Cheap Trek?

Q. How many tribbles in the quadro-triticale?

A: 1,771,561

Star Trek trivia quiz, circa 1975, '76, '77...

STIAWOL. Stee-ah-wol. Star Trek Is A Way Of Life. It was a television program that boldy went where no T.V. program had gone before: into a bizarre space-time continuum that social scientists termed a subculture, style writers called a fad, pop-culture analysts hailed as a phenomenon, and Time Magazine, in its wisdom, dismissed as a "cult vogue of the half-educated."

Like an insidious alien spore spreading outward into the unsuspecting countryside from a crashed alien spaceship, it infested the land. Letters flooded in. Clubs sprang up. "Fanzines"--mimeographed, dittoed, hand cranked publications filled with anything remotely Trek-inspired followed. Then came conventions: panels, huckster-rooms filled with interstellar trinkets and Federation paraphernalia, speeches by the high priests of Trekdom, trivia quizzes and singalongs and most important, the inevitable all-night parties, frequently featuring "Blog," a rare nectar imported to Holiday Inns and Sheratons across Nielsen-land by the viciously mercantilistic spice barons of Aldebaron IV. And whenever the fans met (for ten solar cycles), they gathered on weekends in huddled masses in dimly-lit hotel corridors. partying, discussing, earnestly analyzing, wearing garish buttons and proclaiming their bizarre beliefs before wearied maids, bellhops and addled television producers. And later they went home and cranked out massive tomes on "The Societal Implications of the Vulcan Ethic." Nightly, or biweekly, or weekly, they sat in front of their tubes staring transfixed at the images of their devotion. And always in their heart of hearts they prayed for one thing: The Return. With Star Trek: The Motion Picture, they got it.


But what have they got? Let's start at the beginning of Western civilization. First came Sumeria. Then Star Trek. On September 8, 1966, after four million years of cranial evolution, man (and Desilu Studios) produced a television series about "Space, The Final Frontier," an NBC show featuring a starship called the USS Enterprise that could on a good night travel quite a few times faster than the speed of light, and a crew of 430 human and other beings ("carbon-based units" as they came to be called) determined to "explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations: to boldly go where no man has gone before."

The impetus for Star Trek came from Gene Roddenberry-- also known as "The Great Bird of the Galaxy"-- who first proposed the show to execs from all three networks back in 1964. Two years, two pilots and many hassles later, he had his series. Others had tried to bring science fiction to the screen, with little success.

Roddenberry assembled a talented production crew, and sought out some of the best science fiction writers around, men like Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison, Norman Spinrad, instead of relying on the usual hacks who specialized in cop shows and dumb westerns. At a cost of $200,000 for each episode, Star Trek at least strove for excellence and intelligence, if it came up short sometimes.

Commanding the finest star cruiser around, Captain James Tiberius Kirk (William Shatner, serial number SC 937-0176) spread Truth, Justice and The American Way through the galaxy. A native of Iowa, the good captain spent most of his time on the bridge of the Enterprise, barking orders, gazing in awe at some celestial wonder, outwitting foes, and saving the universe at least once every few months. He loved power, women, and most of all, his ship.

Kirk's counterpart, Lieutenant Commander Spock (Leonard Nimoy), prized cold logic. Half-human, half pointy-eared green-blooded native of the planet Vulcan, the ship's science officer delighted in complex calculation, excelled at the mystical mindmeld and the mundane "Spock pinch," and continually confronted the fluctuations of Kirk's human emotions with rigorous Vulcan rationality. Even though he often sparred verbally and physically, with Kirk and Leonard "Bones" McCoy (DeForest Kelley), the crusty old ship's surgeon from Georgia, Spock demonstrated that his heart was in the right place (about where the liver is in humans).

A smorgasbord of stereotypes completed the regular line-up. Montgomery "Scotty" Scott (James Doohan), the very Scottish chief engineer, spent his time keeping the warp engines, deflector shields and other technological marvels of the ship in working order. On the bridge, Uhura (Michelle Nichols), the Swahili communications officer, handled the subspace radio, pushed buttons and uttered memorable lines like "There's no response, sir" and "I'm afraid, Captain."

The helmsmen were Sulu (George Takei), the Asian sword-fighter responsible for firing phasers and photon torpedos and wiping people off the face of the galaxy and Ensign Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig), the young Russian hipnik who drank "wodka inwented by a little old lady from Leningrad" and fell in love every three episodes. Finally, chief nurse Christine Chapel (Majel Barrett Roddenberry) drooled over Spock.

For years these intrepid Seekers of the Universe vanquished Klingons and Romulans before falling to the Ultimate Enemy, the Horribly Competitive Ratings War of 1968. At the end of the 1968-69 viewing season, NBC executives officially cut the Enterprise's "five-year mission" down to three years, and dropped the show from the network schedule.

All seemed lost. The sets came down, the actors disbanded, the model of the Enterprise was put in safe storage. But ten years later, after massive amounts of wailing and gnashing of teeth on the part of Trekkies brought nothing but frustration until Star Wars showed that a science fiction movie could make money, lots of money, Star Trek returned.

When it finally became apparent that the trek was back on, the Trekkies and Trekkers greeted the news with mixed emotions. (For the uninitiated, Trekkies wear Spock ears, hound the actors for autographs, and faint if they see Leonard Nimoy in person. Trekkers publish fanzines and write doctoral theses on the show, hound the writers for autographs, and sneer when they mention Trekkies.) Both species were hopeful but anxious, afraid that a film flop would ruin the memory of the series.

Now, for better or worse, the movie's out, and initial response from both Trekdom and the outside world ("the mundanes") is ominous. When a True Trek Believer says "Well, maybe the sequel will be better" before the Enterprise even leaves dock, you know there are problems. The special effects beat the plot into submission. The dialogue is stilted, relegated to the role of filler between interminable shots of the Enterprise or "that...thing" which is threatening Earth. The actors are often mere props, going through the motions trying vainly to recapture long-lost glory, not given a chance to grow by a script that, sadly, never gets off the ground. And the ending...well, its been done before, better, on Star Trek, and for much, much less cash.

But regardless of the disppointment, Star Trek: The Motion Picture may cause, the memories of those epiphanous moments when the original series fulfilled its potential will Live Long and Prosper in the hearts and minds of Trekkers and Trekkies everywhere, even as reality intrudes and the inanity of it all overwhelms them.