Saturday, July 19, 2008

George Takei and Star Trek 

As I mentioned several weeks ago now (at the end of this post), actor George Takei, famed for his role as Lt. Sulu in the original Star Trek TV series, appeared at the rocket-engine factory where I work in the Los Angeles suburbs for a lunchtime speech in celebration of the company's recognition of 'Gay pride' month -- Takei (here's his Wikipedia entry) being a prominent actor who recently 'came out' and whose association with the most famous SF TV series ever being especially apropos to our line of work.

Takei looks great for being 71 and spoke powerfully in a rotund voice for well over half an hour, in a speech obviously prewritten but dramatically delivered without notes, about his childhood in Los Angeles and in Japanese internment camps during World War II, in Arkansas and northern California, and how that experience as a less than full citizen related to the ideal of American freedom and liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all, and his current experience as a gay man faced with legal barriers to full recognition of his long-time companion for over 20 years -- with whom, coincidentally concerning my company's arrangement to have him come speak, he had just taken out a marriage license, following California's Supreme Court ruling allowing same sex marriages.

Following that appearance I dug out my copy of his autobiography, To the Stars, published way back in 1994, and read it. The book was published long before Takei 'came out' and so focused on his childhood and acting career without any description of his personal life. I was enlightened to learn of his early roles in films alongside the likes of Richard Burton and John Wayne, and amused by the recurrent Star Trek theme of William Shatner constantly hogging directors' attentions and having camera angles repositioned on himself to the detriment of other actors in the scene. Still, Takei's own recurring attempts to expand the role of Sulu in the feature films that followed the TV series, to the point of suggesting scenes with Sulu wielding that rapier as in the famous scene from "The Naked Time", didn't strike me as all that much different. Just less successful.

I'll also mention that Takei's book is written in a similarly rhetorical style as his speech -- expansive, with too many adjectives and adverbs for normal prose, though perhaps appropriate for inspirational delivery. It's heartfelt, and sincere.

I should also mention at this point, even more belatedly, the episode of Star Trek: New Voyages that Takei guest-starred in, "World Enough and Time", co-written and directed by Marc Scott Zicree, who was kind enough a couple months ago to send me a DVD copy of the episode, in recognition of its nomination for this year's Nebula Awards (though it didn't win) and Hugo Awards (results to be announced in about 3 weeks). The series is a recreation of the original Star Trek, with amateur actors playing the roles of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, et al, with production values, given the advances of 40 years, that impressively outstrip the original show. For anyone with an interest in Trek (even if like me you haven't kept up on the last couple TV series or movies) it's worth checking out. I can't say much for the amateur actors -- compared to them, George Takei is especially impressive, as is the actress playing his daughter -- but the script is expert, a clever time-travel story in which the young Sulu is lost in an alternate universe and returns after decades of local time -- now played by Takei -- to the early Enterprise. It's downloadable here. It's a worthy Hugo nominee, and even though I haven't seen any of the other nominees in its category... would not be an unworthy winner.
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Mark R. Kelly

The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Mark R. Kelly, and do not reflect the editorial position of Locus Magazine.
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