Thursday, September 3, 2009


Of all the holies in the geek realm, Star Trek was a major pillar of geek culture. Before George Lucas combined the works of Frank Herbert, J.R.R. Tokein and Akira Kurosawa to create Star Wars, geeks pored over the original Trek episodes with the fine tooth combs of their intellect, piecing together the facts and events to create a history and time line, a canon that was adhered to strictly. Books and fanfic expanded on the original, three-year run, conventions were created and attended. The minutiae of the Trek universe were obsessively cataloged and dwelled upon by fans the world over. You weren't any kind of a Trek fan if you didn't know that Zefram Cochrane of Alpha Centauri was the inventor of warp drive, that Kirk was from Iowa, that Scotty was an "old Aberdeen pub crawler," that Mark Lenard, who'd played Spock's father Saarek in the second season episode "Journey to Babel," had also played the Romulan commander in the first season episode "Balance of Terror." It was this familiarity that became the foundations of early geek subculture.

But that familiarity is completely gone now.
They've turned Trek into something sexy, edgy, flawed and totally unfamiliar, using the brand name to make it something marketable to a new generation. The movie relies on the fact that geeks the world over have made these characters pop culture icons, yet does everything it can to change them from what the geeks know and love. While this isn't the first time in the Trek universe that this has happened, it's a definitive event. The geeks can't blame J.J. Abrams for the breaking of the trust, but they can blame him for making it impossible to go back.

In an article in Wired magazine, Ron Moore, ex-Next Generation writer and creator of the successful Battlestar Galactica reboot, cries about how limited the writers were by the Trek canon. He claims that the canon limited the creativity potential of the franchise. Maybe this is why the move away from the canon began with the post-Rodenberry movies. In Star Trek: First Contact, the writers (Ron Moore among them) decided that Zefram Cochrane, a character introduced in the TOS episode "Metamorphosis" as a native of Alpha Centauri who had invented warp drive, was now from Earth. In one of many instances of time travel in the Trek universe, First Contact finds the crew going back to a crudely written, post-apocalyptic Earth where Cochrane ends up being some backwoods genius, peicing together the first warp drive from spare ICBM parts in a Montana nuke silo. In the post-Rodenberry Trek movie Generations, they even deviated from TNG canon, contradicting the episode "Relics," (written by Moore) where Scotty believes Jim Kirk to still be alive, yet in Generations, he witnesses what he thinks to be the death of Kirk while aboard the Enterprise-B. And of course there is the television show Enterprise, which changes the role of the Vulcans from equal partners in the Federation to omnipotent, technically superior patriarchs, treating the Terrans like dimwitted monkeys being led around on a leash. Which contradicted Spock's alien-but-equal role in the original series.

In those instances, the writers at least tried to keep the writing tight. They still managed to tell a good story. In the new Star Trek film, there are gaping holes in logic that you could fly a Constitution-class sized starship through. The flimsy explanation as to how we get into this new, alternate Trek reality rates as one of the worst excuses for science fiction in recent memory. Something right out of a Sci-Fi Channel original movie. We get no data as to why this supernova was such a threat to the universe, why only Romulus was obliterated (despite Remus's close proximity), how Spock had gotten involved with the Vulcan Science Academy on this project, how they'd come up with the red matter. How did some backwoods Romulan miner become a Khan-level threat? How did his ridiculously designed, incredibly huge mining vessel become the ultimate superweapon? Was he pulling all those missles from a magical tree he keeps in the cargo hold? Did the ship run on his hate? 

And then there's the fact that in addition to Scotty's magical transporter forumula, Spock Prime ALSO knows how to use the gravity of a star to go back in time, which the crew did regularly, both on the TOS and one of the movies. With this knowledge, he could have easily gone back and at least warned the Romulans to evacuate their planet before its destruction. Or at least Nero's wife and kid so that he didn't go all psycho. Why bother with all the nonsense in the film when they could have just slingshotted the Enterprise and taken care of the problem at its source?

And let's not forget all the wonderful coincidences that occur throughout the movie. Jim Kirk just happens to get ejected onto the same iceworld that Spock Prime was transported to. After outrunning impossibly huge ice monsters (did they get that big off of eating ice?), he conveniently runs into Spock Prime and they conveniently run into Scotty who is conveniently located within safe walking distance of Spock's cave. Add a convenient formula for transporting humans onto a starship traveling faster-than-light (but omitting the aforementioned slingshot time travel formula) and you're left with a pile of unbelievable bullshit that I wouldn't feed to a Denebian slime devil. To me these stupidities were an insult to the whole science fiction genre and to the Star Trek universe in particular.

So here's my point (finally)--if you're going to employ creativity to come up with a new timeline for the Trek universe, why not just employ that creativity in staying within the boundaries of the original canon? If you're going to go through all the trouble of getting yourself out of all that hard work fitting your ideas into a bigger framework, at least give us something that's worthy of what Trek HAS done right over the years. Make it smart. Make it something we can believe in. Don't feed us the fruits of your laziness. These writers have got dream jobs with the entire Trek universe in their control to do with as they please. I think they owed it to the legacy, the fans and the Great Bird to act like the heroes in the original series and DO A GOOD JOB. They didn't with this film, and I think in time this will become obvious the more people watch it.
The only ones who were doing it right were those dudes with their New Voyages ( series. Aided by such Trek greats as writer DC Fontana, Walter Koenig, George Takei and Gene Rodenberry Jr, this is where the Trek universe should have gone. Those unpaid writers and artists had no problem working within the framework of the original canon. In fact they built upon the original canon with a passion and love for the original show that the writers of TNG and this stupid movie could not muster. Why Paramount didn't just hand the New Voyages crew the keys to the franchise and go low budget is anyone's guess. Despite the rubber-suited aliens, cheap sets, Shatner's overacting and the sometimes-shitty scripts, Star Trek TOS raised the bar for science fiction. It's a fact that Rodenberry tried hard to get good scripts on the show, that his goal was to bring good sci-fi adventure onto the small screen. Besides the Twilight Zone, there are few shows that have had as large an impact on the sci-fi genre. It bred a movement that created a market for Star Wars and all that came after it. 

This new Star Trek movie lowers the bar that TOS raised. With it's massive popularity, it lowers expectations of what high quality sci-fi should look like. And it makes it cool to be a Trekkie if you aren't a Trek geek. The '09 Trek has successfully completed the job that the Sci-Fi Channel set out to do years ago-dumb down the genre so it's more marketable. Less talented writers can't demand the big pay that talented writers can. They lower the bar without being told to and they don't make the audience think (which is dangerous to consumer culture). They don't challenge their perspective of the universe (also dangerous to consumer culture). They don't bring in any new ideas to those minds in the seats. All these new writers have done is produce yet another tale of vengeance and firepower, of crystal clear good versus obvious evil. They've given us the same thing that's already been done a hundred times, only with different names and better special effects. Forget all those high-minded ideals from the sixties about conquering our savage nature that Gene Rodenberry tried to express. They're not relevant anymore. We're at war again, and this time nobody's listening to the hippies.  

But in the end, it doesn't matter what I think. Spock himself oversees the entire proceedings, the passing of the torch. On a Saturday Night Live sketch he called anyone who doesn't like the film a "dickhead." He's supposed to represent the universe that is lost in this film, the timeline that millions of people all over the world incorporated into their lives. At the finale of the reboot (and in real life), Spock writes his home universe off like it was a dream he had, and we're supposed to as well. We're supposed to accept this new, less logical universe for some reason no one ever explains.

No comments: