Friday, December 30, 2016

Star Trek Beyond: The Rescue of Optimism

Continuing with my reviews of important 2016 movies, which I certainly should have seen and reviewed much earlier - in this case, July - but, hey, time itself has always been somewhat malleable in science fiction, especially Star Trek,

Star Trek Beyond is the lucky 13th movie in the Star Trek movie series - lucky to be released around the 50th anniversary of the first appearance of Star Trek on television in 1966, now known as Star Trek: The Original Series or ST: TOS for short.  ST Beyond is third in the reboots, in which  J. J. Abrams re-presented the original Kirk, Spock, McCoy et al crew, beginning a little earlier in time than TOS, somewhat before and during their time as trainees in Starfleet Academy.

In a brilliant move, the 2009 Star Trek reboot also brought into play the original Spock from TOS, older, played by Leonard Nimoy, via an alternate universe gambit.   I mention this, not only to praise it again, but because in some ways my favorite single part of Beyond was Zachary Quinto's Spock looking at a photo of his alternate, older self (Nimoy) near the beginning of the movie, and the whole original crew, again, near the end.   It was a satisfying way to again to make a connection to what started fifty years ago.

And it had a special pull on the heart because Leonard Nimoy is no longer with us, having died at 83 years of age in 2015.  The fact that Quinto's Spock not only knew but loved his alternate self, whom we also had come to know and love, has given Nimoy even more of a continuing place and life in our ongoing popular culture.

There was, indeed, a lot of the past in Beyond, with an earlier starship, the USS Franklin, playing a major role in the story.  It's a Warp 4 ship, which puts it a notch below the Warp 5 speeds of the Enterprise in the Star Trek: Enterprise series, which depicts voyages of the first Starfleet starship.   This immersion in the past was good to see, continuing a tradition which goes back to TOS itself, and its making an episode - "Menagerie" - out of its pilot episode, in which Kirk was not even yet Captain of the ship.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say the optimistic view that underlies all of Star Trek - in contrast, to say, Star Wars - comes from Victorian times, and lasted until a little beyond the middle of the 20th century, when it was assaulted but not destroyed by the cynicism and pessimism that hold so much sway today.   I've just begun reading a great anthology of the writings of Hugo Gernsback (compiled and with a pathbreaking introduction by Grant Wythoff), and his unbridled but well considered optimism about how we could and would improve our lot via science and technology (I'll be reviewing it here soon).  I share that view - and certainly Star Trek did as well.

And the inspiration of the Star Trek reboots, continuing with Beyond, is that it still does.  The stories are exciting, the repartee between Kirk and Bones and Spock is clever and fun, but it's the joy in the prospect of humans out in there in the stars that was always the beacon of Star Trek - a beacon drawing us to it and drawing us out there.  Star Trek has rescued that optimism that animated Jules Verne and Hugo Gernsback, and I look forward to its continued presentation as it pursues its bold, new voyages on the screen in our 21s century.

See also Star Trek: Reborn, Reset, Resplendent and Star Trek Into Darkness: Echoes, Resonances, and Great

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