Should anyone be surprised that Buster Keaton movies will still make humans and other species laugh well into the 32nd century?
That was the future as portrayed on last week’s episode of Star Trek: Discovery. The USS Discovery’s Captain Saru (Doug Jones) knows his crew is a little bummed at being booted ahead a millennium. He asks the ship’s computer (who sounds like Siri) for some ideas on how to cheer everybody up at warp speed. Among her suggestions are a good old fashioned movie night, featuring a couple of funny guys named Chaplin and Keaton. (See the key scenes in the YouTube clip above.)
That many of their films were silent factored into the recommendation. Down through the centuries, they could still be enjoyed in any language. Keaton, informs the computer, was known as “the Great Stone Face.” Saru looks puzzled. Maybe he was expecting Ed Sullivan.
The next thing we know, the crew members are all down in the ship’s hanger bay, passing aroud popcorn and watching a giant hologram-like projection of “Sherlock Jr,” a wonderfully gimmicky Keaton feature from 1924.
Great choice; the film is funny as well as fascinating. It’s about a movie theatre projectionist who daydreams himself into the ever-changing scenes of the movie he is showing on a cinema screen.
Nearly 100 years ago there was no Industrial Light and Magic to render the special effects. They were all done mechanically, in the camera, with the lens masked and film rewound multiple times to pull off various double exposures. Audiences must have been astounded in 1924; the tricks are still cool and seamless today.
That Discovery might have access to a print of “Sherlock Jr.” is made somewhat credible in that, in 1991, the film was selected for preservation by the U.S. National Film Registry thanks to the Library of Congress. They deemed Keaton’s work, “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant.”
That it is, plus still damn funny nearly a century later — so why not ten centuries?
I just wish the computer had recommended a few shorts to go with the feature — maybe some Laurel & Hardy’s. Next time Discovery — Make it so!
Another new Season Three episode of the shot-in-Toronto series airs Thursday night on CBS AllAccess and on the CTV Sci-Fi Channel in Canada.
One final side note: the episode reminded me of a film that jumps 500 years into the future only to reference Chaplin — incorrectly. The film is Mike Judge’s frighteningly prescient comedy masterpiece “Idiocracy.” Chaplin appears in a museum where the 20th century comedian is misidentified as Hitler!