Thursday, September 08, 2016

Star Trek Turns 50: "Crazy To Get To Space"

September 8th 1966 "Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its 5-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before."

With those words creator Gene Roddenberry's (1920-1991) vision of the future was born..Time now for TLR's 50th anniversary tribute to the space odyssey known as Star Trek...

The first time I saw the crew of the starship U.S.S Enterprise in action was, appropriately enough, in a darkened movie theater--watching Star Trek: The Motion Picture in the winter of 1980.

In retrospect, the film is not the best cinematic effort in the franchise, but as a young boy, there was just enough to get me hooked...From the great opening battle sequence between the Klingons and the "destructive force" known as "V'Ger" to seeing the ship warp through space for the first time, and composer Jerry Goldsmith's (1929-2004) best film score--I was loving it...Ironically the film franchise might not have ever left space dock were it not for the blockbuster release of Star Wars in 1977.

From that point on, I watched every episode of the original series in syndication, taking it all in--the characters, the (cheesy) special effects and the underlying message of a hopeful future.

By the time Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan came around 2 and a half years later, I had seen every episode dozens of times and was ready for a new adventure. What can I say? The film is hands down my favorite of the film series 

Khan Noonien Singh is the genetically enhanced human--An American Sikh of the 1967 episode  called Space Seed played both times by the great Ricardo Montalban...We met Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch 1942–1996) and the protegee' Saavik () both of whom left a lasting impression. The film also finally gives Chekov (Walter Koenig) and Scotty ( (1920- 2005) a chance to show some range...Director and producer Harve Bennett (1930–2015) whipped up a tale that saved the film series.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) resolved key plot points from the second film and gave us a few more in the process--A very well done middle chapter of a three part story. Spock (Leonard Nimoy who also directed) is resurrected of course, but at a high price--the death of Kirk's (William Shatner) son David (Merritt Butrick 1959-1989), the destruction of the Enterprise, and the crew's Starfleet careers in doubt.. Be sure to read my recent chat with "Search" co-star actor Stephen Manley
. I am so very lucky to be able to call Stephen a friend...

Two years later came Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home-One of the most financially successful and critically acclaimed Trek films so far...Lightened the mood of three's more somber tone as the crew travels back to the late 20th century to save mankind, our future and the Humpback Whale... The humor is situational rather than campy...

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier from 1989--Shatner directs as the crew (now on board the Enterprise A) finds Spock's half brother Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill) who's on his own quest to find "God". Yikes! Uhura (Nichelle Nichols)  dances almost naked.. Still better than 2002's Star Trek: Nemesis (despite bad guy Shinzon being played by then up and comer Tom Hardy) with the The Next Generation crew which helped put the entire franchise on hiatus. Thanks a lot...

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)--As Dr. McCoy. my favorite original series character (DeForest Kelley 1920-1999) says in the film "What A Way To Finish" Meyer (Star Trek II, and IV) returns to co-write and direct the last film to feature the entire original series cast...As the Klingons start talking peace with Starfleet. Sulu (George Takei) is promoted to Captain his own ship and the crew goes out on top. One nit-pick: the film's "mystery" and big United Federation of Planets conspiracy is not that hard to figure out.

There were of course 4 other films with the TNG cast.... Star Trek: Generations allowed for Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) to meet James T Kirk via the time pocket called the Nexus with mixed results.

TNG's Jonathan Frakes, best known to Trekkers as Commander Riker helmed 1996's Star Trek: First Contact  that took in $150 million worldwide, on a budget of $46 million. The rollicking time travel story sees the crew confronting the most lethal Borg and their hive queen (Alice Krige)

Frakes also called action on 1998's Star Trek: Insurrection which had a budget of $70 million and only returned $118 million worldwide. Bad guy Ru'afo (F. Murray Abraham) was stuck with the plan of trying to take over a Fountain of Youth planet--Ho Hum....

4 additional TV series spin offs: TNG, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (the most under appreciated member of the "family"), Voyager, and Enterprise were produced. Voyager had its merits while the prequel Enterprise made this Trekker want to watch reruns of TOS, TNG, or DS9 instead.

A few years later Enterprise ended its run--putting the whole franchise in Spacedock... Then a few years later director J.J. Abrams, along with writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman created an alternate history--dubbed The Kelvin Timeline--that debuted in 2009. The team cast Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin (1989-2016) and John Cho as Kirk Spock Uhura Dr. McCoy Scotty Chekov and Sulu. Nimoy's (1931–2015) return helped sell the reboot Shatner's Kirk was originally in the script for a cameo in the '09 film but the notion was nixed.

After that successfully concocted recipe shot the stagnant franchise in the arm--the team was off and running. Despite making $467 million worldwide, "Star Trek Into Darkness" still divides the core fanbase...Thanks to the fact that Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch's baddie "John Harrison" in the sequel is really Khan in the rebooted timeline....Before STID opened I was totally against the notion of reimaging Kahn and stated my position loudly...Once I saw the film I was won over in large measure because of Cumby's magnetic portrayal ...All of that said though it's widely regarded that Montalban's version is the best Trek villain in its 50 year history. The STID debate will continue...

Fast and the Furious film franchise director Justin Lin took over directing duties for this year's Star Trek Beyond after Abrams went off to steer Star Wars: Episode VII. Pegg co-wrote  the script with Doug Jung, creator of TNT's short-lived "Dark Blue" series and writer of the upcoming Bad Robot film "Diamond".  For the most part the story works very well. My biggest gripe with "Beyond" is the big bad Krall (Idris Elba) and the handling of his muddled motive and backstory. Nimoy's passing in the real world is handled nicely in the film.

Next year sees the debut of the sixth series of the franchise called  Star Trek: Discovery with former Trek writer Bryan Fuller running the show--literally--with an assist from Meyer and other Trek vets. The show is another prequel--sitting 10 years before TOS. We were also told that the CBS All Access program will feature a female lead and a gay character. I really don't like that CBS is putting this on their pay streaming service--and do we really need another prequel? Just sayin'!!

Some personal Trek reflections....

Throughout the 90's I attended more than my fair share of conventions. At one such event in Valley Forge PA. I was in the "Golden Circle" VIP line right at the front--with my friends Joe and Elyse. The next thing I know a member of the security staff walks over to me and asks: "Do you wanna meet Mr. Shatner a little early before we let everybody else in?"

I looked at my pals and then said to him "All of us...?"

He said, "Sorry no just you".

Turning to my two cohorts I had no intention of going in without them...The good friends that they are coaxed me saying "You gotta do it!!!" No regrets. I was going to have some alone time with the Shat!!! The extra slotted time amounted to maybe a minute or so...

My mind was racing! What would I say? I had to make it count!! I didn't want to blow my once in a lifetime opportunity....This was it! I go into the room as Mr. Shatner is taking his seat--preparing to meet his fans from behind a long table. In that moment I found myself becoming extremely fidgety. I remember muttering my name and he said  "Nice to meet you Tom!" He could tell that I was nervous and tried to put me at ease by extending his arm out for a handshake. At this point I am probably perspiring like a groom on his wedding day....We shook hands and exchanged smiles as everyone else began filing in....As awkward as the encounter was for me it was a moment I will always treasure...My brush with Trek's biggest star....

Another convention highlight came when I got to see De Kelly on stage at one of his final appearances. Pure joy. I am getting goosebumps even now as I type this...The hall was electric and you could feel the floor vibrate as the audience got on its feet to greet him. I could have listened to his stories forever. What a warm and funny rascal he was. 

To me McCoy is original Trek's most human character and thus someone I could really relate to. I loved them all to be sure--but Kelly's portrayal stood out...The way Urban plays the character in the reboot films is spot on and thus the latest incarnation of Bones is my favorite in the new films as well.

Trek has given me the opportunity to meet some great people. Among them writer William Stape. We met in college over 20 years ago and remain friends to this day. I interviewed him for a paper that I was writing for a Journalism class--after finding out through a mutual friend that he had written and sold a script to the producers of TNG.

After graduation I came home to the news that my mom had Cancer and the prognosis was not good...My entire world was upside down. At the time a DS9 episode called Life Support hit the air. The story saw one of the show's most popular recurring characters sustain a serious injury--slowly but surely as hard as he fought he was dying a little at a time...All that those around him could do was watch--helpless. I was living that "no win scenario" aka The Kobayashi Maru. As strange as it may sound and as difficult as it was for me to watch--The episode helped me to put that devastating time in perspective--getting me through--comforting me to know that, it's gonna take awhile, but it was going to be OK. I told all of this to Will. Soon after he reached out to producer/writer Ronald D. Moore who penned "Life" and he in turn sent me a very nice handwritten letter of thanks and sympathy as well as some DS9 memorabilia following mom's passing that Summer. 

I will always be grateful to Moore and Will for those gestures of support and kindness--that's the power of Star Trek folks.

Longtime readers may recall that Will was my one time Blog Talk Radio cohort and is an occasional guest contributor for the blog. He wrote the original script for the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode that became Homeward--as well as the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine segment Prophet Motive. Will's latest book--Star Trek Sex: Analyzing the Most Sexually Charged Episodes of the Original Series is available now...He also writes great stuff for OMNI.

Star Trek also helped to cultivate my keen interest in NASA and it's now defunct Space Shuttle Program.

Star Trek has been with me for a long time. And I imagine it will continue to be until I take my last breath. It, like Richard Donner's Superman--The Movie, helped shape my life and who I am. Both entities have given me so much. As Kirk says in "Wrath" "We've been through death and life together".

To the ever-growing cast and crew of Star Trek, both past and present, a heartfelt thank you....for allowing me to share in all of those voyages you brought to the screen big and small.

And for those yet to come....

Here's to you at 50!

This post is for my sister  Karen who first introduced me to Star Trek via TMP all of those years ago. I love you very much...And always remember to "Beware Romulans bearing gifts"--Unless of course it's a case of Romulan ale--Which can be purchased on the black market here.

As for you my loyal readers may you all "live long and prosper" and thanks again for your support.

"The Human Adventure Is Just Beginning..."

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