13 May 2009

Star Trek, Generations

In this thrilling, hitherto unreleased sequence,
Spock (Richard Secrist) fights Kirk (Charles Stevens).

It’s likely that even the most hardcore Star Trek fans are unaware that, as early as 1973, the characters from the original series (TOS, to those in the know) were portrayed on film by young actors other than those who created the roles. Oh, how audiences cheered the heroics of Mr. Spock (Stuart Goodnick)! Or they would have, anyway, if we’d known how to develop and edit the approximately 90 seconds of film we managed to shoot. Something about Spock being attacked by aliens in a vacant lot near Stuart’s house. I honestly don’t remember the plot.

My real point, however, is that I am not one of those Star Trek fans who believe that Shatner is the only Kirk, for I watched the 13-year-old Charles Stevens play the part; and since I once played McCoy, I must confirm that there exist interpretations other than that of the late, beloved DeForest Kelley. I’m not saying I was better: I’m merely noting that I tried.

Eventually, Richard Secrist took over Spock’s duties (after Stuart moved to Colorado), and we quit trying to film our adventures, sticking primarily to audio-tape recordings that we believed (no, seriously) we might be able to sell (for money) at Star Trek conventions. Among the busiest players in our little junior-high repertory company was Karen Strecker, who, because she was the only girl we knew, took the roles of Uhura, Nurse Chapel, and the occasional yeoman or green-skinned space babe. Today she is the mother of two of my godsons, and it was in their company that I watched some vastly more competent actors incarnate Kirk & Company, in the new Star Trek movie. There were time warps aplenty, let me assure you.

Though the new film’s producers insist that their aim was a movie that even neophytes could enjoy, it was the Star Trek veterans, Karen and I, who got the most pleasure out of the picture. References to the original series are adroitly inserted in the narrative and elicited yelps of joy from us. (Our reflexes aren’t what they used to be, however, so it took one of us about 15 minutes to realize that this Captain Christopher Pike is the same one from The Menagerie.) Other bits of the movie, I don’t understand at all: chief among these is the Ewok who works with Scotty, but a close rival is why anybody thought Winona Ryder was appropriate casting for the part of Spock’s mother. (Especially when Karen was available. I’m telling you, she owned that part, 33 years ago, and I'm sure she’d be aces today.)

Meanwhile, the godsons seemed somewhat more entertained than they might have been if Karen and I were looking over old yearbooks and recounting our adolescent memories.

As a sometime student of folklore and mythology, I didn’t mind the variations on canonical themes. Arthurian legend, for example, agrees on almost nothing (though there's a consensus around Guinevere and Lancelot), so why should Star Trek mythology falter when Kirk, Spock, and Uhura fall into a romantic triangle? I’m sorry that Nichelle Nichols didn’t get to explore Uhura in comparable depth (over 79 TOS episodes, six films, and I forget how many animated shows), but I’m delighted for Zoë Saldana.

Saldana as Uhura: Guinevere in Outer Space?

Moreover, when the characters are depicted with snappy dialogue, fast-paced action, and hard-bodied actors, you don’t get much chance to fret over the fact that the "real" Chekov was much too young to board the Enterprise during the maiden voyage of Kirk and crew — or any of the other matters of such import to the faithful. What’s most remarkable, perhaps, is the way these characters, this mythology, continue to prove meaningful to so many people, including me. Some bits don’t age well, other bits are forgotten, yet these stories possess an enduring, perhaps irresistible power. They’re part of our lives, as even my godsons may eventually discover.

Despite my overall approval, my enthusiasm is tempered. The stakes are lowered so far, simply because we know that, no matter how things turn out, Shatner’s Kirk and Nimoy’s Spock, Kelley’s McCoy and Nichols’ Uhura, and all the rest, will go on to live out their exploits just the same, no matter what Pine, Quinto, Urban, and Saldana do. They could blow up the Enterprise, and it wouldn’t change the future one bit.

Still, I’m game to ride along, the next time they go boldly.

Are we sure these kids are old enough to drive?


Girl From Texas said...

cute !

Roberts said...

I owned that role! I'm not sure why they didn't contact me when casting the movie.

Rhondamum said...

That's funny! I think the Richard Secrist you are talking about is my brother. He and my mother were obsessed with Star Trek and went to conventions all of the time. He even had a news letter. I think he called it "Horta". Ah, the memories.