Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Spock, I need you…

For old Trekies like me, there has been an evolution of interest and discernment about what we might affectionately call "The Franchise."

As a kid, I loved Capt. Kirk and Mr. Spock. I was mesmerized by the then-high-tech nature of the TV show, wanting to believe that the balsa wood cut out USS Enterprise was real despite the fact that it looked nothing like the real space ships NASA was shooting off from Cape Kennedy. Star Trek was like nothing else on television and made shows like Lost in Space look like child's play.

The plots of those original shows, scurrilously described by the TV critics of the time as "cowboys in space" and “swashbuckling astronauts,” were perfect for my 13 year old boy sensibilities. There on the backlot of some Paramount studio, the bold and brash young Kirk persevered in a to-the-death, hand-to-hand battle with some slimy, scaly Styrofoam-laden creature from the Black Lagoon. It was comic book drama at its best.

And as quickly as it started, it disappeared. Well, not exactly. Through the miracle of television reruns, you could continue to relive the Star Trek phenomena in syndication.

By the time the Star Trek story moved to the silver screen in the late 70's, I had matured, as had the characters. The plots in this next iteration of The Franchise were slightly more involved, perhaps overly melodramatic, but the special effects were all the more realistic and believable. With some super movie hocus pocus, the shots of the Enterprise traveling at Warp Factor 5 started to look – real.

We had all aged along with Spock and Kirk and grown comfortable with their enduring relationship. We enjoyed their fraternity which now allowed Spock to call his captain by his first name – something unheard of in the original series. And we reveled in the fact that the once romantic and sexy young Kirk had been replaced with a self-deprecating scoundrel whose libido – and ego - had somehow managed to be diluted with age.

Then, in the 90s ST: The Next Generation brought a whole new dimension - and a whole new “generation” of followers to The Franchise. The swashbuckling antics of old were gone, replaced by intelligence and craftiness. Battles were won with brilliance and cunning, not brawn and fisticuffs. The basic formula remained the same and to us old Trekies, who had grown wise with age, the refocus on the morality play side of Star Trek had a fresh new appeal. New favorite characters emerged and new 23rd century technologies provided more opportunities for more complicated plot twists and turns.

Though through this period, the memories of Kirk and Spock were not lost. Reaching perhaps a new zenith, The Franchise exploited both the large screen and small as more movies rolled out and the TV series broke new ground with a nine season run.

But eventually the two casts seemed to cross into a time warp that left almost all of them stranded beyond the Neutral Zone. Whether it was poor writing or a lack of imagination, the old friends were getting a bit long in the tooth and more and more unbelievable. Attempts at moving TNG to the big screen never really produced the excitement that was expected and Kirk and Spock had simply become old men.

The Franchise experienced a few more furtive twists and turns in the years that followed. ST: Voyager which started off slow and stiff eventually won me over. But perhaps because of the mere nature of the plot, Voyager had to have an ending that would be anticlimactic. Deep Space Nine and Enterprise never really resonating with me and apparently neither did it with mainstream audiences. Both of these later iterations did not last very long and it was beginning to look like The Franchise was relegated to thrusters only.

And then there was The Void.

With Gene Roddenberry long gone and several of the actors from the original series having returned to Sto-Vo-Kor, some of us thought that perhaps our fantastic romp in outer space had gone out of phase permanently. Perhaps too, many of the high tech gizmos that had fascinated us in1965 had simply become pedestrian. As we communicate with our smart phones and track our locations on our handheld GPS units, we are now living out the Star Trek fantasies in our daily life.

So what could possibly make this new installment of The Franchise a success?

I admit I was pretty skeptical. It would take a lot to get me interested and excited about a new cast and crew.

So I must admit I have been surprised and pleased with Star Trek – the new movie.

Kudos to the director, writers and production staff who have managed to reach back into that box of magic and pull out a winner.

By returning to the original formula – cowboys in space – and adding a troupe of good young actors along with some of the best computer graphics money can buy, The Franchise appears to have brought itself back to life.

While I cannot give it a full five stars, I will confirm that the new movie is a nice entertaining experience that Trekies old and young have to go see.

In closing, you know what Spock would say…

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