Andrew Eaton-Lewis: Cumberbatch feels Trekkies’ wrath

Benedict Cumberbatch, left, in Star Trek Into Darkness. Picture: Comp
Benedict Cumberbatch, left, in Star Trek Into Darkness. Picture: Comp
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MOVIE quiz time. What was your reaction to last week’s revelation that R2D2 makes an only-visible-to-pause-button-obsessives cameo appearance in Star Trek Into Darkness? Was it 1. A tingle of excitement, 2. Mild amusement, 3. Indifference or 4. Fury?

If you answered 2 or 3, congratulations, you have a healthy perspective on the issue and probably haven’t wasted years of your life in largely pointless nerd fights about either Star Trek or Star Wars. And this column probably isn’t for you, so toodle pip and enjoy the rest of your Sunday.

If you answered 4, you’re a hardcore Trekkie and I feel terribly sorry for you, because you’ve probably spent the past few months in a state of barely suppressed rage at what a shoddy film you think Star Trek Into Darkness is.

Being a Star Wars fan, I only got around to watching the film when it came out on DVD last week. My reaction, I suspect, was similar to Trekkies’ reaction to The Phantom Menace – no, it’s not great, but is it worth whining so much about it? Except that, in this case, we’re next. As all nerds know, JJ Abrams, director of Star Trek Into Darkness, is about to start shooting Star Wars Episode VII.

One of the Trekkies’ main complaints about Into Darkness was that Abrams, a self-proclaimed Star Wars nerd, made it more like Star Wars than Star Trek. Great, I thought, it’ll be like a really long trailer for the film I actually want to see. Then I began examining the Trekkies’ grievances in detail, and it was eye-opening.

If you haven’t been following all this carry-on, I’ll attempt a brief five-point summary. 1. The film is a cackhanded remake of The Wrath Of Khan, with key character moments reversed in a way that makes no sense. 2. In fact, nothing in the film makes sense – the science is laughably inconsistent, and almost everyone, at some point, does something out of character for the sake of nudging a shaky plot along a bit. 3. It’s arguably racist (why is a character called Khan Noonien Singh now played by a white Englishman?). 4. It’s demonstrably sexist (that idiotic, gratuitous scene with Carol Marcus in a bikini). 5. Magic blood? Really?

I offer you the summary above so you don’t have to spend what felt like a five-year mission ploughing through Star Trek blogs and comment threads. You can thank me later. Nowhere in my hyperspace exploration, though, did I discover compelling evidence of the StarWarsness of Star Trek Into Darkness. The crux of this argument, as far as I can tell, is that Abrams’ heart just wasn’t in the job because he’d rather be making a Star Wars film, that if he was a true Trekkie and had therefore paid closer attention, there would be tighter plotting, smarter character development and, in particular, fewer scientific inconsistencies (Trekkies have a curious obsession with so-called scientific accuracy, which is weird given that the series previously had Spock returning from the dead then travelling back in time to rescue whales).

Actually, and rather ironically, Into Darkness’s most Star Wars-like quality is its clumsy, evidently doomed attempts to please hardcore fans. All those references to The Wrath Of Khan were transparently intended to inspire a warm glow of nostalgia. But because they make no dramatic sense (Spock shouting ‘Khaaaan!’ with such anguish? I think not) they just tarnish the memory of an earlier, better film. Revenge Of The Sith did much the same thing, with its botched, box-ticking introduction of Darth Vader, Luke and Leia. And this was a film made by George Lucas, a man so devoted to the series that it has dominated his entire life. Now, while Trekkies long for a Star Trek movie by one of their own, Star Wars fans are eagerly anticipating a new film made by anyone who isn’t George Lucas.

Watching someone else deluding themselves can be a very effective way to shake you out of your own stupor. What’s on screen will never, in anyone’s hands, match what is in our nerdy, long-devoted heads. Last week, exasperated by the relentless nitpicking, Into Darkness writer Roberto Orci told hardcore Trekkies to “f*** off” then deleted his Twitter account. I sympathise.