Where this Man has Gone Before
During the past few months, I’ve watched a couple of movies that have got me thinking about when I was a kid. Growing up in the 80’s was an interesting time. With the heightened tensions of the Cold War’s final years, the rise of international terrorism, Reagan’s build-up and frequent use of the U.S. military, and the ever-present, ominous cloud of global apocalypse, whether through nukes, aliens, or HIV, those years where replete with doom and triumph. Ballard found Titanic, Challenger exploded, New Jersey bombarded Beirut, Soviets shot down KAL 007, Roger Moore retired, the Wall did indeed come down, the Rebel Alliance prevailed, Mary Lou Retton was on a Wheaties box, Rocky defeated Ivan Drago, and amidst all the turmoil of a crazy heroic world, I watched a lot of movies and television shows.
We, or at least I do, take DVDs and Blu-Rays for granted. But back in the 80’s the VCR was a newfangled thing, and VHS releases were expensive, around 60 bucks, though I seem to recall some top-end titles going for around $90.00. Hence we rented them from the local video shop; typically a mom ‘n pop type place, long before Blockbuster came along. We’d rent some flicks for 24 or 48 hours, and I’d watch them five or six times, before walking them back up to the shop (along with the mammoth VCR in its convenient zipper carry-bag).
This isn’t to say I didn’t see movies in theaters. I saw just about everything that came out, most of them at the oh-so-aptly named Starship Theater, and later at Movies 7. Both of which were a half-mile walk from home. Regardless of where or how, I did see every important film from the 80’s. Of course, some standout more than others. Whether or not they were actually good movies is irrelevant, because back then I loved them. Star Wars, Empire, and Jedi are non-debatable. But I also watched every new Star Trek, both Terminators, and a few years later I must have seen Independence Day about a dozen times. And everything else which featured explosions, spaceships, fast cars, beautiful women. You name it, I probably saw it. Being a teenager, I also was fascinated by the animated afternoon shows, like GI Joe and Transformers.
All of this brings me to some newer movies I’ve recently either watched for the first time, or re-watched from a clearer (older) point of view. Just last night I gave the Abrams Star Trek second viewing. This was a fun movie, and I applaud the decision to alter the entire franchise’s timeline. The actors did some excellent parodies of some iconic characters. The plot, while a bit weak, captured the essence of the Roddenberry’s universe.
One thing I did find disappointing, and for me this is a huge thing, is the limited role of Enterprise. A ship was such a huge part of nearly every Star Trek series, I found the new Enterprise to be little more than a vehicle. This just isn’t right. Enterprise was not just a ship; it was another character. Whether it’s the original series, the original 6 movies, -D from Next Generation, the ship was always there, getting pounded, put back together, and saving the day. I’m not saying the new Enterprise is nonexistent, because it’s there, in all its reimagined glory. But for me it wasn’t there enough.
To my young, impressionable eye, Enterprise’s starring moment is the battle against Kahn and Reliant.
But the protracted fly-by scene of the newly refitted ship from The Motion Picture is still one of the best scenes in the history of the franchise. This is moment where director Robert Wise’s long drawn out filmmaking actually works (unlike the rest of that first film which put me to, and numerous others, to sleep).
Something shocking to consider, is that diehard fans of the original series and the original ship, with those half-sphere glowing, swirling end caps on the warp nacelles and the exposed satellite dish on the engineering section, all of which scream sixties, sixties, sixties, some of those fans didn’t like that their beloved ship had been so grotesquely altered into what now screamed eighties, eighties, eighties.
I, however, loved the slicker lines and the larger saucer. The new Enterprise looked cool, and the warp-drive special effects were beyond awesome.
So when the Abrams’ Enterprise first shows itself, I have to keep this in mind. Before I go all old man and start complaining about ignorant millennial fools meddling with the design, changing my beloved NCC-1701 into some abomination of the late 2000’s. I had to sit back and say, “Hey, that’s not the ship I remember, but that does look badass, as a sort of blend between original and film.” Kind of like the entire feel of the movie. Even the homage to Alexander Courage’s TV score was there, though I prefer Goldsmith’s The Motion Picture and Horner’s The Wrath of Kahn soundtracks. Still, anything which breathes new life into the franchise is great. And the new design is with doubt a Federation starship.
I do remember crying when Kirk destroyed Enterprise in The Search for Spock. My tears flowed in equal portions for the ship and Spock. Both where serious blows to my hormonal charged brain. Spock’s funeral torpedo, Enterprise’s flaming contrail in the Genesis planet’s twilit sky. This was high-end trauma to my young emotional mind. My favorite ship gone, vaporized by Kirk’s own hand. I lost something that day. Yes, I was being melodramatic, but still I felt Kirk’s pain as Enterprise burned and died.
And it was cool when the new (old) –A Enterprise appeared at the end of The Voyage Home. But after pondering that for a few decades, I’ve now decided that was dumb. If anything, -A should have been a new ship altogether, not another refitted Constitution class.
Where did that ship even come from? It had to have been a renamed ship (and in navy superstition, such things are an invitation for all sorts of ill-omens and a star-crossed service life). Though one good thing, was it introduced the -letter designation. And we have since seen the entire Enterprise run, -A, -B, -C, -D, and -E. Who knows, perhaps one day we shall see a -F in a future series or film.
I know, not to long ago, I’d have been the grumpy old man who sees nothing worthwhile in new imaginings and new interpretations. Somewhere along the way, that cynical implacable geezer has been cast aside. Not that I’ve returned to my love-everything youth. Far from it. I’m still critical, but at least now I have some context for my critique. Abrams’ Star Trek isn’t a great movie, but it is good enough. Re-watching The Wrath of Kahn also reveals it isn’t a great movie, but it always will be cool, awesomeness which takes me back to when I was a teenager. Since I can’t actually go back in time (unless someone gives me a warp drive so I can slingshot the sun), I at least can relive some of my younger days and my younger mentality. The new Star Trek has taken to a place I’ve already been. And though the view is different, the voyage feels similar, albeit a few decades in duration, and with no end in sight.