Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Enterprise Of Star Trek: A Long Road Getting From There To Here

          The relationship between Star Trek's last television series to date,Enterprise,and the viewing public is more involved and complex than one might think. I include myself in that public of course. Almost from day one,this heavily promoted and discussed prequel to the known Star Trek universe,was viewed as an epic fail. And is continually cited as being the ruin of Star Trek in the public eye. After the success level of the previous three Star Trek spin offs,how could the next wind up airing only a season longer than the original Star Trek series had? Personally I don't know those answers exactly. Only the people who were involved in it's production and promotion would know the exact answers. All I can do is tell you my story. And possibilities as to what happened to Enterprise. And consequently to Star Trek itself.

       It all started twelve years ago today in fact. I was living with family. My mother was at work. It was about 8PM in the evening. I was eagerly anticipating the premier of this prequel to the Star Trek universe I so admired and was inspired by most of my then 21 years of life. I sat in the bedroom directly across from where I am writing this now. It took a bit of adjustment to bring in UPN,which at the time (not having cable) could only be bought in through the UHF frequency. Even though the static was heavy,I set up the VCR to record this two hour episode called "Broken Bow" and proceeded to watch it myself. By roughly 10PM,the two hour premire was over. And my mother was home. Being a Star Trek admirer herself,she wanted to know what the new show was like. I will tell you generally what I expressed to her that evening.

        "Broken Bow" was the story of the unfortunate first contact between humanity and the Klingons,or rather one Klingon in the mid 22nd century. The new and somewhat unseasoned crew of the new Starship Enterprise discover on their journey that this first contacts failure was manipulated by a genetically engineered sect of a race called the Sulliban. That is the premier in a nutshell. What I told my mother that night was that this was by far the least satisfying of all the Star Trek premiers I had seen thus far. The story dragged along at a very slow pace-the use of menacing silences and horror elements were quite out of place from Star Trek as I understood it. And there were too many intense plot detours in the story that simply made it next to impossible to follow. 

         With such fond memories of the relatable acting of Scott Bakula and the equally talented,if relative newcomer Jolene Blalock how could this have happened to Star Trek? I remember watching the first season on television.Most of the second as well. And over the next four years watched the show only sporadically. It continually changed time slots,for one thing. Than finally in the spring of 2005 the shows finale "These Are The Voyages" aired-which was sadly even more disappointing and disjointed than the premier had been-at least to my eyes. Star Trek was no longer airing new episodes,in any form on television after that. And as cynical as this may sound,even I as the eternal Star Trek optimist knew that it wasn't coming back. At least not anytime soon. 

       Recently I've had to view J.J. Abram's prequel Trek films as entirely separate and unrelated to Gene Roddenberry's vision. Lately when viewing Enterprise in perfect clarity on DVD,a light I didn't see at that time has emerged from it. The flaws in the writing and pacing are still painfully obvious. Yet the potential for the great storytelling and character development that defined Star Trek is definitely there. Internally one reason for Enterprise's lack of popularity in its time was how it initially rejected its connection to the Star Trek universe. In fact the name Star Trek was unused in its title for its first two seasons. This showcased possible embarrassment and even animosity amid the old and new writers for the series towards Roddenberry's vision of the future. Yet it's also important to look at the context of the time period as well.

        When Enterprise premiered twelve years ago tonight,there is some likelihood that many television viewers may have barely noticed. Enterprise had premiered only a couple of weeks after 9/11. As the media was mired in tales and the ensuing censorship within pop culture about the World Trade Center attacks,futurism seemed to be the furthest thing from people's minds. Most people I knew barely seemed to know about Enterprise or any other TV show-as the saturation news about Al Quida ,Osama Bin Laden and suicide bombings repetitiously created an atmosphere of enforced patriotism. As literally the first Star Trek series premiering in the post 9/11 world,Enterprise wasn't always able to effectively explore the harder sociopolitical messages it's predecessors had been able to.

        Star Trek has always thrived in times of cultural hardship. Such as the 1960's and it's upside down counterpart the 1990's. In these times the Star Trek universe offered hope over cynicism. And wonder over despair. We had characters who knew what they stood for and had firm values that embraced all humanity and whomever else came along. In the post 9/11 world in which Enterprise inhabited the cynicism that existed on the fringe of American culture in particular in the final decade of the 20th century became deeply imbibed in in everyday life itself. Racism,hopelessness,needless violence and everything Star Trek stood against became part of the American mainstream and much of the worlds as well. During Enterprise's run from 2001 to 2005,the culture which had allowed Star Trek to thrive and grow in the past as its own force could no longer sustain itself let alone the iconic science fiction cannon of Star Trek.

        The most important factor to Enterprise's fate is that the plot of the show itself embraced the uncertainty of its time. These people were completely improvising the creation of the Star Trek universe that inspired so many people to great things. It seemed to abandon the idea of going forward to "boldly go where no one has gone before". These people weren't always bold,had no idea where they were going. Personally? I have a feeling that the more distance and time that people have away from the frightened and disconnected era to which Enterprise was connected,the more that the series' virtues could be re-evaluated. That wouldn't be too far removed from how the critically acclaimed yet realistically unpopular the first Star Trek series was in its time. It took time (and it that case televised syndication) to make that work. Now that Enterprise is being issued on Blu Ray,there might be a successful fork at the end of Enterprise long and weary road. 



Saturday, September 21, 2013

All That One Should That Know They Can Learn From Star Trek:The Next Generation

                                 Star Trek The Next Generation was a defining reference point not only in my life,but in the lives of many people I know. I've already discussed that here of course. One thing I did do recently was go onto YouTube,probably the most pronounced social media site online alongside Facebook to see how the modern day public will respond to a program that has passed the quarter century mark in age a year ago. Living in an age when high level cynicism has become very much the mainstream attitude of most people,its very satisfying to note most people still respond to Star Trek: The Next Generation as an important sociopolitical guide post as opposed to merely an entertaining television program.

                       When this blog was first started, I openly bemoaned the lack of a new Star Trek on our TV sets-that society had since de-evolved seemingly to a never never land of no return. Even though that was intended quite seriously with no overdo melodrama, it has become clear in some of the responses that I've gotten since starting this blog that any seeds of positive change among human beings,of any sort has very strong roots within those who appreciated Star Trek beyond its entertainment value. So some might argue that makes Star Trek a religion? Not to me. As already stated more a healthful alternative to religion: an obviously fictional universe with just enough grounding in our own reality to make it educationally effective.

                     Just a few moments ago I was watching a video on YouTube that used the Star Trek The Next Generation episode 'Symbiosis' as an example of current American foreign policy. The episode of course resolves around a culture being exploited by another by use of narcotic trading. The final five minutes of this episode depicts the two cultures as Afghanistan and Iraq-with Captain Picard and Doctor Crusher as the liberal and conservative ends of US foreign policy. In the end Picard of course gives the doctor a speech that greatly inspired me at every stage growing up-as it apparently did this particular viewer. And it involved a law within the Star Trek universe's United Federation Of Planets known as the Prime Directive.

                      To paraphrase Picard's speech,the Prime Directive basically points out how history has time and time again shown that when a more sociologically and technologically advanced culture interferes with the affairs of another with lesser understanding,the results are invariably disastrous. The captain continues by pointing out that this Prime Directive is not merely a set of laws,but also a philosophy that has been proven quite correct. The fact that dialog is open among these people about such topics-whose mere mention would still be a preamble to war in contemporary society,says quite a lot for its influence in society.

                        So perhaps its easier to some cynical people to think Star Trek's influence in modern society is confined to the presence of iPhone's, tablets and advanced laptops in our daily lives. Yet the fact that these technologies are often used wrongly might also serve as an indication that humanity at large has not yet achieved the sociopolitical wisdom depicted across the Star Trek universe. Perhaps that is the factor that bread such cynicism in the first place. Even if that cynicism is about Star Trek itself. So for any of you reading this are admirers of Star Trek The Next Generation in particular,I would like to ask all of you to keep this mind while watching it. Does it encourage hatred or cynicism as opposed to the Christian bible,the Quran or even your local newspaper? The answers you find may just brighten your day.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Happy 47'th Birthday Star Trek!

                          On this evening on September 8'th,1966 the National Broadcasting Network premiered a brand new science fiction program written and conceived by a then relatively unknown television writer named Gene Roddenberry. While two separate pilots had already been created,as well as several episodes NBC decided to air the sixth episode produced as the televised pilot called 'The Man Trap'. Staring mainly William Shatner,Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelly this episode was the story of a scientist whose wife had been killed by an shape shifting alien who fed on salt. In sympathy for this species,the last of it's kind,he allowed the creature to maintain the form of his departed wife-and former lover of Doctor McCoy. The episode was in retrospect classic Star Trek: the characters interacted meaningfully and the action was driven by the vital drama and social commentary of the plot.

                          Interestingly enough,Star Trek's critical history at that time reflected how it was received during it's original airing. While a minority of people praised the show for it's unusually strong writing televised science fiction,most reaction can be summed up by the review of Jack Hellman of Daily Variety: "Not conducive to its popularity is the lack of meaningful cast leads. They move around with directorial precision with only violence to provide the excitement." Yet even from this point a significant and devoted fan base developed for the series who would soon become known as Trekkies-later altered to the less pejorative Trekkers. These admirers of Roddenberry's view of the universe and humanity later contributed to a letter writing campaign so massive Star Trek was renewed for it's unintended third and final season in 1968.

                        Four years away from the half century mark,Star Trek seems nonexistent as a television entity. This is an opinion that up until recently I shared. However with something as expansive as Star Trek,one only has to look below the surface to see that apathy towards Star Trek is actually only paper thin. If one goes online to YouTube to any Star Trek related video,the comment threads on the material showcase a universe firmly integrated into the most hopeful side of the world lexicon. Perhaps in the end,the forces that led to the early demise of the original Star Trek series seemed to win out in the end-as it was unfortunate negitive criticism and public apathy that led to it disappearing off the small screen in any form after 2005. Yet the influence that even a sometimes forgotten episode such as 'The Man Trap' might've had on...say a 20 year old collage student in 1966 could actually work wonders on a 20 year old in 2013 convinced they must go to collage to live a productive life-who see no alternative ways to success. And on that level,perhaps Star Trek-in some type of form,still lives.