"But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other."

Thursday, May 14, 2009

To boldy go and erase all that has gone before . . .

First, a warning: though it is not my intention, this post may well degenerate into uber-geekdom. Those who prefer to pretend that this side of me does not exist would do well to stop reading now.

I’m swinging to the night shift, and as part of the effort to keep myself awake as long as possible, I perused our network media drive and, lo and behold, found a copy of J.J. Abrams’ ‘reboot’ of Star Trek (featuring a hodgepodge of actors from other sci-fi series, like Sylar from “Heroes” as Spock and Eomer from “Lord of the Rings” as McCoy). As a former Trekker/Trekkie, I thought this would be a great way to pass the time. Sure, the days where I read Starfleet technical manuals and proudly owned tricorders and phasers and recreated instrument panels from the bridge of the Enterprise in construction paper relief were behind me, but this was J.J. Abrams, which meant ‘cool’, and besides, a quick stroll through my past passion would be harmless. Little did I know that this harmless entertainment would reawaken passions I long thought buried.

Now, I won’t drop any spoilers for those who want to see it, er, unspoiled, but I will say this: the overarching premise of this movie is that, for all intents and purposes, the last 40-odd years of Star Trek history have been rewritten due to a little time-traveling, and now we’re off on a new, uncharted trajectory. This is not a ‘reimagining’ like BSG or the recent Batman films: in those cases, yes, we’re starting anew, generally only recycling the basic plotlines and characters’ names, but there’s no acknowledgement of what’s come before, or any attempt to say that the older series are no longer valid. They’re simply new tellings of old tales. Abrams’ Star Trek, on the other hand, explicitly acknowledges that another timeline – the one we’ve come to know and love for the last half-century – exists, and just as explicitly states that this timeline has been wiped out. As if dancing on the old timeline’s grave, Abrams even brings in Leonard Nimoy, the original Spock, to tell us this. Now, I’m sure nine out of ten of you could care less about this, and perhaps you think this ‘issue’ lies only in the hearts of nerdified Trek purists. That may be so; but I still found it a smidge presumptive, a tad arrogant, to baldly erase such a large canon of work simply to appeal to a new, hip, younger fan base. And, in doing so, Abrams manages to make many of the old, likeable characters much less interesting. The old Kirk was a rogue, to be sure, bucking regulation and charging in where angels fear to tread; but he still acted on a set of principles. The new Kirk is little more than an obnoxious frat boy. The old Uhura was a ground-breaking civil rights icon, fleshing out a future where different races worked together on equal footing; the new Uhura is a sex object traded between Kirk and Spock. The old Chekov, introduced at the height of the Cold War, pointed to a time when East and West were no longer mortal enemies; the new is an awkward-looking kid amusing only for his indecipherable accent.

Silly stuff to most, perhaps, and in my older years I honestly care less than I might have as a Trekkified teenager. As time has passed and I re-watch episodes of “The Next Generation”, I find it much less compelling stuff: it’s the U.N. in the future, and about as plausible as the notion that a body where Libya chairs the Human Rights Commission has any credibility. Still, I spent many an hour losing myself in a galaxy replete with strange races, futuristic technology, and original story lines. When it wasn’t smugly snubbing our own time with its notion of a future free of things like money and property, it was capable of great drama and action. “The Best of Both Worlds”, where Picard is kidnapped and assimilated by the Borg, will probably remain one of my favorite episodes of any show. So too will “Yesterday’s Enterprise”, where we encounter – as we so often did – time travel, which created a new timeline but left the old one intact while still opening up new story-telling possibilities (plus, it turned the Enterprise-D into a full-fledged warship; which, as even the most pacifist of us will secretly admit, is far more interesting than Starfleet’s flagship as a mobile General Assembly). It had comedy – Data’s many attempts at becoming more human – and tragedy; I still feel a pang of longing and regret when I recall an episode where Picard encounters an alien probe which ‘dumps’ its civilization’s entire history into his mind. The probe itself is the only remnant of a planet suddenly destroyed, the only device by which the triumphs and tragedies of billions of people over thousands of years can have their story preserved. And while I spent less time with the original series, I still enjoyed most of the movies with the original cast. “The Wrath of Khan” is still one of the penultimate modern renditions of the age-old story of revenge and self-destruction. “The Undiscovered Country” – created during the apogee of The Next Generation and so guilty of some of its obnoxious moralizing – nevertheless combined action, betrayal, and the post-Cold War uncertainty of two adversaries trying to find a new beginning together (plus it had Shakespeare in the ‘original’ Klingon). To have all this not simply ignored, but purposefully unraveled, is difficult to swallow.

So you’ve done it, J.J.; by your actions, you’ve rekindled emotions I long thought dead and buried. They still are, mostly; but I do not like the direction you’ve taken. “Lost” better finish with a hell of a bang, or I may never forgive what you’ve done to James Tiberius Kirk and the illustrious history of the name “Enterprise”.

5 comments:

Brendan said...

Your nerdom is now complete. The new Star Trek was awesome, especially because it goes off on its own. There was no other way. Don't deny that you want to space jump!

The Accidental Blogger said...

I am not a Star Trek guy, by and large, but I thought the movie was good. The pacing is solid, the writing is good and the actors handle their roles well. I don't know the canon at all, but this will get people interested in the material who otherwise wouldn't tune in. In regards to the characters, I think that your read on Kirk is wrong (he still clearly has a sense of what is right) and the rest of the characters can't be the symbols they were because our reality is already different. They would never be able to resonate the same way. OTher than that, I defer to your superior knowledge on the subject.

Cincinnatus said...

Oh I'm not saying space jumping wouldn't be BA in a way few other things however. But perhaps you don't understand how my geek brain works. Where some people might simply say, "Wow, that space jump was cool," my thoughts run something like: "I understand they couldn't transport themselves to the drilling platform due to the interference the drill beam put out, but why couldn't they simply use their phasers and/or photon torpedoes to destroy the drill from afar? Or use them to take out the singularity-making thingy before it was dropped into Vulcan's core?" This is how geek brains work. I might also add that there was another way: laying Star Trek to rest. People have had Star Trek in their lives for almost half a century, and the longer it's gone on, it's experienced more lows than highs. Indiana: let it go.

As for Kirk, I'm not saying he had no discernable moral compass in this movie; I'm saying while the old Kirk would have overridden a computer system or simply stolen a starship to do what was right, this one just seems to yell a lot. But it's possible I'm allowing old passions to split hairs not worth splitting. As a movie, it was entertaining; as part of the 'canon', it was blasphemy. But this comes from a guy who's taken to wearing a BSG Colonial Marine patch on his flight suit.

The Accidental Blogger said...

I feel some slight measure of pride knowing I helped steer you towards the BSG induced light...

Winefred said...

Chill, dude. It was a fun movie. The old folks liked it.