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5/11/2009


To Boldly Go…or not.

Filed under: General, Television, Films and Video — Charlie Summers @ 12:48 pm

Anyone who has known me since my misspent youth is asking me if I’m going to go to the Star Trek movie opening in theaters nationwide. So to put this at rest once-and-for-all, the answer is a definitive no. But let me take a moment to explain why I’m not going to be in the theater, and why I probably won’t bother watching it on DVD, either, even if it ends up in the $1/night Redbox.

First off, I do not go to movie theaters anymore. There’s no point. I mean, c’mon, the “communal experience” of going to the movies of my youth is long gone, replaced by louts talking loudly throughout the film, cell phones ringing, and annoyances of every shape and size. Children are no longer taught to be quiet and respectful, and their children are even less well-behaved - “feral” would not be too harsh a description for some of the children I’ve experienced. I think the last film I saw in a theater was the original Superman when it returned to the Hiway Theater (no longer in existence) for a nostalgia release. You can get me to go to the legitimate theater, but movies? Not bloody likely, since I like to actually see and hear the film, not the audience.

“But this film is different…it’s Star Trek!” you say. Um…no, it isn’t. It, like The Bionic Woman, Knight Rider, Battlestar Galactica, ad nausium, is another “reimagining” by someone who has publicly noted he didn’t like the original very much. I am honestly sick to death of studios “remaking” programming, “updating” it or just changing it beyond all recognition. Those of us who enjoyed The Wild Wild West in our youth were flabbergasted and confused by the updated film. As a general principal, this should be simple, kids…come up with an original idea, and take it from there. Stop slapping cherished names on modern mishmashes.

When it comes to Star Trek, there haven’t been any original ideas in decades, although there have been a lot of idiotic attempts at “restarting the franchise.” It’s really important to understand what that means…it’s a marketing term, having nothing whatsoever to do with creativity. The name Star Trek means big bucks for Desilu/Paramount/Viacom/whatever conglomerate owns it at the moment. No one there cares about what Star Trek means, only that it’s worth money and someone needs to wring the last drops of cold hard cash out of the name.

Before I go any farther, I need to explain my connection to the program. I’ve recently read some reviews by “oldsters” who talk about being exposed to Star Trek when they were young children in the late 1970’s, and can’t help but laugh. I was sitting in front of a black-and-white portable television in September of 1966, waiting desperately for the new science-fiction program NBC promised to air but then seemed to ignore in its promotions. By then, I had been reading sci-fi for a while but about all we had on television was Lost in Space - that may have had something to do with our not having an outside antenna, and so only able to watch NBC and CBS. (About my reading sci-fi, I had parents who, when asked, “Why do you let him read that garbage?” would reply, “Hey, he’s reading.” It was a time when science-fiction was considered mind-rotting, and my parents were blissfully ahead of the curve.) I watched the premiere in stupefying awe, and was absolutely hooked. I attended Star Trek conventions, including the last one held by “The Committee,” and still somewhere in the basement have 8-track tapes I recorded with the audio from the episodes. Please, try to remember this was a time before personal DVRs, or even consumer VCRs. We ran around with cassettes and 8-tracks, seeing the visuals in our minds - to this day, I can recognize and name most episodes of Star Trek by the first few moments of dialog. I was part of the original “Save Star Trek” mailing campaigns, the first time in television history an organized effort was made to keep a canceled program on the air - one of the letters I received from NBC is on the right; click on it for a readable version. Over the years, I have spent tremendous amounts of money on Star Trek merchandise, gradually coming to the inescapable conclusion that Paramount was fleecing me.

Quite a while back, I (mostly) hopped off that cash-cow roller coaster…I stopped (mostly) buying any licensed products dealing with Star Trek. Yes, each Christmas I ask for the Star Trek calendar from my mother…and this year, my sister gave me a numbered box set of Star Trek Pez dispensers which I accepted joyously. But once I saw the ridiculous price they were asking for Star Trek DVDs, I mostly hopped off the studio gravy train.

(I have to make a note here about what I mean by Star Trek. There have been a whole lot of series and films that held those two words in their title, but there is only one that used those two words alone. The kids who weren’t there have dubbed it, “Star Trek: The Original Series,” I suppose the better to place it on equal footing with the colon-including silliness that followed. They even use three-letter assignations for all of the series to separate them, either because they are really lazy or because they think it makes them cool, in the same self-delusional way “Trekker” was argued to be “more dignified” than “Trekkie” on the old CompuServe message boards. But I will call them what they were named; if I feel the need to talk about Star Trek: The Next Generation, something I rarely do, I will use that name. Star Trek is the proper name of a television series that ran between 1966 and 1969. You are welcomed to call it TOS, if you’d like. You’re welcomed to call it French Toast, too, but you’d be equally wrong.)

I mean, Star Trek itself has been redone, or “remastered.” I watched some of the “remastered” episodes, and was amazed to discover the high-tech, computer-generated (CGI) effects shots actually looked less real than the originals…the CGI Enterprise, for example, looked for all the world to me like a plastic toy model shot in high-definition, not like a massive, powerful spaceship. Seriously, it looks…phony to me. I’m certain the folks who produced it are proud of ripping ten-minutes out of every episode and replacing the at-the-time groundbreaking special effects with contemporarily-ho-hum ones, but I have trouble watching the things.

I was the first one in line for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and sat through it thrilled to be back with my old friends. The second time I saw it, I actually saw it, and fell asleep in the theater during the film. Saw all the other films with the original characters, naturally, but there’s nothing exceptional to say there. I watched on-and-off the various “based upon” series that ran (and ran into the ground) the universe originally envisioned by Star Trek, but when the producers were arrogant enough to add forehead ridges to Kor, Kang, and Koloth, I pretty-much checked out. After all, these shows were occasionally-interesting space opera, but for the most part had no loyalty to Star Trek, shown in abundance by the series Enterprise which while starring an actor I have terrific respect for, did everything it could to lay waste to any relationship with the “real” series.

So my idea of “canonical” is the series, and mostly the films starring the cast of the series. All the rest of it is infinitely ignorable, so far as I’m concerned. And now the friends of my youth are “back,” in the bodies of new actors designed to excite another generation of filmgoers. But they aren’t back, any more than Leonard McCoy could possibly return from the death of DeForest Kelley. I’m certain the actors in the new film are professionals, dedicated to creating the best characters they can, but no matter how hard Karl Urban works on the portrayal, it is doomed to be no different than Dan Aykroyd playing the role in a Saturday Night Live skit. Unlike Doctor Who, there is no regeneration. There is one James Kirk. One Spock. One McCoy. One Star Trek.

When I close my eyes, I can see the Enterprise. I view it from the front, and I see the sensor dish below the saucer section. As my mind looks around, I see the pylons raising the engine nacelles majestically, the ship looking both delicate and yet powerful with no need for aerodynamic stability in the vast emptiness of interstellar space.

I look in on the very top of the saucer, and like the opening scene from “The Cage” I enter the Enterprise bridge. It doesn’t look like an apple store, it is a smallish room with consoles containing mysterious and unlabeled buttons and switches, monitors ringing the room, a large viewscreen in front and a turbolift behind. In the center of the room, raised to look upon everything happening there, is a utilitarian, somewhat uncomfortable command chair. Around the lower-level of the room is a bracing rail, painted red so it is clearly visible, available for support when the ship is under attack.

This is my ship, as dear to me as my own home, and as important to me as my own past. It is a place that has helped define my view of the world, where people I know as well as my own friends invited me to join them on epic adventures of imagination. Were I to enter the Enterprise bridge, I would know it well enough to wander in total darkness, although I would dearly wish the viewscreen to be filled with the galaxy of stars I traveled beyond so long ago, casting the room in a gentle glow as I lean on the railing next to the command chair and remember the infinite possibilities of my youth.

It isn’t cluttered plexiglass. It isn’t spacious faux wood grain. It isn’t plastic designed to look like metal grating. It is functional, utilitarian, not terribly attractive, and, to me, beautifully perfect.

Paramount says Star Trek needs to be updated for a new generation…what it means is it wants to squeeze more cash from the cow. Me, I believe exactly the opposite…Star Trek needs to be left alone, to be a part of the cultural memory, while this generation finds its own relevance. I’d rather my ten-year-old daughter had her own memories instead of some hackneyed version of mine.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, you just had to be then.

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5 Responses to “To Boldly Go…or not.” »

     

  1. larry Says:

    On many entertainments that we see there are favorites which we do not wish to experience in modified or updated form. In theatre my wife and I have several. We have no wish to see another version of:

    Ibsen’s Ghosts after experiencing Joanne Woodward as the mother.

    William’s “Glass Menagerie” after Julie Harris as the.

    Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” with Irwin and Turner

    Seattle Ballet Company “Swan Lake”

    American Ballet Theatre’s “Romeo and Juliet”

    Etc., Etc., Etc.

    As for films, many just don’t hold up over the years. I think the big reason is pacing. We are used to faster moving productions and the older films seem to drag particularly if viewed in our living room.
    I do think that viewing a film in a theater does create a tension which augments the tension required of the film. For example, in my high school days I was a projectionist in the local theater. At that time there was a break every 15 to 20 minutes to change projectors from one reel to another. Because of the break, even though I saw the whole film, there was no tension. But when I saw the same film when not operating the projectors, I enjoyed the film. The tension was there and the enjoyment results. Tension, by the way, is defined as the emotional reaction to the desire to know what is going to happen next. It occurs in books and theater as well as film.
    A film audience is not necessarily heard in a theater and can augment the experience. For instance Brooke and I went to see “The Pianist” in NYC during a Jewish holiday. The theater was packed but we were not aware of any noise from the audience. They were enthralled as much as we were with the horror of the film as well and admiration as to how the main character, Wladyslaw Szpilman, would survive.
    But writing off film all together is a shame. Film “Monsters versus Aliens” which Brooke and I saw at an IMAX was most enjoyable. And the 3D was great. Keep in mind I go back to “Creature” as well as Vincent Price in “House of Was”. I would agree with a review that it is appropriate to check ones brains at the door – Unlike “–Woolf”. By the way “Aliens” has a homage to “Wax” with I think a paddle board ball shooting into the audience.
    As for Star Treck we plan to see it but not at a time there will be many kids in the theater.
    By the way, if you do break down and see Aliens in 3D “acquire” an extra pair of the glasses. You can use them to make some interesting 3D shadow effects.

    I do wonder how IMAX does 3D with only one projector.

    Larry Moore

  2.  

  3. voxpop Says:

    Who needs movie theatres with crowds of sick people coughing and sneezing when one has cable? You may have to wait to see the latest films but waiting is character building..lol.

  4.  

  5. auntynyc Says:

    Star Trek (the 2009 movie) will never be Star Trek (the original “wagon train to the stars” series from the mind of Gene Roddenbury) that I eagerly awaited each week and watched on my tiny b&w set 40-some-odd years ago, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy (or not) various incarnations in theaters, on cable, late-night TV converted to digital, animated series, DVDs (with additional material), and get-together with others at conventions, meet-ups, and even on Star Trek themed cruises, in the present. No, it won’t ever be the same as it was then…but then again, nothing is.

    Even if we could somehow manage to return again to that first awesome encounter with the Starship Enterprise and its crew. Time has passed. We have changed. Star Trek (the franchise) has evolved. But that’s no reason to cut yourself off from the spirit of that original Star Trek in the present. There are many of us who still remember, treasure, and hold dear the morals Star Trek attempted to teach us in our young lives, and we try to hold onto it and keep it safe in the present, for the future to enjoy and hopefully live by.

    I’ve now seen the Star Trek (2009) movie twice in theaters, once on opening day and once 2-weeks later, and enjoyed it immensely both times. It’s not my childhood Star Trek, but the new movie provided deja-vu glimpses of their “future” lives together and elicited in many of us more senior, diehard fans, the recognition responses they were meant to. And I was more than happy to oblige.

    Yes, I intend to buy the DVD, to savor again in the comfort of my own home. But to see Kirk, Spock, Uhura, and the others come to vivid life again in a theater setting — that’s something that nostalgia is made of.

  6.  

  7. larry Says:

    The original Star Trek series is on YouTube complete. I have a computer connected to my flat screen and it looked as good or better than my color set would have in the days. I think it is all of the episodes although no expert on the subject.

    Larry Moore

  8.  

  9. Charlie Summers Says:

    larry Says:

    The original Star Trek series is on YouTube complete.

    Not a big YouTube fan, frankly, but when it comes to Star Trek, I don’t have to be. When you have all the episodes on everything from 8-track tape to Laserdisc (there’s even a set of purchased Betamax tapes in the basement), who needs flash video?

    (As mentioned, I don’t have the commercial DVDs, though, since Paramount decided to fleece its customers by charging twice as much as any other television series currently sells for…)


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