Saturday, July 16, 2011

Making Things Your Own and the Problem With Sequels

A while back I watched Star Trek: Enterprise for the first time, and was pleasantly surprised. I gave the series a complete pass when it was on the air. Partly because I didn't have UPN, but mostly because I'd heard such terrible things about it. Watching it now I think that the criticism was overly harsh, but I started to wonder why was it overly harsh?

There are some legitimate criticisms to be leveled at the show, but that's not what I think caused the reaction that this show got. I think the real reason is that people tend to make things their own. I did it with Star Wars, and it's one reason that I can't get into either the Expanded Universe or the prequel movies. I absorbed the originals and made them my own. I decided what the important parts of the Star Wars universe were to me, and when the work of others didn't match up with my own opinions of what made Star Wars great, then I dismissed those works.

The same is true of Star Trek. Fans of previous versions of Star Trek have decided what it was about the show that was important to them, and when Enterprise didn't focus on those elements, then they became disenchanted with it.

For example, a big criticism I've seen is the T&A elements in the show. The first episode has the busty Jolene Blalock stripped down to her underwear, and that theme is repeated in other episodes, even including a scene where Linda Park loses her top as part of a slapstick gag. There's also a fair share of beefcake. I can recall seeing comments that this kind of thing wasn't Trek. Apparently those people never watched the original series, because Trek has always had more than its fair share of T&A (and beefcake too).

Given the change in standards of broadcast media between the time of the original series and the years that Enterprise was broadcast, Enterprise is actually kind of tame when compared to the original series. Many of the costumes used in the original Star Trek revealed far more skin than those in Enterprise. The standard female uniform revealed almost as much skin as the underwear in Enterprise! Yet, Enterprise got a bad rap for it, whereas it was simply accepted as part of the show with the original series. Why?

I think it's because Trek fans have made Trek their own, and many of them considered the T&A aspect to be one of the more unimportant aspects of the original series. Finding it in Enterprise was jarring to them because they didn't consider T&A to be part of their Trek, even though it was obviously always a part of Trek in general. It was less of a factor in Next Generation, but even that part of the franchise had its risque moments, and Enterprise should have more in common with the original series than with the Next Generation, if only due to being closer to it in the fictional timeline.

Another criticism was leveled at the apparent continuity problems. Again, going back to the original series, there were huge chunks of continuity that were largely ignored by later shows. Many of the more powerful beings encountered were lucky to get even a passing mention in later shows. The fact that the first appearance of the Romulans established that their ships were incapable of faster-than-light travel was largely ignored in later stories. Probably the most well known continuity issue, the visible differences between Klingons in the original series and their later appearances, wasn't dealt with until Enterprise.

Singling out Enterprise for apparent continuity errors ignores the long history of such errors that run throughout Star Trek (and which are largely unavoidable in such a vast body of work sharing the same fictional setting).

The point of all this is that these kinds of things are true of all things where fans have an emotional investment, and make up one of the biggest problems with doing sequels of popular properties.

It's one of the reasons that I prefer to see more re-imaginings ala Battlestar Galactica and fewer sequels. Re-imaginings get to borrow the important themes and characters from a popular property without dragging all the baggage of continuity along with them.

It's something that's been done for years in Japan, and that I'd like to see done more often in American entertainment.


librarian said...

Would it be pedantic of me if I pointed out that it could maybe be you have a problem with prequels (Star Wars I-III and Enterprise)? That's mostly tongue in cheek, since most of your examples are prequels.

I for one can't stand them really. I want to see what happens next, not what led up to what is happening now, except as perhaps a footnote, or a spin-off project.

Fulminata said...

Heh, good point, although while it's a prequel to TNG, it's still a sequel to TOS... a presequel?

librarian said...

Hah. Sounds like where little tv shows go to learn to be big movies...

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