Fly Her Apart Then! Cool Geeks in the Time of Trek

by Sean Scott Maguire

I went to see Start Trek VI, the Undiscovered Country, a few weekends ago.  I dragged my wife along, but I got away with it this time, because it was my birthday weekend.  I mean, come on, right?  They were having a screening of Trek VI, and that’s how I want to celebrate my birthday, and stop reminding me that we could just see this on DVD at home, because that really harshes my mellow!  Reluctantly, she agreed.

There is a place near Las Olas in Downtown Ft. Lauderdale called Cinema Paradiso.  Highly cultured Broward residents have memberships there, and they have a theater decked out like in the old classic days, and they serve wine and hors d’oeuvres, and the patrons actually make eye contact when they talk to each other.  So, it’s a pretty cool place, even though they show really old movies.

Also, Christopher Plummer was supposed to make an appearance.  Most people know him as Baron Van Trapp, or Von Tropp, or Van Halen, or something like that, from The Sound of Music.  Star Trek fans, of course, know him as General Chang, the bad guy in Trek VI who quotes Shakespeare so much that Dr. McCoy actually offers good money if he would shut up.  So, he’ll be there to talk about his memories of filming the movie, right?

Well, that was the plan.  But at 6:00 they were screening a different Christopher Plummer movie, and it turned out he would be there for that, so, hey, why not stick around for the fans who will actually spend REAL money on you, that is to say, Trekkies?

But apparently upon further reflection I could get a refund ($5) because Mr. Plummer didn’t want to stick around until midnight to answer questions from people who, in all likelihood, would know more about the movie than he did anyway.

Of course, you could buy a copy of his new book, and he would sign it, and, if the line wasn’t moving too fast, maybe you could ask him a question.  But as far as hanging out and Chillaxing with the Trekkies¦ not so much.

But, I figured, that’s okay, because it’s still one of the better Trek movies, and I would see other geeks and maybe make some new friends, and what else am I going to do on a Birthday weekend on a Saturday night in my choice of party spots in Ft. Lauderdale or Miami?  Nothing that could beat a screening of Star Trek VI, that’s for sure. Hard Rock Hotel and Casino? The clubs on Washington Avenue? The bars at Beach Place? Please, that crap is lame.

So, we showed up early because I was worried that Star Trek VI might get sold out and there wouldn’t be parking, and I would therefore miss the opening scene because you get to see the Klingon moon blow up, and, even better, you get to see Sulu as a Captain for the first time.

Yes, I know you can get it on DVD any time you want, but there is something cool about going to the theater and seeing with other people who will cheer at the cool parts and boo at the bad guys and snicker when the characters do things ONLY that character would do.

But that was a digression.  the show was not going to get sold out, and there was plenty of parking, and we basically had more than an hour of nothing to do.  But that was no problem, because we were close to Las Olas.  Like many areas in South Florida, it is one of those locations where you can simply wander the streets like a blind wino going through withdraw, and still have a good time.  We headed up to Mangos, figuring we could order some tidbits from the bar, maybe a drink or two, and stroll back to the theater.

But it was Saturday night, and there were too many 90 pound blond girls in skimpy black dresses boxing us out like it was an NBA finals game.  You know the ones I’m talking about, right?  They want to meet boys, but they don’t want to look like they want to meet boys, so they stand in the best place to order a drink, thereby getting the attention of any man who so much as contemplates the possibility of perhaps ordering a beer.  You know, with the skimpy black dress, they get the attention. The night always ends good.

So there were too many of them, so we headed to another bar.  And another, and another, until we found one that (1) served food (2) wasn’t too crowded and (3) had a no underweight-blond-girls-in-skimpy-black-dresses policy.

The martinis were good, the people-watching was fun, and the food was not bad either. It was one of those moments where normal people would sit back and remind themselves how cool it is to live in a part of the country that other people spend months planning to visit on vacation so they can experience the “good life” before returning to a life of computer terminals and really, really, thick winter coats.

But I’m not normal, I’m a geek (actually a cool nerd, with the results of an online personality test to prove it, but I don’t want to ruin the flow by explaining the difference, so I guess I’ll leave that for anther entry).  So I spent the whole time telling my wife in painstaking detail all the cool things about this particular movie that I could think of.

I told her of the back story, the behind the scenes drama, the cool lines, the names of the aliens.  When I started contrasting the Klingon rules of courtroom procedure to late 16th century English Courts of Equity, my wife gave me a look that either meant she was about to vomit up a tow truck, or that I should stop talking about Star Trek.  So I wisely steered the conversation towards how good the calamari was, and things went back to normal.

We headed back to the Theater, and the previous movie was letting out.  This is when it got really cool.  Mr. Plummer apparently has a lot of fans, and most of them are women between the age of 45 and 80, with short hair, who have just finished their third pot of coffee.  It was quite exhilarating, really, but I had a cool insight.

As I clutched my martini (it’s surprisingly cool to be able to drink something other than a soft drink the size of your head when you go to the movies), I realized that these people, like Trekkies, were totally devoted.  They all wanted him to sign their book.  They wanted to ask him questions about arcane stuff he had no chance of remembering.  It was such a revelation.  It dawned on me that:

Christopher Plummer is just like William Shatner.

It also dawned on me, as I moved around, trying to make friends with as many geeks as I could, that there were more Plummer fans that Trek fans.  I actually got kind of embarrassed.  Is this the best we can do?  We, who show up at movies dressed in costumes? Who have such a loyal devotion that we convinced NASA to name its test shuttle the Enterprise?  We are going to be outdone by a bunch of  Plummer geeks?

There was somebody wandering around, interviewing Plummer fans, complete with a camera man. It looked like the local news, but it was actually some kind of marketing thing that the Plummer people were doing. I notice, as I contemplated the gravity of the Plummer vs. Trek geeks issue, that as they interviewed the Plummer fans, the cameraman kept trying to get me in the background.  Then I realized it was actually my wife he wanted in the background, not me or any of the fellow geeks I was trying to befriend.

My wife grew up in Rome, so she is 1) sexy, 2) elegant 3) interesting and 4) a really good dresser. In other words, opposites attract, and my marriage is proof.  So she was providing Mr. Plummer’s team with a free chance to make this event look like a high society New York fashion event, and the Trek geeks I wanted to make friends with were arguing about whether they should blacklist Christopher Plummer from future conventions for not talking to the Trekkies (unless you buy his book), when I spotted Mr. Plummer on the other side of the room, getting ready to sign books.

He looked really good.  I mean, this guy is like 80 years old, and he has the charm and energy of a 50 year old.  Maybe I should buy his book after all.  I’m going to be like him when I’m 80, I said, louder than I meant to,  looking good, commanding the whole room. How does he do it? My wife wisely kept a neutral expression.  The Trekkies nodded in agreement.

But the shorthaired woman carrying two copies in her hand wasn’t so diplomatic.  “I hope for your sake it’s the alcohol.  If so, you’re off to a good start.  I started to defend myself by pointing out it was my birthday, but she jumped into line and started boxing out other Plummer geeks.  So we went into the Theater.

It is a nice place to see a movie.  They keep it decked out like those movie theaters in the 40’s and 50’s.  At least, this is what I imagine it used to look like.  You know what I am talking about, right?  When the movie theater employees dressed like bell hops and wear funny little hats?

The Trekkies were networking.  They must have had the same idea I did about meeting fellow fans with a shared interest in the greatest fictional creation since Shakespeare.  At this point I pulled out my trump card which was to mention that I got married at the Star Trek experience in Vegas (yes, my wife is that cool).  This gave me a great excuse to pull out my iPhone to show pictures, which of course was a great segue to showing off my Star Trek ringtones.

As the lights dimmed, and we all took our seats, I smiled triumphantly at my wife.  It was a look that said, “Did you see those looks of admiration when I talked about our Star Trek wedding? Did you see how cool they thought my star trek phaser ringtone was?  You’re lucky to have me.  She gave me a look that said I am trying hard not to give you a look that betrays my inner thoughts.

Let’s see if I can recap the entire movie in one paragraph.  I must first insert a major spoiler alert at this point.  If you are planning on ordering the movie on Netflix, then skip ahead ten paragraphs (it turns out I couldn’t do it in one).

The trouble all starts when a Klingon moon blows up, which will bring the Klingon Empire to its knees because the substance mined from this moon is what powers its military fleet.  The Klingons therefore now have a new motivation to seek peace, and Kirk and his team are dispatched to close the deal.  Kirk rightly points out that he is the least likely person to negotiate piece with the Klingons, because the highlight of his career is basically that he killed a lot of Klingons. Spock replies with a wise, well-respected Vulcan saying, which is that only Nixon can go to China.

The Enterprise rendezvous with a Klingon warship, there is an uneasy night of diplomatic sparring over dinner, and the respective participants go to bed, nursing headaches from the Romulan ale that is illegal in the Federation, but was served because that is one of the prerogatives of command.  There is also a lot of conversational sparring between Kirk, who hates Klingons, and General Change played by Christopher Plummer who is only to happy to return the favor.

We just want living space, innocently states the General.

Hitler, earth, 1938, Kirk triumphantly replies.  Oh, snap, Chang! Comparing people to Hitler to show they are monsters never gets old, not even 300 years from now, with an alien that has no reason to know what you are talking about.  And you walked right into it! Kirk is way out of your league, man!  But Chang doesn’t know when he’s bested, and the banter continues, until the parties return to their respective ships.

At this point, it appears the Enterprise mysteriously attacks the Klingon ship (although the bridge crew and the inventory show that the attack is not coming from the Enterprise). Did someone find a universal remote and use it on the Enterprise?  The bridge crew has no idea how to stop the horror.

When the Klingon diplomat dies as a result of the attack, Kirk and Dr. McCoy, who unwisely beamed over to help the survivors, are taken prisoner, charged with murder.

Kirk is then put on trial, sentenced to hard labor, and Spock takes command of the Enterprise.  While Kirk gets busy escaping from the labor camp (part of which includes, of course, getting busy with the only hot female alien in the camp), Spock gets busy as a pointy eared Sherlock Holmes, and discovers that the Klingons have a ship that can fire while cloaked.  This is important because, within the Star Trek universe, the Klingons can either cloak make their ships invisible, or they can fire their weapons, but they can’t do both at the same time.  This explains how they made it look like the Enterprise attacked the Klingon ship.  But, more than that, can you imagine the horror if they could remain invisible and fire torpedoes at the same time?

This separates the Trekkies from the friends of Trekkies (for example, the elegantly dressed super hot women with super cool and otherwise normal personalities who got dragged along because it’s their husband’s birthday).  The Trekkies realize this is a big deal, and so do our heroes.  Kirk escapes the labor camp, and Spock discovers the plans of the bad guys with the killer invisible spaceship.  The new diabolical plot is to go to the new location of the peace talks (being held, this time, in a secret location), and assassinate the participants of the do-over peace talks, thus assuring the continuation of hostilities between the Klingons and the Federation (this also proves that Haliburton will still exist in the 24th century).

At this point, there is a great scene between Leonard Nimoy, who plays Spock, and a pre-Sex-in-the-City Kim Cattrall, who plays Spock’s Vulcan protégé.  She turns out to be one of the conspirators, so Spock uses his patented mind meld to drag it out of her. It’s really quite an interesting scene, because until now the movie was very careful to build up a mentor/protégé rapport between the two characters.  This makes the site of Spock ripping information out of her brain quite compelling drama, even, I dare say, for a non Trekkie.  It could have easily devolved into a cheap double entendre (“mind meld,” huh-huh, like, get it?).

It turns out she doesn’t know the secret location, so our heroes are out of luck.  But wait! You forgot about Sulu.  He has been working behind the scenes, and it turns out this new Captain has learned a thing or two from his previous commanding officer. Namely, he knows how to simeltneously disobey orders from Starfleet and make doing so the only way to save the galaxy.

Both ships race to the summit, with the Enterprise arriving just in time to get its ass kicked by the new invisible Klingon ship commanded by General Chang.  This is a really great or a really annoying part of the film, depending on your tolerance for really good actors randomly quoting Shakespeare while dressed up as evil Klingons.

It’s actually quite clever.  Each time he orders a maneuver, or fires a photon torpedo, Mr. Plummer quotes from Henry V, Macbeth, Hamlet, and most of the others you had to read in High School.  Kirk and McCoy figure out how to rig a torpedo that will track the ship (kind of like a heat seeking missile), but they need more time!  Wait, where is Sulu?

On Sulu’s ship, someone informs him that if they keep going at this rate, flying faster than the ship was designed for, it will fly apart the ship. “Fly her apart then!” Screams Sulu, with what for me is the most satisfying line of the movie.  In fact, it is so satisfying that I screamed it at the screen.  And so did the other Trekkies.  I looked triumphantly at my wife, to see if she saw how cool it was to watch a Trek movie with Trekkies, instead of at home on DVD, because it adds more excitement when everyone in the theater is also excited.  To her credit, she didn’t roll her eyes.

Sulu arrives, and between the two ships, they blow General Chang to bits.  “To be, or not to be,” declares General Chang, just as his ship is destroyed.  They rush to the site of the conference just in time for Kirk to dive through the air, pushing the President out of the path of the assassin’s bullet.  The day – and the galaxy – has been saved once again by the crew of the Enterprise.

Since I had indulged in a few drinks too many, my wife drove us home.  I repressed the urge to recount all the coolest parts of the movie.  But as we pulled onto the highway, I couldn’t resist one last indulgence in Trekkie geekiness.  After all, tomorrow morning I would have to resume pretending to be normal.  It was now or never.

“Maybe you should go faster,” I said, with a gleam in my eye.  My wife let out a heavy sigh.  For a second I thought perhaps she didn’t see where I was going with this. But I married her for a reason, and she came through.

“If I go any faster, I’ll fly her apart,” she mumbled.  I gathered up my best Captain’s voice.

“Fly her apart, then!” I said.