Tag Archives: William Shatner

Star Trek Movie Commentaries!

This week I watched commentaries for the first six Star Trek movies, the ones with the original cast. I know, I know, I’m supposed to be watching The Next Generation, but I suddenly realized I’d been sitting on collector’s editions of the movies from 2004 and had never even checked to see what kind of special features they had. Turns out a lot of behind-the-scenes documentaries, but also commentaries for each movie, which my fellow fans might find interesting. Summaries first, then overall thoughts:

Star Trek: The Motion Picture: Commentary with director Robert Wise, special photographic effects director Douglas Trumbull, effects supervisor John Dykstra, composer Jerry Goldsmith, and Stephen Collins (who played Decker). This commentary is almost entirely about special effects and how things were created. This is presumably a combined result of the commentator choices and the movie itself, but it’s just not that interesting unless you’re a budding effects wizard. They’re basically silent during any character conversations, which strikes me as more of a “meh, waiting for more effects to talk about” than a stylistic choice. That itself is more interesting as the movie progresses though, because that is really what this movie was about. It made me appreciate the beauty of the designs and the time they took, even if the overall movie ended up, er, bad.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: I knew seconds into this commentary that it was going to be way better than the first one. It’s just director Nicholas Meyer on his own, so it’s much more chill and relaxed, but also much more revelatory. At times it sounds like a rambling monologue, and yet it’s all supremely relevant to what’s onscreen and how the movie became what it is, demonstrating again why Meyer’s are the great Trek movies but also extending beyond them in significance. He’s talking about the movie, but the commentary gradually becomes an extended meditation on writing and how to put a story together, and its brilliant.

 

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Nicholas Meyer, Leonard Nimoy, and William Shatner on the Wrath of Khan set.

 

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock: Commentary by Leonard Nimoy, producer Harve Bennett, director of photography Charles Correll and Robin Curtis (the second Saavik actress). It’s a relaxed chat about the movie, but I don’t think they were talking to each other, it sounds more like they recorded statements independently. The main focus was on how they managed to make the movie on their budget, with a sub-theme of the characters’ motivations and how the actors worked. So, most of the information I already knew from Leonard Nimoy’s memoirs, but it was nice to hear him talk about the movie.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home: Ah, this is Nimoy and Shatner in the same room watching the movie, so it’s a pleasure. They jog each other’s memories of what word they’re looking for, they laugh at jokes in the movie, they express their feelings at watching DeForest Kelley after his death. They share some behind-the-scenes stories and insights into filming, but they’re also quiet for a lot of the movie, and it creates a kind of intimacy. I just love how entertained they still were at the humor here.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier: This is William Shatner and his daughter Lisabeth, who served as his chronicler during the making of the movie. They mostly just describe what they see onscreen, and the tone here is much different from Voyage. Frequently Lisabeth reminds Shatner of a story or anecdote, and he just repeats what she says. I did, at a few moments, get a glimpse of the movie Shatner wanted to have made, and knew he hadn’t, and there’s something very poignant in that, especially combined with the “forgetful older man” dynamic he’s showing in the conversation, but otherwise there’s not much insight here.

 

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William and Lisabeth Shatner, in this case discussing Star Wars.

 

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered CountryBack to Nicholas Meyer, this time with his co-screenwriter Denny Flinn. So, there’s some of the pleasure and depth from Wrath of Khan, but a little more chat. I also enjoyed getting more details about the then-contemporary political allusions, because while I can follow “this is the Cold War and the Klingons are the Russians,” they actually had a few more layers and references that I didn’t catch because I wasn’t alive when that was the news, so it was cool to hear those and see how they added those resonances to a sci-fi plot with existing characters. Neither of them knew much about Trek before they got started, so their thoughts on writing longstanding characters, and now characters who aren’t young anymore, was really interesting.

In this collection — which is sometimes expensive but can also be found cheaply if you strike at the right time — Meyer’s Wrath of Khan commentary is absolutely the standout. The Undiscovered Country is a great complement to it, and The Voyage Home is a pleasure. The other three aren’t terribly compelling on their own, but I did enjoy watching them all as a unit. I especially noticed the difference between Meyer’s “constraints make the work better” attitude and the other directors’ litanies of what they couldn’t afford, and I’m fascinated by the way the commentaries matched up to the movies in terms of tone. Overly effects-laden and kinda boring, brilliant, technically good but not transcendent, funny and a bit touching, sad, and brilliant but a bit chattier. That’s the cycle of the movies, too.

These aren’t must-watches, certainly, although I recommend that second commentary to everyone. But if you’re a fan, I think you’ll appreciate the experience.

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Trendy Star Trek Documentaries

Star Trek‘s 50th anniversary has brought a lot of attention to the franchise in the past couple of years, along with the release of Star Trek Beyond (which deserved better buzz than it got) and the sad death of Leonard Nimoy in 2015. One effect of all this is the appearance of several new, readily-available documentaries that may interest my fellow Trekkies. I’ve put them in order from best to worst.

For the Love of Spock (2016)

For the Love of Spock promo

The best of the four documentaries, and for me the saddest, is For the Love of Spock. Leonard Nimoy was working on it with his son Adam before he died, so what was intended to be a 50th-anniversary retrospective also became a kind of memorial. It’s the best quality of the four, with archival images and clips worth seeing, along with new interviews. It’s about Spock, it’s about both Nimoys, it’s about the fans. Again the tone can be odd, almost frenzied sometimes, but the emotion is real. You’ll probably have to pay a few dollars to stream this one, but honestly out of all four, this is the one that’s worth the effort.

To Be Takei (2014)

To Be Takei promo

George Takei has become one of the most visible Trek alumni thanks to his social media following and activism, plus his work on the musical Allegiance about the US’s Japanese internment camps during World War II. To Be Takei is basically an overview of his life and the issues he cares about, and it’s definitely worth watching if you’re a fan. It’s got a kind of quirky tone, but be warned, it tends to charge back and forth between his general goofiness and the very serious activism stuff. It’s sometimes available on Netflix, but even when it’s not you can usually find a place to stream it via educational services and things like that.

Chaos on the Bridge (2014)

Chaos on the Bridge promo

I discovered this 1-hour documentary through sheer happenstance on Netflix while looking up The Truth is in the Stars below. It’s a William Shatner-hosted tale of Next Generation’s harried beginnings. It’s not very good either. I mean, the interviews are interesting and I appreciate how they let people tell conflicting versions of the story, but I question whether a video documentary is the best venue for it when there are more cartoon recreations of historical events than actual interviews and pictures.

The Truth Is In The Stars (2017)

The Truth is in the Stars promo

This most-recent effort was essentially recommended to me as “Have you seen this? It’s painful to watch.” Accurate. The idea is that William Shatner interviews scientists about Star Trek‘s impact. But mostly he talks about horses. The first ten minutes is him talking about horses for no apparent reason at all. The next hour or so was interesting if only to see who he’d interview next. He starts with actors, people like Ben Stiller and Jason Alexander (who shows up in like every Star Trek thing ever), then transitions through Seth MacFarlane and Neil deGrasse Tyson (both associated with Cosmos) to additional famous scientists and astronauts (like Michio Kaku and Chris Hadfield) to the great Stephen Hawking. And somewhere in there at the end it becomes genuinely touching? Mostly because we’re seeing Shatner try to deal with his own mortality. So I don’t know whether or not to recommend this one, because it’s reeeeally awkward to see Shatner just ramble at random people like this, but it’s cool to see who’s interviewed and is sort of meaningful at the end. It’s on Netflix, so if I’ve piqued your interest it won’t put you out to find it.


What’s your favorite way to get behind-the-scenes Trek info? Did I miss any documentaries? Let us know in the comments!

“I Loved Star Trek: The Original Series, Where Can I Get More Episodes?”

I’ve wondered the same thing, hypothetical question-asker! Fortunately you’re in luck, because the original Star Trek is a cultural artifact of huge importance. Anything that big gets revisited over and over again, and I’ll read, watch, or listen to anything that makes an effort. There’s a huge variety to suit any taste, but for this post I have one major recommendation and I challenge you all to guess what it is by the end.

In the realm of “real” stuff, as canon as Trek gets, you can always watch Star Trek: The Next Generation and revisit old plotlines and characters. You’ve got the original cast movies, which are in some ways “the same” but almost different versions of the same characters. You’ve got Star Trek: The Animated Series, which used original actors for voices and was better than it sounds. And there’s the series of reboot movies, particularly Star Trek Beyond which most closely approximates something like the original.

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Jaylah, Kirk, and Spock in Star Trek Beyond

Novels are a great option too, and there are roughly a gigglety-jillion. If you’re looking for something really specific, to revisit a guest character or something like that, you may only find one or two but you’ll probably find something. I’ve mentioned some wacky ones here but there are plenty closer to the original series in tone — some off the top of my head are The Eugenics Wars by Greg Cox, Timetrap by David Dvorkin, Invasion: First Strike by Diane Carey, and Tears of the Singers by Melinda Snodgrass. Plus it’s not exactly, er, normal, but you’re missing out if you don’t read William Shatner’s Shatnerverse books.

Shatnerverse covers

A step further and you’ve got fanfic or other fanworks. Quality varies from bizarre paragraph-long vignettes about Spock as a dentist to multi-novel sagas with better characterization than some episodes from season 3, but as with the published novels, there’s something for everyone. Whatever you’ve wondered about, someone’s written it (with of course the glaring exception of the one thing I really want to read, a take-off on “Balance of Terror” where it turns out Spock really is a Romulan spy. Rec me if you know of one). I won’t do much reccing because it very much depends on what events you want to see, but there are episode addenda, episode retellings, episode followups, new episodes, a detailed episode-by-episode analysis of why Kirk/Spock was a real thing, anything you want.

But let’s take a step back toward the novels and talk about comics. Even fans who like fanfic sometimes think they won’t like comics because they’re associated with being confusing or difficult to access, and I get that, but I promise it’s not as confusing as superhero comics. With the resurgence of interest after the reboot movies, it’s easier than ever to get collected editions of comic series, so you don’t have to figure out issue numbering, just think of them the same as novel series. You can get stories about Khan and aliens and whatever, just like the novels. You can also get reprints of the original Gold Key comics from the 60s and 70s, which are hilarious, or the newer Star Trek: Ongoing series that retold original-series plots using reboot-movie characters. But most importantly, you can get Star Trek: New Visions by John Byrne. It’s a comic series that uses collages of original episode stills to create new episodes.

 

It sounds silly — and kinda looks silly at first glance — but hear me out! John Byrne isn’t just some guy, he’s been a major comic author and artist since the 70s, and clearly knows his Star Trek. The New Visions series ran for two years and four volumes, with each (long) issue as a new episode of original Trek. It captures the rhythm of an original Trek episode, the style, the story functions of each character. (And while it’s a bit limited as far as diversity based on original images, he also pastes together a few new characters and does a much better job including women than Star Trek: Ongoing. Much better).

It doesn’t have the same variety of tones — original Trek could be serious, fun, goofy, self-important, intense, but these mostly fall into a “weighty” category, a feeling of pondering the mysteries of the universe. The “Where No Man Has Gone Before” sort of tone. I don’t mind that, it’s as authentic as anything. Most plots revisit original episodes, extending concepts to see how they might play out, but always in character. Some plots are new, but in the same spirit, the same general classifications of episodes and the same concerns. Even the sciencey sci-fi bits don’t make sense in the same way that original episodes didn’t make sense! Once you get used to the slight choppiness of the images, it’s really truly like watching new episodes of Star Trek. I’ve even seen each episode enough times to recognize the pictures, but I still forgot they were reused most of the time.

I honestly never expected New Visions to be good, but it’s great. It may be more like the original series than anything else I’ve seen. But I’m always looking for more recommendations, so feel free to leave them in the comments!

A Year of Watching Star Trek

This time last year, I was deciding to watch all the Star Trek that exists, most of it for the first time. Watching an episode a day, it would’ve taken about two years. Well, I haven’t watched anything like an episode a day, but I don’t mind. I exchanged speed for depth, and spent a fantastic year with the original series, The Animated Series, the original-cast movies, and now starting The Next Generation. I’ve written almost a dozen posts on various Trek-related topics for Comparative Geeks, but as it’s December, here are some reflections on my Trekkie year and the show so far.

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“Errand of Mercy”

Mainly, I’m impressed by Star Trek’s ideas. There are episodes of the original series that I didn’t like much as a child, so I didn’t watch them very often, but they surprised me as an adult. “Errand of Mercy” used to seem like dithering, and now I love this image of pacifist aliens who intervene when they must. “Metamorphosis” was painfully boring, and still is, but there’s a beautiful gay-rights message hidden inside it. “Is There in Truth No Beauty” seemed irritating, but now Miranda Jones is my role model. Those episodes, and many more, have philosophical conversations as their climaxes and defining moments, and that’s just cool.

Of course, I think as fans we sometimes spend too much time defending Trek as intellectual. It is. But it’s also a good time. It’s funny, it’s ridiculous, sometimes it doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense, and that’s one reason it can be so inspiring. Star Trek is a dream that we want to make a reality, but we don’t have to always be deadpan about it, and that’s awesome too.

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Me with my dear personal friend, William Shatner

This project has spread beyond just watching the episodes, and even beyond writing these blog posts, although I like to bring in as much as I can. I wrote a graduate-level paper on Star Trek props, later adapted into a post on miniskirts and one on computers. I went to conventions and met William Shatner for a couple of glorious seconds. (He wasn’t even the highlight of my first Trek convention… The best part was putting on a uniform t-shirt and then walking into a room where everyone else was in uniform too. I’ve never felt so at home). I read novels, comics, and memoirs. I watched documentaries and followed actors to some very obscure roles. I had friends fill up my newsfeeds with Trek memes, articles, and merch advertisements, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Star Trek is a wonderful place to live.

Looking ahead, well, I can’t wait to finish TNG season one… and then there’s Star Trek: Discovery next summer… Hopefully it’ll be a good place to jump in if you don’t have time to watch absolutely everything!

4 Reasons Kirk is the Best Captain

Well friends, I’m finally exiting the original-series portion of my epic Star Trek rewatch. What better way to mark the occasion than a post on the great Captain James T. Kirk? If I’m still blogging by the time I get through the rest of the shows, then the other captains will get their turn in the spotlight too. But I’ve gotta say, Kirk is pretty darn awesome, and I struggled to find a format for this post that wasn’t a recap of every episode ever. I’ve got four reasons/categories, with three or four episode examples under each one.

 

Charisma & Leadership

I’ve gotta mention the Kobayashi Maru. An exercise meant to represent a no-win scenario has, thanks to Kirk, come to signify refusal to accept the conditions and parameters provided. This can mean cocky smarminess, as in Star Trek: Into Darkness, or it can mean the best kind of stubbornness, idealism. A good example from the original series is “Operation: Annihilate,” when he insists there must be a way to kill the infestation but save the civilians.

There’s daily activity too. “Balance of Terror” is one long case study of Kirk as military captain, and it shows him both taking advice and rejecting it, as a commander should. And, before the movies came along, you see him dealing with Romulan, Klingon, and other alien captains as equals despite being on opposite sides.

And another obvious one, “The Corbomite Maneuver,” with Kirk and Balok bluffing each other like pros. His repeated attempts to negotiate, and his speech to the Enterprise, are all perfectly done too. But this episode is especially important because it shows how Kirk deals with problems from his crew. Bailey is basically the most annoying character in the show, but Kirk handles him calmly and patiently, refuses to condone bigotry on the bridge, and relieves Bailey of duty without further comment when Bailey is clearly unable to handle his job. This is entirely typical — another example is “Space Seed,” when he deals with Lt. McGivers’ egregious away-team mistakes swiftly, but with firmness appropriate to the mistake and no more.

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“The Corbomite Maneuver”

Politeness

In “What Are Little Girls Made Of,” he asks Spock to beam down “two security men” — and when they arrive, he knows their names.

A paraphrase of events in “The Man Trap”:

Bones- *expresses curiosity at Nancy’s varying appearance*
Kirk- *snaps at Bones and storms out*
Kirk- *walks back in one scene later* I’m sorry Bones, you were totally right, let’s head down there and ask some questions!”

Kirk snaps-and-apologies happen a handful of times, but at no time are the snaps any more than what one might expect from a captain being bothered at a high-pressure moment, and they’re never personal. It’s the apologies which, although warranted, are out of the ordinary for a captain and a sign of respect for his crew. “Elaan of Troyius,” while problematic on several levels, give us a nice insight into Kirk’s approach: “Courtesy is for everyone.”

In “The Conscience of the King,” Kirk thanks a cocktail waiter, and I think we all know that how one treats waiters indicates how one behaves the rest of the time.

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“The Conscience of the King”

Egalitarianism

Kirk uses his manly wiles to get of scrapes. That’s fair. But even then he treats the lady in question like a person. Under normal circumstances, he treats every crewmember like a professional and that’s that. My favorite moment is in “Tomorrow is Yesterday,” when 1960s pilot John Christopher expresses confusion about a woman being on the Enterprise. “A woman??” he asks. “A crewman,” says Kirk patiently. And if the situation allows him to reason with someone, male or female, he’ll do everything he can to create a peaceful, rational solution to a problem.

In “Charlie X,” when Charlie is harassing Yeoman Rand, she goes to Kirk to intercede and he does. He initially thought Charlie’s crush was cute, but when he hears how it’s going, he steps in and makes a clear statement that Charlie has to consider his crush’s needs, that it’s not going to happen with Rand, and that everyone struggles and things can’t always be the way you want. He doesn’t minimize Rand’s concerns, he doesn’t say “boys will be boys,” he listens and intervenes because Charlie’s being inappropriate.

There are any number of interactions showing Kirk’s opinion about bigotry in general, but these are often in Spock’s defense, so I wanted to find something that couldn’t be chalked up to friendship. There’s a lovely moment in “Plato’s Stepchildren” where they’re talking about telekinesis and Kirk describes the Federation:

Alexander: As far as I know it just comes to you sometime after you’re born. They say I’m a throwback, and I am, and so are you. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.
Kirk: Don’t worry about it. We’re happy without it.
Alexander: You know, I believe you are. Listen, where you come from, are there a lot of people without the power and my size?
Kirk: Alexander, where I come from, size, shape, or colour makes no difference, and nobody has the power.

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“Plato’s Stepchildren”

Intelligence

Of course Kirk can create a rudimentary gun-cannon thing out of bamboo and rocks in “Arena,” he’s the captain! And he’s a nerd. I don’t know where people got the idea he was a big goof in his Academy days, because it wasn’t from the original series. His academy buddies make fun of him for being an overachiever — “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” “Shore Leave” — and he’s constantly recognizing public figures or old-fashioned machines from his studies.

“The Naked Time” and other episodes show Kirk can flick the necessary switch on anyone’s station at any time, when they’re distracted by alien parasites and whatnot, and in “Court Martial,” he fixes the engine sabotage right there and then by himself.


In summary, Captain Kirk is awesome, and I honestly don’t know where all the stereotypes about him being dumb/sexist/reckless/generally a goof came from, because he wasn’t like that. However, if you have another favorite captain, feel free to make your case in the comments!