Star Trek That Could Have Been
I’m not going to go to the new Star Trek movie. By all reports Star Trek Beyond is a fairly good movie but as the New York Times said in their review: Star Trek Beyond Sticks to It’s Brand. That’s Not Necessarily Bad. I've started calling the new movie Star Trek: That's Not Necessarily Bad when I talk about it with friends. I used to watch Star Trek on UHF channel 56 out of Boston that was more static than picture. While I never passed over into fistfights over Trekkie versus Trekker I was always there chatting with those people at the premier of the latest movie. What happened to my enthusiasm?
A good deal of it has to do with the corporate templates that are rigidly enforced for any big budget movie now. Take a set of familiar franchise characters (reboot to be young and beautiful if needed) add X amount of explosions if it’s an action film, Y amount of boy girl angst for a romcom, stir and it’s like almost every other movie that’s been made in the last six years.
For Star Trek Beyond that means the boyish Captain Kirk will brood a bit about his career do a few motorcycle stunts then have an obligatory one on one fight with the black hat. Spock and Uhura will have some romantic angst. Sulu will be gay. Chekov will have been run over by his own Jeep in his driveway and the only remotely ugly one Simon Pegg will do a kind of blackface Scotsman as comic relief.
I’ll see it when it comes out on HBO. I didn’t go to the last Star Wars movie either for much the same reasons. They’ve been flogging the Star Trek thing for fifty years now and Star Wars is heading on to forty. For Star Trek that’s five live-action television series with a sixth coming in 2017. This latest movie will be the 13th feature and it’s teamed up Fast and Furious director Justin Lin with Mr. Explosions J.J. Abrams. About the only thing I’m resonating with is George Takei saying that Mr. Sulu being gay is out of step with what Trek creator Gene Roddenberry would have wanted.
I’m fine with Mr. Sulu being gay. It’s just that I agree with George that it’s out of step. It wasn’t a creative decision but some boardroom meeting deciding to pander to some percentile of the audience that is or supports LGBT. Even groundbreaking stuff like gay Sulu can be made boring. It’s not that famous interracial kiss that’s for sure.
I thought I was done. You’re too old for space cowboy movies now! Then I saw Prelude to Anaxar. (Scroll down for the YouTube link) It turns out I’m not bored with Star Trek just the increasingly bad corporate version.
Star Trek has always inspired fans. Gene Roddenberry encouraged fanfic. He even wrote the forward to Star Trek: The New Voyages, a compilation of fan-written stories. Star Trek is a giant sandbox and there’s room enough for everyone and Gene understood that.
It is now a source of great joy for me to see their view of Star Trek, their new Star Trek stories, reaching professional publication here. I want to thank these writers, congratulate them on their efforts, and wish them good fortune on these and further of their voyages into other times and dimensions. – Gene Roddenberry.
Fan stories banged out on typewriters soon became comic books and art. By 1974 a carpet layer from Michigan spent $2,000 to build a replica of the Starship Enterprise Bridge and produced Paragon’s Paragon. In 1985 a fan convinced George Takei who played Sulu on the original series to reprise the role in Yorktown: A Time to Heal. It’s become almost a cottage industry for those old actors. Walter Koenig (Chekov) and Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) got a full length feature film in 2007 with Star Trek: Of Gods and Men.
"The fan films were just getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger," says Jonathan Lane, creator of the Fan Film Factor, a blog dedicated to analyzing and promoting Star Trek fan films.
Paramount and CBS the owners of Star Trek were pretty tolerant of the whole thing. We’re the original reliable cash cow fan base after all. We even tried to watch Star Trek Enterprise. It was a show that should have been worth watching that was turned into a bore. Simply put the writers and producers were completely out of touch. Vulcans were suddenly angry, pointy-eared, close minded racists with spray on tans that not even Donald Trump could match.
Anyone can manage a sexy Vulcan in her undies. One of the few moments of Star Trek Enterprise that actually came through as “TREK” was Trip and Malcom's drunken shuttle conversation about the perfection of T’Pol’s bum. It was a sly joke on the corporate obsession over the Trek Nookie Girls: Jolene Blaylock’s ass, Jeri Ryan’s cat suit with it’s enhanced "breast mounds", and the Next Generation of Cleavage with Marina Sirtis becoming more and more exposed as the show went on (Roddenberry originally wanted Troi to be a four-breasted, oversexed hermaphrodite but they had trouble figuring out the arrangement. Four in a row? Two banks of two? Four straight up and down?)
"There are certain rules in Hollywood. One of the rules is not written anywhere, but you just know: if you’re doing an action-adventure show, you gotta have chicks on the show for the boys to look at when they’re not blowing up other spaceships. Second rule: if the chick has a cleavage, she cannot have a brain.” –Marina Sirtis
While official Star Trek was deciding on what Marina Sirtis calls "the Industrial Strength Starfleet Brassiere," (By all reports a wonder of engineering) creative fans hadn’t forgotten Gene Roddenberry’s vision. As long as Star Trek wasn’t portrayed in a negative or obscene way it was all free content fueling the cash cow for CBS and Paramount. The problem is the inevitable tipping point has come where the official product is noticeably worse than the fan product.
Prelude to Axanar is a professionally shot, produced and acted short fan film that’s getting close to 2.5 million views on YouTube. Richard Hatch (Captain Apollo in the original Battlestar Galactica) is the bad Klingon and it hits the right Star Trek notes. It’s been so successful that writer-producer Alec Peters raided more than $1 million on crowdfunding sites to make a full length film. I’m not the only fan giving Star Trek Beyond a pass that would line up to see Axanar. For Paramount it’s not just competition; it’s competition that’s showing just how badly they’re handling the franchise. They want it stopped.
Fan film makers give to CBS an unlimited, unrestricted license to use their films, or any portion thereof, in any format CBS should deem appropriate.
Peter’s and his gang claim that fan films do nothing but promote the Star Trek brand and say that Axanar is covered by the Fair Use clause, which allows for use of copyrighted work when that use is “transformative.” Truthfully it’s a disingenuous argument since there’s no question who owns Star Trek. Practically though it’s the fans that have driven the profits and the creativity while the corporate types have done little but abuse the goose that lays the golden egg. Something very similar has happened in the Star Wars Universe. The proposed Star Trek Fan Film Guidelines are just a blatant grab for an unearned share of what’s being made.
You’d think someone would say hey these guys are making bad films and these guys are making good films: lets hire the ones making good films. The corporate types don’t have the balls to do anything but play it safe. It’s not just the fan film producers getting shut out either. J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5) begged to do a show about Kirk’s first five year mission to boldly go where no man had gone before. It promised to answer the question about why Starfleet decided to hand over their ship-of-the-line to the most inexperienced captain they had.
Over the decades, Star Trek has become so insular, so strictly defined, and placed so many layers upon itself that some of the essence of what made us love it in the first place has been lost. The all-too-reasonable desire to protect the franchise may now be the cause of its stagnation. – J.Michael Straczynki
The world is full of the Star Trek That Could Have Been. I’m still not going to Star Trek Beyond. Not even for Simon Pegg’s version of Scotty.