Bear in mind, I have a life-sized standup poster of Mr. Spock in my office, so watching this movie and commenting on it was inevitable.
JJ Abrams, the director, along with his art directors have an interesting if not particularly hopeful view of future cities. Previous movies have established that Starfleet HQ is in San Francisco–which is interesting, as I can think of no other major US public institution headquartered west of the Mississippi. Starfleet is meant to be global and intergalatic body, so moving it from the traditional geographies of political power makes sense.
While the earth is still populated by the time our young, brash captain Kirk comes along, there are large, unmarked and unexplained crevices running through Iowa (what looks like west Texas in reality), the unnamed capitol city of Vulcan looks like a terrible place (particulate matter) and San Francisco doesn’t look so hot either, although the iconic Golden Gate and Bay bridges are retained.
Overall, a nice movie in the spirit of the Star Trek franchise. They did something here I’m glad they did, if I can chat about human and cultural symbolism for a bit here. For years, I have always grated against the way in which Spock’s mother, Amanda, happily trailed after Sarek, Spock’s father, to a ghastly hot planet full of condescending Vulcans constantly asserting their cultural superiority. This cultural superiority doesn’t go away in this movie: nasty little Vulcan bullies start a dustup with young Spock, and then later the head of the Vulcan Science Academy ostentatiously comments on Spock’s disadvantage (which brings the matter of cultural superiority home to basic racism; logic isn’t a matter of training; it’s a matter of breeding.) Honestly, if the benefits of logic are so apparent and the disadvantage is so real, then none of it needs comment, does it?
The question always raised throughout the series and subsequent films is why Sarek married a human. Here, he answers, and it’s a logical enough answer at the beginning. The question I always had coming up and watching TOS was rather the opposite: why did the beautiful, warm, generous and intelligent Amanda marry Sarek? I suppose it makes sense in the logic of the patriarchy: he’s a good catch financially, and he can provide her with a social mobility she didn’t have as a schoolteacher on earth. But in previous films Sarek is a hard and cold man, unworthy of either her loyalty or her son’s. In this film, he’s a better man even if he’s not human, and Ben Cross (one of my longtime actor-crushes) brings real complexity if not humanity to his character.