Friday, May 22, 2009
Star Trek (2009, Jay Jay The Jet Plane)
The phrase retroactive continuity (abbreviated to "retcon") wouldn't be as well known as it is today without the Internet providing a forum for the establishment of phrases pertaining solely to pop culture. Consistency, in this example taking the form of episodic story continuity, is rarely necessary and frequently stifling as an ubiquitous corporate stopgap against creativity even when the benefits are self evident: great television series take time to find their strengths, and in the days of movie serials The Three Stooges didn't have to be plumbers every single time.
The most cursory glance at continuing pop culture franchises over the years reveals virtually zero of them which maintain factual or plausible continuity, which is why nerds work extra hard to create explanations and have them canonized. The best example is comic books, where everything is recorded in print and preserved for all time. That's a lot harder to fix than the relative ease of filming movie or television episode scenes that explain past inconsistencies. Where there is not the fake problem of revealing and justifying inconsistencies for the sake of trivial debate, nerds lovelorn with their franchises write made up stories about their TV pals.
Decades ago, one of the earliest recorded and circulated creations of "fan fiction" was written by fans of Star Trek, from fictional dramatic writing in the vein of their beloved 1966-69 series up to gay and straight erotica, possibly exchanged between hands for the first time at the first Star Trek convention in New York City, 1972. The harder type of fan fiction to pinpoint the earliest appearances of is in which the author inserts themselves into the action. This sort can be found easily on the Internet, and more myopic yet are the stories which radically alter the foundations of their intended tributary characters - in terms of The Three Stooges, not only varying their professions of plumbers or builders or fascist dictators, but making them giraffes. Unlike the Stooges, Star Trek is very continuity conscious and even their fiction writing fans attempt to respect this by having Kirk and Spock step into the girafferizer beam rather than simply having them long necked from the start.
Screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have done something unprecedented in creating the first retroactive continuity feature film script for Star Trek and Jay Jay The Jet Plane has made their fan fiction into a terrifyingly overpraised film which degradingly rewards the ignorance of new audiences and condescendingly patronizes the old.
Hollywood spends a lot of effort today coming up with new euphemisms for the recycling of old ideas. The term "remake" has gradually been phased out in favor of doublespeak which suggests originality, such as "re-envisioning," "re-imagining," "relaunch," "reboot" and "modern update." Even the "prequel" form of sequel has been used to disguise lack of originality or imagination, from "Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd" to the more recent "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." The new Star Trek skews closer to the former except even moreso; a new and dangerous hybrid of every creative loophole combined that ambitiously seeks to destroy the concept of creative integrity once and for all.
In this film the official past events of the original series are changed via time travel to become the new version. To this end, each character from the original show is played by a new actor as the younger version of themselves, effectively rendering the work of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy et all as merely the prototypical groundwork for refinement into our supposedly pristine new incarnation. For further legitimacy, the real Leonard Nimoy makes an appearance as the real Spock ("Spock Prime") to bless his hot young doppelganger on the new franchises we're supposed to assimilate ourselves to. There should be a new "Search For Spock" movie where the geriatric original cast rescues their missing Vulcan from this crappy nightmare reality.
Never have I seen such a wholly unoriginal film beg the question of creative authorship solely to affirm the privilege of corporate ownership over the actual dramatists and actors who give characters life. Captain Kirk, as we may gather from Star Trek (note the regal lack of subtitle) is not the sum of performances from William Shatner and dialogue ascribed to him by writers of the original series and movies, but merely an avatar to be assumed by anyone - in this case some slick TV ready pretty boy named Chris Pine. Eric Christian Olsen may have only been doing an impression of a character created by Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumberer, but at least that screenplay didn't use time travel to erase the events of the original film.
Incidentally, Jim Carrey is playing "Curly" in the new 3 Stooges film, but at least he's a comparably talented physical comedian. What comparable talent is on display here?
The only aspect missing in this brazenly audacious fake fidelity to source material is having the screenwriters appearing in metaphysical cameos to high-five the crew of the Enterprise and make out with Uhura, which would actually fit the new tone of snarky hipster irony perfectly. This is Star Trek 90210, peppered with Family Guy level referential humor that finds young Kirk hiding in the dorm rooms of green-skinned women and young McCoy asking young Spock if he's "out of his Vulcan (sounds like 'fuckin') mind." There are constant references to Trek trivia that anyone with a passing familiarity will catch 90% of, much like anyone with a passing familiarity to the last 25 years of pop culture will catch most references on Family Guy. These references are there to flatter longtime Trek fans while making non-fans feel hip about their viewing choice, rather than guilty about patronizing the purely nerdy.
This splitting the difference for marketing expedience is a stunning example of how homogenized, and therefore how anti-intellectual so many franchises formerly deemed nerds-only have become. I'm not a Star Trek fan, but I know enough about the original series to respect its thoughtful classical storytelling approach to science fiction, expressing moral and intellectual philosophies in the same sensitive humanist manner as Ray Bradbury with a touch of the frontiersman spirit of Robert Heinlein. By contrast, this beautiful young crew of trigger happy space adventurers shoot first and ask questions later in the style of Paul Verhoeven's version of Heinlein's Starship Troopers while Kirk runs from bugs that look exactly the same as that film's. There's no philosophy or even coherent thought in this film, only the same hurried frenzy to throw people from explosions and flash female flesh as the typical violent and misogynistic action movie. Ironically, the women's skirts were a lot shorter on the original TV show and they were still treated with more respect than Zoe Saldana's Uhura, who is now Spock's girlfriend so she can be in a love triangle between him and Kirk (hetero triangle) and whose singular name becomes an in-joke at the same time Orci and Kurtzman can't even remember that "Spock" is MR. Spock's last name.
Star Trek 20090210 pathetically displays an entitlement to the presumption of intelligence simply for bearing the name. Feeble in-jokes-for-everyone aside, the script doesn't even make logical sense. Kirk becomes Captain by directly disobeying orders and stowing away on a ship? The Romulans' highly intelligent Vulcan ambassador couldn't figure out their planet was going to blow up until a day before? Fans should be up in arms, but as with comic book movies, they're really just flattered that their interest is being paid attention to by normal people who won't remember tomorrow or ever care again. With all due respect to Trekkies, stupid people aren't supposed enjoy Star Trek and if they are, there's something obviously wrong.
About the humor. The 1960s Star Trek always had a degree of unintentional camp which has become magnified by the longevity of its icons - characters and ideas which have become ingrained in pop culture as a whole. The 2009 Star Trek is like listening to someone do a "funny" William Shatner voice, not based on their own impression of him but upon every hacky stand-up comic who ever did the "funny William Shatner voice." And then insisting that their version is just as legitimate because there was an alternate timeline created by time travel. John "Harold and Kumar" Cho as Sulu? Simon Pegg as Scotty? This is a respectful revival? This is like one of those camptastic 90s movie versions of an old tv show like The Brady Bunch, or the recent hyper meta-irony of Bewitched with Will Ferrell. Only in the permanent present-tense culture of today can Star Trek necessitate a revival when the latest iteration was only on tv a fucking year ago.
I'd never watched a full episode of any Star Trek show before Trek '09 and the only Trek movie I'd seen was The Wrath of Khan. The only good thing to come from this movie was getting me to finally watch some full episodes of the original show and realize how immeasurably superior even a mediocre one was to this opportunistic cash-in that has tainted everyone exposed.
One of the 1990s Star Trek movies - I think it was Insurrection - had a TV ad which claimed "you don't need to know the difference between a Borg and a Klingon to enjoy this Trek movie!" Apparently you don't need to know the difference between a pen and your ass to write one, either.