Star Trek

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A movie for every day of the year – a good one

28 December

Birth of Nichelle Nichols, 1932

On this day in 1932, Grace Dell (aka Nichelle) Nichols was born, in Robbins, Illinois, USA. Having studied in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, she first arrived in showbiz as a singer in a 1961 musical called Kicks and Co, then went on to have roles in Carmen Jones and Porgy and Bess, before touring as a singer with Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton’s bands. In 1964 she appeared in an episode of a TV series called The Lieutenant, produced by Gene Roddenberry. Roddenberry cast her again in his next TV series, Star Trek, as Lieutenant Uhura. The series ran from 1966-69 and after it ended Nichols became an advocate for more racial and gender diversity at Nasa. Personnel her organisation helped recruit included Charles Bolden, the current Nasa administrator and Lori Garver, deputy administrator. She has also served on the board of governors of the National Space Society, a nonprofit educational organisation founded by Dr Wernher von Braun, aka “the Father of Rocket Science”.

Star Trek (2009, dir: JJ Abrams)

Just calling it simply Star Trek suggests either boundless arrogance, or that JJ Abrams and crew knew they had got it right. They so have. From beginning to end this reboot pays full homage to the original, aping its humour, its humanism, its folksiness and its out-there plotlines. The casting is flawless – Chris Pine plays William Shatner playing Kirk (sitting cross-legged on the captain’s chair, brilliant); even better is Zachary Quinto as Leonard Nimoy as Spock. Karl Urban also catches that suggestion of a tremor in his comic portrayal of DeForrest Kelley’s Bones McCoy. You can argue that Simon Pegg is the weak link as Scotty, but he might argue right back that he’s one of the few not aiming for impersonation. And Zoe Saldana as Uhura does seem almost improbably sexy, but then Zoe Saldana is improbably sexy, so what are you going to do? In terms of genre this is your origins story meets breathless actioner, with just enough time spent sketching in characters who are, let’s face it, already known to us. As to the CG effects, well much money and a lot of time has been lavished on them. Abrams seems fully aware that special effects in sci-fi movies are often a bit of a letdown – many directors seem to abdicate control when green-screen technicians get involved – and it is noticeable that the more complicated and intense the CG, the more Abrams insists on physical, balletically controlled work by the actors too – see the space jump scene, and then look up the actors’ anguished stories about dangling about in harnesses for hours on end. The story? No idea – after we’ve met the youthful, bratty Kirk, and the remainder of the gang of Sulu, Chekhov and so on has eventually been got together, it seems that it’s about the Romulans doing something dastardly involving the swallowing of planets using black holes, or something. Led by a relatively inconsequential Eric Bana as Romulan aggressor Nero, this entire plotline is the worst thing about the film. But then that’s a minor quibble. This is not a story about earthlings versus aliens, it’s a film introducing us to characters we already know, who are then observed easing themselves into positions we’re familiar with, while an appreciative audience claps as their guys arrive at each recognisable mark. Enter Leonard Nimoy as the old Spock, accompanied by a lump in the throat as he reads out the familiar “these are the voyages of the Starship enterprise” lines. We are all Trekkies now.

Why Watch?

  • Because you missed Winona Ryder and Chris Hemsworth first time round
  • Of the 11 Star Trek films (up to this point), this is the best
  • Because Roddenberry wanted someone younger in the future to redo Star Trek “bigger and better”
  • The space jump scene

Star Trek – at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2013

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