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Gene Roddenberry (#110 of 4)

Summer of ‘89: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

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Summer of ‘89: <em>Star Trek V: The Final Frontier</em>
Summer of ‘89: <em>Star Trek V: The Final Frontier</em>

A camera pans across a desert, its cracked ground rife with holes. A miner runs obsessively from one hole to the next. His reverie is broken by the distant sound of a horse galloping. Cut to a cloaked figure shimmering like some dark wraith as he rides toward the miner, slowly growing clearer and more substantial as he gets closer and closer.

This sequence, a visual quote of David Lean’s epic Lawrence of Arabia, is the eerie opening to Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, the ambitious failure directed by the science-fiction franchise’s star, William Shatner. Though Shatner had already directed nearly a dozen episodes of his other notable TV series, T.J. Hooker, The Final Frontier was his feature directorial debut, a contractual obligation owed him because of a clause that gave him parity with co-star Leonard Nimoy, who had just directed a pair of Star Trek’s most successful films, The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home.

All About Kirk: Space Opera as Fan Service

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All About Kirk: Space Opera as Fan Service
All About Kirk: Space Opera as Fan Service

There’s a quick, but relatively lingering shot of outer space in the first few minutes of J.J. Abrams Star Trek that illustrates why his “revamp” of Gene Rodenberry’s essential science fiction franchise works so well. In it, several seemingly microscopic ships are fleeing from a monolithic Romulan mining ship in front of an enormous sun. It comes hot on the heels of a glitzy, fatal encounter which establishes the ostentatious mood that elevates the origins of James T. Kirk to the heights of grand space opera. The awe that this image inspires succinctly relates how Abrams’ film achieves its goal of restoring the enormity of the universe these characters inhabit.

The Conversations: Star Trek

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The Conversations: Star Trek
The Conversations: Star Trek

JASON BELLAMY: America’s relationship with Star Trek began before man ever set foot on the moon. Gene Roddenberry’s creation was born in 1966 and lasted three seasons on TV before dying of low ratings in 1969. Forty years, endless reruns, four live-action TV series and 10 feature films later, Star Trek is alive and well in the pop culture. In just a few days, on May 8, the crew of the starship Enterprise—Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu and Chekov—will hit the big screen yet again in an origin story directed by J.J. Abrams. Star Trek, as the film is simply called, is perhaps the most anticipated movie of the spring. And though its arrival is hardly a surprise in this era of remakes and retreads, the brand’s longevity is nonetheless impressive.

From 1987-2005, there was some form of modern Star Trek on TV. The Next Generation (1987-94) begat Deep Space Nine (1993-99), which begat Voyager (1995-2001), which begat Enterprise (2001-05). All of these series can be traced back to the 1966 pilot that started it all, but it’s safe to say that none of these series would have been possible without the varied yet undeniable success of Star Trek at the cinema. From 1979-91, six Star Trek films were released featuring the recognizable cast and characters of the original TV series. Almost two decades later, these films are cherished by some (“Trekkies” or “Trekkers”), mocked by others and seemingly ignored by everyone else.

Amok Time: Facelifting Star Trek

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Amok Time: Facelifting <em>Star Trek</em>
Amok Time: Facelifting <em>Star Trek</em>

Though I have fond memories of the original Star Trek—which I discovered via Jimmy Carter-era reruns, and through which I gained an understanding of the hourlong drama format, the pop gestalt of the late ’60s, and the endless uses to which styrofoam could be put—I see no reason to oversell its virtues. It was dramatically crude and allegorically simplistic, and its then-daring social attitudes (which included endorsements of racial equality, interracial sex and global unity) often paled beside its Rat Pack-style vision of gender relations (Kirk bagged a different curvy space doll each week), and its earnest, unironic enactment of John F. Kennedy/Lyndon Johnson style interventionism (the Federation’s Prime Directive forbade trying to change the culture of other worlds, yet Kirk regularly violated it—and in a couple of instances, he did it mainly to teach hippies what it meant to work for a living). The most interesting thing about the original Trek is the character of Spock, one of TV history’s most complex and melancholy outsiders; the second most interesting thing about it is its time capsule quality—the fact that it is, in every sense, a product of its era: the Johnson/Nixon years, when reel-to-reel tape players, punchcard computers and color TVs seemed state-of-the-art.

Unfortunately, I suspect the second quality will be obliterated, or at least undermined, by CBS and Paramount’s decision to “update” the show’s special effects and sets for High Definition TVs when the series re-enters syndication September 16. According to High-Def DVD Digest, the tinkering will include “...redone spaceship exteriors, a rejiggered opening and even a digitally remastered version of William Shatner’s classic 38-word ’Space, the final frontier…’ credit monologue.” E! Online says, “Battle sequences, ship exteriors, galaxy shots and landscapes (which previously came courtesy of matte paintings) will be given more shading, depth and computer-generated believability.”