5 Ways 'Star Trek' Was Rebooted Wrong
Reboots are the magic spells of marketing: A few licensed words summon hordes of fans to pay for a film and promote it for free, pushing it to the top of trending topics with endless online discussion whether they like it or not. When they work, they combine old fans with new viewers. When they don't, they combine horror movies with asshole genies, bringing back exactly what you asked for, but it's changed and awful inside.
We're looking at how reboots go right or wrong with a fan-fiction plot escaped into reality: Thunderbirds versus Star Trek. They're both 50 years old, and they're both back in the spotlight, but one is a glorious reincarnation while the other is just wearing the original's skin to steal your wallet.
Getting On With It
The most important thing about a reboot's story is that we already know the reboot's story. That's why we're here! That's why the studio rebooted it!
Even the original Star Trek started with the crew already on the ship, ready to kick ass and take morals, and it wouldn't take new viewers long to work out, "Oh, they're trekking through space."
"And that guy's the incarnated avatar of Smug Guys Telling Strangers What To Do, got it."
Instead we get more laborious origin stories than a 72-hour birth. Because origins are now how you extract an extra movie before you've even started the movie. It's the same logic that stretched The Hobbit like he was on a rack built for giraffes. If The Lord Of The Rings was made now, we'd be 27 hours into the third season, and we still wouldn't have left the Shire. But padding things out is the opposite of good storytelling.
Worse than telling us what we already know? Telling it in unnecessary detail. That's why the Star Wars prequels sucked: Instead of a few minutes of Darth Vader and Boba Fett kicking ass, they spent six years sucking. The new Star Trek took 38 minutes to even show us the Enterprise, and ended just as Kirk became captain. In the first episode of the new Thunderbirds Are Go, our time-to-Thunderbird was 30 seconds, and that was only because they had to set up something for it to rescue. The pilot wasn't two hours of Jeff Tracy touring the world before looking up to see an eagle in a storm. Because any movie that ends with a shot of what you paid to see should come with a refund.
"We're here to rescue you from half an hour of sulking child Kirk!"
Fixing Problems With The Original
If your original was written half a century ago, it's going to have some problems. The entire progress of our species is a saturation curve toward not being such jerks, but some ass-hole-ymptotes dedicate their lives to making sure we never reach that utopian event horizon. Which is why they complain when old casts are upgraded to reflect a world where not every show has to screen at a Klan Rally.
The original Star Trek was an icon of inclusion. It might have been tokenism, but that was when networks considered tokenism a more dangerously friendly gesture than shaking hands with a salt vampire. The show wanted a woman second-in-command, and when the studios shut them down, they put her in every Star Trek clear into the next millennium just to say screw you. Compared to the new Trek, where every woman is stripped, crippled, or dangled by the throat until men can save them.
"I was introduced as a weapons-system expert, and this really is as close as I get to showing off guns."
The new Thunderbirds upgrades Tin-Tin to Tanusha "Kayo" Kyrano, a character whose function in the original was to be such a submissive love interest that it causes Christian Grey to take up puppetry. Her new nickname is inspired by her knocking assholes the hell out.
New rule: EVERY woman in a rebooted series gets to start with carbon-fiber body armor.
She's head of International Rescue security and pilot of the brand-new stealth jet Thunderbird Shadow. A Thunderbird designed by the creator and mechanical designer of Macross, a stealth fighter with a detachable motorbike, and in several other ways one of the coolest craft you've ever seen.
"COCKPIT/BIKE MODULE" sounds even more fun to have and ride than genitals.
It would have been cool if we'd had a couple of Tracy sisters (Valentina Tracy piloting Thunderbird 2 to keep the "first people in space" theme going, Sally Tracy taking Thunderbird 5's command and control as an updated Krystal Kane), but it's still progress. As is the Indian Brains. Which means Thunderbirds took up Star Trek's slack after Paramount removed an Indian from their continuity, converting Khan Noonien Singh into the whitest being outside of a Calamarian dressing up as a ghost to surprise a Vorlon. The new Star Trek is effectively less socially advanced than the original was half a century ago. Fewer non-white characters, less empowered women, and seriously: How cowardly do you have to be to make a new Trek, right now, and not let Sulu be gay?
Using New Technology For The Series (Not Vice-Versa)
The original shows were about super-science that was literally out of this world, and modern special effects would still have convinced them we're sorcerers. So why do many reboots suck? Because many studios see actually making the movie as a chore. David Christopher Bell covered the problems with computer graphics and why Jurassic World looks like Jurassic Park ate its own rendering farms and shat them out after decades of constipation.
"I'm rendering the new T. rex right now!"
Fury Road looked at three decades of computers, screamed, "WITNESS!" and burned down five oil fields instead. They only used computers for backgrounds and fiddly bits. Because computers are great at what they can do, but until we invent holodecks they can't replace real effects. Which is why the new Thunderbirds series plays it perfectly. CGI characters normally suffer from falling face-first into the uncanny valley, but the original Thunderbirds were puppets. Their new forms are everything the originals could have hoped for.
"We want to be real boys! Or, failing that, to not look like something your little sister just dropped!
Even though the new show is only possible because of CGI, they know when not to use CGI. The ships and launch sequences are real, honest-to-glorious models. Just like the original and master-crafted by the same WETA workshop behind the insanely detailed armor in Lord Of The Rings.
The new Star Trek finally had the effects technology to actually show the Enterprise doing something. Past movies just couldn't afford it. That's why they mostly settled for the slowest-motion sequence possible: extended shots of the Enterprise parked in a space dock. That wasn't a vision of the future; that was a simulation of being space traffic wardens checking to see if the Enterprise was illegally parked so that we could issue a Star Ticket to prevent Star Trekking. Into Darkness had the Enterprise versus its evil twin in a final battle for the fate of the Earth. And they both sat motionless while blowing chunks out of each other. First the Enterprise was crippled, then the Vengeance was forced to reboot. Instead of a space battle, we got to sit and watch the ships turning each other off.
But only after watching the dumbest Honey Ryder homage of all time just because Avengers did it first.
Star Trek's main special effect was lens flare. If it had been released a bit earlier, the transporters would have triggered bullet time. A bit later and the warp drives would have made the Inception noise. But trendy effects technology is meant to serve the franchise, not the other way around.
Including Something For The Fans
Rebooting an old property means erecting everything on a foundation of excited fans. So you can either design something that builds on their strength or just assume they'll take it fine and keep shoveling shit on them.
"You say I'll find a story with a moral down here?"
Into Darkness' unveiling of Khan treated fans like cranky children who didn't appreciate how long it takes to boil vegetables. Teasers announced an elite individual threat, and the fans said:
"Cool, it's Khan!"
And the studio said:
"No, it's not Khan! It's John Harrison!"
"So that's Khan!"
"IT'S NOT KHAN!"
"OK, OK, fine. It's not Khan. Who is it?"
"HAHA IT'S KHAN!"
It was the most pointless surprise in history. Anybody who knows Khan already knew it was Harrison, and nobody else cared. They successfully turned an obvious plot point into annoyed bickering.
To be fair, Cumberbatch as a genetically superior being is pretty much method acting.
When they launched into the final act of Wrath Of Khan with Kirk in the warp core, it wasn't an exciting re-imagination; it was an announcement that any Star Trek fans in the audience could leave because they knew the next half hour.
"The script ... out of ideas?"
Spock's death in Wrath Of Khan was exciting because it was utterly unexpected. Here, it was the exact opposite, and then it doesn't even happen, and we already knew it wasn't going to happen because Dr. McCoy had earlier casually mentioned, "Oh yeah, this thing you suddenly asked about for no good reason? It's a resurrection formula. Hey, Chekov, I'm just going to leave it here under your gun."
Compare this with the glorious Fireflash homage to the original Thunderbirds. The "Master Elevator Cars" from the original pilot episode were the goofiest vehicle the Thunderbirds ever used. They were monster trucks designed to act as external airplane landing gear, and Thunderbird 2 just happens to carry FOUR of them.
The most gloriously ridiculous vehicle in a show entirely about glorious and ridiculous vehicles.
The new series not only unleashed them, it made them explicable as just one form of adaptable general purpose pods and then gave them the utterly indefensible "MASTER ELEVATOR CAR" stencil, because this show loves the original as much as the fans do. The whole sequence plays with the crisis music from the original series, and then things change! The cars don't work! You got the whole homage, AND a surprise result, AND story development, AND an exciting, brand-new solution that looks awesome while using tools that had already been introduced in the series. Almost like it was a new episode of a new series!
Remaining True To The Core
Fury Road was the best remake in history because it was true to the original's core. Just as Mad Max 2 expanded the original's excellent opening into a whole movie, Fury Road expanded Mad Max 2's amazing final chase into an entire movie. Just as Thunderbirds Are Go expands on the core theme of rescue. In fact, it's even more about rescue than before, because the characters carry specialized rescue equipment instead of guns. And even though they're publicly working with the Global Defence Force, the whole base is still stuffed with ridiculously hidden machinery, because that's what the show is really about.
The coolest commute in cinema history.
Immensely insane mega-machines carry a single human down to the craft, then even immenser mega-machines carry the entire Thunderbird back up to the launch pad, because the core message was always that technology should serve and improve humanity.
Meanwhile, the Star Trek crew kill as many people as they can and actively avoid learning moral lessons (with Into Darkness Groundhog-Daying all character development from the first movie so that they can do it all over again). That's why J.J. Abrams can go on air to explain how he hated the core of Star Trek and the movies will still make half a billion dollars. And why Simon Pegg has to tell us that the studio wanted Star Trek to be less Star Trekky, because it only made half a billion.
That's why reboots so often suck for fans of the original. The fans ask, "Why didn't they just do the simple thing that would have made it true to the original?" Because the movie's name has already attracted fans of the original. The movie is made to attract as many other people as possible. Honestly, if they'd just called the Trek reboot Space Bastards! and sent them out to shoot everything, it would have worked for everyone. You'd have Smirky Bastard, Smug Bastard, and Ornery Bastard rampaging through the universe in an entertaining new action franchise. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to watch a real remake.