Saturday, December 26, 2009

Star Trek Redux

Having gotten the fangirl out of my system (at least for the moment), I wanted to go back and comment on the new Star Trek movie again in writer mode. Normally, when they make a movie from an old TV show, old enough that they're not using the original actors, it (to put it not too delicately) stinks up the theaters and quickly fades into the oblivion of the $5 DVD rack at Walmart. This, in my opinion, is why:

You get Hollywood making a movie about an old TV show, they tend to think it's all about the machinery or the special effects or the concept. So they go, "Oh, Dukes of Hazzard, it's all about the car!" or "Oh, Starsky and Hutch, it's all about the car AND, boy can we have fun ridiculing the clothes and hairdos!" or, "Oh, I Spy, it's all about the gadgets!" Then they cast Owen Wilson and a guy with a darker complexion (don't get me wrong, I *like* Owen Wilson), give them some wacky dialogue and big WOW special effects and go, "Voila!"

Then they wonder why the movie sucked.

What could have gone wrong? You've got the car! You've got stuff blowing up! You've got Owen Wilson and Eddie Murphy/Ben Stiller! What happened?

What happened is simple. It's NOT about the car! Every story -- EVERY story! -- is about the characters. Even the most iconic *things* in television history -- The General Lee, Maxwell Smart's shoe phone, even the starship Enterprise -- are only accessories for the characters. That's why the Star Trek franchise was able to blow up the original Enterprise and go on to make eight more movies (and counting).

The reason they make classic TV shows into movies in the first place is to capitalize on all the fans who still fondly remember the original show. Then, the first thing they do, is alienate them by blowing off the most important PART of that show. It's like you've been invited home for a visit and when you get there, everything's brighter and shinier than you remember, which is probably cool, but then you realize you don't know anybody. And, seriously! If they're not going to bother with the original characters, why not just go wild and shoot an entirely *original* movie? It's really not necessary to rape a classic TV show, even on the rare occasions when the bastard version is profitable (see Mission: Impossible).

That's where the new Star Trek movie got it right. They got the CHARACTERS right. If you grew up watching these people "boldly go", you can put in this movie and you will RECOGNIZE them. That's why fans are so enthused about it, and that's why it's made something like three times its operating budget.

As a writer, I think this is a strong validation of something we've all heard time and time again. In order to hold the hearts and minds of the reader, every story --EVERY STORY -- has to be character driven. Nifty concepts and shiny exposition is never enough. It takes more than Owen Wilson, charming though he is.

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