My rating: 4 of 5 stars
My original THE FIFTY-YEAR MISSION: THE NEXT 25 YEARS: FROM THE NEXT GENERATION TO J. J. ABRAMS: THE COMPLETE, UNCENSORED, AND UNAUTHORIZED ORAL HISTORY OF STAR TREK audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.
Picking up directly after the close of the previous volume, The Fifty-Year Mission: The First 25 Years, The Next 25 Years has an awful lot of ground to cover over the course of its nearly 35 hour run-time. If the previous era of Star Trek was defined by The Original Series’s cancellation and subsequent resurrection as a film franchise a decade later, and one in which studio support was generally a cold shoulder, then the next era is best characterized as a resurgent franchise, one where the very same studio, under new leadership, recognized the cash cow of the Trek brand, that eventually grew so over-saturated the death-knells of Star Trek began ringing loudly again.
This 25 year period saw the development and success, both creatively and financially, of Star Trek: The Next Generation, its leap to the silver screen following a seven-year television run, and subsequent spin-off TV series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, and the prequel series, Enterprise (later re-branded as Star Trek: Enterprise) set a century before The Original Series, and the rebooted film franchise helmed by J.J. Abrams.
Given the amount of material covered here, 34 and a half hours almost seems too short. The prior volume had plenty of room to breath during its exploration of The Original Series three-year run and six films, and authors Mark A. Altman and Edward Gross were able to spend a lot of time on the intricacies of story development, the actors and their relationships, and the history of the series and its formation. Having to cover what amounts to a total of 25 television seasons, plus seven films between the TNG and reboot franchises, the oral history delivered here feels truncated even with the longer running-time.
This, however, is not to say that The Next 25 Years lacks depth or breadth, as there is still plenty of interesting material to cover, all of it told from first-hand accounts from the actors, directors, and writers involved. And, best of all, the stories being told don’t hold back, as the speakers approach their recollections with much-appreciated frankness. The writer’s let you know when they failed, the actors speak out about the material they liked and didn’t like. None of the behind-the-scenes drama is hidden away, and nearly everyone involved is very open about the missteps taken at various points along the way, or how harshly some actors treated their cast-mates. Several Voyager cast members speak out about the catty jealously between Kate Mulgrew and Jeri Ryan, who joined the show’s fourth season as Paramount Studios demanded the show get sexed up a bit, as a ex-Borg crewmen seeking to rediscover her humanity while wearing a skin-tight silver suit that left little to the imagination. Others speak about the difficulties in bringing the prequel series to life and being hampered by studio executive demands, only to be cancelled just as the show seemed to be finding its legs, and delivering an alienating series finale that upset fans and cast and crew alike by focusing on TNG characters in the 24th Century, rather than the 22nd Century regulars.
The ratings drop Voyager suffered over the course of its run, the premature cancellation of Enterprise, and the box office failure of the final TNG movie, Star Trek: Nemesis, gave the ready appearance the Star Trek franchise was finally finished. Once again, though, it was resurrected due to fan support – this time from within Hollywood, as those writers and directors who grew up on Trek found themselves in positions to take the reins and give the franchise new life, beginning with the 2009 movie, Star Trek, featuring a young James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock, both fresh to Starfleet.
Like the prior volume, The Next 25 Years is narrated by a full-cast. Unfortunately, none of them are the actors, writers, crew, and directors themselves. I will say, though, that one of the narrators does a stellar impression of Malcom McDowell when reading the actor’s lines during discussion of the TNG film debut, Star Trek: Generations. The production side of things leaves a little to be desired, though, as several of the narrators have trouble pronouncing the names of various characters. Deep Space Nine’s Gul Dukat and Voyager’s Chakotay proved to be particularly problematic for the readers, and these names get mauled in various ways nearly every time they come up. The audio, at least, is clear, although the reading of this oral history can be a bit dry at times.
Given the turbulence involved in keeping the starship Enterprise aloft, it’s seems somewhat surprising that the Star Trek franchise has survived fifty years. This is, if nothing else, a testament to the love and loyalty of those involved in the series production, as well as the support of the fans across generations. Whether or not it will survive another fifty years is questionable, but with the resurgent film series and the launch of a new streaming series, Star Trek: Discovery, on CBS All Access in spring/summer 2017, there is at least room for hope. And hope has been the central enduring characteristic of Star Trek itself for half a century.
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