This Star Trek trailer is just all action. Where the exploration?
Yeah, I'm writing another piece about today's Star Trek Beyond trailer. And yeah, that's the trailer for Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. And yeah, I'm making a point.
Two of them. The first, shortest point is: this is a trailer intended to get general audiences interested. It's a trailer that is being attached to Star Wars, and it's a trailer selling a movie that is following up the dour and destructive Star Trek Into Darkness. Just as that Khan trailer was selling a Trek movie to non-Trek audiences, so is the Beyond trailer.
Second, Star Trek has always been fun. Let's assume the 90 seconds we saw represent the film: so? The original Trek had two pilots: a talky, more cerebral one that the network declined and a more pulpy one that ended with Kirk fist fighting a god and then killing him with a cascade of rocks. I like the second one much better, if we're being honest. And that one set the tone for the original show.
The original Trek was pitched as a space Western - Wagon Train to the Stars. This was at a time when the Western was among the most populist, action-oriented forms of storytelling around. That was no mistake. Trek was conceived as an adventure show that would smuggle in deeper thoughts alongside the fun that appealed to audiences.
It wasn't just a Western - Trek changed genres almost weekly. There were spy stories and gangster stories, war stories and murder mysteries featuring Jack the Ripper. There were submarine stories and light comedy stories. Often the scifi was used like magic - an excuse to get the characters into certain kinds of actions, like having them fight Ghenghis Khan. The original Trek rarely ended stories by reversing the dilithium crystal chamber or by having a heart-to-heart with the enemy; there were a lot of fights and plenty of space battles, and Captain Kirk often used his wits in adverserial ways.
If Trek could be a different genre every week, why can't it be a Fast & Furious movie, as some people think Beyond will be? That, of course, is based on the presence of one motorcycle, which is the modern equivalent of the cowboy's horse and Trek was created as a space Western, but whatever. You don't have to agree that Kirk - an avid horseman, we know - would ride a motorcyle (despite it being established in Star Trek 2009) to understand that Star Trek is flexible enough to be any genre at all, as long as it's with these characters.
That's the first key to what Trek is - stories about these characters. The other key is that these stories need to tell us something about our world today, or about what it means to be human. Will Beyond have that? It's hard to say based on a 90 second teaser, and it's safe to assume it won't be as on-the-nose as the space hippies in Way to Eden or the racial strife of the black and white people in Let This Be Your Last Battlefield, but there is dialogue ("This is where the frontier pushes back") and a scene of something being revealed to Scotty that indicate Justin Lin, with Simon Pegg co-writing the script, may have smuggled something into this. We'll have to wait and see.
But then again that Wrath of Khan trailer doesn't tell you anything about the larger themes and character arcs at play. It really just tells you there's some killer space action in the movie. Would you have walked away from that trailer complaining that this was Trek in name only? I mean, Roddenberry apparently did, and that's why we ended up with the tedium of Next Generation. But my Star Trek is made up of genre-oriented adventure stories featuring great characters and with a kernel of social messaging at the core. So far nothing in that Star Trek Beyond trailer tells me this will be any different.
Thanks to my brother Derek for remembering this Khan trailer.