Wednesday, September 13, 2006

To boldly cast where no director has gone before

Rumor has it that Shatner approves, and J.J. Abrams wants him, so Matt Damon may wind up playing Kirk in Abrams' re-fit of the original Star Trek.

Damon looks Shatnery enough in the face and jaw to me. He's a little too fit and trim, but then the movie's story is supposed to be taking place at the beginning of Kirk and Spock's career together, before the first episodes, before Kirk got into the habit of having the food synthesizer serve him cheesecake every night.

All that inter-species space sex probably gave him a ravenous case of the munchies.

If Damon's going to play Kirk, though, the story can't take place too far before. It can't be about Kirk and Spock meeting at Star Fleet Academy as was first reported. Damon is now older than William Shatner was when Star Trek premiered.

Hollywood used to have no problem with middle-aged actors and actresses playing college and high school students, but directors and producers have gotten better about that, probably because they've become more age-ist, though. Somebody out there thought it was a good idea to cast a then 22 year old Kate Bosworth to play a Lois Lane who is at least 35 in Superman Returns.

"Catherine Zeta-Jones as Lois Lane? Are you crazy? We've got to appeal to the kids! They don't want to see some old crone kissing Superman."

At any rate, I hope we won't see the likes of 49 year old Jimmy Stewart starring as a 25 year old Charles Lindbergh again.

Matt Damon, at 36, can get away with playing Jim Kirk at 30, but he is a six-inch layer of pancake make-up and and some extremely soft soft-focus away from getting away with playing Jamie Boy Kirk the 20 year old cadet.

Which is great news, if it's the case!

I wrote about this before, last April, in a post called When Kirk Met Spock. Having Kirk and Spock meet at Star Fleet Academy messes with the series timeline in a non-trivial way. (Yes, I know that's a silly thing to say when talking about a TV show.) I think it's pretty clear in the early episodes, at least through the first half of the first season, that Kirk and Spock didn't know each other very well. The implication was that they had only recently met, when Kirk took command of the Enterprise, where Spock was already a long-term member of the crew.

Spock appeared to be the outsider in the group that included Kirk, McCoy, Uhura, Scott, and Sulu, because they were the outsiders. The Enterprise was their new assignment.

If the new movie begins with Kirk assuming command, then the story can have fun with Kirk and Spock feeling each other out and stepping on each other's toes.

Spock should be constantly testing Kirk to see if he measures up to Spock's hero and first captain, Christopher Pike, while Kirk should be struggling to establish his authority, secure Spock's loyalty and approval, and make friends with his strange and aloof first officer.

The two young officers have a lot in common, as I wrote back in April: "Both are science nerds who for some reason have chosen to pursue military careers."

And, definitely in Spock's case, and possibly in Kirk's, their career choice was an act of rebellion against their father or father-figure. I'm thinking Kirk, like George Washington, was raised by his demanding older brother. He never mentions his parents, so they might have died when he was a kid. He admires his brother, Sam, the scientist, and is grieved by Sam's death, but he seems to have been estranged from Sam and his family. It seems likely that Sam wanted his kid brother to follow in his footsteps, while Kirk wanted to set himself up as his own man. At any rate, there's a reason Kirk is closer to a Vulcan than he is to any other human being, except McCoy.

By the way, McCoy can't be on board the Enterprise from the start, because, well, he wasn't. They'll have to pick him up a third of the way into the movie or so, unless we're to now think that the original ship's doctor was just filling in while McCoy was on an extended shore leave.

I'll buy that.

I won't buy it if the movie doesn't have Kirk and McCoy's friendship going back a long time. I like to think they met when Kirk was at the academy and he went to an off-base civilian doctor to get his first case of space clap cured.

McCoy is not a career military doctor. I used to think McCoy joined Star Fleet to get over his wife's death, but his bio at the official Star Trek website says he was divorced, so maybe he joined to get over a broken heart.

But, to get back to Damon as Kirk. Sure, why not?

Well, novelist and film critic, Amy Biancolli tells me why not.

Nothing against Damon. He's a smart actor and a handsome guy, two bottom-line requirements for the part. But he's too understated and tightly wound. He displays no willingness to overact. In his best roles (the Bourne films, for instance), he conveys intellectual self-questioning and a constant, gurgling undercurrent of neurosis...

But Kirk? James T. Swingin Cat in Calf-Boots Kirk? Not in a million light years.

To grok just how grievously wrong this casting would be, go back and watch William Shatner as the original JTK. Folks make sport of his Shat-a-tat phrasing ("Risk! Risk! Is. Our. Business!"), but the fact is the man had chops. In the show's three-season run he played an evil-Kirk alter-ego borne of a transporter accident. He played a tragic hero doomed to watch his lover die so the world would be free of Nazism. He played a crazy ex-girlfriend who stole his body in a fit of feminist pique (long story). He screamed, charmed, preached, cajoled, seduced, socked guts and sucked face with abandon.

Shatner could act the pants off of anybody, particularly any bodies with tinfoil bustiers and green hair teased to the heavens. Much of this might classify as overdoing it by twee modern standards, but a lot of it was just good old-fashioned theatrical emoting -- a trained Shakespearean aiming for the rafters. And why not? Ham-tastic roles require ham-tastic acting. They require fearlessness, ferocity and ripped yellow shirts.

Biancolli thinks Damon is too staid. She may be right.

At the Academy, Kirk passed himself off as a humorless, by the book, all work and no play grind, and probably played that role for his commanding officers as he moved up the rank. But he's a pirate, at heart. The original series was good at showing this. As Kirk became more sure of himself and more secure in his position he became more of a freebooter. It's possible that if the show had lasted another few seasons, by the end of its run, the Enterprise would have wound up a privateer, with Kirk battling it out with Star Fleet as often as with the Klingons.

You've got to figure that after they finally got him reined in, Star Fleet institued all sorts of Kirk Rules, most of which could be paraphrased like this:

If Kirk did it, it was wrong!

That would explain why when Picard's commanding the Enterprise D, his most daring and successful predecessor seems to have disappeared from the history books.

Biancolli has another actor in mind, someone she thinks would be much better at playing Kirk's roguish and reckless and outrageous and darker sides.

Christian Bale.

I agree. He'd be good. But suggesting him for a part is almost cheating, because Bale could play anybody in that crew. Think about it. He'd be good as Kirk, but he'd make a good Spock too, and a good McCoy, and a good Scotty, as well.

If they asked him, he could probably do Uhura.

Bale is obviously a very different type, but he's like Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart in that he's a leading man who without losing his star quality can fut a very wide range of personality types within his physical type.

Biancolli has some suggestions for the other main characters. She'd like to see Heath Ledger as Spock, for instance.

I'm not sure that's not the female in her rather than the Trekkie making that call, but ok.

Jason Lee as McCoy? Don't see it. I like Lee. But McCoy needs to be older than Spock and Kirk by a good ten years.

Tom Hanks'd be my choice.

You can read her article to see her choices for Scotty, Sulu, Uhura, and Chekhov, who won't be in the movie, because he didn't arrive onboard the Enterprise until the second season, but what the heck. If the plan is to start a whole new series of movies they can add Chekhov along the way.

Biancolli, by the way, thinks Damon would be better cast as as "Kirk's righteous and conflicted predecessor, Capt. Christopher Pike, played in the NBC series' first pilot by an austere Jeffrey Hunter."

I've always thought that a series based on Pike's adventures would be a great way to revive the franchise. Not only is Pike a compelling character, you'd have lead role for a woman, Pike's first officer, Number One, and you'd have a very young Spock who would have been having an even harder time controlling his emotions than his later self.

Remember that in the original pilot, The Cage, Spock finds an interesting specimen on the planet they've beamed down to and it so surprises him that he smiles.

Damon might cut it as Pike, but there's a leading actor out there, a star, who not only could play the role, he looks the part. He looks like Jeffrey Hunter!

This guy.


Biancolli lists the high and low points of Kirk's, Spock's, and McCoy's careers here.

Serendipitously, Manohla Dargis wrote a profile of Matt Damon for the Sunday Times.

Thanks to intueri for pointing me to the Damon article. She linked to it in a post accusing herself of committing all seven of the seven deadly sins in one day. The Damon piece is evidence of her sin of lust.

But I think she's mistaken about how many of the deadly sins she committed. I count only six. She includes the sin of pride for believing "I write well enough to win the approval of the New York Times. Ha!"

I think she's practicing one of the Cardinal Virtues instead, honesty. New York Times editors should notice and approve posts of hers like this one, Transience returns (the sequel).


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