Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Birthplace or boyhood home?

(published in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, May 13, 2009)

After watching J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek," I had to call Steve Miller, the former city councilor who originally proposed Riverside declare itself the fictional future birthplace of the U.S.S. Enterprise's most famous captain, James T. Kirk.

I've read many quotes from an exuberant Miller in much of the local coverage of the new movie and its special screening for Riverside residents. But he and other Eastern Iowans seem to be avoiding the fact that the new film -- which tells the story of when the Enterprise's iconic crew first came together -- has Kirk born in a shuttlecraft in the farthest reaches of space rather than at the spot where an engraved marker stands in Riverside.

"You have to remember that the new film has a time travel plot," Miller said, citing the clever way Abrams chose to honor the Star Trek mythos without being compelled to treat it like holy writ. "It's an alternative universe to the one we know."

"But," I said while explaining to Miller that I didn't want to get too geeky on him, "the point at which the timelines separate is supposed to happen after Kirk's mother goes into labor. That means, even in the section supposedly in sync with the established Star Trek universe, Kirk is born far, far away from Riverside."

"Hey, this is 'Star Trek,' we're talking about," Miller reassured me. "You can't get too geeky. ... I guess I'll just have to go back to the book I read in which Gene Roddenberry, the series' creator, said that Kirk was born in a small town in Iowa."

It was after reading that quote back in the 1980s that Miller first proposed Riverside declare itself the "Future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk." Roddenberry, who had never specified which town in Iowa he was referring to, gave Riverside his consent.

"I didn't see the name of the shuttlecraft," Miller joked, "maybe its name is 'The State of Iowa.'"

"Or maybe this is more like the difference between Dixon and Tampico in Illinois," I said. "One is 'The Birthplace of President Ronald Reagan' and the other is 'The Boyhood Home of President Ronald Reagan.' Maybe you'll have to change the Riverside's motto to 'The Future Boyhood Home of Captain James T. Kirk.'"

"Yeah, and I hear those two cities don't really get along," Miller said.

"But you won't have to worry about that," I said. "Your only competition will be a point in space millions of miles away."

"I'm just glad Riverside got mentioned at all in the film," Miller said.

And Miller's not the only one pleased with how the film mentions the "Riverside Shipyard" as it explains how a young, angry, rebellious, thoroughly Iowan Kirk eventually joins Starfleet and takes command of the Enterprise. Although the Iowa sections of the film were not filmed here, the Iowa Film Office is also very happy about how the state's cameo in the No. 1 blockbuster is helping to put the words "Iowa" and "feature film" together in countless news releases and reviews.

"I was surprised to see that the Grand Canyon somehow gets moved to Iowa," said Miller, referring to an early scene in which a pre-teen Kirk narrowly escapes from a car heading over a huge cliff.

"Maybe that's supposed to be the new Iowa River valley," I said.

"I guess erosion will do that after a few centuries," Miller replied.

Opinion editor Jeff Charis-Carlson can be contacted at or 319-887-5435.

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