Boldly going where many have gone before

Upcoming Star Trek prequel is a really, really bad idea

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In 1964, a former cop-turned-screenwriter named Gene Roddenberry came up with an idea for a new science fiction television series called Star Trek. The series followed the adventures of Captain James T. Kirk and the USS Enterprise on its five-year mission to boldly go where no man had gone before. Despite being well-received for its stories and takes on gender roles and racial segregation--its progressive stance flew in the face of decades of programming--Star Trek wasn't a huge ratings success and was ultimately cancelled in 1969 after only three years and 79 episodes. Nevertheless, the series developed a rabid fanbase that supported the Star Trek brand through five spin-off series (the Animated Series, Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise) and ten feature films. After 40 years, it seems pretty stupid to revisit the original Star Trek material, but this is just what Alias creator J.J. Abrams and Paramount Pictures are aiming to do with their follow-up to the disappointing Star Trek: Nemesis, a prequel simply called Star Trek that delves into the younger days of the original cast.

First and foremost, the original series and its characters are cultural icons by now. William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy are better known as their 23rd century counterparts Kirk and Spock than for their other acting pursuits. Recasting these roles and doing so while the majority of the original Star Trek cast are still alive seems wrong. Only DeForest Kelly (Dr. McCoy) and James Doohan (Scotty) of the originals have passed away, leaving the other five principal actors to sit back and watch youngsters take on their roles. The new cast, announced a few weeks ago, features Chris Pine (Lindsay Lohan's love interest in Just My Luck) as Captain Kirk, Zachary Quinto (Sylar on Heroes) as Spock, Karl Urban (Eomer in Lord of the Rings) as McCoy, Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead) as Scotty, Anton Yelchin (Alpha Dog) as Chekov, Zoe Saldana (Guess Who) as Uhura and John Cho (Harold and Kumar) as Sulu. Even really minor roles have been drastically re-cast: Winona Ryder signed on to play Sp0ck's mom while Bruce Greenwood is set to play original Enterprise captain Christopher Pike. The Star Wars prequels faced a huge amount of criticism from fans for casting then-critically acclaimed actor Hayden Christensen as Darth Vader. That backlash came for a trilogy of films that were planned far, far in advance to finish off the saga and weren't rehashing anything from before. None of the actors involved with the Trek reboot are anywhere near as beloved as Christensen was back then.

Ignoring the admittedly sentimental recasting issues, remaking Star Trek seems horribly uncreative. When a thousand monkeys at a thousand type-writers have been purported to have the ability to replicate the works of Shakespeare, a few dozen screenwriters should at least be able to come up with a better idea than a prequel. Heck, Star Trek's producers last stretched their creative muscles 20 years ago when they came up with the wacky idea of starting a new generation of the series set 80 years in the future. The resultant Next Generation series lasted for seven seasons and four films, not to mention spin-offs Deep Space Nine and Voyager set during the same time period. When the last trio of ideas hatched by Trek's creative minds are essentially the original series but set 80 years in the future and adapted for different situations, why couldn't they be challenged to come up with another creative idea? Even placing the wacky misadventures of yet another Enterprise crew even further in the future opens up all kinds of possibilities. The premise of a prequel not only comes across as horrendously lazy, but also begs the question: "What the hell was the point of Enterprise, then?" That short-lived prequel series was meant to give the writers all the fun toys of the Star Trek universe without any of the continuity trappings and failed because it was basically the exact same thing.

Remaking anything is basically saying, "Shit, I can do this better than it was done before." As gaudy and old-fashioned as the episodes seem now, the original Star Trek was a ground-breaking piece of serialized fiction. Next Christmas, Paramount Pictures and the Star Trek brain-trust spit into the grave of Gene Roddenberry and his cohorts when they remake and revisit old Star Trek mythology, something Roddenberry was vehemently opposed to doing. After four decades spent boldly going where no man has gone before, it's disappointing to see Star Trek boldly go back to the well.




Yes, but see http://bztv.typepad.com/newsviews/files/ST2004Reboot.pdf where JMS and Zabel propose a way to reboot Star Trek without losing the good parts.