Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Another post from the old blog: On the new Star Trek film

Star Trek used to have the most devoted fans anywhere. Naturally we loved really spectacular outings like "The City on the Edge of Forever" or The Wrath of Khan, but we were also the only people on Earth who were able to derive enjoyment from turkeys like "Spock's Brain" or Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Back in the pre-Internet era, there was really no such thing as bad Star Trek. Some episodes and movies were simply less good than others. Maybe it was because Star Trek's heart was always in the right place in those days. Even klunky Treks like "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" or The Search for Spock were trying to say something positive about the human condition. Gene Roddenberry, the cast, and the many behind-the-scenes personnel were trying to give us something substantive, a show that was about something.

After the death of Gene Roddenberry, the franchise was mostly run by people cared little for the quality of the product, as long as the Star Trek cash cow continued to generate revenue. The good Trek that was being made (DS9) was roundly ignored and underpromoted in favor of the hackneyed, formulaic branches of the franchise (Voyager, Enterprise, and most of the TNG movies). This created an air of cynicism in the fanbase. The attitude began to emerge that to be a really-and-truly dyed-in-the-wool Trekker you had to refuse to eagerly lap up the watered-down, inferior Star Trek that Paramount was pushing. New stuff like the TNG movies, Voyager, and later Enterprise had to be beneath you. It wasn't good enough to be a Star Trek fan, you had to be a Star Trek connoisseur. In fact, the depth of your devotion to Star Trek could be measured by how much of the franchise you disliked. My favorite example of this kind of dysfunctional fan is a fellow at TrekBBS who, over the years, has gone by the names Great Mambo Chicken, Mister Stinky Pants, and most recently The God Thing. The only Star Trek this guy will tolerate (I swear I'm not making this up) is the first two seasons of the Original Series and The Motion Picture. If anyone dares to suggest that any other part of the Star Trek franchise is any good, The God Thing will flame that person to a crisp with the fires of His wrath.

I realize I'm rambling here, but basically my point is that Trekkies used to like whatever Star Trek The Powers That Be saw fit to give us, but due to ten-plus years of disappointment and stupidity on the part of the caretakers of the franchise, we've become a cynical lot who are skeptical of any new Star Trek project that comes down the pike and pretty much instantly look for any reason at all to dislike it. Nowhere has this been more evident that with the new J.J. Abrams-directed Star Trek film that's set to be released on Christmas of this year. Upon learning that it focuses on the Original Series timeframe, a contingent of hardcore Trek connoisseurs decided that the set, costume, and prop design had to exactly mirror what we saw on the Original Series. Only a mentally ill person would expect a big-budget movie made in 2008 to strive to exactly duplicate the look of a 1960s television show that was shot on plywood sets, but these people are serious. Even after noted purist James Cawley visited the set and without spilling the beans assured us that, yes, things are different but they're different in a good way, you still get the feeling that some folks aren't convinced.

In the midst of all this negativity, you certainly couldn't blame the folks at the helm of the new film to distance themselves from the fanbase. To the contrary, though, J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci, Damon Lindeloff, and others associated with the production have gone out of their way to reach out to the fans and assure them that they take Star Trek very seriously and are determined to make a good movie. Their comments, coupled with the recent teaser trailer, really prove to me that they get what Star Trek is supposed to be about. So get real, people. Star Trek is over forty years old; the sets, props, costumes, and ships are going to look different from their 1960s counterparts. For the first time ever (outside the world of fanfilms, that is) different actors will be playing Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. But I'm convinced that this movie's heart will be in the right place, and I'm willing to overlook any little imperfections the finished film might have, just like I used to do with "Spock's Brain" and "The Alternative Factor", back before the Internet when gas was cheap and the world was young.

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