Featured Photos


Baseball Hall of Fame - 8/23/11

Featured Video


Avery's QuEST Project - It's Healthy!

House Construction


The Completed Home Renovation


Home Renovation - Complete!


Our House Construction Photoblog

RSS Feed


« | Main | »

ISBS Movie Review: Star Trek

By Brian | May 31, 2009 | Share on Facebook

I realize I’m a little late to this party, having finally acquired a babysitter and convinced my wife to go, but I just returned from seeing the Star Trek movie. My first order of business (aside from paying the babysitter) was to finally read both Ilya’s review and Jason’s pre-review, review, and post-review, all of which I’ve been saving for this moment.

We’ll start with my thoughts on the movie, and then move on to my thoughts on my friends’ thoughts. Before I even begin, though, I can see how this will take a while, so I offer a page-fold for those who don’t have the time nor the interest to go further.

And oh yes, there are spoilers. Lots and lots of ‘em. Trust me – if you haven’t seen the movie yet, just move along.

All things considered, this was an excellent film. Despite the huge shadow hanging over it, it boldly (sorry, I’ll try not to use that word again, I promise) established its own back-story, developed its own characters, established its own plot, and concluded its own story in a satisfying way. Lo, if only the folks who made the Matrix and the Lord of the Rings movies could have been so kind, I may have shelled out my $10 to see their sequels too.

Chris Pine, who played the young James T. Kirk, did not do an impression of William Shatner, but did provide a character that I could see growing up to be William Shatner’s character, and I stand impressed at the balancing act that this feat required. Young Kirk, having grown up both fatherless and in the shadow of his father’s heroic death, has clearly adopted a “to hell with everyone and everything” attitude towards life, towards authority, and especially towards Starfleet. In a different movie, this teenage angst may have manifested itself in drugs, alcohol, or crime, but in this case, Kirk is cursed with his father’s superior intellect and skills. He doesn’t just steal cars, he drives them to the edge of cliffs, pivoting the steering wheel and jumping out at the precise moment that sends the car to its demise while leaving him unharmed. He doesn’t just hit on women and pick fights in bars, but he holds his own in a four-on-one bar fight, at least for a while. And when his surrogate father, Captain Chris Pike, tells him to join Starfleet, he gives him the PG-13 version of the old “F-U,” that is until Pike strikes at his weakness – challenging Kirk to do more than his father had done.  There are a lot of layers to the character at this point, about which I’d have liked to learn more, but I concede that they are, in this case, very much besides the film’s point.

Zachary Quinto, the young Spock, accomplishes a similar feat. He is unmistakably Vulcan, but not nearly as adept at separating his Vulcan and human halves as his older and more experienced self of TV fame. As such, he provides a depth to the character of Spock that took Leonard Nimoy several decades of back-story to accomplish. His interactions, both with Kirk and with Nimoy’s “future Spock” are pitch-perfect. And the plot, such as it is, establishes some significant reasons why Spock “has been, and always shall be, [Kirk's] friend.”

Speaking of the plot, the best characterization I can come up with is “James Bond in space.” All of the characters have exceptionally neat toys, the good guys have unbelievably amazing luck, and the bad guys have unbelievably unable to capitalize on even the simplest of circumstances. It’s all here, folks: Kirk and Spock are accidentally beamed into a room filled with dozens of armed Romulans, and yet manage to avoid the resulting torrent of gunfire by ducking behind the furniture; Kirk is thrown out the window of a spaceship and lands not only on the same planet as future Spock, but within running distance of the precise cave in which Spock is living; and of course, that old chestnut – the Romulan, who has been been trying to kill Kirk for several minutes of hand-to-hand combat, is holding him over the edge of an inexplicably long drop, and rather than just throwing him off, stops to talk to him, allowing Kirk to get off a funny one-liner, turn the tables, and escape with his life while tossing the Romulan to his death. Clearly, there are no James Bond movies on Romulus.

To enjoy a movie like this, you have to accept these things. You have to allow for the fact that the good guys are invincible and the bad guys are inept. If you can’t do that, then you might as well save your $10, because there’s simply no way you’re going to enjoy the film. Which, of course, brings me to Ilya and Jason.

Ilya takes issue with the fact that the cadets were conveniently in Iowa, and that the military protocol aboard the USS Enterprise is inexplicably skewed towards those characters with leading roles. To the first point, I chuckle, because having just returned from the Kennedy Space Center tour, I know that the actual space shuttle and its many components are constructed in forty-six of the fifty United States and then assembled in Florida for launch (in order to distribute NASA’s federal funding across the states and grease the political wheels in Congress to get the funding approved in the first place). If NASA can have employees in Iowa for real, why can’t Starfleet have them there in the movie? As for the military promotions, we might as well ask why Her Majesty’s Secret Service can’t send a thousand armed guards after the bad guys, rather than an admitted alcoholic in a tuxedo.

But Ilya is a pushover compared to Jason. I won’t attempt to recount all of the many issues Jason raises (although I do encourage you to read his posts, which are thorough and extremely well-written). Instead, I’ll just comment on the few that I noticed while watching the movie myself:

The Centaurian Slug in Captain Pike: when Pike appears in his requisite wheelchair at the end of the film, I think we were meant to assume that he had received medical attention after being rescued, and that this medical attention would have involved removing the creepy-crawly. Have seen Wrath of Kahn, I, for one, am glad the extraction occurred off-camera.

The Production Design: I actually enjoyed the fact that the early days of Starfleet had all the same devices as the original series, but that they were all a little more mechanical and a little less digital than they would become later. It’s “primitive futuristic,” and I think it plays well. The nacelles are there, but they’re not “perfected” yet. The bridge is hi-tech, but all of the innards are still visible on the walls (in what Jason masterfully calls “iBridge” decor). And one that Jason didn’t mention – the hyposprays that McCoy keeps using on Kirk when they first board the Enterprise. The loud clack that it made every time it injected something into Kirk’s neck was enough to actually make me squirm in my seat, and Kirk’s “will you STOP DOING THAT TO ME!!!” reaction was priceless.

The Push Bar on the door: At first, this bugged me as well, but when they entered the Starfleet base and the whole thing was done that way, I made the mental assumption that the barren world of Delta Vega was simply furnished with really old (read: cheap) technology. Sort of like getting stranded in the middle of the desert today and coming upon a saloon with a water pump outside and swinging, wooden doors out front.

The Lens Flare: Here, I’m in complete agreement with Jason. Lots of Sci-Fi movies use that technique – or its polar opposite – where half the screen is shrouded in shadows/darkness – to improve the CGI effects of the film (by making it harder to see the details). I found it distracting as well, although I think it did get better (read: less) as the film went on.

A couple of other things that neither Ilya nor Jason mentioned, but I think deserve comment:

Uhura: I really like the relationship between Spock and Uhura for two reasons. First, it goes a long way toward painting Spock as a guy who’s still working out the Vulcan/Human balance inside of him. Second, I think it was an homage to the famous Kirk/Uhura kiss, which was the first inter-racial kiss on American television. This suggests that by the time that happened, Uhura had already had a love affair with another white (and alien!) member of the Enterprise crew.

Winona Ryder: I didn’t recognize her at all. And I haven’t seen her on any of the talk shows promoting the movie either. Given that she’s probably the biggest name “movie star” in the film, I wonder why they didn’t just cast someone less well-known, or give her less make-up and more lines, so that we’d all know it was her. Maybe she’s a Trekkie at heart and just wanted to be a part of the franchise?

The Speech: I’m sure gigabytes have already been dedicated to a discussion about Leonard Nimoy reading the famous “Space…the Final Frontier” speech at the end. Personally, I’d have preferred it if they had let William Shatner do it (and not announced it to the press so it would be a surprise for at least the first few audiences who saw it). That would have cemented the fact that Chris Pine’s character grows up to be William Shatner’s character, who would then have the “adult” perspective to describe the Enterprise in such noble terms. Barring that, it would have been cool to have Chris Pine himself do it, although I don’t think his voice is recognizable enough (yet?) for the meaning to be understood. Future Spock works OK (the “elder statesman” of the film), but it misses an opportunity for homage that would have been really special. I’m sure this has something to do with Shatner being ticked about not being asked to be in the film, or some-such Hollywood political/financial/ego-related issue. To which I say, “whatever, dude…”

The Trekkies: I realize as I wrap this up that I’m seriously in danger of offending my friend Jason (not my intent at all, of course), but I need to point this out as nicely as I can: it strikes me that the love and affection that self-proclaimed “Trekkies” have for these characters are actually detracting from their ability to enjoy it. This strikes me as both ironic and sad. After all, at the most basic level, the things that made this film enjoyable are the very same things that made them “Trekkies” in the first place. And to not be able to enjoy those things all over again, while others who are not such big fans (like myself and Ilya) do so with abandon, is really a shame.

Live Long & Prosper, Trekkies! And as the movie theaters used to admonish before the lights went down, “Sit back and relax – enjoy the show!”

Topics: Movie Talk | 17 Comments »

17 Responses to “ISBS Movie Review: Star Trek”

  1. jason says at May 31st, 2009 at 2:38 am :
    Hey, Brian, since you’ve thrown down the gauntlet over at my place… :)

    First off, I’m glad you had such a good time with the movie. Recognizing the difficulty my friends-with-children have in getting out and the cost of movies these days (especially on the east coast, which is, from what I understand, significantly more than what I pay here in flyover country), it must be a real drag when the evening’s entertainment disappoints.

    Second, don’t worry about having offended me. You haven’t at all. I accepted weeks ago that I was going to approach this movie from a significantly different perspective than most people, assuming the film wasn’t such a complete disaster that there wasn’t any argument to be had. Which it wasn’t. As I’ve stated several times over at my blog, I did enjoy it, in spite of my complaints.

    Regarding your idea that my love for the old Star Trek interferes with my ability to unreservedly enjoy the new movie, you’re absolutely right, of course. That’s the crux of the matter whenever you’re discussing any remake with fans of the original property. Comparisons are inevitable, and for those to whom the original means something more than just a pleasant way to kill a couple of hours, it’s very, very difficult to accept that the thing you personally find so valuable is being supplanted by a younger, flashier model. Or that somebody thinks it needs to be supplanted. That’s the thing that really hurts. At least in this case, I haven’t heard anyone trashing the original Trek in order to praise the new version.

    As for your contention that at the most basic level, the things that made this film enjoyable are the very same things that made them “Trekkies” in the first place, well, that’s where we disagree. This is a big topic and I intend to address it on my blog when I get the chance, but in talking with my old-school Trekkie friends who also had reservations about the new film — and in the interest of fairness, I’ll mention that not all of my old-school friends had such reservations — the one thing we all kept saying was “it’s not Star Trek.” Briefly, we feel like Abrams got many, many things superficially correct, but (for us) there was something missing deep down in the center of it all that makes it difficult for us to see this movie as anything but an imitation of Star Trek, rather than the genuine deal. Possibly it’s just a result of how big action movies are put together these days; perhaps it’s a problem that will be repaired in the inevitable sequel. Or maybe there’s something about Star Trek that Abrams didn’t get. Which would be my guess, since he’s repeatedly said he’s more a fan of Star Wars. There’s a lot of fan crossover between these two properties — obviously, look at me — but they are very different creatures. Anyway, that’s a looooonnng topic; I’ll get to it eventually.

    Since I’ve already been so long-winded on this topic, I won’t run down all your specific points, but I will say that I think we’re in agreement on more than you believe. I liked many of the same things about the movie that you did, including that gag with the painful-sounding hyposprays and Kirk’s “stop that!” punchline.

    One quick thought on the Centaurian slug and Pike being in the wheelchair: it never occurred to me that the slug had anything to do with that. It’s part of original-series lore that Pike ends up confined to a wheelchair, and I figured that his appearance in the final scene was simply referencing that. If we were meant to infer the slug had something to do with it, I’d say the writers failed to make that clear. (I did like, however — and this is very geeky — that Pike’s new uniform in that scene referenced the colors and general appearance of Kirk’s Admiral outfit from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. God, I’m a nerd…)

  2. Brian says at May 31st, 2009 at 10:22 am :
    Second, don’t worry about having offended me. You haven’t at all.

    I’m glad. I know you’re passionate about this, and since I don’t understand it completely, I was concerned about directly referencing it in text. The civility with which we’re discussing it is SO 24th century, huh?

    Comparisons are inevitable, and for those to whom the original means something more than just a pleasant way to kill a couple of hours, it’s very, very difficult to accept that the thing you personally find so valuable is being supplanted by a younger, flashier model.

    Yes, comparisons are inevitable. You’re talking to a lifelong Yankee fan in the year of the new Yankee Stadium, remember? That’s been around almost three times as long as Star Trek. I am SO there…

    Here’s the thing, though: unlike the original Yankee Stadium, which is being taken apart by bulldozers and sold for parts as I type this, the original Star Trek series is alive and well. As is The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, and all ten of the other movies. I know I’m going to sound like SamuraiFrog here, but why does this supplant all of that? Why doesn’t it simply co-exist peacefully with it’s Star Trek family?

    One quick thought on the Centaurian slug and Pike being in the wheelchair: it never occurred to me that the slug had anything to do with that. It’s part of original-series lore that Pike ends up confined to a wheelchair, and I figured that his appearance in the final scene was simply referencing that. If we were meant to infer the slug had something to do with it, I’d say the writers failed to make that clear.

    Well, Pike was clearly tortured by the Romulans. When he returned, they must have worked on him (including many hyposprays – ack!), and now he’s in a wheelchair. Plus, the thing was attached to his brain stem. If you’re looking for inconsistency here, I guess my issue would be the fact that he wasn’t so damaged when Kirk rescued him (in fact, he was able to sit up immediately and fatally shoot a cadre of Romulans with a clear shot, but now I’m back to the James Bond thing…)

  3. Jeff Porten says at May 31st, 2009 at 10:39 pm :
    I’ll be glad to match my Trek geek cred with Jason’s any day, so my thinking:

    1. The timeline change was sheer brilliance for creating a reboot without throwing out the old series. I’m in agreement with Jason about the results of this choice: Trek canon implies that when the timeline is messed with, all other timelines cease to exist — which would mean every TV show and movie except Enterprise. Spock Prime’s insouciance implies a “many worlds” theory instead; “it’s all still there, I’m just not a part of it any more.” That’s a big change, and it’ll be interesting to see if they return to this in the next movies.

    That said, if they don’t, I’m happy to accept “many worlds” and just enjoy the new series.

    2. Yeah, getting Kirk in the captain’s chair made absolutely no sense. The only explanation was Pike’s comment that “we need more of you in Starfleet”, implying that there were many strings pulled behind the scenes. An extra scene about this wouldn’t have been a bad thing, and probably could have been done in a reasonably dramatic way.

    3. Jason made the point asking why Starfleet didn’t have the technology to cut the big rope holding up the planet driller. As filmed, there was an easy explanation: future Romulan technology was shielded from “present” Starfleet technology, so only Spock Prime’s ship had the firepower to take it down. Unfortunately, no one took the time to say or show this.

    4. It’s established canon that starships are built in space, and Voyager is the first Starfleet ship capable of atmospheric operation. The Enterprise should not have been built in Iowa. But it looked pretty, so there you go.

    5. I loved the bazillion references to not only Trek lore, but also Star Wars and every JJ Abrams vehicle ever made. Monster #2 sure looked like the descendent of the Cloverfield monster, and monster #1 looked like he was on vacation from Hoth. The big red ball comes from Alias. And of course Kirk sleeps with a green woman. (Who, in a deleted scene, apparently is the programmer who gets him access to the Kobayashi Maru scenario.)

    6. To both Jason and Brian: The Wrath of Khan is a Star Trek movie. The Wrath of Kahn is what happens when her son dates a shiksa.

    7. According to an NPR interview with Abrams, they wanted Shatner in the film; the final Spock/Spock Prime scene was written for Nimoy to give Quinto a holograph of Shatner wishing Spock a happy birthday. Shatner refused to be in the film if he didn’t get a bigger role.

    8. Finally, my generic take on Star Trek movies: sorry, one of the things I love about the Trek universe is the ability to get new stories about it on a weekly basis. I’m glad to have a movie, but I don’t want to wait two years between installments. There are now two centuries of storylines to choose from: Paramount, pick an era, hire some great writers, and put Trek back where it belongs. You want to make movies in addition? That’s great.

  4. Ilya says at June 2nd, 2009 at 12:47 pm :
    Both you and Jason do a much better job of reviewing movies, Brian, so I suppose I should be honored that you actually decided to address my superficial impressions here :-)

    I don’t at all agree with your sleuth of hand in dismissing my “cadets in Iowa” nitpick. I wasn’t referring to the Enterprise being built in Iowa; I was talking about the physical presence of a couple of major characters there. I don’t know what the reason for a future crew members of an under-construction vessel – full three years ahead of its maiden trip, when they surely could not have been billeted there yet – might be. A field trip?

  5. Ilya says at June 2nd, 2009 at 12:49 pm :
    The Wrath of Khan is a Star Trek movie. The Wrath of Kahn is what happens when her son dates a shiksa.

    The most eloquent way of pointing out a mistake that I could ever imagine. Bravo, Jeff!

  6. Brian says at June 2nd, 2009 at 3:26 pm :
    @Ilya: Fair enough. NASA & the space shuttle program don’t have the equivalent of cadets, so my analogy breaks down. I guess to dismiss the point, you’d have to believe that Starfleet put a cadet training facility in Iowa, in addition to San Francisco (and perhaps elsewhere?). Also, the “spread the tax money around” theory breaks down too, since in Star Trek reality, money is an outdated concept and everyone works solely for the betterment of mankind.

    All of this leaves me dangerously close to that point where I no longer care enough to keep thinking, so I’ll willingly conceed the point and call it a plot flaw…

  7. Jeff Porten says at June 6th, 2009 at 1:53 am :
    Not true, what you said about Star Trek money. It still exists. The theory is that after the invention of replicators and transporters, economic scarcity no longer exists as we know it, so there is less need for money in large swaths of the population. No Earthling who boards the Enterprise thinks, “Jeez, how much did this cost?”, because the society no longer necessarily uses economics as the lens by which they view things. But a Ferengi certainly would, as would someone from a colony or independent world which uses an economic system like ours.

    Likewise, you make a mistake when you say “everyone works for the betterment of mankind”. You’re falling into the trap of “if they got rid of money, they must be socialist or communist.” Star Trek doesn’t depict a socialist future, it depicts a technological utopian future — and then makes certain assumptions about what the effects of that would be.

  8. Brian says at June 6th, 2009 at 12:07 pm :
    When I said money is outdated, I meant on Earth. It’s perfectly consistent to suggest that other worlds would proceed at different paces (and on different paths), but none of the series or movies ever refer to money with regard to humans. So not only does no one wonder what the Enterprise costs, they also aren’t worried about how much they’re paid.

    As for “betterment of human kind,” I’m not going to take your bait and turn this into a political discussion. I’ll maintain, though, that the “technological utopia” you describe is one in which people work for the betterment of mankind, not for any other, external reward. “To boldy go where no one has gone before” and the like…

  9. jason says at June 9th, 2009 at 12:40 am :
    Hey, Brian, sorry to drop out of the discussion (which has gone to some interesting places in my absence!). Last week was really hectic and I kept putting off my response…

    Anyhow, I wanted to address the whole “supplanting” issue. You said …the original Star Trek series is alive and well. As is The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, and all ten of the other movies. I know I’m going to sound like SamuraiFrog here, but why does this supplant all of that? Well, in the most literal and pragmatic sense, you’re right, of course. All of the previous series are on DVD and Hulu and coming soon to BluRay. And I’m sure there are enough old die-hards like myself to ensure Paramount will continue releasing them in whatever new home video format comes next. They’re not going away.

    But what bothers me — and I know this is a case of me projecting my own insecurities and fear of irrelevancy or whatever — is that remakes (the successful ones, anyhow) inevitably seem to take over the “cultural consciousness.” In other words, in the years to come when somebody says the words “Star Trek,” are regular non-Trekkie people going to automatically think of Shatner and Nimoy, or will they think of Pine and Quinto? When I say “The Fugitive,” do you think Harrison Ford or David Janssen?

    So why does that matter, especially if the originals are still available to the people who prefer them? I don’t know, exactly, except that, to me, it does. I know it’s silly, but it does. I know fans of the original Mission Impossible who are still pissed about what Tom Cruise did to their show. And it already bothered me that a lot of younger people think of The Next Generation as “true” Star Trek, while disdaining the original series. Now there’s this to contend with, too.

    The only way I can explain it is that this stuff is such a part of a fan’s identity that they don’t want to see it devalued or made obsolete, and remakes by their very nature do exactly that. By remaking something, the industry — and often, by extension, the culture — is saying that the original no longer measures up. And that’s a bitter pill for lovers of the old version. I’ve been accused (not by you, so no worries) of taking this stuff too personally; well, it is personal. It’s like when someone insults your wife or mother.

    I’ve gone on too long on that point, so briefly:

    Jeff: I caught a lot of those in-jokes myself and I loved them, but I was disappointed not to spot the Dharma Initiative logo on anything. I thought sure it’d be somewhere in Scotty’s station on Delta Vega. As for the Khan/Kahn thing… Doh! I should have known better!

    Brian: regarding the economy of the 23rd/24th Century, you and Jeff are both right. I agree with the “techno utopia” definition, as opposed to a socialist/communist model, but people most definitely are working for the betterment of themselves and mankind in general, as opposed to anything we’d recognize as material gain. The original series never stated it quite so blatantly, but The Next Generation certainly did.

    The question of money is a little more problematic. Kirk states flat-out in Star Trek IV that humans no longer use it in the 23rd Century. And I recall someone — Picard maybe — saying that the economics of the future are “somewhat different.” And yet there is definitely some kind of currency at work in the 23rd/24th century. Every ST series references “credits,” which are used to buy goods, and people are seen shopping and purchasing things.

  10. Jeff Porten says at June 11th, 2009 at 12:06 pm :
    @Jason: Unfortunately, I think you’re tilting at windmills here. One of two things will happen to the Wonder Twins: either they’re going to remain a bit of cultural arcana remembered only by people over 35, or they’ll be retconned with a new storyline, probably with animation, writing, and superpowers that no longer suck. It’s the nature of cultural artifacts to either be forgotten or revised; I’ll take the latter.

    Keep in mind that the 1932 Superman could “leap an 1/8th of a mile”. Think our version is better?

    @Brian: Agreed that the Star Trek definition of money is sometimes a bit… fluid. Behind the scenes, there’s a difference between Roddenberry control of the scripts — and his sometimes heavy-handed use of message stories — and post-Roddenberry Trek.

    But keep in mind that Starfleet is proposed as the pinnacle of human achievement — yes, the Enterprise will boldly go violate the Prime Directive any time that Kirk thinks a society needs some retrofitting. (And such meddling is very much out of vogue by the time Picard comes around 90 years later.) But it’s generally presumed that most Earthlings and Federation members do not do such things on a day-to-day basis.

    Here’s why this is important: utopian visions that are based on wholesale changes to human nature are pretty much doomed to fail. Star Trek’s importance is that this is not presumed; rather, the idea is that if you give people a better society, then they’re going to naturally act better because it’s no longer in their best interests to act poorly. So we’re not talking about a future where everyone is altruistic and self-sacrificing; we’re postulating a future where more people (and their careers) can be altruistic because it is no longer a self-sacrificing act to do so in an economy that’s not based on scarcity.

    In other words, in Trek, you can spend your entire life in a Holodeck playing World of Warcraft XXVII, and your basic needs are still provided because it costs society nothing to feed and house you. The premise is that while many people might act in precisely this manner, most don’t.

    IMO, you miss the biggest point of the Trek universe: being human is no better or worse than being another species, and living on Earth is theoretically no better or worse than living on another Federation world — cultural differences abound, but individuals can move to the society that suits them best. Considering how we live today, I still think that’s a powerful message — and the crucial thing about Trek is that it postulates an historical direction we can take there, which is not predicated on everyone becoming all hearts and bunnies about each other.

  11. Brian says at June 11th, 2009 at 9:40 pm :
    I see your point about doing what we want vs. doing what we have to – I had not thought of it that way, and I think you’re right on the money (no pun intended).

    As to Earth/humans being equal to other planets/species, I will cautiously disagree with you (as I’m not a Trekkie of any sort). Earth is the Federation home world. All of the starships are built on earth. The federation’s government is on earth. When the Borg are ripping the universe to shreds, the big concern is “will they reach Earth?” And there’s one movie where Kirk uses the term “mankind,” and someone (a Klingon?) calls the term racist.

    I think it’s the same movie where he says, “To truly appreciate Shakespeare, you have to read him in the original Klingon.” (Jason is now tripping over his keyboard to tell me what movie that was, who said it, etc.). The reason I love that line is that I see it as Rodenberry’s nod to the fact that “spin” still exists in the 24th century (we are, I believe, to assume that Shakespeare’s humanity is an easily provable fact, and yet Klingons are brought up to believe the he was Klingon – much like we’ve all been implicitly taught that Jesus was a white male, or that the founding fathers were saints on earth…

  12. jason says at June 12th, 2009 at 7:56 pm :
    Well, Brian, since you explicitly called me out… :)

    The “original Klingon” reference was in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. While it’s pretty neat to think an alien culture would see universal themes in our great literature, I’m wouldn’t say the Klingons actually believe Shakespeare was one of their own. I’ve always taken the line as General Chang (the Klingon who said it) trying to get under Kirk’s skin by appropriating one of Earth’s cultural icons during a game of one-upsmanship played during a tense diplomatic dinner.

    As for Earth being the center of the Federation and Starfleet, I think I recall some “in-universe” discussion of Earth having been the main driving force behind the founding of the Fed (i.e., we talked everybody else into it); Starfleet was originally Earth’s exploratory force and was much-better developed than the fleets of the other worlds, so it became the de facto navy for the new allied government. But I’m not sure where I got those ideas and could be wrong (i.e, they may have come from fanboy discussions or a “non-canon” source).

    The real-world explanation, of course, is that viewers — especially non-Trekkie viewers — will have a much bigger emotional response to Earth being in danger than some imaginary planet we’ve never heard of until episode 37 or whatever. Another factor: the concepts of the Federation and Starfleet weren’t very well developed in the original series — in the very earliest episodes, in fact, the Enterprise was specifically identified as an Earth ship, and the show was about Earth people, not citizens of a vast galactic civilization. Later spin-offs have tried to rationalize and work with precedents set by TOS, even when they don’t entirely work, so Earth remained at the center of things. That line in ST VI about Kirk’s racism was actually a brilliant critique of what the franchise says vs. what it actually shows.

    Jeff: I take your point about the choice between being forgotten or revised, but I reject the comparison to the Wonder Twins because the original Star Trek did not (and still does not, IMO) suck. The Wonder Twins always sucked, even when we were kids, and I haven’t met anyone yet who would say otherwise unless they being deliberately ironic.

    As for the comparison to the underpowered 1930s Superman, I again get what you’re saying, but I don’t see any future revision of Trek becoming any “better” than the original, at least not in my eyes. Next Gen wasn’t, and Abrams’ Trek isn’t. They’re flashier, sure, but ultimately they’re just not as meaningful. To continue with the Superman comparison, think of Superman: The Movie and Superman Returns. Can you honestly tell me that SR is a better movie, or a better take on the iconic character, than S:TM?

    (Incidentally, I grant that we’re now getting into matters of taste, and also the somewhat uncomfortable — for me — factor of age. I’ve had some fascinating and frustrating discussions with a friend of my father’s who insists George Reeves’ Superman is better than Christopher Reeve’s, and we both know the biggest disconnect between our opinions is which one we each grew up with. Same thing going on with me and Star Trek, to a certain extent. But my criticisms of the new film — and continuing respect for TOS — are not entirely based in nostalgia.)

  13. Brian says at June 13th, 2009 at 8:24 am :
    Again, speaking as a non-Trekkie, casual observer of the films and TV series, why would Earth’s exploratory force be much better developed than the fleets of other worlds? In the First Contact movie (was that the name? The one with James Cromwell…), we learn that it was the Vulcans that discovered us, right? So, wouldn’t the Vulcans be light years ahead of us (pun intended, I guess…) in terms of exploration? Or were they just lucky enough to discover a species who would ultimately surpass them in exploratory capabilities?

    Oh, and as for the two Supermen – Christopher Reeve had the decency to be in color. Issue resolved. :-)

  14. jason says at June 13th, 2009 at 11:33 am :
    …why would Earth’s exploratory force be much better developed than the fleets of other worlds? Hey, it’s a rationalization! Who says it has to make any sense? :)

    Logically (forgive me), the way things are depicted in First Contact, we humans should be the little brothers on the block, tagging along after the big kids and their nifty warp-drive ships. I’m actually not a big fan of how either First Contact or Enterprise handled the franchise’s internal history. It’s too inconsistent with what (admittedly little) was established in the original series and TNG. I think it would’ve fit better with the pre-established bits of backstory — not to mention the “seeking out new life and new civilizations” mission statement — to establish that humans had found the other races as we moved outward, instead of them coming to us.

    Back on point, though, I really think the Earth-centric thing is just a holdover from the early days of the original series, and in turn from the earlier science fiction stories that Roddenberry was borrowing from. Ever seen Forbidden Planet? It was made a full ten years before the original Trek, but it feels very much like an early Trek episode. Or rather, early Trek feels like Forbidden Planet. My suspicion is that Roddenberry patterned his show off that movie, which depicted a civilization consisting of Earth and its colony worlds with no (living) aliens, and it was other writers on the show who built up the idea of the multi-cultural Federation. Gene Coon, for example, came up with a lot of the most familiar trappings of Trek — the Klingons and the Prime Directive, in particular. (Coon was a producer and writer on the first two seasons of TOS.)

  15. Jeff Porten says at June 17th, 2009 at 10:24 pm :
    Brian said: As to Earth/humans being equal to other planets/species, I will cautiously disagree with you (as I’m not a Trekkie of any sort). Earth is the Federation home world.

    Not quite. Canon says that Earth and Vulcan were the driving forces behind the founding of the Federation; think of them as the US/UK after WWII. Starfleet is headquartered on Earth, but that’s theoretically similar to putting the UN in NYC and Switzerland; it doesn’t make the HQ countries “better” than anyone else.

    Agreed with you that Earth is the target homeworld whenever they want to ramp up the dramatic tension, but that’s based on the species of 99.9% of the viewing audience. Within the ST universe, the loss of Vulcan is as devastating as the loss of Earth would be.

    All of the starships are built on earth.

    Nope. Utopia Planitia is on… let me look this up… Mars. Okay, same home system, but not here. Anyway, it’s *one* of several shipyards.

    And there’s one movie where Kirk uses the term “mankind,” and someone (a Klingon?) calls the term racist.

    Actually, that was a reference to the change from “where no man has gone before” to “where no one has gone before,” the former being viewed as sexist.

    [Rant mode on]

    Which is ridiculous, because “man” is an historical synonym for “human”, and the show is about *humans* going out and meeting the species which are *already there*. “Where no one has gone before” either reduces the value of the life forms out there to nothing, or restricts the phrase to lifeless parts of the galaxy. Which completely misses the point.

    [Rant mode off]

    Jason said: Another factor: the concepts of the Federation and Starfleet weren’t very well developed in the original series — in the very earliest episodes, in fact, the Enterprise was specifically identified as an Earth ship, and the show was about Earth people, not citizens of a vast galactic civilization.

    Not sure I agree with you here: the Federation was extremely well developed in the show bible of TOS (note to Brian: The Original Series). The difference between TOS and TNG is that they switched the political system upon which the metaphor was based. TOS: Cold War, the Klingons are the Russians, the Romulans are the Chinese, the Federation is the United States as the dominant leader of the pro-democracy alliances of the world. TNG: post-Cold War, the Klingons are now full members of the Federation, and the UFP is metaphorical for a 21st century with a functional United Nations preventing war between previously-competitive states.

    Roddenberry saw the presentation of all species as equal as being the best way to address race issues in the 1960s, hence the Vulcan second-in-command. (And, of course, the multiracial bridge crew to drive the point home further.) Most of the Enterprise crew was human, because in the 1960s, makeup was damned expensive, time-consuming, and better saved for the weekly guest stars. God help the poor bastard who had to be an Andorian every week.

    The Wonder Twins always sucked, even when we were kids, and I haven’t met anyone yet who would say otherwise unless they being deliberately ironic.

    Oh, come on. If you thought the Wonder Twins sucked, and you’re close to my age (39), then you truly had a stunted childhood. The Wonder Twins were wicked cool at the time. Hell, even Marvin and Wendy were wicked cool — look who they got to hang out with. It’s only in retrospect that these cartoons suck.

    As for the comparison to the underpowered 1930s Superman, I again get what you’re saying, but I don’t see any future revision of Trek becoming any “better” than the original, at least not in my eyes. Next Gen wasn’t, and Abrams’ Trek isn’t.

    Disagree. Judged by the standards applied to any other form of dramatic presentation, TNG seasons 3-6 knocked TOS into a cocked hat, and then dropped the hat into a rift in the spacetime continuum. TOS remains excellent *in the context* of when it was created and aired — but really, I can go the rest of my life without needing to rewatch Kirk have a fistfight a Gorn.

    Unless Abrams does that in the next movie. Because honestly, six months ago I would have told you I was tired of watching Kirk sleep with green women, and Abrams made that scene fresh and funny.

    To continue with the Superman comparison, think of Superman: The Movie and Superman Returns. Can you honestly tell me that SR is a better movie, or a better take on the iconic character, than S:TM?

    Superman Returns blew kryptonite chunks on many levels, and the best part about it was lifting the Williams theme from the original movies. That said — if you think that the first Superman movies were the pinnacle of what can be achieved with the character, you’re nuts. And so is the writer who thought that it would be great if Superman could rip super-saran wrap off his chest and throw it at a bad guy.

    I’ve had some fascinating and frustrating discussions with a friend of my father’s who insists George Reeves’ Superman is better than Christopher Reeve’s, and we both know the biggest disconnect between our opinions is which one we each grew up with.

    Actually, my favorite on-screen Superman is the one in the Max Fleischer cartoons from the early 1940s, and I ain’t that old. The Reeves shows were entertaining, but he never quite did it for me — he was a guy playing the character, not Superman.

    Brian said: In the First Contact movie, we learn that it was the Vulcans that discovered us, right? So, wouldn’t the Vulcans be light years ahead of us (pun intended, I guess…) in terms of exploration?

    Actually, the whole “we met the Vulcans first” was established long before the movie; the film was just the first time we saw it onscreen.

    As for why they weren’t ridiculously more advanced than we were: well, they were, in many ways. Essentially, the Vulcans and the Romulans used to be one race, and had a huge civil war thousands of years ago. Afterwards, the Vulcans renounced emotion in horror, and dedicated themselves to science and logic. Which also meant that they weren’t particularly expansionist, either — to a Vulcan, you find one gas giant in the next star system over, and it’s cool to spend a century or two cataloging the hell out of it before you explore elsewhere. Earthlings are presumed to retain the expansionist traits that we’ve displayed here at home (and which are hotly debated IRL as to whether they’re an innate human trait), so presumably, we learned a hell of a lot of technology from the Vulcans, and then rode off like cowboys.

    Incidentally, the human role in space is a fascinating, ongoing theme in science fiction. TOS adhered to the (John) Campbellian philosophy that humans (or the Federation) were always better than anyone they met, in some way. So most races that Kirk met were either around Federation level of technology, or had advanced technologies that were easily comprehended. Hell, Kirk meets an actual Greek god and outwits the poor bastard.

    By the time of TNG, the writers were familiar with Sagan and Drake’s arguments that a) there are plenty of civilizations out there, and b) most of them are going to either millions of years ahead or behind us in development. But they spent most of their time with stories between civilizations that were mostly matched, because the “we meet God” stories get tiresome.

    Oh, and as for the two Supermen – Christopher Reeve had the decency to be in color. Issue resolved. :-)

    Bzzzt. The TV series was B&W the first season, color thereafter. (That’s written from memory… hmm, no geek points for me. Wikipedia says two B&W seasons.)

  16. jason says at June 19th, 2009 at 12:50 am :
    Not to be argumentative, but…

    …the Federation was extremely well developed in the show bible of TOS

    I can’t speak about the show bible, but I know the term “Federation” wasn’t uttered on-air until at least halfway through the first season of TOS, and neither was “Starfleet.” I recall references to Spacefleet Command and UESPA (the United Earth Space Probe Agency), and several times Kirk identifies the Enterprise as a “United Earth Ship.” In “Balance of Terror,” we learn of the Earth-Romulan War, not the Federation-Romulan War. Klingons refer to humans throughout TOS as “Earthers.” And many of the worlds they visit are identified as “Earth colonies” (which doesn’t preclude the existence of the Federation, but it doesn’t support it either).

    The terminology was all sorted out by the end of the first season, and there’s never been any question of the Cold War/US vs. the Russians and Chinese metaphor. But aside from the stand-out episode “Journey to Babel,” I still maintain we learned very little about the Federation in the three seasons of TOS, aside from the fact that its bureaucrats were almost inevitably putzes who gave our dashing captain heartburn. The Federation Council, the President, the details of the economic system (what few we actually know about)… these concepts all came from the movies and the various spin-off series.

    If you thought the Wonder Twins sucked, and you’re close to my age (39), then you truly had a stunted childhood.

    I am 39 as well, and I always thought they were lame. Turning into a bucket of water and a seal? Come on. Next to Superman and Batman, that was not remotely cool.

    TNG seasons 3-6 knocked TOS into a cocked hat

    Matter of taste, I’m afraid. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed TNG just fine, but I never developed the kind of affection or respect for it that I have for TOS. It just didn’t resonate as strongly with me, for whatever reason. And if you want to bring up the subject of context, the ’80s-vintage talkiness and uber-PC atmosphere of TNG hasn’t aged any better than the Kennedy-era ’60s swashbuckling tone of TOS, IMO.

    …if you think that the first Superman movies were the pinnacle of what can be achieved with the character, you’re nuts.

    Hm, first I had a stunted childhood, now I’m nuts. Keep this up and you’re going to hurt my feelings.

    Let me qualify any further Superman discussion by clearly stating that I was only talking about the first Christopher Reeve-era movie. I agree the super-saran-wrap was incredibly lame, but that was in Superman II, for which I don’t give a fig. I don’t remember much about III or and I never saw IV.

    Anyhow, I concede that I didn’t make my point about S:TM and SR very well. What I was trying to say was that the 1978 film is the one that means something to me, and just because a newer Superman (or Star Trek or Star Wars or King Kong or whatever) movie features state-of-the-art effects, up-to-date hairstyles, a “darker, grittier take” on the character, or whatever else people usually hold up as evidence that a remake is better than the original, doesn’t necessarily make it so. For me, at least.

  17. Jeff Porten says at June 20th, 2009 at 3:08 am :
    First off, and most importantly — didn’t mean to offend you in any way. Check out my arguments with Brian elsewhere — for me, saying “you’re batshit crazy” is a term of endearment. It’s just my rhetorical style, and agreed that it works better with Brian, whom I’ve known for 20 years, than with friends-of-Brian. So apologies are offered.

    I can’t speak about the show bible, but I know the term “Federation” wasn’t uttered on-air until at least halfway through the first season of TOS, and neither was “Starfleet.”

    Hmmm. To be honest, my familiarity is based on watching every TOS episode at least 30 times between 1971 and 1986 (my mother was a huge fan of the original Trek), and what I’ve osmotically absorbed by being a general geek since then. Sounds to me like it’s quite possible that the show bible I’m alluding to wasn’t written before the second season.

    Also, let’s be sure we’re dealing with reality: the writers and producers of TOS didn’t give a damn about continuity, best demonstrated by the random number generator they used when picking a Stardate. It’s only the rabid fandom after the fact that created the level of retconned detail we’re talking about. I have very clear memories of really enjoying the novelization of the first ST movie, because it filled in a hell of a lot of backstory and made it all canonical.

    Which means that it’s quite possible that I’m conflating the TOS milieu with the continuity established in the movies; it’s been a long time since I watched most of the TOS episodes. (You’ve convinced me… off to BitTorrent to rectify that.)

    However, I can say without much fear of correction that what I’m spouting about Roddenberry’s desire to push his political theories via the show is accurate — although perhaps not as much of that made it onscreen in TOS as I remember.

    I am 39 as well, and I always thought they were lame. Turning into a bucket of water and a seal? Come on. Next to Superman and Batman, that was not remotely cool.

    Off to Wikipedia to remind myself of the airdates. (Did you know that the Superman and Wonder Woman cameos in The Brady Kids predated Super Friends? News to me.) Looks like Zan and Jayna were unleashed on the world’s prepubescents in 1977.

    I don’t know about you, but when I was seven, turning into a bucket of water was still pretty damn cool. It’s only watching it now that makes me think that Zan was somewhere far short of Robin on the superhero hierarchy.

    I enjoyed TNG just fine, but I never developed the kind of affection or respect for it that I have for TOS. It just didn’t resonate as strongly with me, for whatever reason.

    Probably a matter of taste. I’d say my affection for TOS and TNG is about equal, but for completely different reasons.

    And if you want to bring up the subject of context, the ’80s-vintage talkiness and uber-PC atmosphere of TNG hasn’t aged any better than the Kennedy-era ’60s swashbuckling tone of TOS, IMO.

    Agreed that several episodes in the first two seasons are nearly unwatchable, many for the same reasons that people flooded into alt.wesley.die.die.die. But I’d argue that many episodes (Best of Both Worlds comes to mind) should be ranked among the best science fiction ever filmed.

    Let me qualify any further Superman discussion by clearly stating that I was only talking about the first Christopher Reeve-era movie. I agree the super-saran-wrap was incredibly lame, but that was in Superman II, for which I don’t give a fig.

    Really? I’d say that Superman II was a much stronger movie than the first — if for no other reason than we didn’t have to wait so damn long to see him in his iconic tights. The one thing that Superman Returns did better than Superman: The Movie: making Lex Luthor menacing. But S:II was better than both in that it provided villains who were more powerful than Superman, which makes him much more of a hero when he beats them.

    I don’t remember much about III or and I never saw IV.

    You and me both. I rewatched S:III a few years ago, and there were aspects of it that were far better than I remembered — but not enough to save the film.

    What I was trying to say was that the 1978 film is the one that means something to me, and just because… [of] whatever else people usually hold up as evidence that a remake is better than the original, doesn’t necessarily make it so.

    Agreed 100%. What I loved best about Spider-Man 1: it was exactly the movie I had waited 30 years to see. But this is also my point about the new Star Trek movie: it doesn’t replace the original series, and it’s not supposed to. It’s a new way of telling stories, in a culturally important mythology — and where I’ll still give massive points to Abrams is that he did so in a way that was internally consistent with the Star Trek mythos by creating an alternate timeline.

    Interesting point made by Neil Gaiman, which I watched yesterday: DC and Marvel comics are collectively the longest storytelling continuity in human history. I’d argue that Superman, Spider-Man, Darth Vader, and James T. Kirk are all fundamentally important to American culture. Which is why a remake is always going to be a remake. We teach different lessons in Hebrew school than were taught to our grandparents; this doesn’t replace those lessons, it augments them. And when aspects of that culture are repudiated, they’re done so deliberately.

Comments

Comments will be sent to the moderation queue.