Monday, May 11, 2009

# Posted 6:41 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A film that got positive reviews from 95% of the critics hardly needs any help from me. But I thought it was notable that a few prominent critics disliked what they saw.

Now, it's never much of a surprise when Anthony Lane of the New Yorker turns up his nose at popular fare. But I could've told you that Star Trek wasn't the work of Jean-Luc Godard (not to be confused with Jean-Luc Picard).

More surprisingly, Robert Ebert of the Sun-Times also weighed in against the film. His main objection is that there's too much fiction, not enough science. Yes, we all know time travel is impossible. But couldn't the film have tried a little harder to deal with black holes realistically?

Sure, there were moments during the film when I had to work a little harder to suspend disbelief. But that's pretty much par for the course. Mostly, I was enjoying myself tremendously.

Ebert also observes that whereas the Star Trek narratives of the golden age "might play with questions of science, ideals or philosophy, [these] have been replaced by stories reduced to loud and colorful action." This is a more substantive point, and it one that is driven home in much greater detail by John Podhoretz, whose review is the real reason I'm writing this post.

John contrasts the new film unfavorably with one episode from the original Star Trek series of the 1960s, in which Kirk & Co. travel back in time to New York City in the 1930s. Once there,
They encounter a beautiful pacifist social worker. Our hero, Captain Kirk, falls in love with her. They learn that she is supposed to die in a car accident, and that their arrival has spared her. Her survival, they discover, will set in motion a series of events that will keep the United States out of World War II, which will allow Hitler to get the atomic bomb first and take over the world.

Since they saved her, do they now have to kill her? What else can they do to set things right? Setting things right was the secret to the appeal of the original Star Trek...

What was (and is) remarkable about "City on the Edge of Forever"--aside from its implicit assault on the anti-Vietnam-war movement, which would be unthinkable today--is the Hobson's choice it presents its characters. Some things can't be repaired. A seemingly humanitarian act, the saving of a single life, will lead to the deaths of millions.
Unquestionably, time travel is not employed in the new Star Trek film to ponder moral or philosophical questions. Yet without giving away too much about the plot, the film does provide a very interesting take on the relevant question of terrorism. The villain, Nero, is very clearly a terrorist, acting on his own, in order to wreak bloody vengeance in retribution for perceived injuries inflicted by the Federation.

The film is hardly a doctoral dissertation in political psychology, but I'd argue that Nero's motivations take us far beyond either the left-wing or right-wing caricature of terrorist motives. ("It's a natural response to poverty and repression" vs. "They hate us for no reason at all").

So if you haven't seen the film already, go out and buy a ticket. How exciting is it? Put it this way: even my fiancee stayed awake to the end, which is about as surprising as it gets.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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