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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.

Future - Present - Past