Did Voyager Endgame wreck Star Trek?

Part One: The End of Time

In PopMatters, Nicole Berland puts forward an interesting idea: that the year 2379 is the end of Star Trek.

‘Star Trek’ and the Problem With B-4 and After 2379

While I think some of the connections made are an overreach, the core idea is very interesting.  Specifically, the idea that Voyager Endgame destroys Star Trek, and that beyond that the events of September 2001 broke American SF and post-war American idealism.

Idealistic, moral, open America, the Nuremburg Trials, Geneva Conventions, To Kill a Mockingbird America, Cold War moral high ground America, 60s civil rights (and race riot) America birthed Star Trek. Roddenberry’s message was clear: the future could be better.

Janeway effectively destroys that lineage when she uses a biological weapon to both do a targetted assassination of the Borg leader, and to destroy core infrastructure of Borg civilisation, with consequences for many or all of the slave drones that comprise Borg civilisation, all without even being at war with the Borg.

The moral high ground when TNG Picard refused to use Hugh as a technological weapon, and when even Voyager recoiled against Icheb being an engineered biological weapon, that moral high ground is lost.

And in a world of actions having consequences, Voyager gets off scot-free.  No one on Voyager has any consequences from the destruction of Borg civilisation.  It’s a kind of Star Trek introduction of sin.

And arguably the Star Trek primary timeline has been broken since then.  Since the return of the USS Voyager in AD 2378 (which aired in May 2001) there’s been no more optimistic moral high ground future.

When you add to that Sept 2001, which brought destruction and through later decisions broke the actual real world moral high ground, hopeful American SF may have been destroyed.

Part Two: Nemesis and Picard

It’s important to think about the context in which Star Trek: Nemesis is created and airs.  Set in AD 2379, it’s actually filming starting in November 2001, and airing a movie about a future in which a flying ship crashes into another flying ship on screens across America in 2002.

It bring the future into a very different present.  And aside from being a terrible movie (as humourously summarized by TV Tropes), it introduces a new Star Trek worldview that abandons hope.

All Star Trek since 2001 has featured destruction on a planetary scale, as if writers can no longer imagine personal-level tragedy and drama.

  • Nemesis: attack on Romulus, plan to kill everyone on Earth
  • Enterprise: planetary scale attack on Earth
  • Reboot: destruction of Romulus (and Remus presumably), destruction of Vulcan (which if Voyager’s Borg destruction didn’t already introduce sin to Star Trek, is ST reboot’s original sin).
  • Picard: Mars is on fire (plus Romulus was destroyed)

Star Trek was about a hopeful post-discrimination future.  The Next Generation was fundamentally about a hopeful, thoughtful, intellectual, post-capitalist future.  That’s the boundaries of the universe that Roddenberry created.

You can of course experiment with those boundaries; that’s the nature of art.  Galaxy Quest is great Star Trek.  The first season of The Orville is a fun tribute to TNG while exploring what it would be like to live in that universe as an ordinary person on a secondary starship, not a perfect character on the flagship.  The First Contact movie is an exploration of what it would take to transform Picard from his measured intellectual self to an emotional and violent man.  This is all legitimate.  This is exploring the world that Roddenberry built.

What’s not valid, what is universe-mining rather than world-building, is to set aside the rules of Star Trek, and to cast scorn on the fans and on science fiction.

I never really cared for science fiction. – Jean Luc Picard, in Picard 1×02

I argue that Star Trek II rescued Star Trek.  And did it by really deeply understanding and respecting the characters and themes of Star Trek.  ST: III and IV work with it to make a great movie trilogy.  After that V is terrible and VI is not great.  Generations tries to reach for a theme of immortality but would have needed a rewrite to reach it, and also gives Kirk a most unheroic demise.  DS9 is flawed, although it has some great episodes, but in many ways it’s barely Star Trek.  Voyager is a kind of Star Trek in reverse, trying to find something new to say by heading home rather than away.  But all of them, without exception, respect the rules of the universe.  Until Endgame.

After that, something was lost.  An attempt to reinvent what didn’t need to be reinvented.  A universe warped beyond recognition.  Nemesis directed by someone who didn’t like TNG.

Stuart Baird (helmer of only two other films, Executive Decision and US Marshalls, and long-time film editor) had no knowledge of Star Trek before becoming director of Nemesis. He even refused to watch any of the Next Generation TV series to prepare…

Den of Geek, Star Trek: Nemesis – What Went Wrong? (no link; autoplay video)

The reboot helmed by a Star Wars fan who didn’t understand Star Trek (and loved lens flare).

Jon Stewart asked Abrams for his perspective on the differences between the two properties. He likened “Star Wars” to a Western or Samurai movie and suggested that it “never felt like a sci-fi thing.” “Star Trek,” on the other hand, did.

“It always felt too philosophical for me,” he said.

That’s when Stewart … tuned out.

“I stopped listening to you when you said you didn’t like ‘Star Trek.’ – Los Angeles Times, J.J. Abrams reveals to Jon Stewart why he never liked ‘Star Trek’

And now Picard which tries clumsily to be adult (which was already done much better in The Orville) and which removes all of the hope and thoughtfulness of both TNG and Picard himself.

This is not the way to celebrate and extend a world and a future that fans enjoy and hope for.

When Roger Ebert reviewed Nemesis, his concluding line manages to convey my feelings about Star Trek post-2001:

Star Trek was kind of terrific once, but now it is a copy of a copy of a copy.

Star Trek II: The movie that rescued Star Trek

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan rescued Star Trek.

Star Trek I came out in 1979.  It’s not very good.  Wikipedia can tell you all about it in minute detail.  Basically it’s super slow, with long scenes that are nothing but flying through special effects.

Coming a decade after the original series (setting aside the non-canon 1973-1974 animated series with everyone except Chekov), the spectacular boringness of Star Trek I: The Lack of Motion Picture could easily have killed Star Trek.

1982’s Star Trek II addresses this directly.  It literally kills most of the main bridge characters in its opening scene, in the play-within-a-play that is the Kobayashi Maru simulation.  “What about my performance?” asks McCoy.  “I’m not a drama critic”, says Kirk.

Thematically, Wrath of Khan is about whether Star Trek has run its course.  Do we still need the characters, does the show have any more to say?  Is it out of creative energy?  “How do I feel? Old”, says Kirk (at 51 in real world age, 52 in Star Trek age1).

1 Kirk is born in AD 2233; Star Trek II takes place in AD 2285.

Star Trek II written by people who really deeply understand Star Trek and its characters.  Which is kind of amazing in and of itself, considering that Star Trek is two good seasons and one not-so-good season, 79 episodes of varying quality from which to derive the core personalities of the characters and the tone and themes of the show.

What they find is a show that is about the core relationship between Kirk, Spock and McCoy.  That has humour and also a kind of Shakespearean theatricality.  And a show that still has something to say.

By framing Star Trek II as a reflection on The Original Star Trek, by giving it the ability to explore the consequences of those past episodes and past behaviours, it’s able to add a richness to the story.

There’s a man out there I haven’t seen in 15 years who’s trying to kill me. You show me a son that’d be happy to help. – James T. Kirk

And it is able to give the characters a richness as well.  This ranges from calibrated humour:

“Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical.” says Saavik.
“We learn by doing”, says Kirk.  [pause, turbolift doors open]
“Who’s been holding up the damn elevator?” says McCoy waiting outside.

to failure and tragedy and new insights.  Kirk, for the first time, really makes a terrible strategic decision in letting the Reliant approach without putting up the Enterprise‘s shield’s, even after being reminded of protocol by Saavik.  Spock calculates the needs of the many against the needs of the few or the one.  Consequences, for once, weigh heavily.  “I haven’t faced death. I’ve cheated death. I’ve tricked my way out of death and — patted myself on the back for my ingenuity. I know nothing.” says Kirk

In the end, they exceed the limitations of Star Trek’s episodic format, and surface deeper themes.  Star Trek II saves Star Trek.

I feel young. – James T. Kirk

Continue reading

How to Train Your Dragon movie trilogy

How to Train Your Dragon 1 is a wonder.

Hiccup as an outsider, an inventor, compassionate.

Astrid as a strong independent woman.

Toothless as a sort-of cat with a lot of personality.

It has lots of humour and loads of heart.  Even the music is great.

(It’s particularly a wonder if you consider the source material; the movie takes some concepts from the book but basically is completely different in almost every way.  I found the book pretty much unreadable.  Definitely a case of Movie Better Than Book.)

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is good.

It still has most of the elements that make the first movie work.  Sequels are always hard.  I do think Stoic’s end should have been more heroic, but that’s really my only complaint.

Challenging Hiccup’s optimism and pacifism makes for an interesting change from the first movie.

How to Train Your Dragon 3 is… not good.  The 91% on RT gave me a lot of optimism, but I definitely wouldn’t rate it anywhere near that.  50% maybe.  The humour is off and the story is just another dragon-hating-enemy variant.  Gobber is underused, the secondary dragonrider characters are way overused.  The only good part is the ending.

Plus which, I have to say, the new star character, the Lightfury, is just… not good.  It doesn’t even look good.  The entire movie is full of beautifully rendered details down to glints off of dragonscale armour, but the Lightfury looks like it is made out of styrofoam.  Sparkly styrofoam.  And has the personality to match.  They should call her Blankness.  Instead of a strong female character the Lightfury is basically all damsel in distress.  It kind of coos incomprehensibly and has to be rescued from danger.

Every time I looked at it I was pulled out of the movie, into wondering why with all that computing power and animation expertise they made a partner for Toothless that has no detail or personality.  Just a sparkly white blue-eyed blandness.

I will watch the first movie many times, the second occasionally, but for the third I will skip the entire movie except the ending.

Pleasantville and Ready Player One

The 1998 Pleasantville movie is basically the antithesis of Ready Player One, the 2011 book.  (For various reasons, the Ready Player One 2018 movie is not as direct a comparison.)

Pleasantville is about smashing nostalgia, while Ready Player One is about celebrating it.

If Wade Watts had been transported to Pleasantville, it seems fairly likely that he would have quite happily stayed in black and white, reciting memorized lines episode by episode until he reached the end of a rerun cycle and looped back to the beginning again, looping endlessly without change, much like Pleasantville’s Main Street goes nowhere, its end just taking you back to its beginning.

One has to wonder whether he would have lived out this existence happily, a kind of static safe immortality in an unchanging world, or if at some point he would have wanted to break out.  Would pleasant safety have outweighed all other considerations?

It may be hard to imagine that someone could crave that endless sameness, but to some extent it depends on your learned experiences and mental processing about uncertainty.  The past stays in place, it stays at a safe distance.  The present can be overwhelming.  Pleasantville celebrates the reality of our colourful, noisy, chaotic, uncertain world, but not all of us are equipped by nature or nurture to embrace that experience.

Margaret Henderson: “What’s outside of Pleasantville?”
[long pause]
David / Bud: “There are some places that the road doesn’t go in a circle. There are some places where the road keeps going.”

Margaret: “So what’s it like?”
David: “What?”
Margaret: “Out there.”
David: “Well, it’s a … it’s louder, and… scarier, I guess, and it’s a… lot more dangerous.”
Margaret: “Sounds fantastic.”

And it is fantastic but also, it can be overwhelming, and painful.  Beautiful

David and Margaret in Pleasantville.

David and Margaret in Pleasantville.

but also painful.

David’s Mom: “I’m 40 years old, I mean it’s not supposed to be like this.”
David: “It’s not supposed to be anything.”

The past is predictable.  The Romans will always invade Britain in 43 AD, Harry Potter will always be sorted into Gryffindor, Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy will always save the world from nuclear war.  Wade Watts will watch Family Ties over and over again and Michael J. Fox will always be Alex P. Keaton, no more and no less.  You can loop around and around in reruns or rewatching or rereading and the characters never get to rebel, the events never change.

I’ve written about this kind of toxic nostalgia in the context of Ready Player One, but I didn’t talk a lot about why.  James Halliday has toxic nostalgia because he’s damaged.  He can have everything that money can buy, but he can’t have a different past, all his coding and control can’t change the fact that Kira Underwood married Og, not him.

There are only two ways through that.

Eternal Safety

In My-So Called Life, Brian will never ask out Angela, he will always be standing in episode 19, the last episode, watching her drive away with Jordan.  Because it’s the safe choice, the controlled choice.  In Star Trek: Generations, Tolian Soran will destroy an entire world just to escape back to the safe and controlled immortality of The Nexus.  Both destroying the future to stay safe alone.

In BBC Radio 4 – Archive on 4 – Commuterville, Matthew Sweet reaches his conclusion about the endlessly repeated routine of our lives in very English school essay fashion, calling on Nietzsche’s concept of eternal recurrence.  There is a definite comfort in routine, but also a kind of madness.

Endless Change

George Parker: “So what’s going to. happen now?”
Betty Parker: “I don’t know.  Do you know what’s going to happen now?
George Parker: “No, I don’t.”

It’s easy to say we should embrace this uncertainty, that we should learn the lesson of 1993’s Groundhog Day and work on making ourselves better as we go through our routine days.  But have empathy for those who are struggling to escape their life experiences and expectations.

It’s not supposed to be anything

There is supposed to be a kind of arc, a youthful embrace of change followed by an adult settling into a safe routine.  But Pleasantville challenges this arc.  While it certainly does celebrate youthful change, it makes it clear there is no winning, there is no right ending.  There’s just uncertainty.  Ready Player One is about what happens if you reject that uncertainty.  This is playing out at a large scale across our society.  People miss the factories… but you know, the factories were kind of terrible too.  We can’t go back.  It’s not coming back.  All you really get to choose is whether you’re going to be James Halliday and Wade Watts, endlessly jumping through a portal into an unchanging past, or if you’re going to be David, finding that there is beauty in change after all.

Infinity War and The Wrath of Khan

SPOILERS

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is a movie about consequences.

Heroes usually have the luxury of avoiding consequences, as they go from episode to episode always succeeding. Star Trek II is quite explicitly about how Kirk has avoided consequences for his entire life, starting with him beating the Kobayashi Maru scenario at Starfleet Academy.

David: Lieutenant Saavik was right: You never have faced death.
Kirk: No, not like this. I haven’t faced death. I’ve cheated death. I’ve tricked my way out of death and – patted myself on the back for my ingenuity.

In Star Trek II the consequences all come at once, whether it is a long-forgotten enemy or a son.
And in the end, the ultimate consequence, the death of Spock.

Which, in usual Heroic fashion, turns out to be reversible in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

James T. Kirk: [Looking up from the planet surface to see the remains of the Enterprise burning in the atmosphere] My God, Bones, what have I done?
Leonard McCoy: What you had to do, what you always do. Turned death into a fighting chance to live.

And Star Trek II and Star Trek III are about the dialogue between the needs of the many and the needs of the few, or the one.

Sarek: But at what cost? Your ship. Your son.
James T. Kirk: If I hadn’t tried, the cost would have been my soul.

Infinity War Part 1 is definitely also about consequences, as I have written in Infinity War Part 1 – a universe out of balance. Presumably Infinity War Part 2 will be about the search to undo what has been done in Part 1.

I have to say that Star Trek II & III are rather more elegantly and clearly about these philosophical questions and about the consequences of a lifetime of heroic actions, but these ideas nevertheless are in Infinity War and (presumably) will emerge in Part 2 as well.

Infinity War Part 2

In ROT13 because spoilers.

Gur trareny bhgyvar vf cerggl pyrne, naq vf onfvpnyyl: Gvzr Fgbar.
Bgure guna gung, vg frrzf irel yvxryl gung Pncgnva Zneiry jvyy cynl n ebyr, naq gung Gbal Fgnex jvyy nyfb or xrl. (Guvf vf n svggvat flzzrgel, tvira gung Veba Zna ynhapurq gur Zneiry Pvarzngvp Havirefr va 2008.)

Gurer’f n cbffvoyr vagrerfgvat pyhr sebz gur Zneiry qrfpevcgvba bs gur (znyr) Pncgnva Zneiry (Zne-Iryy), va gur Cebgrpgbe bs gur Havirefr frpgvba: “Gunabf orpnzr pbaivaprq gung ur unq qenvarq gur Phor bs vgf cbjre naq qvfpneqrq vg, nyybjvat Pncgnva Zneiry gb teno gur Phor naq erfgber ernyvgl gb n gvzr orsber Gunabf unq tnvarq pbageby bire gur havirefr.”

Gur erfg vf cerggl zhpu qrgnvyf.

Va Vasvavgl Jne Cneg 1, vg’f vagrerfgvat gung znal bs gur fgbarf ner jba ol Gunabf jura fbzrbar tvirf gurz hc gb fnir n fvatyr yvsr. Ybxv tvirf Gunabf gur oyhr Fcnpr Fgbar sebz gur Grffrenpg gb fnir Gube (naq qvrf nf n pbafrdhrapr). Tnzben tvirf Gunabf gur ybpngvba bs gur benatr Fbhy Fgbar gb fnir Arohyn (naq qvrf nf n pbafrdhrapr). Qe. Fgenatr tvirf Gunabf gur terra Gvzr Fgbar gb fnir Fgnex (naq qvrf nf n pbafrdhrapr). Ner gurer tbvat gb or nal pbafrdhraprf gb gur snpg gung yvirf jrer serryl tvira sbe nyzbfg rirel fgbar?

Gur rzcunfvf ba Gunabf naq Gvgna (juvpu vf n cynarg, abg Fnghea’f zbba Gvgna) vf vagrerfgvat. V pbhyq frr gur Gvzr Fgbar orvat hfrq gb jvaq onpx gb Gunabf ba Gvgna ybat ntb naq univat uvz unir gb svaq n orggre pubvpr guna xvyyvat unys gur crbcyr. Cerfvqrag Gunabf bs Gvgna? Be jvaqvat onpx gb Tnzben’f cynarg naq univat uvz znxr n qvssrerag pubvpr (guvf frpbaq bcgvba frrzf dhvgr hayvxryl).

Vapvqragnyyl guvf tvirf zr na bccbeghavgl gb zragvba gung guvf irefvba bs Gunabf vf onfvpnyyl n cnegvphyneyl haercragnag Nagba Xnevqvna / Xbqbf “gur Rkrphgvbare” bs Gnefhf VI, rkprcg jvgu yrff Funxrfcrner.

Vg’f cbffvoyr gung fbzr bs gur punenpgref jvyy unir gb qvr. V pbhyq frr Gube qlvat. Znlor abg Gbal Fgnex abj gung ur’f zneevrq. Ohg zbfg jvyy pbzr onpx.

Vg nyfb erznvaf gb or frra jurgure gur hfr bs gur Gvzr Fgbar jvyy nyfb haqb zhpu bs gur qrfgeblrq jbex bs cerivbhf zbivrf. Thneqvnaf bs gur Tnynkl – fnirq Knaqne. Vasvavgl Jne – xvyyrq unys be zber bs gur Knaqnevnaf? Gube: Entanebx – fnirq Nftneq (va gur sbez bs fbzr bs vgf pvgvmraf). Vasvavgl Jne – xvyyrq Nftneq (va gur sbez bs nyy bs vgf pvgvmraf fnir Gube).

Cneg 2 unf nyernql orra fubg. Fperrajevgref Puevfgbcure Znexhf naq Fgrcura ZpSrryl unir fnvq “Jr qba’g jnag — naq pregnvayl bgure zbivrf unir orra npphfrq bs guvf — gb gryy bar ovt fgbel, phg vg va unys, naq fgrny lbhe zbarl.” Vg’f uneq gb frr ubj guvf jba’g or gur pnfr hayrff Cneg 2 vf ernyyl n frevbhf qrcnegher. Gurl fnl vg vf: “Jr vagraq gurz gb or irel qvssrerag rkcrevraprf,” ZpSrryl fnlf. “Gurl ner cenpgvpnyyl qvssrerag traerf, V’yy gryy lbh gung. Vg jvyy srry gung jnl. … Jr jbhyq yvxr gb gryy gjb pbzcyrgr [fgbevrf].”

“N dhrfgvba naq na nafjre,” Znexhf nqqf.

Cerfhznoyl gur dhrfgvba vf “Qb gur arrqf bs gur znal bhgjrvtu gur arrqf bs gur srj, be gur bar?” (v.r. ubj qb gevyyvbaf bs yvirf jrvtu ntnvafg n fvatyr yvsr?) naq gur nafjre va hfhny zbivr snfuvba vf “gur arrqf bs gur bar bhgjrvtu gur arrqf bs gur znal”. Guvf vf nyernql n gurzr vagebqhprq va Cneg 1. Naq vg zvtug rira or Gunabf va gur raq jub haqbrf jung ur qvq, fb gung ur zvtug erfgber whfg bar yvsr, Tnzben.

Previously:
August 20, 2017 watching the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Movie Better Than Book

It’s not common, but sometimes a movie can be better than a book. Clearer, more focused, or just reimagined.

Neverending Story by Michael Ende – The book drags on, including a war. The 1984 movie is a much more focused, clearer story. Incidentally the Neverending Story II (1990) and Neverending Story III (1994) are terrible. In my usual approach to my personal canon, I have decided they don’t exist.

(Sequels with rollerblades are terrible. 1985’s Return to Oz… rollerblades. Terrible.)

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick / Blade Runner – The book is typical Philip K. Dick, which is to say weird, dense, hard to follow. The 1982 Blade Runner movie is much better.

Movie Different Than Book

It’s pretty hard to compare Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg to the the 1995 movie, as Jumanji is a short kid’s picture book. The core ideas are in the book, but basically the entire storyline of the movie with the town and the kids is added. It made a pretty good movie.

Movies Adapted Into Books

This is a whole other universe that I will mention but not explore. Pretty much every major science fiction and fantasy movie that didn’t originate as a book has a book adaptation. Sometimes they illuminate or give a different view of the story. For example E.T. (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial in his adventure on earth) by William Kotzwinkle in 1982 has rather more Dungeons and Dragons than you might expect. And continues into its own (not very good) 1985 sequel E.T. The Book of the Green Planet.

Also see previous post: Book Better Than Movie.

Book Better Than Movie

These are books that are better than the movies made from them.
It is a big challenge to take the complex, lengthy and often internal dialogue of a book and transform it into a short visual representation.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien – It’s unfortunate that, having done a masterful job on The Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson messed up The Hobbit (2012, 2013, 2014) by trying to turn this simple tale into an epic. Tolkien himself had revisited The Hobbit after The Lord of the Rings but abandoned the rewrite, finding that trying to make Hobbit more like the Rings took away from the integrity of the story. I look forward to a remake that gets it right.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman – This is great as an audiobook. It could have made a good movie, but instead The Golden Compass (2007) went very heavy into the church side of things, and basically didn’t do justice to the book.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman – This is a good audiobook, read by the author. I don’t remember the 2007 movie that well, but it didn’t capture the book.

Ender’s War by Orson Scott Card – This is probably unfilmable as written, but nevertheless the core of the story is the practice battles that they fight, which the 2013 movie failed to capture.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones – I don’t really remember much about the movie, but I recall the 2004 movie failed to capture the book.

Contact by Carl Sagan – Turned into a very USA religion versus science 1997 movie, which is not at all the nature of the book.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – I find the book better than both the original radio drama and the movie, because of Adams’ gift with written language. The humour of a line like “The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.” is hard to replicate in audio or film.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – I had a lot to say about the many ways in which the Ready Player One (2018) movie totally failed as an adaptation of the book.

Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling – I like this as the Stephen Fry audiobook. The first two movies directed by Chris Columbus had a good visual sense of Hogwarts and the students, in particular the importance of the house colours and a special school with a uniform. The third movie by Alfonso Cuarón in 2004 tried to do some grand theme about time and lost all of the visual sense and the understanding of being away at a special school, trying to make it just ordinary kids.

But Still a Good Movie

The Princess Bride by William Goldman – This is an example of a book that takes full advantage of literary techniques, including a lot of author asides. It is a very funny book. It made a good movie, but the movie couldn’t capture all the complexity and technique of the book.

The Martian by Andy Weir – The book is funnier than the movie, and the book has the luxury of being very highly technical, which wouldn’t have been feasible in the movie. Still a good movie though.

Also see next post: Movie Better Than Book.