Saturday, February 07, 2009

Starships Or Submarines?

When I was a kid in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s my loyalty was divided between two fictional TV Captains. On Star Trek the star ship Enterprise was commanded by James T. Kirk, who along with Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy and the rest of the crew zipped around the galaxy seeking out strange new worlds. The Enterprise was cool. It looked cool, it had cool weapons, it had cool technology, and it had hot women in miniskirts. My other escape was the SSN Seaview, the fantastic submarine of the show "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea", where Captain David Crane ran the show. Captain Crane lead a crew of interesting guys such as Chief Sharky, Ensign Blake and Admiral Nelson (who actually built the Seaview as part of the Nelson Institute) around the world from adventure to adventure. The Seaview was cool. It looked cool, it had big windows on the front, it made a cool sonar noise, and it had a flying sub. As a boy, the idea of a big star ship that went faster than the speed of light was a concept that could only be rivaled by a big submarine.
"Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" was a fun show that was created by Irwin Allen; the creator of Lost In Space, Land of the Giants and director of "The Towering Inferno", Allen was an interesting character himself who was legendarily cheap. He was the king of stock footage and recycled special effects footage and monster suits between his various shows. As a result, "Voyage" doesn't hold up too well over time as Star Trek has. "Voyage" also was handicapped by bad writing and some lame story ideas. Star Trek used SciFi writers as well as first time writers to generate interesting and compelling stories for the show. This doesn't make "Voyage" a total dog though, there are a handful of great shows in each season that keep it from becoming a total joke. The average story line either involved international terrorists or an uncharted island. Sometimes the show featured an environmental disaster which ring more true today than it did in 1966. Terrorists threatening America was also a concept that was ahead of it's time. As a young boy none of these concepts mattered, all that mattered was that Captain Crane ran a tight ship and if he had to put on his yellow wetsuit and lock-out of the Seaview to kick some ass then that's what he'd do. The Seaview's crew were regular guys who got scared and sometimes had no idea of what to do, especially when the Seaweed monster got loose in the missile bay. As a kid I could totally relate to them because I grew up near the sea and it can be a scary place. Today as I re-watch the show on DVD it is pretty hokey. They spent no money on the show and often the 20th Century Fox back lot doubled as a top secret facility run by a mad scientist. The stories often repeated themselves (how many times was the Seaview stuck below crush-depth with no hope of escape?) and the special effects were pretty lame. I still love the Seaview and I think that Captain Crane was a well fleshed-out character.
Star Trek's appeal is obvious. The show was ahead of it's time in every way and featured high quality writing that is as fresh today as it was when it first aired back in the 1960s. Captain Kirk was everything I wanted to be, good looking, smart, cool and fearless. The Enterprise represented a future that I wanted to become real. Much has been written about Star Trek and there isn't much that I could add to the admiration of this show. I liked that the crew came from all walks of humanity and they were each accepted on their own merits. As a kid I liked the hand phasers. Set to "Stun" was a great concept that was very progressive for a Science Fiction show, this is true even today where the hero still is more likely to shoot first and shoot later. On Star Trek is was "Hey, we don't need to kill these guys if we don't have to," and I like that even when the aliens took the first shot at the Enterprise; Captain Kirk would still go out of his way to try to understand WHY they were shooting, and then try to work out a peaceful solution. This is still (sadly) a very sophisticated concept even in today's world. As I grew into a young man, Star Trek's tendency to cast hot women and dress them in slinky outfits helped keep me loyal to the show, granted for more prurient reasons.
In the end it came down to two Captains. I didn't have a father so David Crane and Jim Kirk became my male role models. Captain Crane was a tough but fair guy. He was very hands-on but he also had earned the respect of his crew. Kirk was clever and brave. Both men were fair and patient with people and chose to do the right thing even if it was hard to do. They both also got the hot women. What helped me was that both Captains were great at avoiding trouble and talking their way out of ugly situations. It has been a long time since I've looked to either Captain for guidance, I've become a man with my own ways of dealing with challenges and I've long since left my youth behind. Still, every once in a while the little boy inside of me comes out and looks at the man I've become; he then measures me against my boyhood heroes, and between the one on the Star ship, and the one on the Submarine I sometimes come up short. I don't see any harm in looking to those guys as I head into the second half of my life.
I sure couldn't do any worse.