Monday, 11 January 2016

Star Trek: The Flaws Awakened


I may have descended into cheese title territory but there's good reason.

I managed to see The Force Awakens on launch day -  actually at 11.45 pm so only just -  and knew I needed to talk about it as soon as the credits rolled.  However, I wanted to leave it a couple of weeks to avoid spoiling it for anyone and also to let the dust settle on what has been nothing less than a record annihilating run for the seventh movie.  What I want to talk about is how it relates to the current state of Star Trek. If you've not seen it, please click away now. I don't want to ruin the movie for you.

Initially I was surprised that the Beyond trailer didn't show with Star Wars here in the UK. Instead we got DeadpoolIndependence Day: ResurgenceWorld of Warcraft and Daddy's Home. Whoop.

But as the closing theme boomed out and we start counting down to both 2016's Rogue Squadron and 2017's Episode VIII, there were a few issues that bugged me.

Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed it even if I did think it echoed a lot of moments from the original trilogy especially A New Hope and I look forward to seeing it again. I loathe to admit it because it's got everything from the Millennium Falcon to cool new Stormtroopers, a booming soundtrack and even more. Thing is, JJ Abrams now has a lot to answer for when it comes to Star Trek

From the perspective of a Star Trek fan, The Force Awakens was a movie made with great love, appreciation and understanding of what made the original Star Wars trilogy great.  Abrams managed to keep his personal fan indulgence in check and produced a damn fine movie that did precisely what it needed to do plus banish some bad Binks memories. He should be proud not just of the box office takings but of the movie itself although I suspect Laurence Kasdan will have been very useful in the scripting department. 

But in the very way it impressed me and engaged me for two fleetingly short hours, in the back of my mind there was a sole, painful question; Why?

Why did JJ Abrams treat Star Trek in the way he did, even admitting recently that the plot of Into Darkness was full of holes and regrets as well as filling the two reboot. movies he made with god-awful lens flare? If he didn't appreciate the show and understood what made Star Trek great he should have stayed away and waited for the Star Wars gig. 

The way in which Abrams has honoured Lucas' 1977 vision, reproduced the signature scene wipes, memorable characters and the very essence of what made Star Wars great. A marvellous restoration job indeed sir and just what the Star Wars fans wanted. 

Go back eight years and JJ Abrams took Star Trek and did the opposite, instead of going back to its roots and the Roddenberry ideal, he chose to make it his own. I admit there had to be changes and it had to be brought into the present day but to be as drastic as Abrams was came as a jolting surprise to many although it did supposedly open up Star Trek to the larger mainstream audience who had steered clear for decades. Now in the case of Star Wars the damage had been done with the prequels and JJ came along to realign it with the fourth, fifth and sixth episodes and the ethos surrounding them. Funny to think that in the case of Star Trek he may be the one that has done the damage which Pegg, Lin and co are now trying to "undo" if you will (although we've all seen the trailer so I can't be totally convinced that's going to happen).

I suppose the issue is the size of the fandoms and the voice that each carries. In the case of Star Wars the fanbase is colossal and appeals to people of all ages although it was intended for kids. Star Trek on the other hand has had its moments of being incredibly pretentious and closing itself off from the general public. While we can say 'how dare he'  to Abrams for his remaining of the universe the box office takings plus the scores on sites such as Rotten Tomatoes and Box Office Mojo have to be taken into consideration. He has,  without question,  rejuvenated two franchises with stunning  box office success -  in fact if you plug in Mission Impossible it's three. 

It absolutely stings when you then look at Star Trek and see how shockingly Abrams appears to have toyed with the franchise if you're a fan of "Prime" storytelling. That said he did stick around for two movies rather than bowing out after just one as he is doing with the Disney-owned sci-fi series. But maybe the point is that while Star Wars has elements that appeal to all ages in its effects,  space battles and galactic mythology,  Star Trek doesn't or more precisely didn't until Abrams dragged it from the obscurity of that Enterprise finale into 2009 and here we are now waiting for a third installment which he will be producing. 

Much in the same way that no-one outside of the core fanbase will be affected or care about the legal wrangling over Axanar,  the general public will probably go and see Beyond in their droves because Abrams has done what has been required and the same is true of Star Wars. He gave back what was needed in that case while for Trek he opened it to the mass market and took out the deep and meaningful that turned many away. 

But let's drag this back to some sort of conclusion before I drift away into a clutter of words. It did feel that Abrams abandoned Star Trek after Into Darkness to follow his dream and you can sense what The Force Awakens means to him. It's a film where you feel for the characters, fall in love with a bowling ball droid and bathe in waves of legend and nostalgia without sinking in a sea of green-screen backgrounds. That emotional attachment and the connection to the characters is something which he did miss with the two reboot Star Trek's. NB: This is not me transferring my allegiance!

If Abrams had wanted to indulge just the existing fanbase for Star Trek he could have given them something full of intricate meaning and self-explanation but instead we got something nearer to a Flash Gordon serial and, possibly, Star Wars. I suppose that's actually why it hurts because The Force Awakens has been such a huge success and Star Trek becomes even more maligned and a "third wheel". Star Wars revitalisation has made Star Trek look very tired and its much smaller core fanbase very, very hard to please and whatever comes on the big screen and the TV screen via CBS will just not be good enough. At the moment thanks to JJ Abrams Star Wars says excitement, innovation and nostalgia while his vision of the Star Trek universe has tried to please the masses and tragically failed to invigorate the core fans - but then that might well have been the very mission statement he was provided when he took on the project and has delivered if that's the case.

There's still a lot of work to do and new hands and ideas may prove to be the light at the end of the tunnel both this summer and in January 2017. The problem is that by that time we will have Rogue Squadron and work on Episode VIII will be in full swing for Christmas '17 - will anyone really be interested in the Star Trek wagon as its wheels begin to roll? Will we have tired of the relentless Star Wars marketing machine? I fear to answer those questions.

Has The Force Awakens made you think about "switching" your flag over to the Dark Side? Are you loathe to admit that the new movie is actually damn good as a proclaimed Star Trek fan?