Saturday, April 22, 2006

Star Trek - The Comeback


Star Trek is set to make a comeback in 2008 with a new movie.

As someone who grew up with Trek, and still has his models of the Enterprise that were build as a pre-teen, I have mixed feelings.

Part of me cares, and part of me has moved on.

As I re-organized my sloppy computer room, I found many old science fiction books and neatly ordered them on my shelf. I do not own many Trek books, and the ones I do own are mostly about the production and creation of the series.

I did find that I own lots of old school science fiction, like JG Ballard and Philip K. Dick. I also own the newer stuff (newer as in less than 30 years old) by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson.

I bought most of these books when I was in my late teens and early 20s. Some I read, others I just kept to read when I got around to it. Now that I am older and have more life-experience, I look forward to reading them with a new perspective.

I find that I mostly gave up on Star Wars and Star Trek when I got old enough to vote. I found myself drawn more movies like Blade Runner and Aliens, which reflected a much harsher and less-idealistic world of the future.

The Star Trek and Star Wars universes belong to a benevolent federation and a Jedi Order, where good and evil are clearly defined.
I still watched the shows and movies out of curiosity and appreciation of the sets and special effects, but they seems more like childhood relics, like the models that I built and painted as a kid. The world of Neuromancer or Snow Crash is our current world of corporations, rapid-fire technological change and moral quandaries.

Star Trek aired in the late 60s, when America was torn by social strife, war, and the fear of nuclear annihilation; quite a contrast to the Trek portrayal of an idealized future. Space travel was the exciting new science of the time, so the idea of humans zipping between planets several centuries from now did not seem so far out.

Now we have a much more science-literate audience who have grown up with the Internet and the Discovery channel. It might be harder for Trek to pull them in as viewers, since some of the future-tech in the show seems kind of cheesy compared to what we know today. Then again, young researchers at NASA were inpired by Star Trek to create the ION engine for space probes.

The really big question is do people really want to watch new Star Trek now? With all the talk of global warming, some are begining to doubt that humanity might be around for 30 years, much less 300 years and the time to develop warp-drive.

Who cares what happens 300 years from now? I care in the sense that I do not want humankind to be wiped out by plagues, pollution, comet impacts, or grey goo. It is one thing to hope humans explore the stars and create a circle of intergalactic pals, but right now so many earthly matters are in our face.

Can I really empathize with people who don't use money anymore, live to be in their 100s thanks to medical wizardry, and have perfect bods to fill out those pajama-like uniforms? They live in their perfect 23rd century while I'm stuck in the era of identity theft and global outsourcing.

Star Trek has been strongest when it took on controversial issues in a way even non-geeks could relate to. Like Rod Serling's Twilight Zone, Star Trek could use its science fiction veneer to allow writers to take on thorny topics, like race-relations and nuclear war, without irritating network censors or twitchy sponsors.

Maybe the writers and producers can pull it off. Like I have said before on this blog, we could seriously use some optimism about the future, even if it is a tad silly at times.

Whatever they do with the new Trek, I would like to see them use the designs of Matt Jefferies as a reference. He was the designer whocreated the design for the orignial Enterprise and gave the sets their unique look.

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