So, JJ Abrams has made the film of the year. Oh yes, he has...
Star Trek is sci-fi with soul. A pacy, endlessly thrilling reboot that pumps energy and emotion into a notoriously sterile fiction.
The multiplex masses loved it (highest grossing Star Trek film at $385m worldwide).
The non-fans embraced it (those “This is not your father’s Star Trek” ads worked).
Even the arms-folded Trekkies/Trekkers had to admit it was “fun, watchable.”
And now, inevitably, phasers are set to “Make a sequel!” (not an authentic phaser setting).
The cast have signed on for two more and original writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and co-producer Damon Lindelof are working on the story for the first - with a 2011 release planned to chime with the show’s 45th anniversary.
Orci has promised the second Trek will “deal with modern issues” and Abrams himself has stressed the need to drill deeper into ground barely skimmed by the first movie.
Depressingly, top of Abrams’ checklist appears to be ‘Hire A Big Lorry, Fill It With Money And Dump It On William Shatner’s Porch.’
(“The fun is that the destiny of the characters isn’t constrained by pre-existing films or TV series. Whether it’s Shatner or Khan, it would be ridiculous to not be open to those ideas.”)
That’s Khan - the late Ricardo Montalban’s genetically engineered, Nietzschien ubervillain, last seen forcing Spock to sacrifice himself for the good of the Enterprise in the second-best Star Trek film, 1982’s The Wrath Of Khan.
Movies, of course, are business - made to make money for the studios who pay for them. Given the first film’s receipts, no force on Earth could deter Paramount from holding to the three-movie business model - however creaky the concept or tired the characters (or actors).
But JJ’s Star Trek is such an accessible, fully formed, start-to-finish satisfying experience, how can he push to the next Warp Factor without, umm, breaking the engines?
Orci's comments are worrying enough. What exactly are these “modern issues” poised to be processed into an oh-so-relevant allegorical plot theme?
Back in the early-to-mid 2000s, the Battlestar Galactica rework was spoilt for real-world riffs: Iraq, fears about post 9/11 civil liberties, the ‘war on terror’ and its attendant xenophobia, political paranoia, fundamentalism vs humanism, the ethics of Guantanamo Bay, a violated superpower poised to establish itself as a quasi-colonial force in the Middle East - and possibly beyond...)
Today, what would Star Trek 2 have to draw on? At the edge of a new decade, world affairs feel stuck in a wait-and-see holding pattern: post-Bush, pre-Obama (jury still out), with the key powers too focused on paying the bills to engage in anything conveniently cinematic.
How about a big, bold bad guy - a sly nod to Iran’s President Ahmadinejad - who plans to use secretly acquired weapons to hold the world to ransom? Already covered in the first movie.
A newly assertive Russia doubling for the warlike, adventurist Klingons? Even that’s off now - with Obama’s recent nixing of European Missile Defence.
The steady drawing back from Iraq and Afghanistan as the basis for a barnstorming storyline set on a stricken planet, overrun by civil war, whose leaders beg the visiting Enterprise crew to stick around and call in Federation reinforcements? Too dry.
Something environmental, perhaps? A guest spot from Al Gore as the leader of a race from the future warning Kirk and Spock of impending natural disaster? Zzzzzzzz.
The writers can’t even take the world recession as the cue for a story about intergalactic resource-wrestling - because, come 2011, we’ll surely be back to our old profligate selves.
As for Abrams hints about Shatner and Kahn, the once-wonderful 24 wrote itself into ironic knots by cartoonishly burping back old characters and classic nemeses.
After delivering such a fresh and sparky reinvention, surely no-one wants to see the franchise blunder down dirty old Meta Street, tripping over foregrounded geek-winks and inviting canned applause at the regular introduction of tired old adversaries.
Abrams needs to quit pestering Shatner, shelve his old Trek DVDs and push Star Trek 2 forward by looking back - to the series’ traditional focus on humanity and morality.
He should view Battlestar not as an inspiration for reflecting reality, but as a model for how to lock audiences into a space-bound saga by developing rich, interesting, flawed characters and pitching them into an irresistible swirl of ethical dilemmas.
Abrams now has the opportunity to do for sci-fi what Chris Nolan's The Dark Knight did for comic-books: subvert genre prejudice by taking a well received redux deeper and darker. More adult, less adolescent.
And definitely no Tribbles.
What are you hoping to see from Star Trek 2? Would you be happy with a checklist of series regulars or must JJ try harder? Or maybe you hated his version anyway...
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