Thursday, January 22, 2004

Novelization and DVD

As she often does in her novelizations, J.M. Dillard adds some backstory that adds plausibility to on-screen events and behavior, as well as a subplot or two that gives something extra to fans without changing the on-screen story.

In Star Trek VI her fan gifts include references to the Organian peace treaty and a subplot involving Carol Marcus (Kirk's lost love and mother of the son he discovers in Star Trek II, and loses in III.) In the novel, Carol Marcus was badly injured in an earlier attack on an outpost, where phaser fire "seemed to come from nowhere"-an invisible ship. Kirk remembers this, and had told Spock, and he remembers it when the improbable idea of a cloaked ship firing from just below the Enterprise was the only not-impossible theory he had.

In the novel, Marcus awakes from her coma in time to greet Kirk when he returns. A version of the script also began with Kirk and Marcus together, but this and other preliminary scenes were dropped for time. (In the novel there's also a love interest story for the Klingon chancellor's daughter that doesn't really work.)

As usual, Dillard cleans up some implausibilities. For instance, the scene in which the bridge crew is huddled around Uhura, searching through huge books for Klingon words, trying to convince the men at the Klingon outpost monitoring ships in the sector that they are a Klingon freighter. It's a funny scene, well shot and well played, and is one of several that involve the bridge crew beyond Kirk, Spock and McCoy.

There are several mild implausibilities here: besides Nick Meyer's fondness for anachronisms and for this joke, why would the crew have old Klingon language books? The DVD adds Chekov’s off-screen voice saying that they can’t use the universal translator because it would give them away as not a Klingon ship. But when Uhura butchers the Klingon language, aren't the usually volatile Klingons suspicious? Why doesn't the Klingon outpost’s equipment recognize the Enterprise?

Except for the books, Dillard neatly solves most objections with her description of the outpost. Because it's not on the more active Romulan border, this is an old outpost that's given only obsolete equipment, and is manned by the dregs of the Empire. Moreover, it is a known smuggling route, and so the Klingons know very well that the Enterprise is lying and that they are not Klingons, but they think they're just the usual smugglers, and anyway they don't care.

As usual, the first disk of the definitive DVD has the movie and commentaries; the second has interviews and various extras. I found the audio commentary by director and co-writer Nicholas Meyer and his writing partner, Denny Martin Flinn, more annoying than useful. Meyer is well represented on the second disk, and is quite eloquent in his solo interview. But in the commentary he sounds a bit pompous at times, and Flinn too sycophantic.

Fans know what to expect from the text commentary by Michael and Denise Okuda---a bit of good-natured nitpicking amidst the observation of production details, with little gems like the motto on the dedication plaque of the Excelsior (“No matter where you go, there you are,” the essence of Zen wisdom from Buckaroo Bonzai) and that the Enterprise model in Captain Kirk’s quarters was assembled by Trek producer-writer Ron Moore, when he was twelve.

The second disk is mostly fun, and includes probably the best serious feature on any Trek film DVD, called “The Perils of Peacemaking.” It should be required viewing at the White House. Former U.S. ambassador Dennis Ross is especially eloquent on the need for diplomacy, and what makes it successful.

What separates the leaders who are prepared to make historic change, he says, is a vision of the future, and a readiness to make difficult choices. But the key to all of it is mutual understanding. And it begins with story.

“Everybody has a narrative,” Ross says. “Everybody has a story that describes how they see themselves. That frankly is the most important way to come to grips with who it is you’re dealing with. You can’t do it overnight, but you can do it if you make the effort.”


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