“The Office” in space?

I’ll just start by admitting I’ve not yet seen “Star Trek: Into Darkness”, though I plan to even after reading the article I’m about to link to. Virginia Postrel saw it, and nailed one possible reason why, while entertaining, the new reboot leaves me cold.

Postrel conducted a survey a few years ago to find patterns in Star Trek’s popularity through the years. One conclusion she found:

In Star Trek, the work is meaningful; the colleagues are smart, hard-working, competent and respectful; the leaders are capable and fair; and everyone has an important contribution to make. Star Trek features what law student Cindy McNew described as “a close-knit group of colleagues whose abilities complement one another and who don’t seem to take out their animosities or ambitions on each other.” Deep friendships develop from teamwork and high-stakes problem-solving. It’s the workplace as we wish it were — and as it too rarely is.

But does that exist in the new iteration? She doesn’t believe so:

Instead of effective teamwork, the movie gives us adrenaline and forced humor, with characters who seem barely able to do their jobs or get along. Caught up in a dysfunctional workplace romance, Spock and Uhura snipe at each other. Chekov fumbles about cluelessly trying to fix the engines. Dr. McCoy muffs an assignment to defuse a bomb. Scotty runs around shouting.

The script talks about the crew as “family” but doesn’t show the problem-solving that generates loyalty and respect. Irritation rules. And Captain Kirk seems to have gotten his job not by demonstrating command skills over an extended career but by having the right connections.

Bingo. Again, I don’t know how this second movie handles things, but it does sound like all the progress the crew made toward cohesion in the last movie is tossed out the window again. And based on my experience with the previous movie, the characters now seem like exaggerations or even parodies of their original counterparts. Part of this is explained in the reboot premise, but it doesn’t explain why Starfleet seems to consist of really old guys and really young guys. It’s like Abrams decided the key to achieving an advanced society is to eliminate middle-management. It’s as if the kids from “Space Camp” came home and were suddenly placed into rotation as a regular shuttle crew. No matter how well they did getting through a tough spot and saving the day, they still would have benefitted from reassignment to new duties under experienced officers.

The reboot was a lot of fun, and as I said, I’ll probably go see this new one, too. But I’m one of those for whom the reboot seems like a zombification: they’ve got the right body, the right look, but the heart is not there. Gene Roddenberry saw the future as one of optimism and hope; mankind will rise above itself and live up to its best ideals. J. J. Abrams saw the future and decided it looks a lot like “Survivor 90210”.

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