Captain's Log: Two Spocks and One World
Very cagey, J.J. Abrams; very astute. The panel at Comicon last week featuring Abrams and the others most responsible for the 11th Trek movie (which is apparently going to call itself simply but portentously, Star Trek) was very skillfully done.
Abrams paid homage to the Star Trek tradition, and short-circuited much fan controversy especially by introducing the new actor who will play Spock ( Zachary Quinto, currently in TV's Heroes) with the actor who is Spock, at least until Christmas 2008: Leonard Nimoy. Nimoy confirmed that he will appear in the new movie, playing Spock, too.
Nimoy's endorsement of the movie and especially the script is no small potatoes. In my conversation with him a few years ago, he referred to Star Trek as a "beached whale," helplessly flopping around. But he noted that whenever the situation was most dire, something or someone saved the Star Trek galaxy with a new infusion of creativity. He apparently believes this movie will do it again.
He also told me as he has told others that Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was his Star Trek statement. Note that he didn't say Wrath of Khan. He pointed out that The Voyage Home had almost no violence, yet it was dramatic. I'm assuming that if the new script was nothing but special effects battles, he wouldn't be endorsing it.
[Update: Trek Movie Report has a terrific two-part interview with Nimoy, here and here. ]
Abrams also said that they were actively looking for a way to include William Shatner as Captain Kirk in the movie, and that the search for an actor to play young Kirk was ongoing. This was the canniest of all. He'd introduced the new Spock only in tandem with the old. He wasn't going to slight Shatner and risk the ire of Kirk fans by introducing a new Kirk with no Shatner, especially when he was introducing the two Spocks. How sincerely they are trying to work Shatner into the story, and how successfully they'll be, is questionable. But he's told everybody that he's trying, and that may be enough for many fans. Eventually (the film is scheduled to start shooting in November), announcing the new Kirk--whether with Shatner or not--will give the movie a separate dose of publicity.
We here in the U.S. know so little about the rest of the world. It's also pretty depressing to realize how much suffering there is in places we do know about, like Iraq and Darfur. But what about all the millions of people affected by regional wars, political and racial oppression, the lack of simple medicines to fight deadly diseases, as well as drought, floods and other global heating effects? It often seems to take a celebrity's involvement to bring specific situations to wider attention, as Richard Gere did for Tibet, George Clooney for Darfur and more recently Sting (and especially his wife, Trudie Styler) for the deforestation and death-causing pollution among Native peoples caused by big oil companies in Ecuador.
Star Trek stars are a natural for this kind of work. Walter Koenig is drawing attention to the plight of refugees from Burma (now called Myanmar), where (one activist said) more villages have been destroyed than even in Darfur. This month he visited refugee camps along the Thailand border, and has committed himself to helping to get out the word about human rights violations and the desperate need of these people. He cited Star Trek fans as natural allies.
"Star Trek fans share a value system that will help connect them to the refugees and shine a spotlight on their plight," Koenig told the AP. "In the original series, we were an international, interethnic, interracial community... People have responded to that for 40 years and I think there's a sense of benevolence and humanity in the fans." There more on his web site.
I was watching another episode of the 1950s series, Science Fiction Theatre on the DVD I got on eBay: a group of military technicians at the North Pole suddenly developed ESP powers, and a professor and his stacked blond assistant were called to the scene to figure out why. The assistant, herself naturally adept at ESP, fell suddenly into a coma, attended by the medical doctor of the outfit. This DVD is not broadcast quality--it's in color, though the shows weren't broadcast that way, and the picture is often pretty bad. So it was more the voice than the picture that tipped me off--it was Doctor McCoy!
Or rather it was a noticeably younger DeForest Kelley--a fleshier face, with a thin moustache! But there he was, playing the doctor (and trying, not too successfully, to keep his hands from straying to those big American breasts.) The episode was called Y.O.R.D. (1955) and was one of three he did for this series, but the only named character (Captain Hall, M.D.). The episode also featured Kenneth Tobey, best known for playing another military guy at another North Pole base in another extraterrestrial story, the classic movie: The Thing. He was in another 50s s/f classic, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (Ray Bradbury story) and one of his last credited appearances was on Deep Space Nine. Rachel Ames (then called Judith Ames) was the babe; her acting career began with yet another 50s s/f classic, When Worlds Collide (1951). She was in a half dozen Science Fiction Theatre episodes and did lots of TV before settling down as the longest running performer in the longest running soap opera ever, General Hospital.
Science Fiction Theatre was a mid-1950s ZIV production, the company that produced West Point Story and other series that Gene Roddenberry wrote for early in his career. Ironically, he never wrote an episode for this series, though according to his biographer, David Alexander, he submitted a script idea that was deemed too expensive to make. It was about the inventor of a machine that produced what we would today call "virtual reality" (a decade before Philip K. Dick published his story about it, Alexander writes, that became the basis of Total Recall), but the inventor had second thoughts when he realized how commercial interests would exploit it. As host Truman Bradley says at the end of most S/F Theatre episodes, the fiction of today often becomes the reality of tomorrow.