Some thoughts on a Star Trek rewatch

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My oldest son and I just finished watching the first season of the original Star Trek series. We watched the episodes in “production order,” meaning the order in which they were filmed. That way, we could see the growth of the show, the way the actors find their characters, and how the Enterprise itself is more and more developed. Here, then, are some observations.

1) William Shatner hits the ground running as Kirk.

It takes most actors a while to find their characters. Leonard Nimoy doesn’t really nail Spock until several episodes in, which is understandable since no one had ever quite done a character like that before. But Shatner is the Kirk we know and love from his first episode, “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”

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The most surprising thing I noticed this time through the first season is how often Kirk loses his temper in a crisis. It’s never an explosion of violent anger, but he snaps at his people a lot. To his credit, he also (usually) immediately apologizes, but for the first time I got the sense that serving with Kirk might not be that much fun.

2)  The Enterprise was not always terribly thought out.

In “The Enemy Within,” Mr. Sulu and his team are stuck on a planet’s surface by a transporter malfunction, in danger of freezing to death. Subsequent episodes reveal that the Enterprise has a fleet of shuttlecraft (they first show up in “The Galileo Seven”), yet apparently at this point no one had thought of them, because simply flying down and picking them up is never mentioned as an option.

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3) Hi-def does the show no real favors.

We watched the episodes on blu-ray, which includes the option for new CGI effects shots. I’m ambivalent about them; they don’t bother me, and they let “modern” viewers (like my son) get into the show without the jarringly grainy, old-school effects. But the non-effects shots are not tweaked. Wrinkles on the paper bridge screen inserts jump out at you, there are obvious stray threads on the costumes, and you can occasionally see Kirk’s command chair shake when someone walks nearby on the bridge.

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This is supposed to be Kirk and Khan. How bad was TV reception back then?

But by far the most egregious thing are the stuntmen. In many fight scenes, Shatner and company are replaced in long shots by professionals; in the 1960s, when TVs were smaller and broadcast signals were analog, this probably wasn’t too noticeable.  But on big-screen TVs, in 1080p, there’s simply no missing it.

And finally,

4) The crew of the Enterprise are adults.

This may seem obvious, but I’m not talking about biological age. There’s an inherent maturity to the characters, in their responses and dilemmas, that marks them as grown-ups. Each of them has chosen their career in Starfleet because they believe in what they do, and want to do it to the best of their abilities. There are few slackers in Roddenberry’s Trek, no corruption in high places, and even when characters disagree and lose their tempers, they do so as adults. Even Kirk’s notorious way with the ladies isn’t depicted as anything immature; he simply likes women and is willing to spend time with them, but only when his job allows. In the whole first season, he has only one real romance; the cliche womanizing Kirk doesn’t show up until much later in the series. Contrast this with the immature, entitled “bro” Kirk of JJ Abrams’ films, who may chronologically be an adult but displays the emotional life of a seventeen-year-old.

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I’m glad my son wants to watch Star Trek; I’m looking forward to starting season 2 with him. It’ll be interesting to see if his opinions match mine (his favorites from season 1 are “Shore Leave” and “The Devil in the Dark,” both respectable choices).

3 Comments on “Some thoughts on a Star Trek rewatch”

  1. Alex–I tried to get the Time Lord Jr. interested in TOS (he just turned 13) and I got the DVDs from the library–but he just wasn’t “into it”. (I suspect, that at some level, the story telling is a bit slow for him).

  2. I completely agree about the Hi-Def, and your analysis of Kirk, and the maturity of the characters. Shatner makes Kirk utterly compelling and convincing.

    And as for character maturity, I couldn’t agree more. But then the show was written and produced (and acted) by many veterans. They KNEW what it was like to be responsible for the lives of those with whom you served. Shatner acts this even when it’s not in the script — even in some of those lousy later episodes, if he loses a red shirt he’s pretty torn up about it. He is RESPONSIBLE.

    I also like that there was never any glee in killing. If that step had to come up, even against an enemy, it was something Kirk and the gang had to do with grim purpose, not to “get even.” Not to mention any (cough) reboot movies or anything.

    I think the best of all the remastered jobs is “The Doomsday Machine.” I’ll look forward to hearing what your son thinks of that one. Even my highly skeptical daughter — who refuses to like anything my son thinks is cool, like Star Trek — thought “The Doomsday Machine” looked pretty nifty. In that one, there’s a couple of specific moments where the storytelling is actually improved by the tweaked special effects (when the Enterprise is attacking the planet killer, and when Decker escapes in the shuttlecraft).

  3. Isn’t Shore Leave the one where there’s an implied rape fantasy for the only female away team member? That ep is messed up on several levels, and not just Kirk’s “oh hey I’m gonna go have sexy times with a robot copy of my old prom date” at the end.

    I get that it’s a product of its time, but Jeez, Shore Leave did not age well.

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