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The Indisputable Matt Maxwell Presents:



Finally watched the new iteration of STAR TREK after more or less scrupulously avoiding all of the hype. I don’t care for JJ Abrams work overall. “The Mystery Box” only works for awhile, as Chris Carter found out a decade ago (and Lynch near a decade before that) when you’re talking about serial storytelling. CLOVERFIELD, while sounding a clever premise, undermines what a monster movie is all about for me. So yeah, I just couldn’t take his subversive angle on things. I wasn’t man enough.

I’m not a particularly hardcore STAR TREK fan. Enjoyed the original series as a kid and teen. Dug NEXT GENERATION and DEEP SPACE NINE when they decided they had stories to tell, and TNG was pretty damn good for some time, even spawning a decent movie out of things. I, however, couldn’t pass as an OG Trekker. I had other things to obsess about. Thought that three of the movies were decent, most of the others were flawed entertainment.

Now certainly, the new STAR TREK is at TNG level in terms of quality as measured by budget, script, acting (though TNG still stomps the TREK crew on that basis). Visually, it’s strong and assured, putting money on the screen, but not to the exclusion of all else. And I’ll have to admit some curiosity on how the writers and producers were going to address the whole reboot thing.

Some franchises survive a rebooting. Take James Bond for instance, who was long in the tooth by the time that Roger Moore stepped down. Though honestly, there wasn’t need for a full-out reboot of things. Bond gets along just fine in self-contained adventures that sometimes reference previous events. CASINO ROYALE wasn’t so much a reset as it was focusing on what makes Bond work and presenting that to the audience. Not looking at the assumptions that the audience might have, but saying “Here’s Bond. He dresses nice and he kills people. A gentleman thug. Enjoy.”

And that’s all you need. Yes, there’s a number of people who probably worry about the inner workings and filling in the stories behind the stories and getting really upset when they can’t make the pieces fall together the way they like them to.

Now, in comics, we can look at the Ultimate universe, for instance. Which was a nice idea. Take the characters, update them for the 90s/00s, tell some stories (some of which may be direct lifts of old stories, but that’s okay.) Strip out all the dead weight and let things lift off from there. Which was great. For awhile. Then continuity began to accrete onto the works. What’s more, fans expected this to happen. “How long until we get Ultimate Black Cat?” they ask. When writers lined up retreads of various, already-familiar characters, readers ate it up. Instead of being freed from the past (a nice idea), it ended up chaining things down in very short order.

I believe they’re trying to tear down the Ultimate universe even as we speak. Kinda like CRISIS was supposed to streamline things and it never quite happened.

I’d suggest a more successful re-imagining of a venerable franchise took place in ALL-STAR SUPERMAN. A far, far more successful restart, mostly because it read like the book that the creative team was born to work on. It was aware of the past, and even respectful towards it without ever feeling like it was strait-jacketed. And while there were plenty of things to entice the long-time fan (those who didn’t freak right out at Frank Quitely’s bucolic, laconic first cover), it never felt like they were in there to appease the old-timer. Of which I am one.

Really, though, ALL-STAR SUPERMAN succeeds because it understands the essence of the character and uses that to tell a great story that stands on its own. It references the past without necessitating a degree in Supermanology to get things.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if this Superman’s world is anything more than imagination. I’m sure, perhaps sooner rather than later, we’ll have a DCU/ALL-STAR U crossover event. But for now, that’s only a festering nightmare yet to be.

Back to STAR TREK. Entertaining, action-packed, lots of fun and you might even get your kids to learn a new word or two. But I was bothered by what I ultimately have to read as a kind of spinelessness on the parts of the creators. See, they couldn’t turn it into a rebooting of the franchise from square one. I mean, they could have, and it wouldn’t have bothered anyone but the hardcore. That wouldn’t have dented the box office take.

What am I talking about? The continuity teat. Spoilers follow, if you’re an apostate geek who hasn’t yet seen TREK, you might want to stop reading now.

So it turns out that this TREK, that we’ve become invested in over the course of an hour and fifteen minutes or so, is really just a sub-universe of the One True Trek. Spock got booted out of the One True Universe and into this one. By dint of OG Spock’s presence, this new universe is now anointed as part of Big S STAR TREK continuity and will get to mooch off all the work of all those other creators. Granted, they were gonna mooch anyways, this is the nature of remakes.

And, as a commentor on pop-culture minutiae, I have to say that I was irritated by the “eating their cake and having it”-ness of it all. There’s a golden opportunity here to cut out all that old “continuity” (which when it comes to TREK is debatable in the first place) and really start fresh. Instead, though, they go running back to the original source and say “well, here’s the lineage, so it’s okay for you to enjoy this new stuff, trekkers.”

Yes, I know they did the same damn thing in TNG. Of course, it was a walk-on by Dr. McCoy at age 129 or however old he was. He was on and off, and the story wasn’t ultimately built around OG Spock and time travel. I mean, the guys on the reboot were so unsure of themselves that they had to have Leonard Nimoy himself come on the screen and say that Chris Pine was James T. Kirk so that they could sell it instead of just saying it themselves.

For a crew that likes to boldly go where no one has gone before, TREK spends a lot of time and energy chasing its own tail. For that reason, the things that were supposed to be cute little nods to the fan-base, like Scotty announcing “I’m givin’ you all she’s got!” or Nimoy reciting the mantra from the opening, or Kirk getting’ his captain on with a green-skinned girl, all of those things suddenly took on the subtlety of a flash flood. It all just screamed of insecurity, which the crew involved didn’t have any need for.

Let it stand on its own two legs. Tell the stories. Don’t worry about the fans or the lineage or the continuity. Do your work and let that bastard soar. The hardcore will still come.

Of course, the devil’s advocate on my shoulder says that only a geek would care enough to notice or care to write this much.

By the way- I've changed my personal website up a bit, and you can now find me at http://www.highway-62.com/wp

Matt Maxwell

Visit CWR at Unsungheroes!



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