Friday, September 13, 2013

Five Ways J.J. Abrams Can (Still) Save Star Trek

I honestly don’t think J.J. Abrams could have created more controversy with Star Trek: Into Darkness if he had tried. In recent weeks, not only have the fans voted it the worst (period) Trek movie (period) ever (period) but the screenwriter, Roberto Orci, seems to have had a full scale online meltdown telling dissatisfied fans to “F—K OFF!”
In a recent Op-Ed piece for The Hollywood Reporter, Mark Hughes argued that Trek fans are wrong in their assessment of the new franchise. Hughes suggested that most disgruntled fans look back on the original series through rose colored glasses, ignoring the fact the 1960’s television series was first and foremost television with fist fights, starship battles, and scantily clad women. I couldn’t agree more, and as for those Trekkers who were shocked by Spock’s fury in his bout with Khan in ST:ID, I’d like to remind them that in the Original Series Spock not only beat the holy hell out of Kirk (Amok Time) but also cried on no less than three occasions.
Obviously the new Star Trek is not without issues, though in my opinion, J.J. Abrams’ decision to create an off-shoot timeline with the destruction of Vulcan was a masterstroke of genius. (It gave him not only a creative freedom to re-invent previous storylines, but to alter them in ways hitherto thought sacrilegious – such as pre-maturely resuscitating Khan Noonien Singh.) Unfortunately, hardcore Trekkers are calling for Abrams’ head these days louder than ever before. Those people, right or wrong, like it or not, are the ticket buyers and the dedicated soul of this franchise. Here are a few ways I believe J.J. Abrams can redeem Star Trek for the fans, and his save head, in the third film:

1.    Revisit Miri’s World
Remember Miri? Played by young guest star Kim Darby, Miri was the girl on a planet that was an exact replica of Earth, except that in that planet’s past germ warfare had wiped out all the grown-ups (grups) and left the children with remarkable long life. A fascinating science fiction concept, this world exemplifies potential for big screen treatment. Imagine transporting down to a planet exactly like Earth, but where everything was abandoned in 1965 and left to decay for three hundred years. Now populate this world with children who have devolved into some Lord of the Flies culture; unchecked childish immaturity could make any given day Christmas or someone’s birthday, and make a playground tussle a decades-long blood feud.
Miri’s World is only one of several planets visited by the U.S.S. Enterprise in the original series that could be expanded into a feature length motion picture. Abrams could return to the well of the original series, find a visited world and respectfully re-imagine it for a 21st century film-going audience.

2.    Welcome Back, Harry Mudd
Quite unlike Miri’s World, the inter-stellar charlatan and rogue Harcourt Fenton (“Harry”) Mudd probably could not carry an entire feature length film, but he absolutely would add something to one! Mudd (as portrayed by the late Roger C. Carmel) was so well-received that he not only appeared in two episodes of the original series but also made a guest appearance on the early-1970’s animated program as well. (If you listen closely to Star Trek: Into Darkness, Mudd is mentioned, I guess it was his ship they all took to Kronos.) Mudd could easily be an important supporting character in the next Star Trek film, drawing in theater-loads of outraged and/or enthralled Trekkers as well as fulfilling his true destiny by providing Roddenberry’s universe with a bit of comic relief. 
I’ve personally always thought funny man Jack Black had just the right screen persona to pull off a modern Harry Mudd. Besides being sci-fi adventure, a “Wagon Train to the Stars” as it were, Star Trek was also always a little fun; well, on the big screen fun doesn’t always mean big action set-pieces. Bring back Harry Mudd to Star Trek and bring back some simple fun, Abrams old boy!

3.    Re-Introduce The Squire of Gothos (-or- The Q Continuum?)
Here is a concept somewhere between Miri’s World and Harry Mudd, and yet holds elements so unique that it deserves to stand alone. The child-like Trelane, omnipotent squire of the planet Gothos, like Mudd, might bring an element of humor to Star Trek. Unlike Mudd, Trelane’s obsessive, sinister character could easily carry an entire picture. Though considered apocryphal by Memory-Alpha (an online compendium of all things Trek) Peter David’s 1994 novel, Q-Squared, revealed Trelane as a member of the Q Continuum, the god-like non-corporeal species introduced in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Bringing Trelane back, as well as re-introducing the concept of “The Q”, on the surface might seem potentially humorous, but is also potentially dangerous to the Enterprise and her crew.
This move might arguably be a big step towards restoring Star Trek’s science fiction street cred. All Vulcans, Klingons and kidding aside, realistically, IF we ever meet another intelligent species in space that other civilization would either be thousands of years behind, or ahead of us. We might very easily appear to them much the way we do to Trelane and Q, as curious playthings (Like the song says: “We’ll make great pets”.) I know that intellectual optimists will suggest that any advanced society would have deeply held and intricate moral protocols when encountering a less-advanced species. Fair enough I suppose; however, if human history is any indicator, we’ll be lucky if that advanced culture doesn't haul us off as slaves or butcher us like cattle.

4.    Match of the 23rd Century: Spock vs. Spock
Spock is without doubt the most revered character in the Star Trek universe. Bringing Spock into conflict with himself and his people in a visceral yet thoughtful way could become a new, legendary moment in this venerable franchise.
With the Vulcan home world destroyed and the thousands of surviving Vulcans a displaced people, it stands to reason that those refuges sought and received from the Federation the right to claim another planet as New Vulcan. Aside from the prospective eye-popping visual effects (imagine the Vulcans “salvaging” remnants of their old home and lowering a chunk of sacred Mount Seleya down onto New Vulcan from orbit) suppose the hastily organized refuge was already occupied by an over-looked, evolving and sentient species. When the intelligent native species of New Vulcan is discovered the Federation could revoke the Vulcan’s claim to their new world, creating in the refuges a militant refusal to become homeless again. This volatile situation could place in Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) some real internal and external confliction, especially if the most vocal opponent to relinquishing New Vulcan is none other than Spock Prime (Leonard Nimoy).
A Spock vs. Spock storyline where younger Spock is in opposition to his older self, over the morality of colonizing a planet already inhabited, albeit even by just some small furry creature that displays sentient thought, could be brilliant. Perhaps Spock Prime needs to be reminded of his logical morality by his younger self? Perhaps young Spock has much to learn about the “real world” from his older self? Perhaps, even, there is a third option for reconciliation to the dilemma of New Vulcan, an option only a human, like James Kirk, Leonard McCoy or Nyota Uhura can see and offer to the warring Spocks?

5.    Go Boldly Where No One Has Gone Before!
I liked Star Trek: Into Darkness and despite what Trekkers recently voted in Las Vegas, I think it was the best Star Trek film since at least The Undiscovered Country. (The TNG movies all looked and felt like well-financed TV movies to me, sorry.) This last film, I felt, did everything a good sequel should – it built on past events and took its characters and their relationships into new territories. There was also lots of quality action and special effects, and the greatest Trek villain ever – Khan – made an appearance. All that said, though, there is one element I feel has been missing from Star Trek for some time: GOOD visionary science fiction. Yes, there have been epic action set-pieces, high adventure, genuine tension and all those goodies mentioned above, but where are the mind-challenging concepts of what could be out in space?
For many, many years now Star Trek has been primarily about action and adventure, understandable I suppose as the action/adventure genre is a money spinner. The “trek” was always about more than that, however, even as 1960’s television; it was about “boldly going where no man has gone before”. Lost is the sense of wonder and discovery as exemplified by such original series episodes as “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched The Sky” and “The Return of the Archons”. The notion of re-introducing strong science fiction is hardly unfriendly to big action and adventure, but it will demand more thought, from both the filmmakers and the audience.
I know many think Star Trek has been ruined by J.J. Abrams, well, that’s as may be. I believe this franchise’s future truly lies in going back to the well, not just for old ideas to skillfully re-package, but for a keener understanding of what it was about Gene Roddenberry’s vision that excited so many for so long.

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