Archive for May, 2009

The Verdict on the New STAR TREK

May 12, 2009

Paramount Pictures’ cash-cow STAR TREK franchise gets a much-needed, high-octane jolt with the global release of a re-imagined version of the Captain Kirk, Mister Spock, and Doctor McCoy story — directed by the same director who guided Tom Cruise through Mission Impossible: III. 

First in line at the IMAX

First in line at the IMAX

The studio put STAR TREK adventures on ice five years ago, after pulling the plug on the fifth TV show spawned from the original adventures of the U.S.S. Enterprise, which first hit the airwaves on NBC back in 1966 at the height of the Apollo space program.  And while the new film is simply called STAR TREK, it is the 11th feature film in the series.  The first weekend box office take exceeded $76 million here in the United States– more than twice the highest opening weekend of any previous STAR TREK film.  In just three days, the film has already recouped half of its production cost and is predicted by studio executives to exceed $300 million by the time it runs its course.  One out of ten moviegoers saw STAR TREK this past weekend in an IMAX theatre and it set a record on those massive screens, generating more than $8 million in revenue just at IMAX.

STAR TREK opened in many countries weeks ago, seen on 5,000 screens outside the U.S. in 54 locations that have generated an additional $35 million.  A friend of mine from Germany told me this morning it is “cool” and that he loved it.  That’s music to the ears of studio executives, since STAR TREK has not always translated well overseas.

Written to delight both Trekkies and the non-initiated, the latest STAR TREK movie grabs you and never let’s go.  It tells the origins of the Enterprise crew, how Spock experienced prejudice on his home planet of Vulcan, what makes Dr. “Bones” McCoy so cranky, and why James T. Kirk’s has a reputation as an impulsive, wiseguy ladies’ man.  In between, we also learn more about what opens Uhura’s hailing frequencies and how this interstellar crew came to be.

You can imagine the difficulty of crafting a story that would at once fill in the blanks in these character’s history, respect the future tales filled with Klingons, Tribbles, and Vulcan mating rituals, and yet give the producers enough latitude to create a feature that anyone can enjoy.  And don’t forget the sequel to the prequel.  All the actors have signed up to do three films, and work is already underway on the script for the next one.

Well, STAR TREK director J.J. Abrams and his team have done the impossible! The film is a breathtaking romp through the early days of the Starfleet Academy graduates, and it is compelling theatre for both old and new fans.  The story fits like a missing puzzle piece in STAR TREK lore, but it also leaves a door open for hardcore fans who may quibble with this or that.  The new STAR TREK movie operates on an alternative timeline – the universe as it is changed by the bad guy Romulan who alters history.

Longtime Trekkies will laugh at all of the insider jokes, because we already know the punch lines from the original TV series – that Sulu likes swords, Chekov has trouble with English, Scotty is a miracle worker, and Kirk is perpetually horny. 

But the real secret of this exhilarating film is the way it engages with people who know nothing about Vulcans with pointed ears or phaser battles.  It’s a delight for the casual fans, and those who just want a great two-hour escape who may most enjoy seeing these familiar characters in a story that tells how they all met — and gives us some insight into their future adventures.

Rated PG-13 for eye-popping special effects with some violence and a randy scene or two with Captain Kirk (which is mild compared to what’s on TV.)

This is the kind of movie that the Trekkies like me will see over and over and over again.  But it’s also a film filled with a wonderful story, a moving tribute to how our parents do their best to bring us into this world, and a springboard to the future adventures of the Enterprise crew.

Space is the Final Frontier, and STAR TREK delivers the goods!

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The Final Frontier

May 8, 2009

In a few weeks, America will pause to remember an awesome moment in human history that happened 40 years ago.  On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong emerged from the Lunar Module that had landed on the surface of the Moon.  And with the whole world watching the fuzzy black-and-white images from live TV transmissions, a spaceman from Ohio set foot on another world — one “giant leap” for all of mankind. 

I remember that evening, as we listened to live coverage on the car radio.  Dad was racing home to make sure we could witness history on our black-and-white RCA television.  We got home just before 10:00PM, and just in time to see the astronaut descend the stairs and leave his footprints on the lunar surface. 

In early June 1969, the month before that historic event, another milestone in space history had taken place.  Turnabout Intruder, the 79th and final episode of NBC’s all-color show STAR TREK was broadcast.  So ended three years of the fabled “five-year mission” with the spaceman from Iowa (Captain Kirk.)   STAR TREK had been cancelled.  It was seven years before the introduction of the VCR, but STAR TREK didn’t disappear into the ether — it was soon resurrected by a magical force called syndication. 

Flash forward three years.  It is 1972.  Our family had moved to an Indianapolis suburb and we were about to buy our first color TV.  Friday nights at the Arland home typically meant popcorn and Canasta card games.  I’ve never learned to play poker, bridge, or gin rummy.  But my parents did teach me and my brother to play the card game created by an attorney and architect from Uruguay who thought that bridge took too long to play.

As a fourth-grader, I was up late one Friday night when the Eyewitness News team finished their late night news report.  As the camera pulled back to reveal sports guy Don Hine and weatherman Bob Gregory, Channel 13 anchorman John Lindsey called out to Scotty on the Starship Enterprise and asked him to “beam us aboard.” 

ch 13

Suddenly, the news crew and their set dissolved into sparkles and another episode of STAR TREK (now on nightly syndication) was underway.  I was mesmerized.

The people on the bridge of that ship all worked together.  Each had a role to play.  The cool, smart guy with the pointed ears had all the facts.  A Russian navigator kept the ship on course while a Japanese helmsman kept bad guys at bay.  A brilliant Scottish engineer did the impossible and a beautiful, talented black woman ran communications to keep everyone informed.  The irascible ship’s doctor delivered doses of levity and reality as his daily prescription.  And leading the crew of 430 aboard the Enterprise was the gallant Captain Kirk. 

No situation fazed him.  He was good at talking and negotiating, ready to throw up his hands (or the famous Shatner side kick) in a fight, and everyone respected him.  The women loved him.  I wanted to be him.

The 1970’s brought us many things.  Bellbottom jeans.  Long hair.  Leisure suits.  The VCR.  And also the pre-Internet collective known as STAR TREK fandom.

In 1974, my Dad the pharmacist bolted in the door one evening and excitedly told me to get in the car.  We were going to drive back to the eastside of Indianapolis because he’d heard that a STAR TREK club was meeting at a local library near his drug store.  So I went, and things have never been the same.

While that local club only met for a few years (and it was before I was old enough to drive), I struck up lifelong friendships that have enriched my world.  As a 13-year old, I got to go to Chicago (with my parents) to attend the first STAR TREK convention to reunite the entire original cast along with series creator Gene Roddenberry.  They actually spoke from a partial replica of the Enterprise bridge.  It was amazing!

I learned how to organize my peers when Channel 13 took the reruns of my favorite program off the air.  A petition drive in my fifth grade classroom helped to bring the show back (for reruns, anyway.)

I met a local radio broadcaster at the 1976 STAR TREK convention in Indianapolis, which fueled my fascination with and later career in broadcasting.  Trekkie radio DJ Tim Renshaw (better known on the air as “Jay Riley”) later got me and a friend backstage to meet TREK creator Gene Roddenberry during his Indianapolis lecture tour at the downtown basketball arena.  And we even interviewed our idol in his dressing room, just like real reporters.

We wrote letters along with thousands of others and convinced the President of the United States to name NASA’s first space shuttle after the U.S.S. Enterprise.  With the success of STAR WARS in 1977, we celebrated the decision by Paramount Pictures to bring back STAR TREK in a big-screen fantasy that arrived on December 7, 1979.  That it was Pearl Harbor Day was likely an omen, since the film — while sweeping — limped along on a hair-thin plot. 

But the franchise did not die.  New producers injected new blood and a classic story with STAR TREK II: The Wrath of Khan, featuring a duel of the great scenery chewers of William Shatner and Ricardo Montalban and the death of Spock, which landed the character on the cover of Newsweek magazine.  The third TREK film brought Spock back to life.  By the time production started for the fourth movie I was out of college.

Ann, a friend I’d met at the library TREK club, went with me to stake out the hotel of George “Sulu” Takei when we learned that a local shopping mall was bringing him to town for an appearance.  Ever gracious, George agreed to let us buy him breakfast the next morning.  Another hotel lobby enounter led us to buy lunch for James “Scotty” Doohan in downtown Indianapolis.

We also traveled to California to witness the unveiling of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Gene Roddenberry and later made a trip to Paramount Pictures to witness a day of filming on the fourth STAR TREK movie which would simultaneously save the whales and yet again revive the flagging franchise.

star ceremony

Later, I met Enterprise captain and horse wrangler William Shatner in the stables of the Indiana State Fairgrounds and showed Shatner and Leonard Nimoy a new technology called “high-definition TV” at events run by my employer several years before the technology reached stores.  Shatner even borrowed my RCA camcorder for an African safari.  Really!

dave and bill

A contact from Paramount’s parent company helped me land a soundstage tour of the starship bridge used in the 2003 spinoff series STAR TREK Enterprise.  I got to sit in the captain’s chair and imagine what it would be like to seek out strange new worlds – even though I was only peering at a soundstage wall and not the Enterprise viewscreen.

It’s been fun to follow this passion around the country, as I’ve attended STAR TREK conventions in New York, Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Pasadena. 

leonard

I’ve met some incredible people at these conventions through the years.   My friend Adam was so focused on creating precise replicas of the red, blue, and green (that photograph gold) uniforms worn by the original crew that he found the same fabric suppliers who sold Paramount costumers the stretchy baseball uniform fabric that outfitted the Enterprise crew.  And he had it dyed in precisely the same colors as the original Starfleet uniforms.  I had to have one, hand sewn pear-green tunic with gold insignia and braids, sparkly black knickers and custom-made leather boots from California.  (I am blessed with a patient wife who realizes that this is not much different than another man’s football regalia that he might wear to the game on Sundays.) 

Kirk, Kirk, Spock

So when I show up in my STAR TREK uniform at the IMAX theatre to see the latest incarnation featuring a younger Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, I will be thinking of all of those friends I have met over the past 37 years as a Trekkie.  I’ll remember the late night Canasta games with my parents and the evening we first “beamed aboard” the Starship Enterprise with the Channel 13 news crew.

STAR TREK has always been about the optimistic belief that the human race will solve its problems and petty differences and learn to work together as one team.  And I, for one, am honored to celebrate that dream with my unabashed affection for STAR TREK and everything it’s brought to this world — as a 23rd century mirror on our own century.

dave today

So laugh at me and my uniform if you’d like.  But to me it’s a symbol of mankind’s reach for the stars and the hope that someday we’ll celebrate our differences as much as we do the things we have in common.

Live Long and Prosper!  STAR TREK lives!