I hear some arguments against the new Star Trek movie, almost exclusively from Trekkies, that character development and Gene Roddenberry’s vision were sold in favor of lots of action and explosions and fight scenes and cool special effects. These are my thoughts on that.
I’m a Trekkie myself (I use the term in the non-derogatory fashion, since the show’s creators came up with the term). Nevertheless, I felt more empathy for Kirk and Spock in slightly over two hours of this movie than I have in over forty years’ worth of movies and syndicated TV episodes. Maybe it’s because this Kirk isn’t merely altruistic—he actually goes through a process in the movie to become so. Spock I can relate to as a human being now, instead of seeing him as a kinda cool dude who can knock people out by pinching their necks. Having an occasional struggle with vivid emotion as a plot device is okay, but for that struggle to be constant, everyday—that is something I can empathize with. That, to me, is exciting.
As far as actual character development goes, I watched Kirk go from being a thoroughly unlikable person to a grown-up who doesn’t give a thought about putting his life in danger for the greater good. To achieve that in a single movie without making it seem contrived is miraculous, and they did it by implying that this aspect of Kirk was always there, dormant, and merely came out when he had the chance to be what he needed, in the most basic part of his character, to be. All this happened, and they never sacrificed his flaws. I watched Spock begin to accept that emotions do not always respond to logic, and that there are ways to find peace with them without forcibly suppressing or denying them. I can feel for him. I watched a few lines of thoroughly organic dialogue turn some guy who climbed aboard a shuttle into Leonard McCoy, an irascible doctor who is terrified of space travel but has nowhere else to go because his ex-wife took everything from him in the divorce. I watched Sulu go from being a nervous, somewhat shy young helmsman who makes basic mistakes to a bold swordsman and then to a confident pilot—and he was one of the least developed characters. In her first scene, Uhura was shown as a confident, intelligent young woman who, while openly uninterested in the idiot hitting on her in a bar, isn’t too good to be flattered by his advances or laugh at his jokes without compromising her original answer. She’s entirely disgusted with the twerps trying to ‘defend’ her, as much as she would be with anyone participating in a senseless bar fight. She takes crap from no one, but like the original Uhura, she’s neither a fighter nor a leader. She’s simply and comfortably herself.
Gene Roddenberry’s vision was of a future in which we are a better society, and where compassion and humanitarianism are more important than pride or greed. J.J. Abrams admitted that, while he’s not a Trek fan, Roddenberry’s notes were moving and inspiring to him. I don’t think there’s anything in this movie that compromises that vision, besides the fact that there appears to be money or at least some sort of credit system in this future, and that is only implied and not a basic motivator of mankind (which was the point in not having money in canon Trek). It remains an optimistic future, which is always marvelously refreshing and one of the best things about Star Trek. Remember how Chekov was a sign of Roddenberry’s hope that the Cold War would end peacefully? Remember how the Cold War ended peacefully? Yeah.