Sunday, October 30, 2016

Strange New World Just Ahead, or: How to Make a Vulcan Feel at Home (Part 14 of 15)

14. Out with the Old, In with the New...with One Notable Exception

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.

--Johnny Mercer



Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production; and the interest of the producer ought to be attended to, only so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer.
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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.

Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production; and the interest of the producer ought to be attended to, only so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer.
Read more at:
Star Trek: First Contact (1996) The best of The Next Generation feature films, and among the best of all Trek films. The Enterprise is once again doing battle with the half-robot, half-organic race known as the Borg Collective (those of you old enough to remember The Six Million Dollars Man, imagine Steve Austen rebuilt as a Transformer.) Picard and co. follow a Borg ship back in time to a post-nuclear war 2063 (a rather gloomy prognosis for the future--Gene Roddenberry's ashes must be turning in their orbit.) Apparently the Borg wish to disrupt the first meeting between Humans and Vulcans, as well as Earth's first warp-drivable rocket ship, cobbled together from an old Titan missile by Zefram Cochrane. We first met Cochrane in the original Star Trek episode "Metamorphosis". The young hunk played then by Glenn Corbett has been replaced in this film by lanky, middle-aged James Cromwell (the farmer in Babe.) The part of the movie that has Riker (James Frakes, who also directed), Counselor Troi (Mirina Sirtis), and La Forge (Levar Burton; the visor has been replaced by what looks like a pair of cufflinks for eyes) in Montana, trying to make sure history goes as planned is mostly comic (Cromwell fares best in these scenes as the dissolute, destiny-ducking Cochrane.) The real drama takes place on the Enterprise as the single-minded Borg ("Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.") take over the ship, and take over and re-wire every crew member of the ship except for Picard (Patrick Stewart), Data (Brent Spiner), Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) and Worf (Michael Dorn). Cochrane's assistant, an understandably confused but nevertheless feisty Lily Sloan (Alfre Woodward) is also along for the ride. Their main opponent is the Borg Queen, as played by Alice Krige both deliciously evil and deliciously erotic (at least from the shoulders up.) A pair of powerful performances from Stewart and Spiner, the latter having the best line of the film. The Borg Queen had earlier promised to make Spiner's robot character human in exchange for his help in defeating Picard. She even tempts him by transplanting a patch of genuine flesh onto part of his face. When asked by Picard after the danger has passed if he had ever considered taking the femme fatale cyborg up on her offer, Data replies "Zero-point-six-eight seconds, sir. For an android, that is nearly an eternity." That the robot even sees humanness as a goal worth pursuing probably had the Borg Queen laughing on the inside, but the pursuit of goals seems to be the theme of this movie. One of the goals, of course, is the completion of the world's first starship, even though a weary Cochrane would rather be doing something else, like getting drunk (instead, he gets Troi drunk, her British accent becoming more pronounced in the process.) Goals can be inner-directed, as when Picard haughtily tells Lily, "The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves." As for the Borg: "We, too, are on a quest to better ourselves, evolving toward a state of perfection." Um, that sounds kinda like what Picard just said. I guess self-improvement is relative. If it's not, then to paraphrase that once-popular comic strip possum Pogo, we have met the Borg and he is us. But in Picard's case, he's not as perfect as he thinks:

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.
LILY: I am such an idiot. It's so simple. The Borg HURT you, and now you're going to HURT them back!
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.
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.

Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) Ponce de Leon was wasting his time in Florida. Turns out the Fountain of Youth is in outer space (though it's not like the 15th century Spanish would have ever gotten there in a wooden ship with sails.) A bunch of mummified aliens, in collusion with a rogue Starfleet officer (Anthony Zerbe), wants to somehow steal a paradisaical planet's "metaphasic particles", i.e., rejuvenating radiation, while forcibly relocating the planet's ageless inhabitants. Picard and co. is there to stop them, but first take a bit of time out to enjoy another shot at childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, all the while retaining their middle-aged bodies. Well, La Forge does grow a real set of eyes. The effect on everybody else is mostly psychological. Picard courts a young-looking lass played by Donna Murphy ("It's been 300 years since I've seen a bald head," she coos) Riker and Troi rekindle a long ago romance. He even shaves his beard off for her! A little boy teaches Data how to play cowboy. Everyone also occasionally breaks out in song, the movie threatening to turn into a musical at one point. Well, so was Brigadoon, and they didn't age there, either. Eventually, they all have to grow up and fight the bad guy, in this case a putrescence-faced F. Murray Abraham.  The explosions-and-death rays finale aside, this is a rather lighthearted Star Trek entry. It's best to ignore the convoluted plotting--is it a hologram or is real?--and just enjoy these characters as they basically get high (I hear the scene where they get the metaphasic munchies ended up on the cutting room floor.) Also of note: Rocker Tom Morello plays one of the alien mummies. No wonder he's raging against the machine.

Star Trek: Nemesis (2002) John Lennon once said we are all Hitler and we are all Jesus. Well, in the Star Trek universe, we are all Shinzon and we are all Picard. But wait, we know Picard but just who is this Shinzon? He's a clone of Picard created by the Romulans to spy on Starfleet. The Romulans later changed their minds, and turned young Shinzon into a slave laborer. He staged a fantastically successful revolt and now has an entire outer space empire under his thumb while still in his 20s. He wants to expand that empire (either that or just plain kill people not already part of that empire) but needs a blood transfusion from Picard or else wind up with a head full of varicose veins. Picard himself is understandably disturbed at the strange twist his DNA has taken, as the movie for awhile ponders nature vs nuture, heredity vs environment. It would have been wise if the film had also pondered thespian vs thespian. Tom Hardy, who plays Shinzon, is just not in Patrick Stewart's league as an actor. Or, at least he wasn't back in 2002. Not once did I buy Hardy as an alternate-destiny Picard. Shinzon is just another self-aggrandizing, British-accented, Hollywood villain. But to be fair, Hardy had an impossible task--to remind us of Jean-Luc Picard (nature, heredity) WITHOUT reminding us of Jean-Luc Picard (nurture, environment.) The only actor that could have pulled that off is Stewart himself. So why didn't he just play his own clone? My guess is they wanted to avoid the "evil twin" cliche, so instead decided on an evil, bald-headed kid brother. Meanwhile, Data also has a clone of sorts, a prototype android played by Brent Spiner himself. Data sacrifices his electronic life at the end of this film, but don't grieve too much. The good android's memories have all been downloaded into the prototype, meaning that you're likely to meet somebody very much like Data in the sequel. Except that there's not going--Well, I don't want to get ahead of myself. Directed by Trek newcomer Stephan Baird, who did a serviceable enough job.

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: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999) Remember that bar scene from the first Star Wars movie? Imagine an entire TV series taking place in that bar. Well, Deep Space Nine didn't take place solely in a bar (though one was featured) but in a space station near a recently discovered wormhole--a kind of short cut through the galaxy. Not that you really needed such a shortcut as just about every alien being imaginable and some not so imaginable unless you've just dropped acid was found milling about the station. To boldly go where no man had gone before all one had to do was walk down a hallway or get on an elevator. Star Trek by way of Fellini. None of the other spinoffs have made it as clear as this one that the species homo sapiens are merely one carbon-based life form out of a bewildering many. Certainly the most multicultural of all Trek shows but not necessarily the most idealistic, as Gene Roddenberry's warm-and-fuzzy utopian vision of the future, as seen in the early seasons of The Next Generation, gave way to a more nuanced--as well as more rebellious--view held by writers who had chafed under all that warmth and fuzziness. Some of original Star Trek co-creator Gene L. Coon's wry take on the intermingling of humans and aliens was present. Except now there was an even wryer take on the intermingling of humans and aliens AND aliens. Everybody was trying to figure everybody else out on this show, sometime to comic but more often paranoiac effect as the various species all plotted to either stab or keep from being stabbed in the back--the one physical attribute they all had in common. The United Federation of Planets was hardly immune to such intrigue and even contributed to it on occasion. Speaking of the Federation, all of its many enemies--the Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians, Ferengi, Borg, and the newly-introduced citizens of the Dominion--paid visits to the space center. Except they weren't always enemies. As the series evolved into a serial with extended realpolitik-laden story arcs involving wars and rumors of wars, morally ambiguous alliances were forged with former (and future) adversaries. Less Roddenberry or Coon as a Henry Kissinger vision of the future.  Recurring characters: Commander-and-later-Captain Benjamen Sisko (Avery Brooks, Hawk on Spenser for Hire), the Starfleet official in charge of the station, as well as a reluctant Bajoran prophet.  Sisko's aspiring writer son Jake (Cirroc Lofton). Odo (René Auberjonois, Clayton on Benson) the shapeshifting chief of security, though most of the time we see him in humanoid (though not human) form. Miles O'Brien (Colm Meaney), the non-commissioned everyman Chief of Operations, originally a minor character on The Next Generation. The mercenary Quark (Armin Shimerman); a Ferengi, he's the space station's bartender as well as the resident comedy relief. The genetically-modified (which we don't learn until the fourth season)  Dr Julian Bashir, whom, despite his advanced intellectual and physical attributes, is regularly bailed out of trouble by best buddy O'Brien. Bajoran Militia and later Starfleet officer Kira Neyrs (Nana Visitor), the Bajorian liaison to the station whose conflicted loyalties actually allows her to fit quite nicely into the place.  Worf (Michael Dorn) arrives in Season 4, but as he was also commander of the USS Defiant, he had plenty of opportunity to visit his old Next Generation pals at whatever feature film they happened to be in.

Perhaps the most interesting character--or perhaps I should say characters--is Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell), the station's Trill science officer. "Dax" isn't exactly a surname but Jadzia's symbiont implant, one that has previously been implanted in others as well. As the symbiont retains memories from all its former "hosts", this naturally leads to some identity issues, especially as some of those hosts were dudes. Indeed, in one episode "Rejoined", Jadzia runs into and becomes romantically reinvolved with his/her former spouse, a rare example of a Star Trek show straying from the heteronormative. However, it was just a stray, not a permanent departure, as Jadzia later hooks up with and marries Worf. When Ferrell decided to leave DS9 in its ninth season for the sitcom Becker, her character Jadzia was killed off. But not the Dax symbiont. Though the fungi-like Dax looks like something a surgeon might want to remove from a body, it's quickly re-implanted into another Trill, the reluctant Ezri (Nicole de Boer). A mental health professional, Ezri spent the rest of the series counseling a patient with multiple-personality syndrome: herself.

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!

But it was not always so as Enterprise (Star Trek wasn't added to the title until season 3) makes clear. Taking place about a hundred years before the original series, we initially get to see quite a bit of 22nd century Earth, which looks a lot like the 1990s United States. Except it's a United States shorn of its hegemony, galactically speaking. As well as being scientifically and technologically inferior to every one else. Compared to the rest of the Milky Way, America-like Earth is a Third World/underdeveloped nation. And what must have caused a young Leonard McCoy to gag on his Bazooka Joe bubble gum when he first learned about it in history class, our planet is even a protectorate of Vulcan! Pentagon-like brass is shown deferring to the Vulcan ambassador (Uh-oh! McCoy has just swallowed the little comic strip that comes with a Bazooka Joe.) Other aliens talk about what appears to us to be thoroughly Westernized humans as if they were members of a recently discovered New Guinea tribe. This humbling of the homo sapiens only club was treated with humor bordering on satire when Enterprise first went on the air. And I think a bit reminiscent of the original series ("The Squire of Gothos", "Shore Leave", and, especially "An Errand of Mercy") during its Gene L. Coon-produced heyday. Thirty-odd years later, however, not everyone got the joke. Rating tanked for the new Trek show. The Paramount overlords demanded a more serious tone, and much of the show's humor ended up being buried under seven million dead bodies after an Xindi invasion of Florida. Adolf Hitler arriving in a conquered New York didn't manage to lighten things up much either. Meanwhile, perhaps as a way of boosting the self-esteem of show's mostly homo sapien audience, the technological and socioeconomic disparity between humanity and outer space aliens was diminished to the point of being nearly forgotten about. Indeed, by the time Enterprise went off the air, Earth is a galactic superpower, the rest of the Alpha Quadrant poised to become yet another notch in Western Civilization's belt. Recurring Characters: Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula, Dr Sam Beckett on Quantum Leap) the first captain of a starship with the name Enterprise. Originally easygoing, he becomes a more brooding figure as the show itself becomes more brooding. Eventually turns into a galaxy-historical character, as he finds out years ahead of time thanks to a time-traveling busybody by the name of Daniels (Matt Winston). Moving on, what's a starship Enterprise without a Vulcan science officer who looks down his nose at human beings. Except this Vulcan science officer is looking down her nose. T'Pol (Jolene Blacock), like Seven-of-Nine, is a combination of brains and sex appeal, but, nevertheless, can't quite get out from under the shadow of that other Vulcan science officer. Charles "Trip" Tucker (Conner Trinneer, later Michael on Stargate Atlantas), the dashing Chief Engineer who has to look for ways to stay dashing despite several personal tragedies. Has an on-again-off-again relationship with T'Pol. Tucker dies heroically (if pointlessly) in the series finale. Malcolm Reed (Dominic Keating), the moody (even back when the series still had a relatively lighthearted tone) tactical officer. Travis Mayweather (Anthony Montgomery), Enterprise navigator, who grew up on his father's cargo ship and is thus considered a "space boomer". Dr. Phlox (John Billingsly) who look and acts a lot like Neelix from Voyager, but, as his title indicates, is a physician rather than a cook. Though Denoblian, Phlox serves on the human-operated starship as he has more experience than the average Earth doctor, who wouldn't know a Klingon from a Klingot. Future Guy (?), basically a statically-looking humanoid seen through some kind of time portal, he orchestrates the confusing and ultimately meaningless Temporal Cold War story arc that ran through the first few seasons. Hoshi Sato (Linda Park), communication officer and expert linguistic. Early on, Sato was a younger, female version of Dr. McCoy, a character noisily ill at ease with her science-fiction surroundings. Like McCoy, she didn't get along with the resident Vulcan early on. Like McCoy, her belly-aching took the form of some great one-liners early on ("doesn't this thing have seatbelts?" she sputters when the Enterprise goes into warp-drive for the first time.) Notice I keep saying "early on". As the series progresses, her character matures, sheds her orneriness, and becomes another boringly perfect Starfleet officer, which utterly disqualifies her as most interesting character. But if not her, than who? 

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. 


Just why were there so many Star Trek TV shows and movies during the 1990s and into the first few years of the 21st century? I doubt it was because the creative folks involved with The Next Generation had so many stories of the future they wanted to tell that a single hour-long television series with 178 episodes over a seven-year period simply wasn't adequate enough. No, it was a business decision on the part of Paramount Pictures and its parent company Viacom. The thinking went, when you have a cash cow, you don't just let it graze in the pasture, you milk it! Which meant two Trek series on the air at all times, and a feature film in theaters every other year. I can just imagine Rick Berman, late 20th-early 21st century Executive Producer of all things Trek answering a succession of phone calls from his corporate masters: "A spinoff of Next Generation? Um, how about instead of a ship moving through space a station that remains in one place?" (So it's technically not a "trek".) "Another series? Well, the Alpha Quadrant is kind of busy at the moment. Maybe a starship on the other side of the galaxy? We can even cross-promote it in the latest movie!" (The Doctor shows up briefly in First Contact) "Uh, you want one more spinoff. Lessee, so far everything's taken place after the original Star Trek. Maybe a show can take place before it." I imagine it got even worse for Berman once cell phones came into existence. Here's the interesting thing, though. As so often happens with Star Trek, idealism overtook materialism. The creative people involved--Berman, Michale Pillar, Brannon Braga, Jeri Taylor, Ronald D. Moore, Manny Coto--chose to view the franchise not as a corporate product to be sold but as something approximating art. While Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise may have occasionally lapsed into white hat-black hat melodrama, more often than not these shows offered intelligently-told stories of the future that also shed light on the present. Trek fans would settle for nothing less.

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. 

It may have been simple overexposure rather than any perceived slip in quality that was ailing the franchise. Even Trek fans needed a break from Starfleet sometimes. And that didn't mean a break from science fiction/fantasy is general. Partly inspired, I have no doubt, by the success of The Next Generation and its spinoffs, there was suddenly a full flowering of such fare on TV in the '90s and 'oughts. Babylon 5 and Stargate SG-1 both provided interplanetary alternatives to the Federation. The relatively more down-to-Earth The X-Files and Lost provided the same provocative blend of pulp and profundity as the original Star Trek. Even PBS had Doctor Who (if you were watching in the United States.) Meanwhile, on the big screen, George Lucas gave us another Star Wars trilogy (The Phantom Menace, The Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith). Whether they deserved to be or not, each of those films was treated in the media as a movie "event". That was no longer the case when it came to Star Trek.

Rick Berman has his detractors, but during his 18-year run at the helm of Star Trek franchise, he gave the world four TV series and three feature films, most of them commercial and critical successes. Just not lately. Paramount relieved Berman of duty in 2006, shortly after the cancellation of Enterprise.

For the first time since 1986, there were no Star Trek shows on TV. Nor was there any feature films in production. Shocking, I know, but you have to put it in perspective. After all, it's now been 33 years since the last episode of MASH. 40 years since the last Alfred Hitchcock film. 46 years since the last Marvin Gaye-Tammi Terrell recording. 54 years since the last Robert Frost poem. 59 years since the last Margaret Bourke-White photograph. 65 years since the last Laurel and Hardy comedy. 67 years since the last time Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers danced together. 73 years since the last Rodgers and Hart song. 79 years since the last Sherlock Holmes story by Arthur Conan Doyle. 99 years since the last Auguste Rodin sculpture. 102 years since the last Marie Cassatt painting. 146 years since the last Charles Dickens novel. 157 years since the last Edgar Allen Poe short story. 192 years since the last Ludwig van Beethoven symphony. 502 years since the last William Shakespeare play. And 2,500 years since the last Aesop fable. Sometimes you just have to make do with what's already out there.

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.

Perhaps I'm being too melodramatic. I shouldn't compare continuity to outer space bad guys. Continuity is more like Las Vegas. What happens on Star Trek, stays on Star Trek. That means every episode took place in the same Star Trek universe. Every adventure is lodged in James Kirk's memory (unless he just forgot some of those adventures, but given all the weird shit he's been exposed to, how in the world could he?) And all the feature films. Those happened, too. The 1970s Saturday morning animated series--OK, here's where it begins to break down. Did the cartoon adventures happen in the same universe as the live-action adventures? The animated version had two new alien crew members not seen on the original show: a three-legged, three-armed creature named Arex (voiced by James Doohan, aka Scotty) who looked like a cross between E.T. and Joe Camel, and an attractive lion-woman who went by the name of M'Ress (voiced by Majel Barrett, aka Nurse Chapel and the ship's computer.) Arex and M'Ress are not seen nor mentioned in the subsequent feature films, so it's tempting to say the cartoon version is somehow not the "real" Star Trek. Except that it's here that we learn the T in James T. Kirk stands for Tiberius, a fact that IS mentioned in the later movies. Then there are the original novels based on the series. The first of these came in 1970. Titled Spock Must Die!, it was written by a well-respected science-fiction author by the name of James Blish, who had also done short story adaptations of Trek episodes. For a few years there, it was the only original Trek novel, so you could say, yeah, it's part of the same continuity. Then Bantam decided to publish a few more to get us all through the '70s. In the 1980s, paperback publisher Pocket Books took over. There's been over a hundred of these stocked on retail store shelves over the years. In the mid-1990s, William Shatner decided to get into the act with some hard-cover adventures of Captain Kirk following the events in Star Trek: Generations. You may recall Kirk died at the end of that movie. So is he not dead, after all, or just not dead in what some have dubbed the "Shatnerverse"? Finally, there's the comic books. In the past 50 years, Gold Key, DC, Marvel, Malibu, and IDW have all taken turns providing us with original word-balloon adventures of the starship Enterprise. Did those really happen? Confused Trek fans began taking a biblical approach toward the whole thing, deciding that some stories were "canonical', and others "apocryphal". They also turned to Gene Roddenberry for guidance. Was the animated series canonical? No, proclaimed Roddenberry, somewhat surprisingly, given he was the show's executive producer (or, as David Gerrold put it, the paycheck was real enough.) Roddenberry even decided that some episodes from the original 1960s series that he didn't particularly care for were apocryphal, especially the much-maligned third season when he basically telephoned in his producing duties. Roddenberry died in 1991. So now who decides what's canonical? Some Trek purists insist that only episodes written by Gene Roddenberry be regarded as canonical. That's 11 total, out of 79. That would exclude much of what Gene L. Coon and D.C. Fontana brought to the show, which was substantial. And it leaves out such great episodes like "The Devil in the Dark" and "Journey to Babel" (though I suppose that if those episodes pop up on your TV screen, you can go right ahead and enjoy them anyway, even if they are non-canonical.)

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.

Star Trek (2009) In the first half of the 23rd century, Federation Starship U.S.S. Kelvin is sent to investigate a lightening storm in space. It's actually some kind of rupture from which emerges a huge starcraft unlike any seen before. We soon learn it's the Narada, a Romulan ship that's now attacking the Kelvin. Outgunned, Starfleet officer Captain Robau boards the Narada to negotiate a truce, while First Officer George Kirk is left in charge of the Kelvin. The First Officer of the Narada, Ayel, interrogates Robau while the Romulan ship's captain, Nero, stands quietly by. Ayel produces a hologram of an Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and asks about his whereabouts. Robau has never heard of him. Ayel then asks for the date. Robau's answer enrages Nero, and he thrusts a spear into the Starfleet officer's gut, killing him. The Narada resumes its attack on the Kelvin. Now captain of the doomed Federation vessel, George Kirk orders an immediate evacuation of all on board into space pods and shuttles and the like, including his pregnant wife Winona. Only Kirk will stay behind and fight alone. As he's about to pilot the Kelvin into a collision course with the Narada, he receives a transmission from his wife aboard a shuttle. It's a boy!

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.

About ten years later, a boy (Jimmy Bennett) of that age takes off in his stepdad's 300-year old Corvette Stingray. With a 300-year old Beastie Boys song  blaring from either the radio (in which case it's an oldies station) or a CD (K-Tel most likely), he races across a barren strip of Iowa road. Unfortunately, the sky above is not quite as barren, as he's soon pursued by cop on a flying motorcycle. The boy manages to jump out of the Corvette before it plunges into a quarry, after which he tells the officer his name: "James Tiberius Kirk." So space was found for George's father's name after all.

Meanwhile, on the planet Vulcan, a young boy (Jacob Kogan) is tormented by his peers for being half-human.  Apparently this is some sort of test to see how well he keeps his emotions under control. Not to well, as he beats one of those peers to a pulp. A father and son talk ensues:

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.

We get to meet that human mother (Amanda, played by Winona Ryder) several years later when an older but still youngish Spock (Zachery Quinto) tells her that if he undergoes kolinahr, the purging of all emotion, he hopes she won't take it personally. She assures him that she'll always be a proud mother, no matter what...Yeah, I know what you're thinking. A guilt trip in the guise of selflessness. It works. Here's what happens when Spock is accepted into the Vulcan Science Academy:

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 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.

Meanwhile, the young adult James Kirk (Chris Pine) has problems of his own. In an Iowa bar, he drunkenly attempts to flirt with a sexy Starfleet Academy cadet by the name of Uhura (Zoe Saldana), to her complete disinterest. Some other Academy recruits show up to protect her honor, and a bar fight ensues. Afterwards, as the bloodied Kirk nurses his wounds by not nursing but guzzling down more booze, Starfleet Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) tries to steer him right. Pike knows of George Kirk's brave sacrifice, and thinks his son, who has a genius-level IQ, can do even better. (Like die young? What a way to follow in your father's footsteps!) Jim Kirk initially laughs Pike off, but then shows up at the recruiting station a few days later, where he meets and becomes friends with a crabby young doctor by the name of Leonard McCoy.

Three years later, Kirk becomes the first student at the Starfleet Academy to beat the Kobayashi Maru test, a simulation where a Starfleet commander finds himself outnumbered and outgunned by marauding Klingons. This shocks Spock, now an instructor at the academy, who came up with the test in the first place. Turns out Kirk beat the test by reprogramming it ahead of time, which everyone but him considers cheating. Kirk is brought before a disciplinary board, but before any punishment can be meted out, news arrives of a distress signal from Vulcan. All cadets head toward their respective ships, including Uhura, until she finds out that her ship is not the newly-built Enterprise. She goes to Spock, whom we now strongly suspect she has a personal relationship with, and demands to know what's up, and that she wants to be on the same ship he's on. Quickly realizing that Hell hath no fury as an Earth woman scorned, he decides she belongs on the Enterprise, after all, where he just happens to be First Officer. Kirk, meanwhile, is not booked on any starship, much to his disgruntlement. McCoy, who understands disgruntlement, decides to help him out by injecting him with a vaccine that inflates his fingers and makes him babble like a fool. McCoy thus gets Kirk onto the Enterprise under the pretext that a doctor can't abandon his patient. Once aboard ship, it's discovered that a lightening storm, similar to the one the Kelvin went to investigate years earlier, has been spotted near Vulcan. Remembering how his father died, Kirk realizes it's a trap, and, despite being still a little mush-mouthed from the vaccine, takes his concerns to Admiral Pike, who's more than a bit surprised to see the cadet there, since he was, in fact, grounded. Nevertheless, Pike and even Spock comes to believes Kirk as Uhura, now the communications officers, informs them it's Romulans that are attacking Vulcan.

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.)

Spock and Kirk head to a nearby Federation outpost, hoping to find a way of getting the latter back on the Enterprise. There they meet an excitable engineer by the name of Montgomery Scott, aka just plain Scotty. Appropriately, he has a Scottish accent. Spock decides Scott will have to beam Kirk to the starship, upon which the engineer balks. The Enterprise is traveling at warp-speed. Such a beam is impossible. Spock knows such a thing is possible, because it will someday be discovered by Scotty himself! Spock convinces Scotty of this simply by handing him his own future formulation. There's still the little problem of Kirk being accused of mutiny. Spock begs off beaming onto the Enterprise with Kirk, implying something bad will happen if the Spock of one time period comes into contact with the Spock of another. Nevertheless, Nimoy Spock knows a way that Kirk can wrest the Enterprise from Quinto Spock: Regulation 619 stating a Captain must relieve himself from duty if he feels he has been emotionally compromised. Kirk doesn't see what good that regulation will do since Vulcans have no emotions to be compromised. Spock replies: "Jim, I just lost my planet. I can tell you I am emotionally compromised. What you must do is get me to show it." And once he and Scotty are aboard the Enterprise, Kirk does just that. He accuses Quinto Spock of not doing enough to save his mother's life because he didn't care about her. Enraged, Spock attacks Kirk, damn near comes close to killing him, and is only prevented from doing so by the the intervention of Sarek. Embarrassed, Spock relieves himself of command. Sarek then pulls his son aside, and, hoping to make his son feel a little better, lets him in on a secret. The diplomacy was just a ruse. Sarek married Amanda because he loved her.

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.

Part of the problem here is that some of the more minor characters from the original series were human ciphers. Take Sulu. Nothing against George Takei, but his helmsman, as far as I could tell, had no discernible, definable personality. And that's not really Takei's fault. The series rarely focused on Sulu, and the rare occasion that it did, it's because something science-fictiony had taken over his mind ("The Naked Time" "The Return of the Archons" "The City on the Edge of Forever") robbing him of his personality, indiscernible and undefinable though it may be. Sulu showed the most personality when chatting with Chekov, often seeming to be amused by the rambunctious Russian. In the 2009 film, Sulu and Chekov basically ignore each other. Sulu is also shown to be a bit insecure, which seems right, until I think back to the original series, and can't quite remember Sulu being insecure, not even when his mind was under siege. That said, John Cho is all right as the new Sulu, and could make it his own.

As for the new Chekov--well, one of the reasons this new installment was so late in arriving was that the actor who played him, Anton Yelchin, was killed in a freak accident this past summer when he somehow got  pinned between his Jeep Grand Cherokee and a cement pillar outside his home, and I didn't want to speak ill of the dead, at least not until a decent interval had passed. It probably hasn't passed yet, but I can't wait much longer. I'm sorry, but I just found this character annoying. He's seems to be basically comedy relief (as the original Chekov played by Walter Koenig occasionally was), but I found it a relief when his character was offscreen. It may have been the accent that I found annoying, as well as unrecognizable. Since Chekov makes his appearance in the movie before Scotty does, I thought it might be a Scottish accent instead of Russian, and the character might very well be a young Scotty! (Adding to my confusion, this Chekov knows how to operate a transporter.) Both Yelchin's and Koenig's parents were Russian immigrants, so I guess both accents were equally valid, but Koenig's was more stereotypically Russian, and thus much more recognizably Russian. I know when critiquing a film, I should be against stereotypes, but in this case I'll guess I'll just have to eschew stereotypical film critiquing.

Uhura. Now, I expected her to be a bit different, as the role of women in the 2009 23rd century has changed significantly since the 1966 23rd century. The original Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols, starts out as a bit of a flirt, and then basically ends up, really by the middle of the first season, a cypher like Sulu. She was a sex symbol whose sexuality more or less got shelved, not because of any concerns about the objectification of women, but due to...well, due to what, exactly? It might be a case that neither the Civil Rights Movement nor the Sexual Revolution combined was enough to overcome NBC's still-powerful Standards and Practises, better known as the Censors. Uhura was allowed to titillate both black and white males watching at home, but not any of the white males actually serving on the U.S.S. Enterprise. Including Spock, who was not only half-human but half-white (his mother was played in an episode by Jane Wyatt, of Father Knows Best fame) She does flirt with an Asian Sulu in "Mirror, Mirror", but that episode takes place in an alternative universe, and any incipient romance stayed there. Famously, Uhura smooches with Kirk in "Plato's Stepchildren", prime-time television's first interracial kiss, and that was bold of the series, though a boldness mitigated quite a bit by the fact that the kiss was involuntary, forced on to both by a coterie of perverted telepaths. Why am I focusing so much on the original Uhura's sexuality? Because shorn of that, she was basically a very deferential character, her lines usually consisting of something like "Captain, we've just received a transmission," before turning back to her console as others dealt with the ramifications of that transmission. Sulu, when his mind wasn't being taken over, was every bit as deferential as Uhura, but that obviously wasn't something that was going to raise the ire of feminists 40-odd years later. So a more assertive Uhura was called for in 2009, and 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?

Spock and McCoy often argued over Logic vs Emotion during the original series. The 2009 film now finds Spock arguing with Kirk. Whoever's doing the arguing, I find it a sometimes simplistic debate. An emotional person may think they're acting logically, whereas for the more dispassionate among us, logic may simply be a cerebral means to what is ultimately an emotional end: happiness. But shallow or not, there is a potentially powerful rejoinder logical Spock can use against the more emotional Kirk: Nero. The Romulan blames a force of nature--the supernova that destroys his planet--on Spock, destroys Spock's planet in revenge, and then sets out to destroy every planet in the Federation, beginning with Earth. Now, I ask you, where is the logic in all of that? Nero is an obvious example of the dangers of runaway emotion, yet Spock fails to argue such to Kirk, not even when they have Nero on the ropes.

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.
Spock turns out to be right, one of the few times he's allowed to be right in this film. Nero eschews Kirk's compassion, tries to get in one last blow, and is blown to bits himself. But, why, exactly, is Spock right? Did he truly favor emotion over logic? Or, having taken a good measure of Nero's genocidal character, was he incapable of responding to compassion, and it was thus a waste of time, as well as a waste of logic to offer it to him? And, by the way, isn't compassion an emotion? So why is Kirk calling it logic? Was it just the offer of compassion that's meant to be logical, but which Spock finds illogical? See how tricky the whole Logic vs Emotion debate really is? But I'm not sure the screenwriters truly found it tricky. I think what they want moviegoers to take away from this film is the primacy of emotion. And since this film treats emotion as humanity's defining characteristic, then I guess it's about the primacy of the human race as well. There may be sound, commercial reasons for doing this. After all, the moviegoing audience was most likely 100% human, and thus could take pride in being superior to make-believe Vulcans.

Back to the acting. Winona Ryder is a bit too saintly as Spock's mother Amanda. The original Mom, played by Jane Wyatt in the original series episode "Return to Babel" and the feature film The Voyage Home, smiled a lot but you could sense that smile sometimes concealed a set of clenched teeth regarding the anal-retentive Vulcans she had surrounded herself with (Wyatt sometimes seemed that way dealing with her children--who were anything but anal-retentive--on Father Knows Best.) Ben Cross, a fine actor, is good as Sarek. He's not quite a commanding presence as the original Sarek, Mark Lenard (who also played the Romulan captain in "Balance of Terror") but the guy just lost his wife and planet. That he doesn't crawl into a corner and roll into a ball is commanding presence enough.

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:

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.
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:

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.

Destruction porn, defined as a film genre where the audience gets their jollies viewing scenes of widespread destruction, is not really all that new. Though the term wouldn't be coined for another half-century, the 1950s was the original heyday of destruction porn. The War of the Worlds, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Them, Tarantula, The Blob, It Came from Beneath the Sea, The Deadly Mantis, The Giant Claw, The Attack of the Giant Leeches, Attack of the Crab Monsters, Beginning of the End, The Amazing Colossal Man, The Cyclops, Earth vs the Flying Saucers, and, or course, Japan's memorable contribution to the genre, Godzilla. These were films where buildings fell faster than ratings for a summer rerun, bridges were snapped in two quicker than a cigarette caught in an elevator door, cars, trains, and even Winnebagos were flipped over like hamburgers on a grill, and a whole city could be reduced to an incomplete Jackson Pollock jigsaw puzzle after the cat had knocked it off the table. Oh, and people were killed, too. Social theorists have cited Nuclear Age anxieties as the main reason for the popularity of these films, but I wonder. What Godzilla does to Tokyo is relatively minor compared to what the Enola Gay did to Hiroshima. Even if all you got from a nuclear detonation was radiation sickness, you're chances are still probably better tackling a 50-foot grasshopper. And if the jumbo-sized locust knocked you fatally on your ass, well, at least you'd still have all your hair. Any other reasons for these films popularity? Their main audience were composed of teenagers. The kids probably saw the genre as the visual equivalent of rock 'n roll, with a collapsing skyscraper providng the backbeat. I imagine a few adults went to these movies, too. What did they see in them? The stifling conformity of the era may have something to do with it. Monsters and Martians were iconoclastic to say the least. Just look at one mangle the Golden Gate Bridge and the other puncture the dome of the U.S. Capitol. Really, just imagine some office drone about to step into the Madison Avenue building where he works when he suddenly realizes the building where he works isn't there because some termite the size of the Matterhorn had it for lunch. The office drone would say to himself, "Oh, wow, a day off of work! No sitting behind a desk trying to come up with an ad campaign for the Edsel for me. I think I'll slip out of this grey flannel suit, put on a T-shirt and gym shorts, and go bicycling through the park. Or maybe I'll go to the Rialto instead and catch And God Created Women!"

It can be argued that the 1970s disaster film was destruction porn's second go-around. Except it kind of depends on the size of the disaster. It starts at very beginning of the decade with Airport. In this case the destruction is basically confined to a single but memorable scene which has dour Van Heflin blowing himself up and turning the inside of a passenger jet into a wind tunnel. And that's it. Not that the rest of the movie isn't exciting. It is, mainly because pilot Dean Martin now has to figure out how to land the thing safely. But that's not destruction, it's tension. Two years later, producer Irwin Allen contributed his first of several films to the genre, The Posiedon Adventure. Here, an ocean liner gets turned upside down and disparate types have to figure out how to get to the top, or rather the bottom, which is now the top, as the top is now the bottom, whichis, as a Mad magazine parody of the movie put it, enough to make you seasick. Many of the passengers, however, get more than seasick. They out-and-out die, usually by drowning, obviously, though a few characters burn to death, despite being trapped underwater. About two years later Allen gave us The Towering Inferno. More fiery deaths as well as falls from a burning skyscraper (one character experiences both!) Finally, with Earthquake, which came out about the same as Inferno, you get widespread destruction, all of Los Angeles, in fact. Yet the lacklusterly directed film seems tame by comparison not only to the destruction porn of the 21st century, but the 1950s monster movies as well! Too much waiting around between aftershocks. It did have once cool feature, however, a feature that could only be experienced watching it in a theater. The seat you were sitting in shook in tandem to what was occurring on the screen. This is so you would understand what an earthquake actually felt like. A lot of spilled popcorn and soft drinks for starters. Then there's Jaws. Hard to say whether this qualifies as a disaster film or not, but I'm sure it at least got greenlighted due to the genre's previous successes. The destruction there is one shark bite at a time, spread out a bit, but unlike Earthquake, director Steven Spielburg knew how to build up the tension between chomps. Hitchcock would have approved. Maybe he did. He was still alive at the time.

One striking difference between destruction porn of the '50s and '70s and now is the type of film in which you could view the scenes of rampant destruction. In the 1950s it was horror movies. We still have horror movies in the 21st century, of course, but it's usually some ghost or demon or a psychopath with a bag over his head terrorizing somebody in their bedroom while the next-door-neighbors, unawares, watch Jimmy Fallon. As for '70s-style disaster films, they still pop up every now and then. The Sharknado TV movies comes to mind (think Jaws combined with the cyclone scene in The Wizard of Oz.) But the best examples of destruction porn in the 21st century can be found in, of all things, the action-adventure genre. The Avengers. The Dark Knight Rises. The Fast and the Furious series. Casino Royale. Quantum of Solace. Man of Steel. What's so surprising about this shift is that the action-film genre used to be about the hero preventing destruction.

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.

Now, lets jump ahead to the 21tsh century. James Bond, the one played by Daniel Craig, still manages in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace to save the world or the day or someone or something again, but is nonetheless involved in a bit of destruction along the way. An building under construction collapses in a Venetian canal in the former and a hotel burns to the ground in the latter. Now, we clearly see construction workers hovering about this hotel. Are they killed when it collapses? And what of the hotel guests in the latter film? There can't be that many of them since it's located smack dab in the middle of a desert, but still. Both movies raise the prospect of innocent bystanders getting killed, rare for a Bond film. Maybe it doesn't happen here, either, but 007's got to be more careful about where he fights his fights. But this is admittedly small bore destruction compared to the Superman film Man of Steel, the title character this time played by Henry Cavill. Superman fights the bad guys and beats the bad guys, but Metropolis is destroyed in the process! But, man, Cavill sure looks heroic flying around all that rubble. Now, I already mentioned the 2009 Star Trek, but that wasn't even the first bit of destruction porn for the franchise. In the TV series Enterprise, an alien race called the Xindi kills seven million people in Florida. This happens in the series third season, and up to that point Captain Archer had prevented plenty of bad guys from doing plenty of bad things, but he couldn't prevent that! Archer eventually does gets back at the Xindi, but you can hardly say disaster was averted. And unlike Vulcan, Florida is a real place (though, since it takes place in a hopefully fictional future, all the dead retirees and college kids on spring break are merely hypothetical.) I tell you, the way things are trending now, you'll soon have a movie where the villain actually succeeds in destroying the world, but it will nevertheless have a happy ending because the hero will deliver a knockout blow in an escaping spaceship.

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?

The 2009 Star Trek movie grossed $4 million on its opening day, and by the end of its five-month theatrical run had made $385,494,555 altogether, making it the highest grossing of all Trek feature films. So the old franchise had some life left in it after all. Maybe it had nine lives, like a cat. Like a thousand cats, lives multiplied by nine. All Paramount execs knew for sure is that they had better do another one. J.J. Abrams again agreed to direct, with Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Damon Lindelof once more writing the screenplay. The same actors signed onto it (including Nimoy after some initial hesitation). An actor who hadn't appeared also agreed to appear, but he'd playing not a new character, but one of Trek's most time-honored villains.

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? 

And that's pretty much how it goes in every episode the Prime Directive is mentioned. Spock brings it up, and Kirk shoots it down. Even in "Bread and Circuses", where he takes it somewhat seriously, Kirk ends up letting Scotty off the hook for his interference in a planet's affairs (as well as a planet's electric grid.) So why make the Prime Directive an integral part of Star Trek continuity if you're not going to follow through on it? Well, you have to remember what went into making Trek. Gene Roddenberry dreamt up the series, and is often thought of as its guiding force, but the show's first two seasons was in fact a joint effort between him and Gene L. Coon. Furthermore, every episode had a least five drafts, and very often ten or more. And there was at least three different people separately working on those drafts, drafts into which writers frequently worked their own perspectives and points-of-views. OK, fine, but the Prime Directive was just a piece of fiction, what did points-of-views have to do with it? Well, sure, it was fictional, but it seems to have had its origins in something very real at the time: The Vietnam War. Like the population at large, some writers were hawks and some were doves. The country's divisions were played out in the scripts. A scribe did a draft of a script originally written by someone else, saw that Kirk was interfering with the affairs of another planet, and felt it was a little too much like the United State's intervention in Vietnam, which the second writer disagreed with, and thus had Spock (if not quite a pacifist, surely the most dovish character on the show) bring up the Prime Directive. Then another writer got his hands on the script, agreed with the earlier writer that the story was a little too close to the Vietnam War, a war this writer supported, and had Kirk shoot the Prime Directive down, and so on and so forth. Of course, Vietnam was a long time ago, but the Prime Directive survived it, kept alive on Star Trek: The Next Generation, an its various spinoff. Also contributing to its longevity, perhaps, are the numerous U.S. interventions in other nation's affairs since 'Nam, as well as continuous disagreements about whether those interventions are for good or ill. I used to think the franchise's wishy-washy approach to the Prime Directive was a drawback, but not any more. A human-invented moral precept that humans can't quite bring themselves to live up to? If anything, it adds a touch of reality to Trek.

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.

Kirk also gets to be a captain again. Admiral Alexander Marcus (Peter Weller) orders him to kill Harrison, who has escaped into the Klingon Empire. Back on board the Enterprise is another familiar face: Spock, who thanks Kirk for giving him another shot at First Officer, before reminding him the whole mission is immoral, that instead of shooting him on sight, they have a duty to capture Harrison alive, if possible, so he receive a fair trial. Surprisingly, Scotty also has problems with the mission, objecting to the newfangled photon torpedoes being brought aboard, as he considers the untested technology to be potentially dangerous. Kirk, for some reason, has less patience with Scotty than with Spock, and kicks the engineer off the Enterprise, to be replaced by Chekov.

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. 

Furthermore, Harrison's asks that that one of the photon torpedoes be opened. Dr. Carol Marcus (Alice Eve), the Admiral's daughter as well as a weapons expert who for a while had been calling herself Carol Wallace--Kirk let the pretty scientist stay even after he found out her ruse--is assigned the task of seeing just what's inside one of these weapons. Another surprise: it's a human being, deep in cryogenic slumber. It's how people traveled through space before the discovery of warp-drive. And Harrison's not Harrison but Khan Noonien Singh, a genetically engineered world historical character whom everyone in 23rd century had assumed to be dead, but whose animation had been merely suspended. As is everybody else in all those torpedoes. Turns out that Admiral Marcus had come upon him and his frozen friends in space, awakened Khan, and forced him to put his genetically advanced mind to work coming up with weapons to use against the Klingon Empire. In fact, Marcus had sabotaged the Enterprise's warp drive, hoping the Klingons would destroy the ship before it had a chance to escape, thus ensuring an act of war. To prove all this, Khan gives Kirk a set of coordinates. Kirk gets in touch with Scotty, who's back on Earth drowning his dismissal in drink, and asks him to investigate. He has every right not to, but figures it's better than what he's doing now. Eventually, Scotty discovers a secret Starfleet base near Jupiter.

It's warp-drive now repaired, the Enterprise zooms to Jupiter, only to be met by a much larger Federation starship, the USS Vengeance, commanded by none other than by Admiral Marcus himself. Marcus demands that Kirk hand over Khan, but the captain of the Enterprise is not so sure anymore the superhuman is his biggest threat. The Enterprise tries to make an escape to Earth, but is disabled by the Vengeance near the Moon. Carol tells her father--remember, she can talk to him via the viewscreen, that big TV-like thing aboard the Enterprise bridge--that if he finishes off the ship she'll be finished right along with him, so he better back off. Then, in an act that seems quite comical when I type it out on on a compute but was depicted quite dramatically on the big screen, the elder Marcus simply beams his daughter off the ship. Kirk still refuses to hand over Khan and tells Marcus to go ahead and fire away, when the Vengeance suddenly loses power. Scotty has snuck aboard the bigger ship and sabotaged it. It probably won't stay sabotaged, however, so Kirk asks Khan, who after all designed the thing, to beam aboard with him and damage it permanently. Spock is left in command of the Enterprise. He distrusts Khan enough to contact his alternate-timeline self--the one played by Leonard Nimoy--to get his input:

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.

He would know! But Kirk doesn't really trust Khan either. After some fisticuffs in which our heroes prevail and secure the bridge of the Vengeance, Kirk has Scotty stun Khan from behind. Unfortunately, the superhuman doesn't stay stunned. His consciousnesses revived only a moment later, Khan crushes Marcus's skull, and seizes control of the Vengeance bridge himself.

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 the synopsis is over with, let's look at the continuity (or lack thereof.) Remember how this game is played, folks. Any changes in the new timeline should be traced back to the 24th century Nero's and Spock's intrusion into the 23rd. We'll start with Khan. In the original timeline, the Enterprise comes across him and his frozen friends sometime during that five-year mission. In this film, Khan is discovered before the five-year mission, and not by the Enterprise but Admiral Marcus. How to explain this discrepancy? Simple. The destruction of Federation member Vulcan, which wouldn't have otherwise occurred if not for Nero's intervention, would have necessitated all kind of changes in Starfleet missions and schedules. One of those changes probably put Marcus in the same swath of space as the Botany Bay, the traveling refrigerator for genetically engineered troublemakers. What about his daughter, Carol? We first meet her in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. She's a scientist that Kirk has had a personal relationship with in the past. He's the only Enterprise member who seems to know her (though Spock knows of her.) If her father is a member of Starfleet, it seems reasonable Kirk might have crossed paths with her, though there's no reason to believe she ever served on the Enterprise. So why is she there in the new timeline? She's found out her father's up to no good, which he wouldn't be had he not discovered Khan, thanks to Nero's intervention. Interesting phony surname she chooses for herself: Wallace, actually her mother's maiden name. There is a Janet Wallace in the original series episode "The Deadly Years" (the one where Kirk grows old.) Despite the involvement of three different actresses (Janet: Sara Marshall; Carol: Bibi Besch and Alice Eve) could Janet and Carol be one and the same? If she adopted a fake last name in one timeline, she could surely do it in another, though no motive is given in the original timeline, and she would have obviously changed it back to Marcus by the time of The Wrath of Khan. And, anyway, Wallace is a pretty common surname. A Georgia governor, a 60 Minutes anchor, and the author of Infinite Jest all claimed it as a last name, but I have no reason to believe they were related, much less the same person. So Janet and Carol are probably two different people, but it's fun to speculate, even if it does waste space. There's also the little problem of Carol's British accent, not at all noticeable in The Wrath of Khan. Well, if she's going to lie about her last name, who knows to what extent she's willing to plumb the depths of deception? Let's move on to Nurse Christine Chapel. She's mentioned in passing as serving on some remote space outpost. And as being one Kirk's sexual conquests, though he has no memory of her. In the original series, she's a member of the Enterprise crew, and carries a torch for Spock. However, in one early episode "What Are Little Girls Made Of?", she's engaged to a Dr. Roger Korby, though she breaks it off after she discovers he's a robot (the problems people have in the 23rd century!) Never in the original series is it mentioned that she's ever had a fling with Kirk. But the new timeline Kirk has a had a different set of experiences than the old timeline Kirk, due to his father's premature death, again brought on by Nero's intervention. Chalk it up to that. Still, Star Trek Into Darkness ends with the Enterprise embarking on that five-year voyage. Shouldn't we see her then? But all we see is the bridge, where the good nurse was rarely seen (and where the doctor she assists, is sometimes seen a little too much, given he doesn't work there.) Finally, the tribbles. In the original series episode, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are finding out about the animals for the very first time, though it seems that others in the galaxy, maybe even the Federation, know of them. In the new timeline a tribble is an animal that McCoy at least is familiar with before the historic five-year mission. How to explain that? Again, maybe the destruction of Vulcan, and the subsequent reassigning of priorities throughout the Galaxy, somehow meant the critters were  brought to Starfleet's attention at an earlier date. One thing about tribbles, though. They're born pregnant, and, as anyone who saw the original episode knows, multiply faster than tweets. Yet we only see one. Maybe it's been fixed.

Now that I think about it, there is one other problem involving continuity, and it involves Khan. But I'll save it for later.

The acting. Let's start with a character who, in a desperate and ultimately futile attempt to save space, I left out of the synopsis: Thomas Harewood, played by Noel Clarke. The Starfleet's officer little daughter is near death when Khan, in the guise of Harrison, revives her with a drop of his blood. In return, Harewood has to help Khan blow up the Kelvin Archives, killing himself in the process (suicide or just couldn't get out in time? Hard to say.) Clarke does a nice job, but still, the whole sequence could have been left on the cutting room floor, without confounding the narrative any. We all know Khan is smart enough to blow up a building, with or without the help of a desperate father.

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.

Sarah Bernhardt

 Bette Davis

Meryl Streep

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...

Zachary Quinto! No doubt helped along by the fact that the screenplay kind off favors Spock this time. He's actually allowed to be right. And even when he's wrong--almost killing Khan when they need his blood--it's only because he's given in to his worse, decidedly human, impulses. Of course, it's the human/Vulcan mix that defines Spock, and how he juggles the two. Vulcan usually has the edge, of course. It's not only half of his DNA, but how he was brought up. Nimoy's Spock, surrounded by humans--"frequently inundated" he once described it-- not only clung to his Vulcan upbringing, but, as a defense mechanism, took an anti-human stance. Homo sapiens were the only ethnicity the normally non-bigoted Spock would allow himself to criticize. That was more or less Quinto Spock's attitude in the first Trek reboot. Here chastened a bit by the fact that he got Kirk demoted, he seems more eager to fit in with his human surroundings, but not without some inner conflict that's usually but not always belied by his trademark stoic demeanor. And Quinto works well with Pine in their many scenes together. On the original Star Trek, I always experienced a rush of joy whenever Nimoy Spock addressed Shatner Kirk as "Jim", which he didn't do too often. I experienced a similar rush when Quinto Spock called Pine Kirk "Jim" near the end of this film. Just don't do it too often! After all, you have your Vulcan reputation to uphold.

J. J. Abrams direction. I don't know. Maybe I should focus on Maryann Brandon's and Mary Joe Markey's editing instead. In any case, this is not so much a motion picture as motion pictures. Every image on the screen last for about a nanosecond until you're onto something else. This movie moves fast, the general trend in films ever since, well, some who are not happy about the trend have blamed Star Wars. That film might have been a roller coaster ride in 1977, but watch it now. It by no means drags, but does takes its time telling its story, gaining momentum as it builds up to an exciting climax. Star Trek Into Darkness is all momentum. The only buildup is standing in line to buy your ticket. This wouldn't be a problem if the film was meant to be nothing but a rollicking good time but the screenplay has some serious points it wants to make, and moving at such an extreme velocity, those serious points fly right out the window.

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, he may even have  a legitimate grievance. All the blood shed (or bodies atomized) in this film 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 me lumping the two together? Well, it's what they think. The Arabs. At least some of them. From their point of view, the United States is General Custer, the Middle East Sitting Bull, and every act of terrorism a potential Little Big Horn. You don't have to agree with their assessment, but you should at least know where they're coming from.  That, I suspect, is the serious point that the screenwriters--Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Damon Lindelof, all returning from the first film--are trying to make. 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. The grievous Souix-Arab Khan turns out to be no more than the villain of the piece after all, any chances for redemption buried under the ruble of the collapsed Starfleet headquarters. So what's wrong with that?

Maybe nothing. If patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, than political grievance is a similar haven for a homicidal maniac. Besides, there are other avenues a would-be liberator can take that aren't strewn with dead bodies from a car bomb. Such as the route that one badass Asian Indian lawyer took. Mahatma Gandhi gave the finger to an imperial power more effectively than Al Quida, Isis, Hezbollah, the PLO, IRA, FARC, the PKK, Fatah, the Lord's Revolutionary Army, Boka Harum, Hamas, Shining Path, Tamil Tigers, the Red Brigades, the Japanese Red Army, and the Basque Separatists put together. How was he different from the others, the ones we call terrorists? It's terrorists tactics we find so horrifying, and if we find them horrifying enough, as is usually the case, the goal of the terrorists begins to seem that way, too, whether it is or not. Gandhi, however, practiced nonviolence, and nobody in his right mind (unless it's someone clinging to power) would find nonviolence horrifying, and thus the goal--in this case the liberation of India--was justly perceived as a worthy one. The whole world rallied around Ghandi. The British, who had just fought a war against fascism, were made to feel embarrassingly fascist themselves.  All Osama bin Laden ever did was kill innocent people, and much of the world (at least in the immediate aftermath of 9/11) recoiled in horror. Not only did bin Laden not help those he claimed to represent, he couldn't even help himself in the end. Blowout may just be nothing more than a bloody version of tit-for-tat.

All that said, it was still quite bold of the screenwriters to suggest that Khan might have some good in him, and is capable of any type of heroism. That he sees himself as a freedom fighter in this film is a bit ironic. Khan Noonien Singh first made his appearance in the 1967 original series episode "Space Seed". There it's stated that Khan himself is an imperialist. Eschewing Truth, Justice, and the American Way, he instead uses his superpowers to take over 1/4th of the globe, until he's finally defeated, frozen, and sent into space, where the Enterprise comes across him centuries later. The 1982 film The Wrath of Khan made him the most famous of all Star Trek villains. So moviegoing audiences, at least those over, say, 40, would have been expecting him to be the villain in his third outing, too. Indeed, they were probably scratching their heads during the parts of the film where he allies himself with Kirk and Spock, and breathed a sigh of relief when he went back to being the bad guy. However, the screenwriters didn't just meet expectations in that regard, but exceeded them. They made Khan worse:

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.

If the screenwriters meant this film to be an allegory on the War on Terrorism, and how it has sent the United States moral compass spinning in the wrong direction, they completely sabotaged their own message with Spock's accusation, an accusation that Khan doesn't dispute. He should. It doesn't jibe with the continuity, and can't be explained away with a new timeline (which diverged from the original only after Khan's imperial reign on Earth ended.) Yes, the Khan played by Ricardo Montelban was ruthless, and indeed would not hesitate to kill every member of the Enterprise crew, and came close to doing just that in "Space Seed" and The Wrath of Khan, but not because he was carrying out some eugenics program (though he himself was a product of one.) He was motivated by dreams of conquest in his first appearance, and revenge against Kirk in his second. There's a scene in "Space Seed" where Kirk, Scotty, and McCoy discuss Khan's role in Earth history. Once he had a swath of territory securely conquered, he didn't then go out looking for some young girl in an attic writing her diary. There were no extermination camps. Khan was more Napoleon Bonaparte than Adolf Hitler. So why bring up genocide in this film? If that's what Khan was all about, then is Admiral Marcus's real crime not that he turned him into a slave laborer, but that he didn't shoot the bastard on sight? Yes, I know, according to our notions of justice, even Hitler would have had the right to a fair trial and a competent attorney, but the competent attorney would have been the ACLU lawyer who drew the shortest straw. Kirk makes a stirring speech toward the end of this film about how  "There will always be those who mean to do us harm. To stop them, we risk awakening the same evil within ourselves. Our first instinct is to seek revenge when those we love are taken from us. But that's not who we are..." But I doubt if mass extermination was awaken in Kirk, Spock, or anyone else serving on the Enterprise, and, of course, the other villain, Marcus, wants to train Khan on the Klingons, who aren't said to be genocidal, either. I suspect that everyone involved got cold feet about making Khan an aggrieved victim and the personification of blowback, most likely because Paramount turned down the thermostat.

This is a hard criticism for me to make. Director J.J. Abrams and screenwriter Damon Lindelof were part of the creative team that produced Lost, in my opinion one of the best TV series of this still-new century. In addition to everything I said about it earlier in this piece, this show was seen by some as being an allegory on terrorism, an allegory that often went in unexpected directions (a Muslim character blows himself up, saving lives in the process.) Allegory or not, the series certainly eschewed traditional notions of good and evil. It had several villains (plus a few you at first thought were villains, until you found out they weren't) but unlike most bad guys you see in movies and on TV, they saw themselves as good, one even thinking he was doing God's work. The latter bad guy, brilliantly played by Michael Emerson, does eventually realize he's not so much in God's grace after all, as witnessed by this eulogy he performs for a fallen character. "John Locke was a believer. He was a man of faith. He was a much better man than I will ever be, and I'm very sorry I murdered him." To which another character then gives this understandable response: "Strangest funeral I've ever been to." It's unlikely such a strange funeral will ever show up in a Star Trek movie. Lost started out as a cult favorite, and, despite an audience that grew every year, basically remained a cult favorite. It's fans expected it to push the envelope. Star Trek started out as a cult favorite, too, and back in the 1960s had its share of 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!"?

Though the two shows were never scheduled opposite each other, Lost in Space got better rating in its initial network run than Star Trek. The latter series never averaged higher than 52nd in the ratings, whereas June Lockhart and company averaged between 32nd and 35th. That Lost in Space was cancelled after three seasons was a bit of surprise, as most series with the same Nielsen numbers were renewed. A variety of reasons have been given for its cancellation, most centering on that it was an expensive show to produce (paper mache doesn't come cheap, you know.) Lost in Space and Star Trek both entered rerun syndication at the end of the 1960s, and both proved quite popular. But then Trek pulled ahead. And it achieved a life outside of television. The first Trek convention was in 1972, and those events soon multiplied like tribbles. There's never been a Lost in Space convention (though to be fair, Billy Mumy, Jonathan Harris, and the aforementioned Lockhart have signed autographs at the more general science-fiction and comic book conventions.) Eventually Star Trek proved so popular, and profitable, that by the end of the '70s, that it was turned into a feature film, and then a series of feature films, a series that continues to this very day. Couldn't it be that it ended up being more popular than Lost in Space because it did eschewed escapism?

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... 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?

For those of us who yearn for the more idiosyncratic Star Trek of a half-century ago, is there any hope? Well, you have to do more than hope. You have to take action! And I plan to! Paramount, Viacom, Sumner Redstone, I beg you, let the Wachowskis have a crack at this material! If they're not available, then David Lynch. Or Tim Burton. Terry Gilliam. Ridley Scott. Peter Jackson. David Cronenberg. George A. Romero. John Carpenter. Guillermo Del Toro. The Coen brothers. Terrence Malick. Wes Anderson. Spike Jonze. Francis Ford Coppola. Sofia Coppola. John Sayles. Quentin Tarantino. Martin Scorsese. Spike Lee. Paul Thomas Anderson. Steven Soderbergh. Richard Linklater. Gus Van Sant. Jim Jarmusch. Or some strange, new director yet to be heard from.


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