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Paramount and its Stupid Star Trek Axanar Lawsuit

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I always wondered when a Star Trek fan film would become successful enough to draw a Paramount lawsuit. Why did Paramount go after Star Trek Axanar and not Star Trek Renegades?

Both are high profile productions. Renegades had more Star Trek cast members. Axanar made headlines for raising Kickstarter money. But it really is more of a fan film than Renegades which feels like an Abrams Trek effort to cash in on the franchise by trying to use it as material for something hipper and edgier that isn’t Star Trek.

Axanar isn’t stepping on Paramount’s turf. Paramount’s idea of Star Trek is to use it as fodder for a bunch of blockbuster action movies from the writers of Transformers.

Not a whole lot of overlap with Axanar.

But CBS/Paramount/Viacom/Whatever also decided to launch some kind of pay-per-view online Star Trek TV series and they may have decided to clear the deck of fan productions on YouTube.

But are the execs really stupid enough to think that fan series, which usually have bad acting, writing and effects, but give fans the kind of Star Trek they like, are competition for a pro series that will have nothing to do with Star Trek?

Suing fan films is stupid. Those fan films keep a fan community around. Abrams Trek and Abrams Wars make tons of money, but don’t create new fans. And the existing fans help pay the bills the rest of the year when there are no movies in theaters. They also like Star Trek content that’s more Star Trek, which Paramount doesn’t do anymore.

Paramount has been smarter than Lucas. It hasn’t gone after fan content because execs knew that fandom created unprofitable content that maintained fans who might buy things licensed by Paramount.

Although the plaintiffs have allowed ample cosplaying over the years and even permitted other derivatives like amateur Star Trek shows to circulate, the lawsuit illustrates that there is a place where no man has gone before, where the entertainment studios are not willing to let be occupied: crowdfunded, professional-quality films that use copyrighted “elements” like Vulcans and Klingons, Federation starships, phasers and stuff like the “look and feel of the planet, the characters’ costumes, their pointy ears and their distinctive hairstyle.”

That covers all the cosplaying, comic strips, parodies and every fan film ever made.

Paramount picked a really bad time for this. Abrams Trek Into Darkness and Skinny British Khan was hated by everyone. The Abrams Trek Beyond trailer is being booed. A Star Trek series needs a lot of goodwill from fans and suing a kickstarted fan series also pisses off everyone who donated to it. And with $1 million raised, that’s a lot of angry fans.

Paramount and CBS gave us this joint statement after the posting of our original article: “Star Trek is a treasured franchise in which CBS and Paramount continue to produce new original content for its large universe of fans. The producers of Axanar are making a Star Trek picture they describe themselves as a fully professional independent Star Trek film. Their activity clearly violates our Star Trek copyrights, which, of course, we will continue to vigorously protect.”

Treasured franchises don’t get canceled. Treasured franchises don’t get turned over to the writers of Transformers.

The X-Files is a treasured franchise. So is Star Wars. Paramount never treasured Star Trek. It ignored it. Then whored it out.

Why do fan films exist? They keep Star Trek alive.

A struggle over the U.S.S. Enterprise’s past and future helped sour J.J. Abrams on the “Star Trek” franchise and may have contributed to his decision to take on the “Star Wars” universe.

Yet this marketing assault pales compared to the one that Abrams and Bad Robot once envisioned for “Star Trek” and now plan to construct around the new “Star Wars” films.

Much to the dismay of Bad Robot, CBS’ merchandising arm continued to create memorabilia and products based on the cast of the original 1960s series and market them to Trekkies.

TheWrap has learned that Bad Robot asked CBS to stop making products featuring the original cast, but talks broke down over money. The network was making roughly $20 million a year on that merchandise and had no incentive to play nice with its former corporate brother, the individual said.

Paramount wanted to help J.J. Abrams kill Star Trek. But CBS was making too much money from the merchandising.

Did some Paramount exec decide that Axanar posed a brand confusion threat to some multiplatform rollout?

 

 

Roddenberry Sucked, But No One Else Made a Successful Star Trek Series

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William Shatner has found another way to extend his career with the Chaos on the Bridge documentary.

As everyone knows, TNG had a shaky start. As everyone also knows, everyone involved hated Gene Roddenberry.

Fine. Roddenberry was by many accounts an ass. By many accounts most of those taking shots at Roddenberry, including Shatner, were also asses who were difficult to work with.

We’ve had the myth that Roddenberry didn’t have much to do with the success of TOS. And of course he didn’t have much to do with the success of TNG.

So why is it that no one else has been able to make a successful Star Trek series?

All those amazing TNG veterans. The guys who really made it work flamed out with three spinoff shows, DS9, Voyager and Enterprise alienated fans, went into the ratings basement and have mostly been forgotten except by niche cults.

We’re still talking about TNG. Is anyone going to be doing a documentary about DS9’s first season or Voyager’s last season or what the hell happened on Enterprise? Maybe Tim Russ will get around to it.

Roddenberry wasn’t a good writer. But he was a good showrunner. Some of his ideas were stupid, but he could put together a Star Trek show that would talk to people and still be popular long after it went off the air.

Rick Berman, Ira Steven Behr, Ronald D. Moore, Brannon Braga couldn’t make a Star Trek series that would do what TOS and TNG did. Maybe one day someone else will, but right now the franchise’s TOS legacy is being milked by Abrams. And when that’s done, it’ll be back to square one with a franchise no one knows how to move forward.

But if Gene Roddenberry were here and younger, he would have.

Roddenberry had his faults, but he wouldn’t be sitting on his ass making documentaries about how everyone else sucks.

Why is Starfleet Filled With Humans?

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If the Federation has so many races, why is Starfleet filled with humans?

Let’s go back to what the Federation is. It’s not the United States in space. It’s the United Nations in space.

Starfleet is based out of San Francisco, the origin of the United Nations, and the Federation flag is the UN flag with a darker shade of blue and the stars instead of earth.

Like the UN, the Federation is not a government. It’s a forum. It has members not states. Its military force depends on contributions. When there’s a real shooting war that the UN gets into, the big muscle comes from the US. Humans are the Americans of the Federation. They’re mean enough to be dangerous, but not mean enough that other races are threatened by them. They’re altruistic enough to help out without losing their military edge. And they’re also curious enough to be explorers. And most of all, they’re willing to foot the bill to play explorer and soldier.

Starfleet is filled with humans because they’re the ones that spend the money, put up the manpower and take the risks.

Logically, an organization like Starfleet is going to appeal to races that colonize a lot of planets. A species that just has to defend its own home system is not going to need to do much exploration or need a wide defense net.

A species with three systems and no drive to settle new worlds is not going to put in the energy and lives to run something like Starfleet. Humans aren’t the only species to settle new worlds, but they’re the most aggressive settlers in the Federation. Having an organization like Starfleet to find new worlds and protect farflung colonies served their needs.

And once it got going, Starfleet was institutionally defined by humans. If you’re an aggressive species that isn’t interested in exploration, Starfleet isn’t going to be a great fit for you. See Worf. If you’re a peaceful race that values exploration but not conquest, it won’t be a good fit either. There are Vulcans in Starfleet, but they don’t like it.

Starfleet has a human balance of exploration, defense and diplomacy. Other species have to adapt to it.

The Federation Council theoretically sets the agenda, but Starfleet has its own institutional culture and its captains make snap decisions that change history.

Starfleet lets humans do some of the same things as the Klingons and the Romulans, but without the ugly side. The Federation gives humanity the blunt force and power of an empire without having to conquer other races. Instead members get rewards and access to an interstellar network. It appeals most to smaller and weaker races. Or races that don’t like fighting.

The Klingons would never fit well into the Federation. A large species that can match humans in aggressiveness and expansionism would make for a tug of war. But a species like that wouldn’t join.

A Federation composed of a lot of smaller and weaker races is never going to displace humans in Starfleet. And it would be difficult to displace humans without changing what Starfleet is. Non-humans can preside over the Federation Council, but to wield any force, they need Starfleet. And Starfleet keeps the Federation together. It’s a huge asset to a small world to be able to call on a force that can stand up to any fleet in the neighborhood.

And since humans want to run it anyway, everyone lets them. It’s either that or work out how dozens of smaller alien races can build a new institutional culture for Starfleet together. That might be more IDIC, but it would be chaos.

The Federation lets humans have an empire without the imperialism. On their own, humans could have learned to match the Klingons or the Romulans, but they would always be just another race. The Federation gave them a technological boost and a network of different worlds to join without conquering. And Starfleet links that technology to military applications that races like the Vulcans are uncomfortable with.

It’s an arrangement that works.

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Watching Star Trek: DS9 The Emissary

It’s rare that a series does its best work in its first episode and then never equals it again. DS9 The Emissary isn’t an extraordinary ride, but it’s a glimpse of what Deep Space Nine might have been.

The Emissary’s opening tells us that we’re going to a dark place. So does the fight sight of DS9. But then the Bajorans show up Emissary - 3and the show begins to die.

The Bajorans are Ds9’s true nemesis. They drag the show down with displays of self-righteousness and magic superstition. Like the Kazon, they’re a race that would ordinarily show up in an episode and be forgotten, that takes up entire seasons. Voyager was able to fly away from the Kazon, but Deep Space Nine could never leave the Bajorans behind.

There are stunning elements in The Emissary. A Borg attack that devastates a starship transitions to a devastated space station and a quest for communication and understanding with an alien race. There’s all that, and there’s the magic Bajoran priests and Kira delivering her “I’m just a Bajoran” speech.

The Emissary shows us how close to a powerful series DS9 could have been. It had the Wild West elements. A distant trading post under siege. The exploration of alien life in a distant part of the galaxy. There were other reasons that DS9 never came together, but the Bajorans took the wind out of its sails. Instead of the Wild West, DS9 became a Neo-Tibetan retreat. It could never be the show it should have been because it was too busy getting its ears felt up.

The producers might not have been able to predict that the Bajorans wouldn’t work on screen, but they could have hedged their bets. Turned Bajor into a concentration camp planet for the Cardassian Order where a dozen slave races were housed. And then focused on the race that works best. That mix of races and complicated problems would have made for a much better series.

Bajor as we know it was surplus to requirements. It was there because the producers wanted to leave Star Trek behind, but they could have done it much better with a genuinely interstellar trading post, than a Bajoran station.

But the Bajorans aren’t all of it. The Emissary had one of DS9’s few bold and big ideas, but within a few episodes, the series that gave us a captain communicating with aliens by using his personal experiences (a concept that Voyager tried and failed to pull off) was giving us magic alien hopscotch and a crude evolution debate.

Captive Pursuit was the closest that first season DS9 came to matching its potential. And it did that because it left the Bajorans at home and told a story about the weird and wild galaxy out there passing through the station.

The Abrams Trek II Villain

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Sure “John Harrison” could really be Khan or Garth of Izar or some other Star Trek villain, but based on Abrams Trek I, he’ll be a character so undeveloped and with a backstory so weak that if you poured hot water over him you wouldn’t even get tea.

Star Trek Into Darkness is written by the dream team of Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof, better known as the writers of Transformers and the guy responsible for messing up Lost and Prometheus. It stars a lot of special effects and probably not much else.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe John Harrison will be more than another villain with no credible motivation looking to wreak havoc for the same non-reason that most Bond villains do. But I wouldn’t bet the space farm on it.

Nero in Abrams Trek I had a big name actor, a suggestive name and a backstory that made less than no sense at all. Nero had less credible motivation for his killing spree than every other Star Trek movie villain, a list that includes a guy who was obsessed with plastic surgery and another guy who ran his own cult. (These stories come out of Hollywood so they’re true to life.)

Nero lost his wife and his homeworld because Spock didn’t get there in time, so he traveled through time to destroy Earth and Vulcan. Six year olds could come up with a more coherent motive for a villain than that.

In a measure of Into Darkness’ bold originality, Harrison will blow up London and probably San Francisco, because Star Trek is now completely indistinguishable from Transformers and even has the same writers.

Star Trek Into Darkness is the Same Old Thing

Maybe I’m getting old and maybe I haven’t mainlined enough Star Trek in a while, but I have to seriously furrow my brow to try and remember the last Star Trek movie where Earth wasn’t under threat from something.

The last such Star Trek movie was Star Trek Insurrection and it was the exception among TNG movies which always went for the easy James Bond villain formula. Insert a villain who wants to destroy the earth. Fight and blow him up. The End.

Only two original series Star Trek movies endangered the earth and for all the odds and evens stuff, those movies look like a diverse and original collection of concepts and stories compared to the lame formulaic and studio driven mistakes that were the TNG movies. And Abrams Trek movies are clearly determined to head into even worse territory.

With that I give you, Star Trek Into Darkness. Earth is once again under threat, there’s once again a James Bond villain who gloats loudly and threatens destruction, and there’s some high jumps and a splashy effects scene.

Here is your Star Trek Dark Side of the Moon or Star Trek Transformers Into Darkness. Thanks B&B. You made this all possible. Oh and the blonde, I’m guessing, is Yeoman Rand?

Gorn Porn: The Star Trek Game Trailer Debuts

The objective: Make a game as content free as the movie. A proper triumph of style over substance, of things exploding over space exploration and then add echo noises.

The question everyone must be asking is where are the lens flares? Lens flare technology in games was developed long ago. Star Trek the game has plenty of bloom, but needs more lens flares to hide just how low res its textures are. Just take a look at this gorgeous screenshot from 2005.

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Namco Bandai’s JJ Abrams’ Star Trek has focused its graphical focus on the important things. Like making sure that Spock looks exactly like Zachary Quinto and not that other guy. Whatever his name is. And once they did that they didn’t have any more time or resources left so they just imported a few terrain maps from Half Life or Morrowind.

For a nostalgia kick, here’s Star Trek 25th Anniversary’s trial sequence.

“I’m James T. Kirk. I’m more worthy than you’ll ever be. And I have girlfriends on fifty planets who will vouch for that.”

And it even has better graphics than Co-Op Quinto shooter.

Immortality and Star Trek Insurrection

The entire plot of Star Trek Insurrection (a Starfleet Admiral in some secret conspiracy with a race of bad plastic surgery people to secretly evacuate a race from an immortality planet to process their immortality particles) if an immortality potion hadn’t already been invented in an earlier movie. Wrath of Khan.

The Genesis Device turned out to be a crappy way of making new planets, but a great fountain of youth. Fire off a Genesis torpedo into an genesis devicearea with some debris or gasses, then shoot some torpedoes full of old or dead people into the area. Recover the torpedoes and you have your own immortality machine.

Not true immortality. Just a reset for a few decades, but that’s all the Briar Patch in Insurrection was offering and this could be repeated over and over again.

Without the Vulcan ability to back up and restore minds, reviving dead bodies and plugging memories into them wouldn’t work. But by TNG there was technology that could do that for humans out there. We saw it in use. It didn’t work too well plugged into a computer or even into Data, but shooting a body into the area, recovering it before it becomes a baby and uploading the memories might work.

Even if it doesn’t. There’s still a way to extend life by decades. Memories would be lost, if the de-aging process followed a biological pattern, but plenty of eighty year olds might accept losing forty years of memories. So if immortality was really on the agenda, it was available.

The only hitch is that everything involving Genesis was classified, but Starfleet had the information. If they wanted to use it, they didn’t need the Briar Patch.

 

Star Trek and the Intergalactic Asshole

The Intergalactic Asshole is a staple of Science Fiction. Back from the pulp days to more modern versions like Poul Anderson’s Nicholas Van Rijn or George R.R. Martin’s Haviland Tuft or Star Trek. The Intergalactic Asshole travels around the galaxy, visiting new planets all the time and manipulating their society for his own purposes. Usually he takes an existing conflict or imbalance and forces the people and their leaders to rearrange their society to do things his way.

Sometimes the Intergalactic Asshole is an exploiter looking to cash in, like Van Rijn, often he’s looking to enforce his own idea of human captain kirkrights, like Captain Kirk, or animal rights, like Haviland Tuft. The Intergalactic Asshole has his own idea of how society should work. There’s often a determinism based on a simplistic idea of biology or economics or the environment which he believes makes people the way they are. What the Intergalactic Asshole does is rely on that idea to understand the aliens, their problems and turn their conflict on its head and impose a solution on them.

The Prime Directive of the Federation explicitly ruled out Intergalactic Asshole behavior, because it was a staple of galactic adventure tales. But Captain Kirk still played Intergalactic Asshole with a starship behind often enough for the Prime Directive to be an afterthought. With TNG the Intergalactic Asshole quota went down. Captain Picard would still occasionally play Intergalactic Asshole, but he was more likely to leave with a lecture and a disappointed look. Bad Science Fiction had plenty of stories in which aliens would arrive on earth only to decide that we were too primitive and violent to be worth including in their federation. In TNG we were the advanced aliens, visiting other races and punishing them with our disappointment. The alien visitors whose standards we couldn’t meet represented gods. With TNG we became the gods who were too good for them.

With Janeway the Intergalactic Asshole syndrome came roaring back. But Janeway was much more erratic than Kirk. Captain Kirk usually intervened because there were clear abuses going on. Janeway interfered randomly. Sometimes she walked away from oppression, other times she helped the oppressors. Sometimes she intervened, just because. She allied with the Borg, gave the Hirogen, holodeck technology and allied with them against the holograms. Archer stuck to the Intergalactic Asshole way, even though he didn’t have the firepower to back it up. He yelled at Vulcans and Andorians, either of whom could have swatted him like a fly. Because the habit was there from Voyager.

How viewers or readers react to the Intergalactic Asshole has less to do with the issue at hand and more to do with the character. Van Rijn nicholas van rijjn poul andersongot away with awful things, because he was entertaining and he sold his own libertarian spin on any issue. Haviland Tuft and his environmentalism appealed to an audience at the opposite political spectrum. But both were eccentrics who got a pass from both sides because they were more human, more personable, than their adversaries.

Captain Kirk could drag audiences into his Intergalactic Asshole approach to problems, because he seemed to really care and because he had senior officers who often disagreed with him and whose perspectives he took seriously. No Captain after him had that. Picard, Janeway and Archer did things their way and rarely bothered listening to anyone’s advice.

The Intergalactic Asshole is a power fantasy. He does the things that audiences would like to do. He’s a one man dictator setting societies to right by being smarter and tactically more powerful than them. He’s Batman with a starship, except he actually solves problems for good. He’s the authorial voice made omnipotent, lecturing, hectoring and telling readers how the world should be run.

Why Star Trek Enterprise Failed

(I’ll keep this brief after the earlier marathon post this morning.)

Enterprise was an attempt to get back to classic Star Trek. It wasn’t a very good attempt because the people making it didn’t understand classic Star Trek very well… or like it very much. Enterprise was how they saw TOS. It was their version of it.

Audiences had fled DS9 and Voyager. The ratings were low. The franchise was in trouble. So they tried to make a classic Star Trek series. Or star trek enterprise azati primewhat they saw when they looked at Star Trek.

Make the Captain an old-fashioned wild card type. Put in a Vulcan. Keep the crew small and mostly human. Make the technology cruder. Have the humans dislike the aliens. Show some skin. Break some rules. Get them to explore space. Show how the Federation got started. Then throw in some exit strategies so continuity doesn’t matter too much. A temporal cold war. Pre-Starfleet starship. There’s your classic Star Trek series.

That summary wasn’t completely wrong, but it was completely incomplete. It was something like Star Trek, but it wasn’t really Star Trek. It was Voyager with a new skin, but without the gimmicks or a large cast. It felt empty, because it was.

Enterprise wasn’t the show that the producers wanted to make. It was the show they had to make. There was nowhere else to go. The gimmicks had failed, so they went throwback. They went prequel, which was popular then. Then after them came the reboot, which is popular now.

Every story, every fictional universe has its built in rules. The parameters that cover how things work in it. First you learn the rules. Then you can break them. Berman and his favorites boasted of breaking the rules. They were going to make Star Trek their own way. And they did. It failed. Then they tried following the rules, but they didn’t know the rules. They never learned them. So they imitated what they saw.

When they looked at the Original Series, they saw a sparse show focused around the ship’s captain and one or two subordinates. They saw crude technology. They saw a lower comfort level with aliens. They saw space portrayed as a dangerous place. They saw sexism. They saw “seat of the pants” tactics and stories where the captain goes to a strange place, is captured, breaks free, acts like a jackass and moves on.

And they copied all those things. One after another. And they didn’t understand what they were doing wrong. They didn’t like TOS and didn’t really get it. It wasn’t a show they could take seriously. It was like the Adam West Batman to them. So they tried to make it a little more serious. And that made it even worse because their idea of serious was Voyager. On top of their bad clone of TOS, they pasted in Voyager.

The Original Series was more than the sum of its parts. It was more than Shatner and Nimoy breaking out of another cell on an alien planet Star Trek Enterpriseand then yelling at the aliens about doing the right thing. It was about more than a human dominated crew in an intergalactic federation. It was more than Uhura in a miniskirt and repeating back what she heard on her earpiece before being forced to make out with Kirk.

When Berman and Braga looked at TOS, they saw the flaws. And they thought, “If this is what the fans want. We’ll give it to them. We’ll have a captain who constantly gets captured and yells at aliens. We’ll have a Vulcan to be uptight all the time. We’ll have a good-looking guy who sleeps with chicks. We’ll try to fix it up a little so it’s not as stupid as the old one, and then we’ll give the dorks exactly what they want.”

But TOS was more than the sum of its flaws or its silly moments. Its core was its ambition. Its fans saw what it did best. But the people who made Enterprise saw it as a dumb silly show and tried to make a classier version of it. A show that fans would agree was classic, but that would also let the producers do their thing. Win-win.

That’s how we got Enterprise. That’s why it failed.

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