Celebrating the five full decades of Star Trek should be a yearlong event, so I thought I would spread the love of all things Trek. Previously in this series I touched on why I loved the Original Series, the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and most recently Enterprise. For my next entry, I am diving into shark-infested waters. Well, not literally, although that might be safer than what I am attempting to do. Yes, it is time for me to give my top 5 Reasons for why I love the Kelvin timeline movies. If that name does not ring a bell, you may know it by a different title, such as the reboot movies, the JJ Abrams-verse, or the Horrible-Piece-of-Defecation-That-Has-Destroyed-Star-Trek. Yes, not since Kirk and Spock went looking for God in Star Trek V has anything with the name “Star Trek” created such an outcry among the fans. To all the haters of the Kelvin Timeline, I get you. I understand. I feel for you. I have some issues with these movies as well (two words: lens flare). All I am asking you is to hear me out, please. If you really don’t think there is any redeeming quality about these movies, that they are a disgrace to the franchise, and cause for Gene to be rolling over in his grave, then please, stop reading right now. Go back to your life. Find something else to do. Watch The Wrath of Khan or First Contact. Do whatever you need to restore your blood pressure. I am not going to try to change your mind, but I don’t want to get you so upset that you turn violent and start breaking things.
Still with me? Good for you. If you are like me, then you find something good in these movies. If you are hating what Abrams has done to the franchise but are still with me, I hope you are keeping an open mind. If not, you have been duly warned.
In 2005 Paramount wanted more Trek on the big screen. At the time, J.J. Abrams was working on Mission: Impossible III and had gained quite the reputation with his TV work on shows like “Alias” and “Lost”. Writers Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman were brought on board, and for the next four years a new Star Trek film was in the works. Fans waited with anticipation, some with more dread and some with more excitement. Rumors flooded the internet. Questions arose at warp speed. Names like Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Ryan Gosling, and Adrien Brody were tossed around as potential cast members. Then, as things began to crystalize, the movie took form. In May of 2009, a new crew of the Enterprise blasted onto screens. We were shown a new version of the classic crew we had loved for over 40 years. Chris Pine was the new James T. Kirk, Zachary Quinto as the new Spock. We even got to see Leonard Nimoy reprise his iconic role, and the Star Trek universe changed. A new timeline was established that allowed the powers that be to pay homage to the original series yet not be chained to the extensive canon that had been previously established. The first movie was a success, and as of this writing two sequels hit the summer screens with a fourth installment in the works.
That is not to say that the new series wasn’t universally well received. Many life-long fans felt that the show lacked the spirit and essence of Star Trek. The exploration was traded in for flashy effects and action sequences. The financial success of each sequel became less and less. Into Darkness retold the story of one of Trek’s greatest villains, Khan Singh, and some felt that the show was just trying to ride the waves of nostalgia without offering anything new. When Star Trek: Beyond hit theaters in the summer of 2016, it was meant to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, yet the tragic death of actor Anton Yeltin (Chekov) and a weak performance at the box office dealt some heavy blows to the beleaguered film franchise. Whether it was lack of story-telling, the perceived slights to what had come before, or too much lens flare on the bridge, the Kelvin timeline series had more than its fair share of detractors. For myself, however, I found that there were some real gems in these stories. Yes, Abrams himself admitted that he was more of a Star Wars guy than a Star Trek guy, but I do believe that Abrams was trying to find a balance between showing love to the old while making the story new again. I have enjoyed all three films for different reasons, and yes, I see the points that the other side makes. In many instances I agree with them, but that does not mean that I could find nothing in this re-imagining to love. I give you my Top 5 reasons here.
1. The Enterprise’s update – Anytime a franchise is rebooted there will be updates to what was familiar. As technology improves things like the starship Enterprise can be reimagined. I like the design of the new ship a lot. It still looks like the Enterprise we loved in the classic series, yet it looks more like something we would see in the future and less like a TV show prop from the 60s. When Shatner and Nimoy appeared in the first motion picture, the Enterprise received a bit of modern tweaking. The same happened here, and for me it works.
2. The timeline solution – Whenever a franchise is rebooted or a new sequel comes out, there is always the fear that it will not stay true to canon. Well, there is a reason why these films are referred to as the Kelvin Timeline. By introducing the time travel element in the first movie, the producers found a way to preserve the existing canon, but allow them freedom to do things differently. To have Vulcan destroyed and Spock’s mother die in the 2009 movie made it seem like anything could happen, and while this timeline might seem familiar in some regards, it gives us the unpredictability that provided the opportunity to tell stories that were new and fresh.
3. Karl Urban channels Kelley – When the casting announcements were made, there was a lot of chatter about it. People had opinions formed before the movie hit the screens. After the movie was released, there were even more debates as to who gave the performance that was most in touch with the original character. Some were great (Quinto as Spock), others were harder for me to accept (Pegg as Scotty), but I thought all involved did a good job. Above and beyond all of the rest, however, is Karl Urban. Urban played the role of our favourite southern doctor perfectly. Yes, he wasn’t DeForest Kelley, but if I closed my eyes I could almost see the old Bones on the screen again. It has been reported that when Leonard Nimoy saw Urban’s performance, he wept tears of gratitude at how much he was reminded of Kelley. I have seen Karl Urban at a few conventions, and he has said that all he wanted to do was honor the rich character that DeForest Kelley made so important to us all. Well, Mr. Urban, you succeeded beyond our greatest hopes. This is the one point that I have yet to hear even the harshest of critics dispute, and for good reason: they can’t.
4. Spock’s Approval – there are so many things about Star Trek that are iconic. The Enterprise is widely recognizable, Kirk is a legend, and everything from Tribbles to Klingons have become well known even among the population that know little of Trek. There is one character, and with it one actor, that is the most iconic in all of Star Trek, and that is Spock portrayed by Leonard Nimoy. These movies were able to bring closure to Nimoy’s character. He was essential to the first movie, a neat cameo in the second, and a touching tribute in the third. None of this would have been possible if Leonard Nimoy had not agreed to do it. Nimoy had retired from acting by this time. He was under no obligation to be a part of this project. I believe that had he disapproved of the films, he would not have been a part of them. Nimoy’s validation should rightfully carry much weight, and I think he saw much of the value that was in those films. Leonard Nimoy loved Star Trek, and if the new movies were good enough for him, then that should mean something to his fans. You may not have to agree with his opinion, but you cannot help but respect it.
5. A new generation – As I mentioned before, I understand why some fans utterly despise this incarnation. There are Star Trek groups that forbid any mention of the Kelvin Timeline in any way, and some fans can see literally nothing of value in these movies. I will use what I think is my strongest argument for why I love these films. It has allowed a whole new generation to discover Star Trek. With Netflix and other media-streaming providers, the youth who were not fortunate enough to be raised by Trekkie parents had a way to be introduced to the franchise. I have attended two conventions in Las Vegas, and I talk to some of the kids and younger adults who were not even around when the Next Generation and Voyager were on the air. Many of them became fans because of these movies. When they saw the movie, they looked up the show to see what the fuss was all about, and they were hooked. They would then start to binge-watch all the series, and before long were as knowledgeable and fanatical as those of us that have been around for the majority of the five decades that Trek was there. Some agree that the Abrams movies are mere shells of what Trek was, but they admit that they might not have seen Star Trek without them. So, whether you love or hate these movies, you cannot discount the fact that it has brought new fans into the fold.
Well, there you are. I hope to hear your comments on this. Due to the controversy that is wrapped up with the Kelvin Timeline, I respectfully ask that all comments be that: respectful. Each of us is entitled to our opinions, which is why IDIC is so beautiful and delicate to manage. I welcome your thoughts and opinions (but please, be civil). Next up in this series: the Animated Series!