Tag Archives: JJ Abrams

Your Dad’s Star Trek

It’s a good thing I love Star Trek because I don’t have Showtime or AMC, so I’m sitting out the conclusions of Dexter and Breaking Bad. And since I don’t watch professional sports, I am poorly equipped to talk about anything that’s popular right now.

Except Miley. I can always talk about her.

Resigned to being Twitter irrelevant, Star Trek is my fallback obsession. And boy do I love it. So much, in fact, that I have been in more than one drunken, impromptu Star Trek trivia dual.

So it’s been TNG all the time in my house and I forgot how amazing that show is. Which is a good thing because JJ Abram’s Trek marks the end of Gene Roddenberry’s vision.

And that’s ok. Nothing lasts forever, and by my count Star Trek had 28 years and 11 movies excluding the two most recent reboot films. That’s an amazing run. More than half the time Doctor Who has been on the air. And I think we are all aware that less than half of Doctor Who has been as good as Star Trek. By my record, that puts the franchise that hasn’t aired on television since 2001 ahead. It’s such a long body of work, with so many fantastic characters, that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to be upset about a new vision.

Especially when you consider the market really doesn’t have a place for Star Trek as we’ve known it. What’s popular on television today? It’s all reality TV, police procedurals, gritty adult dramas and genre mashups. Is it really a surprise when we have a Star Trek that’s less interested in philosophical questions and problem solving than in having someone kick the ship’s engine until it starts moving again?

Seriously. Kirk seriously kicked an antimatter engine to get it to work. That is quintessential American grit right there. A TV trope should be named after that–if it’s not already.

Let’s think about when the last truly successful space opera was. Outside of video games, I would probably call it Battlestar Galactica in the mid 2000’s. That was a show that captured the imagination, but was almost cancelled more than once before actually being cancelled. In terms of cult popularity you could probably give it to Firefly... which had 12 episodes and a movie. But both those shows have been out of play for a while and, as I recall, Star Gate Universe was the last memorable attempt at the genre.

And none of these shows are like Star Trek. They are each and everyone darker, more ragged stories about survival. This is what I think JJ Abrams doesn’t get about Star Trek. The show isn’t just about fighting against the odds to win the day. That is a component, though classic Trek preferred to out-think a challenge rather than out-fight it. Still, while episodes vary, the themes tend to be philosophical in nature.

In the broadest definition, Star Trek has been about what we ought to do instead of what we have to do. In any given episode Star Fleet and the Federation are usually the most powerful people in the room because it’s not about beating the big bad. Notable exceptions include the Borg, The Dominion and (if you really want to reference Voyager) species 8472. But whenever that does happen, questions almost always remain about what is appropriate; where the line we won’t cross is.

Except here. Action hero Picard just wanted to kill some Borg. 

It’s almost always about understanding the situation and acting in accordance with our values. Better than our values, really. In Trek humans have generally “evolved” beyond things like greed and genocidal rage.

It’s completely different from the more popular fighting in defense of our values we often see or the do as much cool shit as possible approach to television. In that form, heroes fight as hard as possible doing whatever they can to survive in the name of standing for defending their families, standing for America or just generally protecting their way of life. In Trek it was worth the extra risk or the possibility of losing to remain true to your principals.

Trek is introspective. Outsiders like Spock or Data are constantly making the characters consider why it is they do what they do. And, now and then, they call them out on their BS. In the TNG episode Measure of a Man, Data is ordered to turn himself over to Star Fleet to have his brain disassembled in an attempt to make more of him. Oddly enough, Picard was totally fine with following those orders until Data pointed out that no human would be required to be dissected for government research.

Or the episode where Data creates f****** life in the form of another android. Artificial life creating artificial life! There are so many philosophical considerations. Can an android teach another android? Should an android teach another android? Is that the beginning of a species? Do they have rights? If we try to pull the plug, would we end up in The Matrix or Terminator?

Every Star Trek has one of these characters because the show has always been interested in exploring exactly how we understand the universe and why it is we do what we do.

And we are the better for it. In Star Trek humanity is simply better than it has ever been in real life. I’ve said before that the franchise has an overly optimistic sense of exploration. Real colonialism resulted in genocides, slave trades, horrible diseases and hundreds of years of consequences we still feel to this day. Yet the intrepid crew of the USS Enterprise goes out to explore with generally positive results.

In spite of these flaws and the entire seasons of Trek that could be thrown away, I’m willing to say that I am satisfied with what we got. I’ve come to terms with never seeing another like it in my lifetime. And you know what they say about all good things.

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Live Long and Nitpick (Infinite Star Trek Spoilers)

Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Kahn was released 31 years ago this week. Courtesy of social media and our overly connected society, it feels like Star Trek: Into Darkness has been out about that long. So, if you haven’t seen the latter yet this is your only spoiler warning. Walk away, and check out this spoiler free version. By the way Norman Bates is his own mother and Bruce Willis was dead the whole time.

The rest of you already know Sherlock is the rebooted Kahn and Robocop is a rogue Starfleet admiral. What exactly is the vetting process for becoming an admiral in Starfleet? Like 1/3 of them wind up baddies. It is rarely even a surprise anymore. I start sizing them up as soon as they are introduced, like the first person Columbo interviews.

I digress. Several things have been nagging at me since viewing Into Darkness:

Did the event that rebooted the universe have retroactive effects? spock

In 2009’s Star Trek a Romulan Ship from the 24th century (TNG era) destroys the USS Kelvin in the year 2233 and  creates a divergent point from the Trek universe we know to a new continuity. This device is what allowed J.J. Abrams to reboot Star Trek continuity. When Kahn is introduced in the 1967 episode Space Seed  Kirk, Scotty and Bones all admit to having a certain admiration for the 1990s-era tyrant, at least through the filter of history.

In Star Trek Into Darkness no one has ever heard of the guy. Spock  has to call up Spock Prime to ask who he is. It’s too bad that Cumberbatch’s line “I am Khan” is pretty much rendered uneventful by the lack of knowledge . I guess the destruction of the Kelvin demolished all the history PADDs as well? Perhaps they all learned of him during their time at the academy which was cut short by the events of the previous film.

Where is the civilian authority of the Federation?

Admiral Marcus is convinced that war with the Klingons is inevitable. He commissions a Starfleet warship which he names the Vengeance, then manufactures the need to use it. Where are the checks and balances of the Federation/Starfleet relationship? In an early scene we see series of model ships on Marcus’ desk the last of which is the largest, and it’s black so you know it is bad. Where did he get the commission? “Uh… Yes enlightened outer space United Nations, I would like to build a ship called The Vengeance” (named after the fallen “Captain Vengeance,” I’m sure; definitely not after the dish best served cold.”

 

The Klingons wear helmets and Starfleet officers wear caps:  dress uniform

The Starfleet uniform has changed with such frequency during each series that it has been difficult to keep up. The drab and unadorned officer’s dress uniform is in stark contrast to the exaggerated stars and odd chest piece centered uniforms worn by the admirals. Seeing our heroes with salutes affixed to the bill of a uniform cap like an intergalactic air force was ridiculous.

On the other hand or head I guess,  the introduction of Klingons in this era was made all the more interesting by their protective head wear. In a society where social interaction is based on hand to hand combat, how have we never seen a Klingon in a helmet? This timeline also allows the writers to avoid the Klingon head ridge discussion altogether by showing them intact, as it were, from their first appearance.

helmet

I am sick of Spock Prime:                                                                                                                                                   

It is no secret that Abrams has a certain adoration for Leonard Nimoy; however, if they keep finding ways to make him relevant in this continuity, then I’m not sure what the point is. I would be just as happy watching the further adventures of Mister Spock staring the aging Leonard Nimoy. His inclusion here seems forced as his only purpose is to impart knowledge that the crew should have already had (see point 1).

 

These are just a few thoughts I’ve had since watching Star Trek: Into Darkness. Some of these may seem a bit petty, but not to worry JJ, most Star Trek fans aren’t the type to be obsessive. ;-{)}

 

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