Monday, November 24, 2008

Why Trekkies Really Went To See "Quantum of Solace"


How have we never heard the term "internerds" before? In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Tina Fey uses our new favorite new word to describe the hordes of opinionated internet commenters who have become an extremely vocal minority in the last few years. Brilliant, Ms. Fey! We're totally stealing that... starting now: the trailer for J.J. Abrams' reimagining of Star Trek, which premiered in front of Quantum of Solace this weekend and is now available online (in HD!), has made the internerds very, very unhappy. To put it another way, hell hath no fury like a Trekkie scorned!

A quick scan of Ain't It Cool News reveals that the natives are not only restless, but also kinda pissed. Things like "terrible trailer," "it doesn't inspire much confidence," and the ubiquitous "raped my childhood" are written with passionate fervor and the caps lock firmly engaged. Even a Trekkie that actually liked the trailer had to write that he/she wouldn't consider the upcoming film "canon".

While we happily consider ourselves part of the nerd community, we never succumbed to the Star Trek phenomenon. We always felt like Star Trek was Dungeons and Dragons but pushed into the final frontier--the whole "dressing up like your favorite character" thing is a case of nerddom run amuck. Plus, James T. Kirk was never as cool as Han Solo, even if he did come first. Yet, that being said, we think the trailer looks pretty badass. Mr. Abrams has molded his vision of Star Trek into part origin story, part Star Wars and part Michael Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer summer action blockbuster. There are car chases, explosions, and though we could do without the Phantom Menace-style space dogfight, the presence of Simon Pegg almost makes up for it. How could we not want to see this?

And that's where the disconnect lies. Mr. Abrams has made a movie for nerds like us, not nerds who still debate the merits of Star Trek: The Next Generation against Star Trek: Enterprise. But for Star Trek to be a success, he needs everyone to come out and buy a ticket, not just guys dressed like Klingons.

So if you're a Trekkie (or, if you prefer, Trekker), perhaps stardate May 8th, 2009 isn't something you're looking forward to. For the rest of us, we'll set our phasers to stun and give Mr. Abrams a chance to show us if he's the next Steven Spielberg... or Michael Bay.


Hey, everyone. “Moriarty” here.

So let’s talk about STAR TREK.

JJ Abrams looms large on the pop culture landscape right now. Whether you love everything he’s done or not, he’s carved out a nice piece of the pie for himself, and part of that pie right now is getting to play with the biggest train sets that Paramount has. When they offered to bring him to the movie division, they did so knowing full well what they wanted from him: franchises and events. And if something can be both at once, even better.

And there are people that sneer at the sort of thing that Abrams does right now, but I’ve been pretty vocal about this for a while... I’m fascinated. There are things he’s been associated with that I’ve hated (REGARDING HENRY, for example), that I’ve been indifferent to (FELICITY), things I’ve loved (ALIAS, LOST). I think he obviously gets what kind of heavy lifting it takes to create a successful franchise event. And again... that sounds so calculated and clinical, but it’s not. It doesn’t have to be. You can decide you want to do a certain kind of big canvas movie, and you can do it with real passion and ambition. Even when I’ve disagreed passionately with the creative direction JJ Abrams took an existing property (his SUPERMAN draft), I’ve done so because I’m engaged by the way he makes choices. He’s not fucking around when he takes a property and rebuilds it. He’s going to make radical decisions, and they might work, or they might backfire, but they’re going to be bold choices. I think M:I:III was a warm-up. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t really reinventing the wheel. He just made a solid M:I film, which is what he needed to do, basically.

I think he’s aiming higher with STAR TREK. And I think he’s making some of those big bold choices, and doing things that you wouldn’t think he’s doing. And I think there’s a chance STAR TREK fans are going to commit mass seppuku when they hear some of what he’s up to. Which is exactly what you’d expect when you’re making big choices.

The first question is...

No, actually; the only question is: why STAR TREK?

I’m hoping I get a chance to ask JJ exactly that. I wonder if it’s the opportunity for the exploration movies down the road. If this first one goes well, he’ll be able to make STAR TREK movies for the next ten or twelve years, easy. With his track record in TV, I’m sure Paramount would let him take it back to the small screen when the film franchise goes cold again. He could be doing this for the rest of his life in one way or another.

Or maybe it’s just a one-off. He’ll make a few of these and then hand it off to someone else. I don’t know. I don’t know how much he wants to do or how little.

Certainly, STAR TREK is about as stark a set of archetypes as you could ask for when doing a remake. It all depends on hiring the right young Kirk, young Spock, and young McCoy.

Those are your big three. You need that dynamic to be perfect so everything else falls into place. Most of the big drama happens in the friction between those three personalities. So obviously the first film is going to find a way to put those three people together. Right?

Sort of. Possibly.

Okay, first thing that surprised me: I think Leonard Nimoy is sort of the star of the movie. I think a lot of this movie is about Spock. Nimoy-aged Spock, mind you.


Okay... you know the scene in BACK TO THE FUTURE 2? Where Doc Brown explains alternate timelines? Well, this is sort of... ummm... TREK TO THE FUTURE, I guess you would call it...

Picture an incident that throws a group of Romulans back in time. Picture that group of Romulans figuring out where they are in the timeline, then deciding to take advantage of the accident to kill someone’s father, to erase them from the timeline before they exist, thereby changing all of the TREK universe as a result. Who would you erase? Whose erasure would leave the biggest hole in the TREK universe is the question you should be asking.

Who else, of course, but James T. Kirk?

If Spock were in a position to change that incident back, and then in a position to guard that timeline and make sure things happen the way they’re supposed to, it creates...

... well, what does it create? Because evidently the plan is to use this second timeline as a way of rebooting without erasing or ignoring canon. These new voyages of the ENTERPRISE, they’re taking place in whatever timeline starts with this story. Maybe this timeline features dramatic differences. Like... say... if Vulcan were to be blown up. If the Vulcans in the series were suddenly the last of their kind, alone in the universe, it would change who they are and maybe even redefine their strict rejection of emotion in favor of logic.

You can introduce these Universe2 versions of classic TREK events and characters, and you can play with the audience’s expectation. Things have changed. Some things play out the way you expect… some don’t. It’s basically the same solution Marvel Comics has in terms of publishing, the way they use their ULTIMATES line to reboot continuity.

As a friend said when I was talking to him about this tonight, “Wait... so you’re saying they’re not just doing a square one reboot that would simplify everything, but that they’re actually making it... more complicated?”

It would appear so. Not that I think TREK fans mind complicated. It’s certainly not the safest choice if this is, in fact, the direction he goes with the film.

I’m not telling you that anything I said above is 100% set in stone. I don’t think Abrams is far enough along for that to be the case yet. But they are considering some really crazy reinventions, on par with some of the choices Abrams was making on SUPERMAN.

Who was the original captain of the ENTERPRISE?

I know the answer to that question in the canon STAR TREK universe right now... but will it be the same in the Abrams TREK universe?

Can you fundamentally alter one or more of the characters in that main trio, and still expect the same chemistry when you put the three characters together?

That’s the real question Abrams is going to have to face when he reveals his TREK next Christmas. I think you’d have to be crazy to bet against him, and I’m intrigued by some of these decisions, but I’m also willing to bet that even details as vague as the ones I’ve reported here today will cause a fair bit of debate. Abrams certainly doesn’t take low-profile gigs, and I guess that’s one of the reasons he’s gotten so good at trying to engage the audience early or in unconventional media ways. I’ll be curious to see how he gets the public ready for his version of TREK. What the images are we see first. How he sets the visual tone for the world. I hope it’s very classic TREK. I hope that’s something they embrace. The greatest visual representation of that ‘60s version of the universe, all Roddenberry optimistic with big giant philosophical ambition. Pop that aims a little higher. The Abrams sweet spot.

I’m sure we’ll have more on this as it develops.

Let the talkbacks begin!

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