Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Nostalgia Nugget: Star Trek was Always Around - Part 1

Just seeing this title screen brings back the warm
fuzzier of nostalgia.
Star Trek was always around.

That said, I honestly don't remember the very first time I saw an episode or a movie. I just seemed to always know who Captain Kirk was. I knew Mr. Spock was logical and calm. I knew that McCoy was a doctor dammit! I know I must have seen some episodes of the original series before I saw Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan, because Spock's death upset me. I suppose I could blame the emotion on James Horner's excellent score and the performances, but I had an idea who these characters were.

I know I saw Star Trek: The Motion Picture in the theaters in 1979, but I honestly don't remember seeing it. I have more vivid memories of the Happy Meal carton with The Real McCoy match game on the side and the Starfleet iron ons that came with it. I may have watched the film on VHS a couple times before 1982. At that point in my childhood I was watching anything and everything with spaceships and aliens (Battle Beyond the Stars and The Black Hole were definitely on the VHS rotation).

Space and Greek Gods! Sign 8 year old me up!
At some point after seeing the Wrath of Khan I started watching the original series on syndication. My grandmother was a big fan of William Shatner (and action movies in general, she loved TJ Hooker). She lived with our family for a number of years in the 1980s and I remember us watching the adventures of Captain Kirk and his crew. I have vivid memories of a few episodes, like seeing Captain Pike in mangled form in The Menagerie, the reptilian Gorn in Arena (I always loved lizard men monsters) and most vividly Who Mournes for Adonis.

The reason that episode really caught my attention is because it combined two things I loved: spaceships and Greek mythology. In that episode the crew of the Enterprise runs into the Greek god Apollo. He turns out to be a real jerk, and of course Kirk is about to outwit him. That always disappointed me a bit, because I really like the concept of the Greek gods and heroes. I lay the blame firmly at the feet of Clash of the Titans for that.

Seriously this was a real episode? I thought it was
some kind of candy fueled fever dream from the 80s.
I must have seen about half the episodes of the original series with my grandmother. I eventually picked up the DVD releases of the original series, and was surprised how much the imagery came back to me in these odd nostalgic flashbacks. The strange puppet alien from The Crobomite Manuver, the myriad of alien races from Journey to Babel and the odd journey to the old west in Specter of the Gun. For years I thought that was just some bizarre dream I had about Star Trek and cowboy hats.

As a kid what stuck out to me were the strange aliens, bright colors and spaceships zipping around. I really didn't remember much about the plots or the themes of the episodes. I mean I remembered Kirk and the Gorn wandering around in the desert trying to kill each other, but I didn't remember why.

What I did remember was the music. Obviously there was the main theme, which pretty much anyone who's seen an episode of the original series remembers all too well. But I also remembered certain cues that were used time and again. On of the most distinctive was the music from Amok Time composed by Gerald Fried. I always associated it with Kirk fighting (since I think it was used in many Kirk fight scenes after it's first appearance here). I don't think I ever saw Amok Time until many years later, so this music will always be Kirk's Fighting Music. I remember laughing my butt off during an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 when Joel and the bots suddenly break out into an a cappella version of this music during a fight scene in Hercules Against the Moon Men.

Another distinctive piece was for the episode The Doomsday Machine. Composer Sol Kaplan provided this memorable theme and again it was reused throughout the series, usually when something intense was occurring. it just stuck in my memory and when I revisited this episode in the late 2000s, the score brought back a slew of memories about my grandmother and hanging out watching Star Trek.

For the rest of the 1980s the original crew of the enterprise were always around in the theater. I loved that Spock came back in the spoiler-rific title The Search for Spock. Just like everyone else in 1986 I thought The Voyage Home  was a ton of fun, feeling most like some of the classic episodes I remembered watching. I remember thinking The Final Frontier was Ok at the time. But I also remember Batman being a lot more entertaining that same year. By the time The Undiscovered Country rolled around in 1991, I was losing interest in Star Trek, but still though the movie was good. Any movie that had David Warner in it and surrounded by floating Klingon blood is a good movie.

Every few years in the 1980s you could count on a Star Trek
film to hit theaters.
In a strange twist of fate, one of the very first CDs I ever purchased with my own cash from my job at the video store was the score to The Undiscovered Country. The moody and dark score really appealed to me, even though I was getting into Mtv and SNL at that same time.

I also remember watching a few episodes of the original series on VHS around this time. I tried to watch them in some kind of order following the VHS releases that had two episodes per cassette. I didn't get very far into them. I think I saw The Squire of Gothos episode and it was so goofy that I decided to just stick with the movies.

I eventually came back to Star Trek because of a friend, who was very much a Trekkie, got talking about the classic series. I mentioned the fond memories I had of the show and also that I hadn't seen it in years. Well he had the newly released box sets on DVD that came out around 2008 or so. He generously let me borrow them.

The colors on the remastered Trek are so vivid
Mr. Spock needs shades.
That summer my wife and I watched all three seasons of Star Trek the original series and had a blast with it. It was so colorful (much more colorful than I remembered from the old syndicated prints I watched in the 80s) and the updated visual effects and surround sound was so much fun. Yeah there were clunker episodes, but even the goofy ones had an energy and fun to them that kept us watching. I was surprised my wife enjoyed them as much as I did, but it turns out she grew up with Star Trek always on the television too, her dad was a big Kirk fan. I ended up returning the box sets to my friend, but turned around and bought them myself.

I still revisit the series from time to time. It has a lot of nostalgia for me, and now I can enjoy some of the really excellent episodes the original series had to offer. Mr. Spock is still my favorite character, but I've grown to really like Dr. McCoy as well.

The Enterprise never looked this good on my 80s
televison set!
As for the rebooted series that J.J. Abrams brought to us in 2009. Well, I've enjoyed the first two films quite a bit. Not quite the Star Trek of the 1960s, but I honestly wouldn't expect that. Its fun and entertaining and filled with great action. But like many modern blockbusters, feels a bit empty inside. While I think Star Trek needs to change with the times, I do wonder if this change is going to end up being a problem when Star Trek Beyond comes out later in 2016. Only time will tell.

So Star Trek was always around, especially when it came to Kirk and the crew. But I have a whole different set of memories when it comes to The Next Generation and all the series that followed. Stay tuned for part 2 of this nostalgic trip through space... the final frontier.


  1. Yes, I suppose having Star Trek as a point of reference from one’s earliest awareness does make a difference in perspective. In September of 1966 when the series began I was 13. There had been earlier scifi TV programs, e.g. Captain Midnight (aka Jet Jackson) in the 50s and The Outer Limits in the early 60s, but the former was simple-minded and the latter had no continuity of cast or setting. Star Trek was the first high concept TV series with recurring characters that I encountered, and – crucially for an adolescent boy – it featured astonishingly beautiful women with minimalist attire. So, I suspect my nostalgia is of another sort than yours. (I got an autographed photo by the way from Arlene Martel [no relation I presume], Spock's fickle bride T'Pring in Amok Time.) The spruced up effects in the DVD box set work well – they look much better than the original without being so very different as to be distracting.

    1. That's a good point. I think only "Lost in Space" may have beat it to the punch when it comes to sci-fi with a reoccurring cast. And no, I don't think I'm related to Arlene Martel. I'm sure that would have come up at a reunion that a relative was in "Star Trek".

      I was really impressed by the updated effects. They fit the show really well and just give everything a bit more clarity and believability. Those planets the ship orbits just look a lot more realistic. But I like how they pretty much recreated the movement of the ships in the CG environment. They move just like the old models!