Sunday, March 04, 2007

TrekCheck: Trek XI and Shatner's Brain

By now you've seen the stories: Paramount has officially announced Star Trek XI for Christmas 2008, to be directed by J.J. Abrams. The real news to come will be the casting, as rumors continue to emphasize such big names as Matt Damon and Gary Sinise. The casting will tell us finally what Trek characters are featured, which will give us some idea of the story, and probably the budget.

Repeated rumors have turned out so far to be pretty accurate, so we may soon face the reality of other actors playing Kirk and Spock. The one repeated rumor that never seemed credible to me was that the film would center on Starfleet Academy, not only because of the Harve Bennett proposal but the new William Shatner novel with Judith and Gar Stevens, The Academy: Collision Course, which sounds like it could be a series of novels, especially since Shatner proposed it as an idea for a post-Enterprise Star Trek series. We've also heard tell that the film isn't limited to one time period, which would make sense in an Abrams film---what little I've seen of Lost seems to be largely about flashbacks.

The delicate matter of replacing Kirk and Spock while the actors who created them are still on the scene is likely still of concern to the moviemakers, if not to the most enthusiastic fans of a Trek Reboot. These guys are global icons, and new actors playing their signature characters is not the walk in the park some enthusiasts seem to think. Audience acceptance is not guaranteed.

I'd guess that Abrams also knew he had to at least have Shatner and Nimoy's blessing or things could get ugly with fans. He apparently approached them about "being involved," and Shatner has indicated he got an invitation to be in the film.

And this is where Shatner's brain comes in. I'll start my speculations by repeating that I haven't ever spoken with him (though I've been in the same room with him, chatting with Leonard Nimoy) but that I basically respect him. He's made inconsistent statements on Trek XI, and there can be many reasons why. I don't know his thinking, but I can't help guessing.

So I've tried to figure out the various statements he's made or have been attributed to him concerning Trek XI. So let me speculate that early on, he really wanted to be in the 11th Star Trek movie, and he probably did that commercial for satellite TV (or whatever it was) in which he donned the crimson movie uniform, and strode around a blue-screen bridge among cinema images of his crew, in order to show he still had the right stuff.

And in fact the commercial suggested he does have another Kirk moment in him. But statements he made afterwards suggest the experience sobered him. He hinted that too much digital trickery had been required to make him look that good. In any case, it was after that commercial aired that he began downplaying the idea of appearing in Trek XI. After all, Kirk had been killed in Generations, how would the writers overcome that? he said, sounding dubious.

Of course, he himself had already solved that problem once. Almost immediately after Generations, Shatner engineered Kirk's resurrection in his novel, The Return--Kirk's body is reanimated by nanites thanks to the Romulans and the Borg. And that's only one of many possibilities--it is science fiction, after all.

The Star Trek movie that would probably win over fans while making new ones would involve a fairly substantive role in the story for Shatner and Nimoy, so that the whole film would be a kind of series of flashbacks, or an interaction between the past and their present. A simple cameo of them looking down from heaven (or the Nexus) really wouldn't do it. (And there's the question of whether Nimoy would do it without some real involvement in the story--he turned down a kind of cameo in Generations.)

There are risks to showing this continuum, but if the new Kirk is as heavy duty as Matt Damon, he could deal with the danger of damaging the suspension of disbelief. As I've mentioned before, unless Abrams and Paramount have secretly but firmly ruled out sequels, everyone involved has to be thinking that this may not be a one-time deal: the new Kirk may be starting a new Trek film series. If there is too much a Shatner and Nimoy story, it could confuse the issue. They are still powerful icons. But that could be used to good advantage. Nobody really wants to see the same attitude to them attempted seriously as was satirized in the Generations Enterprise bridge scene (with Kirk, the living legend, getting applause for saying, "Take her out.") If they accomplish something important to the story in Trek XI, everyone would be happy, and authentically moved.

So like everybody else I await the next announcements, and hope that Abrams nod to Roddenberry in his first quotes as designated director will result in a real Star Trek movie, and not (as some wag has already suggested) a Lost, in Space.

1 comment:

Swinebread said...

I dunno, I'm not getting excited yet...