2009 comebacks: The cinematic future

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When Star Trek debuted in 1966, it offered an idealistic, utopian vision of mankind's future. From the kicky, space-age costumes to the integrated, multinational crew, it suggested that, if humanity ever gets its act together, there will be no limit to its capabilities. In this vision, as future Russians, Chinese and Americans travel the universe side-by-side, they bring hope, democracy, and order to the strange and wondrous species that they meet.

In the ensuing 43 years (my god, has it really been 43 years?!?), this idealistic, Camelot-fueled vision has been replaced with far darker perspectives of the future. From Space 1999's helpless astronauts to Battlestar Galactica' desperate quest for home to Star Wars' pyrrhic fight for freedom, sci-fi over the last few decades has seemed to lack the unabashed, unironic hope that underlay Gene Roddenberry's original vision. Even among Star Trek's various spawn, one could argue that there has been a trend toward observation, not involvement; in comparison with the idealistic activism of the original series, the sequels seem somewhat impotent.

This May, however, the J. J. Abrams-helmed Star Trek movie will reboot the original story. With a young, attractive, volatile crew, the new film promises to be a heck of a lot closer to your father's Star Trek. While the Prime Directive will no doubt rear its head, everything about this film, from the impressive cast to the original's bright, primary colors suggests that Abrams will be exploring the strange new world of American idealism that has been sorely lacking for a long time.

In many ways, this seems to be part of a larger trend. Land of the Lost, Sid and Marty Krofft's cheesy 1975 series in which a widowed father and his two children end up in a world populated by proto-humans (Pakuni), lizard men (Sleestaks), and dinosaurs, is also up for a re-boot. This version, starring Will Ferrell, promises to offer a tongue-in-cheek take on the original, but the inclusion of both Pakuni and Sleestaks suggest that, like the original, this movie will also work as a broad metaphor for the Peace Corps. Presumably, Ferrell and company will protect their fellow mammals against the devilish lizard people while trying to create order in an unruly and dangerous world.

Speaking of creating order, the next year will also bring a new installment in the Terminator series (in this one, John Connor emerges as a strong, centralized leader. Sound familiar?). There are also plans afoot for a new RoboCop (to be directed by Darren Aronofsky), a new Ghostbusters, a remake of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, yet another retooling of Flash Gordon, and a big budget version of Fahrenheit 451. While these don't all promise a rosy version of mankind's future, one could argue that many of them suggest a significant reconsideration of American values in a changing world. In cinema, as in politics, the next few years should give us a lot of cause for debate, argument, and serious thought about what it is to be American!


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