'Star Trek': Why Spock is cooler than ever

Startrekspock_lIf you had to boil down a hundred years of science fiction — from H.G. Wells to Philip K. Dick, from Metropolis to 2001, from Robby the Robot to Darth Vader — to a single cautionary sentence, it might be this: In the age of technology, human beings, as a race, have become so ruthlessly intelligent that they’re threatening to turn into the machines they invent. It doesn’t matter whether the sci-fi character in question is a robot, an android, a cyborg, a rogue A.I. computer, a Big Brother on surveillance camera, or a giant-headed alien invader: All are metaphors for man evolved into Automatic Man, stripped of “feeling” in an age of cerebral overdevelopment. All are pop projections of a society built, increasingly, on the cult of mind over matter.

When Star Trek first launched into network orbit in 1966, Leonard Nimoy’s quizzically handsome, slightly inscrutable, deep-voiced Vulcan Spock — a man so arch he had permanent raised eyebrows — was the most benign, and prime-time user-friendly, of these humanoid head cases. A kind of missing link between the British TV alien time traveler Doctor Who (who debuted in 1963) and Yoda, Spock, the Vulcan with the ears of an elf, the bangs of a mid-’60s turtlenecked nightclub dandy, and the manners of an extraterrestrial Zen guru, was, symbolically speaking, humanity “evolved” into a creature of ultimate, impeccable logic and wisdom. Of course, such perfection isn’t really attainable, or even necessarily desirable, which is why the flaw in Spock’s nature, his human side — the bits of emotion that niggled away at his placid demeanor — were what made him sympathetic. Yet within the temperamentally integrated rainbow coalition that was the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, Spock, the suavely rational brain man, represented something new: the coming of geek chic.

For the fans who’ve spent decades lining up at Star Trek conventions in rubber elf ears, Spock has always been, in his way, kind of cool. He’s a hero to anyone who experiences his own nature as intensely, if not overly, rational. But the whole premise of the series is that Capt. James T. Kirk is inescapably cooler. Spock is the mind to Kirk’s body, the control freak to his hothead, the rock to his roll. And so it has been for 43 years.

Until now. In Star Trek, the already smashingly popular J.J.Abrams reboot, Zachary Quinto invests Spock with a new layer ofchilly-smoldering sex appeal. Early on, when he’s still a rising cadeton his home planet, he’s told that a Vulcan should allow himself to bedominated by logic not because he has no feelings, but because hisfeelings run so deep. (It’s the same lesson, in essence, that Obi-WanKenobi delivers to Luke Skywalker: The Force will be with you if youdiscipline your spirit.) The thing is, this represents a radical, ifsubtle, expansion of the Spock mojo: It turns out that he’s not quite autilitarian logic fiend by nature — he’s just trained to be a geniusat keeping a lid on his passions. And Quinto does a fantastic job ofmaintaining Spock’s calm, no-sweat surface but getting quietly hot andbothered underneath. He makes the war within Spock as electric, in itsway, as the young Kirk’s recklessI-gotta-be-bad-because-I’ll-never-be-as-great-as-my-daddy swagger.

Geek chic, of course, is an outdated term. In the age of theInternet and the endlessly updated technologicalhome-entertainment/office-slave gadget, we’re all geeks now.And maybe it’s only in the context of a culture that has come torequire mind over matter, 24 hours a day, that a mandarin like Spockcould finally pull up even with a noble macho like Kirk in the coolsweepstakes. Or maybe even surpass him. For the first time, says thenew Star Trek, we’re no longer just all geeks; we’re all Spock.   

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  • Wickeddoll

    I liked that we saw more dimensions to Spock, but I can’t get past my disbelief that he would never behave that way with Uhura – not at that point in his life. He was still trying to prove how Vulcan he was, and shunning his human side (in public, anyway#. He knew he’d never be fully accepted by Vulcans, but that humans would probably have more respect #and certainly compassion# for him. I also had a problem with Quinto’s very Sylar-esque line delivery. He needs to develop a separate voice for young Spock, though I doubt he can overcome his lateral lisp. None of this spoiled the movie for me, though. My #uber TOS) hubby and I really enjoyred the film.

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  • Clint Johnson

    The mythos of Star Trek had established that the Vulcans where extremely emotional back when the novel tie ins first started being written back in the early ’70s. They nearly killed themselves off with internecine warfare before the made the decision to subjugate their dangerous emotions to iron reason. I’ve always wondered at the people who considered themselves to be “Trekkers” but did not know this about the Vulcans. This is long established canon.

  • sleepingcat

    This is one of the best-written pieces I’ve seen in too long a time. Well done, worth reading — and I usually don’t read entertainment commentary. But this is more: as social/cultural commentary, this is exceptional. I was an early “Star Trek” fan. I’m old enough that I watched the original series albeit in black-and-white as we had no color TV. Mr. Gleiberman’s take is encouraging: there are still people working in the media who have functioning brain stems instead of the usual void.

  • Nate

    I really wish though, that Spock and Nero would have had a mano a mano brawl fight.

    • judy James

      i agree with you

  • Tex

    Spock has always caught our interest because like Sherlock Holmes and Mr. Darcy,here is an intelligent man, who keeps tight control over what we`re sure is a deep and passionate inner being.

  • Elena

    I loved Zachary Quinto’s portrayal of Spock so much that I want to take it behind the middle school and get it pregnant. Quinto’s got acting chops!

  • zie

    I was amazed by Quinto. he gave a phenomenal performance. Sexy as hell too. Far more so than Kirk.

  • mb

    The writer is wrong on some points, IMO. I am a long time Trekkie–from back in the 1970’s. Spock ALWAYS had that hint of emotion/sexuality underneath his placid facade and that is what made the character so fascinating. He had emotions but they were suppressed and so did all Vulcans–as the other poster said, that is canon. Spock was always sexy and had legions of female fans from day one in Trekkie fandom. Quinto is following in the tradition of the role but he has a way to go to compete with Nimoy, who was masculine,strong, aloof but yet sometime burned with emotional intensity and sex appeal in the role. Spock also had some emotional entanglements on the show(for instance, he and Uhura were friends/attracted to each other on multiple episodes like Charlie X, the Man trap, etc)so all these fans saying that he would never kiss Uhura are out to lunch. I think Quinto did a good job–he just needs to watch more old shows with Nimoy on them to prepare for the sequel.

  • Joshua T

    Spock was cool but Karl Urban as Bones McCoy was so much better.

  • Stephanie T.

    Both Urban and Quinto are hot. Qunito should shave and wax his brows more often (but not in theshape of a vulcan).

  • nina

    Spock was so hot in this movie. I mean the way he said “Live long and prosper” (to a group of people in the film), and made it sound like “Up yours a**holes”, was awesome. With twist in the story line , the slight tweeking of the behaviors of the characters are allowed because the Star Trek that we grew up with hadn’t happened yet. Spock Prime has poise that Young Spock hasn’t learned yet. The chemistry between him and Uhura smolders. I really enjoyed this film. I saw it in IMAX last night, and there were so many things that were great about it that I plan to see it again. I already remembered a point in the film that indicated that the Spock and Uhura’s kiss was the product of something from before they boarded the ship. *Pay attention to the dialog between the two of them after Uhura finds out what ship she was assigned too.*

  • Wickeddoll

    Joshua T wrote: “Spock was cool but Karl Urban as Bones McCoy was so much better.”
    I’ve heard that a lot lately. Urban was good, always has been; (Caesar in “Xena” but Bones’ southern drawl was an important part of his overall earthiness. I see some have said Spock was always sexy – I never said otherwise! I just think he would be much more likely to chasing tail later, when he finally decided it was OK to have emotions. At the point he’s at in this movie he was still trying to prove himself on every level, and I just have a hard time believing he would indulge in such a thing at that time. That aside, the chemistry between Quinto and Saldana was smoking hot! I think all of the actors did a great job, but I think Pine was best overall. It had to be really difficult to play Kirk without aping Shatner.

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  • Lucien BONNET

    RE:
    ‘Star Trek': Why Spock is cooler than ever
    May 9, 2009, 04:40 PM | by Owen Gleiberman
    Categories: Star Trek
    ———————
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    M. David Plouffe
    Campaign Manager
    Obama for America
    Dear Sir:
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    Lucien BONNET

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  • Honeybee

    The movie gets it right with Uhura’s crush on Spock. Why would she want to be a notch of Kirk’s belt? Too easy. But to make Spock loose just a bit of that trademark cool – that is something a girl can be proud of. And yes, I think even Spock Prime was always smoldering a little beneath that cool – Quinto gets to play him a little less mature, a little less controlled – and very sexy. I love Chris Pine, too – but Spock owns this movie. Quinto is terrific, swoon-worthy and will disprove the notion that this is not a “women’s” film. Thanks to Spock, this is totally a chick’s action flick.

  • BobDob

    I actually thought Quinto’s Spock left something to be desired. It felt very uneven and lacked a lot of the intellectual prowess that Spock had, which probably wasn’t Quinto’s fault. To me, he seemed more like Sylar on a muscle relaxer than Spock.

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