town!

The best Star Trek films -- Abrams entries included -- are entertaining works of art and ones, at their best, that try to appeal to the greatest angels of our human nature. They tell us something about ourselves, and the human potential to grow. Star Trek Into Darkness fits proudly into that tradition.

Personally, I feel that Star Trek works best as a TV series, for many reasons. There is less pressure involved, for one thing. An artist can be brave enough to be ambitious, and risk failure, because there's always another episode, another opportunity to deliver.  I would prefer Star Trek to exist as a TV series, because the franchise can go deep and probe into more mature storytelling, like Mad Men, or Walking Dead, or Sons of Anarchy.  It can return to the form where it once excelled in the 1960s and in the 1990s.

But if Star Trek is to exist as a blockbuster movie franchise then this kind of experimentation isn't going to happen, and to demand otherwise is mere fantasy-land considering the money the studio lays out.  

The movies are never going to become "Metamorphosis" or "The Inner Light," as much as I love and cherish and re-watch those stories. They are always going to be, instead, "Where No Man Has Gone Before" (or, to pick another example, "Space Seed.") 

Lot of action, lots of color, and -- if we are fortunate enough -- a light (but recognizable) commentary on who we are as a people. 

The haters might, reasonably, adjust their expectations and realize what kind of art form they are watching, and what the demands and parameters of that art form truly are circa 2014-2015. 

Occasionally Hollywood blockbuster movie-making really works, and the system extrudes a Wrath of Khan or An Undiscovered Country.  Yay!

But sometimes it spills out a Nemesis.

Into Darkness is much closer to the former examples than the latter one.  

So, Jason, when I consider the haters, I am reminded of James Cameron’s The Abyss (1989), and this line of dialogue.

He sees hate and fear. You have to look with better eyes than that.”

There are many positives to see in the J.J. Treks, but the haters have to see with better eyes. 

Using the same eyes they apply to every other Star Trek movie would be a good start to improving their vision.

Don't forget to e-mail me your questions at


  1. John I must compliment you on successfully explaining the current state of the J.J. Abrams STAR TREK franchise which I like for the very reasons you state here. Like you John, I have been a fan since I was a very young boy in the '70s watching both reruns of TOS and new TAS on Saturday mornings.

    I absolutely love these thoughts from you John:
    "...They need an entrance point, and believe me, Nemesis isn't it Picard, Worf and Data singing Gilbert and Sullivan in Insurrection isn't it.
    The Abrams movies succeed at making Star Trek something it hasn't been since around 1996: visually-appealing, exciting as hell, and yes, sexy.
    ... Occasionally Hollywood blockbuster movie-making really works, and the system extrudes a Wrath of Khan or An Undiscovered Country. Yay!
    But sometimes it spills out a Nemesis.
    Into Darkness is much closer to the former examples than the latter one."

    Simply brilliant John excellent posting today, well said.


    1. Thank you, SGB, for your comment, and your support. They are very much appreciated. Jason asked me this question some time ago, and I needed time to think it all through. But the haters are on really shaky ground, and if nothing else, I hope this post can serve as something of a counter-balance to the rampant hater-ism.

  2. I'm guess I must be a hater (Cranky Old Person subset), because I just don't think the Abrams remakes capture the spirit, themes, or characters of the original Star Trek we grew up with (and I mean TOS, not The Next Gen or the later spin-offs). I agree the earlier films had serious problems as well -- as far as I'm concerned, the movie series probably should've been done at the end of The Voyage Home -- and I do see the logic of your arguments, but in the end... the Abrams films just leave me cold. On a visceral level, I simply do not like them. They feel more like impressions of Star Trek than the real thing, if that makes sense.

    Not to be argumentative. I agree with your opinions more often than I don't, and I respect your critical skills even when we're not in agreement. But on this one... yeah, I just don't see it.

    1. Jason:

      You are reasonable, and you have a different opinion. That doesn't make you a hater. You wouldn't have written here in such civil, thoughtful terms if you were!

      I appreciate your words about my critical skills, and I don't consider you argumentative in the slightest. People can have different opinions about things and still talk civilly about the issue being debated.

      For me, the Abrams movies capture the sense of adventure and pace that the original Star Trek TV show had. I wish, sometimes, the films were a bit more logical in storytelling, for sure, but I think they are big improvements over the Next Gen movie era, and closer than anything we have had (probably since 1996) to capturing the essence of Star Trek at the movies.

      Warmest regards,

  3. Really great post here John. I absolutely agree with you on this one. These new films aren't perfect but as you pointed out, the old ones aren't either. The other element you pointed out is that these movies are fun again! That was something that had vanished from the movie franchise after "Undiscovered Country" at least in my opinion. Part of it was the new cast, but it was also the attempts at humor over just having a solid rip roaring space adventure. The next gen films seemed to get mired in details for long time fans, poorly executed humor and redundant plots. The film franchise was stale, and Abrams injected life back into it. Star Trek is fun again, and that is something I'm happy to see.

    1. Roman,

      We see this in very much similar terms, I think. The original Star Trek had a sense of fun and a (light) sense of social responsibility that the later films wholly lack. Certainly, the Abrams movies have restored this element of the franchise quite well. I can't for the life of me figure out why fans are so against these films. They did something criminal: they made Star Trek entertaining again to people who aren't die-hard fans. Great comment!

  4. Howdy John and once again thank you for an insightful post. I guess I'm in a third camp regarding the J.J. Abrams Star Trek movies. You see I am a huge fan of Abram's first Star Trek movie but can't stand his second one.

    J.J. Abrams is one of my favorite directors, so I'm writing this as a fan of his work. I don't agree with the defense that since the previous Star Trek movies/shows had all kinds of problems J.J. Abrams somehow gets a pass. I don't see how the fact that Nemesis, Insurrection, The Final Frontier (or whatever) was a stinker gives J.J. Abrams cover.

    I think the first Abrams' movie did pretty much everything right in that it had to be fun, bold, exciting and respectful of the original and I think it succeeded on all those fronts. That is not to say that movie doesn't have issues, as it does. A lot of great movies have issues (Star Trek 2 has plot holes), but the key is does the whole exceed the sum of its parts. I think the 1st Abrams' Trek movie does that. It has great reinterpretations of the beloved characters of the original without forgetting what made them special in the first place. I think the opening of the film is one of the best opening scenes for a science fiction movie. The humor, action, drama and pacing is excellent. I love the alternative timeline "trick" which allowed for respect (and reverence) of the original while giving the reboot the freedom to pursue new avenues.

    I also love how he handled Kirk. Young Kirk was the willful and spirited and we saw how he was able to learn to control that aspect of himself and use it as a source of great strength. Most of the other characters in the reboot pretty much started out as we always knew them, but Kirk matured and grew over the course of the first movie.

    For me, the second movie has so many issues that for me it ultimately fails.

    In Star Trek: Into Darkness, many of the characters get screwed up (and not due to the plot). For example, Kirk completely retrogrades in this movie. Kirk in the second movie is less mature, less in control, and has less leadership skills or credibility than in the first movie. (The first scene is Kirk STEALING an artifact from an alien culture. WTF!) It just felt like Abrams' completely forgot Kirk's arc from the first movie and basically just (tried) to give us that arc ALL OVER AGAIN in the second movie.

    And Kirk wasn't the only causality in my opinion (in fact, I think they all suffer). Uhuru, who was portrayed as a strong, independent, intelligent woman in the first movie, is reduced to a whiny shrew who just wants to talk about how Spock isn't giving her enough attention. Remember the elevator scene in Star Trek where she is trying to console Spock? Remember the power of that scene because she understands that Spock may not be able to process what happened but she is both respectful and empathetic?

    In addition to that, the whole plot really feels like a rehash of the first movie. Star Trek – Badguy is in a big ass black ship that threatens Earth. Star Trek: Into Darkness – Badguy is in a big ass black ship that threatens Earth.

    So, we have the Kirk having his arc recycled, other characters undermined, the main plot from the first movie recycled, set pieces and scenes from the older movies reused, a storyline that doesn’t make any sense (I keep trying to picture how Khan was able to remove the warheads from those super missiles and replace them with his entire crew and NOBODY NOTICES THIS) and I could go on and on. The entire movie felt stale and lazy and not well thought out.

    In Star Trek Abrams successfully rebooted the franchise with a fun and entertaining movie and opened up an entire new universe of possibilities, but in Into Darkness what he (and the screenwriters) choose to do instead is basically go over ground covered by Wrath of Khan and Star Trek and ended up doing it poorly. I think Star Trek: Into Darkness is Abrams' weakest movie by far and not up to the standards of his previous works.

    1. Hi Bruce,

      Thank you for such a thoughtful comment on this topic! I agree that the Abrams films aren't automatically good just because they make the same mistakes as older iterations of Star Trek.

      My point, I suppose, is that those efforts (including First Contact and Wrath of Khan) are given some fair amount of "grace" or "leeway" by fans; a leeway not generally extended to Abrams.

      The haters act like Into Darkness totally blew up the Trek universe in terms of internal logic, and yet, as I hope I pointed out, that ship sailed long before Abrams entered the picture. There are grounds upon which to criticize the movie, but the points that I note (1 through 4) are generally not fair, but rather hypocritical, considering the franchise's history.

      I don't feel that you could possibly fall under the "hater" category as you spell out, quite ably, the reasons you liked the first film, and your concerns with the second film.

      I am persuaded -- or at least given to pause and further consideration -- about your argument concerning Uhura, especially. I can see your point there quite clearly, and yes, it is a deficit of the film that she is made to be a "mad" girlfriend instead of the brilliant, competent bridge officer we all love.

      We disagree a bit about the plot-line and the perceive covering of ground already tread in Wrath of Khan. Into Darkness is sort of an alternate-universe mirror crack'd version of Wrath of Khan, and in a way, that's what these new movies are designed to be. They are both fresh adventures with a new and highly likable cast, and a revisit of the franchise's early days, but with enough surprises to keep us guessing. I felt that Into Darkness, in addition to having a social message, more often succeeded in this task than failed. This is where you and I have different internal barometers. What worked for me didn't necessarily work for you. That's okay, though. We're not zinging spit-balls at each other! :)

      The Kirk issue is interesting. And I wonder, a little, if fan response to the first film is actually responsible for the sense that some ground is being repeated here. A lot of folks complained about Kirk going right to the command chair from Starfleet Academy (without even graduating), and Into Darkness feels as though it is trying to take that issue into consideration. Kirk may be cocky and bold, but he still doesn't understand, truly, the responsibility of the center seat. It may be a bit of a rehash, in one sense, but I think the character needed to be "checked" after the first film, or he would have been insufferable, and worse, unbelievable as a real human being. He can't just stack up incredible "wins" one after the other. We have to feel his process of growth is two steps forward, one step back. That is very human, and very Star Trekkish in my opinion. This aspect of the film didn't bother me because, in life, it often takes us more than one time to get a particular message, or learn a particular lesson. Kirk is a human being, and his process -- lurching towards maturity -- should have some setbacks.

      Brilliant comment, and I am still thinking on everything you wrote here.


  5. The Devil and Mr. Muir

    Dear sir, you are in top form with this posting. Even though I have not, with the exception of AbramsTrekOne, seen a Trek flick past number 6, and being someone who who digs and appreciates the biz of film and television, I agree with your thesis and the many points contained within.

    Paramount made the right choice in going back to the characters and time of Star Trek (the original). The "Next Gen" movies held no interest for the general movie-going public -- with the possible exception of First Contact. What Abrams did was "get creative" with the trust placed on him by the studio to get the general public into the movie theatres to see a Trek flick. With the exception of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, AbramsTrekOne is the biggest grossing film of the franchise. (Adjusting for inflation, of course.) Abrams accomplished what was expected of him -- bullet point: * Increase admissions.

    "This" is a business, as I've pointed out on my own blog ( more than once, so the man-for-hire did his job; he also, in my opinion, made an entertaining film... even if I could pick on This & That contained within the flick's running time.

    Final point: You are correct, Mr. Muir, when you say that an episode with a beautiful and intimate story like "Metamorphosis" would not be for the big screen, as unfortunate as that may be. There is far too much emphasis put on the Big Story... as small as those stories often end up being; ironically enough. There is such thing as scaling a budget to a story; it's just that there is so much pressure to make a (potential) tent-pole movie.

    Again, sir, you wrote a fine piece. 'We' reach....

    Trivia: Star Trek: The Motion Picture is now my favourite of the Trek feature films, even if it has to fight off The Voyage Home at times.

    1. Hi Barry,

      I love your post title "The Devil and Mr. Muir!" Oh no! :)

      I very much agree with the substance of your post, my friend. J.J. Abrams did what was expected of him: he made an entertaining blockbuster that would draw in more than just Star trek fans. There are things to complain about vis-a-vis his film (2009), for sure. But overall, he made Trek exciting and "open" again, so that people could like it without keeping a score card of who Cardiassians happened to be in alliance with at any given moment. And yes, this is the "movie business." I prefer Star Trek on TV, because it can give us "Metamorphosis" and the like. But to expect big ticket movies to go that route is...illogical.

      And I also think very highly of TMP!


  6. I have to admit that I do go so far as to be a "hater" (I hate that term:-)) though the new Star Trek films are not one of the things I hate. I realized long ago though that when I do feel that way about a piece of art it is usually just a visceral reaction - I just plain don't like something, often for fairly trivial reasons. Frequently the plot holes, historical or scientific inaccuracies etc. that so annoy me in something I hate can also be found in things I love!

    As for Star Trek, I think the new films aren't bad. I don't like them as much as the ones with the original cast but - and this sort of surprises me because I love the Next Generation television series - I think they work better than the Next Generation films as an in-theater experience. I think the Next Generation films would have worked better as television specials or mini series. Most of what I don't like about the current trek films just seems to be something in the zeitgeist about how big movies are done now with regards to characters, dialogue, visual design etc.

    And Barry Smight: The Motion Picture is my favorite too. I've liked it since I saw it on initial release. Wrath Of Khan is exciting, Voyage Home is fun but The Motion Picture is, I think, a great achievement.

    1. Hi Nowhere!

      We are in agreement, sir! Great comment! I love The Next Generation...on tv. The depth of the characters and that kind of storytelling, however, are not an easy fit for the movie theater, just as you note. That is an outstanding point and one that bears repeating. I always felt that the Next Generation movies seemed to try to shoe-horn elements of the original series into that world, when they should have been their own thing. Nemesis actually apes Wrath of Khan for less purpose than does Into Darkness. And Insurrection tries to match the going-against-Starfleet vibe of Search for poor effect. Some things about the NuTrek films drive me nuts, for sure (and most of them have to do with our contemporary Zeitgeist, as you note...), but overall I feel the Abrams movies are an able 21st century update (and alternate version) of characters and a universe I love. If Star Trek must exist as a big, expensive blockbuster franchise (and not as a thoughtful TV series), give me more films like the 2009 and 2013 ones (and not like Nemesis or Insurrection).

  7. I'm in alignment with Bruce Sims above. I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed the first film; it was way better than I expected, as, with very few exceptions, I'm not normally a fan of remakes/reboots/reimaginings of beloved classics, nor of newish blockbuster sci-fi/action flicks. It got everything right, or at least right enough. Great cast, reverent treatment, brilliant usage of Leonard as Spock.

    However, I didn't care for the follow-up, for all the reasons noted by Bruce, plus one more: at this point in their lives, Spock & Kirk haven't been through enough together yet for the sacrifice death to have nearly as much emotional heft as it does in WRATH OF KHAN. Aside from merely being lazy pandering to Trekkers, it just doesn't work very well story-wise.

    I'm really only a fan of the original series; the spinoffs never did much for me, despite me watching a few trial episodes of each to see what I thought. The last Trek film I saw before the reboots was GENERATIONS, because it still had a connection to the original cast. I thought Abrams' first film was much more enjoyable than that one. INTO DARKNESS, not so much, although it's certainly not a terrible film, and I'd rather watch it again ten times in a row than to ever have to suffer through THE AVENGERS or MAN OF STEEL again.

    Thank you for the article sir!