Tuesday, May 31, 2005

GR did three things with Star Trek. First, he made an entertaining adventure series set in the new frontier of space: Wagon Train to the Stars. In doing so, he used some established sci-fi elements of what that future would be like, but he also added elements that hadn't been seen before.

Second, he used the Trek universe for allegories, metaphors, perspective and comment on today---not just political events but the way humans are now. He made Gulliver's Travels in Space.

Third, he realized that the opportunity to create a universe meant the opportunity to create the vision of a better one---a future people could admire, aspire to, be inspired by, and especially want to be part of, if only for an hour a week. If he made a universe we'd like to live in, people would come to it. The precedents for this would be the centuries of literary utopias, including those created by sci-fi authors. Those utopias weren't meant to be perfect societies, but they were acts of creative imagination that inspired hope for better possibilities in the future. Still, given the misunderstanding the term has today, let's just say that in this third instance, GR made...Star Trek.

My own feeling is that Star Trek still has the same basic mission, and that there is an audience for it. It would embody all three of the functions I've just described. It would offer stories in an imaginative universe that offers hope and direction for our future by partly fulfilling our current hopes, and testing them and others by means of story.

It would return the creative tension between intellectual and moral concerns and ideas, and the necessities of the form (TV series, movie) and business. It would deal with character, but also return to science fiction concepts. It would have action, but it would express adventure in ways that provide the hope that in the future, people will derive pleasure and meaning from doing good and creating as well as destroying, and that they will find challenge in intellectual and spiritual realms as well as the physical. It would have the humanity that GR professed, and it would deal with cosmic questions as well as what the people of the future would be doing in the cosmos, and how they might do it.

It would refrain from micro-managing its imagery to appeal to young men or young women or any particular "demographic," but would return to what made Star Trek successful with children, teenagers, young adults, parents and now grandparents: thought-provoking and surprising stories, told intelligently and well, classical at its core and built to last, with a minimum of graphic violence and a maximum of wonder.

When Star Trek started, nobody believed there was an audience for this kind of saga. Maybe nobody believes it now. But in the nearly forty years between, there was.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your comments about the audience wanting more realistic, more violent entertainment brings me to an interesting point - Trek can, and has done that before.

DS9 went places other Trek never dared go, and hasn't since. ENT touched on some of this during the Xindi arc, but IMO it's never been done better than Star Trek: Renaissance - a fan fic series, which began a few weeks before ENT. Their stories are gritty, realistic, and often violent, yet REN still remains true to Star Trek at its core. There is a balance - http://renaissance.virtualstartrek.com

Captain Future said...

Thanks for your observations. The treatment of violence in Trek is a complicated subject, but in general I think it's difficult and most often counterproductive to model a time when peaceful problem solving strategies are more common than warfare, when what you show is mostly warfare.

We all know that there are circumstances in which war and violence are likely and perhaps justified. But we've seen how that works over and over before. The challenge is to present the alternative in an absorbing and entertaining way. That's what I'd like to see in Trek. And in the world. It's also clearly GR's intent.

Because until we learn the skills of peace, we'll be so used to the default position of war that peace seems a pipedream. It doesn't have to be. It takes skills, tools and hard work, but then, so does war. War is easier to dramatize, but the easy way out is not necessarily the best.

Anonymous said...

I think this was a very good run-down of the options ahead for Star Trek. Your comments re: the fanbase in the "it's over" option are dead on the money. Star Trek is very much a victim of its fanbase becoming too demanding, and believing they could do better than Paramount. I'm watching the first season of ENT on DVD and I'm enjoying it a lot, and I find the episodes are more enjoyable than TNG and Voyager and that says a lot.

The writers of Enterprise faced a no win scenario. People trashed that show no matter what it did - whether it went back to the exploration concept of TOS, dropped that in favor of arc storytelling, or spent most of season 4 focusing on the prequel concept. No one seemed satisfied and in my opinion it had nothing to do with Berman or anyone else being in charge. Joss Whedon would have received the same reaction.

Creatively, the only option for Trek is to start from scratch and abandon the top-heavy, 40 years' worth of canon that has been a blessing and a curse. But it'll be a HUGE gamble. Will audiences accept someone other than Nimoy as Spock?

In my personal opinion, Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek came full circle on May 13 with a fitting conclusion (yes I admit I loved the finale). I don't think there is need for any more films or TV series. Books, maybe. But I have no plans to invest in any future film or series because no matter what it is it'll be treated worse than Enterprise, so long as the current fanbase remains active. They'd rather make their own Star Trek than leave it to the people who nursemaided it for 40 years.

rogueparadox@aol.com said...

William - good observations about our favorite thing, Star Trek. All of your scenarios have merit and have to be considered in the mix of thought when it actually comes down to what will happen in the future.
We have now arrived back to the early 1970's - a time where Trek became a cult. The fans knew there was something special there in those 3 seasons they had gotten - while the network didn't. The fans kept it alive by their sheer love of it. The fans got the first space shuttle named after a make-believe starship from a TV show. The fans are the ones who convinced Gene Roddenberry to go out and try and make more Trek, and after Star Wars, the movie studios also wanted it. The 80's were an interesting time to be a Trek fan. All we had were the movies - and any and all commentaries about them were quickly devoured by us fans. Then in 1987, Star Trek was reborn - and in time, we fans began to see how good it could be. TNG took all the ideas and comments, as well as the reviews and criticisms, that Roddenberry had gotten from those loyal fans and created a great ship and crew. It's too bad his health declined as it did, so one may never know if he would have really approved of anything after TNG - but he did leave a system in place that responded to what the fans really wanted. Were Deep Space Nine, Voyager, or Enterprise true Trek, according to Roddenberry? Were the movies after Star Trek VI true Trek? Who knows -because in the end, it always came down to the fans. But - by this time, those running the Trek franchise had become alienated by or to the fans, depending on which slant you want to take. And it was those running the franchise who say Trek needs a break - not the fans. So then, we fans will gladly take the franchise - and love it as we always have. We will take care of it - write about all the different aspects about it, create all the new characters and situations and metaphors - and if we're lucky, some of us may be chosen to help rebirth Star Trek again. Personally, I believe any new Trek could involve a heavy computer presense, meaning it would be online. To me, it makes sense - Trek has always been about being on the cutting edge, so where better than the internet? One day, there will be a new show or a new movie - but it will not be the continuation of Trek - it'll be the beginning of the third age of Trek - and I can only hope that we in the fandom will have our say in that as well. Thank you.

Captain Future said...

There's nothing more flattering than to receive such thoughtful, intriguing and eloquent comments.
This in itself seems hopeful, and I'm glad that Trek still has such fans. Thanks everyone.