This week’s third Major Spoilers Podcast features a discussion of the works of JJ Abrams (look for it this Friday!) which led to me ruminating a bit about his 2009 continuation of the Star Trek series.  (My friend Dusty, the biggest Trek aficionado I know, will not allow me to refer to it as a reboot.)  In that film, I was really impressed by the work of Karl Urban and Zachary Quinto, both of whom created their own takes on the iconic roles of Leonard McCoy and Mr. Spock.  However, the kid they have playing Kirk never quite nails enough of the Shatner to be an homage, while never quite giving me something entirely unique enough to make his portrayal a whole new beast, leaving him as a pleasant enough composite protagonist, but never quite the iconic level of capital-K Kirk.

The MS-QOTD (pronounced, as always, “misquoted”) canna’ take th’ strain, Cap’n, asking: Are our favorite movie and TV characters successful more because of who is playing their part, or could any sufficiently skilled actor bring them to life?

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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9 Comments

  1. ArcticPhoenix
    November 28, 2012 at 12:07 pm — Reply

    I honestly dont think anyone could have done Lister or Kryten from Red Dwarf any better, Rimmer had to be done by Chris Barrie too. I think only the cat could have been done by someone else, but Danny John Jules did a fantastic job bringing his own thing to the character.

  2. November 28, 2012 at 12:37 pm — Reply

    The actors marry the writing and concept to ‘become’ the character. Quinto and Urban were doing Nimoy and Kelly as Spock and McCoy. They were using what had come before in their performances. Shatner’s Kirk is an animal all its own and anyone trying to do ‘Kirk’ will likely come across as Kevin Pollack doing his impersonation. That particular character was in a real bind conceptually for that reason, and Chris Pine couldn’t do a new ‘take’ on Kirk, and he couldn’t do Shatner leaving a somewhat forgettable performance behind. Hopefully the new Kirk can be better defined in the second film.

    It is really hard to envision Tom Selleck as Indiana Jones, but that almost happened. Selleck as Jones might have been as successful as Ford, but it would have been a completely different beast. That would have in turn have changed how the sequels would be approached and you’d have 3 movies that feel nothing like the 3 we have, but we might love them just the same.

    In the case of Marty McFly, Eric Stoltz simply DID NOT WORK as the character, as the role had been essentially been written for Michael J Fox. Stoltz is a fine actor, very capable, but some characters don’t work for certain actors.

    So yes, certain characters are in fact better for who is playing them, and a capable actor can’t necessarily play any given character.

  3. AllenBT
    November 28, 2012 at 1:10 pm — Reply

    The key to your question is “character.” Can Chris Pine make Kirk a success? Maybe, but it will/should be a different Kirk from Shatner’s interpretation. Attempting to ape Shatner will doom Pine to failure. That road leads to caricature.

    The better model is James Bond. You can argue that each of the actors to star in the Albert Broccoli films brought something unique to the role to create a new successful character to each outing.

    Connery’s suave charm, Lazenby’s quiet man of action, Moore’s unflappable snark, Dalton’s ruthless efficiency, Brosnan’s sardonic wit and now Craig’s flawed warrior created a NEW Bond, with each actors’ debut. None of them tried to ape a prior performance.

    Pine and the writers have failed to bring anything unique/new to Kirk so far. Simply re-writing him as younger isn’t enough. And having him try to trade on the brashness and inherent self confidence doesn’t make sense in a unproven Starfleet officer, who hasn’t done anything yet to earn that attitude. It leads to the discordant inter-crew conflict that was somewhat annoying in the first film and makes him vaguely annoying in a Wesley Crusher over eager, “I can do it” sort of way.

    The Shatner Kirk relied heavily on the unquestioned confidence his crew has in him, to cash the checks his ego wrote. He could because (prior to us seeing the character) he’d earned that respect. You only back a wild gambler after you’ve seen him win a few pots. Anything before that is just reckless.

    That’s what was missing in Pine’s portrayal.

    • Josh "Spaceboot" Treleaven
      November 29, 2012 at 1:14 am — Reply

      I love the Wesley Crusher – Pine Kirk comparison!

  4. November 28, 2012 at 4:34 pm — Reply

    But it isn’t a reboot. Trek canon already has alternate timelines documented (such as the Mirror Universe and all those timelines Worf crossed into), this is just another one of those alternate timelines but it will be the core focus of Trek for a little while.

    I think the actors bring a good chunk of the character to the table, but I do think that others can play the same role just as well if they fill the right qualifications and have the right skill. For instance, I rather enjoy the fan series “Star Trek: Phase II” and think they have done a decent job bringing the TOS cast to life with new actors. Don’t get me wrong, though, because I do think the actors who play characters really do make the difference between the character being memorable or forgettable, but I don’t think it is the sole factor.

  5. Oldcomicfan
    November 28, 2012 at 9:59 pm — Reply

    It’s both. I refer you to Judgement at Nuremberg, which was done as a black and white movie in the 60s starring Spencer Tracy, Judy Garland, Max Schell and even a young William Shatner as – get this – a Captain! The movie was remade in the late 80s, early 90s with an entirely new cast, none of whom I can remember. It was a good movie, perhaps as good as the original, but the original will always be better in my mind because of the excellent cast.

    I think any talented actor can play just about any role – but that won’t mean the portrayal will be the end all and be all performance. Nobody will ever be a better Obi Wan Kinobi than Alec Guiness. It’s doubtful that anybody will ever be a better Indiana Jones than Harrison Ford.

    But every now and then, you have an actor comes along who gives a different but strong performance and makes the role his own. I thought nobody would ever be as good a Rooster Cogburn as John Wayne – certain Warren Oats didn’t cut the mustard – but dang if Jeff Bridges, of all people, didn’t match John Wayne’s performance if not top it! I had thought that none of the Bonds to follow Connery were worth the powder it would take to blow them up until I saw Daniel Craig’s Bond and damn! He hit the ball out of the park!

    I agree with Allen’s comment above – Original Kirk had served his way up thru the ranks and earned the confidence of the crew. Pine Kirk hadn’t – and the conflict with the crew occurred because of they didn’t know what to expect from an untried, untested braggart suddenly assuming the Captain’s chair. Perhaps with a less Spock-centric script this time, we will see what Pine can bring to the role. His performance in Unstoppable was excellent.

  6. Josh "Spaceboot" Treleaven
    November 29, 2012 at 1:11 am — Reply

    “Are our favorite movie and TV characters successful more because of who is playing their part, or could any sufficiently skilled actor bring them to life?”

    The grammar in this question is broken. Craft better questions!

    I’m gonna try: Which contributes more to the success of a character: the actor playing him or her, or the concept of the character itself?

    And thus my answer would be: the actor has more influence, simply because a concept is an abstract idea subject to change, including influence coming directly from the actor.

    There was a time when the written word was more important, and a character would exist outside of any actor. Perhaps this world still exists in theater. But with visual recording media today, access to original performances dampens enthusiasm for alternatives.

    I think the culture of theater produced some amazing things, but I’m betting when you looked at the day-to-day movements of Shakespearean traditions over the centuries, the average performance was probably pretty bad. The demand was there for people to see their favourite characters again and again, and with no YouTube to access the original or best performances, people had to make do with the professionals. Every once in a while you’d get a great performance, which would stir interest in the character, and in Shakespeare, and in theater in general, and that’s what people remember about particular plays.

    With today’s universal access to media, we might lose some of that culture of repetition. No longer will it be acceptable to repeat the pop culture of the day, when the real thing is available a couple of clicks away. However, this might be a spur toward more creativity and originality in performances. Instead of just repeating a Shakespeare play, in order to make your variation interesting and click-worthy to a modern audience, you need to change it in some way, like by adding zombies. My hope is that today’s actors and artists and directors will rise to the challenge.

    • November 29, 2012 at 7:15 am — Reply

      That’s certainly tortured grammar, but I wouldn’t call it broken. Given the QOTD’s usual late-night origins, I think I’ve done worse.

  7. Davis
    November 29, 2012 at 6:45 am — Reply

    Adam West, William Shatner… Robert Conrad and Ross Martin were not at the top of the actors food chain.
    Nor was Bruce Lee in Green Hornet.
    But, we still watch the magic.
    God bless Larry Hagman who convinced us all that a silly astronaut can become the most hated man on earth.
    It is called acting for a reason.
    I do think that the actor that played “Bones” did a damn good job for the Star Trek movie and honored Mr. Kelly.

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