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January 18, 2007

Filed under: movies»television»star_trek

The Wrath of Retcon

When Enterprise started syndication on the Sci Fi channel, I figured I'd give it a shot. The idea of a prequel to the original Star Trek is interesting, even if I have reservations about anything starring Scott Bakula.

I doubt it'll stay on my TiVo watchlist for long, and I don't really want to discuss that at length here. What really struck me are the production elements and the scenery. When Star Trek moved from the original show to the Next Generation, it signalled a shift in the "future" as seen from the 1970's to a sleeker, information-age future. The blocky consoles and blinking light bulbs were replaced with smooth curves of plastic and touch-displays. The show's underlying premise underwent a similar revision, covering the original swashbuckling with a thick coat of liberal humanism (although regressive elements still lurked under the surface). While those changes make TNG superficially easier to watch for an audience that's used to slick special effects, I think it's going to age more poorly than it's first incarnation.

Enterprise casts itself in the mold of TNG in a lot of ways. The design of the ship, the sets, and the writing largely evoke the same polish, ergonomics, and mindset, respectively. I don't really care about what that does to continuity, since I shed any pretense of being a fan around the time when DS9 hit its peak. But I think it would have been more fun to watch a show that took its inspiration from Kirk instead of Picard. This doesn't just include the big, bulky technology that somehow has slimmed down and networked itself in Enterprise, although I think it would have been cool to see the old flip-top, satchel-shaped tricorders and square bridge panels again (Matt Jeffries, the original set and prop designer, reportedly said that subsequent entries to the franchise turned his bridge into "the lobby of a Hilton." He wasn't all wrong, either).

But more than that, there's a kind of sexiness to the first Star Trek that was neutered when Roddenberry revived his show in the 90's. Subsequent shows flirted with the idea, pardon the pun, but they were never allowed to be as blatant as the original. Catch a rerun sometime, and you can see why a million disturbing fan-fics have been written about it. Flared pants and calf-high leather boots, with tight-fitting tunics and gold trim? Starfleet had style, man--a markedly 1966-69 kind of style, sure, but it was there. Not to mention the ridiculous miniskirt uniforms, and Kirk's habit of either bedding any lifeform that moves, having his tunic ripped to shreds, or both. Whether you think it was great cinema or not (it wasn't), Star Trek was fun to watch.

Maybe the solution would have been to give Enterprise a much lower budget. After all, it's comforting to know that the technology for creating "ice or rocky planet #364" has remained relatively stable for the last twenty years. When push comes to shove, apparently nothing satisfies like styrofoam rocks and speckle-painted canvas wrapped around irregular shapes.

January 16, 2007

Filed under: movies»television»star_trek

To Boldly Go

"The Future was Funky." Exactly.

October 12, 2006

Filed under: movies»television»star_trek

Television Week, Part 4: Generation Shift

I was a dyed-in-the-wool trekkie when I was a little kid. I had seen the original episodes a few times--I remember watching them with my father, but I guess when I was six or so, The Next Generation began airing, and I was hooked big time. So it's funny, when recorded episodes started showing up in my TiVo and I began rewatching the show after a 10 or 12 year gap, the things that I've noticed about it. Be warned, some of this is pretty geeky stuff.

  • TNG was pretty diverse for its time. Not just in the bridge crew, which was where all the diversity on the original series pooled, but in the extras. There are a lot of different faces in the background.
  • ...that said, it had a lot of room for improvement. The chain of command is mostly White men, and women are often relegated to stereotypical roles (the doctor, the psychiatrist, the wife) with the exception of Tasha Yar, who was quickly killed off. The Klingons are a barely-disguised parody of African-American savage stereotypes. I've noticed very few Indian, non-Japanese East Asian, or African characters. Also: no gay people.
  • What's with the regionalism? Okay, I understand that Earth still apparently plays a role in the Federation, but this series supposedly takes place 300 years from present day. Why does Colm Meaney still have a recognizable Irish accent? There are supposedly lots of human colonies and starbases scattered around--why haven't they gotten their own accents and dialects? It's just kind of weird.
  • Man, this show was cheesy. Given the chance between a dark but thought provoking ending that exposes more of the characters, or a feel-good platitude, TNG went for the platitudes just about every time. There are some of these that I can't even watch, they're so over-the-top.
  • The military heirarchy sometimes seems like an odd choice. TNG operates on a lot of Culture-lite conceits: no money, lots of automation, people do whatever it is that they want to do. In the middle of this is Starfleet's rank system. I understand that they need a way of resolving situations and giving orders, but the connotations kind of work against the Enterprise's supposedly peaceful mission.
  • While we're at it, what does the crew actually do? You know, for such a smart and advanced set of people, they have problems delegating. Every time there's an away team, out goes Will Riker and Data, or a set of other high-ranking, hard-to-replace characters to investigate the possibly hostile situation. The regular crew doesn't seem to do anything particularly useful, apart from taking phazer blasts for the bridge crew. Starfleet officers are the absolute managers from hell.
  • That's a nice computer. Shame if anything happened to it. So the computer going horribly awry is a common theme on the show. Apparently it's very fast, but not actually very intelligent, although it spawns AI at least three or four times. For all the good the Enterprise computer does, you still have to wonder sometimes if the crew wouldn't be better off with a cheap webserver and a TI-82. And what's with the crazy multi-colored interface? I guess you can't touch-type in the future. I wouldn't want to be a writer there.

Future - Present - Past