Sunday, October 8, 2006

Pre-Original Trek on the Big Screen?

There have been some murmurs and now some hype about a 2008 Star Trek film possibly featuring a young Kirk and Spock as cadets back in the good old days of Star Trek. Here's a great article that collects the various tid-bits and clues floating around the world.

Personally, I don't know if JJ Abrams can do a Trek film justice. I feel it must be pointed out that in addition to shows like Alias and Lost, Abrams also created Felicity. Although I liked some of Alias, I find many of the storylines in Abram's shows to be simply preposterous; much like the film Armageddon (which he also wrote). When talking The Original Series (TOS) Trek we're talking about pulpy sci fi hits hard-science science fiction-- that's a difficult balance. Kirk has to get the ladies, but that can't be the whole show. The film has to make a profound point about society and the human condition; which to me is the guiding light of science fiction and is something the original series did well on many occasions. With Abrams at the con, this could quickly descend into NCC-90201. I like Abrams more than Michael Bay, but the two seem to have certain similar sensibilities about (not) developing realistic and compelling characters and storylines. I don't want to apply guilt by association, but other people who have worked along side Abrams also helped create Bay's horrible The Island and will soon crush the hopes of millions of Transformers fans when that disaster of a film is finally released (in which the similarities of the film to the original franchise pretty much end at the Autobot symbol). Is this really the guy we want? Should it matter that he's associated with (potential) franchise-killers? Well, I have to say that there are so many better creators out there who are being ignored. Wouldn't it be better to dig a little deeper and build a creative team of people who have been dreaming of creating Trek for a little longer or a little more? Abrams may call himself an Uber-Trekkie, but I can't see someone creating Felicity when he really wants to make Trek. Overall, Paramount has done a lot to lose the trust of Trek fans. Now that they own the franchise, CBS has only continued the erosion by announcing that in their forthcoming HD re-release of Star Trek: TOS they will be replacing many of the original special effects with new CG effects. Not only does that sound, well, really dumb and an extreme waste of time, to some, it's even sacrilegious. (Heck, as a visual effects artist, I think it's at the least dishonoring our visual effects heritage. One can only hope that, like the DVD releases of Doctor Who, you can turn off the replacement effects. And those original effects were REALLY... underfunded). If they're going to win back the trust of Trek fans, they have to show reverence for what has come before and make up for the poor choices they've made since The Next Generation. Not bringing Berman and Braga back might be a step in the right direction, but it won't heal the wounds.

Is the future-past story concept is a good one? Well, it may provide some fun situations and give the creators a chance to explore the characters and the Trek Universe in a different way. It may also free them from trying to continually stretch the TNG storyline as Berman/Braga did, which may be a boon. It may also be a chance to make up for the TNG mold they forced Enterprise into. The thing that this storyline would definitely have going for it is something that none of the later series had: the strong bond between Kirk, Spock and Bones (well, Data and Geordi, Paris and Kim were probably closest). I'm not saying that the others should have had that, but if you're going to use these characters, you have to include the genesis of that close friendship. As far as the look and feel of a film like this, clearly, CBS/Paramount et al are indicating that the old gold and blue colors will make a comeback, but I don't think you can make a feature film today that simply uses the same exact designs as the 60's show. Doing so would imply a certain tongue-in-cheek attitude that might not work if you want the audience to judge the film on its laurels and not as just some homage or parody. You need more detail in the designs or they'd end up looking cartoonish. Perhaps you have to start at the beginning, look through the prism of TOS and say "Okay, if the original series had money and things like laptops and cell phones had already existed, what might the series have looked like?" I think some of the costume and production designs for the TOS-crew films were brilliant, but much of it didn't really reflect The Original Series. The inspiration has to be there if fans are to enjoy it. And lastly, cast people who fit the roles, not just pretty faces. Say what you will about Shatner's acting, I think it takes a solid actor with the right attitude and even the right voice to pull off a character in sci fi. And that goes for crew as well. Don't hire someone to direct your film simply because he has some hit series and is a hot commodity in Hollywood. For both actors and crew, I think Hollywood is trapping itself inside ever-contracting bubble sort of like Washington D.C. Instead of actually looking for the right people to fill roles, Hollywood is limited by its rolodex. If so-and-so isn't in the rolodex, they don't exist. And we wonder why box office numbers are falling? Every community needs fresh blood in its gene pool or it will corrupt and die out. And fresh blood pumps in the veins as much in older individuals as younger. New people mean more risk, but the lack of risk-taking is probably the other biggest thing killing Hollywood. (Heck, if you wanted to choose a proven commodity, why not ask Joss Whedon, creator of the Buffy the Vampire and Firefly series? Now that could be cool!)

In the end, a good Star Trek story is much larger, much deeper and much more fun than any soap opera drama or action show set in contemporary times. Because of that, this film may be beyond JJ Abrams and many, many others, but if he can look beyond the immediate and finds the right people, young and old, Hollywood and not, he can make a truly amazing film. And, he can use his clout and popularity for good and make that big corporate conglomerate care about what they're making. Unfortunately, to do any less will mean the end of the franchise. (At least we'll still have New Voyages!)

That's only my jaw flappin' though. What do you think?

This entry originally appeared in my Myspace blog. Here are the comments as posted:

Posted by Tantra on Friday, January 05, 2007 at 9:21 PM
I can appreciate your sentiments on this subject. Do you work with New Voyages? If so, I look forward to meeting you sometime. I'm with Farragut.


Posted by Ben'jamin on Friday, January 05, 2007 at 9:54 PM
Thanks Holly! I guess you could say I'm a little passionate about Trek and other great sci fi. I do work with New Voyages and I don't think I could forget who you are, Lt. Commander. Fair wind and calm seas to the cast and crew of Starship Farragut!