It seems fitting the latest teaser for Star Trek: Into Darkness should feature a voice over narration by Bruce Greenwood as Federation Admiral Christopher Pike given are close inspection of classic series entry, The Menagerie, the only two-part tale of Star Trek: The Original Series.
There has clearly been a great deal of speculation about what the new J.J. Abrams film, Star Trek: Into Darkness , might actually bring when it finally arrives in theatres in 2013 based first upon a brief announcement and then a longer teaser. The teaser did little to assuage concerns for original Star Trek fans. With the arrival of its teaser trailer there is plenty of chatter and it's certainly fun to speculate what good ideas, if any, might populate this summer tent pole film. There's no question it will look good. Based on its Dark Knight Rises-heavy promotional poster, will the new film by Abrams provide story as much as spectacle? Have film goers tired of dark knights, dark worlds [Thor II] and generally dark film tidings at this point? Apart from that brilliant, vivid Enterprise bridge, will there be light in the darkness for this second go round?
To think Star Trek: Into Darkness would be a predictable action blockbuster lacking the heart and soul of the original Star Trek seems awfully pessimistic, but is it really when you consider its arrival date and the Batman effect on cinema? Based on the reboot, will Star Trek plunge us deeper into the wonderful mythology of Star Trek's science fiction vision and universe or will it merely scratch the surface for some cheap thrills? And do most people really care at this point? The reimagined Star Trek certainly gave us energy, style, an alternate reboot and thrills galore to implore a new generation to discover the glories of Star Trek, but will the new film take us into brilliant new possibilities of this storied franchise once crafted so carefully by dreamer Gene Roddenberry or merely plunge us into the darkness of Jerry Bruckheimer dumb headedness, products of style over substance that so many films aspire to today. The thrilling teaser aims to lure the popcorn crowd, but are we to expect nothing more than mind numbing action like a dagger of the mind? We shall see.
If the prediction for the latter is correct than all of the teasers to precede it will have done their job and done anything but deceive us in expectation. I can only hope our instincts are wrong. Super 8 was certainly an interesting combination of character and story with the a kind of movie magic that harkened back to all our yesterdays, but I'm expecting more than that and I fear Star Trek: Into Darkness will be anything but the smart science fiction of those classic Roddenberry years. I'm not ignorant to the fact, as Edward Lakso once wrote, And The Children Shall Lead, that Abrams is the face of a new generation. He is hardly devoid of great ideas. Lost and Fringe continue to impress, but in film his hand has been less than assured beyond the visual excitement of today's technological wonders. No one doubts his reverence for the creators of the series, but can he thrill beyond the visual, unlock and ignite the mind as the series once had with ideas to ponder.
Listen, Abrams can't possibly disappoint me entirely, because my expectations are low when it comes to recapturing Star Trek as I adored it. My heart truly lies with Star Trek: The Original Series [Star Trek: TOS] more than any other incarnation. Even the ST:TOS films, as good as many of them were, never satiated my fix entirely concerning the magic of the original Star Trek. Star Trek: The Next Generation, Voyager and Enterprise have all been more satisfying to me. Serialized television certainly has its advantages and the franchise certainly impresses over the time constraints of a theatrical film. So, my expectations have always been low for the films and this new film may surprise me yet as a result of it. I will temper my skepticism with the realities of summer films, but apart from being entertained it's difficult to be optimistic based on the evidence.
In the meantime, we continue our look at one of the smartest tales in science fiction, Star Trek: The Original Series, Season One, Episode 12, The Menagerie, Part II.
Picking up where we left off with The Menagerie, Part I, Spock has pleaded guilty in a general court-martial for sabotage, returning to Talos IV and attempting to return Captain Christopher Pike there. In the immortal words and delivery of Captain James T. Kirk, but "Whhhy?" To find out more, The Keeper of the Talosians continues to beam images to the U.S.S. Enterprise. A small confession would have me admit to you that, as a boy, I affectionately referred to the Talosians as the "fanny heads." The fanny heads, little did I know back in the day thanks to Star Trek's exceptional make-up arm, were delicately portrayed by several women including Meg Wyllie as The Keeper.
Returning to footage excerpted from The Cage we find Captain Pike is encased within a glass cage. He his spoken with telepathically by the Talosians who intend on beginning the "experiment."
On board the Enterprise, Number One, Spock and the cast of The Cage dissect the reasons for these illusions foisted upon the unsuspecting crew by the Talosians. It's fascinating how the Spock character had not been fully developed and worked out regarding the character's behavioral details. He shows more emotion than normal meaning he is far less restrained as far as the Spock character is concerned that we would come to know and love. Number One makes the decision to blast their way through the planet's metallic crust. It's a fairly bold moment when you consider a female officer in charge of a starship's lethal power.
The Talosians transport Pike to Rygel VII using his mind's memories for the first of three distinct illusions. Vina is there, but Pike deduces correctly that it is nothing more than a mental construct imprinted by the Talosians. The Talosians utilize fragments of his mental past and then bend it to their own whims as part of their experiment.
Following the viewing of a lengthy battle of hand to hand combat on Rygel VII with a barbarian warrior, the disfigured Pike of The Menagerie demonstrates fatigue. Spock explains to Kirk and Mendez that the trial must take a recess. He makes it clear the Talosians want Pike returned to them alive.
The Enterprise closes in on Talos IV and the trial resumes. Footage continues to exhibit the idea that the Talosians are examining their specimen, but channelling the Smashing Pumpkins despite all his rage Pike is still just a rat in the cage.
Vina presents herself as a gift to Pike. She's beautiful, but he is unmoved by her displays of affection not because she isn't attractive to him, but because these aliens have removed Pike's freedom. Our innate desire to be free of enslavement is an overwhelming and unstoppable drive. He yearns to know how to defeat the Talosians from their mental probing.
Futile efforts are made by Number One, Spock and company to blast their way through the Talosian entrance. It is clear to me that Majel Barrett was anything but "annoying" as people of the era unfairly received her in the role of Number One. This brief evidence suggests the Number One character as portrayed by the actress would have evolved and potentially made for another fascinating character aboard the Enterprise. She would have indeed made a splendid early incarnation of a Kathryn Janeway-like character if you will.
Meanwhile, in The Cage, Vina warns Pike the Talosians are not averse to punishment, like gods, should Pike not cooperate with their expected responses from assorted illusions acting as variables within their experiment. And for the first time we get a hint of what has become of this race through Vina's explanation as she conveys the ideas and thoughts of the late, great Gene Roddenberry.
It is without question that Star Trek: TOS's second pilot, Where No Man Has Gone Before, feels like a natural extension of The Cage and its bold ideas and narrative sense as far as Roddenberry's science fiction goes. What's a little troubling is how some of the concepts seem to find their way into Lost In Space. It's interesting to consider that some of the thinking explored here and some of the ideas here are echoed particularly in Lost In Space's excellent two-part entry, The Keeper. The two-part The Menagerie aired in November 1966, while The Keeper aired two months later in January 1966. While it's unlikely The Keeper would draw upon ideas from The Menagerie in such a short window the greater history surrounding the two series makes the connection a little more fascinating and possible. Because The Cage script was floated about before its rejection back in 1964, while the The Cage pilot was completed at the end of 1964 and the beginning of 1965. While such Noah's Ark-like concepts are hardly new, the idea of a Keeper, and "specimens" housed within a cage were at the heart of Roddenberry's proposal. What's interesting is Star Trek: TOS's more philosophical approach to the idea and concepts, while Lost In Space take a more literal, tangible translation of these ideas for its child-friendly audience. Was Lost In Space's The Keeper just mere coincidence or did Roddenberry's script ideas influence the stories of Lost In Space? It wasn't unusual for actors to appear in both series, but how funny actor Malachi Throne should appear in both Lost in Space, appropriately-titled The Thief Of Outer Space, and Star Trek: TOS. But the Lost In Space, The Keeper comparisons are startling and some of the video clips included here suggest those distinct possibilities. I'm a huge fan of both series, but I still find new details can be gleaned from their historical connections. It seems unlikely these coincidences are attributed to nothing more than mere speculation. "Is the Keeper actually communicating with one of his animals?," inquires Pike.
So, Talos IV is only now beginning to support life again after the Talosians went underground thousands of years ago. Vina explains she is a human woman as real as Pike despite his skepticism as a result of the mind games. She explains they are like Adam and Eve, an idea that would take further fruit in Samuel A. Peeples, Where No Man Has Gone Before, the second Star Trek: TOS pilot, which actually aired as the third official episode of Season One in September 1966, which again explained for some of the character inconsistencies and, in the case of Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy, absences altogether.
As the episode flips back to the court room, Mendez acknowledges that these specimens were being maintained as nothing more than "breeding stock" heightening and underscoring the nature of this alien experimentation. Kirk gives us that famous, "Whhhy?" William Shatner could deliver a word on a dime.
The Keeper uses Pike's mind against him when required. The Keeper confirms that while the illusion that brought Pike and his crew to Talos IV was just that, an illusion, there was a shipwreck and Vina was the sole survivor. But Pike begins to realize his Talosian captors are doing all they can to make Vina desirable to him, but more than he fully understands. The Talosians wish to perpetuate the species. If Pike is happy with Vina procreation will be optimal. This is the operating factor for the Talosians. Survival of their species is paramount. Thus the Vina show continues for the benefit of Pike.
Pike is mentally transported back home to his rural life complete with horses (and, bonus, Vina). Pike knows it's not real. "We're in a menagerie - a cage!," declares a frustrated Pike. Vina reveals to Pike that the Talosians cannot read through primitive emotions. They are incapable. Vina also admits that her thoughts have been essentially raped by the aliens. They know precisely what kind of man she desires. They brought Pike to her for that reason. Vina cannot help but love him. He is a near perfect construct from her mind brought to life. Pike begins to cloak his mind with anger and rage to prevent the Talosians from probing his mind.
Within seconds Pike is quickly whisked away to a third and final fantastical place where Vina has transformed into one of the iconic images associated with Star Trek: TOS, the green Orion slave girl. The fabrication is intentional. The Orion slave girl is said to be seductive and utterly irresistible to man and her erotic dance may have something to do with it.
On board the Enterprise, Kirk narrates his observations regarding the evidence. He realizes that Vina is presented to Pike in a variety of tempting forms, like those presented to Adam and Eve, and the mental assault begins to weaken him. Kirk himself seems to identify with Pike's plight. He should. Kirk took his place amongst the stars populated with beautiful alien women constantly bombarding his own male psyche with female delights and their physical bodies.
Returning to the archive footage, Vina returns to her illusory new normal just as Number One and Yeoman J.M. Colt beam down in an effort to save Captain Pike. Four men, including Spock, attempt to beam down with them but are left behind by the Talosians.
On the surface of Talos IV the addition of Number One and Colt allow for the Talosians to offer their would be Adam the choice of three female partners. Pike refuses to play their game instead attempting to fill his mind with hate and rage to block their ability at mentally probing him. Can you imagine Kirk in a three-way here? Come on, it is conceivable.
In a terrific science fiction moment, the Keeper attempts to open a small passage way and reacquire the guns inside The Cage, but Pike is alert and pounces on him like a tiger. As Pike strangles The Keeper he transforms into a beastly monster to play on the fears of his captors. The Keeper warns he should be released thus he use illusion to destroy the Enterprise. These were indeed indelible, horrifying moments glimpsed as a child and yet these scenes remain as powerful today.
Back aboard the Enterprise, in real time, the images of the events on Talos IV cease beaming to the Enterprise. Spock urges the court to await with patience. Comodore Mendez wishes for a verdict from the essentially motionless and disfigured Pike. Actor Sean Kenney shows remarkable emotional depth despite his limited physical role. Spock urges Pike to be patient. "Captain, please, it's your life now - at least a chance for life." Kirk begins to put the pieces together regarding Spock's overriding theme for life, but is still at odds with Talos IV as a prison or a cage and why Spock would bring him there. It's still not quite adding up. What is adding up is complexity of character within one of science fiction's greatest creations by Gene Roddenberry - the character of Spock.
With the images concluded from Talos IV the panel votes and all vote guilty as charged concerning Spock including Pike. The bridge of the Enterprise reports to Kirk that it is entering Talos IV's orbit. Spock assures them that Talos IV controls the Enterprise now as it did thirteen years ago and that they will soon discover why.
The images of the events of thirteen years ago continue. With The Keeper held hostage at phaser point, Pike, Number One, Colt and Vina escape to the surface. Pike must choose one of the women to endure with and with whom he will lead a "carefully guided" life. Pike submits he is willing to stay on Talos IV with the lovely Vina as long as the Talosians release Number One and Colt along with the Enterprise. Has Pike chosen his mate? It's clear he understands Vina has acclimated to the existence on Talos IV beyond being an attractive mate. Number One suggests it is enslavement to live this way and rigs her phaser to build an overload to create a force chamber explosion.
The Keeper believes humans not only disdain captivity but refuse it even under the most benevolent and benign of conditions. Thus the Talosians deem humans "too violent" and "dangerous" and ultimately too unpredictable for their "needs." Vina tells Pike and the others they are free to return to the Enterprise. The irony, of course, is that the aliens simply don't comprehend human nature. Pike's behavior was out of self-preservation. His anger was a fight for freedom and the retention of free will. This is what Pike's actions represented. In the end he is ultimately set free, but philosophically the Talosians don't understand the rejection of their benign sense of illusion that they perceive as freedom. This is an inherent gift to Talosians rather than a mental imprisonment as rejected by humanity. The great irony, of course, is that the illusory imprisonment that Pike railed against throughout The Cage and, of course, here in The Menagerie against the powers of the Talosians ultimately becomes a gift to one human following the blatant disregard of the law and Starfleet regulations concerning Talos IV. The Talosian ability becomes a liberating power to free Pike of his physical imprisonment. He could now shed his physical skin and disability to live freely even if through an illusion. It speaks volumes about humanity's value for physical freedom. Conversely, if understood properly by humanity, and not just Spock's recognition of this Talosian potential, would it not be harnessed for the physically handicapped? These are the brilliant big ideas and philosophical underpinnings that would make Star Trek: TOS the lasting success of science fiction when all others would flounder. Does not the virtual world today allow for a similar kind of freedom and escape? Star Trek: TOS was way ahead of its time.
"And that's it, no apologies," says Pike. "Your unsuitability has condemned the Talosian race to eventual death," declares a Talosian. The Keeper believes Pike was their last hope, but that ultimately humans would learn of their powers and destroy itself. Roddenberry paints a cautionary tale of man and the harnessing of powers and technology to humanity's detriment. Vina informs Pike she cannot return to the ship with him and the others.
Remarkably, in a very delicate and carefully edited transformation, the illusion of Vina's beauty is removed as she ages and morphs into the scarred, elder woman that has survived on Talos IV. She is essentially embarrassed by her disfigurement. This is not only a touching moment, but a demonstrative moment by Pike of true human compassion.
Interesting that The Keeper eventually shares the truth of Vina's condition with Pike only after Number One and Colt have been returned to the Enterprise to spare Vina of any additional emotional anguish.
In probably the most incredible twist of the installment, Kirk turns to Mendez also out of human compassion looking to him for some understanding to be evaluated and levied toward his first officer Spock. Kirk understands this is essentially a mission of mercy for Pike and that Spock has demonstrated true human compassion for his former captain. His actions, while severe and perhaps unnecessarily radical, were to assure that Pike would truly have a second chance at life. But when Kirk turns to Mendez, the Comodore disappears, nothing more than an illusion created by the Talosians. That was a stunning and believable twist and still is today. Mendez may have been real, but at a certain point, he was created as a construct for Kirk and that illusion replaced the real Mendez as Kirk made his journey back to the Enterprise.
The Talosians created the "fiction" of a court-martial to stall Kirk from regaining control of the Enterprise and give Spock time enough to return Pike to Talos IV. The Keeper invites Pike to remain on Talos IV with them and ultimately shed the constraints of his physical prison and broken body in order to move freely about Talos IV. Additionally, the act is not entirely selfless as the Talosians have renewed hope toward their long-term survival.
This brief exchange between Kirk and Spock is a terrific moment because naturally viewers are thinking the same thing. Ultimately, Spock's decision was out of protection for his Captain. It was in many respects an entirely selfless act purely engaged out of respect and compassion for his former and current Captain despite having to resort to extreme measures.
The real Mendez releases a statement from Starbase 11 that Spock's actions will not be deemed illegal and thus his life shall be spared. All actions taken on behalf of Pike are thereby granted and thus all charges under guiding principles of General Order 7 concerning contact with Talos IV are thereby suspended.
Kirk asks Christopher Pike if he wishes to leave for Talos IV to which he replies in the affirmative. Kirk empowers Pike with an act of choice and free will in his final screen moments. The moment is extraordinarily tender. It is in this moment we would be remiss not mention, like Spock, Kirk, too, exemplifies great range as a captain, a leader and a human being. The portrait of the Kirk character is also given tremendous depth.
With this option, Star Trek: TOS essentially creates a scenario tantamount to ascension explored in Stargate SG-1. Here the shedding of the physical earthly body still requires the physical body to exist in The Menagerie. The physical body must live to allow for the connection. Dr. Daniel Jackson, played by Michael Shanks, shed his physical vessel at the end of Season Five (Meridian) of Stargate SG-1 following exposure to a lethal dose of radiation. Jackson had to ascend and leave the physical self.
The relationship between Spock and Kirk continues to mature, demonstrate humor, love and respect as Season One of Star Trek: TOS continues to gradually build unforced upon its principals and the natural chemistry between them.
Despite the utter impossibility of Spock and Pike making it to the transporter room and beaming down to Talos IV mere moments after Spock's exchange with Kirk, the Talosians beam images of Pike holding hands with Vina on Talos IV back to Kirk. Of course, this could be the simple craft of Talosian illusion too - the gift of things to come. This leaves a remarkably happy ending to a fairly complex tale of science fiction illusion and reality. The final credits appear on the screen as Kirk looks to the viewing screen with a smile. The Menagerie Part II focuses almost entirely on the events of The Cage and Dr. Leonard Bones McCoy doesn't make the cut in this second portion. The second portion of The Menagerie lacks the thrilling motivational build of the first installment that focused on Spock and the dynamic of the new crew and thus I would tip my hand to favoring the first portion a touch more. Taken on the whole though, The Menagerie is a wonderfully penned, edited, performed sci-fi tale and one that never requires big explosions or major special effects spectacles. Can you imagine a story like The Menagerie today? Something this good might have to be deemed an illusion. They just don't make them like this anymore.
What is so remarkable about The Menagerie is how it endures through big ideas, exploration, the unknown, quiet contemplation. There are no cliched revenge proclamations to establish endless action sequences. The final image of Kirk in the court room of the Enterprise in Part I is sobering and striking in its audacity to present science fiction for the thinking man. The reason new Star Trek film incarnations will never rival the fine science fiction ideas of the past is simply because they are generally big, bold spectacle pictures disinterested in going where no man has gone before. The Menagerie is wonderfully plotted and thoughtful replete with aliens and alien ideas that are frighteningly intimate and strikingly real. There is empathy, misunderstanding and natural instincts for such concepts as freedom, survival and even the pursuit of happiness. Can you imagine such arcane ideas in play today? Star Trek: The Original Series was one of a kind and through The Menagerie Roddenberry wove a work of human splendor.
William Shatner recently told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette of the upcoming Star Trek: Into Darkness, "It doesn't have the story heart that the best of my Star Trek had," and while that remains to be seen as of this writing I suspect he may not be wrong. Still, Shatner is right about one thing, Star Trek: TOS, including The Menagerie, had heart in spades. There's absolutely no shortage of it and the new stuff will never touch it. All the explosions in the world will never distract from the empty shell of summer entertainment. That's just the reality of things. And the reality is science fiction of the caliber of Star Trek: TOS is ultimately becoming scarce and even more scant in the summer season.
Maybe Star Trek: TOS lacked the explosive thrills of today's technological nightmares, but it more than made up for the pomp and flash by thrilling the mind with vivid ideas and smart writing. Have we not become victims of our own technological successes in cinema today? Back in the 1960s, there was never a need for the spectacle of today's films and television, yet series like The Twilight Zone, Outer Limits and Star Trek: TOS endure because of story strength and depth of character. It was never about the effects and this is why those series are still heralded and played today. New Year's Day has traditionally seen the Sci-Fi Channel, excuse me, the SyFy Channel, run a day long marathon of The Twilight Zone. How many series come and go never to be heard from again. Sci-fi contemporaries may look good, but they don't necessarily have much to say with rare exceptions. We have truly distracted ourselves, enamored and duped by the wonders of technology in today's productions, which overwhelm the senses and good sense in general. I'm just hoping the new film is better than Transformers. That alone would mark something of a success in the summer of 2013. My apologies for pessimism and please let me temper it. I suppose if a film is slated for the summer we shouldn't expect The X-Files. Wait a minute, after all, the chance to believe is an option. It says something about why such material is so rare. It can be both though. Unfortunately, spectacle is what sells those summer tickets. Science fiction for the mind is something entirely different and many simply refuse to have the patience for it on the big screen.
Perhaps it's unfair to make the comparisons. Television and film are a bit like apples and oranges. What the folks behind Star Trek: Into Darkness [J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci] have done for television between Lost, Fringe and even Person Of Interest is certainly of the highest quality. I expect greater things to come. Expecting them to work the same miracles in two hours may be unfair, but it is possible. I continue to anticipate big things from these writers and producers, but perhaps a new TV series is in order for Star Trek. While I think the films should not be limited to action bonanzas, I'm not sure this is the perfect vehicle for the group when it cmes to Star Trek. I do hope that the Enterprise incident of the summer of 2013 that is Star Trek: Into Darkness will land a spot on my favorite films list one day, but Star Trek is philosophically a stronger vehicle on television. I fear with comparisons to the original ideals of Star Trek so well-articulated and produced for television, today, for theatres, may have me reciting for the world is hollow and I have touched the sky long ago. In the meantime, we have those classics to mine and enjoy on our shelves when we're looking for a little more depth with our entertainment. The Menagerie is a prime example of excellence in science fiction entertainment and the team behind the latest film have the ability. I'm just not sure they have the canvas. Roddenberry's classic was indeed the inspiration. And can you believe no one had to die? Fascinating.
The Menagerie Part II: A. Director: Robert Butler. Writer: Gene Roddenberry.
Dead Crewman: 0. Dead Crewman To Date: 10. Babe Alert: 0. Babe Alert To Date: 13.
Actress footnote: Meg Wyllie [1917-2002]. American born. The late, amazing Meg Wyllie enjoyed a pretty prosperous career in television. She appeared in The Twilight Zone, The Untouchables, Wagon Train, The Addams Family, Mister Ed, The Fugitive, Perry Mason, Lassie, Batman, Bewitched, The Courtship Of Eddie's Father, Gunsmoke, The Bob Newhart Show, General Hospital, Emergency!, Charlie's Angels, The Love Boat, Eight Is Enough, Benson, Highway to Heaven, The Facts of Life, Family Ties, Who's The Boss, Designing Women, Night Court, The Golden Girls and Mad About You. And that my friends is just a portion of her credits.