By Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service
May 19, 2009 -- As Star Trek
continues to soar effortlessly at the top of the box office, it’s obvious that auteur J.J. Abrams has figured out how to stretch the franchise’s appeal beyond the hard-core fans. And yet, the new movie also appeals to the Trekkers (or Trekkies, or – as I call ‘em – “my peeps”).
How’d he do that? By being very, very smart.
For example, more than a few new fans have asked about the central conceit of the film, the temporal paradox that allows two versions of Spock to exist at the same time. Not being regular Trek fans, they saw it as an unnecessary complication. Not being regular SF fans, the idea of parallel timelines was difficult to grasp. So howcum?
Answer: It may be the smartest part of the film.
Simply telling a prequel would be the kiss of death. Because the future of these characters and “the future” is set in stone – in multiple TV series, movies, cartoons and novels – it would be mind-numbingly boring to watch Kirk & crew march like zombies toward a predictable and pre-destined future. Where’s the drama? Where’s the suspense? Think about those dreadful Star Wars
On the other hand, simply starting over would outrage the hard-core fans, upon whose word-of-mouth and ready wallets the film would depend. (Not to mention the action figures, Underoos and so forth!) And, let’s face it, they have kept the franchise alive through lean times over the last 40-odd years, and deserve more consideration than “Hey, you know all those novels and DVDs and paraphernalia you’ve bought over the years? Forget it. None of that happened. You wasted your money and misplaced your loyalty. Tough break.”
So what Abrams did is satisfy both camps. He allowed the original timeline to exist; all those previous stories ‘count,’ and more stories can still be told about the “original” scenario. But he also created a new crew, whose destiny is open-ended. A Spock free to love. A Kirk whose legitimacy is shaky. A Chekov who joins the crew at their outset (in the original, he didn’t arrive on the Enterprise until the second season).
Some of these changes are welcome, some are dubious. (I fear the new Spock may not be angst-y enough to make female hearts flutter.) But the bottom line is: These are old friends full of new and exciting possibility. And that, folks, borders on genius.
Some other observations:
* In the original 1966-69 Star Trek,
Captain Kirk was written as a typical Western hero, as Westerns were the rage at the time. Creator Gene Roddenberry even sold the series as “Wagon Train
to the stars.”
In today’s times, though, an impulsive leader who gets into fistfights isn’t admired. But that’s part of Kirk’s character now, for better or worse. How to explain it? Easy – establish Kirk as a hothead who gets into bar fights before he becomes a Starfleet captain. Brawling is in his nature, and he failed Starfleet discipline. Problem solved.
* What about a captain who leads “away” teams? Star Trek: The Next Generation
went out of its way to establish that as against regulations. Kirk still must, as part of his established character (see above). But Spock dismisses the controversy in a single line, when Kirk demands to go on a landing party. “I would quote regulations to you,” he said, “but you would simply ignore them.” Done.
* Speaking of Spock, actor Zachary Quinto (Heroes
) channels a young Leonard Nimoy down to the body language. Perfect. Because if Spock doesn’t work, Star Trek
doesn’t work. And Quinto was brilliant.
* Why does Ensign Chekov pronounce “W” instead of “V,” when there is no W in the Russian alphabet? Originally, it was because actor Walter Koenig had a terrible Russian accent. Now? It appears to be a speech impediment. Problem solved.
* The late Jimmy Doohan, who played engineer Montgomery Scott, grew into his role over time – literally, ballooning in girth in later years. This film hints at it, by introducing Scotty as a man on a frozen planet who thinks fondly of food.
There’s more, but you get the point. “Star Trek Zero” has a rip-snorter of a new “origin” story that allows for any possibility – such as the Enterprise
meeting Khan Noonian Singh again for the first time! It leads with characterization, instead of F/X. And it was very, very smart.
Me likee. More, please.
Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at firstname.lastname@example.org.