Sunday I saw Superman: The Movie in the theater for the second time. The first time was the year it came out—1978. It was December. I was 13. I was there with my best friend, and we had both been reading about the production of the film for a couple of years in special update pages in the back of every issue of DC Comics. Some lucky kids about our age had won cameo appearances in the film, the result of a much-ballyhooed contest. At that point in my life, I had only seen about a dozen films in the theater. This one was a big deal.
I loved the complexity of Superman’s mythos—the exotic world of his birth, the bottle city of Kandor, a miniaturized piece of his home, the various colors of kryptonite and the various effects they had on him, the kick-ass supporting cast that surrounded him—Ma and Pa Kent, Lana Lang, Pete Ross, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, his cousin Supergirl, his pet Krypto, the Super-Dog. This film was only a small, two-hour slice of comic book life brought to the screen, but it was the biggest, boldest attempt ever to do so. And, unlike other live action super hero fare that had come before it, it did not insult the character by camping him up, and it did not make him more mundane in order to fit into “the real world.” (I’m looking at you, TV’s Incredible Hulk!)
At 13, Superman: The Movie stoked my imagination, which was already in thrall to comic books.
At 53, Superman: The Movie, made me, with tears in my eyes, come to terms with a very simple truth:
I’ve written about Lost Horizon before. The 1937 film is one of my favorite movies. Recently, more than one person has commented to me that they love the film too, and then they’ve ruminated on how adorably dashing Michael York was in the 1970s.
Well, agreed, Michael York was adorably dashing in the 1970s. But Michael York, who was born in 1942, was understandably not involved in the 1937 Frank Capra adaptation of James Hilton’s bestseller, Lost Horizon. A lot of people my age were first exposed to the story as a result of Ross Hunter’s lamentable remake in 1973. That version of the film was a musical, which songs by the legendary Burt Bacharach. This film contributed little to his legend. Interestingly, though, the people my age who saw it—most likely its mid-70s TV airing on NBC’s The Big Event—seem to share the experience of not only thinking they saw the original, but of utterly (and thankfully) forgetting that the picture was a musical. I include myself in that number. I had no idea I had not seen Capra’s version until I saw Capra’s version. To be fair, the 1973 film is virtually a shot-by-shot remake of the original until the kidnapped party’s plane crashed in the Himalayas. No one sings until the party arrives at Shangri La, the lamasery in the hidden Valley of the Blue Moon, where the snows never fall, the chill mountain winds do not blow, and human beings live centuries without aging. (If you are a fan of the musical, take heart in the fact that I not only own the soundtrack album, I’ve actually listened to it.)
(Read Part One if you have not)
Penthesilea, the world on which Night of the Twin Moons is set, is a female-led culture. The name of the planet suggests that, if you know your mythology. Penthesilea was a queen of the Amazons, sister to the more-familiar Hippolyte, whom she had killed in a hunting accident, making her queen. In Greek myth, the Amazons were not, like Wonder Woman’s Amazons, women who lived without men on an island. They were warrior women who dominated their timid husbands, lopped off one of their breasts to make them better archers, and lived in the city-state of Themiscyra.
Lorrah’s Penthesileans are likewise women who dominate their men, with the added wrinkle that there is a tremendous IQ differential between the women and the men, with few of the men being of even average intelligence, compared to humans, while the women’s intellects are comparable to those of earth people, or even Vulcans. The women therefore use men for breeding, swap men, retire (and castrate) men when they become too old to be attractive. It is heresy on Penthesilea to even suggest that a man could be as intelligent as a woman. Men are, essentially, livestock. Indeed, “one man” is a unit of currency. But Penthesileans are not Amazons, for the very simple reason that they are not warriors. War has never occurred on their world, because there is literally no competition between the sexes, and the choosing of a mate is so well regulated that there is no jealousy.
Into this unusual paradise comes the Starship Enterprise, on a diplomatic mission to negotiate rights for the planet’s dilithium resources. Two big challenges are evident: One, the ambassador has to be female, since Penthesileans don’t believe men can think: two, the Penthesileans expect, if trade is to be opened with the Federation, to be paid in men.
Time was Star Trek books were very different from what fans have known for the past 37 years. The novels were not carefully reviewed by Paramount licensing for accuracy and continuity. They were not written by people who were Star Trek fans and knew every episode by heart. They were science fiction novels by professional science fiction authors who had no previous tie to the series, and the stories they produced bore little resemblance to the TV show whose title graced the books’ covers.
In April, 1976, when Jean Lorrah first published Night of the Twin Moons, there had been only a single original Star Trek novel published. It was Spock Must Die! By James Blish, the veteran SF author who had thus far novelized 71 episodes of the original series, making Trek the first TV series in history to have (almost) all of its episodes turned into prose stories. (Blish never novelized the Kirk-era parts of “The Menagerie,” although he did novelize the original pilot episode, “The Cage.”)
These two images are from the latest issue of DC Comics’s Doomsday Clock. They especially resonated with me for a couple of reasons. In the first, three bullies have accosted a young girl, the daughter of an immigrant puppeteer in New York City (or is it Gotham City?). The girl, Erika, is walking with one of her father’s marionettes when the bullies approach and confiscate her toy.
The lead bully insults Erika’s father and asks what kind of grown man plays with toys. In the second panel, the same bully concludes that the puppeteer must be a child molester. This is common thinking amongst the ill-bred and under-educated: if someone is different in some way—any way—they probably molest little kids.
Seeing “Wrath of Khan” again, and remembering the feelings it kindled in me, made me realize what a comedown I was in store for as a fan. These young characters whom I cheered in this film would not survive the next one. My old friends would not be allowed to grow as real people do. I could not help reflecting how sad it was for Sulu, Uhura, Chekov, Saavik and David that we would never see adventures in which they were the heroes. (I’m talking about in the course of televised and movie Trek, here. I’m aware that they all have had their moments in licensed fiction. I wrote some of those moments!)
What I wanted, what I expected, in 1982 was to see Star Trek both live and grow. To see Kirk continue to age, and teach me how to age, while finding purpose in his life. To see Saavik and David become mature adults. To see Sulu, Chekov and Uhura promoted, instead of stuck in jobs fit for junior officers. I wanted to see more.
Star Trek – The Next Generation was not that. It was set 78 years later so that its creators could rule out the need to have to address what happened to the original characters. It was something called “Star Trek,” but it was not a continuation of the original crew’s adventures. It was a reboot, and it was a reboot so hog-tied by what came before that, despite its amazing popularity, it never knew what the hell it really was as a show. Continue reading
“David and Saavik – Shooting Stars – Part 2” will not be seen tonight, so that we may bring you the following special FIAWOL presentation.
Drawing a line in the sand is popular right now. We like to know who’s like us and who isn’t. Who can be trusted and who can’t. Who’s in our tribe, and who’s an evil outsider who needs to be kicked to the curb. So we draw a line in the sand and ask those like us to stand on our side of it. We go on Facebook and say, “If you don’t agree with me that drinking Green Kool-Aid is a hate crime, you are what is wrong with the world, unfriend me now, you are dead to me. Oh, and thanks for electing Trump.”
Silly, right? Well here’s my line in the sand: If you approve of James Gunn losing his job because he made jokes on Twitter years ago, then you are what’s wrong with the world, I don’t trust you, and you are clearly not of my tribe.
A few Wednesdays ago now, I went to the Lyric Opera House with family and friends to see Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan on the big screen. I had last seen it thus-presented back in 1982, when it was released. I believe it was the first movie I ever returned to the theater to see more than once, because it was just that good. (For a lot of people, that movie was Star Wars. Not for me. I was a Trek kid.) The screening of the film was followed by a Q&A with William Shatner, MC’d by my friend Bob Greenberger. (Who may someday forget that he was on stage with Bill Shatner for an hour, but not any day soon.)
Shatner’s presence was a good thing, because the audio on the film was terrible. Kinda disappointing in a hall where people go to hear live musical performances.
Terrible episode, right? If you’re of a generation of fan that doesn’t recognize any Star Trek quote other than, “Khaaaaaaaannnnnn!!!”, I’ll explain.
Gene Roddenberry, aka the Great Bird of the Galaxy, creator of Star Trek, developed a script early on in the production of Trek—so early that it was a contender for the show’s famed second pilot episode—called “The Omega Glory.” The premise was that there was a planet of two primitive, but apparently immortal, tribes of people called the Yangs and the Kohms. They had a hereditary feud. The Kohms presented as basically civilized, the Yangs were mute and apparently savage.
They were mute, that is, until Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, imprisoned with two Yangs, mentioned that they needed to somehow attain their freedom.
“Freedom?” said the big, male, mute, shocking the two Starfleet officers. “Freedom?” And, as above, he told the outworlders that they were not to use the sacred word.
Few fans of science fiction do not remember the moment in Star Wars when Luke Skywalker enters the cantina at Mos Eisley, accompanied by C3PO and R2D2 and is told “We don’t serve their kind.” Luke is confused, and the barman explains that ‘droids are not wanted in his establishment. So the ‘droids glumly go to wait outside while Luke and Obi Wan meet Han Solo.
Nothing else happens related to this incident. The hateful behavior of the barman is not addressed. We’re left to assume, I suppose, that someone is always at the bottom rung of the social ladder, and such people are always discriminated against. In the Star Wars universe, those disenfranchised people are ‘droids. The moment stands that hate is a fact of life.