Star Trek II, the experience: The Wrath of Khan, the obsolescence of Dad. I tagged along, a primitive reporter born in 1937, eager to understand my children, anxious to relate to the runaway future and the dark reaches of the universe.
"Movies like Star Trek are for kids, and the reviews should be done by kids," said elder son Shamu, 13. "But you ought to see such movies. Star Trek I was dull. But Star Trek II is much better. The special effects are really good."
Son Danny, 9, offered to serve as my guide. For the past five years or so, Danny has been interested in time travel, which he believes will come in his lifetime and will be "more spectacular than space travel because you can change history." Danny has a list of historical events he wants to change, although he is a bit concerned that he may get stuck in the wrong century.
Danny was glad to explain the fine points of Trek Tech, crucial because the technology is the plot. For instance, in the opening sequence, someone trying out as captain fails. It's a no-win situation, she is told. But before Admiral James Kirk explained what she should have done, Danny whispered to me that the half-Vulcan space cadet should have reprogrammed the test.
"So it was a test," I murmured weakly, "but what's reprogramming?
"I'll explain later," Danny shouted over a deafening roar simulating starship takeoff. "Don't you just love the sound effects?"
At 44 I am obsolete, technologically retarded, evolutionally stunted, brother to the clerk with his quill. Ready for the dustbin.
I felt a bit better when Admiral Kirk's long-abandoned wife, Dr. Carole Marcus, emerged from the shadows of deep space and I began to suspect that her curly-haired son must have been Kirk's. Carole, a long- suffering human type, directed an experiment called Genesis. Familiar terrain.
But then Danny explained: "Genesis means an atomic process that creates life on a dead planet. But if there is life on that planet, the atomic process kills that life. Everything is reversed, you understand?"
Danny was uninterested in the romance between trekkie Kirk and homebody Marcus, which reminded me of the one between roaming Ulysses, of the hungry heart, and sedentary Penelope, endlessly undoing her own weaving. The reconciliation between father and son didn't register with Danny. "Is David the admiral's son?" he said. "Hmm." He didn't think it important.
I thought the little worms that Khan used to control people's minds were gruesome, and couldn't bear to look as the worms bored their way into the ears of their victims. Danny acknowledged that the worms were "gross." But they were "neat," too, he said. "The universe must be full of strange animals like those worms."
I was a little dim on the need to repair the starship's engine and the dangers involved. "Radiation," Danny said, "high-level."
"But the engine is working. What has to be fixed?"
"I guess the Enterprise will warp."
"Warp means superspeed."
For Danny, the climax was the explosion of Khan's ship. He couldn't get over the colors -- "much, much better than the explosion of the Death Star in Star Wars."
In short, he thinks Star Trek II was one of the best movies he has seen, if not the best. Why? "Because it was funny and full of surprises. A good plot, superior computer graphics, superior technological violence and absolutely the best special effects."
Spock's death disturbed him, though. "It was stupid," he said on the way home. "Unnecessary. Not logical. They build him up as a character, and he is terribly important. There is no Star Trek without him."
Having discussed the matter with his brother and several friends, Danny is now certain that Mr. Spock will be reprogrammed for Star Trek III.
"Reprogram means new life," he explained. "Maybe a new identity."
Maybe there's hope for the rest of us voyagers, too.