Sunday, July 14, 2019

Don't Make a Scene: Star Trek (2009)

The Story: "Bones!  Buckle up!" was one of those lines from 2009 that I remembered fondly, not only because of Chris Pine's Shatnerian cadence in saying it, but it also recalled the bonhomie between the characters.

J. J. Abrams' time-warp of "Star Trek" did a lot of things right, but none more important than in the precise casting of characters that had become familiar and iconic. Each one was something of a miracle—finding Pine and Zachary Quinto for the essential roles of the self-satisfied swaggering Kirk and the blithely arrogant loner, Mr. Spock. But the rest of the crew hit all the marks (and then some) as well: Zoe Saldana as everyone's favorite blue-toothed gal-pal, Uhura; Simon Pegg as a chirpy Mr. Scott; John Cho as the gear-head with an inner swashbuckler, Sulu; and Anton Yelchin as the Russian brutalizer of all things English, Chekhov.

And then, there's Karl Urban.

Urban is the wild card here. All the others, save Quinto (who is NOT Vulcan), have the heritage behind their stereotype.*  But Urban, who cut a fine figure as Eomer in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, and who played a seamlessly younger version of Tommy Lee Jones' Captain Woodrow Call in the "Lonesome Dove" prequel "Commanche Moon," hails from New Zealand. Not exactly the Kentuckian roots of the "old country doctor" and requisite "griper" Deforest Kelley essayed in The Original Series. For me, getting "Bones" right was as tough as getting Kirk right. He had to be flinty, intelligent, aggravating and endearing by turns, and funny throughout, and Urban is note-perfect.  According to Abrams in his DVD commentary, he even ad-libbed the "all I've got left is my bones" line, nicely filling in a seam in the character's foundation.

The nice thing about this scene is Kirk and McCoy meet the way you'd like them to meet: jousting and parrying and joshing but taking each other seriously—they're both pretty beat-up (Kirk, literally), but when the chips are down, and the walls are trembling, they wordlessly extend graces in fellowship. Nicely done, as so much of the film manages to accomplish. It becomes the legend.

There will be more "Trek" movies.. One hopes that instead of abandoning the "Wagon Train to the Stars" concept of the original for a moustache-twirling "villain-of-the-piece" format in the movie series, that Abrams & Co. will utilize these characters...and these fine developing the next script.  They're all too good to waste.

The Set-Up: James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), son of a legendary Starfleet Officer, takes up the challenge of Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) to utilize his wasted potential and enlist in Starfleet. The brash young Kirk, still smarting from a bar-fight after chatting up Cadet Uhura (Zoe Saldana), shows up for the dawn launch of a shuttle to Starfleet Academy in San Francisco.


Kirk walks into the shuttle and surveys all he sees and smiles.
Then, too absorbed to be looking where he's going, his head collides with a low hanging beam.** 
BG CADET: Nice...
Sheepishly, he advances to find his seat, passing the cadets who beat him in the bar in the previous scene.  Kirk can't help himself:
KIRK: At ease, gentlemen.
Kirk finds an empty seat and has trouble adjusting his safety harness. 
After struggling with it, he sees Uhura, and smiles.
KIRK: I never did get that first name.
This manages to make the aloof Uhura smile, to which Kirk grins wolfishly.  In the background, the sounds of an argument.
FLIGHT OFFICER: You need a doctor.
McCOY: I told you before, I don't need a doctor, dammit! I AM a doctor!
FLIGHT OFFICER: You need to get back to your seat!
McCOY: I had one in the bathroom with no windows!
FLIGHT OFFICER: You need to get back to your seat NOW!
McCOY: I suffer from aviaphobia!
McCOY: It means fear of dying in something that flies!
FLIGHT OFFICER: Sir, for your own safety, sit down or else I will make you sit down.
McCOY: Fine.
(INTERCOM) This is Captain Pike.  We've been cleared for take-off.
McCOY: I may throw up on you.
KIRK: I think these things are pretty safe.
McCOY: Don't pander to me, kid.  One tiny crack in the hull and our blood boils in 13 seconds.
McCOY: A solar flare might crop up and cook us in our seats.
McCOY: And wait 'til you're sitting pretty with a case of Andorian shingles.
McCOY: See if you're still so relaxed when you're eyes are bleeding.
McCOY: Space is disease and danger...
McCOY: ...wrapped in darkness and silence.
KIRK: Well, I hate to break this to you, but Starfleet operates in space.
McCOY: Yeah, well, I got nowhere else to go.
McCOY: The ex-wife took the whole damn planet in the divorce. 
McCOY: All I got left is my bones.
McCoy takes out a flask and takes a long pull.  Sees Kirk watching him and offers.
KIRK: Jim Kirk.
McCOY: McCoy.  Leonard McCoy.
As the two brace for launch, the shuttlecraft banks beneath the under-construction Enterprise, and heads to San Francisco.

Star Trek

Words by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman

Pictures by Daniel Mindel and J. J. Abrams

Star Trek is available on DVD from Paramount Home Entertainment.

The original Leonard "Bones" McCoy
Deforest Kelley

* Alright, if you wanna split hairs, Zoe Saldana, is not strictly African-American, as her parents are from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.  Happy?

 **  I might be reading too much into this, but this seems as much of an in-joke as it serves for a demonstration of the brash young Kirk's tendency to leap before he looks.  The whole "Young Star Trek" concept was developed at Paramount by series producer Harve Bennett to cut costs of production—getting all the actors back, especially Shatner and Nimoy, was prohibitively expensive—at around the time of "Star Trek V."  Ultimately, that film would be directed by Captain Kirk (William Shatner) himself, and photon-torpedoed by the critics.  One particularly egregious Shatner touch of slap-stick:  At one point, the Enterprise engineer, "Scotty" (James Doohan), walks right into (and is knocked out by) a low-hanging beam that, knowing the inner and outer workings of the ship like the back of his hand, he should have known was there, even in the dark.  Hey, payback's a bitch.  Even in space.