If you haven’t yet seen the new Star Trek movie, then you obviously weren’t contributing to its staggering $148 million box-office weekend worldwide. Reaching out to old fans and new recruits alike, the film offers not only a fascinating insight into how one resumes control over a powerful franchise on the big screen, but also how saturated with dedicated generic references such franchise films have become. Star Trek (2009) is, according to a close friend of mine who runs a comic book shop, unabashed “geek porn:” an astonishing array of references, insinuations, cool gadgets and eye candy made specifically for geeks to feel, well, awesomely sexy. I am more of the opinion that it’s “geek foreplay” – here’s why:
****SPOILERS ALERT!! SEE THE MOVIE OR BE… UM, SPOILED?***
First off, the reason for the title of this post is that Star Trek as a film may have less kinship with any of its 10 film predecessors of varying quality than it does with legend-of-all-box-office-legends, Star Wars. It also has some of the strongest Lovecraftian visual language I’ve ever seen in a mainstream blockbuster. This is in all likelihood due to its heavy use of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth and Sigmund Freud’s symbolism of dreams to shape the entire movie.
What’s Star Wars about this Star Trek? This is a Geek Blog, so I won’t mess around with niceties: a reckless hero goes on a quest guided by a venerable master on an ice planet against a seemingly unstoppable world-destroying ship which can only be defeated via a combination of absolute skill and plucky teamwork. J.J. Abrams obeys the Campbell-ian “hero goes on a quest” story to a T, from the introduction of multiple spiritual guides (Pike, Spock Prime) to get him away from his country bumpkin lifestyle, to his first major defeat in battle (the loss of Vulcan), to the journey via the Belly of the Whale (the ice cavern) which delivers him back into the heat of the final climactic battle. Action sequences compel the narrative far more than any other Star Trek movie, such that beamers and transporters are used specifically to get characters to the action sooner. This reflects a pacing quite alien to the franchise’s usual preoccupation with philosophical and scientific dilemmas.
But there’s also Freud at work here in droves. Multiple Oedipal stories (Kirk’s loss of his father, Spock’s loss of his mother) form the basis for the characters’ motivation. Nero’s big and nasty ship looks like a giant spiky you-know-what emerging from a giant hole, with the Lovecraftian emphasis on the “monstrous feminine” coming doubly to the fore. Yet it has a long drill rod that it extends down to bore open holes in planets before it can eradicate them with “Red Matter,” which need to be cut off in two different instances. In addition, Kirk’s primary goal in the film seems to be recovery of the phallus. His father impotently uses up his phallus by sacrificing himself and his ship to Nero’s. He tries to re-capture it by stealing his brother’s car – but loses it in one of those Grand Iowa Canyons near Riverside, and finally regains it when he captures a Romulan’s gun and declares “I’ve got your gun,” an appropriation of the power that he continuously tries to capture throughout the film until he is finally sitting as official captain of the Enterprise in the end.
All this theorizing could, in fact, reflect Star Wars and Abrams’ own personal debts to the ideologically-complex pulp novels of the earlier part of this Century: Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Harry Flashman, and, paradoxically, the creepy gothic horror of H.P. Lovecraft. All of these genre fictions revolve around men on the frontiers of “civilized reality” confronting both simplistic, nefarious plots by obsessive villains (Nero) and maddeningly wicked nightmarish horrors from beyond (Nero’s ship). Reflecting colonial anxieties and easy-to-please solutions to complicated scenarios, these novels were plentiful and popular during periods of social and economic upheaval (the 20s and 30s and 60s). Now, you’re probably thinking “How does Lovecraft offer easy solutions to complicated scenarios?” I surmise that it’s easier to make a character go mad with terror than it is for them to overcome their fear in any believable fashion – note that FEAR is what the Enterprise crew must first conquer before they can teleport inside the belly of the nightmarish “mining ship” and discover that, well, “hey, there’s just a bunch of Romulans inside whom we can beat up!”
So, why “geek foreplay” rather than “geek porn?” Well, “porn” indicates some kind of cinematic (or we might even say “physio-cinematic” due to the probability of the viewer doing something else in addition to merely viewing) release, a kind of temporary, mediated unleashing of some repressed sexuality. That being said, the repressed subconscious of the film is quite literally the gestalt original crew assembled on the U.S.S. Enterprise “boldly going where no ONE (gender-edit!) has gone before.” That’s how the film ends, followed by a credits sequence yoinked from – cringe if you will – Lost in Space (1998). The whole film simply circles around the dialogue, characters, and situations of the original 1960s television series without ever delivering the familiar Star Trek scenario until the very end, teasing the audience with an alternate reality where things might wind up differently than they should. The copulation is delivered after so much pleasurable foreplay, as all good origin films do. This is a television director’s film homage to a television show, as well as a sensuous and ridiculous pulp masterpiece that should remind us of the legions of schlock fiction we have known and loved in our lifetimes.
-posted by guyintheblackhat