Friday, February 19, 2010

Re-Booting The Star Trek Re-Boot

The new Star Trek movie didn’t thrill me. Sure, as shallow summer CGI-blockbusters go, it was acceptable, but it wasn’t anything more than that. This movie had none of the depth and sophistication of the original episodes, nor did it have the essence of what made the characters so great. It was little more than Pirates of the Caribbean In Space meets Star Trek Babies, and I guarantee you this new franchise has at most two more movies in it before the audience loses interest in the big shiny explosions. But I’m not here to rip this movie apart. Instead, I’d rather talk about what would have made a better re-boot.

What kind of Star Trek reboot would I have done? For starters, I would want something that kept the original spirit, only updated it with a more intense story and better effects. It would need to be something that both the fans of the original could like as well as non-versed new comers. So why not start by taking a few of the better episodes, combining them, modernizing them, and adding a few twists.

Just as importantly, we need to keep what made the characters work so well (there is no way that any of these Star Trek Babies grows up to become the series characters) and it would be a nice touch to explain some of their idiosyncrasies. Finally, because it costs us nothing, let’s respect the series history rather than throw in a ridiculous time change cop-out (which still can’t explain why they’re all at the Academy together and suddenly the same ages).

I would begin with the incident mentioned in Obsession (gas cloud monster) where eager young, by-the-book Lt. James Kirk of the USS Farragut freezes up for a split second, leading to the deaths of several officers including the captain he idolized (Captain Garrovick). Kirk freezes because shooting the gas cloud would have killed his then-girlfriend (who is the science officer on the Farragut). When he freezes, it attacks the rest of the landing party and kills them. This gives us the question of whether or not Kirk can make the truly hard decision of sacrificing someone he loves to save others.

Fast forward several years. A no-longer-by-the-book, Kirk boards the Enterprise for the first time as Captain. He is replacing the very popular Captain Pike, which gives us a chance to see if Kirk can win over the crew.

Spock, who is already on the Enterprise, was Pike’s science officer and represents the voice of reason. Sulu, also already on board, represents the voice of Pike’s crew. McCoy comes on board for the first time with Kirk, but has not previously known Kirk -- he will be the voice of the audience. Also coming on board with Kirk, as second officer of the Enterprise, is Kirk’s best friend from Academy days. These characters will let the audience see Kirk’s actions being judged from different perspectives.

Kirk’s first assignment is to take a science team to the outer rim of the galaxy to investigate and cross over an energy barrier that rings the galaxy and seems to hold it together. The science team includes Kirk’s (now ex) girlfriend from the beginning of the film. She still pines for Kirk, but he has an aversion to her because of the bad memories of the Farragut incident. This gives us a potential romantic interest and lets us see how Kirk is dealing with his own past. Moreover, you can add the element of him trying to resolve the conflict between wanting a relationship but simultaneously believing that would interfere with his duties as Captain.

Kirk tries to take the ship through the barrier, causing the ship to become damaged (see Where No Man Has Gone Before). Several people die and a handful of people start developing strange ESP powers -- including the ex and the best friend.

As the crippled ship heads to the nearest Federation outpost, things start to go wrong. First, they encounter the remains of an alien spaceship. During the next hour of the movie, Spock will slowly decode that ship’s logs. He will learn that the crew came under attack from both within and outside of the ship, and that the alien captain blew up his own ship, but they won’t know why until near the end of the movie.

In the meantime, strange things start to happen. They discover a ship following them on their sensors, but can’t get near it (like a sensor mirage). It’s like they are being stalked (see Balance of Terror). People also start to see visions of ghosts walking the hallways and hear things pounding on the hull. Soon people are hallucinating, with deadly consequences.

In this portion of the film, I would go for a level and style of horror similar to The Grudge -- uncomfortable and disturbing (a little shocking), but not gory.

As these events begin, the crew believes that they have intruders aboard. Then they start to think they brought something back from the destroyed ship. But as Kirk’s friends gain more and more ESP powers it becomes clear that they are manifesting these nightmares. Further, as their powers grow, they start “losing their humanity” as their powers corrupt their thinking. This lets you play with the “power corrupts” angle and the “fear drives us to do bad things” angle.

As these powers grow, they become increasingly menacing to the crew. Spock tells Kirk they cannot be allowed to reach a populated planet -- he also discovers that this is why the alien captain destroyed his own ship, so his ESP-enhanced crew would not be unleashed on a populated planet. At the same time, McCoy is working on a cure, but likely won’t find one in time.

Kirk is now facing THE choice -- egged on in multiple directions by Spock (“act now”) and McCoy (“give me time”). He can’t let his friends reach the nearest outpost, and he must protect his crew, but can he kill his friends in cold blood? That is the very issue Kirk could not resolve at the beginning of the film with the gas cloud.

In terms of adding a little action, as Kirk is making the decision, I would have the “sensor ghost” (now nearly fully manifested) finally attack the Enterprise. This would be the final trigger that pushes Kirk to make the decision. So does he kill them? Of course, because he’s Kirk and he makes those kinds of hard decisions. But if this is written well, the audience should not be sure until he does it that he will actually do it.

Then wrap it up with a speech about duty, and stressing that while space exploration is dangerous, it is in our natures to take risks.

The end.

I think this movie does a good job of keeping the spirit of the original, updating it, and creating a movie that is both challenging to the audience and yet accessible without being lost in Star Trek minutia. Also, this movie leaves the door open for all kinds of stories in the future because it’s character-driven and you can go in any number of ways with future scripts (kind of like the new Doctor Whos). By comparison, the reboot they actually made can only lead to more CGI action flicks.

That’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to it.


Anonymous said...

I love it. They would never do it.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Anon! We can always hope right?

Unknown said...

Andrew: I actually enjoyed the movie, but only standing by itself. As a re-boot it lacked all the thinking that went into your version of a re-boot. You should have been the scriptwriter.

Anonymous said...

The outer rim of the galaxy is pretty far away!!

I like your idea a lot but it's basically what you say it is: a combination of some of the better episodes. Ironically, Trek fans had the same complaints about the very first movie in 1979. One thing I like about your idea is there's no over the top villain. One of the downsides of Trek II's success was that, for every subsequent film, the studio felt the need to include a bad guy to match wits with the captain. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't, and one time the villain was simply man's lack of foresight (Trek IV).

As for the new movie, I thought it was a lot of fun though I can't help but feel it was missing that one moral/ethical lesson that the very best Treks had. I thought Chris Pine and the other actors were surprisingly good - the true test will be if the next film is a success.

If Paramount said to me, "Scott, you'll be in charge of the next Trek movie," I'd immediately hire author Christopher L. Bennett to develop the story and write the script. He has written numerous sci-fi short stories and Trek novels and he excels at world-building.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Lawhawk. I would have enjoyed the challenge!

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, First, I don't think there's anything wrong with taking a couple of the original episodes as a base. It's all about grounding the series in the original, and there's no reason that you have to throw out everything they've done before -- in fact, Wrath of Khan was largely a repeat of the Khan episode done with multipe ships. . . they just hid it well. Which brings me to point two:

This is just a bare-bones outline. It's obvious on paper what it is (though some other people I showed it to each named different movies they thought it had "stolen from"). What matters is what you do with the movie once you get into the details. What matters is how the characters interact, how the production looks, and how you build the suspense. That's where the based you built it on disappears and it becomes an original story.

That's why few people recognized Oh Brother Where Art Thou as The Odyssey, or Clueless as Pride and Prejudice or Trading Spaces as My Fair Lady -- because they took the stories as a base and made them look and feel different and they took the occasional plot twist.

If this brought in aspects of horror like The Grudge, an action sentiment like Ronin and science fiction effects akin to the new movie, then no one but a few die-hard fans are going to identify the episodes it's based on.

That's my point. This would be a great launching point for more expansive movies later -- but it would still be comfortable. I don't think the version they made does that. It's just too much CGI and not enough story.

Anonymous said...

I know it's just an outline. That was just my first impression. :-)

It reminds me of the process behind the making of Trek II. They knew it was to be a "Space Seed" sequel and other writers had developed such plot points as Saavik, the Genesis Device, terraforming, Kirk's son, Spock's death, etc. Nick Meyer finally combined that all into a script, coupled with the through-line of Kirk's midlife crisis, and a classic film was born!

I agree: there's no reason to throw out everything that's come before but one thing that bothered me about the new film was, it's Star Trek, they can do anything. So what do they do? Time travel... again!

I hope my original comment didn't come across as too harsh or anything! :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, No, I didn't take offense -- though you are hereby banned for life!! Just kidding. No, I didn't take offense.

( Not to mention, if I offended easily, I wouldn't be blogging! :-) )

I'm just making the dual points that: (1) It's virtually impossible to do anything truly original because people will always play the semantics game of just describing it more and more generically until they can say -- "Ah hah, I've seen that before." I had an English teacher like that. We didn't get along.

So looking for true originality isn't a worthwhile pursuit. Not to mention that being too original often means you've crossed over into "craptastic land" -- there's a reason these non-original ideas are repeated so often. . . they work.

But that doesn't mean we should just copy what's been done, which leads me to my second point:

(2) What really matters is not the base that you use to start your story, it's whether or not the finished product feels new.

I think this movie would absolutely feel new. Despite the obvious theft from Where No Man Has Gone Before, once you get into the execution, it should feel very fresh because it incorporates many ideas never seen in Trek -- some production, some character driven. And from those characters, we should be able to drive the plot in such a way that you lose track of the base upon which the story rests and instead focus on following the drama between the characters. That's where the story would take on an originality that transcends the borrowed plot points.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. Scott, I do agree that copying original episodes can be disappointing. And I know that many people criticized Star Trek I for that. But I think there, again, the problem was the poor execution rather than the story (though the story didn't support a full length movie).

In terms of the time travel in the new Trek, I think the reason they went with time travel was because the characters as they existed in the original series didn't work for the kind of movie they planned, so they decided to come up with an easy excuse that let them re-make the characters but keep the names and some of their traits. I think that was the first clue that all was not right with the writing team -- whenever someone decides to deus ex machina a plot point rather than think their way around it, you know that you're not dealing with people who care about the subject matter.

MegaTroll said...

I've read this twice now and I really like it. Thanks. Very interesting.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Mega. I figured that if I was going to criticize movies, I should put up my own ideas once in a while for how I would have done them. Seems only fair.

Anonymous said...

I realize it's just about impossible to do an original story and, at this point, it's more in the execution, but my issue is... why automatically start cherry-picking from episodes? Why start with that mindset?

I sort of mentioned this in another comment: it's Star Trek... you can do anything! I know it'll be new to the non-Trekkies in the audience and there are many ways it can still be entertaining but why not at least try to do come up with an idea unique to Trek?

The key idea is this: any theme that's explored won't be new, whether it's the loneliness of command or the idea of taking risks. The unique part of it will be all the "kewl" sci-fi stuff and set pieces. But Trek's already been to the edge of the galaxy. Every Trek show has done an ESP episode (usually once a season!). The second episode of Voyager had a "sensor mirage" which turned out to be a reflection of Voyager herself.

I just remember seeing Star Trek: Insurrection and the idea of a holoship being used to relocate an indigenous population and I'm like, "They did that in an episode! And not an early one; it was one of their last ones just four years ago!" :-D

Writer X said...


I agree with you. The remake was something cobbled together and packaged as a remake simply to create a quick money-maker blockbuster. It proves that CGI alone does not a movie make. I wanted to love the remake but it put me to sleep.

The story line was just so flat. I like your ideas much better! This was a case where the characters/acting was there but the writing wasn't, I think. Usually it's the other way around or a little of both. It made me wonder if the screenwriters truly appreciated the original Star Trek movies and characters; clearly they did not. There was no depth. Or reason to keep watching.

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, To me, it felt more like the writers knew the negative stereotype of Star Trek rather than having any real appreciation for the original show. Nothing in the movie tells me that they really understood or cared about the original series. I also got the feeling that they were mimicking the movies rather than the series.

At the same time, I think this is just another example of Hollywood trying to tap into an existing audience by doing a re-make but not really remaking the show so much as just stealing the names and some of the images and transplanted them onto whatever generic blockbuster they had in the works.

That seems to be a very popular marketing gimmick right now.

Writer X said...

Andrew, I think you just nailed what was missing from the movie. To boot, none of the characters in the remake were endearing (or really, believable). I blame the writing, more than the acting.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I understand your point, but let me give you a couple responses:

First, you're talking about rebooting an existing franchise. That necessarily requires a lot of set up. That means that to a degree, you need to ground it in what people already know. Also, Star Trek is not unlimited, there are certain things you just can't do. For example, if you tried to start with the plot to Harry Potter or the plot to 2001, people would say -- "I don't know what that was, but it wasn't Star Trek."

It's the later movies where you can build on what you've done and expand into new areas -- once you've established your characters and some of the rules.

Secondly, you are forgetting how much ground Star Trek covered. Seriously, try to come up with something that hasn't been done in one of the series? I doubt you can come up with something that I can't say -- oh, they did that in episode X.

They've done everything, or at least they've done enough that anything will end up with people saying "that came from episode X." So rather than trying to find the one idea that no one can say they've done, embrace the past as your starting point and move on from there into more original grounds.

That's why you start with that mindset.

Third, I think you really are focusing too much on the plot back-bone to say it's not original. Originality doesn't derive from the backbone. All the backbones have been done. It's how you executed that matters -- the twists and turns and the changes. Consider the difference between My Fair Lady and Trading Spaces. You could argue, well, that's the same plot -- which it really is at the simplest level. But few people would say TS is not original. The reason is they twist MFL slightly at every turn -- e.g. they give you a Doolittle and a reverse Doolittle, they added a revenge aspect, and they made Higgins into two bastards. And that made it into a very original work.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. Scott, much of this is semantics. Let's replace "galactic barrier" with "damaged when alien ship they find explodes." Replace "esp" with "Enterprise crew thinks Kirks' friends are infected with disease they got visiting alien ship that is creating the halucinations." Would you recognize it as Where No Man Has Gone Before at that point if I didn't tell you that's what it's based on? Nothing has really changed in the plot except for a couple minor details, but it's suddenly not so recognizable.

Anonymous said...

Andrew - I understand. A lot of it is semantics. And you are correct - they can't do just anything. But when you consider the environment of space and all the different aliens and spatial phenomena, it's hard to realize, "Oh yeah, there's a limit here somewhere!"

Having said all that, I have a cool link for you (and everyone else)...

Sometime in 2003-04, franchise overlord Rick Berman was attached to produce a new Trek movie. It was to be a prequel called Star Trek: The Beginning. He hired Band of Brothers writer Erik Jendresen to develop the script. There was a regime change at the studio and the new people brought in J.J. Abrams and the rest is history.

Aint It Cool News did a story on this mysterious "lost" Trek movie. The article is worth a read and maybe you'll like it more than what we got!

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, I blame the writing as well. I thought the actors were fine.

This re-boot thing has bothered me for a while. One of the most egregious examples, in my opinion, was the remake of Starsky and Hutch -- it was just another cop buddy comedy with a thin veneer of the original tv show laid on top. I really believe that if they scrubbed the names, no one would ever have know it was meant to be Starsky and Hutch/ Star Trek wasn't as bad, but it suffered from a similar affliction.

Anonymous said...

Oh, God! Don't remind me of Starsky and Hutch. I wasn't around for the original show but I can't believe I actually paid money to see the movie in the theater. And you're not the only one to hold that up as an example of "What not to do."

Also see: Land of the Lost. (Better yet, don't!)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Thanks, I'll check it out! Sounds interesting.

I know what you're saying about space, but realize that any monster or spacial phenomina that you mention will immediately bring howls of "that's just like the creature from X."

It's a game you just can't win as a writer. Once you have to break a story down to a description rather than letting it play out, someone is always going to say -- oh, they've already done that.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, LOL! Another good example. These have become classic examples of movies made by marketing departments rather than someone who really wanted to see a story written.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I almost forgot - there was another prequel story!

In 1989-90, Trek II-V producer Harve Bennett and Trek V writer David Loughery collaborated on a prequel script called Star Trek: The Academy Years. This was never filmed and Paramount went ahead and did Star Trek VI instead.

Just as above, check it out and maybe you'll like it better than the new film.

Individualist said...


I think that if you make enough changes to the flavor of the characters from the base you are planning and twist the plot points in slightly different directions that you can mask the source.

Plus among younger viewers I really think they have not seen the original series as much. I am not sure where they are in reruns. I remember coming home from school and watching the show at 4:00 pm every day.

As to the reboot, I saw it and wished I hadn't. Did they really have to add a Star Wars giant monster chase scene. They were bad enough in the prequels.

The one theme I saw in the film which seemed to be started in the series Enterprize was the idea that the Vulcans were somehow inferior to not just Humans but in general. The Vulcans rejection of emotion and dedication to logic was constantly being shown as flawed in the series without any real positives being emphasized. This movie finished off that theme by simply wiping them out. This really bothers me as Spock was my favorite character. I am not sure why they think they have to do this but then again I stopped understanding the point in the New Series when they felt the need to introduce the Q into the Universe.

Good Post!

AndrewPrice said...

Individualist, Thanks. I enjoyed writing it. I think you're right that it would be fairly easy to mask the story once you start writing it. This is just a basic outline afterall, and it would change as you started converting it into scenes.

In terms of the audience, I don't think the question of whether or not it's original matters to 90% of the audience -- I think that only matters to the Trekkies. And, I do see their point, but for the reasons outlined in-depth above, I don't think it's feasible to address those concerns.

In terms of Vulcans, I've had a real problem with their portrayal of Vulcans for some time. Spock had a point -- he was pure logic to McCoy's pure emotion. But in the later series, whenever they trotted out a Vulcan they usually played them as simply annoyed or sinister. They really lost focus on what the characters were supposed to be.

AndrewPrice said...

Individualist -- forgot to mention, "Q" is simply a slightly less campy version of The Squire of Gothos.

StanH said...

Though I was a kid in the ‘60s and watched each episode as it debuted, I must confess that I was never a hard core Trekkie. I’ve seen all the movies, and basically my fascination ended with the end of “The Next Generation.”

That being said, I guess I’ll take and unsophisticated point of view…eh…hmmm… I thoroughly enjoyed the re-boot. It was fun, it was fast, and incorporated enough of the original characters, to hold on to an older audience, but with enough fresh and new to attract the youth. I thought the freefall dive with Kirk and Sulu on to the drilling platform was just plain cool. When Kirk was banished, and happened to hit a planet with the old Spock, and Scotty was a real leap…but this is Star Trek, one needs to suspend disbelief. The CGI didn’t bother me as it enhanced the surreal nature of ST. I didn’t like the explosion of Vulcan this might hamper future ST movies, but once again, that’s the beauty of the series the skies the limit…excuse the pun. Not to be contrarian, but I look forward to the next movie.

Individualist said...


You are correct in that the Squire of Gothos was the original base idea for the Q. And I have no problem with incorporating what Michio Kaku calls a 4th generation intelligent species. (One that has evolved not just to control a planet or galaxies but the entire dimensional aspects of the Universe itself.)

Remember the Squire was essentially a teenager playing hooky from his parents. Who when they show up apologize for their son. Essentially they made the Q act like the Squire but as an (supposed) adult. He was a man-child I guess like some actors who make it today but was somehow a leader amongst his people who was supposed to have this great insight. The Q was a 30 year old who never grew emotionally past 14. I just found it annoying is all.

As to the new series I don't dislike it but I like TOS better. The characters were not PC fantasies but real military types.
"The best diplomat I know is a fully loaded phazer bank” - Scotty
No one in the new series would overstep there PC protocols to make that statement not needing money and all.

AndrewPrice said...

Stan, You don't need to dislike the reboot. I enjoyed it mostly. I'm just saying that it had so little do with Star Trek that I felt ripped off by the association. They could have just as easily called it "Skippy's Space Rangers" and it would have been the same movie.

AndrewPrice said...

Individualist, I agree. I did not find the Squire annoying -- he was an interesting challenge (bonus points for mentioning Michio!!). But I did find Q annoying for the very reason you site.

I've liked each of the incarnations (except I never really got into Enterprise). But I agree with you that the TOS was by far the best. The biggest different to me is that TOS was libertarian and classically liberal in its outlook -- the later series were mostly liberal in theirs. And that made TOS much more interest and more compelling and a better universe.

It also gave TNG serious plot problems because liberalism doesn't work in real life, and certainly can't explain the enterprise. So everyone now works because they want to, not because they need to -- because we eliminated money -- so who decided that they want to do the dirty jobs on the Enterprise?

You've evolved beyond the need for "costumes" (i.e. uniforms) yet you're all wearing uniforms. You respect all cultures, except the ones that aren't liberal. And so on. And far too much deus ex machina needed to solve problems so that they could stay happily liberal. Basically, Picard never made a difficult choice in his life.

StanH said...

“Skippy’s Space Rangers” LOL! I get your point.

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