Trigger warning: this article talks about self harm and depression. Please ensure you are in a safe space before reading.

When I was a child I escaped with words. Before I could read my parents and my grandparents read to me; after I learned to read I read to myself. I saved my pocket money for trips to Merthyr, the town over the mountain from mine where a W. H. Smith sat on the high street, and sometimes Cardiff – the big city that had not only a W. H. Smith but a Waterstones as well. My bedroom housed a fort made of bookcases, with a worn red beanbag occupying the space in the centre where you’d normally find an armoury, and where I piled story upon story and nestled among dragons and princes while the world turned outside. I read in the backseat of the car; while walking to school; on the beach on holiday. I read for more reasons that I can now recall. I read because I was the geeky girl at comp who knew too much; because I was the one who everyone bullied; because I felt more at home in other worlds than I did in my own.

When I was younger I would wait for the dip in the mountain which showed me the lights of the valley, and as the car wound down the road I knew I was almost home. The lights are different , and though the mountain is before me I cannot move. I am in limbo, a ghost between my old life and the new one which is being fashioned for me, and the only one I am haunting is myself. I long to be among the black patches where there are no lights for then perhaps I wouldn’t have to remember. I long to forget where I came from, and where I am going holds no power for me. I think, therefore I exist, but this existence is too harsh; the edges are too sharp and I can make a weapon from the softest of things. My memories make me bleed, and my scars are given to me by love and hope; faithful traitors. I have wished to believe in neither, yet they have both found me and I have slept ion beds of thorn and nails, watching the petals wither and die. Their sweetness is in decay; it is in the beauty of autumn, not spring, that I find myself, for I am where the dead things are. – 20th November 2002

So I escaped with words but they were words that were inescapably tied to the place I was in. They say that smell is the most powerful sense, and that certain scents have the power to transport you to specific times and places. Books hold that same power for me. Reading The Beano or The Dandy takes me back to the age of eight, sitting in the grey armchair in my gran and grandad’s living room (the same chair that now occupies the same space in my living room), while my gran cooked chips in the kitchen and my grandad read Asimov in his chair.

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Reading The Famous Five takes me to that worn, red beanbag nestled between bookcases with the summer evening sun dripping through the window onto the page. But I occupied two spaces, when I was reading. The space of the world where my physical self was, and the space of the book where my imaginary self lived, where I hunted smugglers with George, Anne, Julian, Dick and Timmy the dog, where poor Pepper died in a barn over and over again.

There is a photograph of me in the back of my parents’ car aged seven or eight. I am reading – I was always reading – and the sun strikes the window just so. The glare obscures me. I am half in the car, half somewhere else entirely. I am liminal; neither / and at the same time. – 1 August 2003

Reading – and by extension, writing – were my escapes. But when I went to university I needed to escape in a different way. I discovered depression, The Cure and self harm – not necessarily in that order or at the same time – and words were no longer enough, somehow. Or the physical world was too much, and walking the line between them became like walking a tightrope underneath which were sharp rocks instead of a safety net. Music became the escape I needed then, and the Smashing Pumpkins and Counting Crows repeated themselves on my CD player along with Robert Smith.

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I (re)discovered comics shortly after I realised what depression can do to you. I was introduced to them by friends – Lenore, at first – the cute little dead girl who appealed to my Goth sensibilities, then Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and Squee and Questionable Content and Gloom Cookie. And then Violet Grimm of Dogwitch who I wanted to be (and whose look I tried to model in my own going-out clothes).

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But none of these spoke to me in the same way that Sandman did. I can laugh at how cliché it is now – a twenty-something Goth reading Sandman while listening to The Cure. But Gaiman’s world of myth and the power of stories and dreams reached me on a level beyond words. I connected with Morpheus, in Sandman #1, trapped by dreams and missing a part of himself. That was, after all, how I felt.

My skin is pale even against the white of the room. Sometimes I stand quiet against the wall, wondering how long it will take before I cease to be myself, before I lose my identity and take on that of the white paint, the cool plaster. I stand still for hours, and I lose track of time. Time ceases to matter when I am here, when I am trying not to be myself, and I think maybe this time, maybe this time… Then the door opens, briefly, and I am myself once again. Time rushes back in and hurtles me with it on and on into a future which has no place for me, nor I it. I play a game with myself to see how long it will take before I lose myself in the future or the past, and sometimes I am winning, sometimes I lose. – 18th April 2004

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I identified with Dream even more after reading Sandman #8. “I feel like nothing,” he tells his older sister, Death, as he feeds the pigeons in Trafalgar Square. And that was how I felt most of the time. But I didn’t identify with Death, though I was a little in love with if not her, then the idea of her.

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                      It was, though, more than Dream, and much more than Death, Delirium and Despair in whom I saw myself reflected: crazy, alone, unloved.

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Despair, Desire’s sister and twin, is queen of her own bleak bourne. It is said that scattered through Despair’s domain are a multitude of tiny windows, hanging in the void. Each window looks out onto a different scene, being, in our world, a mirror. Sometimes you will look into a mirror and feel the eyes of Despair upon you, feel her hook catch and snag on your heart. – Sandman #21

I spent hours sitting on my bed watching the sun move across the Bath sky, turning blues and hazy whites into pinks and purples and then darkness. I tracked storm clouds and hot air balloons across the blank space outside my window, and I spoke to no one. Where words had once given me another space to occupy, now they only seemed to chain me. My diaries from that time are filled with sharp, black lines. They are litanies of hatred, turning inward, self inflicted, admonishing my younger self for being too stupid, too ugly, never (never, never, never) good enough. When writing became too hard the pages are dotted with blood.

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Those words, in the same way as those which filtered my childhood, were inescapably tied to the place I was in. But instead of occupying two spaces now, reading gave me three. The physical space of the single bed in my small single room and the imaginary space of Morpheus’ dream world were joined by the emotional space of depression. Reading back the words I wrote too easily transports me to a time and place I do not want to remember. I keep telling myself that I’m not her anymore. I’m not the girl I was back then, even if she helped shape who I am today, but I’ve spent a lifetime escaping with words and I know the power they hold.

So I escape in different ways and painful ways. I map directions on my skin with steel, reminders that one step to the left would make me fall, reminders to look straight, keep my eyes on the horizon, never look down. But some words seep through. I collect these in ring-bound notebooks, pin them to the page like butterflies – 16th June 2005

Some time ago I moved back home to Wales. I boxed my comics up and they collected dust in a storage unit while I stayed with my dad, in a terraced house too full of books for our collections to co-exist. But when I bought my own house I pulled them from their boxes like I was greeting old friends. There was Preludes and Nocturnes, The Wake, Doll’s House. There was Death: The High Cost of Living and The Time of Your Life. There was The Quotable Sandman and Adventures in the Dream Trade. I bought two bookcases, six feet high and two books deep, and put my graphic novels and comics in pride of place, on the shelf next to my armchair. And I read them again. Lenore, Dogwitch, V for Vendetta, Squee and Watchmen.

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But I didn’t read Sandman. I think in part it was because the series had meant so much to me that I didn’t want to find it was worse than I remembered. And in part I know it was because I had read it at a low point I didn’t want to be reminded of. So they sat on my shelf, and occasionally I picked up the quote book or the interviews with Gaiman, but I never read the comics.

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But not long ago I decided to read Sandman again. I had gained enough distance, I thought, or maybe I was older and better equipped to deal with the things that had floored me back then. And so one day last summer I took myself up to the back garden with a stack of trade paperbacks, sat in the sun with my cats, and read.

I recognised Delirium and Despair – they will, after all, always be a part of me. But I wasn’t them. I wasn’t Dream either, looking for redemption or revenge. I recognised perhaps a younger aspect of myself in him, but I felt older (older than one of the Endless), more mature. What I had glimpsed in him and identified with some ten years ago now struck me as self-indulgent; selfish even. Dream has responsibilities, after all, and it seemed to me he shirked them. The character I identified with most this time around, was Death. Not because I longed for her, like my younger self had done, but because I recognised her humanity.

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Reading Sandman in my garden in the sun, I was once again liminal. I occupied the space of the stories, the physical space of the garden and – just at the edge of the garden path, just at the point of shadow on the rosebush – the emotional state of that small, single room in Bath. That last space continues to linger, sometimes recedes, sometimes creeps closer, but it hasn’t – so far – encroached any further. Instead, I find more spaces, within the series and within myself, that offer me both escape and a way back again.

If you do not climb,

            you will not fall. This is true.

But is it that bad to fail,

                        that hard to fall?

 

Sometimes you wake up.

            Sometimes the fall kills you.

 

And sometimes,

            when you fall,

                                    you fly. – Sandman #29

 ABOUT

Bethan Jones is a PhD candidate at Aberystwyth University. Her thesis, which adopts Stuart Hall’s model of encoding/decoding to examine fan fiction, is tentatively titled ‘The G Woman and the Fowl One: Fandom’s Rewriting of Gender in The X-Files’. Bethan has written on a range of topics related to gender, fandom and digital media. Her work has been published in the Journal of Creative Writing, Participations, Transformative Works and Cultures and the edited collection The Modern Vampire and Human Identity.

Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1981) is both a beloved classic of horror cinema and a shining example of the spirit of independent filmmaking. Produced on a budget of $375,000, largely funded by Detroit doctors and businessmen whom Raimi, producer Robert Tapert and star Bruce Campbell convinced to invest, and filmed over a notoriously arduous four year shoot, The Evil Dead was a labour of love for Raimi and his cohorts – a film made by horror fans for horror fans.  Full of intertextual references to the genre, a bizarre b-movie mix of light comedy with extreme gore and violence, and an experimental feel evident in the impressive camerawork, The Evil Dead was a truly original film which reflected the low budget, creative tendencies of the genre at the time.

The film found its true audience on video,[1] the arrival of the technology in the early Eighties enabling viewers access to marginal or underground films which they wouldn’t ordinarily get to see, and in the UK at least its reputation was cemented by its place at the forefront of the video nasty furore (Mary Whitehouse labelled it “the number one nasty”) and its subsequent banning. Two increasingly comic sequels (Evil Dead II, 1987 and Army of Darkness, 1992), an adored genre icon in Campbell’s Ash, video games, multiple comic book series, and even an off-Broadway musical ensured a cult status and ever-growing devoted fanbase for the franchise.

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Writer / Director Fede Alvarez has much to prove with Evil Dead, then – not only a remake of a classic cult horror film, but also his first full-length English language feature, and the first cautionary tale of five friends venturing to a remote cabin in the woods since, well, The Cabin in the Woods. Promotion for the film reverentially describes it as “a new vision from the producers of the horror classic”, wisely asserting its individuality while simultaneously observing the hallowed status of Raimi’s original film and highlighting the involvement of Raimi, Tapert and Campbell, on board as producers and responsible for bringing in Alvarez. Early teaser trailers, eventually followed with a full-length, ultra gory redband version which showcased the films’ impressive special effects, and a relentless marketing campaign ensured that anticipation for the remake’s release ran high.

And rightly so. Alvarez delivers a frenetic, violent, blood-soaked 91 minutes which should both appease many fans of the franchise and appeal to the contemporary horror audience, managing to capture much of the spirit of the original film – albeit in a very modern way – while carving its own, slightly darker niche and eschewing a few trite genre clichés. Evil Dead does not send five friends to the middle of nowhere to drink, get high and fuck; instead it brings together protagonist Mia (Jane Levy), her semi-estranged brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), and the siblings’ friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and Olivia (Jessica Lucas), who hole up in an isolated childhood holiday home to help Mia overcome her drug addiction. The group finds a mysterious skin-bound book in a basement full of dead cats (which might, under normal circumstances, be reason for them to pack up their cars and head home) and inadvertently unleashes the evil that resides within it, a demonic force hell-bent on claiming five souls. Mia is undoubtedly, ultimately our Final Girl, but spends much of the middle act locked in the basement, suitably creepy as the first, and worst, possessed – an interesting decision which means her character is as much an equivalent of Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) as an attempted (and perhaps unwise) replacement of Ash. The ‘cold-turkey’ element provides a genuine reason for the group to not make a hasty exit once things start to turn sour and Mia’s metaphorical demons become literalised – her behaviour and appearance can, for a while a least, be ascribed to her mental state and sickness as she weans herself free of addiction – but also adds a certain kinetic energy to an otherwise slow start, allowing the hysterical screams, panic and vomit to feature before all hell eventually breaks loose.

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The ensuing carnage will both alienate audiences without a strong stomach, and thrill those hoping that the bloody trailer showed only a glimpse of what was to come. Much has been made of the remake’s gory credentials – but, lest we forget, it is not remotely unprecedented. The ‘body horror’ of the early 1980s addressed fears of the body or a lack of control over it, and featured themes of corporeal transformation and degeneration, or violation by disease or foreign organisms (often read as allegorical manifestations of the rising fear of AIDS at the time). This is evident throughout Raimi’s The Evil Dead in the impressive stop-motion special effects portraying the body in metamorphosis through demonic possession – most notably in the spectacularly executed final scenes of disintegration – skin melts, bodies collapse, chests burst and tear, and bones crumble to dust. Here, Alvarez’s remake pushes the boundaries almost as far as is possible, through much-championed physical effects (and what the director claims is a complete lack of CGI, although given what is on display, that’s often somewhat hard to believe). Skin is burned, sliced, punctured, slashed, and hacked off. Limbs are severed, bones are crushed, and blood is spewed, splashed and, in a tremendous final act, rained down. Little is left unseen, or takes place off-camera. This is a visceral, raw, and wince-inducing portrayal of the human body literally being taken to pieces – and the fact that much of the pain and suffering is entirely self-inflicted makes it just that little bit nastier. Linda Badley (1995: 7) argued that body horror, including Raimi’s film, “became an agonistic ‘body language’ for a culture that perceived itself as grotesquely embodied and in transformation”, representing a crisis of identity in the self and society. If we are to consider Evil Dead in an analogous way, then Mia and her friends represent less a crisis of transformation and more total self-destruction, a Millennial narcissism which is never more apparent than in the demonic ‘Abomination Mia’ who rises from the dirt to claim the soul of her human counterpart – whom she dismissively refers to as a “pathetic junkie”.

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Despite its overall ‘unpleasantness’, Alvarez’s film does manage a slight sense of campy humour in places, at least echoing the tone of Raimi’s film (itself not as funny as people seem to recall, its light physical comedy and occasional near-one-liner no doubt retrospectively enhanced by its outré sequels). It is easy to see how the comic credentials of David building a DIY defibrillator, or lines like “why does my face hurt?” (from a character attacked by a nail gun) might be lost on an audience still reeling from the exclamation “your little sister’s being raped in hell”, or a murdered family pet. Yet for the most part there is a fine balance which means that the (admittedly very sparse) humour never undermines the characters’ suffering, and the script never resorts to the snide sarcasm one might expect from a supposed ‘comedy-horror’ in the wake of something like Cabin in the Woods. Evil Dead strives to largely play it straight, but includes enough comic nods to its roots for fans to spot. There are also knowing references in the camera work (including Raimi’s famed ‘shakey-cam’), Easter eggs in the form of the clock that hangs on the original’s cabin wall and the Oldsmobile Delta that features in nearly every film Raimi has a hand in, not to mention a couple of late cameos.

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There is some weak characterisation – notably in the two women other than Mia – and it is a shame that Fernandez’s insipid David gets as much screen time as he does, but solid performances from both Pucci and Levy balance things out. Some awkward dialogue, especially in the early scenes, wears slightly as well. Yet both of these factors are largely forgivable and not entirely uncommon, either for the genre, or Evil Dead’s source. These are minor complaints for an otherwise excellent film which marks both a high point in recent horror, and, alongside last year’s outstanding Maniac, a new setting of the bar for horror remakes – original, creative and managing to strike a balance between knowing what to draw from a beloved original and what to develop or shun. Evil Dead might not be, as its poster claims, “the most terrifying film you will ever experience”, but it is brutal, relentless, and a lot of fun – exactly what fans of the original should have been hoping for.

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[1] Indeed, comparing the $26m the remake took at the US box office on its opening weekend to the $6.1m (inflation adjusted) that Raimi’s film amassed in its entire theatrical run is entirely illogical, given not only The Evil Dead’s immense popularity on video, but also the fact that Raimi’s film screened in less than 150 cinemas, not the 3000 plus screens that featured Alvarez’s film.

ABOUT

Laura Mee is a PhD candidate in the Cinema and Television History Research Centre, De Montfort University Leicester, where she is researching the contemporary horror remake. Her work has appeared in the international journal Horror Studies (2013), and she is co-editor (with Johnny Walker) of the forthcoming Rethinking Cinema and Television History: Critical Perspectives and Contemporary Approaches. Laura is also the co-founder of the postgraduate film and television studies blog In Motion.

This article contains Spoilers! Do not read unless: a/ you want to, or b/ dislike value-judgements, or c/ have seen Star Trek Into Darkness.

Let me get this out of the way: I love Star Trek. More pointedly, I love Star Trek on television. Sure, the films are great – some of them, anyway – but Star Trek, for me, deserves to be on TV due to its seriality that allows depth of character, continuity and sophistication that cannot be maintained through cinema alone.

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That said, the decision to “reboot” the franchise was a necessary strategy following the risible Star Trek: Nemesis and the cancellation of Enterprise. If a reboot – in computer terms – serves to reset a system following an error message, then this tactic was fundamental in restoring the franchise back to operating parameters. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept of rebooting – and I do not mean the manner with which the term is now bandied around ‘willy-nilly’ to incorporate, well, everything: from remakes (The Evil Dead; Total Recall); sequels (Scream 4; Dallas; Tron: Legacy; Rocky Balboa; It’s a Good Day to Die Hard; and, as announced in May 2013, 24); prequels (The Thing which, as Laura Mee points out, has been described also as a ‘premake’, a conception conflation of both prequel and remake), and so on and so forth. A reboot collapses a previously existing narrative story-world and ‘begins again’ from year one (or even year zero) disconnected, at least narratively, from the earlier continuity. We can include Nolan’s Batman films, the forthcoming Man of Steel and Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man in this category.

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Star Trek, on the other hand, is a rather different beast. What is its paradigmatic designation? Abrams’ 2008 film created a parallel timeline through the quirk of science fictional ratiocination which serves to disconnect itself from the former iteration – the Shatner-Kirk-Nimoy-Spock-Stewart-Picard-Mulgrew-Janeway-Brooks-Sisko-Bakula-Archer universe.

This narrative orchestration allows new stories to be told whilst still keeping the ‘original’ timeline uncorrupted and canonical. Shatner is still Kirk, somewhere over the multiverse, at least. This, in effect, frees the text from polluting established mythologies and, as Alan Dead Foster points out, “opens up a raft of possibilities in the sense that anything is fair game now, because nothing is canon” (Foster quoted in Gross 2010:28).

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Like the comic book model of both Marvel and DC, the multiverse is a nexus of parallel earths that allows multiple stories to be told without impinging upon canonicity, continuity and causality. For a lot of readers, stories must adhere to an internal consistency, an Aristotelian cause-and-effect logic. Abrams’ Star Trek performs this task beautifully. By borrowing a conceit from the comic book medium – and let us not exclude Michael Moorcock’s epic tales of Elric and Stormbringer – this ‘new’ universe can now co-inhabit with the ‘original’ series and, for fans, give it a sense of rationality.

The inclusion of Spock – or ‘Spock-Prime’ played by Leonard Nimoy – in the film serves to confuse the identity of this latest episode in the Trek firmament. Is it a sequel? Spock’s inclusion posits the idea that it ‘follows on’ from the ‘Prime’ universe which is explicitly made so through the comic book series that preceded the film itself. Countdown shows Spock seeking to repair the damage he inadvertently caused regarding the planet, Romulus. This, of course, is explained in the Abrams’ film, but this graphic episode problematises the status of Star Trek 2009 as reboot somewhat. Countdown to Star Trek is a prequel to the film, a sequel to Nemesis and, by extension, Voyager and Deep Space Nine – which makes Trek 2009… what? A sequel to a prequel to a sequel which is also a reboot and prequel but can operate as a ‘sidequel’ and a ‘sprequel’? I don’t have a problem with this per se. This is part and parcel of negotiating the palimpsest or, to borrow Will Brooker’s words, the ‘matrix’. For me, I enjoy these questions – it is a part of my fandom and it brings me pleasure and amusement (not to mention thick, blinding migraines that threaten to rip my head from its axis permanently). Additionally, it provides excellent analytical fodder for the last stretch of my PhD thesis which investigates the reboot phenomenon in popular culture.

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David A Lloyd argues that Star Trek 2009 is not a reboot because it leaves the previous universe intact – albeit in a different spatiotemporal location. This has some validity. A reboot collapses a previous story-world and ‘begins again’ while Trek 2009 certainly ‘begins again’ but explicitly validates, not cancels, the previous order. Head hurting? Brain dribbling through your ears like jelly? Welcome to my world!

Of course, as I have previously argued, a reboot can never actually begin again as it cannot truly ‘wipe the slate clean.’ Star Trek Prime (the universe that Shatner and co inhabit) has not been cleansed from our brains – we remember it wholesale, we can buy the DVDs or watch the re-runs on Sky Atlantic. On a chronological level, however, a reboot operates causally whilst, on the other hand, at the level of intertext,  it is an orgy of connections, allusions, quotations and multiple exchanges of textual fluids. Textual intercourse may be a concept too far for some, but, as Stam points out, Derrida used the term ‘mutual invagination’ to explain how texts are never islands floating in an island of isolation and originality, but permeate each other explicitly and implicitly: ‘Any text that has ‘slept’ with another text…has also slept with all the other texts that that other text has slept with …in an amorphous exchange of textual fluids’. Textual intercourse, indeed!

Following Abrams’ coup de theatre, I did look forward to Into Darkness, the latest instalment, with high hopes. Henry Jenkins recently told me that he re-watched the 2009 film in preparation for the release of Into Darkness and thought that it served well as a pilot for a television series, but did not do enough to warrant a four year gap, at least in terms of quality. I liked the first film fine, as I’ve said, but is it Trek? Here’s what one fan had to say after viewing the 2009 film:

The shape of the new film is so ‘new’ that it no longer reflects Star Trek for me, and the mythology hasn’t been bent, more like broken, smashed into a million pieces…I am of the opinion that if a filmmaker is going to create a prequel/sequel/franchise then they have to stay true to the source material, otherwise there is no point in making the film and they may as well create a whole new, separate film unconnected to Star Trek.

Another commentator stated that this was the equivalent to “urinating on Roddenberry’s grave and fornicating with his corpse” (quoted in Anijar 2007:231). Beautiful imagery aside, it is clear that some fans have problems with this latest version of Star Trek. I remained somewhat on the fence – glad that Trek was back, unsure about the new direction.

Many commentators, including Abrams himself, have put forth the idea that a Star Wars flavour was a much needed ingredient for the Trek recipe, to spice up the generic pot as it were.  Abrams  criticised the original franchise as involving “a lot of discussion about things that were happening and not a lot of action depicting it” which “needed to change” (quoted in Dyer 2008:127).  Indeed, Star Trek 2009 is “fast-paced, full of action and visually stunning” (Abrams quoted in Dyer 2009:76-77) and “replaces stately discussions of moebius loops or eye-brow tweaking Vulcan philosophy with zippy-pacing and wise-cracks” (Jolin 2009:167).  It is rather significant that Abrams’ inspiration lies not within the Star Trek universe, but from its bête noire, George Lucas’s original Star Wars trilogy.  Whereas “Star Trek was essentially a submarine naval battle in space, Star Wars was flying down the trench of the Death Star at the speed of mach 70,000 to shoot a little bullet into a hole (Kurtzman, quoted in Rundle 2009:56). Many compare the frenetic pace of the film to Lucas’ blockbuster hit and the associations do not end there.  For instance, Jim Kirk is described as a ‘farmboy’ akin to Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars trilogy.  The ice planet of Delta-Vega in Star Trek is analogous to the opening sequence of The Empire Strikes Back which shows the rebellion hiding on Hoth, another ice planet. Both scenes include an ‘ice creature’ which threaten both Skywalker and Kirk (before being summarily dispatched).  In addition, the Enterprise “does a good impression of the Millennium Falcon in the battle of Yavin” (Kennedy 2009:70).

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What separated the Star Wars mythos from Trek is one of sophistication and depth – and, I might add, seriality. I must point out at this point that this is a highly subjective piece and I do not wish to irk the fury of Star Wars fans. I’m a Star Wars fan, too. But it didn’t – and doesn’t – provoke much in the way of thought. Except to scream in the direction of Lucas: WWWWWWWWWWWWWWWHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHYYYYYYYYYYYYY!

I’ve spent more time in bafflement and confusion over Lucas decisions post-original trilogy than I ever did philosophising over the text itself (well, at least beyond the ages of 8-12). But I still retain a fondness for Star Wars and can’t wait to see who they get in the director’s chair. Wait…what? Abrams you say? Well, this fan does not mind so much, even following the travesty of Into Darkness – he can’t be any worse than ‘good ol’ Georgie’ and his self indulgent poetry. I am rather worried, however, that Star Trek is becoming (phasers set to stun, sorry, kill) ‘dumbed down’?

Could Abrams be ‘Jar-Jar-Binxing’ the Star Trek franchise?

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The trailer for Into Darkness was brilliantly conceived. So much so, that I would say it works better than the film itself. I had high hopes for this, I really did.

BUT:

YOU CANNOT TAKE A SACROSANCT TEXT LIKE THE WRATH OF KHAN AND REMAKE IT IN YOUR OWN IMAGE! IN THE IMMORTAL WORDS OF (ahem) HARRY ENFIELD, ‘I SAY…OI! ABRAMS! KURTZMAN! ORCI! AND DAMON ******* LINDELOF…NNNNNNOOOOOOOOO!’ I sat in the cinema with my Texan friend and fellow academic, Justin Battin and we both cringed, booed and cried ‘havoc’. I wanted to ‘let slip the dogs of war’ and remove this offending artefact from cultural history. The reversal – I refuse to say subversion as that implies a level of intelligence– of Spock and Kirk in the final act was just stupid! And you cannot have Spock scream ‘KHAN!’ Well, you can, and it did, but you shouldn’t. Not on my watch, Mr. Abrams! You task me…you task me, and I shall have you.

It’s not that I have a problem per se with the intertextual games that were being played here. Yes, yes, I get it…it played with our expectations. Yes, it did. But, I did not expect anyone could write something so, well, crap. It just didn’t work for me. On any level. I understand that intertextual references – or so-called “easter eggs” – are important to audiences and spotting them is part of the fan-fun. But there is nothing to spot, seek out, or uncover if they are RAMMED DOWN THROATS! I say to you, J.J Abrams: ‘At Hell’s heart I stab at thee!’

Should we blame Abrams? Sure, he’s a fine director (get that lens flare out of my face!). But what has he done? Really? Beyond Alias and Lost which was wrapped up expertly with such storytelling finesse that…oh wait. ‘At hells’ heart’… oh you get the picture. Mission Impossible III? Meh. Super 8? Okay, it was a good film but it was made by Spielberg decades ago and he just couldn’t help himself with the mawkish, nice cutsy alien which dissolved all tension and rising dread. Yet he is applauded by fans as this popular auteur. In Khan’s name, why? I feel the same way about Joss Whedon. Buffy? Love it. But it certainly hasn’t dated well and it finished rather damp squidlly (not a word, but I’m an academic – it’s allowed). Firefly? I just don’t get it! I know, I know, it was broadcast out of order and wasn’t allowed to have its ‘day in the sun’ due to early cancellation, etc etc. But I still don’t get it. Dollhouse? Great premise, promising start and – BOOM! – axed, gone, dropped unceremoniously. It makes one think that Whedon must have really pissed someone off (until The Avengers which is rollicking fun, but goofy and ostentatious).

Should we blame Orci and Kurzman?

Lindelof?

All the above?

If the new Trek timeline allows the opportunity to experiment and traverse uncharted territory then I would like to see that. Okay, stick some Klingons in, tribbles, if you must, the Jem Hadar, why not? But I would like to see a different tact next time, narrative-wise. New stories, new enemies, don’t be beholden to history so much, that kind of thing.

Oh, and less sexism. And a gay character or two. A new villain. A new race. Maybe a flux-capacitor.

jenkins-klingon

                                                                                                                                                

(Picture: Henry Jenkins as Klingon)

I received an email yesterday from aca-fan, Henry Jenkins after he had seen Into Darkness (which opened in the US a week after the UK). I quote him here at length because I find his comments interesting and bluntly accurate:

Cynthia [Jenkins’ wife] and I went to see the new Trek yesterday. We have managed to see all of the Trek movies together on opening day going back to The Motion(less) Picture, so this was an important personal event. I was glad to have seen it, but ambivalence does not begin to describe my relationship to this film. I have to admit that it has many enjoyable moments — the chemistry between the new cast has grown, and I especially liked the development in Bones, Scotty, Chekov, and even to a degree, Kirk in this film. It was great to see them distribute the ship-saving moments more fluidly across the entire secondary cast, and there are some great dialogue moments and small details that show a real appreciation of Trek and its legacy. That said, everything that has frustrated me about the first movie has grown worse, especially the sexism. It seems that the only way to get a job as a female officer on the Enterprise is to let Kirk see you in your underwear first, and that once you are there, your skills will take a backseat to your relationship to the important male characters, especially if you are a girlfriend to the Big Three or if you are the daughter of a villain. It seems that the old series give the characters of the new series a sense of entitlement, a get out of jail free card, so you can break the rules, get stripped down in rank, and then get your ship back instantly, because you are the only officer in the room who knows how to duck, cover, and then pick up a gun and start blasting, or the only one who can make the most basic inferences about what’s happening, and if you get in real trouble, you can just phone a friend from your own future who can tell you how to solve the problem. Don’t get me started about the white-casting of Khan — it seems in this future, human perfection consists of having white skin and a South-Asian name. But, I was kinda going with the flow until they started reperforming lines and shots from Wrath of Khan and then it was all over. These moments destroyed any suspension of disbelief I had achieved. These youngsters really are fan boys playing dress up! And the producers are so tone deaf in their “fan service” that they include the shouted Khan, probably the most infamous moment in the entire series. People were laughing out loud in the theater. I fully expected them to have a funeral scene where we learn that Spock thinks Kirk is the “most vulcan” person he’s ever known — well, that reversal would almost be worth it, given how much I despise the “most human” line in the original. But, how do you come back from this pure parody of Trek to any kind of coherent universe. This is where this new Trek died and with it, any confidence I might have that J. J. Abrams is going to do anything respectful and intelligent with the Star Wars films. He has said all along that this was not going to be “your Father’s Trek” and my problem is that, basically, I am “your father” in that equation, but I felt like I had come a long way to accept his new version of the characters, only to be slapped in the face by the closing moments of this new film. I haven’t seen anything this disrespectful since Shatner’s “Get a Life” sketch. End of Rant, for the moment. You DID ask me to share what I thought. 🙂

What I find especially interesting is that this new ‘neo-liberal’ Trek – if I can describe it thus – has its roots in the cancelled Enterprise TV series. David Greven (2008) argues that Enterprise is a xenophobic and neo-conservative text. Whereas The Original Series “stood for diversity, pluralism, tolerance, non-conformity and individualism”, Enterprise is a

[r]eactionary, revisionist work, a neo-conservative fantasy of a return to a time before progressive, politically correct new values, ruined things for everybody and policed the expression of good, salty, enjoyable, essentialist, racist, and sexist values…[Enterprise is] one of the most misogynistic and racist science fiction shows in television history (ibid).

For example: in the pilot episode, Broken Bow, Archer expresses enmity for the Vulcan race by accusing them of stunting humanity’s intergalactic progress.  The Vulcans – emblematic of an alien ‘other’ – are shown to be pernicious, calculating, and “engaged in deception, covert operations, state prejudice against minorities and other quasi-totalitarian practices” (Hark 2007:54). Archer constantly undermines his female Vulcan science officer, T’Pol and, in one particularly charged exchange, he denounces her for failing to obey his orders and threatens to “knock her on her ass” if she refuses to comply.

tpol-jolene-blalock-then-431x300

Similarly, Commander Charles ‘Trip’ Tucker, Enterprise’s Chief Engineer, is consistently “provincial, xenophobic and crass” (Greven).  Ensign Hoshi Sato is an Asian-American linguistics expert, yet she is largely ineffectual as a crew-member except where language is concerned (and she often struggles in those moments).  Travis Mayweather is an African-American but, rather than this being a reaffirmation of the racial harmony of Roddenberry’s original vision, he is “a complete blank” (ibid).

From this perspective, Enterprise is morally and ethically problematic. Captain Archer is racist, sexist, and, at times, amoral. He is, in short, a more negative representation than his forebears. For example, ‘the Captain’s Chair’ has been occupied by an American (Kirk); a European (Picard); an African-American (Sisko); while Voyager attempted to navigate the contentious waters of gender by placing a ‘woman’ in the lead role alongside other, positive female representations, such as B’Elanna Torres and the Ocampan refugee, Kes.  Enterprise, on the other hand, seeks to re-traditionalise ‘women’ within normative gender roles and, arguably, strives to negate feminist progression to some extent through the reactionary representations of, for example, Hoshi, the hysterical ‘drama-queen’, and T’Pol, “the tough woman denounced by hostile males” (ibid).

It is important to note that Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-1969, Paramount) – although seen to be emblematic of Roddenberry’s vision of liberalism and egalitarianism – is extremely problematic in a number of ways.  As Dariotis argues, “every incarnation of Star Trek has reproduced racial stereotypes” (2008:65).  The most infamous Star Trek enemies are the Klingons who are depicted “via an array of orientalist stereotypes” (Booker 2008:201).  From an ideological standpoint, the United Federation of Planets can be viewed as a synecdoche for the U.S.A and the USS Enterprise is an icon of “Americanized global culture” marching towards an era of “galacticization” (ibid:199).  In other words, the Enterprise is not a beacon of humanity per se, but, rather, of America.  This is demonstrated quite profoundly in Voyager as Janeway seeks to re-intergrate and re-traditionalise Seven-of-Nine into the Starfleet way of life.

For all the acclaim Star Trek has garnered due to its wide range of ethnicities, there has never been a gay or lesbian character, alien or otherwise, within its narrative universe. This has resulted in a kind of backlash from the homosexual community with the textual appropriation of Trek archetypes that re-articulate, for instance, Spock and Kirk as lovers demonstrated by the growing trend of so-called ‘slash fiction’.  Despite these discrepancies, however, Greven’s argument shows that Enterprise is more problematic given that it was produced some fifty years after Kirk and crew were first broadcast to the American public.  It is easy to look back with the luxury of hindsight and castigate a text that, in essence, “would move media discourse forward into new realms of social negotiation” (Dixon 2008:109).

As Jenkins point out in his quote above, the ‘new’ Trek may be following in the footsteps of its direct ancestor due to its misogyny and sexism. But we do not fear the failure of Abrams’ (mis)adventures. The recent Trek instalments have all destroyed former box office numbers and even appealled to people who would normally never think about going to see a Star Trek film. My hopes for the future of Star Trek, however, hang limply in the balance. Historically, “Star Trek has never truly succeeded in capturing the hearts of mainstream audiences” (Dawson, J 2008:120), yet Star Trek 2009 has been almost universally praised for appealing to the average cinema-goer rather than so-called ‘trekkers’.  As Jolin claims, “unbelievers were shocked to find they were not only enjoying a Star Trek movie, but going to see it again” (2009:166-167).

I wonder what fans think of the new episode? A quick trawl around the ‘net and I am confused at the sheer wealth of celebration and kudos electronically declaring the triumph of Abrams. I do, however, plan to talk to different hierarchies of fandom and, even, non-fans. Many students  I teach thought it was brilliant. I asked if they were fans of the original series etc. Not so much. Perhaps it is people – like myself and Jenkins – who have a history with the lore of Trek that are irritated by this turn of events while non-fans who see the film have no baggage and, thus, like it fine?

Abrams is quoted as saying that ‘sick and tired of watching big blockbuster movies and feeling like he’s died a little inside’.

Hmmm, interesting. My thoughts exactly.

A message for J.J:

 I will have my sweet, sweet vengeance. I’ll chase you ’round the moons of Nibia and ’round the Antares Maelstrom and ’round Perdition’s flames before I give you up!

khan

AAAABBBBRRRRAAAAAAAMMMMMMSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!

Works Cited

Anijar, Karen (2007): ‘A Very Trek Christmas: Goodbye’, In Geraghty (2008) (ed.): The Influence of Star Trek on Television, Film & Culture. McFarland: North Carolina.

Booker, Keith M (2008): ‘The Politics of Star Trek’, In Telotte, J.P (2008) (ed.): The Essential Science Fiction Reader.Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky.

Dariotis, Wei Ming (2007): ‘Crossing the Racial Frontier: Star Trek & Mixed Heritage Identities’, In Geraghty (2008) (ed.): The Influence of Star Trek on Television, Film and Culture. McFarland: North Carolina.

Dixon, Wheeler Winston (2008): ‘Tommorowland TV: The Space Opera & Early Science Fiction Television’, In Telotte, J.P (2008) (ed.): The Essential Science Fiction Reader. Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky.

Dyer, James (2008): ‘Back to the Future’, Empire, no.234, December 2008, pp120-127.

Dyer, James (2009): ‘The Prime Director’, Empire, no.239, May 2009, pp74-79.

Greven, David (2005): ‘The Twilight of Identity: Enterprise, Neo-Conservatism and the Death of Star Trek’, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, Spring 2005, No. 50 [online]. Available from: http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/jc50.2008/StarTrekEnt/index.html

Gross, Edward (2010): ‘Star Trek: Lost Chapters of the Re-imagined Universe’, SciFi Now, no.38, April 2010, pp28-30.

Jenkins, Henry (2013), ‘Personal E-Mail’, 17th May, 2013.

Jolin, Dan (2009): ‘DVD Review of Star Trek’, Empire, no.246, pp166-167.

Kennedy, Colin (2009): ‘Review of Star Trek’ in Empire, no.240, June 2009 pp70-72.

Rundle, James (2009): ‘Review of Star Trek’, SciFi Now, no.28, June 2009, p54-57.