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Defending Nu Trek

First off, I still think the villain is going to be Gary Mitchell, but yes, I’m hedging my bets here. On Facebook, a friend asked if I was as confident about this prediction as I had been about Romney.

Ouch.

The answer is no – I was much more confident, and much more wrong, about Romney. So if it’s not Gary Mitchell, then let it be known that I acknowledged that possibility here and now. But I still think it’s Mitchell. In Nate Silver terms, I think there’s a 74% probability of Mitchellness.

I’m already wrong on one score, though.

I had anticipated that the first nine minutes being shown in front of The Hobbit would be a retelling of “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” It isn’t. Reviews have started to come in with regard to the first nine minutes, and they describe a totally different scene that seems to encompass most of what we’ve seen in the teaser. There’s the volcano stuff, the leap off the cliff on the red ivy world, and the Enterprise coming up out of the water. There’s also a scene where Mitchell – sorry, Cumberbatch’s character, whose identity still isn’t revealed – shows up at a London hospital wearing a Starfleet uniform and promising he has the godlike power to cure some guy’s daughter. They ask him point blank who he is, and they – and we – don’t get an answer. But it rules out several candidates.

Does Khan have the power to heal people’s daughters? No. Talosians? Horta? No. Garth of Izar? Not likely. Trelane? Maybe, but this isn’t his style. Some other names being bandied about – Charlie X? He would have the capacity, but, again, the Starfleet/Kirk connection doesn’t work. Soran? No. Sybok? No. Harry Mudd? Please. Shinzon or Picard? Please, no.

Mitchell could do it, though. Mitchell thinks he’s God. And thus I still think it’s Mitchell. (Modifying my prediction to 73.8% likely Mitchellality.) They’ll have to introduce some kind of “Where No Man Has Gone Before” flashback to make it work, though, much like the first movie retold the whole “Countdown” comics storyline in Old Spock’s flashback. I thought that would happen at the beginning, but, again, I was wrong. Very wrong. Very, very wrong indeed. Those of you coming to this blog expecting rightness will be very sorely disappointed, but only in terms of politics and everything else.

A few thoughts in defense of this movie. My Esteemed Colleague, who I have gratuitously mentioned a number of times, took to Facebook and shredded the trailer. I quote his curmudgeonly assessment as follows, with some minor blatant and arbitrary censorship:

Just saw the trailer for that counterfeit that is blasphemously calling itself a new star trek movie. Abrams is a %$#@ing joke who doesn’t understand Star Trek in the least, and has no clue what Roddenberry was about. It looks %$#@ing awful. Awful, awful, awful. Seriously — why are they out to massacre Star Trek? Star Trek is not about “action”. It’s about cerebral utopia. I don’t want to see some g-d-ed version of Independence Day. They aren’t even wearing their uniforms in this trailer. This sucks ass.

Maybe I should have taken the word “ass” out. But I didn’t. It’s biblical – deal with it.

Again, my recent track record on predictions has shaken my confidence, so I can’t, in all certainty, say that My Esteemed Colleague has gotten it wrong here. The movie may very well suck. I don’t think it will, however, as I don’t think the previous film sucked, nor do I think the film defiled Star Trek in the same way that the Ron Moore Battlestar Galactica remake is GINO – i.e. Galactica In Name Only. At the time, My Esteemed Colleague seemed to qualifiedly enjoy the film, too, although his estimation of the film may have soured over the years.

But a couple of things stand out in the review. First, the idea that Star Trek is not about “action” strikes me as a skewed observation. It’s only correct in the sense that Trek doesn’t generally focus on action, but the idea that good Trek is devoid of action is not supported by the show’s track record. The original series had as much or more action than any series of its time, and Kirk got in his fair share of roundhouse kicks in his day. True, the action wasn’t generally cosmic in scope, but that was primarily a budgetary problem more than anything else. By the time they got to the big screen, there was action aplenty, particularly in what is unarguably the best piece of Trek ever filmed, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (TWOK). The producers’ biggest regret is that Khan and Kirk, because of budgetary considerations, never got the full-on action, face-to-face confrontation that everybody wanted, but it would be hard to say that such a scene would have detracted from Trek’s utopian vision.

And this is my biggest quibble with My Esteemed Colleague’s assessment. I don’t think good Trek was ever about “cerebral utopia.” I think good Trek -again, TWOK is the template. That movie worked largely because these people weren’t utopian - that even as technology advances, human nature stays essentially unchanged. Kirk still fears aging and death; mortality looms large as sacrifices are made, and vengeance and hatred remain real and destructive. A utopian society that purges all such things may be desirable in practical terms, but, dramatically, it’s really, really boring. That’s one of the reasons, incidentally, why I don’t have much of a desire to revisit many of the Next Generation (TNG) episodes, as Roddenberry’s idea that interpersonal conflict wouldn’t exist in three to four hundred years led to bland, flat, interchangeable characters. Indeed, some of the best of TNG came when they bent or broke those rules – Picard as Ahab in First Contact comes to mind.

Roddenberry’s unadulterated vision of utopia only made it to the screen once – in the debut film of the franchise, Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It was a noble failure with some provocative ideas, but it was a failure, nonetheless. Good Trek has always found a way to incorporate profundities with rock ‘em, sock ‘em adventure. I have no reason to believe this sequel won’t do the same as it takes the Gary Mitchell tragedy and expands it on a wider, cinematic canvas.

I’m right. If you don’t believe me, just ask President-Elect Romney.

UPDATE: Paramount just released this still from the movie.

In the release, they identify the Cumberbatch character as “John Harrison.”

Who’s John Harrison? I don’t know. Certainly not an iconic TOS character, as we were all led to believe. My guess is that John Harrison is an alias, and that Mitchell has transformed himself to be unrecognizable to his old enemies until the big reveal at the climax – a Talia al Ghul sort of thing. Of course, if he is a shapeshifter, then Garth of Izar makes some sense again. This lowers the Mitchell meter to 64.4% likelihood of Mitchelldom.

And is it just me, or are Kirk and “Harrison” wearing Levis?

It's Gary Mitchell
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  1. The scene is reminiscent of the Delta Vega holding cell, though, and may thus be meant as allusion.

    Perhaps I ought to have said Star Trek is cerebral utopia in fall-opera ; Kirk has always refused paradise, but where grit and grace meet, something higher is strived for, and it is the pitch of that striving, along with all its strife, that gives the drama its forward-stretching power. That, and hefty quotes from Melville, Milton, and the Earl of Oxford’s leavings. Certainly eerie melancholy has always been the undertone of the best of Trek, but that is simply the bitterness of what sweetness was almost touched but missed. The striving requires action — these are not quiescent passivists but active questers — but precisely action which is striving, neither gratuitous nor flailing about for mere effect. We must be cruel in our assessments ; none of the old team guides, and without a corset, these newbies will slump like Shatner without a girdle. They ought not be given free reign ; they should tremble on entering the arena, and be held under our yoke. If they please, we shall applaud ; if, audacious in their trek, they challenge, but to raise the bar, we shall lower our hackles from once-heckling fierceness to nodding frowns of poignance. This is collective art they toy with ; they may play, but let them do it well, with trepidation as well as deeply reverent irreverence. If I don’t feel that first, I follow them not to the last. They still falter ; ought I honor their youthful fumblings after bipedal pride? We shall see. A dour druid holds his skeptic peace.

  2. Yah.. turns out actress Alice Eve is pretty much officially playing Carol Marcus. Of course, the same character was in TWOK, as was her son. So it’s yet another Khan montage… only, I’ve also heard Gary Mitchell is the one who introduced Kirk to Marcus.

    It’s clear to me, what they are doing is making much of this movie an homage to the Wrath of Khan… but even so, I am still convinced by your prior post that the villain is most likely Gary Mitchell. Really seems interesting to me…

    …it’s almost like JJ Abrams, who admittedly was not a Star Trek fan when he signed on for the first film, has since **become** a Star Trek fan, and is exercising his newbie fanboy glee by tossing all sorts of TOS and Classic Cast references in— because maybe he’s now got the love for da Trek?

    I hope so!