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Ebert: The Michael Savage of Star Trek critics

From Corey Hunt, Kansas City, MO:

You've finally REALLY disappointed me. I'm sure you don't care, but I like fencing the air.

Your review of Star Trek (2009) is so purposefully joyless I thought the Sun-Times had given Michael Savage a column. After declaring in your (justifiably) pugnacious review of Nemesis that "Star Trek is over" for you, damn if you ain't willing to transport to the Mirror Universe to remain so convinced. Your review implies all Star Trek needs to do to be as good as, say, your 3 1/2 star Star Trek: First Contact review (which also used a time travel gimmick to get on with an excellent story, incidentally) is renounce the universe in which it operates. Of course, you altruistically try to get away with this contradiction by gaining the kind of insight only a Trekkie in sheep's clothing could offer. What Star Trek needs, you write, and what Abrams' movie thumbs its nose at, is a return to the good ole Roddenberry days which, thanks to you I have been corrected to understand, actually produced Segan-like examinations of science. Unlike 2009's Star Trek, notions like time travel, warp speed and teleportation were discussed in a serious fashion, even as Kirk battled lizard captains and bedded alien bipeds with compatible parts. You slyly throw in "philosophy" and "ideals" to sweeten the argument. Pardon me, but as a Trekkie, that's a little like a college professor wearing his Docker's low to gain street cred.

You've managed in your last couple of Star Trek reviews to ask Star Trek movies, in concept, to become something "better", not so they'll be better movies, we're not quite meant to understand, but to achieve something more nebulously concrete: reality Sci-Fi. It's notable this devil's bargain isn't something you ask of any other franchise I'm aware of. You deny Star Trek (now, but certainly not always in the past) the creative license you're happy to lather upon Star Wars, or Spiderman 2. And I suppose you feel justified in part because Star Trek thinks of itself as "real." But what you choose to overlook is how healthy that self-delusion remains. Trek, like many of it's fans, does math with its heart. And it's better for it. That fact wasn't lost on Stephen Spielberg, as I was reminded recently in the explanation Elliot gives to the question of why E.T. doesn't just beam himself up. Because "this is REALITY!", he informs the neighborhood kids who've just stolen an alien corpse from under the nose of a sympathetic government Black Ops team.

I'm tempted to ask where your sense of optimism has gone, but I'll settle for why you're no fun. Did you expend the last bit on 4 stars for Iron Man? Where's the generosity, even the blatantly manufactured variety you mustered for Phantom Menace? As the American critic of summer blockbusters, it's clear you've decided to cut any tether your lifeboat had to the Enterprise, defacto. It might be a prudent calculation where your legacy is concerned; I have doubts. But in doing so you would disingenuously deny the next generation another potentially potent source of positive inspiration. Look, I, like you, know Star Trek is a simple Ark allegory and that warp drive space battles are implausible. I also know that Barack Obama is unlikely to be a Noah who's taking us all to a Roddenberry-flavored utopia. But damn if they both don't inspire people–and for much of the right reasons. Because the muchness of the power they have, comes from the grassroots optimism regular folks gain from their example. For Trek's part it once did, and deserves again, to manifest itself in tangible ways–whether it's some kid who becomes an astronaut, or inspiration to fuel the discovery of new forms of energy. Before anyone cares to learn what a black hole really is, they need to feel they might want to. I can't believe I'm explaining this to you. After all, as you wasted no time telling us, you're smart enough to know what a black hole really is. Oh, and fullerenes too.

I think you're playing a shell game with your readers, and it's meant to preserve respect in the face of a hasty self-exile in that Nemesis review. It must have seemed like a good bet at the time.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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