May 31 2013
There’s no sense beating a dead horse.
Even the oft-maligned Rick Berman said as much when he warned that creating one incarnation of TV Trek after another ran the risk of going back to the well too many times.
Then he and the deservedly-despised Brannon Braga created Star Trek: Enterprise which basically limped through four lackluster seasons of sci-fi so watered down it made parts of Buck Rogers look downright Shakespearean.
There’s little sense in deconstructing Star Trek Into Darkness any further (i.e. beating that dead horse) because even its ardent fans have admitted some “modest” (LOL!) gaps in logic. Besides, I’m more concerned about the longevity of the franchise than I truly am any single version of it. So long as one version survives, then fandom gets to fight another day.
And – JJ be damned – Star Trek lives.
It wasn’t all that long after the original series’ cancellation that legendary creator Gene Roddenberry began the comeback tour. For those of you who don’t know, Roddenberry rather famously toured college campuses where he spoke to the very same fertile young minds that’d happily turned “he’s dead, Jim” into a drinking game. They listened as he lectured them on the need for continued space exploration, the seeking out and exploring of strange new worlds, and the ongoing reflection of the human condition. In fact, Gene’s speeches created such a buzz that they were recorded and released on vinyl. (Google ‘album,’ you infants! And get off my lawn!)
Of course, looking to the future necessarily meant bringing Star Trek back. Of all things, perhaps Roddenberry understood capitalism best. In science fiction, nothing truly dies. Not even residual checks. (Google that, too.)
Paramount got his message. It wasn’t too long before they were talking about refitting the Enterprise and sending it out on an all-new five year mission. Star Wars happened, which caused them to rethink that whole TV angle, and the resurrection was complete.
See, Trek’s higher ideals were always bigger and bolder than studio executives could control – a kind of intellectual Gangnam Style.
Shoot, Star Trek was doing that long before the age of Obama, and it never had near as many scandals … though there was that inter-racial kiss. One could argue that, from every person’s core, each of us reaches for something better tomorrow than what we have today, and that’s the strongest sentiment beating in the heart of Roddenberry’s entertainment beast, but that’s also something JJ and friends haven’t quite figured out.
Here’s the dirty little secret so far as this Trek enthusiast is concerned: JJ’s movies are pretty but empty. Gorgeous but vacuous. Flirty but without the sex. Oh, he’ll make you think Kirk had a threesome, but that’s as far as it goes.
JJ’s films are eye candy. They’re the ‘supermodels’ of the multiplexes, amped up on coke but desperately in need of a good burger. Think what you may, but the case could be made that our world needs supermodels. They create excitement. They demand attention. However right or wrong it may be, they set a particular standard that a certain gender of mankind strives for while the other gender secretly covets (or so I’m told).
By contrast, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country actually featured supermodel Iman in the role as a duplicitous shapeshifter who tries to kill Kirk and McCoy.
JJ prefers McGuffins (not available in a Happy Meal). Would any program he masterminded have been all that interesting without its puzzles? Can you imagine Alias without Rimbaldi? Or Lost without all of the flashbacks, flash-forwards, and flash-sideways? Or Alcatraz without the time traveling convicts? Unlike JJ, Gene and his best stories always centered on moral conflict – about people in transition, not so much about the puzzles put in front of them – and this naturally lends itself to different stylistic approaches.
Where Gene would’ve used a soliloquy, JJ used a phaser. Or a planet-busting space drill. Or Benedict Cumberbatch’s gravitas. I say that not to put JJ down or to elevate Roddenberry; rather, it’s simply a reflection on entirely different styles of storytelling. After all, why is it that one franchise is called “Star TREK” and the other “Star WARS”? Both have their place and time. Both have their cultural relevance. But – like it or not – JJ is putting butts in the seats, and, for that, he deserves his chance in the center seat.
But for those of you like me who ache for a welcome return to those days of yesterday, well look no further than Star Trek Continues, which can be found at www.startrekcontinues.com. The web series recreates Roddenberry’s vision – complete with the Enterprise Bridge, Sick Bay, and associated sets – with new actors cast in the iconic roles all under the directive of completing the original five year mission. It stars Vic Mignogna as Capt. James T. Kirk, Todd Haberkorn as Spock, Larry Nemecek as Dr. McCoy, and Chris Doohan (son of James Doohan) as Scotty.
This past Memorial Day weekend, Farragut Films and Dracogen Investments premiered their first episode, titled “Pilgrim of Eternity,” at the Phoenix Comicon to an audience of 4,000. “Eternity” resurrects Apollo – originally featured in Star Trek’s second season episode “Who Mourns for Adonais?” – and revisits the whole rule/worship theme as a moral dilemma. Showrunners even managed to get actor Michael Forest back under the toga as the Greek god of music and poetry.
I had the chance to watch it online, and, personally, I loved it for several reasons. First, it feels like the Treks of old. Second, it looks like the Treks of old. Lastly, it was clearly made with more heart, soul, love, and affection for Treks of old, which JJ and friends have kinda/sorta summarily dismissed. JJ’s even said (or very strongly implied) that he’s not all that interested in making Star Trek films that appeal to fans of the original series. He wants to film stories that interest him, and why shouldn’t he? If I were going to commit to twelve or fourteen or sixteen months of my life on a project, I’d want it to interest me, too! Otherwise, it would feel like work, and (sarcasm) God forbid someone actually pay JJ to make a Star Trek film (/sarcasm).
To me, the best that can be said of the JJ Abrams’ incarnation is “This is not your father’s Star Trek.”
And that’s OK. I’m perfectly alright with it. As a matter of fact, it’s a rather brilliant popcorn film, and my wife can tell you how much I love popcorn.
As for Star Trek Continues?
“This IS your father’s Star Trek.”
So no, fans: Trek isn’t dead. Far from it. To paraphrase what DeForest Kelley said in what remains the absolute best Trek film, “it isn’t really dead … as long as we remember it.” Star Trek lives. It’ll boldly go where no one has gone before well into the next decade and beyond. Your kids will watch it – as will their kids – and that’s the way it should be.
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