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COVER STORY : What a Long, Strange 'Trek' It's been . .

Klingons, Ferengi, Vulcans . . . In 30 years, the 'Star Trek' brain trust has molded an alternate universe and carved a bold niche in popular culture.

September 08, 1996|David Kronke | David Kronke is a regular contributor to Calendar

This may be the 30th anniversary of Starfleet Command, but that doesn't mean its enemies are cutting it any slack. The Borg, the Stepford Villains of outer space (they exist mainly to turn everyone else into beings exactly like them--wan, glassy-eyed and personality-free--through "assimilation"), have gone back in time to the 21st century to prevent a besotted scientist from creating Warp Drive, which in turn is responsible for creating the whole "Star Trek" universe. At least as responsible, that is, as Gene Roddenberry.

As part of their insidious plot, the Borg have commandeered half the Starship Enterprise. Patrick Stewart, as the heroic Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, strides boldly into the center of the ship's bridge and sternly delivers evacuation orders: "Women, children and captains first!"

Rehearsal for that scene from the upcoming film "Star Trek: First Contact," sans Stewart's ad-lib, progresses, with the actor expressing concern that he has way too much exposition to burble under such dire circumstances. A quick rewrite brings shooting to an abrupt halt.

Stewart turns to Jonathan Frakes, who plays First Officer Riker and is moonlighting as a first-time feature director. "Are you still glad you're directing?" Stewart asks mischievously.

FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Sunday September 15, 1996 Home Edition Calendar Page 87 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
"Trek" producer--Producer Harve Bennett, who revived the "Star Trek" film franchise, produced "Mod Squad," which beat the TV show "Star Trek" in the ratings. He was not involved with "Room 222."

"It's the vision of hope for the future that keeps me going," Frakes replies, poking fun at the oft-repeated mantra describing "Star Trek's" enduring appeal.

Once the scene has been tinkered with, Stewart lauds Frakes: "You solved it! It must be great to be you!" He then turns to Michael Dorn, playing the Klingon Worf, to deliver his line: "The Borg have taken over half the ship--your half. With the showers."

On its 30th anniversary, there's plenty of reverence for "Star Trek" in the world, though it's harder to find at Ground Zero, the Paramount lot, where, in addition to work on the film "First Contact," casts and crews are going about it on the two continuing television series, "Deep Space Nine" (now entering its fifth year in syndication) and "Voyager" (now in its third season on UPN). An entire army of employees oversees the massive "Trek" licensing department, which oversees about 1,000 "Trek" items a year, ranging in price from a buck to two grand.

Ask the set decorators about their reverence--they've affixed technical-looking copper plates to every console throughout the sundry space vessels. One reads: "A-Team members operating black Chevrolet vans with red stripes. Consult network officials regarding use of gold jewelry, old cigars and outlandishly ridiculous personalities. Tuesdays after 'The Fall Guy.' " Ask Jeri Taylor, executive producer of "Star Trek: Voyager," who has in her office a cardboard standee of Picard--wearing Mickey Mouse ears.

Like many in the "Trek" trenches, Ira Steven Behr, "Deep Space Nine" executive producer, eschews the pretensions that come with such a monumental anniversary. "We'll be hearing all about the secret encoded messages 'Star Trek' sends out and all the deep talks about the media phenomenon," he says, adding, "I'd just say, 'Guess what? Thirty [expletive] years. It was fun back then, and it's still fun.' "

Director-actor Frakes, who stepped unsuspecting and unaware into "Trek" lore a decade back on "The Next Generation," says simply: "It's a privilege. It's good fortune--we all, as actors, go up for pilots in pilot season. This just happened to be the pilot I got that year. I've been blessed."

William Shatner, who through the years has regarded his participation in the 'Trek' universe with mild disdain, has come to peace with his--and Capt. James T. Kirk's--enduring legacy. He now says: " 'Star Trek' has been instrumental in giving me the opportunity to write books, direct movies and push the edge of technology in many areas, including World Wide Web sites, CD-ROMs and computer graphics. It's quite a variety of opportunities beyond playing a role in a film. All because of the expectation that because I was Capt. Kirk, I know something about science fiction."

Says Stewart, yet another actor who had no idea what he was getting himself into: "Everything in my life changed. Although if I had known then that I would do it for seven years and 178 episodes, I would not have accepted the role, I now know in hindsight that I would have been wrong to have not accepted the role."

*

"Star Trek" was conceived 32 years ago by Gene Roddenberry, an ex-L.A. cop who envisioned a "Wagon Train" to the stars about the crew of the starship Enterprise who routinely encountered alien planets invariably in need of a good Starfleet-issue butt-kicking.

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