Category Archives: Movies

Movies that would be different with the Three Laws of Robotics

First, so you know what’s going on, Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

These laws were developed in Asimov’s various robot stories and novels as a way of protecting humanity from the Frankenstein complex. The laws are so thoroughly encoded into the positronic brain that an Asimovian robot would cease to function were it to break one of the laws.

The thought came to me while watching Elysium that none of the action of the film would have happened with the Three Laws — the robot cop wouldn’t have been able to use force against Matt Damon’s character, who would thence not be irrated, and thus never invade Elysium. Boom. Done.

What other films would be affected by the Three Laws of Robotics? Obviously robots built by aliens, such as Gort in The Day the Earth Stood Still, don’t count.

Well, straightaway, obviously no Terminator, Matrix, Blade Runner, or Battlestar Galactica or any other film/TV series wherein robots are the antagonists. The Three Laws are meant to prevent precisely those films.

Alien would only be slightly different. Ash would have to be replaced by a human who, for some diabolical reasoning or bent in his psychology, was willing to do what Weyland Industries wanted. Similarly, then, for Michael Fassbender’s robot in Prometheus. It is plausible to use a human being in these two cases.

Star Wars would lack the interrogation droid, but I’m pretty sure people could have given Princess Leia needles instead. And the droid army in Phantom Menace was utterly useless, anyway; the Trade Federation would have done better to hire mercs or something that can’t be taken down by a power failure. However, the fact that their actions in helping run small fighters kill ‘human’ life, programming R2 units and their ilk with the Three Laws would make them unserviceable in the Rebel fleet.

The auto-pilot in Wall-E would not have suppressed the information of Earth’s habitability brought back by EVE and they would have gone straight home.

Do mutants count as human? The Sentinals in X-Men: Days of Future Past are designed precisely to hunt down mutants, although they do turn on human sympathisers and potential parents of mutants. I wonder.

These are all I can think of. Of course, the robot brutality in Elysium is of interest because the robots can only harm or even arrest non-citizens of Elysium. So there is an element of the Three Laws as applied only to the wealthy in that case. So even foolproof programming can lead to problems for the fools…

Anniversaries for 2014

The Prima Porta AugustusA few months ago, I realised that 2014 will be the 2000th anniversary of the death of the Emperor Augustus — certainly one of the Great Men of History. As part of my personal commemoration of said emperor, I’m going to read a bit more about him and write up an anniversary blog post on August 19.

But Augustus’ death isn’t the only anniversary of note this New Year. In what follows, things I’m likely to blog about are in bold. The rest are for your reading pleasure:

January 14 marks the 2100th anniversary of the death of Gaius Marius.

January 27 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Viollet-le-Duc, the famous French Neo-Gothic architect and restorer of Notre-Dame.

January 28 marks 1200 years since the death of Charlemagne, yet another Great Man of History.

January 30 marks 9 years since my first date with Jennifer.

February 2 marks 100 years since Charlie Chaplin’s film début.

April 2 would mark Sir Alec Guiness’ 100th birthday (d. 2000).

April 5 is the 400th anniversary of Pocahontas’ wedding.

April 6 marks the 200th anniversary of the restoration of the French monarchy.

April 7 marks the 400th anniversary of El Greco‘s death.

April 11 marks the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s abdication (he’ll be back, mind you).

May 24 marks the 100th anniversary of the House of Commons passing Irish Home Rule.

May 29 marks the 200th anniversary of the death of Empress Josephine.

May 30 marks the 200th anniversary of the First Treaty of Paris signalling the supposed end of the Napoleonic Wars and the retreat of French borders back to what they were in 1792.

June 20 marks the 800th anniversary of the papal ordinance defining the rights of scholars at the University of Oxford.

June 22 marks the 300th anniversary of the death of Matthew Henry, the biblical commentator.

Robert the BruceJune 24 marks the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn.

June 28 marks the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, mind-bogglingly starting the First World War. I leave out other WWI anniversaries for convenience.

July 7 marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Waverley, Sir Walter Scott’s first historical novel.

July 10 would mark Joe Shuster’s 100th birthday (co-creator of Superman; d. 1992).

July 24 would mark Ed Mirvish’s 100th birthday (d. 2007).

July 25 marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Lundy’s Lane.

August 1 marks the 300th anniversary of the Hanoverian succession to the throne of Great Britain.

August 24 marks the 200th anniversary of the burning of Washington by British forces.

August 30 marks the 1700th anniversary of the Council of Arles that made Donatism officially schismatic in the eyes of the wider church.

Mom & Dad looking excellentOctober 1 would be the Roman historian Sallust’s 2100th birthday. It is also my dad’s 65th birthday.

October 8 marks the 1700th anniversary of the Battle of Cibalae where Constantine defeated Licinius.

October 17 marks the 200th anniversary of the London Beer Flood; less amusing than its name, nine people died in this flood of beer.

October 17 would also be Jerry Siegel’s 100th birthday (other co-creator of Superman; d. 1996)

December 4 marks the 800th anniversary of the death of King William the Lion of Scotland.

December 24 marks the 200th anniversary of the Treaty of Ghent, ending the War of 1812.

2014 will also be the 2500th anniversary of death of Persian Emperor Darius I; the 2400th anniversary of the death of Greek comedic playwright Aristophanes; the 2200th anniversary of the banning of the Bacchanalian rites in Rome; the 1900th anniversary of the erection of Arch of Trajan at Beneventum; the 1800th birthdays of Roman Emperors Aurelian (d. 275)  and Claudius II (d. 270); the 1700th birthday of Greek rhetorician Libanius; the 1300th anniversary of Charles ‘the Hammer’ Martel taking effective power; the 1100th anniversary of the town of Warwick, England; the 1100th anniversary of Waterford, Ireland; and the 800th anniversary of the rosary, according to tradition.

Have a happy 2014!

My Hobbit rant

I write this now in hopes that, having got it into the ether, I will be able to watch The Desolation of Smaug in December and enjoy myself…

Before I really get going with my The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey rant, I would like to say that I am well aware that filmmakers are usually forced to change things when they adapt novels for the silver screen. There are various factors that contribute to this — filmability, a desire for more action, updating technology for a modern age, keeping the story to a desirable length. And so forth.

Nevertheless, sometimes filmmakers change things for no apparent good reason.

Peter Jackson is obsessed with unnecessarily long fight scenes, many of which are not in Tolkien’s books. I think he doesn’t know how to do adventure stories, quite frankly. But that’s not this rant. That I can sort of live with — although I shudder at scenes of dwarves in barrels battling elves and unnecessary Legolas derring-do in trailers for December’s film. This rant runs deeper, to the very fabric of Tolkien’s stories and how he reweaves it into something else.

At a few points in the first Hobbit film, events that were entirely random or by chance in the novel are given agency. For example, as they cross the Misty Mountains, they are manipulated by the goblins to take refuge in their cave. However, in the novel, they choose the goblin cave entirely by chance.

Later, after they escape from said goblins, they take refuge in a glade where, it turns out, some Wargs happen to be meeting that night. In the film, the Wargs, with accompanying goblins, chase them there (if memory serves aright) — and Azog is with them, hunting Thorin. The action of the film, rather than simply accidental as in the novel, is being propelled by some visible agent. And in the case of Azog, an agent who in the novel is elsewhere, making trouble for Dain in the Iron Hills. That would be a different rant.*

The first time I noticed Peter Jackson doing this sort of thing — taking Tolkien’s chance events and giving them an agent — was in The Fellowship of the Ring. There, everyone of the Fellowship and their companies arrive at Elrond’s for a council because Elrond has called them there. In the book, they all arrive at about the same time by chance, all for seemingly unrelated purposes that turn out to converge on the Ring.

Jackson has removed what appear to be chance events from the narrative.

But, you see, they aren’t chance events at all.

First, we could take the line that Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic, and Catholic theology will tell you that God is in control and invisibly manipulating events to his own ends. In this direction, Tolkien’s Catholicism is silently shaping the stories, especially in the case of The Fellowship of the Ring where one senses that an unseen mover was at work (Illuvatar, anyone?). Thus, by making a visible character the agent who makes things transpire, Peter Jackson has changed the quiet theology that actually underpins Tolkien’s whole work — a theology that would make one think that Sauron was destined for defeat.

The other line is tied into Tolkien’s life as a mediaevalist and Germanic philologist (as I’ve observed in my series on Beowulf and The Hobbit). As an Oxford professor, J. R. R. Tolkien primarily researched and taught Old English and Old Norse; he even composed verse in Old English, besides modern English verse in Old English metres.

One of the powerful threads running through much Old English and Old Norse literature is the sense of fate, almost of what we might today think of as fatalism — but perhaps more properly destiny? Fatalism would be an anachronistic term to the northern Germanic peoples whose literature is under discussion.

The Old English elegies are a good example of this sense of fate. For a sample, here are the first lines of ‘The Wanderer’:

Often the Wanderer pleads for pity
and mercy from the Lord; but for a long time,
sad in mind, he must dip his oars
into icy waters, the lanes of the sea;
he must follow the paths of exile: fate is inflexible. (Trans. Kevin Crossley-Holland in The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology)

Fate is inflexible. This also governs the Icelandic sagas, where people do what they must do — give up a seat in the boat home, kill an ox, burn down an enemy’s house. Not because they wish to. Because they must. It is their destiny. Literature, narrative burdened and underpinned by destiny has a very different weight and feel to it from the submonotheistic literature of the everyday that looks at stars and sees only what they are made of, not what they are (to borrow from Tolkien’s colleague, C S Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) — the sort of narrative Peter Jackson crafts for us.

Jackson has removed destiny from Tolkien’s stories, he has removed an important part of the essence of the tales. Rather than being about people driven by circumstances beyond their control, someone, somewhere makes everything happen. And that diminishes them.

Other stuff I’ve said here about The Hobbit

Beowulf and The Hobbit — linking you to the final part of the series since it links you to the rest of them.

The Hobbit: Please Only Make Two Films

*Gist of other rant: By making characters who were originally offstage players in a worldwide arena onscreen players with the main action, the scope of Tolkien’s story is greatly diminished, as when Elves go to Helm’s Deep who should have been fighting evil elsewhere with Celeborn.

‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ and ‘The Wolverine’: Can’t we just have fun anymore?

I just watched the first episode of a horrifyingly ‘real’ and dark miniseries on the BBC called The Escape Artist. This, it seems, is the sort of thing people who like TV like. This and Breaking Bad. Or other shows where it sounds to me like the descent into Hell (katabasis) has no ascent even as far as Purgatory, let alone Paradise. Or, if that’s not the case, in order to satisfy people these days, we seem to need some sort of overarching, convoluted, unfollowable plot, as in LostV‘s inability to make said plot comprehensible is probably why it died, same with Alphas.

I understand that Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., all five episodes of which I have watched on Channel 4 on Demand on Saturday mornings, is not doing especially well either ratings-wise or in the reviews. Now, I’ll admit that they’ve done it backwards, with each episode getting better than the last, with the exception of the second which was the worst. But, hey, it’s a fun action show about ordinary people who go around investigating extraordinary things and people. I enjoy it. It’s not especially complicated, it’s not especially dark.

You know what it is?


Also entertaining? The Wolverine.

Now, I’m likely to oversell this film because I was warned going into The Wolverine that it was only ‘okay’. I thought it was better than ‘okay’. I thought it was exactly the sort of story Wolverine belongs in — a straightforward action flick where he hunts and fights bad guys and saves the girl, including exciting moments like bullet-train Kung Fu and Wolvie shot full of arrows. It’s by no means dark like Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. Nor is it especially complicated. Neither does it plumb the depths of human psychology and philosophy.

That’s because it’s a Wolverine film, about a guy whose idea of small talk is asking where the beer is, whose idea of a good night out is one where you don’t cut up too many baddies. We already know the complicated part of his story (they told it to us twice, for Pete’s sake!). What we want is some good, fast, uncomplicated fun.

The Wolverine?


So if you’ve refrained from watching The Wolverine for reasons other than a moral ban on all things Marvel, I recommend it to you. And if you dropped out of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. after the first or second episode, I recommend you join back in. It’s not very deep, it’s not edgy, it’s not going to scar you for life. But hopefully it will entertain you. That’s all I’m looking for in TV action dramas.

The Nibelungenlied: Vengeance

This is the final post in series on the Middle High German epic The Nibelungenlied. We began with variations, then moved on to history followed by deception and betrayal. We now come to vengeance.

Revenge is a dish best served cold.
-Klingon Proverb quoted by Khan Noonien Singh

Kriemhild from part 2 of Fritz Lang’s ‘Nibelungen’

Siegfried, for all his might and glory, spends much of the action in the first half of the Nibelungenlied deceiving Brunhilde, getting betrayed, and lying about dead in a very fancy coffin. His wife Kriemhilde cannot overcome his death. When Etzel (Atli; Attila the Hun) sends someone to woo her for him, she refuses until she realises that she can use the power of this faroff pagan king to work for her advantage and avenge the death of Siegfried.

So she marries Etzel and has some kids.

After several years, she decides it’s time to kill off the rest of the cast of the epic. So she invites her brothers and their entourage to Hungary to hang out with them there. Hagen of Tronege, Siegfried’s betrayer, knows that she hasn’t forgiven him for that or for stealing the treasure of the Nibelungs from her and then sinking it in the Rhine. So he tells everyone this is a bad idea. But everyone thinks him a coward, so to save his pride, he goes with them to Hungary. As they cross the Rhine, Hagen’s fears are confirmed by some water sprites who say that everyone except the chaplain will die.

They have some fun along the way, meet some people, marry off one of Kriemhilde’s (innocent) brothers, have some jousts. The usual sort of thing. Then, about halfway through the second half, they arrive in Hungary. There’s some more jousting. Then they have a feast. And then everyone dies.

It takes about one quarter of the epic for Kriemhilde to exact her revenge. Not only the guilty Gunther and Hagen die, but her innocent brothers Giselher and Gernot, almost all of Etzel’s men, and people who have nothing in stake in the dispute such as most of Dietrich of Bern’s men. It takes a long time to kill that many people, let me tell you.

I have to confess, I have never read a piece of literature so devoted not simply to revenge but to full-scale slaughter as the Nibelungenlied. You would think the Iliad would come close, but there’s a lot of fighting there that doesn’t end up with ten, twenty, a hundred people dead in five lines of poetry. I mean, this is the atreia of Achilles writ large, but with no Homeric similes or random anecdotes about someone’s father or the gods to break the sheer slaughter of the thing. I thought things were going to slow down when Kriemhilde set the banquet hall on fire – like in Icelandic sagas, you know? But no. We still had to kill off Dietrich of Bern’s men.

This butchery has understandably turned some people off the Nibelungenlied. They’d rather read a love story like Gottfried von Strassburg’s Tristan if they’re going to read a mediaeval German epic. Nonetheless, set in the wider context of the poem as a whole, I can’t help but wonder if we once again have a combination of moralism and subversion. Siegfried’s deception is moralistic in showing how lack of moral virtue can lead to a hero’s downfall, regardless of his other manly qualities. Hagen’s betrayal subverts the invincible hero – despite his might, Siegfried gets stabbed in the back. At least Beowulf saved his country upon his death! (Although there’s some subtle genre subversion in that epic as well.)

Here we see the pointlessness of revenge. Revenge is often central to heroic conceptions of virtus, of manliness. The primeval code it comes from is, ‘Help your friends, harm your foes.’ Thus the Iliad. Thus Medea’s murder of Jason’s second wife. Thus Roman military practices across the Rhine-Danube frontier. Thus The Count of Monte Cristo. Thus Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. As with Khan, vengeance consumes Kriemhilde. Hagen even refers to her as a she-devil. Vengeance is all there is left to Kriemhilde in the years following Siegfried’s death as she broods alone in Burgundy and then pretends to play the life of a happy queen in Hungry.

And who are Kriemhilde’s true enemies?

  • Hagen of Tronege.
  • Her (penitent) brother, Gunther of Burgundy.
  • Her proud sister-in-law Brunhilde.
  • Ortwin of Metz.

That is the.



And who dies because of Kriemhilde’s vengeance? Her two other, beloved brothers. Thousands of other Burgundians. Thousands of Huns. Rüedeger and his court. Dietrich of Bern’s men. Thousands slaughtered because of one woman’s revenge.

I believe that Dietrich’s presence in the Nibelungenlied is meant to underscore the futility and destructiveness of Kriemhilde’s vengeance. Almost all of his men are slain, solely because of feudal loyalty and Kriemhilde’s insistence that they get involved in a quarrel not their own.

Gold solidus from reign of Theoderic

Now, as you may recall, Dietrich of Bern is inspired by the long-distant memory of Theoderic the Great, Ostrogothic King of Italy in the early 500s. His presence in this poem ties the Nibelungenlied to the world of wider Germanic heroic literature, much the way Hercules voyaging with Jason connects the Argonautica to the world of wider Greek literature. You see, Dietrich of Bern has a whole series of epic poems about himself that predate the writing down of the Nibelungenlied. In this poem he may be an incidental character, but in those others, guessing from Cyril Edwards’ notes to his translation of the Nibelungenlied, he is not simply a major figure but a central liege with many heroes surrounding him, much like King Arthur or King Hrolf Kraki (who only gets one saga, though).

For this mighty man to lose so many of his mighty warriors, then, points to the sheer, utter destructiveness of vengeance. These deaths are harmful and ruinous, pointless and senseless.

The sheer pointlessness and senselessness of their deaths underscores the futility of revenge. A cold dish, it is not very palatable and does not warm the heart. It leaves you empty and alone, stained with the blood of your loved ones. Thus, again, does the Nibelungenlied subvert our expectations of heroic poetry even as it fulfils them.

The Nibelungenlied: Variations

Siegfried and Kriemhilde

In April I was walking through the Universitätsbibliothek here in Tübingen and saw that there was a little display about the Nibelungs there, including some really fake-looking treasure to represent the hoard of the Nibelungs. I looked through it, at copies of editions and translations of the Prose Edda (blogged about here) and the Poetic Edda and the Nibelungenlied as well as a discussion of Richard Wagner and silent film director Fritz Lang.

This made me think, ‘Aha! I should re-read the Nibelungenlied!’ You see, I have a habit of reading literature of the country I am visiting. Plato in Athens, Maupassant in Paris, Ambrose in Milan, Dante in Florence, Burns in Edinburgh. So – why not the Nibelungenlied in Tübingen? To my delight, the uni library has a copy of this mediaeval epic in English, so I took it out (the Oxford World’s Classics translation by Cyril Edwards)!* And I recently finished it.

This is by no means my first contact with this familiar tale of Siegfried and Brunhilde, Etzel and Kriemhilde, Hagen and Gunther. Like oh-so-many people, it was through Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle (to which I am listening as I write), the glorious music and plot synopses, followed by watching Die Walküre live in Toronto with my uncle and a friend as well as, much later, Siegfried on DVD (my post on that here). At some stage, after having read the Nibelungenlied, I read Roy Thomas’ graphic novel of the Ring Cycle as well. I was a bit disappointed with the stylised vision of the Aesir, whom I would have made more early mediaeval, ‘Nordic’, as in Gareth Hinds’ excellent Beowulf. Wagner’s vision is most people’s primary, first, and very often sole encounter with this tale.

However, because of Wagner, many people like me exist! I thought to myself, ‘Hmph. I should read this Nibelungenlied someday, fan of Wagner that I am.’ In my fourth year of uni, I found a copy of the Penguin Classics translation at this fabulous used book store in Ottawa called ‘All Books’ but resisted. My then-girlfriend (now wife!) bought it for me! So I read it.

The Nibelungenlied is not Wagner. I like it, though. It is a High Mediaeval tale of Deception, Betrayal, and Vengeance. There are no Aesir. Fafnir is a mere reference in describing Siegfried’s background. There are jousts and large amounts of single-handed combat. And a cloak of invisibility. And full-scale slaughter. But it is not actually, despite the name of Wagner’s operatic cycle – Der Ring des Nibelungen – the main source of inspiration for those four famousest of operas.

Like all great tales, especially ones transmitted orally, as the heroic epic of the Nibelungenlied was, there are variations, equally aged, each a bit different, each worth investigating. And Wagner’s main inspiration came not from the continental, ‘German’ epic but the Icelandic/Old Norse versions of the story, encapsulated in The Saga of the Volsungs, various poems of The Poetic Edda, and The Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson. These were all written down after or around the time that the Nibelungenlied was but sometimes contains strata of story that go back much farther.

These I have read since moving to Scotland, first The Poetic Edda, much of which I have to admit I forgot because it’s so dense a read, and then The Saga of the Volsungs, and in April upon arrival in Germany, The Prose Edda. This version is the one with Otter’s Ransom, with cursed gold, with Fafnir, with Sigurd (Siegfried) and Brynhilt and that burning ring of fire (into which Sigurd fell; actually, he jumped with a horse – sorry Johnny Cash). Of the three, if you’re really into things Nibelung, I recommend The Saga of the Volsungs. It is a fairly easy read, and has much adventure, and is self-contained; it’s also shorter than the Nibelungenlied. The others contain a lot of other material from Norse myth, which is itself interesting and well worth a read. But if you’re looking just for the story of Siegfried, that saga is the place to go.

Between reading the Nibelungenlied and the mediaeval Norse versions, I read J R R Tolkien’s The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun (about which I’ve blogged here). This is a fabulous attempt at weaving a coherent narrative of the competing versions in modern English following Old English versification. It can get heavy at times, but I like it. This book was where I first actually encountered the Norse version un-Wagnerised, and with the Norse names Sigurd and Gudrun, rather than Siegfried and Kriemhilde.

I hope to soon see Fritz Lang’s silent films about Siegfried. Then, all that will remain will be seeing, rather than listening to over and over and over again, Das Rheingold and Götterdämmerung.

Each telling, whether ancient or modern, brings a different angle and flavour to this tale, and I like that. Sometimes what is omitted by one is fully stated in another, and so they make sense together. Sometimes I prefer the motivations of one plot over another. That sort of thing. This is the fun of the competing tellings of these old stories, whether of Troy or Arthur or Siegfried.

My Nibelungenlist – Editions/Translations of Variations

The Nibelungenlied. I’ve read both A T Hatto’s translation for Penguin as well as Cyril Edwards’ for Oxford. I don’t recall how the Penguin holds up to the Oxford, but I remember liking it!

The Saga of the Volsungs. Translated by Jesse L Byock for Penguin Classics. As noted above, this is a volume devoted to nothing but a Norse version of this story. It is heroic and big and wonderful. And a quick read.

The Prose Edda. By Snorri Sturluson, translated by Jesse L Byock for Penguin Classics. This is our major source for Viking myths and worth reading for that alone; along the way, the tale of Sigurd (Siegfried) is told. Like Byock’s translation of the Saga of the Volsungs, this is readable.

The Poetic Edda. Translated by Carolyne Larrington for Oxford World’s Classics. Our other major source for Viking myths, this is a dense volume of shorter poems covering the full range of the tales, including – again – Sigurd.

The Ring Cycle (Der Ring des Nibelungen) by Richard Wagner. Numerous recordings of this exist. I am listening to the Metropolitan Opera’s from 1989(?). For DVDs, my opera-loving uncle with whom I saw Die Walküre recommends the Toronto production and last year’s production from the Met.

  • As a subsection of the above, do not forget the graphic novel by Roy Thomas for DC. There is another, multivolume graphic novel by P. Craig Russell, but I haven’t read it. If Eric Shanower ever finishes Age of Bronze, I’d like to see him do something similar for the scattered hoard of the Nibelungs.

The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun by J R R Tolkien. I cannot say it better than I already have.

*Sadly, they lack Gottfried von Strassburg’s Tristan and Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival in English.

The Importance of ‘The Naked Time’ (Star Trek: TOS, S1, E4)

In Berlin, the thing that excited me the most was not the Brandenburger Tor (which is cool), or Checkpoint Charlie (also cool), or a bit of the Wall (also cool), but Queen Nefertiti. And then, after Queen Nefertiti and the stuff from Schliemann’s Troy —

English-language cinema.


First, Iron Man 3. Then Star Trek: Into Darkness. And, for all its flaws, the latter was a good time. I’m glad I saw it in the theatre, and I enjoyed the ride. But it has reminded me of … well … Star Trek.

So now, when I’m not locked away reading books for fun or for work, I’m going to be watching Star Trek and Doctor Who. This will tide me over until the new season of Castle begins. And today I watched ‘The Naked Time.’

‘The Naked Time’ is the fourth aired episode of Star Trek back from 1966. In it, the crew of the Enterprise become infected by some sort of alien disease that Dr. McCoy can’t figure out, the result of which is to bring sublimated desires from the subconscious to dominate the entire conscious behaviour.

Most famously, the intrepid George Takei as Hikaru Sulu turns swashbuckler:

Another very famous moment is when Mr Spock has an emotional breakdown in one of the briefing rooms. He weeps and pours out his heart to Captain Kirk, saying that he’d never told his mother that he loved her — a poor Earth woman living on an alien planet. He admits that he feels shame when he feels friendship for Jim Kirk.

Kirk becomes infected. Kirk who is ridiculously caricatured by J J Abrams/Chris Pine as an incorrigible womaniser, declares himself wed to his ship (not unlike the Doctor in the first Neil Gaiman-penned episode of Doctor Who, ‘The Doctor’s Wife’). He notices Yeoman Rand, but there’s nothing he can do. There is no walk on the beach for Jim Kirk. The Enterprise is his love, and the life of a starship captain has no room for romance.

This is a very important scene that brings out the two relationships that undergird all of Star Trek, in an episode mostly remembered for its comic moments of Mr Sulu and Mr O’Reilly.

First, Kirk and Spock. The third in the triad is McCoy, but he’s too busy saving the day to bare his soul. James Tiberius Kirk and Spock are fast friends, bound together by the starship, by their past experiences, by a genuine affection. They work well together as commanding officer and science officer, and captain and his number one, as human and Vulcan, as one friend to another. The Kirk-Spock dynamic, where each is a foil for the other, where we see that they have a long history together, is what binds together the scattered episodes of Star Trek, from Gary Mitchell to Spock’s brain to Tribbles to Khaaaaaaan!!!!

This moment in ‘The Naked Time’ is an important step in the journey towards one of the most famous lines and moments in all of Trek:

I have been — and always shall be — your friend.

Second, Kirk and the Enterprise. No Orion Slave Girl could ever take her place in Jim Kirk’s heart. His sense of duty and calling will even keep him away from pursuing interest in Yeoman Rand and her beehive hairdo. Before all else, James Kirk is a starship captain. This fills his life and all of his adventures. The Enterprise is home to Kirk. Without her, he is lost in the 1980s … well, lost anyway. When we understand this, those many women, human and alien, whom he is so fondly remembered as having romanced, wooed, kissed — sometimes under alien mind control — make sense; he cannot lead a settled life with wife and children, so this is all he’s got. In ‘The Naked Time’, Kirk says of the Enterprise:

She won’t permit me my life. I’ve got to live hers.

He goes on to say to her:

Never lose you… never.

So do not underestimate any episode of Star Trek. As I make my voyage, I hope that even ‘The Trouble with Tribbles’ will reveal some of the deeper undercurrents of the Enterprise and her intrepid crew.