Friday, 7 October 2011

Star Trek, going where no wrong has gone before

It's been a year since Star Trek movie no 11, on the alternative timeline, has been shown, and won the franchise' first academy awards for best make-up. When I first saw it, suspending any expectations, I liked it just that much that I was not motivated to watch it again. A lot of people said they found it enjoyable. Why wouldn't it be? Topless handsome male lead roles, hot Uhura reboot, an Enterprise on steroids that jumps to warp speed like Star Wars ship jumps into hyperspace, phasers that shoot more like pulse guns... I guess you could say the packaging was good, and the fact that you don't disturb the "canon" timeline seems to justify doing whatever it is necessary to reboot the franchise. Yet I felt a disconnect.

Star Trek TNG cast featured movies weren't a particular hit save for First Contact, but after rewatching them, I couldn't help feel a connection. There is consistency in characterisation, in the characters, and most of all, there is continuity. The story telling wasn't great, and the stories could have been grander but for the budgetary constraints, but at least it was a case of right people in the right time being caught in an event doing the right things. Because it is coherent, it ended up potentially boring.

Take Generations. Enterprise D need not have found Dr Soren, it could have been another ship. Could they have stopped him? Who knows? But even if they didn't, it would just have been Dr Soren ending up in the Nexus, with hundreds of millions dead when the Veridian sun explodes. The galaxy would have continued, and Enterprise D would have continued exploring the galaxy.

First Contact was different. Enterprise E was uniquely qualified to be part of the event, because Picard had special knowledge of the Borg. To up the stakes, the Borg planned to assimilate Earth in the past so that Earth will never make contact with the Vulcans, without which there would be no United Federation of Planets posing a threat to their advance. This makes good story telling.

Insurrection was a nice story. But the stakes were not high enough, therefore it didn't make grand space opera. But it was nevertheless consistent with Picard being the philosopher, the Captain that preserves the best traditions of Star Fleet - preventing forced relocation. Perhaps the folks in US and Europe didn't quite like the movie because it reminded them of what Israel stands for.

One pertinent aspect to note, both First Contact and Insurrection was directed by Jonathan Frakes, otherwise better known as Commander Riker, the Number One to Captain Picard. He's a good director.

I'm not certain why Nemesis did badly. Was it because they killed Data? Or because it's another story of Picard in emotional conflict? Was it the absurd idea of a single Romulan Warbird annihilating Earth with Polaron radiation weapon? Or the irritation of using a dune buggy? If Data was not detected when he first went on board the ship, why didn't he scout around to find a weakness, or plant a bomb, or a computer virus, as a tactical advantage as he so eloquently put it? Shinzon didn't look like he's a poker face - why didn't Troi detect his scheming? It would seem like Nemesis is a trap onto itself, full of pitfalls... making it a sad ending for TNG cast featured movies.

But my question is this - does bad story telling make it justifiable for one to abandon the canon timeline to explore an alternative timeline? Couldn't they have fixed TNG movie at 12 or 13? Bring in DS9 or Voyager crew perhaps? What was wrong with finishing Star Trek Enterprise into Season 7, and perhaps bring Enterprise E back to when Jonathan Archer became President of the Federation? Time travel is always fascinating. You just need to find a compelling reason or excuse to do so.

In contrast, yes, Star Trek 11 is enjoyable, but Kirk was not the right person to be at the event. NCC1701 was a new ship. It's Captain and Science Officer would perhaps be outstanding. But of all people, why did Captain Pike make Kirk first officer to Spock when he was called to the Romulan ship? On hindsight, that could have been an impressive command decision, but there is no way in hell StarFleet would have made a StarFleet cadet who is not even an ensign the first officer of any starship, least of all the Enterprise. Yes, I have a bone to pick about this, and it is a very large bone. And also consider all the new faces. Is it possible that in alternate reality, people look different? That must be the first this happens in our science fiction universe.

Question - what if Star Trek 12 flops? Sure, it can be entertaining, but usually, you need to break a few rules of consistency just to do so. Just think Transformers 2. If the Alternative Timeline flops, it's too late to go back to reconnect the dots between Star Trek Enterprise all the way to Voyager. The circle is already broken by this bastard child called the alternate universe.

I didn't like how Star Wars Episodes 1 - 3 were told. I had a wish list. Despite the eventual turn to the dark side for Anakin Skywalker, it could still have preserved some levity of the original trilogy. But at least I appreciated the attempt at consistency, even as I was appalled by the story's gaps. Could you imagine George Lucas realising how the Phantom Menace irked a lot of people, and decided to pull the plug on Episodes 2 and 3, and decide to reboot with an alternative timeline? It would have been unimaginable, and unbearable. Why then are we asked to accept Star Trek's audacity to do so?

Star Trek should have gone where no one has boldly gone before. If the studios were courageous enough to put a new face to old characters, they should have been just as bold to create a totally new set of cast, and throw them another ship, and set them off to an amazing adventure. Star Trek is a universe. It is not the playground of Kirk alone. Look at how Star Wars has expanded the Clone Wars, which is a force onto itself. Or the Old Republic, an actually completely new universe. And look at what they are trying to achieve by bringing to fore the minor characters, so that they become major roles in the live action series, now put off for another few more years due to budgetary constraints.

Star Trek 12 may well be entertaining, but I will always feel a disconnect, because it isn't my reality. As far as I'm concerned, it's gone where no wrong has gone before.

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