I finally got my requested copy of the West Side Story Special Edition DVD set from the library, so I’ve finally seen the film (or rather, I’ve seen it for the first time since I was a kid and for the first time in color and widescreen as it was meant to be seen). Whenever I’ve tried to watch it before, something’s happened to interrupt me before the Prologue ended, so I kept waiting for the phone to ring with bad news or the building’s power to go out or the ground to open up and swallow my TV, but this time the universe cut me a break and let me watch the whole thing. (I actually did get some bad news on the phone on the same day I brought home the DVD, but it wasn’t while I was watching it. And that’s a topic for another time.)
I was a little alarmed at first when I got the DVD, since it said on the case that it was in the “original 16×9″ aspect ratio, whereas the original ratio was actually 2.20:1, and 16:9 is nowhere near that. But I did some checking online and most sites said it was 2.20:1 and “enhanced for 16×9 TVs,” although I had a hard time finding out what that meant and I’m still not entirely sure. Anyway, it looked to me like what I was getting on my regular TV was maybe a little less than 2.20:1, but at least 95% of that. While there were some group shots where the occasional person on the periphery was cut off a bit, the compositions did seem to fit the frame and vice-versa, so I was definitely getting as close to the complete experience as I can reasonably expect to.
And it was definitely worth holding out for the widescreen edition. The design and composition and choreography are so tailored for the 70mm widescreen format that the very idea of watching in in 4:3 “fullscreen” (like on the copy Netflix sent me) and missing out on 40% of every shot is a sick joke. This is a gorgeous movie that demands to be seen at its full width. Director Robert Wise, production designer Boris Leven, and cinematographer Daniel Fapp did a fantastic job creating a visually stunning film, an intriguing hybrid of vivid theatricality and urban realism. And though I’m far from a connoisseur of dance, I could tell that Jerome Robbins’s choreography was equally impressive and it would be a crime to cut nearly half of it off the screen. (I was interested by the dance-fighting in the Prologue, which drove home how similar the disciplines of stunt-fighting and dancing really are.)
It’s also a very beautiful film to listen to. The songs are excellent, although it’s surprising to me to find that I’m less fond of Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics than I am of Leonard Bernstein’s music. Maybe that’s just because it was early in Sondheim’s career. There’s still plenty of clever Sondheimian stuff in there, though, creative and surprising rhymes and clever bits of characterization. (Though in “America” he did overreach himself trying to find a rhyme for “Manhattan.” Though I think the awkwardness of it was part of the joke.) Interestingly, I often felt the melody in the songs seemed more Sondheim-like than the lyrics. Maybe that shows how influential this collaboration was on Sondheim’s later work. Anyway, Bernstein’s music is great, and I really like the instrumental parts. I gather Bernstein preferred the smaller 30-piece orchestra of the original play and found the movie’s arrangements for an orchestra three times bigger to be too bombastic and unsubtle, but I just love that big orchestral sound. (I think a lot of this music resonates with me because we spent a lot of time learning these songs in junior-high music class. So this is one of those things that I know better than I knew that I know it. Or… yeah. Or something.)
Storywise, it’s a little more basic. It’s a variation on Romeo and Juliet, but slimmed down and somewhat simplified, and with a change at the end that I wasn’t expecting. There’s some interesting stuff with the exploration of ethnic prejudice and politics in lower-class New York City of the day, but I think it was a little too cleaned up. Probably street gangs and juvenile delinquents of the 1950s-60s were somewhat less violent than their modern counterparts, but I suspect the film (and play?) toned that down even further to make the characters more sympathetic, going out of its way to stress that the gangs were hesitant to employ weapons rather than fists and that when deadly violence occurred it was unintended. It felt a little self-conscious, at least from a modern viewpoint. And then there’s the central romance between Maria and Tony. It’s kind of hard to take it seriously, since they barely know anything about each other and there’s no real sense of why they love each other except that they’re predestined soulmates or some such thing. However, it’s entirely plausible as the sort of overly dramatic infatuation that teenagers are prone to (which, really, is kind of the point of Romeo and Juliet). When I was that age, I was certainly prone to falling hard for a girl and thinking my whole universe revolved around her even though I knew nothing about her beyond her looks — although in my case it wasn’t reciprocated, for better or worse. So it’s believable that they’d react the way they do, but it’s hard to buy into their viewpoint as being valid or their relationship as being as deep and permanent as they imagine. And there’s not very much to their characters beyond being madly in love, so they’re not the most interesting parts of the story.
The casting wasn’t my favorite part either. Richard Beymer is just kind of bland as Tony, and while Natalie Wood is (or was) certainly lovely, I found her a little insubstantial. But then, I guess she was supposed to be kind of insubstantial and carefree in the first act, and then go to a darker place in the second. Maybe I made up my mind about her too quickly. (I also thought Wood uncannily resembled Juliet Landau of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so much so that I wondered if they were related, until I remembered that Landau is the daughter of Martin Landau and Barbara Bain. As it happens, I also think Wood’s sister Lana Wood looks a lot like Summer Glau.) Anyway, as for the rest of the cast, Rita Moreno is certainly the standout, and George Chakiris and Russ Tamblyn and the rest of the ensemble are pretty good, but their strength is more as a troupe than as individuals. And most of them seem too old to be convincing as teenagers, which is ironic, because most of the roles were recast for the film because the Broadway cast was seen as too old-looking. Simon Oakland does an effective turn as Lt. Schrank, the main adult character and one of the few non-dancing roles in the film (hey, it just struck me that none of the adult or authority-figure characters dance, just the ones who are supposed to be teenagers). Schrank is a complicated character, sincerely wanting to keep the peace and clean up the streets, but embittered and unthinkingly racist, failing to realize that he’s part of the very problem he wants so much to resolve. (I’d expected Officer Krupke to be a more major character, given that he has a song named after him, but he was little more than a spear-carrier.) I was also quite pleased to see the minor, uncredited appearance by John Astin as the social worker “Glad Hand” at the dance; he was his usual charmingly quirky self and elevated a fairly minimal role.
Some of the ’60s conventions here were a bit hard for me to accept, notably the reluctance to cast Hispanic actors in leading Hispanic roles (Natalie Wood was Russian-American, George Chakiris Greek-American), and the practice of dubbing over the actors’ own singing with other performers, most notably (and recognizably) Marni Nixon as Maria. The DVD set has a documentary that let me hear some of Wood’s own singing, and I liked it better than Nixon’s. Okay, maybe it was less polished and perfect, but that’s what I liked about it. It had more texture and personality and felt less studio-packaged than Nixon’s. Maria should’ve sung like an inexperienced but enthusiastic teenager, not like a professional opera singer. I know I was getting passionate up above about seeing this film the way it was originally presented, but in this case I’d be willing to make an exception. I wouldn’t mind getting to see a version that restored the original actors’ singing (where feasible — Rita Moreno was dubbed on “A Boy Like That” because she wasn’t capable of singing in a low enough register).
Of course, a large part of my interest in this film was because it was directed by Robert Wise, who directed Star Trek: The Motion Picture, a longtime favorite of mine. And it does seem to me there are some points of commonality between the two. WSS and ST:TMP are both films that rely heavily on long set pieces driven by visuals and music rather than dialogue (even a lot of WSS’s musical numbers are largely or mostly instrumental). A lot of people consider that a bug of TMP, but I see it as a feature, a quality that makes it a very grand and cinematic experience. It makes me wonder if Wise’s experience directing musicals, with their big set pieces, was influencing his choices about the pacing and focus of TMP. Both films also rely on spectacular production design and sets, and I’m wondering if that striking red overpass in the set where the rumble took place in RSS was the same kind of forced-perspective construction as the horizontal intermix chamber in TMP’s engine room — i.e. building a set component that tapers and shrinks toward the rear to create the illusion of parallel lines receding much farther than the set can contain.
Of course, one clear difference is that WSS is a much more vividly colorful movie while TMP is done more in pastels and grays. But that was kind of a ’70s thing, and it seemed to reflect Wise’s view of the technological future, the same cool, sterile professionalism you see in his The Andromeda Strain. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t be drawing on his experience with other films as well.
Why have I got the Jerry Goldsmith Star Trek theme running through my head? Because I just wrote the final scene of Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations: Forgotten History, and I’m imagining the movie-era Enterprise sailing majestically away from camera and leaping into a prismatic warp flash before the end titles roll.
It’s been a blast writing this novel, because it’s let me revisit the post-TMP era from Ex Machina, and also do my first real in-depth exploration of the 5-year-mission era and the period in between. It turned out about half pre-TMP and half post-TMP, plus a frame story with Lucsly & Dulmur. This book will probably be confusing for some people to shelve, since it’s both a Watching the Clock sequel (and prequel) and an Ex Machina sequel (and prequel). And there’s another series heading that it could sort of fall under too, but that would be telling. Anyway, this book may hold the record for containing the most things I’ve been wanting to work into a Trek novel, or at least the most eclectic assortment thereof. Many of which fall under the category of getting to revisit the post-TMP period again. Although I’ve been just as eager lately to do something in the timeframe of The Animated Series, and while Forgotten History only spends a brief amount of time in that era, it does have a lot of TAS references.
The first draft comes out to 83,600 words, just shy of the maximum 85K I was contracted for. I think I’ve rarely come so close to a target length. Of course, I still have revising and polishing to do, which will probably modify the word count. And I’ve got just under a week to do that. Hopefully that’ll be time to make two full passes. I wish I hadn’t slowed down so much in the middle of the writing period, so that I’d have more time now for polishing. But that’s just the way it always seems to go for me. Even when I start out as strong as I did on this, with the words just pouring out, sooner or later I lose momentum and go into a down phase where it’s a lot harder to focus and decide what to write. Usually I get back into an up phase toward the end, because I have to, but it’s been a bit more of a struggle this time, and the really good bursts of writing have been less frequent this month than they were in that first week. However, I did manage to get more than half the book written within the past 24 days, so maybe slow and steady wins the race.
Oh, hey, I just remembered a minor story point I forgot to work in. I don’t think it’s urgent, and I’m not sure there’s a place to work it in, but I guess I’ll go take a look.
I’ve just written a scene in Forgotten History that was a lot of fun to write. It was an action scene, but the kind of action scene I like, that’s more about clever problem-solving and finding imaginative ways to do things with available physical and technological resources than it is about shooting things. And all the Mission: Impossible I’ve been watching lately had an influence on it as well.
But a lot of why it was fun is because I got to use workbees! Workbees are cool. They’re these little yellow maintenance vehicles — designed by Andrew Probert — that fly around ships in drydock, and they can be connected to grabber sleds or cargo trains or any number of other specialized attachments, like little one-person truck cabs that can be outfitted as various different types of truck. But in space. They’re one of those ideas introduced in the brilliantly conceived and designed world of Star Trek: The Motion Picture that unfortunately fell by the wayside in later Trek, even though the production and FX teams loved them and even managed to slip one into the Deep Space Nine main titles. One of the things I’ve tried to do in my post-TMP fiction – Ex Machina, The Darkness Drops Again, and now this — is to use all those nifty designs and aliens and ideas that were glimpsed in that movie and never again. One cool thing about getting to return to that milieu is the opportunity to reference things I didn’t get around to using in ExM or TDDA, like the observation lounge glimpsed only in miniature when Spock’s shuttle docked. Or the workbees, which are just so darn cute.
I also like writing about workbees because I like saying the word “workbees.” Go ahead. Try it. ”Workbees.”
(Yes, I managed to write a post that has tags for Star Trek, Mission: Impossible, and Freakazoid! all at once.)
I’m home! I was going to make a second Shore Leave-related post on Saturday evening, but I still had three panels that day, and since I had pretty low turnout at my solo panel, I figured my news about Only Superhuman and my Trek projects would still be new information for a lot of people there, so I wanted to wait until I’d “debuted” the news a second time before posting it here. And after I left on Sunday, I went to Cousin Barb’s in the DC area to stay overnight, and we went over to her friend’s house for dinner and a movie (the same friend who cooked us Thanksgiving dinner last year), and then I went to bed early and set out early the next morning and spent the whole lonnnnnngggg day driving home, so I didn’t get to post until now.
Here’s what I had in draft on Saturday night:
Well, my day feels like it’s been more eventful than it looks when I review my activity. I didn’t go to that many panels — I sat in the audience on a writing-advice panel at 11 and a Star Trek Magazine panel at 1, then had lunch in my room and rested up, then spent half an hour or so talking to Paul Simpson about my 4 PM panel, as well as to Scott Pearson and Marco Palmieri when they showed up. Then I rehearsed how I planned to talk about Only Superhuman a bit (and I fumbled it in the actual talk), then came the big event, my panel. Well, big for me. The audience was fairly small, maybe 8 people or so. Still, it was fun to get to talk about OS at last, and I even did a dramatic reading of a scene from the book. (Maybe I should’ve announced that in advance, but I wasn’t sure I’d go through with it. I should’ve remembered that I’m an inveterate ham given the chance.) I also revealed some exclusive info about my upcoming Trek projects.
The Only Superhuman news will be in a separate post following this one. Here’s the Trek news:
Star Trek: Typhon Pact: The Struggle Within has two parallel plotlines, dealing with the least-explored species on both sides of the current political divide in the Trek Lit universe: on the Typhon Pact side, the Kinshaya (a species introduced in passing references in John M. Ford’s classic novel The Final Reflection and only seen to date in Keith R.A. DeCandido’s A Singular Destiny, the novel that introduced the Typhon Pact) and on the side of the expanded Khitomer Alliance, the Talarians from TNG’s “Suddenly Human.” Most of the other Pact member species will also be featured to some extent.
Star Trek: Forgotten History (or Star Trek: DTI: Forgotten History, as it’s still being billed on the Simon & Schuster sites) is the “origin story” of the Department of Temporal Investigations, a group whose founding date was established in earlier works as 2270. Naturally, the time-travel exploits of Kirk and the Enterprise are heavily involved in those foundational events. The main body of the novel begins in 2267, exploring the Starfleet/Federation response to Kirk’s time-travel discoveries, but the bulk of it takes place in the era following Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Yes, I’m finally getting to revisit the post-TMP timeframe I’ve previously explored in Ex Machina and Mere Anarchy: The Darkness Drops Again, and I’m very pleased about it. Additionally, the novel has a frame story featuring the 24th-century DTI characters from Watching the Clock — and several of the DTI’s older members, the characters established as having been alive at the time, will play at least small roles in the main body of the story as well.
So to some extent, Forgotten History is both a prequel and a sequel to Watching the Clock, and both a prequel and a sequel to Ex Machina. Yet I’m taking care to write it as a self-contained tale, something you can follow without having read either prior work.
I didn’t mention this at the con, since I didn’t know it yet, but Simon & Schuster’s site now has publication dates listed for both of these: The Struggle Within is listed for October 4, 2011 (eBook only), and Forgotten History is listed for April 24, 2012 (making it the May book for next year).
The headphones for use with my cell phone arrived a little while ago, so I made my first attempt to copy one of my CDs onto the memory card and play it on my phone. I went with my perennial favorite, Jerry Goldsmith’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture score, to start with. I wasn’t sure I had the necessary software to pull it off, or the necessary skill to use it if I did, but apparently Windows Media Player came with the rest of Windows, and it was a simple one-click operation to copy the whole album. It took longer than I would’ve liked; my PC runs rather hot, so I don’t like leaving CDs in there any longer than absolutely necessary. Once it was done, it took me a bit of time to figure out how to copy the files to the memory card, but when I did, it went a lot faster. I wasn’t sure the phone could read the .wma format of the files, because I thought it was supposed to be .mp3, but all I could do was try it and find out. So I took out the microSD card from its adapter, stuck it into the phone, and turned the phone on. It took a bit longer, and a consultation of the instruction book, to figure out how to access the music on the memory card. But once I figured out I needed the “AT&T Music” menu, it was easy to navigate to “Albums,” which gave me the whole album with the tracks in order. So I hit OK, and lo and behold, there was “Ilia’s Theme” playing on my telephone!
The audio quality isn’t perfect. The maximum volume is a little low and there’s disappointingly little bass. Other than that, though, the playback was nice and clean. And best of all is the convenience. I’ll be able to put a couple of dozen albums at a time on the memory card (in retrospect, I should’ve gotten the 4GB one instead of the 2GB) and listen to them wherever I go. This will be very handy for me when I go to the Shore Leave convention next month. In the past, I’ve brought along a CD player, two or three CDs, and spare batteries, but now I can just bring my phone and the headphones (and of course the phone’s charger), and have a much larger selection to listen to. And the lack of bass won’t be too great a problem since the sound of the Greyhound bus engine would tend to drown it out anyway.
There’s also the convenience of having a music player I can carry in my pocket. My portable CD player doesn’t have a belt clip or a strap or anything, so it hasn’t really been very portable. And it’s prone to skips and its audio quality isn’t great, with a constant hiss. It’s pretty old. Anyway, this should give me more flexibility in how and when I listen to music, which is something I don’t do often enough anymore.
Of course, I still have to copy all those CDs onto the memory card. And I’m sure there’s still stuff I have to figure out about organizing them, creating “playlists,” and so forth. But now I have the proof of concept.
I might end up leaving my camera at home and using my phone for that too. In the past, I’ve often forgotten I had the camera tucked away in my bag, and so it hasn’t done me any good to bring it anyway. And to be honest, I’m not really a big picture-taker anyway.
I’ve now reached the point where the 300-ish dollars I’d accumulated on my prepaid phone card plan has run out and I have to pay a monthly bill, after getting about half a year of “free” (or rather prepaid) service. Now I’m spending substantially more per month than I did on the prepaid plan. But the phone I have now is so much better equipped, so I guess it’s worth it.
I saw Star Trek Magazine #23 on the shelf at the grocery store today. It’s a look back at Star Trek: The Motion Picture on the occasion of its 30th anniversary, and I’m glad I got to participate in a small way. And small is the word. My piece is a sidebar essay, and it’s found within the Jon Povill interview. It’s a rumination on TMP’s legacy to the Trek franchise and what might have been if more of that legacy had been embraced.
Star Trek has had a problem when it comes to motion pictures. On the one hand, a movie is supposed to be a big story — not just the episode of the week, but a transformative event in the characters’ lives. Particularly if a movie is spun off from a TV franchise, it’s supposed to be a story too big to be contained on the small screen. Yet on the other hand, people watch a movie series like ST because they were fans of the status quo that existed on the small screen — or at least the studio executives believe that to be the case. So you have a tension between the pressure for change and the pressure for stability.
Consider the results. In ST:TMP, we gained two new characters, Decker and Ilia, who were both gone by the end of the film. In The Wrath of Khan, Kirk was an admiral, Chekov was first officer of another ship, Spock died, Kirk gained a son, and a new character, Saavik, was added to the ensemble. In The Search for Spock, the Enterprise was destroyed. But every one of these changes was unmade within at most two movies. By the end of The Voyage Home, the same old crew was back in the same posts aboard the same ship (or a close facsimile thereof), the new characters were killed off or unceremoniously written out, and nothing else changed until The Undiscovered Country, which was the final film in the series.
In fact, when Saavik was introduced, there was serious thought being given to phasing out the original cast and gradually replacing them with a new, younger crew that would carry future movies. Instead, it was systematically the new, younger characters who got written out while the old cast continued perpetually in their old roles.
Then look at The Next Generation in films. Nothing much really changes here from the series, aside from the Enterprise-D being replaced with the E and Geordi finally getting prosthetic eyeballs — essentially cosmetic alterations. But there is one major, radical change to one character in Generations: Data installs Dr. Soong’s emotion chip and must deal with a profound, irreversible change to his entire existence. Or so we were led to believe. In First Contact, he’d learned to shut down his emotions when they became inconvenient, an easy way out of the life-altering challenge GEN tried to set up for him. In Insurrection, there was a passing reference to Data not taking the emotion chip with him, contradicting Generations‘ statement that it was permanently fused to his neural net. And in Nemesis, it was as though the emotion chip had never existed at all. Data grew less in the last three movies than he had in seven years on television; in fact, he grew backward.
And again, it isn’t until the final film in the series that the characters go through any real change — Riker and Troi marry, Riker finally accepts a captaincy, and Data dies. And perhaps the reason that last fact left so many viewers cold is that it wasn’t really the culmination of anything; Data had spent the last three movies being systematically deconstructed as a character, reverted to his earliest form. There was nowhere left for him to go anyway, once he’d been deliberately stuck into a rut.
All in all, the only serious character change that came early in a Trek movie series and really stuck throughout all that followed was Spock’s emotional epiphany in ST:TMP. Everything else was reversed; even Chekov’s move to security chief was abandoned in later films that plugged him back into the navigator’s post, trapping him in nostagic career limbo along with everyone else. But Spock’s reconciliation of logic and emotion endured — even surviving his death and rebirth (though he sort of went through a quick relearning process in The Voyage Home). Arguably it’s even survived into the new movie universe; not only is Spock Prime still the same serene, emotionally balanced character he’s been since the end of TMP, but his younger alternate-timeline counterpart has achieved a similar synthesis of his human and Vulcan heritage by the end of the film.
I wonder what the future holds in store for the new movie series. Since the Abramsverse is a new reality, all bets are off; the characters and situations don’t have to be bound by what came before. The fate of Vulcan was a bald assertion of that fact. But how will that freedom fare against the audience’s — or the executives’ — desire for nostalgia? For what it’s worth, J. J. Abrams’ TV shows have featured lots of changes in the characters’ status and relationships over time. But with Star Trek movies, will there be more resistance to tampering with the familiar formula? Will any major character change the filmmakers attempt in one film be negated in the sequels, sacrificed to the status quo?
I hope not. It would be nice to see these iconic characters grow and progress in ways that their original selves ultimately weren’t able to. And it would be nice for a movie series to live up to the promise of telling truly important stories with lasting consequences.
(Inspired by a comment by captcalhoun in a TrekBBS thread.)
My name showed up again on TrekMovie.com, this time in an article examining all the merchandise associated with Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It’s mainly about the huge merchandising blitz that accompanied the original film, but in the final section of the article, author John Tenuto covers TMP-related merchandise that’s come out in more recent years, including the following:
A 2005 novel by Christopher L. Bennett named “Ex Machina” was set almost the day after the events of TMP.
It actually begins exactly 10 days after TMP ends, but what’s a few days among friends?
There’s also a mention of this year’s TMP-anniversary Hallmark ornaments, the Klingon cruiser and the Ilia probe. I got a sneak peek of these back at the Shore Leave convention in July, courtesy of my friend and fellow author Kevin Dilmore, whose day job is at Hallmark.
And though I’m grateful for the callout, ExM isn’t the only work of fiction to have dealt with the timeframe immediately surrounding TMP. The early Pocket novel The Prometheus Design is set shortly after TMP and touches on its aftereffects on Spock, though oddly the book has Spock reversing his epiphany about emotion and going the other way into a “hyper-Vulcan” mode. Diane Duane’s story “Night Whispers” in the anthology Star Trek: Enterprise Logs is a tale of Captain Will Decker that leads immediately into TMP, and is referenced in ExM. Marvel Comics, in addition to their 1979-82 comic series in the TMP era, did a 1998 miniseries called Untold Voyages with one issue in each year of the “second five-year mission” that’s generally assumed to follow TMP. The first issue comes right after TMP and explains how Kirk was allowed to keep the Enterprise after the movie. It’s not in the same continuity as ExM, however.
Meanwhile, I’ve been wondering if it was a coincidence that Richard Branson and Burt Rutan unveiled their “VSS Enterprise” on the same day as TMP’s 30th anniversary.
It was 30 years ago today that Star Trek: The Motion Picture debuted in theaters. For all its faults, all the criticisms fair and unfair, the film was revolutionary in its effects on the Trek franchise, and its importance to Trek history deserves to be acknowledged. I talk about this some in my upcoming Star Trek Magazine article, and Mark A. Altman has an excellent essay on the film over on TrekMovie.com:
Here’s a quote:
Now, in the cold light of day, it’s easy to see why people don’t love Star Trek: The Motion Picture, it’s a virtual remake of the episode “The Changeling” with the NOMAD probe that confuses Kirk as its creator, and has a glacial pace that today’s movie viewers are not accustomed to, especially watching it on television, and in the aftermath of The Wrath of Khan. But the fact is, in many ways, ST:TMP is a magnificent film. Spock faces his own humanity in a much more organic and real way than in a more recent Star Trek movie, Kirk has to come to terms with losing his ship and doing anything to reclaim his first best destiny and McCoy is just a hoot throughout. The redesign of all the ships, not just the Enterprise, have never been topped and the visual effects are quite simply awe-inspiring (take that, CGI). Although greenlit in the aftermath of Star Wars, ST: TMP owes far more of a thematic debt to 2001: A Space Odyssey and its sense of awe of the cosmos than Star Wars.
You know, everyone makes the “Changeling” analogy, but I’ve always found TMP to be more derivative of the animated episode “One of Our Planets is Missing.” The story structure is virtually identical: A vast, destructive cloud entity is on course for an inhabited planet; the Enterprise is sent to intercept it; the ship travels through the cloud to its brain core; Spock makes telepathic contact with its consciousness, a mind that has no conception that the little organic things swarming around on the planet are sentient beings; the cloud is “persuaded” to leave at the last second before it destroys the planet. And Alan Dean Foster novelized “One of Our Planets” years before he wrote “In Thy Image,” the story premise that became TMP.
However, it turns out this is a coincidence. When I read Foster’s original outline for “In Thy Image” (reprinted in the book Star Trek Phase II: The Lost Series), I discovered it didn’t even include a cloud; the huge alien object was just a gigantic ship. And of course Spock wasn’t part of the original story, since Nimoy wasn’t involved with the project at that point. So if “One of Our Planets” did have an influence, it probably wasn’t through Foster.
I didn’t get to see TMP right away. As with many movies at the time, I read the novelization first — and memorized the soundtrack album. However, that was still the time when movies stayed in theaters for months or longer, so I did eventually get to see the movie in a theater. I wish I could describe the revelatory impact it had on me or some such thing, but the fact is I have virtually no specific memory of the first time I saw the film. I think it was when my family was visiting relatives in Detroit, my aunt and uncle, who were less stingy about buying movie tickets than my father was. I have a memory snippet of a conversation we had in the car, but I’m blanking on the film experience itself. That’s weird. Maybe I’ve just seen the movie so many times that it’s overwritten the specific contextual memories of my first viewing. Or maybe it’s just that my real introduction to TMP came through the book and soundtrack, so that the film itself was just a part of the process. So I really don’t have any anecdotes to offer in commemoration of the event.
I guess most of my experience of TMP comes in the 30 years since — reading and rereading the novel; listening to the soundtrack countless times; seeing the extended version on TV, laser disc, and VHS; reading the Marvel adaptation and eventually collecting the comics that followed; buying the refit-Enterprise model kit which I never actually got around to building; finally seeing the film completed properly in the Director’s Edition; reading the occasional novels set in the post-TMP era and being disappointed that they never really dealt directly with the consequences of the film’s events, even when I enjoyed them otherwise; and of course engaging in my own speculations about those consequences, eventually leading to Ex Machina and Mere Anarchy: The Darkness Drops Again; and all the gratifying praise and encouragement I’ve gotten from fans of ExM, people who share my love for TMP, up to and including a couple of digital artists who played key roles in creating the Director’s Edition itself.
So TMP has had an undeniable impact on my life, even if I don’t have vivid memories of how it started.
I just regret that I didn’t get the chance to commemorate this anniversary with a new novel set in the post-TMP era. At least I have my ST Magazine article coming up.
Over on the TrekBBS, Star Trek Magazine editor Paul Simpson has just announced the contents of the upcoming issue #23, including a new article by yours truly:
This issue we concentrate on the 30th anniversary of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, with interviews with Walter Koenig, producer Jon Povill and story creator Alan Dean Foster. Christopher L. Bennett wonders how Star Trek would have continued had TMP been a success, while Scott Pearson compares and contrasts the first and fifth movies.
There’s an excerpt from S.D. Perry and Britta Dennison’s new novel Inception, featuring both Carol Marcus and Jim Kirk (plus one of his old flames) as well as reviews of the latest comics from IDW, as well as a detailed examination of the three different versions of the Star Trek movie…
And for fans of the movie (particularly those who would like to see what the engine room would have looked like, had different decisions been made) there’s the second and final supplement of extra material to complement the Art of The Movie book from Titan.
All this available technically from December 22nd in North America, and from New Year’s Eve in the UK…
Hey, this is my first blog post announcing a new project! Plenty more to come in the future, I hope…
This is also the first time I’ve had articles in two consecutive ST Mag issues, another situation that I hope will repeat itself.
Here’s the link to the ST Mag site, though it’s still showing issue 22 for the moment (but then, I’m in that one too!):