Sunday, May 10, 2009

J.J. Abrams! Just what Bones ordered! Star Trek would be LOST without him!

So how do you start a blog about the new Star Trek film, brought about by savvy director J.J. Abrams? What other way could there be...

Captain's log: Stardate 2009.5...

Having just seen the new Trek, it's uncanny to me how many naysayers have reared their ugly head, simply because William Shatner has been replaced by Chris Pine. Because the Enterprise doesn't look anything like it did on the television show. Because the uniforms, although very similar, have a mesh look to them. That Uhura and Spock have a thang going on. That Vulcan bites the dust harder than an Ethopian in the Sahara Desert. Most importantly that the historical journey's of the once great crew of the Star Fleet, Constitution Class, Federation vessel we have all come to know and love for 40 years now, seemed to have been....erased.

So is the case with the new Star Trek released May 8, 2009 by the avid Trek enthusiast J.J. Abrams, the creator of the television show Alias, director of the motion picture Mission: Impossible III, and producer of one of the most popular shows on television today, Lost. Unfortunately, some Trekkers, or Trekkies as they often call themselves, to quote Admiral Kirk from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, "I think he's been doing a little too much LDS."

To understand the frustrations of these avid, bordering on psychotic, fans of the late great franchise that seemingly bit the dust as of 2005, you have to go back to the beginning. Much like the new movie does in it's own right, only there can you understand.

Star Trek was not high on anyone's scanners back in the mid-60's. Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Trek, called the new series the "wagon train to the stars." No, it was nothing like Dancing With the Stars, although frequently flirtatious gestures weren't in short supply when Kirk got his grove on. From the acting, to the ship, to the special effects of the time, to the bad dialogue, lack of realism, no locations shoots, and out right adulterous overtones with scantily clad women and the first interracial kiss on television, Trek was, in a word, bad. Ain't that right John Boy? (obligatory Michael Jackson reference). Desi Lu didn't want to pay them, the networks wanted to cancel them (and succeeded after 3 seasons), and Gene Roddenberry wanted to virtually throw in the towel for the whole thing. His space opera seemed destined to be a distant memory that might only be seen again once humanity reached the 23rd century. Of course, that was something many in the 60's feared would never happen.

The one thing Trek had going for it way back when, were it's political sub plots. Obviously the Federation was the United States. Obviously the Klingons were the Soviets. Then you throw in a whole slew of other races and you had a melting pot of the issues Americans saw daily from 1966-1968 when the show aired. My favorite episode had to be when the half black and half white people showed up. These people despised one another simply because their colors were on opposite sides of their faces (much like the racial and segregation issues of the 1960's that were going on). It was a petty debate that Kirk handled beautifully and grabbed the attention of many viewers who began to realize that maybe this show has some merit. But, by the time many of the viewers started realizing this, the executives had already pulled the plug. Star Trek was gone, never to be seen again as far as many were concerned.

Then in 1976 NASA introduced the first in a line of new space faring vehicles that would launch human beings into orbit, to replace the defunct Apollo Program. The new vehicle was to be called a space shuttle and the public demanded that the first in this new line be named after one thing in particular, the Starship Enterprise. Thus began the revitalization of the once thought dead franchise that seemingly was going nowhere fast. Trek was more than a thrill ride to many viewers, young and old. It reflected current day society in a futuristic setting that offered hope for the future as a whole. A world where pettiness was no more, war had ceased, racism was gone, people strived to better themselves, no one went hungry, no one was homeless. It was one of the few shows that painted a picture that somehow life would find a way (shameless Ian Malcolm plug, Jurassic Park). For that reason, a series thought long dead was thriving and wasn't even on the air, other than re-runs. People wanted Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Sulu, Chekov, and Uhura back! Finally, in 1978, everyone got their wish.

I don't know a time in my life, since the day I was born, that Trek didn't have a movie or television series in existence or in the works. Indeed the generation J.J. Abrams grew up in was one of the few that had never experienced a "current" Star Trek series or film. Abrams is 42 years-old, 10 years older than I am, meaning he was too young to remember the series in the 60's and wondered what all the fuss was about with the movie in 1978. But when he saw it, like so many others, he fell in love!

Star Trek has been an inspiration to my life since I was a child. I can't say I know ALL there is to know about Trek; I've never been to a convention; never met one of the actors; never dressed as a character in uniform; I don't know the "canon" or even care what it means (much the same way I feel about the Bible's so called "canon" being closed). What I do know is how the movies made me feel growing up. The first two films I remember seeing were Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. I had seen Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan on a video, but those were the first two in a movie theatre. I was hooked! I was hooked from the moment I heard Kirk yell, "Khaaaaaaaaaan!" I remember asking my dad what they were going to do since the Enterprise had blown up? I remember how cool it was to see Kirk and company in 1986, downtown San Francisco! That movie made me love whales (and the subsequent Free Willy made me despise them, mostly because of the kid!). I wanted to be an astronaut; I wanted to move to Iowa; I practiced the Vulcan neck pinch and salutation; I loved everything there was to know about Trek.

I remembered my dad buying Mr. Scott's Guide to the Enterprise and then later The History of the Future. I loved these group of men and women, but quickly I found out, my devotion to them was not where the love was directed. I was in love with the ideas of Trek! This became more clear when a new series began in 1987.

Star Trek: The Next Generation was to be my Trek growing up. In a way, it was, lasting until the year before I graduated high school. I loved Picard, Riker especially, and Mr. Data. Troy (HOTNESS!), Worf, Geordi, Wesley, and Beverly (Dr. Crusher). I hated it when Tasha Yar died, but loved it when Picard blew another, possessed Star Fleet officer's head off! TNG meant as much to me as the Original crew had. So then I understood, I simply loved Star Trek. Then Star Trek V: The Final Frontier came out.

Needless to say, William Shatner never needs to direct again as long as he lives. The movie was ok, but it wasn't Trek. To this day I don't really know what it was about. It seemed to be Kirk and company finding God, but then became just some "regular" episode. It lacked the luster of the previous four films and really made you wonder, had they reached their limit with the older crew? Apparently they did, because two years later Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country came out and bid farewell to the "real" magnificent seven! But, the Trek went on!

TNG lasted until 1994, then went directly to the big screen in December of the same year with Star Trek: Generations. I loved this movie, but wished it had been bigger. It was the Star Trek that was out when I could truly remember and understand everything going on. Seeing Kirk die was sad, but a necessity. The loose ends were tied and now Trek could move on! It did so with First Contact, bringing the Borg to the big screen. The movie was awesome and truly rivaled The Voyage Home, but mostly it kept the franchise going. Then Insurrection came out and although it was a fun movie, it lacked the luster that you expected from a Trek film. The films then went on hiatus. While Picard and company were out, Deep Space Nine was thriving, though hardly likable, and Voyager was taking the reigns full speed ahead, quite literally. Voyager reminded me of the old crew. They were on their own and had to figure things out themselves with virtually no help. Kirk and company did this almost every week. TNG always had the answers and DS9 stayed in one place. Voyager offered something refreshing! It wasn't the old crew, but it was fun with personable characters, a mother figure, a rebel without a cause, another Vulcan, an Asian, and this time a Native American. It was a fun adventure and worth watching every week. But then the worst thing that could have ever happened for Star Trek occurred. George Lucas made Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

Suddenly Star Trek was in a huge backseat, to the likes of 3 more Star Wars films, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, Spider-man, Shrek, and the list goes on. It didn't help that in the same year Star Trek: Nemesis was released as the 10th Trek, Bond 20 was also coming out at virtually the same time with Die Another Day. Combine that with 8 Mile, The Two Towers, Harry Potter 2, and several other films, Nemesis was bound for disaster. I had hoped that maybe this title meant Q might show up, a beloved villian from the TNG universe, but unfortunately John Logan, fresh off of Gladiator, chose to pursue the Romulan avenue. In a word Nemesis SUCKED!

Meanwhile, Rick Berman and company at Paramount had decided instead of staying in the 24th century or trying to continue forward into the 25th, they would go back in time to the 21st Century when Star Fleet was just being conceived, in the form of Enterprise. I had wanted to see a series titled this, but perhaps with Riker in command in the 24th Century. Instead they got Scott Bakula, who's television shows that have been successful were few and far between. Quantum Leap stayed on the air as long as Star Trek: Enterprise had and both lacked the luster of the other Treks. So by May, 2005, coincidentally the release month of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, and suspected last Star Wars film, Star Trek had officially come to an end.

I really didn't know what to think. To quote Q from All Good Things..., "Oh, but we can decide and we have. Time may be eternal, Captain, but our patience is not. It's time to put an end to your Trek through the stars. Make room for other, more worthy species." I had lost interest in Enterprise long before 2005 and Nemesis had left a bitter taste in my mouth. Could it be that Star Trek was "officially" over, for good? The franchise had died! There were no more television shows, no more movies. What I had taken for granted my entire existence was completely gone. It was sad, but as All Good Things... suggests, it was time for it to come to an end. It was time for me to move on.

Then in 2005 my dad introduced me to a new television series that had caught my eye the year before. It was called Lost. I had seen the previews, but honestly never took an active interest. I thought to myself, What is this, Cast Away on TV? How would that be interesting? Then my dad started telling me about it. Monsters, evil islanders, mysteries, conspiracies, unexplainable events. I loved the idea of the plane crashing and breaking into a million pieces and somehow people surviving. My dad showed me the tail section crash in one episode, and suddenly I was hooked. I went out and bought Season 1 of Lost and watched every episode of that season in two weeks! I just simply could not get enough of this strange island in the South Pacific. Then it occurred to me. These people were on their own, far from home, having to deal with unexplainable events. Having to seek out new lifeforms and new civilizations. They were literally boldly going where no one had gone before, or so they thought. I thought to myself, this is Star Trek on an island! I immediately became a huge fan of J.J. Abrams and could tell he was a Trek fan, much the same as me. Maybe he didn't know everything about Trek, or the "canon" so to speak, but he obviously had an affinity for the franchise and it inspired him. Star Trek has inspired my own writing and factors heavily in The Civilization Loop and the subsequent follow ups I mean to have published. Needless to say, Lost had restored my vigor for truly entertaining Science Fiction, and not the thrill ride Star Wars type scenarios. I love Star Wars, just not as much as I love Star Trek!

Then in 2006 J.J. Abrams directed Mission: Impossible III, which I considered to be the best of that franchise to that point. Phillip Seymour-Hoffman was an awesome, Khan-like villian; Tom Cruise still played his character well, but he had burned so many bridges with his antics the year before, it was hard for people to like him anymore, even in a M:I film. Although I do think Cruise is still a great actor, and loved him in Valkyrie. Abrams' flair and dramaticism were spectacular in this film and far exceeded that of Brian De Palma's and John Woo's Missions. One thing that stood out was that Mission: Impossible was a franchise of Paramount, the same one that owned Star Trek. Both franchises had even shared similar filming studios during their hay day on television. So while Abrams was there, he began negotiations for something that I believe caught many in Hollywood by surprise.

Trek was dead, and although Abrams had done a great job with Mission, Paramount had to fire Cruise to save that franchise. Abrams was also enamored with Lost which was doing quite well after 2 seasons. Then Abrams announced he was going to make a new Trek film. Everyone, including me, were stunned. But this film would not be a continuation of the same old treks with the TNG crew, no, Abrams was going to bring back the original crew! Immediately I thought, AWESOME!!

Of course, there were many Trekkies that saw this as an outrage. Suddenly William Shatner's Kirk was the only Kirk for them! Spock could never be replaced! Nevermind he was killed at one point! No Trekkie seemed to embrace this idea, of bringing back the old characters because how can you have Kirk without Shatner? Well, all you need to do is take a look at the current movies that are out and you can see how this can be achieved. Batman (Christian Bale), James Bond (Daniel Craig), Superman (Brandon Routh), soon to be A-Team film, War of the Worlds, Star Wars I-III, all franchises that either started over or went back and retold the story from a different perspective and were successful. So, why couldn't Abrams do that with Star Trek?

He already had a flair for the unexplained with Lost, making Star Trek the logical (no pun intended) next step for him. I'll admit I had my own reservations for who would play the roles in the new film, but then I equated it to my own experiences performing in a play for my church for the past 6 years called The Journey to the Resurrection. In this play we have 4 people that play Jesus in four groups to divide the spectators up and not have over crowding. But, each performer that plays Jesus, myself included, plays the part the way that they believe Jesus might have acted. My way is different from theirs' and in some cases we might all encorporate bits from each other's acting, especially if we have watched each other perform. I typically try to stay away from it because I don't want their style mixing with my own. I have a way that I play Jesus and so do they. So I decided and reconciled with myself, it doesn't matter who plays these characters or how they play them, as long as the characters are being played! It was a breath of fresh air to hear Abrams say in an interview, "I just think that maybe those characters could live again."

So with this blog, I hope I've shown you how much Star Trek means to me and how much, no matter who is playing what role, all I care about is that the stories continue. I believe that's all Abrams truly hopes to accomplish. He wants to simply open the door to have more adventures for a crew that many have adored, emulated, loved, and cherished on celluloid and on a picture tube. He's not trying to rewrite Star Trek, he simply means to bring it back to life. From what I saw in the new film, he stayed with many of the facts that we all remember who have ever seen a Trek. He's a true fan and sometimes making sure that things go on, you have to step up and take responsibility yourself so that the end will never come. To quote Captain Picard in Star Trek: Generations, "Someone once said that time is like a predator that stalks us all of our lives. But I tend to think of time as a companion who accompanies us on a journey, and reminds us to cherish each moment, because it will never come again. What we leave behind is not as important as how we have live. After all, Number One, we're only human." Riker replied, "Speak for yourself, sir. I plan to live forever." And so he will, and so will the characters we know and love regardless who plays them. Just relish in the fact that Jim Kirk, Dr. Leonard McCoy, Spock, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, and Scotty (even if Simon Pegg makes him act like he's had a lot of speed or an enormous amount of crack) are all back in action. The magnificent seven are riding again and this time they aren't riding into the sunset. They're not riding towards the second star to the right and straight on til morning. This time, the sun is rising behind the Enterprise and it's warp speed ahead! Star Trek was dead, but to quote Spock from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, "I've been dead before."

Live long and prosper!

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