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Boldly going…

Posted on Nov 17, 2008 by billsimmon in filmmaking, SF, the nerd life | 27 Comments

…where quite a few people have gone before, actually.

Emily and I saw Quantum of Solace Saturday night and the much-ballyhooed second Star Trek trailer ran before the film. I couldn’t let the event pass without comment since my childhood was seriously imbued with Trek canon. Before the Next Generation was ever born, I was deeply into classic Trek — I had all the books and technical manuals and blueprints and episode guides and Mego action figures (I sold my Romulan-with-gold-helmet figure for $300 about 10 or 15 years ago). I’m just saying my nerd cred is pretty large with this particular SF franchise.

Anyway, I have a few thoughts about this trailer and the new film I’d like to share, so snort loudly, push your glasses firmly up on your nose, recall a time before you had ever had sex or done bong hits, and come with me, deep into the geek…

CASTING
Okay, the casting is actually pretty inspired for the most part. For the record, I had called the Zach Quinto choice months before he was ever actually cast as Mr. Spock. Unfortunately, my choice for Kirk — Liev Schreiber — was not the direction J.J. Abrams was going. Chris Pine has the right coloring for Kirk, but he looks too young, too contemporary, too Tiger Beat, too something for James T. Kirk. But once you get past the man child Kirk thing, the rest of the cast is looking pretty solid, with the always excellent Simon Pegg as Scotty and Harold from Harold and Kumar playing Sulu (sorry John Cho, that bit of casting is with you forever). The guy they got to play McCoy I’ve only seen in a few action movies but he looks right for the part.

STORY
It’s hard to really tell the whole story from the trailer (which is a good thing) but it obviously involves Romulans, the planet Vulcan, and what I’m guessing is Kirk before he becomes captain of the Enterprise. Bruce Greenwood plays Capt. Pike (Kirk’s predecessor in the captain’s chair) and we hear his VO at the beginning of the trailer and we see him on the bridge in command with Kirk behind him in one scene. There are several shots of a space battle involving a ship called the U.S.S. Kelvin and some sort of (surprisingly emotional) conflict between Kirk and Spock on the bridge of the Enterprise. Leonard Nimoy makes an appearance in the trailer (and he’s listed as “Old Spock” on IMDb), suggesting flash forwards or a time travel element.

PRODUCTION DESIGN
Here is where the excited 12-year old Bill gives way to the critical 39-year old Bill. The production designers on this film missed a great opportunity. When re-imagining a TV show and updating it for modern audiences, designers have a few options. They can do a complete overhaul of the look and largely ignore or totally update historical design elements (Lost in Space), they can be very faithful to the source material but update realism of the sets, f/x and props using CGI and other modern technologies (Thunderbirds, The Addams Family), or they can split the difference and update the look while clinging to the old stylistic elements and flourishes. This film, like the ten Trek films before it and every iteration of the TV franchise, has opted for door number three, which IMHO is the least interesting route by far.

Take the new (old) Enterprise, for example. Rather than being very faithful to the 1960s ship design or completely throwing out the old design and boldly going in a new direction (snicker), they opted to revamp the old design… again. Matt Jefferies’ original Enterprise design has been re-imagined dozens of times over the last thirty years — sometimes with the name “Enterprise” and sometimes with other names (Reliant, Excelsior, Voyager, Enterprise A, B, C, D, etc.). This new ship is just one more version for the list — and it’s not even the prettiest of them (I particularly liked the Enterprise C from the TNG episode Yesterday’s Enterprise). A bolder approach would have been to recreate the ships, sets and props from the 1960s show to an insanely faithful degree, but to make them look and feel completely real and not like the cardboard walls and salt shaker props of TOS.

I understand, however, that directors and production design teams need to feel like they have left their particular stamps on the franchise, so going back and being all Zach Snyder with the source material is not usually an option. It’s too bad though, because I’d love to have seen that film.

THE GEEK

  • Okay, so in the trailer, Kirk sees the Enterprise under construction on Earth. Um… how do they get it into space? In the older films, the ships are (wisely) constructed in orbit. Earth has a wicked-deep gravity well, is all I’m sayin’.
  • So the Capt. Pike in this film is referred to in articles online as the first captain of the Enterprise. Um, excuse me, but according to the Star Trek animated series, which is canonical, thank you, Robert April was the first captain of the Enterprise (NCC-1701 – Jonathan Archer was the captain of the NX-01 Enterprise). So there.
  • The trailer seems to imply that Kirk served under Pike on the Enterprise before taking command himself. Has Abrams never seen The Menagerie? Gawd!
  • Nice to see Iowa plates on the Corvette young Kirk is driving in the trailer.

All in all, this isn’t really Star Trek from what I can see, but I’m cautiously optimistic that it will be a fun ride all the same.

DORKY UPDATE: My brother Rob points out in the comments that as per the classic Trek episode A Piece of the Action, Kirk can’t drive a stick-shift car. I doubt there will be any Fizbin-playing in the new film either. Good call, brother.

ADDITIONAL DORKITUDE: Also in the comments, noncarborundum points out the problem of there being any Romulans in the early lives of Kirk and Spock since in Balance of Terror it’s clear that humans have only ever communicated to Romulans via “subspace radio.” This level of nerdgassing must be mitigated by the fact that individual TOS episodes contradicted each other as well — like when Gary Mitchell digs a grave for Kirk (with his mind!) in Where No Man Has Gone Before and the headstone says “R.I.P. James R. Kirk.”

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  1. On November 17, 2008, Graham Raubvogel said:

    hey bill this is Graham!

    I too saw the trailer this weekend during Quantum of Solace (on Friday though). I had never really watched the original star trek series obsessively but I would say that I’m a huge Star Trek: TNG fan. I think that overall the trailer looks fantastic (all obscure facts that dont add up aside). not only does the story look interesting but I’m really digging the look of everything. I think that the choice of purposeful stylized len flares was a really great aesthetic decision that complements the film.

  2. On November 18, 2008, Rob said:

    I thought Kirk couldn’t drive a stick (A piece of the action). Have to admit though, it got my heart pumping.

  3. speaking of “look and feel completely real”, how’s yer mom?

  4. On November 18, 2008, billsimmon said:

    DanZ! Welcome back, old friend.

  5. Not to get competitively geeky but the animated Trek usually isn’t considered canon. Hence no Kzinti in the rest of Trek….

  6. On November 18, 2008, noncarborundum said:

    While we’re quibbling, the involvement of Romulans is potentially a problem. In the TOS episode “Balance of Terror”, it’s stated that humans have never set eyes on Romulans before. The two races fought each other once, over 100 years ago, before there were two-way visual communications, and have had no contact since. It’s quite a surprise to everyone when it turns out that Romulans look like Vulcans.

    Besides which, Hov leng qellu’DI’ bIngotlhqu’be’ tlhIngan Hol Daghojta’be’chugh [you're not truly a Star Trek fanatic if you haven't learned Klingon].

  7. On November 18, 2008, Monty said:

    I think at this point, what with ST having assaulted the body pop for 40+ years, you don’t need to have attended TrekFest’94 or own a limited-issue Phaser be considered a geek.

    Put this series to bed, already. TNG? Ok. DS9? It sucked so bad the producers recruited former TNG cast members and got a ship…adding the war thing was a joke. Voyager was a pale retread, but was occasionally amusing. ST Enterprise combined the worst elements of DS9 and Voyager; that plus the continuity issues (or lack thereof) and bad acting and bad scripting made it unwatchable. Oh and did I mention Scott Bakula??

    Star Trek is a franchise, like McDonald’s. I’d have more respect for that crowd if someone wearing Spockears just rang my doorbell and demanded $10. Sure! Yes!! Quit making movies!!!

    Let it die already.

  8. On November 18, 2008, berkeley said:

    monty,
    i just love reading blog comments that make me laugh out loud and tear up–thanks!

  9. On November 18, 2008, billsimmon said:

    Monty,
    I accept your criticism, but I’d point out that being critical of ST and making fun of its fan base is pretty easy (read: lazy), and since the premise of my post was predicated upon me re-living something I loved as a child (not that there’s anything wrong with loving Trek as an adult, mind you), also kind of mean and misplaced.

    noncarborundum,
    Good call! I totally thought of that but forgot about it when writing the post.

    Bernard,
    Apparently, the relative canonical nature of TAS is somewhat complicated.

  10. On November 18, 2008, DCWonk said:

    I saw someone nitpick the following: what’s Kirk doing driving a car (in the way future) that appears to measure speed in _miles_ per hour rather than metric

  11. On November 18, 2008, billsimmon said:

    DCWonk,
    I think we’re supposed to assume that it’s an actual restored 196-whatever Corvette — several hundred years vintage for Kirk. As is the case here in the 21st century, future automobile restoration artists will no doubt adhere to the style of the original gauges.

  12. On November 18, 2008, DCWonk said:

    Good point . . . thanks!

  13. On November 19, 2008, noncarborundum said:

    I just had a (very dorky) thought regarding “James R. Kirk”. We know that Gary Mitchell and Nomad both read the entire contents of the ship’s computer banks, and we also know that Nomad made the mistake of thinking that Captain James T. Kirk was in fact its creator, Jackson Roykirk. Where did they both get the erroneous idea that Kirk’s middle name (or, in Nomad’s case, his surname) began with an R? I suggest that it was a data entry error in a file somewhere deep in the ship’s computer that substituted “R.” for “T.” in Kirk’s name. Voilà: what looked like an isolated error becomes, in fact, a sign of a deeper consistency in the Star Trek universe.

    For my next trick I reconcile the story of David and the showbread in 1 Samuel 21 with Jesus’ recounting of this story in the Gospel of Mark, and there will be much rejoicing.

  14. On November 19, 2008, Forrest said:

    Don’t you love the virtually cylindrical hallways? Brilliant! They prevent lollygagging by the crew by removing anything for them to lean up against. And the lights mounted absolutely everywhere — at eye level, at floor level, mounted directly over the con and ops video displays so that they wash out what the crewmen are trying to see — even more so!

    In the Trekkie department, they passed up a chance to give the motorcycle robocop Gene Roddenberry’s badge number.

    S.P.O.C.K. stands for “Steaming Pile Of Censored, ‘K?”

  15. On November 19, 2008, billsimmon said:

    noncarborundum, I stand in awe of your nerdgassing mojo. We are not worthy.

  16. On November 19, 2008, Jason said:

    I want to hear more about the bong hits and sex. Call me lazy, but reading your take on the new Star Trek and many of the related comments is as boring today as it was 25+ years ago. I must be missing the SF gene. I wish more of my relatives were.

  17. On November 19, 2008, billsimmon said:

    You know, I do understand that there are people (most people, I assume) who do not enjoy Star Trek on a level like the one displayed in this comment thread. I do not understand why anyone would waste their time (or ours) telling us we’re boring or that we need to get a life (in fact, doing so is such a cliche I’m kind of surprised anyone would bother).

    I happen think pro football is completely boring and I don’t understand its cultural appeal at all and I can’t imagine ever wading into a sports blog’s comment thread and insulting the participants because I don’t get what it is they love about the sport.

  18. On November 19, 2008, Rob said:

    I think I know what it is that’s bothering me about the trailer. The Enterprise itself. The over lighted antiseptic look of the bridge reminds me of pre Star Wars sci-fi. The curvy streamlined consoles and even the secondary hull seem to have a Space 1999 or Buck Rodgers look. It’s funny because that aerodynamic look is exactly what Matt Jefferies was trying to avoid. I recently read that the 11 foot model in the Smithsonian got a re-paint that included hull plating detail never seen in TOS. What’s the point. It makes our modern ship builders appear more sophisticated than those of the future. I’d rather they claim this class vessel was coated with some futuristic polymer that ultimately proved too costly, whatever.

    Canonically speaking the Romulan issue is huge. We could say that young Kirk is using an historians synaptic device that temporarily gives him knowledge of the Corvette’s controls, or that the Enterprise was constructed during a time of experimental building procedures using some anti-grav tech that ultimately failed, or that Kirk somehow lost his memory of serving with Pike, but the Romulan problem could only be explained by an alternate universe or other drastic explanation. and if so, then why bother. If the producers went so far as to put Iowa on the Vette plates, then they obviously were concerned about canon, otherwise why even attempt to be canonical. Why even name the lead character Kirk.

  19. good to be back, bsimmon. i’m embarassed to say it was because the good folks at the washingtonmonthly linked to this posting. check your stats this week.

    now to business: the reconciliation of the story of David and the showbread in 1 Samuel 21 with Jesus’ recounting of this story in the Gospel of Mark is found in the fact that as the story unfolds, it seems that Ahimelech knew nothing of the conflict between David and Saul. In fact, he knew that David was Saul’s son-in-law. It seemed strange, and dangerous to him, that David was traveling alone. Plus, we can imagine that David looked tired, weary, disheveled, and probably looked like he had been crying a lot. He acted like a lunatic but there was no reason for Jesus to relate that in Mark since he was merely illustrating the hierarchy of authority (god’s law vs. man or vice-versa): is bread food or is bread law? The real question is, how did Jesus hear the story in the first place since it happened over several thousand years in Jesus’s past – so that’s like trying to reconcile my version of the fall of rome with Nero’s.

  20. On November 19, 2008, billsimmon said:

    DanZ, Yes, my stats are huge compared to normal since about 5:30 pm yesterday, but I need not check them b/c I never get this much comment activity from strangers. I hope a few of these readers stick around!

    Rob, Fair points. You may also ask: why use question marks. :)

  21. On November 19, 2008, Rob said:

    Sorry, I forgot this is a stigmeologists only blog.

    I predict the fans will go to see this in droves, all the while absolutely destroying it on their blogs, anxiously awaiting the extended DVD release, so they can get one more glimpse of the ST universe. The franchise itself will sell this thing, it’s a shame.

  22. On November 19, 2008, billsimmon said:

    the fans will go to see this in droves, all the while absolutely destroying it on their blogs, anxiously awaiting the extended DVD release, so they can get one more glimpse of the ST universe. The franchise itself will sell this thing, it’s a shame.

    You mean exactly like what happened with the Star Wars franchise? Probably.

  23. Bill, Bill, Bill… the forest for the trees and all.

    This is clearly a reboot, a reimagining, so car-driving Kirk and premature Romulans, as well as premature Chekov and what looked a lot like a shuttle bay with quite a bit more than a couple shuttlecraft are irrelevant. Also the “split the difference” art design is important for the signal it sends; we’re appreciative of the iconic quality of the source material and want to respect it and incorporate it, but this is something very different at the same time. Going either of the other artistic directions you name would’ve sent very different signals.

    The challenge is that this isn’t like re-imagining The Day the Earth Stood Still or the James Bond franchise. Trek fans really approach ST as a sort of parallel universe, rather than a body of fiction. Consistency and adherence to the laws of that universe are therefore expected and demanded, lest that universe collapse on itself and be lost in the eyes of we the fans.

    Sure, I reflexively cringed at all the retcons, but also respect that, in this context, there is no “con” to “ret” anymore, and despite myself I keep getting pulled back in to watch it over and over again, finding myself increasingly delighted by this vision of a young Kirk that hadn’t ever occurred to me, but in its way explains so much about the character. It’s a convincingly consistent vision in that way – which is the real way that matters, as its the characters and the overall vision that are the really precious part of the ST universe for me.

    If this is as good as I hope it will be, the question will be whether or not we Trekkies (Trekkers…whatever…) can accept our precious universe being “demoted” to regular fiction, as fiction is rebooted and reimagined all the time. Fiction is a far more living and fluid substance than the fabric of an actual universe after all. I fear that those of us who can’t will be potentially depriving themselves of what should be a real treat – especially for fans for whom the characters are an important part of their experiences and imaginations.

  24. On November 20, 2008, billsimmon said:

    Odum,
    Well put. Yes, I know it’s a reboot. And I don’t particularly disagree with anything you say here (in fact, I think I said as much when I said I thought it would be a fun ride despite being un-Star Treky in the geeky ways). I still think the production design lacks boldness of vision, but that’s a separate issue.

    I also want to defend my nerdgassing over the picky continuity details. The whole point of nerdgassing isn’t about calling the creators on their “mistakes,” it’s about having fun. Those heated discussions my co-workers, customers and I used to get into at the comics shop about how we would cast a Watchmen movie or whether Superman could beat the Hulk in a fight (yes, duh) and over the continuity conundrums that the Crisis on Infinite Earths created were fun.

    I know that the relative goodness or badness of this ST movie won’t depend one iota on how accurately the creators adhere to canon, but nerdgassing about the canon is part of the fun of being a nerd/geek/dork/dweeb.

    And these creators obviously care at least a little bit about continuity or they wouldn’t bother putting Iowa license plates on Kirk’s vette. They did that for the geeky in-crowd. Nobody else would give a shit where Kirk grew up — it could be Rigel 4 for all most of the audience would know. So if the creators expect me to appreciate that they got the Iowa detail right, they should also expect me to call them on getting stuff wrong.

    So there. :)

  25. On November 20, 2008, billsimmon said:

    Oh, and I don’t think that shot is a shuttle bay, I suspect it’s on a planet or in a big space station. If that’s the Enterprise shuttle bay, then that’s the biggest continuity problem in the trailer.

  26. Well…

    …it is an awful lot of fun to know what they got “wrong.” In a pathetic kinda way I guess, but I’m too old to change.

  27. http://www.modernweddinginvitation.info/invitations/id/161954143665467398/watercolor_wedding_invitations.php The citizen who criticizes his country is paying it an implied tribute.

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