Friday, June 25, 2010

Star Trek's Spock and Captain Kirk beam into the Wall Centre for a fan convention


Where: Sheraton Wall Centre

When: Friday through Sunday

Tickets: $20-$40 for a one-day general admission

$359 for a Gold Weekend Pass (great seats, first in line for autographs and photo-ops)

$199 for a photo-op with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy

$40-$79 for photo ops with single Star Trek celebrity

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The original Star Trek TV series only ran for three years, from 1966 to 1968. But it made a lasting impression. Since Star Trek was first resurrected in 1973 for an animated TV series, it has spawned four more TV series and 11 feature films.

It even kick-started a whole new industry, the movie fan convention.

The first Star Trek convention took place in New York in the early 70s, drawing about about a dozen hardcore fans. But the Star Trek fan movement grew to the point where the term “Trekkies” became part of pop culture.

Creation Entertainment started doing Star Trek conventions in the early 1980s; over the years, the California company has done about 2,000. This weekend, it will bring one to the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre.

A dozen stars from the various Star Treks will be appearing, including Armin Shimmerman (Quark from Deep Space Nine), Chase Masterson (Leeta in Deep Space Nine) and Connor Trinneer (Commander Trip Tucker III from Star Trek: Enterprise).

The big attraction, though, will be the two men who started it all, William Shatner (Captain Kirk) and Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock).

Shatner and Nimoy don’t together appear that often – the last time they did a Star Trek convention in Vancouver was 1997. They will both turn 80 next March (Shatner on March 22, Nimoy on March 26), so odds are they won’t be doing too many in the future, either.

Still, Shatner doesn’t sound like he’s thinking of retiring anytime soon. He’s got several new projects on the go, including a documentary on Star Trek which may be partly filmed at this weekend’s convention.

Nimoy apparently makes fun of Shatner’s work ethic when they appear together at conventions. Shatner, in turn, makes light of Nimoy’s attempts to sit back and take it easy.

“Nimoy keeps retiring,” says Shatner over the phone from Los Angeles.

“Every six months he tells me and everybody else ‘I’m retiring.’ And nobody takes him seriously anymore. But I don’t say that. I don’t know, I’m just going along. I’m just trying to make a living here.”

He’s done quite well at it. You’d be hard-pressed to find an actor with a more varied resume than the Montreal native, who made his first movie way back in 1951, The Butler’s Night Off.

Shatner did Shakespeare at Stratford, and he’s one of the only actors to have ever made a movie in Esperanto, a “planned” language from the late 19th century which proponents hoped would break down linguistic barriers. Sadly, the movie, Incubus, didn’t do boffo box office when it was released in 1965.

His spoken word version of the Beatles psychedelic Lucy in the Sky With Diamond didn’t sell all that well, either, but over the years has come to be considered a camp classic. “I was asked by the Beatles to try and inject some life into their song,” he deadpans.

Pre-Star Trek he had guest spots in TV series like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents; post-Star Trek he had success in series like TJ Hooker and Boston Legal.

For many people, though, he is known as Captain James Kirk of the SS Enterprise. A role that he almost didn’t get, because there was another Captain in the original Star Trek pilot.

“They made a pilot with an actor called Jeffrey Hunter, who was popular at the time,” relates Shatner.

“And with Leonard, who was playing Spock. The pilot didn’t work for NBC, but they were intrigued by the idea. So they asked [Gene] Roddenberry to make another pilot and recast everybody. But they held onto Leonard.

“I was in New York doing something or other. They called me and asked would I come in and take a look at this pilot, with the idea of playing this captain. So I flew in, and saw the [previous] pilot in a screening room. I was impressed by the imagination behind it, but I saw why NBC might not have picked it up – it was deadly serious. So I suggested a lighter tone. They agreed, and it sold.”

Star Trek wasn’t a huge success out of the box, but picked up fans in syndication and Shatner found himself back on the bridge of the Enterprise in 1979, starring in seven Star Trek movies before ceding control to other captains. Which, as it turns out, is the concept behind his forthcoming Star Trek documentary, The Captains.

“I’m talking to all the captains of Star Trek,” explains Shatner. “I’m hoping to find things out about them that even they themselves don’t know. And in the process find out about myself.”

He does sound like he gets a little bored with Star Trek questions, though. Asked about his favourite episode, or the goofiest Star Trek collectible he’s come across, he sounds a bit exasperated.

“This is like 50 years ago,” he says. “There’s so much now going on is so current. I’ll be in Vancouver on Sunday, [and] I had a really bad experience the last time I was there. I did the sounds of whales the last time I was there, many many years ago.

“It was [part of something] called the Star Wars concert, and I put together the sounds of whales to the D.H. Lawrence poem Whales Weep Not. Everything I did was choreographed to the sounds of whales. And when I went to the auditorium, I saw nothing but leather jackets and motorcyclists. I thought that was strange attire to wear to a concert. It turned out that it was misrepresented as a rock concert, [when] in fact it was a classical concert.

“The motorcycle clubs were there to get there to get their rock and roll rocks off, and I come in with Whales Weep Not. And the sound system fails, so there’s no sound. So all I’m doing is enunciating this DH Lawrence poem in front of all these leather jacketed monsters. That as my last experience in Vancouver. I hope this one turns out a little better.”

It’s hard to say when the Whales Weep Not show was – asked for the year, he laughed and said “before you were born.” He has been to B.C. since then, of course, doing some Boston Legal episodes on the north coast. Which is how he got turned on to one of the hot ecological issues in the province, farmed salmon.

Shatner recently lent his support to a federal NDP proposal to move all salmon farms to lakes, rather than the ocean, where escaped farm salmon mingle with wild stocks.

“Right near you, right now, salmon are dying because of the greed of certain people,” he says.

“It is horrible, and British Columbia citizens should make sure that wild salmon are protected. Because they’re a keystone species, and if they go – and there’s a danger of them going – it’ll be like the Gulf [of Mexico oil] catastrophe, the earth will suffer and never recover.”

Sounds like the kind of political awareness that would make him a good candidate to be Canada’s next Governor-General. In fact, somebody has started a Facebook campaign about just that.

“I’ve been trying to convince them I wouldn’t make a good governor-general, but they won’t let me alone,” he says.

I protest that he must have received the Order of Canada, at least.

“Canada’s given me orders to get out,” he laughed.