To Be Taken by Takei

DATELINE: Across Culture and Sexual Stereotypes

George pulls an Errol Flynn Moment on Star Trek!

You have known him as the original Sulu on Star Trek since 1966. George Takei is as familiar as an old shoe. His autobio- documentary is To Be Takei.

Yet, his life is both moving and horrifying. As a child he was sent to several Japanese camps in Arkansas because his family was deemed disloyal and dangerous. He was subjected to an American concentration camp—and though embittered, never let it ruin his life.

Howard Stern’s radio program gave him a voice outside his acting—and made him an activist in the gay rights scene. He was in the closet until 2005 when he charged out and married his 20-year companion Brad Altman.

The little bio is filled with clips of his performances—from Twilight Zone to Rodan (voice-over) to costarring with John Wayne in The Green Berets. His family supported his acting career, but felt he would be typecast and given limited roles. He appears to have transcended the Asian stereotype while becoming the new Franklin Pangborn.

There are surprises, of course: Leonard Nimoy genuinely liked and respected him—and the animosity between Takei and Shatner is beyond uncomfortable. We don’t know what put these two into feud mode, but there it is in this film at every turn.

If the life-story tends to focus considerably on his life partner, it is understandable—as they fought for gay marriage in California. They ran into hostile people like Schwarzenegger, but George also won over Ronald Reagan to win restitution for the Japanese Americans who suffered in camps during World War II.

His busy life continues with no end in sight. To be Takei is to be a show biz dynamo/dreidel. He continues to spin and provide everyone with a big charge.

 

 

 

 

The Captains of Star Trek

DATELINE: No Vanity from Shatner!

man in box

When first we saw that William Shatner had produced, written, and directed a movie documentary about the five captains of the Star Trek franchise, we suspected vanity. He calls it The Captains, putting himself into a stew with the others.

How wrong we were about the ego of Captain Kirk’s acting creator. Shatner’s touching and delightful film shows what an erudite, generous, kind man he is. Each conversation with one of his successors in the Star Trek world is careful and insightful.

He talks to Scott Bakula, Sir Patrick Stewart, Kate Mulgrew, Avery Brooks, and Chris Pine.  He genuinely likes these actors and respects their opinions.

Also around are those who were part of the franchise like Jonathan Frakes (The Next Generation) and even his old friend Christopher Plummer (from The Undiscovered Country, Star Trek VI). Shatner understudied Plummer in Henry V on stage at the beginning of their careers! 

Obvious questions were on Shatner’s mind in a personal way, and he turned it around to find out if playing a Star Fleet captain had an impact on the personal life of the actors. It deals with divorce to mortality. Of course, it is big.

Shatner notes how he might have been embarrassed to leave serious classic acting to do Star Trek, and how often he was denigrated for his work. Yet, talking to the other stars, he becomes more aware of why playing a leader required an attitude.

In the meantime, he shows humor and expresses insight into his own career. There are even clips of him, as a blond in the mid-1950s playing Billy Budd on Canadian TV.

He learns that every star suffered 16-hour work days on the series and movies, and that it had a devastating toll on their personal lives and children.

Yet, this is not a downbeat story: Shatner has come to revel in his role as Captain Kirk, not always something he could claim. Each actor he speaks with shares personal feelings that elicit a growth in Shatner on the screen.

What a marvelous little film, even if you may not have seen some of the Star Trek oeuvre, there is much to savor here.

 

 

Ancient Aliens Bring Captain Kirk Aboard

DATELINE: Von Daniken Beamed UP 13.14

shat Shat Upon Sagan!

It was inevitable. As 2019 starts a new special, Ancient Aliens Season 13, episode 14, brings in the most ancient astronaut of TV fame: there is William Shatner giving advice to Giorgio and the crew.

You have to love it. This is a special edition for sure. Cross-pollination is one of History Channel’s favorite Venerable Bede compliments. There is no one from outer space more ancient than Shatner. Where has he been for a 100 other episodes?

The reason for his appearance is to honor Erich Von Daniken. In 1976 Shatner made a movie called Mysteries of the Gods, which adapted more or less from one of Daniken’s books. Hence, the honor from History Channel. Clips of young Shatner appear, but no mention comes of Leonard Nimoy’s series In Search of…, which History is also remaking with the new Spock, Zachary Quinto.

The two-hour special is meant to be homage to Von Daniken’s amazing career since the 1960s when he burst onto the scene with his outlandish theories. We read Chariots of the Gods in 1968, before most the guests on this special were born.

We recall being surprised and more than a little confused as to why no one else had seen what the author revealed. It was mind-boggling, but then again so was 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Now, he has more credibility than Carl Sagan. Indeed, the special has a clip of Sagan looking pathetic, attacking the notion of Ancient Aliens. Today, if the astronomer were still alive, he’d be ripe to serve as Trump’s Acting Ambassador to Mars.

The show manages to catalogue all the movies, TV shows, and other documentaries that had direct influence from Von Daniken: they also admit that Arthur Clarke and Stanley Kubrick slightly preceded him.

Von Daniken reveals his Jesuit education that influenced him, and he also discusses how his background in hotel management ruined him with academics and their Ph.D.-union card prejudice.

As one with a doctorate, we feel as do some NASA people and Dr. Travis Taylor, that lack of degree means nothing when it comes to creative minds.

This latest entry seems a premature obit for Erich Von Daniken, or eulogy in anticipation. It does not detract from his remarkable veracity.

Star Trek Docs

DATELINE: STARDATE 50, Vulcan Not Romulan vulcan-not-romulan

With the 50th anniversary of the immortal TV series Star Trek occurring on this month of September, there have been several documentaries trying to honor and explain the phenomenon.

One was a complete catastrophe from History channel. It featured a panel of non-experts with insipid commentaries and personal anecdotes pertaining to nothing. There were a few interviews with the new movie series stars, but nothing really of some consequence except for Leonard Nimoy’s final interview.

On the other hand, the Smithsonian channel came up with a brilliant stroke. They gathered together historical restorers from two sources: one at the Smithsonian aerospace museum and another at a pop culture museum in Seattle.

Their missions were to restore the original 11-foot model of Star Trek Enterprise that had fallen into great disrepair. With loving and respectful talents, they treated the venerable old icon like some holy grail relic that rightfully inspired several, not just the Next, generations.

The second museum wanted to create re-create the bridge of Star Trek with the original props, including Kirk’s captain chair, no mean feat 50 years later when only a few collectors on a few precious models of tricorders, phasers, and communicators.

Interspersed with film clips from the original series including many of Spock saying,  “Fascinating.” This documentary included actual scientists were influenced by the show. Astronauts, engineers, and medical people now bring to reality the science fiction of yore.

Indeed, there is a contest to create a genuine medical tri-corder. Another scientist is working on the warp drive. Another on tractor beams.

We found only one error in the documentary. In a sequence about cloaking devices and invisibility shields, they used a photograph of a Romulan. It was unfortunately a photograph of Mark Lenard, the actor who played a Vulcan ambassador and (most importantly) played Spock’s father. We can forgive this minor flub. The Smithsonian documentary, entitled “Building Star Trek,” was a marvel to behold.