How the ‘ELVIS’ Movie Quietly Paid Tribute to ‘Star Trek’

Austin Bulter in “ELVIS” with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy

Warner Bros. / Paramount Austin Bulter in “ELVIS” with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy

As the pandemic caused by the COVID-19 virus and its variants (hopefully) continue to recede, people are getting out of their homes and are venturing back into the world. This means going back to theme parks, athletic events, and the movies. That’s excellent news for the owners of the national theater chains, as some feared that people would forever stay on their couch rather than watch a movie on the big screen.

Apparently, people are willing to come back to watch movies in theaters again. Thanks to mega-hits like “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness,” “The Batman,” and a few others, Hollywood sees the money stream back in.

In what might be called the next chapter in the rock star bio-picture trend of recent years, Warner Brothers released “ELVIS.” The movie, about the superstar singer, actor, and icon of American popular culture, stars actors Austin Butler and Tom Hanks. Butler portrayed Elvis Presley, while Hanks slithered around the sets as Elvis’ untrustworthy manager, Col. Tom Parker. 

‘Elvis’ Trailer

The movie chronicled Presley’s humble start, rise to superstar status, and early death. One thing that set this version of the Elvis story apart was the inclusion of many African-American artists who Elvis was inspired. Included in this list were Little Richard, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Big Mama Thornton, and Arthur Crudup. The film also revealed Elvis’ friendship with “The King of Blues,” guitarist B.B. King

Even through all of the singing, hip-shaking, and madness in the film, there were a few glimpses of one of Elvis’s great loves — “Star Trek.” 

Fans of Elvis know that “The King” was a massive fan of “Star Trek.” According to his co-star from the film “Live A Little, Love A Little,” Presley named one of his animals after the show. One of the horses, which resided at Presley’s home in Memphis, Tenn., was called “Star Trek.” This actress was the late Celeste Yarnall, who also appeared on the classic TOS episode, “The Apple.”

Elvis’ connection to the franchise went beyond his appreciation for Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and the Enterprise crew. “ELVIS” made this clear and evident from the opening scene, where an animated U.S.S. Enterprise shot into the sky, away from a hotel in Las Vegas. 

That hotel, originally known as the International Hotel, was built in 1969. Elvis was contracted to perform there and did so until 1976. During that time, Elvis performed for over 600 consecutive sold-out shows, according to the Las Vegas Advance Journal.

‘Star Trek: The Experience’

Why did the Enterprise launch from the International Hotel at the start of the “Elvis” movie? It made sense for this to happen because that was where “Star Trek: The Experience” took place. “The Experience” was built many years later at the same hotel, which was then called the Las Vegas Hilton. Today, the venue is known as the Westgate Hilton. 

The other interesting spot where fans can clearly see “Star Trek” was throughout the filming of Elvis’ famous “68 Comeback Special.” This two-hour television program was meant to be a Christmas special featuring Elvis, which would air on NBC television. The show was designed to reignite Presley’s career after the end of his disappointing film stint. USA Today reported that the movie got a few facts wrong during this portion of the story. 

But, as Presley performed on stage — and as Hanks’ Col. Parker ranted around the studio — the view from the control room at the sound stage featured two interesting photos behind all the action. Shatner and Nimoy as Kirk and Spock, and a second framed photo of Nichelle Nichols as Uhura. This made sense as NBC was where “Star Trek” aired, but as others have pointed out, the entire set area was not accurately recreated

‘Star Trek’ Actress Celeste Yarnall Talks Elvis

While the inclusion of Kirk, Spock, and Uhura was a subtle nod to Presley’s love of “Star Trek,” it also represented change. Having a Black crew member on “Star Trek” was controversial in the 1960s. In a way, that was similar to Presley performing Rock and Roll, which was considered to be dangerous as well — which was illustrated in the “Elvis” movie.

“Scholars have even argued that, by playing multi-racial music for multi-racial audiences, [Elvis] helped to point the path away from segregation,” Noah Berlatsky wrote for The Atlantic

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