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Mark Altman’s Take On The JJ Abrams Star Trek Preview November 24, 2008

by Mark A. Altman , Filed under: Editorial,Star Trek (2009 film) , trackback

TrekMovie Editor Anthony is not the only site contributor who attended the Paramount "Star Trek" preview in Los Angeles last week (see his report). Also on hand was writer/producer Mark Altman ("Free Enterprise"), who weighs on the new Trek from his unique perspective and with his formidable  ‘Trekspertise.’ [SPOILERS]

 

[NOTE: Mark’s comments contain some colorful metaphors]

 

KEEP ON TREKKIN’
J.J. Abrams goes boldly where many have gone before and continues the search for Star Trek

By Mark A. Altman

Last week, against my better judgment, I dropped in on J.J. Abrams private jet & truck tour (I don’t think there were any buses involved with this roadshow) to excite the world about his new incarnation of Star Trek. For months, I’ve had friends, fans and even my wife asking me what I thought of the undertaking and continually dodged the question, including during our Geek panel at San Diego ComicCon last summer while my partners-in-geekdom mostly savaged it (not Anthony, obviously). Well, after seeing about 25 minutes from the film and the new trailer, I feel I’ve seen enough to at least have some more cogent thoughts about the project.

First, in the interest of full disclosure, I am a big J.J. Abrams fan. I’ve been a fan of Alias and Lost and thought he did a great job with Mission Impossible III. But perhaps more importantly, he seems like a real mensch. He’s always been respectful to his source material, whether it be MI or Star Trek, never belittling it, and showing the proper reverence for the series as well as their respective fans of which he is decidedly one. I genuinely feel like he’s trying to do right by the franchise even if he and his co-conspirators have admitted that Next Generation was more of a touchstone for them than the original, crazy talk, for sure (and, for the record, that doesn’t mean I don’t like TNG, I do, it just means that Classic Trek is that much better). I never got the impression he actually wanted to direct this film, but somehow got pulled into like a black hole that sucked him in, but once he was onboard, he gave it everything he got. 

That said, I was very pleasantly surprised by what I saw. Admittedly, I don’t think this Star Trek film is being made for me, nor should it. It’s a re-invention to introduce an entirely new generation to the franchise which is what it should be. The reality is me and my curmudgeonly ilk will be there opening day anyway so it’s not about getting our asses into overpriced theater seats but the High School Musical generation and those crummy teens who grew up on Phantom Menace and thought it was good. You know, the one’s with no taste. That aside, JJ had quite a three year mission for himself: make Star Trek cool. I’m not sure how you do that since it’s never been remotely that, but judging from the footage I saw I’m betting even money he might just pull it off.


Iowa gets a Starfleet bailout and turns out to become the center of the starship construction industry…and what gas mileage.

At the end of the day, all of us complaining about how the movie destroys existing continuity, despite protestations to the contrary from the filmmakers, are right. There’s no way you can get around Kirk buddying up to Pike (an inspirational Bruce Greenwood in full-on JFK mode) as an Academy student when this was clearly not the case in “The Menagerie” or driving a stick shift when he couldn’t in “A Piece of the Action” or battling the Romulans face-to-face when we hadn’t even seen them in the flesh until “Balance of Terror.” But it doesn’t really doesn’t matter because “I am your father, new Trek audience” and this isn’t your father’s Star Trek.  The only reason I find this annoying is because Star Trek continuity is sort of a cool thing, it’s something that made it really fun to grow up on and gave the series a life beyond those initial 79 episodes; first in fanzines, then in Power Records, James Blish novels, the animated series and the movies and TV series to follow. Sure, there might be some convoluted time travel explanation for why this isn’t messing with continuity, but it didn’t have to be this way. As painful as for me to say, this movie didn’t need Leonard Nimoy, it didn’t need to be a prequel and a sequel, for that matter, it needed to be a remake…or re-imagination, if you will, which seems to be the current nomenclature. It needed to be Casino Royale in which everything from Dr. No to Die Another Day didn’t exist (especially A View To A Kill, thankfully). It needed to be Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica in which Muffet the Daggit and, regrettably, Count Iblis didn’t exist. Then maybe, just maybe, us old fucking fogies, wouldn’t care what you changed and the new kids on the block wouldn’t have to listen to long, ponderous scenes like Leonard Nimoy as Spock explaining technobabble to Scotty that he’s from the future and Captain Kirk needs to get Spock emotional to take command. That’s Next Generation, guys, and as much as I loved seeing Nimoy on screen as Spock again, I couldn’t but help feeling it was like dropping Jar-Jar into a scene in The Empire Strikes Back…or if Humphrey Bogart suddenly showed up in The Bourne Identity, an anachronism.

Yes, I know you feel my pain and you’re yelling, but you’re a geek, Altman. For gods sakes, you founded Geek Monthly. You made a fucking movie about lunatic fans who tell Shatner that he should “get a life.” Who cares about all this? It’s about the movie, stupid, not the fact that you spent several decades in a dysfunctional love/hate relationship with the original Star Trek. Ah, that’s the equation! Putting all that aside then: the 25 minutes of footage I watched, kinda rocked.  


Hailing frequencies are open, sugar

And why? It starts with Chris Pine. Obviously, I’m a high priest in the church of Shatnerica and, to me, there’s no way you can recast Kirk. He’s an icon of popular culture that’s sacrosanct. It’s like Rick Blaine. David Soul can’t play him, George Raft can’t play him, only Bogart. There’s only one Shatner, the only man who could get away with asking god what he needed with a starship. But, truth be told, Pine is pretty great in the movie from what I could tell. He captures the bravado, humor, heroism of Shatner’s Kirk without being Shatner which is pretty impressive. It’s ironic considering I thought it was going to be Zachary Quinto who nailed Nimoy’s Spock and, from what little I could see, he didn’t. I’m actually a little worried about Quinto’s Spock. Part of it is because Quinto’s not Jewish and there was always something rabbinical about all the great Vulcans from Nimoy to Mark Lenard which Quinto’s Spock lacks. And that’s no slight against Episcopalians or whatever Quinto is, they’re just not Vulcans, as I once warned Greg Grunberg.

On the other hand, Karl Urban is doing a dead-on DeForest Kelley that’s a joy to behold and Zoe Saldana’s Uhura is a hottie with better lines than Nichelle ever had. That said, I’m still not sure why Anton Yelchin is in this movie. Even the animated series was smart enough to jettison Chekov and given that the character never showed up till the second season of the original Trek, did we really need him in this movie? All the films have failed when they tried to service the ensemble of Trek characters not realizing at its core, despite George Takei’s whining, Star Trek is a star vehicle, about the troika of Kirk, Spock and McCoy. And by trying to get Scotty, Uhura and Sulu into the action as well as Chekov, they’re doing the big three a disservice. Chekov’s played for comic relief, much as he was in Star Trek IV, and, at the end of the day, who really needs him.


Beam me down, Sylar

Is there anything that really bothered me? Sure. Scott Chambliss production design, for sure. The bridge looks like an Apple Store instead of the retro pulp look of Captain Pike’s original bridge and will probably date worse in a few years. It actually looks a lot like Alias’ HQ final season which was great for Alias, not so much for Trek. The rest of the ship looks like the Titanic and I’m not sure why. Fortunately, all of the rest of Abrams band of brothers (and, to his credit, he’s the most loyal man in Hollywood) does yeoman’s work from the awesome retro costumes to a great score from Lost tuner Michael Giancacchino.

At the end of the day, this movie looks expensive and epic whereas all the original Trek movies looked cheap and, well, cheap. And there’s a reason: they were. Except for The Motion Picture (which despite its litany of problems, looks and feels like a movie with the best production design of the bunch), they all suffered from truncated budgets and, in many cases truncated ideas. Star Trek II had Nicholas Meyer there to re-invent Trek and he did it with finesse – even though it only looked on screen like a glorified episode of the original (a really good one, but an episode nonetheless). Star Trek VI similarly suffered from the constraints of time and budget and the less said about the eviscerating nature of Star Trek V’s budget cuts, the better. Star Trek III, which had some of the series best character banter, looks like a high school play today and many contemporary fan made films have better production values.


In another universe, I could have called you Hulk

In fact, if you look at that film’s scene in an alien bar and compare it to Abrams bar scene at the beginning of the new Trek film, you’ll see what a difference two decades makes. There’s an alien in that scene, who like Morn in DS9, says nothing and does nothing, but steals the scene which is a delight from star to finish (with the possible exception of when Kirk inadvertently ends up feeling up Uhura which just feels sophomoric). Like that, compare a battle atop a Romulan mining platform to the Styrofoam conflict between Kirk and Krudge on the exploding Genesis Planet. I’ve had enough of that…how can you not be looking forward to J.J. Abrams new Trek? It’s all those images that we dreamed of as kids, reading the novels and the comics, fantasizing we were on the Starship Enterprise, come to life.

Hopefully, in this fucked up world we live in, J.J. can tap into the same sense of hope and optimism that the original Trek captured in the wake of the Kennedy New Frontier and it’s no accident that Obama-mania and the resurrection of Trek have coincided so perfectly. Maybe, just maybe, optimism about the future and not cynicism can be cool again and the human adventure really is just beginning…or maybe we just need to sit back and enjoy it before we really do grow old – like part of our DVD collection.


Any movie with Kirk sleeping with Rachel Nichols as a Green Orion Slave Girl has to be great

 

Reprinted from the January 2009 Geek Monthly (www.geekmonthly.com) with permission of the author

 

As with all editorials here, this is the opinion of the author and not necessarily that of TrekMovie.com.

 

Mark A. Altman is the writer/producer of such films as the award winning comedy Free Enterprise, in which two Star Trek fans find out their idol, William Shatner, is more screwed up than they are. He has been called the “world’s foremost Trekspert” by the Los Angeles Times and written several books on Star Trek in popular culture for Little Brown as well as numerous issues of the Star Trek comic book series for both Malibu and DC Comics.

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
November 24, 2008 5:03 pm

Great summary.

TonyD
November 24, 2008 5:05 pm
Interesting article and POV. I find myself somewhat agreeing with Altman’s suggestion that it may have been better to omit Nimoy and do a full-on reboot as it would probably have been the easiest way to make a clean break from what came before while still being able to liberally dip into the mythos as necessary. This article also seems to confirm my fears that the production design on the movie is a far cry from the classic Trek aesthetic. Too far, perhaps? I’m still excited about seeing Trek on the big screen and May can’t come fast enough. But… Read more »
Wolf Trek
November 24, 2008 5:06 pm
As far as canon, there are some lines that I would hate to see crossed. The characters have to stay true to what was set down by the original cast. I don’t want to see a sassy mouthed, hip hop Uhura telling Kirk that “if he liked it he shoulda put a ring on it!”, or an alcoholic Spock downing bottle after bottle of saurian brandy because of his inner angst at being half human and half Vulcan and the fact that his father never, NEVER, told him that he loved him. That sorta stuff. Now, if it appears that… Read more »
November 24, 2008 5:07 pm

Interesting take … did nothing to deter my excitement, that’s for sure.

4dog
November 24, 2008 5:08 pm

First to say Great Read….HAHAHAHA!!!!

Doug
November 24, 2008 5:08 pm

You know, now that you’ve pointed out some of the issues with earlier Trek films..production quality….I couldn’t agree more. As much as I love “Wrath of Khan” (and I DO LOVE IT) I never understood how Genesis happened to be designed to look like leftover Giligan’s Island jungle sets.
The Budget dollars didn’t end up on screen in many cases, that’s for sure.

sean
November 24, 2008 5:10 pm

I definitely respect you Mark, even if I don’t hold all the same opinions (I don’t think Trek MUST be about the Troika, to me this is something fans insist that isn’t necessarily true). And at least you’ve displayed an open mind – something Trek is in desperate need of right now. :)

Trek Boy
November 24, 2008 5:10 pm
So nobody wants to acknowledge the fact that Nero and Spock going back in time changes the timeline and what we see as “canon”? If Nero goes back in time, then yes, the Romulans will be encountered earlier. If future Spock somehow arranges for Kirk and Pike to meet earlier, then yes, Kirk and Pike may meet earlier. This isn’t a ‘stick to canon’ prequel…..this is a time-altering event that takes place in the past because someone from the future went there. Besides, Enterprise did enough to mess up continuity anyway. It’s existence alone messed it up. No canonical material… Read more »
Doug
November 24, 2008 5:12 pm

Of course, having said that…there are so many product code scanners (from real life) used as set decoration on the new bridge as to be overkill. Perhaps they’re being used to allow checkout for 10 items or less at any console?

RTC
November 24, 2008 5:13 pm

As a longtime reader of Altman’s stuff, it’s great to get his insights. I’m still going to have faith that the continuity stuff isn’t as bad as the preview hints.

Leon
November 24, 2008 5:15 pm

Yeaaaaah, looks good!! Can’t wait for this movie. It’s gonna be kickass

Papa Jim
November 24, 2008 5:16 pm

Awesome commentary! Thanks!

November 24, 2008 5:17 pm

I’m concerned (especially after the trailer) about the quality of the dialogue, and there doesn’t seem to be much commentary about that [most folks who’ve seen the preview scenes preferring to focus instead on the casting, the expansive scope, and “production values”]. Are the scenes being used in the promotional showings too sparse on dialogue to give a strong impression?

Anthony Thompson
November 24, 2008 5:19 pm

Agree about Chekov being unnecessary. Quinto? I haven’t read any rave reviews yet! Maybe he’s the weak link in the movie. And VERY sorry to see that Nimoy’s scene is less than satisfactory. Set design. I wonder if Engineering was the huge “build” which was sacrificed due to budget constraints? That’s a crucial set. I’m starting to have doubts…

DavidJ
November 24, 2008 5:20 pm

Honestly I don’t see how this new bridge is going to look any more dated than the previous Trek bridges in a few years.

I mean, go back and look at the early TNG bridge. Yikes! And as much as I love the “retro” thing personally, people have to understand that the vast majority of the audience isn’t going to see it the same way. The TOS designs simply HAD to be rethought.

Adam
November 24, 2008 5:21 pm

Long time reader, first time poster

Some people have really needed to cop onto themselves for a while now, about what this film is doing to their childhood and how it is all wrong. It nice to see such a passionate fan take a step back and realize, that maybe this might actually be really really good, dare I say it personally, perhaps better than what came before in some regards.

Driver
November 24, 2008 5:22 pm

There is no fan made film that has better production values than any of the feature films and that also goes for the any of the series episodes including TOS.

Duncan MacLeod
November 24, 2008 5:24 pm

January 2008? He saw the footage 9 months ago?

Duncan MacLeod
November 24, 2008 5:24 pm

11 months?

Donn
November 24, 2008 5:25 pm
Nice article. I don’t happen to agree with Mark, I think Star Trek can be about an ensemble, about ideas bigger than the relationship between three people, but it was nice to read a well-expressed opinion from one of those guys who “pine” for the old days. (Pun intended, shoot me.) I can totally see where he’s coming from; sure, it might have been better, easier to swallow if they hadn’t done the old-Spock thing, and just said, “You know what, it’s a reboot, plain and simple.” Here’s the thing, though. If you watch Casino Royale, then you kind of… Read more »
Anthony Thompson
November 24, 2008 5:26 pm

Actually, Duncan, that would be TEN months.

dav
November 24, 2008 5:26 pm

“There is no fan made film that has better production values than any of the feature films and that also goes for the any of the series episodes including TOS.”

QFT (quoted for truth)

scifib5st
November 24, 2008 5:29 pm

I have been caught prying at the Altman alter in the past. As a looooong time fan who watched TOS when it was on NBC as a 12 year old boy…. I realize to get more fans intrested in ST or it will die. I love the work of New Voyages and some of the others. Roddenberry was telling morality stories with optimisn, today I think we could all use some of this. It’s good to see Altman has an open mind, I hope all fans can open theirs.

November 24, 2008 5:29 pm

sorry that is the January 2009 issue of Geek Monthly, which is not out yet, Mark sent over his article in advance

Tony Whitehead
November 24, 2008 5:30 pm
I know I am going to sound like a prude, but one of the reasons I prefer Trekmovie.com over most other sights is the high level of discourse in the feedback sections. We have some very thoughtful folks with some great opinions and the TM staff does a good job of policing the troublemakers. I am not a father with children, but it seems to me that the one place things get out of hand sometimes is in the actual articles themselves. There is no need for the f-word inside the articles. Anthony, you filter out the boards, why not… Read more »
THE GOVERNATOR
November 24, 2008 5:30 pm

interesting article, although I respectively disagree with a few things. I think that you can still have Nimoy in the movie and still call it a complete reboot, you just have to think of him as just playing his part. As for those who desire a connection between TOS and this new movie, well you can look at Nimoy as being your bridge. As for the set designs, I love them. Besides, I like Apple Stores :)

rodd_berry
November 24, 2008 5:32 pm

I don’t want to see this movie anymore.

November 24, 2008 5:32 pm

#20 sez: “If you watch Casino Royale, then you kind of have to accept that From Russia With Love didn’t happen.”

But that’s because Casino Royale is a reboot. If the filmmakers for Trek would just man up and admit that their Star Trek is also a reboot (instead of continually, explicitly denying that it is) it would make the whole process so much easier on so many of the fans.

JeFF
November 24, 2008 5:36 pm

HOORAY! Agreed agreed agreed!

Change we can BELIEVE in… YES WE CAN!!!

DavidJ
November 24, 2008 5:37 pm

20
“Still, for the record, I think the changes that have been made are so superficial as to not even bother worrying about.”

Agreed. Who cares if the Enterprise was built in Iowa, or Kirk encountered the Romulans a few years earlier than before? As fun as it is to know all this complex continuity, Star Trek has always been a lot MORE than that to me.

It’s about the adventures of the Starship Enterprise, and the friendship between Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Ultimately THAT’s what I take away from the original series. Not when this or that happened in the timeline.

November 24, 2008 5:37 pm
Frankly, Cannon was lost in the original series. Just go episode to episode and examine cannon for what it is. Cannon was created AFTER the show was cancelled and fans tried to reconcile events and names and places and times into what they wanted. Sure, the makers and shakers of the Trekverse helped and chimed in… but the original series was very poor at continuity and “cannon.” Then take the events of “Enterprise” – the Borg go back and change things in First Contact and then show up in Archerverse. The Temporal Cold War changed many things. The writers have… Read more »
Brian
November 24, 2008 5:40 pm

Great article, Mark. I agree with you that this film should’ve been a full-blown reboot in the first place so we all wouldn’t have to read all the hemming-and-hawing about canon.

As much as I loved TNG, TOS was always, truly “Star Trek” to me, warts and all. I’m completely willing to give the new film a chance.

Izbot
November 24, 2008 5:42 pm

“Maybe, just maybe, optimism about the future and not cynicism can be cool again”

I really hope so. I was a big fan of ENT but it did (especially season 3 — which was still great!) come off pretty cynical.

November 24, 2008 5:43 pm
Fanboy, are you afraid of the future? Some people are afraid of the future; of what might happen. I was frightened, really frightened. No more neutral zone, or hand-picked prime Mexican red chili peppers, or “that-a-way, second star to the right, and straight on ’till morning.” I was used to hating any new vision of Star Trek. It never even occurred to me to take J.J. at his word. Spock was right. (Star Trek VI: The Untapped Potential [after N. Meyers]) You know something, Mr. Altman, I think maybe Nick Meyers was trying to tell us something about franchises running… Read more »
Cmdr Data
November 24, 2008 5:44 pm

#8 Trek boy

I totally agree. Trek fans in general get too caught up in canon. It makes no difference what series/movie u watch, there are always going to be contradictions.

heres an example from the DS9 Episode – Trials and tribble-ations. Just after Sisko has told the 2 officers from Temporal investigations he’s seen the ‘Enterprise’

—————————————————————————————————-

Dulmur is eyeing Sisko as Lucsly takes notees on his PADD.

DULMUR:
Be specific, Captain. Which
Enterprise? There’ve been five.

LUCSLY:
Six.

SISKO:
This was the first Enterprise.
Constitution class.

—————————————————————————————————-

vanedge
November 24, 2008 5:47 pm

Mark Altman makes me proud to be from Brooklyn — and a trek geek.

November 24, 2008 5:52 pm
“As painful as for me to say, this movie didn’t need Leonard Nimoy, it didn’t need to be a prequel and a sequel, for that matter, it needed to be a remake…or re-imagination, if you will, which seems to be the current nomenclature. It needed to be Casino Royale in which everything from Dr. No to Die Another Day didn’t exist (especially A View To A Kill, thankfully).” This is on the money. I think that divorcing this movie entirely from the existing Trek universe would have been a much wiser choice. You could make creative choices that depart from… Read more »
sean
November 24, 2008 5:52 pm
#20 & 28 But see, Casino Royale was kind of a special case too because it was both a prequel and a reboot. It wasn’t as if they threw every Bond convention out the window and started from scratch. He’s still a 00, still answers to M (the same M Pierce Brosnan answered to!) and he still drives an Astin Martin every once in a while. They just went to the beginning of Bond and washed away the excess. Including Judi Dench, to me, was a bit like including Leonard in this film. They both serve as a sort of… Read more »
Ta'Qkerr
November 24, 2008 5:53 pm

#35 Cmdr Data

Your logic is flawed, Starfleet existed before the United Federation of Planets, it is logical to assume that the temporal investigators and Sisko were refering to the Federation Starship named Enterprise. As apose to any vessels prior to it. Otherwise there would have been several more, for example, the NASA space shuttle Enterprise or perhaps the HMS Enterprise.

Brian
November 24, 2008 5:55 pm

I also agree that Trek is at it’s best when it focuses on Kirk-Spock-McCoy. TOS and TNG were both star-driven vehicles, and not real ensembles.

t2
November 24, 2008 5:56 pm

a well-written commentary, i just don’t think we should look so deeply into this when not having seen the whole movie.us no offense but i hope youre wrong about some of your observations…still looking forward to it!

Brett Campbell
November 24, 2008 5:58 pm
25 – I was thinking the same thing when I read the article. I don’t have kids, but I felt a little concerned and embarrassed for parents who are fans with kids who are growing enthusiasts for Trek and who want to share this experience together. It seems rather inappropriate, especially when the English language has so many more adjectives to be used that are more precise and appropriate and would serve even better. It’s sad when professional writers, such as even Harlan Ellison, have to resort to this kind of locker room banter to feel as if they are… Read more »
Oregon Trek Geek
November 24, 2008 6:01 pm

Well, if it turns out that nobody likes the interior of the E, that can always be fixed in the next feature (the one with William Shatner).

There were some bridge changes in the TOS movies (most notably between TMP and TWOK), and we all just went with it and assumed they had a nice refit between movies.

Good points on the ensemble vs. stars. TOS was always about Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.

Cmdr Data
November 24, 2008 6:02 pm

#39
Yeah there is always that possibility. As you say it is logical to theorize that this is the case however no facts confirm this hypothesis.. Incidentally, is there not a line in the new movie where Scotty refers to Captain Archers Beagle?

Would that not indicate that indeed there was an Enterprise prior to the Constitution Class vessel?

In my opinion, continuity within Star Trek is not the fundimental principle, it is the optimism and hope.

drij
November 24, 2008 6:03 pm

who the heck is Mark Altman… rofl…

Falvoant
November 24, 2008 6:03 pm

Umm Yeah ….but one thing what if…when the movie ends
“All that you know is GONE…”
Throw your DVDs away
Throw your model ships away
Throw your action figures away…
It has passeed into what was….
JJ now controls your picture
He controls the Vetical
He controls the Horizontal
He can sharpen it to crystal clarity
or blur it to dull focus
or erase it from your mind completey

Sc00ny
November 24, 2008 6:03 pm

Mark A. Altman’s review is quite possibly the epitome of hackerie.
What a pretentious self-important, pompous (non) journalist.

A review of a film that hasn’t been finished!

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Darth Ballz
November 24, 2008 6:05 pm

Nice-

Mark Altman is right up there with Richard Arnold, a dingleberry on the bottom of Star Trek. Notice that he has to plug that crapola Shatner movie of his to make himself a Trek expert. He makes some good points here but I never thought much of him or his ego.

Darth “AltmanSorB” Ballz

Brian
November 24, 2008 6:06 pm

I have no problem seeing Uhura in her bra, I just don’t think it’s necessary, nor do I have a problem with Mark dropping an F-bomb….it’s not like the article was one giant blue streak.

AJ
November 24, 2008 6:13 pm

“Krudge?”

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