LA Times Columnist Compares Trek to the Bible, Suggests Abandoning the ‘Canon’ for Trek XI

LA Times Magazine Columnist Dan Neil devoted his regular ‘800 words’ column today to Star Trek.  Of the franchise he caims that Trek is the "the most successful entertainment franchise in history." Although certainly in the top ten, it is unclear that this claim can be backed up. But he doesn’t stop there…

"Star Trek"—the horn-rimmed invention of an eccentric Hollywood scriptwriter—is one of the two or three richest, most thoroughly elaborated fictional narratives in human history. What comes close? The Vedas, perhaps. The Bible? In terms of the number of characters, story lines, the comings and goings of civilizations, the Bible is not even in the same ballpark, or quadrant of the galaxy, as they say on the bridge of the Enterprise.

Neil then goes on to describe and denounce the rumored plans for Trek XI being a prequel, using the religious metephor to the hilt….

The studio plans to make an 11th film, produced by J.J. Abrams, to be released in2008. Set phasers to milk! Early word is it will be something of a"reboot," a la "Batman Begins."The reboot is becoming a Hollywood art form all its own, as the film industry attempts to breathe new life into fading franchises. But what would a reboot of "Star Trek" be like? In the world of "Star Trek" fandom there is what’s called the "canon"—the official, Paramount-approved narrative, with internally consistent timeline, characters, aliens and alliances. To depart from any of that would be to invite geek insurrection. To revisit it is to court blasphemy. That’s all we need: Owen Wilson as Dr. Leonard McCoy.

So, my proposal: Leave it all behind. Set the clock running in the 30th century. In other words, "Star Trek: The New Testament." If Roddenberry’s creation was about anything, it was about human evolution. So, keepers of the "Star Trek" legacy, where will you take us next? More trade wars with Cardassians and tribulations with Romulans? The universe is expanding. Why would Star Trek’s world be getting smaller? The only continuity need be the name Enterprise, which still sounds grand in its ambition.

Forty years on, the greatest tribute to Roddenberry’s legacy would be to abandon it.

It is interesting to see the same ‘go forward not backward’ meme appear in the so called mainstream media, although with the ‘dump the canon’ twist (which ironically is far more of a ‘reboot’ than anything Abrams seems to be doing). It is interesting that ‘reboots’ and prequels are so easily dismissed, but the most recent examples like Batman Begins, and Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith were both critical and financial succcesses. And the early Buzz on the the Bond franchise’s ‘Casino Royale’ is so good that MGM are already talking about the sequel. Regardless, as discussed here earlier, we are months before the film gets into pre-production and Abrams and his rumored approach still seem to have the media buzzing…and that is a good thing.

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And going forward to another century with a different ship and crew is simply a rehash, regardless of what direction the producers take for future Trek, there will always be critics.

In many ways Trek is it’s own worst enemy, fat and bloated on it’s own success, and excess, in the form of parental abuse and neglect by foster parents given ward anf custody of the child temporarily.

I think where to go now is, and has been, the big creative dilemma for Star Trek.
Backwards sucks to some, reboots suck to others, going forward is a rehash to some, some want a DS9 movie, some want a finale for the Next Gen cast, others want more Original series adventures.
What’s a man to do??
I think in all honesty Star Trek is at a place where whoever is in charge had better put what’s best for the “franchise” first, and don’t worry about offending a few fans, which they would anyway regardless of what they did.
Abrams seems to think Kirk’s era is what Trek needs. I’m certainly willing to see the film and give the guy the benefit of the doubt before I raise hell.
Speaking personally, I can and will admit I kind of miss Kirk and company, and thought they had a raw deal having the movies stolen from them in favor of the flavor of the month Next Gen cast. And let’s be honest that’s what it was. They started filming Generations three weeks after the series finale. The original series had to wait 10 years before getting a film. That’s a bit exploitative.
To say nothing of Berman and Sherry Lansings entirely dismissive attitude towards classic Trek except during sweeps week.
Kirk and crew had at least a minimum two more films in them, before everyone started DYING off damn.
Talk about missed oppurtunities.

Yes, “missed opportunities” ist the right description. But wasn’t TNG a kind of “New Testament” yet!?

It all comes down to good writing. Unfortunately, Rick Berman doesn’t recognize good writing because he’s such a formulaic producer who assumes the fans will gobble up anything with “Star Trek” slapped across the title. The premise of space exploration lends itself to a large stable of stories. Yes, like the article states, we’ve seen an extensive narrative developed over the past 40 years. But that doesn’t mean the concept is exhausted. I think the showrunners over the past ten years got lazy and they burned out on the concept. Honestly, of the TNG movies, I can only watch one and that’s not even all the way through anymore (FIRST CONTACT). JJ Abrams is a smart guy and even if he’s going to “rehash” the Original crew, the bottom line is he knows good writing and he’s bringing a lot of talent to the table. I am very hopeful that we’re finally getting a good Star Trek movie. It’s been 15 years since the last one.

Now you know why they call it a “cult” series.Lots of otherwise good minds caught up in a world of second hand banality.

Let’s not get down too hard on Rick Berman. Remember the good times: he produced DS9 from episode 1 to episode 173. And know that it’s quite possible he’s reading this. (Hi, Mr. Berman!)

@ Jon: Why are you here?

I think the L.A. columnist’s idea could work. I mean, just as with the Kirk/Spock idea, what it comes down to is good writing. With good writing, any setting and any group of characters can make a great movie. There’s certainly nothing wrong with going forward. There’s also no problem with going back. Hence AbramsTrek.

My only serious bone to pick with Mr. Neil is his evident misunderstanding of the word “reboot”. He talks about “throwing out” old canon when in fact all he’s doing is leaving it behind, a la TNG. In such a “New Testament” series, they’d probably live in the same, internally-consistent universe, but would just do less with the old villians than they did before–or even make them into allies. Just like TNG.

“Reboot” is a word that gets thrown around far too often, and it carries far too many negative connotations for too many fans for an L.A. Times columnist to abuse it in this way.

Otherwise, it’s a pretty good article. Only one snipe about “unmarried” Trekkies, and a pretty good appreciation for the franchise. Being compared to the Vedas and the Bible was nice.

Isn’t it laughably appropriate the way “Jon” enters, inserts his snide comment, then deflates under the weight of his own vitriolic rhetoric, contributing nothing to the conversation, no ideas, no depth, no discussion, no solutions.

We call that the sophist mentality.

I like the show,.But if you have a mind of your own ,you can’t help but come away with some objective observations about the postitive and, yes negative(imagine that),aspects of fandom.Sorry you interpret that as vitriol Josh.

What Star Trek needs, in terms of a new series, is a creative staff headed by Joss Whedon and the staff who wrote Firefly, Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. While the latter two are surely as far as you can get from Star Trek in the minds of many, the storytelling in those series–to say nothing of the much too short-lived Firefly–was far and away better than anything Star Trek has done–EVER.

The next Trek series–and this doesn’t necessarily apply to the movies so much but to a TV show–needs writers, directors and producers who are willing to take their characters on great and terrible journeys, exploring the darkest darks only to rise again to the light. Star Trek has never, ever done this consistently, only in small, brilliant bursts.

Give Trek to Whedon, Petrie, Minear, Espenson, etc, and watch it rise to a level of greatness that it has never seen.

I do not understand the notion of the canon bashing that many people tend to take in reference to Star Trek. They seem to draw a parellel between the lower quality of story telling; not to mention acting; that was produced under the likes of Enterprise as a sign that there is a direct issue with the canon and not the actual writing and story developments themselves.

If Star Trek XI is to take on the idea of showing Kirk and Spock early on, the writers should embrace the canon and not reject it. Casino Royale and Batman Begins are not good comparisons with Star Trek simply because both are already understood by the notion of the audience as to be vague in timeline conception. Batman has already gone under numerous incarnations since 1939 and remained 34 since then. And with Bond, we have had 5 actors play the role with two of them (Connery and Moore) playing them til they were really past the prime of the character themselves to only be replaced by a younger actor. The whole notion of belief thus is basically left open for the audience to interpret for each new incarnation, since neither of the previous franchises ever specifically set out a specific time frame to which their stories took place.

Star Trek, however, has come to incorporate the notion of time and date usage into the story telling by both the writers and more importantly by the fans of the series. To go and “revamp” with a start from scratch approach with Star Trek will leave the audience left with the notion of “well then what the hell was the point of watching it then” because those in charge will be telling them that what they have come to know is unimportant and “thus” what they have come to love and their emotional connection to it is also unimportant.

Besides, when actually writing a story all of the canon is not needed to be taken into account in one story. Only small portions need to be refrenced under the notion of showing PROGRESSION. For example, in certain shows and films the entire piece wrapped around the back story of certain characters or incidents (i.e. the Kirk and Gary Mitchell friendship, Carol Marcus relationship during the academy, the kobayoshi maru test.) Now those are probably the three main subjects, with many others also taking center stage such as the Kum far episode to where Kirk first hears of the vulcan mating ritual or the Finney episode where a former friend from the academy attempts to frame him for his murder. Now in these circumstances these points do not have to be referenced, the story should simply leave it open so as if a viewer or fan chooses too they can simply assume it happened during a certain moment or time.

The whole idea behind Star Trek has been the idea of growth over time, both for the characters we have come to watch and care for and for the time and place in which its society has been set. No, the story does not need to bog itself down in the canon and attempt to add ample amounts of it in to simply say “See, we have canon in here.” Instead, the new film should take certain concepts of canon and apply them but then go on its own path from there. Do not negate certain canon, but simply leave certain aspects of it as “open understanding” meaning- we did not say it did not happen, but we did not reinforce it either. Some of the best stories for Star Trek have done this: Namely in the films Wrath of Khan, Voyage Home, and Undiscovered Country where Nick Meyer either as director or writer knew of certain important notions of the canon and then went on to extrapolate beyond that.

That is all we want for Star Trek, the clever and smart approach of taking in what is there and then giving us something further with it.

Sorry, but I had to point out a funny error in the last post…
Quote: “such as the Kum far episode ”

It was the Pon-farr… the above name sounds like a porn version!

Funny slip, for sure….

ha ha. yeah……………same thing really though.

Ahhh… Vulcan Porn….it would eliminate alot of bad acting and funny moaning..