A bold, somewhat controversial, question, I know, but hear me out…
I’m not a Trekkie. I have a nostalgic fondness for the original series, which I watched as a child as a kind of Doctor Who methadone, but I haven’t seen an episode of it in something like twenty years. I watched most of Next Generation, Voyager, and Deep Space Nine during brief periods of TV-owning communal living in the late 90s/early 2000s, but couldn’t tell you the plot of a single episode except Trials And Tribble-ations (while I could make a good go to this day at enacting Charley X, City At The Edge Of Forever, The Trouble With Tribbles, and half a dozen more from childhood viewings). I watched Enterprise right up until the Diane Warren song came on, then turned it off and never bothered with it again.
No, my Star Trek, to the extent I have one, the Star Trek I remember, is the films.
Not the two most recent ones — no, even someone as relatively distant from Star Trek as I am could see that they got the character of Kirk horribly, painfully, wrong, and that in itself was enough to sink both of them for me, even ignoring other things like the totally nonsensical plots. And not the Next Generation films — I actually watched Insurrection something like four times when it came on TV because I kept thinking “I’ve not seen that one”, and then watching it and thinking “Oh, I have seen it, I just thought it was a longish episode of the TV series”.
But the films featuring the original cast were on TV pretty much constantly during my childhood and teen years, and I watched them every time they came on, and I quickly came to the same conclusion that the majority of fans did, that the even-numbered ones were clearly the best.
By this what fans meant, though I at least didn’t realise it, was that films involving Nicholas Meyer were the best ones. Meyer directed Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and wrote (uncredited) the final script for it, he co-wrote the script for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and he co-wrote and directed Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Clearly there was something about Meyer’s work that made it stand out from the rest — but did it stand out as better, or worse?
I hadn’t watched any of these films for about fifteen years, until March this year, when I got an urge to watch Star Trek IV again, and discovered that the box set of all ten films (including the Next Generation ones) was only twelve pounds on Amazon. So I ended up watching all six again.
The first thing I noticed is that they all follow pretty much exactly the same formula. They concentrate on Kirk, Spock, and McCoy to the almost complete exclusion of every other character — George Takei, for example, sometimes barely gets more than one or two “Aye, Captain”s in a film, and it’s honestly hard to see for the most part why they brought back any of the cast except the big three, for the amount of screen time they get. The big three get to interact with some younger “good” characters, who are initially suspicious or resentful but soon come to realise that in fact they’re great. They try to do some big, important, obviously good thing, and meet resistance from the Klingons, for no apparent reason other than that Klingons are arseholes. There might also be resistance from Starfleet command, because Starfleet command are arseholes. They succeed, but only manage to do so by making a terrible sacrifice which no-one should have to bear. And it’s all wrapped up in ninety minutes or so, to get the maximum number of showings per day. The plots are very, very linear, and there are few or no subplots that can’t be summarised as “Klingons”.
They still, though, all work, at least to an extent, and almost entirely because of the chemistry between the three main actors. Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelley really are incredible together, but the odd thing is that they’re all fundamentally comic actors, which creates a real disconnect between the Star Trek the fans — and apparently Gene Roddenberry and a lot of people at Paramount — thought they were experiencing, a serious meditation on post-utopianism or something like that, and the Star Trek that actually appeared on the screen, which was a series of what amounted to B-movie action comedies.
So how do the films stack up compared to my memories, after fifteen years or so away from them?
The Motion Picture — when I watched this, I was amazed. This was a much, much better film than Trek fandom has ever given it credit for. After looking in Lance Parkin and Mark Clapham’s Star Trek guidebook, which I picked up at the same time I bought the box set, I can see why. Star Trek fandom has, for much of the last thirty-plus years, actually been watching a different film than the one Robert Wise made. The TV edit of The Motion Picture, which is also what was released on VHS (and possibly on other formats, though I may be wrong there) adds in an extra eleven minutes of footage onto what was already a sluggish film. The original cinematic release is a tighter, better film by far. It’s also a film that was clearly meant for the cinema — those long tracking shots of the Enterprise would look great on a big screen, but are rather less impressive at the size of a TV (at least the TVs we had when I was growing up — TVs now seem to be the size of small countries). It’s not a great film — there are huge problems with the script, which is trying to be philosophical and meaningful — but it’s perfectly watchable.
The Wrath of Khan — this isn’t very good.
Oh, it’s not bad by any means, and when you’re a teenager it’s absolutely great, full of action setpieces and confrontations and the general sturm und drang that characterises the teenage emotional life; but watching it again as an adult, this is a film that believes its own hype. It’s a campy B-movie, but Nicholas Meyer seems convinced he’s making Great Art and a Profound Statement. However, Meyer is one of those people who thinks the best way to create great art is to reference other works of Great Art, which is to say the “canon” of great (Western white male) literature, so what could be a decent little film about ageing and revenge turns into monologues where we’re hit over the head with how Star Trek, right, is just like Moby Dick, because they’re both about whaling ships apart from Star Trek. It’s the filmic equivalent of 90s Beach Boys songs with lines like “Way back when when our master plan was having fun fun fun as America’s band/We came out rocking with Rhonda and Barbara Ann, singing of surf and sand” — a cheap way of getting the emotional resonance from a better work without earning it, although at least in the Beach Boys’ case it was their own work.
If it only took itself half as seriously as it does, it could have been twice as good, but as it is it shoots for profundity and misses, and hits “unintentionally camp”. There are good things about it — a lot of good things, in fact, including most of the performances, especially Ricardo Montalban’s, and the insect going into Chekov’s ear is still genuinely nightmarish — but it comes off like a sixth former trying to impress girls with his knowledge of literature.
The Search For Spock is better. This is a B-movie that knows it’s a B-movie, and plays things accordingly. It’s a very, very, linear plot, but between DeForest Kelley’s rightly praised performance as McCoy possessed by Spock, and Shatner’s much-mocked but gorgeously hammy Kirk (and his reading of “You Klingon bastard, you killed my son!” is actually an extraordinarily subtle acting choice) the central performances are solid, and, as all good 80s family SF films must, it has Christopher Lloyd in it. The pon farr scene is problematic in all sorts of ways, but that’s the only real blip on a solidly fun, if utterly unambitious, film that does the job it intends to unpretentiously. It’s not ambitious, but it hits its target.
The Voyage Home is very, very, good, and oddly it’s the bits by Nicholas Meyer (the scenes in twentieth-century Earth) that are best. Not only is it genuinely funny, but it’s the only one of the films to actually make decent use of the supporting cast. With any of the other films, when you ask people what their favourite bit is, it’s nearly always to do with Kirk, Spock, or the villain — “You Klingon bastard”, “I have been, and always shall be, your friend”, “Khaaaan!”, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”.
Here, because of the structure, with the Enterprise crew splitting into multiple small teams, everyone gets a brief chance to shine, and so people are as likely to mention Chekov looking for the “nuclear wessels”, Scotty talking to the computer, or McCoy raging about the primitive medical techniques, as they are to mention Spock and Kirk’s setpieces.
The Final Frontier is less good, but much less so than most people will claim. It has faults, of course — the special effects are nowhere near the level of the previous films, the crew are back to their “aye Captain” supporting roles, McCoy’s anti-Vulcan racism in the camping scene is clearly written by someone who’s not even trying (though Kelley is good enough he almost sells it nonetheless), the scene with Uhura dancing “seductively” is actively painful to watch, Shatner’s obviously watched Star Wars too many times, and getting David Warner to be in your film but basically be an extra is criminal.
But on the other hand, Sybok is, bar none, the best villain in the film series (yes, better than Khan, who’s just a ranting megalomaniac), McCoy’s scene with his father is lovely (and works very well with his concern for the sanctity of human life in the earlier camping scenes), and the way Kirk has to fight his whole crew — and loses — makes the film worthwhile. No, it’s not great, but it’s not at all bad either. There are other films in the series with much worse flaws.
The Undiscovered Country is one of them. Again, there’s a lot to like about this — and it’s definitely better than Khan — but it shares Khan‘s major flaw. Here all the dialogue could be replaced with three lines — “Have you noticed how our situation parallels that of America and Russia at the end of the 80s?” “Have you noticed that Moby Dick is a book about ships, which are a bit like starships, sort of, except that they only go on the water, obviously?” and “Have you noticed that the writer William Shakespeare existed, and that several of his plays mention wars, ageing, or death?” — and 90% of the film would be unchanged.
It ranks above Khan , though, in that there’s a real dignity to the film’s treatment of age, and David Warner is given a proper, decent, role to make up for the travesty that was his treatment in the previous film. It’s genuinely enjoyable, and also shows Kirk’s actions having long-term consequences. It’s a good film, though not a great one.
So are the odd-numbered films better than the even-numbered ones? No… but they are more fun. And they’re not as po-faced, pretentious, and overreaching as either the second or sixth film.
In truth, all six of the original cast films are… OK. I could stick any of them on, watch them, enjoy bits, cringe at other bits, and have a moderately entertaining hour and a half. But none is significantly better than any other, and in the case of Khan the emperor is really wearing no clothes — its successes are no better than those of any of the other films, while its flaws are, to me, the most annoying.
But still, I enjoyed them all. I might have to get the original series DVDs. Maybe Spock’s Brain is an unsung masterpiece…
You knew I was gonna comment, didn’t you?
And I largely agree, in spite of “my” Star Trek being the Star Trek of 1987-1994. I stand by what I wrote about The Motion Picture, but the direction and art design are amazing. Nicholas Meyer and Douglas Trumbull simply do *not* get anywhere near as much credit as they deserve for this movie. If you took their work and applied it to Alan Dean Foster’s original script for “In Thy Image”, I think you’d have one of the greatest masterpieces in the history of Star Trek.
Wrath of Khan sucks. It’s overrated, pretentiously middlebrow and ridiculous. End of story.
I enjoyed Search for Spock a lot more than I thought I would. It’s, as you say, a movie that knows what its purpose is and executes it without trying to do much more. I think we’re probably in complete agreement on this one.
The Voyage Home is one of the only two movies I think actually works, and it’s my favourite of the two Haven’t rewatched it yet, but I expect to like it as much as I always have. I think Jack’s reading pretty much nails the heart of it: http://shabogangraffiti.blogspot.com/2014/02/catching-them-at-their-best.html
I’ve always liked The Final Frontier. It’s a ludicrously problematic movie, but I think had it been allowed to live up to its potential it could have been the greatest Star Trek movie ever. The key to this movie, I feel, is that it was supposed to be William Shatner’s version of Star Trek, and William Shatner did The Transformed Man. A clear sign the Original Series had overstayed its welcome, especially given its 1989 release date.
The Undiscovered Country was the other movie I though worked really well. I remember thinking it was a wonderful anniversary special (Michael Dorn! *And* Rene Auberjonois!) and allowed the Original Series to retire with dignity. I’ve not rewatched it yet, of course, and given my reaction to Wrath of Khan I’m sort of resigned to the fact I will likely not enjoy it as much as I used to.
Oh, there were Star Trek movies made after the Undiscovered Country? I don’t remember them…
You have opinions about Star Trek, Josh? I’d never have guessed…
I pretty much agree with that (except I presume you mean someone other than Meyer in your comment on the first film, because he wasn’t involved in that one). The Undiscovered Country shares most of Khan’s faults, but has merits it doesn’t. I suspect you’ll come away from it thinking it wasn’t as good as you remembered, but also that you won’t be fuming about how awful it is.
Uh, Robert Wise. Of *course* I meant Robert Wise. This is what you get when you write nonstop for three weeks about five or six wildly disparate topics.
That’s the minimum reaction I’m hoping for with The Undiscovered Country. It at least can *live up* to the massive cinematic setpieces Meyer likes to lean on.
How do the new movies get Kirk wrong?
By making him a “rebel” with “daddy issues” who is, as far as I can remember (I’ve seen both films only once) characterised as a thuggish, psychopathic, sneering enfant terrible with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.
The Kirk of the TV series and original films is, of course, a character with many contradictory aspects depending on who wrote him, and so he definitely could be violent, oversexed, and arrogant, as the one in the new films is, but he was also tolerant, witty, and cultured, and Shatner played him as intelligent and civilised.
The new films remove all the good aspects of Kirk’s character, leaving just a brash, entitled, brat, who’s played with a permanent glowering sulk.
Is it one those of cases of “we’ve taken the name of a distinctive character and stuck it on a character who’s more off-the-peg”? If I had more presence of mind today, I’d be able to list some.
Yes, I know the kind of thing you mean, and it’s exactly that. In this case it’s “generically cocky, sulky, teenage rebel who wants to stick it to The Man because daddy”. The first scene of the first film actually has him driving a sports car (or riding a motorbike, I forget which) and listening to the loud rock and roll music while wearing a leather jacket. He’s turned into a character from Top Gun or something.
Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban are good enough to make you believe they’re actually playing Spock and McCoy, because they take the terrible scripts they’re given and do some actual acting (Urban in particular is very, very good — I didn’t realise how good til I saw some of the other stuff he’s been in and realised his range), and you know how a consistent characterisation from an actor can smooth over dodgy writing. But whatsisface “playing” Kirk seems only to have two expressions — arrogant grin and sulk.
The films might be better than I remember them — like I say, I’ve seen them both just once each — but I remember just thinking throughout “that’s not Kirk”, in much the same way that whenever I see David Tennant I think “that’s not the Doctor”…
Perhaps surprisingly, I’ve actually seen both the new ones. I was actually at a midnight showing of the 2009 one (BCB review stuff, I didn’t pay). The thing I that struck me (with my lower level of investment) was how nice it was to have a bright, shiny, optimistic future in the mainstream again and how interesting it was that the villains were grungy, used-future. The second one being called “Into Darkness” pretty much lost me from the off. It didn’t hold my interest at all when it was on at an in-law’s house.
The first one was by far the better of the two, yes, for precisely that reason. The second one was geekfodder with no redeeming qualities…
Also, thanks to a fan-made MST3K, I’m very familiar with Star Trek V.
To be fair, part of the point of the new movies is to specifically rework Kirk’s character by changing the timeline; ironically enough, the goal seems to be to put him more in line with the popular conception of the character, rather than the way he actually was on the show. This is *potentially* interesting, but yes, they handled it terribly and without even a spark of originality. They also pretty much character-assassinated Spock (and again, he actually has a VERY interesting idea at root with Vulcan being destroyed, which they proceed to do nothing with; that massive, epochal plot point seems to exist only to motivate Spock to get mad in that one scene).
I do think Chris Pine deserves more credit than he gets, though. He’s actually charismatic and a decent actor. I thought he worked his ass off to to show Kirk’s evolution in the second movie, it’s just that the script gave him no backup whatsoever, and he’s playing an awful, stupid character in general.
I agree about the first Star Trek movie being under-rated. The special effects were overdone and the story is slow to get moving, but I like how it all tied into the Voyager probe.
For me though, I agree with the conventional wisdom that Star Treks 2 and 4 are the best movies. You’re right that one of 4’s strengths is that it’s one of the few (only?) Trek movie where the supporting cast gets a chance to stretch out.
What I REALLY hate about the ST films, is above all.. the fucking FANS. Analyzing everything to death, picking apart the dialogue and the story, and judging one against the other. In this case, yourself included, Andrew.
It’s just… fucking… B-movie sci-fi… based entirely upon our love of the characters, and our desire to see them as often as we can, given the time we had left….
Some good, some bad, some a bit boring, some funny… but there’s not a SINGLE one I won’t watch again and again, to see my old 60’s friends I fell in love with at 7.20pm on BBC2 in 1974.
I enjoy them all, in varying levels… and for this kind of material, I leave my critics hat at home. It’s just unproductive and ultimately a waste of time. My opinion? Really?? If you must:
1. Too long
3. A bit cheap
4. Too “jokey”
5. Too earnest
6. Too obviously cold war
7. A waste of all talent
9. A TV episode
11. Overly stylized and revisionist
12. Ridiculously revisionist, predictable and tribute-referencing
So yes, I too became a critic… the thing I hate the most :)
I’ll probably have more replies later – trying to get finished at work so I can go home! Which is why I’m … reading blogs …… um……. :)
I just have to note that Star Trek VI still has, in my opinion, one of the best opening scenes I’ve ever seen. I still can’t watch it without cold chills and OMG!!! But… Star Trek was my first best sci-fi love, so YMMV. :)
Well…I really don’t want to pick fights or anything, and it’s interesting to read a contrarian opinion on this stuff, but, erm, let’s just say I don’t think I’ve ever disagreed with you this strongly on anything, Andrew. :)
In particular I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the defense of I and the criticism of II–I just don’t see how there’s anything particularly self-important about II just because it drops the odd literary reference, which is exactly the kind of thing the old show did on a regular basis. We’re talking about a show that had episodes called “Who Mourns For Adonais”, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” and “For the World Is Hollow And I Have Touched the Sky”, a dash of pompousness has always been in its DNA. But as long as that dash is kept as just a dash in the context of a fun space adventure (as opposed to the sometimes ludicrously preachy episodes like “The Omega Glory”) there’s something about the combination that I find intoxicating. Maybe it’s just the way I’m wired. I mean, you call it “unintentional camp” but I don’t think there’s anything unintentional about it; Star Trek’s always been camp. You can’t cast William Shatner in the lead in anything and not have it be camp. I think WOK has an almost-perfect understanding of how to manage that particular tone, which again, is there in most of the best episodes of the show. To me it’s not so much about pretending the material isn’t campy so much as making the campiness irrelevant–I mean, at this remove, an awful lot of SF and other genre movies are highly campy anyway, that doesn’t mean it can’t be GOOD and even smart and insightful. In the case of WOK I think the thing they absolutely nail is Kirk’s characterization; it’s a great summation of why we cared about the character and his adventures for years, and it’s legitimately touching even today, something I can’t say about a lot of classic Trek. Plus, while I’ve seen a lot of defense lately of Shatner’s acting and he’s certainly magnetic and…interesting, it’s a particular style that pretty much applies only to him and needs to be judged in a highly detached, ironic context. But WOK sees him give a performance that I would call legitimately good in ANY acting context, and I think the material supports it. In fact I think the literary references are mostly there to give glorious hambones like Shatner and Montalban some real meat to chew on, and they deliver gloriously.
If there’s a Trek movie that gives itself airs, it’s The Motion Picture, which the people making it seem to think is the next 2001: A Space Odyssey, despite no one involved being remotely within shouting distance of Stanley Kubrick. You level the complaint about Insurrection (which I agree with) that it’s basically a longish episode of the show, but TMP is written like an episode of the show that was then dragged out to motion picture length without the script being adjusted to compensate, meaning that nothing…happens…for…huge…stretches. (And yes, I watched the supposedly “tighter” director’s cut. It’s still a ponderous slog.) TMP certainly looks pretty spectacular, but that spectacle is in the service of a fairly limp story and a mythologizing of Trek that the show (and even the later movies) wisely didn’t go in for. (It’s TNG, DS9 and the rest that tend to “sell” the Star Trek philosophy, often successfully, but the inflated sense of importance sometimes lingers over those shows even when they’re very good. The reason I like DS9 so much is that it pushes hard against that sense of reverence even as it sometimes succumbs to it.)
If anything, WOK seemed like the producers were catching themselves after TMP and going, “OK, we lost the thread here, Trek’s supposed to be an adventure story,” and steered the series away from ponderousness. (And, admittedly, away from idea-based storytelling, though by part V and IV the series is arguably leaning more in that direction.) I’ve always been under the impression that Meyer actually wasn’t much of a Trek fan going in and that was part of why he was able to bring a fresh set of eyes, though I admit I’m going based on secondhand accounts here.
Part V is the only Star Trek movie I’ve never been able to finish, and I’ve tried THREE TIMES. If I generally feel like the Trek producers incorporate a certain level of camp but modulate it well, this is the movie that shows how simply trying to be campy can be excruciating. It’s the Rocky Horror Picture Show of Trek. You can feel the contempt for the material radiating off the screen–as a few people have pointed out, the whole idea of a planet where the Federation, Klingons and Romulans were attempting to co-exist having devolved into a Mad Max-esque nightmare seems like a deliberate middle finger to the ideals that were supposed to animate the series. There’s a certain old-school Hollywood sensibility that’s socially liberal but strikes a tough-guy libertarian stance on political systems and The Inherent Folly of Trying To Get Along Peacefully, and here I feel like we see that attitude starting to creep into Trek. And it’s hard to see how this isn’t at least partly on Shatner, which shows to me why his sensibility should never be allowed to dominate Trek.
I agree III is quite good, though! And it is a shame that the movies, aside from IV and maybe VI to an extent, sideline the supporting cast so much…though that did tend to happen on the show at times as well.
Just want to say that I do appreciate the comment, but haven’t got the mental energy to compose a proper reply (this summer is *killing* me). That said, I think that while the Motion Picture does take itself too seriously, it’s at least trying to create a feeling of awe from its own efforts, rather than piggybacking obvious cultural references as Wrath of Khan does (and incidentally, the “Director’s Cut is a different thing from either the theatrical *or* TV releases — I’ve not seen it so don’t know how it compares to either).
I agree that the pretentiousness was always part of Trek, but it’s a part I don’t like ;)
I don’t think V is contemptuous as much as just the people making it not having enough time to make the film they want.
As for “unintentional camp”, I think there are two kinds of camp, one that comes from not taking things too seriously, and one that comes from taking them far *too* seriously. When Star Trek does the first it’s the good kind, when it does the second, it’s definitely bad…
Well I appreciate the response to my response, especially if it’s costing you your mental health! But then everyone who gets into a conversation with me seems to say that…
See, to me, TMP *is* piggybacking in the sense that it’s borrowing a lot of 2001’s style and even visual vocabulary to attempt to lend gravitas to a story that doesn’t really earn it. Whereas WoK simply drops a couple of Moby Dick references, which I don’t really see as a big deal? The movie’s not a remake of Moby Dick or anything, it’s just a vague literary thing for Khan to seize on in his growing obsession. In fact, strictly speaking, I feel like the charge you’re leveling at the film itself–using literary references to imbue itself with important meaning–is an attribute more properly applied specifically to the film’s villain, and it’s part of what MAKES him a villain. Kirk of course didn’t really do anything bad to Khan, and in fact he treated him with more respect and kindness than he probably deserved, but Khan can’t simply accept a natural disaster and some bad luck as the source of his woes, so he casts himself as Ahab and chooses an enemy to destroy. I think it’s a purely character-driven choice of cultural reference; I could see this being a little self-congratulatory on the part of the filmmakers, maybe, in the sense of “We made a not particularly obscure literary reference, aren’t we clever” but I don’t really see it as the filmmakers trying to claim that they’re making Moby Dick II. It’s more like “Look at how nuts this guy is, he thinks he’s living in Moby Dick.”
I dunno, It’s honestly hard for me to tell when Trek is taking itself too seriously and when it’s winking (I seriously doubt Shatner EVER took himself seriously in this show or anywhere else, and that jukes the stats a bit) but either way I don’t mind it, because, except for TMP and a relatively small handful of episodes, the pretentiousness was just a seasoning on top of a generally fun space show; it only occasionally let the posturing get in the way of the story being told. And it did actually earn a bit of self-importance, to my mind, by being the first real attempt to do “real” SF on American TV, no matter how falteringly. The Next Generation was the show that let its Serious Tone and the “Trek philosophy” (which Roddenberry seems to have concocted out of whole cloth after the fact) interfere with actually telling an interesting story at times.
I don’t know much about the making of Final Frontier; the “contemptuous” thing is just the vibe I get from it, combined with what the film seems to be saying (as well as the failed Peace Planet, Sybok’s therapeutic telepathy could be seen as a criticism of the more extreme “harmony and co-operation at all costs” attitude that had been read into Star Trek and was particularly informing The Next Generation at the time). I admit I might be inferring a bit from other reviews and criticisms of this movie (though, despite having been a Trek fan my whole life, I’ve honestly never spent much time in the realm of fandom, so I don’t think I’ve been tainted by it) but it’s certainly no secret that the Trek cast had a complicated relationship with the franchise that gave them careers. Wasn’t this only a couple of years after Shatner screamed “GET A LIFE” on Saturday Night Live?
Oh, and you want to talk about self-importance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HlplfG5Ezk
“… other works of Great Art, which is to say the “canon” of great (Western white male) literature.”
I believe I am going to have to take exception to this under the heading of Political Correctness Gone Mad. Western literature, at least until literally, was written by white male people — we may not like it, but that’s how it is. So your implied criticism of Star Trek for referencing only Western white male literature simplifies down to a criticism for referencing only Western literature. But what did you expect? It’s a film aimed at Western audiences. Audiences who, whether they liked it or not, had to read Moby Dick and Shakespeare in school. Of course those are the works of literature it references. It could reference Raghuvamsha all it wanted and no-one in the audience (me included) would even realise it was happening. Heck, maybe it does reference Raghuvamsha and you didn’t notice.
Films are written for an audience. It’s fruitless to object to that. You might just as well criticise The Voyage Home on the grounds that all the characters speak English, the language of Western white males.
I think you’re misreading where the emphasis is here. My problem isn’t with the fact that it’s referencing white male literature, but that it’s referencing very, very, obvious things rather than anything more interesting, and that it’s doing so in a very, very obvious manner — it’s just pointing at, say, Moby Dick, and saying “look, we know about Moby Dick”, in an attempt to make some of Moby Dick’s status rub off on the film.