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Friday, July 10, 2009

Star Trek Quote of the Day -- Here's Leonard Nimoy on old versus new Star Trek:
"[I]f we cannot accept the future we are in trouble. Ben Cross is playing Spock's father. Mark Lenard has passed away. Winona Ryder is playing Spock's mother and Jane Wyatt has passed away. Simon Pegg is playing Scotty and James Doohan is gone. DeForest Kelley is gone. Majel Barrett is gone. We have to be real about this. I am a nostalgic guy -- I love thinking about the past. I think about it often. I think about the great times I have had and the difficulties and the exciting moments. But I think it is healthy to live in the "here-and-now" and deal with the reality of the present. I see it, not as a negative thing but as a positive thing. These beloved characters are being given a whole new life."
More at Trekweb.com.


Saturday, May 09, 2009

Star Trek -- For a long time it seemed we had lost Star Trek in a slow leaching off of what made the original 1966 series special. From the high points of its second life (Wrath of Khan; the TNG episodes Best of Both Worlds Parts One and Two) it was all an agonizingly slow downward spiral. The series finale of TNG was a great, emotionally satisfying tribute to the unlikely success of the first sequel series, but instead of leading into a brilliant new movie era featuring Picard and company, it was the last real gasp of creative honesty in the 1990s for "the franchise."

Generations had an awesome opening 15 minutes followed by tedium, bad writing and the worst mistake in Trek history, the ham-fisted death of James T. Kirk. Not that Kirk necessarily shouldn't have died on-screen, but the unconscionably bad writing of his death scene (and the even worse writing of the earlier draft, available for viewing on the Generations DVD) should have been a signal to all involved that they had traveled far down the wrong road and needed to rethink the entire journey.

Despite that, director Jonathan Frakes managed to make the next cinematic outing, First Contact, into a fun adventure movie that demonstrated moments of genuine wit and human insight (mostly in the Cochrane storyline; the Picard-as-Ahab metaphor is as heavy-handed and tedious as any Roddenberry conceit one could name). The less said about Insurrection and especially Nemesis, the better. The latter was literally the worst Star Trek entertainment ever produced, with less creative spark and more embarrassing moments than the worst of the Gold Key comic book series. And like Generations, it goes not boldly but wrong-headedly down the same stupid path of creative immolation by killing off Data, probably Roddenberry's last great contribution to Star Trek entire.

And oh, the other sequel series; Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise all have something to offer despite their enormous flaws (Colm Meaney's acting, the Holographic Doctor and all of Season Four, respectively), but compared to the '66 and '87 iterations of Trek, they demonstrate the slow death of an idea. In 1964, when Roddenberry conceived the series that would be refined and redefined by the other writers brought in (Fontana, Ellison, and dozens more), the series was about exploring both space and what it means to be human and alive. By the time Voyager launched, Star Trek had literally become a series about Star Trek. Enterprise grew a pair in its final season, but by then the fact that the franchise had been in the wrong hands for many years was crystal clear. Berman, Pillar, and the rest were the bad guys as far as I was concerned. They had taken away Star Trek and replaced it with a very poor substitute.

And now J.J. Abrams and company have given it back.

I don't remember how Roger Ebert justified his 2.5 star review, and I don't care enough to go look and grab a link. You're good with the Google and I trust you to know if you need to see for yourself. But for me, the new Star Trek is 3.5 to 4 stars of greatness from beginning to end. It has everything I love about the '66 series, from laughs and melodrama to the costumes and pageantry of Starfleet as a vision of the best humanity (and other races) have to offer.

Is it perfect? No. The performances of the actors playing Sulu, Chekov and (yes) Scotty all wander over territory ranging from cipher to parody, even if their individual charms still won me over. Does the plot make sense? Is the science sound? Probably not. Is that really Spock, though, being played by Zachary Quinto? Is Chris Pine really Kirk? Hell, is Bruce Greenwood really Captain Christopher Pike? Yes, yes, and much to my amazement, yes.

Is it too shiny? Yes, the lens flares are a distraction and will look as goofy in ten years as the ones in Ellis and Hitch's Authority comics do now. But the passion with which this story is told, and the little character moments that pepper it throughout, feel more true to the essence of what the original series accomplished than any moment of Trek since The Wrath of Khan first reminded us that Star Trek was fucking loaded with the potential for great storytelling, hammy actors and bad special effects be damned.

Leonard Nimoy's first scene as Spock is astonishingly well-acted, drawing upon the actor's 45 years of experience playing the character. Quinto makes Spock his own, but at no time does the new version feel discordant with Nimoy's lifetime of contributions to the canon. The moment when Spock materializes on the transporter pad and realizes what he has lost on Vulcan is one of the most powerful in the character's history, twisting some of the most beloved moments of the original series into a new form and setting the character on a new path. And it never feels like anything other than honestly-won drama that works on every level.

Chris Pine completely inhabits the ideal of Kirk as a character and as a legend-in-training. He doesn't feel like a Luke Skywalker-type Hero with One of a Thousand Faces, but rather he comes across powerfully as a new, divergent path for the character Shatner portrayed for decades, struggling to get where we know he belongs, on the bridge of that ship. And Pike is a special case for me: I have been obsessed with the original pilot's captain (and actor Jeffrey Hunter's performance) for over thirty years. The first time I saw The Menagerie (the episode that wove footage from the original, Kirkless pilot with a new Kirk/Spock story), I was fascinated by the idea that the ship had had another captain before Kirk, and even more riveted by the question of what the series could have been like with Pike, not Kirk, at the helm. Bruce Greenwood does an amazing job of making Pike his own, and having a new story on film involving this great, semi-lost Trek character feels to me something very much like a gift.

The movie throbs. It shines and sparkles and shakes with energy and movement. It propels you through its story and leaves you so, so ready for more Star Trek. Personally, I want to see more of the world Nimoy's Spock comes to this movie from (see the IDW comic book prequel Countdown for a hint), but if all we ever get is more of this new type of Star Trek, I'll be very happy. It's a brave new canvas Abrams and company have created, and Trek hasn't felt so filled with potential since Spock's coffin landed on the Genesis Planet all those years ago. For the first time in a long time I am asking the essential storytelling question, what happens next?

I can't wait to find out.

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Monday, May 04, 2009

My Custom Shatnerverse Kirk 4.5" Action Figure -- In the ten Shatnerverse novels by William Shatner with Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, Captain Kirk is alive and well in the current Star Trek timeline, having been resurrected after the events of Star Trek Generations. After meeting the true love of his life and having all sorts of adventures, the last few books in the series detail Kirk's current gig as Captain of the Starfleet Q-Ship Belle Reve under the supervision of Admiral Kathryn Janeway.

I've recently been rebuilding my collection of Star Trek Playmates 4.5" action figures, and having collected all the extant Kirks, it was really annoying me that I didn't have him in his most recent incarnation, especially since Playmates did produce the other members of the Belle Reve crew, Admiral McCoy, Ambassador Spock and Captain Scott (all in the versions seen on Star Trek: The Next Generation).

Reading up on customizing techniques and having doubles of both figures needed to create my Shatnerverse Kirk (a Generations Kirk and the mail-away exclusive Captain MacKenzie Calhoun figure), I got to work last night, and much to my amazement, I think it worked. Here are the pictures to prove it.

I recommend the Shatnerverse series of novels, by the way, to anyone who was disappointed with where Trek went after First Contact, because Shatner and Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens really capture the characters voices and personalities, and it's a gas to be able to experience so many stories about Kirk tooling around the galaxy with Picard, Janeway, and the holographic Doctor from Voyager, not to mention his only friends from the early days of his career to survive into the 24th century, Spock, Bones and Scotty.

Can you tell I am excited to see the new movie coming out this Friday?


Monday, March 16, 2009

The Monday Briefing -- Didn't read much comics-wise over the weekend, as I am in the final stretch of reading the Star Trek: Destiny trilogy of novels by David Mack. It was recommended as epic and well-written in a message board post somewhere recently, and turns out that is completely true. The novels (I started the third last night) tell a millennia-spanning, post-Nemesis tale that features Captains Picard, Riker, Dax (Ezri, now promoted) and Hernandez (the USS Columbia captain from Enterprise) and their ships and crews on the eve of the worst invasion the Federation has ever faced. The story is perfectly paced, more grown-up in tone than older Trek novels, and the perfect appetizer for May's movie release. If you have any interest in Star Trek at all, check 'em out, they're terrific.

Kind of hard to believe that the finale of Battlestar Galactica is now just days away. Like some viewers whose comments I've read, I've found the last couple-three episodes a bit scattered and off-point, but hopefully Ron Moore and company are saving the best for last. Apropos of nothing, I DVR'd (as we say) an episode of the original series (the Ship of Lights episode, as it turns out), and my wife fired it up yesterday thinking it was the latest episode of the new series. "I didn't understanding any of it of who the characters even were," she told me. "All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again," I cryptically told her. She was not amused.

Comics-wise, check out Chris Allen's look at some Captain America collections, both Brubaker-written and not, as well as some comments on a new line of Marvel action figures.

Tom Spurgeon has posted his Best of 2008 list. As you might expect, it's pretty hard to argue with. I still need to read Omega the Unknown, though.

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Huge Star Trek Movie Spoilers -- Readers of IDW's Countdown series already know what I consider the biggest spoiler, but a new synopsis of the movie's novelization spells it out in black and white as well. DO NOT CLICK THE LINK IF YOU DON'T WANT A MAJOR PLOT POINT SPOILED.

I'm usually fine with spoilers -- I read the entire script of the sixth Trek movie -- a murder mystery, no less! -- and still loved seeing the film when it came out in theaters, and still love it to this day (despite a couple of major mistakes in the script that sadly made it to the screen*).

This one, though -- maybe it's the old, old Trekker in me speaking, but I wish I didn't know the villain Nero's motivation going in. It's so huge for the Trek universe, and so enmeshed in the post-Nemesis world in such a delicious way, that I really do wish it was going to be a surprise when the film plays out before me for the first time in May.

All that said, if you're really, really okay with spoilers, click on over and have at it. If this isn't a genuinely exciting movie and a real revival of all things Star Trek, I am going to be very surprised and hugely disappointed. So far, everything looks right to me -- even the comic book prequel I didn't think I'd care about at all is pretty much essential -- and I can't wait for May to get here.

* Scotty would not have called the Klingon Chancellor's daughter a "bitch," and the character Valeris's origin as Saavik remained painfully obvious in at least two sequences.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Does Anyone Really Care About Star Trek Anymore? -- That's the question posed by Tom Spurgeon, and although he may have asked it rhetorically, as part of his review of a new Star Trek spin-off comic book by John Byrne, my answer is yes, and I have some thoughts on the subject.

I was born in 1966, the same year Star Trek debuted on NBC; I debuted in January, the show came along in September, so in a way I am older than Captain Kirk. Of course, the show had been in the works for a couple years before it was ready for public consumption, a failed pilot being produced in 1964 with Captain Pike instead of Captain Kirk, and I've always been fascinated with the question of what the show might have been like had Jeffrey Hunter had the lead instead of William Shatner. Sure, Spock was a goof in that original pilot ("The Cage"), but Hunter's Pike was a darker and more intense character in that one episode than Kirk generally got over 40 years of episodes and movies. Even Kirk's death in 1993's Generations movie failed to muster up the sort of darkness and drama that an event like the death of James Tiberius Kirk should have inspired. Co-screenwriter and Battlestar Galactica prime mover Ron Moore even admitted as much in a recent interview.

So, I was born the same year as Star Trek, as I was saying, but obviously that means I didn't catch it in its first go-round on the tee-vee. No, it was in syndicated reruns in the early 1970s that it probably caught my eye, maybe or maybe not as a result of seeing the Saturday morning animated series, also called Star Trek. Some people don't consider the animated version canon, but you know what? If it's called Star Trek, is produced by Gene Roddenberry and stars William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan and Nichelle Nichols, it's goddamned Star Trek, goofy aliens or not.

My mom and I shared our love for Star Trek -- she had watched it from the beginning, and she definitely watched it at her end. In the early 1990s, when she was sinking into the beginning stages of Alzheimer's disease, I had a friend who worked at a video store who would sell me the then-new VHS releases of Star Trek episodes at cost, I think five or six bucks per tape. As I made my way through acquiring the series on VHS, my mom got curious about the tapes I was bringing home in stacks of three or four at a time, and she watched Star Trek again like it was something she had never seen. The disease had wiped out her memories of the show, but she was still sharp enough to appreciate its humour and sharp social commentary, and watching her watch those episodes in what I know now was the beginning of her end is one of my fondest, most bittersweet memories. Those tapes gave her endless hours of genuine pleasure, even as she slowly slipped away. If for nothing else, I'll always hold the original Star Trek in high regard for allowing her those many hours of entertainment.

When The Next Generation came along in 1987, I was dubious that Roddenberry and company could recapture lightning in a bottle. We'd had The Wrath of Khan in theaters by then, and that movie was really what recharged "the franchise" (a loathsome term) enough to justify trying another TV show a few years later. TNG's pilot was mostly uninspiring to me; I didn't care for the lack of conflict between the characters (a Roddenberry conceit), as conflict between the three leads was much of what made the original series and the best of the movies hum. Hell, the conflict between Kirk, Spock and McCoy was the best part of even the worst of the movies, The Motion Picture and The Final Frontier, the latter being Shatner's doomed-from-the-start attempt at writing and directing a Star Trek movie. You tried, but, She's dead, Jim.

The Next Generation got good after its unformed and meandering first season. Diana Muldaur replaced Gates McFadden as the ship's doctor, and she immediately added tension to the mix. A lot of people didn't care for her Doctor Pulaski, but I liked the way she mixed in with the rest of the cast. On the other hand, when she was unceremoniously ditched and Dr. Crusher came back, I was glad to see her, too. Probably for the same reason I never liked Babylon 5's first commander until he was fired after the first season then came back later and stirred everything up in some of the best episodes of the series. It's that whole Joseph Campbell thing about going out into the wilderness and coming back with the power to grant boons, I think.

But yeah, the Borg came in during season two of TNG and their Hellraiser-stylings and eerie, hive-mind coldness was too frigging cool for primetime TV. Apparently it was too cool for Star Trek, too, because after their initial appearance in the episode "Q-Who" and the amazing two-part, season bridging "Best of Both Worlds," the Borg were never again used well on The Next Generation. The were either Edward Scissorhands in the stupid episode about the li'l boy Borg, or playing second fiddle to Data's evil twin Lore. Ugh. But they started with great potential.

By the time the series folded in 1993 to make way for the TNG cast to move to movies, I was sorry to see them go off the small screen. I might even have teared up a little during "All Good Things," the series finale. The double-length episode was a powerhouse demonstration of Patrick Stewart's acting and appeal, and if the time-bending plot swallowed its own tail ultimately, Stewart and John DeLancie as Q totally sold me on it. It's one of the few TNG episodes I rewatch again with any regularity.

Here things get crazy with spin-offs and movies and action figures and all kinds of crap -- TNG on film only made it through four movies before crashing and burning. The first two, Generations and First Contact, were both okay-to-good, but the last two, Insurrection and especially the atrocious Nemesis, were not well-received. I recently re-watched Insurrection on TV and realized it would have made an acceptable episode of the TV series, but as a movie it was a failure. Just not big enough. Nemesis had a cool title and that was it. If it had been about the scientific Nemesis theory, it might have been cool. I was also disappointed that no one but me thought it would have been neat to have a Trek movie in theaters the first year of the new millennium, called, of course, Star Trek: 2001. Come on, that would have been great!

Well, probably not, but only because the people entrusted to Star Trek's stewardship after Gene Roddenberry left seemed hell-bent on botching the job the longer they had it. Despite good episodes now and then, overall in retrospect I have no use at all for Voyager or Deep Space Nine, and by the time Enterprise debuted on the short-lived UPN network it was designed to support, I had mostly given up. I don't think I watched one entire episode of Enterprise the entire four years it was on.

Which is funny, because this past February, on Valentine's Day, in fact, my family received as a gift a 42-inch HDTV. And I added some HD channels to our cable package. And on one of them, HDNet, they were showing reruns of Enterprise. And I found to my genuine shock that I mostly dug the show a whole lot.

Sure, Scott Bakula is wooden and ham-fisted as an actor, but so is William Shatner, and I found that I could accept his Captain Archer and even enjoy many of his performances. And I genuinely loved the performances of Jolene Blalock as T'Pol and Connor Trinneer as the ship's engineer. He was obviously modeled on Dr. McCoy with his southern accent and no-bullshit approach, but Blalock's T'Pol was as complex a character as Star Trek ever delivered, eventually going far, far further afield of Vulcan logic and traditions than Spock did in all the years he was on TV and in the movies. HDNet recently suspended their telecast of the series, leaving me high and dry near the end of the excellent third-season Xindi storyline, but thankfully in the internet era, as Spock was fond of saying, "there are always...possibilities." So I'll finish the show soon. My verdict is already in, though -- Enterprise was imperfect, but after the original series and TNG, its my favourite of all Star Trek series, and that kind of amazes me, but it captured the sense of mystery and adventure in outer space very well, the ship and the sets were great, and a lot of good acting (I also really liked John Billingsley and Linda Park) was to be found in many episodes.

Now we stand on the precipice of a new, next generation in Star Trek. J.J. Abrams is working on a new movie scheduled for release in May of 2009. Abrams is the producer of Lost, a show I have run hot and cold on but currently am pretty much in love with, and I am hopeful that the new movie will at the very least be one last good Star Trek movie, if not the revival of the concept in the public consciousness. I'm with whatever faction there is that wishes they'd found a place for Shatner in it, mostly because, hey, he's still around and he deserves on last shot at the chance to inspire, as Captain Kirk did for me at his best. He taught me there's no such thing as the no-win scenario, a lesson I took to heart and have believed in, at my best moments, ever since. And also because we've already lost DeForest Kelley and James Doohan, and I am blindsided to think we'll never, ever have Star Trek with them in it again. It makes me sad and makes me feel old.

So, I hope Abrams and crew turn out something great, and I think there's a better than 50/50 chance of that happening. Nimoy's Trek instincts have almost always been right on, and he's on-board for the movie and its story, and that has to be a good indicator.

Note to Tom Spurgeon: I wrote this all in one sitting, with the only research needed being how to spell "Trinneer," so I guess my answer to your question is, yes, I still care about Star Trek. Here's to hoping the people now responsible for its future do, too.

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