Star Trek Wrath of Darkness

I went to see this movie the first weekend it was out but I held off on posting this to avoid violating any sort of unwritten rule on spoilers, but at this point, enough time has passed  that knowing that the character Benedict Cumberbatch plays is Khan is either already well known, or totally irrelevant.  If you’re not familiar with the Star Trek Universe and are just interested in an action movie in space, whether the villain is named Khan or John Harrison is hardly a spoiler to anything important to the movie.  If you are a long time Trek fan, the fact that the villain is named Khan is… frankly it’s not a spoiler either way.  Unlike Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the villain’s real identity isn’t really important to the plot of this movie, and he could really just been named John Harrison without really adding or subtracting from the story.  Khan’s identity is more of an Easter egg than a spoiler for this movie.

But that’s fine if JJ Abrams secrecy on this point seems a little overdone.  That is part of how Abrams markets his movies.  I liked the Easter eggs in this movie and makes me feel as though the people who made the movie really care about the source material, and they are winking, just to me, that “Hey, we really get Star Trek!”  Even though Abrams probably didn’t know the difference between Star Trek and Star Wars before he took over the project.

As movies go, it was a thoroughly entertaining film, and it both answered some old questions and raised some new ones in the new Star Trek universe.

One of the things that had bugged me from Abrams first Star Trek film was how quickly Kirk went from cadet in trouble to Captain of a starship.  Really?  Even if you save the world, I’m thinking that Starfleet still doesn’t want to give a relative newbie the command of one of its top of the line starships.  How do you skip all of those ranks anyway?  Surely there are some Starfleet regulations having to do with time in service.  In this movie, that’s rectified by how quickly Kirk loses his rank and position when he’s caught violating the Prime Directive.  Kirk, busted down to First Officer, held the rank of Commander.  So just extrapolating here, but that leads me to believe that Captain was only a brevet rank, meaning he was assigned to the rank of Captain based solely on his position as skipper of the Enterprise, not as a rank he had actually earned and been promoted into.  So Commander was probably Kirk’s permanent rank.  Still, that’s not bad for someone who skipped most of the junior officer rank structure.

The other thing that I had an issue with was what was up with the white Khan?  Don’t get me wrong, I think Benedict Cumberbatch did a fantastic job playing the villain and really upped the ante on the level of acting in this movie, but he’s a man without a trace of melanin in his system, and he was cast to play Khan Noonien Singh, an Indian character.  I understand that in 1960’s Hollywood, you probably wouldn’t even think of casting an actual Indian to play an Indian.  They went with a Latin actor, Ricardo Montalbán instead.  Montalbán turned out to be an inspired choice.  He had not only the acting chops, but the sort of command presence that’s required to successfully play someone who was a deposed leader.  And boy, did the ladies love him!  Check out this clip from the original series Star Trek when he turns on the Alpha game on one of Kirk’s crewbabes.

That’s total Alpha Game, but fair warning; don’t try this at home kids.

It goes without saying that Montalbán steals every scene in 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

When JJ Abrams was looking to cast his new Khan, once again he was looking at Latin actors.  Casting a Latin to play Indian in 1967 may have made perfect sense, but why would you do that in the 21st Century?  There are plenty of actual Indian actors who could have played that role.  But instead, the actor who wins the role is the whitest person from an island whose populace is already known for being pasty faced.  I’m not the only one who noticed this, the folks at Racebending.com made a big deal about it as well.

So how does this fit into the overall Star Trek alternate timeline?  Based on 2009’s Star Trek, JJ Abrams made his divergent timeline from Kirk’s birth, so every event from that point on was up to be changed or altered.  But Khan was from the 20th Century.  He preceded the divergent timeline and should have still been an Indian actor with a Mexican accent, rather than an Indian character with a British accent (I know, an Indian character with a British accent makes more sense).  If you allow me to geek out a bit, a couple of possibilities present themselves.

It’s possible that the Original Series Kirk altered the timeline.  The episode Space Seed, established the character Khan, his origins as a genetically engineered superman, and his role in the Eugenics Wars, which took place from 1992 to 1996.  Remember the war years?  Good times…  Within the three seasons that comprise the Original Series, the crew of the Enterprise was involved in time travel incidents that could have altered Earth history on at least three occasions:  Assignment Earth, taking place in 1968, The City on the Edge of Forever, which has Dr McCoy drastically altering events in depression era San Francisco, and Tomorrow is Yesterday, taking place in 1969.  Although all of these incursions were “fixed,” they were fixed via the band-aid approach.  Except in the episode Tomorrow is Yesterday, they didn’t undo the original timeline alteration; they merely made other changes to repair the original changes.  With that method, who knows what differences in the time line seeped through that were not obvious initially?

It’s also possible that the Temporal Cold War, from the Enterprise TV series could have altered 20th Century events.  In the two part Enterprise episode Storm Front, aliens from the future drastically alter the 20th Century by providing assistance to the Nazi’s so that they win World War II.  By the end of the episode, the timeline has been “reset” and things are back to where they are supposed to be, although what exactly that is seems unclear.  The Eugenics Wars and Khan could have all been reset as well.

Just so I’m clear, one of the changes that I’m discussing is whatever DNA that was used to create Khan in the first place may have been altered.  Khan was genetically engineered after all, so different timelines could mean different strands of DNA could have been selected to create Khan.

In other words, the genetic material could have come from a different Cumber-batch of DNA.

Get it?

How about, a whiter shade of Khan?

No?

Anyway… by the time the crew of the Voyager get their opportunity to mess with 20th Century Earth, in the episode Future’s End, the Voyager crew wind up in 1996, supposedly the last year of the Eugenics Wars.  However everything seemed… much like our 1996.  No major world wars featuring genetically engineered supermen.  Nor did the Voyager crew seemed to be expecting a Eugenics War.  Maybe it had been shifted or eliminated from the timeline?

My guess (and really, this is all nothing but guesses) is that the Eugenics Wars did happen, only not in the 1990’s as they did from Khan’s original timeline.  They probably happened some decades later, but they still happened, since the Eugenics Wars were still an issue during the time period of the Enterprise TV show.

This is the type of trivia that only a nerd could love, but it’s important.  That’s why JJ Abrams pulled the alternate timeline trick rather than just do a re-imagining of the series like was done with Battlestar Galactica.  Doing a hard reboot of the series and ignoring what came before would have been the easiest path, but it would drive Trekkers crazy.  Who needs that?

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My Netflix Review: Sherlock

Some iconic characters and literature are iconic partly because they are set in a particular time or place which in big ways and small, is part of the story.  The should-have-been-a-blockbuster John Carter, brought to film in 2012, was set in the 19th Century because the main character’s personality was very much set by the standards, ethics, and experiences of that time.  Some iconic characters can be updated, but usually it’s in such a way that there is only the faintest semblance to the original work.  The movie Clueless was based Jane Austen’s Emma, but no one really looks upon Clueless as a movie adaptation of Emma.  Similarly, 10 Things I hate About You was based, loosely, on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. It strikes me as weird that the classics inspire so many teen comedies.

Sherlock goes to the Library

Sherlock goes to the Library (Photo credit: Super Furry Librarian)

But sometimes characters just seem to work better in the milieu that they were originally conceived.  Although I admit that’s highly subjective.  My first introduction to the Sherlock Holmes character was through the books of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, not as would be more common today, through film.  So that set my view as to how Sherlock Holmes should be portrayed.  Movies have gone in a different direction however, as most of the classic Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies were set in the period they were made, the 1940’s.  But to me, the more recently made Robert Downey Jr. version of Sherlock Holmes seems more “authentic” because they were set in the Victorian era, and let’s face it, is there a character that Robert Downey Jr. can’t play?

So when the BBC version of Sherlock hit the Netflix queue, I was wondering how I would accept this 21st Century version.  One thing that bugs me about the updating of iconic characters is that they necessarily live in a world that isn’t ours.  We live in a world in which Sherlock Holmes is very much part of the popular culture.  Sherlock takes place in a world where there was no Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and no Sherlock Holmes stories.  But as far as the answer to the question of if I could accept this, apparently, yes I can.  The show works.

One thing I was curious about was how they would portray Holmes, not as a detective, but as a man.  Doyle’s Holmes was highly intelligent but his stand out quality, what made Holmes who he was, was his keen observation skills.   The same skills that allow Shawn Spencer to fake psychic powers in USA Network’s Psych.

But we 21st Century types tend to medicalize everything.  So I was curious as to how Benedict Cumberbatch would portray Holmes.  What would be his major malfunction?  It turns out, they did have that in mind and Holmes answered that question in the very first episode, A Study in Pink,I’m not a psychopath, Anderson, I’m a high-functioning sociopath, do your research.”  That’s an interesting choice and I’m not sure why the producers went in that direction, rather than what I thought was a more obvious one, a high functioning autistic or someone with Asperger’s.  The characteristics of a sociopath don’t really lend itself to enhancing a someone’s observational skills.  I can only assume that Asperger’s was just too obvious but they still wanted some personality disorder to justify Holme’s keen intelligence and observation skills.  There has to be some justice after all.  We couldn’t have a normal person have those skills.

The character of Dr. John Watson, portrayed by Martin Freeman, seems much more human and relatable in contrast to Holmes.  Watson, just like the original Dr. Watson that Doyle wrote of, is a returning Army doctor back from Afghanistan (some things never change!).  This updated version of Watson is having difficulty adjusting to civilian life when he comes across Holmes and somehow passes Holme’s strenuous roommate test that is as challenging as Sheldon Cooper’s roommate agreement.

More so than any other version of Holmes, this one treats Holmes and Watson as not just colleagues but roommates, with all of the various conflicts that entails.  But Watson isn’t just a sidekick. This Watson still has very much of the soldier in him and is a man of action when the situation requires it.

So at least through Series 1 (Series 2 isn’t out on Netflix yet), this updated version seems to work well.  So well that CBS, in keeping with their practice of ripping off the BBC is coming out with their own Sherlock Holmes version this fall, Elementary.  Whether this is a pale rip off of the BBC version or an original retelling remains to be seen.  Sherlock Holmes in New York?  Is there even a Baker Street in New York?

We’ll see how that goes.  Sherlock has proven that you can do an updated, 21st Century version that’s very watchable.  So I’ll be looking forward to Series 2 showing up on Netflix.

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