Monday, May 20, 2013

A Fistful of Star Trek! (Brad's Picks)

After four years of waiting, JJ Abrams' Star Trek follow-up Into Darkness has finally hit our shores and despite some polarizing rage (from me & proper Trekkies everywhere *smiling smugly in the glow of my laptop*) I'm quite happy to have the USS Enterprise back on the big screen.  Whatever disappointments I might have with this latest entry, I genuinely hope it strikes gold so that we can join their 5 Year Mission in another few years.  And with Abrams jumping ship to Star Wars (and hopefully taking the rest of his Bad Robot dolts with him) maybe someone like Matt Reeves or Drew Goddard can rediscover the hope & humanism of the Star Trek universe.

Below you'll find a few of my favorite moments from the 47 year old saga, as well as the key concepts (or ideals) that make Star Trek my true love.

5.  The Death of George Kirk & The Birth of His Son:  Ok, so I know I was just crapping all over JJ Abrams & Bad Robot a few moments ago, but that's just my agonizing Into Darkness disappointment talking.  Their 2009 relaunch is actually kind of a miracle.  A film that cleverly acknowledges & even continues the stories of the cast you love, but also creates a timeline for new adventures occur.  It's a whiz-bang actioner, busting at the seams from its massive budget, and Trekkies had never seen a film this grand or slick before.  JJ obviously knows where to put his digital camera & the Starship battles between the Narada, the Kelvin, and the Enterprise are absolutely breathtaking.  But it's not the spectacle that ranked this film in the #1 spot of my Top Ten Films of 2009.  Nope, Star Trek won my heart with its spot-on emotional beats, the first of which occurs in the opening fifteen minutes.  The time traveling Narada comes upon the USS Kelvin and unleashes an array of advanced weaponry that completely devastates the tiny vessel.  With the captain dead, George Kirk must take the chair and provide a distraction while his crew flees in a stream of shuttles.  Aboard one of those shuttles, his wife goes into labor & just before he meets his doom they agree upon their child's name - Jim for her father, Tiberius for his.  As of this week, I've seen the film a dozen times and with each viewing I tear up during the chaos - heartstrings pulled & knotted.  Robbing James T. Kirk of his father transforms him from a bold, big ego adventurer and into a brash, cock-of-the-walk brat.  And it's an internal struggle still being waged in the new film, however, his new father figure Christopher Pike doesn't get much of a chance to guide him to glory...

4.  The Dominion War:  Introduced as an anti-Federation in the second season of Deep Space Nine, Starfleet's war with The Dominion paves the way for Ron Moore's Battlestar Galactica reboot.  With The Next Generation off the air & the USS Voyager galavanting the Delta Quadrant, the DS9 show runners found their hands in the cookie jar - Klingons, Romulans, Breen - it was all theirs to play with and Deep Space Nine took full advantage, plunging the universe into a galactic conflict like nothing Star Trek had dealt with before.  These were not simple one and done episodes, for the first time Star Trek was given season long arcs, and a new level of storytelling was grated to The Final Frontier.  This is also where the concept of the devious Section 31 first appeared, so those loving the militarized Starfleet of Into Darkness can take glee in William Sadler's scenery chewing villainy.

3.  The Psychedelic Western:  When William Shatner took the ship from Jeffery Hunter, Star Trek pretty much became Cowboys In Space; a 5 Year Mission expanding the idea of westward expansion into the cosmos but never forgetting the broad moralizing. I first found Trek through the cinematic excursions, but The Original Series is the true core of the franchise - a trippy, hippy-dippy adventure show where Kirk, Spock, & McCoy stumble from one random scenario to another.  There are dozens of gems to be found, the cliched choices being "City on the Edge of Forever," "Space Seed," "The Corbomite Maneuver," "Arena," "Mirror, Mirror," etc, etc.  But as I revisit the show, I find myself drawn more and more to the crazy and the awkward.  Episodes like "A Private Little War" in which Kirk succumbs to a wicked weed after grappling with the ape beast Mugatu.  Or how about "Shore Leave" in which Kirk & McCoy defend themselves from imaginary White Rabbits & the pugilist Finnegan.  In its three years on the air, Star Trek was throwing whatever they could on screen, some stuff stuck and became fanboy canon, while other bits are easily forgotten.  But dagnabbit, I'm still waiting for my "Way to Eden" Adam action figure, and I say the goofy is just as charming as the revered.

2.  The Triumvirate:  Spock, Kirk, & Bones.  As much as I love the rest of the crew and the challenges they face exploring deep space, it's the friendship of these three opposites that cements the action of the franchise.  Spock with his frustrating idealization of logic.  Bones with his grumpy old man pessimism.  Jim Kirk with his Super Ego and unchallenging knowledge of right & wrong.  Perfected over decades by Shatner, Nimoy, & Kelly; the friendship ranges from humorous bouts of bickering to genuine love for one another.  The Wrath of Khan is often (rightfully) cited as the great cinematic adventure, but I often think The Search for Spock gets the shaft as its plot is a personification of their bromance.  In the third big screen outing, Kirk lays everything on the line for his two friends, and it's easy to forgive the wonky Klingon encounter when you're swept into their battle for each other.  Heck, if you love these guys as much as I do you can even trick yourself into enjoying Star Trek V, a film with an absolutely bugnuts-stupid quest for God at the center of the galaxy that is framed with an adorable campfire getaway - three chums enjoying the presence of each other.  As the new actors wearing the iconic skins, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, & Karl Urban are still finding their way.  Quinto & Urban certainly have an excellent handle on the mannerisms, and as the three proved in Star Trek 09, they can absolutely deliver the banter.  Into Darkness has little use for The Triumvirate, reducing Urban to no more than a metaphor generator and injecting Uhura's romantic interest into the trilogy.  All well and good, but I hope the next film allows the three cohorts their respectable chemistry.

1.  "Where No Man Has Gone Before":  Space, the final frontier.  The voyages of the Starship Enterprise.  Boldly going.  In 1966 Gene Rodenberry, taking the popularity of television programs like Wagon Train and mixing it with the excitement surrounding the space race, brought Star Trek to thousands of boob tubes around the world.  It was not initially a smashing success, but it eventually caught the imagination of millions and spawned the very first wave of fanboys (& girls).  What was the initial draw is sill the concept that keeps me coming back for more - the 23rd Century as seen by Roddenberry is a universe of hope & adventure.  Earth has solved its domestic squabbles.  The bridge of the USS Enterprise has Russians at the helm and African Americans on comm.  Not such a big deal these days, but at the height of The Cold War & the Civil Rights movement, seeing Uhura & Chekhov fighting alongside James Tiberius Kirk was a real Utopia.  And the idea that Man (with a capital M) has plenty of galaxy to explore is still really damn exciting if not utterly fantastical thanks to the public's seeming disdain for NASA these days.  Star Trek is not a Versus show.  It's not Star Wars.  It's not Avatar.  It's not even Battlestar Galactica.  It allows for plenty of action, but at the core of the franchise should be exploration.  Man maturing to join & contribute to the rest of the Universe.  And that's what I want from whatever incarnation of Star Trek we get next.


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