Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Let's Take a Reality Trek (Into Darkness)

"You think the rules don't apply to you because you disagree with them" - Admiral Pike
The media machine for Star Trek into Darkness has ramped it up again with the continued evolution of the mobile app for Android and iOS (when the damn thing works that is) and the stunning, first ever motion poster featuring a smouldering London and the rumbling tones of "JH" aka Benedict Cumberbatch (removed as it got annoying).

Great idea and I've seen there is also one in existence for The Wolverine but that's off topic! It's a great new concept and was the first real clue that London was going to have a a starring role in this new production thanks to the inclusion of the Mayor's Gherkin (and it's not as interesting as that initially sounds).

"You have any idea what a pain you are?" - Pike

"I think so, sir." - Kirk

Over the weekend we also got "Teaser Trailer Two" and under the circumstances I think a more apt name for it is the "Kirk Teaser" as it's pretty much 70 seconds of scene setting for the Enterprise captain. If you've missed it, here it is for your enjoyment.

I would at this point have delved into what we learn from the new trailer but we've already got a lot of answers thanks to the 28 minute previews that have been set up worldwide. Now that's how to tease your fans and make them want more! Of course it could also be Abrams realising that it's a rubbish film later on and continuing to build the super-hype so no one will notice underneath all that lens flare. From what we've seen I doubt it's that catastrophic although there is a lot more of an action/adventure theme than I would expect from a Star Trek movie set in the Prime Universe (but more on that in a bit).

"By now all of you will have heard what happened in London..."

We now know for certain that the scenes of Kirk and McCoy running and jumping into the sea are from the early part of Into Darkness and that the Enterprise is hidden under the waves below. We can pretty much conclude that the clips of Admiral Pike verbally dressing-down Kirk are from his meeting with the captain following his blundered mission on that same red planet. Why Kirk decides to go after John Harrison is still undetermined although we get some sinister posturing from Cumberbatch albeit brief - in fact he's virtually non-existent in this trailer bar about three seconds.

"Jim - the beach is THAT way!" - McCoy

What else is new though? There's a new scoutship sequence which I would suggest is set during the quest for Harrison and there are some nice shots of Scotty double-taking against a fish; Uhura kitted up for an away mission and Spock doing that building jump...again. Overall the bulk of the trailer is focused on Kirk going through some kind of transition process - a mission, a failure and the chance to redeem. Perhaps it's not that there is a specific reason for him going after Harrison except that it is a chance to get back his command. Apart from that it's familiar territory with more repeated clips of the Enterprise creating a bow-wave in San Francisco and what I still think is Starfleet Command/Academy bearing the brunt of a saucer impact following the crash.
"Punch it." - Kirk 

While not physically in this trailer, the 28 minute previews have answered one important question that I've been musing over since Day One. We've finally found out that Peter Weller is Admiral Marcus and therefore, one would believe, Carol's dad. So there goes my super-twist that he's the baddie and Harrison is just a minion! But then who's to say that John Harrison will turn out to actually be John Harrison all the way through or that he's Weller's minion?! Over analysing this new burst of dribble-inducement seems pointless but something more (I thought anyway) interesting came to mind that I wanted to talk about in relation to the direction we're heading in with the Abrams reboot universe.. In part it's due to the trailer that this thought was sparked, it's also thanks to that stunning new poster, an unsettling feeling within the Trek online community and some apparent revelations about Abrams feelings towards the franchise. 

"We're gonna do this we gotta do it now!" - Sulu

This week, a new friend of mine, George Silsby, from the Star Trek: Starfinder audio series, reminded me about the graphic novel prequel series that's out to buy at the moment and how it might be more relevant than we think - and could even bring it back into the realms of (dare we say it) CANON. Are we going to see the destruction of this Enterprise and the arrival/recommissioning of Robert April's Enterprise that's mentioned in passing? Countdown to Darkness also notes that April had Alex Marcus as his first officer on that ship. The dots are slowly joining up! My friend from Starfinder is also postulating that Harrison is Garth of Izar. I'm inclined to agree that he's not Harrison but whether it's Garth is another thing. We'll have to put a bet on this!

It could be Harrison is a youthful version of April (reduced aging or from the past?) for instance, as we know there's some kind of aging thing going on in the first 9 minutes previewed a few weeks ago? What about Harrison being a member of April's crew as I'm pushed to think there has to be a connection to the oft-mentioned officer and in the first trailer we ever saw, Harrison was carrying April's Gatling Gun. George also mapped out the concept that with the arrival of Miss Marcus we could be getting  something involving the Genesis device. Now that would be pretty impressive and would offer the chance at life from lifelessness? Is Genesis the cure that Harrison indicates in the nine minute sneak-peak? The secret to rebirth/youth? I also think that with all these plot possibilities that are flying around, JJ will have enough material for the next six or seven films in the reboot universe. TV series later? Doubt it if this film does any good. Next film for 2016 and the 50th anniversary? Very good possibility according to Den of Geek and it would mean that it would be sooner than the four year window we've had since the first film. With Abrams moving to Wars from Trek it would mean a step back to (exec) producer while he focuses on the series that he's admitted to loving a lot more.

Anyway; conjecture, rumour mill, conspiracy theory...move on....

"He's a fugitive and I want to take him out." - Kirk

The consensus over the reboot series is mixed to say the least. Do we see it as canon given that it diverts from the prime universe and how is it classified? Do you enjoy it as an entertaining film or should it just be seen as a complete standalone? I don't believe that there is clean cut answer to it and it's pretty much each to his or her own. However, I'm going to wade in with a few thoughts. I can accept that STID is Star Trek or in the very least that it is BASED on Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek. The grip is that while Nero kinked the timeline in 2009's reboot, surely there should be some kind of crossover bar the appearance of Prime Spock. To keep the fans happy it can't be screwed with completely and yes, I understand that this is one person's interpretation bit there are some fundamental principles that need to be maintained otherwise it becomes diluted and a pale imitation of the very thing it is hoping to bring to a new audience. 

"I believe in you" - Admiral Pike

The new films are heavily focused on the action element and character and themes seem to have been sidelined but this indicates something more about today's cinematic experience. However this week Damon Lindelof has come out saying that Into Darkness is "about family" which seems a bit of a cop out frankly given the issues Trek has covered from day one - wasn't this what the first one was aboout too?! Sadly "issues" are not what today's media-savvy audiences are desiring hence it's about tech, 3D, effects and jaw droppers because that's what puts bums on seats if you'll pardon the expression. Now here's the funny thing - if it wasn't for a fist fight and a demand by the network for less cerebral concepts which led to the unprecedented commissioning of the second pilot, "Where No Man Has Gone Before", then we wouldn't have Trek and the thought provoking science fiction that came over the course of the subsequent series. So just as Roddenberry did to get that first year commissioned so Abrams has gone back to basics and the fact we have a sequel is proof it worked. The wonder is as we in for more of the same or can we hope that Into Darkness recognises the fan base and points more firmly towards keeping with the Great Bird's universe. Problems is that everything I keep seeing makes me go 'wow' and want to see Into Darkness because it looks action packed and amazing as a film ut not necessarily because it's got Star Trek taped to the title.

"Come on; it's going to be fun!" - Kirk

However a series of clips and soundbites gives no idea what it will be like feature length although we've seen some good feedback off the previews that it LOOKS stunning. (Notice where I'm going here?!) This is where the whole poster grumble came in. It looks brilliant. I love the concept and it's certainly made the trailers interesting seeing the Enterprise skirting the atmosphere, crashing into San Francisco or rising up from the ocean as if reborn from the waves and certainly contrasting to its later plummet Earth-wards. Yet wasn't the whole reason for the transporter because they couldn't work out how to land the ship in the 60's? Is this where we start to think it's not exactly what it should be and that Abrams really has just decided to do his own thing and thoroughly retrofit Trek with the intention of attracting a new audience for the 21st Century? In 2009 we even had the Enterprise built on Earth which clearly goes against canon but we have to remember that the opening five minutes of the first film in 2009 effectively gave JJ free licence to do what he wants. Maybe that's just what we should do! Perhaps we should view it as fans of Batman, The Avengers, Superman or even Doctor Who?

"...Told you we'd fit." - Kirk
"I'm not sure that qualifies." - Spock

Everyone has their favourite way it's been done and reasons why. Over the years they've all seen multiple reboots and re-imaginings (11 times and counting for The Doctor!) but the basics of who is involved and the setting remain although the details surrounding it alter. We can grumble all we want or go along and enjoy it. For the foreseeable future it's the only new Trek were going to get and that has to be a reason to support its continued success. But then JJ comes out with comments suggesting thus is the only Star Trek he wants people to remember. For a generation that might be the case, but Roddenberry's vision was that humanity had put aside it's differences for the greater good, each adventure had some kind of theme or a story which helped explore one of his family of characters etc - so does the plot point of an attack on London, and supposedly by a member of Starfleet really ally itself to that? When we see it's based on Star Trek should we be reading that it's using characters and associations but it's not really the original? A bit like BMW building the Mini if you will. Or Disney doing Star Wars.....?!
"Ready to swim?"

Is JJ really trying to make a new generation aware of only his vision of the franchise and, as LeVar Burton suggested recently, ignore all that's been or will be. This cannot and will never be the ONLY Star Trek that exists and you can't just dismiss everything that came before - you can't ignore over 700 episodes and 10 films! This is the history that JJ is willing to throw away because it's not his vision and now he can with that neat little "Nero" trick. Let's be fair it's allowed some massive poetic licences as we've already recalled and I'm still not totally hot on the Spock and Uhura romance to this day - unsurprisingly we're going to be getting more of that in May. So can we really be happy with changes to a certain style of storytelling where we didn't get product placement from Nokia or music provided by the Beastie Boys? Is there more of this to be seen Into Darkness and is this a sign that we're heading into a new frontier of product placement ala James Bond? Please. No.

"I hate this!" - McCoy
"I know!" - Kirk

As a movie series so far the reboot has been good fun, certainly high-octane visual entertainment of the highest quality, but it will never replace the original series or anything from the Roddenberry/Berman vision. The essence is there but do you come out of the cinema or finish watching the DVD and release that there are more layers to it? I'm not sure it's been designed in that way. Star Trek (2009) may have inspired something of a new audience but JJ needs to remember that if it wasn't for the millions of fans who've supported and followed Star Trek since 1966 (or earlier!) then he wouldn't have a film to make; let alone a sequel. The majority of his audience will be from that long-term fanbase and not from one single two-hour blip four years ago. Let's face it, a lot of fans were (and I include myself here) ravenous for new live-action trek and seeing as it had been four years since the corpse of Enterprise had been removed from the air with THAT damp squib of a final episode, we were going to take whatever we could get - no doubt JJ knew that this would be the case and as long as it had "staples" of the franchise he was onto a winner... I hope George Lucas just keeps hold of those reins a little more tightly which is something I touched upon previously when I considered we might have been a little heavy-handed towards JJ in light of his new role within the Star Wars Mouse House. Interestingly they've just pulled Clone Wars to move the focus onto the next trilogy and I would think that in line with this we can be fairly certain Trek won't be going televisual for some time as even concepts from Michael Dorn (Captain Worf) and Jonathan Frakes have been vetoed in favour of keeping the Enterprise firmly on the cinema screen.

"Tell me this is gonna work."

Now before I start chewing my own arm off with all this postulating let's wrap this all up. The way this franchise is going reminded me of a quote from Deep Space Nine's "Crossover" as spoken by Major Kira to her mirror universe counterpart - ironic that an installment dealing with a different reality would provide a great line that can so easily apply to this new imagining of the classic crew:

"The players are all the same. They just seem to be performing different parts." - Kira
So once the credits roll at the end of this film will we no longer  accept it as Star Trek in its pure form? Will we remember JJ's Trek films as great cinematic action experiences and a footnote in the larger Trek mythos? The box office will only tell part of the tale as will DVD and Blu-ray sales, merchandising revenues and potentially any further big screen outings; the passage of time will record the rest although I suspect that Prime Trek will win out. No doubt it will outlast us all as a certain starship captain once said, "Let's make sure history never forgets the name, Enterprise" - and I would guess that now applies to whatever universe or reality you prefer...

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