The new Star Trek film opens wide tomorrow, and a few negative reviews are finally starting to show up after almost three weeks of uninterrupted glowing praise trickling in at Rotten Tomatoes. The first was from (who else?) the indispensably contrary Armond White, who called the film watchable television, but terrible cinema. And today there’s this one by an underwhelmed Roger Ebert, who writes “Like so many franchises, it’s more concerned with repeating a successful formula than going boldly where no Star Trek has gone before.” But he also says it’s a fun movie. And if you’re expecting too much more than that from Star Trek, you’re barking up the wrong tree.
What with this new movie and all, the Trek series is focusing once again on its founding members: the original crew of the original starship Enterprise. After twenty years of Picards and Siskos and Janeways, it all comes back to Captain Kirk. But who is Captain Kirk? And who are the others on his gallant and calculatedly diverse crew? I’d hate for some pimply-faced teenager to wander into the theater after smoking dope behind the building, look up at the screen, baffled, and start demanding “Where’s Chakotay? No Chakotay? Where the fuck is Chakotay?!”
This one, you bloodshot-eyed junkie, is for you.
Who’s Who on the Enterprise Bridge Crew
Originally Played By: William Shatner
Best Known For: Having the libido of Wilt Chamberlain on rhino horn.
Memorable Quote: “Worlds may change, galaxies disintegrate, but a woman always remains a woman.”
When Jeffrey Hunter bailed on Star Trek after filming “The Cage” in order to focus on making films like Find a Place to Die (which he did, shortly thereafter), Gene Roddenberry created a new leader for the crew of the Enterprise. Listen to the true believers and you’ll hear a lot about how James T. Kirk was a space-faring Horatio Hornblower, or how Shatner’s performance was informed by his study of Alexander the Great. But here’s the truth: Kirk is a horny guy played by a hammy actor, and if he’s not busy plotting to nail this week’s female guest star, he’s getting in fights where he finds some way — any way — to get his shirt ripped open before he drops the villain with a single neck-chop.
And that’s why we love him.
Originally Played By: Leonard Nimoy
Best Known For: Smiling, laughing, crying and yelling a hell of a lot for a dude without emotions.
Memorable Quote: “I have never understood the female capacity to avoid a direct answer to any question.”
Everybody’s favorite Star Trek character, Spock is really the key to the whole production. His presence as the non-human outsider able to comment on his crewmates while simultaneously struggling to understand them was so effective that the producers of every subsequent spin-off series tried to replicate it — Data in Next Generation, The Doctor in Voyager, pretty much everybody on Deep Space Nine.
Spock was also great because he deflated Gene Roddenberry’s “humanity has evolved beyond our barbarism” bullshit. Spock never bought that for a second, and having him there on the bridge, raising an eyebrow, dryly saying to Kirk, “Don’t get smug, because to me you’re all a bunch of fucking animals,” was great insurance against this socially conscious goofy sci-fi show getting too full of itself.
Originally Played By: DeForest Kelley
Best Known For: Being a doctor, not something else.
Memorable Quote: “KILLERS! ASSASSINS! YOU WON’T GET ME! I’LL KILL YA FIRST!”
Of all the core characters on Star Trek, McCoy was the closest to a normal guy. Yes, he was a skilled surgeon (once reconnected Spock’s brain to his body, don’tcha know), and sure, sometimes he got the most insane looks on his face, but compared to the combative walking hard-on that was Captain Kirk, or whisky-soaked cartoon Scotty, McCoy was just a regular type dude. He was the most contemporary, too, speaking with a southern accent, occasionally making reference to being from Mississippi (an actual place), and always acting skeptical of all that goddammned 23rd century technology. And like Spock, he served in the necessary service of telling Kirk what a jerk he was. Plus, who doesn’t love the withering stream of quasi-racist abuse he hurls at Spock?
McCoy was really the heart of the show, and he’s my personal favorite character. I like him best for the reasons I mentioned already, and also for one I haven’t yet: he was played by the best actor in the cast.
Originally Played By: James Doohan
Best Known For: His inability to alter the laws of physics.
Memorable Quote: “I can’t change the laws of physics!”
As the ship’s chief engineer, Scotty’s role was usually to insist to Kirk that what the captain wanted was impossible, then go do it anyway. And sometimes they left him in charge when Kirk and Spock both left the ship. Scotty didn’t get to beam down to planets as much as the others, which I attribute to his debilitating alcoholism.
Originally Played By: George Takei
Best Known For: Having a voice that defines the lower boundary of human audition.
Memorable Quote: “I’m sweating like a bridegroom.”
Maybe I’m reading too much into it, maybe I’m allowing the fact that George Takei is openly gay to unduly influence my perception, but man Sulu seems like a guy just keen as hell to bust out all over! I know the character is straight — hey, keep your ugly stereotypes to yourself, mister! As if a dude has to be gay to enjoy camping it the fuck up every once in awhile. Check out Sulu in the few episodes where he’s able to really cut loose — “The Naked Time,” “Mirror, Mirror”. Dude’s having the time of his life.
Originally Played By: Nichelle Nichols
Best Known For: Breaking the TV sci-fi color barrier to play Captain Kirk’s receptionist.
Memorable Quote: “Captain . . . I’m frightened.”
In the turbulent 1960s, with racial unrest permeating the United States from one coast to the other, Gene Roddenberry took the bold and courageous move to integrate the cast of his cheesy space opera. In a move evocative of the great Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, Roddenberry hired an African-American actress for Star Trek . . . and put her to work answering the phone. She also got to sing, express the gender appropriate emotion of fear, and sort of kiss Captain Kirk. Let’s hear it for progress!
Originally Played By: The young man who played Chekov.
Best Known For: Not being on the show yet when Khan was there; attributing everything to the Russians.
Memorable Quote: . . . Um. Oh! No, wait, I’ve got one. . . . Something about Scotch being invented by a little old lady from Leningrad? Does that sound right?
Walter Koenig came aboard at the start of Star Trek’s second season in an effort to boost the show’s youth appeal. His Ensign Chekov then spent the next two years blatantly pandering to the kids in the audience by taking over the science station when Spock wasn’t around and speaking in a funny accent. If the first year of Star Trek suffered for its lack of a little Russian guy with his hair cut to look like Davy Jones, surely that shortcoming was addressed in spades by the addition of Ensign Chekov.