It’s a Trap

So. This Star Trek film? It’s pretty goddamn excellent. It’s sort of like the second time that a good play gets performed and the new casting is better than the old casting, the new staging is better than the old staging, the dumb lines and unworkable scenes have been edited out, the dramatic narrative shifted in good ways. It’s still recognizable as the old play, but way better in many respects.

If you haven’t seen it yet, but you’re planning to see it based on the trailer, I’m guessing you already recognize the excellence of casting Simon Pegg as Scotty. You probably are already impressed at the look of the film. Well, your presentiments are spot-on, only it’s even better. The cast nails the essence of the characters without ever sliding into a Rich-Little-style impersonation, except maybe Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy, but his McCoy is so right that it’s never an issue. The Kirk-Spock relationship is freshened up (K/S fans have some new wrinkles to work with: more in a minute) but even better, all the supporting characters are given great defining bits. Chekov in this version, for example, is so much better as a character than he ever was in The Old Show.

When the credits roll at the end, I think just about everyone will be clamoring for a sequel.


So what’s the problem? Well, there isn’t one, if we’re just talking about it as an entertaining film or even as an attractive, sustainable version of Star Trek. No bashing the film for being fun and watchable here.

No, what I’m wondering is whether geeking out about the plot is part of the fun or not. Spoilers follow from here on.

J.J. Abrams makes stuff that you’re meant to geek out about. He does geek service and feeds off of geek service. So in that sense, you’d think the welcome mat would be out for thinking about the plot, the setting and all that. But in this case, I’m worried not so much that plot holes are large, but that thinking too much about them might actually deflate some of the pleasure of the film.

There are the traditional Trek gripes to have about the film, maybe preserved as much as homage as anything else. (The film has tons and tons of great little Easter eggs: McCoy calls out for “Nurse Chapel” at one moment, there’s a tribble in a cage on Scotty’s desk, and so on.)

Trek has never ever had a “total mythos” that makes any sense. Starfleet makes no sense as an organization, the Federation makes no sense as a culture, the future that Trek shows us is plainly a cardboard cutout for the fun characters and schticks to perform in front of. This film keeps with that tradition. I could just barely find a way to rationalize a Romulan mining ship from 130 years in the future being armed to the teeth with photon torpedoes that can wipe out Klingon and Federation ships with ease, and for that ship to be 50 or 75 times bigger than ships in the past. It’s one thing to be a Somali pirate overhauling a supertanker, but if a supertanker with 100 well-armed crewmen and deck guns was coming to crash into an East African port and a little pirate speedboat was given the mission to stop it, that would be another matter, and maybe comparable to the situation that the Enterprise is in. But on the other hand, it’s pretty hard to come up with an explanation for why any single Starfleet captain has all the passwords to permanently turn off every single defense that the Terran solar system possesses and why (as usual) there isn’t a constant hum of interstellar traffic (military and otherwise) around both Earth and Vulcan. A lot of Trek films treat Earth and Vulcan more like they’re the most isolated, underdeveloped and undefended locales in the entire galaxy.

Like I said, this kind of plotting is a Trek tradition. With the exception of DS9, no Trek show has ever paused long enough to work up any consistent representation of its overall setting or tried to make a single world or culture really make sense. It’s not the point of Trek, something which the original writer’s bible made clear by expressly declaring that the show would not ever return to Earth as a setting and where questions about the cultural, religious or social nature of the Federation would not be welcome. Still, at least Abrams saved some Trek traditions for the next film (or two), such as the fact that every admiral in Starfleet is secretly a power-mad authoritarian, budding lunatic or screaming incompetent.

Geeking out about all that is just the usual thing. The real issue is the choice to “sideboot” the franchise with a complicated time travel story. Time travel is NOT one of Trek’s better traditions, though it’s occasionally spawned a good episode. Russell Arben Fox has a nice entry about the way the film plays with time, causality and history in the context of Star Trek. I was thinking about some of the same issues as I watched, and in many ways, this approach was just as troubled as I suspected it might be.

One of the few clumsy bits of exposition in the film involves the central storytelling conceit: Spock pauses and comes pretty close to breaking the fourth wall to deliver the word about what to expect from Abrams’ version from here on out: that nothing is predictable about what will follow, that anything could happen, that the characters have been cut away from their prior histories.

If you look at the way the film handles the reboot with a deeply geeky eye, that declaration doesn’t really follow. The only person whose history is changed by Nero’s original timejump is Kirk. Instead of being a conventionally ambitious scion of a military family, he’s a rebel without a cause. This leads him to a bar on a night when Starfleet cadets are in town (it’s not entirely clear why they’re in Iowa: to visit a ship construction site, maybe?) which leads to a barfight which leads to him meeting Captain Christopher Pike which leads to Kirk meeting Leonard McCoy aboard a recruitment ship and enlisting in Starfleet Academy.

I’m heading into deep geekery now, so follow only if you dare. There are a lot of small but important changes which now follow on this shift. McCoy and Kirk are fast friends from the very beginnings of their career and serve together from the first moment onward, which was not true before. Presumably because of this, Kirk does not become close friends with Gary Mitchell. There’s no mention of two of his known girlfriends at this point in his life (Ruth and Carol Marcus), presumably because Rebel Kirk is even more of a devil-may-care horndog than Ambitious Kirk, and also because Gary Mitchell isn’t pimping for him.

Sulu, Chekov and Scotty still have character histories that could well be consistent with what they were before, given that we knew nothing official about them. But Spock and Uhura, on the other hand? There’s never been even the slightest hint in the old continuity that they were romantically involved. This is a nice touch, but it means that Spock’s personal history is also different at a moment in time when there’s no reason for it to be. (As is Uhura’s.) So even the rules of the premise, so loudly and mechanically declared three or four times during the film, are being broken.

By film’s end, everybody’s history is different. They’ve all come together at an earlier date in their lives than they did before. Kirk is captain of the Enterprise even earlier than he had been. Christopher Pike is not horribly disfigured and as far as we know, has never visited the planet Talos IV. Spock and other Enterprise stalwarts don’t serve with Pike. We may have glimpsed Number One briefly, but none of the cast members appear to serve with her. Gary Mitchell is not part of Kirk’s circle or one of his officers. Kirk takes command as an unrepentant rebel and hotshot with no real service record prior to becoming captain. As far as we know, the experiences that he is known to have had prior to being captain in the old continuity have not happened: he hasn’t seen a massacre of colonists by Kodos the Executioner or encountered a vampiric space cloud which kills his captain. Spock now has a completely different backstory: his mother is dead, his planet gone. Scotty’s been given technological knowledge that comes from his future (actually, have we ever seen that kind of transporting in any version of the show?). When the Doomsday Machine shows up, does Kirk even know Decker? Presumably he’s not been the butt of Finnegan’s jokes: it’s hard to imagine Rebel Barfight Kirk putting up with that kind of crap.

You get the idea. This sideboot of Trek is a bit like DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earth series, which promised a simplifying reboot of DC’s superhero comics and ended up a bleeding narrative wound, a storytelling Rube Goldberg machine. Precisely because it insists that these are the characters you already know, in the universe that they were originally situated within, but now changed by a single intervention in their timeline, it means that every story that happened to them before is now an open question. If Pike doesn’t go to Talos IV, who will? If Kirk and company don’t go to the edge of the galaxy and have a crew member endowed with incredible psychic powers, will anyone? Who will discover the Guardian of Forever now? Hard to see this Kirk as having the gravitas to fall in love with Edith Keeler if it’s this crew that does find it. Presumably there is no all-Vulcan starship to go inside a giant space amoeba and die. There’s no Vulcan to go to for pon farr, in fact, which is doubtless going to lead to horny, violent Vulcans wandering around the galaxy in confusion like a bunch of salmon confronted with new dam construction.

Then there’s the biggest headache of all: Old Spock. I was kind of stunned that they didn’t find a peremptory way to get rid of him at the end of the film: send him back to his future, drop him ambiguously into a black hole, or just outright kill him. At the least, send him off to exile. But no, he’s right in plain sight, hanging out with the surviving Vulcans, without even the fig leaf of a secret identity. (Kind of hard to do when you’re hanging out with a telepath who is your father.) So on Nova Vulcan, there’s a genius who knows how to make black holes, the Genesis wave, transwarp drives, the USS Defiant, and so on. He knows the locations and useful secrets of many planets and cultures which the Federation has yet to explore. He knows about the Borg. He knows about the Dominion. He’s trying to save the heritage and culture of the Vulcan people, so he can’t afford to be sanguine about galactic-level threats that he’s aware of. Besides, once the word goes out (and can it possibly be kept a secret) that there is one person who is the key to total power somewhere on Nova Vulcan, every galactic nutcase and conqueror will be hunting for him.

And so on. With a clean reboot, none of those questions come up but the good storytelling directions of this movie as an origin story would still be in force. So why do it? Well, there’s the obvious reason of trying to keep the old continuity viable as an intellectual property (same reason DC Comics didn’t just start every single comic over with #1 with Crisis). But I almost wonder, given that Abrams likes to see geeks laboring in the narrative saltmines, if the purpose wasn’t precisely to give Trek fans all those unbelievably nerdy questions to fret and debate about, to launch a thousand convention panels and fanfics. I’m just not sure that this is much fun, compared to trying to learn Klingon or trying to figure out the backstory to green Orion women.

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27 Responses to It’s a Trap

  1. Yikes.

    I hate time travel stories. (with the caveat that “fixing the timeline” stories can be quite funny)

    I know he’s doing a continuity shift, but isn’t there a pretty well established tradition — mostly during the Abrams years — of policing the timeline against this kind of intervention? He’d have been so much better off leaving Nimoy out of it, but it was clearly meant as a gesture to original fans, a “seal of approval.” I’m not sure when the actors became a priesthood in the Church of Trek….

  2. Starfox_SFX says:

    The time travel angle is the one big bump in the road that keeps me from completely enjoying this film. (Timetravel in Trek has always been an immense problem in my opinion. Didn’t the Federation set up time cops to stop this kind of thing from happening? But anyway…). I agree that its a very fun film and I am interested in what comes next, but the fact that they have linked it to, and then erased or made irrelivant all the original material bothers me a lot.

    I would have much preferred that the do what Battlestar did. Just start back at the beginning and start new. Battlestar still had plenty of homages to the original series and took new spins on old characters, but because it never claimed to be linked to the original series, I was completely willing to just let it run wild with its own ideas.

  3. Timothy Burke says:

    Yeah, there’s another total nerdfest to be had about Star Trek’s established in-continuity stuff on time policing. There’s a division of Starfleet that’s devoted to precisely this sort of thing, and also future Starfleet time coppery going on. You could use that as a kind of hidden McGuffin to explain some of the really crazy plot holes in this film if you were inclined to do so. (Like: Spock maroons Kirk, itself a pretty freaky thing to do, and just happens to maroon him within a mile of Old Spock’s location on a planet that appears to be in Vulcan’s star system? But you could say, “Well, there’s a Starfleet Time Cop aboard and he deliberately targets the pod location to Old Spock”.)

  4. evangoer says:

    There are some prequel comic books that explain how Nero got his super-advanced mining ship. So there’s an explanation for the uber-geeks at least.

    Other characters being different — no worries, just wave your hands and say “Butterfly Effect! Butterfly Effect!” Hey, it’s not totally implausible. The destruction of the Kelvin killed a number of crew members and radically altered the lives of 800 more. Bring those people back to Earth, let the clock run forward 25 years… and there’s no telling how any individual person might have changed, including Uhura.

    Old Spock surviving at the end — it was a huge and unexpected delight to me that they didn’t kill off Old Spock, leaving him as a “problem”. That opens up all the plot lines you’re describing. I hope that movie #3 or #4 is built around “The Problem of Old Spock”.

    There???? no Vulcan to go to for pon farr, in fact, which is doubtless going to lead to horny, violent Vulcans wandering around the galaxy in confusion like a bunch of salmon confronted with new dam construction.

    Now this is a pretty serious problem.

  5. Star Trek and Crisis on infinite Earths–yes! That nails it exactly. Now fortunately, the Star Trek franchise at this point in its development as a property is almost certainly going to be restricted to films, and that means you’re not going to have nearly the breadth, media-wise, of further stories about which one can get bogged down in thinking through all these geek elements, so they’ll probably be able to get away with it just fine, unlike what became of DC. “Probably”…meaning that all bets are off if, against all expectations, they insist on continuing to fiddle with it, and go the “Problem of Old Spock” route which evangoer mentions.

  6. jacobtlevy says:

    Even worse than Old Spock is mind-melded-with-Old-Spock Kirk. Even if he never rummages around in his head to make sense of the massive data dump that happens during a mind meld, someday Young Spock will meld with Kirk and (like Spock melding with Picard to pick up Sarek) he’ll hear a lot of information, some of it important to this timeline too– as you note, Borg, Dominion, V-Ger, etc., etc.

    Better for all concerned just to ignore that as well as Old Spock– but that requires that Spock stick with his “Earth is my only home now,” as it’d be weird for him to go to Novy Vulcan and not run into himself.

    A question just among us geeks: do we have any canonical explanation for why everyone already knows that Vulcans and Romulans are related?

  7. jfruh says:

    Just got back from seeing the movie and hadn’t even thought about these nerdy problems (about which you’re right). The biggest thing keeping me from enjoying the movie unabashedly (though enjoy it I did) was the entirely pointless sadness that 300-something episodes of Trek over several series have no vanished into time-travel ether. Yes, I know they’re still available on DVD, but in a perverse in-universe way, they now never happened (what do Jean-Luc Picard and Benjamin Sisko do with their lives, if those lives ever come to be). I felt more sadness for that loss than I did for the deaths of six billion Vulcans (which I felt got somewhat underplayed in the film).

    Re; Spock/Uhura: Isn’t there an original series episode where the two of them do a kind of sexy duet, her singing and him on the lyre? It’s possible that they always had some kind of romantic history that they broke off amicably before the events of the original series began.

    Re: pon farr: is it ever said that you have to go back to Vulcan for this? I thought in Amok Time they just went back there because that’s where Spock’s betrothed happened to be. (Actually, now that I think about it, in that episode isn’t it Uhura who says “She’s lovely, Mr. Spock, who is she?” …added drama if they do have a history…)

  8. jfruh says:

    Er, follow-up to my previous comment that I meant to add in: I remember having a conversation with my uber-Trekkie cousin about my thought that Wrath of Khan really should have been the last installment of the original series chronology, as it would have tied up a lot of the themes of the original series neatly — one of Kirk’s improvised solutions comes to bite him in the ass, as does his man-whoring, Spock finds inner peace, and through his sacrifice Kirk comes to grips with his own mortality. She replied that all that was true, but she’d feel very sad not knowing that Spock was out there somewhere in the universe. That’s kind of how I feel about the erased continuity.

  9. jacobtlevy says:

    Oh, I think the other continuity is still out there. Sometime after the last TNG movie limped to the end, Romulus blew up and Ambassador Spock disappeared. Since this happened fairly soon after the defeat of the Dominion and the revolution in Cardassia, it was a singularly good moment for a very powerful Federation-Klingon alliance to soak up the remnants of the Romulan Empire, with huge helpings of humanitarian aid, led by a young new generation of Spock-like Vulcan evangelists off to convert all the non-homeworld Romulans. It was a new Khitomer. Through tragedy, Roddenberry’s future finally became one of peace led by a very powerful UFP. He would have wanted it that way.

    There’s already a Star Trek Multiverse– after all, the Mirror Universe is out there. So I have no problem imagining once-parallel timelines that have now diverged.

  10. jfruh says:

    jacobtlevy re: Vulcan/Romulan knowledge … I thought about that too. Maybe enough information was gleaned by the conact between the Kelvin and Nero’s ship to realize that it was Romulan, somehow, leading to some kind of diplomatic contacts/military conflict between the Federation and the Romulans in the intervening 25 years?

    Of course, if you need some kind of professional linguist to tell the difference between the two languages, you’d think this would have been obvious from the get-go.

  11. Timothy Burke says:

    Yeah, I think it’s made clear that this is a separate or parallel reality, that the other Trek universe is still going on its merry way.

    But I also thought about the Vulcan/Romulan thing, with some embarassment at my own geekiness. There had been a previous Romulan-Federation conflict at this point in the other Trek universe, but the whole point in “Balance of Terror” is that the Federation knew absolutely zippo about the Romulans. Except, on the other hand, the Vulcans had to have known something. In the old continuity, they presumably kept that a secret, the Romulans being the embarassing black sheep of their family. That’s pretty consistent with the Vulcans in the old continuity in general: very private about their cultural secrets and history. In the new continuity, maybe some aspect of the records of the Kelvin triggered the attention of the Vulcans and they came clean and said, “Ok, you’ve got us, Romulans are related to us”. (After all, surviving members of the Kelvin *saw* the enemy crew.) Still doesn’t explain how Uhura learned three dialects of Romulan, though.

    (Especially since by the time of The Undiscovered Country, she doesn’t speak any Klingon at all, according to the hee-larious scene where she has to grab a printed translation book and hammer out some bad Klingon…)

  12. jfruh says:

    Oh, also: it’s true that Starfleet and the Federation don’t make sense per se, but I think they make slightly more sense as institutions if you think of them evolving over the chronology rather than being static. Like, originally the Federation was a political/military alliance among equals (like the UN crossed with NATO); by the time of the TNG era it’s a real sovereign government; but during the TOS era it’s something in between, like the EU. Starfleet started off as the Earth’s military (this is made explicit in the Enterprise series, right? Never watched that…), and is only gradually being transformed into a Federation-wide institution during the TOS era (which explains why there are so many references to it being for Earth or humans in the original series).

    Not that this was planned out at the time, obviously, but it does work out kind of neatly (or as neatly as anything does when you’re doing this kind of geekery).

  13. Timothy Burke says:

    What I mean is (for example): the economy of the Federation makes no sense, especially by TNG. They have replicators which appear to have fairly low energetic costs, effectively nanotechnology. They don’t have money (we’re told repeatedly). So why (for example) don’t they have nearly infinite numbers of starships? What does everyone do besides be in Starfleet, be scientists (who generally have weird, dangerous projects that they’re doing at the fringes of the Federation), run restaurants or grow wine? When McCoy wants to hire a smuggler to take him to the Genesis planet, what is he planning to pay him with? Etc.

    The technology of the Federation makes no sense when you push on it even a little bit. The alien societies of the Federation and around make little consistent sense except for the Vulcans, who’ve been well-imagined. (The Klingons, Cardassians and Dominion have gotten a bit closer to being fully sketched out, too.)

  14. jfruh says:

    Well, to be fair, I think all that utopian “we don’t use money” stuff is from the TNG era. If I’m remembering, a lot of it comes from the show bible Roddenberry wrote when TNG launched, when he sort of utopianed the heck out of his universe. In the TOS era, I think they still talk about money quite a bit (don’t they use “credits” as a unit of currency)? Of course, this quickly kills most of what makes dramas about human societies interesting, so the creative meat of the franchise kept going to areas where it didn’t apply — the fringes of the Federation, other cultures, or the Delta Quadrant.

    The “economy” of the TNG era is probably best read as a kind of fantasy version of the post-industrial western economy. Nobody actually needs to make anything anymore because we have [replicators/the Chinese], so everyone is either in the service industry or the creative class.

  15. jacobtlevy says:

    … or the military, or the dilithium-mining slave class!

  16. …or the dilithium-mining slave class!

    Well, slavery apparently does exist within the Federation. Remember that TOS gave us a episode where the Enterprise travels to Ardana to pick up some desperately needed zenite, and they get caught up in a slave rebellion, which neither ends with the liberation of the slaves nor a revolution on the planet, but just the Federation promising some mediation between the different factions. Was the Federation a true “federal” organization? If so, that would suggest that the relationship between Earth and the other planets in the Federation is not quite as utopian as is sometimes made out. (This is one of the reasons why I think the middle seasons of DS9, say seasons 3-5, the seasons of the Marquis, were the best Star Trek since TOS; if the utopianism of TNG were to be taken seriously, you’d need to address the fall-out of utopianism…such as, what do you do with those people who insist they don’t want a utopian life?)

  17. jacobtlevy says:

    Ah– right!

    I hadn’t remembered that. I was just treating the slavery of dilithium-miners as a necessary consequence of the world depicted in TNG. Dilithium mining is said to be hard, dangerous, unpleasant work. It’s the sine qua non of the whole rest of the productive universe, since it’s how one powers replicators. And ex hypothesi there’s nothing with which one could pay the miners. So why the heck would anyone do it voluntarily? Answer: they wouldn’t. Why would the Federation allow its entire material existence to rest on the happenstance that sufficient numbers of people voluntarily felt like expressing their souls through dilithium-mining instead of practicing the violin or vinoculture? Answer: it wouldn’t. So unless the Federation’s willing to trade [what does it have to trade?] with the Ferengi or some other mercantile culture for all its dilithium– and that seems unlikely in the extreme, since it’s at war with every other large civilization at some point– slavery follows.

  18. Timothy Burke says:

    I suppose you could come up with the argument that the dilithium miners are rugged individual rejectionists of various kinds, that they do it in order to get outside the safe, comforting norms of Federation society, to live at the extremes. We have seen before that there are other folks like that in the Federation–technological rejectionists, fringe religious/cultural movements, or as Russell notes, the Maquis. But it’s awfully convenient that there are just enough of them to mine dilithium, and that they don’t need to be paid, since they’re mostly motivated by a masochistic desire to experience physical hardship and cultural isolation. It’s also remarkably jury-rigged that dilithium requires an unpleasant industrial infrastructure and physical labor compared to everything else in the Federation.

    Though the new film does actually “re-industrialize” things every so slightly: ship construction now takes place on the ground and looks a lot grittier, there’s a huge goddamn hole in the ground in the middle of Iowa which presumably took some kind of labor, and the Engineering section of both the Kelvin and the Enterprise looks a shitload grittier and more industrial than TOS, not to mention TNG, where the Engineering section looks like the atrium in a 24th Century mall.

    Now that I’m thinking about Federation society, by the way, didn’t this film strike a REALLY weird note about Starfleet recruitment? In the past, there’s been an implication that getting into Starfleet is roughly like getting into West Point AND Harvard, that it’s extremely selective and difficult and involves a lot of tests. But now we have Pike flying around picking up recruits as he goes. Either that implies a kind of nepotism, that Pike is able to just waive the application procedures if he’s in the mood to do so, or that Starfleet is actually kind of hard-up for recruits and they’re out touring the boondocks trying to drum up some enlistment.

  19. jfruh says:

    Tim, I thought that about the enlistment process too, though again this might be hand-waved away as a 23rd vs. 24th century thing, as all the blah blah about how hard it is to get into the academy comes from, I think, the TNG episodes that revolve around Wesley trying to get in. Think about how different (and, from many points of view, easier) it was to get an officer’s commission in the US military during the Civil War; sometimes it seems that all you had to do was be of the appropriate social class and/or know some local government official, round up enough guys form a regiment of your state militia, and boom, you were a colonel.

    I suppose it’s also possible that in the 23rd century all the various computer systems actually do talk to each other, so all Pike had to do was feed Kirk’s “genius-level” test scores into the academy admissions system and get him some kind of provisional entry?

  20. What I think is “continuity be damned.” The movie is a rollicking good yarn.

    But I’m not sure what that’s worth. Salon’s Andrew O’Heir argues for the original series:

    Even if some of its flaws look more glaring 30-odd years later, I think the original “Star Trek” still has a passion and vitality that partly stem from its cheapness; the threadbare sets and effects created a coherent, suggestive atmosphere, and forced your attention onto the storytelling and the characters. It stands out, even after all this time, as something unique in television history. Of course “Star Trek” can never be the cultural lodestone it once was. Having spawned four official follow-up series, 11 feature films (and counting) and countless non-canonical works — if you haven’t heard about K/S porn or the immense and disputatious fanfic universe, I’m not helping you — and inspired an entire genre of serial intergalactic futurism from “Space: 1999” to “Babylon 5” to “Battlestar Galactica,” the novelty of Gene Roddenberry’s creation has pretty well worn off.

    In the middle of the Cold War, Roddenberry imagined a radical-progressive, Enlightenment-fueled vision of the human future, one in which the conflict between capitalism and communism had been long transcended, along with other earthbound forms of racial, ethnic or religious strife. Strikingly, there is no religious or mystical dimension to the “Star Trek” universe at all, at least until much later in its development.

    Writing in the NYTimes David Hadjou argues that TOS was designed to exploit existing back-lot sets:

    ??Star Trek?? was shot for Desilu Productions, on the lot its founders, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, bought from RKO Radio Pictures, the prolific studio that had made ??King Kong,?? ??Citizen Kane,?? the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musicals and countless B pictures like ??I Walked With a Zombie.?? In time, the series moved to Paramount and if it seemed as though Kirk and his crew were venturing from old movie to old movie, Roddenberry and his crew were traveling literally from old-movie set to old-movie set.

    ??The majority of story premises …can be accomplished on such common studio back lot locales and sets such as Early 1900 Street, Oriental Village, Cowtown, Border Fort, Victorian Drawing Room, Forest and Streamside,?? wrote Roddenberry in his original pitch. ??Interiors and exteriors temporarily available after an ??Egyptian?? motion picture, a ??horror?? epic, or even an unusual telefilm, could be used to meet the needs of a number of story premises.??

    The creative re-use of studio sets may have begun as a way to keep costs down. But the show made a kind of loopy pastiche pulp art by appropriating, referencing and recombining ideas from film history, going imaginatively ? and, yes, even boldly ? where many had gone before.

    Ideas and ideals vs. inexpensive production & recycling of cliches, which is it? It’s not a fatal opposition; you can have both. But still, it’s a different combo than big budget and space opera.

  21. We have seen before that there are other folks like that in the Federation????echnological rejectionists, fringe religious/cultural movements, or as Russell notes, the Maquis.

    One of my favorite moments with the Marquis–in fact, probably my very favorite moment, which of course DS9 was just too incompetent to actually do anything with–was when Eddington, finally exposed as a Marquis traitor, has been captured by Sisko, who is transporting him somewhere, and takes a moment to explain to Sisko how virtuous it is to strike free of the Federation, start over again without any outside aid on a distant planet, and have to learn how to grow tomatoes (or whatever it was), and how much better they tasted that replicated food. Sisko responds something to the effect of, “yeah, but you don’t have Raktjino!” Which really just kind of sums up the whole localist/globalist, communitarian/liberal divide right there.

  22. jacobtlevy says:

    I don’t remember precisely when or how the Maquis went from being a geopolitical (well, astropolitical) grouping to a crunchy cultural grouping. Originally they were just the Federation settlers whose worlds got ceded to Cardassia during the war-end border readjustments, right? They hadn’t intentionally struck free of the Federation.

    Qua frontier settlers, I guess they necessarily had more of a taste for the local and home-grown– or else they wouldn’t have been settlers in the first place. But the Federation was in the active business of planting settlements and colonies on every habitable planet; it was hardly an unheardof idiosyncrasy to go set up shop on a new world.

    The “without outside aid” thing strikes me as a post-hoc rationalization– sour grapes. “We didn’t want that monthly shipment of Federation supplies anyways.”

  23. I don???? remember precisely when or how the Maquis went from being a geopolitical (well, astropolitical) grouping to a crunchy cultural grouping.

    I don’t either, and like I said, they didn’t do anything particularly coherent with that moment. I just thought it was kind of cool, and as my crunchiness has evolved in the years since, it’s only growner cooler in my memory. To connect it with the original point of the thread, though, you could see the Marquis as a group who originally rebelled against being “wisely” moved about by the Federation’s big power deals with the Cardassians, but then came to attract a host of others who wanted to get away from what they perceived as the Federation’s bureaucratic reach. There’s an element of searching for “myth” or “meaning” in all that, a meaning that you discover on your own, rather than through the Federation’s time-tested, no-doubt-frequently-evaluated colonization plans. (I seem to recall a TNG episode which had one of the colonies caught up in the argument over resettlement being a Native American one, and they refused to relocate at first, because their ancestors had chosen the planet to settle on through a vision quest. There’s some meaning for you!)

  24. AndrewSshi says:

    I studiously avoided reading this while waiting to get into a theater to see the movie. Now that I’ve seen it, I wanted to remark that even with the time-traveling Spock, I think that the thing *is* a Casino Royale-style hard re-boot. Nimoy the actor is there to give the franchise some continuity, to let us know that it is still Star Trek, but even before Nero’s time-traveling it was not the UFP that we know and love.

    The best example of a Star Trek that works to establish absolute continuity would of course be Enterprise, which strangely seems to vie with DS9 for being my favorite of the franchise. That, though, was finished and wrapped up with the Klingon foreheads explained, Orion slave girls, and the foundation of the UFP. There was nowhere to go but start over.

  25. G. Weaire says:

    Not really all that invested in Star Trek, the franchise or the film, and would not be bothered at all by inconsistencies. But I don’t think that the Spock/Uhura problem is actually there. The film introduces their relationship as former instructor/former student, and the romance only appears in the scenes following the destruction of Vulcan. Uhura’s actions in the crucial scene are explicitly motivated by what’s just happened to Spock – in a universe in which his home planet was intact and his mother alive, they presumably might have drifted apart without ever expressing their feelings.

    Added bonus: this minimizes the unprofessional behavior. Spock suddenly reassigning his former star student to comply with her wishes is less objectionable than reassigning his girlfriend. Still problematic, though.

  26. Timothy Burke says:

    Well, that’s a good point: that suddenly they’re closer than instructor/student because she’s aware of the intensity of his emotions, and the implicit attraction is blossoming into something more. We do know from the old show that Spock has a human fetish–in the old continuity, he was quasi-involved with a botantical scientist but felt he couldn’t take it where she wanted to go due to his obligations to Vulcan culture…

  27. sibyl says:

    I actually don’t think Spock Prime is as big a problem as some folks think. He’s not from that far in the future, so he’s not going to reveal huge technology upgrades, like giving warp drive or the transponder to 20th century Earth. And since the history of the universe has now been changed, he can’t be used to reveal, say, who wins the Super Bowl CCCLXI. (As for showing Scotty how he invented the transportation of moving objects, or whatever: didn’t Scotty teach 20th century engineers how to build some 23rd century metal in The Voyage Home, with the lame excuse that maybe this guy invented it anyway? In this case Spock *knew* Scotty invented it. I have no problems with the ethics of this.)

    And I am sure that Vulcans will travel to New Vulcan for pon farr. It’s not about the place but about the blood bond.

    I am glad you brought up Crisis on Infinite Earths because I think that was the worst possible solution to the storytelling problem that DC was in in the late 80s and early 90s. Their 1960s solution was better: you know how Hawkman and Flash fought in World War II? well, that happened in a different reality, which we’re calling Earth-Two; Hawkman and Flash got started in the 1950s on Earth-One; presumably they’ll start later on some other Earth in the future. Flash on Earth-Two is Jay Garrick, who loves Joan; Flash on Earth-One is Barry Allen, who loves Iris. Crisis basically said, Flash never fought in World War Two, so forget what you once knew. The parallel universe concept honored history; the Crisis concept encouraged rewriting and destroying it. I only wish DC had rebooted (or sidebooted, if you prefer).

    No, there is no Gary or Finnegan or Ruth in New Movie Trek. (Earth-JJ?) That means there’s room for some genuine thought about the inadequacies of the Federation and Starfleet, as well as room for some storytelling suspense. If we see the Doomsday Machine on screen, we can’t assume that we know what will happen or how they’ll defeat it. Does this McCoy have a daughter named Joanna? He doesn’t have to. As long as he stays a doctor, not entirely at ease with the idea of roaming through space, and a supporter of emotion over logic, he’ll still be McCoy.

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