Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Not in front of the Klingons: Star Trek I-VI

startrek2I have a terrible confession.  I am a lapsed Trekkie.  It’s not the Trekkie part that causes me such embarrassment, but the lapse.  Somewhere around the age of 11 or 12 I lost touch with the universe that had absorbed and delighted me up to then.  It wasn’t the only loss I underwent: I also lost the ability to ride a bike confidently, some more of my eyesight and any illusion that I might one day be a marine biologist and mess around with sharks.  (Sharks are awesome).  But those three are yet to come back.

I got a little glimpse of the Trekkie past, though, when I saw the much-vaunted Star Trek reboot.  I saw it on a plane – that is how lapsed I had become at that point – and thoroughly enjoyed it (especially with a patch of turbulence giving added realism to one of the battle scenes).  But while it was a great deal of fun, I didn’t feel particularly enthused about the characters who meant so much to me before.  Sure, it was enjoyable and there were plenty of funny moments, but something was missing: it was just a big, shiny, blockbuster film.  Young, good looking actors in roles that had been inhabited by the same person for decades previously.  It felt like they were playing pretend.

And then, a couple of weeks ago, some kind soul gave me a present: the original cast Star Trek films on DVD.

I watched the movies in chronological order.  Then I watched them again, some more than once (I have now seen Star Trek IV: the Voyage Home three times in a week and a half).  By this point I had reverted completely, and was learning Klingon and spending way too much time on the internet boning up on Vulcan cultural practices.  Worryingly, nobody seemed very surprised by this.  All in all, it is an extremely good present.

What exactly is so great about these first half dozen films?  Well, I’ll admit to my bias straight away:  I was always an Original Series girl.  I never made it past TNG, and even now I doubt I will.  I’m not sure the Star Trek universe itself, with all its dimensions, alternate storylines and populations of characters, speaks to me as much as the interactions between the odd little ersatz family that inhabited the original Enterprise.  And in the course of the films, as the characters head towards retirement still battling Klingons and trying to negotiate new and slippery political contexts, their eccentricities become more outspoken and the affection and camaraderie between them becomes ever more evident.  There is a strong vein of comedy, particularly in the exasperated outbursts of DeForest Kelly’s increasingly short-tempered Dr. McCoy (who clearly did not foresee his later years being so… interesting).  The Voyage Home, which involves time travel and whales, is outright spoofy.  It might be my very favourite.

However, while these films are often affectionately ironic, they are far from cosy in some respects.  My favourite aspect of the series is Spock’s journey.  The half-Vulcan, half-human science officer – who had become more and more human in the course of the original TV series – is driven to sacrifice his own life to save his friends; dying painfully and violently, he is reborn equally painfully and violently.  The “new” Spock finds himself thrown back to his original state; suddenly, he does not know how to deal with the human emotions he had come at least partly to acknowledge, something that is both frustrating and distressing for the crewmates who have come to be his close friends.  He has to learn to listen to his illogical side all over again, and to understand and tolerate the irrational feelings of others.

Of course, it is not that Vulcans are inherently emotionless; they are in fact strongly passionate deep down, and Star Trek V: the Final Frontier features a charismatic Vulcan (Spock’s half brother Sybok) who has made it a creed to follow his emotions rather than to control them.  The conflict within Spock is not a simple matter of logical Vulcan side vs. irrational human side.  Rather, we sense that he struggles with conflicting sets of emotions, only one of which (his Vulcan character) he is truly equipped to control.  For all that his inability to cope at times provides many opportunities for comic relief, Spock is not a purely comic character.  He is the most complex of all; perhaps, as Kirk observed, the most human, although I feel uneasy about assuming that being human is inherently a good thing.

Watching these films again has reminded me just what an astounding creation the character of Spock is; and I feel that this does not solely lie in the script.  Spock must equally be a creation of Leonard Nimoy, whose interpretation of Spock’s frequently dry and simple lines – some written by Nimoy himself in these films -  is both nuanced and compassionate.  It is clear that Nimoy not only completely inhabits the character but also loves and respects him, and the result is that the viewer comes to love and respect him also.

The first six Star Trek films are, in some respects, a mixed bag: sometimes the plot has a few more holes than usual, and the later films especially tend to veer into parody (which is not at all a bad thing).  Sometimes – I’m thinking of the first film in particular – the plot ideas just don’t quite come off.  There’s even the occasional moment of complete bewilderment; Christopher Lloyd as Commander Kruge in Star Trek III: the Search for Spock comes to mind.  (Least scary Klingon ever.  I keep expecting him to ask for flux capacitators.)  However, for me at least, they capture everything that is good about the original Star Trek series and cast.  Warm, funny and absorbing, they make me understand again why I was – why I am – a Trekkie.

 

8 comments on “Not in front of the Klingons: Star Trek I-VI

  1. annebrooke
    November 14, 2009

    So lovely to be reminded of these glorious films again, Kirsty – thank you sooo much for this! As you know, I am a complete Star Trek addict, though I fear my obsession encompasses all the series and all the films. Sadly I do (as you know …) have every single UK Star Trek magazine ever published from its inaugural issue, as well as being a keen reader of the Klingon Guide to Tourism (Buy or Die). Spock is also my favourite ever character, happy sigh …
    :) :) :)

    Axxx

  2. Christine
    November 14, 2009

    It is good to know oneself and to confront one’s inner Trekkie. I salute you. I learned to love the original Star Trek as a kid, watching re-runs with my dad on one of the local “UHF” channels (this was WAY before cable). Dad watched for the scantily clad women and had a total thing for Uhura. I liked Spock, Scotty and McCoy. And even as a child, I appreciated the political concepts in the scripts. The television shows, more than the movies, caused me to think. I still remember the episode with the two aliens whose faces were black and white. Pretty powerful stuff for that time. I have to admit to a complete mystification as to why Kirk was always losing his shirt (I was young). And then I fell off the couch laughing at Tim Allen and Alan Rickman in Galaxy Quest–if you have seen that absolutely fabulous take on Star Trek, you will know why!

    Live long and prosper!

  3. annebrooke
    November 14, 2009

    Oh yes, Christine – Galaxy Quest is fabulous and of course you can’t go wrong with Mr Rickman!
    :)

    Axxx

  4. Lisa
    November 14, 2009

    Lovely to see a bit of Star Trek on Vulpes Libris, Kirsty. As you know, I’m a Trekkie myself and am also married to one. I came relatively late to Star Trek, not discovering its joys until I was about 14. Since then I’ve watched all of TNG, DS9, Voyager and Enterprise as well as the movies but have only seen some of The Original Series, so am determined to rectify that by returning to it and watching the whole lot. Perhaps over Christmas… :) Favourite Star Trek character? So many wonderful characters to choose from, but I’m very fond of the mighty Data.

    Oh and I recently watched a film called Fanboys, which features a group of young Star Wars fans. Their hostile encounter with Trekkies made me hoot with laughter.

  5. MichaeltheRomanhistorian
    November 14, 2009

    Kirsty, this piece really speaks to me. I do not mention it much but I am a great fan of Star Trek and Star Wars. I grew up watching reruns of The Original Series (TOS) episodes and with the TOS films. Wrath of Khan and Undiscovered Country have always been my favourites. You are right that the characters were formed so much by the actors who portrayed them. You speak of Nimoy’s Spock but I think of Shatner’s Kirk. A melodramatic Kirk but a Kirk who is impulsive, impetuous, hot-blooded, and so very human. He balances out the early Spock (who is cold and very logical). McCoy balances the two out and rounds out the trio. The other characters add their own distinct contributions and, to me, Star Trek is still TOS even if I recognise how hokey the stories could be (much less the special effects). The feel was always ‘good’.

    Which was why I looked at the new film with trepidation and did not see it in the cinemas immediately. I waited until it was at a local discount cinema. I got what a paid for but not much more. Plotholes, too much focus on ‘sexy and eye candy’ characters, and destruction for the sake of destruction. It was nice entertainment but it was not as enjoyable to me because it lost much of the flavour of Star Trek for me. The reboot would have been more enjoyable had they not included Leonard Nimoy’s Spock. It reminds the viewer, almost, that this is not the Star Trek they would have known and that this Star Trek universe includes an angsty/emo Kirk and a disgustingly arrogant Spock. I will very likely see a sequel but this will just be mindless entertainment rather than the fun storytelling and the interplay of different characters which I enjoyed in TOS and even The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine (Do not ask me about Voyager or ‘Enterprise’).

    I think you put into words how I, and many of my more geeky friends, felt about the new Star Trek film. It is good but very different.

  6. Jackie
    November 15, 2009

    Though I was never into Star Trek, (but had a familiarity with characters, etc. simply through pop culture), I did enjoy this review. And I must say I’m happy that you’ve reverted to Trekkie-hood, it’s reassuring in a way.

  7. Sharon
    November 15, 2009

    Many many years ago I came across a book of poetry by Leonard Nimoy entitled ‘I Am Not Spock’. I remember little about it except that the title poem perfectly expressed the ambivalence you must feel as an actor if you create the perfect role … and are forever associated with it. And that it was a bit sad :-)

  8. Lynne
    November 16, 2009

    Have you read Leonard Nimoy’s autobiographies I am not Spock (1977), and I am Spock (1995) where he talks about how much the character has become a part of him.

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This entry was posted on November 14, 2009 by in Entries by Kirsty and tagged , , , , , .

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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