Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Star Trek Beyond: a theological film review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 100 plus films later, here is the review for August 2016.

Star Trek Beyond
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Star Trek was born 51 years old, with a pilot episode shot in 1965. Being 51 in the entertainment industry means the need to win new friends while keeping old ones.

“Star Trek Beyond” delivers. For old fans, there is the familiarity of ship, crew and the willingness to boldly explore strange new worlds. In “Star Trek Beyond,” this means seeking to rescue a ship ambushed beyond the nebula. For new fans, the action quickly moves to warp speed, as USS Enterprise encounters the evil technologies of Commander Krall. For all fans, there is old technology, of motorbikes and VHF radio as weapons in the defeat of Krall. For Kiwi fans, there is Wellington born, Karl Urban as Dr Bones McCoy.

Being 51 means adapting to a changing world. In “Star Trek Beyond,” Sulu (John Cho) is gay, with a husband and young daughter. In addition, strong female roles are provided by the well-known figure of Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and the introduction of Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), becoming a rescuer despite the previous pain caused to her in an ambush by Krall.

Being 51 also means facing death. The first line in the pilot episode of 1965 belonged to Leonard Nimoy (“Check the circuit”). “Star Trek Beyond” pays homage to Nimony, who died in 2015, aged 83. This involves memorial credits, along with the young Spock (Zachary Quinto) of “Star Trek Beyond” finding strength in a photo of the original Star Trek crew, Nimoy included.

It is one thing to face the death of an elderly man, quite another that of an acting colleague in the middle of the Star Trek reboot. Anton Yelchin, who plays Chekov, died in a freak automobile accident in June 2016, aged 27. It makes poignant Captain Kirk’s (Chris Pine) toast to absent friends and the liquor taken from Chekov’s locker. In a Western society obsessed with youth, navigating the strange new world of death is an essential dimension of being 51.

Star Trek has from the beginning blended technology, action and philosophy. The pilot episode was considered cerebral and intellectual. “Star Trek Beyond” embraces philosophy by mirroring two scenes. Early on Captain Kirk meets with Commodore Paris (Shohreh Aghdashloo). In deep space, he describes how easy it is for a Captain to get lost. As the movie ends, Kirk meets again with Commodore Paris. Again Kirk notes how easy it is for Captains to get lost in deep space, yet the strength he finds in human partnership. It makes the warp speed action between these two scenes the unfolding exploration of humans facing the existential fear of losing their inner compass.

It is a question Jesus explores in Luke 15. Three parables are grouped together around the experience of being lost. What emerges is a different mirroring, in which direction comes not from human partnership, but from God, acting as seeking shepherd, searching woman and waiting father. Whether the “distant country” of Luke 15:13 can be stretched to include the strange new worlds beyond the nebula becomes the question of faith for every viewer.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, Dunedin. He is the author of Built for change (Mediacom: 2016) and The Out of Bounds Church? (Zondervan: 2005) and writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at

Posted by steve at 06:53 PM

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