I believe that art is the highest expression of the human spirit.
--Joyce Carol Oates
Strategic competition can be thought of as a process of perceiving new positions that woo customers from established positions or draw new customers into the market.
--Professor Michael Porter, Harvard Business School
Go out and try your luck, you might be Donald Duck
Hooray for Hollywood.
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These series of posts deal with Star Trek as it pertains to the original cast. However, as no members of the original cast was involved to any significant degree with a major Trek production between the years 1994 and 2009, I've decided to give you a brief look at what was going on with the franchise in their absence (well, brief for me, anyway--let's say 20,000 words instead of 200,000.) For starters, The Next Generation crew spent the rest of the 20th century making movies about the 24th.
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PICARD: Six years ago, they assimilated me into their collective. I had their cybernetic devices implanted throughout my body. I was linked to the hive mind. Every trace of individuality erased. I was one of them. So you can imagine, my dear, I have a somewhat unique perspective on the Borg, and I know how to fight them. Now if you'll excuse me, I have work to do.
PICARD: In my century, we don't succumb to revenge. We have a more evolved sensibility.
LILY: BULLSHIT! I saw the look your face when you shot those Borg on the Holodeck. You were almost ENJOYING it!
PICARD: How dare you!
LILY: Oh, come on, Captain. You're not the first man to get a thrill out of murdering someone! I see it all the time.
PICARD: GET OUT!
LILY: Or what? You'll kill me, like you killed [the Borg-infected] Ensign Lynch?
PICARD: There was no way to save him.
LILY: You didn't even try! Where were your evolved sensibilities then?
Out of the mouth of 21st century babes.
It wasn't all just the big screen. During the last years of the 20th century and for a few years into the 21st, the Star Trek franchise was well-represented in the very medium from whence it had all begun: television. Indeed, during these years Paramount made sure there was not just one but TWO Trek shows on the air at all times.
Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001) In the feature film described near the top of this post, Picard tells Lily that the Federation has over one hundred and fifty planets spread across eight thousand light years. All of it easily commutable, as the average starship can now travel something like a thousand times faster than the speed of light. With that in mind, you might think that by the 24th century, the Milky Way galaxy would be a pretty familiar place to anyone living in it. Not so. According to Wikipedia:
The Milky Way...has a diameter usually considered to be about 100,000–120,000 light-years but may be 150,000–180,000 light-years. The Milky Way is estimated to contain 100–400 billion stars although this number may be as high as one trillion. There are at least 100 billion planets in the Milky Way.
By comparison, the Federation is merely a one-stoplight town with a surrounding countryside of backwoods, shotgun-toting kooks, e.g., the Romulans and the Cardassians. Speaking of the Cardassians (I'm resisting the urge to make a Kim, Koutney, and Khloe joke here; I mean, the spelling IS different), they're indirectly responsible for a few residents reluctant exit from that one-stoplight town. An earlier peace treaty between the Cardassian Empire and the Federation resulted in the latter ceding a few colonies to the former. Some of those colonists, the Maquis, found this unacceptable, rebelling against both the Federation and the Cardassians. Starfleet sent the U.S.S. Voyager to capture a Maqui ship but a powerful alien Buttinski known as the Caretaker transported both the Voyager and the Maqui ship to the Delta Quadrant on the other side of the galaxy, about 70,000 light-years from the Earth, the Federation, and the surrounding Alpha Quadrant, causing a lot of death and destruction in the process. Survivors from both groups decide to let bygones be bygones--the tensions between the two never amount to much on this series--as they both take the Voyager on what's expected to be a 70-year trip back home, encountering all kinds of strange alien races along the way. I mean, as strange to them as well as us, Earth-bound viewers as we are. Indeed, not since the original Star Trek series has the focus been on strange new worlds, new lives and new civilizations. One notable difference: unlike the crew of the starship Enterprise, this group doesn't particularly WANT to focus on that. Circumstances just happen to be a bit beyond their control. Of course, if you think about it, that's how most of us end up exploring the Unknown. Recurring Characters: Captain Katheryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew--Mary Ryan on the once-popular afternoon soap Ryan's Hope) as the Voyager's resolute commanding officer, and, unlike the various other resolute commanding officers we've seen, is also an accomplished scientist in her own right. Former Maquis rebel leader and now-loyal first officer Chakotay (Robert Beltran, the title character in '80s cult film Eating Raoul), whom, though born and raised off-Earth, is descendent from a never-named Native American tribe, and has the tattoo to prove it. Disgraced Starfleet officer, ex-con, and stoolie Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill), who's otherwise easygoing. Neelix (Ethan Phillips, PR man Pete Downey on Benson, a sitcom that also featured René Auberjonois), the gregarious Talaxian and Delta Quadrant native who is rescued from the Caretaker in the series pilot by Janeway and shows his appreciation by becoming ship cook. Rookie Helmsman Harry Kim (Garrett Wang). Psychic, Ocampan native of the Delta Quadrant, and medical technician Kes (Jennifer Anne Lien) who leaves after the third season in order to--I'm sorry if this sounds mean--make way for a far more interesting character. Surly Vulcan officer Tuvok (Tim Russ). Surly half-Klingon, half-human Starfleet dropout and Chief Engineer B'Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson). If all that wasn't surly enough, there's the Doctor (Robert Picardo, surly Coach Cutlip on The Wonder Years.) Of course, he's not the first surly physician we've seen on a Star Trek show, but there's an added twist this time. The Doctor's not human but a hologram. However, as time goes on, and he becomes a much more mobile hologram (due to a two-part time-travel episode titled "Future's End") he develops a consciousness and begins to regard himself as a sentient being, best represented by his series-long search for a name (he finally settles on Joe, but only in an alternative future; as Picardo himself wisecracked, it took thirty years, and that's all he could come up with?)
The Doctor was the most interesting character on Voyager until the fourth season, which saw the arrival of Seven-of-Nine (Jeri Ryan, half-a-decade later Ronnie Cooke on Boston Public.) Here's how it came about. The Voyager crew needs to travel through Borg space in order to get back home, but, obviously, risks being "assimilated" by the cyborg baddies. As luck would have it, the Borg are at war with the "fluidic space" Species 8472. Janeway cuts a deal with the Borg. Let Voyager pass through their territory unharmed, and they'll help develop a weapon to defeat the Species. Surprisingly, the Borg agree to this, and send a female drone by the name of Seven-of-Nine as an emissary. A weapon is indeed developed, and Species 8472 retreats, but then the Borg go back on their word, and Seven starts assimilating the bridge controls, and is no doubt ready to do the same to people operating those controls. However, Janeway has an "Opertation: Scorpio" up her sleeve. Seven's neural link to the collective is severed, technically restoring her humanity, albeit a transistorized, computer chipped, coaxial cabled, optic fibered humanity. That's when her character gets interesting. Seven-of-Nine is an individual once more, and not at all happy about it. Born Annika Hansen on an Earth colony, she was abducted by the Borg at the age of three, along with her arguably neglectful parents (who willingly took the tyke behind enemy lines.) Being a mindless drone in a giant electronic outer space ant hill is all she knows. She spends several early episodes trying to get back to the Borg, always ending up in the Voyager brig instead. Eventually, she comes to terms with her humanity, and ends up being kind of a female Spock (even though Voyager already has a Vulcan!) Except Spock never got the heterosexual male tongues wagging as this technophile did. Once she was shorn of the bulkier Borg accouterments in her initial episodes, the attractive Ryan (a former Miss Illinois who went on to win the swimsuit competition in the Miss America pageant) appeared in a succession of body-hugging outfits, turning her into the latest Star Trek sex symbol, something producers vehemently, if unconvincingly, denied. Fortunately, Ryan was such a good actress, she herself kind of denied it through her basically ice cube portrayal (some in the LGBTQ community lobbied unsuccessfully to make her a lesbian.) What makes the Seven-of-Nine character so fascinating is she basically has to learn how to be a human being--she even has to be taught how to eat--as the woman's obviously much more comfortable as a piece of machinery. At least that's what she would lead you to believe at first. After all, no machine ever talked back to its operator (Captain Janeway) the way this one does. Really, you kind of suspect after a while that she's using her Borg background as an excuse to malfunction, i.e., disobey. That she's right much of the time, and saves the Voyager from certain destruction much of the time, certainly allows her to get away with such subordination. By the series finale (in the end, it only took seven years for Janeway and co. to make it back home) Seven-of-Nine can tell the Borg Queen that she now considers Voyager to be her collective. Nevertheless, she insists on being called Seven right to the end, proving, I suppose, that one person's assimilation is another person's nonconformity.
Star Trek: Enterprise (2000-2005) In the original series episode "Metamorphosis" Spock tells McCoy, "I remind you that humans are only a tiny minority in this galaxy," True, true. But despite that, humans do seem to have an outsized influence in that galaxy. After all, Earth is home to both the Federation and Starfleet. There are lot of other planets and peoples that are members of these organizations, of course, but humans seem to be the first among equals. When asked by a Romulan in "The Enterprise Incident" why he's not a captain of his own starship, Spock admits that for a Vulcan, such an opportunity is "extremely rare." In the feature film Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, when Chekov touts the Federation's commitment to human rights, the Klingon Azetbur calls him on it: "Inalien...If only you could hear yourselves. 'Human rights' Why, the very name is racist. The Federation is no more than a 'homo sapiens only' club." And why shouldn't it be? In the 23rd and 24th centuries, Humans Rule!
Why, Porthos, Captain Archer's pet beagle, of course. Star Trek often works best when it focuses on outsiders. Spock. Data. Worf. Odo. Quark. The Doctor. Seven-of-Nine. Not that aliens and artificial people are the only outsiders. In his own technophobic way, McCoy was an outsider. As was the blind La Forge. As for Captain Janeway, since the USS Voyager is 70 years from the nearest Federation outpost, you can say her entire starship is an outsider. Porthos, however, may have been the ultimate outsider, a dog on a vessel full of humans traveling through a galaxy full of nonhumans. Actually, Porthos tended to treat humans and nonhumans equally, by giving each the same, quizzical look. It's all alien to a beagle. Not that he was standoffish. It's a bit heartbreaking to watch him try to make friends with T'Pol, only to be spurned as the poor pooch's scent offends her highly evolved Vulcan nose. A couple of Ferengi marauders aren't offended but confused when they meet Porthos in an episode titled "Acquisition", thinking him a fellow sentient being. Porthos almost dies in "A Night in Sickbay" but recovers after Dr Phlox transplants a gland from an alien lizard. More often, Porthos prevents Archer from possible death by sniffing out the various invisible aliens who make their way into the Captain's cabin. His nose is almost as evolved as T'Pols! The canine's adventures aren't always restricted to the starship. On one newly explored planet--I wish this was my joke but it came from the show itself--the pooch finds a tree and boldly goes where no dog has gone before.
As impressive as Portho's achievements are, lest we forget, he wasn't the first beagle in space.
Now at the dawn of a new century, however, there suddenly seemed to be less off those fans. Enterprise never really found an audience, and only lasted four seasons, making it the second shortest-lived of Trek shows (the first was the original series, which lasted only three!) Nemesis, meanwhile, was a disappointment at the box office. What was going on? A slip in quality? Enterprise couldn't make up its mind what kind of show it wanted to be, lighthearted satire or dark brooding drama, but had audiences actually responded to one of those two choices, I'm sure it would have. And anyway, some good stories were told no matter what mood the show happened to be in. Nemesis seems to have been conceived as the last feature film with an almost-complete Next Generation cast. (Wil Wheaton's Wesley Crusher--never popular with the fan base--is seen briefly. As is Whoope Goldberg as Guinan. Only Denise Crosby, who played Tasha Yar, was not invited to Riker and Troi's wedding, which opens the film. It was not a snub, I don't think. Yar was killed off after only one season when Crosby asked to be let out of her contract.) But only because that cast was now getting up there in years. Stewart was now in his 60s, albeit a vigorous 60s (now in his vigorous 70s, he's still a very busy actor.) More problematical was Brent Spiner. Though seven years younger than Stewart, his character was an android, as so wasn't expected to age at all, the probable reason for Data's sacrifice in Nemesis, and the introduction of the (older-looking) Data prototype. Meanwhile, what about all the other Trek series, could a feature film have been made from one of those? The waters were perhaps being tested by having Captain--excuse, me, Admiral Janeway make a brief appearance in Nemises. Ultimately, it wasn't enough to keep her afloat.
Except Paramount had no time for sometimes, as the studio was about to lose its once-valuable-and-most-likely-would-be-valuable-again Star Trek property to CBS. Now, some of you watching TV some-50 years ago may dimly recall that Trek originally debuted on NBC. So how the hell did CBS get into the act? In 1999, Paramount, or rather its corporate owner Viacom, decided to buy CBS, or rather its corporate owner, CBS, formally known as Westinghouse, the corporate owner of the first CBS I mentioned. CBS then sold Westinghouse, the Westinghouse that didn't change its name to CBS when it bought the original CBS from Lowes, to Toshiba, which now operates that company under the name Westinghouse. Meanwhile Viacom decided to fold Paramount Television (which used to be Desilu, which used to be RKO) into CBS, the television network owned by CBS, which used to be Westinghouse but is no longer the Westinghouse owned by Toshiba. All well and good, except it wasn't. Wall Street was so confused by all of what I just told you (I can't imagine why!) the value of Viacom stock dipped. So Sumner Redstone, who owned the majority of that stock decided to split Viacom and CBS. Wall Street must have approved, as the value of the stock increased for both Viacom and CBS. And Redstone himself rejoiced as he owned majority stock in both companies, thus making out like a bandit. Gail Berman (no relation to Rick, I don't think) had little to rejoice about. She was CEO of Paramount Pictures, which had just lost the rights to Star Trek to CBS. Leslie Moonves, Chairman of the Board and CEO of CBS (formerly Westinghouse, except for the Westinghouse now owned by Toshiba), parent company of CBS (formerly the Columbia Broadcasting System, the letters having been ditched in favor of the acronym, or actually former acronym, since C, B, and S no longer stand for anything) wanted to go ahead with a new Star Trek TV series, whereas Berman was sure she could squeeze at least one more feature film, or two, or three, or however many, from the venerable sci-fi franchise. I'm not sure what Berman said to Moonves to get him to put off that series for a decade (as a matter of fact,it debuts in a few months on either the CBS Network's or CBS Corporation's new subscription-streaming service) but maybe something along the lines of: If Viacom stock plummets because we can't make a new Trek movie we'll tell Redstone it's because you wouldn't let us! I'm speculating, of course. Anyway, a deal was struck. The Sumner Redstone majority-owned CBS agreed to loan out the Sumner Redstone majority-owned Star Trek to the Sumner Redstone majority-owned Viacom (itself a public subsidiary of National Amusements, itself privately owned by--you guessed it--Sumner Redstone.) All well and good (especially if your name happens to end in Redstone) but what kind of Trek was now going to be made? The two men who had previously retooled the franchise, Harve Bennett and Rick Berman, were now considered old school, or just plain old, period. Human relics of an earlier millennium. The brave, new, digitized world of the 21st century required a Star Trek that you could tweet about!
Enter J.J. Abrams. Like Bennett and Rick Berman (and, for that matter, Gene Roddenberry and Gene L. Coon) his entertainment industry resume was varied. At age 15, he had written the score for the modestly budgeted sci-fi horror flick Nightbeast. A few years later, he cowrote the James Belushi-Charles Grodin comedy Taking Care of Business. He followed that with the screenplay for Regarding Henry, a drama directed by Mike Nichols and starring Harrison Ford. Next up was the Mel Gibson science-fiction romance Forever Young. Then another comedy Gone Fishin', with Joe Pesci and Danny Glover. And another foray into science-fiction, Armageddon. None of what I just mentioned was stupendously successful, yet Abrams was working steadily as a screenwriter. Things picked up even more when he moved into television, co-creating the highly regarded WB network drama about a young woman's adventures in college, Felicity. The relative success of that show led to Abrams forming his own production company, Bad Robot. Out of that came the secret agent series Alias with Jennifer Garner. That was in 2001. However, Abrams truly major television success came a few years later: Lost. Co-created with Damon Lindelof and Jeffrey Lieber , the show about a group of people planewrecked on a mysterious island echoed many of the themes of the original Star Trek: the Unknown, Prejudice, Multiculturalism, Class, even Logic (represented by Jack, a "man of science") vs Emotion (represented by Locke, a "man of faith.") Unlike the original Trek, however, this blend of sci-fi and philosophy didn't have to wait for syndication to finally gain acceptance by critics and audiences alike. Highly-rated for the five seasons it was on the air, Lost is now considered one of the greatest (as well as the most inscrutable) TV dramas of all time. Not that Abrams had forgotten about the big screen. He produced the high-grossing "found-footage" giant monster movie Cloverfield. Abrams directed his first feature film in 2006, Mission: Impossible III, or, or as the studio marketing department thought such a title might strain moviegoers attention spans, simply M:I-3.
Two differences between Abrams resume and those of Bennett and Berman. The former's was more compact, his successes had piled up in about half the time as the latter two, thus there was much more of a buzz surrounding Abrams name than there had been with either Bennett or Berman. Second had to with his age. Unlike Bennett (born 1930) or Berman (born 1945), Star Trek wasn't something that had come along when he was a adult, but had always been there for Abrams, born in June of 1966, about two and a half months before the Enterprise warp-drove into space for the very first time. Indeed, Trek had most likely already taken on a legendary status when he first became aware of it. There would be no need for Abrams to view all the back episodes when he agreed to revive the franchise. He was already a fan! This would bode him well directing and producing the feature film reboot, essentially a remake, for he was about to confront a potential adversary more powerful than the Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians, Dominion shape-shifters, and the Borg put together: CONTINUITY.
Whatever he felt about it later on, or whatever others felt he felt about it later on, continuity doesn't seem to have been an overriding concern of Roddenberry's when producing the original series. It's not just that some episodes contradict each other (in one early episode, it's James A, not T, Kirk.) It's that, as David Duchovney once complained about The X-Files, there's no accumulation of experience. Take time-travel. Kirk goes back to Earth's past three times during the original series run, twice during the first season. In "The City at the Edge of Forever", when they find themselves in Depression-era Manhattan, Kirk might turn to Spock and say something like, "Say, Spock, things look a lot more beat-up than they did the last time we visited the 20th century!" To which Spock could reply "True, Captain, but that's because this is the 1930s and the last time was the 1960s ["Tomorrow is Yesterday"], a much more prosperous era." Speaking of the 1960s, when they go back there for the second time in "Assignment: Earth", it's quite voluntarily, as if they could do it anytime they wanted, which wasn't the case in the earlier episodes, where it was either accidental or from coming in contact with the remnants of a technologically-advanced society (they again travel back voluntarily in the film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, but that time at least they seem to get severe case of jet-lag in the process.) Or the three episodes--"Last of the Archons", "The Apple", "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky"--that have computers masquerading as supreme beings. You'd think Kirk or Spock might notice that they keep running into this particular situation. To be fair, there were some stabs at continuity. An early episode "Mudd's Women" even has a second-season sequel "I, Mudd". The comical title character (wonderfully played by Roger C. Carmel) of both stories has to be introduced to Chekov in the second as the Russian crew member wasn't around for the first. (Mudd later pops up in the animated version, and Carmel's voice alone is funny.) And, of course, the introduction of Klingons , Romulans, the Organian Peace Treaty, and the Prime Directive all contributed to continuity. But what really gave continuity a boost was the feature films. The Wrath of Khan, The Search for Spock, and The Voyage Home were all closely linked to each other, essentially creating one long story, and because of this, I think, Trek fans began to see the original series and what followed as part of an even larger story, or epic. This made it very different from, say, Mission: Impossible. I doubt if fans of the TV series thought or cared very much if the Jim Phelps played by Peter Graves was supposed to be the same Phelps in the same universe as the one portrayed by Jon Voight in the later film (if you're a Mission: Impossible fan and DO think and care about that, let me know in the comment section.) Though they may get a bit too obsessive about it at times, I basically understand fan's concerns about continuity. One doesn't like to be reminded too much that what they're watching is a work of fiction (in which case, none of it really happened), and a certain consistency in that regard helps. Since Abrams now wanted new actors playing the beloved characters, he would need an explanation to satisfy fans. And that explanation would come via that most inexplicable of plot devices, the one I alluded to earlier in this paragraph: time-travel.
GEORGE KIRK: What are we going to call him?
WINONA: We can name him after your father.
GEORGE KIRK: Tiberius? Are you kidding me? No, that's the worst. Let's name him after your dad. Let's call him Jim.
WINONA: Jim. OK. Jim it is.
The conversation is cut short when the Kelvin collides with the Narada, temporarily damaging the latter ship, allowing Winona and her newborn bay to escape. George, though, is killed.
BOY SPOCK: They called you a traitor.
SAREK (Spock's pop, played by Ben Cross): Emotions run deep within our race. In many ways, more deeply than in Humans. Logic offers a serenity that Humans seldom experience. The control of feelings, so that they not control you.
BOY SPOCK: You suggest that I should be completely Vulcan, and yet you married a Human.
SAREK: As ambassador to Earth, it is my duty to observe and understand Human behavior. Marrying your mother was logical.
So, too, must have been the subsequent copulation.
COLLEGE ADMISSIONS COUNSELOR: You're hereby accepted to the Vulcan Science Academy. It is truly remarkable, Spock, that you have achieved so much, despite your disadvantage.
SPOCK: If you would clarify...to what disadvantage are you referring?
COUNSELOR: Your Human mother.
SPOCK: ...I must decline.
MINISTER: No Vulcan has ever declined admission to this academy.
SPOCK: Then, as I am half-human, your record remains untarnished...Live long and prosper.
Actually, the Romulans are not just attacking but seem to be drilling into Vulcan. Once the Enterprise arrives, Pike opens up a line of communication with the Narada--the same Romulan ship that attacked the Kelvin all those years ago--and tells Nero that this is an act of war. Nero replies, truthfully as it will turn out, that he's not acting in the name of the current Romulan government (which is quite clueless about what's going on.) Nero also seems quite amused by Spock's presence on the Enterprise and acts like he knows him, much to the Vulcan's confusion. Nero demands a surrender, and Pike volunteers to board the Narada, just like the Kelvin captain all those years before. But Pike has a backup plan. He promotes Spock to Enterprise captain, and Kirk to First Officer. That's not the backup plan, but it immediately complicates an already complicated situation as it's clear by now that Spock loathes Kirk. Pike has no interest in that squabble, but tells Kirk, Chief engineer Olsen, and helmsman Sulu (eager to redeem himself after earlier forgetting to take the Enterprise out of Park) that while he's aboard the Kelvin, they're to sabotage the rig. It's a flying or floating rig, suspended as it is at the upper levels of the atmosphere. Kirk, Olsen, and Sulu actually skydive from the starship onto the rig. Olsen is killed, but Kirk and Sulu indeed manage to disable the rig, but it's too late. "Red matter" has made it's way into Vulcan's core. The planet has mere minutes before it's swallowed up in a black hole. Kirk and Sulu are beamed back onto the Enterprise. Spock decides he has to rescue the Vulcan Council (of which his father is a member, and of course, his mom's there, too.) He beams down and gathers them together as the planet breaks up around them. Right before they're about to beam to safety, a rock that Amanda is standing on collapses, and before her locked-into-beam son can reach out for her, she falls to her doom. Out of a population of six billion, only 10,000 Vulcans managed to escape in time. As Spock puts it in the Captain's Log, "I am now a member of an endangered species."
Back on the Narada, Nero tortures Pike in order to obtain Earth's defense codes and avenge the destruction of--no, not Vulcan, but Romulus, which still exists. What gives? Aboard the Enterprise, Spock surprisingly has figured at least some of it out. The Narada is from the future! Inappropriately perched in the Captain's chair, Kirk scoffs at that, and anyway, they should be attempting Pike's rescue. Spock thinks it best that the Enterprise regroup with other Starfleet ships. A struggle between the Captain and the First Officer ensues, ending with the latter conked out from a Vulcan nerve pinch. Spock then dispatches Kirk to the nearby planet of Delta Vega, where he's chased by some kind of snowbeast, which in turn ends up being consumed by an even bigger snowbeast, which in turn ends up chasing Kirk. Looks like Kirk's a goner, until that bigger beast is chased off by an elderly Vulcan (Leonard Nimoy) with a torch. Recognizing Kirk, the elderly Vulcan introduces himself:
"I am Spock...I have been, and always shall be, your friend."
Later, as the two of them sit around a camp fire, Nimoy's Spock adds, "It is remarkably pleasing to see you again, old friend. Especially after the events of today." This puzzles Kirk, as the Spock he knows, the one played by Zachary Quinto, is neither old nor a friend. And so Nimoy Spock explains it all through a mind-meld. In the 24th century, a star was about to explode, threatening to take the galaxy along with it. Spock's plan was to shoot "red matter" into it, and create an artificial black hole. Unfortunately, he can't get to the supernova fast enough, and it snuffs out Romulus. Nero, the captain of a mining ship, loses his entire family, including his wife and unborn child, and places the blame on Spock and the Federation. Spock eventually does manage to inject the red matter into the supernova, and save the rest of the galaxy. The subsequent black hole sucks up both the Narada and the Spock's starcraft, named the Jellyfish, and sends both backwards in time. But what happens only seconds apart in the 24rd century takes decades in the 23rd. When Spock finally shows up in 2258, a vengeful Nero has already been lying in wait for a quarter of a century. Nero captures Spock, and the red matter drill, but instead of an execution maroons him on Delta Varga, which is apparently close enough to Vulcan that you can see the latter planet by looking up in the sky. Spock sees his home planet destroyed by the red matter. "Billions of lives lost because of me, Jim. Because I failed!" This fact, coupled with the emotional transference that occurs during a mind-meld, causes Kirk to cry (while Nimoy Spock remains his usual stoic self.)
Letting bygones be bygones, Spock offers to be, and Kirk accepts him as, First Officer. Together they hatch a plan to rescue Pike, and get the red matter drill back before Nero can use it on Earth. The two of them decide to surreptitiously beam aboard the Narada. As they enter the transporter area, Uhura gives Spock a passionate kiss. He in turn gently refers to her as "Nyota".
KIRK: So her first name's Nyota?
SPOCK: I have no comment on the matter.
The two beam aboard, and, after the expected fisticuffs with a bunch of baddies, find the Jellyfish. The computer aboard that ship recognizes Spock as "Ambassador" and the Vulcan realizes it's a futuristic version of himself that the machine is acknowledging. He also suspects Kirk must have come in contact with that future self. Spock takes off in the Jellyfish, hoping to stop the Narada from completing its mission of creating a black hole right in San Francisco Bay. Kirk finds both Nero, right-hand man Arel, and Pike. Nero finds out Spock has destroyed the drill, and storms off to the bridge, leaving Ayel to take care of Kirk. Though Kirk is a skilled fighter (not that we see much evidence of that in this film), the much stronger Ayel gets him in a death grip, until Kirk pulls out a gun or phaser or something and shoots Ayel dead. Meanwhile, Nero fires missiles at the Jellyfish, which Spock manages to evade. Right when the Jellyfish is about to ram into Narada, Spock is beamed aboard the Enterprise, as are Kirk and Pike [SCOTTY: Ha ha ha ha! I've never beamed three people from two targets onto one pad before!] The red matter that was aboard the Jellyfish is now forming a black hole on the Narada. Kirk offers to rescue the Romulans aboard, but Nero refuses. So Kirk has the Enterprise blast whatever defenses the Narada may have left, ensuring its doom. Earth is saved, and Kirk is awarded permanent command of the Enterprise. A still somewhat dubious Spock remains his First Officer.
OK, now that I'm done summarizing the film, let me take a closer look at the continuity (or lack thereof.) As I said earlier, Abrams and his screenwriters wanted to use time-travel to explain any discrepancies between the original Star Trek universe and its reboot. But what kind of time-travel? There are several. At least there are several theories of time-travel that pop up in science-fiction. The most common, certainly the most dramatically provocative, the time-travel that allows you to go back and change the past. As I've said in a previous post, these stories usually involve changing the past for the worst, and then trying to set things right again. But this new Star Trek film wants to change things permanently, be those changes good or bad, as a runaround to the aforementioned continuity. So, then, does that mean the old continuity simply vanishes? That could alienate long-term fans (as well as hurt sales of whatever new format--DVD's been around long enough, don't you think?--the old TV episodes may be repackaged as.) Actually, the old continuity may blink on and off like a strobe light in a dance club if you take into account what's come to be known as The Grandfather Paradox. It works, or rather doesn't work, like this. Some dude builds a time machine, goes back to a year before his parents were born, and, for whatever reason, decides he'd like to kill his grandfather. But if grandpa is dead, then he can't have sex with grandma, mom or pop aren't born, and since those two obviously can't now have sex, the dude that invented the time machine isn't born, either! Thus, the time machine is never built, which means the dude can't go back in time, which means grandpa survives, has sex with grandma, mom and pop have sex, the dude is born, the time machine is built--well, if you can't figure out what happens next, and then what doesn't happen next, and subsequently what does happen next, and so on and so forth, shame on you! But with a paradox like that, how can you effect any kind of change to the past? Well, maybe you can't. As a character on the J. J. Abrams-produced Lost once said: Whatever happens, happened. Under this theory of time-travel, if the dude tried to kill his grandfather, something would go wrong. The gun doesn't go off, the dude has a heart attack right as he's about to pull the trigger, or a time policeman shows up and arrests the dude for attempted murder. Even if that theory of time-travel worked well for Lost (partly because of the sheer novelty of the rarely used theory) it would no longer suit Abrams purposes. Is there any way of reconciling these two theories of time-travel? There is: the timeline theory. Here's how it works. When you go back into the past, you're actually going back into a new past, that is, a new timeline is created. The dude invents a time machine, goes back into the past, but not the same past. Instead, a past that is virtually identical, until the intruder from the earlier timeline affects some kind of change, such as shooting a grandfather. It doesn't matter, from the point of view of the time-traveler/coldblooded murderer if grandpa can't have sex with grandma, and mom can't have sex with dad, he still exists because he was born in that other timeline! Of course, that means the new timeline time machine inventor still can't be born, but I wouldn't shed any tears for him. Look at the way he treats his own family! Anyway, that third theory of time-travel seems to be at the crux of the 2009 feature film reboot. All the original Trek adventures still happened, and the Spock from the original timeline, the one played by Leonard Nimoy, still remembers those adventures happened.
Nero's attack on the Kelvin creates a new 23rd century timeline, as well as a new life for James T. Kirk, who now grows up without a father. Once this new Kirk finds out he's not the only Kirk, he has a question to ask:
KIRK: Wait. Where you came from [the original timeline] did I know my father?
NIMOY SPOCK: Yes. You often spoke of him as being your inspiration for joining Starfleet. He proudly lived to see you become captain of the Enterprise.
An inspiration denied to the new timeline Kirk. (Though he nevertheless ends up as Captain of the Enterprise, anyway. The original timeline Kirk may have given dear old dad too much credit.)
But that's not the only change we see. What about Spock's and Uhura's romance? That wasn't part of the original timeline. In an early original series episode titled "Charlie X", Uhura does attempt to flirt with Spock (UHURA: Why don't you tell me I'm an attractive young lady, or ask me if I've ever been in love? Tell me how your planet Vulcan looks on a lazy evening when the moon is full), to the Vulcan's utter bafflement (SPOCK: Vulcan has no moon, Miss Uhura.) She gives up after that, and, when Uhura talks to Spock at all during the next three years, which is not much, it's usually in the most deferential manner. So how did Nero intervention change things between the two in this new timeline? I've been raking my brain trying to come up with an answer. The best I can do is maybe in the original timeline, Uhura had a boyfriend at the Starfleet Academy that prevented her from hooking up, or even becoming acquainted, with Spock during his time there. She breaks up with that boyfriend right before being assigned the U.S.S. Enterprise, and attempts to nab Spock on the rebound, who, of course, is not interested. Now imagine that in the reboot timeline, a man who would have been the father of Uhura's boyfriend--her theoretical boyfriend at this point--is killed on the Kelvin before meeting the woman that would have given birth to his son. This frees Uhura up to become involved with Spock, who is less resistant to the charms of Earth women as he would be later on. If you don't like my explanation, blame the WalMart that sold me that rake. Let's move on to Chekov. We see him in this film on the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise from the very beginning. Yet that's not the case in the original timeline, i. e., original series. Chekov doesn't show up on the bridge of the Enterprise until the beginning of season 2, and it's reasonable to think that's also the beginning of the five-year mission's second year. I've been not just raking but plowing over my brain with a team of oxen, and the best I can come up with is this. The unknown fellow who sat in Chekov's chair during the original series first season in the original time had a father on the Kelvin, who, in the reboot timeline was killed before that unknown fellow was born, thus giving Chekov the opportunity to rise up in the ranks earlier than he ordinarily would have. If you don't like that explanation, go blame the oxen. Moving on, what about the Kobayashi Maru test? It was first mentioned in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, making it part of the original timeline (though it never comes up in the original series), and is now part of this timeline as well. In both, Kirk beats the test by reprogramming the computer. In the original timeline, he gets a commendation for original thinking. In the reboot, he's threatened with a disciplinary action that could get him booted from Starfleet. Easy enough to explain, the original Kirk didn't have a chip on his shoulder from growing up without a father, had a less petulant personality, and thus was so well-liked among his superior officers, that they overlooked, to the the point of celebrating, his efforts to game the system. What's NOT easy to explain is the revelation in the reboot timeline that it was Spock who devised the Kobayashi Maru test. Why does that go unmentioned in The Wrath of Khan? Especially when Spock defends a Starfleet cadet to Kirk who flunked the test? When Spock dies at the end of that film, he mentions he never took the test but, again, neglects the reason could be because he designed it in the first place. I've not only raked and plowed but also tilled and harrowing my brain with a John Deere 8R/8RT Series Tractor trying to come up with an explanation. Here goes. The original timeline Kobayashi Maru test was designed by somebody' whose father--you guessed it--served on the Kelvin. When that fellow's father dies in the reboot timeline, he's not around to devise the test, so the reboot Spock gets the chance. As for both tests having the same name, let's just say the Starfleet Academy insisted on it. Now, if you don't like that theory, go write Samuel Allen, the CEO of John Deere since 2009. Moving on, how about the Enterprise itself? It's still under construction when Kirk joins Starfleet, and what we subsequently witness is its maiden voyage, except that according to the original series episode "The Menagerie" Pike and Spock visited a rather weird planet on a ship called the Enterprise 13 years before the the famed five-year voyage. Well, we know that Starfleet (as well as the real-life U.S. Navy) has used that name more than once, so maybe that's just a different ship, though it seemed as if they were talking about the same ship in that episode. Maybe after the Kelvin was destroyed in the reboot timeline, the Pike-and-Spock Enterprise had to go on a lot more missions to make up for it, and thus the ship aged prematurely, necessitating a new Kirk-and-Spock Enterprise. I didn't even rake my brains for that one. It was just a weed I pulled. Here's another weed, and no, I didn't smoke this one. While their may be some similarities in appearance, the reboot timeline Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu, and Chekov are hardly splitting images of the original timeline Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu, and Chekov. I guess we should give them a pass on that, just as we do for the two Darrens on Bewitched. After all, it's not like Abrams and his casting director had cloning technology at their convenience. Still, I'm a bit bothered by something. William Shatner had brown eyes, whereas Chris Pine's are blue. Could there be an explanation other than let's pretend otherwise? Yes, and it has to do again with the Kelvin, but nobody's father dies this time--well, Kirk's does, bu we already knew that. Since Nero doesn't attack the Kelvin in the original timeline, I take that to mean Kirk's mother gave birth to him in a relatively calm environment. In the reboot timeline, however, she's being rushed from one spacecraft to another with bombs going off and what have you. Could the trauma surrounding Kirk's birth have changed the color of his eyes while still in the womb? (Any obstetrician willing to back up my theory, please let me know in the comment section.)
Now that we got the continuity out of the way, let's look at other aspects of the film, such as J.J. Abrams direction and Scott Chambliss production design, as I feel the two are related. Once in reference to Luke Skywalker's beat-up Landspeeder (a type of anti-gravity car) in the first Star Wars movie, James Cameron pointed out that the future has a past. Things get old. The 2009 Star Trek film expands on that idea quite a bit. Not only do things get old, but things get dingy, or maybe are meant to be dingy to begin with. Above all, the future can be dark. As in, not well-illuminated. Like the present day, it all depends on where you happen to be. Go to a five-star hotel. The lobby will appear shiny new, even if the hotel is decades old. It's meant to impress. Now, if you can evade the hotel detective, and you may very well be able to as it's not something he's normally on the lookout for, sneak into the boiler room in the basement. There the decades will begin to show. It won't be necessarily dirty, but it will probably be dismal (synonyms: dreary, drab.) It's certainly not meant to impress you. As a paying customer, you're not suppose to be down there anyway. And boiler rooms are known to be dimly lit, which must drive whoever's in charge of maintaining the boiler room crazy. All those lights in the lobby and they can't afford to screw an extra bulb down here?! If you can't afford a five-star hotel, then go visit a Nordstrom's department store.You don't have to buy anything. Just tell the clerk you're looking around. Again, everything will be nice and shiny. But go to the back of the store, where they have those big double doors where employees go in and out, sometimes with merchandise. I wouldn't suggest you actually go through those doors, as there are probably cameras trained on you. Instead, just try to catch a glimpse as the doors open up. You'll notice what's on the other side is much less illuminated, not at all nice and shiny. The 2009 Star Trek feature film takes that dichotomy of literal light and literal darkness into the 23rd century. The Enterprise bridge is one of glittering, glistening glamour. It's so well-lit that the crew could be excused if they came to work in sunglasses. Then go down to the engine room. Unlike earlier Trek incarnations, including the original, it doesn't try to convince you that the same copious quantities of Windex, Pledge, and Mr. Clean are used in the bowels of the starship as elsewhere. Instead, it reeks of unimaginative functionality. But it also reeks of realism. And that describes, if not the plot (which is anything but) the whole feel of this movie. It's a very tactile future Abrams gives us. When Kirk and McCoy first meet on some kind of levitating shuttle, they have to shout to each other, because the thing is noisy, as machines are after all. In the bowels of the Kelvin, you see actual pipes, which should come as no surprise. These 23rd century folks still need to wash and bathe. The Federation base where Kirk and Nimoy Spock meet Scotty is not just spartan, but apparently not all that well-heated as the latter is wearing a coat. Mundane fork lifts equip spacecraft with supplies in the hangar scene, a hangar again with the most minimal lighting. Sure, there's still plenty of the kind of future that we've come to expect in science-fiction, but this film reminds us that this fantastic future doesn't come easily. Or, as James Kirk puts it, "Stardate 2258.424, uh, 4 whatever."
The acting. Let's start with the Enterprise crew, and how well the new actors portraying the original Enterprise crew compare to original actors portraying the original Enterprise crew, and is it even fair to compare the two set of actors. For that last, I'd say...maybe, maybe not.
Zoe Saldana filled that bill nicely. Plus, she still got to be sexy, and her kiss (see the picture five paragraphs above) with the half-human (and half-white) Spock wasn't forced at all. We'll see if Kirk ever gets a chance with her.
Scotty. The original played by James Doohan was often a comedy relief character capable of rising to the dramatic occasion when called for. By that I mean he was expected to advance a particular episode's plot along, and seemed a more serious personality when doing so. The new Scotty, played by Simon Pegg, is a comedic character but he's more than relief. He rises to the occasion, advances the plot along, by remaining funny. I'm not complaining. It never has made sense to me when an initially funny character in a movie or TV show suddenly turns serious because the story itself suddenly turned serious. You are what you are, no matter how dramatic things around you become. It's a memorable performance by Pegg. In a sense, he does offer a relief of sorts--relief from conventional storytelling.
Those of you over 40 may recall a movie western of the late 1980s titled Young Guns, in which several thespian hunks in their 20s, or who at least looked to be in their 20s, came together to play a group of photogenic cowboy heartthrobs. Well, the 2009 Star Trek could have been called Young Phasers, as Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Karl Urban could give Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, and Lou Diamond Philips a spur-booted run for their money. Most surprising is Urban, as Dr. McCoy, who, if you'll remember, was as far from a studmuffin on the original series as a tribble is from an English sheepdog. DeForest Kelley was 11 years older than William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, about a half a generation, and played that age difference to the cantankerous hilt. He seemed more a cranky uncle than a contemporary of Kirk or Spock. Now, let's move on to Urban. He's 8 years older than Pine and 5 years older than Quinto. So he's about a quarter of a generation older. Hmm...Let me look at this from another angle. Kelley was 46 when he first played McCoy, whereas Urban was 37. Also, Urban looks like he could pass for 30, maybe younger, whereas Kelley looked like he might be over 50! Whatever their ages when first taking the role, Urban was certainly the more youthful looking and youthful acting of the two McCoys. Much less craggy than Kelley. I can't even spot the faintest of laugh lines! So it would hard to characterize Urban's version of the good doctor as cantankerous. Still, Urban does a credible job of portraying Bones McCoy as a Type A personality. Let's just say he's hot under the collar. But unlike Kelley, some might just find him hot, period.
That leaves our other two Young Phasers, Quinto and Pine. Their rocky relationship form the crux of this movie. The two actors work well together. Or, rather, they work well together at often not working well together. This is actually the kind of relationship Kirk and Spock had in the earliest episodes of the original series before McCoy horned his way into the act (DeForest Kelley may not be a stud, but he's no gelding either.) As for which of the newer actors does a better job of playing their respective characters, I have a bit of a problem with this film's Spock, a problem rooted in the screenplay, that unfortunately ends up affecting Quinto's performance. The conflict between Kirk and Spock is supposed to be Emotion vs Logic, and, as a kind of adjunct, Gut Instinct vs Careful Planning. The movie weighs heavily in Emotion and Gut Instinct's favor, heavily in Kirk's favor. That wouldn't be such a problem if it was a fair fight, but it's not. Spock succumbs to emotion again and again in this film, forcing a kind of neurotic performance out of Quinto, but Kirk never succumbs to logic. And not just because Spock loses his temper and almost pulverizes Kirk. The hint early on in the film (only to be confirmed later on) that Spock and Uhura are lovers is just one more reason to believe this guy's not serious about his own outlook on life. So Kirk's outlook wins out virtually by default! (Ironically, the film could have been more fair, but I'll talk about that later on when I get to the villain of the piece.)
So that leaves Chris Pine. Of all the actors replacing the the original castmembers, he gives the best performance (Pegg being a close second.) And not just because the screenplay favors him, though that doesn't hurt. William Shatner's James Kirk is mostly duty-bound and certainly very responsibility-minded in the TV show, but becomes more of a maverick in the feature films (to the point of stealing the Enterprise from Starfleet in The Search for Spock!) Chris Pine's James Kirk does it in reverse. He's a maverick as a child, stealing his stepdad's car, and continues to be one at the Academy when he rigs the Kobayashi Maru test. The 2009 Star Trek is all about Kirk becoming a responsible adult. A key scene is when Kirk allows Spock go with him aboard the Narada, not all that long after the latter's violent outburst. In a real-world situation, I'm not sure that would be the most responsible thing for Kirk to allow, but this isn't the real world, and, until proven otherwise, hardly the real galaxy, but in the fictional Milky Way, our hero knows the Vulcan is the best man for the job, and doesn't let his near-murder at the hands of that best man deter him. True, we really wouldn't expect Kirk to do otherwise, but a fine bit of acting by Pine allows Kirk to live up to the those expectations.
Christopher Pike was not a regular character on the original Star Trek, but he did make his debut there, and so far has been played by three different actors. He was the original Enterprise captain in the pilot episode--the first pilot episode--titled "The Cage", and was portrayed by a very good-looking, seemingly age-resistance actor by the name of Jeffrey Hunter. Coming within striking distance of movie stardom time and time again throughout the 1950s, these days Hunter is probably best known outside of Star Trek circles as John Wayne's sidekick in John Ford's western classic The Searchers (1956) and as Jesus in 1961's King of Kings Though he was around the reputed age of the character he was playing in the latter film, one movie reviewer dismissed it as I Was a Teenage Christ. Almost 40 when he did "The Cage" but looking about a decade younger, I wonder if Hunter's pretty boy visage, and the cracks he occasionally had to endure from critics, didn't make him a bit self-conscious when approaching the role of Pike. Don't get me wrong. It's a very good performance, and I think he could have ended up every bit the iconic Enterprise captain as William Shatner turned out to be, but his demeanor throughout the pilot is relentlessly grim, as if the more he grimaced the more he would be accepted as a commander of a starship, rather than a teenage kid asking his dad for the car keys. True, Pike and his crew are in peril for most of "The Cage" and Shatner could be relentlessly grim, too, but James Kirk would at least flash a winning grin once the danger had passed. Maybe Hunter was just pissed that he had accepted the role in the first place. NBC turned down the pilot but, in what was at the time an unusual move, asked for a second. Hunter's contract only called for one pilot, and he opted out of doing another. So Shatner was hired to play Pike, or Kirk as the character was now called. Star Trek, as we all know, was then picked up by the network. Wishing to salvage the beautifully filmed first pilot, Gene Roddenberry turned it into a kind of flashback episode titled "The Menagerie", and Christopher Pike, rather than just James Kirk by another name (and actor) was revealed to be a separate character as well as the first captain of the Enterprise. A wraparound subplot set the whole thing up, and here we come to the second actor to play Pike: Sean Kenney, though I kind of doubt there was all that much acting involved. Scorched in a radiation accident, Pike is paralyzed, horribly scarred, and can only communicate with a light on his wheelchair that flashes once for "yes" and twice for "no" (apparently "maybe" is beyond even 23rd century technology.) 43 years would pass before Bruce Greenwood got a chance to play the character. With all due respect to Hunter and Kenney (who, if nothing else, had to spend a lot of time in makeup) Greenwood may be the best Pike of them all. Since, from a media franchise production standpoint, Pike is, or was, a proto-Kirk, it's fair to assume he has a similarly heroic service record. Except that in this film he's less hero than victim. Think about it. Pike is taken into captivity and is relentlessly tortured. Yet there's enough of a sense of masculine chivalrousness to the character before that happens that it tides him over throughout his fall from swashbuckling grace. Pike seems less a victim than a hero who has been inconvenienced. And of course he gives himself over to Nero so as to allow the rest of the Enterprise crew to escape, so you might say that Pike is the hero's ill-fated twin: a martyr. All this is a tribute to Greenwood's acting, because the script isn't doing him any favors. But then, the whole point of Pike, at least since "The Cage" became "The Menagerie", is that his time has passed.
Then there's the villain of the piece, Nero. I'm afraid Eric Bana is merely a serviceable bad guy. He's convincingly dastardly, I suppose, but there's nothing particularly original about his dastardliness. It could be that pop culture dastardliness has run its course. You can only scowl in so many ways, and little more than a century of motion pictures and just under three-quarters of a century of television has covered them all. It's just not Bana's performance, however. There's a missed opportunity in the screenplay, but before I tell you what it is, let's take a closer look at, when done right, those most intriguing of Star Trek villains, the Romulans.
The Romulans made their debut in the original series first season episode "Balance of Terror". All about a tense standoff between the Enterprise and a Bird-of-Prey starship, it's a well-written episode that has something to say about prejudice without sacrificing the Romulan reputation for troublemaking. This first aired in December of 1966, about three months before those other troublemakers, the Klingons, made debut in "An Errand of Mercy". Yet though the Romulans were there first, the Klingons quickly pulled ahead, appearing three times during the second season. The Romulans aren't seen at all, but just mentioned in passing in "The Deadly Years". In Star Trek's third and final season, it's three Klingon episodes to one Romulan episode, the latter titled "The Enterprise Incident". As for the feature films starring the original cast, the Romulans get short shrift there, too. In Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Romulans are in fact not foes but victims, as they're among the hostages taken by renegade Vulcan Sybok. In the very next film, The Undiscovered Country, a Romulan ambassador is part of a plot to derail an Federation-Klingon peace agreement, but his presence seems more like lip service on the screenwriters part. The Romulans appeared much more often in Star Trek: The Next Generation, becoming that series main foes. They also looked slightly different as they now had V-shaped ridged foreheads. This change in visage was perhaps to make them just as striking in their appearance as the Klingons, but I would argue that it actually robbed them of their uniqueness. They're not Klingons, and shouldn't play the same role as the Klingons once did. What the Romulans gained in visibility, they lost in significance, for Jean-Luc Picard's Enterprise had no Vulcans serving on its bridge. Why should that matter? Allow me to explain.
You have to go back to "Balance of Terror". According to that episode, the Earth had fought a war to a draw with the Romulans 100 years earlier, back when starships could only communicate with each other through radio signals. Now that there's visual contact, Kirk sees for the first time what Romulans look like, and that's an awful lot like Vulcans! Apparently, they're an offshoot race, and Spock comes under suspicion from some of the Enterprise crew that he may be in cahoots with them. He's not, of course. In fact, far from it. In "The Enterprise Incident", a female Romulan commander attempts to seduce Spock, in the belief that mutually pointed ears will overcome any loyalty he has to Starfleet. Spock actually seems like he might fall for her, but it's all a ruse, because while Vulcans may look like Romulans, they certainly don't act like Romulans. This is what gives the latter race its villainous significance, and may be one reason they were used so sparingly during the original series. The Klingons were either stock villains or stand-ins for the Communists, Western Civilization's primary adversary during that era. The more unique Romulans, by contrast, were a rationale for the Vulcan way of life. Spock sometimes seemed vaguely like a heavy in the earliest episodes of Star Trek, as if he and his countrymen chose Logic over Emotion simply to be ornery. But no, the real reason is that they were once like Romulans, to often disastrous effect, as their planet was continuously mired in war. They're now trying to put that behind them. A possible real-world parallel is modern-day, democratic, civil liberties-minded Germany throwing anybody in jail who denies there was a Holocaust. As with the Vulcan cessation of emotions, this bit of censorship can seem like a bit of an overreaction to outsiders, but from the inside it's a prudent and preventative measure against a disastrous return to the past. As for the Romulans themselves, they're like Nazis who fled to Argentina, except--and thank God this didn't happen in real life--they've now forged their own nation-state in the wilds of South America. So what does any of this have to do with the 2009 feature film?
KIRK: Compassion may be the only way to earn peace with Romulus. It's logic, Spock. Thought you'd like that.
SPOCK: No, not really. Not this time.
Now onto the actor who gave this film's best performance, better than Pine, Greenwood, Pegg, any of them:
Sorry to be so predictable, but Leonard Nimoy really does steal this movie away from the other actors, assuming the movie wasn't about his character in the first place. After all, he's allowed to give the famous "Space, the final frontier..." oration over the film's closing credits. Words to remember him by, as if he wasn't memorable enough. The once-deep voice had grown horse by 2009, his face now blighted by age (though, like a lot of elderly TV/movie stars, he looks suspiciously--cut, cut, snip, snip--bright-eyed), but the acting comes through. He's commanding as ever. Funny, too. Despite the rather harrowing trial he's just gone through, this is Spock at his wryest. He actually seems a bit amused by the time-warped situation he now finds himself in. Neither line was probably meant to be funny, but I laughed out loud when, after Kirk somewhat facetiously suggest he'll have to kill the Spock played by Zachary Quinto, Nimoy's Spock replies, "Preferably not," or, upon meeting another old friend from the past, gives as an exclamatory, "Montgomery Scott!" It just the way it sounds coming out of Nimoy's mouth. Then there's this amusing exchange that comes toward the end of the film:
QUINTO SPOCK: Father?
NIMOY SPOCK: (turning to face him) I am NOT our father. There are so few Vulcans left, we cannot afford to ignore each other.
QUINTO SPOCK: Then why did you send Kirk aboard, when you alone could have explained the truth?
NIMOY SPOCK: Because you needed each other. I could not deprive you of the revelation of all that you could accomplish together. Of a friendship that would define you both, in ways you cannot yet realize.
QUINTO SPOCK: How did you persuade him to keep your secret?
NIMOY SPOCK: He inferred that universe-ending paradoxes would ensue should he break his promise.
QUINTO SPOCK: You lied.
NIMOY SPOCK: Oh, I implied.
Heh, heh, heh--Oops, that's me again. Don't ask me why I found that implied line funny. I just did. Back to the conversation:
QUINTO SPOCK: A gamble.
NIMOY SPOCK: An act of faith. One that I hop you will repeat in the future at Starfleet.
QUINTO SPOCK: In the face of extinction, it is only logical I resign my Starfleet commission and help rebuild our race.
NIMOY SPOCK: And yet, you can be in two places at once. I urge you to remain in Starfleet. I have already located a suitable planet on which to establish a Vulcan colony. Spock, in this case, do yourself a favor. Put aside logic. Do what feels right. Since my customary farewell ["live long and prosper"] would appear oddly self-serving, I shall simply say, good luck.
Oddly self-serving. BWAHAHAHAHA!--Excuse me. That was uncalled for.
The screenplay was written by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Damon Lindelof, with some probable input by producer-director Abrams. I've already criticized one aspect of the script, so let me praise another: the time-travel plot. After more than a century of time-travel novels, movie, TV shows, and comic books, this one does something rather novel. It makes the effect of the time-travel permanent. I mean, it's been done before, just not all that often. Back to the Future ends with a changed present, one for the better (that's really novel, since the moral of so many time-travel stories, including several episodes of the original Star Trek, is don't change the past or something bad will happen.) The TV series Quantum Leap also implied a mutable, and thus improvable, reality. And there's been short stories where someone goes back to the past and, as a surprise ending, returns to a changed present. What makes this film so different is that the entirety of the story takes place in a changed present, a changed timeline, whereas the original timeline is only glimpsed at in a very brief mind-meld flashback. And, aside from Nero and Nimoy's Spock, the main characters point-of-view is that of people who have spent their entire lives in an altered reality. That really does make it unique from every other time-travel story, where the original timeline is always--no pun intended--the point of origin, no matter what does or doesn't get changed (or changed back) later on. This time, the crew of the Enterprise don't find out they're essentially clones until halfway through the movie! And what makes it truly, truly, truly novel, is the changed timeline, the changed reality, is deemed worth saving. If not, why care one whit about Nero's nefarious plans? After all, it's not THE Trek reality. In fact, it's a worse reality, since Vulcan gets destroyed. Note, however, that though he's been in similar predicaments in the past, this time Nimoy's Spock never considers trying to get back to his own timeline, his own universe. He decides to stick around and take responsibility for this new reality, flawed though it may be. You break it, you bought it, he must figure.
I can't really call it a flaw of the screenplay, since it was a pretty amazing plot twist that was central not only to the film but one of the film's central characters, but I have to admit I was a bit perturbed by the destruction of Vulcan. After all, the joint's been around since 1966. Of course, it's fictional, and even within that fictionality, you only saw it on occasion. Just once in the original series ("Amok Time"), and a little more often in the feature films (Star Trek: The Motion Picture, The Search for Spock, The Voyage Home), though an entire movie, or even three-quarters of a movie, never took place there. Mostly Spock talked about it a lot. So much that it began to seem like another character, and now that character is dead. Couldn't the filmmakers come up with a compelling story without resorting to such a drastic measure? Maybe, but it's actually part of a trend in films of late, a trend its critics have dubbed destruction porn.
Take the 1971 James Bond movie Diamonds are Forever. Blofield threatens the world with a killer satellite. As he and Bond, the one played by Sean Connery, and various good guys and bad guys duke it out on a fake oil rig that actually serves as a power source, a globe that doubles as a radar screen charts the deadly space craft as it nears Washington D.C. Just when it looks like the nation's capital is going to be fricasseed, Bond lifts up Blofield's mini sub (with Blofield in it) with a crane, and smashes it into the power source. Destruction averted, see? Or how about 1978's Superman, the first with Christopher Reeves in the title role. Lex Luther shoots a nuclear missile into the San Andreas Fault, nearly causing California to split into two. The Last Son of Krypton flies to the scene, and, um, reattaches the state, but not before Lois Lane falls into a crack and dies. So what does Superman do? He simply turns the Earth backwards on its axis, which somehow puts Lois back together again. My final example is from the Star Trek franchise itself. In the 1994 feature film Generations, a mad, or at least very-self-centered, scientist wants to explode a star, an explosion that will kill about 250 million people on Veridian IV. Now, unlike Vulcan (or, for that matter, Romulus), Veridian IV has never had a recurring role in the Star Trek saga. It was invented for this particular film, and then never mentioned again, dropping out Trek continuity like Carly Fiorina from the presidential race. We never even get to see the place, as the main action takes place on a neighboring, seemingly deserted planet. Yet Captain Picard decides the planet is worth saving, and, with the help of Captain Kirk, the one played by William Shatner, does save it, and we applaud him for it. Destruction again averted, even if we never get a clear look at what was going to be destroyed.
So how to account for the current round of destruction porn? Teenagers control the box office, sure, but they've done so for years, even back in the days when Captain Picard couldn't stomach the thought of Veridian IV being destroyed. And you can't pin it on stifling conformity when we live in an era of nude selfies and a presidential candidate who boasts about the size of his dick. And anyway, why did the destruction migrate to the action-adventure genre? Why do 21st century audiences no longer expect, maybe even don't care if, the hero prevents the bad thing from happening?
The photo below might provide a possible clue:
That's real life you're looking at, folks.
It wasn't supposed to work out this way. Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, there was much speculation as to what effect such a shocking event would have on popular culture (as if that was the most pressing concern.) "Irony is dead" was one such pronouncement. Another was that after witnessing so much death and destruction for real on their TV screens, the American public would have little stomach for the fictional equivalent as their choice of entertainment. Violence would disappear from pop culture, and our leisure viewing time would be one of G-rated harmony. Instead, the opposite happened. Movies and television became more violent. The body counts have risen in the past 15 years. On 21th century screens both large and small, people shoot each other, stab each other, molest each other, gouge each other, choke each other, drown each other, slam each other, drive a car over each other, drag from a car each other, shoot arrows at each other, defenestrate each other, impale each other, stomp each other, decapitate each other, amputate each other, disembowel each other, mutilate each other, chainsaw each other, crush each other, skin alive each other, let dogs rip apart each other, and, finally, blow up each other more than ever before.
Ironic, isn't it?
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) The film opens with Kirk and McCoy being chased around the planet Nibiru by mummy-like aliens throwing spears. Spock, meanwhile, is at the bottom of a volcano with a cold-fusion device meant to keep it from erupting and destroying all life on the planet. And where is the starship Enterprise in all of this? Why, underwater, of course. This is actually a franchise first for any starship named Enterprise. The only time one ever came to a planet' surface in the past was when it was falling to pieces. Kirk and McCoy jump into the water and swim downward to their spacecraft. They now have to rescue Spock, but this particular planet has a particularly large magnetic field that can wreak havoc with the Enterprise transporters, meaning the Vulcan first office can't be beamed to safety from underwater. The only clear shot they have is if the starship is directly above the volcano. So the Enterprise emerges from the water, in clear view of Nibiru's primitive natives. Taking a page from Chariot of the Gods?, these native draw a picture of this new deity into the planet's scarlet soil. Spock is rescued and shows his gratitude by writing a report to Starfleet accusing Kirk of violating the Prime Directive.
The Prime Directive. First mentioned in the original series episode "The Return of the Archons" way back in 1967. A planet's people are the zombie slaves of a computer named Landru. Kirk and Spock discuss their options:
KIRK: You're thinking the same thing I am. Mister Spock, the plug must be pulled.
KIRK: Landru must die.
SPOCK: Captain, out Prime Directive of non-interference.
KIRK: That refers to a living, growing culture. Do you think this is one?
Kirk, though, is in trouble for not living up to it. Despite his life being saved by his captain, Spock feels duty-bound to report the violation to Starfleet. Kirk is relieved of command. So he ends up in a dive similar to one in the earlier film, and Pike (who relieved him of his duty) shows up to offer the drunken wretch a chance to redeem himself. Pike's got the Enterprise back, and he wants Kirk as his first officer.
Meanwhile, trouble is brewing elsewhere. A renegade Starfleet operative by the name of John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), has blown up the Kelvin Memorial Archives in London, necessitating an emergency meeting at the Headquarters in San Francisco. Kirk is there as Pike's right-hand man, and figures out it's a trap. Sure enough, about a second after Kirk figures it out, this Harrison fellow buzzes the headquarters with his ship, and then trains his ray guns at a window and starts blazing away. Several officers are hit, including Pike. A grieving Kirk cradles his dying commander in his arms.
If it makes James Kirk feel any better, at least now Pike has been spared this fate.
Onto the Klingon homeworld of Kronos, sometimes spelled Qo´nos depending on what online Star Trek reference you look at. However it's spelled, it's a pretty dangerous place. If that wasn't bad enough, on a secret shuttle trip to the planet's surface, Kirk finds himself in the middle of a lovers quarrel between Spock and Uhura:
UHURA: At that volcano, you didn't give a thought to us. What it would do to me if you died, Spock. You didn't feel anything. You didn't care. And I'm not the only one who's upset with you. The Captain is, too.
KIRK: No, no, no. Don't drag me into this.
SPOCK: Your suggestion that I do not care about dying is incorrect. A sentient being's optimal chance at maximizing their utility is a long and prosperous life.
UHURA: (If she's not rolling her eyes, she should be) Great.
KIRK: Not exactly a love song, Spock.
Any of their optimal chances at long and prosperous lives will soon seem limited, as they're immediately ambushed by the Klingons on their arrival. Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) himself turns up and, much to everyone's surprise, saves their asses. But that's not even the biggest surprise: Harrison then turns himself in.
QUINTO SPOCK: Spock.
NIMOY SPOCK (on viewscreen): Spock.
QUINTO SPOCK: I will be brief. In your travels, did you ever encounter a man named Khan?
NIMOY SPOCK: As you know, I have made a vow never to give you information that could potentially alter your destiny. Your path is yours to walk, and yours alone. That being said, Khan Noonien Singh is the most dangerous adversary the Enterprise ever faced. He is brilliant, ruthless, and he will not hesitate to kill every single one of you.
QUINTO SPOCK: Did you defeat him?
NIMOY SPOCK: Yes, but at great cost.
Khan now contacts Spock--the Zachary Quinto Spock, just so there's no confusion--and tells him he'll release Kirk, Scotty, and Carol in exchange for his genetically-enhanced colleagues. Spock pretends to agree but actually takes the cryogenic passengers out of their torpedoes, and replaces them with photon explosives. The exchange is made, after which Khan immediately attacks the Enterprise, damaging its ever-fragile warp engines. Meanwhile, the torpedoes explode on the Vengeance. Earth's gravity sucks both of the disabled ships downward. While Spock orders an evacuation, Kirk and Scotty head to engineering to see if the warp drive can be restored. It can, but there's a bit of a problem: the room where the warp core is located is filled with deadly radiation. Determined to go inside, Kirk knocks out a protesting Scotty (as opposed to giving him a nerve pinch, as Nimoy's Spock did to Kelley's McCoy all those years ago) and fixes it himself. Spock finally checks the scene out, and finds a dying Kirk:
KIRK: How's our ship?
SPOCK: Out of danger. You saved the crew.
KIRK: You used what he wanted against him. That's a nice move.
SPOCK: It is what you would have done.
KIRK: And this, this is what you would have done. It was only logical. I'm scared, Spock. Help me not be. How do you chose not to feel?
SPOCK: I do not know. Right now I am failing.
KIRK: I want you to know why I couldn't let you die. Why I went back to you.
SPOCK: Because you are my friend.
Kirk dies, prompting this observation from Spock:
And what of Khan?
That's a summer blockbuster you're looking at, folks
Believing his compatriots dead (for all his genetically-advanced intelligence, he can't seem to figure out that if the torpedoes all had explosives in them, then his friends must not be stored there), Khan decides to steer his falling ship into Starfleet Headquarters, part of which falls onto the ground, in what 23rd century conspiracy theorists will no doubt say was a controlled demolition. Khan dies a martyr, goes to Heaven, and is rewarded 72 virgins. Oops--that's wrong. He survives with nary a scratch. Spock chases him through downtown San Francisco, past various onlookers, including at least one man in a suit and tie (first time we've ever seen anyone dressed like THAT in the future according to Star Trek!) Spock catches up with Khan and the two duke it out on--this is a nice, goofy touch--a floating garbage barge. Meanwhile, in an Enterprise labratory, the reports of a tribble's death following a injection of Khan's blood has been greatly exaggerated. In fact, the furry little critter is better than ever. Uhura beams down to tell Spock the good news, only to find that Khan seems to be winning the fight. Uhura zaps Khan with her phaser. That slows him down just enough for Spock to now gain the upper hand. In what's emerging as a trend in these new timeline movies, Spock starts beating the shit out of him. Looks like the Vulcan is about to deliver a murderous blow, when Uhura urges him to stop. In order to save Kirk, they need Khan. In particular, his veins.
Said to have been 1,933 years before Star Trek first went on the air.
(No, they didn't have photography back then. The above picture is a Hollywood recreation.)
The blood transfusion perks the formally deceased Kirk right up. Khan is turned back into a popsicle. And the whole Enterprise gang finally embark on that historic five-year mission.
Now that I think about it, there is one other problem involving continuity, and it involves Khan. But I'll save it for later.
Alice Eve as Carol Marcus. Before I begin evaluating her thespian skills, you may be wondering if the picture above is absolutely necessary. Probably not, but then I'd have to ask you, was it absolutely necessary that the scene appear in the movie at all? Here's how it comes about. After discussing with Kirk what might be inside those torpedoes, Carol strips down to her underwear, after which she tells the stunned Enterprise captain to turn around. Excuse me, but if you don't want someone to see you in your underwear, wouldn't it make sense to tell them to turn around before you took off your clothes, rather than after? But then, maybe she doesn't mind Kirk seeing her in her underwear, but plans to get naked, and that's why she wants Kirk to turn around. I'm not opposed to people stripping down in movies, but it's nice if it has something to do with the story being told. There's no romantic subplot, Kirk doesn't fall in love with her. They don't even have a one-night stand! It doesn't really add anything to the character of Carol, other than we know she's smart enough to be a scientist but a bit absent-minded when it comes to apparel. It's also Eve's most famous scene in the whole film, as I suspect it was meant to be. Because this Carol Marcus, unlike the one played by Bibi Besch, is a rather lightweight character,and on that score, Eve meets expectations. For all I know, she may end up being one of the greatest actresses who ever lived, but, for now, her chief appeal seems to be how she well looks with a minimum amount of clothes.
There's hope for Ms. Eve yet.
Admiral Marcus was played by Peter Weller, best known as the title character in the original RoboCop back in the 1980s. Despite that movie being a hit, he's another actor who's never quite achieved stardom. He should have. He's very good here playing a secondary villain (for a while it seemed like the primary villain; more about that later.) It's a familiar character by now (and one that dismayingly turns up in real life from time to time), the military hardliner who will stop at nothing to get his country (or his planet) involved in an unnecessary war. Self-righteous creepiness is what such a role requires, which Weller ably provides. He's a 23rd century neoconservative.
Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan. Is Cumberbatch now considered a movie star? If not, the term must be obsolete. Here in the United States his reputation rests with his updated version of Sherlock Holmes. With this film he gets to play Dr Moriarity. A hunky Dr. Moriarity. One thing he doesn't play is Ricardo Montelban's hissing villain of 1982. This Khan doesn't hiss, but always measures his words carefully, while taking careful measure of everybody's weaknesses. It's a portrayal of seductive evil. Or, seeing as we don't know the character's true motives until near the end of the film, a portrayal of seductive moral ambiguity. Either way, it's seductive. What do you expect? He's a movie star. Or should be.
As for returning cast members. John Cho as Sulu and Anton Yelchin as Chekov--Sorry, but I honestly don't remember much about them in this movie. They were practically extras. Zoe Saldana as Uhura. Good. Her best scene has her trying to talk some sense to some insensitive Klingons. Simon Pegg's Scotty again provides much of the film's humor. At one point under the influence of alcohol he exclaims, "Well now, if it isn't Captain James Tiberius... 'Perfect Hair.' Did you hear that? I called him 'Perfect Hair!' Ha!'" I don't blame him for laughing at his own jokes. Karl Urban has some good lines, too, but his MsCoy is too one-note and it's a discordant note at that. The original McCoy wouldn't have carried the grump act right to Captain Kirk's bedside. He would have been genuinely pleased his friend had pulled through all right. DeForest Kelley's doctor may have been easily annoyed, but unlike Urban, he wasn't permanently annoyed. Bruce Greenwood as Pike is very good in his scenes with Chris Pine. For obvious reasons (damn that Khan!) there's not enough of those scenes. And Leonard Nimoy in his final outing as Spock? What can I say? He only has three lines, but packs more into those three lines than most actors do in 30.
Chris Pine is once again engaging as the impetuous James T. Kirk, an impetuousness that sometimes helps, and sometimes hurts him. And of course it's the 50% success rate to which he pays the most attention. Good (temporary) death scene, too. We shouldn't expect Kirk to go gently into that sweet night (though the one played by Shatner somewhat uncharacteristically did just that in Star Trek: Generations),but he's not so much enraged against, but genuinely perplexed by, the dying of the light. Kirk's certainly not having "fun".
And now it's time for the Best Actor Award. It goes to...
And what are those serious points?. The screenplay--again by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Damon Lindelof--seems to want to make a statement about terrorism, and a rather provocative, and certainly non-mainstream, statement at that: the terrorist has his reasons, and, even more provocative, that reason may be a legitimate grievance. All the blood shed (or bodies atomized) can be traced back to not Khan but Admiral Marcus, who turned the former into a slave laborer. Khan's actions, can be seen as blowback. Marcus is the imperial power, Khan the colonial subject. It's Victorian England vs India, France vs Northern Africa, the Dutch vs the East Indies, Spain vs the Philippines, the Portuguese vs Brazil, and lest we leave out the United States, the Cowboys vs the Indians. Actually, it was the U.S. Calvary against the Indians. In that sense, Marcus is General Custer and Khan Sitting Bull. Except instead of an arrow through the heart, the 23rd century Custer gets his head crushed. I'll leave it up to you to decide which fate is worse. The Battle of Little Bighorn was arguably the biggest example of blowback in American history until September 11, 2001. What? You don't like the lumping of the two together, even though I did preface it with "arguably"? Well, that's the serious point that the screenwriters--Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Damon Lindelof, all returning from the first film--are trying to make, I suspect. The US has exploited the oil-rich Middle East in much the same way Marcus exploits Khan. A rather controversial point-of-view to come from a summer blockbuster. Except the film, perhaps influenced by the imperialistic practises of the major media company that footed the bill, pulls its punches toward the end. Khan turns out to be the bad guy after all. So what's wrong with that?
KHAN: Mr. Spock, give me my crew.
SPOCK: What will you do when you get them?
KHAN: Continue the work we were doing before we were banished.
SPOCK: Which as I understand it involves the mass genocide of any being you find to be less than superior.
outré moments. (One of my favorites was in the episode "Metamorphosis" when Kirk and Spock tries to convince Zefrem Cocharane to return the affections of a lovelorn cloud of electricity. When Cohrane refuses, Spock sniffs, "A totally parochial attitude.") But by 2013, when Into Darkness premiered, Star Trek was no longer merely a cult favorite, but a franchise that had come to epitomize mass entertainment, what the masses desire most is normalcy. Indeed, they're the ones that get to decide what's normal in the first place.
By now there may be those of you who have come to the conclusion that I take Star Trek too seriously. C'mon, you're saying, it's entertainment. Don't overthink it. Well, my answer is that for some of us, there need not be a line drawn, or a 20 foot wall bult with electric barbed water on top and a moat full of maneating alligators in front of it, between entertainment and something thought-provoking. The thoughts provoked may provide us pleasure. Then there are those of you who see nothing wrong with me seeking a more cerebral form of entertainment, but that I'm going to the wrong place. It's Star Trek that took itself too seriously. It was pretentious. Charlie Chaplin, George Gershwin, Richard Pryor, Garry Trudeau, and Nobel laureate Bob Dylan have all been called pretentious, or words to that effect, from time to time, so Star Trek is in good company. Still, I may be evading the issue. Pretentious is derived from the word pretend. When applied to the arts, it means an artist is pretending to have more depth than he or she actually possesses. This shouldn't be confused with the artist who, quite sincerely, attempts a masterpiece and falls short of the mark. That person isn't pretentious but a failure. No, pretentiousness means you're not so much attempting a masterpiece as trying to fool everyone into thinking you've creating one. How to do that? Well, it may not be possible when it comes to "high culture": literature, ballet, classical music, etc. A person lacking artistic depth in those fields really risks making a fool, as well as a starving artist, of himself. But when it comes to "low", often charitably referred to a "pop", culture--TV, comic strips, Hollywood movies--it may be possible, even profitable, if expectations are low enough, to come across as an artist full of depth, even if all you deeply want is to get that sexy coed wearing the Kierkegaard cropped T-shirt to go to bed with you. Just brandish a theme that connotes seriousness: death, war, poverty, genocide, existential meaninglessness, etc., onto some art form where people don't go looking for it. The American situation comedy, for example. Sitcoms will sometimes air "special episodes", essentially half-hour dramas, in the hope of winning an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy. Take the very funny but not-too-deep 1970s sitcom Happy Days. On one episode, Richie Cunningham gets into a motorcycle accident and goes into a coma. In an intensely dramatic moment, Fonzie is seen standing vigil by his friend's hospital bed and tearfully begging God to save his life (and God does just that, but the Emmy's snubbed the Fonz anyway.) Now, that I call pretentious. Since TV science fiction isn't held in all that much higher regard than situation comedies, one might expect Star Trek to fall into that trap. And occasionally it has. There were, after all, 79 episodes of the original Trek, and hundreds more of the 1980s and '90s spinoffs. So from time to time an otherwise shallow writer motivated only by his paycheck would have spit out an unconvincing episode with some serious theme, and patted himself on the back for doing so, because that's what the fans expect. But having spent a considerable amount of time during this past year investigating how these scripts came into being, I'm convinced most of the creative people involved with Trek in its every manifestation weren't shallow at all (even if they couldn't avoid doing hackwork earlier in their careers) and appreciated the chance the TV shows and films gave them to flex their cranial muscles. Even the writers of Star Trek Into Darkness weren't being pretentious, I believe. That that movie, in my opinion, felt short of the mark, has more to do with the spirit being willing, but the flesh contractually compromised.
(While on the whole, I don't find Star Trek Into Darkness pretentious, I do think the Kirk death scene--and this is no reflection on Pine's acting, which was very good--comes closer to Richie Cunningham-in-a-coma than it does to Spock's demise in The Wrath of Khan. Part of this is because Leonard Nimoy really had people believing for a while that he was done with Spock forever, and that made his death all the more affecting. And as sad as the scene was, there was something brilliantly satirical about it, as it upended all of William Shatner's Kirk's attention-getting derring-do.)
Nevertheless, some of you may still believe that entertainment, pretentious or not, shouldn't be thought-provoking. What you want is escapism. In that case, I have just the show for you:
C'mon, you didn't find Lost in Space entertaining? You didn't find it fun? How about when the two robots fought each other? Or the pirate with the mechanical parrot? Or the time Will Robinson found himself back on Earth, and noone believed he had been in outer space? Or the time Dr Smith turned into a giant? Or a tree? Also on the latter episode, remember that wonderful talking carrot? And didn't you just love it when the robot shouted, "Danger, Will Robinson! Danger, Will Robinson!"? Or when Dr. Smith moaned, "We're doomed! We're doomed!"?
Oh, yeah, that's right, this show eventually got made into a film, too, but it basically came and went.
Star Trek not only pulled ahead of Lost in Space, but just about every other 1960s TV series. And 1970s and 1980s series. By the 1990s it was more than just one TV series but several, as well as the feature films. By the 2010s, it was more than a collection of TV series and feature films, but a highly recognizable consumer brand. And just what did those consumers recognize? Probably not the same things that the original cult followers did 50 years earlier. Consumer tastes had changed, and the mighty Viacom corporation responded to that change. What people now want in movies, in art and entertainment in general, is heart-pounding excitement. An adrenaline rush. A pop culture mass media high. Thrills, chills, and instant gratification. What 21st century audiences want most of all...
...is to be kept on the edge of their seats.
Though, it earned less than its predecessor, Star Trek Into Darkness was still considered a hit, and made enough money--about $29.9 million--to justify a sequel. Which came out just this past summer. Star Trek Beyond premiered right while I was in the middle of writing this essay. It was directed by Justin Lin, who was responsible for four of the Fast and Furious movies. J.J. Abrams produced. Simon Pegg who played Scotty, was one of the screenwriters. In the new film Sulu is revealed to be gay, which drew a mild-mannered, albeit much-publicized, rebuke from the character's original portrayer, George Takei (himself gay), who felt it wasn't how Gene Roddenberry had originally conceived the character. In what's becoming kind of a tradition in Star Trek movies, yet another USS Enterprise bites the dust. And that's about all I'm going to tell you about it. I vowed to myself that I would limit these posts to the original cast members (a vow I kind of broke when I discussed the TV spinoffs earlier in this piece, but I didn't want to leave too large a gap between Generations and the J.J. Abrams reboot.) Besides, if I wrote an essay about this movie, probably by the time I finished, there would have been another Trek movie released, and I'd feel obliged to write about that. And of course, there's another TV series, and if that's successful, maybe one or two or three others. I might end up writing about Star Trek for the rest of my life! It's tempting, I know. Suffice to say the Trek franchise is still going strong. Who knows when it will end? In the 23rd century, perhaps?
|DeForest Kelley 1920-1999|
|James Doohan 1920-2005|
|Majel Barrett 1932-2008|
|Grace Lee Whitney 1930-2015|
(Yes, I know I left one out, but I'll deal with him in the next installment.)
Of course, original cast members William Shatner, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, and Walter Koenig are all still alive, and could pop up in some future Star Trek project. True, Shatner's version of James T. Kirk is supposed to be deceased, but as someone once said, "Nobody dies in science fiction."
Just in real life.
NEXT: To Inevitably Go Where No Man Has Gone Before, or: Leonard Nimoy Reconsidered