The original Star Trek series, starring William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, promised that in the future there would be progress.
While later Star Trek franchises featured apocalypse, from the Borg, the Dominion, etc. and while Star Wars gave us a malevolent Empire with a Death Star, in the original ’60s, John F. Kennedy-era Star Trek, there was no war (back on earth anyway), no poverty, no famine, no disease.
There also seemed to be little private enterprise in Gene Roddenberry’s space. The Federation of Planets is a European Union on steroids, and Captain Kirk’s U.S.S. Enterprise, despite its name, is a socialist project in a socialist economy.
It’s hard to see how we get there from President-elect Trump promising deregulation and proudly appointing billionaires – not academics, lobbyists, or community organizers – to his cabinet.
Apparently the collective subconscious of Hollywood saw Trump coming.
In the new Christmas release Passengers, Jennifer Lawrence (writer “Aurora Lane” – really?) and Chris Pratt (“Jim Preston”) play starship voyagers who may become star crossed lovers, in a world where government is never mentioned.
The two are on a corporate-owned ship, the Avalon, with 5,000 passengers in suspended animation, leaving a gentrified earth. Real estate here is so expensive, people like mechanic Jim Preston are leaving for the new Nashvilles and Austins on other planets, where the rents are low and the demand for people who can do Mike Rowe’s dirty jobs is high.
The planets are being developed kind of like townhouse condominium communities by the same corporations that build the starships.
Though the earth they are leaving doesn’t seem to have war, famine or pestilence, it does have more financial inequality than Star Trek did. Preston, who awakes years too early due to a malfunction in the ship’s systems, can’t order expensive Starbucks style coffee drinks from the ship’s Siri like automat because he is not a “gold class passenger,” and must settle for regular coffee and oatmeal.
When Aurora is awakened she can buy him all the fruit, bacon, and pumpkin spice lattes he wants, because she has the first class (and round trip) ticket. Passengers is actually somewhat of a pro-capitalist syfy remake of Lina Wertmuller’s 1974 leftist Swept Away, where an upper class woman and a blue collar stud find passion while stranded on a deserted island.
It’s a very good but not great movie, perfect holiday fare, part love story, part adventure, with beautiful visuals, including starscapes, Lawrence swimming in a giant gravity free bubble of water, and Pratt providing some beefcake in a shower scene.
The audience is invited to contemplate some choices involving selfishness, love, forgiveness, and life boat ethics, and this future seems free of cant, social justice jargon, and political correctness.