Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Attack of William Shatner, A Vulcan Televangelist, and Christopher Plummer With An Eyepatch; or, Farewell to TOS

The year was 1989, and Star Trek: the Next Generation was finishing its second dismal season.  The new spinoff, born of the unprecedented success of Star Trek IV: the Voyage Home (aka "the one with the whales") three years before, was now foundering in deep waters.  The new cast, crew, and setting, hampered by behind-the-scenes stress and Gene Roddenberry's titanic ego, had resoundingly failed to catch on with the general public, even as Trek fans continued to watch and wince.  In the summer of 1989, these loyal fans were dealt their worst blow yet: for positioned in the coveted season finale slot, the culmination of two years worth of storytelling, was Shades of Gray, a budget-saving clip-show in which an unconscious Riker is forced by an alien parasite to relive scenes from the first two seasons of The Next Generation.  Star Trek had officially hit rock bottom.

For watchers both devoted and cynical, there was, really, only one conclusion to be drawn: the attempt to recreate the success of the original Star Trek from the ground up, without the original cast and crew, was clearly a failure.

On the other hand, fans and critics alike were no doubt delighted to learn that, for all the failure and misery of Star Trek on television, Star Trek the film franchise was poised to continue.  The original cast and crew, beloved icons of American popular culture, with nearly a half-century of unprecedented success behind them, were once again poised to storm American cineplexes.  On June 9th, 1989, while the TNG creative team were desperately bailing water out of their sinking ship and trying to find someone--anyone--to steer it, the time-tested cast and creative team of the Star Trek film franchise launched proudly out of the harbor, headed for glory once again.

And promptly sank like a stone.