It’s a month since the UK’s “most difficult to call election in decades” surprised most people by not ending in some kind of coalition. It turned out that the British weren’t condemned to years of political alliance and 2010 to 2015 was some kind of freak anomaly – much like you might find in say, the Badlands of the Alpha Quadrant. Yes, apparently there ere many clues laid down by the coalition of blue, red and gold that formed aboard the USS Voyager in 1993. Of course back then it was a seven year fixed term…
RED SHIRTS USED TO HAVE A BIT OF A REPUTATION. WELL, YEAH, IT STILL HANGS AROUND. YOU MIGHT FIND THEM EMERGING FROM DRY CLEANERS AND HANGING ON STREET CORNERS ALONGSIDE KNOCK KNOCK AND CHEESE JOKES*. BUT IN THE ERA OF THE NEXT GENERATION THEY MADE A STAB FOR POWER. And very successful it was to. By the glorious 24th century those infamous Star Fleet red shirts signified command… And possibly the greatest string of election victories in recent times. Gold had fallen from its glorious hey-day a few generations before, reduced to filling in various policies on operations and social engineering. Blue, or a variation of it, remained aloof and scientific, not doubt most likely to isolate themselves from the common man…
But it wasn’t the shirts that needed mingling in the Delta Quadrant come the early ’90s. There were simply more cabinet spaces to be filled.
It started by surprise, a simple mission to dodge the boom and bust of those Badlands. Sometimes these things come out of nowhere – riddled as the Badlands are with plasma storms and gravitational anomalies that could make the safest political ground throw up the most unpredictable of horrible surprises. In the 24th century, the USS Voyager encountered the ultimate nanny state there. The Caretaker, a seemingly benevolent and kind force who over left his over-legislated people with the biggest crisis of their short lives. Near the end of hiss term, he may as well have just left a note saying that there wasn’t any money (left).
As sequel Star Trek into Darkness rides high in the charts – and eventually zooms into America – a look at the other ‘second’ Star Trek films
IT’S ALMOST CRUEL THAT THE NEW STAR TREK FILM, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS IS OPENING IN AMERICA ONE WEEK AFTER THE UK AND A FEW OTHER LUCKY COUNTRIES. Possibly the most hyped Star Trek film in the franchise’s 12 film career – the film has created anticipation as much as it seems to have been shaped by it. You can read into that as you will if you’ve seen it – but no spoilers here.
A few months ago I took a look at the possible identity of the new film’s villain, John Harrison, not at all seriously. But I also highlighted the importance and legacy the on Star Trek of the ‘Number Two’. That’s not just in Trek lore but also apparently in the boardrooms of phaser twitching execs as well. Two hangs heavy over Star Trek history and with good reason.
The anticipation for the new film owes a lot to the series’ history – and uniquely that ‘history’ includes two previous ‘second films’. Not only is Into Darkness the third ‘second’ film in the franchise, but both of its predecessors are rightly regarded as Star Trek classics. The pressure was very much engaged as soion as 2009’s Star Trek was a success.
1982’s The Wrath of Khan (TWOK), remains the pick of the 12 film bunch. It’s a tightly wound film, propelled by relationships and tension which improves with every viewing. As the second big screen voyage of the Original Series crew, upon its release it set box office records and makes assembling Star Trek films look effortless. Kirk’s struggle with Khan, the genetically enhanced and time-displaced despot quickly spread its influence far and wide, sinking into popular culture like few other pieces of science fiction – from Kill Bill to Family Guy.
Beaming forward 14 years, Star Trek: First Contact (FC) entered a whole new world. Entering a vastly different film environment, riddled with the CGI that TWOK had pioneered, it was time for a new ship and a new crew. The Next Generation had arguably delivered the success that The Original Series had failed to. Generating vast quantities of money over seven series, spawning another three spin-offs and contributing some of the best television moments of all time (the superb Best of Both Worlds), its crew had inevitably moved on to the big screen in 1994. That first film, Generations, is a bit of an anomaly, including as it does a starring role and rather unfortunate farewell for Captain James T Kirk. However, it must stand as the first Next Generation film, with 1996’s FC hurling them full throttle into a fight with their most definitive nemesis, the Borg for the sequel. Having already set a high benchmark on the small screen with those villains, the challenge was again a difficult inevitability. However, with phasers blazing, FC was the most action packed Star Trek film since TWOK, and really hasn’t been challenged until Into Darkness.
In 47 years, with Star Trek’s version of ‘regeneration’, it’s no surprise to find the reboots making their way to the big screen. What’s interesting is not so much the long ruminated, but ultimately false, theory of even Star Trek films being better than their odd brothers – but that the second instalments of each sub-franchise are always so damned good.
As Star Trek Into Darkness proves however, this can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The shadow of TWOK hangs so heavily over the franchise that references bordering on riffs and remakes can seem essential to guarantee success. TWOK will always be the benchmark, no matter the crew or century involved. FC certainly held TWOK in high regard, with many common links filtering through the two films.
The Code of Two
Both films share a theme of retribution as their heart and in both cases, this links back to events in their earlier television incarnations. Both feature ships as plot devices and highlight the military implications of space exploration and Starfleet itself. Both, in their own way, are bloody well made films as well – from relatively young and inexperienced directors. TWOK was Nick Meyer’s second film as a director and FC was Jonathan Frakes’ first – although both had been involved behind the camera in various capacities before. Both films also carry a supreme confidence… But despite the many similarities, most interest lies in their differences.
Star Trek: Second Contact
Following the bloated Star Trek: The Motion Picture – a superbly realised film, but one that missed the inherent comedy of Star Trek – TWOK got a lot of decisions right. By moving the action forward 15 years, TWOK not only matched the comparative age of its actors but built the acknowledgement – or ignorance of – aging in as a crucial part of the narrative. TWOK works along the heavy lines of consequence, age and foreshadowing. Of many significant contributions to the Star trek universe, the Kobayashi Maru test is one of TWOK’s masterstrokes. It allows for a brilliant opening where most of familiar Enterprise crew are annihilated and then proceeds to link and weaves through the film as an exploration of Kirk and counterpoint to the main plot. Commander Saavik becomes one of the franchise’s most effective guest characters, perhaps all the better because she is Vulcan. Her main role is to constantly pester Kirk about how he beat the test until, when it appears all is lost, he finally reveals his secret. He doesn’t believe in a no-win scenario. Cue Act III.
By its end TWOK had revealed itself as a full-blown submarine film. The increased military feel of Starfleet had been well realised throughout, with sharp and effective new uniforms and strict procedures about the only think that’s allowed to linger on screen. The final act is pure war film, where the cat and mouse game between the USS Reliant and USS Enterprise that may just as well be acted out in the North Sea in 1941. Part of the finale’s effectiveness is the brilliant special effect work provided by ILM, the George Lucas owned company wisely brought on after its Star Wars revolution. Perhaps the main reason for the film’s effectiveness is its most astonishing one: For all the wrath, history, hatred and battling, Khan and Kirk never meet. Not many films have proved to be as powerful, effective or influential under those circumstances.
Star Trek: The Wrath of Picard
In contrast, FC chose to abandon subtlety for all out action chuck-in-the-replicator action. Not attempting to ape TWOK’s submarine claustrophobia for long, FC quickly descends into an all out assault film. Within the first 15 minutes, the crew of the Enterprise has reformed, a new ship introduced, a Borg Cube engaged and defeated and time travel to the Earth’s past undertaken. It rarely comes up for breath, propelled both by a fantastically villainous race done justice and also an unapologetic ethos of chucking everything at the screen that Star Trek fans have ever wanted. I recall seeing it in on release in 1996 and having to constantly higher the bar under an onslaught of brilliant set pieces. Just when I was marvelling at the time-travel, danger-uninhibited Holodeck and phaser rifle assault missions, they went and raised the ante yet further with an upside down space walk. Then again with a ship-wide evacuation. Subsequent viewings (many) have put a strain on the coherence of the breakneck pace, but it still endures as a very well realised film.
Perhaps most interesting is the way the Borg are expanded. A continuing topic in this blog seems to be the necessity of expanding antagonists, but also the inherent dangers in doing so. Assimilating the big screen, the Borg had an effective upgrade in the make-up department. It was also the first time we could see wholesale assimilation and Frakes and co had many inspirations to draw on. Body-horror is a necessary part of the Borg impact and in FC it is very much put to the fore. Not only that, the expansion to include a Queen figure is a bold concession to horror in design and dialogue.
While the two pronged neck injecting of Borg virus makes it clear that assimilation is akin to vampirism, the Queen’s dialogue moves quickly from biblical to Hellraiser Cenobite. The dark body horror stylings of the race can’t help break that association. In many ways, this is teenage Clive Barker but a precedent for trek horror combined with action was set by TWOK, itself a violent and occasionally sadistic film.
“From Hell’s Heart…”
The broad difference between TWOK and FC however, comes from motivation. While FC draws on rage that comes from a frankly understandable human feeling of frustration and helplessness, it is siphoned into Picard. His is a single-minded and cold vendetta for most part, albeit one that we had already seen the roots of in The Next Generation two-parter The Best of Both Worlds. That vengeance triggers most of the character points in the film – whether driving a wedge between Picard and Worf’s relationship or providing an injustice for random guest star Lily to fight against. Along with the rather flat Pinocchio and friendship messages Data carries, this rather crude characterisation is perhaps the film’s only downfall.
In contrast, TWOK carries many intricate lines of development, with emotion hanging on every beat. The Father-son sub-plot may be its weakest, but lines of friendship and consequence run through every scene until the tragic finale. A fairly simple plot allows room for themes to layer on each other. There’s also space for what may be the definitive Kirk, Spock and McCoy clash. TWOK allows its themes to breathe, while FC never does.
Another contrast comes in the root of the films’ plots. TWOK is effectively a sequel to the Original Series episode Space Seed, with vengeance mainly springing from events in the interim that we have not directly seen. In fact, it was retconned into Star Trek history, and very well done it was too. The vengeance in FC however,is based on events and fear that we have experience of. While in 1982 we truly watched the wrath of Khan, in 1996 we witnessed the wrath of Picard.
“We Fall Back…”
Interestingly, both films choose to hang their main themes on literature, and perhaps because of TWOK’s success, they share one source of inspiration.
TWOK works two main strands into its story. While Kirk is presented with Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities on his birthday, Chekov stumbles on Khan’s ship the SS Botany Bay where the rogue has for years been feasting on not only Moby Dick, but Dante’s Inferno and Milton’s ParadiseLost among others. The themes of A Tale of Two Cities become crucial not only at the film’s climax but also as a central tenet of Trek from that point forward: the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Also, what better reflection on the continuing voyages of the Enterprise than that book’s opening line: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”.
Of course, Moby Dick has the most significant impact on the film. In his rage, focussed through super-intelligence, Khan appears simultaneously obliviousness, and almost perfect in the self-analysis of his own obsession. The result is a chilling disconnect. Montalban must have chewed through hundreds of copies of the novel. He quotes and paraphrases Moby Dick constantly, while filling the gaps with barbed nonsense lines like “Let them eat static” and moments of scripting genius such as a certain influential Klingon proverb… Despite its rather full on approach – Khan may as well hijack the USS Analogy – those literary roots are neatly woven into the story. It’s a trait common to many Meyer scripts, and he would successfully repeat the trick, although with less impact, in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
That literary super-allusion was the main carry-through to FC, where Lily’s correct, albeit lucky, comparison of Picard to Moby Dick’s Captain Ahab is the moment that The Next Generation Captain’s growing obsession is broken. Quote-wise, its effect is not as pronounced; plot-wise its impact it is far more significant. Star Trek is about many things. From western, to frontier exploration, to comedy, to adventure… But those atavistic ideas of the mythical and powerful beast that creates and feeds obsession and those associated dark places of humanity that man must go are also fair game. In fact, it’s essential. Where No Man has Gone Before is also where man has always ended up going.
In some ways it was impossible for the current third ‘second’ Star Trek film to go anywhere but to Into Darkness. At least commercially, that’s the place that works for Star Trek films – especially when they’re even-numbered. If anyone has any problem with the direction the latest film has taken it well be worth remembering TWOK and FC and asking whether there was really any other choice. Parallel universe or not, there are beats and themes that, quotes notwithstanding, certain Star Trek films just have to follow.
To paraphrase what might be the first novel of the Twentieth Century, in respect of one of that century’s most enduring fiction properties: these too have been some of the dark places of the universe.
Find the Tweetnotes of both films Storified here – concessions should be made for a far too conscientious autocorrect… Messrs Khan, Borg and Mellville have been informed.
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A foray into the world of Trek signs, portents, speculation and fever-pitch excitement as the resolutely un-colon Star Trek Into Darkness draws ever closer.
Note: though I’ve seen nothing of the film, there may be a few spoilers lurking below at impulse speed…
FRANKLY, THINGS ARE GETTING UNBEARABLE FOR STAR TREK FANS. Still basking from January’s 20th anniversary of Deep Space Nine – or they should be – each week brings new promotional material for the next big Trek ‘thing’ – and man, are they working on the build-up.
All in all, the last few months have possibly been even bigger than that time when (the original) Voyager fell through a black hole at the edge of the galaxy, maybe met some Borg and then came back to the Solar System for a family reunion (and that’s less than a decade away in the new fangled Trek universe!). Yep, it’s big. BIG.
You see, in case you didn’t know, there’s a new film coming out. A new Star trek film, emerging into the new, refreshed, post-fatigue final frontier. It’s film two of this brave new universe, this shiny new Star Trek. And Trek is a franchise that holds the number two in particularly high regard.
It was the second pilot of Star Trek that set the whole franchise rolling, when the vibrant Kirk replaced Jeffrey Hunter’ s rather flat Pike, the doctor grizzled a little and the green blooded science officer fully lost his emotions. Where No Man Has Gone Before, a simple exploration of friendship, the corruption of power and the threat of the great unknown -and it still contains some of the most chilling scenes in Trek to date.
I think it’s fair to ignore the Animated Series, which leaves the ’Second phase’ project – a reboot of the original series that was aborted in the late 1970s, but laid the foundations for Star Trek’s to move to the silver screen.
Eight years later there followed the real second series, 1987’s The Next Generation. That did rather well – a billion dollars a year well in fact. After seven years that moved onto the big screen itself, and inarguably reached its peak with its second film, First Contact. A high octane Sci-fi/horror roller coaster, First Contact explored the possibilities of its ‘enemy’ so effectively there was little else you could do with the Borg – just ask Voyager. (Chillingly, my fingers find themselves typing this theory on none other than the 22nd broadcast anniversary of that second series’ episode, itself called First Contact!).
When First Contact was released in 1996, there may well have been high expectations for that second son of the second son and for very good reason. For while the number two had proved itself key to Trek success previously, there was one prime example that bestrode the franchise like an Alpha Gorn. It’s a cultural reference point so large, one day it may well trigger its own Genesis device. From the Original Series sprung, like a celluloid photon torpedo casket, the sublime The Wrath of Khan. Not only another film number two, but also so darned influential it was quoted at the start of Kill Bill vol.1. High praise indeed.
So, now 31 years after Khan set the sequel bar, the pressure’s on for the third second Star Trek film. I hope you’re keeping up. Following the rip-roaring success of 2009’s Star Trek, which deftly rebooted the whole franchise while returning to its original roster (but also inadvertently wiping out Deep Space Nine –best not think about that) expectations are once again high. The build-up has so far been quite relentless, and there’s still three months until Star Trek Into Darkness is released.
So far the promo wagon train to the stars has chucked out a teaser trailer, a more sombre full trailer and then a large dollop of IMAX stretched 3d lens flare (placed front of The Hobbit – selected screenings only). There then followed the Dark Knight Rises aping posters showing a decimated London, the hi-octane Super Bowl advert and the new narrated motion poster (A rich man’s poster or a poor man’s trailer?). And then the last few days have let slip a further preview of the first 28 minutes of the film (plus some key scenes) showing off a bit of reediting, just to let us know that this is a responsive ‘work in progress’ until May.
Reaction has been good. Now social media turns everything into a spoilerific minefield, the usual array of previews and bullet points about the film have appeared – in their way a nice throwback to prophecies and pulp predictions. Even these seem to be charging the right phaser.
In all, it almost makes up for the fact that last Christmas was the film’s original release date.
But with all the anticipation and constant promotional material, the refreshed franchise manages to hang on to a key part of Star Trek’s mythos. For what is essentially (once again) a western, the enemies are key. Here he may have been named, heard and seen but we still have no idea who he is. Another sci-fi franchise with another question hidden in plain sight. We know he’s been labelled John Harrison, initially in a throwaway photo caption, but is that it? He seems to have super strength and agility, can fisticuff with a Vulcan, but still – who is Benedict Cumberbatch actually playing?
Complying with the rule of two, there was always a prime suspect, something the promos have done little to dispel. Aside from talk of returning and one shot seemingly nicked from The Wrath of Khan, one incontrovertible message, well known to Trekanardos has been loud and clear: ‘The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few’. That’s been the second directive of Star Trek ever since, er, that well known second film (c’mon, you know the first directive). Combined with those choice shots, this looks to be a herring as red as one of the new film’s alien landscapes…
“You think your world is safe. It is an illusion… I have returned. To have. My. Vengeance.” Growls Cumberbatch in the motion poster. ‘I can’t believe people are still saying it’s Khan’ exasperate the film’s actors in any media they can. But why wouldn’t they. We’ve all been following the film’s production all the way through the casting and will eagerly snap up snippets, mistrust the film’s creators and gloriously speculate on a whim. That is after all, most of the fun.
And so the potential candidates for John Harrison run as follows:
Khan Noonien Singh, Gary Mitchell, Harry Mudd, Gorn #452 and… John Harrison.
Hmm. Here’s the logic, why John Harrison may indeed turn out to be plain old Johnny H and none of the other dapper suspects:
He’s not jovial, cheerful, slightly obsese or with any women on display. Not Harry Mudd.
He’s wearing a Starfleet uniform true (black!), but as his eyes aren’t all shiny there’s no sign he’s Kirk’s best buddy (incidentally, or not, a best buddy missing from the first film). Also he seems very keen on non-telekinetic smack downs. If he were, it might not mean much: Gary Mitchell’s (for it would be he) has already had his famous storyline, Where No Man has Gone Before, retold in the reboot universe comics. And they’re canon. We know because the film’s writers told us so. And protective Hollywood screenwriters NEVER lie. Not Gary Mitchell.
He’s not an 8 foot tall reptile in a gold one-piece. Not a Gorn.
He may have super strength, super agility, like the sound of his own voice, be ‘better’ and have ‘returned’ (evidence really stacking up here)… But he’s no Khan. Not at least, from what we’ve seen. Khan’s a leader, here’s he’s a loner. The big KNS is presumably still floating around on the Botany Bay shuttle with his band of genetically engineered supermen (as a cut-scene in the first film was originally going to suggest). So at the time of the new film, they’re still no doubt dreaming about the Spice Girls (Khan and co hail from the eugenics war of the ‘90s – the Spice Girls survived!). They’ll be picked up in a couple of years in this universe no doubt and have some restless energy – but there’s little reason to think the Nero incursion altered their hibernation cycle. But again, there’s an inherent flaw in thinking it may be Khan. Yes, the super-man would be a little mopey having evacuated from a war he was losing, but the events of the second film chart Khan’s wrath against Kirk. I.e. he’s not going to be really pissed off for another two decades. There will be years until a certain sun goes supernova and Lieutenant Chekov – who this time could be at Kirk and Kahn’s first meeting, unlike in the other universe – makes a fateful landing… So that’s it, he’s no Khan. He’s alone and it’s too darned early.
He could be a forerunner of Khan for sure – if he’s human, he’s been augmented… But then why dilute a Khan who may well turn up later. Equally, Harrison could be a surgically altered Romulan member of Nero’s crew come to take revenge – but surely JJ and co want to expand the universe, not constrict it. The key has to be that Harrison, as he kind of suggests, has popped back home. Don’t be distracted by accents – he may well be from Home Counties, Pluto. After all, Khan himself had bizarrely shifted from Indian sub-continent to the Americas during his ill-fated colonisation.
So, John Harrison he is. But again, who the hell is that? New, with a hint of back-story tying into the Star Trek we know? Hmm maybe. He’s Starfleet, maybe the son of an admiral, maybe some black ops (surely not Section 31, DS9 fans?)… Maybe it’s just a statement of subversion. What he definitely is though, is a terrorist. He’s angry and he kicks the merry Gherkin out of London.
Eager to get in on the speculation, and prove myself by reading the signs laid out before us I have drawn up a highly probable shortlist based on the fact that he seems to be human and yes, his name is indeed John Harrison (well, approximately):
Cadets, Non-coms and officers – this is my probable shortlist:
John Harrison – descendent of 19th century US Presidents William Harrison (9th) and Benjamin Harrison (23rd). Appalled with their lack of biopics by the 23rd century he returns to Earth to seek vengeance. This is my favourite theory.
John Harryhausen – An easy misprint, but quickly dispelled by a tricorder scan, John is indeed the great-great-great-great (and so on…) grandson of legendary special effects supremo Ray Harryhausen – inheriting a taste for the spectacular but seeking lapsed payments on behalf of the estate, he seeks revenge. This is now my favourite theory.
He’s Sherlock Holmes. Well, he is a master of disguise. Quickly becoming my favourite theory.
He’s actually Harry Johnson, Lt Harry Johnson – it’s just that they muddled his name up. Oh, and he’s pretty angry about it. You would be if you looked up the wrong sites on the internet… Pretty much my favourite theory.
John Harrison, ant overlord –As a tribute to his conservation work, Harrison Ford has gifted his name to an ant. A lovely story, and one that goes very well until Pheidole harrisonfordi, realised that Ford had also gifted his name to a type of spider. What an insult. Accelerating and subverting their evolution, the ant swears vengeance. This explains why he hates humans, possesses super strength and – for the first few milliseconds of the trailer anyway – all the buildings look like humans from an ant’s perspective. This storms ahead as my favourite theory.
I know: all of these seem perfectly plausible. In fact, one of them would be guaranteed were it not for another compelling piece of evidence which suggests his name may not be a variant on john Harrison at all. All the misdirection of the number two, baiting Khan… But what you see in the final scene of the trailer… Is five fingers. Five. Yes, this is a remake of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. The clues are all there: As Pike tells us in the trailer, Kirk’s a little full of himself – you know, maybe ‘let’s go and take on God’ full of himself. It also explains Harrison’s super strength – he can beat a half Vulcan because he’s a full Vulcan, none other than Spock’s half brother Sybok! (John Harrison sounds remarkably like “Sybok”if you say it really quickly, preferably drunk). After the events of the first film, Sybok’s understandably upset. Look, in certain bits of the trailer, Harrison’s ears look a little pointy!
I mean, surgically altered Romulans would seem a little dull compared to an angry Vulcan suddenly harnessing emotion… Revenge! Hell yeah! Also, helps with those less important things like neat cyclical enforcement and the exploration of the new dynamics of the Trek universe… The fact that there are other planets full of virtually genetically identical species to Vulcans (Romulus!) notwithstanding.
The opening prologue (now re-edited) shows Harrison stepping into a familiar trope regarding future medicine – yes, just like McCoy’s tragic recollections of his dad in… Star Trek V! But then perhaps the most compelling evidence that Into Darkness is virtually a shot for shot remake of The Final Frontier. If you swap the private hospital for a desert, realise that Harrison is Sybok… Well, then Noel Clarke’s the bald guy at the beginning of the fifth film. (Grins goofily – “You’re a Vulcan”). His name on the Star Trek V script? J’onn. An easy name for Sybok to adopt from his lieutenant for his Starfleet incursion. It all makes sense.
Yes, now that… That is my favourite theory. Live long and prosper.
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