Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Star Trek & Nerdlinger......it's complicated

Okay, let me be up front with you all.......Star Trek and I have a complicated relationship. As this is a site celebrating nerdiness, you kind had to expect I'd go here sooner or later.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Star Trek broke my nerd cherry. And not to worry, I'm rapidly leaving that poorly chosen image behind. When I was a kid, Saturday night was the only night where we didn't eat dinner as a family around the dinner table. On Saturdays, my dad would cook his homemade pizza (so good it's like crack) and the family would sit down to watch Hockey Night in Canada.

But not the Nerdlinger. You see, I hate hockey. Which is a big thing to admit if you're a Canadian male. But I always have, and I suppose I always will. So, what did I get to watch? I watched Star Trek. I loved it. It was my favourite show ever. Capt. Kirk was my hero, followed closely by Spock. I read the novels, I had posters and action figures and a model of the Enterprise that my dad and I put together. I bought episodes on videotape. I watched the cartoon show on videotape. I saw every movie. I read the comic books. And yes, I went to a couple of conventions, the first being a one-room affair in the basement of a local library.

Wrath of Khan blew my mind when I saw it in the theatre. From then on, I devoured each flick as it came out. I must have seen The Voyage Home four times in the theatre. The Final Frontier shook the faith, but The Undiscovered Country restored it.

Then came Next Generation. While I loved it, it did feel radically different than the original series. I still watched it religiously. I got a framed cross section of the Enterprise-D that stayed on the wall in our rec room for years. When it went off the air, I was sad. Still, I felt something was missing.

DS9 and Voyager - same thing. Something was missing. I tried to get into them, but I never really watched more than a handful of episodes. By the time Enterprise came along, I regarded the franchise with as much eye-rolling as a non-Trekkie (Trekker.....whatever). It was lame, slightly silly and self-important. Even The Next Generation has not aged well to me, and I find myself switching off when stumbling across it in reruns.

What was it? Why had Star Trek and I soured on each other? The answer came to me only recently, with the smattering of rumours and materials leaking from the new film version directed by JJ Abrams.

Gene Roddenberry's vision of the future came to overwhelm the stories. His optimistic vision of what humanity would one day become actually became a stumbling block to successful writing. In the original series, Roddenberry hadn't allowed this to happen yet. It's hard to feel self-important when your show keeps almost getting cancelled. Yes, his vision was present, but it was still flexible enough to allow for tension. It was as if future humanity had created an ideal society in theory, but were still struggling to live up to those ideals. Case in point, the great Balance of Terror episode where the Enterprise crew sneaks their first look at a Romulan and are stunned to see their resemblance to their first officer, which prompts some of the crew to suspect Spock of being a spy.

Kirk was always somewhat arrogant and impulsive, willing to take a chance at the drop of a hat. How many times was he taken to task by Bones? Spock had to deal with humans and they with him. He and Bones would clash in a robust, full-blooded, honest manner that was completely absent from the newer series.

In the Next Gen world, intolerance and conflict like that wouldn't exist. No one was ever really mean or mistrustful of each other. Everyone had only the best intentions, without arrogance or flaws. The crew could not truly argue or have any real dramatic conflict, because by that point, Roddenberry's vision of the future was legendary and inviolate.

This "nice factor" would get mitigated over time once Rodenberry passed. DS9, Star Trek's ugly stepchild, became marginalized in the face of Voyager and therefore got darker and more interesting. Voyager started off darker, with half the crew being basically terrorists, but that aspect was completely abandoned and never honestly explored with any real conflict. Enterprise tried to be more rough and ready, but did so by completely ignoring previously established continuity, which was stupid, since Star Trek fans practically invented the idea of a television show having a continuity at all! They tried experimenting with injecting conflict, but this now felt forced and manufactured.

On another note, the whole idea of space being a frontier was lost. A frontier implies a dangerous unknowable journey, without security or familiarity or rules. A place where only ingenuity and courage and determination will win the day. Wrath of Khan captured this; it's the story of a crazy genius with a grudge who tracks down a man for vengeance and along the way somehow acquires a weapon of mass destruction. And then he uses it.

So, when Enterprise ended, I really though that the only way for Trek to continue would be to upset the apple cart. Kick out everything we know about the franchise, either by zooming far ahead into its future, or rebooting it with a modern sensibility.

Enter Abrams and co.

The poster at the very top features (clockwise) Eric Bana as the Romluan villain Nero, Zoe Saldana as Uhura, Chris Pine as Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock. The poster above features John Cho as Sulu, Simon Pegg as Scotty, Anton Yelchin as Chekhov and Karl Urban as McCoy.

What do I like? Well, it looks a little dangerous. It looks appropriately nostalgic, yes, and familiar, but not cozy. Not safe. It looks risky, and it's succeeded in making me fall in love with Trek again.

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