Friday, May 2, 2014

Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock

Star Trek has been much on my mind lately. I think what got me started was Star Trek Continues, which I discovered a while back through the Black Gate blog. The two episodes they have up so far are actually pretty good – "Lolani" especially – and the sets are spot-on. The acting isn't all to my taste, but they play it straight, and they're obviously very much in earnest. So, all in all, I give them an A for effort, and I look forward to seeing what else they come out with.

I'm an old Star Trek fan. You know, the real Star Trek, with Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Dr. McCoy. I'm much too young to have seen it when it originally aired, but it came on the local UHF station every evening at 6 p.m. when I was a kid, and I watched it religiously, cycling through the seasons over and over again. I was ten at the time, and every day at school I would talk to my two best friends about the previous night's episode. There was a little depression in the back corner of the field where we played during recess, and we pretended that this was the location of our landed ship (under cloaking device, of course). I was Mr. Spock; my friends were, respectively, Kirk and McCoy. I was always reading Star Trek novelizations as well, provided by the spinning rack at the town supermarket.*

Now, The Next Generation came on TV around then or soon after, and I openly derided it to all and sundry. Granted, it had some decent episodes, but overall it just annoyed me, especially when people talked about how much better it was than TOS. I was something like twelve at the time, I suppose. This is just to show that (a) I've always liked TOS, and (b) I've always been a curmudgeon who hated new things.

After I'd watched the Star Trek Continues episodes, I had a hankering for all things Trekkie, and we decided to watch the best of the movies from the eighties, namely, The Wrath of Khan, The Search for Spock, and The Voyage Home. My personal favorite is The Search for Spock. The Voyage Home is, ironically, the first Star Trek thing I ever saw – I watched it with my parents soon after it came out on video – and watching it now after so many years it amazes me how good-humoredly the cast spoof themselves while still somehow driving forward with a plot that you care about.

So then my wife and I finally broke down and watched Star Trek. I mean the 2009 movie directed by J. J. Abrams. Perhaps this comes as no surprise to you, my reader, but I thought it stunk. I mean, if you like mindless action movies with nonstop fistfights and photon torpedoing, then it might be your thing, but to anyone who loves TOS despite its flaws, my God, what a travesty.

And please don't think it's because of what they did to the mythos. I'm fine with tweaking things. It's the weak plot and characterization that get me. I mean, the Jim Kirk I know is this larger-than-life leader who takes command of a starship at a young age and goes exploring strange new worlds with his loyal crew at his back. He's a cowboy and a womanizer, but he inspires confidence. People die for him. This new Kirk? A smartmouth fratboy. No one – no one – would follow someone like that across the galaxy, let alone die for him. And don't tell me that this is an origin story, so we have to see him grow, etc. Because you know what? There's no growth here. He persists in his stupidity and immaturity to the end. Not once do we see him rise above the situation and form a plan to save the day. He's always doing what he's told, or getting punched in the face for not doing what he's told.

Just look at how the Kobayashi Maru is handled. This was, in its origin, a powerful symbol of Kirk's unremitting audacity and his ability to cheat death; ultimately it came to represent a certain weakness, an inability to confront personal tragedy, which he overcame through the death and resurrection of Spock. This new movie attempts to portray the incident, but Kirk behaves more or less like any fratboy who steals the answer key to a Scantron test. He's flippant and conceited, and his fellow cadets just think he's an ass. The acting, I have to say, is quite good, and the parts are mostly cast well; the problem is one of direction, of a director who doesn't really understand what he's about.

Anyway, the movie is a rollercoaster of nonstop thrills, if you like that kind of thing. It hits more or less the same spot as the Mission: Impossible movies. Riveting, yet forgettable.

So, to get that out of our system, my wife – that's Mrs. O. – bought me the digitally remastered versions of all three seasons of the original series for my birthday. We started with the second season, which is, of course, the best. It's been a long time since I sat down and watched the episodes through, and I'm just in awe at how good they are. I mean, the bad ones are very, very bad; but the good ones are simply wonderful. One of my favorites has always been "The Doomsday Machine," written by no less a luminary than Norman Spinrad.

The special effects have all been redone for these. For the most part it's quite unobtrusive, which is a relief, as I'd been somewhat apprehensive. I think it looks very fine, though of course I have some nostalgia for the models. I did think the doomsday machine looked better originally; it was more ancient and alien, somehow, and therefore more dreadful.

Welp, Mrs. O. is out doing the Relay for Life tonight, and I'm at home with the kids asleep. Guess I'll watch the next episode.

* This is neither here nor there, but something I'm foolishly proud of. My first cousin twice removed (my grandfather's first cousin) Perry Lopez played a small role in the "Shore Leave" episode. He went on to play a supporting role opposite Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, and John Huston in the Polanski film Chinatown. He was also in The Two Jakes, its lesser sequel. Legend has it that my great grandfather, his uncle, helped pay his way from New York to California with lottery winnings. Like most of my family on the Puerto Rican side, though, I never met either of them.


  1. Perry Lopez is also in Kelly's Heroes, one of my favorite heist films.

    1. I haven't seen that; I like heist films, so I'll have to. He was also in Mr. Roberts, with James Cagney, Henry Fonda, etc.