Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A bold new vision of the past.

My post on the Canadian Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo will be up later tonight, but for now permit me to get something off my chest that just dawned on me a little while ago.

Like a lot of people, I'm looking forward to J.J. Abrams take on Gene Roddenberry's classic space opera Star Trek. I'm interested to see how the film will look stacked up against fond memories of The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, etc. Not to mention the ultimate Trek feature film, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. But my buddy Barry Reese brought up a point in a post on his livejournal that kind of made me sit back and take notice of the new Trek film and made me see it in a way that--while not putting me off the film--has dimmed my enthusiasm for the property just a bit.

This film, in the tradition of classic Trek, deals largely with time travel. As a result of this, the Trek timeline proper will essentially skew into two tangents, with one timeline (let's call it Trek-A) being the 'classic' timeline that leads us to TOS, Next Gen, and the rest. The other (let's call it Trek-B) is the universe of the new film and it's (in the works) sequel.

Okay, fine, I can deal with that. And as a means of rebooting the franchise it's a decent idea; it doesn't alienate the hardcore fanbase and allows for a soft reboot that will bring in new fans and new ideas. But there's also a bit of a flaw in that structure, a glaring flaw that once observed is like a frayed piece of string hanging from a sleeve. Sooner or later you're going to want to pull at that sucker, and when you do it'll either snap off or unravel the whole garment.

Any event depicted in Trek-B that seems like something that will flip over the applecart forever and illustrate that it's 'not your dad's Star Trek' is superceded and overwritten by the knowledge that Trek-A is still out there, where X event did not happen and Y remains the case. Now granted this idea of a multiverse of alternate realities is an accepted part of genre fiction in general (see the works of Michael Moorcock for the notion in its most perfect form), but unlike the characters in the film proper, we know of this alternate reality's existence. Everything Trek-B does is effectively in the shadow of Trek-A. Things may happen in Trek-B that change the status quo superficially, but Trek-A is still there in its origjnal state. Thus, Trek-B runs the risk of appearing lesser than Trek A, or at least being seen as not mattering because of the existence of Trek-A.

Woof but alternate realities are confusing. How did Sliders do it?

The film is also a prequel, and no discussion of prequels can be made without mentioning the Star Wars films, in particular Episodes I-III. These three movies are a prime example of what problems can arise with creating an engaging storyline by moving backward instead of forward.

Now before you get the rope and the posse together, let me get my story straight. This isn't me prequel-bashing for it's own sake, and the problem is certainly no fault of the creative team at Lucasfilm or the vision of George Lucas. It is simply for the fact that we as the audience already know how this is going to turn out. Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader. Palpatine becomes absolute ruler of the galaxy as the Republic crumbles and the Empire rises. Luke and Leia are born and Obi-Wan Kenobi lives to pass on the Jedi legacy. The road is mapped out before us: we were given the details from the Original Trilogy. Thus with this knowledge in place from our experience of the previous films the prequels have no jeopardy, at least where the main characters are concerned. This is not to say they aren't enjoyable stories; we all know that Camelot falls and King Arthur dies yet the Arthurian cycle has endured for hundreds of years. But this foreknowledge in an audience can be deadly for writers trying to create a sense of the stakes being high and anything being possible when we as the audience already have foreknowledge of how certain events turn out. We know Kirk becomes Captain of the Enterprise. We know Spock becomes his first officer. We know Scotty's the chief engineer and we know the seven leads will walk away from this adventure unscathed, because previous continuity says so. Even if this was a complete reboot of Star Trek, do you think Abrams and company would actually risk changing the status quo in any way? The Internet would crack in half with fanboy outrage.

This is all based on hearsay, and maybe the new film will turn out to be something wholly new and original. But while I'm expecting to be entertained, I can't really say I'm expecting my view of Star Trek to be shaken to its foundations. But then not every film should have to do that. Sometimes an entertaining afternoon out with friends is its own reward.

Plus the Enterprise looks awesome. Save me an aisle seat.


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