Monday, November 24, 2008

History is Replete With Turning Points

Jason Bennion, over at the award-winning blog Simple Tricks & Nonsense, reacts to the new Star Trek movie trailer:

My initial reaction was reflexively negative, simply because of what it is. But now after a cooling-off period, I can see that it has a lot going for it. It's exciting, in that jittery, over-caffeinated, fast-cut style that The Damn Kids seem to like these days. It contains a number of striking images, including some that remind me of commercial illustrations that caught my eye as a kid and have stayed with me over the years...

Bennion also considers the gap between our two opinions of the trailer:

I guess the bottom line here is that the trailer has left me ambivalent. I'm not entirely dismissive of the project, but I'm not sold on it either. John Kenneth Muir...points out that this Star Trek isn't really for people like me, not for the Boomers and Gen-Xers who grew up with ST 1.0, and that "even if the new Star Trek is a great movie, my generation is going to have a tough time living with it." That sums up my feelings pretty concisely. The big difference between he and I, though, is that he's more confident it will be a great movie, and I am not. Moreover, he wants Star Trek to continue. I was perfectly content with the idea that it was over...

Jason is right about this. I really do want Star Trek to continue. And gazing inside, I wonder why that's so important. Why do I feel so invested in the continuation of a franchise? I mean, I'll always have Paris, right? I've got three TV seasons, an animated series and six movies, all just waiting for another re-visit.

One possible answer: I've always felt that Star Trek represents a pretty good lens for viewing the world, a philosophy. I would like my young Joel to have ready access to this world as he navigates growing up. But, of course, -- again -- I can just pop the classic series DVD in the blu ray player I haven't bought yet, and he can soak up all the wisdom there.

If he's even interested in Star Trek. To coin a phrase, it's probably "highly illogical" of me to assume Joel will be interested in Star Trek. With my luck, he'll like the new Battlestar Galactica.

Spock reminded us that "all things end," yet Jason Bennion is right in his interpretation -- I cling stubbornly to Star Trek. I don't want it to end, because I believe it has been and always shall be a positive force in what is largely a negative world. Star Trek reminds us that human beings at their best can be clever, compassionate, inventive, and capable of solving problems. It reminds us that we can overcome racism, sexism, and even species-ism (!). It's also daring in the best sense of the word: the next vista is never enough. Star Trek reminds us that we can go further...that there's always another vista, another adventure just over the horizon.

Star Wars could end today and I would shed no tears. I'd remember it fondly for the special place it held in my youth.

But if Star Trek ended today, I'd miss it. This is an object lesson for what happens when someone grows up with TV instead of organized religion, I suppose. The tenets of Star Trek are that important to me....akin to a belief system. All of which makes me a weirdo, for sure, optimistic weirdo.

I don't know. Star Trek just isn't done with us yet. Kirk and Spock and Bones have more life in 'em. More to tell us. More to teach us.

If the new movie stinks, no one will be more disappointed than me. (And nobody will be quicker to write -- in agonizing detail -- about the failures of the enterprise). On the other hand, I cling to the belief that Star Trek can survive this turning point. I believe that Star Trek -- even sexed up, jazzed-up, and likely dumbed down -- can be relevant and important today.

Historical example tells us this is so. Remember, the original pilot "The Cage" was rejected by NBC as too cerebral. So Roddenberry tried a second time -- only this time eschewing big concepts for fist fights, false gods, and ripped tunics. The result of that "dumb
ed down" second pilot was the beginning of a forty-two year legend.

Maybe J.J. Abrams can re-start the franchise now with the same success.


  1. Hi, John -

    I'm somewhat startled to be called out so prominently. I'm honored. :)

    I fully understand it what you're saying about Star Trek as a philosophy and a belief system. I grew up on TV, too, and I also believe passionately in the messages of Star Trek. I don't have any children myself, but when that time comes, I will most definitely want to pass those messages on to them.

    My resistance to this remake stems from a couple of different factors.

    First, it annoys me that young people today are so dead-set against watching old movies and TV. That's a personal peeve of mine and possibly a tangential issue, but I think it has some bearing on the situation. One of the big reasons all the remakes of recent years are happening is because the sweet-spot demographic (i.e., teens and early 20-somethings) flatly refuses, as a category, to watch anything that doesn't have ultra-realistic special effects or is in black-and-white. There's certainly not a problem with availability these days, as pretty much everything worth watching is on DVD. This gets to me because it's so different from how I myself grew up, immersed in Hollywood classics and re-runs of shows that'd been canceled before I was born (including the original Star Trek). I feel like this remake is, to a certain extent, catering to a social trend I find deeply troubling.

    The other and probably more germane reason is that I've seen -- we've all seen -- both Star Trek and Star Wars diminished as a result of too many trips to the creative well. In the case of Trek, we've had five television series, 10 movies, and lord only knows how many novels, comics, and games, and each subsequent incarnation has been less than what came before. Maybe by returning to the original characters, Abrams can wring something fresh out of this particular concept and make Star Trek relevant and poignant again -- I think you and I would agree that our tired, frightened world could use some Roddenberry-style optimism right about now -- but I'm dubious. This trailer is looking less "Devil in the Dark" (my personal fave episode, thematically speaking) and a lot more Nemesis.

    For what it's worth, I do hope to be proven wrong.

  2. Hey Jason,

    I don't you to feel like I called you out. I have been enjoying your blog so much, and especially your ruminations on the new Star Trek trailer, so I felt it was good to make a blog-to-blog connection on the subject.

    I actually agree with most everything you've written so far. I understand what you're feeling too, in regards to re-vamping this particular franchise.

    I'm trying hard to remain upbeat. And I have a feeling that Chris Pine is going to be good in the Kirk role (which is where we differ, I think...)