An open letter to JJ Abrams, and my fellow geeks
Mister Abrams, like so many of my fellows, I too exchanged cash for ticket, found a seat, and gave two and a half hours of my life over to your vision of Star Trek. And like many of my fellow Trekkers, though I did enjoy it, in the end I felt it was … lacking, missing some vital piece. Not all that it could have been.
It took me some time to really figure it out, but I think I have. In the end, it lacks the soul of so much other Treks because it lacks the one piece that has made Star Trek rise above so much other Scifi: poetry. It fails to reach back to great the literary pieces, as the better of its predecessors. It lacks the bright flare of Shakespeare, DH Lawrence, Dickens, Tennyson. There is none of this which has so enriched the canvas of our stories. And it leaves ‘Into Darkness’ as nothing more than an action flick which takes from all that has gone before, but gives back very little.
Watch the TOS episode, “The conscience of the King”, whose very title comes from Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’. Without the bard, this is merely a whodunit, a mystery to be solved. But the verse of Shakespeare springboards it to something greater, makes it more emotional, more epic, more memorable. It gives the characters life and adds a depth to the story that wouldn’t otherwise be there.
Similarly, the use of Melville’s “Moby Dick” in ‘First Contact’ serves to illustrate and give near elegance to Captain Picard’s destructive obsession with his nemesis, the Borg. Even better, when Picard finally realizes what he has let himself become, how he has let his obsession for revenge rule him, he exorcises Ahab, paraphrasing: “And he piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the rage and hate felt by his whole race. If his chest had been a cannon, he would have shot his heart upon it.” It becomes a moment of reflection, contemplation, more than just another action scene.
Even more so, in Wrath of Khan, it is Khan’s reciting Ahab’s final words as the Enterprise tries to escape his single-minded vengeance that brings a depth to his character, which gives him depth, illustrates his blind obsession and makes him a truly epic and memorable villain. As he slowly and painfully dies: “To the last, I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart, I stab at thee; for hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee.” This and the final literary reference I will cite that make this the finest of Star Trek Cinema.
Finally, again in Wrath of Khan, it is the use of Charles Dickens, “A Tale of Two Cities” that not only provides beauty and image, but actually offers the theme that will run through this as well as the next two movies: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” It makes Spocks sacrifice more noble, and when bastardized in “The search for Spock” as “The needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many”, it expresses the feelings of his crewmates validates their sacrifices very simply and gracefully.
And this grace, this beauty, this reflection through the great words of authors and poets and playwrights is what “Into Darkness” lacks. With none of these grand words and moments, it becomes nothing more than an action movie, alongside “Die hard” and “GI Joe”. While Pine, Quinto and Pegg rise to meet the bar of their predecessors, and Cumberbatch’s performance is quite impressive, the material that they have been given fails them. This latest incarnation of Khan, while menacing and malicious lacks the depth and breadth that Melville’s work gave Montalban, and without it, he becomes just one more bad guy; less than he should have been.