Elen sila lumenn omentielvo!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

If at first you Khan't succeed....

Over at Tor.com, Emily Asher-Perrin suggests a way to make Khan's presence in Star Trek Into Darkness make more sense.

There are 72 other super humans who Khan calls “family.” They were of all backgrounds and talents, an entire pantheon of super peoples. If one of them was woken up, not knowing when it was or what he would be asked to do, isn’t it possible that he might lie? That he might tell a powerful military leader in Starfleet that he was Khan Noonien Singh? We know that Khan’s exploits were legendary—of all these genetically engineered people, he was considered to be the Attila, the Alexander, the Caesar. Pretending to be him would likely buy you more respect, more time to figure out what was going on. It would be a smart move that could keep your people alive. The sort of move that a super man might employ when woken from a deep freeze a few hundred years in the future.

I have to admit that I'm starting to feel a little sorry for STID. From what I can see, conventional opinion in geek circles is starting to settle on this being quite possibly the single worst Trek film ever. Earlier this week saw the 25th anniversary of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, which has always been roundly hated (although not by me). In every discussion I've seen of that anniversary, though, almost immediately someone suggests that STID was worse. And yes, I had a lot of problems with the script. But yeesh, the film was at least well-made; I find watching it enjoyable, which is something I certainly can't say for Star Trek Nemesis.

But back to Ms. Asher-Perrin's retconning of STID. Of course, its success hinges on the writers wanting things to make sense, and in two of these scripts, we now know that "making sense" isn't something that matters all that much to Orci or Kurtzman (not to mention Damon Lindelof, who is singularly incapable of writing anything that makes a modicum of sense).

If it turned out that this man was not Khan, then all of his behaviors in the film would suddenly ring more true. Here is an individual, damaged by his circumstances and alone, afraid of losing the only people like him in the universe. He is lashing out against everyone who used him or cornered him. Without the weight of Khan’s original (very different) incarnation hanging over him, this character can be his own thing. And all that wishy-washy indecision that led to the stunt secrecy surrounding his identity in the first place could be put to bed. And we wouldn’t suddenly have to wonder how an alternate reality could change the ethnicity of a character born hundreds of years before the skewed timeline.

I suppose...but then, Ms. Asher-Perrin wraps up with this:

But better yet, we would also know that Khan was still out there… somewhere. And that would always be hanging over our heads, a perfectly poised hammer ready for whenever he was needed.

See, here's my problem with this: the inflation of Khan into the supervillain of all of Star Trek -- or, at least, this generation of Trek. Thanks to one notable episode of the original series and one very good movie, Khan has somehow become elevated to basically being Moriarty to Kirk's Holmes, or Blofeld to Kirk's James Bond. And that's just wrong. These filmmakers clearly see Khan as Kirk's ultimate nemesis, but Kirk -- and Trek isn't about defeating the villain-of-the-week. Sometimes it can be about that, but not always, and ever since Wrath of Khan, Trek seems to be fixated on this idea of "who will the villain be", right down to bringing in illustrious actors to play the villains each time out.

That's my problem with this bit of retconning: it would keep Khan out there as a potential bomb to go off. How long could these writers, who have shown zero understanding of Star Trek other than as single movie as a source of memes and tropes to be mined.


the-herkmeister said...

"Khan has somehow become elevated to basically being Moriarty to Kirk's Holmes..."

Considering that Moriarty shows up in 2 out of the original 56 short stories and none of the novels, I think this is quite the fitting analogy. Both villains have become puffed up far beyond what was intended by the original authors to the point where the idea of not including them in an adaptation strikes many people as heresy - even if the original authors would almost certainly not see it as such.

Jason said...

Not to mention that Khan was far more subtle and interesting than a mere "villain." He was originally conceived of as Milton's Lucifer... a prince who fell from grace, who decided it was better to rule in hell than serve in heaven. Ruthless, yes... on the wrong side and using the wrong methods... but arguably NOT evil. At the end of "Space Seed," things were cool between him and Kirk... he only became a crazed madman bent on revenge after he lost his wife and half his followers in the cataclysm that wrecked Ceti Alpha V.

But of course, such a fine understanding of the character would require that Orci, Kurtzman, Lindelof, and Abrams actually watch the original Star Trek and, more importantly, understand it... and understand that it's about more than shit moving really fast and blowing up. And of course there's ample evidence that this is beyond them...

Grumble Grumble Grumble.

Kelly Sedinger said...

Herk: Agreed completely.

Jason: That's why I've come to view TWOK, in a lot of ways, as a terrific film and a narrative mis-step. If they were going to find out what happened to Khan, it shouldn't have been twenty years later, but a hundred. Imagine Picard and company coming across a planet populated by a society of the descendants of Khan's genetically-engineered supermen!

Jason said...

Kelly, that would've been interesting, to be sure... but of course Next Gen wasn't yet an inkling when TWOK came out... :D

Much as I love TWOK -- and I do, I think it's a wonderful movie that balances action and some real insight into the human condition -- it's hard not to see that it did some real harm to the franchise. First by introducing the idea that Star Trek was primarily an action series about space battles, and that every other film needed to be about a madman villain bent on revenge. THAT got real old. And second that it really screwed up one of the most compelling, three-dimensional characters the original series ever offered. If it wasn't for Ricardo Montalban's charisma, would the movie Khan be that interesting? I'm not sure he would...