Bill Paxton is probably on your TV right now. The chances are that somewhere among the hundreds of cable and satellite channels you receive, Bill Paxton’s familiar face is grinning back at you. Throughout his career he chose roles in just the kind of popular movies that have become ubiquitous on television. Think about it. You wouldn’t be at all surprised while channel surfing to come across Apollo 13, Titanic, Aliens, Tombstone, Edge of Tomorrow, True Lies, Twister, or one of the countless other films perfectly suited to be filled with commercials and stretched to four hours so as to take up your entire weekend afternoon. And the odds are if you did stumble across one of those movies you’d stop to watch it for a bit, even if you’ve seen it a million times. And while Bill Paxton may not have been your reason for stopping, he just might be the reason you continued to watch long after you would otherwise have moved on.
The world doesn’t need another article today memorializing Carrie Fisher by focusing on her role as Leia Organa in the Star Wars saga, so I apologize that this post adds to the seemingly endless recollections of Fisher’s most famous role. She should be, and thankfully has been, celebrated worldwide today as much for her abilities as a novelist and screenwriter, particularly her semi-autobiographical novel Postcards from the Edge along with the film it was based on and the countless scripts she worked on and improved throughout her career, as for her performance as Leia. She should be remembered for her biting sense of humor, her eagerness to call out bullshit wherever she saw it, especially in the world of movies and celebrities, and her bravery in openly discussing her battles with addiction and bipolar disorder, giving a voice to struggles that are all too common yet which we frequently pretend don’t exist. And of course her career as an actress was far more diverse and expansive than just Star Wars, with supporting roles in classics like When Harry Met Sally…, Hannah and Her Sisters, and The Blues Brothers to countless appearances on television. Carrie Fisher was far, far more than Leia, and yet the role that she so expertly defined will be the one that will forever define her, just as the character of Leia helped to define my views of what a hero should look like. Through Leia, Carrie Fisher taught me to be a feminist, long before I even knew what a feminist was.
It’s rare that an actor who was almost exclusively relegated to supporting roles can have a huge impact on audiences and create so many memorable performances and characters, but Alan Rickman was just such an exception. Rickman, who passed away today at age 69, is rightfully being remembered for his famous roles as villains in movies like Die Hard, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and the Harry Potter series (yes, Snape was a hero in the end, but for seven and a half films Rickman was playing the role of a villain), but his work was much more varied than headlines would suggest. He showed remarkable range, with a brilliant ear for comedy, a uniquely gorgeous voice, a charm and sophistication seldom seen these days, and the ability to rip your heart out of your chest and leave you emotionally destroyed. His roles always seemed to be the ones that stuck with you long after the rest of the film had faded from memory, and he could easily outshine those billed above him no matter the part. Every performance found layers to the characters that went beyond the script: his heroes were complex, his villains lovable. And while his career in the theatre is as worthy of celebration as any aspect of his career, his legacy lies in his varied roles on film, through which he connected to millions on a very personal level.
Welcome to “Friday Favorites” which highlight some of my favorite movie-related things.
All Star Trek fans were saddened by the death of Leonard Nimoy two weeks ago. His impact on Star Trek as a story, saga, franchise, and experience is probably second only to Gene Roddenberry himself, as his character, Mr. Spock, is probably the defining character of Star Trek, ahead of Kirk, Picard, or any of the others. And while many articles celebrating his life and his work on Star Trek have focused on either his memorable quotes (“Live long and prosper” “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” or “I have been and always shall be your friend”), the two Star Trek films he directed (The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home), or Spock’s biggest moments in the show or the film series, my mind keeps returning to one particular scene near the end of the final Original Series film, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
To understand the scene (which is not available on youtube), here’s a brief summary of the film up until this point. The Undiscovered Country tells a parable about the end of the Cold War, with the Klingon Empire dying and an attempt to forge peace between them and the Federation, longtime enemies. Spock, now an ambassador, has reached out to the Klingon Chancellor and brokered a peace deal, and has brought the Enterprise and her crew out of mothballs in order to take him to escort the Chancellor to a secret location to sign a new treaty. Kirk and many of the others would have rather stayed retired, and Kirk in particular is opposed to the plan, as he has “never trusted Klingons, and (he) never will. (He’s) never been able to forgive them for the death of (his) boy.”
Things get off to a rough start as the Klingon ship and the Enterprise meet, but things get much worse when the Klingon ship is attacked in such a way where the Enterprise is blamed for it and Chancellor Gorkon is murdered. Kirk and McCoy are blamed for Gorkon’s death, and are sentenced to life on a remote prison planet, but are eventually rescued by Spock and the Enterprise, who suspect a saboteur is on board. They eventually uncover a conspiracy attempting to thwart a peace agreement between the Federation and the Klingons, orchestrated by high ranking members of both the Federation and the Empire, including Spock’s Vulcan protege, Lt. Polaris. Having learned of their plans, the Enterprise rushes to intercept a prototype Klingon ship attempting to disrupt the peace talks.
As they travel at maximum warp towards a battle in which, even if they arrive in time, they’ll be outmatched, Kirk pays Spock a visit as the half-Vulcan, half-Human lies meditating in his quarters. What follows is a quiet, subtle, contemplative scene where these two men, getting on in years, discuss the future in partly veiled terms while questioning what led them to this point. Kirk seeks to interrupt a brooding Spock by asking:
Kirk: Dining on ashes?
Spock: You were right, it was arrogant presumption on my part that got us unto this situation. You and the Doctor might have been killed.
Kirk: The night is young! You said it yourself, it was logical. Peace is worth a few personal risks.
Kirk wonders around the room, messing with Spock’s things, before finally getting to the deeper point he wants to discuss:
Kirk: You’re a great one for logic. I’m a great one for rushing in where angels fear to tread. We’re both extremists; reality is probably somewhere in between. … I couldn’t get past the death of my son.
Spock: I was prejudiced by her accomplishments as a Vulcan.
Kirk: Gorkon had to die before I understood how prejudiced I was.
They both stare into space before Spock finally sits up and looks at his friend, delivering my favorite line that Spock has ever delivered, in one of Leonard Nimoy’s finest moments as an actor:
Spock: Is it possible that we two, you and I, have grown so old and so inflexible that we have outlived our usefulness? Would that constitute a joke?
Nimoy gives Spock a weariness and even a tinge of bitterness that lies just under the surface, still suppressed by Spock’s Vulcan half. Yet he also appreciates the irony and even the humor of the moment, when these two old heroes, whom the universe is passing by as the Federation enters a new era and whose own prejudices that once served them so well are now working against them, are called upon once again to save the very universe in which they seemingly no longer have a place.
Kirk tries to comfort Spock:
Kirk: Don’t crucify yourself, it wasn’t your fault.
Spock: I was responsible…
Kirk: For no actions but your own.
Spock: That is not what you said at your trial.
Kirk: That was as captain of the ship. Human beings—
Spock: But Captain, we both know that I am not human.
Kirk: Spock, you want to know something? Everybody’s human.
Spock: I find that remark… insulting.
Kirk: Come on, I need you.
In many ways, The Undiscovered Country was a farewell to the Original Series crew, set up as their final mission. The Next Generation had now taken over the reins, and was already four years into their seven year run, with spinoffs Deep Space Nine and Voyager coming soon. All three series were set in a different era of the Federation, and all aired in a different era of television, where special effects were more impressive, stories were more intricate and cerebral, writers strove for a level of realism, stories were more serialized, and there was considerably less camp. By comparison, the Original Series was quaint, outdated, and generally less popular.
But The Undiscovered Country did more than just unceremoniously kick those familiar faces out the door to make way for the new, it also celebrated what made them unique and special in the first place, while showing that even these old dogs could learn some new tricks, and be a part of a more thoughtful, mature, emotional, and symbolic film than audiences were used to from them. And while there was still an action packed finale to come, this scene encapsulates everything I love about the film, the cast, and Leonard Nimoy in particular (though Shatner is great in it as well).
And since this scene isn’t available for me to embed here for you to watch, I’ll leave you with another scene, the final of the film and the last time we see the entire crew together, signing off for the last time as a family.
What do you think? Do you remember this scene from The Undiscovered Country? What moment springs to mind when you remember Leonard Nimoy? What is your favorite Star Trek series, film, or character? Let me know in the comments!
How do you sum up a life and career as successful and enduring as Richard Attenborough’s? With over 60 years in the film industry, a knighthood and a peerage, his life seemingly could speak for itself. In addition to his contributions to the movies, he’ll also be remembered for his charity work, particularly in the fight against muscular dystrophy and as an advocate for education. But for us film buffs, we’ll honor him for his excellent work on the big screen, whether in front of the camera or behind it.