Saturday, March 27, 2004

The clunky Bird of Prey provides a little extra drama, as time travel is signaled this time by holding the shot on the vast roiling surface of the sun. But even though Spock has managed to get them back at precisely the right 23rd century moment, the drama and derring-do aren't over. They plummet out of control, barely getting under the Golden Gate Bridge and splash into the stormy froth of the Bay, the violence being caused by the probe. The crew heads for the escape hatch, but the big doors in engineering are jammed. If they aren't opened, the whales remain inside, and as if to emphasize their nature as mammals, they will drown.

Kirk must swim underwater to unjam the lock, a scene that Shatner did largely himself. The following scenes are the payoff, with musical accompaniment: the crew clinging to the side of the Bird of Prey as the whales are revealed, communication achieved (one whale becomes vertical in the water, as the probe does in space---a parallel that Nimoy saw as a "magical" moment indicating the meeting of non-human minds, inspired by humpbacks' movements in an Imax film he saw) and the clouds part, the sun comes out (the sympathetic fallacy being no fallacy this time), and our heroes engage in some happy splashing. Their work ends in play.

But in addition to step by step storytelling and dramatic pace, Star Trek films often have certain coda moments that are as important, and often as memorable, as anything else in the movie. Here we see the crew finally facing what they thought they were fatally going to earth to do: their trial. They are penalized, but also recognized, and the slyest penalty is to bump Admiral Kirk back down to Captain, which means among other things that he will be back commanding a ship. But what ship?

Before that is revealed, Kirk gets a nice kiss-off from Gillian (though the tremor in her voice suggests there are some passionate moments in his future), and his bemused surprise fades quickly as he spots something more important to him: Spock is approaching his father, Ambassador Sarek. This is Mark Lenard's last appearance in a Star Trek film, and though they will both appear in the same episode of The Next Generation several years hence, his last scene with Leonard Nimoy. Elegantly framed facing each other, their few lines of dialogue brings to a new culmination the relationship of Spock to his parents that has developed throughout the series and films.

Sarek finally approves of Spock's choice of Starfleet, which he had previously opposed. "Your associates are people of good character," he allows. "They are my friends," says the new Spock, with a confidence and yet an innocence that marks his rite of passage in this movie (and a Spock we'll never see quite this way again.) His message to his mother is, "I feel fine." Another resolution.

As Nimoy notes on the DVD, the writing of this scene is excellent. Assuming that this is Harve Bennett again, it seems that together with the pre-20th century scenes, Bennett has written some of the best dialogue in all of Star Trek.

However, by the time the movie was finished, Bennett and Nimoy were seriously at odds. Paramount executives were worried about the first moments in the film, the appearance of the probe and its sing-song sound. They wanted subtitles to explain what the probe was saying, so the audience wouldn't be confused. This is one of those apparently small matters that go to the heart of a concept, at least in the mind and heart of the conceiver. Nimoy felt that subtitles were not only unnecessary, but would destroy the film. If the idea was the legitimacy of non-human communication, principally the whale's song, then some phony translation into human language would defeat the entire idea.

Nimoy felt the mystery of it was essential. Nick Meyer agreed. In the DVD featurette he suggests that it is one of those items that is more fascinating to wonder about than to know, the kind of thing that might come back to you much later, when you're "opening the refrigerator door" and it hits you, what were they saying to each other? It's a great image.

But apparently feeling the executive heat, Harve Bennett sided with those who wanted subtitles. Nimoy felt publicly betrayed, and expressed his anger publicly to Bennett. Although years later both talked happily for the DVD about the movie and don't have a bad word to say about the other, one at least partial outcome of this falling out back then was that when Paramount again called on Nimoy to take charge of Star Trek VI, Nick Meyer worked with him and Harve Bennett did not.

After Spock and his father part, all that is left is for the Enterpriseless crew to shuttle off to their new ship. (McCoy gets in one more zinger---"The bureaucratic mentality is the one constant in the universe"-and given the dispute mentioned above, I'd love to know who wrote it.)

They are glum, resigned (except for Sulu who hopes they get the Excelsior. They don't, but in a couple of movies, he will.) Then as they look forward, there's a small physical moment: Uhura puts her hand on Scotty's shoulder as they all see what's coming up...

They are Enterpriseless no longer. A tantalizing moment on the new bridge, and Captain Kirk wants to see what she's got. They warp off to the joyful movie theme. It's almost impossible not to cheer, or at least feel good, every time you see this ending.

The Enterprise crew has completed their hero's journey. They did the deeds, returned with a benefit for their society, were reintegrated with applause. But finally getting to their earth in their time was not the complete closure. Only when they were all back on the Enterprise was the voyage home complete. Kirk says as much when they first view the new ship: “My friends, we’ve come home.” And that home means the voyages never end.

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