Review: ‘Star Trek – Into Darkness’ (spoilers optional)

So, I’ve just got back from the cinema having seen Star Trek Into Darkness. A film I have been waiting a long time to see, a time which seemed to have been made even longer from all the trailers, posters, and clips floating around on the internet. Not to mention a text from a close friend who thought I’d be interested to know about her attending the premiere.

I guess I can forgive her now that I’ve finally seen it myself, but knowing how to describe it, especially without giving away any spoilers, that’s the tricky part….

Blockbusters just can't help themselves can they.
Blockbusters just can’t help themselves can they.

Firstly, the film does have all the hallmarks of a summer blockbuster, and I have no doubt it will go on to do well at the box office. It has action, explosions, spaceships, even the obligatory scantily clad blonde, although it has to be said we do get to see her intellect as well (I think). Whilst not necessarily a bad thing, the film is also perhaps the single biggest argument for audience reception theory there is, as Trekkies, Newbies, and everyone else in between will have entirely different reactions to what they see on screen.

I chose to see it in 2D, and have to say it’s a gloriously looking film. The flyover of 23rd century metropolitan London is so much something to behold that it’s a scary realisation of what our historic capital could actually look like 200 years from now. The Enterprise is also given some amazing set pieces, and I truly hope that the 3D conversion is done properly, and does them justice.

The actors are also praise worthy, and along with the script each continues to bring these characters loved by generations into the 21st century. Zachary Quinto brings us a more rounded character, particularly as this film again toys with the conflict between Spock’s human and vulcan half, even if his sarcasm may at times be more pointy than his ears. This is compensated somewhat by Karl Urban toning down his DeForrest Kelly possession however, and giving a more natural rather than impressionistic performance.

Despite this however, there are a small number of instances where the film is let down by common sense, at least for established Trek, and has to make way for artistic license. There and back in a day does seem to be pushing it even for warp (let alone the beaming), but having actually thought about Chekov’s red shirt a little more (it was in a trailer, therefore not really a spoiler), it isn’t as out of place in Star Trek common sense as you might think. 

Continuing director J.J. Abrams’ new vision to the screen, Into Darkness has Star Trek running through it like the stick of proverbial rock. So much so in fact, that it makes you wonder how many of those references were included just to show off either the writers own knowledge/research, or how eager they were to make sure they pleased hardcore fans. Let’s just say it’s a long road getting from there, to the Admiral’s desk.

[Like I said, it’s tricky, but I’m still trying my best. If anything is getting too spoilery for you though, now’s the time to press that little x in the corner.]

'Into Darkness' continues the logic vs instinct of Spock and Kirk's central relationship.
‘Into Darkness’ continues the logic vs instinct argument central to Spock and Kirk’s relationship.

This is much like the film as a whole, in that rather than seek out new life and new civilisations in a new timeline, Into Darkness does choose to use more than just references to what has come before. Revenge is hardly a new concept to cinematic Star Trek (see The Wrath of Khan, First Contact, Nemesis, and even Star Trek)let alone the whole of the franchise. My review of it’s predecessor tried to list the ways in which it adapted the series it was spun from, but for it’s sequel it seems I should add “Mirror” to that list.

Where Star Trek took the series and gave it a twist, Into Darkness carries this round to a full 180 degrees. Many aspects of Trek are turned on their head, each with varying degrees of success. I have to admit at one point the sight of a Tribble made me facepalm that Picard himself would be proud of, but on the whole, even the sharpest of turns is perhaps only comparable to reading Shakespeare; an academic exercise that conveys interesting and debatable ideas, but doesn’t hit the mark that was intended. Just as Shakespeare wrote plays to be seen performed not read from a page, so too here are several ideas that perhaps may have worked better in speculative transmedia prose than a canonical feature film.

I also have to point out that this review is coming from the mind of an unashamed Trekkie (hence receiving the boasting premiere text), and like I said, everyone will have different opinions. Overall though I would say that it is definitely a film worth seeing, and does have something for everyone. With it’s fiftieth anniversary only three years away or not, I’m sure that there will be another outing for the crew of the Enterprise, but this time I’m be mulling over the most recent release for a bit more time before eagerly awaiting the next.

[Ok, I’m gonna give this a try, for anyone who has already seen it, or just doesn’t care, highlight the rest of this post, to reveal the spoilers in white text.]

So, it seems all those rumours were true after all, Benedict Cumberbatch IS Khan. For those who don’t know, not only was original Spock right, in that he was the meanest, baddest and brightest of the Enterprise’s adversaries, but his place in Star Trek history was assured by the flawless performance of the late Ricardo Montalban, and you can be sure there will be those sending hate mail simply at the idea of his recasting. 

Personally, I have to admit that I too am annoyed that John Harrison’s true identity wasn’t someone else, but for different reasons. As much as I can see what Abrams and co. were thinking, anyone passionate enough would have been following the rumours, and therefore not surprised. Likewise those who weren’t, probably wouldn’t find it that much of a big deal. In fact it’s most likely those occasional audience members somewhere in the middle that get the most out of it. 

‘Revelation’ aside however, the idea of Kirk and Khan fighting shoulder to shoulder was certainly an interesting one given the nature of their previous relationship, but as I mentioned earlier, is possibly one that should have remained speculative rather than canonical.

And the mirror doesn’t just end here. Seriously, anyone who hasn’t already, really needs to go and see Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Carol Marcus, the radiation chamber, almost half the new film seems to copied and pasted from the old

Although Scotty’s sabotage of Starfleet prototypes and miraculous resurrection stem from Star Trek III, I don’t really want to talk about Kirk’s death, let alone his revival.

And as for Spock’s scream. Really?????

Film Review: ‘Star Trek’, The New Current Old Generation

'Star Trek' was the start of a new chapter in the franchise's history.
‘Star Trek’ was the start of the latest chapter in a substantial history.

Just ahead of next week’s cinema release of Star Trek Into Darkness, last week saw the retail release of the Star Trek video game. Both follow on the tradition of Trek‘s new style, brought to our screens by J.J. Abrams in 2009’s feature film, Star Trek. A film which had the difficult job of pleasing everyone from hardcore addict to complete newbie, but did so remarkably well and is regarded highly by pretty much everyone. I don’t know how fondly Hollywood considers each years top ten most illegally downloaded films, but that’s one list that Star Trek boldly topped.

Wherever they came from, and however they were watching, Abrams had his audience in the palm of his hands right from the start, in possibly the most effective opening of any film I have seen. The distinct atmospheres of the eerie arrival of Nero, the action packed destruction of the Kelvin, and the emotional exchange between a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth and House‘s Jennifer Morrison set the scene for a film in which all three don’t compete, but compliment each other throughout.

And this is where Star Trek stands out, not because it achieved the feat of pleasing multiple audiences, but because of how it achieved it. Utilising multiple ideas simultaneously, which includes a Spock/Uhura love story that doesn’t just fill modern cinema’s need to have one, but which also adds an extra layer to Spock’s conflicting personality.

But more than what happens on-screen, its very nature combines more elements than even Spock’s mixed heritage, and with people describing it as a reboot, prequel, spin-off, etc, it really is all these things and more. So much so, the only word I can ascribe to it is simply an ‘adaptation’. Such a broad term is needed due to the many different ways in which it relates to what came before….

TV -> Film
Like the ten films which precede it, 2009’s Star Trek was a film adaptation of a TV series, 1960’s Star Trek, and later The Next Generation. Where it differs from the original films however, is that it simply takes what was on the small screen, and makes it bigger. Released ten years after the show was cancelled however, The Motion Picture and its successors moved with the times, and changed pretty much everything from the uniforms, even to the ship the crew were serving aboard. Without these changes however, in many ways Star Trek is simply one of a tradition of television adaptations from the recent 21 Jump Street, and Get Smart, that goes through The Dukes of Hazzard and Charlie’s Angels, all the way back to 1991’s The Addams Family and most likely beyond.

Prequel
Taking its inspiration from the series rather than films, the story of Star Trek goes back even further however. Despite spanning a modest twenty-five years, with most of the action taking place in 2258, the first season of The Original Series was set some years later on in ’65. This however, is done for a rather specific reason…

Origin Story
Perhaps not a term that is considered an adaptation as much as it should be (which, to be fair, is any story which isn’t original), Star Trek nevertheless fills this role by showing us exactly how the trio of Kirk, Bones and Spock comes to be. We even see the Enterprise itself being built, and as individual Starfleet officers make their way aboard, we see them become the crew we know and love. Even more than this however, it also shows us James T. Kirk himself being born, and you really can’t get much more of an origin than that. (Without being icky at least.)

Reboot
A rather popular term these days now that Hollywood seems to consider its output dispensable (I know Spider-Man 3 was hardly Peter Parker’s finest hour, but did The Amazing Spider-Man really have to start from scratch?), but which Star Trek is a responsible example. Not just because it was introducing them to a whole new generation, it’s fair to say that it had to show us how the band got together, considering it introduces us to a what is essentially a new band in the first place. It may be the same crew, but one played by fresh faces, each of whom needs the time to shine and prove to audiences why they deserve to fill the shoes they’re filling.

Sequel
Much like the cinema audiences who have been transported back in time, so to has Mr (or even Ambassador) Spock. Last seen on-screen in the two-part The Next Generation story Unification, Spock was living on Romulus trying to forge a peace between the Romulans, and his half-native Vulcan. Not only holding the same title but still dealing with the same aliens, his personal story through the film is one the writers are continuing from where previously established Trek left off.

Not since 'The Day The Earth Stood Still' has a chalk board been so important to science fiction cinema.
Not since ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ has a chalk board been so important to science fiction cinema.

Spin-Off
As anyone who remembers Back to the Future: Part II will tell you however, travelling back in time has consequences. Most often this results in a parallel timeline, something which the Enterprise crew themselves surmise (as much for the audience’s benefit as their own). Leaving the original timeline of William Shatner and his successors to continue intact elsewhere in the multiverse (generally in the paperback section of your local bookshop), this new timeline begins with something of a bang. One that occurs in the centre of the planet Vulcan, Earth’s closest ally, which drastically alters what is to come, from that which we have already seen.

The film even had its own transmedia comic mini-series, Countdown, which bridges the gap from the Next Generation era of the previous film Star Trek Nemesis, but I think you get the picture.

The nature of 2009’s Star Trek as a production mirrors the very nature of Star Trek as a 47 year old institution. A film that continues Gene Roddenberry’s vision that everything from the crew of a spaceship to humanity itself is so much more than the sum of its parts. That as individuals we can join together to solve problems that range from a Romulan invasion, to war, poverty, and disease.

A noble vision that is shared by many throughout a fandom spanning the globe. Although we may be waiting a long time for Roddenberry’s lasting vision to become a reality, at least we don’t have to wait much longer before discovering Abrams’ latest, Into Darkness.

‘Thunderbirds’ are still Go!

After my usual morning routine of checking my email, social networks, and sfx.co.uk, today I came across some great news. Three months after the sad death of Gerry Anderson, not only is his legacy is still alive as ever, but the shows that he was working on seem to still be in development.

Despite growing up thirty years after they were first made, Thunderbirds, Stingray, and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons were highlights of my childhood. They captured my imagination, were undoubtedly an inspiration for me pursuing a career in film/television, and are a treasured part of my nostalgic VHS collection.

Anderson was still creating new shows well into the '90s and beyond.
Anderson was still creating new shows well into the ’90s and beyond.

Although I’m afraid to say I’ve seen less than half the shows he produced, there hasn’t been one I’ve seen and not enjoyed (Space Precinct was also a personal favourite), and this just helps to point out how prolific and imaginative a creator he was.

Not one to rest on his laurels however, it seems that he continued to work as long as his Alzheimer’s would let him, and today Anderson Entertainment have announced that there is still more to come, as they are “actively pursuing a number of new Gerry Anderson projects“.

As much as this prospect delighted me, there was also part of me that was sad as well.

On one hand for Anderson himself, and the simple fact that he won’t be there throughout the production of whatever these projects may be. But also because no matter how good film and TV projects that don’t involve their original creator are, they also have the potential to be so much more.

I know it’s a comparison I always seem to use, but to be fair, there’s not much else that has had such a lengthy and celebrated-auteur-centric history as Star Trek.

Although it continued going from strength to strength after the death of Gene Roddenberry in 1991, and with new producers came new ideas such as the stationary Deep Space Nine, none of his sucssesors have explored sexual equality in the same way Roddenberry did with race and gender in the 60’s.

Despite giving interviews in which he stated that Season 5 of The Next Generation would feature gay characters, even today, 21 televisual seasons and five feature films later, we are still waiting to see if J.J. Abrams will live up to the fact that it “should happen and I would love to be able to be a part of that” with Star Trek: Into Darkness.

In many ways Roddenberry and Anderson were more similar than I think they’re generaly given credit for, both being influential figures who played their part in the ‘Golden Era’ that revolutionised TV on both sides of the Atlantic. Another possible unlikely comparison however, is James Cameron. Or at least their creations.

When it comes to his films, James Cameron created not just memorable characters in The Terminator and T2:Judgement Day, but an iconic and unique family situation that even the Tracys can’t outdo. Both written and directed by Cameron, they each give different insights into what is an intriguing relationship between lovers, mother and son, and son and absent & adopted father figures, but which the following film Rise of the Machines overlooks.

With Hollywood still seeing the money potential, even after Cameron reportedly announced that T2 finished the story he wanted to tell, the further cinematic adventures were perhaps even more inevitable than 2004’s Thunderbirds. Made by “an American company who didn’t know anything” it is not surprising that the film was a failure with both the box-office and critics. As Anderson was not even hired to be creative consultant, he can only be respected for turning down a six-figure offer to endorse the film by attending its premiere.

TV spin-off 'The Sarah Connor Chronicles' continued 'The Terminator's focus on family.
TV spin-off ‘The Sarah Connor Chronicles’ continued ‘The Terminator’s focus on family.

Although two Supermarionation Thunderbrids films were previously released in ’66 and ’68, Anderson’s genius is something which has fared much better on the small screen. Like the later Terminator series The Sarah Connor Chronicles which, as its title suggests, focused on the family rather than machines, Anderson was able to frame his shows’ legendary special effects around stories that focused on equally captivating characters.

This is something that his fans all over the world can be reassured by, as back in January 2011 Anderson himself announced he was working on a new Thunderbirds TV series. This was confirmed by ITV and Weta last month, and is no doubt be one of the new projects still being worked on. 

In addition to this, the head of production at Anderson Entertainment is none other than Anderson’s own son Jamie. Whilst his media credentials may be somewhat untested as of yet, surely the son of one of the most iconic, and principled, TV producers of his generation is a good bet to ensure the fruition of these new projects will be as close to Anderson’s original vision as possible.

Why ‘Firefly’ shouldn’t be given a kickstarter back onto our screens.

One of the most talked about things that happened in Geek/Film/Internet news this past week, is that a Veronica Mars spin-off film has been greenlit, based on fan reactions (and donations) to a crowd-sourcing project started by the TV show’s creator Rob Thomas.

Although hardly the first film to get started this way, it is by far the most well known, which is probably the most important factor for it breaking the record to be the fastest $1m dollar earner, which it achieved in less than five hours. Because of this, it is not unexpected that people have started to look at it with some suspicion, if not doubt. Will the fans get anything extra in return for their investment, or is their devotion just being exploited?

The feature film 'Serenity' was unprecedented in its creation from a cancelled TV series.
The feature film ‘Serenity’ was unprecedented in its creation from a cancelled TV series.

It is also hardly surprising that fans of other cancelled TV series and movie franchises are also wondering what it could mean for the objects of their own affection, none more so than the so called ‘Browncoats’: Fans of the TV series Firefly, who have taken their name from the Independents of the series, a passionate army fighting against the all powerful Alliance.

As I have mentioned in a previous post, Firefly was an extremely short series which, thanks to the tenacity of creator Joss Whedon and the devotion of fans, was picked up by Universal Studios, and the feature film Serenity was born.

Somehow Firefly had done the impossible. There are whole numbers of long lived series that can only dream of making it to the big screen, and Firefly had done it after just fourteen episodes? Fourteen episodes that FOX hadn’t even broadcast in the right order, three not even at all during its initial run. Serenity was a massive success in just getting made, but was only less than mildly successful at the box office.

Whilst fans went to see it in their droves, the general audience went there only generally. Despite the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) being just one of the many awards it received, not to mention reaching the #2 spot at its opening weekend at the box office, the film wasn’t all that Universal had been hoping for.

Like the series that preceded it, it was DVD sales that would be its economic lifeline, but they were still not enough to greenlight even a TV movie, let alone the two cinematic sequels to complete the “Big Damn Trilogy” fans were hoping for. Serenity was made back in 2005, Firefly was first (partially) broadcast and cancelled in December ’02, and only the small number of comic book mini-series and one-shots that have been published is all that the Browncoats have heard from the Firefly ‘verse in all this time.

Needless to say, Veronica Mars‘ latest news has reignited the spark of hope in fans’ hearts (if it ever went out to begin with), and Whedon has already been interviewed for his take on what it means for the future of the ‘verse:

“I’ve said repeatedly that I would love to make another movie with these guys, and that remains the case. It also remains the case that I’m booked up by Marvel for the next three years, and that I haven’t even been able to get Dr. Horrible 2 off the ground because of that. So I don’t even entertain the notion of entertaining the notion of doing this, and won’t. Couple years from now, when Nathan [Fillion]’s no longer [on] Castle and I’m no longer the Tom Hagen of the Marvel Universe and making a giant movie, we might look and see where the market is then.”

As one fan put it, “Drat. More “maybe eventually”s.”

Needless to say, fans’ hopes and expectations are a constant up and down, hanging on to anything Whedon and the rest of the cast and crew have to say on the matter. Speaking as a fan myself, I have to say that, in my opinion at least, Firefly is dead. And it should stay that way.

For those of you who haven’t left in disgust, I’ll explain why.

As I mentioned, the series was cancelled ten years ago. I don’t know if anyone else has ever seen a film based on a series that’s been gone for ten years, but I have, and I didn’t find Star Trek: The Motion Picture that interesting.

[Dammit, Twitter has just directed me to Jane Nelson’s blog on SFX.co.uk, where she’s saying exactly the same thing. Whilst she’s talking about a variety of shows though, allow me to carry on with Firefly in more detail].

Looking at this properly (and in more detail than Nelson), Whedon is busy for at least the next three years, and even then it seems as though Dr. Horrible 2 gets first dibs on his constantly busy schedule. In her blog Nelson says many fans think Whedon should hand over the reigns to someone else, but a Whedon-less project also has the potential to anger as many fans as the initial cancellation. Assuming fans would compromise with someone else producing and directing a Whedon written script, he still wouldn’t have time to do even that.

Also, there was speculation of the sequel to Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Whedon’s online project during the Film & TV writers’ strike, being a feature film even before Whedon was attached to the Avengers. There were also reports of the story outline and even songs, had already been written. If we were to assume the already in the works Avengers 2 makes it to screens in the Summer of 2015 (which is pushing it), and the Doctor Horrible 2 script already to go, the very earliest it could be released is Christmas ’15.

Bear in mind this is taking Whedon’s ability to juggle projects to max, and assuming there are no other problems in Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, (and Felicia Day?) finding room in their busy schedules. Very (very very) vaguely possible, but still highly unlikely. If (again, very big if) this happened, the earliest we could expect Serenity 2 is Christmas 2016. With his own passion for the project it is not something that Whedon would allow to be rushed, just the knowledge of knowing it was being made would placate fans enough for it to be given the time it would need, and I doubt Universal would give it priority in their summer blockbuster schedule anyway.

So, Christmas 2016 it is. (Very big if.)

Remember how I said Firefly was cancelled in December ’02? That’s fourteen years difference. As Nelson (damn you and your being paid to write!) points out, that’s a big difference. Too much of a difference to pick up where they last left off, and no-one wants to see them still in the same place. When you consider the character of River Tam was 17 years old, she’d now be 31. Hardly the crazy and mischievous teenager she once was, the fact that actress Jewel Staite was even younger only complicates things further.

'Star Trek: The Motion Picture' was released ten years after 'Star Trek' was cancelled.
‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ was released ten years after ‘Star Trek’ was cancelled.

But rather than carrying on the hypothetical situations, lets go back to that comparable TV/Film series, Star Trek. Like Firefly, Star Trek was unappreciated in it’s own time, and much like Serenity, a fan campaign was needed for season 3 to be commissioned, when NBC cancelled it after only two. It was during syndication that it achieved the major popularity it is recognised for today, but with people finding it only after it had been cancelled, again the only ‘official’ stories were hand drawn, with Star Trek: The Animated Series producing 22 episodes in 1973-74. The Motion Picture was finally released in ’79, ten years after season 3 originally aired. What started as the pilot episode to what would have been Star Trek: Phase II, it was a massive hit with fans, but only mildly popular with the critics.

Looking back it isn’t exactly seen as one of the best Trek films, and it’s sequel The Wrath of Khan performed so well thanks in part to the replacement of Gene Roddenberry with a newer, and more objective creative team. Headed by producer Harvey Bennett, together they had the insight to acknowledge the character’s age, putting fearless Captain (now Admiral) Kirk in the middle of a mid-life crisis. Whilst fans would find this a not only plausible but also hilarious situation for Captain Malcolm Reynolds, by now he would surely have been pushed beyond the raggedy edge, and his crew scattered to all corners of the ‘verse. And it’s not as though it could have an emotional/unexpected Spock style death to end on a (dramatic) high with either, thanks to both Book and Wash having already suffered that fate. Yet another obstacle for new Firefly projects to overcome.

This ousting of Roddenberry to the role of “consultant” in the first place wouldn’t have been sacrilegious to the fans, even if it was disappointing. Despite being the shows creator, Roddenberry himself jumped ship during the show’s third season and remained executive producer in name only. As a TV show its three seasons were crafted by a range of extra writers brought in, Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel also worked this way like nearly all US shows, but Firefly was never given the chance. The creative team was kept to a core of only a few members, and as mentioned before, any Whedonless project could split fandom wide open in a manner not seen since The Phantom Menace. A film which itself is a warning to leave the long gone, well alone.

Actors and characters aside, it’s also the audience who have grown. Whilst I was aware of it when it was released, I didn’t see Serenity until a screening at my University’s Students Union. This would have been around the time of the DVD’s European release, and I got into Firefly from that. I’ll admit I was late to the party (sorry!), but there is now a whole generation younger than me who are even later. Despite DVD and now Blu-ray keeping the series alive for new audiences to find all the time, it’s fair to say that the majority of people younger than me are too young to remember it first time round, even if it isn’t their fault.

Even as a film student, Serenity is the best example that I can think of, of exposition aimed at audience members that are both new, through to those with encyclopedic levels of knowledgeable, simultaneously. In today’s climate of ever increasing, and attention seeking, media, relying only on word of mouth (and blogs) will never be enough to keep up, and many of today’s teenagers simply won’t be interested in something that’s ten years old. I can’t even imagine 2016’s teenagers being even remotely interested in something that would be older than they are. Between many older fans’ incessant expectations, and newer audiences’ ambivalence, the stakes just seem to high to live up to.

So what about Serenity: The Next Generation? Despite featuring only one solar system compared to Star Trek‘s entire galaxy, there is still a whole host of other ships and crews out there, many in similar situations. What about a fresh start for the ‘verse  featuring one of those?

For a start, the actual Next Generation is more than just what Phase II would have been, and Decker/Riker & Ilia/Troi aside, the differences outweigh the similarities. Not only is the whole show is set in the next century, there’s even a Klingon on the starboard bridge console! While retaining the same exploratory spirit of the original, it’s more than just another crew on another ship, because it needed to be something different. Although Data is not so far removed from Spock (the two of whom finally meet in Unification part II, a conversation which doesn’t disappoint), there is a difference between the same roles and same characters. Picard may hold the same rank as Kirk, but has a far more diplomatic way of going about it.

The fan-film 'Browncoats: Redemption' "Project has ended & the DVD/Bluray is no longer available."
The fan-film ‘Browncoats: Redemption’ “Project has ended & the DVD/Bluray is no longer available.”

This different crew approach was when the 2010 crowd sourced fan-film Browncoats: Redemption was released, which featured a cameo from Adam Baldwin and reportedly received a “blessing” from Whedon himself. Although the project has raised money for many different charities and is given respect for the undertaking involved, it hardly filled the gap many fans still felt was missing in their lives.

Unlike in any Star Trek, the mercenary crew of Serenity are so much more than a militaristic unit, and it is the characters and relationships that made Firefly what it is. Just as any ‘reunion’ movie wouldn’t likely work for the reasons outlined above, Redemption was criticised by some fans for trying too hard and following the original too closely. This is an obstacle that even a new Whedon created crew would also have to tackle, and anything too different seems almost beyond waiting for.

By 2016 I’m sure Whedon’s clout in Hollywood would be enough for those writing the cheques to greenlight anything he wants. As much as passion is needed to create a film that works, rather than creating a film because “If I don’t, it’s the only thing I’m ever going to be asked ever by anyone“, I believe fans should instead be asking for original stories in new universes. Whilst I’m sure the above quote was said with the zany sarcasm present in most of Joss Whedon’s interviews, he has a very real point.

Yes I would have loved Firefly to have continued rather than be cancelled, and by all means please do give us more comics. But by now the on-screen adventures of Serenity and her crew are long gone, and any continued efforts to bring them back just seem like flogging a horse that is dead as Browncoats’ hope should be. Like so many others, as a huge fan of Whedon’s, I continually can’t wait for his next projects. The general release of Much Ado About Nothing can’t come soon enough, I’m sure The Avengers 2 will be just as breathtaking as the first, and I can’t wait to see Doctor Horrible again, but original or not, these are all projects that Whedon and co. have already started working on.

While too many Browncoats are waiting impatiently for the box office success of Veronica Mars: The Movie to bring their dream that one step closer, my time will be better spent specualting on something else.

Whedon is not just a writer, he is a creator. Thanks to the fruits of his creative genius, a teenage girl not only saved the world several times over, but reshaped the landscape of American TV while she was doing it. A crew of mercenaries instilled so much passion in fans that they actually achieved their goal of getting a feature film produced from a TV series cancelled during its first season.

 These are feats that are unprecedented, and cannot be overstated enough. And I for one am eager to know what game changing universe Joss Whedon will create next.

Transmedia storytelling: Where do we tie-in from here?

Having been around almost as long as cult film and television itself, tie-in media is now serious business. Star Wars alone includes over 20,000 years of “Expanded Universe” history to support only six (so far) canonical feature films. But how do you go about creating such a detailed background, and what exactly is this background in the first place?

Firstly, you don’t have to. Tie-in media is generally anything that takes an already established story, usually a TV show, and tells another story using those characters, settings, etc, and it doesn’t have to be part of an epic sci-fi saga. Something as simple as the novelisation of Snakes on a Plane, or even the Dad’s Army stage adaptations could also fall under this category.

Starting at the beginning, perhaps one of the earliest pieces of original tie-in fiction was 1968’s Mission to Horatius, a young adult Star Trek novel by Mack Reynolds. Like the episodes of the series itself, the novel told the story of the Enterprise crew on an outer space adventure, thrills and danger were experienced, before everything is heroically, and not to forget neatly, concluded. Returning everything to the status quo meant that viewers and readers could dip in and out of adventures and not get lost. Everyone knew the central relationship between Kirk, Spock and McCoy, knew that Uhura would be there to take the messages, and the Klingons were the badguys. As time went on however, things changed.

The 34th Rule, by Armin Shimerman and David R George, filled in many gaps the on-screen 'Star Trek' to regarding humanities future 'Utopia'.
‘The 34th Rule’, by Armin Shimerman and David R George, filled many of  ‘Star Trek’s Utopia’s gaps.

Klingon peace treaties and the civil rights movement aside, Star Trek evolved, and its tie-in fiction along with it. The episodic TV series’ led to feature films with an ongoing story arc. The Voyage Home remains one of the most popular Trek films to date, but without a recap of The Search For Spock, those who haven’t seen it may be a little confused as to why there’s no Enterprise. Likewise novels were joined by comics that contained stories that could often have cliffhanger endings, leaving readers waiting with baited breath for next month’s issue.

Ten years after it’s initial cancellation, the other long running science-fiction series Doctor Who regenerated into audio adventures, reuniting cast members to portray their charcters, even if by only voicing them. With the series once again gracing TV screens, these classic Doctor tales are still going strong.

Following this, the new millennium began with The Matrix gifting the world with a new breed of tie-in, containing almost as much new storytelling as slow motion CGI. More than just new adventures however, The “Wachowski Warship” as the Wachowski ‘Brothers’ are now known, utilised comics, short animation films, and even a computer game, in order to tell the same narrative story, only from different perspectives; While the audience watching The Matrix Reloaded would witness Niobe imparting news of how a ship called The Osiris discovered a Sentinel threat, those who have seen the aptly named Final Flight of the Osiris would witness that discovery first hand, but only Enter The Matrix players would know how the story, and indeed the intel would be picked up and delivered by Niobe after Osiris’ drop off.

While The Matrix fleshed out a story that fans already knew, the TV series Lost would take this one step forwards (or possibly backwards?) throughout the show’s six season run. Although maybe not producing as many tie-ins as other series, what was produced put a twist on traditional elements, such the ‘in-universe’ tie-in novel Bad Twin (whose ‘author’ was also on flight 815, and the manuscript to which was read on-screen by Sawyer), and merged storytelling with mere merchandising, thanks to a collection of four “Mystery of the Island” Jigsaw Puzzles that advertised “exclusive new insight into TV’s most puzzling drama series.”

Jigsaw Puzzles were an original but laboured piece of 'Lost' transmedia story-telling.
Jigsaw Puzzles were a unique, but laboured piece of ‘Lost’ transmedia story-telling.

But despite such originality in their storytelling, they gave at best only the merest hints towards any further information regarding the show’s many unanswered questions. Meta-fiction aside, the puzzles themselves were just collages of screenshots and images from the show itself, each one only showing a quarter of the completed “insights” which were not only hidden on the back of the completed puzzles, but were written in both code, and glow in the dark ink (the cypher for which was only found on the fourth puzzle). As if this weren’t confusing enough, those that solved everything would only be asked further questions by script co-ordinator Gregg Nations; “I’d have to say yes, they can be considered canon. But keep in mind who wrote those coded messages to begin with — Radzinsky and then Kelvin. What were their states of mind when creating it? And can they really be trusted?

Even worse than Bad Twin‘s duplicity however, semi-canonical storylines set on the island itself, Lost: The Video Game for example, only served to complicate ideas even further by leaving players wondering what should be separated as Lost ‘fact’ from Lost ‘fiction’. Frustrations aside however, you can’t help but admire the planning that went into such a tie-in effort, orchestrated by writers and producers of the show itself.

With the advent of serial-arc based TV drama however, a concept that even Star Trek adopted, tie-in media encountered new problems, but which were relatively easy to overcome. With such a vast universe to explore, Star Trek: New Frontier was created to boldly go where no tie-in had gone before, featuring a completely new ship and crew. A short lived series of novels also looked at how the exploration that epitomised Star Trek was conducted by Starfleet’s Klingon counterparts. Needless to say, conquering was involved.

But the main problem came when the series ended. Often tie-in media was the place to go for fans who were hungry for more, but with the number of television programs adopting story arc’s now being the vast majority, there are more than one in which the final episode concludes its story through what would be a major game change in the characters lives. With tie-in authors unable to make any significant contributions to the development of character’s audiences loved, this was often the last they ever heard from them.

Whether boosted by the example set by Lost, or by their own enthusiasm as fans, producers of cult shows have begun to take transmedia storytelling more and more seriously, and continue to tell their stories themselves, after the shows have been cancelled. Something which comic publishers have been keen to capitalise on, releasing stories that not just continue a TV show’s narrative, but do so to the point where they are considered canonical, and even released in mini-series corresponding to the original show’s seasons. Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight is an early example of this, and it has just been announced that The X Files will be the latest, with “Season 10” due to be published over a decade since “Season 9” was broadcast. Obviously great news for fans of cult franchises whose cast and crew could not be reunited, but more importantly, those that studio executives are no longer willing to risk money on.

But in the current climate of “Brand Recognition” (the idea that particularly in a recession, audiences are less likely to take risks with unknowns, and spend their money more on franchises they already know), this also comes at a price. As Buffy was a popular money maker throughout it’s seven season run, I’m sure Fox have no problem in allowing Dark Horse to license it’s intellectual property for as long as the royalties will keep on coming in.

Firefly on the other hand, also written and produced by Whedon, is a series that Fox doesn’t generally like or understand, and so was cancelled during it’s first and only season. Unable to establish the widespread fanbase it deserves, what the show lacks in quantity of fans it more than makes up for in quality, and with only fourteen episodes and one feature film produced, they are always eager for more. Joss Whedon’s time management aside, surely I’m not the only one who considers Fox’s dismissal and consequentially the the series’ lack of money making ability to be an important factor in it’s lack of comic production, a mere fraction of the titles set in the already heavily established ‘Buffyverse’.

The slayers' Scythe appeared in 'Fray' before 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer'
The slayers’ Scythe appeared in the comic ‘Fray’ before ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’.

Although transmedia has gained popularity and acclaim throughout it’s lifetime, I can think of only one instance in which a piece of tie-in fiction has influenced the TV show which had born it. When writing a comicbook mini-series, Whedon (I know I keep mentioning him, but do so not through choice, but simply due to the prolific and various natures of his work) assumed people would only want more slayers from him, and so obliged accordingly.

Even when considering this is just a very brief overview of its history, it is no wonder that tie-in media is increasingly now referred to as ‘transmedia’ storytelling. These new stories are no longer being written to tie-in with bigger storylines, they now often are the bigger storylines.

Before commenting on the current emerging trends of where it is taking us next, it is important to remember that new developments of transmedia do not always mean the end of the traditional, which are still important in their own right. Whilst Star Trek‘s on-screen adventures may have returned to an alternative view of Kirk & co, with the films writers and producers involved with the parallel and prequel comic series, brand new adventures of Picard, Sisko, and Archer (not so much Janeway) are still recalled through a plethora of novels. Novels which do not just keep characters alive, but which allow newer and previously unpublished writers to be read.

Una McCormack for example, has gone from writing internet fan-fiction, to pretty much holding the fate of Cardassia itself in her hands. More than just Hollow Men and The Never-Ending Sacrifice being two of the best Star Trek novels I have read (and I’ve read more than a few) writing tie-in fiction has given a writer the opportunity to not only contribute to series she loves (she has also written books for Doctor Who), but this has also lead to her own original fiction being publisd as well.

But just as with all evolutions, it seems the tree of transmedia is again spliting into two separate branches. Whereas previous divergences occured from prose to comic to audio however, this one is at the heart of on-screen media itself.

One thing it seems, is that with a rise of adaptations and series such as The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, transmedia has come full circle. Whereas tie-in material published through books were previously used to supplement on-screen adventures, now it seems that what we see on screens, is more and more filing in the gaps and producing it’s own additional narratives to supplement books and comics. Somehow creating three longer than average movies from a single children’s paperback, The Hobbit immediately springs to mind.

The Avengers Assembled. Six movies that form only "Phase One" of the 'Marvel Cinematic Universe'.
The Avengers Assembled. Six movies that form only “Phase One” of the ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’.

More than this however, is the new tradition that has developed in which feature films now seem to be produced at a rate to rival TV episodes, something seen particularly with the recent Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is well worth noting here, as what is being described as “Phase Two”, the continuation of films that culminated in Joss Whedon’s (told you, prolific) recent blockbuster The Avengers (Assemble), will constitute not just Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World et al, but also a S.H.I.E.L.D. Television series.

While it remains to be seen exactly how much this new series will link in with the films, with the inclusion of Agent Coulson who was seen dying in The Avengers (Assemble), filling in the backstory of how the S.H.I.E.L.D. organistation was created cannot be ruled out.

But regardless of the stories the TV series will tell, it seems that where TV has traditionally been the primary narrative with tie-in stories from ‘lesser’ media supplementing them, the twentyteens have not just followed Star Wars’ lead and promoted the primary narrative to cinematic heights, but with S.H.I.E.L.D. alongside The Clone Wars, promoted the supplementary stories to the ‘lesser’ medium of Television.

Although these phases of transmedia are still emerging, it is interesting to speculate who will take them up, and where they might go with them. Not forgetting of course, in the years to come, what other changes might come next…

A blog about a book . . about a blog.

What with starting my own blog, and being a big fan of pretty much everything Star Trek, I have recently been checking out Wil Wheaton dot net. Best known in most circles as starring in Stand By Me and Star Trek: The Next Generation , Wil Wheaton is now best known in geeky circles as a blogger and published writer, and also as being a fairly big geek himself. Hence the title of his book ‘Just A Geek‘.

A book which I decided to buy and am really glad I did, as it is one the few books that I have read in one day, and possibly the only one I have read in one go. Based on posts from his blog, the book goes into often very personal detail about many things, most notably his personal battle with what he calls ‘Prove To Everyone That Quitting Star Trek Wasn’t A Mistake’, his need for acceptance and recognition for his own merits, which he often amusingly talks about in the second person.

Chronicling certain events, Wil shares all aspects of his life including his struggles as an actor, the joys of living with his wife and step children, and his mixed reactions to the large impact of Star Trek and its fans. All of which makes for funny, honest and very compelling reading. Certainly the best book I have read recently, and almost possibly the best book I have read in a very long time.