This past weekend I engaged in some major crazy Star Trek movie marathoning. Most of them I hadn’t seen in almost a decade and never had I seen more than three consecutively. I lived (somehow), but by the time everything was over – well, any time you commit twenty-four hours to something like that – you get slightly disoriented and then, well, your weekend is over. It’s hard to recommend such an epic task, but I learned some things about Star Trek in doing so.
It was time for the original cast to retire. Not counting Generations, Kirk’s original crew had lasted twenty-five years on various screens. As The Simpsons famously parodied, the crew was getting old (DeForest Kelley would be the first to go in 1999) and large (James Doohan ballooned during the films). They weren’t running out of ideas or adventures, but it was clearly time to retire. Thankfully, Star Trek VI sent them out with a bang.
It was time for the Next Generation cast to retire. Generations released on the heels of The Next Generation’s conclusion and their popularity was at an all time-high. DS9 had just started the year before and Voyager followed. By the time Nemesis rolled out eight years later, Star Trek had become the butt of many jokes, the donkey that just kept getting paddled around the same pool of creatives for far too long. Switching from the Bennett/Nimoy production team to Berman/Miller between the two casts was a welcome relief, but the latter staff ran out of ideas fast and the Next Generation crew suffered for it. Nemesis was, unfortunately, not a great send-off.
J.J. Abrams retired the slow, conservative approach, hopefully. Even with the more kinetic approach of Stuart Baird’s direction in Nemesis, the film was still a slog. Switching to Abrams’ Star Trek was like whiplash and, honestly, welcome relief. Much like the Star Wars prequels had retired to conversations in hallways and on couches, Star Trek had kept and maintained a pretty slow pace in not just the action, but the filmmaking as well. The franchise was about slow ships moving across a great ocean, then Abrams made it fast and abrupt. Even as 2009’s Star Trek covered plot points in interrupted sentences at breakneck speed, it still pulled it off effectively. Maybe our older folks can complain about the AAD-style approach, but I hope they bring it back in spades for XII.
You simply can’t beat Industrial Light & Magic. For eight of the eleven films, Star Trek’s producers employed George Lucas’ special effects company for all of the pew-pewing and space battles. The times they didn’t? Well, you can tell. The exceptions were The Motion Picture (which were produced by John Dykstra, ILM alum), The Final Frontier (which were completely rubbish), and Insurrection (which featured a climactic battle inside a massive blue screen cylinder). For the rest? Amazing special effects that got you excited about that universe.
It has to suck to write for Star Trek. Unlike other serialized franchises like Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica, these guys just made this stuff up as they go along. Even though the books and many other features aren’t considered canon, there’s still tomes of rules to abide by when creating your new fiction in this universe. Only three of these films intermingle (II-IV) and the rest are stand-alone operations with little connection between them. It allows for some interesting individual stories, but there’s no way one could determine what the second Star Trek film (much less the fourth or tenth) would be like just starting on Motion Picture. A little serial wouldn’t hurt going forward.
I’m looking at you, Abrams.