Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Spotlight: How to Fix the New "Star Trek" Film Series
It's no secret that I hated Star Trek: Into Darkness. I've made no Dr. McCoys about this, it was a lazy, calculating, horrible attempt at fan service that backfired in spectacular fashion. The 2009 reboot made it seem as if things were headed in a new direction, and the film adeptly walked the line between homage and innovation. It wasn't a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, but it managed to simultaneously update the franchise while honoring its rich history. Expectations were high for the follow-up film, and Abrams managed to keep the project shrouded in secrecy (a tact he admitted was "a mistake") yet he's going down that road once again with a different franchise, which is likely a subject for another article entirely. The result was a rousing good time for anyone that didn't count themselves among the die-hards, whose opinions on the film ranged from disappointment to outright rage, dubbing it "The Worst Film in the Star Trek Franchise." It's as if none of those fans have seen 5, 7, 9, or 10, but I digress. Even Karl Urban expressed his frustrations with the film.
I'm not among the doomsayers in regards to the green-lit third film of this reboot, but I am also pragmatic in regard to the fact that there are some major flaws that need to be addressed. There are certain things that cannot be amended. Orci & Kurtzman are still the writers, J.J. Abrams will still be involved, and the many mind-numbing additions to the franchise such as curing death and transwarp drives are too big to just ignore. There are steps that can be taken to fix the films, and here is my list of the top 5 priorities for fixing this, not necessarily broken, but certainly damaged franchise that I love and hold so dear...
1. Captain Kirk needs an overhaul
The Kirk of Abrams, Orci, and Kurtzman universe is the Kirk of the original Star Trek motion picture series. Brash, defiant, arrogant, and always right no matter what (with the exception of Wrath of Khan), this Kirk had enough braggadocio to fill the entirety of outer space. Casual fans seem to forget that this was not the same Captain Kirk that trekked the stars for three years on the TV series. While that Kirk definitely had a blatant disregard for the Prime Directive, and managed to Kobayashi Maru his way out of more than one unwinnable scenario, he was also a master planner who broke the rules because he knew that the end justified the means. This new Kirk acts without thinking, doesn't listen to anyone, and always has the best solution to every problem. He was able to see the transwarp drive in Khan's ship, he knew Khan would attack Starfleet, he knew that Scotty could deus ex machine him and Khan onto the Vengeance, and he probably knew that Bones would figure out a way to bring him back to life. Before you jump down my throat, I'm not saying that's in there, but it wouldn't surprise me if it was in an earlier draft of the script.
Now I know what you're thinking… This Kirk is young, he doesn't have the experience and worldliness of Shatner's Kirk, so get off his back. That's all well and good, but the fact of the matter is that these filmmakers have decided to give him all of the qualities the older Kirk possessed with none of the wisdom of his age. It's like they took all the worst parts of what made Kirk such a role model for the act now, plan later set, and hoped that the "he's still a young captain" excuse would be enough to keep the ship afloat. I'm not buying it, even for a dollar. Kirk needs to stop using his crew and start relying on them. Hopefully all that nonsense involved in him resurrecting at the end of the film has given him a bit of wisdom in this area, but if the movie has another cold open where Kirk is right back to his old ways, that entire climax and denouement will have been for naught. They got their way, now they need to run with it and not look back.
2. No more attempts at fan service
The most shocking realization that I and the other hardcore Trekkers came to in the days and weeks following our first viewing of Into Darkness was that for all that stuff about it that we hated, the filmmakers had put it in there as an attempt at fan service. They thought that four years of us saying "don't put Khan in the next film," really meant, "use Khan, we demand it, even though we're saying that we don't." They also thought they were being clever by reversing Spock's and Kirk's roles in the climax, but to call that an unearned gesture is an understatement. When Kirk and Spock shared that tender moment before Spock's death in The Wrath of Khan, the fans had had 16 years to get to know the characters, three seasons of television and one and three quarters feature films, and it felt like the logical extension of their relationship coming full circle with Kirk learning an invaluable lesson from Spock about sacrifice and the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few, or the one.
You don't get such license four years into your reboot, I'm sorry. Stop trying to give the fans what you think they want and just focus on telling a good story. Stop concerning yourself with what the fans think, which is exactly what this Twitter battle between writer Bob Orci and angry fans proved. They could really care less about what fans think in much the same way that they think the fans actually want the opposite of what they're saying aloud (and for the record, biggest box office in franchise history does not equal best film in the franchise. Star Trek IV proved as much in the first go around). Don't concern yourself with fans who won't be happy no matter what you do, concern yourself with those of us who want you to stop trying to appease everyone, and write a damn film with a story worth telling. That's writing 101 folks.
3. More Bones & Scotty
The biggest asset in these films has been Karl Urban and Simon Pegg as Bones and Scotty respectively. Stop relegating them to the sidelines. I know what the more cynical fans will say, "they were never used well in the original films and TV show;" Okay, fine, does that mean that we can't fix that glaring problem? If this new franchise reboot has proven anything, it's that trying to duplicate the original in any way has spelled disaster every step of the way. Blaze a new trail, give these guys something to do other than run around spouting off catchphrases or participating in comically absurd plot scenarios. Your Chief Science Office and Chief Engineer can certainly do more than that. Take a page out of the TNG playbook for this one. They always managed to give Geordi and Data something to do, even if it was in service of a less than stellar plot device like Geordi's visor hijacking in Generations.
Bones and Scotty both have that wisdom of age and experience that this Kirk so desperately needs, so rather than having Bones doling out metaphors and "Damnit Jims," allow him to challenge Kirk, to defy him, and prove him wrong. Allow Scotty to do more than just provide subpar comic relief with a weird alien sidekick. Transparent aluminum was another fairly ridiculous subplot in IV, but it gave the guy something to do other than defusing potential bombs with Tits McGee. These characters have an important and integral role in this franchise, now start acting like they do.
4. Fix the Klingons and make them the primary antagonists
The "Blingons" (as some have called them) that we glimpsed for thirty seconds in Into Darkness were an encapsulation of everything that was wrong with the film. Here's something from the old show and movies that won't be cool to kids today unless we jazz them up with a bunch of piercings and a makeup job like something out of Enemy Mine. The Klingons have been used incredibly well throughout Star Trek history, never better than they were in Star Trek VI, and they provide a wealth of material for the Enterprise crew to combat. Their entire philosophy is in direct opposition to Starfleet, so why not have them play more of an active role in trying to dismantle it? Just casually inserting them into the plot the way they did in Into Darkness was not the best use of this race.
Here's an idea on how to fix this, and it borrows liberally from III & VI… The Klingons stage a ploy to frame the crew of the Enterprise for the destruction of one of their strongholds, which was actually the result of an Arab Spring-esque uprising among a faction of Klingons that do not want war. Starfleet demands Kirk and his crew return to Starfleet Headquarters to face punishment, where the Klingons launch their first attack. Not realizing that this was a ploy to get them to attack Kronos, Starfleet orders a full on assault of the planet that launches them into war with the Klingons. Kirk and his crew are the only ones that know of the faction of Klingons trying to stand up to their militaristic leaders, and must try to form an alliance with them, forever dividing the Klingons against themselves. It's not perfect, and it honestly took me about ten minutes to think up, but infusing the politics of the day with the adventures in space has always been what Star Trek does best.
5. You set up an alternate universe, now go use it!
The most brilliant thing about the 2009 Star Trek was that they established a timeline completely separate from the original series and films' timeline. So why didn't they use that in Into Darkness? Rather than give us a completely new villain, or a confrontation with an alien race invented after the creation of TOS, they pulled out Khan, dusted him off, and crapped all over him. I'm not saying I want to see this crew battle the Borg, but if my choices are between that and rehashing yet another plot that's already been done before, I say Resistance is Futile! They've opened up a literal world of possibilities, so to go back to what's already been done was more than nonsensical, it was insulting. The fans accepted this splintered timeline as a way of quite literally boldly going where no one had gone before, only to witness two hours of backtracking.
Above and beyond anything else, use this new timeline as a way to explore new ideas. How about exploring new life forms and new civilizations? They're on their five year mission now, supposedly, so why not trek the stars a bit, see what's out there. The last two films have been too tied to Earth, and while there is room for a storyline to start or even conclude on Earth, with an entire galaxy awaiting you, and an infinite number of possibilities contains among the stars, not taking advantage of all those possibilities would be a cheat and a cop-out. I am as optimistic about the future of this franchise as I've ever been, but unless they learn from their mistakes, they are sadly doomed to repeat them. And after all, isn't that what Star Trek, at its core, is really all about?