Shatner Khan“KHAAANNNN!” The coming of the mighty Shatner is heralded at the Count Basie Theatre with a three night Kirk-out of films in the classic STAR TREK franchise. Below,Middletown’s own Billy Van Zandt as the “Alien Boy.” 

Billy Van Zandt Alien Boy Star TrekThe famous boards of Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre have hosted a veritable Who’s Who of larger-than-life luminaries, from the crowned heads of Hollywood (Cary Grant, Mickey Rooney, Myrna Loy, Al Pacino) to the brightest lights of the performing arts stage (Idina Menzel, Martha Graham, Marcel Marceau); from comedy kingpins (George Carlin, Bill Cosby, Stephen Colbert) to reality-TV sensations; from music monuments (James Brown, B.B. King, Tony Bennett, Ringo Starr) to homegrown heroes Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi.

That said, not even borough-born Count Basie himself commanded the kind of build-up being granted the showbiz legend who arrives at station stop Red Bank on February 5: actor, author, director, spokesman and ultimate song stylist William Shatner.

Then again, it’s Shatner’s World as they say. And in advance of his Friday night engagement, the Basie is unspooling a celluloid red carpet that begins this very evening, February the first, and extends (for three nights and six feature-length films) to the far reaches of one of the galaxy’s most enduring pop cultural franchises: Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek.

By the late 1970s, the original Star Trek series was a long-cancelled rerun staple whose various attempts at fanning the embers of its cult-fave afterlife (via Saturday morning cartoons, Saturday Night Live sketches, and your roommate’s killer Kirk impression) introduced the failed franchise to a savvy new generation of enthusiasts — such as the crowd at Brookdale Community College who mobbed James “Scotty” Doohan during an appearance on the Lincroft campus.

The news that Paramount was green-lighting a big-budget reunion of the original cast members — with equally legendary director Robert Wise (West Side Story, Sound of Music) on the bridge — went verbally viral in those pre-social media spacescape. Still, despite assembling all the right components and adding an influx of money never spent before or since, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a generally underwhelming, somewhat confusing and curiously sterile riff on some of Roddenberry’s more spiritual musings. It just didn’t seem Star Trek enough — but judge or re-judge for yourself (and watch for Middletown’s own Billy Van Zandt as the “Alien Boy” of the Enterprise bridge) when the 1979 release plays on the Basie screen at 7 p.m.

If you must see but one film in the first six series entries, best make it the 9 p.m. showing of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the 1982 reboot that ditched producer Roddenberry in favor of series veteran Harve Bennett — adding a sure-handed directorial turn by Nicholas Meyer (author of the best-selling Sherlock Holmes pastiche The Seven Per Cent Solution), and resurrecting an old bad-guy (Ricardo Montalban as genetic superman Khan) for a rousing yarn that built beautifully upon the themes of the 1960s original. Also added: some new characters (Kirstie Alley in a Vulcanized debut), intriguing new facets of the Trek mythos, and a tragic climax that fairly cried out for a Federation flotilla of sequels.

Which brings us to Tuesday, February 2 and the 7 p.m. screening of 1984’s Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Leonard Nimoy, missing in action for much of the film’s running time, makes his directorial debut with an exercise in continuity and resurrection that boasts the spectacular destruction of the starship Enterprise — and the spectacle of Christopher Lloyd (then fresh in the public eye as Reverend Jim from Taxi) as the main Klingon baddie. Picking up immediately where the third film left off, 1986’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home finds Nimoy back in the director’s chair; with the aging Trek crew commandeering a Klingon vessel for a trip back in time to the 20th century, where something-something-something Save the Whales. Several critics called this the series’ finest hour, but an over-reliance on comic relief, and the general chintziness of the “contemporary” setting, may skew your own take on the film that plays at 9 p.m.

Night Three of the Trek trifecta opens at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, February 3 with Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, the 1989 entry that served as Shatner’s own debut at the riding crop, beret and megaphone. The man who emoted so brilliantly in Impulse wrangles his cast of veteran co-stars — a group of troupers who are definitely showing their mileage in this, a cheesy gag-infused runaround with a rogue Vulcan as chief villain. The screening series concludes at 9 p.m. with 1991’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country — a pan-galactic political espionage thriller in which Kirk and company tangle with a Klingon representative (played by another Sound of Music veteran, Christopher Plummer) and endeavor to unite the warring factions; in a way that reflected the warm and fuzzy good times that were then surely rippling from the fall of the Berlin Wall. Wrenching the franchise from the hands of Bennett and his stars, this underrated capper to the Trek-classic years makes a gallant attempt to restore some dignity (plus the capable writer-director Meyer) to the proceedings.

Bill Shatner and his toupee would take one more big-screen bow in Star Trek: Generations, the vehicle that served to catapult the cast of the 1980s Next Generation series into its own intermittently successful multiplex mission. But the coming Basie nights offer much to munch on for intrepid Trekkers and casual viewers alike — so take it here for tickets, which are priced at just $5 per double-feature event. It’s also FREE for members of the Count Basie Cinema Society, or ticketholders to the Friday night Shatner-klatsch, about which more to come here on redbankgreen.