In the past few weeks we’ve seen the trailer releases for two of the most anticipated geek related properties for 2009 – Star Trek and Watchmen. While there aren’t any major thematic or visual relationships between the two, they’re linked by the fact that they sit at the top of the list when it comes to beloved fan properties that are considered ‘sacred’ to some. Watchmen has long been considered an unfilmable project due to a myriad of factors that become readily apparent once you’ve read the graphic novel (length, subtext, adult themes, etc.). Star Trek… Well, Star Trek is Star Trek. Now, I’m not going to sit here and do some sort of a trailer dissection; we’ve all seem them a hundred times and have already made up our minds in regards to how we feel about these films. What interests me is the almost polar opposite reactions from stalwart fans of each property after the slow unveiling of these projects over time. Before I get into it, I’m going to be upfront with the fact that I’m not much of a Star Trek guy even though I keep an open mind, but I absolutely adore Watchmen. I read it for the first time when I was eleven, hardly understood any of it, and after subsequent revisits to the text realized it was everything that comics can and should be. I’m also one of those people that felt it was unfilmable.
I can freely admit that I’ve never quite been captured by the allure of the Star Trek universe. However, I understand what it means to people and view it as a pop culture event that was latched on to by a group of very dedicated and enthusiastic fans. Even though there seem to be as many different iterations as Law and Order, most people that I’ve talked Trek with seem to be fans of the original series, first and foremost. And boy, do they hate this J.J. Abrams shit. Now, it seems that the difference in mentalities is Trek has been viewed as untouchable while, as I said, Watchmen gained the unfilmable label. After I saw the new Star Trek trailer, I thought it looked pretty good! How relevant is it to the original series and the spirit of Star Trek? I haven’t a clue (because I’m ignorant), but with Trek there seems to be an awful lot of information and expectations to streamline into a franchise reboot. I’ve had people tell me that I don’t get to have an opinion of the upcoming ST film because I’m not a fan, but I have to remind them that if it becomes a hit, it will be people like me who are uninitiated with the franchise that propel it to blockbuster status. The idea behind this film, whether die hard Trekkies want to believe it or not, is to lure a new generation of moviegoers, who aren’t already familiar with the mythology of Star Trek, to want to see more of that universe.
It is apparent that Watchmen benefits more from having direct source material to draw from as inspiration for visuals, dialogue, and overall direction. Even though J.J.’s using iconic characters, he essentially has a blank slate to work with that is alread inside a sturdy frame. There are things that he has to get right for it to be considered Star Trek, but other than that he has the freedom to do whatever he wants with it. That scares people! What if he takes something I love and twists it around until it’s unrecogizeable to the people who made it what it is today – for better or worse. While Paul Greengrass is one of my favorite directors working today, I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of updating Watchmen to a modern setting, but I was willing to see where it would have taken us as viewers. I’m not against the idea of tweaking, but there’s also a certain sense of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality with franchises like this.
So, the Watchmen and Star Trek trailers came out, and what happened? The only Star Trek fans who seem to be happy by the new trailers and photos of the cast in costume are the ones who prognosticated the film’s failure to capture the spirit of Star Trek from it’s inception. The other people who seem to be pleased by the trailer are people who aren’t really familiar with Star Trek. When I saw the trailer in the theater, people actually cheered after clip. As I looked around and saw nothing but sorority chicks and stoners, I realized they weren’t clapping ironically because Star Trek is a joke, they were clapping because they thought it looked good. Go figure. Say you’re a Trek fan, a die hard Trek fan, and you hated the film. You thought it ruined everything you felt was right about the property, and you rip off your Starfleet badge and throw it on the ground. But what happens to it? It gets picked up by some seventeen year old kid wearing a Hollister shirt and pooca shell necklace, and since he thought the movie was totally ‘badass’ he’s going to put that pin on his backpack and tell everyone he’s a Star Trek fan. Are you happy that the film made a new fan of Trek, and now he might go seek out the original series, thus letting the legacy of Star Trek permeate another generation? Or are you a bitter bastard because it wasn’t your Star Trek?
I know it seems like I’ve been talking down about Trek; I’m really not. If you want to CRTL+F it and replace all “Star Trek” with “Watchmen“, this will all still make sense. But, the reaction to Zack Snyder’s vision of Watchmen has been very different from that of J.J.’s Trek. Like I said, I think Watchmen benefits greatly from having source material in place, and the ability to reference the graphic novel during filming is an invalubale tool on the set; a luxury Abrams doesn’t have. Dating back to the early interenet film geek days of debating the look of the Episode I trailer, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a first glimpse at a project that held so much hope as the first two Watchmen trailer’s have. On CHUD.com the Watchmen Pre-Release thread is something to marvel at during certain discussions, and forgiving the occassional “where’s teh squid?!1!” post, it’s been a fairly intellectual discussion about the film and about the graphic novel. Thematic elements are what mainly get discussed, and as someone who thought he understood everything there is to know about Watchmen, I’ve learned a few things that I would have never put together on my own. In a Star Trek thread I learned that the Enterprise can’t be built on Earth, and I’m dumb for having thought that. I’m still not quite sure why it can’t be built on Earth since it’s completely fictional so they can build it under water for all I care, but everyone seems very sure of this, so I’ll listen and go with it.
In the end, how can one get it so seemingly right while the other is doing it so apparently wrong? Is it because of the difference in source material? Is the the creative powers-that-be working on the films? Is it because we’ve spent years building up images and ideas of these properties in our heads that no one could ever come close to bringing those thoughts to life? I think it’s a little from each category. It’s not easy to step back and look at these projects objectively, we all have our prior thougths and feelings on the subjects. For most comic book movies, you can forgive differences and variations because like the new Star Trek movie, the directors and writers are working from scratch along with certain elements they know they must put in the films to make it that film. Watchmen is a bit different because of the fact it’s a straight adaptation (mostly) at this point, with changes made to fit the medium. I don’t envy the position that either J.J. Abrams or Zack Snyder are in right now (besides being famous directors working on properties I’d kill to get my hands on) because even if you ‘win’ by making the movie you set out to make, you lose because no matter what you put out there, somebody’s going to hate it. Most likely, it’s going to be a fan whose expectations you didn’t deliver upon. Bottom line – it sucks to like stuff.