Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Trek Sub-Creation

Friday we went to a drive-in theater and saw the new Star Trek movie. Terminator: Salvation was playing too but despite all the explosions, robot fights, and the synthetic Arnold Schwarzenegger it was kind of boring. I've never been able to get into Terminator movies anyway, but Star Trek is an entirely different kettle of science fiction. I remember watching it as a kid in Pocatello, Idaho during its original run. From the first time I heard Kirk intone the Star Trek Creed -- "To seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before" -- they had me.

C.S. Lewis used to say that his imagination was baptized as a child by George MacDonald fairy tales, by which he meant that for the first time he had encountered words and images that opened his heart to what he called "Joy" -- that happy, wondrous, transcendent, and completely uncapturable sensation that points you ultimately toward Heaven. My imagination was baptized by Star Trek.

Of course someone will point out that, by most accounts, Star Trek's creator was an atheist. But his TV series is about good and evil, love, heroism, friendship, sacrifice for others, battling against impossible odds for the sake of what's right -- the things that make us human and able to transcend our humanity. Things, as Christian thought understands it, that show "the image of God" in us and point us toward the ultimate destiny of that image.

To me Gene Roddenberry's great achievement was what Tolkien called "sub-creation." To a remarkable extent for a 1960's TV show, he crafted his own coherent world down to the smallest details (think of McCoy's little medical sensors), populated it with marvelous, 3-dimensional characters that learned and grew, and used it to play out the archetypal themes of human (and alien) existence. I loved this new Star Trek movie because it gives a rousing rendition of how this world began -- the "Big Bang" of Star Trek, when Kirk and Spock met and the crew of the Enterprise first assembled for their mythic "five year mission."

The original actors aren't in this Star Trek movie of course, with the exception of Spock who has a very important role. But those they chose to play younger versions of the crew are excellent. They could have easily degenerated into imitating the originals but instead they manage to inhabit their characters. Scotty (who's always been my personal favorite on the Enterprise) could easily be just a Scottish stereotype, but Mr. Pegg who plays him is brilliant in the part. The same for Chekov, who is also known for his accent.

That's another point I liked incidentally: Everybody gets their screen time. Sulu engages in considerable daring do, Chekov is constantly figuring things out and saving the day, Uhura doesn't take anything off of anybody. McCoy saves Kirk's chestnuts several times and Scotty saves the Enterprise like the genius engineer he truly is. And there is that winsome air of humor permeating the whole film that the best Star Trek episodes and movies always had.

As a Trekker (not a "Trekkie", if you please. Trekkies are so gauche, you know.) this film had everything I wanted. But at the same time is it's so open and fun and lacking in geekiness that someone stumbling upon it for the first time would enjoy it just for the story and the characters.

The story was very Star Trek, I thought, not too deep this time out but a great adventure about saving the universe. The Enterprise bridge has somewhat brighter colors than on TV but everything was where it should be. One thing I particularly enjoyed is that the engine room looks like, well, an engine room. I read that they filmed it in the bowels of a Budweiser plant and it reminds you of some old steam ship that's been refitted to burn antimatter. There is one brief scene not suited for kids in which Kirk is in bed with a green alien girl at Star Fleet Academy, but they don't really show anything. Also, Kirk seems to get the snot beaten out of him quite a bit in this film.

The whole movie reminds me of the novels they used to publish about "Kirk and Spock: The Early Days." We're definitely getting the DVD when it comes out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I went into an aeronautics career because of Star Trek, so I know what you mean.