Wednesday, March 07, 2007

To Boldly Go Where We've Already Been Before

The Star Trek rumor mill is once again bustling with word of the new feature film. Looks like they've decided to shoot themselves in the foot and go for a Kirk-era prequel. I'm sure that TOS lovers are salivating over the thought, but this is one recovering-Trekker who is less than enthusiastic. In fact, I would say I'm a bit sad. Unless they blow me away with trailers and advance footage well before release day, I will rent that one from the cheap counter in about three years (or whenever it lands there). I'm sorry, but they tried the prequel route with "Enterprise," and nitpicky, er…dedicated fans everywhere screamed foul.

Why would they do that again? Prequels are tricky, tricky, tricky.

The appeal of a prequel is to understand why something came to pass, how a character turned out the way that they did. What exactly don't we already know about Kirk and Spock from previous films, episodes, and books? The Kobayashi Maru was handled perfectly in Wrath of Khan, so why mess with it again? We know Spock and Sarek had a rough relationship. Why retread that? The first Enterprise mission was under Captain April, so we can't do that with Kirk.

We know so much about the back stories of Kirk and Spock that it would be like watching a two hour rerun. *Snore*

Some prequels work. Many don't. Just ask George "I'm Making Three More Movies Because Now I Can Afford To Screw It Up Anyway I Want" Lucas. I have yet to subject myself to watching Attack of the Clones a second time, and it's not just because of the cheesy Roger Corman title.Now just to offer some hope, a recent prequel that worked for me was the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. Sure, we know that Thomas Hewitt becomes a psychopathic murderer/fillet master/skin wearer, but the fun of that movie was seeing how it all started. Who was his first victim? How did Holtz become the sheriff? How'd he loose his front teeth? How did Uncle Monty loose his legs? It was entertaining, in a gory kind of way, but it worked.

Why? Because the first TCM film (the recent remake, starring Jessica Biel) focused on the five teenagers. The Hewitt family and their creepy neighbors were secondary. We knew very little about them, or their motivations. The Beginning gives the spotlight to the Hewitts, and we begin to understand them. They're still psychopathic and demented, but at least now we know why.

Kirk and Spock have always been the focus of the original Trek. There is very little we can go back to learn that we don't already know. We know where they came from, we know were they end up.

Batman Begins (another successful prequel) worked for a different reason. Over the years Batman comics have given us a few different origin stories. They all feature common elements (young Bruce witnesses the murder of his parents and is raised by Alfred), but his journey from that moment to the various incarnation of Batman that have appeared in comics for sixty years, is often changed or not specified. It leaves room for interpretation.

Tim Burton touched on it in Batman, making the Joker responsible. Christopher Nolan touched on it in his prequel, making thugs responsible. There is no singular origin that all fans scream for as being The One.

If someone tried to do that with Trek (say, make Kirk from Michigan, instead of Iowa), fans would throw tomatoes at the director. If the writers chose to give Kirk a childhood friend who died tragically during a space mission, fans would be furious (we all know Kirk doesn't face death until Spock "dies" in Wrath of Khan). They'd revolt, cry foul, write letters of protest. We all saw what happened with small inconsistencies in "Enterprise." There isn't the same wiggle room for a Trek prequel that exists in other franchises.

Star Trek has always been about looking toward the future. So why the hell is Abrams so keen on digging up the past? If he can pull it off successfully, my hat is off to them. If not...well, I'll be silently thinking "I told you so....when's my 'Deep Space Nine' movie coming out?"


rosemerry said...

I totally agree with you on that point. DS9 gives them all new or near new material to make movies with.

I also didn't like the last Star Trek movie, Nemesis. I won't say why cause it's a spoiler.

Anonymous said...

Hear, hear. Unless the prequel is going to blow us out of the water, it's better not to do it at all. Lots of room in the ST universe without resorting to Kirk's early existence.

Kelly Meding/Kelly Meade said...

rosemerry - I think I disliked Nemesis for the same spoiler. If they were really going to do what they did, then the "other one" wouldn't have been introduced as a character.

gillian - Ditto on all counts. :)

Peggy K said...

When DS9 ended, I was looking forward to a tie-in movie, but they probably have waited too long to do that. The recent movies have been such disappointments - not just Nemesis, but Insurrection - I'm not particularly looking forward to this new one, which sounds like more of a marketing scheme (everyone loves Kirk and Spock, and Shatner can have a cameo!) than a good story idea.

Anonymous said...

Oh! I so want a DS9 movie! DS9 was my favorite of the series (although I liked them all, even Enterprise to some extent), mainly because there was an element of overarching change in the series. What happened in one episode affected what happened in succeeding episodes. Not all the time, but the characters moved and shifted, sometimes in subtle ways. So why do they continue to say that they WILL NOT do a DS9 movie? There's obviously going to be more that happens around that wormhole!

But anyway, I wanted to talk about prequels. I think the main problem with prequels is that WE ALREADY KNOW HOW IT ENDS! We know where people end up, and so when you try to backtrack and bring everyone up to where they entered the story, it fails because the reader/watcher doesn't have any suspense. There's no danger, no serious stakes. We know who survives and who doesn't, and I'm sorry but it's not enough to interest people if they have that foreknowledge. Part of the "risk" of reading a book is that there's the possibility that the characters don't survive, even in first person novels. That's where thes suspense is, and prequels just don't have that by their very nature.

I think prequels work best when the focus is on a secondary character, someone that we aren't intimately familiar with, and don't know if they die or what. Then we can get engaged and absorbed and CONCERNED about that character. When you go back and use the same POV (and you've more or less said this in your post) that concern is gone.

Anyway, my two cents. *grin*

Unknown said...

The trek TPTB are just determined to milk every last dollar out of a very profitable franchise, as quickly as possible.

If they were smart and wanted to take a long-term view, IMHO, they'd stop making Trek anything except, possibly, publishing books for about ten years or more.

After awhile, the nostalgia factor would kick in. Plus, enough time would pass that only the most dedicated (obsessive) fans would remember all the nitty-gritty details. And they could get away with reusing old plots ... one of the problems I have with Trek is that there have been SO MANY episodes over six series and umpteen movies that it's virtually impossible for them to write an episode without covering old ground. We've seen HOW many energy creatures? How many time travel paradoxes? How many bad guys with bumpy foreheads? How many disease-of-the-weeks? How many characters put on trial for various crimes that broke either local laws or Federation laws? And there's always the ever-popular Prime Directive as a plot device ...

I think they're just out of new options for stories that haven't been done before. And after awhile, even doing them WELL doesn't save the story from, "But we've seen this before!"

But if they wait a good long time, fans would start WANTING Star Trek. They'll start missing it. Ideally, TPTB would wait a few years past the point of the first or second 'bring back Star Trek' letter campaign and then, in response to 'fan demand' they'd revive it with a new series.

And given enough time, Star Trek might just end up cool again.

Simon Haynes said...

I've never been a huge Star Trek fan, preferring Dr Who (probably because of my UK background.)

I've seen some of the original Star Trek eps, one of the movies, and have avoided everything else. No Next Gen, no nothing.

Ditto Star Wars - I enjoyed the 'first' three, loathed Ep 1, disliked Ep 2 and still haven't watched Ep 3.

Prequels? Bad news. No sense of wonder, because you already know what happens.

Anonymous said...

I've wondered for sometime if Trek has really run its course. It used to be that there were science conventions everywhere, and Trek was always a big draw. Even the actors who made a one line appearance were showing up to sign for fans. But over the last few years, it seems like that has dwindled considerably. And then Enterprise got cancelled, not because they'd reached seven years, but because of horribly low ratings. I believe the last movie didn't do all that well at the box office, either.

Paramount would do well to let it rest for a while--I thought that when they rushed into Voyager. I've been a long time Trek fan, but I stopped watching with Voyager. It seemed like every show had a crisis and then someone magically spouted a technobabble solution that solved the problem. It was like they simply were repeating the same stories over and over and over again.

And we've already seen someone try to "upgrade" the series to make it like Battlestar Galactica (there's a cartoon based on Trek set in the 25th century). Someone tried to make Buck Rogers into Trek and that pretty much ruined the series.

I suspect, though, Paramount has relied on it heavily for a lot of profits and won't let it rest until they can't get any more money out of it.