Tag Archives: star trek

Classic “Trek” vs New “Trek”

Who to choose, who to choose...

Who to choose, who to choose…

Prior to watching Star Trek Into Darkness last week (and loving it…), I checked out a few reviews and noted a common theme:

I couldn’t help feeling let down. Not because J.J. Abrams and his writers have ignored what “Star Trek” fans want. It’s that they’ve pandered to it to such a degree that it feels less like fan appreciation and more like base-covering pragmatism.  – Rob Thomas, Capital Times

Jettisoning the franchise’s optimistic, socially aware sci-fi, not to mention character development or a logical plot, Darkness turns out to be any Vulcan’s worst nightmare: Team America: World Police with Tribbles. — Graham Killeen, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Granted, these folks are in the minority, compared with what generally every other critic thinks is a wonderful movie (that, and many of those making this claim aren’t exactly “big name” national critics…).  But they get at a question that’s been asked of the recent movies since their inception:

“Is J.J. Abrams‘ ‘Star Trek’ still ‘Star Trek?’”

There are a lot of people complaining on the internet that these last two movies aren’t “Star Trek” enough and miss what made the franchise great: great story-telling, a sense of exploration and wonder, attention to morality and social justice, and a sense of hope for the future.  A “Wagon Train To The Stars,” if you will.  Their contention is that these last two movies have very little of that, instead focusing on huge action set-pieces, snappy dialog, and a willful ignorance of the things that made “Star Trek” popular in the first place.

To these people, I’d simply like to ask what Star Trek movies they’ve been watching?

By my count, only three of the movies (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and Star Trek: Insurrection) actually dealt with anything akin to social justice or political upheaval.  The other seven movies had a clear villain (or “thing,” in the case of Star Trek: The Motion Picture) that the crew of the Enterprise was fighting against.  And why is that?  Because in order to make a spectacular science fiction movie in the 21st Century that brings in plenty of movie-goers and actually turns a meaningful profit, you have to make it an action movie.  The actors they recruited for these last two movies are wonderful and play their parts well, but they aren’t cheap.  Paramount would never make their money back on the actors and relatively minor effects needed to make a modern science fiction film if they did a traditional, “classic,” movie where Kirk and Spock are transported back to the 1930s and have to let a woman die so that the United States enters WWII as history dictates.

What these reviewers, and others on the internet, are complaining about is movie “Star Trek” versus television “Star Trek,” and these are two separate things.  Even the movies that feature some kind of social commentary (Undiscovered Country and Insurrection) still have more action than they’ve got “classic ‘Trek’” elements.  Voyage Home is probably the only movie in the franchise that’s even close to aping the core of the television franchise: the combination of a new life form, environmental justice, and character drama, along with a few small action scenes.

These movies, Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness, should be viewed in comparison with the other movies in the franchise, not the television show(s) that spawned their existence.  In the appropriate context, these movies are utterly spectacular, and among the best of the 12 films.

When J. J. Abrams starts making a Star Trek television series, then reviewers and The Internet can complain about the lack of Roddenberry-esque social commentary.  Unfortunately, the big budget blockbuster requires more “whiz bang” than the traditional Star Trek fan prefers.  Thus, that fan must wait for the next series to start, or should go back and watch the 5 series of TV shows over again to get their fix.

Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

"Tough little ship..."

“Tough little ship…”

I was a pretty big fan of the J.J. Abrams re-boot of the Star Trek franchise in 2009.  Aside from the excellent production values, great new cast, and a new take on an aging (some would say “stale”) franchise, the thing I appreciated most was the attention to previous movies/shows while also completely spinning established canon on its head.  It created an “alternate timeline,” allowing the writers to change things up without really pissing off longtime fans (for the most part…I mean…they destroyed Vulcan, after all…)

But, in the end, the first movie was still an origin story.  Most of the plot was taken up with getting Kirk into Starfleet, getting him onto the Enterprise, and bringing him in contact with all the folks that would ultimately make up his legendary crew.  While Eric Bana is a good actor, frankly, he wasn’t given much to do as the villain.  This isn’t a new problem among superhero-type movies, where the first movie in the franchise can only have so much time devoted to a proper villain or conflict.

Which leaves the second movie to fill in the gap.  The characters have been introduced and developed.  The audience knows generally what to expect.  Now, they just want a good movie.

And boy, does Star Trek Into Darkness deliver.

I’ll refrain from spoilers, as this is one movie where I see some value in keeping the secret(s).  In short, Kirk & Company seek revenge for an attack on a secret Section 31 installation (nice callback to somewhat deep “Star Trek” lore there, guys…) and Starfleet Command by John Harrison, played by Benedict Cumberbatch.  And honestly, that’s all I want to say about the story.  Really, I’d like to write more on it, and perhaps I will in a few months, but for now, you’re best served by not reading anything more about it.  Heck, I already knew a few of the details before I saw it, but even I didn’t see some of this movie coming.

In the end, they did a wonderful job of incorporating elements of the “alternate timeline” established in the first one with the “core timeline” of the…well…the rest of “Star Trek.”  They even did a good job of transferring lines from the previous movies (one specific movie, in particular…) to the characters in this one.  Is some of it cheesy?  Perhaps.  Personally, I got a kick out of it.  Hearing an important line delivered by a different character than who originally delivered it is fascinating, and keeps you guessing.

Despite knowing the few details that I did, I was actually “on my toes,” to some degree, regarding the villain.  Cumberbatch was obviously a bad guy from the beginning, but there were times we saw him working with Kirk toward a common goal.  But damn, once he turns bad, he turns bad in a real way.  It’s like the writers chose to let the audience feel for the plight of the villain for awhile, then, once you start to feel like you understand him, he shifts radically in another direction.  It’s one of those moments where you have a villain in front of you, but then the real one steps out from the shadows.

The writers also did a good job of “spreading the love” between characters this time.  The last movie featured Kirk, Spock and Uhura, primarily, with bit parts for the others.  This time, the only character lacking was Checkov, though he still had his moments.  I got a bit tired of the “folksy metaphors” Bones kept spouting and felt he could have expanded his role a bit more, but by the end, I was fine with his portrayal.  Overall, the cast did really well, and notably, Zachary Quinto was able to inject a remarkable amount of “feeling” into a “non-feeling” Vulcan.  They’re doing a great job re-creating those characters and wish they could have a TV series to really do it right (never gonna happen…).

It goes without saying that the effects were spectacular and the action set pieces were wonderful.  I’m glad they showed more of the Enterprise this time around, as I really, really like that ship design.  I was also impressed by the 3D in this movie.  While you don’t need it to enjoy the movie, of course, I’d still recommend it if you have the option.

All in all, it was a fun ride and a movie I’d like to see again (and again).  I haven’t quite decided whether I like the 2009 “original” or the 2013 sequel more yet, however.  Perhaps I’ll need a second viewing before I really decide.  But right now, I’m leaning toward the new one.

“Khaaaaaaan!”

Best. Movie. Ever.

Kristen came and visited this weekend.  Now that we live in St. Louis again, it’s a much more reasonable drive for her to come visit her niece, whom she hadn’t seen since last May.  Around the time we figured out that she’d be coming in, I was also made aware of a new Star Trek exhibition being displayed at the St. Louis Science Center.  The exhibition will be there until May, so there wasn’t really a huge rush…but, on the first Friday of each month, they run a special deal where they cut the cost of the exhibit in the evening and they show a movie in the Omnimax theater.  And the movie this month?

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.”  Largely considered the best “Star Trek” movie.  As Khan said, “In my estimation, you simply have no alternative.”

We went to the exhibition after dinner and after we dropped Brooke and Meg off at home.  The exhibit itself was pretty neat, though I would have preferred fewer “replica” props.  Sure, they had actual uniforms worn by the various cast members throughout the series.  They had uniforms from each of the members of the crew from the newest movie, Spock’s robe from “Star Trek IV,” General Chang’s uniform from “Star Trek VI,” and  representative uniforms from all of the captains across all of the series.

There were a few ship models and some of the original props, but there were quite a few of the aforementioned replicas, mostly in the realm of communicators, badges, phasers, etc.  They definitely had some real ones and, to be honest, I’m sure the difference between the replicas and the real thing (which were only props, never truly “real”…) is minuscule.  Still, seeing more actual props that were used on the various properties would have been nice.  They did have scale models of a transporter and the Enterprise-D bridge from “The Next Generation,” mostly so they could take a picture of you and charge a ridiculous amount of money.  Still, it was cool to sit on the bridge of the Enterprise.

In the end, however, the real attraction for me was seeing “Star Trek II” in the theater.  It came out in 1982, the year I was born, so I’ve never actually seen this movie in a theater setting.  To be fair, it wasn’t ideal because they were projecting what looked like the DVD version of the movie up on a screen that is meant to wrap around you.  So, the image was kinda “curved,” and projected a bit higher than I would have liked.  The contrast was a bit “off,” as well, especially when the crew was shown on the bridge in very dark lighting.  But hey, when you’ve seen the movie countless times, you can forgive such things.

What I can’t forgive, however, is the omission of certain, key scenes.  Specifically, those regarding Scotty’s nephew.  As in, we see the kid, but certain lines of dialog that establish his relation to Scotty (as opposed to him being Random Engineering Cadette #7) are completely missing.  It’s just really weird as it’s been in every other version of the movie I’ve seen, so I just wonder where the heck they found this one.

However, seeing the movie with a crowd of people for the first time just brings an extra “magic” to a movie I’ve seen more times than I can count.  Once you’ve seen a movie you love enough times, there isn’t much else you can do to bring anything fresh to the viewing experience.  However, watching it with 200 other fans, some of which dressed as Starfleet crew or Klingons, is definitely unique.  Hearing cheers and jeers throughout was somewhat distracting, but still pretty great.

Overall, I think we had a good time.  Glad I got to see some bits of “Star Trek” history, and that I got to share it with my sister.  In the end, we came, we saw, we lived long and prospered.  It’s all I can ask.

Nostalgia

Ah, it’s like I said: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

– Quark, speaking the final line of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”

The third Star Trek series, “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” is now on Netflix Instant Queue.  I don’t want to dwell on the series or the franchise as a whole, but I do want to say that I’m looking forward to re-watching the series.  I have seen all of “Next Generation” and all of “Voyager” twice (or more…) when they’ve been in re-runs over the years, but “DS9,” for some reason, hasn’t been re-played as often since it left television 12 years ago.  At the time, I didn’t like “DS9″ as much because, especially in the latter half of the series, they moved to more of a “serial plotline” structure where each episode tied into subsequent episodes.  Back then, I didn’t like it, but now, in the wake of excellent shows like “Lost” and “Battlestar Galactica,” I think I may appreciate “DS9″ more than I did.  Today, it seems like practically every drama on television is doing it.  As my Mom always says, “everything goes back to Star Trek”…

Nay, the real reason this post exists is because we visited St. Louis this past weekend.  As has been mentioned before, Brooke has been living down there four days a week while Meg and I have been in Iowa, only seeing each other on weekends.  This past Thursday, however, I went down to speak with a potential employer at Washington University.  No details to write on that front yet, but hopefully it’ll pan out in the near future.

As part of the visit, I decided to stay down there through Sunday (with Meg, of course), getting a chance to see some people that I haven’t seen in awhile.  Meg and I went by SLU on Friday morning, then I went out to lunch with some friends from there.  We went apple picking on Friday afternoon (more on that in another post) with other friends, and then had dinner with them Friday night.  We checked out a potential place to live (assuming I get this job soon…) on Saturday, then went out to dinner with Brooke’s family on Saturday night.  And finally, we went to our old church, Webster Hills, on Sunday morning.

And that brings us to the apropos quote from above: the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Things at SLU had definitely changed a bit.  Some new construction, some new faces.  Dr. Westfall will be retiring sometime late next year, so more changes are definitely in store for my old department.  New progress on research that has carried on in my absence, which is the way of things.

Oh, and in news where change isn’t so good, it seems like every light on Kingshighway now has a “Photo Enforced” sign on it.  Very bad.  I’ll be doing my best to avoid those shenanigans.

At church on Sunday, though, in many ways, it’s like we’d never left.  They did an acoustic “service in the round” where all the folks in the congregation were in a circle surrounding the altar area (this was our idea a few years ago, for the record).  The music was mostly stuff we knew, but there was a newer one we hadn’t heard before.  They also interspersed Bible verse readings between the verses of some of the songs: a nice addition.  There weren’t many new faces there, but there were quite a few people there we hadn’t seen in a long time, so that was excellent.  Basically, being there felt like “home” again.

I guess this separation of our family is just getting to me.  While I don’t mind moving forward with life, getting to do “bigger and better things,” in many ways, I just want to go back to the life we had when we lived in St. Louis: just with a baby along this time.  We ate out on the patio in Soulard on Friday for lunch and all I could think of was how I missed living down there.  It was a spectacular day, after all, and with the leaves starting to change color, it made me wish I could walk home rather than have to drive 5 hours to get to my real house.

It will be interesting to look back on our time in Iowa in 12 years like I’m looking back on “DS9,” whether I will dislike it because of our most recent experience(s), or whether I will grow to appreciate it more.  Right now, though, to continue the analogy, I just want to go back to “The Next Generation:” I was happy with it.

Roddenberrian Economics

Ayn Rand is someone I’ve heard of in the past, but up until now, haven’t really paid much attention to.  I “got into it” with someone over Facebook a few weeks ago regarding “Randian disciples” and learned a bit more about her in the process.  Then, at the end of April, NPR’s On Point had a discussion about her, specifically with reference to the Tea Party.  The architect of the Republican Congress’ budget plan, Paul Ryan, has referenced her on multiple occasions.  There is also a movie out, “Atlas Shrugged: Part I,” which was released in a partial attempt to capitalize on her resurgence, though Rotten Tomatoes currently has the film sitting at around 9% positive ratings.

Rand grew up in Russia and moved to the United States in 1926.  She was a philosopher and writer, and is perhaps best known for her books, “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged,” both products of the mid-20th Century.  Due in part to her upbringing and the general climate in the post-World War II world, she embraced the concepts of Objectivism and was very much a rational individualist.  She opposed in Collectivism, an idea that contributes to Socialism and Communism.  Because of her beliefs, and the stories she told in her books, fiscal Conservatives, and especially Libertarians, have embraced her and in some ways treat her as a figurehead for their ideas.  Alan Greenspan was one of the founding members of Rand’s ironically named “Collective,” a group of close confidants and proponents of Objectivism.

The key idea behind her overall philosophy, as I understand it, is that it is wrong to take what is one person’s and give it to someone else.  That the purpose of one’s life is to pursue your own personal happiness and your own self-interest.  One could call this whole idea “Randian Economics.”  Or, as she puts it:

“My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”

- Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

Any of you that know me, however, would have another quote come to mind.  Something completely different, and the antithesis of this philosophy, in my view:

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

- Spock

“Or the one.”

- James T. Kirk

Which brings me to Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek (pictured atop the camera in the image above).  I won’t go into the history behind all of it, but let’s just say that if I were going to choose a side between one philosopher from the mid-20th Century and another, I’ll go with Roddenberry.  His vision of the future is one that I’d like to live in.  One where money is not the driving force for all we do.  Where the desires to serve humanity and all others surpass the desire to serve yourself.  Where humans recognize that they are only able to be more than themselves when they are together with others.  Where no one human is above anyone else, at least in terms of rights and respect.

Bear in mind that these ideas weren’t necessarily revolutionary in the 1960s, but they weren’t made publicly available on television often, either.  At the time, it was highly irregular to have a Japanese American man, an African American woman, and a guy playing a young Russian on the same bridge, serving together, working together, helping each other.  Roddenberry infused his fictional universe with hope for the future through Collectivism, where we all share what we have and work together toward a common good.

And so, I wish to coin the term “Roddenberrian Economics.”  I think we’d all be better off if we took some pointers from the man.

Heck, I’d even argue that Gene Roddenberry has more followers than Ayn Rand does.