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.
I 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.