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STAR TREK and its wonderful, recurring memory loss // Two Takes Frakes

September 18, 2014

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Of course, STAR TREK II: The Wrath of Khan first introduced The
Genesis Device. It is an impactor that magically turns a dead world
into a “living” planet. The bad guy, Khan, gets a hold of the damn
thing, uses it in an attempt to destroy the ENTERPRISE and blows
himself to kingdom come. As a result of its activation, a new planet
is born and a controversy ensues – one which we never get to see –
within the Federation. Then, it turns out, the effect is only
temporary and the planet ages rapidly, then explodes. And whatever
interesting roads that this all may have led down to explode with it.
The franchise just lets this concept go and moves
onto seemingly more interesting fare like humpback whales and Vulcan
televangelists.

The Genesis torpedo and everything about it is completely made up, and
unfortunately, it’s all very technical, so there’s even more work
involved in keeping it going as a story-telling device. And it’s so
representative, really, of other kinds of ideas like this, that are on
a grand scale that’s worthy of science fiction, but whose implications
go almost completely unexplored, other than their being used to
comment on The Human Condition. For example, again using Genesis, Man
got too big for his britches and had to find out the hard way that it
doesn’t pay to play god! This theme has surely been so turned over and
over in the annuls of fiction that you’d think that it would’ve been
abandoned long ago in favour of a narrative thread exploring its own
mythos and larger implications, instead. But no …

Cloaking technology has been a part of the STAR TREK universe, from
the very beginning. Used solely by the enemies of the Federation and
with the understanding that the energy surge which hides the spaceship
using it is so great that it’s impossible to fire weapons when it’s
on. So, the Klingons come up with a prototype of a Bird of Prey that’s
overcome this deficiency, in STAR TREK VI: The Undiscovered Country.
There is never any problem with its operation, even though it does
nothing to hide the ship’s plasma trail, which eventually leads to the
ship’s discovery and eventual destruction. After which, this immensely
useful form of camouflage is simply never mentioned again. One movie
before, STAR TREK V: The Final Frontier, shows us that Spock uses
magical, flying, STARFLEET-issued boots to get around, when he feels
like it. Flawless in its performance, there’s no reason to not expect
to keep seeing it a lot in STAR TREK. And …
they just drop it. Never comes up again.

Most STAR TREK movies have run an hour and a half, two hours long.
There’s also subplots and special effect sequences and “slice of life”
scenes that eat into the running time – including a lot of padding. I
never understood  just eating the clock watching Lieutenant Ilia
gazing at the viewscreen in STAR TREK: The Motion Picture. Or with CGI
Orgy Battles as with STAR TREK ’09 that just go on and on, like
watching a videogame. So, yes, a good case can be made for why these
movies and television shows prefer to drown themselves in the
shallows, rather than getting too deep. Part of this has to do with
Hollywood’s deeply held belief that audiences consist of complete
idiots. The television series STAR TREK: The Next Generation seemed to
want to defy that and certainly has a reputation for long-winded
explanations about how their gadgetry works. Superficially, this
seems to
have broken with STAR TREK’s tradition of bringing up ideas without
sufficient follow-through, but this is very much not the case. Knowing
all about how Geordi’s X-Ray specs operate sheds no light at all on
the race of Giant, Flying Jellyfish who supply the mystery of the TNG
pilot episode ENCOUNTER AT FARPOINT STATION.

Indeed, J.J. Abrams has decided to abandon any attempt to explain
anything thoroughly enough to gain complete understanding of anything
his STAR TREK movies have brought up – such as Red Matter. Its magical
properties are
just there to move the story along at a nice clip, so we don’t have to
think too much as we are treated to a plethora of tits/ass/thighs,
LASER blasts, explosions and lens flares. Could there ever be a
director bold enough and capable enough to craft a story that explored
the aspects of their McGuffins that would make for much more
interesting Human drama, than having an assholed little kid send his
stepfather’s Corvette over a cliff, for no reason? STAR TREK III: The
Search for Spock is pretty much what the title says it is. It also is
my favourite STAR TREK movie.
However, Spock’s reincarnation going mostly unexplained actually
serves the plot, because it wasn’t supposed to happen. It was a fluke,
kind of. But the Genesis Device itself is well-understood by its
inventor who, strangely, doesn’t really
say much about it. And surely, he must be keenly aware of all of the
trouble he’s caused and this is almost entirely glossed over, except
for Saavik’s brief exposition scene whose only real aim is to let the
audience know that Kirk’s son is rule-breaker … like his father! Oh,
the character development STAR TREK’s known for, how it warms the
heart!

The novelizations of the movies and some of the STAR TREK novels that
are their own thing, have  tried to address the bigger picture, in
some ways. But often times, these authors aren’t very good and just
lucked out getting these gigs. What technological spin-offs could
Genesis have been responsible for, in the STAR TREK universe? Was it
replicator technology or Transporter technology that makes it work? If
so, would it be possible, then, for any society already using this
mundane technology to threaten the Federation with for greater
recognition, perhaps? What could the pursuit of it lead to, even if
the end result was not attainable? Would it allow for the artificial
creation of something like, say … a black hole? And could this be
used as a weapon? Or as a source of energy, a new drive for space
ships? Even a window into another dimension? Even using Genesis
technology to somehow alter an entire race’s evolution might be
possible. Maybe these ideas all seem weird or pretentious, I don’t
know. But none of them are dead ends. When they bring up an awesome
idea like terraforming, just to introduce Kirk to his long, lost son
and let it go at that … how is that any better?

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