The Posse took in the new Star Trek movie last night and it was quite enjoyable.
The hard-core fans should be satisfied with its nods to “canon” Star Trek lore, while the action and pacing keep it interesting for everyone else.
I fall into the latter category. I used to think Star Trek was pretty cool, but burned out by the fourth movie, which I think was the last one I saw in the theater. I happen to own a copy of Gene Roddenberry’s book on the series first published in 1968. It’s interesting not only for the background material it provides about the Trek universe, but also the window it opens into late 1960s network television production.
A couple of thing stand out, one of which is the positively Byzantine politics behind getting a show on the air.
More relevant to this discussion, however, is the fact that Star Trek was nothing more than Roddenberry’s latest attempt to sell a show. He’d come up with several, but this was his most ambitious project and clearly his most successful – though that wasn’t clear at the time.
Hugely expensive to produce, the subject of massive rewrites (the “captain’s yeoman” was an integral part that got thrown over the side rather quickly) and recasting (Majel Barrett got “demoted” from executive officer to nurse), it never lived up to what it was supposed to be: a ratings powerhouse. (This, by the way, puts it in considerable contrast to the original Battlestar Galactica, which dominated its Sunday night time slot and its pilot episode boasted one of the largest audiences ever).
The point is that there is no real Star Trek mystique, when you get down to it. As William Shatner put in it in the classic Saturday Night Live skit 20 years ago, it was a show they did for a lark in the 1960s, nothing more.
Knowing that, and reading the bios of the actors in the 1960s – people who wanted nothing more than to make it big and bring home a paycheck – puts the new movie into a different perspective.
It was an amazing cast, and they clearly each brought something to their characters – which were also drawn with a keen eye for drama. Most of them were seasoned bit-part players, and this was their big break. They did the most they could with it. It helped that Roddenberry and his writers were happy to do “feature episodes” that focused on some of the minor characters.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the characters were thinly drawn, which allowed the actors to flesh them out. Mark Steyn notes that James Doohan was able to determine the nationality and first name of his character because the writers hadn’t really fleshed him out that much. So a large part of what make the original cast work so well was that the actors had an unusually large stake in fleshing out their own roles.
I should say at this point that the remake (which is actually a reboot) avoids the pitfalls of having its actors imitate other actors. This is nice, and a good way to go. They are doing what stage actors have done for generations: take an existing character and put their own imprint on it. It’s kind of funny to think of Star Trek as the Shakespeare of our time, but there you are.
So the acting is fine. Still, watching them basically use time-travel to utterly rewrite the entire thing, I couldn’t help but wonder if enough is enough already. Clearly the franchise was all played out, but I’m not sure this was the way to reinvigorate it. You’ve basically got a show about the future that has apparently run out of future. Their solution is to re-do the past. Not a good sign for a genre that feeds off of creativity.
Anyhow it is a fun movie to watch and maybe its wholesale rejection of the Star Trek canon will help strip away the decades of geekdom that have dominated it and turn it into just another genre.