Friday, September 30, 2016

Gene Roddenberry

"Someone once said, 'Don't try to be a great man. Just be a man. Let history make its own judgments."


- Cmdr. Riker, quoting Zefram Cochrane,
Star Trek: First Contact





There was a point when he began believing his own hype. During a time of great social and political upheaval, he had created a television show that spoke to people on a deep level about the possibility of something better, and was being lauded for it by his audience, being praised as a visionary. To a man like him, whose proclivities tended to veer in the direction of... excess, that kind of praise can do things to your head. 

Herb Solow & Robert Justman, who were there practically from day one, wrote in Inside Star Trek about his vision, yes, but also about his extramarital trysts, his eagerness to take or share credit for works not his (and not only Trek-related), his manipulation of NBC to keep Trek alive, using the fans as pawns, his contract feud with Leonard Nimoy. His heavy hand on the early seasons of The Next Generation, abetted by his lawyer, was the subject of a William Shatner documentary in 2015. Time has, at the least, eroded his footing on the pedestal he had been placed as a result of his creation.

I had never really bought into the mythos. I was too young to know about it during the time it was being built, and by the time I had understood what it was all about, he was dead. I remember the feeling in the audience on opening night of the sixth Trek film, The Undiscovered Country. This was the first movie made after his death. There was a low murmur of anticipation within the crowd. Even a Trek neophyte, as I was at the time, could sense an era was ending. Oh sure, when the dedication card came up on the screen, I chanted "Gene, Gene" with my friends and everyone else, but I didn't feel it for myself, not as someone who had been part of the human adventure for a long time.

While I would not presume to speak for her, I suspect Bibi may believe in his legend more than me. She's older, and traditional science fiction in general means more to her, having grown up an adherent of it, having her life positively shaped by it, having met her wonderful husband as a result of it. She was a Trekkie when it wasn't popular to be one, when being a geek marked you as an outsider and against the grain, so I think the pure Trek ideal of inclusion and scientific knowledge and peaceful exploration is something she really takes to heart. It's one reason among many why I love her deeply. If that means she's inclined to leave Gene Roddenberry on that pedestal, that's okay with me. Trek is something that binds us together. I have him to thank for that.

He was who he was. There's no Guardian of Forever through which we could jump back to 1966 and make him a better person. The result might not necessarily mean a better Star Trek anyway. So be it. The continuing saga of an improved humanity in a brighter future, fifty years old and counting, was spawned by a greatly flawed man in an imperfect world. Perhaps it couldn't have happened any other way. We're all in the gutter, to quote another great storyteller, but some of us are looking at the stars...

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Related:

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The WSW Trek 25: #1

Previously: #25-21 #20-17 #16-13 #12-9 #8-5 #4-2

Before we get to number one, I wanna say thank you for reading all this month. Blogging for thirty days straight was a little scary in some ways. I sincerely doubt I'll do it again, but after tomorrow, I can say I've done it, for what it's worth. Regular programming will resume next month. Drumroll, please...


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The WSW Trek 25: #4-2


Previously: #25-21 #20-17 #16-13 #12-9 #8-5

Figured out my choice for number one yet? We're almost there. Any of these three could've been tops, too; they're practically flawless, in their own ways.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Monday, September 26, 2016

The WSW Trek 25: #12-9


Previously: #25-21 #20-17 #16-13

So it's gonna be nothing but TNG and DS9 from here on out. Sorry to fans of the other shows, but those are my two favorites.


Sunday, September 25, 2016

The WSW Trek 25: #16-13


Previously: #25-21 #20-17

The countdown continues with a trio of very familiar TOS episodes and one powerhouse Voyager ep.


Saturday, September 24, 2016

The WSW Trek 25: #20-17


Previously: #25-21

This list took months to prepare, and to be honest, I'm still not completely certain about its order, but there comes a time when you have to dance with the girl ya brung. I'm sure this list will change in ten years (with or without the addition of any Discovery episodes), but this will do for now.


Friday, September 23, 2016

The WSW Trek 25: #25-21


Spoiler alert: "City on the Edge of Forever" is not my number one choice; in fact, it's not even in my top ten. But it is on this list. "Best of Both Worlds" is not my number one; in fact, it's not even in my top five. But it, too, is on this list.

We'll all get along fine over the next week as long as you remember one thing: this is MY top-25 list, not THE top-25 list. As Fritzi explained so well recently, there's a difference! I don't want any Herberts complaining that this list sucks because "Cost of Living" or "Threshold" or "Profit and Lace" didn't make the cut. This is only one fan's opinion.

Sorry, Voyager fans, there are only two episodes represented here. Sorry, Enterprise fans, you're shut out completely. These are my biases, for better or worse. Get it? Good. And speaking of Voyager, here's the first of the two to kick things off...

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A word about the animated Star Trek

I was never a big fan of Filmation cartoons, even though I watched them as a kid: Fat Albert, Tarzan and the Super 7, He-Man. I might have dug their live-action material slightly more: Shazam!, The Secrets of Isis, Jason of Star Command. I'd have to look at them again to see if they hold up at all. They probably don't.

The animated Star Trek aired when I was a baby - the early 70s - and I don't remember seeing it in repeats, so I never had an affinity for the show. At some point later on in my life, I must have sat down with it, but it never made much of an impression if I did. For this post, I watched clips from the show on YouTube to reacquaint myself.

It doesn't come across like a kiddie show, that's for sure. In terms of story and dialogue, it feels not unlike what the fourth season of the live-action series might have been like, with a bigger budget. No attempt is made to dumb it down. Amidst a landscape of Scooby-Doo, Space Ghost and Looney Tunes, this show must have stood out, even if it only lasted two seasons.

Still, the stories are undone by the pedestrian animation style. If you've seen enough Filmation cartoons, you know exactly what I'm talking about: the big-head close-ups, the dutch angles, the stock footage repeated over and over, the inability of the characters to emote further than blinking and moving their eyebrows. I realize American animation in the 70s wasn't anything special, and as kids, we certainly weren't picky, but this is ridiculous.

Having the original actors voice their own characters makes the show feel authentic - and kudos to Leonard for fighting to get George and Nichelle included as well. In places, it seemed as if the animators couldn't quite keep up with the actors' recitation of their lines. I didn't see much of the three-armed guy and the cat lady. I suspect they were there just to have some really alien-looking aliens.

I dunno. I appreciate what they tried to do with this show, and it must have been catnip to Trekkies who missed the live-action show, but honestly, I can do without it. I know the novels refer to events in the show every once in a blue moon, but I don't feel like I'm missing much.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Joseph Pevney

Trekkies know Joseph Pevney as the director of some of the all-time great Original Series episodes: "City on the Edge of Forever," "Amok Time," "The Trouble with Tribbles," "Journey to Babel," and more. Film historians know him as an actor turned director, with an impressive resume of films and TV shows over a 40-year-plus career.

Pevney's acting career in Hollywood was relatively brief, appearing in assorted noir films in the late 40s, including Thieves' Highway and the boxing flick Body and Soul. As a director, he worked with Frank Sinatra in Meet Danny Wilson, Joan Crawford in Female on the Beach, James Cagney in the Lon Chaney biopic Man of a Thousand Faces, and Debbie Reynolds in Tammy and the Bachelor, among others. 

He also made a film in 1959 called Destination Space, which was actually a TV pilot that never got anywhere. It's closer to The Right Stuff than to Forbidden Planet, perhaps, but according to this review, it's still derivative of other genre material floating around at the time.

"Arena" is a good example of the quality of Trek episodes Pevney helmed. Memorable for the fight between Kirk and the reptilian alien Gorn, it was shot on location at Vasquez Rocks, a park in northern Los Angeles. While other films and TV shows have been shot there (including Star Trek V), its association with Trek is what has made it famous. The triangle-shaped rock formation is known as "Kirk's Rock."

--------------------
Previously:
DC Fontana
Gene Coon
Matt Jefferies
William Ware Theiss
Alexander Courage

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Alexander Courage

A   D   G
F#   D   B   E  A
A   C#

Okay, I don't know how to write it out on sheet music and have it appear on this blog, but if you're at all musically inclined, you'll recognize those notes as the familiar riff from one of the great theme songs in television history. It's part of the TNG theme, it's part of just about all of the Trek movie scores, and when you hear it, you can practically hear the whoosh of the Enterprise as it zooms by the screen.

Alexander Courage composed that theme, Loulie Jean Norman (there's the answer to a trivia question for you) sang that ethereal, lilting soprano vox that accompanies the theme, and Gene Roddenberry wrote those stirring lyrics. What? You've never heard the lyrics? Well, consider yourself lucky; they suck. Gene only wrote them so he could collect half of the royalties.

To quote Courage himself, from Solow & Justman's book Inside Star Trek:

...Roddenberry's lyrics totally lacked musical practicality. He made two very serious errors in writing the lyrics: One, he changed the shape of the melody by adding extra beats, and two, he used a closed vowel with a z-z-z-z-z sound on the highest notes, something that gives great problems to singers.

The irony is that Courage was willing to cooperate with Gene if it meant getting someone to sing the lyrics and make the song more valuable. In the end, he left the show after the first season.

Still, Courage didn't exactly lose sleep over the incident. It was but one part of a long and grand career in Hollywood dating back to the 40s, composing or orchestrating or both. He was a two-time Oscar nominee and he won the Emmy in 1988 for a Julie Andrews Christmas special.


--------------------
Previously:
DC Fontana
Gene Coon
Matt Jefferies
William Ware Theiss

Monday, September 19, 2016

William Ware Theiss

I'm very grateful that the JJ Abrams Star Trek movies have not (so far) made dramatic changes to the Starfleet uniforms. It has always bugged me, the number of times the uniforms have altered over the years, as if the quartermaster's office at Starfleet Command could never make their minds up as to what defines haute couture fashion out on the final frontier.

The TOS designs are simple and have translated well to the big screen. Of course, we've also been provided with a bunch of variations: dress wear, rugged terrain wear, etc. Still, they have always returned to the basic look in the end - the one established by William Ware Theiss.

Yes, it's because of Theiss that you got to see Nichelle Nichols' legs every week! As the TOS costumer, Theiss had his (non-union) seamstresses operate out of a secret apartment near the studio where they toiled throughout the night to make the clothes. It goes without saying that he had a mandate from Gene Roddenberry to make all the women as sexy as possible, especially the guest stars.

Did you know Theiss was a three-time Oscar nominee? He worked on, among other films, Harold and Maude and Bound for Glory, plus uncredited work on Spartacus. He would go on to win an Emmy in 1988 for Outstanding Costume Design for a Series for - you guessed it - TNG.

The 25 most out-of-this-world TOS costumes

-----------------
Previously:
DC Fontana
Gene Coon
Matt Jefferies

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Matt Jefferies

To a generation accustomed to images of Sputnik and the Apollo lunar rockets, not to mention countless "flying saucer" images of UFOs, as representative of space travel, the sight of the original Enterprise must have challenged the imagination. It has a kind of saucer at the front, but then it extends downward to a shape similar to a rocket with the nose cut off, and then there are those two big tubes sticking out of the back.

It was an original and highly distinctive look for a spaceship. Looking at it after a moment, it starts to suggest the idea of flight, with those tubes flaring out like wings, and the saucer up front reminding the viewer of a UFO. The disc-like shape below is evocative of the headlight of a car, or even a figurehead, like on a sailing ship. Do you see the recurring theme? Objects designed to put people in motion, to suggest transportation, while being something entirely new.

If you like the look of the Enterprise, you have Matt Jefferies to thank. He served as art designer/production designer for TOS. He designed the ship, as well as the bridge, the ship's interiors, alien planet landscapes, and more. When you hear someone on the show refer to a ship's "Jefferies tubes," they're named for him.

What you have to remember when looking at TOS is, they had to maximize every dollar of the limited budget with which they worked. Often, that meant using and reusing sets, redressing them for alternate scenes, scavenging the studio lot for discarded items that could be used on a set. Jefferies made it work just enough to sustain the illusion of life on a starship or an alien world. Imagination did the rest.

Producer Robert Justman, in the book he co-authored with executive producer Herb Solow, Inside Star Trek, described Jefferies thus:
...Matt Jefferies was the most decent and devoted human being on the production team. He never lost his cool, never lost his temper. His eyes got watery and he would find it difficult to speak when an over-budget show forced me to take away half his construction money. And I'd demand the impossible, that he still provide us with believable sets for less money than it should cost. He'd gulp a bit and finally say, in a very throaty voice, "Well... let me see what I can do. I'll give it a try." So Matt would try harder, and he always came through for us.
------------------------
Previously:
DC Fontana
Gene Coon

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Gene Coon

The contributions of Gene Coon are almost as significant as those of Gene Roddenberry. Coon gave us Khan, the concept of the Federation, and the Klingons, but then, he also gave us "Spock's Brain," so I guess it all evens out. Actually, I hadn't looked at the infamous episode in a long time prior to writing this, so I looked at some highlights (lowlights?) on YouTube. You could get a great drinking game going by taking a shot every time someone says "Spock's brain!" I've heard it said that the premise isn't bad, only the execution. Maybe that's true.

The Klingons were created during a time when the Cold War was still running hot; thus, they were commonly looked upon as the Soviet Union to the Federation's United States. When we first see them in "Errand of Mercy," though, it's in relation to the mysterious, enigmatic - and therefore more interesting - Organians. By the time a Season 3 episode like "Day of the Dove" (written by Jerome Bixby) rolls around, the Klingons have become more established as aggressive antagonists.

It would take the movies, particularly The Search For Spock, and the launch of TNG, to provide the makeover that would truly cement their popularity. I still think it's unfortunate that Enterprise solved the forehead/non-forehead mystery; speculating about it was more fun! (Fun fact: the name comes from a former LAPD coworker of Roddenberry's named Lt. Wilbur Clingan!)

Coon died in 1973 at age 49, so he never lived to see Trek become the international and multicultural media franchise it became. A tragedy, but enough books and articles have been written about TOS that fans know his name and what he did, which is good. Someone as important as Coon shouldn't be forgotten.

------------------------
Previously:
DC Fontana

Friday, September 16, 2016

D. C. Fontana

I think most fans tend to associate D. C. Fontana with Vulcans, because she wrote, among other things, two of the best Vulcan episodes of TOS: "This Side of Paradise" and "Journey to Babel," plus the Animated Series episode "Yesteryear."

"Paradise" shows us Spock's human side in a story which questions what we think defines happiness. Those spores seem so benign - unlike the alien plants Leonard Nimoy would encounter a decade later in Invasion of the Body Snatchers - and Kirk is so dead set against them. He's right about paradise being not what man was meant for, but the tragedy is, it gives Spock the opportunity to feel, without his emotions spilling out of control. The conflict makes for great drama. In "Babel," we meet Sarek and Amanda, and discover the roots of the estrangement between Spock and his father, a relationship that would be explored further throughout the show and the movies.

Fontana also co-wrote the TNG pilot, "Encounter at Farpoint." It may seem a bit rough around the edges now, since the cast was so new and different, but it holds up. Omnipotent beings are a Trek tradition, and Q differs from the others in his flippant attitude and his eagerness to challenge humanity's progress as a species and their right to the stars.

Some of Fontana's scripts, like those of other writers, were rewritten by Gene Roddenberry. Fortunately, her vital contributions to Trek lore are known and have been recognized. As a woman writer, this is doubly important, because sometimes she used male pseudonyms. By any measure, Fontana was a pioneer.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

For the Love of Spock

For the Love of Spock
seen @ Symphony Space, New York NY

What does the character Spock mean to me? Well, first, you have to understand how I came to Star Trek. I remember watching Trek marathons on TV as a kid, but the show never stood out in my memory. I'm honestly not sure why. 

Disdain for old stuff? Doubt it. I liked the monster movies they'd show on Thanksgiving and the occasional horror flicks from the 50s and 60s. It's possible comics had a stronger hold on my imagination than TV or even the movies. Whatever the reason, my attitude wouldn't change until my college years.

I recognized all the important aspects of Spock's character: the bi-racial heritage, the bonds with Kirk and McCoy, the rift with his dad - but The Original Series in general didn't grab a hold on me the way The Next Generation, and especially Deep Space Nine, did. So while I like and admire Spock as a character and Leonard Nimoy's portrayal of him, it was always at a bit of a remove. It took me longer to "get" TOS.





Still, I've certainly seen what he has meant to others. If I were William Shatner, I'd have been jealous of Spock's popularity too. There have been outsider characters in American fiction before: Holden Caulfield in literature, Chaplin's Tramp in film, Spider-Man in comics. 

Spock, though, was an outsider who was accepted by his peers. They know he's different, in profound and fundamental ways, and they accept him anyway. He doesn't have to live his life on the fringes. I think that, more than anything, has been the reason for his fame. People look at him and say hey, if he can fit in and still be himself, maybe there's hope for me, too.





Deciphering what makes Spock the phenomenon he is, as well as his relationship with the actor who brought him to life, is the subject of For the Love of Spock, a documentary by Nimoy's son Adam, an experienced filmmaker in his own right, and one uniquely qualified, to say the least, to address the subject. He interviews family members, including his sister Julie (who's making her own doc about their father), friends and co-workers, including the surviving TOS cast members, about what made Spock, and Nimoy, special.

Adam Nimoy provides insight into what growing up the son of a TV superstar was like. I was not aware Leonard's family was as exposed to the media spotlight as they were, so this was a revelation. Adam and Julie acknowledge both the good times and bad - in Adam's case, he talks about the years in which he and Leonard didn't see eye to eye, and how they were able to bridge the gap between them. It's pretty emotional.





When DeForest Kelley and Jimmy Doohan died, I felt their deaths, but in a detached way - again, because TOS never had the impact on me as it did on others. When Leonard died, it was different. Part of it was because of his presence on social media, but part of it was also the fact that I knew the impact Spock had on pop culture, the things he did outside of acting and directing. I had a greater sense of him as a person beyond Star Trek. That's what Adam goes for in Love, and he gets it for sure.

I saw Love at Symphony Space in Manhattan, a multimedia arts venue on the Upper West Side, in an auditorium named for Leonard Nimoy. Apparently he was a financier who helped keep the venue open when it had fallen on hard times. What I saw of it was nice: stadium seating, small but cozy seats, a cafe. I was pleased to see they had a book sale going on outside by the box office. I found a biography of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn that I got for three bucks.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Enterprise NCC-1701

Maybe it's wrong, but lately I've thought of the magnificent seven in terms of how much time they have left on this earth. The concern rattles around in my mind from time to time. Bill and Nichelle had minor scares in recent years, but they seem okay now. They both appeared at the Vegas con last month. Walt is fine, as far as I know, and George will live to a hundred.

When I saw her in July, Bibi had said she hadn't fully mourned Leonard's death. I know how she feels. Only several weeks ago, I finally removed his account from my Twitter feed.

I saw Jimmy at a con once, back in the mid-90s. Might have been New York, might have been Boston; I don't recall. I passed his table on my way somewhere else. I was too intimidated to approach him. Really regret that now.

As for De... what can I say? Gone too soon. (And props to Majel and Grace as well. Grace died a few months after Leonard last year. Hers was a hard life.)

I imagine the feeling is analogous to what the rest of the world will feel when Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr finally leave us: people who were part of something greater than themselves, something that changed the world. It makes us wanna hold on to them for as long as we can, because gifts like the ones they gave us don't come along every day.


Let's be honest: it wasn't until the movies that the roles of Nichelle, George, Walt and Jimmy were really played up, but it's pretty obvious they made a difference simply by being on the show, serving a visible function and contributing to the fabric of the story. I'm used to the TNG era, where the shows were true ensembles: one week Riker would be featured in an episode, the next week, Worf, the next, Deanna. TOS wasn't like that, but those four were there, consistently. They were given their moments and they made the most of them. They were remembered after TOS went off the air. And we still honor them today.

In conversation with Eric back in July, I had made the point that others have made about Kirk, Spock and McCoy: they represented ego, superego and id. That probably wasn't Gene Roddenberry's original intent (it was a different cast at the start, don't forget), but many subsequent writers, in various media, have ran with that thumbnail characterization, and it works. TOS, at its best, served as a metaphor for the human condition. Though these characters were paragons, they had their own inner conflicts they struggled with as well.

I don't feel as close to the TOS cast as I do to the TNG or DS9 casts, but that's irrelevant. I enjoy watching the show and I treasure what this talented cast gave us for almost thirty years (more if you count their appearances in fan films, plus the reboot movies). It's a legacy few TV shows can match.

The first TV roles for the TOS cast

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Related:
William Shatner's Kirk

Previously:
Alternate Enterprise NCC-1701
Enterprise NX-01
Voyager
Deep Space Nine
Enterprise NCC-1701-D

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Enterprise NCC-1701-D

Ah, the good ol' Enterprise-D. Whenever I see it, I can't help but think the saucer section is so big it'll make the whole thing tip over. If the original 1701 is evocative of a winged horse, as it has been described, the D puts me in mind of a gigantic, spacefaring whale. The E feels flatter by comparison.

It's almost ridiculous how luxurious the bridge looked like, especially next to other iconic ships: the tight, cramped cockpit of the Millennium Falcon; the sterile workspace of the Jupiter II; the cluttered nerve center of The Matrix's Nebuchadnezzar. The bridge of the D is warm and inviting, with smooth surfaces and gentle curves that make space exploration look fun.


It has been said that the crew of the D is, to put it bluntly, too damn nice: that Gene Roddenberry took his ideal of improved humanity too far when he created the TNG cast, and as a result, they're not as three-dimensional as they should be. If you go by merely the show and the four movies, excluding the novels, comics and other non-canon works, I can almost see that. I freely admit it's hard to find conspicuous flaws in characters like Geordi or Deanna or Dr. Crusher. (Maybe that's why Worf has always been my favorite.)

There's something to be said, however, in favor of unequivocal Good Guys. On TV these days, the pendulum has swung in favor of antiheroes, protagonists who do (at best) morally questionable things. I don't even watch TV and I'm aware of this. I have no doubt they can be compelling to watch.

Sometimes, though, you just need to be certain who's wearing the white hats. It can be a comfort in trying times. I want someone like Riker in my corner when the chips are down, because I know he won't be afraid to stare the bad guys down and do what it takes to beat them, but more than that, I know he, and the rest of the crew of the D, understands what's right. I don't think that's a bad thing.

------------------------------
Related:
Jean-Luc Picard

Previously:
Alternate Enterprise NCC-1701
Enterprise NX-01
Voyager
Deep Space Nine

Monday, September 12, 2016

Deep Space Nine

You can tell Deep Space Nine wasn't built by Starfleet at a glance. Those docking ports, reaching above and below into space like claws, are suggestive of a more sinister architectural and engineering aesthetic than that of the Federation. The interior is all sharp, threatening angles, portholes like eyes, levels upon levels, gridwork that casts shadows - and maybe that's partially how DS9 the show got its reputation as the "dark side" of Star Trek. The show's production design team worked overtime towards presenting not merely a space station but a culture, the end product of Federation, Bajoran, Cardassian and other societies blended together in one location.

The design of the Defiant is also noteworthy: compact yet aggressive looking, built for speed, power and maneuverability. Think of that sequence in "Sacrifice of Angels" where the ship, flanked by Klingon escorts, weaves in and out of Jem'Hadar fire and breaks away. The Defiant was made for moments like that. Props to the visual effects team for making the ship come alive.

I could talk about the enormous cast of DS9 for weeks. Kira is my hero as much as Sisko. I admire her not just as a fighter and a survivor, but for having the courage to find the positive qualities in a people who were her enemies for most of her life. I identify with Odo so much: a loner who can't help seeing the worst in people, yet underneath that gruff exterior lies the heart of a romantic, stirred by the love of a good woman. Has there ever been a supporting character in all of Trek like Garak, who redefines the word Machiavellian? And Gul Dukat, a villain so charismatic and sly the producers had to make him all-the-way evil just to remind the audience he was the bad guy! The list goes on.


Every dramatic fiction show these days seems so eager to embrace serialized storytelling. DS9 was one of the first to do it. I still remember how unusual it was to see the Dominion War arc unfold this way, yet it was also so addicting. DS9 balanced it out with regular "done-in-one" episodes, though, with recurring storylines. I dearly wish other shows operated this way. By all means, give us the extended arcs, but single episodes, I think, stick out in the mind more. From a writing angle, they force you to be more succinct and direct with what you want to say. They shouldn't be abandoned entirely, but I fear they may be - but that's another post.

Deep Space Nine is tops in my book. They gave us a wider view of the Trek universe, despite being centralized in one location; they provided the usual thought-provoking stories that made Trek famous; and they thrilled us with a long-form story arc that was as much a commentary on the consequences of war as it was about war itself. And it was funny! Because life is funny sometimes.

-----------------------
Related:
Benjamin Sisko

Previously:
Alternate Enterprise NCC-1701
Enterprise NX-01
Voyager

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Voyager

As a Starfleet vessel, Voyager was pretty cool. The opening credits of the show - the best of all the Trek series so far, with Enterprise a close second - shows off the ship extremely well (though I always imagine Janeway at the beginning saying, "Mr. Paris, why are you flying us into the path of a solar flare?"), and that lovely Jerry Goldsmith theme serves as the perfect compliment. Voyager TruFans® may know how often during the series they used that rotating-nacelles trick at the end of the credits, but I don't. What was it for, anyway?

The Delta Flyer was a great idea. I've never liked the looks of Starfleet shuttles and runabouts prior to Voyager - too boxy and unimaginative, relatively speaking. The Flyer was practical in the sense that it was a tough shuttlecraft that would avoid the cliché of getting shuttles destroyed three or four times a year - not a good idea on a show about a ship lost in space (though I don't think they avoided that cliché entirely). And the retro touch, with buttons and levers, made it truly unique. The Flyer was an inspired and welcome addition that was put to good use.


I tend to agree with the common complaints about the cast: Chakotay was boring, Tuvok was underutilized, Neelix was annoying, there was no good reason to keep Kim an ensign. The show didn't have enough of an edge. The Starfleet-versus-Maquis conflict didn't last nearly as long as it should have. I'm not saying they should have stayed separate, but I don't think they got enough juice out of that contrast in philosophies. The probable reason why was DS9. Voyager's predecessor was never fully appreciated in its lifetime (that's changing now) and Paramount wanted to go back to basics with Voyager, especially since it was the so-called "flagship" program of the UPN network.

I suppose bringing in the Borg was inevitable, and it did give us Seven of Nine, a surprisingly good character (though I wish her arrival didn't mean Kes' departure; I liked her), but making them Janeway's bête noir was a mistake. Do you think about things like the Omega Particle or Unimatrix Zero when you think of the Borg? No, you think HOLY CRAP THE BORG THEY CONSUME EVERYTHING THEY'RE UNSTOPPABLE WHAT ARE WE GONNA DO? Maybe if Seven were a supporting character instead of a feature player, it would've kept the Borg at something of a remove, but no, they rubbed her in our faces. She was a good character, but her development came at the expense of others.

Voyager was middle-of-the-road. It didn't suck, but it didn't push the envelope creatively as often as it could have. I know it has its TruFans® because I see them on Twitter, palling around with Jeri Ryan and Garrett Wang and Bob Picardo and Robbie McNeil. To me, though, it's the show of missed opportunities. I wish it were otherwise.

------------------------
Related:
Kathryn Janeway

Previously:
Alternate Enterprise NCC-1701
Enterprise NX-01

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Enterprise NX-01

Like I said when I wrote about Cpt. Archer, I didn't like the idea of a pre-Kirk Trek series. I thought Enterprise would have a tough time creating a ship high-tech enough to be more advanced than anything in the 21st century present, but still not as advanced as the NCC-1701.

I'm still not convinced they pulled it off successfully, especially given how present-day technology has evolved. The exterior is fine. It looks enough like the 1701 to be familiar to non-fans, but it's not as streamlined, not as graceful. The interior is not as colorful, but it's busier, for lack of a better word. I suppose I would buy the NX-01 as a predecessor to, say, the 1701-D, or even the A, but the 1701 is so iconic, so distinctive, and so of its time (the 1960s), that anything that comes after that model, even if it's meant to pre-date it, will look modern regardless. The 1701 was created with a limited budget, smaller than that for the NX-01. If the former had a bigger budget, it might look closer to the latter.

The crew of the NX-01... well, like I said, I bailed on Enterprise early, so I never got to know them that well. I know T'pol and Trip were a couple. I thought Hoshi was cute. I thought the alien doctor looked like a cross between a human and a Cardassian. That's about it for impressions. I know everyone says the show got better with the introduction of the Xindi and the so-called "temporal cold war." I did see the Mirror Universe episodes, and I actually liked them. I'm sure there's probably good stuff to be found in the show.

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Related:
Jonathan Archer

Previously:
Alternate Enterprise NCC-1701

Friday, September 9, 2016

Alternate Enterprise NCC-1701

So the alternate Enterprise is destroyed after only three - more like two and a half - movies? That seems like such a waste. Not that I was attached to it in any way, but like I said in my post on Star Trek Beyond, this impermanence strikes me as typical of action movies these days... but I don't see any point in complaining. If the filmmakers don't see it as important, why should I?

For what it's worth, I thought the design was good. It was very similar to the original on the outside, yet something about the way it was filmed, with rotating camera angles and slow pans around the surface, made it look and feel massive in a way different from its big-screen predecessors. The primary colors of the interior, especially the bridge, were replaced with an icy blue and silver sheen that I found less appealing visually. Touch-screen computer consoles made sense, since we have that technology now. Didn't like all those pipes and tubes in engineering.


This cast naturally isn't gonna have the same kind of chemistry as the casts of any of the TV shows. After three movies, though, I do feel like they've gotten better acclimated with each other and their roles. Seeing Zach Quinto and Karl Urban bicker as Spock and McCoy almost felt like old times again. It was also nice to see John Cho as Sulu start to assume more of a leadership role. Zoe Saldana didn't have much to do in Beyond, but overall, she's gotten a higher profile role than expected. I would like her to actually use her communication skills more often, though, and not just be one more soldier. Simon Pegg is the funnyman, and that suits me fine. Scotty should be a boisterous character. As for the late Anton Yelchin, as I said, I like that he put a spin on Chekov that makes him more modern. We'll never know how much further he could have gone in the part.

I'd like to see the more familiar secondary characters in future movies: Lt. Kyle, Dr. M'benga, Yeoman Rand, Nurse Chapel (we know she's there, at least, even if we haven't seen her). I suspect it's not a priority, though. This cast is not the original magnificent seven and the kinds of adventures they have aren't like what we've become accustomed to. I think after three movies, I'm still adjusting to that fact.

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Related:
Chris Pine's Kirk


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Star Trek at the Intrepid

New York has gotten Star Trek fever this 50th anniversary year, just like everyplace else. I didn't attend the big convention in Manhattan earlier this month, but I did enjoy a rare Trek-themed exhibit at the USS Intrepid: the Starfleet Academy Experience. My Trekkie pals Bibi and Eric came to town to join me on this adventure. We had a good time.

The Intrepid is an aircraft carrier that served with distinction during World War 2, and now it functions as an overpriced military and maritime history museum, docked on the west end of midtown Manhattan. The Starfleet exhibit was in a seperate area to the side of the vessel.


Scanning a Klingon patient with a tricorder.
It was a perfect summer day. Bibi and Eric arrived earlier than I had expected, so we had time to take in a street fair on Eighth Avenue (Eric had an arepa for the first time), followed by a proper lunch at Two Boots Pizza on Ninth. Then we headed for the pier.

 A hologram of a Starfleet officer greets you to the exhibit, followed by a timeline of Trek's future history, from the Eugenics Wars and Khan, to Zefram Cochrane's warp flight, to Jonathan Archer, the Romulan Wars and the founding of the Federation, through select highlights of the events leading up to the Trek movie Nemesis.

The exhibit consists of games and interactive activities designed to "train" you for a "career" in Starfleet. At the outset, you're given a wristband with some manner of thingamajig that lets you access the displays when you touch it to a Starfleet emblem at each station. For example, you're "trained" in each field - tactical, engineering, communications, medical, etc. - and you take a mini-test where you answer questions based on Trek knowledge and plain common sense. It's like those annoying quizzes you see your friends on Facebook take all the time that tell you which Harry Potter character you are, or what your hippie name is, or something like that.

Uniforms from the shows on display.
You can examine a patient with a tricorder (a greatly simplified one, of course); learn how to speak Klingon from a native; get "beamed" in a transporter and have the experience recorded on a digital file; plot a course to get the Enterprise to DS9 safely; take phaser target practice; and more. Yes, you can even take the Kobayashi Maru test on a simulated bridge of the Enterprise-D.

There was only one working phaser practice station working (of two), so we had a bit of a wait. It was basically a shoot-em-up video game, whwhereyou hold the phaser like a Wii, aiming at different targets on the screen. I thought there was a split-second delay between pressing the button and the reaction, but I had a sucky score, so I have to blame something. All three of us had sucky scores, but Bibi's was the highest. She also did the best at the Kobayashi Maru test. There was no way to cheat on it, as far as I could tell. I was tops, however, in navigating the safest course for the Enterprise, and I didn't do too badly in speaking Klingon.

Replica of the Enterprise-D bridge.
In the end, you're presented (through your e-mail address) a certificate of completion indicating which field you're best suited for. I'm gonna be a tactical officer, it seems, while Bibi's going into communications and Eric in sciences. We were all pretty pleased with the results. They suited us.

We enjoyed the exhibit. We thought it was geared more toward the casual or non-fan than to diehards like us, which waisn't necessarily bad. Bibi reminded me of the old Las Vegas exhibit - she hadn't been there, but she had heard it was way better. Maybe it was. Me, I'm just glad Bibi and Eric made the trip down to go to this with me.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

William Shatner's Kirk

It's funny how in recent years, the character of James T. Kirk is no longer strictly defined by William Shatner - and I don't just mean Chris Pine's interpretation. Thanks to the efforts of Fandom Assembled, your Kirk could just as easily be Vic Mignogna or James Cawley too, depending on how you became a Trekkie.

It's hardly considered unusual anymore. Indiana Jones, Han Solo, Lara Croft, they're all getting re-cast with younger stars in new stories - and of course, the James Bond franchise has carried on this tradition for over half a century.

Maybe that has something to do with the power of modern myths. As the story gets passed down from generation to generation, some changes are inevitable to suit the changing times. The core of the myth, however, remains the same. Kirk: explorer, diplomat, defender. A born leader, ever conscientious of the lives entrusted to him. A man of action, the embodiment of the American self-image during the Kennedy years and his plan for space travel in specific.

People make fun of Shatner's acting on the show, but I think he's just a product of his time. He's not a Brandoesque Method man; he's more of a throwback to the old Hollywood, which was more about the force of one's screen persona. Shatner radiated that force, that magnetism, as Kirk, and if he came across as more... individualistic than most actors, well, there are worse cinematic crimes.

We know now that Shatner may have stepped on the toes of some of his co-stars. We also know Shatner himself felt threatened by Leonard Nimoy's popularity for a time. I don't think knowing these things detracts from the quality of his performances, however much we may wish everyone got along well. Shatner's got an ego, no doubt. At the same time, he's not afraid to have it punctured once in awhile.

Ultimately, if you're a Trekkie, you just have to accept Shatner for who he is, warts and all. He personified one of the greatest fictional characters of the 20th century for almost thirty years. I think he's entitled to strut a little.

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Previously:
Chris Pine's Kirk
Jonathan Archer
Kathryn Janeway
Benjamin Sisko
Jean-Luc Picard

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Jean-Luc Picard

He's such a rock of confidence on the surface. He knows he has to appear that way. Whether he's maneuvering against a deceptive Romulan, standing up to a tough-talking Klingon, or even negotiating with a wily Ferengi, no one could doubt the iron will that fuels Jean-Luc Picard's being... at least, when you look at him.

We've seen him at his lowest, too, though. Not to make this a Kirk-versus-Picard thing, but with Kirk, even in his vulnerable moments, he still had an air of stoicism, as if even in private, he felt it was unseemly somehow to let go, to unclench, to release his anguish.

I would argue Picard's vulnerabilities define him as much as his strengths: tearfully admitting to his brother Robert his shame at being unable to overcome the Borg; struggling to resist Gul Madred's attempts to brainwash him (and almost failing); taking his rage and thirst for revenge against the Borg out on Lily Sloane.

They were all shocking moments, but I think we needed to see them in order to help uncover who Picard is as a person. He is an altruistic, noble, principled man, no doubt, but he also has a potential for arrogance and overconfidence that rivals Q. And credit where credit's due: Patrick Stewart sold the role, folks. We have been extremely fortunate to have had him as an actor.

The difference between Picard and Q, though, is that Picard has learned to keep his arrogance in check. He rises above his baser instincts to walk the straight and narrow path. He knows he must, because his crew needs him to: whether it means taking command of the Stargazer in a crisis situation, or defying a Starfleet admiral and leading his Enterprise crew to rescue a people from forced relocation. The better angels of his nature win out in the end because they must. That makes Picard a great captain and a more complete character as well.

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Previously:
Chris Pine's Kirk
Jonathan Archer
Kathryn Janeway
Benjamin Sisko