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Sunday, April 23, 2006

Still trekkin'?

I see that a new Star Trek movie is in the offing, to be produced and directed by J.J. Abrams. I used to really love Star Trek a whole lot (see the Star Trek Redux posts linked in my sidebar for more), but the franchise went out with nothing resembling any kind of bang whatsoever -- rather it limped out with a final movie that was so bad that it even managed to boast a dud of a score by Jerry Goldsmith.

Honestly, this smacks of desperation on Paramount's part. Here are a few reasons why I'm less than enthused about this (as opposed to, say, Hercules at AICN, who claims to be "having a geekgasm" over this:

:: First, I gotta be honest here: J.J. Abrams has yet to do anything that really makes me stand up and take notice. I know that he's one of the reigning god-emperors of geek stuff, but his previous projects have never caught my attention much at all. I bored quickly with Lost once I realized that the show's purpose was going to be to maximize the mystery for as long as humanly possible, and the few episodes I've seen since I stopped watching regularly (about a third of the way into the first season) have done nothing to dispel that: it's just people wandering around the island, speaking in hushed tones about mysterious stuff and lots of problems with trust intercut with flashbacks of which I only found a few interesting. Alias never caught my sustained interest, either, feeling to me like a blend of James Bond and The X-Files. Going back into Abrams's body of work, I see that he was behind Felicity, a show which slid in one eye and out the other (Keri Russell was cute, but that's about it), and that he was at least partly responsible, writing-wise, for two forgettable movies (Forever Young, Regarding Henry) and one downright bad one (Armageddon). And given what I know of Abrams's last attempt at reviving a moribund franchise, I'm kind of wary about what he'll do with Trek.

(Full disclosure: I definitely plan to see Mission: Impossible III, even if I generally don't think Abrams is a genius and even if I know that Tom Cruise has gone so far 'round the bend that he's coming back out the other side now.)

:: The film's purported subject matter bugs me a bit, on Trek geek grounds. According to the Variety article linked above, the film will be a prequel, and "will center on the early days of seminal "Trek" characters James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock, including their first meeting at Starfleet Academy and first outer space mission." Now, no script has been written yet, so the resulting movie -- if a movie even results at all -- may not actually resemble this. But if this "Kirk and Spock: The Early Years" idea turns out to be true, here's my reaction.

Ugh.

Ugh, ugh, ugh.

Firstly, I don't care what the "official Trek timeline" says. I simply do not believe that Kirk and Spock were in the Academy together, at the same time. I just don't. If anyone can cite something from either a series episode or one of the films that contradicts me here, then fine, but I've never once had any other impression than that Spock is at least twenty years older than Kirk, or that Spock's been in Starfleet a lot longer than Kirk has.

There's no real problem here, timewise, that I can see. First of all, Kirk is something of a "wunderkind", one of the youngest Captains in Starfleet and a guy who's been driven by the idea of command his entire life. Spock is not driven by command at all; by the time he becomes a Captain, it's as the commander of a starship that's being used for training new cadets. And if we assume that the TOS episode "The Menagerie" happens early in Kirk's command of the Enterprise -- perhaps even in his first year -- then it's possible that Spock was already serving on the Enterprise, under Captain Pike, while Kirk was still at the Academy. (The events of "The Cage" are clearly stated to have taken place thirteen years earlier.

Additionally, the episodes "Journey to Babel" (TOS), "Sarek" (TNG), and "Reunification" (TNG) all clearly establish that Vulcans have significantly longer lifespans than humans. In "Babel", Dr. McCoy comments that Sarek is "only 102", clearly implying that for a Vulcan, 102 is sort of like what being 55 or 60 is for a human: middle to late-middleaged, but still with years of productive life ahead. Sarek lives another eighty years to die during TNG's run, and Spock is also alive and kicking vibrantly in TNG, as well. Putting this all together, it makes more sense to me that Spock is ten to twenty years older than Kirk, as opposed to being the same age as Kirk.

Of course, none of this is carved in any kind of stone; but then, neither (to me) are the "official timelines". It's always been really hard to nail Trek down as far as continuity and time go. A strict reading of the evidence of the shows, for instance, strongly implies that the Enterprise is around forty years old by the time Star Trek III: The Search for Spock rolls around, and yet there's Admiral Morrow, claiming in that film that the Enterprise is twenty years old. So even if I personally find the idea of Kirk and Spock being the same rough age (give or take a year or two), maybe that's just my problem. Fair enough.

But then there's another problem: the idea of exploring just Kirk and Spock's first meeting. And the big problem with that has a name: Leonard H.

In other words, where is Dr. McCoy?

Making a movie centering on Kirk and Spock alone commits a serious error, misunderstanding the character dynamic that made the Star Trek: TOS so iconic that it spawned decades of spinoffs and sequels. It's not the Kirk-and-Spock dynamic that lies at the dramatic heart of Star Trek; it's the Kirk-Spock-McCoy dynamic. It was the way McCoy's passions and Spock's cool logic, often set in conflict, informed Kirk's eventual decisions that made the original show work. And the very best moments in Trek history so often involved these three characters. Making a movie about young Kirk and young Spock and their very first adventure together seems to me to potentially constitute a serious misreading of what made Star Trek so good in the first place.

Of course, as noted, I could end up being completely wrong here. We'll see.

(But really, isn't it pretty damned obvious that if anyone's going to resuscitate Star Trek, it should be Joss Whedon?)

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