Tuesday, September 21, 2010

No. 5 (a surprise!) and No. 10 (also a surprise, albeit it less of one)

So continuing on from the last entry, let's explore the topic Trek fans don't really like William Shatner. This is typified in the universal dislike of "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier," which the Shat directed and help wrote -- so it's really the only occasion where we can separate the man (Shat) from the myth (Kirk).

This leads us to No. 5 on our list:

There is speculation about "what killed Star Trek" -- was it the "TNG" films? Was it "Voyager" or "Enterprise"? Or was it simply fatigue from over saturation? Well it may have been all of these, but I think the real culprit was "Galaxy Quest" -- a deconstructionist Star Trek movie that tells an action/adventure that surpasses so much of its inspiration. "GQ" pays loving tribute to not just the series, but the fandom experience (which is ultimately more meaningful because that's the part fans are involved in personally: the hero worship, the conventions, the fixation on minutiae, the shipping).

Now the casual viewer looks at "GQ" and says "Oh, they're making fun of Trek!" Hogwash. This is a love-letter to Star Trek fans that Rick Berman couldn't have written on Valentine's Day if St. Valentine were helping him with a multi-phasic, anti-matter-powered love-letter writing replicator. (I recently amended the Wikipedia entry "References to Star Trek" for the film.)

The fans are the biggest heroes of the show, as my brother Mark has pointed out to me:

1) the redshirt (Guy) who loves the show and doesn't fall victim to its most pointed cliche (being redshirted)

2) the nerdy kids help save the day at the end

3) the aliens who adore the "historical documents" end up leading the ship on its own voyages

Just watch this clip:

If anyone is mocked in this movie it is William Shatner. And in this film he is not only mocked but he is redeemed. For the only time in the history of Star Trek William Shatner becomes as magnificent as James Kirk. (There's video of Shatner interviewing Allen here.)

Now again I want to stress that Trek fans, and myself included, don't hate Shatner. And truly we don't really dislike him. But there is some resentment and maybe even some discontent. Everything he has he owes to Star Trek, but he probably won't admit that. Compare this to the fans' feelings for Leonard Nimoy, who is as magnificent as Spock. Remember, Nimoy was a guiding creative force behind Star Treks 3, 4, and 6 -- and it was his idea to kill Spock at the end of "TWOK." And Nimoy's crossover with "TNG" ("Unification") was spectacular, while Shatner's crossover with "TNG" ("Generations") was the (wait for it) "worst episode ever."

Watch this video, where Whoopi Goldberg (Guinan) essentially baits the four actors to make fun of their fans, and Nimoy goes out of his way to say how great they are while the others make wisecracks.

Notice that there's no figure in "GQ" that lampoons Leonard Nimoy -- the Alan Rickman character is meant to be an exaggerated Patrick Stewart, and his alien character -- with chants of strength of cries of vengeance -- is far more Klingon than Vulcan.

The success of the franchise is due to the personal, professional, and creative involvement of Leonard Nimoy and his success portraying the series' best character.

Which leads us to No. 10:

Now I've already said a lot on the reboot (my review: here), so I'm not going to say a lot more about it now, and if you want a really thorough exploration of the "ST11" -- both its successes (of which there are many) and its shortcomings (of which there are only a few) -- watch the the recent Mr. Plinkett review:

But I will talk about the reboot in the context of the two ideas I've presented here: "Galaxy Quest" and Nimoy.

First: "Galaxy Quest" is such an important part of the Trek legacy that J.J. Abrams said "How do you watch Galaxy Quest and then go make a Star Trek movie?" His answer? Copy them!

The reboot pays loving homage to the Trek franchise -- including completely gratuitous references to Jonathan Archer as a nod to "Enterprise" and Cardassians as a nod to "DS9." And while they used a lot of names and images from Trek lore, the filmmakers allowed themselves to make their own story, just like in "Galaxy Quest." Qapla!

Second: The casting of Leonard Nimoy to "pass the torch" (or better said, "relight the torch") is I believe the main reason the film succeeded. Fans wanted to see Nimoy come back. They did not want to see Shatner come back. Bringing Spock back in a movie about Romulans also connects the film to "TNG," and answers the question "What happened to Spock on Romulus?" in a way we were teased with whenever someone said "cowboy diplomacy," and were totally shortchanged on with "Nemesis."

Moreover, while Zachary Quintos does an excellent job modeling Nimoy's Spock, Christopher Pine goes out of his way to not sound like William Shatner. Had Pine spoken in Shatner's trademark staccato cadence, people would have rolled their eyes. Jim Kirk is more beloved than William Shatner, while Leonard Nimoy is as equally loved as Spock.

Now I may be over-selling the reboot, because we haven't had time to see what its legacy effect will be. If it manages to revitalize interest in the franchise, gets people going to conventions again, and generates successful sequels, then I'll feel justified leaving it in my top 10. For now, I think it deserves a spot here for two important reasons. This is the only installment of the franchise, besides "The Voyage Home" and the very height of "TNG," that has been both

1) financially viable with a larger, non-sci-fi crowd, and
2) not despised by legions of Star Trek fans.

That last one may not sound like much, but it is. Because in the final equation, the only thing that Star Trek fans enjoy more than loving Star Trek is hating Star Trek.

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