Category Archives: Star Trek

A few nitpicky thoughts about the new Star Trek

As anyone with any interest in Star Trek knows by now, a new series, Star Trek: Discovery, is in the works.  The premiere date has slipped, but it is supposed to debut sometime this year.  The premise is supposed to revolve around “an incident and an event in Star Trek history that’s been talked about but never been explored”.

Hmm.  Personally, I’m all mixed-up about this.  I basically think television is a barren wasteland without a Star Trek series being broadcast somewhere (I pretty much think the same thing about TV with regard to Firefly,   which should give you a clue about what I think of TV in general).  My first instinct is to welcome the new series with open arms.

The scars of my past viewing history hold me back, though.  Full disclosure: I am one of those Trek heretics who thinks that, the original series aside, the televised Star Trek universe reached its peak toward the end of Next Generation and through Deep Space Nine.  Next Gen actually got more dramatically effective in the later seasons, and Deep Space Nine was narratively vigorous straight through, although not all episodes were equal.  However, the last two Trek series, Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise, were mere shadows of the series that had gone before, sometimes feeling as if they were just going through the motions, other times as if they were recycling ideas and themes from previous series that were already well-worn, and often not very well written.  For my money, Enterprise, especially, suffered from dwindling narrative power.  Voyager, for its part, was often just plain silly, on a Lost in Space level.

In the end, Star Trek became a safe, predictable series of morality tales with pat outcomes.  Critics said that the franchise was out of gas.  Personally I agreed with them.

However, the universe has now lain fallow on television for eleven years.  In that time, TV has evolved.  We are in the era of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, and Game of Thrones.  It is also the age of pretty damn good CGI that can do pretty much anything you need it to do.  Watching episodes of the previous Trek series nowadays, however good they may be in general, is an exercise in realizing what could have been.

So I have a few hopes for the new series.  I will be very interested in seeing if the show-runners have the guts to bring the franchise into the modern world.  In no particular order, here are my wishes, both the small and the great–

  1. Lose the stupid facial makeup that’s supposed denote different alien species.   It got positively silly toward the end of Voyager and Enterprise.  It’s a relic of the days when guys in rubber suits stomped around smashing model cities.  With CGI, we can have whatever alien species we want, without being tied to a humanoid form.  Spend a little money and show some creativity.
  2. For God’s sake, please don’t afflict us with another buxom female crew-member in a skin-tight uniform.  Aside from obvious titillation for fan-boys, there just no reason.
  3. Please, please, please, refrain from holodeck adventures.  These seemed to be a particular plague on Next Gen.  I tended to turn the TV off when they aired.
  4. I beg of you, hold off the sort of episode that I personally call a ‘mind-fuck’, where the story turns out to be a dream from an alien probe, or some rogue nanite, or some ancient artifact, blah, blah, blah.  Like number 3 above, I think that this kind of episode represents creative failure and/or laziness on the part of the writers.
  5. Ditto the sort of episode where the characters go through some radical event, usually ending up in an unpleasant future where things are grim and getting worse, but then find a way, by some sort of time-manipulation-bugaloo, to reset things back to normal in the past.  A prime example of this kind of thing is “Twilight”, episode 8 of Enterprise’s third season.  For me there’s an adjective that describes that sort of episode, basically employing the metaphor of the effluvium of a barnyard fowl.
  6. Please, somebody give some thought to how space battles would actually be fought with the weapons of the Trek universe.  Deep Space Nine, in particular, had totally unbelievable battles, with massed starships meleeing at what in real-life would be point-blank range.  With weapons that can reach across tens of thousands of kilometers, having ships going mano-a-mano is ridiculous and devastating to the suspension of disbelief.
  7. A little actual science-fiction would be nice.  Too often Trek episodes have been more about clever techno-puzzles or quasi-profound ruminations on the Prime Directive or just straight-up adventuring.  In my opinion, we could use a few more episodes, like “Captive Pursuit” from the first season of Deep Space Nine, or, for that matter, “The Devil in the Dark” from the original series.
  8. Above all, invest the new series with some real dramatic meat.  I don’t necessarily need Star Trek: Discovery to be Game of Thrones in space (The Expanse may have that covered), but playing it safe with characters and story-lines is what helped bury the franchise eleven years ago.  I want to see a series with fully developed characters and complex relationships, set in stories that are not mere morality tales.  A return to the narrative style of the later series will personally leave me in a very, very grumpy mood.  Here’s hoping for better stories.

Later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five awesome movie scenes

My personal taste in film runs largely, although not exclusively, to the epic and the heroic, with largely dollops of the tragic and the sort of romance in which true loves die happy because they’re together. After I see films like Les Miserables they generally have to carry me out on a stretcher (it’s not just the film, of course– the stage production does the same thing to me, and I’ve seen it live three times. My daughter finds it soo embarrassing that her father has to bring a full box of kleenex with him to the theater).

Individual movie scenes that kill me with epicness have certain common attributes– a desperate struggle against long odds, someone you want to see succeed (or at least survive) and the ticking clock of looming disaster. Usually for maximum effect you need some really effective music. For extra points, throw in children in jeopardy.

Here’s five scenes from five very different films I find really riveting. NOTE: inevitably each of these scenes involve spoilers. Be warned.

1. From the 2009 J.J. Abrams reboot of Star Trek, the opening scene in which James Kirk’s father sacrifices himself to save his wife and soon-to-be-born son–

This is a wonderfully effective scene, scoring high because it’s basically a father defending his family and sacrificing himself to save them.  Does me in every time.

2. From Captain America: The First Avenger, here is the climactic scene where Cap (Chris Evans) has to intentionally crash the Hydra flying wing into the Arctic ice-cap to save New York City, while talking on the radio with his true love, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell).

Cap must not only sacrifice his own life in this scene, but also his chance for happiness with Peggy, which brings a poignancy to the interchange between them, and which has continued to resonant through the subsequent Captain America and Avenger films.

3. From the 1993 film Gettysburg, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s downhill bayonet charge at Little Round Top, which by itself just might have saved the Union–

Whether Chamberlain actually saved the Union is a matter of debate, but he knew his position was vital (the utter left flank of the Union Army), and he and his men held the position with incredible courage and endurance.

4. From the 1964 film Zulu, the famous ‘Men of Harlech’ scene–

Unfortunately, unlike Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s charge at Little Round Top, this scene never happened, at least as far the singing is concerned.  But the film captures the spirit of the true story of a tiny force who held off an overwhelming enemy through grit and good tactics.

5. From Return of the Jedi— a fan edit/compilation of the climactic confrontation between Luke and Darth Vader, with the Emperor egging them on. Most particularly, watch the section from 3:17 to 3:53 and listen to the soundtrack .  Those thirty-six seconds have more tragic drama in them than many movies have in their entire running time.

The interesting aspect of this scene is that Luke is trying to save not only Anakin Skywalker from the dark side, but also his sister, and, ultimately, himself– and, in the end, he does it by not fighting.  A nice twist on the classic climactic confrontation between the hero and the villain.

Each of these scenes contain attributes I hope my own writing at least occasionally captures.  I like stories and films in which something genuine is at stake, and the protagonists have to give of themselves to protect or rescue it.  In one way or another, I’m not sure why you would make a movie that did not have this sort of tension at its core, but they get made (e.g., in my biased opinion, American Hustle).  But I try not to dwell on such creations– there are plenty of films out there that spark my imagination and touch my heart.  I focus on them.

Later.

 

WARNING!!– Incoming Grumpy Old Man Rant!! — STAR WARS!!

So, there is a rumor that a teaser trailer for Star Wars Episode 7 will be attached to The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies when it premieres on December 17th. Considering that I will be ardently boycotting THBOTFA, I am unlikely to see the trailer for Episode 7 until it hits the internet– and I may avoid it, even then.

It is safe to say that I am not anticipating Episode 7 with any sense of joy. True enough, the franchise has been taken from George Lucas’ dead hands and given fresh impetus– but as a part of the Disney (ugh) corporate machine, which seems to have an instinct to trivialize everything it touches, and then, placed in the hands of J.J. Abrams for execution (no pun intended. Well, maybe….).

Let me be clear about my feelings re: Mr. Abrams– he is a quite competent film director and producer. His two Star Trek reboot films have been technically more than competent. They do not have the embarrassment/silliness factor that afflicts the Star Wars prequels (Episodes 1, 2, and 3). He at least takes his material seriously.

But…I don’t think much of his story-telling chops. The two ST films were, in my opinion, unnecessary in the first instance, and untidy story junk-piles in the second, especially Star Trek Into Darkness, with its head-scratching revision of Khan Noonien Singh. Both left me dissatisfied and wanting more, or, better yet, a time-machine, in which I would go back in time and fix the whole business from the start.

I will admit that part of the problem is my distaste for Abrams as the creator of both Alias and Lost, shows which started out incredibly strong, and then withered under the weight of reboots (Alias) and muddled, unresolved plot-lines (Lost) (to be fair, I am aware that Abrams’ involvement with Lost was intermittent, and the collective sins of the production were committed by a number of people). To put it succinctly, I don’t trust Abrams to create a story-line for Episode 7 that I will find enjoyable or even comprehensible.

An online cartoon from some years back around the debut of Revenge of the Sith still pretty much sums up my feelings–

http://pvponline.com/comic/2005/05/10/tue-may-10/

Admittedly, this is all probably more than a little unfair, since Episode 7 is more than a year away. Abrams may yet pull a Wookie out of the storm-trooper helmet. I don’t expect him to, though, based on his past track record. More likely it will be an Ewok….

I will also admit that this rant is more-or-less just an old fart grieving the apparent inability of Hollywood in general, and probably Disney in particular, to deliver the kind of wonder and excitement I knew when I saw the first Star Wars. I will probably never again feel the kind of joyous punch-to-the-gut I felt the first time I saw that Star Destroyer pass over my head, chasing Princess Leia’s ship. That scene is so iconic now that those who didn’t see the film in first release in 1977 can probably never grasp just how stunning it was– how much, in short, this was something that had never been seen before, and how much it was a watershed in film history (both for good and bad). Perhaps it is unfair to hold up any subsequent film to comparison with that kind of culture-changing event.

But, then, I am not noted for being a very fair person. For me, the Star Wars franchise is dead, and neither Disney marketing pixie dust nor Abrams’ problematic story-telling skills are going to revive it. Requiescat in pace….

Meanwhile, if there are no earth-shaking movies on the horizon, there is at least the prospect of something good. And, by golly, guess whose fingerprints are on it….