Thursday, February 4, 2010

Eradicating the Past

I saw Star Trek (2009) for the first time last night. This in and of itself demonstrates two things about me: 1) I have three young children and don't have the time or wherewithal to see movies in the movie theatre anymore 2) I found out a long time ago that being the first on my block to experience something "new" does not actually make the experience any better, it just usually costs more money. Therefore I am perfectly willing to wait until the DVD release (and take advantage of the pause button and subtitles).

Right off the bat I must say that I enjoyed watching the movie. It is a nice action flick that did a good job of making me suspend my disbelief about a bunch of things that are impossible and/or make no rational sense, had enough of a plot to entertain for a couple hours and was filled with some well executed eye candy. However, I cannot by any stretch of the imagination say that I liked it. In fact not only do I like this movie less the more I contemplate it, the more disturbing I find it.

I have spent much of my life studying history, both formally and privately. This is reflected in my long and steady participation in war gaming and rpgs. Although, as a Christian, there is much to criticize about Rodenberry's utopian vision of the future, I have to respect the loving manner in which this franchise has treated its own history. The best of all the Star Trek movies by a fair margin — Wrath of Khan — is an example of Star Trek paying homage to its own past.

Star Trek (2009) attempts to move forward from this grand tradition by eradicating virtually everything that has occurred in the Star Trek universe over the last 4+ decades in order to re-boot the franchise. They splinter the time line in the first minutes of the movie and never repair the damage. Everything that we ever knew about Star Trek is gone. I disagree with those that say this is an "alternate timeline." The elder Spock came from the Star Trek universe we all know. In order for him to exist in this "alternate" version, the original had to be destroyed. There have been plenty of times that Star Trek has played with time, but has always managed to correct itself within the course of a movie or an episode. This movie, however, deliberately refused to do that.

At the core of this particular decision is an attitude that says, "In order to move forward, we must (to a lesser or greater degree) eradicate the past." As an historian, I find this repugnant. My formal education concentrated upon those societies that lived through such an attitude at the socio-political level. The human damage is stomach wrenching and far-reaching. I know many who still have literal and emotional scars, including members of my own family.

This got me to thinking about the OSR. One of the questions raised in the wake of D&D IV is: how far does a game need to remove itself from its past to stop being that game? To frame this question in terms of Star Trek (2009): has D&D IV tried to go forward by eradicating the past? One of the things that I truly love about the OSR is that it is steeped in history. Even when we take the hobby into uncharted territory, we lovingly acknowledge the roots of the game. We pay homage to what has come before. In my humble opinion, the result is a richer experience and a better game.

6 comments:

  1. But you have to admit that Star Trek was great eyecandy.

    And Karl Urban as Bones, and John Cho as Sulu, were great casting choices.

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  2. Thanks for another focused, thoughtful post.

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  3. Great post. I agree with pretty much everything you've said. I wonder, though, if this is indicative of a larger cultural shift. Or maybe I'm just getting old.

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  4. You said: "I disagree with those that say this is an 'alternate timeline.' The elder Spock came from the Star Trek universe we all know. In order for him to exist in this 'alternate' version, the original had to be destroyed. There have been plenty of times that Star Trek has played with time, but has always managed to correct itself within the course of a movie or an episode. This movie, however, deliberately refused to do that."

    While I fundamentally disagree with your interpretation of the true-Trek universe's continued existence (for reasons involving canon, continuity and quantum mechanics, along with my own fervent desire to think otherwise), your point about the film "deliberately" refusing "to do that" is spot on. I and many old school Trekkies are *convinced* that such (along with the destruction of Romulus, which occurs whether or not you think said universe survived) was J.J. Abrams' deliberate (pardon my profanity) "fuck you!" to a legion of fans who no longer occupy his target demographic.

    Star Trek (2009) was an abomination and a travesty. It's uncharitable of me, but I question the intelligence of anyone not who enjoyed it, but considered it legitimate Star Trek.

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    1. Though I wouldn't use your language, I do agree that Star Trek (2009) was very disrespectful. While we might disagree on whether or not the real Star Trek universe exists in the (2009) universe, it still exists in our appreciation for the original. Indeed, it lives every time I watch another episode on Netflix...

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    2. As a fan fiction writer with an ongoing series extremely well-known in the sub-genre, I must assume that it does, indeed, still exist.

      And so it does. ;-)

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