Friday, October 12, 2007

Captain's Log: new Trek movie news, Who concludes, and a Nobel for Sci-fi

If you've been reading the Trek Movie Report (where I'll be appearing from time to time) you've seen the announcements of actors who will be playing arguably the most famous bridge crew in the history of Earth in the new Star Trek movie. I have little to say about the choices--I know little or nothing about these actors or why they were chosen for those particular roles. But I do note the curious swiftness with which the actors who played these characters originally (or in Scotty's case, his son and heir) have endorsed these choices. Fans might not give these new actors an even break if the actors who created the characters were negative about them. The new moviemakers likely know this, so I keep wondering how coincidental these endorsements are. But they certainly are fortuitous.

I do have an opinion on Eric Bana, who I liked in The Incredible Hulk, a movie I also liked, despite its excesses. He was credible and skillful. He's been signed to play the villain, named for the moment "Nero" (which seems unlikely to be the real name of the character), presumably a Romulan.

A name has been put forward for the new Captain Kirk, and pre-endorsed by the new Spock. In an interview with Trek Movie Report, Roberto Orci, one of the writers of the new film, reinterated that they are still looking for a way to include William Shatner as the elder Captain Kirk. This statement has three possibilities: one is that they really aren't but they show respect for Shatner and his fans by saying so, but that seems less likely now because Orci repeated it several months and a script draft after director J.J. Abrams said it at Comicon. Another is that they really are. And the third is that they've already got Shatner but don't want to announce it yet. If they do have him, they may produce another old-and-new act by revealing it when the new Kirk actor is officially announced. Or, they could even save it as a surprise for the movie itself.

In this interview, by the way, both Orci and interviewer Anthony Pascale used the phrase "the soul of Star Trek." That's apparently a big concern for those making the movie. I saw that Orci liked my review of Star Trek IV at Trek Movie, but I have no idea if any of the people involved in the new movie, as some involved in the old movies, read this blog. The subject of which, of course, is that very same Soul of Star Trek.

Who Concludes

Us backward North Americans just saw the conclusion of Doctor Who's third season. As you may recall, my response to the penultimate episode was pretty cranky. But even given the Sci-Fi channel's distractions, "Last of the Time Lords" was a powerful episode and ending to the season. After milking prior devices and references perhaps a bit too much in the first parts of this arc, this last story paid off with a surprise or two in those references, and especially by turning some elements in an unexpected--yet very Dr. Who--direction.

For instance, [SPOILERS AHEAD] I liked that the device of the satellites controlling the population (so similar to the alternate universe Cybermen episodes) becoming the means for the Doctor to reassert control, by channeling the psychic energy of the planet's population, focused on his name.

Russell Davies has more than flirted with the Doctor as a god, and this time he's made him quite Christ-like (although it must be said that there are earlier prototypes in human mythologies and rituals for the redeemer.) We've seen the Doctor several times this year spend long periods in exile, actually living through time rather than popping in and out of it. This culminates in this episode, in which he, along with humans associated with him, are seen to suffer for a full year. Martha Jones becomes a kind of prophet, a John the Baptist, by spreading the Doctor's word (literally, the word "Doctor") around the world.

In the end, the Doctor derives his power from believers, as a past and hoped-for future savior. And after saying (in an episode last year) that he used to have so much mercy but was now too old to exercise it, he triumphs in this episode by loving his enemy, and forgiving (after becoming his actual age, and apparently helpless.) That was perhaps the difference in the Christian story, a product (in mythic terms) of Christ being both god and human, which the Doctor has now been as well. But of course this isn't an overt theme, let alone a blasphemous one.

The last part of the episode--the comic twist concerning the Face of Boe, the parting with Martha-- was very well handled, making this an emotional and on the whole buoyant conclusion.

Now David Tennant goes off to do Hamlet with Patrick Stewart. I recently heard an old interview with Canadian actor Paul Gross who said that the conventional wisdom in the theatre is that actors are either pre-Hamlet or post-Hamlet--that it changes the actors who play that part. Since the episodes we'll see next season are already in the can, we won't see the post-Hamlet Tennant until the Christmas special in 2008 (which we'll see here in 2009.)

Nobel for Sci-Fi

Along with Al Gore's Nobel Peace Prize for his work calling attention to the "planetary emergency" (his words, as well as words from Star Trek IV) of the Climate Crisis, this week the Nobel Prize in Literature was given to Doris Lessing, a longtime resident of England, though earlier in her life she lived in Africa. I note this here because among her novels are several that expanded the genre of science fiction, in particular the "Canopus in Argos" series that are among my favorite science fiction novels: Shikasta, The Making of the Representative for Planet 8, The Sentimental Agents, The Sirian Experiments, The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, and Five.

Lessing is not the first Nobel laureate to have written some works that are at least sometimes classified as science fiction or futuristic (William Golding, Nadine Gordimer, Jose Saramago, to name a few). But these and other novels with a science fiction theme (including her most recent, The Story of General Dann and Mara's Daughter, Griot and the Snow Dog) went a long way to breaking the barrier between genres, and also paving the way for women writers identified as realists (Margaret Atwood) and as genre writers (Ursula LeGuin) to get closer together in readership, even when they moved in the opposite direction from their supposed niche.

Lessing's Canopus books also added a new sophistication to the science fiction epic-- especially Shikasta, which portrayed a resonant new history for planet Earth. She especially linked ancient belief systems to a sense of how the universe works that we're still groping towards scientifically. I think of that novel more often than a lot of others, science fiction and otherwise.

Among its fans--as dedicated as science fiction fans often are--this book also attracted cultists, which she talks about in this excellent short interview with Newsday. I don't know if this novel and the rest of the Canopus books are especially popular with Star Trek fans, but they probably should be. They're intelligent science fiction about a past that links us with the universe and an inspiring sense of what it's all about, even if the future includes tragedy.

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