Wednesday, 8 April 2009

It's Trek Day!

At the beginning of the year, in my Shades of Caruso Listmania quadrilogy of obsessive list-making, I gave Cloverfield the Best Marketing Award. Bad Robot and Paramount Pictures did a fantastic job of generating interest in their film, and by giving nerds at the Nerd Mecca of the Alamo Drafthouse a chance to see the first public screening of the new Star Trek film, complete with guest appearance by Leonard Nimoy, they've done it again by putting those relentlessly hatey buzz-killers on the back-foot, if only temporarily. Even with the release of a bunch of exciting trailers, old-skool Trek fans have been deeply upset about the franchise revamp, and this resistance has been the focus of much of the online coverage. With one fell swoop they put that on hold, and managed to generate far more enthusiasm about the movie than with the usual round of premieres and what-have-you.

They've also made me, and a lot of people, very very jealous. Just the act of scheduling a screening of Wrath of Khan, with Kurtzman, Orci, and Lindelof in attendance, and then bringing on Nimoy to announce a sccreening of the full movie, shows they care about the franchise and the reaction of the fans. How cool would it have been to be there? How playful an act? It's no secret to readers of this blog that I think Damon Lindelof is a great humanitarian, but knowing he was involved in a trick this cool makes him even more awesome.

Of course, when the movie comes out there will be even more back-and-forth about whether the film is any good, and if it is a big success (which seems guaranteed by now), there will become a bizarre schism between old and new fans that will generate so much online debate that it will make all who stand on the sidelines wish that we could tap the wasted energy pouring off outraged and entitled fanboys when they get pissy. Whatever. I just hope it's better than JJ Abrams' directorial debut Mission Impossible The Third, which was technically proficient and featured a McKee-tastic plot constructed with the best punch-card computations money could buy, and yet felt like the most expensive episode of Alias ever. As much as I enjoy Abrams' shows, they can often feel like lucite sculptures instead of flexible armatures. (This metaphor makes perfect sense to me. Sorry if it doesn't translate.)

The enthusiasm during that screening has proven to be infectious. As a result of the numerous online reviews, I am now totally psyched about the forthcoming release, even more so than I already was. My childhood love of Trek was obsessive, and even after I stopped watching the TNG spinoff series (due to being at university in a series of pokey rooms without TVs), that affection remained. One of my most cherished childood memories was of the day my mom came to my primary school to take me home because of an unnamed family tragedy.

But there was no tragedy! It was a cunning ruse to get me out of that hellhole and take me to the first screening of Star Trek: The Motion Picture at our local cinema. How cool is my mom? Of course, I was pretty unhappy about the pace of the movie (the image used above is the one of the most exciting scene in the film, which tells you all you need to know), but even so, I tripped out on Doug Trumbull's amazing effects, and at least wasn't traumatised like this poor viewer. I also still remember the first time I saw Wrath of Khan. Best major character death in nerdfilm history? Very possibly.

So, today has become Trek Day, thanks to multichannel TV. Search For Spock was on Sky Movies this morning, and even though it's not my favourite Trek movie, it was just the tonic. Though it's far too uneventful, especially coming after the rightfully beloved Khan, there are some wonderful moments (the death of Kirk's son, and the destruction of the Enterprise), some great FX work from ILM (especially the lovely matte paintings of Vulcan at the end), and some classic Shatner acting. Knowing that Trek is liable to be found everywhere on satellite TV, I went from there to Virgin, where they were showing the Voyager episode Warlord, which was notable for its creative use of nose/forehead prosthetics and some flirting with girl-on-girl lip-action (not consummated, those cowards).

Aired right after that was the second half of the final episode of Deep Space Nine. I had never seen past the end of the fifth season of DS9, so I was in two minds about watching it, but hell, this is Trek Day, so I left it on while I trawled Wikipedia and Memory Alpha for information about what the hell was going on. Gul Dukat looks like a Bajoran? Garak is in charge of the Cardassian Resistance? Ezri Dax is involved with Bashir? Hell, anyone at all is involved with Bashir? It was a lot to take in. And what the fuck? Sisko "dies"? Screw that. Nobody messes with Ben Sisko.

Still, it didn't seem as contentious an ending as that of Battlestar Galactica, even though comparing the two is unfair due to BSG's greater ambition. Plus, this is an unfair criticism, but DS9, for all its strengths, looks horribly dated compared to Ronald Moore's later series. Anyway, it was nice seeing it, but it pales into insignificance next to the original series. It's an amazing coincidence that Sci Fi (or should I say SyFy) was showing one of my "favourite" episodes from TOS: the Trek-Meets-Taming-Of-The-Shrew craziness that is Elaan of Troyius.

It's not particularly exciting, or thought-provoking, or performed well in any way, but my God it's spectacularly, almost wilfully wrongheaded. As an insight into Kirk's deeply worrying attitude to women, and his occasionally out-of-control machismo, not to mention how women were portrayed on US TV in the 60s, it is essential viewing.

Later on today Virgin is showing an episode of Enterprise, which I suppose I should watch in order to "catch 'em all" even though I have no enthusiasm for that show whatsoever. Of all of the various incarnations of Trek, that is the one with the most depressing Good Character / Gupta ratio. I'll get to that in a moment, but firstly, I have to unleash a howl of outrage from the depths of my nerdcore. There is no way - NO WAY! - that Captain Sam Beckett deserves high ratings like these compared to the feeble, barely above average scores given to Sisko in the card shown above.

Sisko would fuck you up six ways to Sunday! Archer was even crap at being captain of an intergalactic FAILcake. Anyway, that's not the main problem with Enterprise. All of the later shows had some excellent characters - Picard and Data, Quark and O'Brien, Tuvok and The Doctor (the last one being my favourite modern Trek character of them all) - and a few total Guptas - Riker and Troy, Kira and Bashir, Neelix and Tom Paris - but Enterprise had almost no characters I liked at all. Only Trip caught my imagination in any way; the rest might as well have not been created at all. I only remember the weapons officer being a hostile British jerk, and there was a sexy Vulcan in it. A sexy Vulcan? There's only one of those, thank you very much.

He's fighting to gain access to your lovebits, you know.

Virgin is now showing a Q episode of Voyager (Yay Q!!!), followed by some TNG, which means I'll have experienced all of the Old Trek (yes yes, I've not read any of the comics or books, or watched the animated series, but let's just move on). After that I might stick on Wrath of Khan, if I can make it to the end without sobbing bitter nerd tears all over the laptop. All of this has been made possible by the recent screening of the film, so thank you, Bad Robot, for totally distracting me from doing far more important things.

ETA: Nice! The TNG episode is Redemption, one of Ronald D. Moore's amazing Klingon episodes. He writes Klingons better than anyone. These were the highlights of the 1990s Trek renaissance, I reckon. Gowron is my bug-eyed hero, you know.


Santanico said...

God, "Elaan of Troyius" is hilariously appalling. I like to think that Firefly's "Our Mrs Reynolds" was pretty much Joss Whedon's direct response to that ep (that, and equally misguided TNG outings like "The Perfect Mate". Yes, yes, it introduced us all to Famke Janssen, but at what price?).

And, seriously, you never saw any DS9 beyond the fifth season? Good lord, man, do you mean to say you missed out on pretty much the entire Dominion War arc? The occupation of DS9? "Far Beyond the Stars"? "It's a faaaaake!"? Evil leather-clad William Sadler spending an entire episode torturing Bashir? You have no idea how sad that makes me. Seek the last two seasons out, I urge you: you won't regret it. Well, all right, you'll regret the Ferengi episodes, but other than that.

Admiral Neck said...

You're right, missing the end of DS9 was a big mistake, but it aired on Brit TV at exactly the wrong time (i.e. when I was taking an enforced break from TV). I always wondered how it all ended, and now I kinda know. I missed the fun journey, but I got to see Sisko save the day and then get banished to The Big White Expanse Of Sci Fi Purgatory. Damn shame.

Your Troyius/Mrs. Reynolds theory is very compelling. I approve.