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Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Little Star Trek Still Goes a Long Way

Greenbriar would seem no fit place for Star Trek-king, but a past weekend's view of Paramount's recent (2009) reboot sent memory warping back to series' start and more follow-ups than even I imagined were out there. Merciful heavens --- how many programs and movies were spun off that blueprint? The newest Star Trek was fun as expected from trailers and clips. They actually went back to beginnings here --- none of Captain Picard, Deep Space Nines, or alien crew members with off-putting facial appliance. Way-back stories for Kirk and Spock get in parent loss obligatory to all hero backgrounds, super or otherwise. Pace is fast and by numbers. Thank providence there is humor too often withheld from self-serious Treks of yore. Not that I've seen many ... but how to avoid this franchise coming of age from mid-sixties on? Hard to believe it all originated forty-five years ago. I read NBC wanted ST off schedules after a weak first season, and that Lucille Ball single-handedly forced a renewal. Now there's reason sufficient for Trekkers to love Lucy, assuming the tale's true. Which reminds me to bow humbly before fact-checker fans I'd invite to correct gaffes detected here. I admit knowing little beyond random Trek interfacing through youth and briefer sightings since. With such easy access from this phenomenon's start, why didn't I become a lifelong ST devotee?

Maybe it was fast fade I felt the series did after a promising first season. Don't know how those would play after all this time, but certain episodes linger for having impressed this twelve-year-old in 1966. Trouble came with Season Two's opener and Spock flipping out during a Vulcan visit (would his planet have been called "Vulca"?). I switched off that September 1967 night and didn't come back. I guess one reason TV programs never grabbed me was radical change too often imposed between one season and a next, seldom ones for the better. Still, I had friends sustained week to week by Star Trek. One was nearly killed rushing home (for a third season episode) when his bicycle made contact with an enemy vessel from the planet Oldsmobile. Fans bereft over cancellation of Star Trek were sated by afternoon syndication that, among other things, knocked my beloved Wild, Wild West reruns off Channel 12, fanning further indifference, if not resentment, toward Starship enterprising. The lure persisted somehow, though. Trek loyalist Bob Craft of sophomore English brought in a list received from Gene Roddenberry's office, ST's producer peddling refuse off his cancelled series --- props you could mail at minimal cost, 35mm frames mounted as slides --- a bric-a-brac mosaic otherwise bound for dumpsters at Paramount. I actually ordered some of the film strips. Last inspection of these revealed Eastman color turned red as a fox tail, yet I'd imagine some collector out there in Trek-land would regard these still a valued find.

The massive hit of Star Wars put ST back in business, this time at theatres (Star Trek --- The Motion Picture a foreboding 1979 title). Robert Wise directed as though it were Lawrence Of Arabia. They stripped cheesy velour shirts in favor of uniforms nobody liked (a neat thing about 2009's revisit ... the old TV fashions are back). I'd treasure ST---TMP as life's only occasion (so far) of falling asleep in a crowded theatre. Further Star Trek motion pictures were skipped, except for a pretty good one where Enterprisers travelled back in time to Earth in order to save whales or some such and preserve the world to come --- did I get that right? William Shatner bit fan hands that fed him in what I'd still call a nasty sketch Saturday Night Live hipsters concocted for his guest hosting there in 1986. Get a Life! was a kick to fan-boy shins they didn't necessarily have coming ... wonder if Shatner regretted it since. Leonard Nimoy took higher roads and waxed philosophical over Spockamania, reward being invitation to the 2009 party, his performance notable and most welcome among a mostly neophyte cast. Reminds me ... I knew a guy who once chaired the Walter "Chekov" Koenig Fan Club ... that's all, just thought I'd mention it.

Star Trek for Paramount has been a geyser spewing forth money. Is a street there named after Gene Roddenberry? Should be. I'm too tired to look for how many movies and series they spun off Star Trek. Must have been hundreds. The recent one had reverence for the franchise's history. All the old characters were back minus ones I cared less about (Picard and company again). Nimoy/Spock is introduced as though he were God's voice and co-players were receiving the tablets. Somewhere I read that Shatner was aggrieved over being left off guest rolls. Guess that's what he gets for wearing a clown nose for so long. My friend Norman Stuart, onetime book and video reviewer for the old Movie Collector's World, proposes that Shatner's Captain Kirk was a knowing send-up of pulp heroics that pre-dated Airplane! spoofers Leslie Neilson and kin. Maybe it's time we reassessed droll comedy that's been Bill's schtick-in-trade right from beginnings. It'll be interesting to see how Paramount builds on this latest of ST incarnations. Do these youngsters have a decade or more in their Trek kits? Surely fans have, though I'm wondering as to numbers still committed. With ability to enter one's own video gamed Star Trek and fight Klingons close-up, where's attraction of seeing it done on a flat movie screen? (or even a 3-D one?)


Anonymous dbenson said...

There was a Saturday morning cartoon version in those wilderness years between the original series and the first movie. And a newspaper comic ran for a while after the movie. All they needed was a Broadway musical to compete with Disney for synergy.

A very, very neat trick they pulled off with the 2009 movie: It's both a continuation AND a reboot of the ancient franchise: The time-traveling baddies altered history, which means old Spock with all his history co-exists with his younger self having an entirely different life. The writer and the geek in me were both thoroughly impressed.

4:00 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Sorry, but never got into ANYTHING Star Trek.

The first feature, directed by Robert Wise no less, is one of the worst movies I have ever seen.

A friend convinced me I should give the original series a shot, so I sat down one day in the 1970s and watched whatever episode our local TV station was running. Did nothing for me.

When I gave him my report, he said, "Oh, that's the worst episode they made. Watch another one."

Yeah, right.

5:43 PM  
Blogger Steve Haynes said...

Mike: Star Trek TOS (The Original Series, to use fan shorthand) DID have episodes that ranged from great to awful, so you could have wound up with pot-luck disaster.

And if ST:TMP (The first movie) is the worst movie you've ever seen, you've been very, very careful!

I'm not a Trek fanatic, but I've enjoyed enough of the TV episodes and theatrical films to want to put forth a bit of a defense of the series and its progeny. As a BIG fan of Forbidden Planet, I found Trek a worthy small screen descendant. While some of the flaws noted are undeniably there, revisiting old friends - even ones who you sometimes find irritating - is rarely unrewarding.

John: The whale movie was ST IV (The Voyage Home), considered by most to be either the best or second best of the features along with ST II (The Wrath of Khan). The later is worth seeing after viewing TOS episode called "Space Seed" which introduces the baddie. As for ST:TMP, which is admittedly not a great movie, I found too much to like about it to dismiss it. The flight out to visit the new Enterprise under construction is probably three or four minutes long, with little if any dialog, accompanied by Jerry Goldsmith's sweeping majestic score. It's virtually a cinematic aerial ballet. I don't know how anyone with a love of great film music and/or a shred of understanding of the romance of space opera/travel could possibly find it boring!

7:18 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

In 1970 I went out to Hollywood to visit a friend who worked doing light shows. He was part of a crew that got called to work on a Desilu project that went over their lunch break so that when they got to the cafeteria staff refused to serve them.

It happened that Lucille Ball chanced upon the moment. She was furious that the restaurant staff had so little wit.

They got fed and fed royally.

There are a lot of reasons to love Lucy. She was a lady.

8:18 PM  
Blogger illuminatus917 said...

We don't like what we don't know. Basing a series off one episode is a mistake. And a random episode at that. If you'd started with the beginning and watched a few, and still said "it did nothing for me," that'd be a little bit better...

This series had some great sci-fi plots for the 60's (that one where Kirk and Spock travel back in time to the Third Reich always comes to mind... Spock made a damn fine Nazi), it also developed and evolved as it went, building on previous themes and such. But it's pale in comparison to the almighty TNG.

9:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


1:39 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...


I should clarify what I consider "bad" movies. There are "good bad movies" and "bad bad movies."

I'll use "BILLY THE KID VERSUS DRACULA" as an example of a "bad bad movie." I knew going in that it was awful, so when it was over, it lived up to expectations, so I wasn't disappointed. It was "so bad" I found it somewhat entertaining, even if for the wrong reasons.

STAR TREK TMP, to me, is a "good bad movie" in that it's supposed to be good, but isn't. A terrible bore. So I was extremely disappointed. Of more recent films, SUPERMAN RETURNS fits into the same category. Each was worse than the other.

Hope to get back to the Columbus show sometime.

9:08 AM  
Blogger MDG14450 said...

> STAR TREK TMP, to me, is a "good bad movie" in that it's supposed to be good, but isn't. A terrible bore. So I was extremely disappointed. Of more recent films, SUPERMAN RETURNS fits into the same category.

Agree on both counts. In Syracuse, ST:TMP played in a small family-owned theater on the outskirts. I was just becoming aware of things like "blind bidding," so when I wasn't being bored, I was thinking of the poor owners who had to outbid the local theater chain to get stuck with this dog.

Opening night crowd was good, though, and one of the local TV stations was there--the girl who was least fannish of the group I went with was interviewed and managed to hide the fact that she felt she wasted Friday night.

Turned me off of Robert Wise for years (The Haunting fixed that). I appreciate his desire to take a more serious approach to science fiction than Star Wars, but it was a much too heady and slow.

11:24 AM  
Anonymous Scoundrel said...

I've tolerated STAR TREK due to family members interest but for me it was Dullsville.
Space exploration has to be more than an excuse for Shatner to shag yet another alien lifeform. The WRATH OF KHAN was the only movie I could stand and when VOYAGER became "Katherine Hepburn in Outer Space"
that really jumped the shark.

Yet Paramount always finds another money making permutation to foist on the fans...

They don't call it "Enterprise" for nothing.

3:18 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Maybe I should point out, also, that I have never been able to stomach William Shatner in ANYTHING.

Just me.

4:22 PM  
Anonymous Scoundrel said...

I will add that I enjoyed Patrick Stewart...

" We are the Stonecutters."

And of the original cast De Forrest Kelly was a gem.

" Dialysis...!!! What is this ..? The Dark Ages...?"

6:44 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...


Shatner was terrific in BOSTON LEGAL (as was everyone else in the cast).

I missed STAR TREK in first run but soon got caught up in it. Had no problem with any of the stars.

Robert Wise directed STAR TREK TMP. He did not write it. He hit so many home runs in his career that you do yourself a serious disservice by not looking at his work.

The worst movie I saw that I had high hopes for was the Jesse Franco COUNT DRACULA with Christopher Lee.

8:33 PM  
Anonymous Jim Lane said...

...why didn't I become a lifelong ST devotee? Offhand, John, I'd say it might have something to do with having a brain in your head.

I was 18 when ST premiered, the absolute bullseye on the target audience, and I seldom missed an episode. In the second season I gave up pretending the show was as good as I wanted it to be. There was some excellent writing in that first season ("Devil in the Dark," "The Conscience of the King," etc.), but the show's defects (crummy sets, cheesy costumes, the slide into formula stories, and most of all, William Shatner's lousy acting) glared increasingly Ed-Wood-ian to me, and I drifted away.

Having pretty much washed my hands of the series by January 1968, I have watched its long afterlife with bemusement and grudging admiration for the way Desilu and Paramount nurtured it until the success of Star Wars made ST viable again. (I heard reports that during those lean years, local stations were required to take ST if they wanted syndication packages of Mission: Impossible; do you know if that's true? It's always made sense to me.)

By now, criticizing the show to its fans is like dumping on their childhood, which I regret. But I was there at the beginning (which most of them weren't), and the show lost me because it simply wasn't good -- or didn't stay good enough long enough. And I wasn't the only one.

When ST: Next Generation came along, that seemed to me what I had wanted (and, for a while, imagined) in the original series, and I still have a soft spot for that incarnation. (And I loved J.J. Abrams' reboot!)

So how many Star Trek spinoffs have there been? Who's counting? As far as I'm concerned, they were all spinoffs of Forbidden Planet.

3:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am still baffled by the success of the 2009 STAR TREK. Personally, I thought it was a piece of crap. Which I found disappointing, because I've been a Star Trek fan for years. But J.J. Abrams' 2009 movie had so many plot holes - including those generated by the time travel storyline - that I have nothing but contempt for it.

I'd rather continue watching my VOYAGER, DEEP SPACE NINE and NEXT GENERATION episodes than to watch that movie again. I can only hope that the writing will be a lot better for the next film.

4:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The WRATH OF KHAN was the only movie I could stand and when VOYAGER became "Katherine Hepburn in Outer Space"
that really jumped the shark.

So, your problem with VOYAGER was that its star was an actress whose style bore a strong resemblance to Katherine Hepburn? Seriously?

4:11 PM  
Blogger Michael J. Hayde said...

What a shock to see ST:TOS here at Greenbriar... with the COMMENTERS, and not our host, bringing up Forbidden Planet!

To Jim Lane: There's NO WAY Mission: Impossible was a more desirable Desilu property than Trek. I lived in the NYC metro area; I remember Trek coming to WPIX-11 as a daily strip mere weeks after its final flight from Planet Peacock, and it never left for as long as I lived there (which would be up to March 1982). I moved to Los Angeles, and picked up right where I left off, courtesy of KCOP-13, which had also snagged the show in '69.

Mission, on the other hand, came and went periodically on another channel, and certainly did not compare to the rabid Trek following I witnessed in high school and college... and beyond.

I got to attend the premiere of ST II at the Chinese in Hollywood. Having gone "dumpster diving" behind Movielab, I'd scored a few stray clips from the flick weeks earlier, and so knew what the costumes would be like... as did a few other "enterprising" fans who turned up in full Starfleet dress.

There's no good reason why Trek, as a franchise, shouldn't be fun. Serious, intellect-challenging sci-fi may please the highbrow mind, but it doesn't sell action figures. Most of the later Treks - TNG being about the only exception - are just proof that appealing to a fragment of the masses means you only achieve a fragment of your potential.

Funny, I didn't like the Abrams film when I saw it in the theater for the very thing that impressed dbenson. I felt the creators were trying to have their cake and eat it too; you either reboot or you don't. Seeing it again at home a few months ago, I changed my mind; both the story and the byplay between the characters seemed more subtle, more intimate, more genuine, this time around. Maybe Star Trek, a property conceived for the home screen, just works better there.

6:46 PM  
Anonymous Dan said...

I could never understand a bunch of guys in their pajamas flying around space in a flashlight. The Star Trek ladies (quaint now) showed promise, but by then I was out the door looking for my own.

8:20 PM  
Blogger J.A. Morris said...

Two words sum up 'ST-TMP':
Ship Porn!

11:05 PM  
Blogger Tbone Mankini said...

Agree that the OS syndication was NOT linked to M.I...the local Kaiser station in Detroit made a big deal of announcing that the episodes were no longer edited and were shown EXACTLY as originally broadcast. Now....was this pressure from newly emergent Trekkies or just a PR matter as this is when the whole shebang really kicked off....

3:38 PM  

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