Gene Roddenberry (August 19, 1921 – October 24, 1991) was an extraordinary screenwriter and producer. Best know for his creation of Star Trek, he has had a great influence on modern day pop-culture and has spawned a whole universe full of followers (or Trekkies). His influence on Sci-Fi cannot really be measured, but he will go down in History as the creator of one of the most successful franchises in history – he also goes down in history as one of the first people to be ‘buried’ in space.
In September 1966 a new series debuted on American TV. Soon to be billed ‘The Original Series’ or ‘TOS’ the shows featured a five year mission of a starship. The Enterprise would become one of the most well known names in sci-fi history.
The award winning show featured a stellar cast; not only that, it bordered on controversial because of the diversity of races and color, and the inclusion of a female in a command position.
Star Trek never strayed from important political issues; constantly courting controversy it produced several amazing episodes that presented unique arguments relating to many modern day problems. In one famous episode, where half an alien race was black on one side of the face and white on the other side of the face, and a minority had the colors reverse, they cleverly tackled racism and commented on how fragile and irrelevant racism really is, and how simple genetics shouldn’t set us apart.
The whole Star Trek phenomenon has never really stopped. TOS spawned many movies and series – with 11 movies so far and several spin-off series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Enterprise, Voyager etc., Star Trek has always been there, a part of TV history that will probably never go away.
Gene Roddenberry’s dream continues and will probably never die.
Star Trek I: The Motion Picture
As we begin to watch the movie (note – it takes a good 20 to 30 minutes before we even begin to see any plot) the plot is very contrite and doesn’t seem to hold any of the qualities that Rodenberry is famous for. As you hear about an alien vessel that is moving towards Earth destroying all in its path, you somehow feel that the movie is going to be less ‘human’ than the series and perhaps a lot more abstract. Of course, Captain Kirk (William Shatner) is the Captain of the trusty Enterprise, and his mission should he choose to accept it (What? That’s a different sci-fi series?!) is to intercept the alien ship and try and stop it before it gets to Earth – it’s obviously a very simplistic plot and this highlights the fact that the director seems more intent on showcasing his skills with scenery and special effects rather than his skills at film-making.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
I was quite surprised and pleased by the clever tie-in to the series. Having revisited the series after the first movie, I was intrigued to find out that the movie was a follow up to one of the better episodes in which Captain Kirk had exiled Khan Singh and his followers to an unpopulated world – Khan and his followers were genetically improved humans who had taken over part of the Earth in the 1990s.
Khan, quite perturbed with the Captain, manages to capture his own space ship and seek revenge on Kirk. Now on this ship is a device that is used to terra-form worlds and make them ‘earth’ like. This Genesis Device is very powerful and as such is very dangerous as the power it holds can be used to destroy as well as create. To complicate things further, Krik meets up with his ex-lover and his son he barely knows….
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
As the title suggests (and also assuming that you watched the very good ‘The Wrath of Khan’), the third movie concentrates on bringing back perhaps one of the most important characters of the series- whether they intentionally ended the second movie in the way they did to set up a third movie isn’t quite clear – but in my eyes it was a mistake that meant that a movie that really didn’t advance the series had to be made. While in some cases it works to have movies continue on, and have plot elements and characters continue to build at you watch multiple movies (The Matrix, Star Wars being good examples) it doesn’t seem to work well in this case – the movie is too arbitrary, and doesn’t really add anything to the previous movie – in fact it really sets out to destroy much of the previous movie’s accomplishments.
Star Trek IV: The Journey Home
Finally I get to say Captain Kirk again – it always disappointed me that Kirk had been promoted to Admiral, so I was perhaps one of the happiest men in the audience as we found Admiral Kirk being demoted to Captain after stealing the Enterprise to search for Spock in the movie Search for Spock (bet you never guessed that eh!).
However, before facing the charges there just happens to be a strange and potentially dangerous alien probe that is orbiting the earth, seemingly threatening the very existence of the Federations home world. Luckily for the crew, they have the trustworthy Spock onboard and he assists the Admiral (captain or whatever!) in realizing that the probe is awaiting an answer from Earth – the only problem is that the species it’s trying to talk to is long extinct. Spock to the rescue again as the intrepid crew travel back in time to the 1980s to seek out the extinct species, of course, the minute they land on ‘old’ earth they are unable to leave due to lack of fuel, and thus not only do they have to find an additional fuel source, but they also have to find the mysterious species.
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
Sybock, Spock’s half brother hijacks the Enterprise and forces the crew to travel to a planet that is surrounded by a strange barrier. Sybock is not your normal Vulcan. He’s abandoned the normal tenet of the Vulcan culture, thrown away the control of emotions and use of logic, and embraced unconventional Vulcan beliefs and embraced his emotional side (it should be noted that there are a few Vulcan’s who have done this, but this is not widely known – additionally, it is believe that the Romulans are distant cousings to the Vulcan’s and they also are more open to emotions). With his overly illogical mind, Sybock believes that God can be found at the planet and Sybock intends to find out answers to the questions pertaining to life Now if only he’d read Hitch Hikers guide to the Galaxy and he’d know the answer is simply 42!
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
As the last movie to be fully set in the TOS world, it marks the end of an era. The next movie, Generations, features some of the TOS cast, but really is a transitional movie. For many this is a sad ending for the classic series, signifying perhaps the start of the end for the franchise as a whole. I note that as I write this there is a new movie in production – but whether this will save the franchise or simply bury it further is unknown.
As the movie beings and we see an older crew inhabits the world, one which is perhaps nobler and less innocent than the heady beginnings they came from; we still see and feel the camaraderie between the major characters. It’s this camaraderie that makes the series work so well and makes the movies so enjoyable.
The plot for once is quite a good one, and goes a long way in answering some of the unanswered questions from TOS. As one of the moons around the Kilingon’s home world explodes due to an accident, the turbulent and dangerous enemy of the Federation seeks peace as they realize that the Klingon society will not survive without help as their home world will become uninhabitable.
As the Federation and Klingon nations are enemies and have generally battled each other throughout the ages, there is little trust and any negotiations are entered into with caution and distrust. The proud Klingons are already in trouble, with the Federation slowly gaining dominance in the war, and this act of seeking peace not only is surprising to the Federation, but is also seen by many Klingon’s as a sign of weakness and a foolish act.