Media Relations: media commentary and criticism

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


-- film -- allegory and relevance

NOTE: The URL for the below article may be a little wonky, as, for reasons beyond all understanding, the LA Times allows accent characters in its URLs.

Starfleet goes Guantanamo? 'Star Trek' team hints that the next film will reflect contemporary war issues | Hero Complex | Los Angeles Times
-- Geoff Boucher
September 15, 2009 | 3:00 pm

... Abrams spoke about the general creative imperatives for the story while Orci hinted that we might be seeing clear metaphors for modern geo-political concerns in the story about ongoing mission of the Starship Enterprise. First, here's what Abrams told me:

"The ambition for a sequel to 'Star Trek' is to make a movie that's worthy of the audience and not just another movie, you know, just a second movie that feels tacked on. The first movie was so concerned with just setting up the characters -- their meeting each and galvanizing that family -- that in many ways a sequel will have a very different mission. it needs to do what [the late 'Trek' creator Gene] Roddenberry did so well, which is allegory. It needs to tell a story that has connection to what is familiar and what is relevant....

[...] I asked Orci somewhat flippantly if that meant we might see Starfleet grappling with the ethics of torture or dealing with a rising terrorist threat or perhaps a painful, politicized war with the Klingons.

"Well yeah, those are the kind of issues we're talking about. Wow, you're good! But seriously that's the way we're thinking, that's an approach. So if you have any ideas ... "


Well, assuming that they not only want to deal with relevance, but also to connect the films with something more than just the existence of the characters, I'd think that a painful politicized war with the Romulans was somewhat more likely and reasonable. For that matter, although they were at odds for years and years in the outer space version of cold war -- speaking of allegory and relevance -- the Federation never, I believe, actually went to war with the Klingons. They just yelled at each other a lot. And then the Klingons had the odd civil war or two which the Federation both tried to keep out of and wound up helping particular factions therein, because nobody gets to be completely disinterested in a civil war on your borders. The other reason that the Romulans would make slightly more sense than the Klingons is that, according to the story of the first film, Nero's Narada devastated the Klingon space fleet -- something like 40-60 warbirds destroyed. Add to that the destruction of a fairly hefty chunk of the Federation fleet at Vulcan, and the chance to take out two of their rivals could look terribly tempting to the Romulans. THAT said ... if the Klingons think that Narada was a Federation weapon, if they don't know about the destruction of the fleet or Vulcan, then some sort of retaliatory strike that leads to war might make sense. (How they would not know about all that fairly quickly, I leave as an exercise for the screenwriters. Hey, maybe we can get the Golden Gate Bridge all destroyed again!)

But on the ... well, not so much an upside as a "gee, wonder if they were paying attention" side, it looks like they're going to be reinventing the better years of Deep Space Nine -- only with characters that weren't quite developed for any story that dark, and putting it in a terribly compressed storyline. After all, one can but assume that they're not going to make war with the Klingons/Romulans any kind of long-running theme through the next and succeeding films; that would hamstring their ability to tell stories that didn't have to do with the wars of the worlds. Any war is likely to be a one-and-done story, maybe with enough time passing between the films to say, "So, right after Nero, the Romulans/Klingons did this thing, and then the Federation finally retaliated, and then we had this war, see?" Starting more or less like Star Trek: First Contact, in the middle of a battle that gets explained as things move along. (Though it's worth nothing that First Contact is a very "inside baseball" film; it fails completely if you never saw Next Generation, since you wouldn't know who the Borg were, and if you never saw the Zephram Cochrane episode of the original series, since you wouldn't know who he was either.)

I wonder if Section 31 is known to exist in this new, darker version of the Federation that the new timeline contains, or if it's still called Section 31. It would certainly exist -- Starfleet is much more military, judging from the size of Enterprise and the fact that a huge chunk of the fleet was off doing military exercises, and any organization that military will have some sort of black ops group.

Sounds like the new film is going to be all about defining the parameters and ethics of the new Federation. We knew what it was, what it aspired to be, back in the days of auld. What we don't know, because the first film was concerned with reintroducing the characters and showing us that things were different now, is what it is. And now we get to find out.

One suspects that the Federation's version of Abu Ghraib, Baghram, and extraordinary rendition will be very nasty indeed.

Sloan: The Federation needs men like you, doctor [Bashir]. Men of conscience. Men of principle. Men who can sleep at night. You're also the reason Section 31 exists - someone has to protect men like you from a universe that doesn't share your sense of right and wrong....


Bashir: You don't see anything wrong with what happened, do you?
Ross: I don't like it, but I've spent the last year and a half of my life ordering young men and women to die. I like that even less!
Bashir: That's a glib answer, and a cheap way, to avoid the fact that you've tramped on the very thing that those young men and women are out there trying to protect. Does that not mean anything to you?!!
Ross: Inter Arma, Enim Silent Leges.
Bashir: In times of war the law falls silent. Cicero. So is that what we have become? A 24th century Rome, driven by nothing other than the certainty that Caesar can do no wrong?!
Ross: As far as I'm concerned, this conversation never happened. You're dismissed....

--- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, "Inter Arma, Enim Silent Leges"
(NB: reportedly, a slightly better translation would be, "In the face of Arms, The Law is silent.")

Posted by iain at 11:34 AM in category film