Okay, so I’m interested in seeing what everyone is calling “the reboot” of Star Trek, though I could be content to wait until the DVD comes out. And, sure, there’s a lot of buzz (as well as some discussion in this forum), if only because the franchise appears to be doing something interesting, for a change. Fine. But all this blather about the “significance” of Star Trek, particularly this article by Dave Itzkoff in The New York Times is really too much.
Itzkoff characterizes Star Trek as “supremely influential,” and I guess in that it has promoted grown-ups dressing in space pajamas and wearing pointy ears and expecting to be taking seriously, I suppose he’s right.
Look, I’m old enough to have watched the original Star Trek when it was first on television. As I recall, I lost interest sometime in the middle of the second season. Because, even then I realized what a lot of commentators such as Itzkoff overlook: for a supposed science fiction series, it was pretty bad science fiction.
Forget the lack of seat belts when the Enterprise went carooming off in one time warp or another. Or that whatever planet they went to, the natives spoke English. Or that command officers always went on planet reconnaissance, and you could point to the non-recurring character in the security detail as the one who was going to be vaporized. The series started out borrowing plot lines from Golden Age space opera, which I didn’t realize at the time, but at least it was something science fictional. For awhile, it actually used “real” SF writers (notably Harlan Ellison, despite whose protests about the bastardization of his script yielded one of the better and most famous episodes). But then it lost its dilithium crystals and spiraled down the vortex of monster of the week and/or simplistic social commentary (the Frank Gorshin episode in which he tells stunned a Kirk that the criminal is trying to catch is obviously inferior because the left side of his face is black, unlike his which is black on the right side, was one of the better ones; the one where the Enterprise finds the Woodstock nation on another planet is remarkably ridiculous).
And please don’t hand me the “UN in space” line. Spock may have been half Vulcan, but other than the pointy ears he was a white guy. As were all the lead actors. Everyone else was supporting cast, and, the women were there to wear mini skirts and show off their legs. More than a few episodes could have been titled, “Kirk Gets Laid Again.”
Moreover, it wasn’t exactly radical. Several episodes actually supported the conduct of the Vietnam War. It didn’t tackle “the big issues” except in a superficial way that was safe enough for advertisers wanting to buy time to sell soap. They didn’t stop buying time because of any controversial episode, they stopped buying ads because no one was watching.
It’s not that I’m anti-Star Trek. The humorous dynamic among Kirk, Spock and McCoy (which evidently underlies the reboot and which the first Star Trek: The Motion Picture forgot in favor of emphasizing all that was pretentious and silly about the series, redeemed by Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, still the best of the feature-length movies IMHO as well as most other folks) is what made the series. But that’s characterization. It isn’t science fiction.
Yeah, I know it came back, thanks to re-run land and a fan base. I’m probably going to enjoy the latest iteration. But I just don’t take it too seriously. Not the way I would, say, Neuromancer. Something that was real science fiction, and not just mildly entertaining.