Friday, April 26, 2013

Star Trek TNG: The Best of Both Worlds

Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Best of Both Worlds
seen @ College Point Multiplex, College Point, Queens, NY

It's amazing how wedded we as a society have become to technology. The thought crossed my mind last weekend as I saw a jogger in the park adjusting a small iPod worn on her arm. It seems like such an everyday thing now, and yet, when one stops to consider what a miracle it is, the thought is mind-blowing. All these gadgets and gizmos that have become shockingly commonplace, however, have had an unforeseen impact on how we relate to each other.

I can't begin to tell you how often I see people with their faces buried in their iPhones as they walk down the street, not noticing other people about to obstruct their path. What text message, what social network update, what conversation is so important that it prevents the average person from being aware of their immediate environment? Maybe living in New York exaggerates this phenomenon to an extent, being as constantly on the go as we are, but I doubt it. And of course, as bad as this is with pedestrians, it's exponentially worse when drivers are involved.

And then there are people who play their iPhones too damn loud. I swear to you, if it were legal to knock out everyone who did this, I'd get in enough fights on a daily basis to qualify for the heavyweight championship. It's not just rudeness, it's people who are simply ignorant of their surroundings, who aren't aware what kind of impact they have on others around them. 

Is technology to blame or is it something inherent in humanity? We wear these dehumanizing-looking bluetooth devices and headsets that shut out the outside world, yet they're meant to keep us more closely connected than ever. Ironic, no? Lately, I've become less enamored with Facebook and Twitter, especially the former. I find that for all the "talking" going on, I'm less interested in what most people are actually saying. Social networks are meant to be a substitute for good-old-fashioned face-to-face interaction, but as I get older, I find I prefer the latter more and more.

Of course, there's nothing inherently positive or negative about technology; it's all in how we use it. Still, it irks me how much harder it has become for me to simply get through the day when all I wanna do to these iPhone-yakking, MP3-blasting, smart-phone-distracted assholes is to smash their gizmos into a million pieces.

This leads us, by way of comparison, to the subject of Star Trek, and the Borg. In all of its incarnations, on the small and big screens, Trek has presented us with a future society that lives in harmony with technology. At its best, Trek is less about the phasers and starships and tricorders and more about the people who operate them. A transporter accident splits Captain Kirk into two distinct individuals, one analytical and passive, the other feral and aggressive, but the means to reintegrate him is less important than the discovery that he needs both sides in order to function as a whole individual.

With the introduction of the Borg in The Next Generation, suddenly we see the nightmarish flip side of that harmonious society: humanity (or at least humanoids; the Borg assimilate all kinds of species) as slaves to technology, stripped of individuality, whose only imperative is survival at all costs. Obviously, this is an exaggeration of reality, but if we do let our gadgets dictate our behavior to a certain extent, maybe we need more time to learn how to live with them in a healthy manner? We seem way too quick to advance to the next big gizmo without stopping to examine how the last one has changed the way we live. I dunno. It's just an idea.

I feel closer to the TNG era of Trek - which includes the subsequent spin-offs Deep Space Nine, Voyager and even Enterprise - than to the original series. I started watching TNG around season four or five, but it wasn't until seeing the feature Trek film The Undiscovered Country with friends that I felt part of the phenomenon. (My memory is a little hazy regarding what exactly made me a for-real Trekkie - watching TNG on TV or seeing Country theatrically. I usually credit the latter, but I think I began watching TNG even before that. Not a hundred percent sure, but it was definitely sometime around 1990-92, when I was in college.)

I had seen classic Trek from the occasional marathons they'd show on local TV every so often, and enjoyed them, but TNG drew me deeper into this universe. To a degree, TNG reminded me of the comics I had grown up on. I had always favored the team books: Fantastic Four, Avengers, X-Men, and here was a "team" of sorts. 

The adventures were awesome, of course, but as with my team comics, the stuff that kept me coming back most were the personal moments, where we see family members, or learn about a given character's past, maybe see a romance developing, stuff like that - getting to know the team members as individuals. Captain Picard was like Reed Richards - the undisputed leader who, while a man of science and learning, was also compassionate and brave and inspired the devotion of his teammates, and his intellect was his greatest power. 

It reached the point where I was hurrying home from school to watch TNG episodes. I specifically remember doing exactly this for the Season 6 finale, which involved the Borg and Data's "evil twin brother" Lore. (They're both androids; Lore has emotions, Data didn't at the time.) Over time, I'd do things like go to Trek conventions, buy Star Trek Communicator, things like that. I'd meet other fans in person here and there, but it wasn't until I met Bibi that I found someone with a passion for Trek that runs deep. (I'll never forget the first time I saw her Trek novel collection - parts of which she has generously shared with me.) And of course, when Deep Space Nine started up, it stirred a great passion within me as well. But that's another story.

One summer when I was a summer camp counselor, I often cavorted with three or four campers who were Trekkies, including this 13-yer-old girl named Claire, who was remarkably bright and creative. I'll never forget her. (She was the one who first told me that Michael Dorn was joining DS9 as Worf.) Anyway, at the end-of-summer talent show, we all put on a TNG skit that was kinda-sorta inspired by the two-part episode "The Best of Both Worlds," which played theatrically across North America last night as part of a special event to promote the season-by-season TNG Blu-Ray box sets. 

I say the skit was inspired by it because we played the Enterprise crew trying to rescue Captain Picard, but we only did that because none of us felt worthy enough to play Picard! I definitely didn't want to because I thought that if I did, people would think it was all about me. I preferred to be seen as one among the group, even if I was the only adult, so I played Worf instead, which suited me fine. Claire, being the only girl, played Counselor Troi (I'm pretty sure we didn't have a Dr. Crusher). I remember the poor kid who played Geordi kept stumbling over the technobabble! And we all wore shirts with colors corresponding with our characters' costumes, so I wore a yellow shirt, Claire wore a blue shirt, etc. That was my idea.

In watching "Worlds" again last night, which was edited so that both episodes became one long episode of sorts, I was reminded once again of all the things I love about Trek in general and TNG in particular, although I wished I could've seen this when it first aired. In the making-of documentary that preceded the movie, several cast members compared the part-one cliffhanger (which ended season three) to the "Who shot JR?" cliffhanger of Dallas in terms of how big it was, culturally speaking. I never made that connection before, and it kinda put "Worlds" in perspective for me.

Reid and I would've liked to have gone to a screening in Manhattan, particularly either Times Square or Union Square, but both those locales were sold out well in advance, so we had to settle for College Point. I was hoping for a more... active crowd than the largish one we saw it with. It was well-behaved, for the most part, a few stray cell phone users notwithstanding, and this is one of those times where I would've preferred a rowdier crowd, one that cheers all the action and maybe heckles a bit here and there. The College Point doesn't even allow people to come in costumes or carry props.

The Star Trek website did a thing where you could take a photo of you and mash it up with an image of a Borg. I've been using mine as my Facebook avatar for the past several weeks. During the slideshow that preceded the documentary, they showed random Borg-ified images from Trekkies around the world that participated in the gag. I fleetingly hoped to see my image, but I didn't.

You can read more about the event here.

Star Trek (2009)
Star Trek Into Darkness
Star Trek: The Motion Picture
The Captains
Mixtape movies: The Trek captains volume


  1. I'm so bummed that I didn't make it to this. It would've been an hour drive, and I was a touch under the weather.

    I'm applauding your sentiments about smashing devices. Didn't some guy walk over a ledge onto the subway tracks somewhere? Crazy.

  2. It's been known to happen here in NYC, though I'm not sure if it was as a result of being distracted by texting or not.

    They'll probably continue doing theatrical events like this to promote all seven Blu-Ray TNG box sets, so if you missed this one, just wait awhile. There's sure to be another one.

  3. I haven't seen any Star Trek series beyond the original (I lived for a long time without a TV). Would this be a good introduction to TNG? If so, I'll check it out. It's going to be showing at the theatre in my neighborhood.

  4. HELL YES this would be a good introduction to TNG! Maybe the best.

  5. Good. I'm hoping it'll be showing for a regular price instead of some $15 "Special Presentation" price.

    My wife and I will be done watching LOST soon and I'm looking for a good science fiction series on DVD to fill that place.

  6. I never got into Lost. Let me know how you like it.

  7. It has its drawbacks (musical motifs that become cliche, maddening character decisions, etc.). It's not on the literary level of Mad Men, Breaking Bad or The Wire. Having said all that, it is one of the most complex, epic, philosophically audacious and suspenseful TV shows of all time, echoing such earlier series as The Prisoner and (the original) Planet of the Apes series. Watch from the beginning and plow through the six seasons.

  8. Wow... so it's more than a post-modern 'Gilligan's Island,' then.

  9. Only if Gilligan's Island met The X-Files. A lot of the story doesn't take place on an island, anyway. It's a mind-bending, time-warping trip.

    Hey, since I know you're a Star Trek fan, maybe you can answer something I've been wondering: has the original series been released on DVD in a non-Lucasized (i.e. digitally enhanced and changed) version? I really want to see the series as viewers saw it when it was originally broadcast.

  10. You're probably talking about the remastered editions, where they cleaned up the imagery. You can probably find the pre-remastered versions somewhere out there, but they're really pushing the newer versions now, so you'd have to do some digging, I think, if you really want the originals.

    Still, I have to say the remastered editions look terrific. This isn't like Lucas digitally inserting a ghost Hayden Christenson at the end or anything like that. Don't feel as if the integrity of the originals are ruined by this process. They're really not.

  11. Thanks, Rich. Good to know. What about The Next Generation? Was that series digitally spruced up for DVD?

  12. Yeah, that's what this event was all about. The Blu-Ray editions of TNG have been spruced up. In the slideshow before the movie, they showed before and after images comparing the previous look of TNG to the newer models and one can definitely see the difference.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.