The new Kirk and Spock look so young and pretty on this recent cover of Entertainment Weekly, it makes me wonder if Sondra Marshak or Myrna Culbreath was the photographer. The article within even describes the chemistry between Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto as “undeniably bromantic”. Echhh, do we really want to live in a world where “bromantic” is even a word? Anyway, the extreme youth of the rebooted Enterprise crew is one of the many question marks surrounding J.J. Abrams’ upcoming Star Trek movie, the eleventh in the series, but generally believed to be throwing the first ten out the airlock. How can everyone be mere cadets, yet already on the Enterprise? The production has been in information lockdown since its inception, with only one very uninformative teaser trailer along the way, but this EW article finally reveals some details about the flick, more hints then anything but enough to speculate about what lies ahead for the floundering franchise.
I should explain that while I’m a fan of Star Trek, it doesn’t consume my life. If there were a scale of Trek fandom, with a 1 being someone who might stop and watch a Trek show here and there while flipping through the channels, and a 10 being someone who shows up for jury duty wearing a Starfleet uniform and speaks fluent Klingon, I probably rate at about a 6. In other words, I’m not so much of a Trekkie that I would care if anyone used the term “Trekkie”.
Nevertheless, I have to confess I’m a little bit bent out of shape about the negative digs peppered through this article. The films are dismissed as “mostly dismal” (personally I only consider The Final Frontier and Nemesis to be truly dismal), TV series are “contrived spin-offs” and the franchise overall is a “hunk of retro scifi cheese”. Why assign Jeff Jensen to write the article in the first place if he’s such a hater? Actually, certain sections where Trek’s optimistic vision and idealism are discussed suggest that Jensen might actually get it, but is dutifully toeing the company line that the franchise is horribly busted and in need of a drastic makeover.
I dispute this premise. Yes, the last couple of films tanked and ratings dropped off every season of Enterprise, but I don’t think the reasons are as complex as Paramount execs seem to. What they’re aiming to do with this new Trek film is akin to performing major invasive surgery on a patient with a couple of skinned knees.
Paramount had already made the right move for revitalizing Star Trek when they took Enterprise away from Rick Berman and Brannon Braga and gave it to Manny Coto, who combined established Trek mythos with wild new stories for a terrific fourth season. Unfortunately, all the viewers were long gone and had no idea it was safe to come back, and the show got axed before its time.
I was never in tune with Berman and Braga’s vision for Trek. Voyager was a terrific premise that was poorly executed from the word go: a lone starship is stranded on the far side of the galaxy, but it never broke down, they never ran out of supplies, they apparently have dozens of shuttlecraft, and former enemies Starfleet and the Maquis get along like peas in a pod. The idea of going back 100 years before Kirk for Enterprise was an intriguing one, but the past ended up looking all too recognizable and familiar. Seems even at the dawn of Starfleet, ships looked pretty much the same, inside and out, and the plots were pretty much the same, too. The same guys were in charge too long, to the point where one could see that certain episodes of these two series seemed to be rewritten retreads of previous Next Generation and DS9 episodes.
As for the films, I find it interesting how much they are de-emphasizing the importance of past continuity and Trek fandom. “We weren’t making a movie for fans of Star Trek, we were making a movie for fans of movies.” JJ Abrams doesn’t seem to realize that Paramount went outside the Trek circle by hiring screenwriter John Logan and director Stuart Baird for Nemesis, with the result being a lame rehash of the good bits of previous Trek movies that ended up with the weakest box office returns of the entire film series. It’s okay to reach beyond the core Trek fandom audience for more casual viewers, but only if you make sure you have the Trekkies, too. If you can’t convince Star Trek fans to come see your Star Trek movie, you are doing something way wrong. When the article claims that Abrams’ “Trekker credentials” are “nonexistent” and that he had to struggle throughout the film “through his non-Trekker prejudice”, how exactly are we supposed to warm to the idea that this next film won't be yet another disappointment?
Still, I did glean some hope from this article, though maybe I am grasping at straws. The fact that Leonard Nimoy has given his blessing to this new take and thinks they are on the right track says volumes, for me. Aside from his personifying Spock all these years, Nimoy also directed two of the best installments of the movie franchise, and I always got the sense that he very well understood the overall concept and appeal of Star Trek. If he is good with the new film, that buys Abrams a line of credit with me.
The bits of plot summary the article reveals raise many questions. Supposedly no human had ever laid eyes on a Romulan before “Balance of Terror”, so how can Kirk and crew battle them during their cadet days? Where is Gary Mitchell? And by the way, time travel again? Does Abrams even realize that time travel is used in three other Star Trek films? Also, the whole concept that the TOS crew were all pals at the Academy for some reason makes me think of all those crummy 1980’s Saturday morning cartoons like Muppet Babies or Baby Looney Tunes.
But the lines that most intrigue me and give me some solace of hope are these: “the movie subversively plays with Trek lore- and those who know it” and “Revisionism anxiety is the point. “The movie,” Lindelof says, “is about the act of changing what you know.” For some reason, this suggests to me that the movie will in fact play completely fair with established continuity, but perhaps the filmmakers want to downplay that fact so as not to scare away the wider non-Trekkie audience. Perhaps if this new regime is going to make changes to canon, it will be properly explained in the plot, which I guess would be at least somewhat gratifying. I mean, the Deep Space Nine episode “Past Tense: Part 2” already clearly established that time travelers can indeed muck around with history and change things around, so at least there would be precedent if that were the reasoning for the reboot. Of course, a villain going back in time to change the course of history is the main plot of First Contact, so hopefully there’s a little more to it than that. Either way, if history is changed so much that all the future incarnations of Trek may not actually come to exist some day, I think there are going to be a lot of pissed Trekkies out there.
There’s still plenty of time before the new Star Trek bows on May 8, 2009 for us to fret and worry and agonize. In the meantime I’m ready to continue over-analyzing every little tidbit that is released to us between now and then, starting with the new trailer that is due next week. I am also interested in checking out the Trek novel Best Destiny, which the screenwriters cite as an influence. For the matter, I think I will be taking a look at all of the other accounts of how the TOS crew “first met”; between previous novels and comics, I think there’s already about a half-dozen versions of this story, even before Trek-hatin’ Abrams throws his hat into the ring. It will be interesting to compare how this new version of How They Met stacks up to what’s come before.