Saturday, August 05, 2006

What about the Future?

The whole idea of a prequel movie doesn’t sit well with several members of the Next Generation cast. In a discussion on her site, Marina Sirtis said "Gene Roddenberry always said that Star Trek should go forward." Michael Dorn echoed this in an interview, and LeVar Burton has said as much in the past.

Invoking Roddenberry in this way reminds me that sadly, these actors (who collectively have also been Trek directors, producer and writers) are the last to have learned Star Trek directly from Roddenberry. You can hear it in their voices and see it in their body language—through individual personal contact, Roddenberry instilled his vision of Star Trek in them at the very beginning, and embodied Star Trek for them.

But it's not just nostalgia-- it does matter that this will be the first Star Trek that isn’t being developed by either GR or someone who worked with him, with his personal guidance. It may even be important in whether Trek ever goes forward rather than just back to the beginning of its future.

For the 23rd and 24th centuries were GR’s creation—with major creative input from others, but with his final say. Even the 22nd century of Enterprise was based on GR’s future, though it may have relied too much on some of its successful components (like introducing the Borg and the Romulans long before they should have shown up.)

It isn't that nobody but GR could come up with Star Trek ideas. New blood can infuse new life, and naturally the new generation wants to separate itself from the old. (Even in small ways---I remember Enterprise showrunner Manny Coto getting into one of those little motorcarts on the Paramount lot, making fun of the old guy, Rick Berman, always saying, 'why when I came to Paramount, none of this was here!') But to take Star Trek into the future requires more than both knowledge of the Trek past and ideas about how to make more exciting contemporary entertainment. GR thought about and cared about the future, both about what it could be and what it must be, if humanity is ever going to get there.

In the last exhausted years of the old Star Trek regime, it seemed that no one involved had the vision and the confidence to invent a farther future, a 25th century or beyond. Does the new regime include people who do? It's a question vital to whether Star Trek's future has a future.

GR may have been just a TV writer, as many of these people are, but he had other lives before that in the military and the police, and when he created Star Trek, he systematically created a workable future (or at least a framework that the creativity of others could work with.) He thought about a plausible future. He consulted scientists, and science fiction writers like Arthur C. Clarke and Issac Asimov, who were scientifically literate futurists as well as imaginative writers. He also consulted writers like Ray Bradbury who imagined the human responses to technological change, as well as knowing how to use science fiction to explore contemporary issues.

Because of what he created and how he created it, GR eventually was asked to speak before scientific groups as well as at places like the Jung Society. The resulting framework and especially how he communicated it to fellow creators, is the basis for why the Star Trek saga constitutes the best known vision of the future on the planet Earth.

Are there people among those thinking about Star Trek for Paramount and CBS who realize this? Who think in these terms, as well as how to wow kids into buying Trek merchandise? Or maybe no one is going where no Trek has gone before because they aren’t up to it.

As for the Next Generation, which never got the respect it deserved, it's not good times. While the original series makes its transition from science fiction (on the Sci-Fi Channel) to nostalgia (on TvLand in the fall), and while Enterprise takes up the Sci-Fi Channel contemporary slack, TNG is marooned in the Spike TV quadrant, light years from civilization. (As for G4, I’m not sure where the line is between “interactive” and “annoying, distracting and deadening” when a story is being told, but it's not available in my neck of the woods anyway.)

Next Gen's movie fate is still something of a mystery to me. TNG was the best of the Star Trek TV series, yet their movies generally speaking didn’t soar as they should have. I’d argue that the opposite happened with the original crew: their movies were better than the TV series, though it’s probably true that the TOS films wouldn’t have been as successful without the history of the TV series.

I’ll have to wrestle with that impression when I finally get back to completing my “Trekalog” essays on the first 10 films. But I do have this modest proposal. Next year (2007) will be TNG’s 20th anniversary. If Paramount isn’t going to give the TNG crew a proper final film on the big screen, why not at least do it for television? A two hour movie with production values good enough to sell on DVD and the Internet. Use the additional history of the movies to inform the story, and give this crew the final adventure they deserve.

Sure, there are financial and logistic problems but they can be overcome. A good enough script will go a long way towards reuniting a group of actors who still love each other. There are all kinds of ways to add to its commercial appeal with cameos and guest appearances. It might even be a way to suggest a future direction, beyond the prequel and the reboot. There are unexplored areas of past Star Trek space that can yield great and provocative stories, and maybe that's where the saga should stay. But if the Star Trek future is to have a future, maybe this is where it should start.


Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more. TNG deserves something that has a little more respect than These Are The Voyages, or Nemesis (which I think was really close, and could have done well as a TNG finalé with a few changes in scope and script).

From an outsider's perspective, it seems that perhaps Paramount owes some of its success to Trek and its fans, and with TNG being the most popular and longest running franchise, it would seem to make the most amount of sense to give it some form of appropriate closure.

Anonymous said...

How about a TNG movie where Q is involved and takes the crew back to the D? He could finally end the trial that was even unresolved in the series finale. The movie would start on the E....and end on the D, where Q would explain how shapeable time really is, how he could bring them back to any moment...undo mistakes. This could be the way out of the Kirk dilemma the franchise really needs. Regardless, the D needs to be in the finally some how, and Q needs to be involved. Even better would be the crew avoding the destruction of the D at Veridian (or Q preventing it), and then having the lesson go on from there. Then, at the end of the movie, having them re-appear on the E right where the movie started. Thoughts?

Captain Future said...

I am also partial to a TNG plus Q story, as I mentioned here, for example. It opens up all kinds of possibilities for characters from other Treks, plus Q was the most popular Trek characters (and best known outside of Trek fandom) to never make it into a film.

I also have a soft spot for the Enterprise D, and all that it represented about Trek. The E was probably a mistake, though it pleased the more video game oriented fans.

But a Q story, at least the kind I imagine, would allow ships from all eras to make an appearance. Plus it could be done in a way that really pleases fans without confusing newbies.

Well, you've touched a nerve--this is the story I'd not only like to see, I'd like to be part of writing it.

Thanks for sharing your ideas.