Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Future Scenario #5 Re-invention

Paramount might decide that Star Trek still has potential---that is, it can still inspire creative storytelling, and importantly to them, it can still make major money. But it might decide---or it might get an offer it can't refuse from the likes of Lucas or Speilberg with this demand---that the Star Trek canon universe is a dead issue, and can safely be abandoned.

Then the question becomes: will it be Star Trek in anything but name? And will the name be enough?

Some feel that a complete re-invention is possible, although only if the core integrity of Star Trek's ideals are preserved. Former Trek scribe and now science fiction novelist '>Nick Sagan suggested this to me, in an email response to questions I sent him while I was reporting last summer's New York Times story. Here's the operative quote:

"You don't have to tell stories about or even tip the hat to previous Trek characters. All you need is Gene Roddenberry's sense of hope and wonder. At its core, Star Trek is about the people of Earth optimistically uniting in purpose, sending explorers into the universe. What could be out there? That's the core of Gene's vision, and as long as you don't lose that, you can find a new voice, a new point of view about the future, and reimagine the show any of a thousand different ways."

Nick prefaced this by saying that such a reinvention would follow a period of silence, when there was no new Trek around, to give a new concept "breathing room."

It would also depend on the fan base quieting down, if not withering away. Right now Trek fandom is a chaotic concept. Internet fans seem quite different from convention-going fans, who in turn are different from casual fans who simply like watching Star Trek. Within at least the Internet activists are very different visions of what Trek is or should be.

Some of it is political and ideological, with some fans lambasting or simply dismissing GR's vision as the ravings of a naïve and deluded arcane liberal. There is a neocon and Christian fundamentalist fan presence on the net that support political and cultural agendas that GR and most of the Trek writers and actors would not---they'd probably find a lot of it horrifying. And of course, there are fans with unitary loyalty to one series, and disdain for all others, as well as those who simply like some series and movies better, and just don't care to see the others. And there is a vocal group, probably a minority though no one knows how large or small, that defends total Trek canon, including some who express contempt for some of it.

But what would re-invention look like? On the big screen, it could be a new cast of unknowns who either portray new characters or established Trek characters like Captain Kirk, but in both cases with selective or complete disregard for canon facts and stories. They would reinvent the Trek universe, and break continuity with the existing stories. Or it could be a more modest reinvention on that level, like the movies made about comic book heroes like Spiderman and Batman, with reference to certain key characters, characteristics and events, but disregard for others.

On the big screen, it could also be a total or partial reinvention with established movie stars, who wouldn't participate unless they could make the characters their own. It might be a little more like the "Lost in Space" movie versus the TV show. Would the draw of major stars compensate for the ire of old fans? Being able to answering that question "and bring in a whole new and larger audience" would be the calculation Paramount would have to make.

On TV, reinvention could be a trickier project. Even with the vaunted "audience fatigue," the Enterprise premiere attracted some 20 million viewers. Could a show that calls itself Star Trek but which fans believe isn't Star Trek overcome that resistance, and more importantly, could it hold onto the viewers made curious, if not absolutely attracted, by the Trek name?

Enterprise failed despite having an established TV sci-fi star as its lead, so casting alone won't guarantee success. Manny Coto suggested that Trek will be back on TV when a "show runner" for another hot TV series expresses interest in doing it. Maybe. But television professionalism isn't everything, as Enterprise suggests.

My instinct is that to revive and reinvent Trek, the next Trek chief will need to go back to the same process followed by GR and his team: look at the science and speculation, at the cutting edge stuff, and design a future that works, that is exciting and attractive, and has lots of room for stories.

This process is necessary not only to reimagine Trek altogether, but to take the Trek universe to where it hasn't gone before-into the 25th century perhaps, or even deeper into its earlier days.

There are other alternative scenarios, some suggested here before, like animated Trek. For now it’s all speculation. Still, this fallow period is an opportunity to hone in on what is most valuable about Star Trek, as a guide to its future.


Will said...

Trek could learn some lessons from what the BBC did with "Doctor Who."

First, they left the series off the air for the better part of a generation. I'm not sure this was entirely intentional, but nonetheless, that's what happened. This allowed the show to pass into the mists of legend and become even more in the minds of both fans and the general public than it ever was, really.

Second, when it did come back, it had a well-known, mainstream writer and producer at the helm and well-known and/or highly respected actors playing the leads (casting tabloid celebrity Billie Piper was a stroke of genius, especially considering that she's a solid actor.). An American analogy would be casting a Star Trek television series with John Malcovitch and Whitney Houston.

Third, they made the series for a general audience. No obsessive continutity.

This, I think, is where Star Trek needs to go. It needs to stay off the air and off multiplex screens for at least a decade. And when it does come back, it needs a well-known, mainstream producer at the helm, someone you'd never assoicate with something like Star Trek) (someone like, say John Wells). You would need to make the stories accessible to any intelligent viewer and lastly, you would need to cast the show with name performers.

mike said...

You left out another audience segment: youngsters who grew up with video games. There are a lot of young fans, mostly male, who would love nothing more than Star Trek: Space Marines or Star Trek: Galactic War. Huge spaceships in massive battles; Klingon vs. Cardassion, Cardassian vs. Romulan, Borg vs. Federation, etc. Bigger, deadlier battle dreadnoughts; faster, deadlier fighters, orbital bombardment, etc. There's a new generation that would eat that up like free cheeseburgers.

Yes, it's completely anti-thetical to GR's dream and vision. But don't forget that Deep Space Nine came quite close to this idea and has a vocal fan base still. Some consider it the most "Trek" of the post-GR shows. The idea might take some tweaking to pass muster, but it could be done.

M. Garrett said...

Somehow, I think Gene would be just as horrified by your apparent bigotry towards Christians and conservatives. Not because he was one, but because he was against this kind of thinking and said so in many of his stories. Or have you not see LET THIS BE YOUR LAST BATTLEFIELD lately?

"There is a neocon and Christian fundamentalist fan presence on the net that support political and cultural agendas that GR and most of the Trek writers and actors would not---they'd probably find a lot of it horrifying."

Captain Future said...

Of course I could be wrong about what GR would find horrifying. But I'd be a lot more careful about charging someone with bigotry who disagrees with you. I've noticed a disturbing tendency for those defending conservatives and Christian fundamentalists to label any statement that doesn't praise them as prejudice and bigotry. I reject that label, and I stand by the sentence you refer to.

Argon said...

The point about the Dr. Who series is well taken, since they just continued it from where it left off. I don't think you have to wait a decade to do it, but like with TNG, you could start another show after like they did and still keep the continuity.

That was my biggest complaint about "Enterprise" was they started it too early and added things in the scripts that shouldn't have been invented yet, messing up the continuity of the shows.

Starting another series in the 25th century or so would avoid that problem and make more original writing easier. Also just as with TNG other actors could be cast in new roles to give them a chance to do something new and still keep the thread of continuity that being in Starfleet gives them.

An Angel's Destiny

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