Boldly Go

In fourth grade, I sold tribbles to my classmates. On Star Trek, they were cute alien creatures that gave Captain Kirk and his crew no end of trouble. In real life, they were balls of fake fur stuffed with foam rubber, sewed together with Mom’s help and marketed to my friends as ideal gifts. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even mention the TV show in my sales pitch. I didn’t need to – the tribbles thee584_star_trek_propaganda_posters_3 (1)mselves were a great idea.

At its heart, Star Trek revolved around ideas and inspiration. On screen, the tribbles were just a bit of fun, but their story can be seen as a commentary on population control and diplomacy. At its best, Star Trek specialized in social and political commentary. Some have even argued that the series as a whole represents America’s idealistic faith in the universal appeal of liberal democracy.

A somewhat mystical approach fueled the show’s first reinvention, 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which tried to marry 2001: A Space Odyssey’s cerebral pace and cinematic visuals to a character-based adventure. Unfortunately, while the result is watchable – largely due to the power and majesty of Jerry Goldsmith’s stunning musical score – the movie failed to capture the spirit that made the original series so beloved.

On the other hand, 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was everything the first movie wasn’t. Well-paced, well-acted, and centered around one of the series’ best episodes, the second Star Trek film raised the stakes for the characters and the franchise as a whole. 1984’s underappreciated Star Trek III: The Search for Spock played almost as Wrath of Khan part 2, while Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) embraced a lighter approach that translated to broader public appeal.

In 1987, Star Trek returned to television with a new generation of stars and a continued embrace of culturally relevant stories. On the big screen, the original crew stumbled with Star Trek V: The Final Frontier before going out in a blaze of glory for 1991’s détente-themed Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

The Star Trek: The Next Generation crew’s first foray into movies, 1994’s Star Trek: Generations, gave us an unsatisfying (and probably unnecessary) melding with some of the original crew, while their next film, the somewhat derivative Star Trek: First Contact (1996), gave them a better chance to shine. Their final two films, 1998’s Star Trek: Insurrection and 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis, attempted some depth and originality, but nearly killed the franchise with tepid box office returns.

In 2009, JJ Abrams re-envisioned Star Trek as a straightforward action picture. While it made some fans angry, I thought it was a rip-roaring good time – then again, I may have let the tribble cameo sway me too much. The most recent entry, 2013’s Star Trek: Into Darkness, attempts a small return to social commentary while also ramping up the action. It’s also, much to its detriment, slavishly tied to Wrath of Khan. Like Nemesis before it, there seems to be too much looking backward, almost to the point of pastiche.

The original series sought to “boldly go” forward, and ended up inspiring people to become astronauts, to invent flip phones, and, in my case, to make their own tribbles. I have to wonder: will kids today get the same charge from the current action movies that are called Star Trek? Will today’s generation boldly go into the final frontier, or just munch some popcorn and move on to the next fad? Let’s hope that any future entries will once again explore strange new worlds.

Image from Think Geek.


Star Trek 365

So I got myself a present.

It’s a big, fat book full of Star Trek.

And I quite enjoyed it.

It bills itself as the “definitive” guide to Star Trek, but, as the owner of manyStar Trek reference books, I beg todiffer.

It’s got a lot of interesting stuff, a lot of stuff I already knew, and a lot of photos. Sadly, most of the photos were really just frames from the episodes themselves, but they were well selected and well reproduced.

I found it very odd that third season producer Fred Freiberger, a figure universally shat upon by Trek fans as the one who killed the show (and similarly scorned by fans of Space: 1999, for which he served as producer for the hated second season) is not once mentioned by name in the entire book. That, to me, is simply spiteful and certainly not definitive. So bottom line is, if you’re looking for a book that gives you a list of all the cast and crew, you need to look elsewhere.

But it does work as an overview of the production and life of the original series, with all its ups and downs.  It’s handsomely put together and does contain a lot that was new and interesting to me, despite all the Trek non-fiction I’ve read over the years. Discussion of the disposition of the original Enterprise model, particularly, and photos of same, fascinated me. And it actually discussed the music, which is, unsurprisingly, a favorite topic of mine.

One of the most striking features of the book, though, is a completely unintentional reveal of the immense cultural divide that separates us from the 1960s. And I’m not talking about go go boots and short skirts and such.

There’s a backstage photo from Amok Time featuring several actors getting Vulcan make up applied. And here’s the thing. The make up artists are all men. And they’re all wearing ties. You can even see fancy cuff links on the sleeves of chief make up artist Fred Phillips. What a shock! Can you imagine seeing anyone on a movie or tv set today actually wearing a tie? And, really, aren’t almost all film/tv make up artists women these days? People in the sixties still dressed up to go to work at the movie studio. Being professionals meant dressing like a professional. And that meant a suit and tie. Sure, you can take off your jacket while actually gluing on ear tips, but by gum you’re going to keep your tie on.

This all put me in mind of Jesse Thorn’s web series about “dressing like an adult” and how unusual it is that director Paul Feig wears a suit and tie to the set every day.

Maybe I’ll start wearing a tie whenever I write a blog post. There are worse ways to dress.