Thursday, January 22, 2004

The bridge crew arrive aboard the Enterprise to begin their mission, and they meet Valeris, the young Vulcan protégé of Spock (played by Kim Catrall.)

Every Star Trek movie truly begins when the Enterprise (or its temporary substitute) gets underway, and properly ends when the Enterprise warps off on its next adventure. It’s a challenge to vary that inaugural scene, and this time there’s a variation on the first mission of the Enterprise D, when Picard tests his new first officer with a manual saucer separation. This time, Kirk tests Valeris as a helmsman with a half-impulse speed rush for the slowly opening doors inside the space dock.

It’s a short but terrific piece of film (although Valeris pilots with what is obviously a bit of audio mixing board), with a nice rush for viewers as we speed towards the doors with the swelling “Enterprise theme” of the soundtrack score, and it’s capped by an unexpected shot: Scotty looking out from engineering, wearing a big smile. It’s a memorable send-off.

Valeris appears next in two short scenes, the first in Captain Kirk’s cabin as he dictates his personal log, venting his inability to trust and forgive the Klingons, and expressing his doubts about the mission, yet already with a degree of self-awareness: “Spock says this could be an historic occasion. I’d like to believe he is right…but how can history get past people like me?”

We see Valeris standing in the doorway, kept from closing by one of Kirk’s travel bags, as one would prop open a door with one suitcase to carry in others. Her purpose there is unclear; all she does is flatter the Captain.

Then she is in Spock’s quarters, examining a Marc Chagall painting, “The Expulsion from Paradise,” a reminder to Spock that “all things end.” She begins to express an uneasiness with the proposed treaty with the Klingons, appearing to Spock’s logic as “a kindred intellect” (though from the look she gives him on the bridge to elements of this scene, there seems to be something else going on between them, even if neither admits it.) She invokes logic but Spock unexpectedly dismisses it. In fact, he succinctly expresses the outcome of his journey from the first movie forward: “Logic is the beginning of wisdom,” he insists, “not the end.”

Then Spock names her his successor on the Enterprise. Both of these scenes advance the story slightly, but their full import will come later.

Then the Klingon dignitaries come aboard, two crewmen express their prejudices, and then the famous dinner scene, where Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner) toasts to “the undiscovered country---the future,” and General Chang (Christopher Plummer) quotes Shakespeare.

We’ve seen the Federation problem with the proposed peace as prejudice at worst and suspicion at best, like the Russian proverb, “Trust, but verify,” that President Reagan loved to quote in his meetings with Gorbachev. But what about the Klingons?

Their anxiety is they will lose their identity—not only as warriors, but as a culture. It is not an unreasonable fear--ask an American Indian, or any minority, or for that matter, a Canadian subjected to the power of American popular culture and commerce. It also has a racial component, expressed by Gorkon’s daughter who snaps at Chekov’s invocation of “inalienable human rights” with mockery: “In-alien-able? If you could hear yourselves—human rights. The very name is racist. The Federation is nothing more than a Homo Sapiens-only club.” The words combine the charge of racism with the rhetoric of feminism (“men only clubs”), spoken by a Latina actor (Rosanna DeSoto) with a Canadian accent.

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