Stardate 24 december 2016, Captain’s log. For those who have read the more nerdy bits on my blog before, you already know that I’m a Star Trek fan. I had not watched Beyond yet and not really penned anything about the death of Leonard Nimoy. Christmas seems to be as good a time as any to do so.
Christmas time is an odd time for me. It’s a moment where everything winds down. Suddenly the time presents itself to do some things you normally never get around to. For me this is particularly so. So yesterday I cancelt the christmas party at work, didn’t go to two great shows in Eindhoven, but instead crashed on the couch with a glass of stout, a pizza and Star Trek Beyond.
[Spoiler Alert: though I tried to keep things foggy]
Star Trek Beyond
I’m someone who grew up with Generations, not The Original Series, so I have a bit more of a modern view on the show perhaps than others. Also, I did see TOS as a child, so characters like Spock, McCoy and Kirk are as vividly present in my subconscious as those of other childhood heroes from other universes. Still, I liked the intellectual quality of Star Trek. It was a static show, hard to get into sometimes, but so rewarding if you were in the flow of things. It was rather opposite the ‘other fandom’ of Star Wars, with its lightsaber wielding, blaster bursting action.
The rebooted series lacks that static element and is as action packed as any Hollywood blockbuster of these days. I remember reading in Leonard Nimoy’s biography, how he felt that Star Trek gave people something to think of. This was his biggest pride in the series, the fact that scifi changed reality. This part is hard to see on first glance in the new film. The characters, don’t get me wrong, are great picks. They really fit the shoes they’re stepping into. Maybe for me Chris Pine as Kirk does lack some of the bravado that William Shatner has, who did of course make his name as a Shakespeare actor.
So the action packed story is great, though perhaps slightly unlikely, but so are the original Star Trek films. Perhaps the near-death experiences are a bit too numerous. Where old Kirk took gambles, that luckily worked out, new Kirk jumps into the fire and rolls out unscathed a bit too often. But that’s part of the spectacle of current day cinema, particularly the fantastic. Simon Pegg was co-writer on this film. Regarding his view on nerd culture, that might be a good thing for the future, keeping Star Trek in line with its past.
To equality and beyond
But to the subtext, are there still provocative elements in Star Trek? Well, though Uhura would be the sexy lady of the film, she is now also a strong, independent woman, not just that one at the intercom. Looking back, that was something new in TOS, a woman in a professional position, but in a way it was a glorified secretary.
Sulu meets his ‘husband’ (implied by the fact the two have a child), which of course still counts as controversial in many parts of the world. It is peculiar to know though that George Takei’s homosexuality was never part of the show (though many will say it was evident). Takei didn’t like the decision, because it was contrary to the characters history and identity, and rightly so. So though it was intended as being forward thinking, the result feels forced and not very sincere.
So what remains? There is a story arch, culminating in a fight between Kirk and a former soldier, who believes war is what shapes us and can’t deal with the peaceful way the federation works. The obvious triumph of Kirk can be read as peaceful means of bureaucracy to be always preferable over war. It suggests that flawed organisations like a NATO or the fledgling EU are atleast attempts at something that is better than the sword. As a friend of mine told me once: “Ask any veteran who has seen battle, they’ll all tell you that to prevent war any alternative is better, any situation is preferable over war…”.
United in diversity… Food for thought for a generation or perhaps two that only knows discontent in peaceful times.
Also, before I forget to mention, the actor who plays Chekov, Anton Yelchin, died before the release of the film in an accident due to a problem with his car. No recasting for Chekov follows in the future.
One scene that makes an impact, is where the young Spock is informed of the old ambassador Spock’s death. A wordless scene, only briefly a picture of Leonard Nimoy shows on the screen as the elder Spock. There’s a moment that touches you. Nothing needs to be said, but Star Trek itself needed this good bye. We’ve said goodbye to Nimoy and now also to Spock.
The next mourning, I watched Star Trek II: Wrath Of Khan, with the end scene where Spock dies as well in the reactor chamber. It now really hit me that Spock is gone with Leonard Nimoy. Sure, Zachary Quinto is an excellent actor, but he is not Spock. The loss finally really sank in for me and it saddened me greatly.
Leonard Nimoy has for me become someone who is larger than life. I read his biography’s and even though he’s just a man with failings, he is also a role model. He did so much in his life, which is hugely inspirational. I love how he spent his latter years exploring poetry and photography and vigorously opposing smoking. His first biography was titled ‘I’m Not Spock’. In this Nimoy is denying the connection between him and the character (check my bits on those books here). This book was difficult and felt like an identity crisis, but also conflicted on different levels. In the following book, 20 years later, Nimoy was free of those concerns. The title is ‘I am Spock’ and in it Nimoy embraced Spock as a part of Nimoy (and I guess of Nimoy as part of Spock).
It shows that unique thing that fantasy can do, which is to change the real world. To affect real people and inspire millions. Spock has become an entity, that used Nimoy as a conduit, or vice versa. He is fictional, but he can’t be, because he impacts the world, no? Maybe our fantasy is much more powerful than we know. That’s what I learned from Spock.
It’s like losing a father figure in a way, someone you truly look up to. Not like a child, blind to the failings of the man, but seeing them as character, like an adult. . I’m glad that there was a good bye moment. I’m not sure if the future of Star Trek will rekindle the fire of passion in me that I felt for it. Let’s hope so though.
Live Long and Prosper.
[END of Spoiler Alert]
There is a documentary out on the life of Nimoy/Spock, titled ‘For the love of Spock’, made by Nimoy’s son.