Bayside resident Mark Metcalf is an actor who has worked in movies, TV and on the stage. He is best known for his work in "Animal House," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Seinfeld."
In addition to his work on screen, Metcalf is involved with Milwaukee Film, First Stage Children's Theater and a number of other projects, including comicwonder.com.
He also finds time to write about movies for OnMilwaukee.com. This week, Metcalf weighs in on "Star Trek."
STAR TREK (2009)
I have never been a big "Star Trek" fan. It's not that I am against it, I'm just not a fan, don't know much about it, in any of its many incarnations, and often develop a glazed look in my eye when confronted with someone who does know about it.
From the original "Star Trek," which lasted, I think, three seasons, to "Generations," "Deep Space Nine," "Voyager," and then "Enterprise" on television, through all the movies, of which there must have been at least 10, I think I can honestly say I have seen maybe two episodes of the original and nothing else.
I know it is probably a serious void in my education, but, as I have often said about popular music, "I haven't paid much attention since Beethoven died." The same may be said of space movies. Since "2001: A Space Odyssey," I'd almost rather go get root canal than watch something that takes place where you can't go outside unless you put on a suit with a helmet.
But I went and I watched "Star Trek." I thought I might expand my son's horizons a bit beyond Star Wars and I had heard from Trekkie and non-Trekkies alike that it was a great film. Now, I want to go back and rent all the series and watch them in order to fill myself up with the infinite universe of knowledge that is "Star Trek." I acted in a two episode arc of "Star Trek: Voyager" and was amazed at the depth and detail of the back-story of that universe, most of which seemed to be known by every crewmember and regular cast member. I was wearing about fifty pounds of foam body makeup as a Hirogen Medic, so I didn't pay very much attention.
This film is one of many prequels that have come out of the popular literature of films lately: "Batman Begins," "Casino Royale," which quite successfully brought James Bond out of the late ‘50s and into a contemporary universe, the recent "Terminator Salvation," which is about the future but happens before the first "Terminator," which took place in 1984 (figure that one out), "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," which seems to threaten a never ending series of films about all the X-Men characters and where they came from, even "Enterprise," the last of the Star Trek television series, which went back to the beginnings of the journey, and "Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Beginning," which was a prequel to the re-make of the original.
All of these go back to the beginnings and pick up and unite threads of stories and start anew with the aid of all the special effects that filmmakers now have at their disposal, with new, more vigorous acting styles, and with the freedom to re-imagine the core styles of the stories themselves. Much of the time, it feels as though the only reason for these films to exist is to make money for people without an original idea in their heads, but occasionally someone is able to re-invent the wheel and it runs better. This is the case with "Star Trek: The Future Begins."
As much fun as William Shatner is as a spokesperson, he was stiff and over-earnest in the role of the Captain of the Starship Enterprise. This new Kirk is as flawed, arrogant, smart, courageous and tortured and the old one was bland and uninteresting. The director, actor and writer are almost aggressively bold in their efforts to remake Kirk.
They are also able to bring back Leonard Nimoy as Spock. At the time of the original series, Nimoy was an actor of unusual gravitas with a voice to match. He was able to play that on the razor's edge of comedy and drama. He has retained that seriousness and the twinkle in his eye is wiser now for having lived through the last 43 years with Spock as his doppelganger. He is there not just in the "old-actor-dropped-into-the-film-to-reward-some-of-the-old-fans" part, but plays a pivotal role and teaches the film how to enjoy time as it folds around on itself.
Spock Prime, as he is called, even has the nerve to show up in the last scene with himself as a younger man from another reality to tie up loose ends and to reassure us with his grandfatherly wisdom that, even though this seems to be a new beginning, some of the knowledge of the ancients will be guide us -- if, or when, we need it.
The filmmakers are having so much fun playing with time and with the history of their own pop-culture that I found it very difficult to remain a detached observer. I wanted to go down and sit with the people who were laughing very loudly at strange times, but at times that told me that they were old and knowledgeable fans. I have since been caught up on some of what I missed and will now return to see it again with greater access to what's going on.
Don't get me wrong, there is so much to get even if you know nothing. The special effects are wonderful. The performances are generally gregarious and fun, with Simon Pegg a standout as Montgomery Scott. The production design somehow manages to honor the original cheesiness of the costumes and inexpensive sets while at the same time making it all seem lived in and real and spectacular at the same time, without ever becoming a cartoon of itself.
At so many levels, this film is a success and deserves the sensation it created at the box office.
Mark Metcalf is an actor and owner of Libby Montana restaurant in Mequon. Still active in Milwaukee theater, he's best known for his roles as Neidermeyer in "Animal House" and as The Maestro on "Seinfeld."
Originally from New Jersey, Metcalf now lives in Bayside.