Saturday, November 03, 2007

Captain's Log: New Trek Movie Cast, Academy Collision Course

The new Star Trek movie is about to begin shooting. What strikes me now about the members of the cast who have been announced and rumored is that except for Leonard Nimoy, there isn't a name among them known to many potential moviegoers over the age of 30 or so.

The strategy behind this, if there is a strategy, seems obvious: by bringing Star Trek to a new audience, the new masters of the Trek universe mean bringing it to a younger audience. They are doing this by re-branding it--by taking the iconic characters everyone has heard of and replacing the actors with younger ones. This has its own risks, but the security of a successful "franchise"--the original series characters--must appeal to the studio.

The studio may also be pleased that these are the only Trek characters completely unassociated with the previous regime of Rick Berman, that ended with box office and ratings disappointments. (Some actors in the later Trek series' felt this instinctively; they knew they would not get a role in this movie because as one said they're all branded with a B for Berman.)

But getting back to the original point, unless late announcements are part of the strategy, I am frankly surprised that there haven't been a few "name" actors known to the broad moviegoing public added to the mix. It seemed to me a natural situation, not unlike the Harry Potter movies--you have older teachers (or officers) played by established names, and the younger characters played by "new faces."

The youth movement strategy may pay off, but it may leave older Trek fans feeling left out, as well as giving older moviegoers no reason to go to this movie.

Another fly in the ointment is William Shatner. As he regularly professes his disappointment in not being included, and his fans mount organized campaigns to include him, he could become the symbol of everyone who feels left out. In any case, I agree with Anthony Pascale at Trek Movie Report that this business of "we're trying to get Shatner into the movie" but with no action (that we know of) taken in that direction should stop. With the writers strike, it probably has to stop--they will have no way of changing the script to include him while the strike is on. Director Abrams should make and announce a definitive decision.

I tend to believe that if they wanted Shatner in the movie, he would be in the movie. And Shatner must feel the same way.

Collision Course

Trek fans often come at everything new in Trek with so many preconceptions. Sometimes they're factual, sometimes mistaken, or prejudices derived from other people's prejudices repeated so often that they become the standard view in a particular group --a cascade of opinion that becomes part of the price of belonging. (And that's without including rumor--as a comment said on Trekweb recently about the rumored new trailer for the new movie, we're now dealing with rumors of spoilers of a trailer for a movie that hasn't been made yet.) Fortunately, Trek fans all include more independent minds than most, and they can decide for themselves, and listen to their own individual responses.

For example, the response to the new Trek novel, Star Trek: The Academy-- Collision Course by William Shatner and Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens. After a dismissive review at Trekweb--which started one set of preconceptions-- I published a positive one at Trek Movie Report . The comments reflected both the preconceptions and the independence to say what they felt after reading the novel. (Are you wondering why the book cover isn't floating by in the slide show to the right? It's supposed to be there, but no matter how many times I've redone it, this Amazon widget won't include it. Sigh. Update: it's suddenly appeared! There it is!)

Common preconceptions include those about what is and isn't "canon," and they aren't always right. For example, one poster insists that Spock was so much older than Kirk that they could never be at the Academy together. In fact, the original series establishes that Kirk was born in 2233 and Spock in 2230, so they could very well be 17 and 19 as they are in the novel. The Trek Encyclopedia--as close to codified canon as Trek gets-- has their years in the Academy overlapping. It's the same with other canon objections--the Reeves-Stevens did their homework.

In fact there are possible anomalies that no one brought up--they don't contradict canon, but they raise questions. The ones that occur to me involve young Kirk and Spock having adventures in San Francisco, and never mentioning them later. But mostly having to do with the plot involving Kodos the Executioner, from the original series episode "The Conscience of the King." To say what my questions are would give away too much of the story right now. But I look forward to reading how Shatner and the Reeves-Stevens deal with them in the next novel in this series (and apparently the only other one planned), as I'm sure they will.

There is another set of preconceptions that's more understandable: some readers found past Shatnerverse books to be too much Kirk at the expense of other Trek characters, and the universe. I haven't read them all, but I do remember thinking that one that I read was a little too Kirkcentric. Still, I thought there were a lot of creative ideas in them. But my reading of this novel is that it is much more balanced--there's as much Spock as Kirk in it--and there are some other interesting characters, especially one that hasn't appeared before. And some of the comments confirm that other readers feel this way. We agree that the characterizations--Spock's inner struggles, how witnessing the violence on Tarsus IV when he was only 14 changed Jim Kirk--are masterful.

I'll say this for my review--it mentioned the contemporary child soldiers of Africa and Asia reflected in some of the characters in this novel, and in his comments since, Shatner has confirmed that he was thinking specifically about Darfur, but also other revelations from former child soldiers, when he conceived of this story.

Well, you can go read my review for the rest. Or just to put aside your preconceptions, take a deep breath and open this book. You might enjoy the ride. I did.

Conscience of the King

As for that episode, I took another look at it last week. As an early first season episode, "Conscience of the King" shows the series still finding itself and its characters. Kirk excludes Spock from what he's doing and is abrupt and authoritarian with him. Spock goes to McCoy with his suspicions about Kirk. At least one of the Kirk and the girl scenes are so obvious they're embarrassing. In a scene not often repeated in the rest of the series, there's a break in the action for a musical number, for this is the episode in which Nichelle Nichols sings "Beyond Antares," accompanying herself on the Vulcan harp. However, the scene does have a dramatic purpose, and because Uhura is singing over an open intercom, Riley's poisoning is discovered soon enough to save his life.

The plot is not terribly original, not even the twist at the end, though even with its awkwardness it's pretty effectively done. The action does parallel very well the Shakespeare plays that Kodos--calling himself Karidian--and his company do. (The Okuda text commentary on the DVD skillfully points them out.) The theme of technology versus humanity, which would be an important one in the original series especially but also later in Trek, is brought up but seems awkward to me. But like a lot of the original series, it does transcend its limitations to become really affecting.

The heart of the story involves an issue more alive in the 1960s than now--the Holocaust and the Nazis eugenics experiments, and related issues from World War II and the Korean conflict, as well as issues being discussed about fallout shelters and who would survive nuclear war. We certainly have more contemporary instances, though perhaps they are less a part of the culture generally than these were. The themes do lend themselves to Shakespearian treatment.

But like a lot of original series stories, the new characters and situations are sketchy, and they exist only to make this particular story work. Though that causes some problems for people working with them now, like the Reeves-Stevens, it also offers opportunities to flesh them out and make them more relevant to us today, for instance with the idea that Kodos employed child soldiers. I'm looking forward to reading the next installment.

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