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Thursday, 7 March 2013

AFICIONADO CLASSIC BLOG (2008): TREK WARS!

The STAR TREK universe has gotten a lot darker in 2013 . Will the same be the case for the upcoming STAR WARS: EPISODE VII?


A classic blog from 2008, now more relevant than ever, by Scott Weller on J.J. Abram's then taking the reins of the STAR TREK franchise...


TREK WARS!


Or how, over thirty years, the STAR WARS saga has continually saved and helped define STAR TREK, and vice versa!


STAR WARS may be gone from our theatrical screens (at least for now) but its legend lives on in the numerous upcoming science fiction/ fantasy films that have, and still are, following on from it-all of whom owe Lucas’s science fantasy so much, both story-wise and creatively, in the way they have used elements from his Saga to help build their own budding universes -none more so than the revamped STAR TREK saga, as its new first film, under the command of director J.J. Abrams, blasts its face to US and UK cinema screens from May 7th. Yet, even with this new look and borrowed elements, was there previously much in common between the original STAR TREK series and STAR WARS? Well… yes, and surprisingly more so than you would think, and each universe has, at varying stages over the last thirty two years, reaped and enjoyed the successful benefits of the other to some degree...

The first STAR TREK series, which ran from 1966-69, was the birth of a new science fiction renaissance (its creator, Gene Roddenberry, saw it as “a wagon train to the stars” concept, with science fiction authors of caliber writing for the show (that would include Ted Sturgeon, Robert Bloch (he of I AM LEGEND fame) and Harlan Ellison), and showing a projection of the times optimism and colour, despite the negativity, hatred and violence of the late sixties, that offered mankind hope for the future as well as providing, like all the best science fiction, modern parables within a futuristic setting that wouldn’t get the show in trouble from the then capricious network executives. In all, 79 legendary episodes with a glamorous cast of young-ish leads playing characters that would, for better or worse in the actors subsequent careers, eventually become Icons, and all of the heroes a part of the Roddenberry legacy-every one of them a different facet of him in the same way that the STAR WARS characters would later be for George Lucas.

TREK was the stepping stone but in 1977 STAR WARS was the major leap in making science fiction and fantasy more acceptable to mainstream audiences and reaching out to the under 25’s in a way never seen before-an audience that PARAMOUNT is commercially desperate to capture for the new TREK, and the re-vamp is clearly aimed at this audience. Lucas never had any problems with his audience, capturing pretty much every age group’s collective tongues with amazement right from the start.  However, he owes STAR TREK creator Gene Roddenberry a huge debt for bringing to life a credible science fiction universe first, with care, thought and dedication. It’s just a shame that the series only lasted a mere three seasons, literally ending just weeks before man’s euphoric landing on the moon. It would thankfully triumph in syndication during the mid seventies, though PARAMOUNT’s attempts to re-make the show, firstly as a film, them a sequel TV series, then a TV movie and then finally a feature film, stalled for years until Lucas delivered his wonderful gift of STAR WARS to the world-its success finally being the wake up and smell the coffee time for the film company suits who finally realized science fiction was gold in them thar hills after all. The first TREK movie even had a story from Alan Dean Foster, who not only wrote numerous STAR TREK TV adaptations, but was also recommended to Lucas to adapt STAR WARS as a novel, and who then went on write SPLINTER OF THE MIND’S EYE. You can’t get better cross Franchise linkage than that (Foster will also be penning the new TREK movie adaptation which is very good news indeed).

Lucas had always watched the STAR TREK show, knowing quite a lot of the episodes and talking about it during the long set up of Post-Production on STAR WARS, using knowledge of their production techniques as an inspiration for what he could achieve with the effects that were then available to him. The first STAR WARS film would also use similar blue screen camera photography model techniques that STAR TREK had, albeit with John Dykstra’s revolutionary new camera system-THE DYKSTRAFEX-which would later be used to bring STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE’s glossy effects to big screen reality. Later on, ILM and Lucas certainly didn’t mind making money from PARAMOUNT/TREK when they provided superb model work for TREK’s II and III before and after the completion of RETURN OF THE JEDI. It is a connection that has continued on and off to this day.

Similarly, and intriguingly, both Roddenberry and Lucas, exhausted after all their hard work and battles with the rigours and neccessities of studio production, would also distance themselves from the success of their babies once each had come to a temporary rest (1969 and 1983 respectively) and tried to move on to other dreams-Roddenberry was determined to create another success to rival TREK-it didn’t happen-whilst Lucas made HOWARD THE DUCK in between a hectic but loving immersed time raising his family. Neither could eventually escape the wonderful lure of working on bigger versions of their creations in 1979 and 1995…Gene Roddenberry even turned up to personally congratulate Lucas at the STAR WARS Tenth Anniversary convention in 1987-he may have been peeved that it took the success of STAR WARS to re-launch his baby in 1979/80, but his admiration for Lucas’s achievements was clearly shown at the event. And vice versa.

Despite the competitiveness of each series’ fans (the TREK fans were bashing Yoda figures and knocking the concept of the Force whilst WARS fans retaliated on the characters of Kirk and Spock and accusations of the TV series being too cerebral, boring and action-less (even though many episodes of the TV series, and moments in the films, had plenty of excitement to keep people entertained). Despite the estranged fans, there was never really a time when the production teams working on both film series in the eighties ever showed any rivalry against each other (it’s been suggested that the people behind the 1982 STAR TREK II movie even changed their title from THE VENGEANCE OF KHAN to THE WRATH OF KHAN because they didn’t want to impede on then upcoming REVENGE OF THE JEDI) and none of the actual film sagas themselves have ever clashed with each other at the same time at the box office. Whilst STAR WARS has always done stellar box office biz from the get go, STAR TREK films, overall, have been a variable success, with the majority of the even numbered films regarded as the best with audiences and fans (the series being predominantly at its most successful, again like STAR WARS, in core territories like the US, the UK, Germany and Japan).

In the vast time lull between STAR WARS Trilogies, the STAR TREK movies would actually helped keep sci-fi/ fantasy alive and noticeable on the big screen and on television-which is a big deal- until the fateful return of STAR WARS in 1999-it was at this point, that the overkill amount of STAR TREK series was starting to have its saturating effect on audiences with less people seeing the final TREK series movie, NEMESIS, than at any other time in its movie history, though STAR WARS, which felt more fresh and appealing, returned to an excited world (I’ll never forget the STAR TREK: INSURRECTION London premiere-presenter Jonathan Ross, always hogging the limelight in not the best of ways, was more enthused about EPISODE ONE than STAR TREK-and he gobsmackingly actually told the 1,900 seated audiences that, asking the projectionist to show the then first trailer before INSURRECTION!!) and thrived into it’s conclusion with REVENGE OF THE SITH.
J.J. Abrams first STAR WARS flavoured feature film re-imagining of STAR TREK in 2008.

Now STAR TREK is back and it could be in an even bigger way than ever before, though the STAR WARS influence may give it more of a push for success. The new wunderkind of Hollywood, J.J. Abrams has always stated how much he preferred STAR WARS to STAR TREK and the ramifications of his incorporating familiar elements, in what is hoped to be a new series of film TREKs, is going to be very interesting to get a reaction on, as he injects some of the Classic Trilogy’s grand cinematic vision, editing, and romantic excitement into making STAR TREK more relevant and important pop- culture wise to the youth of today, especially with the re-introduced main characters. In fact, newcomer actor Chris Pine has stated how he’s playing the new James Tiberius Kirk like Han Solo: more arrogant, cocky and humorous than the way he had previously been portrayed by the John Wayne of space-William Shatner.

Right from the start, the new movie is STAR WARS-esque and subsequent parts have homage moments or scenes where they tried to build on the Lucas initiative-the beginning of the movie is a perfect example with the villainous Nero’s ship dwarfing the U.S.S. Kelvin in a not too dis-similar nod to the Star Destroyer versus the Blockade Runner. Ben Burtt, now part PIXAR employee and a freelance, even brings his talents to bear on the sound for this film with its mixture of organic/electronic effects (and nice nods to the past) in this evolutionary step from his landmark work on the six STAR WARS movies.
J.J. Abrams with the new cast of STAR TREK.

The new STAR TREK movie shows some of the Abrams master plan for the franchise. Purists may have to forgive heavy chunks of revisionist history for the re-vamp, courtesy of TRANSFORMERS/LOST/FRINGE scribes Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, especially with regards to the Kirk/Spock characters. Forget the heavily convoluted time travel plot (which is really created so as to bring Leonard Nimoy, who will always be irreplaceable as Spock, into the film as a passing of the torch kind of moment) and revel in the simply refreshing, colourful and exciting new revamped universe of STAR TREK’s original, classic series. The film’s action packed story works for the most part, and ILM’s effect works is amongst the finest the film series has shown to date, (well done fellow Brit Roger Guyett, whose work helps the space battles become more alive than ever before- more in your face and into the fray-a distinct nod to the conflicts of EPISODE III (which he also happened to have worked on, alongside John Knoll, who went from STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT to the STAR WARS SPECIAL EDITIONs and beyond), whilst the main new cast adapt well to playing the classic characters, especially Chris Pine as Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock and Karl Urban as "Bones" McCoy (though Classic STAR WARS Trilogy only lover Simon Pegg is woefully mis-cast- he’s definitely not my choice to play the noble Scotsman engineer Montgomery Scott, and I can only assume he's there for audience humour-lets hope he gets better with the inevitable sequel). Even THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK’s Yoda double, Deep Roy, puts in a delightful cameo appearance as an alien.

Someone in front of me exiting the cinema once the film had ended was telling his friends how he enjoyed the film so much-that it was so spectacular it was like the feeling, the adrenaline rush, of seeing STAR WARS for the first time and being blown away by it-I wouldn’t go quite that far, but this first new STAR TREK was great, confident fun nonetheless.

It’s going to be very interesting to see how both sets of fandom’s will react when they see the film-it could drive the wedge between TREK and WARS fans into a greater depth (‘core TREKKERS may hate the WARS influences and WARS fan may hate that some of their Saga’s noteworthy flavour has been helped to shore up a franchise they’ve hated for years). Me, I like ‘em both but I’m in the minority, though this may change as of May 7th...

Apart from the die-hard TREK fans of all ages, I think that there will be many non fans (a lot of whom were present in the screening) who will love the movie-a good sign that it will make more box office than has been the norm over the ten years, as well as fulfilling it’s goal in attracting new younger, hipper audiences, who’ll definitely get a buzz out of it. This is an entertaining and ambitious new start for STAR WARS distant brother sci-fi epic.

In this positive period of change for America, and the world, with the election of Barack Obama who shows a personality, ideology and hopefulness that is inspiring in a way that we haven’t seen since JFK, the time seems right for STAR TREK to re-emerge on the big screen as a colourful adventure series with a positive message of hope, whilst STAR WARS gets a bit more intimate on the small TV screen, heading towards a darker note, in 2011.

There’s no reason why both STAR TREK and STAR WARS can’t finally, and peacefully, thrive and flourish in the cinematic and TV universes together. To co-in a Mister Spock phrase, may they both “live long and prosper.”


AFICIONADO RATING OF THE NEW “STAR TREK” MOVIE (2008): STAR WARS doesn’t have a thing to worry about at all-the old TREK kid hasn’t re-taken the block with this film effort, but, with its Lucas inspired elements and the vigorous direction from J.J. Abrams, the ground breaking series enters into a refreshing new, highly entertaining and ambitious re-boot.

COMING MAY 2013: STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS. Trailers: Star Trek Into Darkness - Official Trailer (HD) - YouTube


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