Saturday, May 23, 2009

Movie Review: Star Trek - PART 1

This is going to be a bit of a long post, so I'm going to break it into two parts.  The first will be a reflection of Star Trek over the years leading up to the release of the latest Star Trek production, and the second will be a review of the movie itself... Enjoy!

OK... I admit it... I'm a Trek fan.  I wouldn't go so far as to call myself a "Trekkie", as I've never attended a Trek convention or dressed up in any Trek costumes, but I started watching the
show regularly when "The Next Generation" came out in the 80's and I was hooked.  After that I went back and caught all the old episodes from the original series.  Campy, cheesy, sci-fi goodness.  The Trek universe evolved, and we were given "Deep Space 9", which, while not as acclaimed as either the original or 'TNG', was under-rated.  DS9 allowed for deeper character development and a more meaningful ongoing plot as opposed to the episode-by-episode plots that had to exist by the very nature of the "explorer starship" theme.  

Things began to go a little south for the Trek productions after the final episode of 'TNG' was aired.It was clear the Trek world had more to offer, and fans were clamoring for more. But production executives worried that the 'Enterprise' label was getting stale. So 
instead of re-treading the Enterprise for 
more exploratory voyages in the section of the galaxy Trek fans were already familiar with, they instead came up with the concept of a completely new ship getting accidentally flung to the farthest quadrant of the Milky Way galaxy, and thus was born "Voyager".  Voyager had many issues that turned core Trek fans off.  First, I always felt the
 casting was weak.  Second, they spent far too many episodes on story lines that revolved around the ship perhaps finding a
 shortcut home.  Well, viewers all knew before the episode was 10 minutes old that this wasn't going to happen or the show would be done.  It was sort of like Gilligan's island in that way.  
Not that 'Voyager' was all bad.  It had its moments, but overall it did not have the hook that the prior Trek series' had.  It often seemed stale and contrived, and the regular influx of new species and cultures was difficult to keep up with.

In the meantime, Paramount kept cranking out Trek movies with the 'TNG' cast, and they were all far more successful at the box office than the viewership of 'Voyager' would make one think.  And that was when producers realized that part of the appeal to the current generation of Trek fans was the familiarity with the original Trek world.  The original Trek world was well defined, with cultures that were well known and well liked.  Klingons, Vulcans, Romulans, Cardacians and the Borg.  It became clear to producers that what Trek fans really wanted was more of the original Trek world, and so they gave them 'Enterprise'.

'Enterprise' was a chance to build an entire new platform of stories in a completely different world than any other Trek series prior, while at the same time doing so within the already well known and well established Trek paradigm.  This was a really brilliant idea, and the show itself was excellent.  Well produced, written, and acted, the fatal flaw with 'Enterprise' was not with the show itself, but with the distribution and marketing.  By not marketing the show hard enough to one of the major networks (or frankly by not putting the show directly into syndication as was done with 'TNG' and 'DS9') and placing the show on UPN, with its small viewership, 'Enterprise' was doomed from the start.  The show was cancelled after 4 seasons.

However, on the big screen side of things, the 'TNG' crew had pretty much run its course.  "Generations", while it did well at the box office, was received fairly mildly by most fans.  In stark contrast, "First Contact" was hailed as  one of the best in the big screen Trek series.  It was followed up by the forgettable "Insurrection" and lastly by the nearly unwatchable "Nemesis".  It was pretty clear that ideas for the 'TNG' crew were pretty much run out.  "Nemesis" flopped badly, and it was thought that might be the death knell for the Trek series.

However, Trek producers knew they had stumbled on to something with 'Enterprise'... the premise of the show occurring before any of the other Trek series', but in the same familiar world, allowed for completely new plot devices to be constructed on already familiar stories.  What if, they asked, they could pull the same stunt with the original Star Trek crew in a time before fans got to know them?  When the original show aired, the characters and their relationships were already pretty well established.  The development of those relationships was secondary to the episode-to-episode plots.  

In recent years, going 'back to the beginning' has become a familiar plot device, especially in sci-fi.  For example, in the short-lived but highly acclaimed 'Firefly' series, the show starts out in the middle, where the characters already know one another well and inter-personal relationships have pretty much been long established.  However, one of the most beloved episodes in that series involves Capt. Reynolds reminiscing about how he first met each of the crew members. This same sort of thing could work for the crew of the Enterprise, surely!  And so the plot for the newest Star Trek movie was hatched.  And indeed, once details of the movie began to surface: that it would be a movie exploring the initial meetings and interactions of the original series crew, albeit with new cast members, the Trek world was abuzz.  It was a fresh start, a breath of new life into one of the most beloved sci-fi series of all time.  And I, for one, couldn't wait to see it.

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