Where No Latino has Gone Before

What does the new summer blockbuster Star Trek have to do with Latinos? Quite a bit, as it turns out. The screenwriter was Roberto Orci (see “A Partnership Made in Hollywood,” page 18) and eye-candy is provided by the stunning Zoe Saldana.

But few may know of the Cuban connection. The original television series was produced by Desilu, the studio founded by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball in 1950. Arnaz, forever typecast as Lucy’s bongo drum-banging husband (“You got some’splaining to do!”) was an extremely successful and innovative television producer. I Love Lucy pioneered the modern-day sitcom, and Arnaz also developed such classics as The Untouchables and Mission:Impossible.

The Star Trek saga began in 1964 when television writer Gene Roddenberry pitched the idea of a “Wagon Train to the Stars.” By then, the couple had divorced, and Ball was the president of Desilu. It was a gamble. Set in the 23rd century, the show featured an interracial crew (in a largely segregated America) including a Russian (during the Cold War) as well as a pointy-eared Vulcan. Desilu put up the money, the series was picked up by NBC, and the rest is inter-galactic history. It featured intelligent scripts by science fiction writers such as Harlan Ellison, touched upon controversial themes that were new to television, and inspired a whole generation of would-be astronauts. Though canceled after three years, Star Trek went on to spawn countless movies, spin-off series, and gazillions of dollars, earning an indelible place in popular culture.

The latest entry, directed by J.J. Abrams, promises to re-invigorate the slightly tired franchise. We meet a very young Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Mr. Spock (Zach Quinto) at Starfleet Academy. These talented actors somehow manage to make the archetypal characters their own without disappointing generations of fans. Indeed, the script fills in some gaps only hinted at in the television series, and offers insight into the friendship of the two. To say much more about the plot would give it away. There are the usual ingredients: nifty starships, brawls on the bridge, and a mad alien trying on destroy the universe. There is even time travel, an imploding planet, and a cameo appearance by the original Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy). Of course, Kirk manages to get the girl---with green skin, no less---and saves Earth in the process, setting up the sequel.

Star Trek will please all but the most hyper-critical Trekkies. But more importantly, the sexy cast, snappy dialogue, and fast-paced action will engage a whole new generation that wasn’t around in the days of Desilu.

Elaine Ayala