Saturday, December 19, 2015
Spockalypse Now-Idle Thoughts on Star Trek
With the new Star Wars film about to explode onto our neurotic society, most normal people probably missed the collective groan of despair and frustration that issued forth from a large number of Trekkers/Trekkies after the release of the trailer for new Star Trek movie. While only ninety-four seconds long, during that time we hear “music” from the Beastie Boys while catching glimpses of the starship Enterprise literally being torn into small pieces as if it's a dastardly banker's incriminating financial spreadsheets being fed into a paper shredder. Yeah, there are the ubiquitous brief scenes of the crew uttering clever one-liners while facing numerous dangers on a hostile alien planet. But the real puzzle for me is the scene where Jim Kirk for an unknown reason jumps over an odd obstruction using a trail bike from our era. We then cut away to see Kirk and some attractive but mysterious alien falling from the sky only to be suddenly transported away and plop hard on a transporter pad with the young captain give one final funny one-liner.
Hot looking female alien notwithstanding, unfortunately, the trailer for “Star Trek Beyond” makes it appear the movie is just another dumb-down action flick that happens to have characters from Star Trek.
Being open and honest, and showing my utter geekiness, I actually got excited when I learned of the trailer's imminent release a few days prior. The first two installments of the rebooted Star Trek universe known as the JJ-verse, while being financial successes, left many of the long-time fans as cold as a chunk of ice sitting on the surface of Pluto. For those people without an appreciation of that forlorn dwarf-planet's distance from the sun, that is damn cold!
The buzz about the new movie, entitled “Star Trek Beyond” was that it would make up for the sins of both previous movies but mainly the horrendous “Star Trek into Darkness” that, among other travesties, tried to pass off the villainous, Khan Noonien Singh, as a white, British dude. How a seriously muscular guy that was supposed to be from south Asia became a wry but much smaller person from cloudy and drizzly England was never answered.
You know the reaction to the trailer was overwhelmingly bad when both the director of the movie, Justin Lin, and one of the screenwriters who plays Scotty in the new movies, Simon Pegg are immediately mobilized to play damage control with the hardcore fans. The problem is of course the diehard Trekker purists like me who see Star Trek as something other than a money making venture for the Paramount corporate suits residing in their ornate corner offices. As far as the suites are concerned they have the hopelessly addicted fans by the geeky balls and figure if you have control of them, their hearts an minds will follow.
Giving the JJ-verse devil its proper due, there are a few good things about the rebooted Star Trek. At the top of the list is the cast. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, and the rest all do a fantastic job with their characters and even fresh them out more given that Sulu, Uhura, and Chekhov were never more than glorified window dressing in the original series.
Secondly, while “Star Trek into Darkness” was a totally mangled homage to “Wrath of Khan” that in a wiser world would be flushed down a toilet and forgotten, it did have a moral message about the evils of militarism and preventive war that should have made any supporter of Bush/Cheney cringe under their theater seats. And you can curse me as a sexiest pig if you want but I did personally enjoy the scene where Alice Eve, playing a young Carol Marcus, showed off her athletic body to a visibly shaken Jim Kirk. Almost makes me feel sorry for the character of David Marcus, the future offspring of a carnal union between Jim Kirk and Carol. This offspring of the two first appears in “Wrath of Khan” and quite frankly I found David Marcus a whiny twit and was happy the character was killed off in “The Search for Spock.”
Most important of all, despite their numerous and often fatal flaws both the JJ-verse movies are mega-parsecs better than that William Shatner directed abomination call “Star Trek: The Final Frontier.” Sometime in the late 1990's I attended a Star Trek convention where the original Scotty, James Doohan, spoke to the adoring crowd. During his much to short speech, we quickly learned William Shatner is a pretentious dick with delusions of godhood. That egotistical absorption is the only explanation I have for his attempt at writing and directing a Star Trek movie. The Great Bird of the Galaxy and creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, considered the story apocryphal and was about to sic his high-paid legal attack dog on Shatner to stop the movie but the Paramount execs stepped in and green lighted the project. Thankfully the next film,“Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country” was one of the best movies of the franchise and allowed the original cast to sail off into retirement in a dignified manner.
Arguably, the high point for Star Trek came during the third season of The Next Generation series. With the terrible first season and anemic second behind them it was during the third year that Next Generation took off to expand and further develop the universe Gene Roddenberry created. “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” easily took over when Next Generation flew off the small screen to do movies. In fact I'd rate the character of Benjamin Sisko probably the best captain of them all. Look Jean-Luc Picard was awesome and Kirk could get the chicks, but when the omnipotent scalawag Q pops onto the station Sisko kicked his ass when his antics become too much.
Now, as much as I liked the character of Katheryn Janeway, “Star Trek: Voyager” did in fact have the most throw away episodes in the franchise. The one that about ruined the series for me had the crew of Voyager finding a 1940's American pick-up truck drifting in the depths of interstellar space. After bringing the truck on the ship they find it still containing water in the radiator and fuel in the tank. How such substances did not boil away in the vacuum of space was never answered but this assault on basic science was only made worse when one of the characters hops in the driver's seat and easily cranks the truck up. Adding even more icing on the implausible cake, a few minutes later in the same episode they find Amelia Earnhardt in suspended animation on some obscure planet. Interest in the early twentieth century aviatrix has long exceeded the attention spans of the population once concerned with her mysterious disappearance over the Pacific Ocean not long before the beginning of World War Two. But I did giggle a little while watching this episode given that Earnhardt's fate once spawned numerous conspiracy theories along with many futile attempts to locate her remains. Not one of those anxious zealots ever thought of looking on the other end of the galaxy, that's just sad.
Soon after that Paramount Corporation made an attempt to create their own television network and took Voyager off syndication and tried to use it as the cornerstone for the endeavor. It wasn't until I signed up for Netflix a couple of years ago did I get to view most of the series' episodes. Many are quite good and the holographic doctor is one of the best characters in the franchise.
The introduction of a new Star Trek series always forced the fans into an uncomfortable period of adjustment before finally accepting the characters and scenario. Unfortunately for the last series,“Star Trek: Enterprise,” exhaustion was setting in with the fans and general public. Combined with the fact that we were dealing with a prequel set over a century before the adventures of Kirk and Spock many of the fans went into shock and weren't not able to accept it. Which is sad because many of the episodes are some of the best in Trek. The biggest fault I had with the series dealt with the monochrome nature of the crew. With the exception of the helmsman and communications officer the rest of the crew screams an overabundance of North American white people. Such a situation was fine for the original series made in the 1960's but not the first years of the twenty-first century.
Long story short, what the Paramount execs and JJ Abrams failed to recognize is that while their new additions to the franchise fail on so many levels to many fans it's not those inaccuracies and mistakes that keep us coming back to Trek. Simply put what keeps Star Trek alive is its vision of a hopeful future where the human race has matured and makes most its decisions using reason and compassion.
Unlike Gene Roddenberry, who in the final years of his life was getting a little weird with his belief that by the 24th century all types of inter-human conflict would be long gone, I still believe that our species can rise above its baser, barbaric instincts. I recently had a chance to read a little of Martha Gellhorn's works, one of the greatest war corespondents in the 20th century and Ernest Hemingway's third wife. In her book, The Face of War she wrote that after years of disillusionment she didn't believe in the perfectibility of man, only in the human race. Contrary to the late Mr. Roddenberry's vision our species will never be free of greed, jealousy, fear, and hate but it is an innate desire to try and rise above those primitive feelings that is our one saving grace. Sure we daily fail at overcoming them and, even worse, at times disgracefully fall back and wallow in the worst aspects of our nature but deep down we all want something better for ourselves and our children.
We know which way we want to go make a better society and world but like a deficient child we just can't seem to find our way there. Religion, for the worst most times, wanted to show us the way but its followers often came to believe their faith made them special and above everyone else. This fallacy has allowed untold rivers of blood to be spilled in the name of some god who remains strangely quiet given how often we are told he wants us to love one another above all else.
As corny and utter ridiculous as it sounds if there is one element of American culture that tries to make its presence known above all the static of banal self-absorption, glorified ignoramuses and egotistical drivel that is so common is Star Trek. Each series clearly states that reason, compassion, and intelligence should reign above just about everything else that governs our society today.
Treating Star Trek like some movie cash cow will never quite work to the degree it has with the far shallower Star Wars. People simply don't expect to hear Luke Skywalker or Han Solo say anything about homophobia or racism. As far as Princess Leia is concerned I didn't hear a damn word anyone said the first time I saw “Return of the Jedi” after seeing her in that shiny slave bikini.
Sure there are Trek television episodes and movies that are nothing but action but always at its roots is the desire to make a statement about our civilization or culture. Star Trek's basic statement is an optimistic view of our future if only we can gather the will and strength to take control of our fate. Given the flood of dystopic and post-apocalyptic movies made today seeing one quality made film where human civilization is successful is not a lot to ask.
Despite my low expectations of the coming “Star Trek Beyond” I will be in the theater the weekend it opens. If it does fail, I purpose a campaign be started to have Disney Corporation buy the Star Trek franchise from Paramount. They tend to make hopeful movies that do quite well in the box office. My other proposal is that Simon Pegg be forcefully renamed Jar Jar Binks and be left stranded on some deserted island. If anyone should be able to bridge the gap between movie cash cow and quality Star Trek, it's him.