Thursday, November 20, 2008

New ‘Star Trek’ prequel promises everything you don’t want to know

Growing up in the 1970s and watching reruns of “Star Trek,” I always wondered what Capt. Kirk was like when he was young.

Wait. No I didn’t. Actually, the thought never crossed my mind. But now that it has, I’m reasonably sure I don’t want to know what James T. Kirk was like before he became captain of the USS Enterprise.

But the idea of going back in time to explore the early years of beloved characters is just too tempting for Hollywood. So, on May 8, 2009, we’ll get to see Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the rest of the Enterprise crew as they were before they began their famous five-year mission.

The trailer for director J.J. Abrams’ new “Star Trek” debuted last weekend in front of “Quantum of Solace,” and it confirmed my worst suspicions. It’s no wonder some longtime “Star Trek” fans have already dubbed this latest installment in the franchise “Dawson’s Trek.” I, however, prefer to think of it as “Young Phasers.”

The preview opens with a vintage 20th century sports car speeding across a desert, and just before the car flies off a cliff, its young driver jumps out. That’s when a 23rd century police officer walks up and asks the boy his name. “My name is James Tiberius Kirk,” the mop-headed little punk says.
Yes, before he became the greatest captain in Starfleet history, Kirk was an annoying brat with authority issues. Does that remind you of any other famous sci-fi character you know?

The trailer then jumps forward, where we get to see a brooding, twentysomething Kirk (Chris Pine) riding a motorcycle and watching the Enterprise’s construction at a Starfleet shipyard. (My inner science geek insists that I now note how silly it is to build a ship like the Enterprise on Earth rather than in orbit.) Meanwhile, voiceover narration describes Kirk’s troubled youth and unfulfilled destiny, and I half expect Samuel L. Jackson to appear and tell me Kirk is the chosen one who will bring balance to the Force.

Sorry. I was thinking about that other sci-fi character again. You know — the one who used to be cool. The one who was the baddest bad guy ever to appear on a movie screen. Until, that is, we saw him as a whiny 8-year-old and then, later, as an even whinier young adult.

Darth Vader killed incompetent subordinates on a whim and struck fear into an entire galaxy. Anakin Skywalker, on the other hand, complained a lot and missed his mommy. Are we really supposed to buy that Anakin could eventually become Vader?

When you venture into an iconic character’s past you’re treading on sacred ground. We knew before the “Star Wars” prequels that Anakin had a tragic fall from grace, but seeing it only cheapened it. So, do we really want to take the risk of watching Kirk grow up? We know he was the only Starfleet cadet ever to beat the no-win scenario of the Kobayashi Maru test. (He cheated, and then received a commendation for original thinking.) Do we really want to see the gory details?

The fact that Pine looks like he just stepped out of an Abercrombie & Fitch advertisement doesn’t help. No one ever confused William Shatner with an underwear model.

Face it. No matter how cool you are as an adult, you still don’t want your parents showing your friends old photographs and home movies of you. Unfortunately, Abrams’ “Star Trek” reboot looks an awful lot like Kirk’s home movies. How is he supposed to score with alien women and the occasional android if everyone sees what he was like as a petulant youth?

Hannibal Lecter was a scarier villain before “Hannibal Rising” delved into his childhood and revealed the trauma that turned him into Hannibal the Cannibal. Darth Vader was more menacing before we learned he was an idiot whose only qualification for being a Jedi was a high midi-chlorian count. (They probably have antibiotics for that.) And, trust me, Capt. Kirk is cooler without our knowing about all of his youthful screw-ups.

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