Saturday, November 28, 2009

What We Want: Star Trek 2


With the release of J.J. Abrams' Star Trek on DVD last week, there's been a flurry of talk about where the sequel to the hit film will take the characters. Will the Klingons show up? Will Spock and Uhura go "all the way?" Will the ultimate Trek villain get rebooted - the one, the only, the genetic superman known as Khan?!

Abrams and his team aren't discussing their plans in any detail, but they aren't ruling out any of the above either - particularly the Khan idea, which seems to be very popular among the fanboy and mainstream viewing audience. Your fearless, girlfriend-less, living-in-our-mothers'-basements-less IGN Trek experts, however, have mixed feelings on the matter to say the least. Why try to top what Nicholas Meyer and Ricardo Montalban did in Wrath of Khan, we ask?

Of course, we think the filmmakers can do whatever they want at this point, given the success of the first film. Still, we hope that they do it within reason, and don't take to rebooting just for the sake of doing their equivalent of fan-fiction (but with more effects and better casting).

Speaking of fan-fic, what follows is our take on how Star Trek 2 could work. We've accepted that Paramount and Abrams are probably going to go with something familiar in terms of villains - likely either Khan or the Klingons - but if they're gonna do that, then here are a few suggestions on how they might go about it…

One thing that's been pretty much missing from all the Star Trek films is the whole premise of the original show - the seeking out strange new worlds, new life and new civilizations thread.

Typically, the movies involve very Earth-centric stories and there's very little exploration to be found. And when a filmmaker has attempted something along those lines, the results have been pretty weak - just take a look at that planet of New Age California types in Insurrection, or the lame God planet in The Final Frontier.

As we've already noted, Abrams and his crew are more than likely going to go with a familiar villain or threat in this film. But that doesn't mean that they can't give us some kind of exotic, alien plotline. Maybe the idea is to take a cue from his first outing, where we spent the first 10 minutes, pre-credits, with the U.S.S. Kelvin. In the sequel, open up with Kirk, Spock and McCoy on an away mission to some strange new world, only to have it all go to hell in a hand-basket for a bang-up action scene that gets the movie going… and demonstrates why Kirk and his guys deserve to be manning the flagship of the fleet.

Of course, if Trek 2 does tackle a new planet, it can't be made of ice. Or lava. Or water. It can't be a forest, or a city in the sky. And no floating mountains. We've seen all that. So what kind of crazy alien world should it be? Don't ask us - that's why Abrams gets paid the big bucks.

The crew of Abrams' Enterprise survived the encounter with Nero with minor damage - not bad for a first mission opposite a very surly Eric Bana wielding black hole-making red matter. But for the sequel, the characters (and the audience) deserve a movie that doesn't end with a bridge full of smiling faces and full speed ahead.

This crew needs to be tested, especially its Captain. And we think Khan can be the one to make Jim Kirk earn his rank.

Chris Pine's Kirk kinda sorta lucked out to get the center seat. The sequel should follow up on how Kirk is tested by the responsibility of his rank; we should see him in action and earning his crew's respect and loyalty by facing a "needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few" choice. Moreover, we should see the crew react to Kirk's orders - the tough ones, especially - and witness why and how this crew is so fiercely loyal to each other based on the mission testing them.

That test should come courtesy of one Mr. Khan Noonien Singh. Now calm down, Wrath of Khan addicts. We're not suggesting that they remake Trek II (and we bet Abrams and Co. are smart enough to not do that). Rather, we think they should do what Harve Bennett and director Nick Meyer did 27 years ago: Revisit "Space Seed," the classic Star Trek episode that introduced us to Khan and his cryogenically frozen, genetically-engineered super humans.

Expand upon some of the ideas in that episode that a budget as big as this sequel would allow. Show us a Khan in his prime, with an army of test-tube Caesars taking over a planet, a siege that prompts the world to send out a distress call that Enterprise responds to.

Or have the events in "Space Seed" play out aboard Enterprise, but spice them up. Enterprise locates the Botany Bay, Khan's ship full of refrigerator coffins, and has to rescue it from "insert destructive space anomaly here". Khan boards Enterprise, recognizes a keen intellect in Kirk, in Spock, but also recognizes that they are inferior to him, and that he must reign in this timeline.

The original Khan.

And from there, it's Die Hard on the Enterprise. Let's see Kirk have to use his smarts on screen; let's see Kirk have to beat the no-win scenario any way he can and pay for the party with some blood on his hands (and no, that doesn't mean kill Spock). Let's see Khan trying to take over the ship, advancing deck by deck, with Kirk on the bridge, using the computer's intruder countermeasures to thwart Khan.

Khan stays one step ahead of Kirk, and a firefight between Kirk's officers and Khan's men is all that stands in the way of Khan gaining control of the bridge. Then, Kirk has to give the order to save the ship by jettisoning the deck. He evacs the deck, but some have to stay behind and hold the line.

All eyes are on him to mark the moment this genius-level, repeat offender from Iowa becomes Kirk, Captain James T., and we hold on Kirk as the voices of his dying crew over the speakers go silent -- and we only hear the sound of the deck clamps disengage. Stay with Kirk, his back towards the viewscreen, as the jettisoned deck tumbles into space…

Thinking he has saved the day, and not wanting to feel the looks of the crew anymore, Kirk leaves the bridge to see how badly Enterprise has been hurt. As he reaches the turbolift… Kirk is sent flying back, hard, into his Captain's chair and onto the floor. Reveal Khan in the lift, having survived the jettisoning of the deck alongside three of his men.

Khan's grunts take out select bridge officers, and it takes all three of them to subdue a very strong, very pissed off Spock.

The scene ends with Kirk slowly rising from the floor to find Khan taking a seat in the Captain's chair. From there, the movie plays out like the original episode: Khan puts people in the airlock - even Kirk - until he can get the access code to unlock the ship's computer and put Enterprise under his command. Eventually, Kirk and the crew take out some of Khan's men in their attempt to regain control of the ship, ending with Kirk marooning Khan and his followers on (drum roll, please) Ceti Alpha V.

Now here's the thing. It's the year 2009 and this isn't, as the marketing campaign for the first film told us, your father's Star Trek. The cast of this series are reportedly only signed for three films, meaning that in all likelihood this incarnation of the franchise is going to have a fairly short lifespan.

Actors like Chris Pine and Zoe Saldana, who are already being groomed for Hollywood greatness, probably don't have too much reason to stick with Trek beyond their contractual agreements. And Abrams doesn't want to become just a Star Trek guy, so expect him to step back to a producing capacity eventually. With that said, why not give this group's remaining adventures some real drama and a bona fide sense of danger by actually killing off main characters?

Abrams and his team already got this ball rolling in the first film, when they changed up the status quo and not only destroyed Spock's homeworld, but also killed the Vulcan's mother. Those elements really served to make Spock a more interesting character, and in fact helped fuel one of the most surprising aspects of the film - his romance with Uhura. So why not continue to mine that storytelling vein and kill off Uhura - perhaps Khan himself can do the deed in violent and gripping fashion, in fact.

And we're not talking "she's dead until the next movie" death here. This would have to be legitimate and lasting, the kind of blow to the gut that knocks not just the Enterprise crew down and down hard but also the audience. Which leads to…

We got a taste of Spock's inner anger early in the first film, when the character was just a boy being taunted by his classmates. And again later, when the young adult Spock was offered a place at the Vulcan Science Academy despite his "disadvantage of being half human," the rage of the man could be seen just boiling beneath the surface of his calm, collected, logical exterior.

But when Uhura - his true connection to his human side since his mother died - is killed, not even the teachings of Surak would be enough to contain his rage. Screw the attainment of kolinahr, this is war!

It's something of a running joke for Star Trek fans how often we've seen Spock lose control of his emotions on the old series, especially considering that he's supposed to be the stoic one. Of course, what would the point be of always telling us how unemotional the character is if we didn't get to see those emotions unleashed? And for all his proper and straight-laced ways, this Vulcan has proven that he will go medieval on your Andorian ass if he's pissed off enough.

So take that basic concept and imbibe it with the Abrams flair for style and action that made his Star Trek so successful. The Zachary Quinto Spock, pumped up and out of control when his woman bites it, could take on a battalion of Klingons or a Botany Bay's worth of genetic supermen and quite possible win… or at least provide us with one of the more memorable fight scenes to ever show up in a Trek film, while further adding texture to the first film's most interesting character.

If the only Khan you ever want to see is of the Ricardo Montalban variety, then may we suggest making the Klingons the primary villain in Trek 2?

But here's the thing: Make the Klingons scary. They have never been especially menacing or threatening, but they should be, given their warrior-race past. Make them more than aliens with spines on their foreheads and crooked teeth. These are warriors bred for the love of combat - let them act like it.

The Klingons haven't had the spotlight in a feature film since 1991's Star Trek VI, though a deleted scene from Abrams' movie shows us the Klingons interrogating Nero on the prison planet Rura Penthe. The Klingons here wear masks that hide their features, but the masks have forehead ridges that indicate the make-up of the aliens will not change too much from what we have seen before.

If the Klingons are to be our main villain in a second movie, whomever Kirk battles has to be a great heavy. He has to pose as great a challenge to Kirk as Joker does to Batman. The last time we saw a Klingon give as good as he got was Christopher Lloyd's Kruge in Star Trek III. It's time to revisit the Tribble-hating, prune-juice loving warriors and give them, and the Enterprise, a conflict to end all conflicts. (Perhaps the colony Spock Prime relocated his people to belongs to the Klingons, which prompts an interstellar war when Enterprise encounters the Klingons who want their land back?)

Imagine what Team Abrams could do by giving us a Klingon villain that can hold his own opposite the young Captain, while simultaneously reminding us that Klingons live for that one good day to die.

Any movie that has the title Star Trek 2 has to have a space battle. It's law. No, it's Geek Law, which trumps human law any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

One of the best elements in Wrath of Khan is the run silent, run deep game of cat and mouse the Enterprise and Reliant play. Abrams' movie gave the Enterprise plenty of money shots and hero moments, but the Narada was too big a vessel to give us the type of space-based combat we like to see when it comes to starship vs. starship.

So pit Enterprise opposite a ship of equal or slightly greater size and remember that these ships fight in space, where there are multiple planes of battlefield to wage war upon. Fire phasers and photon torpedoes on all axis. We're not suggesting Khan (if he's the baddie) should low-jack himself another starship, but we think an ol' fashioned space battle is in order, one that makes the U.S.S. Kelvin attack look like a square dance. The movies have yet to give us the definitive Federation vs. Klingon battle. How awesome would that fight be with ILM's effects and Abrams' direction?

It's OK if you can't answer. Our brains turned to flubber when we thought aboutf it, too.