How To Cheat A Reboot: Star Trek's Kobayashi Maru Solution
Posted on Monday May 11, 2009, 11:59 by Dan Jolin in Empire States
**CONTAINS SOME STAR TREK SPOILERS IN PARAGRAPHS TWO AND THREE**
There was a time when the concept of the ‘reboot’, rather than the remake or prequel, felt new. Batman Begins wasn’t necessarily the first (although at this point I’m honestly struggling to think of another that isn’t simply a remake, like, say, The Mask Of Zorro), but it was done so brazenly that it reminded us that big franchise properties can be successfully rebuilt from the ground up within recent memory of the last stab. Yet, after further examples like Casino Royale and Hulk (which was kind of a sequel anyway), I didn’t expect to be surprised by a franchise reboot again. Then JJ Abrams came along.
Abrams’ Star Trek is very possibly a first. With it, he has taken a well-loved universe and made it his own, while at the same time recognising and respecting that universe as it was before he started applying his own tweaks. He’s ingeniously freed the action from already known and downright expected resolutions. Furthermore, he’s rebooted that universe while allowing the characters who populate it to be entirely aware that a reboot has occurred. Chris Pine’s Kirk knows he should have grown up to be The Shat’s Kirk, but now that’s never gonna happen. Zachary Quinto’s Spock even gets to meet Leonard Nimoy’s, underlining the fact that, universally speaking, they will never be the same man. What a superbly headfucky underpinning for your dramatis personae. And it’s achieved without any tricksy, tongue-in-cheek fourth-wall breaching.
All Abrams has done is establish that his movie’s opening event has created an alternate timeline, a parallel reality. Gene Rodenberry’s Star Trek is still out there somehwere, untouched, its timeline intact, its Kirk and Spock still feeling Khan’s wrath, saving the whales, becoming embroiled in an assassination conspiracy and eventually passing the torch on to Picard and and his touchy-feely ’90s crew. But here, now, in Abrams’ Trek all bets are off. He can do what he likes. Destroy Vulcan, and make its inhabitants a decimated species? Sure, why not? Have Spock bone Uhura? What’s to stop him?
It’s clear Abrams has taken inspriation from his own lead character, the one without the pointy ears. Star Trek II describes the fiendish Kobayashi Maru test, which involves a no-win situation. And which Kirk is the only person to have ever passed. By cheating. In Abrams’ Star Trek, we see how Kirk does it (at least, we see how JJ’s universe’s Kirk does it). He reboots the simulation. So in a very real sense, Abrams’ movie — I reckon Paramount would be confident enough now to say ‘franchise’ — is a cheat. A brilliant cheat. It is his own Kobayashi Maru.
Just imagine how other franchises could have benefitted from such an approach — if they had been, if you will, Maru-nated. Imagine, if you dare, Star Wars prequels which didn’t have to slavishly feed back into all we know from the original trilogy. Wouldn’t it have been cooler if Anakin Skywalker hadn’t become Vader, but still embraced his Dark Side and become a wildcard third party in the battle between the Empire and the Alliance? Or if C-3P0 had been reprogrammed as his assassin droid? (yes, I have played Knights Of The Old Republic).
What would a Marunated Wolverine have involved? He could have become a villain. And the posited Magneto origin story could see the Marunated Master Of Magnetism rising as an anti-fascist hero! (Of course, comic books are always Marunating their own properties). How about a Marunated Hannibal Lecter? Gourmet chef. Shrek? Breaks the donkey’s neck and goes on the rampage.
Okay, I’m getting silly now, but it’s so enticing to imagine the alternate universes out there for some all-too-cherished Hollywood properties. I’m still interested to see how much Terminator Salvation itself is a Marunation — after all, it can pull the same time-travel tricks as Trek. But in the meantime, I’ll get back to my crazed, beautiful vision of an alternate universe where the AVP movies never happened…
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Posted on Monday May 11, 2009, 15:30
The moment Vulcan stiffs is stunningly bold.
The whole film is brimming with confidence and pride in what it is- even the opening Credit- massive letters, timpani going mental.
This is Star Trek.
This is what is is from now on.
Posted on Monday May 11, 2009, 15:33
Utterly brilliant piece. Moreover the existential nature of what's real is examined here through JJ's delightful take on Star Trek. Awe inspiring to see a director throw out the camp and fan expectations to serve a story more in keeping with his vision - which Wolverine, X-Men, etc. could have done with a LONG time ago (IMHO) I love the fact that while what's gone before can be considered by Trekkies to be 'history' this alternate 'future is not set' timeline can now be endlessly spammed into future engagements with the current crew. Having spoken to a disgusted Trekkie today, I'm more in favour of this kind of Maru-nating in the future (and kudos for the instigation of a new verb!)
I'm very pleased that someone has had the guts to go for substance over story. And in these harsh times of crass cash ins, box-office flops, and poorly realised stories; it's about time we had one that bucked the trend.
All hail JJ for this one.
Posted on Monday May 11, 2009, 15:35
After watching Star Trek over the weekend, I was happily surprised the way JJ Abrams tweaked the ST universe. He's done a wonderful job and I look forward to the sequel.
Posted on Monday May 11, 2009, 15:47
That is exactly what I loved about JJ Abrams Star Trek. It didn't try and pretend the last 40 years of Trekking never happened. Instead it chose the much better option of saying 'It happened. In another reality all TNG, DS9 and VOY will still happen. But cause that pesky baddie screwed up the timeline...and for one it didn't get unscrewed...we now also have THIS reality where anything goes!!!'.
I kinda wish Wolverine had been this brave as generally pre-quals suck as there is no suspence when you already know what happens to certain characters.
Posted on Monday May 11, 2009, 15:58
Saw it yesterday in IMAX and I must admit even with all the positive hype this has been getting, it still delivered.
I agree that the (super) maru-nation of the whole thing really worked and at a stroke frees it up from any obsessive Trekkies (I believe there are one or two) banging on about the colours on Chekov's console being different etc.
Really good fun (but not dumb) and would heartily recommend it in IMAX, the destruction of Vulcan was especially stunning
JJ rules!! (even if his nose does look a bit like a penis)
Posted on Monday May 11, 2009, 16:04
I'll along with the basic point this somewhat overblown Blog post makes, but I think it overstates the importance of what J.J. Abrams has done. Yes, his Star Trek is excellent but all it is really is an adaptation of original source material. What he's done is not much different to taking a well loved novel and adapting it for the screen and to fit modern sensibilities; something that happens on a regular basis. Dressing it up as some remarkable acheivement is to overstate its significance.
Think of it this way. There have been multiple screen adaptations of Jane Austen's Pride & Predjudice since movies began. Each one does something different with the book, be it casting the major stars of the day (Lawrence Olivier), trying to skew it younger (the Kiera Knightley version) or setting it a Bollywood version of India. Each one is therefore a reboot of the same book. The same can be said for every Shakespeare adaptation on screen or each vesion of the 39 Steps.
J.J.Abrams simply does the same to Star Trek. It takes an old story (in this case a TV show rather than a book) and adapts it for a modern audience to make it more relevant. Yes, it takes large liberties with the received cannon of the original work in order to do so but so do all the James Bond movies based directly on Ian Fleming's novels, and that doesn't stop them being adaptations all the same.
So yes, J.J. Abrams has done a good thing but let's not make out that he's reinvented the wheel. He's just done what filmmakers have been doing for years, which is reinvigorating a moribund property; only this time the property in question is a much beloved TV show and not a classic novel or comic. Oh, and onthat basis I think Brian DePalma can claim to have beaten him to the punch by successfully 'rebooting' Mission Impossible, another old 60's TV show, way back in the early 90's.
Posted on Monday May 11, 2009, 16:18
Blunderbuss, not sure I agree with you there. Referencing myriad adaptations of Pride and Predjudice is not really an accurate comparison; in the sense that each of them is designed as a standalone work and does not reference the alternate versions of the story. Whereas Star Trek directly references the fact that the other stories in the Trek universe do indeed occur, just not in this particular timeline.
I agree with your analogy of the Bond films ("this never happened to the other guy") as there has often been covert references to events which happened to previous Bonds. For Mission:Impossible though again I don't think the analogy works, as there was no reference (that I can recall at any rate) into previous teams of agents etc..
As I said, I feel the principal difference with this, as opposed to other adaptations (possible exception for Bond and maybe Hulk) is that this one makes explicit reference to other adaptations, rather than trying to create a retro-fit (a la Star Wars) with the accepted canon of events
Posted on Monday May 11, 2009, 16:22
Posted on Monday May 11, 2009, 16:35
I think moving things to knew time line(a new reality) is great! Its kind of like the way people go back to big comic book characters and reinvent them, give them new origin stories etc. It means you could change anything that comes later too. You could reinvent the next generation crew based on the new time line. Is there peace with klingons? Is warf on the crew? Is picard the captain? The possibilities are endless.
Posted on Monday May 11, 2009, 16:38
I've been banging on about JJ since I first saw the first season of Alias.
I was always aprehensive about reboots and retconning and all this new fangled wordology that we seem to be spawning. But I was always confident in JJ and eager to see what he would conjure up.
Saw it Saturday and was completely blown away. Having been a trekkie since a Uni mate introduced me about 10 years ago this is exactly what the franchise needed. I think Rick Berman just got stuck in a same old, same old rut doing series after series.
This makes it all fresh. The story, the feel, the vibe. Whilst expanding on the characters and treating it witht he respect it deserves. Plus the sheer audacity to reference changing the fate of the characters in the film.
So JJ. What's next.................................
Posted on Monday May 11, 2009, 17:13
Great blog. I think what JJ Abrams has done is fantastic. I was on the edge of my seat the whole way. Having said that I think Marunating could be a dangerous tool. Although it didn't happen in Star Trek, I think marunating some films could end up spoiling the originals. If for example someone came in and made a movie about Indiana Jones as a deadly assassin, or Jack Ryan as a terrorist I would be like WTF. Star Trek hasnt gone that far, marunating enough to be new but not enough to be unrecognisable. There is a risk that over-marunating could result in a terribly bad taste.
Posted on Monday May 11, 2009, 18:29
What are your thoughts on Superman Returns and the supposed reboot of the franchise?
Posted on Monday May 11, 2009, 18:43
that's interesting, because most of my friends were pissed off by everything you just said. mostly because in their mind, this movie is NO star trek movie. an i can understand them, because they define star trek over its characters, and they don't exist anymore in the new franchise.
for them its like you rebooted a mac and suddenly its a windows machine:-)))
shitty isn't it
Posted on Monday May 11, 2009, 20:34
Oh God, if AVP had never happened, and the discussed Alien 5 team up between Ridley Scott and James Cameron had happened, or further back, if Alien 3 had never happened and you used William Gibson's script.
Posted on Monday May 11, 2009, 20:44
Yeah I wish AVP had never happened aswell!
Saw Star Trek today @ the IMAX, breathtaking really the best way to see it (would have loved to have seen 'First Contact' on that) and it was tops!
Fast, sexy, bursting with action, colour and a break-neck pace that I felt made the film fly by. They really went to town on the battle scenes and they are some of the best I've seen.
Loved the performances, the actors hit all the right character notes, I just wish that Paramount had done something similar with Picard and co, and given them a last outing as stylish and vibrant as this, pity.
Abrams and friends did a bang up job rebooting Trek, made up its done well and leaves me excited about the future and no. 2, although no time travel this time please!
Now Warners Bros. pull ya fingers out and reboot Superman (properly this time).
Posted on Monday May 11, 2009, 21:34
Bless you Mr. Jolin for these great words!
Posted on Monday May 11, 2009, 21:51
AVP FUCKING ROCKS!!!!!
Posted on Monday May 11, 2009, 22:08
One thing (of many) that I loved about this film was that the writers had the balls to actually change things in big, franchise altering ways. Ways that actually matter and aren't just reset at the end of the movie, the repercussions of what happens in this movie have essentially changed Star Trek forever.
The destruction of the USS Kelvin at the film's opening, the decimation of Vulcan and most of it's people, even the fact that TOS Spock is trapped in this new reality, they're all really bold, exciting moves that I never would have expected from a Star Trek movie. JJ Abrams has taken a tired, past it's prime franchise series and injected fresh new life into it, and for that, he deserves kudos.
Posted on Monday May 11, 2009, 22:10
@achenar i thought superman returns was great and deserved to do much better than x3.
more to the point, i think that this new trek is great. if it's not the cleverest film in the world (i.e., "a commander needs to know fear in the face of certain death. Mister Kirk, you of all people should know" was perfectly adequate, without the pointless "I'M TALKING ABOUT WHEN HIS DAD DIED AT THE BEGINNING. REMEMBER THAT, EVERYONE? YOU KNOW, AT THE BEGINNING WITH THE EXPLOSIONS AND SHIT. THE GUY WHO DIED. THAT WAS THIS GUY'S DAD, OKAY?"), at least it introduces the franchise to a new generation so that more complex plotting can be introduced in the next films
Posted on Monday May 11, 2009, 23:16
Technically...Ultimate Wolverine did start out as a badguy...just saying...
Posted on Tuesday May 12, 2009, 00:51
Another reboot that uses an entirely different "get-around-clause" is the new Battlestar Galactica (Excellent, excellent show) that bases it's central "religion" around the sentence "Everything has happened before, and will happen again" (I paraphrase) which basically makes the original Battlestar Galactica (With Martin Landau and a male Starbuck) one of the many times that the same story has recycled. Meaning that thanks to a small tweak in the basic religious views of the characters, we could see a new Battlestar Galactica on TV every 50 years forever if we wanted to. That's pretty cool.
JJ definitely chose the right option, making a new reality. It would have been irresponsible to do otherwise, there's just no way it will work. Hell, it's still unclear if it will even CONTINUE to work over future films - Do we really want to see the actors grow up to NOT become their original doppelgangers? Surely they only have 10 years maximum to milk this new universe. But it works for now and it made the film fly, so kudos are definitely in order.
Great film. Best special effects of any Trek Film. Not the best Trek film (As they are based on ideas, not a box of tricks). Cast did something truly remarkable, as did JJ. I hope it continues to get better.
Posted on Tuesday May 12, 2009, 01:54
I agree with James Camerons stance on AVP, it was easily the third best of the Alien films.
The latter two became controlled by Sigourney Weaver and she imposed the no gun rule on 3 and the genetic combination of her and the Alien in Ressurection.
Posted on Tuesday May 12, 2009, 06:58
They should apply this to the Highlander franchise. Open up a new timeline instead of finding stupid excuses for McLeod to still be immortal. (They're aliens! They oversaw one immortal in a cave soemwhere! Arrghhh!!!)
Posted on Tuesday May 12, 2009, 09:48
Posted on Tuesday May 12, 2009, 10:31
The thing which really messed with my head is the fact that although the first four Star Trek series and the movies didn't happen in this universe, Enterprise the series did happen, and they even reference it in the scene where they meet Scotty for the first time! So, for example, since Vulcans live to over 200, and she would probably have been off-world when Vulcan was taken out, can we expect to see T'Pol popping up in the background in a future movie?
Loved both the movie and the article, though.
Posted on Tuesday May 12, 2009, 10:33
I agree with most people. A briliant way of breathing new life into the series. I'm sure most people will agree that the original crew, e.g. Kirk, etc. are still the fan favourites. This is a way of bringing them back but in a new and exciting way. I've been a huge fan of JJ ever since I was hooked on Alias and I can't wait to see what he does next. Only one question, where the hell is Joss Whedon?
Posted on Tuesday May 12, 2009, 11:26
I love JJs work in general but what a shame he and his writing buddies couldn't cobble together a plot that made sense. Kirk dumped on the same planet as old Spock happens to be and within mere spitting distance? In all the galaxies in all the world...
It's the dumbest coincidence in cinematic history.
It's entertaining (mainly the first hour prior to the plot kicking into gear) but, c'mon, how is yet another Trek film featuring a villain with a grudge against the Federation considered a reboot?
Posted on Tuesday May 12, 2009, 12:23
Heck, J.J definetly made a trekkie out of me, time to watch ToS :)
Posted on Tuesday May 12, 2009, 12:50
I like the film for what it was, the action sequences were brilliant and had good humor and mostly good cast choices well except for Pine. But the alternate reality angle just doesn't sit well with me and it's hard for me to accept that it's better than wrath of kahn like i've heard everyone say about it.
Posted on Tuesday May 12, 2009, 13:09
great blog. I think there's plenty of precedents to identify for this approach but I think most recent application that has had the biggest cultural impact on the hollywood creatives was the Marvel Ultimates reboot - Marvel had played around with the alternative universe plot line many many times previously, but it wasn't really until the Ultimates set-up that we had the statement "this is all happening in an alternate universe - all bets are off - we're starting again so let's see where we end up" - it was this vision that has informed the set up now being taken by Marvel studios with iron man, Hulk, Thor, Captain America etc. It's hard to underestimate the shockwaves caused by the success of the Ultimates
Posted on Tuesday May 12, 2009, 19:48
Great movie, cast was great.
Boldly executed as well.
I disagree about Pine, i think the thing that i liked most was they didnt try and make the character'dark' which everyone does these days. He was an arrogant, brilliant, brave, ladies man, maverick, who was also alot of fun. That sums up The Shat at his best also.
Ill be seeing this again.
As for the minority that didnt like this, you have 11 films and 20 odd series of the old trek to watch. The formula was stagnating to the point where a new movie based on it wouldnt have made any money.
There are still some people who want Bronsnans bond style era back after all...cant please everyone.
Posted on Wednesday May 13, 2009, 10:10
Regarding reboots, I was wondering if Mission Impossible qualifies? Consider (and here be spoilers) - Jim Phelps, the main character and team leader of the series is brought to the movie and turned into the bad guy, leaving Cruise's Ethan Hunt as the new team leader.
As for Star Trek, my problem with the reboot, is the way the story contrives to bring the characters together, such as Kirk being abandoned on a planet (where old Spock just happens to be too, by the way) and runs into Scotty. Yes it's a different universe, but it doesn't mean the characters will turn out almost the same.
Posted on Wednesday May 13, 2009, 20:44
The only overstated impportance here is your reply I'm afraid. We're talking hundreds of hours of tv in 5 (FIVE) different shows, 10 films and all spread over 43 years. Countless books and comics and even a cartoon counted as "cannon" it's a massive achievement. Shame you don't seem to be able to see the wood for the trees, dozens and dozens of trees.
Posted on Thursday May 14, 2009, 02:45
where the hell is the sexy diora baird in this film?????????????????isnt that rachael nichols as the green orion cadet alien
Posted on Thursday May 14, 2009, 08:19
I'm going to side with the "clever, but not that clever" crowd. Enjoyed it for what it was, but think Serenity is more deserving of a sequel (or even a prequel).
I've also finally worked out what that redshirt (the one who joins Kirk and Sulu in the space parachute drop thing) has been in before. He popped up in 24 Series 3 as the guy selling the virus.
Posted on Thursday May 14, 2009, 12:02
personally I thought that the whole scewed time line was a crock of shi....deux et machina at its worst
Sometimes I wish Hollywood would leave things alone, there are so many other ways they could have rebooted the franchise, not least with an entirely new crew, or move the story away from the Enterprise but have them develope as junior officers on a different vessel.
And come one, no one would allow a crew of rookies out on a mission on the flagship and no-one would be made a captain straight out of the academy.
Posted on Thursday May 14, 2009, 15:47
Posted on Thursday May 14, 2009, 17:21
Amazing film - and amazing idea.
However, I don't think that you can do this more than one. It works for Trek, it could work for Terminator (after all, it's *about* changing the future, and wiping T3 out of the franchise).
Time travel and time line altering in Star Wars? I don't think so. What was great about the prequel trilogy (Epi 3 in particular) was the way it branched smoothly into Epi 4.
Posted on Friday May 15, 2009, 23:52
Loved it. Also thought that the design of the ship and the way people acted meant that it worked as a sequel of sorts to the Enterprise series, which made the Archer reference even more telling. JJ created something that perfectly fits with all that has gone before in the franchise's real life history. I just hope Paramount don't mess it up with the next film.
Posted on Saturday May 16, 2009, 01:24
Terminator has already been Maru-nated as followers of the TV series version would know. The pilot of The Sarah Connor Chronicles explains how the timeline in T3 has now been rendered defunct. I'm interested to see whether the new Terminator movie Maru-nates things further (but please don't kill off John Connor. Alien 3 made the mistake of killing off most of the surviving characters from Aliens).
But I agree that Trek was cool.
Posted on Monday May 18, 2009, 10:06
Assuming you wish to reboot a franchise/universe at all, this is the way to go about it: big, ballsy, and ACKNOWLEDGING the reboot, within the reboot. Whilst I don't see the point in rebooting Star Trek (like Star Wars, the universe is big enough and deep enough anyway to encompass all kinds of different stories, without messing with the timeline), this is reverential enough to make the fact that it's a new timeline/parallel universe a major plot point.
However, whilst the film is very entertaining, especially the first hour (it all goes tits up after the Vulcan bit, and is only redeemed by Simon Pegg and some cracking action), it's not in the slightest bit Star Trek-y. It's like Abrams hated Star Trek, but loved Star Wars, so decided to remake Trek like Wars. It's all dumb action, no thought, no heart, very little character development; big, brash, flashy sci-fi, and even the space battles feel less like submarine warfare and more like the Millennium Falcon attacking the Death Star.
So - yes, I agree, it's the right way to reboot a franchise, hopefully placating any pissed off fans. But do worry that Abrams has missed the point of the normally-thoughtful Star Trek franchise. Hopefully there'll be moral and ethical dilemas applenty in the innevitable sequel (but with the same amount of action, natch).
Posted on Monday May 18, 2009, 10:07
Edit: having said all that above, I still think the film is really entertaining. It's just a pity it's big dumb sci-fi fun, rather than, say, Wrath of Khan or First Contact (and even those aren't as head-scratching as some eps of the series).
Posted on Thursday May 21, 2009, 09:36
Nicely written article.
Re: 'and eventually passing the torch on to Picard and and his touchy-feely ’90s crew.'
Always the biggest problem with TNG - never any threat in the crew, not really touching on any solid issues that might occur on a startship with people who have to stare at each other for 7 years straight.
Re: the new Star Trek. George Lucas, watch and learn.
Posted on Friday May 22, 2009, 16:48
I'm actually surprised there wasn't more of a "obsessed fan" backlash!
I've seen every TOS, TNG, DS9 and Voyager epi (before I gave up about 8 years ago) so would consider myself a devoted fan (then - not now) and was sadden to see the whole thing descend into drivel...The movies were even worse from 5 onwards....That's what happends when you let Shatner and Nimoy at the directorial/production helm.
This was epic. It's young, fresh and sexy (in particular McCoy and Kirk) with pace, great effects and really good scenes such as Kirk getting his face punched in, driving a car off a cliff, the space jumping...
I can't imagine ever being that interested in the episodes again - i'm totally over that part, but hell - the next time there's a movie out with those boys in it and JJ at the helm, just try and keep me away. Who cares there's a new timeline? I can now speak to people about Trek without having to whisper under my voice or have that shamed look on my face...I can be proud of the characters and the story now!
Posted on Wednesday June 3, 2009, 11:43
Thoroughly enjoyed the reboot of Star Trek and agree that it is a great way of introducing the characters to a whole new generation out there. Carl Urban as McCoy sounded iffy at first, but he makes the sexiest dorky doc I have ever seen.
The concept of the reboot allows writers and filmmakers to take a more creative approach, as original ideas seems to be very scarce these days. Just wish they did it to Psycho. Second time around was not anywhere near as scary as the 1st one.
Posted on Tuesday June 9, 2009, 14:29
Ihate Star Trek but in terms of a franchise reboot, are we forgetting Goldeneye way back when? Got people into James Bond all over again. The same director did Mask of Zorro, coincidentally.
Posted on Tuesday June 16, 2009, 05:54
Possibly a spoiler warning on the vulcan issue may have been in order.