Friday, March 07, 2008

The Way Out is the Way In: Encounter at Farpoint

by William S. Kowinski

In the Star Trek saga, we see a bright future: of humanity in control of itself and its technology, at peace on earth and engaged in ethical, peaceful exploration of the universe. This is Gene Roddenberry’s so-called optimistic vision of the future.

But what is easy to forget is that the journey between here and there includes a global war that devastates the planet and a post-apocalyptic aftermath that sends humanity back into a new Dark Age. And according to Star Trek chronology, it’s all coming up pretty soon in our future.

Though this particular Star Trek future was referred to in the original series, it was given its fullest and boldest treatment in the first episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the two hours known as “Encounter at Farpoint.”

Not much attention has ever been paid to how harsh this vision is, or how boldly Roddenberry states his view of his present, and where it is heading. But if we are to understand how profound the ultimate Star Trek vision is, we have to understand the immediate future we are hurling towards, according to this saga.

Because the Star Trek vision isn’t of an inevitably better future. It is of a future that requires us to change—a better future that begins when we consciously become better ourselves. This first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation stakes out the territory this series will explore: what a better humanity might look like, what its challenges might be, and how these exemplars of that humanity meet those challenges.

[text continues after illustrations]


Herbie J Pilato said...

Trek's Ron Moore recently visited the set of JJ Abrams new Star Trek film - and thinks JJ is doing a fine job of reinventing everything. Moore credits Harve Bennett with doing the same for the Trek franchise with The Wrath of Kahn.

Harve Bennett rescued the Trek franchise because he based his reimagining of the films based on the mythology of the original series.

As long as everyone keeps to the spirit of the original Star Trek, everything is fine. And that’s why NOTHING was fine with Voyager, Enterprise and Deep Space Nine. The latter was acceptable, if only in the last few seasons. But it had little to do with what Star Trek is all about. It was a very nice sci-fi show. But it wasn’t Star Trek. And as far as the Next Generation is concerned, my favorite season was the first season. That’s right - the first season. It all went down hill after that, and became a soap opera in space, when all the characters ever did was talk, talk, talk, talk.

The wonder of the original series was never seen beyond itself until nor since the Wrath of Kahn.

That all said, I agree with Moore and his assessment of a fresh star for the franchise.

Herbie J Pilato

subzerohitman721 said...

Reinvention is the necessity of any good franchise to survive. It has happened before in radio, movies, comics, and television. Star Trek needs reinvention to survive and I'm optimistic that we'll have a Harve Bennett like resurgence.

However, I partially disagree with the previous commentors assertion that nothing was Trek about TNG or DS9. Voyager and Enterprise weren't true Trek, but they are fitting tributes to the original show. In my opinion, everyone one today remembers TNG's greatest villian, The Borg Collective. This has rung synonymous with the perversion of technology or the ficticious concept of perfection. Nothing is perfect on Earth or in our neck of the galaxy. Everyone remembers Captain Picard's conviction when facing the Borg when he stated, "Impossible. My culture is based upon freedom and self determination." TNG captured the very essence of what the spirit of Trek was, way more than the original series ever did. Perhaps because I grew up watching both the original series and TNG at the same time, that I have a greater appreciation for TNG.

Just look at this year's election. The rise of Barack Obama. The fall of George Bush and Hillary Clinton. Star Trek and its sister shows have a deeper pop cultural value that cannot be justified by ratings. I think TNG went well beyond the original series by showing more emotional depth and fully developing all of the command officer's lives.

My biggest complaint about the original series was, "How come its all about Jim Kirk?" What about Spock, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, Scotty, McCoy? Don't they deserve more than the 3 minutes while Jim Kirk got the 15? Now I know alot of that has to do with Shatner, thats why I'm glad his days as Kirk are dead. We know little about Spock's life or any of those other characters. I think it made it more Trek, because it wasn't all about Picard in TNG. I know more about Jim Kirk and Geordi LaForge like I do the Doctor from Voyager.

DS9 did a great job of putting Star Trek in a wild west style presentation. Now some of it did not resonate with fans but I think if DS9 were shown on NBC, ABC, or CBS, it would have been a ratings hit. It only got poor ratings because it was on syndication stations and UPN.

As for the wonder, I think First Contact did a great job of capturing the wonder. However, Insurrection and Nemesis shouldn't have ever been made. That was just bad decisions made by Berman and company. They should have looked at what was going on in the world and made a commentary on today through Trek. Thats how Gene Roddenberry did it. That is one piece of Trek history that needs to return.

Supernetuser said...

Yeah, but People, let's pull an obvious Battlestar Gallactica, and ask "does Star Trek deserve to survive?" Its a huge franchise. I wonder what's going to happen. I look forward to the new movie but there's a lot to see. Hollywood is doing well.