Saturday, February 28, 2015

Remembering Spock: Horner and The Genesis Effect

The passing of Leonard Nimoy affected me, but the truth of the matter is that I really didn’t know him. I knew Spock. By the time I was aware enough to enjoy Star Trek, it had already been cancelled for nearly a decade. Like a lot of kids in the late 70s, however, I became a dedicated fan of the show while it was in syndication. The original run only had three seasons of episodes, but I feel like my father and I watched a lot more than that. I played with the bridge playset that had the spinning transporter, and I climbed in trees with pretend communicators. I liked all the characters on the show, but Spock was the one that I really, really loved.

But Nimoy was not Spock. I still think it’s weird to see pictures of Nimoy out of character, smiling and laughing off-camera while in costume. By his nature, Spock was destined to be wooden and soulless, but Nimoy’s rendering was the exact opposite. It was his belief in the character that brought Spock to life, and the commentary that he made on the human condition in the following decades made Spock more than a fan favorite. It made him a cultural icon.

The original series was where I came to love Spock, and when I think of him I remember him in that black and blue uniform (or was it white and gold.....I can't ever tell). In the decades that followed, however, the Star Trek universe expanded far, far beyond its original late 60s run, starting with its move to the big screen. Even the most dedicated fan of the franchise will admit that the Star Trek movies were uneven, but many will also agree that The Wrath of Khan was one of the best. In fact, The Wrath of Khan was so great that it arguably saved the entire franchise after a rocky cinematic start.

The Wrath of Khan soundtrack was also a breakthrough in James Horner’s career. Any science fiction movie that came out around this time had to size up to John Williams at the height of his thematic powers, and The Wrath of Khan succeeds admirably in this regard.  Last year, I appropriated the music from a memorable scene in the film as Iceman’s theme for the Superhero Theme Project, and it evolved into one of the favorite tracks on the playlist for both of us.

I came to appreciate Enterprise Clears Moorings as a freestanding piece so much that I purchased the full soundtrack in the late fall and have had it in regular rotation for several months. The soundtrack vividly brings moments of the movie back to life, but it also stands very well on its own. Like its attendant movie, it is one of the strongest and most distinctive soundtracks in the franchise’s long history.

The Wrath of Khan also features a defining moment for Spock. To save the ship and its crew, he memorably sacrifices himself in a bath of invisible radiation. On his deathbed, he expresses his love and admiration for Kirk in an inimitable fashion. For those that grew up with the character, this scene is probably the most emotionally gut-wrenching in the entirety of Star Trek’s history. The effectiveness of this scene comes not just from Spock’s imminent death, nor from the viewer’s investment in the character. It comes from the commentary that it provides on two ubiquitous characteristics of humanity – friendship and mortality. This message is brought to life through the passionate eloquence of Nimoy’s performance.

Of course, Spock did not stay dead. His body was reanimated along with the planet that it was laid to rest on, and the sequel, which was directed by Nimoy, only emphasized further the importance of Spock to the Star Trek mythos.  Admittedly, by the early 80s, Nimoy was typecast. He probably could not have been accepted as any other character, and his career would depend on him keeping the character alive. I like to think, however, that he did not continue to play Spock only because it continued to extend his career, but because he continued to see Spock’s relevance.

Certainly, we all believed in Spock, even until the very end. The fans have lost several actors from the original series, but the loss of Nimoy was particularly unsettling. It’s hard to imagine a world without him. For those of us who like to believe, however, there does not have to be an end. An hour before I saw the first announcement of Nimoy’s passing, this clip caught my attention.

People have lots of wild ideas about what these spots on Ceres might be. In reality, I don’t know, either. The timing of their appearance, however, allows me to indulge in the idea that it might be Nimoy, bathed in the glow of the Genesis Effect and waving at the probe as it goes by. Perhaps we should go find him. I think it’s what he would want.

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