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Posts Tagged ‘you have the bridge’

So, imagine:

You’re the guy JJ Abrams comes to and says “we’re going to make a new Star Trek”.

And you say No!                                        No.

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No.

No. no. no. why? no.

And he says “wait, hear me out,  it’s not what you think. It’s not just an extended episode of Next Gen. It’s a pseudo-definitive prequel!”

And you say NOOOO. No. no.

No. no. no no. Stop. No.

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And then he makes you the guy who has to write the damn thing, and make sure it isn’t an unwatchable piece of filmwork. And you have to get paid a huge amount of money, and go on the witness protection program, and take your inspiration from fanfiction in order to write the plot of a film which auto-retcons itself out of canon, and then you see it made and see Zachary Quinto cast as Spock.

I can think of far worse jobs.

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I twittered a while back about how it’s not necessarily the desire to experiment, or even god help us the desire to update beloved properties that irritates their fans so much.

It’s not just that it’s a Star Trek movie, nor even that it’s a prequel, though that does take some chutzpah. No, it’s the fact that it’s not Star Trek: Verb Adjective. It’s supposed to be the Star Trek. It’s pretending to be definitive. You can’t call it Transformers: Thought Experiment or GI Joe: What If? because then normal people wouldn’t go see it. Apparently.

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Similarly the trailer for Guy Ritchie’s Guy Ritchie: Sherlock Holmes by Guy Ritchie. [Embedding disabled by request] You can’t call it Sherlock Holmes: The case of the hypermasculine reimagining, because then it wouldn’t fit on a billboard, and 18-30s would get bored saying the title before they finished their sentence, and it wouldn’t be deliciously presumptuous and naughty.

Now, I’ve been told by people whose opinion I respect that Ritchie’s new drug-sniffing dog-bashing Holmes is evil, and wrong. And admittedly after several watchings the trailer gets old and you see that it probably isn’t going to be very good. But not on principle. I went to see Star Trek with a friend who knew very little about Star Trek, being exclusively a Voyager fan. (Hmm. Maybe my parents are right, and I do automatically limit my friend groups to people above a certain threshold of nerdiness.)

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We were in, bliss of blisses, a completely empty theatre so we could make fun of it just enough, and we both walked out having enjoyed it about the same amount, which was quite a lot. I was quite glad I briefed her on the Kobayashi Maru while we were biking over, though it would have been an interesting litmus test if I hadn’t, as I think that bit would have made little sense if you didn’t know what it was all about.

The bit with the Kobayashi Maroo [come on, guys, Japanese pronunciation please] was the closest the movie got to a concession to the fans, since it was hard to follow if you were a non-fan. As geeky archetypes go, Kobayashi Maru is both a shibboleth and a means of feeling exclusive. It’s like Mornington Crescent: you’re either in the know, or you’re not.

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Now, I should point out that my nerdly understanding stems from nerd anthropology. I may well have seen fewer episodes of Star Trek than the friend I went with. I certainly remember few enough. I realised only recently that it was actually always my mum’s decision that we watched Next Generation with tea after school: she exerted so little preference pressure but it always happened. Same with Farscape and later, more transparently, SG-1. I don’t think even she could have thought of herself as someone who could be a sci-fi fan, and it fact it may be the glorious @betterthemask who finally brings out that side of my mum in time to become a boxset obsessive when she retires.

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truffleshuffle300fm2No, I actually prefer to read Fans! and to read Wikipedia articles about comic books and TV shows, more than I actually enjoy watching or reading the things themselves. I love being able to dip into incredibly hard-wrought expertise, feel the obsessive passion that drives it through the opaque, wry reserve of Wikipedia house style.

You can literally hear the shouts of exultation and the hours of devotion that go into the restrained superlative of Wikipedia pages on James T. Kirk or Rand al’Thor or, for that matter, Michael Jordan. That stuff is like crack to me. I take an interest, because I’m interested in obsessives and in characters with intricate backstories. Whereas my friend who loves Voyager cannot call herself a Star Trek fan.

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From the Youtube comments on the Star Trek trailer:

Alturiste (2 days ago)           Reply    Spam

Section 31

So, because I’m a fan of only 2 of the 5 other series and because I perhaps haven’t read as many Trek books as you, that makes me a “lesser fan”? What you seem to want do to is impose your own preferences on everyone else. THAT is contradictory to the spirit of Trek.

Don’t make yourself out to be “better” by doing a Nazi-like imposition of your values on other people. If you didn’t like the movie, we can agree to disagree, fine. But don’t demean people who don’t share your taste.

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What I loved about the Abrams Star Trek was that it was clever, satisfying, and that with relatively little contrivance it made itself into a grinning, joyful piece of fan fiction. It mocked its own pretensions of being authoratative, it reveled in slash, it happened in an alt-universe.

Of course, time traveling is cheating. But thank god they didn’t make too much of a meal of it, and thank god it wasn’t the other two much worse premises in the fan fiction trifecta: mind control and fucking Q.

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Don’t let the trailer fool you, it is of course Spock’s story. The Kirk of what will come to be known as Star Trek [2009] disqualifies himself early on as a piece of Gladwell-esque psychological thought-experimentation.

He’s barely there at the movie’s centre to begin with, poor chap, and then we discover that he’s only an idea of what might have been?

greedo shot first

Of course it’s not going to please people. Like chess, bemani or amateur dramatics, Star Trek doesn’t drive sane people mad: it keeps mad people able to interact with the world in a normal, if narrow way. It may be that my friend is unwilling to refer to herself as a trekker (see, I know the right terminology) because trekkers themselves have made it such an all-or-nothing thing.

Extremist fans, figures of easy media pantomiming, have made Star Trek seem like an impenetrable, no-love-for-casuals world. As fans will, their stories are dominated by searches for their own authenticity, claims to definitiveness. Janeway is Satan. DS9 is rubbish. The original series alone is pure. The Abrams Star Trek credits had a “Vulcan and Romulan Language Consultant”, for goodness’ sake.

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(They also had a team of five “Inferno Artists”. How I would love to be able to put that on my passport. Speaking of which: Klingons are conspicuously completely absent from the new film: perhaps they realised that fandom defines itself by its villains, and that they could never modern-gloss klingons to look anything but ridiculous.

I want to see a word-for-word adaptation of Larry Niven’s Ringworld. That’s what I want.)

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Another friend of mine was very happy to see Terminator 4, and ambivalent on Transformers 2, but utterly opposed to seeing Star Trek. Not because it was a dumb action movie; it was a dumb action movie with pointy ears. Never mind that Terminator is based on a painfully dated pair of superbly clever but inaccessible action movies (and a regrettable, forgettable third movie).

Those films had Arnie, which makes them acceptable popcorn fodder. If I’d banged on and on about how the first two movies were smart and interesting, I would probably have made the fourth film seem less like a fun night out at the movies. Not because my friend is a moron (she isn’t) but because now-gen blockbuster remakes come with a context and a reputation which they cannot escape, and which determines their branding.

Consumers have remarkably sensitive ideas of context for films: a mere six-month trailer campaign can completely buzz a movie, so what did you think forty years of very grounded, personal pre-jusdgment would do?

The producers of the ’09 Star Trek can strip down the uniforms and cut out the Klingons, but they can’t make it not to boldly go, and so wisely didn’t try.

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Transformers is also difficult because it’s obviously a “known quantity”, but can probably be pigeonholed into “idiot 80’s kids’ stuff revival”, and hence is not completely worthless since X-Men worked. And the Transformers have been subject to brilliant and, more importantly, thorough re-imagining.

The Transformers are barely there in their first film: they are essentially talking firearms. It’s hard to believe that in the comics they’re there in fully realised personality: in one comic there’s an entire pastiche of the detective genre played out exclusively by transforming robots.

This same friend of mine would probably find the idea of a GI Joe movie nothing but comical and interesting, but would never in a million years go to see an Action Man or, worse, a Stretch Armstrong movie. It’s all context. It fascinates me that she didn’t put LOTR in the same vein, nor the new Star Wars trilogy:

“yeah, well, the nerds when we were kids didn’t like Star Wars”, she said. Her reason for not wanting to see Star Trek was the image in her mind of two nerdy trekkies from her school days. One is pretty much normal now. The other, she says, is well weird.

Whoever marketed LOTR and, even better, X-men, deserved a medal for steering their properties out of the waters of fan exclusivity, of fringe. And god help whoever was at the helm of NCC-1701 Marketing, for having to sell a property that has always sustained itself by nicheing itself.

Marketing! damage report!

She cannae’ take no moore, Cap’n!

Simon Pegg probably helped. God damn it that they couldn’t find a Scottish actor, but he probably sold more seats than any other actor in the film. (Winona Ryder was in it and neither of us noticed, and Eric Bana is very good but unrecogniseable.)

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I’m increasingly losing patience for the idea of picking whether a film is good or bad. Especially using plot holes or general “plausibility” as a measure. It’s the most obvious means by which people who decide not to like a movie can justify themselves, and yet it’s so easily turned off. You just decide to like the movie. It’s not hard.

I would have to watch Star Trek another time and think very hard in order to decide whether or not it was a good film. And it doesn’t really matter to me anymore. Blockbusters are becoming harder and harder to judge; enjoyment is colliding with the sheer skill of screenwriters in adapting crackpot ideas. Some are obvious clangers: Terminator 4, by report. That, I would actually watch again, in order to determine what was bad about it.

But I know that I enjoyed Star Trek, that it was easy to enjoy, that the pacing was a little uneven, but no more. And I still enjoyed it. I know that it stretched the imagination a bit in order to get Star Fleet cadets on the bridge and in command time after time.  But I also know that the older-officer-incapacitated-so-cadet-has-to-take-charge scenario is the bread and butter of Star Trek metafiction novels.  So I can enjoy it at that level, too.

The desire for a film to be better should, I think, always involve an idea of how you would have made it better. For fans, anyway. Maybe it’s a sign that I’ll never have my dream scriptwriting job, that right now I can’t think of a better way to have done Star Trek, given the challenge of doing Star Trek.

Also, John Cho is fucking awesome as Sulu. Roll on Hollywood finally recognising the quantity of Asian talent in its midst.

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