A little while ago my esteemed colleague Jeremy Smith brought you confirmation of what Aint It Cool’s Moriarty discovered about the plot of JJ Abrams’ Star Trek (read it here). Jeremy finds this concept intriguing, but I have to say that it makes me sort of shake my head and say, ‘Why?’
What’s the point of this alternate timeline brouhaha? Others on the web have already said that the whole thing reminds them of Marvel’s Ultimate Universe, a reboot of the classic Marvel characters that was supposed to give new readers a ground floor entry into a mythos that had become overcomplicated. But that was a complete new start, with nothing tying it into the old Marvel Universe, and that’s why it worked. Creating a complex backstory that ties the events of this film into the other Star Trek franchises… that seems like more trouble than it’s worth.
In fact, I really believe that the general audience doesn’t give a flying shit about continuity. Exhibit A must be Casino Royale, a film that just starts over at square one without having to send Bond through a Q-built time machine. Exhibits B and C would be Batman Begins, which reboots a film series still modestly fresh in the minds of the target audience and Smallville/Superman Returns, which showed that audiences wouldn’t be confused by two competing Clark Kents. They just wouldn’t like one of them very much.
If the general audience won’t care about continuity beyond the most basic aspects (ie, don’t make Bones a jive talkin’ homeboy), who will? The Trek fanbase is at an ebb these days, pummeled out of existence by a series of increasingly shitastic television shows. The Trekkies are no force of any sort to reckoned with, and their unhappiness with the film wouldn’t register as a blip on the opening weekend take.
Speaking of the parade of poor Star Trek series, that’s what this movie sounds like to me the most; it’s easy to imagine a weekly series where our heroes explore a slightly off-kilter Star Trek universe circa the original show, filled with in-references for the fans. Maybe we could have an alternate take on the Redjack story where it’s Chekov who is suspected of the murders! What if they steal Sulu’s brain instead of Spock’s? Etc, etc etc – I don’t feel the need to supply Abrams with future story ideas.
What’s worst of all is that this whole project feels like the thing that’s killing the superhero comic: continuity porn. Instead of making a new Star Trek with familiar elements that’s accessible to a whole new generation, Abrams is making a Star Trek whose main distinction will be the slight ways it deviates from the original. So you want to blow up Vulcan, JJ… just fucking do it. Your Star Trek film does not need to play perfectly when placed next to the original series – just basic technology and fashion will ensure that*. If you want to include nods to the original Trek, just include them, but don’t make that the whole point of the exercise. I’m reminded of that classic Saturday Night Live sketch, where William Shatner is hounded by continuity-obsessed fans. Isn’t it enough to just be a good story?
I’ve not been wholly positive about JJ Abram’s Star Trek, that much is true. And I’m not sold on this concept, which I do not doubt will be the basis for what we see on screens in the finished film. But I’m still holding out hope. I love the original series and the original characters, and I think those are the only aspects of the Star Trek legacy worth exploring. I think that now is a perfect time to bring these characters back and to return to that slightly groovy vision of the future. I just don’t want it to get bogged down by having one eye always cast on the past.
* This is the most annoying part of the whole concept. We know that the sets and costumes for this film just cannot look like the original series sets and costumes – will we really have a blockbuster film filled with polyester pants tucked into pleather boots and beehive hairdos? Audiences will wonder why the communicators are bigger than their Razrs, and why all the readouts are so primitive. How would a group of time traveling Romulans change this? Do they become fashion gurus in the past? Why bother going out of your way to explain it… just update the look. NOBODY CARES.