Saturday, May 16, 2009

Revisiting Star Trek

With the new movie still playing and the, well, less than fullsome acceptance my opinion of said movie has engendered I have decided to hit up my hardcopy versions of Memory Alpha on Star Trek.

They say life is about change and this is true to a large extent. Without change, things tend to stagnate and die. Even proven ideas sometimes need to be rebranded to stay relevant. But the crux with change is what kind of change is good? Change just for change sake is such a problem since such change invites chaos to do its bidding.

JJ Abrams was not the first time Paramount tried to rebrand Star Trek. Back in 1976 they had the Great Bird himself tackling this thorny issue. How do you capture the magical lightning twice was his challenge. With a title called Star Trek:Planet of Titans it almost got off the ground. But Paramount scuttled it only to suffer two slings of fortune's outrage for sitting on Star Trek: Star Wars [Who's McQuarrie did ship designs for Titan] and Close Encounters of the Third Kind conquered the box office. Then for the Paramount execs it was battle stations as a Star Trek movie must be made.

Which lead back to Roddenberry, the slowly coalescing concepts for Star Trek Phase II to further the adventures of Kirk and company, and Paramount's idea of creating a fourth TV network that they could sell their own properties to.

For one of the scripts of Phase II In Thy Image written by Alan Dean Foster and inspired by an earlier Roddenberry story idea called Robot's Return that would transform into Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979. The man who made the call to turn In Thy Image into a movie was Michael Eisner and Paramount's deams of making a fourth network were dieing. So to recoup what was spent on Phase II, a movie would be made and released to theatres.
...SUMMARIZING, most of our story problems seem to boil down simply to getting to know our alien machine character better. It's abilities, limitations, motivations, needs, and so on. With all that established, it should then be much easier to build a tale which rises steadily in excitement and jeopardies (to the starship and to Earth) to a very exciting and satisfying climax. - personal notes of Gene Roddenberry pg 39 Star Trek Phase II:The Lost Series.

What's been wrong with science fiction in television and in motion pictures for years is that whenever a monster was used, the tendency was to say, "Ah ha! Let's have a big one that comes out, attacks, and kills everyone." Nobody ever asked "Why?" - Gene Roddenberry quote pg 35 The Making of Star Trek.
Phase II not only launched the series of Star Trek movies but would be the genesis in many ways to Star Trek: the Next Generation. Instead of a full Vulcan named Xon trying to fit in with the crew by trying to have 'emotions' in Next Generation it would be Data. Though the ties are even tighter than that when the Phase II episode The Child becomes a ST:NG Season Two episode; instead of it being Lt. Ilia as parent it is Deanna Troi.

Like the original series, Phase II had its Bible to hand to prospective writers that set out basic information on the ship, crew, technology, terms, and even had an FAQ.

If there is ONE MOST IMPORTANT THING, what is

It is MAINTAIN REALITY. The crucial point to remember in doing science fiction is to keep it consistent. Once the nature of the place has been established, it must be inviolable. Do not set up a race of super beings only to have them outsmarted by Kirk at the end with a ploy that would barely fool Kojak. Do not show us a super strong alien only to defeat it at the climax with a fist fight. If its super smart to begin with, it must be sumer smart throughout. Likewise, for strength or any other quality that an alien antagonist or society exhibits. ... Keep in mind that the situations are far out to being with; if they are not consistent within the created reality, then all credibility goes out the window - and good drama departs with it. - pg 103 Star Trek Phase II: The Lost Series.
So where am I going with all the mad scribble, why I want to talk Star Trek movie villains of course. When it comes to V'Ger, because its an allegory for Spock coming to peace with his human half, their quest to understand V'Ger takes up so much screen time the audience ended up bored while wishing Kirk would use some phasers on it. Sometimes trying to crawl too deeply into your nemesis' skin is detrimental. So why does the probe in Voyage Home work so much better? After quickly analysing the probable motive of the probe due to Spock's superior skills, Kirk and crew turn the movie into an action yarn centered around the people trying to solve the danger posed by the probe. And not a movie centered on the probe.

Now Khan in Star Trek II was a truly well rounded character who so happened to be stark raving bonkers. From Space Seed we knew Khan Noonian Singh's background and what he had already tried to do to Kirk. Now its fifteen years later, like Ozymandius, all that is around Khan and his survivors is sand and death. For fifteen years he has simmered on Ceti Alpha VI hating James T Kirk and mourning the death of his beloved wife. So when Captain Terrell stumbles across him, we can understand why Khan thinks it's a sign and a gift for vengeance. And then there is Khan's loyal lieutenant Joachim who has retained a clearer vision than Khan of what USS Reliant and Genesis can mean to all the survivors. Because Joachim is such a level headed person of strong convictions, the madness of Khan is brought out more. Khan is Ahab and a ship named Enterprise is his white whale.

We can even empathize with Kruge and Chang, though they are Klingons. Kruge, being a product of Klingon culture that prizes strength while being steeped in hatred of the Federation, can only view Genesis as a weapon that will wipe out all of Klingon space. He is also a bored and frustrated Klingon since he can't kill too many of crew or feed them to his 'dog.' This makes him even more dangerous. So he takes his frustrations out upon USS Grissom and David Marcus while trying to protect his star nation from what he considers looming annihilation. Chang on the other hand fears a more cerebral threat to the Empire he so loyally serves. Peace with the Federation is something that is more anathema to him than is beer to a Baptist after services. Conflict or tension with the Federation is all he knows and Gorkon's peace initiatives scare the blood worms right out of him. So he finds himself allied with people whom would be his enemy, save they all have one goal - to derail the peace process between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. They all prefer the known horrors of ever possible war to the chance of peace. And it falls to Kirk to overcome his own hatred of Klingons for the murder of the son he just started to know and prove Gorkon right that peace is possible.

When compared to such villians, Nero in the latest movie is but a pale shadow. He does not stalk menacingly across the bridge of his ship like Khan or lapse into bombast, he just sits there with his spear. Only once is the reasons for his hatred of Spock, Vulcan, and the Federation explained. And its never expanded upon. Nor does Nero have a good lieutenant, he has an abject servant. Through out most of the movie, the personality of Nero is that of wallpaper as he sits and broods, hardly that of someone who has been kissed by the hand of cruel fate into an avenger of his dead people. Instead Nero exists solely as a plot device to menace Earth ala V'Ger or the probe so the new version of James T Kirk can sit in the center seat. In the end V'Ger had more personality than Nero.


The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

Nero definitely should have been developed. You need a compelling villain.

I simply do not understand why movies can't develop well-rounded characters.

Still enjoyed the movie, on its own terms, though. Not perfect, a little weird given the new look and actors and minus the Roddenberry touch, but still enjoyable.

Anonymous said...