Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Star Trek revisited

I was a huge Science Fiction fan as a child.  Shocking, right?  An awkward endurance athlete who enjoys a fantasy world for misfits, so original that it defies explanation.  For a time I ran from the science fiction genre that I grew up with.  Recently, I have revisited it. Some of this has been enjoyable, other aspects have been disappointing  I am focusing on the original Star Trek movies for today's post.  I may, in time, revisit some of the other diversions of my youth and today.

Recently, I watched both Star Trek: the Motion Picture and Star Trek: the Wrath of Khan.  After watching the first, I couldn't believe that the franchise even continued. In some ways, the Motion Picture is true to the spirit of discovery that Star Fleet is supposed to embody.  While this is noble, it does not make for great entertainment. The special effects were beyond kitch and the acting was so over the top in contrast to how two dimensional the characters are.  I actually had a hard time watching it straight through.

So, I was pleasantly surprised when I sat down to watch the Wrath of Khan. Some of the same themes are present: aging, a person's proper role in the world, what is means to make decisions affecting the life and death of others, and - of course- the responsibilities of command. The treatment that each of these facets receives is ten fold richer in this installment than in the previous. The movie features allusions to "a Tale of Two Cities" and is bookended by the opening line (the best of times, the worst of time) and the famous last words "(it is a far, far better thing I do today than I have ever done before").  Kirk leads an inexperienced crew into a situation where an awesome weapon could fall into the hands of a madman.  There is a brief, although incomplete and partially disappointing, discussion of what it means to create technology with the manifest ability to end all life.  Are the potential benefits of this technology worth the catastrophic damage it could wreak, if it fell into the wrong hands? This question is pending while Kirk fights it out with his old enemy.  Rather than answer this larger than life question, the movie distracts us with the putative death of Spock.  While Spock's fate is resolved in the following installment, the question is left for the viewer to ponder.  I can only imagine that this is a thinly veiled reference to the ethical, moral, environmental, and philosophical questions surrounding the use of atomic energy and its weaponization. Apparently, the 23rd century doesn't hold clearer answers to these questions than the 21st.

Another prevalent theme in this movie is the burden of command, death, and the possibility of a no win scenario. This is introduced in the opening scene of the movie, where Lt. Savvik conns the Enterprise through the Kobashi Maru simulation a test designed to test the participant's ability to confront a no win scenario. She loses the ship and the crew, as the simulator is designed to do.  She is baffled and claims to have never considered a no win scenario, neither, apparently, had Kirk. The closing act of the movie presenta  similar scenario: where the Enterprise will be destroyed for a lack of engine speed. Ultimately, no human can stabilize the engine, as the environment is too toxic and there is not enough time to purge the environment  Here, the only person who might be able to stabilize the engine is Spock, but he will surely die of toxicity, although he may save the rest of the crew.  The choice is this: either the whole crew surely dies or the crew might die and Spock will certainly die. Spock chooses the logical thing.  We might call it bravery, but that isn't how it is framed.

Kirk is rocked by Spock's death.  He, Kirk, has never actually lost.  Sure, lots of extras died on away missions, but nobody from the cast ever died before. The emotion here is warranted (unlike so many other scenes where Shatner overacts his booty off) and it does feel genuine.

This movie drops the exploration and the unknown in favor of a good old-fashioned grudge match.  Mano-a-mano two captains risk their lives, their ships and their crews to settle a score.  There is suspense and fighting - what more could a boy want?

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