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In defense of the Abramsverse: an Ode to the Enterprise-D, Her New Crew, and Their Adventures

2015.04.02 05:48 Noumenology In defense of the Abramsverse: an Ode to the Enterprise-D, Her New Crew, and Their Adventures

When "The Next Generation" (2009) came out, a lot of people were not quite impressed with the way JJ Abrams was able to reboot what is seen as one of the weakest series Trek has to offer. I want to argue that it deserves a second chance.
First, there was the way the characters were completely rewritten. As the original show was so poorly designed with hollow characters, I think this is terrific. The impotent and milquetoast Picard was transformed into a rousing leader here, thanks to the fantastic performance by Jason Statham (who looks way better bald than Patrick Stewart ever did). He has a strength of character we haven't seen since Errol Flynn graced the screen. Commander Riker, knuckle-dragging and always playing comic relief in the show is now a keen intellectual, thanks to Javier Bardem's reinvention of the character. The rest of the casting decisions are also fantastic: Michael C. Hall as Data, Anthony Mackie as Geordi, Thandie Newton as Dr. Crusher, Idris Elba as Worf and Penelope Cruz as Troi.
This was great for a few reasons, but it was also one of the most ethnically diverse casts we had ever seen in a Star Trek ensemble (not to mention in a mainstream SciFi Movie). Making the bold decision to recast the ineffectual and tired old roles with actors from other ethnicities shook them up and gave them a breath of fresh air. We really get a sense of the relationships and depth from this cast - there is no sense that these are stock characters. Everyone here is really playing their parts well, which makes you appreciate the craft of acting.
Second, the lack of action sequences means that Abrams was able to spend a lot more time on character development. We really get to know these people and who they are, what's important to them. There's a strong sense of what motivates them: from Riker's grief over his dead father, to Data's absolute rejection of humanity and embrace of his mechanical nature, and even to Crusher's love for her anaphasic partner, Ronin (played by the now deceased Philip Semour Hoffman).
Third, This was a Trek story that was finally not about things blowing up. I remember people complaining that there were not enough explosions in previous TNG movies, and that there should have been even more action sequences. The directors refused to listen to this point of view, and I'm glad they did. Boldly doing what the fans didn't want meant they were able to deliver a story that was completely different than your typical box office blockbuster story, where Picard would have likely killed the bad guy at the end by either leaving them to die on a ship before it explodes, or maybe snapping their neck with his bare hands. Even though Statham usually plays an action hero, his forceful character here is able to lead the crew through situations without resorting to driving the ship through asteroids or firefights in space.
Fourth, since things weren't blowing up, they were able to write a story that was more like The Motion Picture, without the flaws of being too short, or maybe The Voyage Home, without boring lack of any comedy. The antagonist here is the unknown - although Q (Daniel Day Lewis) could be seen as the primary antagonist, he's not really a "Big Bad." Instead, we have a situation which isn't great for anyone, and it can't be solved by just firing all phasers and torpedos. The crew have to think and reason their way through it, and it makes for a fantastic psychological drama.
I know that people would rather see Star Trek: The Action Movie, but "The Next Generation" only set the stage for what I know will be a terrific set of films. I personally can't wait for "TNG: Into The Light" to be released later this year.
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