Saturday, 4 May 2013

That Star Trek Film Wot Came Out A While Back

 C'est la vie.

"How do we know that your 'correct history' is the right one? The best one?"
"Because, Jim, here in your timeline, billions of people are dead."
 - Star Trek: Phase II, "In Harm's Way" (which you can watch here and here)

Hey, it's May the Fourth! Let's talk about that beloved science fiction franchise which has inspired and delighted a generation since its debut all those decades ago - that's right, Star Trek!

I'm a Trekkie.*  I'm also a fan of Star Trek: Phase II, which is easily the best Trek we've had this entire millennium.  So when I learned that the astoundingly high-quality fan series would continue their tradition of adapting lost Star Trek scripts with Norman Spinrad's "He Walked Among Us," I was over the moon.

But then, CBS put the kibosh on this...

... after news of Spinrad’s discovery spread rapidly around the Internet, CBS set its phasers to “meddling threats of litigation,” sending a cease-and-desist letter to Spinrad that demanded he remove the script from the web and immediately scrap all plans to adapt it, given that it still legally belongs to the studio.

Spinrad complied and has said little on the matter since, other than posting a clearly lawyer-prepared statement noting that he is not allowed to comment further and that CBS is now “considering opportunities to offer licensed copies of the work”—but not, however, considering allowing Phase II to go ahead with producing it, even if it’s had little problem with the group’s not-for-profit homages before. As the New York Times notes, Phase II has even been allowed to adapt another shelved Star Trek screenplay in the past (David Gerrold’s “Blood And Fire”), leaving Spinrad to drop some pretty strong hints that much of CBS’s recent change of heart has to do with pressure from J.J. Abrams to not allow the production of any Star Trek material that could possibly interfere with his own.

It's unclear just why CBS would stamp this out when they've turned the controversial "Blood & Fire" (aka The Gay Episode) into a fully-fledged episode that's better than 75% of official Star Trek episodes considering they also technically claimed copyright, but it seems Abrams may have a part in it:

For what it’s worth, Spinrad only makes this connection indirectly—responding to a fan’s assertion that “maybe J.J. isn’t to blame after all” with “I didn’t say that,” then continuing, “But I am not legally bound not to say that I found J.J. Abrams' first Star Trek film quite inferior to the Phase II videos and his cavalier attitude towards the decades-long legacy of what Star Trek has come to mean to the general culture quite reprehensible, and indeed artistically counterproductive.” So, that definitely seems sort of telling.

Now, I'm aware that lots of people liked 2009's Star Trek.  Other people loved it.  I - horror of horrors! - liked it too.  It was a well-designed, fun action adventure with some phenomenal acting from Karl Urban (who I'm convinced performed a seance prior to filming to summon the spirit of DeForest Kelly, or at least just watched everything the man's ever been in up to and including Night of the Lepus). I had a great time at the cinema oohing and aahing at the explosions and pretty starships. I enjoyed all the little in-jokes and nods that were put in for guys like me. And whatever happened, it worked. It obviously gave Star Trek the shot in the arm Viacom wanted after the massive over saturation of the late '90s/early 2000s, and you could argue the association would have drawn a new generation of fans to the original series. I certainly wonder if we'd be enjoying the super-duper remastered Star Trek: The Next Generation blu-rays without the proof that the Star Trek brand was profitable, because brand equity's all some executives tend to care about.

On the other hand, I had serious problems with the film : most of the complaints were made by others, and I really wasn't in the mood to engage with Strawmen on the issue ("You didn't like it because it wasn't full of pseudo-scientific drivel!" "You didn't like it because it had young actors instead of old fogeys!" "You didn't like it because it's hip and mainstream instead of weird and underground!")  And the Children of the Straw were out in force.  You got sites like The Onion making what seems to pass for biting, insightful satire by making the (entirely jocular and not at all serious) claim that classic Trekkies don't like the film because it's "fun," "action-packed" or all those other things that apparently preclude it from being Trek.  Now, I'm not criticising The Onion for their parody - that's what The Onion is for - but I do criticise those who feel that it's a reflection of the truth. Even reviewers I admire were far more forgiving than I was willing to be, especially the legendarily scathing Red Letter Media and SFDebris. It can be frustrating, since it seems many people cannot understand that you can like a thing and still acknowledge its shortcomings.

So if you liked 2009's Star Trek, then by gumbo that's just dandy, I'm glad you did - so did I. However, I hope you'll note that I'm not legally bound not to punch the air at Mr Spinrad's remarks all the same.



OK, to reiterate, deep breath:

I don't mind if you liked the 2009 Star Trek. I do mind if you dismiss my opinion out of hand as pedantic, nitpicking, or irrelevant. You're allowed to like it, I'm allowed to dislike it, without either of our opinions being ridiculed.

And again:

I actually like the 2009 Star Trek. I like Milius' Conan the Barbarian and Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy too, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to rip the parts I don't like to shreds.

Now that's out of the way.

Trek was never hard Science Fiction. It was never intended to be hard Science Fiction: it's in the classic tradition of Scientific Romance, where the science takes a back seat to character, story and theme.  I love my hard Science Fiction, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy well-told "soft" Science Fiction, any more than I must enjoy any specific subset of fiction.  Sure, it rankles when really bad science rears its ugly head, but a good story is enough for me to overcome bad science.  I'd wager the opposite would be the case for many HS/F fans, though I wouldn't dream of generalising.  Nicholas Meyer (who directed the two best Star Trek films, in my estimation) called it "Hornblower in Space," which is pretty close to the mark.

However, despite not being hard SF, Trek was still all about the ideas of high concept science. Silicon-based lifeforms, antimatter universes, molecular transport, warp drive, what have you. This wasn't Doctor Who or Buck Rogers, where the science was largely backdrop: it was a major part of the show's story, and the stuff SF does best - how new technologies, discoveries and theories affect people on an individual and society level - is found in the best of Star Trek.

I initially wanted to write a big, long review of the 2009 film to talk about everything I found wrong with it, but frankly, other reviewers have done it for me. I may disagree with a lot of the arguments on Loose Cannon's site, but I think the review is spot on, especially in regards to Uhura** (who I cannot understand is being praised as an improvement on Nichols' character despite doing next to nothing in the entire film), but this passage sums things up, aside from the "nearly all SF/Fantasy Franchises Hate Women" aside:

This movie, like other Dark and Gritty Re-imaginings™ (Universal Pictures), carries most of the set pieces of the original (or 1st Remakes) and proceeds to add more scantily-clad women (and call it “Sexy”), more mindless violence (and call it “Daring”), and some visual effects gimmicks (and call it “Edgy”).  The issue at hand, however, as a movie which is supposed to be an updated adaptation of “Star Trek” as presented by Gene Roddenberry back in the late 1960s, it is an unapologetic failure.
Unfortunately, Abrams was able to accomplish what Rick Berman could not: Give a full repudiation of Gene Roddenberry’s storytelling theme and methods.  Kirk is a turn removed from being a “Reality Porn” Performer; Spock is a hair-trigger sociopath; and Uhura is just eye-candy who sasses Kirk at every turn.  Everyone else is a one-note, one-dimensional prop who just says their old catchphrases and/or performs the mannerisms from the Original Series.  There is no lesson on the Human Condition (there has been none since “The Undiscovered Country”), no exploration, no discovery.  Just blackest space being lit up by turbolaser fire, bracketed by destruction.
Basically, if you take away the Star Trek name and characters, you get, once again, a typical space action movie of the era.  Your main characters are all about character conflict – and they even fight each other.  The villain gets a rushed backstory, but is reduced to killing random people and yelling at everyone.  But instead of coming off as a man who wants to kill his enemies without remorse, Nero sounds more like a petulant teenager as the film drags on.
Peeled away, this film hates women of all stripes.  But, then again, this is a failing of nearly every science fiction and fantasy franchise.
Star Trek has somewhat pretty visual effects, breakneck-pacing, and enough shiny baubles to keep most audiences happy.  This movie made money during the blockbuster season, so a sequel has been in the works.
But is it not a Star Trek movie by any stretch of the imagination.

Similarly, I'm not very familiar with Future Dude, but I'm with his review on the film:

The bottom line for me: Star Trek (2009) was awful, and it really causes me to worry about the future of my favorite sci-fi franchise. I have had this argument with a lot of people. They say, “But it was fun and it reminded me so much of the old show!” Really? I find that hard to believe.
If the film had not been called Star Trek and played on the pop cultural zeitgeist and good will that the franchise had built over so many years, people would have thought the film was utter nonsense. Folks went in with a feeling of warmth and nostalgia that kept them from truly seeing that mess for what it was.
I’m completely fine with the idea of a reboot. But, then, actually reboot it and do an intelligent job. Don’t act like all that came before is irrelevant. After all Star Trek had been around for four decades when the keys were handed to Abrams. Clearly something must have been going right for it to have endured that long.

Bernd Schneider had an overall positive experience of the film, but in his "premise and prospect" he explicates several of my most profound grievances, plus includes a lot of other things that are useful:

J.J. Abrams said in one of his first interviews that he would produce "Star Trek (2009)" for fans of movies, not primarily for fans of Star Trek. I always considered myself to be a fan of movies, but when it came down to Star Trek, I was a 100% fan of Star Trek. That being said, I absolutely hated the latest James Bond movie "Quantum of Solace", and I did not even bother to watch any of the various other action or fantasy franchise reboots. So if I have to know other recent genre movies to be qualified to judge the work, I'm not even a movie fan to start with.
In any case I readily put up with some inherent weaknesses of traditional Trek movies, if only they expand the Trek Universe in a both exciting and plausible fashion, a combination that is definitely possible to accomplish. I even prefer several TV episodes over most of the movies because, in spite of the much smaller budget and other shortcomings of TV productions, they generally tell better Trek stories than the movies. In fact, most of the ten movies made so far heavily rely on motives such as archenemies of the crew or on machines that destroy whole planets. Trek episodes do not need any of that to be thrilling. In my view the better place for Trek is the television screen, but only because on the big screen it is more likely to go over the top with the action. Which happens in "Star Trek (2009)" as clearly as never before - because that is what the theater audience allegedly expects.
Much has been written about the optimistic vision of the future as one of the franchise's most important assets, and how it is being preserved in the new movie. But there is not very much left of it. Nero's incursion has left deep scars that are not going to be healed apparently because it makes the franchise "edgier". But really, what will Star Trek be without the planet Vulcan, without its inhabitants, without IDIC? How could the optimism ever return to this battered universe and this immature crew that started off as absurdly dysfunctional and that would realistically break apart any time? And since when is Star Trek so fatalistic as here? Vulcan has been destroyed in this universe. It still exists in some parallel universe, or that is how long-time fans are being appeased. As already mentioned, the persistence of the new timeline begs the question why so many crews have gone to great lengths to correct time travel accidents, in which they were always successful. Doesn't Vulcan (which is once again depicted as a xenophobic society, by the way) deserve to be saved just like Earth's humpback whales? I usually keep out non-canon Trek, but I find this dialogue from New Voyages: "In Harm's Way" remarkable in this context: "How do we know that your 'correct history' is the right one? The best one?" (Kirk) - "Because, Jim, here in your timeline, billions of people are dead [including the inhabitants of Vulcan]." (Spock). There are two Spocks in "Star Trek (2009)", but where is the one who once said: "There are always possibilities"? The one who died and was resurrected? In Abrams' Star Trek the characters are ultimately helpless. They don't manage to break out of their roles. **
"Star Trek" has been labeled as "epic" by a couple of critics, and they probably meant that it brought back the excitement. Sure. I share this view, but not in a completely positive sense. An epic is usually a drama dealing with a fight of good vs. evil, it may span decades or centuries, the roles are clearly defined and the end is foreseeable. Very often in epics, events occur as predicted or they repeat in cycles of one generation. Unlikely coincidences are either accepted as part of a divine plan or, in a more modern view, they are attributed to something like genetic predetermination. An epic usually does not have the potential of moving on as Star Trek has displayed it for 40 years, with the notable exception of Star Trek Enterprise, the one series that went back in time and still went on in its own right. "Star Trek (2009)" is not only a much more radical kind of prequel than Enterprise (technically speaking), it also exhibits many characteristics of epics such as Lord of the Rings or, even more obviously, of Star Wars. Clearly the Trek movies, rather than the television series, always had something epic to them, but "Star Trek (2009)" is burdened with super villains, multiple conflicts, tragic events and, most importantly, with the concept of "destiny" like no other Trek installment before. 
Just as I was citing Star Wars as the prototypical space epic, it occurred to me that there are remarkable parallels: Luke Skywalker (Jim Kirk) is hanging around on a farm with his uncle and his only pleasure is fast hovercars (classic cars and bikes). Until, one day in a bar, a fatherly friend gets him out of trouble, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Chris Pike), who actually used to know the boy's late father, a hero known as Anakin Skywalker (George Kirk). Luke (Jim) still has a long way to go to become a Jedi (Starfleet officer). He meets Leia (Spock), whose home planet is destroyed, and although Leia (Spock) initially doubts Luke's (Kirk's) ability to lead people, the boy, against all rules and all reason, becomes a fighter pilot (starship commander) in the final battle against the villain.
Sorry, I'm complaining a lot about the premise - again. Certainly "Star Trek (2009)" is not primarily meant to be an accurate depiction of a time travel and its consequences. As repeatedly stated by the producers, it is about the characters, simply because the movie outlines the characters' developments and shows how they got to know each other. But which characters? These are not the characters from the Original Series. And not just because they look different and the feel of the movie is more modern. They are alternate universe versions (and they are even aware of it!). They are meant to be different and they have to be different. That's why the movie involves a time travel in the first place. With all due respect it is pretense to call it an "origin story". In fact, it tells a decidedly different story than TOS (or than what could have happened just before TOS in the original timeline). As hard as the people in charge push it (such as with Kirk's unbelievable premature promotion), all this will not converge to the original universe. With the experiences from the Nero disaster and, most blatantly, the total destruction of Vulcan this version of Star Trek just does not have the same potential.
People repeatedly ask why I am so much opposed to the idea of the new movie taking place in a new parallel timeline, a concept that has been used more than once in Star Trek before. There is, however, a huge difference between the parallel timeline that Abrams has created for "Star Trek (2009)" and the ones we have gotten used to. Because it is a narrative switch now. In other words, it is not a temporary visit of a fairground such as DS9's Mirror Universe. Abrams' version is the only Star Trek from now, perhaps safe for ongoing novel series that may carry on in the old continuity regardless. TOS, TNG, DS9 and Voyager may still exist somewhere out there, but it is just a hypothetical possibility that some day the official Star Trek of Paramount/CBS will revisit the old universe. It is nothing more than wishful thinking of some fans that the old Trek continuity may still exist in some fashion. When the redesigned Enterprise warps away into the new universe at the end of "Star Trek (2009)", it is a point of no return in canon Trek. 
Coming back to my earlier grievance about the many coincidences, as laudable the attempt is to preserve some aspects of the old universe in the new setting, the way it is done is contrived. Just imagine: Had Nero arrived only a few years earlier, then Spock could be a woman, which would have given their conflict a totally weird and unexpected twist. Don't mistake me, I would not have favored such a scenario. But isn't the destruction of a key planet in the Star Trek universe a much more extreme alteration to the basic setting than a simple sex change that could even be totally plausible given the movie premise? The people who made "Star Trek (2009)", however, have safeguarded just the presence of their seven main characters on a ship named Enterprise, as if everything in Star Trek boiled down to this simple formula.

Where I differ is that I'm not going to say "this wasn't Trek," or argue that I don't believe someone wasn't reminded of the original series: obviously people's idea of what is and isn't "Trek" will differ. I will say, however, that it wasn't Trek to me. And since this is just my opinion, that's all that matters to me, just as your opinion should be the only one that matters.


That'll look dated in the 23rd Century

Perhaps more than any other Trek film this side of The Voyage Home, Star Trek is preposterously tied to the early 21st Century and late 20th Century. I'm not talking about things that can't be easily avoided or foreseen like current ethical mores or scientific ideas: things that seem fine now could be laughable twenty years from now, but there's little way of telling which will last and which won't.  I'm talking about things that are ridiculous.

The scene where young Kirk rebelliously steals his stepfather's vintage car would've been good... if he wasn't listening to the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage."  Now, think about it: "Sabotage" was released in 1994.  It was already 15 years old when Star Trek came out, so any preteen boy listening to it in 2009 would already be somewhat precocious. But consider that when Jim Kirk was listening to it in 2243, "Sabotage" would be 250 years old. Combine this with the fact that he's driving a 280-year-old car (could a Corvette even survive to the 22nd Century, let alone the 23rd?) and you get a preposterously anachronistic scene.

Thus, to get the full effect of the scene, this scene is the equivalent of a boy in 2009 driving a stagecoach in the Iowa desert with Gossec's Grande Messe des Morts blaring on the radio. Now, this fixation with the 20th Century isn't new to Trek.  However, there's a difference between grown men with incomes displaying an interest in the past, and a ten-year-old farm boy.  I realise Kirk isn't meant to be a normal boy, but I never felt him to be a connoisseur of classical music and old sports cars before he hit puberty.

Oh, but it gets worse, for his stepfather calls him.  On the car's phone.  Which has the Nokia ring tone.

For me, this is the most soul-destroying moment in the history of Star Trek. Yes, even worse than that time an alien did the Pendari's Eyebrow and hit Seven of Nine with the Rock Bottom - an apt name given the artistic bankruptcy of the episode.

What this film is saying is that, somehow, after the Eugenics War, World War Three and the Earth-Romulan War have claimed the lives of in excess of 600 million people and utterly destroyed the nations and economies of the world we know today, somehow, a Finnish communications company dependent on technology that was largely destroyed in a pan-continental Armageddon, has survived. Not only has it survived where entire nations have fallen, but it's using the same ring tone from two centuries ago.

It is, in a word, ridiculous.

Quite The Promotion

I'm going to highlight one or two things to illustrate how I could nitpick this film to pieces. First, Kirk is promoted from cadet to captain of Starfleet's mightiest starship in the space of one day. I cannot add anything more. In fact, most of the members of the crew gain their position by instantaneous field promotion. It isn't just the crew who get this upgrade, but the Enterprise itself. The moment where the fleet warps in to see the debris of the fleet has not an iota of the power of its inspiration in "The Best of Both Worlds." Part of the reason is that it was a long, massive battle of attrition which left nothing short of carnage in its wake: we never see the battle until Deep Space Nine, but it's clear that this was a brutal, prolonged fight.

In this film, the battle between a Starfleet task force and a monstrously powerful ship is over in seconds.  Here's my problem:

The U.S.S. Kelvin vs the Narada: lasts 5 minutes.
The U.S.S. Enterprise vs the Narada: lasts a good 20 minutes.
Nine starships vs the Narada: lasts thirty seconds.

I can understand the Enterprise putting up a stronger fight against the Narada than any one other Starfleet ship: it's the most advanced ship in the fleet, and it's the Hero Ship.  But why does a 20-year-old Kelvin last longer than nine other starships?  Did the Narada use up 90% of its weapons in ten seconds? Then again, the new Enterprise is pretty large. Far larger than the original according to most official sources, for no reason I can suppose other than "bigger is better," which also explains the Big Black Enemy Ship against which the Enterprise Must Do Battle in Star Trek Into Darkness. And the previous movie. And the movie before that...

This seems all so familiar...

And there's a lot more: plot holes as far as the eye can see, an apparent crippling fear of anything remotely resembling complexity in case it becomes the dreaded technobabble, the pandering to the young demographic at the expense of other elements. It wants us to remember old Trek, yet demands we accommodate things which are anathema to the original series. It tries to have its Cellular Peptide Cake and eat it: it's trying to sell itself as something entirely new and unrelated to the original Trek canon, while simultaneously trying to tie it in to the established universe so as not to alienate old Trekkies.  For this Trekkie, it fails miserably.

Yet beyond all the arguments about the Beer Distillery Engines (seriously, that's a Budweiser distillery, look it up), timeline and canonical issues, inconsistencies, even ideas like Trek being about exploring and discovery rather than action and revenge: it's the characters and story which lie at the heart of Trek - and for me, the reason why it fails.

The Needs of the Many

Whatever our lives might have been if the time continuum was disrupted, our destinies have changed.
 - "Spock," Star Trek (2009)
Where the heck were these guys?


I know it seems like I'm just quoting other people all throughout this review, but I honestly can't say it better than Bernd Schneider:

In any case it remains to be said that the stance not to save Vulcan is unbecomingly fatalistic and highly unethical, considering that the science and technology to go back further than 2233 and stop the Narada would be readily available. At least Spock Prime should be familiar with half a dozen of time travel methods such as the slingshot effect, yet he chooses not to "cheat".  Would it be "cheating" to prevent a disaster from happening that was never meant to happen? Neither in the Prime Universe nor in the new, parallel universe if it exists. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and the few people whose lives may not be as great in the original history as after the incursion definitely don't justify the sacrifice of the lives of six billion Vulcans, a complete species that was never meant to die. The possible existence of a parallel (old) universe in which the planet still exists is just a lame excuse for not doing anything. And it is in strong contradiction to what anyone from Archer to Janeway would have done to save the Vulcans. With the knowledge about the supernova in the 24th century, at least the planet Romulus has a perspective to live (even though, at the time of the movie, the Romulans wouldn't be exactly grateful for that information from their enemies).
Speaking of Romulans, what about Nero? He has been waiting for 25 years in the past just to take revenge on the man who attempted in vain to save his planet. Couldn't he and his crew have done something much more useful, such as going back to the 24th century, a few years before the disaster would happen, and warn their people in time? He and his men could have had a good time, regardless which version of the 24th century they returned to. But instead of that they waste 25 years preparing for an insane suicide mission.
If everything else fails, there should still be Daniels from the 31st century (from Enterprise) and the people from the 29th century (from Voyager) or pretty much every temporal police of every future era that can scan time while staying protected to repair the huge damage that has been done in "Star Trek (2009)". It is hard to believe that even these wouldn't do anything, while they were heavily involved in Voyager's time travel incidents and in Enterprise's Temporal Cold War, respectively. But perhaps they have actually fixed what they deem the main timeline, and what we see in "Star Trek (2009)" takes place in an abandoned branch of the time continuum, a parallel timeline indeed, but one that no one cares about any longer for some reason?

That's it right there. That's where Abrams' Trek fails to be Star Trek for me. In classic Star Trek, there is no such thing as "destiny." Your lives are what you make of it, not some arbitrary future written in the stars. Kirk decided he didn't believe in a no-win scenario, so rather than taking the Kobayashi Maru and dealing with the loss like a good Starfleet officer, he refused. He hacked the game, cheated, because he would do whatever it takes to save his crew. We see this time and time again on Star Trek, this idea of refusing to blindly accept the inevitable, to challenge the very idea of inevitability. This was Star Trek at its best.

This new film and its universe is the antithesis of that idea, because it plays straight into this woolly idea of predestination to an almost prophetic level. Pine's Kirk isn't going to be great because he does great things, it's because his father was great, and he had to live up to that legacy on his Hero's Journey. It's completely phony, and undermines what we've seen from Trek elsewhere: the legacy of your ancestors is something one has to deal with, maybe even reject or at least confront, but never something which defines you. Quinto's Spock? Spock is one of The Last Of His Kind whose Home Planet Was Destroyed who was still An Outcast To His People, three tired tropes straight out of the Joseph Campbell checklist.

But if I could point to a single thing, just one thing which proves to me that This Is Not Trek, it is this: the "original" Spock, the one from the 24th Century played by Leonard Nimoy, "our" Spock, never attempts to restore the timeline. Not once. He just gives us the quote above, and seems resigned to the idea that he now lives in a universe where his home planet and billions of his people were wiped out. Because of something that shouldn't have happened. And he has the means to prevent it.

In a word, no. In more words than that: I hear people talking about how this film "ruined" Star Trek. I disagree, as I think Star Trek is so powerful a cultural phenomenon that this film, or any film, couldn't possibly destroy it. Others talk about "betrayal": I'd say Star Trek has betrayed itself a good number of times over the years. Just look at some of the tripe concocted by Berman, Brannon & Braga, even Roddenberry himself. But the idea that Spock, the original Spock, would take every opportunity to reset a timeline changed for the worse by temporal disturbances, and yet not do this for the genocide of his people, is complete and utter anathema.

When the cold implosion sent the Enterprise back in time by three days, Spock did not argue with Kirk's decision to bypass Psi 2000, preventing a near-catastrophic outbreak. When the Enterprise is thrown back to 1969, Spock and the rest of the crew did not just decide to stay there and mingle with contemporary earth: they did everything they could to get back to the 23rd Century. When McCoy accidentally set events in motion leading the Axis to win World War II and preventing the creation of the United Federation of Planets, Spock did not simply sigh and say "well, this is our new timeline, guess we should make ourselves comfortable." When the Enterprise crew encountered a mysterious operative who aimed to change the timeline to prevent nuclear Armageddon, they didn't sit on their hands, they their utmost to aid him. When Spock & McCoy ended up trapped in the distant past of an alien world, they didn't throw up their hands and settle down with Zarabeth, they returned to the future. And, most notably, when the crew of the Enterprise see earth being devastated by an alien menace, they seize an opportunity to go back in time intentionally and give the present a chance to survive.

If the character Nimoy played in Star Trek (2009) was the same character he played in the original series, animated series and six films, then the story would be very different. It would be about Spock working with Starfleet to prevent the coming of the Narada in the first place, not to mention preventing the destruction of Romulus like he was supposed to do. It would be about Spock regaining his spaceship (I refuse to refer to it by its "official" name) so he can get back to his own time. In fact, I would even argue that if this was the same Spock from "our" timeline, he wouldn't muck everything up in the first place, because he would've gotten to Romulus on time and prevented its destruction without needing to travel back in time!

"But," you might say, "what about all the times the Enterprise/Starfleet could have gone back in time in the original series but didn't?" Well, as Schneider stated, perhaps the whole "time travel police" aspect is in play, so the Enterprise couldn't, say, go back and stop Colonel Green or Khan. Then again, this is a case where the problem was caused by time travel in the first place, which is a lot more difficult to excuse. The only way this would make sense is if this was a complete reboot, and that Spock Prime was not from the original universe at all, but yet another reality - one with no Gary Seven, Department of Temporal Investigations, Braxton, Daniels, Q, or any other agent that could conceivably express interest in repairing damage done to the space-time continuum.

Really, I'd prefer if Abrams, Ortzman & Kurci just called it a reboot. Then we wouldn't have this song-and-dance about fidelity to the original timeline they evidently don't have the least interest in adhering to, and could focus on the bigger picture: making a song-and-dance about fidelity to Roddenberry's original ideas which they evidently don't have the least interest in adhering to.

To Boldly Go

Can anyone remember when we used to be explorers?
 - Picard, Star Trek: Insurrection***

Star Trek (2009) was an action film about a crew fated to come together. It was about a man destined for greatness who has to come out from the shadow of his heroic father. It was about a half-human alien who has to deal with the destruction of his homeworld and the death of his mother. And something about a blood-mad mining captain who wants to destroy a planet instead of save his own, and the man he blames for it having access to time-travel technology he never bothers to use.  Sure, there have been Star Trek films that contained elements of action and revenge, but it wasn't those elements which made them great: it was the characters which have had an entire series of character development. The characters in the 2009 film are, practically by their definition, not the same characters from the series or the previous films, and thus, they have none of the rich history. As Star Trek: Nemesis discovered, you can't just take a few riffs from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and expect it to be well received critically or financially, because you could only do Wrath of Khan with Khan. You could only have that story of revenge, isolation, sacrifice, consequence and age with the characters we've already spent all this time with.

Likewise, in my opinion, you can only truly do Star Trek if you adhere, even slightly or with qualifications, to the Star Trek mantra:

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

Strange new worlds, new life and new civilisations, "to boldly go where no man has gone before." Almost every Star Trek series or film has some element of that famous introduction. Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier are the most obvious cases of that sense of discovery, that awe and wonder at the mysteries of the cosmos. But Star Trek II and III engage in the ideas inherent in Genesis, and the consequences and implications of it; Star Trek IV's probe is an unknown entity whose motivations are never explicated; VI deals with the metaphorical "strange new world" of peace with the Klingons; Generations had the Nexus; First Contact had revelations about the Borg, as well as a perspective on 21st Century Earth "boldly going"; Insurrection at least tried to do something with eternal youth on a strange new world; Nemesis had... erm... well, Remus was a new world, I guess, and Picard's dealing with Shinzon was an exploration of "what ifs" on a very basic level.

This alternate Star Trek is the only Star Trek property which failed to do anything remotely resembling exploring. Be it exploration of the final frontier - strange new worlds, new life, new civilizations, where no one had gone before, or exploration of the human condition - where We are going, what it could mean, what change would mean for Us. 2009 offered us no wagon train to the stars, no challenge to our preconceptions about humanity or reality, no big ideas. And that's what I love about Star Trek, and what I think Star Trek should always strive to do.

Some might say the new Star Trek is criticised because it wasn't "respectful" enough to the past, and that it was somehow too bold for fussy old Trekkies like me - on the contrary, I don't think it was remotely bold enough. Not only was the story hamstrung by the insistence of including the prime timeline despite it clearly wanting to be a reboot, but it tied itself to classic pseudo-Campbell archetypes, of the Tragic Family History, the Doomed Hometown, the Hero's Journey - stuff which Star Trek sought to subvert, not recast.

I'll be going to see Star Trek Into Darkness, but with the same mindset that I watched Conan the Barbarian: as an alternate universe interpretation. I'd love to think that there was a little of the Star Trek I love in the film's story, even though the rumours about The Big Spoiler suggest otherwise (and if it turns out to be the case, I doubt I'll rage so much as sigh resignedly). Rather than hope for something that won't materialise, I'll just enjoy it for what it is: a fun action adventure that just might remind you of how brilliant, insightful, moving, and intelligent Star Trek can be.




*It's the older term, and the one Gene Roddenberry endorses, so it's the one I go with. Other people prefer Trekkers, and that's their prerogative, but neither is right or wrong. I don't pay any credence to the idea that the terms apply to different sorts of fans, since when that happens, one is generally denigrated in the process - usually Trekkies, as it happens. I've heard everything from Trekkers being the "true fans" and Trekkies the fad fans, to Trekkers being level-headed and logical "rational fans" and Trekkies the unhinged sort who'd sell their mother for Spock ears. Since "Trekkie" is the term which is most often considered derogatory even by other Trek fans (do these people lack any self-awareness?), it's the one which appeals to me the most precisely because of that.

*I highly recommend this two-part look at Uhura's character. Again, I don't agree entirely, but it's clear the author and I both love Uhura as a character and a possibility, and she deserves a lot more than "just" being one of the first great Women of Colour in science fiction.

***That quote is the single good thing I have to say about Star Trek: Insurrection. I'm not the biggest Nemesis fan, but that's mostly because it was the most disappointing for me after Generations (which I hold as the single worst Trek - yes, worse than Insurrection and The Final Frontier, Set Upon Me Brethren.)

10 comments:

  1. and you thought 2009 was bad.
    don't watch into darkness...
    it's That bad.
    save your self the pain.

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    1. I'll keep your warning in mind, Anon.

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  2. Well said. I couldn't agree more -- except for the part about liking the 2009 film :)

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    1. "Like" is a relative term, of course. I "like" Yor: The Hunter of the Future, but that hardly makes it an endorsement of its qualities!

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    2. Oh, I see.

      There's like and there's like.

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    3. Much like "the truth" and the truth!

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  3. Jar-Jar Trek - The Wrath of Nurd reminded me of a bad SNL skit with a film budget.

    Jar-Jar Trek 2 - Utter Drekness takes things to a whole new level--a bad SNL skit with Jim Cameron's Avatard budget.

    Tex
    (and yes, The Big Spoiler is, to quote that noted philosopher Edmund Blackadder, "Utta crap.")

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  4. As a Trekkie (and I use that term for the same reasons you do!) who got into the series through TNG and was most familiar with TOS through its movies, I liked the 2009 movie well enough.

    After having gone through pretty much the entirety of TOS in the past few months, I have to say, I don't know how well the 2009 movie will hold up for me. The inclusive of "Prime" universe Spock does strike me as completely unnecessary.

    Then again, I always thought the studio's insistence that the "Prime" universe was still intact smacked of desperation borne out of not wanting to get a million angry emails. We'll not see it again in any official capacity.

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    1. I agree, Eric. While I'm sure there are many fans who would really like some acknowledgement of the original Trek in the new films, I think it would've been better (and, honestly, more respectful) for them to just bite the bullet and go with a straight reboot. Then again, this isn't an isolated case: fraom what I've heard originally TNG itself was supposed to be a reboot, but eventually it was decided to tie it into the original series.

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