STAR TREK is at a cinematic crossroads – which path should it take?

Though we may have entered a second possible ‘golden age’ for Star Trek on television, the same cannot be said for the iconic franchise at the movies.

Forbes writer and movie critic Scott Mendelson, in a recent article, decried that Paramount’s experiment to transform Star Trek into a franchise worth of rivalling Star Wars, the MCU, even Pirates of the Caribbean or Transformers, is dead in the water after the box office failure in 2016 of Star Trek Beyond. He points out that while Star Trek 2009 and Star Trek Into Darkness both made a profit and are in the higher percentile of Star Trek films in financial terms, neither of them came anywhere close to making the profits witnessed in franchise films such as The Dark Knight or Skyfall over the last fifteen years. In all of these summations, he is arguably quite correct.

This topic has reared its head once again following two recent news stories. First, that the reputed movie script being worked on by Fargo and Legion scribe Noah Hawley has for now been shelved, on account of the story revolving around a topical killer virus. Secondly, that Quentin Tarantino’s much speculated film idea would be set heavily in the 1920’s gangster era. Paramount are reputed to be weighing a decision on which path to take for Star Trek at the movies – either of these options, or the fourth intended ‘Kelvinverse’ film for the reboot crew. If not three scripts ready to film, then three very different ideas. All of which place Star Trek at a fascinating crossroads.

The question is simple… which road should the franchise take?

Continue reading “STAR TREK is at a cinematic crossroads – which path should it take?”

Scene by Scene: STAR TREK: NEMESIS Pt II – ‘Captain’s Prerogative’

As Star Trek: Picard begins, with the return of The Next Generation era, I’m going to take a scene by scene look back in the next couple of months about the tenth Star Trek film, Stuart Baird’s Nemesis, from 2002…

It almost became a running joke across Star Trek: The Next Generation… when exactly *would* Will Riker accept a promotion to Captain and command his own starship?

It’s a question that defined perhaps the most legendary episode of TNG, Season 3’s finale and Season 4’s premiere The Best of Both Worlds, in which Riker has to step up and truly command the Enterprise when Captain Jean-Luc Picard is abducted and assimilated by the Borg, challenged all the way by spunky first officer Elizabeth Shelby. Riker, ultimately, refuses to take the logical next step in his career for many years. For the remainder of TNG’s run on television. Even during the big screen outings, indeed we see Commander Worf, the Enterprise’s chief security officer, captaining a ship before Riker in Star Trek: First Contact, as he commands the USS Defiant against another Borg invasion. Riker resists his destiny right up until the very last moment, the ‘generation’s final journey’, and it comes in tandem with finally tying the knot with the love of his life, Counselor Deanna Troi, after their romance was rekindled during previous film Star Trek: Insurrection.

The fact Star Trek: Nemesis pulls the trigger on these seismic personal events for Riker is further proof of just how *final* this film was meant to be for the crew of The Next Generation. That show, born as it was of an episodic television structure designed for later syndication and built on many of the episodes being watchable out of sequence, would resist time and again the natural promotion for Riker and relationship with Deanna, both of which almost certainly would have taken place on the serialised, riskier Deep Space Nine at the time. Nemesis has the freedom to change Riker and Troi’s circumstance by virtue of the fact we were never supposed to see them again. Their adventures on Riker’s new ship, the USS Titan, were a chapter meant for tie-in novels and fan fiction, not the canonical Star Trek universe. Nemesis could instigate these developments because it was where the line was being drawn.

Nevertheless, it remains a huge moment for the crew of TNG, the wedding of Riker and Troi, and particularly for Picard himself. He may start his best man speech in jest, yet there is truth beneath his words. “I have commanded men in battle. I have negotiated peace treaties between implacable enemies. I have represented the Federation in first contact with twenty-seven alien species, but none of this compares to my solemn duty today …as best man.”

Picard understands nothing will ever quite be the same again.

Continue reading “Scene by Scene: STAR TREK: NEMESIS Pt II – ‘Captain’s Prerogative’”

Scene By Scene: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN – Pt XI – ‘Live Long and Prosper’

As voted for on Twitter by followers, I will be analysing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan scene by scene in this multi-part exploration of Nicholas Meyer’s 1982 sequel…

Given how powerfully The Wrath of Khan ends, it is easy to miss the beauty in it, certainly in terms of how perfectly it caps off a character journey for Admiral James T. Kirk that we’ve witnessed almost from minute one. It may be Spock who dies in The Wrath of Khan, but the film unquestionably throughout is about Kirk.

It is also hard to overestimate how much of a shock Spock’s death might have been at the time. Characters like Spock didn’t die. You didn’t kill off someone like Leonard Nimoy. Star Trek had emerged from an era of largely safe, colourful, now even kitsch television in which America reflected its aspirational virtues for the post-war future in the 1960’s in heroes. Kirk. Bruce Wayne. Jim Phelps. Cinema had James Bond or Matt Helm. Morally flawed or compromised at times they might have been, but they were designed to save us from the hopeless devastation a generation had lived through. Star Trek’s heroes would fight battles, defeat foes, explore new worlds, but they would always at the end finish on TV with a little joke or the acknowledgement that they’ll be back next week for another adventure.

Even The Motion Picture, which tones down the colour and comedy of The Original Series to depict a post-Watergate, late-1970’s cooler vision of Starfleet’s future, saw Admiral Kirk and the Enterprise—with Spock having regained his purpose as a Starfleet officer—warp away toward a sequel. The human adventure, after all, was just beginning. Nicholas Meyer’s sequel is an incredibly humanistic film but it acknowledges that with humanity, with hope, has to come the balance of pain, and of sacrifice. While Kirk’s arc of spiritual rebirth has a resolutely Christian bent, Spock giving his life to save the Enterprise makes him the Christ figure who saves the crew from Khan’s defeated Devil. Kirk’s first best destiny is to lead, is to find his way back to himself, and to do that he must lose someone he takes for granted for much of The Wrath of Khan. His anchor. His best friend.

To even contemplate such a remarkable ending to a story like this proves just how special The Wrath of Khan is. That ending of Avengers: Endgame? It wouldn’t exist without what The Wrath of Khan dared to try.

Continue reading “Scene By Scene: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN – Pt XI – ‘Live Long and Prosper’”

New Podcast Guest Appearance: Trek FM’s Primitive Culture #67 – ‘Everyone’s a Captain’

Hosted by author Duncan Barrett, Primitive Culture is a Star Trek history and culture podcast we co-created in 2017 on the Trek FM networking, looking at the 50+ year old franchise through the lens of our world today.

In this episode, Duncan and I discuss the difference between revivals and reboots on television, particularly in Star Trek – how The Motion Picture revived the 60’s TV series and the manner it did so in the late 1970’s, through to how it filtered down into the 80’s, quite how JJ Abrams rebooted the franchise in the late 2000’s, and whether Discovery and Picard fall into these camps.

A good, free-ranging discussion, this one, with lots of discussion about Trek old *and* new, with some speculation along the way…

Continue reading “New Podcast Guest Appearance: Trek FM’s Primitive Culture #67 – ‘Everyone’s a Captain’”

Scene By Scene: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN – Pt II – ‘Surely, the Best of Times’

As voted for on Twitter by followers, I will be analysing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan scene by scene in this multi-part exploration of Nicholas Meyer’s 1982 sequel…

Very early on, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan positions itself as a film not just about life and death, but also about age.

We like to think of Captain James T. Kirk as one of the iconic heroic figures of 20th century media. Gene Roddenberry envisaged Star Trek as a Western in space, a “Wagon Train to the Stars”, and for the second film director Nicholas Meyer thought a lot about Horatio Hornblower, from the mid-20th century novels by C. S. Forester. The younger Kirk was a space cowboy, an honourable sharpshooter riding his starship steed across the galaxy with his trusty crew, encountering life forms, putting out fires, starting a few unintentionally, and finding a girl in almost every port. Meyer reconfigures Kirk in middle-age as the swaggering commander in chief, the seasoned voyager whose cowboy days are long over. “Galloping around the cosmos is a game for the young, Doctor” he tells Leonard McCoy, after all.

Yet this elder Kirk is restless and Meyer conveys this from the beginning. Following the disastrous Kobayashi Maru, Kirk’s trusty, unlikely best friend, the equally seasoned and middle-aged Spock, presents his commander with a birthday present – Charles Dickens’ 19th century classic A Tale of Two Cities, in a beautiful, historic hardback edition. Kirk reads the legendary opening lines: “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times… message, Spock?”. Kirk understands that his friend gives everything deliberate and naturally, as a Vulcan, logical thought, so guesses Spock would not have passed this book onto him on such a key day arbitrarily. “None that I’m conscious of” Spock replies coyly, but we don’t believe either. Kirk is intelligent and well read enough to be aware Spock detects in him a melancholy, a sorrow, which the Kobayashi Maru—a reminder of his youthful brio—serves to simply underscore.

Captain Kirk is gone. Admiral Kirk endures. Yet what is left when the cowboy hangs up his boots?

Continue reading “Scene By Scene: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN – Pt II – ‘Surely, the Best of Times’”

Scene By Scene: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN – Pt I – ‘A No-Win Scenario’

As voted for on Twitter by followers, I will be analysing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan scene by scene in this multi-part exploration of Nicholas Meyer’s 1982 sequel…

In many senses, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was the second coming of the Star Trek franchise.

While 1979 had given us The Motion Picture, a film which has improved like a fine wine with age, The Wrath of Khan imposed a framework and iconic visual structure which defined Gene Roddenberry’s creation across the subsequent films of the 1980’s and into The Next Generation sequel TV series and spin-offs over the next two decades. The Wrath of Khan, under the guiding hand of Nicholas Meyer, rediscovered a humanity within Star Trek that the elegant but stale The Motion Picture struggled to recapture, existing at the end of a depressed 70’s where the optimism and colour of the original 1960’s show had been ripped from the American psyche.

That film removed certain key principles of Star Trek’s original mission statement. Time had passed and the crew of the USS Enterprise were, to a degree, diffused. James T. Kirk had been promoted. Spock had left Starfleet. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy grew a beard and went through a failed marriage. The ship even had a new Captain in the young, handsome yet naive Willard Decker. Come the end of The Motion Picture, the crew were reunited and, as the film promised, ‘the human adventure is just beginning…’, but what would that voyage look like? The world of the 1980’s was a far different one from that of 1969, when the Original Series of Star Trek was initially cancelled after three seasons.

The Motion Picture proved it could never entirely return to where it began.

Continue reading “Scene By Scene: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN – Pt I – ‘A No-Win Scenario’”

Star Trek: Year Five (#1)

As tie-in comic series go, Star Trek: Year Five is about as prestige as you can get.

IDW Publishing have tapped into an area explored fairly widely in the tie-in novel world over the years – the original Captain James T. Kirk-led five year mission of exploration of The Original Series. There is an alternate universe out there somewhere where Gene Roddenberry’s groundbreaking series was never cancelled in 1969 after three seasons, and aired for the fourth and fifth year’s of the USS Enterprise’s voyage to seek out new life and new civilisations. Year Five is attempting to capture, on the page, that never seen 1970-1971 season of television – unless you count The Animated Series which purports to be the final two years but is questionable in terms of canon. IDW gave us a Year Four comic over a decade ago but this is only a spiritual sequel, running with the concept of the last year of Kirk’s mission.

The result, even in this first introductory issue, is exciting and fertile ground.

Continue reading “Star Trek: Year Five (#1)”

Making it So: the Return of Jean-Luc Picard & Star Trek’s Nostalgic Future

A couple of months ago, I pontificated on whether the pursuit of nostalgia was a good thing for my second favourite entertainment franchise, Star Trek, in the wake of rumours that Sir Patrick Stewart may well be reprising his iconic role as The Next Generation’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard. This weekend, at the Star Trek Las Vegas fan event, those rumours became reality. The second captain of the USS Enterprise is, officially, on his way back.

What does this mean, now, for the future of Star Trek?

Continue reading “Making it So: the Return of Jean-Luc Picard & Star Trek’s Nostalgic Future”

Book Trek #3: Star Trek: The Original Series – ‘Spock’s World’

In an attempt to try and tackle the onerous job of looking into the Star Trek book universe, thanks to the help of Memory Beta’s chronology section, I am intending to look at the saga in book form from stories which take place earliest in the franchise’s timeline onwards. This hopefully should provide an illuminating and unusual way of examining the extended Star Trek universe.

Part of this story takes place 5 billion years ago.

It feels an unexpectedly timely moment to read ‘Spock’s World’, one of the signature novels from Star Trek writer Diane Duane. Though written in 1989, it deals with an issue that resonates for anyone living in the United Kingdom today, as this writer does: a Referendum. A decision on the part of Vulcan as to whether or not to secede from the United Federation of Planets. Duane could not have possibly known her novel would strike a chord in this way, but it turns out to be a happy accident.

Vulcan, in many respects, has remained more of an enigma in Star Trek than it by any rights should have. While The Next Generation explored the Klingon race and culture in depth, as did Deep Space Nine, only prequel series Enterprise truly delved into the first alien civilisation Gene Roddenberry presented in The Original Series as important to the human experience, through the character of Spock. The Vulcans evolved into a species known for their control of emotions, living through principles of logic and reason, as a direct counterpoint to the rash, hotheadedness innate in the human race. Enterprise, certainly in its first few seasons, made this central difference in both cultures a crucial aspect of the entire series, with the first Starfleet warp ship preparing to explore beyond Earth’s solar system, despite warnings from the Vulcans that humanity was ‘not ready’.

‘Spock’s World’ was written over a decade before Enterprise was even conceived, indeed it debuted only a couple of years into The Next Generation-era. For millions of viewers, Star Trek was *still* at its core Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the crew of the original Enterprise, with TOS the yardstick to follow. Duane’s story takes place just after The Motion Picture; Kirk is an Admiral who takes a temporary devolution in rank to become Captain of the Enterprise once again. TOS *did* explore Vulcan society, principally in legendary Season 2 premiere ‘Amok Time’ which introduced the Vulcan physical and psychological ritual of pon farr, but that classic series never truly was concerned with backstory and mythology of worlds and societies as the TNG-era began to explore. Vulcan always, still, remained a mystery.

Continue reading “Book Trek #3: Star Trek: The Original Series – ‘Spock’s World’”

Book Trek #1: Star Trek: The Original Series – ‘The Star to Every Wandering’

In an attempt to try and tackle the onerous job of looking into the Star Trek book universe, thanks to the help of Memory Beta’s chronology section, I am intending to look at the saga in book form from stories which take place earliest in the franchise’s timeline onwards. This hopefully should provide an illuminating and unusual way of examining the extended Star Trek universe.

Part of this story takes place 5 billion years ago.

The Star to Every Wandering is an unusual Star Trek novel. Author David R. George III is undoubtedly aware of this fact, for numerous reasons. His editor Marco Palmieri at Pocket Books, who produce the tie-in novels, encouraged George for a start to not worry about canon and continuity, two of the most precious and sacred elements of Star Trek. This gave George the license he needed to go off-piste with his trilogy of Original Series novels, under the banner ‘Crucible’, timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the franchise in 2006.

The Crucible trilogy deals with the three most archetypal characters in Star Trek history: Captain Kirk, Commander Spock and Doctor McCoy. They all spiral around one of the most celebrated and classic episodes in Trek history, ‘City on the Edge of Forever’, a time-travel story penned by science-fiction legend Harlan Ellison which sees Kirk & Spock use a mysterious, ancient time-portal called the Guardian of Forever to rescue a crazed McCoy from the year 1930, where he changes the course of history on Earth to such a degree that the Nazis win WW2 and the United Federation of Planets, nay the entire future of Star Trek, ceases to exist. Consequently, by making the Crucible books about one of Trek’s strangest alien creations, George has enormous scope to take his three protagonists anywhere and any ‘when’ in Star Trek history. Continue reading “Book Trek #1: Star Trek: The Original Series – ‘The Star to Every Wandering’”