Darkness and Wonder in the 23rd Century

J.L. Wall

J.L. Wall is a native Kentuckian in self-imposed exile to the Midwest, where he teaches writing to college students and over-analyzes Leonard Cohen lyrics.

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240 Responses

  1. greginak says:

    Rodenberry’s ST was not without god or religion. Economics of ST has generally been avoided by all the shows. It was mentioned, once i believe, that they don’t use money in the Federation. However plenty of the individual species use money especially the Ferengi. So there is all that. Pendent mode disengaged.

    It is precisely the loss of wonder at the universe and hope that things might be wonderful or cool or good that frustrates me about the reboot( search for cash) of ST. The ST movies have almost all be poor and they have been mostly action flicks with a touch of ST. Dark dystopia sci fi is “in” now and that is boring. Most movies people call Sci Fi now are Die Hard in Space or Generic Dystopia with lots of Tech or Big Bad creature vs. Humans. Meh. In fact most sci fi movies don’t really have much Sci in them, they are just set in a fancy future. Did i say Meh yet?Report

    • Kim in reply to greginak says:

      Ah, yes, but the Ferengi money can only not be replicated by Ferengi replicators.
      (This is what happens when you let an economist write fiction.
      I believe the other writers ignored this.).Report

      • Kim in reply to Kim says:

        *snickers* now if you brought up such a quandary to the Babylon 5 writer, the entire story would change. That guy has a mazy mind.Report

    • J.L. Wall in reply to greginak says:

      No, no, the first reaction to a post comparing any of the original Trek series/movies with the Abrams ones should DEFINITELY jump immediately to nerd-fighting. The absence of religion on Star Trek nearly went into a long digression on Bajorans, but since I knew I’d need to cut it, I decided against writing it in the first place.

      Part of it may be that when there’s only dystopia, and little to compare it against, the dystopic loses a great deal of its bite. There has to be some vision of the future at risk or blotted out — not necessarily in the work itself, but in the air of the culture.Report

  2. Matty says:

    I heard somewhere that these things go in cycles, optimism should be back in fashion any decade now.Report

    • ThatPirateGuy in reply to Matty says:

      I agree that will be when the twenty-year olds will have been born after September 11th.

      There are three reasons that all of our future fiction is dsytopian at the moment
      1) the war on terror/Iraq/Afghanistan
      2) the war on drugs
      3) the 2007 crash if the economy combined with an obsession with deqling with debt before dealing with mass unemployment/loss of earning lifetime earning power for the young.

      All of these issues never responded to mass protest, gridlock is the order of the day and cynicism starts to feel like a smart way of life.

      Frankly I don’t think you can sell the image of a bright future to people 5-8 years younger than me.Report

  3. Patrick Cahalan says:

    I always thought that Star Trek, the movieverse anyway, would be well served by having Earth get blown up or otherwise destroyed.

    JJ blew up Vulcan instead. I think that was the wrong choice. The Vulcans as nomads or “only-colony existing race” can occur without it even being mentioned as a plot point in future movies.

    Earth going kablooie? That would give you something to build a franchise around.Report

  4. Matty says:

    2001 aside has anyone made a successful film of full on sci fi that wasn’t (insert other genre here) set in the future?Report

  5. North says:

    Personally I blame NASA and physics. We (both specifically the experts and also the populace in general) know so much more now about space and physics. We know now how astonishingly mind bend vast space is; we know now how dangerous, poisonous and cold it is. Worse, we know a great deal about the gears underlying space. We know now how very difficult it will be to move even up to, let alone past, the speed of light.

    The old Star Trek was born in an age where we could be gloriously optimistic about our vector. Man had recently been to the moon, Mars was next and from there where next? Now we haven’t been to Luna in decades and with the Higgs-Bosun project resolving we’re beginning to face the alarming prospect that the somber unspectacular current theoretical models may have plausible explanations for most physics stuff.

    The rebooted McCoy (casted and acted perfectly I might add) put it well when he groused “Space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence”. We understand the next frontier a lot more now and we’re a lot more pessimistic about our ability to defeat it.Report

    • Nob Akimoto in reply to North says:

      This is oversold, I think. In that in the past few years we’ve also had confirmation of how much possibility and wonder there will be in space with the discovery of all sorts of amazing exoplanets.Report

      • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

        Getting there is sort of a logistical problem.Report

      • North in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

        That just makes it worse. We can see the wonders and dream of the possibilities but between us and all of them is eleventy billion light years of darkness, death and silence.Report

        • ThatPirateGuy in reply to North says:

          I feel like science has answered all the big questions broadly and the remaining work is sussing out the details with math I will never comprehend.

          Origins of the universe: complicated math describing the Big Bang and the highly likely possibility that going further in the explanation just isn’t going to happen.

          Origins of man: evolution

          Origins of life: chemistry

          Going faster than light: stop do not collect 200 dollars and go back to start.

          We are trapped on a planet we are making harder to live on while waiting for a giant rock to smash into us and light the air on fire. Makes my natural optimism seem foolish the more I reflect on it.Report

          • North in reply to ThatPirateGuy says:

            Well colonization without our solar system is plausible. Technological development that transcends the needs for a planet is a stretch but also not implausible. Once you get to that stage then you can posit humanity escaping our solar system but not on whooshing space ships so much as on massive space cities/generation ships that creep between the stars over the span of centuries.Report

        • James Hanley in reply to North says:

          I’m not sure why the doom and gloom. Hasn’t anyone else noticed that it no longer takes a government to make a rocket that will launch a payload up to the space station? Low earth orbit flights (for the rich, of course) are now within our reach. We may never be able to zip quickly between solar systems using warp drives and wormholes, but these factors demonstrate a significant reduction in the cost of getting into space, and there’s no reason to assume we’ve hit the wall on that yet. If not my kids, then likely my grandkids will see a world where middle-class families can choose to spend a couple days in space instead of going to Disneyland.Report

      • And we still sit here at the bottom of this damned gravity well, spending a fortune to loft even modest masses into LEO… Over the last decade in particular, I have noticed that even moderately-hard sci-fi recognizes this and the authors invent some sort of “then a miracle occurs” technology leap to get to LEO.Report

        • North in reply to Michael Cain says:

          My own assumption is that we’re waiting on the composites and economics to catch up.
          We know that material exists that’s strong/light enough to build a space elevator. We just can’t cheaply mass produce it. We know that massive resources exist out of LEO but we don’t have enough scarcity on earth yet to incent us to prioritize reaching them.

          If I were to guess I’d say space exploration will tic up again once half of the world’s population or more is living in first world or near first world conditions.Report

          • Morat20 in reply to North says:

            Last I heard — from a group of people actually involved in a real attempt to engineer it, there were two basic problems remaining (besides, you know, paying for it).

            They couldn’t make carbon nanotubes long enough — they were up to about three inches and needed them to be a foot long to be woved into the ribbon. That’s actually the ‘small’ problem as they’d seen steadily increasing lengths over the past decade, and had basically already gotten order of magnitude improvements in length to get to three inches. So they felt that was just a materials and manufacturing problem that was solveable fairly quickly.

            The second — and their current big show-stopper — is there is a lengthy period of vulnerability during the construction phase when the ribbon is large enough to make micro-meteorite strikes likely, but too small to handle the hit and be repaired by the next crawler up.

            Once past that critical phase, hits won’t phase it — it’s repairable. And once the first one is in place, it’s probably easier and cheaper to lower them from space then build them up.

            There’s a couple other large problems — space junk, radiation, all sorts of stuff — but they all have potential solutions and it’s more engineering than radical discovery.Report

            • Nob Akimoto in reply to Morat20 says:

              I suppose we need to start tying this into DOD appropriations.Report

            • North in reply to Morat20 says:

              Wow, that is fascinating!

              That second one is a hum dinger. I’d absolutely hate to have that woven ribbon actually be developing and then some tiny spec busts it apart and billions of bucks crash to the earth. Still, it doesn’t sound unsolvable or even, if the need for one is urgent, impossible to just muscle through.Report

            • Rod Engelsman in reply to Morat20 says:

              Grow it in a clean room (in orbit, probably) and wind it up on big spools until it’s thick enough to withstand the rigors of space.Report

              • North in reply to Rod Engelsman says:

                Sounds plausible but without an elevator lofting that much mass into space would be brutal expensive wouldn’t it?Report

              • NoPublic in reply to North says:

                The first time. Then you haul it up on the one you lofted.

              • Rod Engelsman in reply to North says:

                Carbonaceous asteroids. Craploads of free energy in the form of sunshine.

                Which isn’t to say it wouldn’t be expensive and difficult, but there’s a reason we want to get out there in the first place and resources is a big one.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Rod Engelsman says:


                You don’t build the space elevator from the top down. You orbit a spider in geosync orbit and spin it from the middle out to either end. And you build the spider with stuff that’s already outside the gravity well.

                There’s lots of raw materials in the asteroid belt. Go plunk a solar sail on them and slingshot them around something and back into earth orbit.Report

          • Michael Cain in reply to North says:

            If I were to guess I’d say space exploration will tic up again once half of the world’s population or more is living in first world or near first world conditions.

            Of course, we don’t have a clue about how to generate and distribute enough reliable electricity to make that possible on a capital budget that the world can afford. Will you entertain a small wager? In order to reach a point where half the world’s population is living at (or very near) current first-world conditions — measured broadly, but including climate-controlled living space, reach in transportation, powered conveniences, available foodstuffs, medical care, entertainment, water and sewage treatment quality, and so forth — massive depopulation will be a much more important factor than any technology breakthroughs.

            Of course, the Social Security actuarial tables only give me another 25 years. I won’t live long enough to see how it turns out :^)Report

            • North in reply to Michael Cain says:

              In order to wager against you I would first have to disagree. The global population will probably have to decline and economies and technologies advance in order to bring half the globe’s population under first world living conditions.

              Being the optimist that I am I can foresee that happening quite easily; the birth rate has plummeted in first world countries. Bring about women’s suffrage, education and near legal or social equality and population growth rates invert. If the globe can continue to maintain open trade networks, if global peace continues to persist, if stable developed countries remain developed (they generally do) and if poor unstable countries eventually move towards becoming more stable and developed (a small but non-trivial stream of them do) then I would expect that in time more than half of us will be living under first world conditions AND there’ll be a lot fewer of us through purely natural attrition. The sooner the better I’d say.

              Or, if I wanna be cynical, you can write off the most impoverished, backwards and poorly governed sectors of the world (the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa leap to mind) and you can still get to over half in first world conditions if the rest of Asia, Europe, the Americas and Oceania make it. That doesn’t seem impossible to me.Report

              • Michael Cain in reply to North says:

                I cheerfully admit to having become more pessimistic about it over the last decade. I think the next 50 years requires making a lot of right decisions, and some of them will be unpopular. Electricity is my main concern, because contemporary tech is just flat impossible without it, and in large quantities. Over the next 30 years, despite changes in birth rates, the population is headed to 385M (per most recent Census Bureau projections); essentially the entire nuclear fleet will have to be retired; and if we’re going to do anything significant about carbon dioxide emissions, we have to do something about coal. The effects of providing sufficient generation is going to particularly tough on the eastern half of the country, as they have the very large majority of reactors and most of the coal consumption. If we’re forced into electrifying a bunch of the transportation system… well, there’s another chunk of demand to meet, at the same time that supplies are already strapped.

                I’m not saying it’s impossible to get through things. I do tend to think that if/when we get through, and for a very long time thereafter, the world won’t be in a position to try a trillion-dollar experiment on a space elevator (not picking on the elevator in particular, just using it as an example).

                And maybe I’m completely wrong. Maybe South Korea is going to embarrass the hell out of everyone and actually build a working gigawatt fusion reactor over the next 15 years. But it doesn’t seem like the way to bet.Report

              • “Nuclear fleet” meaning the 104 commercial power reactors.Report

              • North in reply to Michael Cain says:

                I don’t see why the entire “fleet” can be expected to be retired. I would assume they’ll build newer even better nuclear reactors to replace them.

                As to replacing coal, well we’re already doing that right now. Natural Gas is replacing it all over the place, especially in North America thanks to frakking.Report

              • Kim in reply to Michael Cain says:

                well, yes supplies are strapped if you take out coal and nuclear reactors. I figure we can get the NIMBY monster to shut up with enough brownouts.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

        Apropos to nothing. It’s certainly been true for me, anyway. The future I imagined and what came to pass over time has exceeded my every expectation.Report

    • J.L. Wall in reply to North says:

      No one else (I think) decided to latch onto this thread of your comment, but: McCoy is pretty close to perfectly done. Of COURSE he’s drunk and (I think?) sipping from a flask when we first meet him — because he’s terrified of space but voluntarily going into it.Report

  6. Nob Akimoto says:

    I think this is a general problem with JJ Abrams works, he doesn’t really like to engage with social issues and as a result it ends up isolating his work from the potential connections it might have with the present.

    I have to admit, I’m hoping they get rid of him in favor of someone else post-Into Darkness. The first reboot movie had a sense of wonder/majesty to the space scenes, but was different in that I think they simply gave up on Vulcan, which feels wrong to me. In any other series or Trek movie they’d have gone to great lengths to keep Nero from destroying it in the first place.Report

  7. Ryan Noonan says:

    Was the first Abrams movie particularly dark? Obviously destroying Vulcan was kind of rough, but I thought the movie was generally upbeat in most other ways.

    Also, how does Deep Space 9 fit into all of this? I’d say the Abrams film(s?) fit pretty well in a universe that contains DS9, and DS9 is easily the best of the Trek shows.Report

    • For all the war themes, DS9 still stuck to some of the core elements of Starfleet/Federation culture/ethics, despite having rogue elements like Section 31 cropping up.Report

      • Zach in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

        I think this is why it was such a landmark iteration for the franchise. It was a rigorous deconstruction of Roddenberry’s utopian vision that still functions well within the universe.
        Yes, the Federation is wonderful, and Earth is a paradise, but as Sisko notes, “it’s easy to be a saint in paradise.” It’s much harder to be a saint on the periphery, where you’re tasked with being caretaker to a devastated species, and neighbour to a recent enemy.Report

    • North in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

      Well to clarify… DS9 post Gene dying was the best of the Trek shows. DS9 pre Gene dying was easily one of the worst (but not worse than the excreable Enterprise).Report

      • Kim in reply to North says:

        Other than a couple bad episodes, it really wasn’t that bad.Report

        • North in reply to Kim says:

          I’m sorry, I loathed gas station in space. They even sent Q in to try and fun the place up but it sucked so bad he left and never returned. Also Sisco punched him in the snoot.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to North says:

        DS9 is my favorite Trek show. I heard this makes me weirdReport

      • Alan Scott in reply to North says:

        Pretty sure he died before DS9 was ever on the air. DS9 got good when Ira Stephen Behr replace Michael Pillar as showrunner.

        But I’d say there’s a lot of nostalgia or rose colored glasses driving your assessment. Season 1 DS9 still beats season 1 TNG any day.

        I’d argue it even beats original Trek, In the sense that the guy standing on the shoulders of a Giant is still higher than the giant. The original series has a lot of pacing issues, hokey plots, and poor production values for no other reason that that it was made in the sixties.Report

        • Kim in reply to Alan Scott says:

          At the very beginning of DS9, I thought we were going to get a “black cat” star trek captain (one scene I remember is convincing the Ferengi to stay…). Sadly, that bit of his characterization seemed to, um… vanish.Report

      • Zach in reply to North says:

        I don’t think it’s possible to top the sheer awfulness of most episodes of the first two seasons of TNG. “Angel One” and “Code of Honor” are downright repulsive, and many of the other episodes felt dated at the time, let alone now.Report

      • Nob Akimoto in reply to North says:

        Gene Roddenberry really never had anything to do with DS9. He was dead and buried before Sisko was confirmed as the Emissary, IIRC.Report

        • greginak in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

          Roddenberry being gone was one of the reasons DS9 was good. Rod had many great ideas and but some of the things he stuck to were serious problems for TNG. He was didn’t want to much intra-character conflict so many of the main characters had bland relationships or couldn’t develop into full, complex characters. I think he was also against story arcs which really hampered TNG.Report

          • Nob Akimoto in reply to greginak says:

            I think DS9 was the higher quality product overall, in that it had very good episodes from start to finish, but I do think TNG at its best (“Best of Both Worlds” + “Family”, “Darmok”, “Yesterday’s Enterprise”, “The Inner Light”) was some of the finest television ever filmed or conceived.

            That is to say, DS9 was more consistently good (an average rating of 7, let’s say out of 10) but TNG is the series that hit 10 several times during its run despite having some really terrible episodes, too.Report

        • Zach in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

          Yes. Roddenberry was dead for two years when DS9 came on. And he had already been stripped of most of his creative control by Paramount by 1989 or so. There is simply no way that he would have allowed DS9 as it was presented if he was still in control. DS9 thrived on interpersonal conflict. Many of the characters were written as initially unlikeable to allow for character development. Roddenberry never believed in imperfect characters.Report

        • North in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

          Odd.. for some reason I’d picked up an (apparently urban myth) that right after Gene died they kicked off the Dominion wars.Report

    • J.L. Wall in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

      I’m also a DS9 fan — but I think they successfully come at the “wonder at space” aspect from a different angle than TOS or TNG: a different sense of there-are-things-we-don’t-understand-but-can-marvel-at-for-now, plus a Walker-Percy-watching-the-Acropolis-under-heavy-shelling kind of perspective, at times.

      (There’s also like a 99% chance I’m over-reading everything here, as with any of my comments about pop culture.)Report

  8. DBrown says:

    Great post on the differences.
    As it turns out the old Star Trek got it exactly right (the warp) and it is rather easy compared to what was thought even a few years ago when the idea for a ‘warp field drive system’ was shown to be valid.

    And yes, it involves antimatter (to create the energy hungry negative energy states to anchor the interface with the ‘warp’ field. Yet provides a four to five fold speed increase over light speed yet you stay within normal space – never thought that was possible until I read the paper. Details are a long story but is basically just compressing space in front and it stretching it behind the spacecraft.)

    As for Sci Fried of late, the Babylon 5 stories had religion, economic theory and practice, and believable motives (money, culture and racial issues as well as nationalism relative to a species/world.) Orders of magnitude better over the current Star Trek dribble.Report

    • Ryan Noonan in reply to DBrown says:

      I enjoyed B5 for what it was. It was much darker than most things Star Trek has ever produced, though, so I’m not sure it’s much of an antidote to all this. It’s also really, spectacularly cheesy.Report

      • B5 is one of those series that has NOT aged well.

        Contrast to TNG, which has aged almost brilliantly in the interim.Report

        • TNG is a really great show if you ignore the first two seasons and virtually every holodeck episode. I think a general lack of holodeck episodes is enough all by itself to solidify DS9’s lead, but Tasha Yar seals it.Report

          • Kim in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

            Tasha Yar was great in Yesterday’s Enterprise.
            And the second season had one episode with an awesome, awesome soundtrack (it was the one with the rogue Klingon).Report

            • North in reply to Kim says:

              She never shoulda left. Then after leaving she sure as heck should never have come back.Report

              • Nob Akimoto in reply to North says:

                She even recently came back via Star Trek Online.

                Speaking of which, in terms of Expanded Universe/novel content, Trek beats the crap out of Wars. The past ten years of Star Trek literature has actually been quite superb, particularly the more hard sci-fi-ish stuff explored on Titan.Report

          • NewDealer in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

            Our Man Bashir was the best use of a holodeck that I have ever seen. I think the holodecks worked better on DS9 because it emphasized the Boonies and how there might not be much to do with your free time.Report

          • Pub Editor in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

            The holodeck was the weakest part of the entire Trek franchise. It became a lazy writer’s crutch and an excuse to dress the cast in period costumes. Further, this weakness extends across the different series in the franchise (recall the baseball episode of DS9), reaching the apogee of silliness on Voyager, where they had one episode late in the run where a Federation arbitrator considers the copyright interests of writings made by holographic programs. 😛Report

            • Barry in reply to Pub Editor says:

              A gamer I played with would always get henchmen to do his PC’s work; the DM called it ‘NPC’s for his PC’. To me, the holodeck episodes were generally like that, except it was due to lack of creativity. Frankly, they were embarrassing.Report

            • Kim in reply to Pub Editor says:

              … Which baseball episode? Piller would greenlight anything with baseball in it.
              (yes, I do know a star trek writer).Report

          • Uh, DS9 made a whole recurring character/theme out of the holodeck. Remember Vic?Report

        • North in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

          Yes, there’s some serious irony there. TNG came in for some well deserved mockery by having the various ships essentially just sit still and occasionally flash weapons or shields at each other. Not a ton of zipping around. Ironically those statuesque shots of the Enterprise model age pretty decently over time while stuff like B5 where low budget polygon ships zip about more realistically look like absolute garbage.Report

          • Nob Akimoto in reply to North says:

            I kinda think it’s really the opposite. Ships fighting eachother at distances of millions of kilometers will look pretty much standing still compared to one another. As opposed to zooming around at close range at speeds that seem roughly equivalent to WW2 fighter craft is not particularly realistic.Report

            • North in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

              Oh I’m not saying I -agreed- with the criticisms. I have always thought that Star Trek’s computer targeting > light craft maneuverability has always made more sense than Star Wars zippy zoo zah fighter battles.Report

        • Zach in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

          The difference in production values between DS9 and B5 is glaring. The DS9 sets weren’t aesthetically pleasing, but they always looked real – the station had a lived-in, claustrophobic and seedy look to it. The sets in Babylon 5 by contrast look like something out of a 90s talk show – lots of plastic, panels, and overuse of the colour blue.Report

          • Rod Engelsman in reply to Zach says:

            Yeah, well the plastically look was all over TNG and Voyager as well. That’s one reason I actually preferred Enterprise. That and much less polyester.

            But the BSG reboot totally nailed the look and feel of the interior of a naval vessel. Those telephone handsets were stock-standard what our Navy uses NOW.Report

            • Zach in reply to Rod Engelsman says:

              I don’t think the Voyager sets looked that bad, at least compared to B5 . And in both Voyager and TNG, there was a certain physicality to the sets that B5 lacked – I always got the sense that one mishap and the entire B5 set would collapse.

              Something else: the ambient noise in Star Trek was superb from TNG onwards. You can always hear the ship engine, the computers, etc. It may not be realistic, but it conveys a sense of realism that B5 lacked.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

        I think of B5 as a show that featured writers who were really good with ideas, and shockingly terrible with dialogue.

        B5 might be the only series in the world where I might enjoy reading episode synopses, but would rather never had to see it performed.Report

      • Rod Engelsman in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

        At the time it was great. One of my favorite B5 moments was a throw-away scene in a courtroom. A human has lodged a complaint against an alien claiming that the guy abducted his grandfather and performed medical experiments on him, resulting in grievous harm or some such (I forget the exact details).

        The judge asks for a response and the camera cuts to a standard-issue, Whitley Strieber-style, Grey alien. To answer the judge, the little dude just holds up a white card with a circular-ish symbol that looks like a crop circle. The judge, of course, understands his “language” and accepts the response.Report

    • Morat20 in reply to DBrown says:

      If you’re talking about what I think you’re talking about, you also can’t steer, see where you’re going, or potentially stop.

      Admittedly since it was first proposed in the 90s the theoretical energy yields have dropped from ridiculous (a mass of antimatter roughly the same as the universe) down to merely crazy (a small planet’s worth). I suspect refinement might one day bring that down to a number the human race could, theoretically, one day amass. 🙂Report

  9. Barry says:

    Back to the original post – my impression from the trailer is of the last Batman film, in both theme and imagery.Report

    • North in reply to Barry says:

      Have you seen the Superman reboot or for Fish’s sake the Ironman 3 preview? Hollywodd is sprinkling The Dark Knight brand dark sprinkles on -everything- right now.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to North says:

        I think that much of the huge response to superhero movies in the last decade or so is due primarily to the whole 9/11 thing… and then the whole Afghanistan thing… and then the whole Iraq thing… and then the whole aftermath thing…

        And superhero movies are the only movies that really deal with the themes with a narrative attached (as opposed to movies such as Stop Loss, In the Valley of Elah, and so on, which had a story that was in service to a baldly political message which went over as well as most movies that have stories in service to a baldly political message).

        We’ll see, of course, but I imagine that the Superman movie will be, ultimately, about the importance of having high standards for oneself and one’s society. A rebuke, though a mild one, to the recent Batman movies.

        We’ll see.Report

        • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

          I think the huge response to superhero movies is more about CGI, form fitting costumes and big budgets.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

            From 2012 movies with CGI, form fitting costumes, and big budgets: Battleship, John Carter, and Dredd 3D. (Note, those last two were pretty good, actually.)

            From 2011: Green Lantern, Cowboys and Aliens, Conan The Barbarian

            From 2010: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (which was seriously good), Jonah Hex, The Last Airbender, Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief, and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice…

            I suppose I could keep going back but I hope that there are enough counter-examples in there for me to say “no, both plot and theme are really, really important. As important as CGI, boobage, and big budgets.”Report

            • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

              I don’t understand, are you claiming plot and theme were important to Hasbro Game Movie, Decades Old Geek Books Nobody Under 40 Had Ever Heard Of and whatever the hell Dredd was.
              The Last Air Time Anybody Will Trust M Night Again was what? Was Jonah Hex a serious reexamination of the struggles of a southern CW veteran fitting into society?

              Plot and theme are nice add ons to blockbusters but Hwood is aiming for bigbux.Report

      • Barry in reply to North says:

        No. I guess that it’s a ‘Dark Knight’ of the trailer soul 🙂

        (yuck yuck yuck, i am so funny………………….)Report

  10. George Turner says:

    I’m shocked that no one has mentioned Obama uttering the phrase”a jedi mind-meld” last week. How can any President be so out-of-touch with reality?Report

  11. NewDealer says:

    Rodenberry’s Star Trek was meant to be largely Utopian and fitting on his liberal politics. He wanted to show humanity putting aside all differences of race, nationality, etc and joining together for a common purpose.

    I think a lot more people felt this kind of optimism during the 1960s.Report

    • greginak in reply to NewDealer says:

      Well yeah. What is odd is during the 60’s in the middle of the Cold War people felt optimism and now that the Cold War ended people are less optimistic about our future. There are certainly other factors involved but in that one area people are far less upbeat despite something really good happening.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to greginak says:

        I think it is more than just the cold war. Interestingly Star Trek started during the prime strife of the 1960s or when it was really starting. But:

        1. People felt good economically

        2. It was still the golden age of post-WWII consensus on the New Deal and America largely being a full-middle class nation.

        I think it was more the economics of the time than the cold war that gave people faith in government and united. Plus Rodenberry was a Boomer and fully remembered The Great Depression and the New Deal. The real conservatives were not in the Greatest Generation but in the generation between the Greatest Generation and the Boomers.Report

        • greginak in reply to NewDealer says:

          Oh there is far more to it that the Cold War. There was an honest and deeply felt belief in progress at the time. That tech and science would make a wondrous future for us all. We now live in that wondrous techy future. Of course tech doesn’t change human nature so teh belief that science/tech would make a happy world for everybody was always misguided even though they might do great things for us.Report

        • Barry in reply to NewDealer says:

          “Plus Rodenberry was a Boomer and fully remembered The Great Depression and the New Deal.”

          According to Wikipedia, he was born in 1921 (the first birth year that I’ve ever seen used for Boomers is 1942). That puts him squarely in Greatest Generation, and is why he’d remember the Great Depression and New Deal. Boomers would not.Report

      • Michael Cain in reply to greginak says:

        Yeah, there was the Cold War threat, but in some ways it was remote. But at the same time there were shiny new things like the Interstate and rockets to the moon and computers and cheap color television. We were trying to take big steps on racism and medical care for the elderly and the poor. Environmental awareness was growing.

        Now, a lot of the darker themes from science fiction seem to be happening. The giant corporations are clearly winning. The super-bugs are winning. At a much more subtle level than in the 1960s, pollution is winning. Theocracy seems to be winning. Everyone routinely runs into examples that the infrastructure is crumbling. If I had to choose between the most common outcomes from automation taking over most jobs that have appeared in sci-fi over the decades — the utopia where everyone gets to be a student and artist and world traveler, or where a large permanent underclass gets some minimal allocation of living space and food — I’d bet on the underclass. Heck, I’d even say that regionalism in the US is greater than it was — more people in more different parts of the country are willing to at least the entertain the though of some sort of US breakup.Report

        • greginak in reply to Michael Cain says:

          The problem is i think is many ways things are much better now and i don’t agree with the negative aspects of today that you bring up. Pollution: well in some ways things are far far better now. Acid rain, rivers catching on fire, chemicals spewing out into the air… in most ways we are much less polluted. There is that darn global warming thing though. Superbugs aren’t winning. There are some that are a concern, but the only reason a superbug can be a concern is due to the regular drugs doing well. Theocracy…hell we are getting more atheistic all the time. Don’ t even start to talk about how much better it is for women, gays, blacks, etc. The military now looks like what Roddenberry was dreaming about 50 years ago.

          Now is great in many ways and for many people despite the problems we have.Report

          • Michael Cain in reply to greginak says:

            The military now looks like what Roddenberry was dreaming about 50 years ago.

            Force make-up in terms of race, gender, so forth? Absolutely. Mission? I have to disagree. We are much closer to getting The Mote in God’s Eye than we are to Star Trek and the Federation, who barely seemed to bother with marines, let alone an army. Iran may well be a test case. The Federation would send in a gifted diplomat who would balance the desires of all the parties and produce a lasting peace. The Empire of Man, OTOH, says, “We don’t have the resources to slug this out on the ground. Surrender and accept a governor; or refuse and we’ll bomb everything outside the cities to slag and come back in a decade.” What was the civilian death toll in Iraq/Afghanistan? Did a brief occupation really change anything in either place? Do we have the resources to spend a generation (or two) forcing the population to fit the mold we have in mind for them? Or even to blockade them and let the current order collapse and then go pick up the pieces?Report

            • greginak in reply to Michael Cain says:

              I was speaking solely in terms of race, gender, etc. Mission no of course not, but we don’t live in the Federation unfortunately.Report

              • George Turner in reply to greginak says:

                I’m glad we don’t live in the Federation. Their spaceships frequently had to return to base to repair battle damage, and because they’d expended their vast store of onboard nuclear weapons in combat, often against parties unknown. So far, the pre-Federation Earth has used two nuclear weapons in anger in 75 years. On Star Trek they use four per spread, four or five spreads per engagement, one engagement every three or four episodes, and that’s per ship. Star Fleet as a whole must’ve fired over a thousand nukes a month, making them about a million times more violent than we are.

                But every episode would include some Starfleet officer saying “We come in peace” or “We are peaceful explorers” and the fans would believe it, despite what was right in front of their eyes. I imagine lots of Germans in WW-II thought they were bringing peace by stopping outside aggression, too.Report

              • Roddenberry’s ideas about naval warfare all seemed to be taken from movies about WWII submarines. Nothing appeared to be armed beyond a cruiser or destroyer. IIRC in the movies, photon torpedoes had been downgraded in effective power to the point that unshielded ships could survive a hit. Where the hell were the carrier- and battleship-equivalents, with comparable weaponry?Report

              • Kolohe in reply to Michael Cain says:

                In Star Blazers.Report

              • Kolohe in reply to Michael Cain says:

                But really, I couldn’t remember what Roddenberry did during the war, so I looked it up: B-17 Flying Fortress pilot. (It was Hubbard & Heinlein that were the Navy guys) That does seem like a bit of the combat model used in original series. Though I was always under the impression, but possibly from reading too many novelizations as a kid, that Enterprise *was* the equivalent of the battleship, or in any case the flagship of the ships of the line.Report

          • Kim in reply to greginak says:

            10 steps away from Monstersanto destroying civilization as we know it. (as of 2009).
            10% chance that BP Disaster would destroy the world’s life (via destroying ocean life).
            We may have escaped the potential for Nuclear War between India and Pakistan (someone upgraded them from eniacs. Go USA! Go USA!)

            Now is great. Tommorrow? I worry about tommorrow…

            Someone I know is predicting the demise of the Japanese race maybe a hundred years from now. What other geno/phenotypes are at risk?Report

        • Kim in reply to Michael Cain says:

          I know where my money is going.Report

    • Nob Akimoto in reply to NewDealer says:

      I think you’re kind of overselling the optimism of the 60s.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to NewDealer says:

      And the thing TOS Star Trek also did, like so many other spec fiction pieces did right up till the end of the Cold War, was postulate a time of tribulation and/or holocaust in the lifetimes of those that were watching it. (see also, Buck Rogers & Thundarr the Barbarian)Report

      • Nob Akimoto in reply to Kolohe says:

        When you think about it, the late 20th century postulated by Star Trek (and later TNG) wasn’t particularly optimistic.

        A genetically engineered superman evidently starts a world wide conflageration in the 1990s, some crackpot colonel conducts mass attrocities, (Colonel Green), there are race riots and “sanctuary districts” in San Francisco, and to top it off there’s a World War gone nuclear in the 2040s.

        I think the thing about Trek is that it still tried to be optimistic DESPITE the fact that humanity epic fails in the late 20th/early 21st century. That humanity is resilient and can always find a way forward.

        It’s a very Whiggish point of view, but it wasn’t necessarily naive.Report

  12. Kazzy says:

    Is Star Trek one of the prequels or part of the original trilogy?Report

  13. James K says:

    I think a lot of the reason grimmness and darkness are so trendy in movies right now is that these days movie theatres are the domain of teenagers and that means movies are made primarily with teenage sensibilities in mind.Report

  14. Shazbot5 says:

    “Then we played Dungeons and Dragons for three hours, and then I got slain by an elf.”