When JJ Abrahams rebooted Star Wars on the big screen it was generally applauded as breathing new life into the franchise. The fact that the series had got stale may have been justification for an all action re-imagining. And that's what we got. The first film was a flawed parallel universe romp. The "Into Darkness" sequel exposed the real problems of the project which saw plot holes, contrivances, controversies and the stretching of believability to breaking point. In fact Into Darkness was voted as the worst Trek by many fans.
What is most "wrong" for me is that it deviated from Roddenberry's initial vision of a Federation of peace, exploration and progress and the stories being a vehicle for that hope. Poverty, want, discrimination and war had been eliminated by humanity. The Abrahams vision didn't have any comment on the human condition. This clip compilation from The Next Generation sums up some of the almost overt political, progressive values held by the original vision.
The society is radically different even up to Deep Space 9 and so is so is the economics.
The new Star Trek films just don't have radically deep, transformative ideas about our lives or even any cerebral ideas that hark back to Roddenberry's 60's Trek. They're barely hinted at. We don't even see the wonder of our future social achievements or, more fundamentally, much of the new life, strange new worlds and civilisations we're exploring.
Star Trek featured the first inter-racial kiss on US television, it's that important culturally. There was an awful lot about racial integration on that show, it was out of a heady period of civil rights. But have we achieved much socially since the 80's? Have we abolished money like in the clips above? Wow. That's a concept almost as powerful as teleporting someone across a galaxy. Not as many dramatic whizzy special effects though.
I've heard it mentioned that Star Trek represents the spirit of the age like a lot of popular culture. The civil rights movement aside, the big baddies in the original series, the Klingons, perhaps represented the fear of the communist evil empire in the 60's. The friendship with the Klingons in the Next Generation of the late 80's was maybe an allegory of the Cold War thawing.
So what part of our world does the new Star Trek represent? Could you call it a bit of populist fluff born of the increasing commoditisation of our culture? Maybe a bit harsh, but we live in an age where there's no grand ideologies to fight and maybe less idealistic, utopian hope of better. Only gloss to sell. Can you have high production values, action... and intelligent, thought provoking story telling? Yep. I'm not convinced this is what we got with these films.
They're fun, action packed, light weight space flicks. Accessible to more people, yes, but sadly lacking a bit of what made the original Star Trek important and special.
I think I'll give the inevitable sequels a miss :-)