Monday, November 28, 2005

THE PASSION OF THE SHATNER

I've been thinking a lot lately about Captain Kirk and Mr.Spock. Specifically, about Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trekk III: The Search For Spock. Other people, more cultured and sophisticated and holy, may turn to the scriptures or the lord for their advice; I turn to the holy shrines of Shatner and Nimoy. We are who we are.

In Star Trek II we learn about the Kobayashi Maru, a simulation program at the StarFleet Academy wherein the young cadets were presented with a no-win scenario, a possibility that every captain and crew might very well encounter. Admiral Kirk (his position having been elevated in this film from that of a mere captain) lectures the young Vulcan Saavik (played by the young and impossibly slender Kirstie Alley) about the necessity of such a role-playing scenario. The only snag, of course, is that Kirk is a hypocrite; he was the only student in the history of the academy to actually beat the Kobayashi Maru situation, by secretly sneaking into the computer system and reprogramming the scenario so that there would be, in fact, a way to win. A way to live. Why did he do such a thing? As Kirk states later in the film: "I don't believe in a no-win situation."

Ah, but the genius of the film is that it presents Kirk with his very own 'no-win situation' later on in the film: the death of Spock, who sacrifices himself for the crew, who saves the lives of everyone on board the Enterprise but gives up his own life in the process.

Star Trek II may very well be placed on the same shelf as the Koran and the Bible in future times, if only because it is a metaphor for life itself. We are all stuck in a 'no-win situation'; none of us are getting out of alive. How we deal with that scenario, how we are forced to deal with it, in the lives of ourselves and others, is the crux of this film. And the crux of life. Hence, Star Trek II's celestial genius.

Not that I'm shortchanging its inevitable sequel, Star Trek III. Of course, in some ways Star Trek III is a colossal, monumental cheat; it subverts the wonderful sentiment of the previous film by essentially saying: "Actually, you know what? Vulcans can beat death! They can come back alive! They can rise from the dead!" Say what? That's not what we learned from the previous film -- that life was long, that aging was painful, that death was final, that hope can be relearned only at a great and painful price.

Granted, the filmmakers were clever enough and canny enough to hint at a possible salvation for Spock in Star Trek II, but still -- one can't help but feel a little bit sideswiped by the fairy-tale nature of Spock's resurrection in Star Trek III.

And yet.

The film redeems itself. It does so by highlighting the courage and compassion and essential goodness of Kirk and his crew in their quest to bring Spock back to life. They need to bring the remains of Spock back to Vulcan; they need the Enterprise to accomplish such a goal. Kirk goes to Starfleet command to ask permission; Starfleet, naturally, says go bleep yourself.

"The answer was no," Kirk tells his crew. "We are therefore going anyway."

Without a moment's hesitation. Without a pause. Kirk (and his crew, lest we forget) knows that by essentially stealing the Enterprise he is forfeiting not only his salary and his career but his entire reputation. He is violating dozens of laws, risking death himself, throwing to the wind everything he has ever worked for and dreamed of, and all of this for the mere shred of a chance that Spock could, in fact, come back to life due to his and his crew's efforts.

What would you do for a friend? What would you give up? What do you consider honorable? What do you consider noble?

These are the questions that Star Trek III asks, and answers. It is not as good a film as its immediate predecessor, no, but the questions it raises and the themes it explores have a weight and a density that I only dreamed of as a child. Thinking back, I realize that the values it espouses are good and worthy for children, and they are ideas I picked up on without realizing it. Watching Kirk and his crew casually throw aside their careers and reputations for the sake of (possibly) saving their friend, I was taught that your job is not what's important, that honor and dignity mean nothing if they are not put to some sort of real-life test, that it is worth sacrificing all that you hold dear for the needs of the one, rather than the needs of the many.

I've never watched The Next Generation. Or Deep Space Nine. Or Voyager. Or Enterprise. As a child, when I saw the bald captain of the new crew, I pledged allegiance to Kirk and his bridge. The kind of pledge a child makes, as if betraying a fictional character would actually have weight in the real world. Funny, the shit we think about, and the shit we ultimately turn to for solace.

For some people, all they really needed to know they learned in kindergarten. For me, I'm starting to suspect that I could just watch Star Trek II and III over and over again, and call it a day.

4 comments:

bethanie_odd said...

William Shatner just won the sexiest Canadian of all time award. By ET canada,or people or one of those.

Apparently you aren't the only one to have ahd such a strong reaction to our outterspace canuck.

Jim said...

I doubt that you've seen Shatner in
his latest incarnation of the
pre-alzheimer sex crazed lawyer
Denny Crane on ABC's Boston Legal.
The role is almost blasphemous in
terms of what he stood for as Kirk.
But I always expected what he really stood for when he started
doing priceline.com commercials.I can almost see the kid pleading to
Shatner instead of Shoeless Joe Jackson during the infamous Black Sox scandal;"Say it ain't so Captain Kirk"!

Anonymous Midwest Girl said...

Wow, that brings back memories. Star Trek was big with the males of our household. I think I've heard the same theories from my dad and brother. Ahh...the good old days!

Scott said...

Ms. Odd -- Shatner beat out Pamela Anderson? Damn...

Jim -- I haven't seen BOSTON LEGAL, or Shatner's work on it, but I happen to think that Shatner can play anything, anywhere, anytime. He had hardcore Shakespeare experience up here in Canada (alongside his STAR TREK VI nemesis Christopher Plummer), and Shatner approaches everything like it's Shakespeare. Even his role in AIRPLANE II...

AMG -- Where would we all be without our own personal whacked out theories?