It's still a while until the next Star Trek movie (into darkness) is set to hit theaters. This may be a good time to compare the old and the new while we wait. First, details are a little sketchy about the newest film as of right now. Some speculate that a character being played by Benedict Cumberbatch is going to be a new version of genetically enhanced villainous character Khan Noonien, once famously played by Ricardo Montalban. However, more recent word from some close to the film suggest that he will instead be taking on the role of a crew member from a story originally told in the first episode filmed with William Shatner in his iconic turn as Captain Kirk. In the episode, the Enterprise crosses over the edge of the galaxy and encounters some strange type of barrier which apparently embues crewman Gary Mitchell (the character Cumberbatch is thought to be playing) with superhuman psychic and telekinetic abilities which corrupt him into believing himself to be Godlike. This is one possible direction that the new sequel could be going in. If so, it could mean that J J Abrams is planning on tackling some of the more moral points of the original show which made it so unique and socially relevant for the time it was aired as well as today in many people's minds. And really to me, that's the one point which Abrams' first installment lacked a bit. Let's take a deeper look though.
In Abrams' first film, we saw a few things we really hadn't seen before in the old television series or it's later films as of yet. That was a closer look at bot Kirk and Spok's childhoods. Although their fates were definitely changed to a degree due to the events of the movie, we get a sense of how it all started in both time lines for the characters. We see in both versions of Kirk a fighter who doesn't believe in a no win situation. And right or wrong, its one of the reasons fans have loved his character for so long. Though it has yet to be shown to the extent of Shatner's Kirk, we assume that this new Kirk also has a deep moral code too. We did see Chris Pine's Kirk offer to help his enemies despite all that had happened toward the end of the film. Of course when they refused his help, he ordered them blasted into a giant black hole, but hey. They were responsible for killing Kirk's father and most of Spok's race. So, ya get what you deserve some times.
Then, there's Spok who was of course originally played by Leonard Nimoy and is one of the most loved of all Star Trek characters right up there with Kirk himself in many fans' minds. Nimoy had a reserved take on the character, but that only served to further the impact of any emotional moments the character had later and I couldn't help feeling at times that he was sort of the Alfred to Kirk's Batman. Not that he wasn't every bit a part of the action and decision making as Kirk, but that he had a certain humor about him even with his supposedly unemotional Vulcan mind. And there were plenty of times that his witty retort with Kirk made for classic and just plain funny moments in the original series. Quinto does a good job of reproducing this yet taking it to possibly even further extremes. When he is unemotional, its much the same as a talking robot. Yet the first film showcased much more emotion during certain moments than we'd seen from Spok apart from a very few specific instances in the series and probably around the time of his death in the end of the second movie with the original cast. It should also be pointed out that Abrams has done a good job of reproducing the feeling of conflict with Spok's character as he is truly a product of two worlds and two heritages. That is expertly shown in the scenes from Spok's childhood.
Another fan favorite character is Dr. Leonard McCoy who was originally played by DeForest Kelley and in the new films by Karl Urban. Kelley's McCoy was the source of parodies and quotes of his famous one liners to Kirk such as, "Damn it Jim. I'm a doctor, not a Beyonce backup dancer!" (I made that one up.) And McCoy was also probably second only to Spok in terms of Kirk's closest friends. In fact, the three characters had a bit of a three musketeers type feel to them at times. Or at least it felt that way to me some times. Another thing about the doctor's character that most fans will remember is that Kirk would often times fondly refer to him as "Bones". Yet we were never told in the original run of the show or the movies what the reason for that was. Score another point for Abrams, because he adresses the issue in the good doctor's first scene of the new film. "The wife took everything in the divorce. Left me with nothing, but my bones."
There are of course other characters worth going into, but let's get back to the overall feel of the new movies compared to the original. The original (especially the television show) was very limited in it's budget and what special effects could reasonably be done at the time. So, what else was there to rely on, but good story telling? Now, at times, the form these stories took place in were pure Sci Fi ridiculousness. But they had heart and some times they even made us look at things in ways which weren't maybe the most comfortable at the time. There wasn't always an easy answer and although they had phasers and photon torpedoes and the like, violence didn't solve every problem. That was unique to Star Trek in a lot of ways and its really something which the later series spinoffs didn't always duplicate in any real fashion. That's probably the one challenge Abrams has to contend with the most to truly equal the original. Special effects are great. Good fights, good acting, and good punchlines are all great things to include in any Star Trek story, but its not going to be enough. Lots of movies and television series try to shoe horn a moral into their stories. The challenge here for Abrams I think is to do it in a way that doesn't lessen the overally movie, but instead strengthens it. He definitely has his work cut out for him, but based on what I've seen so far, I think we can expect a fun ride waiting to see if he can deliver. If you want to see more about his first movie in the franchise, check out my review of it here. I think that pretty much wraps it up here. The only thing I'd add in is a reminder to any longtime Trek fans out there who might be eager to attack the new movies. Remember this. Star Trek was effectively a dead franchise before Abrams came along. I'm not saying there wouldn't have been a movie eventually without him, but if it had failed at the box office, who knows when or even if we'd have seen another attempt. It's been a few years now, but even all the old props, wardrobe, models, etc. from the original series and movies were auctioned off. Be glad that Star Trek is back in any form, because it really didn't have to be. And that really would have been a shame.