Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Comparative (f)Analysis #4 "Star Trek"

Returning to the subject of Star Trek, let’s have a look at each of the series and each of the films at the same time, so you can see what I think of them in comparison to each other and why:

TV Shows

1. Deep Space Nine
Too cerebral for some, too dull for others, this is still one of my most fascinating TV experiences, and has helped shape my expectations ever since. When I look at “Boomtown” or “Lost,” I see shows that understood that characters and stories were mutually beneficial assets in exactly the way Star Trek was in its incarnation as “Deep Space Nine.” For seven seasons, because the franchise was popular enough to shoulder a series that didn’t turn out to be as successful as it first seemed, the show’s creators were allowed to break all the rules while reinforcing everything that has always been at the heart of Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future, helping to pioneer the serial format its close rival “Babylon 5” practically invented and paving the way for entertainment that would take the idea of ambition on television to the next level.

2. Enterprise
Franchise fatigue drove away anyone who would’ve given this one more of a chance than jaded fans who hated to see anything come even remotely close to contradicting what they already loved, and so “Enterprise” was the first Star Trek to be cancelled since the original series. Early seasons proved that “Deep Space Nine” had not existed in a vacuum, that strong attention to character in the context of dynamic storytelling hadn’t been lost on everyone, but by the final two years the show hit a creative crescendo, often based on its existing best assets.

3. Voyager
Context was everything with this one, which followed a group of characters who would’ve fit right in with the “Deep Space Nine” clan, but whose story never could have followed the same cumulative effect without obliterating the Star Trek message of hope against all obstacles. So what happens is that you get a series like “Voyager,” striving to be familiar and new at the same time. It worked a little better with “Enterprise.”

4. Next Generation
There would be no Star Trek today if it weren’t for “Next Generation.” There’s no getting around this fact. It’s a Star Trek classic by any standard, yet for me, doesn’t in the end, and through no fault of its own, compare to the complexities of its later brethren. But if you’ve got to start somewhere, this is definitely the way to go.

5. Original Series
Like “Next Generation,” there’d be no Star Trek without it, and its place in history is assured, even if future generations will never be able to watch it in quite the same way original audiences did.

6. Animated Series
The only cartoon in franchise history is worth watching but it is what it is, and that’s Star Trek boiled down to its bare essentials.


1. First Contact
The best of the movies is not necessarily the most cinematic, but it’s the one where all the elements blend together, and there are so many elements to appreciate, and that’s the key as far as I’m concerned to being considered the best.

2. Star Trek
The first movie to be made with all the tenets of moviemaking squarely in place has got to at least be considered as one of the best simply on that merit, since everything was built from the ground up for the effort, rather than being adapted. The thing is, everything works exactly as planned.

3. The Motion Picture
When you take a TV product the fans dearly love and try to make a movie out of the existing elements, if you change anything at all, you’re bound to upset some of those fans. This is probably as close to what Gene Roddenberry himself originally intended for his creation that he himself ever got, and to me, there’s real magic to seeing it unfold.

4. Nemesis
This is the “Next Generation” film that was as much of a movie experience as it could get, trying to make a statement about the characters fans had loved for fifteen years. This was exactly what the TV show would have looked like if it had adapted a typical two-part episode onto the big screen. To some fans, that’s what it felt like, in a bad way.

5. The Undiscovered Country
The last official appearance of the original group of Star Trek actors proved that all of them, and the filmmakers had finally figured out the way to make a movie.

6. Generations
Star Trek as a Western did not seem to click with fans the way it should have, especially considering that it was a historic meeting of, well, generations.

7. The Voyage Home
The general public got a kick out of this atypical adventure that seemed to import our familiar characters into someone else’s film, which still managed to be more of a “message” story in the original Star Trek mold than any other movie effort.

8. The Search for Spock
If the films had ended on this note, I bet everyone would have a lot higher opinion of it, including me.

9. The Wrath of Khan
This is the one most often boasted as the best of them, yet for me, it remains a very good way of redeeming the franchise at that particular time in history. They really did get better.

10. Insurrection
This is like a “Next Generation” episode expanded, and that’s perfectly fine. But it could have been better.

11. The Final Frontier
There are more obvious problems with this one than any other Star Trek film. The funny thing is, with just a few of those rough patches smoothed over, I would easily call it one of the best ones.
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