Sunday, May 24, 2009

Star Trek: "That Which Survives"

I went to see Star Trek the other day at the Ziegfeld. What’s exciting about this rebooting of the franchise is that it calls to the front your own relationship to the series. Clearly there was something special about the original series that imprinted itself deeply on the first sixties prime-time generation, and then on an immediate second generation in syndication in the seventies. That was my time, those years that it played in the seventies EVERY DAY on WPIX (Channel 11, which our own Mr. Peel also remembers).

My brother and I watched it every day, during our parents’ cocktail hour before dinner at 7:00, with our own little ritual: he sat reading while I roller skated around the large playroom during the commercials. We did this for years, and along the way learned much of the dialogue of the original 79 episodes, as Dr. McCoy saw white rabbits and Charlie Evans crossed his eyes and Spock hung upside down on a tree. We played “name that episode” where we would shout out which story it was within 3 or 4 seconds of the pre-opening credits.

One day the rollerskating stopped, and so did my connection to Star Trek. I did not go on to TNG or Voyager; I liked The Wrath of Khan, but didn’t follow the other movies. But my knowledge and emotional connection to the original runs deep.

I Heart Captain Kirk

Yes, as a girl I was deeply in love with James T. Kirk. Too young to see the hyperbolic acting, I was attracted to the smile and sex appeal and power. I thought Spock was cool, but I loved Kirk. (Kirk, a man married to his job, emotionally unavailable. Hmm. Perhaps the origins of a dangerous pattern . . . )

I also loved the teamwork between the seven: Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, and team leader Kirk. They were all smart and talented and really good at their jobs. (I didn’t learn until I was older that that was part of the fantasy of the series :)

But above all, I loved the friendship between Spock and Kirk, one of history’s all-time great couples. As Manohla Dargis says in her review: ““Star Trek” is fundamentally about two men engaged in a continuing conversation about civilizations and their discontents. Hot and cold, impulsive and tightly controlled, Kirk and Spock need each other to work, a dynamic Mr. Abrams captures with his two well-balanced leads.” Each man is more fully realized in apposition to the other, and happy to be so.

Star Trek a la Team Abrams

I loved the film.


I’m not interested in the issues raised by resetting the timeline by time travel. That’s for the fan boys to worry over.

What was so satisfying for me were the loving echoes in the writing and the acting, echoes that only a real fan of the series would create on the one side, and be recognized by on the other. For instance, fairly late into the film Spock says his first “fascinating,” in just that way. It sent shivers down my spine because it so beautifully captured something about Spock Prime that of course we know and love.

As written everywhere, the two leads, Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, are fabulous. Again from Dargis, “Steering clear of outright imitation, the two instead distill the characters to capture their essence, their Kirk-ness and Spock-ness.” The precursors to the rest of the crew are equally good. The scenes on the bridge are filled with a knowing nostalgia combined with here-and-now energy. They had the right amount of humor and seriousness of purpose. (Very. Best. Line.: “Get out of the chair.”)

I’m not much of an action fan, so the big effects were lost on me, except for the forward momentum they added. I was on the edge of my chair toward the end--I did not expect Spock Prime was going to interact with Baby Spock. And it was around that time that I was aware that I kept waiting to hear an echo of the original theme music somewhere, and was disappointed that it hadn’t been integrated into the score.

Then the surprise! It was given a place of honor, at the end, straightout. The exact Alexander Courage rendition from the sixties cranked up in the Ziegfeld hyper sound system as Spock Prime narrates, “Space, the final frontier.”

I started tearing up. I was suddenly back in the playroom with my roller skates and my brother, the love of the childhood familiar welling up inside. Star Trek, that which survives in our own imaginations, is in great hands for the foreseeable future. How nice that one thing in this day and age of downward spirals is done well.


Peteski said...

Yes, channel 11. And I didn't even know that Star Trek was in color until about 1976 when I saw it over my cousin's. I distinctly remember how fake it looked.

M.A.Peel said...

Peteski, me too! We didn't have a color set for the longest time. But I didn't think ST looked that fake (I was too dazzled by my love for Kirk . . . )

Mr. Peel said...

This is one of my favorite pieces on this film that I've read.