Gene Roddenberry 1921–1991
(Born Eugene Roddenberry) American screenwriter and producer.
Roddenberry is best known as the creator/producer of the television series Star Trek. Although the show failed to produce high ratings, many critics felt that it did succeed in achieving a level of sophistication and thoughtfulness not commonly found on television. The series was awarded an Emmy, an international Hugo Award for outstanding science fiction writing, and the Image award from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In spite of this acclaim, NBC cancelled Star Trek after its third season. A relatively small but strong and vocal group immediately emerged to protest the network's move. This group's continued growth and energetic efforts to keep the show alive comprise one of the most interesting phenomena of recent popular culture.
Against the unfamiliar background of twenty-third century outer space, Star Trek explored such themes as equality, racism, sexism, and politics. Roddenberry feared that television in the 1960s might not be ready for such subjects and thus envisioned his series as a kind of "Trojan horse." He hoped that under the guise of relatively simple outer space adventure stories he might address meaningful, timely philosophical and moral questions. Many of Roddenberry's concerns are expressed through The Enterprise's Prime Directive, which is meant to steer the starship away from the war-torn past to a future of discovery, toleration, and brotherhood.
Although many critics lauded Star Trek, others termed it a melodramatic and cliche-ridden morality play. However, few deny that Roddenberry did at least conceive of a potentially dynamic and meaningful series.
Roddenberry's production of Star Trek—The Motion Picture received mixed reviews. Skeptics addressing this movie express the belief that, as with the series, Roddenberry is less an innovator and social conscience than a shrewd marketeer. Regardless, the extreme popularity of the series may indicate that parts of the television audience, especially young people, were touched by the message which Star Trek attempted to relay.
Robert Lewis Shayon
Star Trek is a space version of Wagon Train. There's the crew, there's the encountered. The problems arise now from the in-group, now from the out. The future is not without its counterpart of violence in the past and present. This ranges from good old-fashioned impaling on primitive spears to ridiculous duels in which characters throw electrical charges at one another through their fingertips. The series carries the usual bag of space-fiction hard and software—lasers, telepathy, time warps, etc. Countering the comic-strip values is the image of an integrated crew representing diverse races—albeit, the captain is an American, and the known space system seems to be under the benevolent hegemony of a Pax Americana.
No attempt is ever made to hypothecate any realistic prediction about political, economic, or social conditions: the encounters are all in a contextual vacuum. Still, the program does focus attention on the relations that humans may soon have with intelligent life on other planets….
If Star Trek could escape the gravitational pull of thin sensationalism, it could contribute to rational public thought about these fascinating matters, with bonuses, perhaps, in more intelligent behavior among humans. To keep open the possibility of such a contribution, the show should be kept on the air.
Robert Lewis Shayon, "The Interplanetary Spock,"...
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Star Trek neatly fulfils all of the requirements for a good TV series: a broad-based format allowing a wide variety of stories, an interesting hero, an unusual set of situations and confrontations, and the requirement of decisive and positive action from a protagonist whose job and training is to do just that.
Plus, Star Trek has … one added virtue …—it is a genre unto itself. And that makes it unique. (pp. 17-18)
From a dramatic point of view, Spock is a beautiful character—he is the perfect character to be the ship's Science Officer. His superior brain powers give him the ability to accurately handle the large amounts of information that are his responsibility. But the fact that he is the only Vulcan on an all-human ship sets up a host of internal pressures and conflicts. All around him are individuals flaunting their emotions—a disgusting display of fears, prejudices, loyalties and friendships. While the human part of him wants to react to this and yearns to express itself too, the Vulcan half must keep a continual tight control. (pp. 21-2)
In many respects, Dr. McCoy is diametrically the opposite of Spock. Just as Spock is responsible for the ship's "mind," McCoy is responsible for its "body."
McCoy cares about the people he treats—he cares about them as individuals and he treats them as such. He is very much an emotional being—not simply that he...
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JACQUELINE LICHTENBERG, SONDRA MARSHAK, and JOAN WINSTON
Star Trek gives us a glimpse of [the] future hurtling toward us at dizzying speed, and shows us the kind of men who will build that world, successfully cope with its challenges, and remain free of any nerve-shattering traumas from future shock. Weekly, they confront the inconceivable … and come safely to terms with it.
The cure for future shock is not less technology, but more. Science fiction shows us how it is possible to use that technology to confront a universe which is not basically inimical to human life, and to carve out a comfortable place to live there. (p. 92)
Star Trek's message is multifold. One part of that message embodied in Spock is conveyed by means of the fictionalist's indispensable tool: conflict. Spock is a classic conflict recipe.
Good action stories have clear-cut external conflicts—man against beast, man against nature, man against man; kill or be killed. Good psychological drama has internalized conflicts, such as man against his conscience, man against his own desires, man against irrationality—his own or that of others. Most literature today is either one or the other of these. Science fiction is usually both at once. In Spock, we have a classic s-f hero, in that he is the nexus of two integrated sets of conflicts, internal and external. But we are never told about these conflicts, we are shown them. (pp. 94-5)
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Wm. Blake Tyrrell
Star Trek is consistent but often childish science fiction, engaging but often belabored drama. (p. 711)
Star Trek never had high ratings; it did have in science fiction an intriguing format. By inventing a believable world, Star Trek provided the viewer with material for his own imagination. He could elaborate upon the sets and equipment, bandy arcane knowledge, even write his own scripts. That the format had the potential to involve the viewer beyond one hour each week is the initial basis for the phenomenon. Star Trek's format created a world alive, turning viewers into fans.
Gene Roddenberry, creator of the series, referred to it, if only in jest, as "'Wagon Train' to the stars," and the similarity between groups journeying toward the unknown is evident. Movement is a prominent motif of both Western and Star Trek where it is made visual in the flyby of the gliding starship. But the similarity goes deeper. The Western story is the only indigenous mythic narrative of the white American…. Since the publication in 1893 of Frederick J. Turner's essay "The Significance of the Frontier in American History," the dominant symbol of the Western myth has been the frontier. Star Trek views space as "the final frontier." Despite its format Star Trek is not speculative fiction in the way of written science fiction or even of Space 1999 in its first season. It is American...
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In Star Trek, Roddenberry made a universe where known must be brought into contact with the unknown, where drama is played out on the borderline between self-definition and self-annihilation. The great enterprise at stake is dramatizing our own encounters with the unknown and hence with the alien within ourselves, as well as the alien beyond. It is an evolutionary process like life.
Also, as in life, this process of encountering the unknown involves us with both the familiarity of the past and the foreignness of the future…. Spock the hybrid Vulcan-human can function as resident alien precisely because he is half human and can therefore dramatize the point of contact between the familiar and the foreign. Spock's foreignness, on the other hand, allows us to see—worked out in him and hence in ourselves—the relation between polarities usually seen as diametrically opposed in our human world…. Such tensions in Spock are dramatized on a larger scale in the encounters of the Enterprise with still more alien beings. Although familiar polarities establish the terms of the problems Spock and the Enterprise must cope with, they do not circumscribe the final outcome. Instead the dynamic tension between opposing forces animates both the characters and the episodes. The psyche of the viewer is stimulated in its own evolution by encountering these old polarities newly combined first of all in Spock, then in the...
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Star Trek appeals to us so much because Captain Kirk's story and Mr. Spock's story and the Enterprise's story is our story too….
The tales and people in the original seventy-nine Star Trek episodes "tell our story" because they address themselves to the common questions and hungers and experiences of life that all people of all times and places (including each of us) have ever lived through. (p. 20)
[Star Trek is] filled with eternal overtones, a series that links its viewers to people of both the future and the past, people who—like us—are concerned with eternal questions. (p. 21)
Star Trek gives us, better than any other modern-day visual expression, an awareness that a journey in search of something is what makes life worth living. (p. 38)
Star Trek, with its beautiful moving image of a purposeful journey (the Enterprise) and its ethereal setting of sky and space and flight, is a constant reminder to its viewers of that "deep longing for otherness" we all have. Some call it our need for transcendence, while others speak of religious experience; still others have not yet acknowledged this need, or speak of it hesitantly with words like Jim Kirk's: "at the risk of being called a mystic." Acknowledged or not, the hunger is there and the fact is that many people have begun their journeys from their spiritual vacuums into their...
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The problem of the alien is essential to every civilization, which inescapably defines itself in terms of what it is not. In American history the alien par excellence was the Indian. As Tyrrel points out in "Star Trek as Myth" there were two categories of Indians: "The noble warrior forever outside the white man's world" and the "sly, perfidious, fallen" Indian bound to the white man's world by that very fall. Translated into the world of Star Trek we have the Romulans who are "aggressive militaristic aliens … nonetheless … hard to hate" and the sly deceitful Klingons. From this initial point of similarity, however, Star Trek scripts do not continue with the usual anticipated attempts to destroy the alien…. Hatred and attempts at mutual destruction will lead only to an eternal hell. Familiar moral categories are used as points of departure for a new trajectory. The national disgust for the old ethic that demanded destruction of the evil alien in Viet Nam also left America without a viable concept of hero: Star Trek responds to the need for such an ideal: the character of Kirk overlaps with the dedicated man of action, the traditional ship's captain, while at the same time adding something new. He is at home with his emotions and can be almost moved to tears. Something new has been added to the categories of the past in order that we can move beyond them. Similarly Spock must be half human for us to appreciate his...
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"Star Trek—The Motion Picture" isn't as funny and inventive and energetic as "Star Wars." It isn't as beautiful and imaginative and obsessive as "2001," or as scary and lowdown as "Alien" (it isn't scary at all, in fact), and it isn't as touching as "Silent Running." But outer-space is a biggish territory, and there is plenty of room in it, I think, for a medium-range, medium-boring vehicle like this one, and although time aboard the Starship Enterprise at warpdrive speed often seems to pass more slowly than it should, Einstein did warn us about that. I enjoyed the trip.
Right at the outset, the Enterprise survives the most serious crisis of its mission, which is the tricky passage from a ten-years-gone television series and subsequent cult object into a movie spectacular—survives it easily, because Gene Roddenberry, who thought up and produced the television show and also has produced the movie, and the director, Robert Wise, have come up with a nifty analogue (the Galacto-Serv model) that does the job at once. (p. 167)
[Special effects] may be what we really come to outer-space movies for, and sometimes it is almost enough in itself. A more subtle usual ingredient, the overlay of metaphor, is missing in "Star Trek—The Motion Picture," and there is nothing in the picture that goes jangling around in our unconscious, either. What we are left with is some pretty familiar space talk…. and one of the hoariest of...
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[In Star Trek-The Motion Picture the] Enterprise once more flies off into the Unknown, adding a few new crew members, including a bald woman name Ilia whose entrance line—"My oath of celibacy is on record, Captain"—is surely some kind of cinematic landmark. After much backing and filling, that "alien object" [threatening the earth] is discovered to be a kind of living machine that is desperately unhappy because its life is barren of emotion. Its problem is solved when it mates with a member of the Enterprise crew (no, I am not making this up) and civilization as we know it survives to live another day.
Silly and pointless as this sounds, it really is no worse than any of the plots that made Star Trek all the rage on television. But what was passably entertaining on the small screen looks cretinous when blown up to theater size…. Equally off-putting is the film's air of pretension, its insufferable claim that it is saying something terribly meaningful about the human condition.
But what is most unforgivable of all is that this lifetime sleeping pill cost $44 million, making it the most expensive motion picture ever made. The film has more hardware than Sears and a lot of special effects, but they are hardly breathtaking: easily the greatest trick Star Trek performs is disposing of all those dollars without leaving a trace. (p. 53)
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If you've seen Star Trek—The Motion Picture …, then you already know that whatever else it may be (or may have aspired to be), what it is basically is just the most expensive episode of the TV series ever shown. How you feel about that depends, of course, on how much the original show meant to you, rather than on any specifically cinematic standards. Is it better than other movies derived from hit TV shows? Sure—but don't forget that the competition is headed by McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force….
Is it good science fiction? Yes and no. In terms of written SF it's certainly as mundane as can be, but in terms of film I'd have to say, grudgingly, that it's better than most. After all, since 2001, what has there been worth mentioning?…
The only sane way to evaluate the latest voyage of the USS Enterprise is to ask, simply, is it Star Trek? And the answer to that has to be an unqualified yes, which for my money makes the almost uniformly savage reviews the flick has had seem ridiculous. What were all those ignorant critics expecting, Ingmar Bergman with photon torpedoes?…
The real reason Star Trek became a worldwide phenomenon … is pathetically obvious: the damned thing was more consistently entertaining, on the most basic level, than any other American TV action series before or since. The characters related to each other in...
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Linda Ward Callaghan
The novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture does not have the depth of [Arthur C.] Clarke's 2001: a Space Odyssey … or Robert Heinlein's s-f but it has a ready audience and captures much of the film's mood. The premise is that an alien energy force is speeding toward Earth circa 2200 leaving destruction in its wake. If readers can accept the romantic contrivance that only the Starship Enterprise is capable enough and near enough to intercept the alien cloud, the balance of the events follow in an ordered fashion. Although the writing is not distinguished and much of the technical jargon seems forced in both dialogue and narration, Roddenberry has defined his characters and integrates several familiar Star Trek themes into the action to produce a solid adventure.
Linda Ward Callaghan, "Book Reviews: 'Star Trek: The Motion Picture'," in School Library Journal (reprinted from the May, 1980 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./ A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1980), Vol. 26, No. 9, May, 1980, p. 71.
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