Just ahead of next week’s cinema release of Star Trek Into Darkness, last week saw the retail release of the Star Trek video game. Both follow on the tradition of Trek‘s new style, brought to our screens by J.J. Abrams in 2009’s feature film, Star Trek. A film which had the difficult job of pleasing everyone from hardcore addict to complete newbie, but did so remarkably well and is regarded highly by pretty much everyone. I don’t know how fondly Hollywood considers each years top ten most illegally downloaded films, but that’s one list that Star Trek boldly topped.
Wherever they came from, and however they were watching, Abrams had his audience in the palm of his hands right from the start, in possibly the most effective opening of any film I have seen. The distinct atmospheres of the eerie arrival of Nero, the action packed destruction of the Kelvin, and the emotional exchange between a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth and House‘s Jennifer Morrison set the scene for a film in which all three don’t compete, but compliment each other throughout.
And this is where Star Trek stands out, not because it achieved the feat of pleasing multiple audiences, but because of how it achieved it. Utilising multiple ideas simultaneously, which includes a Spock/Uhura love story that doesn’t just fill modern cinema’s need to have one, but which also adds an extra layer to Spock’s conflicting personality.
But more than what happens on-screen, its very nature combines more elements than even Spock’s mixed heritage, and with people describing it as a reboot, prequel, spin-off, etc, it really is all these things and more. So much so, the only word I can ascribe to it is simply an ‘adaptation’. Such a broad term is needed due to the many different ways in which it relates to what came before….
TV -> Film
Like the ten films which precede it, 2009’s Star Trek was a film adaptation of a TV series, 1960’s Star Trek, and later The Next Generation. Where it differs from the original films however, is that it simply takes what was on the small screen, and makes it bigger. Released ten years after the show was cancelled however, The Motion Picture and its successors moved with the times, and changed pretty much everything from the uniforms, even to the ship the crew were serving aboard. Without these changes however, in many ways Star Trek is simply one of a tradition of television adaptations from the recent 21 Jump Street, and Get Smart, that goes through The Dukes of Hazzard and Charlie’s Angels, all the way back to 1991’s The Addams Family and most likely beyond.
Taking its inspiration from the series rather than films, the story of Star Trek goes back even further however. Despite spanning a modest twenty-five years, with most of the action taking place in 2258, the first season of The Original Series was set some years later on in ’65. This however, is done for a rather specific reason…
Perhaps not a term that is considered an adaptation as much as it should be (which, to be fair, is any story which isn’t original), Star Trek nevertheless fills this role by showing us exactly how the trio of Kirk, Bones and Spock comes to be. We even see the Enterprise itself being built, and as individual Starfleet officers make their way aboard, we see them become the crew we know and love. Even more than this however, it also shows us James T. Kirk himself being born, and you really can’t get much more of an origin than that. (Without being icky at least.)
A rather popular term these days now that Hollywood seems to consider its output dispensable (I know Spider-Man 3 was hardly Peter Parker’s finest hour, but did The Amazing Spider-Man really have to start from scratch?), but which Star Trek is a responsible example. Not just because it was introducing them to a whole new generation, it’s fair to say that it had to show us how the band got together, considering it introduces us to a what is essentially a new band in the first place. It may be the same crew, but one played by fresh faces, each of whom needs the time to shine and prove to audiences why they deserve to fill the shoes they’re filling.
Much like the cinema audiences who have been transported back in time, so to has Mr (or even Ambassador) Spock. Last seen on-screen in the two-part The Next Generation story Unification, Spock was living on Romulus trying to forge a peace between the Romulans, and his half-native Vulcan. Not only holding the same title but still dealing with the same aliens, his personal story through the film is one the writers are continuing from where previously established Trek left off.
As anyone who remembers Back to the Future: Part II will tell you however, travelling back in time has consequences. Most often this results in a parallel timeline, something which the Enterprise crew themselves surmise (as much for the audience’s benefit as their own). Leaving the original timeline of William Shatner and his successors to continue intact elsewhere in the multiverse (generally in the paperback section of your local bookshop), this new timeline begins with something of a bang. One that occurs in the centre of the planet Vulcan, Earth’s closest ally, which drastically alters what is to come, from that which we have already seen.
The film even had its own transmedia comic mini-series, Countdown, which bridges the gap from the Next Generation era of the previous film Star Trek Nemesis, but I think you get the picture.
The nature of 2009’s Star Trek as a production mirrors the very nature of Star Trek as a 47 year old institution. A film that continues Gene Roddenberry’s vision that everything from the crew of a spaceship to humanity itself is so much more than the sum of its parts. That as individuals we can join together to solve problems that range from a Romulan invasion, to war, poverty, and disease.
A noble vision that is shared by many throughout a fandom spanning the globe. Although we may be waiting a long time for Roddenberry’s lasting vision to become a reality, at least we don’t have to wait much longer before discovering Abrams’ latest, Into Darkness.