Star Trek bonanza at Comic-Con convention
Photos and story by Donald H. Harrison
SAN DIEGO — As my wife Nancy drove grandson Shor, 11, and me to the San Diego Convention Center, we noted that the car in front of us, a Saturn, had a vanity license plate that in symbol and letters announced its occupant was a Star Trek fan. It was obvious to us that the driver, like us, was en route to the Comic-Con convention, which ends today, Sunday, July 15.
From preview night on Wednesday July 11 through today, Comic-Con has offered plenty for any Star Trek fan to hear, see and explore, and I imagine that fans of any other long-running TV or movie franchise similarly could find panels, fellow fans and souvenirs relating to their passion. Fans in Star Trek costumes as well as those of various superheroes, especially Batman and Spider-Man, were everywhere in evidence, and there was no shortage of cartoon personas happily threading their way through the exhibit halls of Comic-Con, obligingly stopping now and then to pose for photographs for mainstream attendees, who were dressed in street clothes.
When Shor was 6, we began watching together every episode on DVD of Star Trek television shows and movies through their many iterations: the original series, “Next Generation,” “Deep Space 9,” “Voyager,” and “Enterprise.” I think one of the initial attractions was that the two stars of the original series–William Shatner who played Captain James T. Kirk and Leonard Nimoy who played Mr. Spock–both were Jewish. Furthermore, Nimoy had transformed the split-fingered hand position that rabbis use when blessing their congregations into a Vulcan greeting. Instead of “May the Lord Bless You and Keep You,” Vulcans said “Live Long and Prosper,” but the two sentiments were very similar. Accordingly, Shor and I felt that we had been included on an inside joke, and from there the joy we took in Star Trek and its characters continued to grow. In “Next Generation,” Data (Brent Spiner), the android who wanted to be human, was Shor’s absolute favorite character.
We didn’t wear costumes to the Comic-Con convention, although a souvenir ball cap I once purchased bearing the name of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise received appreciative notice from those who remembered that Enterprise was also the name of the spaceships that warped Star Trek crews into their adventures.
One of the highlights of Comic-Con for us was an appearance by Shatner at a July 14 press conference, which organizers graciously allowed Shor to attend with me. Shatner moved to an open seat from round-table to round-table giving each group about 10 minutes to hear and ask questions about his latest venture, a documentary, Get A Life, that will air at 8 p.m., Saturday, July 28, on the Epix Channel.
Some background is necessary: Back in 1986, nearly 20 years after Star Trek‘s original series had gone off live television, but was still very much in syndication, Shatner appeared on Saturday Night Live in a skit spoofing Star Trek conventions, in which fans (portrayed by Dana Carvey, Kevin Neilon, and Jon Lovitz) asked incredibly detailed questions about the minutiae of the Star Trek show, prompting Shatner to lash out and urge them to “get a life.” However, after a whispered conference with the convention organizer, Shatner came back to the podium to announce that what they had just seen was a reprise of the “Evil Kirk” who had been presented in a Star Trek episode in which Kirk’s Yetzer Hatov and Yetzer Hara had been separated during a freak transporter accident. (You can watch the skit on YouTube)
That skit became so well-known that Get A Life suggested itself as the title of an autobiographical book by Shatner, and now nearly 50 years since the original series aired, a documentary in which Shatner questions the meaning of the fans’ devotion to the series.
Shatner told the news conference that he concluded in his book that the fans “are coming to these conventions to see each other, renew old friendships and be part of a community. That was the conclusion that I came to in the book, but when I asked that question again years later, this year, and made a documentary, I concluded that conclusion was very surface, that in fact there was something very mystical and ritualistic and sociological about these conventions and that they have a far deeper meaning than even the people themselves know, and that is the conclusion of the documentary.”
Nu? So what is that deep meaning? Shatner was asked.
He advised us to watch the documentary, especially the part where he leans back in his chair, listening to someone, and says “Holy Mackerel!”
Last year at Comic-Con, Shatner introduced another documentary, one called Captains in which he reminisced with the actors and actress who played the commanding officer in the various Star Trek iterations, including the 2009 J.J. Abrams-produced movie Star Trek, in which Chris Pine took over his old role as James T. Kirk.
Both Captains and Get A Life were retrospectives on a role he made famous generations ago. Why this look back? he was asked.
“I’m dying,” Shatner, 81, responded facetiously. “Well I am — it’s just when?” like all of us, he added, before directly addressing the question: ” I am not making them because I want to leave a ‘legacy;’ I don’t even know what that word means. It ‘s just that I am having a sense of an entirety. I am beginning to see the whole. I am being given the opportunity by Epix to do that — to make these documentaries.”
Asked if he had once resented being remembered through his career as the man who played Captain Kirk, and whether now he was again embracing the role, Shatner answered: “I never not liked being Captain Kirk; but the show was over, and I had to make a living. I went on to other things. But the Star Trek franchise is extraordinary and science fiction itself — I love the genre, I love the imagination behind it, I love the emotional appeal, the curiosity, the imagination of what is out there and why don’t we know that 90 percent of what’s out there is (unknown to us). As you all know, it is staggering what we don’t know.”
Shatner noted that he is currently working on another documentary about Xena: Warrior Princess, a mythical female heroine of ancient Greece, who was portrayed in a television series by Lucy Lawless. The Xena story, like Star Trek, has depth, far deeper than most people understand, Shatner asserted.
A panel earlier in the week featured Michael Okuda, and the technical crew who have converted Star Trek: The Next Generation to Blu-ray, a process that Okuda, a graphic artist who worked both for NASA and various Star Trek enterprises, described as resulting in the production of Star Trek: The Next Generation, exactly as before — but better, sharper, more beautiful” than the series that had been shown on TV.
Why is Star Trek, in all its versions, so popular? “We all want a better tomorrow, we all want to believe if we work hard, are smart, ethical, we can explore the stars and make a better world,” Okuda said.
Other project team members chorused agreement. One credited the vision of Star Trek‘s late creator Gene Roddenberry: ”He really sprinkles in beautiful messages about harmony, getting along , getting rid of that hatred gene, and just accepting each other. For me that is what really grabbed me.”
Said another: “One word: it’s ‘hope.’”
Okuda, and his wife Denise, are considered by many the ranking authorities on all things Star Trek. Michael worked on all the Star Trek series except the original, which he watched as a youngster and was inspired by. Denise, originally a registered nurse, said she found in Michael and the series a rekindling of her original love for astronomy and the heavens. Together the Okudas have participated in many Star Trek projects, including the compiling of an authoritative encyclopedia about the franchise.
With a movie having re-booted the stories about Kirk and Spock, changing details from the original TV series, how concerned are the Okudas about the direction Star Trek is now going.
” On this particular (Blu-ray) project we want to be as true as possible to what has been in the past,” Okuda replied. “This is a show that people have loved for 25 years; we want to give them what they fell in love with. Star Trek: The Next Generation proved that you can do Star Trek without Kirk and Spock. The Star Trek universe is infinite and there is room for an infinite number of stories. … ”
…. There may also be room for an infinite number of product tie-ins, a visitor to Comic-Con could easily conclude.
For example, in the exhibit hall, Hasbro Toys’ KRE-O line showcased a Star Trek assembly kit featuring Enterprise and its well-known crew members, perhaps just the toy to introduce future engineers to Star Trek technology. There was also a super-sized model of Captain Kirk, drawing visitors to the booth.
One could also find a line of Star Trek shirts for sale among the many hundreds of booths selling every type of souvenir item.
On a far smaller scale, Zydeco Studios is now offering Star Trek ‘Floppets,” which company president Rich Goodman explained are affordable figures that can attach to anything. The toys originally were conceived to help teachers stimulate elementary school students toward more reading and writing, Goodman explaining that teachers would give the wearable items to the students and ask them to write essays about it.
In the six months since the company started producing them, Floppets have charmed their way into such major retail outlets as Toys R Us and 7-11, accoring to Goodman
Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World. He may be contacted at email@example.com
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