Treknobabble #53: The Good of the Many

Treknobabble is a continuing series of columns written by uber-Trekkie Reed Farrington in anticipation of the upcoming J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie.

I thought I would give my opinion about fan reaction to what we know so far about J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, which is to be released in three months. Most of the hardcore Trekkies who hold Star Trek canon dearly have been expressing dismay at what the previews have shown us. In providing my response, I will also share my initial reactions to the new Star Trek movie and update you on how I feel about the upcoming movie.

Initially upon hearing about the new movie, I don’t think I was too excited because I can’t remember how I found out about the new movie. Granted that having reached middle-age has caused some memory disability, I think important moments tend to stay with me. Even when Jay chided me for hiding my feelings and appearing to be nonchalant about the news, I remember thinking that I was not being disingenuous when I said that I would probably wait until the new movie came out on DVD before seeing it.

Patience is a virtue that I am both gifted with and cursed by. I can still remember when I was in Grade 6 and my older brother’s teacher gave me a compliment. He said I was the “epitome of self-discipline.” (Yes, back then, I had to look up what the word “epitome” meant. If you have to look it up now, go ahead.) I felt that Spock would approve. (Yes, I know Spock is a fictional character.) When I say I am cursed with patience, I mean that sometimes I wish had the impetuousness of Kirk. Would Spock have come back if Kirk had not gathered his crewmates, stolen the Enterprise, and disobeyed authority?

I admit that I was pleased that someone still saw Star Trek as a lucrative franchise. I did have a small fear that Star Trek would return to the screen only after I had reached the undiscovered country. Many people thought Star Trek had become stale to everyone, and that the production of new Star Trek should take a break. I was not one of those people. It has only been four years since the end of the Enterprise television series. For a Trekkie in middle-age, four years does not seem like much time. I guess to young people, four years is like an eternity. I must think young when it comes to Star Trek, because it feels like an eternity to me since Enterprise went off the air.

I do have a hope that some philanthropic soul with an appreciation for Star Trek would purchase CBS or whatever corporation that owned Star Trek. And that soul would finance Star Trek television series and movies without a concern for making money. (I had hoped that person would be Bill Gates, but I guess he’s not that big of a fan.) The potential bad side of this is that the new owner would apply his own personal vision to Star Trek and make it into something that I wouldn’t even watch.

You see, this is an example where that cursed by patience comes into play. If I was more driven, I could start trying to achieve as my life goal the ownership of Star Trek! Now I’m not sure if I have the business acumen to ever achieve this goal. As Homer Simpson once said, “Trying is the first step towards failure.” (Yes, I know Homer Simpson is a fictional character.) I have also thought about finding the “cure” for cancer, or getting involved in human space exploration. Not sure which goal would be easier.

Towards the end of last year, we got a first official glimpse of the Star Trek movie through a trailer that was shown before theatre screenings of James Bond’s Quantum of Solace. I have a tendency to fall asleep in theatres, so it was with some trepidation that I agreed to go with the rest of the Film Junk crew to a theatre showing of the Bond flick. I had loved Casino Royale, which I had first seen with interruptions during a bus tour headed to Canada’s East Coast, so I was looking forward to Quantum of Solace. But Jay still thought that the reason I was going to the theatre with them was so that I could see the Star Trek trailer.

As it turned out, the Film Junk crew witnessed my humiliation at being stood up by the Star Trek trailer. The theatre didn’t show it! Not sure if this influenced my negative opinion of Quantum of Solace. Well, I got to see the Star Trek trailer later that day when someone had posted it on YouTube. Sean took a video of me watching the trailer on YouTube and posted that video on YouTube. The video of me watching the trailer got quite a lot of views. I commented that Sean should post a video on YouTube of me watching the actual movie in the theatre when the movie comes out.

In a previous Treknobabble, I’ve already detailed some specific things in the Star Trek canon that are seemingly being violated. I won’t address those things here. There is nothing I can say to placate those who feel that Star Trek is being changed for the worse. I realize that there are hardcore Trekkies like myself who have enjoyed what they’ve seen so far while there are also some who have been avoiding spoilers.

The latest Star Trek preview that was shown during the Super Bowl gave us some more glimpses of the action and visuals in Star Trek. So far there is no indication that this Star Trek will offer us cerebral dialogue or moral dilemmas to ponder. Clearly, the advertising is marketed towards the summer blockbuster crowd.

Frankly, I have always thought that the producers of Star Trek should ignore the fans. There are varying opinions and the inclination to satisfy the most people as possible ends up producing a bland product. Hardcore Trekkies cite the failure of producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga to listen to them as the reason for the failure of Enterprise. I think the producers tried their best to pull in mainstream appeal. But really, Enterprise failed because it wasn’t fun.

In human nature, there is a tendency to not want your favorite to become adored by the masses even though in the same breath you’ll feign disbelief at why everyone doesn’t like your favorite. People like to think that they’re special in recognizing the specialness of something. This sort of rationale can even be deluded. I find myself being protective of Star Trek and The Beatles even though both of these subjects have enjoyed mass popularity in the past. For some reason, the people I encounter in everyday life don’t seem to appreciate either of them.

I get the feeling that hardcore Trekkies think that Star Trek is selling out by trying to appeal to the mindless Star Wars fans. Whoa! We Trekkies are just jealous that Star Wars is more popular even though both franchises seem to be living off of faded glory.

It doesn’t seem to appease fans to know that there are two Trekkies heavily involved in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek: Damon Lindelof (producer) and Roberto Orci (co-executive producer / co-writer). Roberto Orci is definitely a hardcore Trekkie from what he’s said in interviews. I don’t think he’d be making up this stuff. (Wait, he’s a writer.) Orci collects Star Trek toys, and he collects and reads the Star Trek novels. Orci’s favorite Star Trek series is The Next Generation probably because he grew up with it, and he has watched every other Star Trek series as well as the movies. I guess we can assume all of this activity was before he started working on the new Star Trek movie, because he has an uncle who can recognize an Original Series episode based on the viewing of a snippet, and with whom he exchanges Star Trek gifts each Christmas. He even had his uncle go over the parts of the script that he wrote. Being a fan doesn’t necessarily mean that you can write Star Trek, but we have one previous example where this was the case: Ronald D. Moore, who wrote many of the popular Next Generation episodes, and is currently enjoying success with reimagining Battlestar Galactica.

I find it coincidental that a television producer, Harve Bennett, was brought in to save the Star Trek franchise with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and now a television producer, J.J. Abrams, has been brought in to save the franchise once again. Okay, I know that J.J. Abrams has achieved success beyond a television producer, but that’s how he gained his fame. Harve Bennett did indeed save Star Trek with help from people like the writer/director Nicholas Meyer. Ironically, Harve Bennett’s final idea before being booted off the final frontier was to make a movie about Starfleet Academy in which we would see a younger Kirk and Spock! I guess timing is everything. At that time, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country got made instead. And Nicholas Meyer was brought back.

May I remind the hardcore Trekkies that Nicholas Meyer’s contributions were not appreciated by Gene Roddenberry, the man who decreed Star Trek canon before his death. And yet, I would hazard to guess that quite a few hardcore Trekkies would rate Nicholas Meyer’s Star Trek movies to be among the best. Roddenberry didn’t like how Meyer had overly militarized the look and feel of Star Trek. He also didn’t appreciate the fact that Starfleet personnel were among the villains of The Undiscovered Country. (Initially, the Kim Cattrall Vulcan was supposed to be Saavik who had gained a following in Trek fandom from the previous Trek films she had been in. Roddenberry didn’t think the fans would appreciate her turning out to be a traitor.) Though I must say, even the hardcore Trekkies raised a red alert at seeing pots and pans that Meyer had added to the Enterprise kitchen.

Nicholas Meyer wrote an essay about Star Trek after he had worked on it. He had not been a fan of Star Trek before he worked on it, but he grew to appreciate the effect it had on people. Here is an interesting quote regarding the changes that creative people bring to Star Trek: “Many kinds of wine can be poured into the Star Trek bottle – which may help to explain its longevity – but its humanism remains a buoyant constant.” Of the Original Series characters he wrote: “They are pleasant and familiar archetypes of what we see piecemeal in ourselves or observe in others. Not profound, certainly; lacking in detail, surely – but vivid. Unforgettable.”

After watching all the Original Series episodes when I was young, I remember thinking how we rarely got to see the characters sitting around and just hanging out. Most of the Original Series episodes had been plot driven. So I heartily agree with Meyer’s assessment of the characters lacking detail. That’s why I loved the campfire scenes with Kirk, Spock and McCoy in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Meyer also praised the actors themselves for bringing the vivid qualities out of the characters. So much fan scrutiny is focused on whether or not these younger actors will be able to capture the essences of the characters. Not enough has been seen, so people are reserving judgment on this.

Let us not forget that the original Spock appears in the new movie. Leonard Nimoy has never let the integrity of Star Trek falter although business differences have been known to affect his willingness to play Spock. Presumably, Nimoy was given the full script to read. I haven’t heard if Nimoy had suggestions for changes or if he was even asked, but Abrams’ willingness to listen probably meant that he at least respected any of Nimoy’s concerns. In the final analysis, I think hardcore Trekkies should have faith in Nimoy’s judgment in willing to participate in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek.

Star Trek deserves to have at least one fun episode. If it takes a mindless action movie to draw the mass populace into the Star Trek fold, then I’m all for it. Course corrections can always be made.

Recent press junkets have allowed some to see several scenes in the movie. There was even one earlier this year held in Toronto, which is an hour’s drive away for me; however, I was not invited. (I need to get some more visibility or press credentials.) From two reports, the reaction has been positive, even winning over one who was skeptical.

I’m not sure if it’s coincidence or if advertisers are thinking that wooing Star Trek fans might be lucrative, but I’ve been noticing Star Trek references in abundance lately in television commercials. The Lincoln MKS automobile has its features accompanied with Star Trek-like sound effects. Its tagline: “Starships Don’t Need Keys.” (The Star Wars’ hyper-drive visual effect is used, so I guess Star Wars fans are being catered to as well.) Walt Disney’s previous Buddies movies have been Air Buddies and Snow Buddies. Now they’ve released Space Buddies on DVD with the following description: “Disney’s irresistible talking puppies are back in an all-new movie that takes them where no Buddy has gone before – the moon!” Even the teen-comedy, Fired Up!, has advertising referencing the “boldly going” slogan. All of this is giving me the vibe that people will be psyched for the new movie in May.

Honestly, I’ll admit that Jay will probably turn out to be right after all as he usually is when he responded to my statement that I would wait for the DVD release of the new Star Trek movie before seeing it. I will be the first in line at the local theatre on May 8 when Star Trek opens. If there’s an earlier midnight screening, I will be there. And the concession stand better be selling soft drinks in special Spock cups with Spock’s head as the cup cover. (They should have a straw in each of Spock’s ears so that you can share the drink with your significant other!)

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  • Hey Reed, you sure that “memory disability” isn’t due to eating rotten leftovers rather than reaching middle age? Just kiddin’. Are you seriously going to wait to see this movie when it comes out on DVD? I can’t believe it. I’d put money on that you see it in theaters.

  • Joel, you’d win that bet. Right now, I wanna see the new movie even if it is bad.

    Sean, the title of this article should really be “The Good of the Many.” (It’s a reference to the quote, “The good of the many outweigh the good of the few, or the one.” Star Trek used the word “needs” instead of “good,” but some people remember the word as “good” and most people would probably think that people don’t really need Star Trek. The point of the article is that it may be better to make a movie for the masses rather than just the Trekkies.)

  • Interesting article as always, Reed.

    However you should start proof-reading your own stuff before publishing, you sure are over-using the word “movie” in the beginning!

    About the issue at hand, I don’t know if the movie will be a big succes in USA or not, but I doubt it’ll receive all that much notice over here in Europe, there has been just about zero marketing for it in Denmark so far and not much net-hype either, where as other blockbusters like “Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen” and “Terminator Salvation” are getting a lot of people excited.

    Popularity aside, I think the movie will be good and appeal more to non-Trekkies like myself as opposed to previous movies.

  • Semi-unrelated, but Reed you gotta check these out. They are hilarious and there is a whole bunch of them:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ck-VIA1GUCY

  • Kasper, my impression was that Star Trek was very popular in Europe in places like Germany and the UK. Interesting about what you’ve noticed in Denmark. Thx for sharing.

    Yeah, I really should proof-read more.

    Andrew, those videos are quite creative. I imagine Henrik would get a big kick out of them. Not quite my cup of (Earl Grey) tea.

  • Mike Palmer

    I am a life-long Trekker, and I’ve always enjoyed the action-oriented episodes (The Best of Both Worlds is probably my favorite episode ever), so the previews for the new Star Trek movie are getting me really excited.

  • Mike, not sure if you’ll be reading this, but I was wondering if you enjoyed the later seasons of Deep Space Nine when the Dominion War was in progress. Those episodes had awesome space battle scenes. Since DS9 tends to get ignored, I’m wondering if you missed out.

    Yeah, it looks like the new movie will have the most action of any Star Trek movie. I’m guessing you loved First Contact.