I'm not looking forward to J. J. Abrams Trek film next year for a couple of reasons. Chief amongst them is that it's really hard to do good Trek, no matter who you are. Rick Berman and Brannon Braga have been doing Trek shows and films for a very long time, and for the most part, I consider them -- the unassailable stewards of the franchise up until recently -- to be complete and utter failures.
Understand though, I respect and enjoy Berman as a writer. Although most episodes are a product of the room, they've all got to begin somewhere and written by somebody, and for the episodes Berman has credit on with The Next Generation, I have very favorable feelings about them. But as a Trek showrunner and exec-prod, I think that's not a job that suits him. Even with Berman's unmatched experience doing Trek, he's still put out a lot of crap over the years. Voyager was amusing and had its moments but it really did stink for the most part. The first two seasons of Enterprise were challenged, the third was nifty, and the fourth which Berman didn't run was very good. See the trend? With tons of experience and some level of actual writing and spinning talent, even Berman and company has put out just a ton of crap in theaters and on TV. Taken as is, even the best and brightest in the field might not be up to that specific task, and J. J. Abrams is probably at the bottom of my list.
Before getting into this piece, which I found via Wil who has also written on this and I'll read and comment on shortly, I want to make a point about the way Wired (where Wil found it) choose to spin this:
Sci-fi golden boy J.J. Abrams (Lost, Cloverfield) recently wrapped principal photography on the Star Trek prequel and, while he's keeping plot points under wraps, he promises a big show when the movie hits theaters next May.
Sci-fi golden boy? Lost is not science fiction, it's drama with fantasy mixed in. Cloverfield? I haven't seen it, but I'm pretty sure that's fantasy/drama with mixed horror and action. In other words, Abrams has no real bona fides for science fiction and yet is perceived -- incorrectly -- as a luminary in the genre and ends up helming the king of all SF shows and feature film franchises as a result. How could that possible go wrong?
Of all the actual giants, there are two solid choices today that would guarantee a quality product: J. Michael Straczinksi, and Joss Whedon. There are certainly other names out there that could pull it off, but these are more than just a solid bet or a recently hot hand. JMS and Whedon are practically gods who have proven themselves many times over across television, film, and even comics. These guys just "get it". And, fyi, JMS and Bryce Zabel -- another fine choice if you ask me -- are the guys who gave Paramount the idea to "reboot" Trek in the first place. Why they were passed up in favor of golden boy is beyond me.
Oh wait. No, it's actually not. Lost was "cool" in ways people (read: studio execs) didn't understand and therefore, in their minds, that makes him something special and magical and the logical choice. I'll admit that Lost is entertaining, but was it so good that Abrams would not only get free reign with the most valuable property in TV and film history, but also so that he could reinvent it? Change it so that it's not even Trek anymore?
"I feel like this is so unlike what you expect, so unlike the `Star Trek' you've seen. At the same time, it's being true to what's come before, honoring it," Abrams said.
I wonder why nobody has bothered to tell Abrams that if you change it so much that it's nothing like what you expected, that it can't really then, by definition, by honoring the original material. Coming from a person (Abrams) who isn't even a Trek fan, how does he know what honors the original in the first place?
"I can say the effects for `Star Trek' have never, ever been done like this. ... I can only tell you the idea of the universe of `Star Trek' has never been given this kind of treatment."
Pop quiz: Is this J. J. Abrams speaking, or Michael Bay? Are the totally awesome special effects totally awesome, J. J. Bay? Let's let Wil Wheaton take a swing at this before I start bashing brains in.
However, if this "reinventing" -- which is such a loaded term in this post-Episode One world (5-19-99 never forget!) -- extends to some of the fundamentals of the Star Trek mythos, and if he wants to make Star Trek more like Star Wars, we could be looking at the biggest geekriot in history.
There's something to be said for improving upon without replacing, but we already know there are some pretty divergent things in Abrams version of Trek that don't match up with anything done previously. Consider for a moment this bit of nitpicking geekdom: We know two important things about ships in Trek.
1. Most Starfleet ships were built in orbit of Mars, and that this tradition (which makes sense in the real world) extends all the way back to the NX-01 (built in orbit of Earth), featured in Star Trek: Enterprise, which predates Abrams movie in the timeline. This isn't implied, we know this because we saw it. That kind of matters.
2. No Starfleet ship could land on, or take off from a planets surface until Voyager. This is evidenced by not seeing this happen with any model of the Enterprise on TV or in the movies or any other ship for that matter.
The NCC-1701 in Abrams movie was apparently built on the damn ground at something that vaguely resembles a 21st century shipyard. Forget for a moment that no Starfleet ship in Trek history actually had the ability to take off from, or land on a planet, up until Voyager aired. So immediately you've got a very significant part of Trek history thrown out the window just because it looks cool.
Maybe that's geeking out beyond reason, but maybe that's actually a good indication of how much Abrams is willing to throw out the window not in service of story, but because it's a pretty shot and it looks cool. That, to me, is extremely troubling on a number of levels both as a Trek fan, but also as a writer who wants a good story instead of cheap effects and action and mythos as a not-so-filling substitute (hello Lost!)
Skipping a head a little bit to this, which is something I've also thought about.
However! Ron Moore reinvented BSG, and it's the greatest thing ever, so
reinventing things isn't automatically horrible. In fact, if the
article had been titled "JJ Abrams promises thrilling effects for Star
Trek movie" I'd be celebrating right now. Language is important, as
The original Battlestar Galactica was a product of its day, and feels dated and disliked now because we're not living in a adolescent genre anymore. Sci-fi grew up when it incorporated drama and that's what we're accustomed to today. Ron Moore, which is another person I would have put on my list, did the right thing by updating not the show, but the genre it lived in. Ron Moore's BSG is today's sci-fi, which is so distinctly different than yesterdays sci-fi that it might as well have its own name just like comedy and drama are different and distinct.
Trek has kept up with that to a degree by every new generation of the property. DS9 is a great example of todays sci-fi while TOS was more of yesterday's. TNG bridged the gap, playing both sides, changing from one to the other over the years, but to really make that leap, you've got to go places that Paramount absolutely will not go with Trek. JMS understood this, and I think fans understand it too. Trek has been living in an iron cage created by Paramount, which refuses to let anyone take it out for a spin because they don't -- understandably so -- want it wrecked.
Abrams doesn't strike me as a person that understands this. Quite the opposite, J. J. Abrams was the safe bet that they knew wouldn't try to take Trek out of the box in that way, and his choice was in service of that philosophy and practically guarantees this won't be what people really want to see.
And that's a problem.
This doesn't even begin to approach whether or not he's even got a good story. I'm not a fan of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman either, to be frank -- these are the guys that wrote Transformers, a movie that judging by the final third didn't have any script at all. I think Abrams started something cool that he was incapable of paying off, and bailed on his own show for the big screen before anyone realized what happened. You don't ever seen him talking about Lost these days, it's always Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse speaking for the show and guiding it creatively. He's not the fact of that show anymore and arguably may not have been responsible for its success to begin with.
There are so many unanswered questions about this that I can't fathom why Paramount decided to backtrack on their pledge to let Trek rest for a while by hiring what may amount to an empty suit. I'll happily eat crow if the movie turns out okay and give credit where it's due, but I'm not seeing very good odds right now.