Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Injecting "New" Blood Into Creaky Franchises

I wondered how long the Star Trek franchise would be allowed to stay in suspended animation. The answer appears to be two more years, tops. Two years can feel like a long time to a guy who likes to wear a velour tunic on his day off, but for those of us who (out of desperation, perhaps) turned to Star Trek for imaginative and ideological stimulus, that might seem like a rather short fallow period.

Or not. It depends whether you think J.J. Abrams -- now heralded as the forthcoming producer and possible director of Star Trek XI -- is a television wunderkind, or just another lucky guy in La-La Land who plays well with others. I lean toward the latter view, but my bias comes from admittedly limited exposure to his product. I remember Felicity as being the first TV series to feature a haircut that jumped the shark; Alias was a by-the-numbers comic book melodrama that rested capably on Jennifer Garner's gorgeous shoulders (and the occasional appearance of Lena Olin); and as for Lost, the jury is still out -- what began promisingly as television's only post-9/11 drama has become larded, obtuse and indeed "lost", much the way Twin Peaks did years earlier.

I think Lost is telling, because the past season shows signs of network meddling. Tightly controlled story-telling has given way to a looser, even sloppier, episodic format -- an indication that people in the boardroom have looked at their swelling bank accounts and figured it was time to adopt a longer view. The creators, Abrams included, originally declared their intent on keeping the enterprise limited to four seasons. I thought this showed remarkable wisdom, and I'm hoping the folks at Battlestar: Galactica have taken note -- there's a definite shelf-life for storylines that allude (even falsely) to a natural conclusion in the opening episode. That "best before" date is usually at season four, and it never ever exceeds season six.

Of course, it could be that Abrams is just the man to resurrect the Star Trek franchise. Franchises typically don't take huge risks. They'll bring in someone who agrees to stay within strict creative guidelines and (more often than not) a very strict budget. Abrams, like Wrath of Khan director Nicholas Meyer before him, has demonstrated remarkable facility in this regard. He's also been a very busy man, and it's likely he ceded control to Lost somewhere around the time Tom Cruise tapped him on the shoulder for M:I:III. The consensus seems to be that Abrams' disciplined Mission: Impossible was the best of the three. It also seems to have highlighted what thin gruel that franchise has amounted to. Here's hoping his Star Trek can escape that fate.

Other franchise news:
this interview with Grant Morrison certainly makes the latest attempted rejuvenation of the Batman ("hairy-chested Neal Adams love-god") franchise sound like fun -- albeit safe fun. I think Morrison's approach to craft is pleasantly common-sensical, if not particularly memorable. Hat-tip to Bookslut.


ジョエル said...

Call me cranky, but I don't think we've had a good Star Trek since VI. VII and VIII were passable, but the last two were just unexcusably awful. Just awful. I can only hope they give the next one a decent try

Whisky Prajer said...

I have to admit I kinda lose track of which one is which after IV. Is VIII the one with the Borg? I remember enjoying that one - even Farmer Hoggett's appearance wasn't too off-putting.

I realized after posting this that my silent hope was this Abrams movie might generate another television series. I'd say TV is Trek's proper medium, because it usually takes the writers a season or two to figure out just what they're supposed to do. The movies either work, or don't - and when they do, it's on the strengths of the television series they left behind. Yes, Trek is strictly TV material.

DarkoV said...

I confess that I walked out on the first Star Trek movie what with all of that self-love exhibited on the Enterprise. I think the 20th pan shot of the underbelly did me in.
Besides, all of the characters looked much better on the small, the very small screen. Age is the biggest villain in a fantasy world and It was taking no prisoners with the Star Trek crew. I haven't been to another ST movie in a theater since.

Scott said...

Hey, thanks for linking to that Grant Morrison interview. I saw his first Batman issue and was really impressed -- after The Invisibles, The Filth and his wild run twisting up the X-Men, Morrison has handily become the best comics writer going.

And his shot at Frank Miller was so dead-on perfect!

Whisky Prajer said...

dv - "age is the biggest villain in a fantasy world". To quote another fantasy figure, "Absolutely goddamn right."

scott - "DID I MENTION TOUGHER?" still gets me giggling.

Whisky Prajer said...

Say, ジョエル - you're a DC fan. What do you make of Morrison?

ジョエル said...

I read the interview you linked to, but I'm a bit out of the loop. I have to admit it has been about 10 years since I actively followed comics. Now I'd describe myself as someone who just occassionally peaks over into the graphic novel section from time to time.