Friday, January 16, 2015

The Star Trek Movie That Could Have Been

Since I've adopted the more civilized practice of watching TV programs on DVD (or when more convenient, online), life has been better.  But in this tweeting-hysteria world, I'm out of step with what others are watching.  Nevertheless, sometimes there's a coincidence with what I've just seen, and something happening in the world of now.

That was the case recently when my viewing of the first disk of the fifth season of the TNT series Leverage coincided with the moment that the next Star Trek movie didn't have a director anymore.

In that moment (or those few days) there were stories that some fans wanted Jonathan Frakes to direct the 50th anniversary movie--and he enthusiastically agreed. Reportedly he let Paramount know he wanted to do it.

 It was about then that I watched his direction of "First Contact."  No, not the Star Trek movie--the one that's generally regarded as one of the best, that Frakes directed.  The 2012 episode of Leverage that Frakes directed.

The story isn't that important (dishonest tech mogol tricked into believing he's been contacted by aliens), just the date: 2012.  That was just a bit more than two years ago, as opposed to the 18 years since Star Trek: First Contact. 

Much of the positive response to the idea of Frakes directing the next Trek film had to do with his connections to the Trek past, as part of the Next Generation that had direct contact with Gene Roddenberry, and worked with members of Star Trek crews of all its eras, from the fictional 22nd to the 24th centuries.  He knows how to make Star Trek, as opposed to just movies.

Which seems both true and very important to me.  But what maybe got lost is that while he'd directed about a dozen episodes of  the three Trek series on the air in the early 90s before he directed First Contact, he's been directing films and especially television ever since.  In fact, a glance as his IMDB profile suggests he's done much of his directing since 2010.

So with the Trek possibility in mind, I took note of this Leverage episode: it had story, character moments, action, visual effects in a complex story with a large cast.  From a directorial standpoint, it had pretty much all the elements of a Star Trek story on film.  And the direction was really good.  The visual style, camera movement, the cuts, were all up to date for today's audience.

I was disappointed that he didn't do the commentary, but on the other hand, the alias of one of the con artists was Willie Riker.  The point is, Frakes is a more experienced and better director now than he was 18 years ago.

Then Paramount pretty quickly announced that Fast & Furious director Justin Lin would be the director of the next Trek.  On TrekMovie at least, fans greeted this with less than total happiness-- to say the comments were half and half is generous.  That seems to be the mood of Trekdom in general concerning what I've called Star Trek JJA but has elsewhere been dubbed JJ Trek, and (now that JJ is in another universe far far away) NuTrek.

Much of the discontent over the direction of NuTrek was reflected in a Trek Movie editorial by Lukas Kendall of Film Score Monthly.  I don't agree with everything he wrote but the general point is one I've made here in different ways.  Kendall focuses on the central importance of story to Star Trek, as opposed to CGI action, and that's certainly part of it.  Story is in many ways intrinsically soulful, and highly important to the soul of Star Trek.

I guess my point here is that I agree that Jonathan Frakes could have brought a sense of institutional memory, of Star Trek's identity, to what is going to be (after all) the 50th anniversary film.  But I would also add: the movie would lose nothing in terms of contemporary filmmaking.  Frakes is not just an excellent Star Trek director, he's an excellent director.

Meanwhile, congratulations to Star Trek: Voyager on its 20th anniversary.  A good time to revisit this 2013 piece on why Voyager is the ultimate Trek series. (Not that I think it is, but it's an interesting piece.)

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