Monday, January 28, 2008

Captain's Log: New Look Enterprise, Trekkies Against Torture, Patrick is Back

There's been lots of news about the Paramount Star Trek feature, though how significant it is depends on your particular interests. One element that will be significant to a lot of Trek fans is the impression that while the new Trek film is retaining the original series characters and at least the basic contours of the original Enterprise, the technology on the Enterprise bridge is going to be quite different. I'm getting the idea that it's not going to be the retro 60s look, but updated and futuristic by today's standards. Among other things, I guess that means lots of new toys!

Just a couple of other notes this weekend: I've just learned via Trek Today of an organization called Trekkies Against Torture, which has an online petition addressed to the Star Trek feature's producer/director J.J. Abrams, asking "for your guarantee that you will respect the vision of Gene Roddenberry and your film will contain no apologetic or justified scenes of torture or other human rights violations by any of the characters representing Star Fleet. "

This organization is concerned because of other shows Abrams is associated with that "have often depicted the use of torture in a manner that justifies its use or feature 'heroic' characters employing torture."

This reminds me of posts I wrote about an episode of Star Trek Enterprise that I felt crossed the line in depicting torture as a useful interrogation technique. I even speculated that it was showrunner Manny Coto's audition for "24," which Brannon Braga (an exec producer of Enterprise) also writes for. Since then, "24" itself has become the poster child for torture, not only in the media but in the real world. Torturers working for the U.S. have actually used it not only as an example of successful torture (whereas virtually all experts agree that torture does not work as an interrogation technique) but as a template for how to torture their victims.

I then posted an essay comparing the pernicious influence of "24" and similar torture porn to the Star Trek: The Next Generation two-parter, "Chain of Command," which does depict torture, but reveals it for what it is--a cruel and ineffective procedure. It was also one of Patrick Stewart's best performances--every Trek fan remembers "There are four lights!"

I ended this piece with these words:

The last thing I want to see is a Star Trek movie that embraces this reflex manipulation in the guise of drama, and these phony cliches about torture, or that being "gritty and dark" is actually more real, rather than just an easier way to excite an audience. And those who propose this act like it's some big insight, instead of something that people like Gene Roddenberry knew was the easier way, and rejected. Because it's less interesting, less real, and less human. And it's as sure a dead end for the future as can be imagined.I hope the Star Trek movie can transcend this. I hope that the fact that "Lost" and "Alias" are on the list of TV shows that feature torture isn't predicting the Star Trek future.

So it should come as no surprise that I am delighted there is such an organization as Trekkies Against Torture, and I fully support their petition.

Something Profoundly Good

Speaking of Patrick Stewart and his acting, he is the subject of a fine profile in the New York Times, on the occasion of his starring role in Macbeth. After earning the greatest praise of his career in England, it is "[n]ow scheduled to open next month at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theater, the production inspired several British newspaper critics to pronounce it the “Macbeth” of a lifetime, the best they have ever seen. (And they see a lot of Shakespeare.) Mr. de Jongh called Mr. Stewart “one of our finest Shakespearean actors”; Charles Spencer in The Daily Telegraph said he had turned in “a truly great performance.'"

His role as Captain Picard is mentioned several times, and he talked about it in affectionate terms with his interviewer. "In a recent interview Mr. Stewart spoke happily, even sentimentally, about his Enterprise-commanding days, which left him with a castful of close friends and an unexpected appreciation for the importance of “Star Trek” in American culture. He found the 1999 film “Galaxy Quest,’’ a satire that gently mocks the actors and fans of a “Star Trek”-like series, hilarious, but also moving, he said, in its recognition that “there was something profoundly serious and good” about the series."

The story quotes Stewart's director in Macbeth comparing his character in this production to Captain Picard's situation in Star Trek: “The world around him is incredibly, vividly surreal, with cyborgs and strange creatures, and he’s the human heart of it.” But be forewarned: this production is reputedly quite graphic, and Macbeth is no Captain Picard--he's a murderer and a tyrant, so Trek fans who want to see the play should be prepared for that.

Stewart, who has been back in England for several years, relishes returning to New York for awhile. “It would irritate my father so much — because he was a military man, and both my brothers did military service, and I didn’t — that I walk around New York and I hear, ‘Hey, Captain, how are you?’ ” he said.


subzerohitman721 said...

If nobody shows the cruel, dark, sinister, and treacherous nature of evil, how will anyone identify it? How will you know to rail against what is wrong, if we don't identify it for what it is? Star Trek TNG did push the boundary, but in my humble opinion, did not cross the line of decency. If humanity is to ever reach a Trek future, we must be honest about our frailties and darkest moments of our history. We must be free to express it and show our remorse to such extreme interrogations.

Lets not prejudge this new Star Trek until it has gone in theatres and plays before the court of public opinion first. Trust me, I'm just as nervous about the new film as many fans are. Even Gene Roddenberry disagreed with many of the ideas but he learned that Star Trek was well beyond one man's vision. He had to accept the changing visions of the directors, producers, writers, and actors. This is how Star Trek will stay relavent for decades to come.

tv ted said...

This is a great post and a great site. You have a new fan!

tv ted said...

great article, will definitely be back