Saturday, May 16, 2020

Star Trek: The Ultimate Review - Part Two

Welcome back to part two of my Ultimate Star Trek Review. If you missed part one, check it out here

Remember how excited and positive I was about the first incarnations of Star Trek (with some exceptions)? Remember how I also said these are my opinions, and I completely understand if your opinions differ, as long as we can discuss it logically? 

Well, let's boldly go where no one has gone before, and talk about The Next Generation (TNG): 

Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987 - 1994)

Gene Roddenberry finally got approved for a new Star Trek series for television! But was it the same...? 

They decided to make this version eighty years after Captain Kirk, so we could see some advancements and they wouldn't have to be bound so tightly to the original series. This time, we follow a new crew on board the Enterprise, NCC-1701 D, as they boldly... well, you get the idea.

I think most fans agree, TNG had a very rough season one, but over time, the series vastly improved. Eventually there were many good episodes, but it still never quite felt like the original series to me. One particular problem I had was the dialogue and chemistry between characters. It seemed like everyone was unnatural and plastic, and conversations were laced with unnecessary amounts of technobabble. Sure the cast was talented, but it's as if they got the script an hour before shooting, and everything was filmed on the first take. Even with some good stories, the friendly banter often felt impersonal and almost forced. 

Riker: "Here's where I say something  witty and charming"
LaForge: "I'll chuckle appropriately, and possibly make a witty yet intellectual observation"
Troi: "Something about ice cream..."
Worf: *stares in Klingon*
*Audience laughs, because Worf just doesn't understand...!

Unfortunately, the writing team didn't have the benefit of creativity that the original series had when they used seasoned science fiction authors. And since it was an entirely different creative team simply writing for television, showrunner Rick Berman began crafting his own version of Star Trek. Which worked out okay in the end, but it took a while to figure out exactly what they wanted this Star Trek to be.

And honestly, I never liked the design of the Enterprise D either. It's obvious they wanted to make something simple for early computer effects, but it never quite looked right to me.

Even the music is just empty lush background orchestration. Other than the theme song, (which was from the 1979 movie), none of it ever stood out. From TOS, you know how the Vulcan mind meld music sounds. You know how the Doomsday planet killer music sounds. And you know how the standard fight music sounds. In TNG, I can't pick out any theme or motif in any situation they encountered. 

But, if you never saw TOS, I completely understand why you might prefer TNG  Because when this series was good, it was very good. And it helped that audiences were hungry for good science fiction.

So The Next Generation endured, for seven seasons, and several movies. And obviously, when you have so much time to fine tune things, you'll have some really great moments. And of course, some not so great moments too.

I'm not going to do a Top Five like I did with TOS. But if your curious, there are plenty of Top Ten lists for TNG posted all over the internets, and they tend to be fairly consistent. Otherwise, you're on your own here, kids. Just remember, season one has a lot of rough patches.

Oh, did I mention TNG had several movies? Beginning with...

Star Trek: Generations (1990)

This was the official 'passing of the torch (passing of the phaser?)' from one captain to another (Kirk to Picard). I should point out, it was an odd number Trek movie, so obviously, it was just okay (see part one of my review to understand where the reference came from). Although it had Malcolm McDowell in it, and he's cool...

Anyway, that brings us to...

Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

This was such a fun movie, and really a pretty good story too! Easily the best TNG theatrical release, and overall just a great sci-fi action film to watch.

Insurrection (1998) & Nemesis (2002)

These were both movies. I know I saw them. The word 'forgettable' comes to mind. One of them was the last of the TNG cast. I know they got my money. I might have shrugged.

Meanwhile, back on television...

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993 - 1999)

When Deep Space Nine began, TNG had been on television for a few years. At the time, I still did the occasional eye roll at what they did to my beloved Trek. But never did my eyes roll more than during the TNG story arc involving the Bajoran and Cardassian turf war. Their conflict was sooooo boring to me, and the Bajorans always sounded like a bunch of whiny bitches.

So imagine my enthusiasm when I learned there was a new series based on a space station in orbit around the Bajoran homeworld and the Cardassian occupancy! Ugh...

I saw the first few episodes, and not only did I still hate this endless soap opera, I also hated the characters. Dr. Bashir was like arrogant nails on a chalkboard to me! Not to mention, the cast felt like they really didn't have any chemistry. There were other cringy things that bothered me too. I still remember being offended when they were discussing a character being a 'fat Ferengi'. The actor just wore a badly padded fat suit. Why couldn't they have simply hired a heavier actor for the part?? It made no sense to me. The only person that seemed to be having fun in this series was Quark (Armin Shimerman). But it didn't help that I still felt generally the same about the Rick Berman Trek-verse in comparison to the original (meh).

While we're on the subject, let's examine another science fiction series about a space station where aliens met:

Babylon 5 (1994 - 1998)

Oh this was good... sooooooo good!

I want to clarify, this show has NOTHING to do with Star Trek.

Creator/showrunner J. Michael Straczynski pitched his idea for Babylon 5 to many networks. He had a concept about a space station where alien races could gather peacefully to work out their differences. One of the networks he pitched it to was CBS, but they rejected it. And before you can say suspiciously coincidental, CBS premiered Deep Space Nine... about a space station where all alien races could gather peacefully to work out their differences. Hmm...

Babylon 5 also had a rough season one, but the characters and concepts were fantastic! This series was designed to have a beginning, middle, and end, and Stracyznski fought very hard to keep this entire project alive. He was ultimately successful, and this is a show you need to watch if you can find it. Some of the best moments in science fiction ever are in this brilliant series.

Oh, sorry, I'm supposed to be talking about Star Trek...

The point I'm trying to make is, B5 had some great elements. DS9 had annoying and boring characters, with a boring story. The reality is, I can still be a fan of Star Trek, but I'm not a fan of bad writing. I'm simply a fan of good science fiction.

And I'll make a confession... I never finished Deep Space Nine. I know, I know, I can hear the collective nerd gasp from all of you, and I've heard it does improve. To clarify, what I've been told is it improved when they left the space station and got into the Defiant to explore space... sorta like a trek through the stars. A star trek. I swear I'll watch it one of these days. But really, I hated most of those characters so much...

Maybe the next version of Trek will be better...

Star Trek: Voyager (1995 - 2001)

The Federation starship Voyager gets shot out into deep space. I mean really deep space. Like suddenly it will take them a hundred years or so to get home. One might say they are... lost in space.

I was interested in the story, because it meant they could finally get away from those annoying ass Bajorans and Cardassians! But even moreso, I found most of the characters in Voyager were actually interesting. They finally created some unique characters, and the cast seemed to have great chemistry together. The interaction no longer sounded fake, and you believed the conversations were a bit more natural. Well, of course they still had an overabundance of technobabble, but this was already a big improvement to me. 

One of my personal favorites was the Emergency Medical Hologram (EMH)Robert Picardo really had a great time with his role, and it showed throughout the entire series.

And while the writing and music still had that typical Berman Trek feel to it, the stories were good enough to keep me entertained and curious for more. And I want to make it very clear, I liked the show BEFORE they added Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan).
Yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinking, but truth be told, she was a very well developed character! Wait... let me try that again. Due to Voyager's low ratings, it seemed very obvious why they added her in season 4. And as much as I did enjoy it initially, it really felt like something in this series needed to be tweaked... wait, that came out wrong too.

In all seriousness, her character wound up being more than just eye candy. Seven's story arc was interesting and a unique addition to the Trek Universe. Unfortunately, when they realized her popularity in the show, she began to overshadow everyone else in the series. Which is a shame, because as I mentioned, they did have some decent characters.

Star Trek: Enterprise (2001 - 2005)

Never have I been more excited for a series, and yet so utterly disappointed. And no, I'm not talking about the silly mechanic jumpsuits they wore. Seriously, costume design, this is the best you could come up with?? Ugh...

Enterprise was to be the series before Captain Kirk, and even before Captain Pike, when Earth first started exploring space with warp drive. Starring Scott Bakula from Quantum Leap as Captain Archer, I thought, how could they possibly go wrong...

I had hoped for a return to the original look of the series, and an opportunity to explore the first contact with some of the classic alien races we love. There was so much potential, but sadly, the first couple seasons were generally bland or poorly written, with characters that I learned to loathe over time. One of the best reviews I remember reading at the time suggested changing out one of the characters with a potted plant to see if anyone would notice. 

Communication officer Hoshi Sato (Linda Park) and Doctor Phlox (John Billingsley) were two of the best characters in the series. Unfortunately, they were overshadowed by a Vulcan in a tight bodysuit, with a lame bowl haircut (Jolene Blalock).

*See part one of my review where I said Vulcan women do NOT have bowl haircuts, Rick!

Other characters in the show were either boring, or extremely annoying, and... whyyyyy did they spend so much time in their underwear rubbing each other in decontamination???

This happened... often, (although not normally with the dog). Sure, I love a bit of titillation in my stories, cause I'm a dude. But after a while, it became uncomfortable even for me. Maybe because they didn't have any actual writing skills?

Okay, I'm being very harsh, and in reality, not all the episodes were terrible. In fact, they got a new and improved writing team in later seasons, which gave us one particular stand out, the two-part mirror universe episode, In a Mirror Darkly. I loved everything about this episode! Rumor has it, they planned on an entire season of mirror universe if the series continued. That could have been interesting...

But alas, it was too little too late, and the series was suddenly cancelled supposedly due to poor ratings. Although some have said that certain execs in CBS (Les Moonves and Alex Kurtzman) decided they didn't like Star Trek or science fiction, so they just killed it. It didn't help that there was also a split between Viacom and CBS which caused a bit of a custody battle over the rights. So sadly, this was literally the end of an era. 

But before this version of Star Trek vanished, we at least got to explore a meaningful story about the Orion Slave trade.

I mean, it was a better story than the Bajoran/Cardassian conflict...

To be continued in part three...

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Star Trek: The Ultimate Review - Part One

I'm about to drop some truth photon torpedoes on you. And while none of them will contain Spock's body, I hope you will find them all to be quite... logical.

"Hey Deeesher, do you prefer Star Wars or Star Trek?"

I prefer good writing.

To clarify, I have a real problem with blind devotion over any franchise. Whether we're talking about Star Trek, Star Wars, Marvel or DC, there are always some great versions, and some not so great versions. Anyone that says, "...We should be happy we're getting new *insert franchise here*!", clearly has no idea what they're talking about. This is how we get the Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Batman and Robin (bat-nipples anyone?), and of course, The Star Wars Holiday Special. I hope I've made my point.

I always want studios to respect the source material, but if they change something, make it a good change. As fans, we deserve to be given a quality product. And if it's badly written, call them out on it! If the online fan fiction is better than the theatrical release, Hollywood should be ashamed of themselves.


Before giving my reviews, I want to make it very clear, these are MY opinions. Your opinions may vary, and that's great, because you are human (allegedly). I'm not here to change anyone's mind. I just want to try to put things into perspective and explain why I like/dislike something. So if I should say anything you strongly disagree with, please try to refrain from becoming overly emotional. My motto remains the same:
I prefer aliens to alienation.

Space... the final frontier. Before these legendary words could be spoken by the equally legendary William Shatner in 1966, creator Gene Roddenberry (aka The Great Bird of the Galaxy... yes, that's his real alias) had quite an uphill battle ahead of him. Originally pitched in 1964, his vision of a wagon train to the stars was to be a space western set hundreds of years in the future *COUGH*firefly*COUGH*, with the crew of the Enterprise exploring strange new worlds. Every week, they would seek out new life, and new civilizations. Basically, they would be boldly going where no man (or woman) had gone before...

In those days, getting a series like this sold was quite a challenge, because most studio execs just didn't get it. But there was one major exec that loved the idea, who just happened to own a studio: Lucille Ball, of Desilu Productions, aka the Godmother of Star Trek.

She approved a pilot, and Star Trek began filming the first episode, titled The CageThis version starred Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike and a female first officer *gasp* simply called Number One, (played by soon-to-be Mrs. Roddenberry, Majel Barrett).

But still, studio execs didn't get it. And they genuinely hated "the guy with the ears"Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy). They felt the story was just too cerebral for audiences.

Roddenberry tweaked some stuff and created a second pilot, called Where No Man Has Gone Before. Rumor has it that Jeffrey Hunter's wife didn't feel Star Trek was right for him, and preferred he focus on a movie career instead, so he was 'unavailable' for the second pilot. Instead of re-casting Pike, the roll of captain was re-invented for William Shatner to play Captain James T. Kirk. And yes, they kept the guy with the ears.

This was finally accepted, and season one of Star Trek could begin it's five year mission.

And, over fifty years later, the legacy continues. But it has gone through MANY different incarnations, with each version quite different from the last. And I don't mean simply in appearance. Of course special effects get updated, but the heart and soul of the series has changed. Whether that's good or bad depends on your personal views. 

I would say the entire franchise can be broken down into three distinct parts. And that is exactly how I'm going to write this review. Let's begin our adventure with: 
The Original Series (TOS).

The Cage (unaired pilot - 1965)

Personally, I love it. There are a lot of good story elements, and it's interesting seeing Captain Pike convey the heavy burden of his command. 

"I'm tired of deciding which mission is too risky and which isn't. And who's going on the landing party and who doesn't. And who lives. And who dies.

So when the Talosians give him an opportunity to live his life in a perfect fantasy illusion, you can easily empathize with how conflicted he feels. This becomes particularly difficult after meeting Vina, who they decide will be his mate. 

Vina was played by the beautiful and talented, Susan Oliver who, in the real world, following two near fatal plane crashes, decided to became a licensed pilot and was named pilot of the year in 1970. She would also be one of 19 women admitted into the American Film Institute's Directing Workshop for Women (DWW), and was one of the first female directors for television. 

In this pilot episode of Star Trek, she also became the first green Orion slave girl, predating Slave Leia by about twenty years.
It's a great episode, but is it a good place to begin watching the series? Maybe not...? There is definitely some good drama, but I can see how people with short attention spans might not appreciate it. This is real science fiction. And yes, there is some action scenes, but they also spend time discussing what's going on, and how to resolve it. Fundamentally, this is (should be) the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek.

Star Trek: "What do these aliens want? How can we communicate with them? How can we convince them we mean them no harm so they don't kill us all?"

Star Wars"Look! Something evil! I'm going to throw it across the room with magic!"

Neither one is bad, and I think both have their place... if well written. I found The Cage very well written.

Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-1969)

"Hey Deeesher, you must be old since you like a show from the 1960s!"
First, I'm still a millennial, and in a few years, I'll be Gen Z... as far as you know. Obviously I have no idea how age works.

The point is, there are many shows and movies I enjoy that were created before I was born. You just need a high tolerance for low budget effects. If all you see are cheap effects, you really aren't paying attention to the story. 

Obviously we all want realism in our science fiction, but not unlike reading these things called 'books', you can sometimes use this thing called your 'imagination'. And in fairness, for the 1960s, those effects were really pretty good. 

Fortunately for us, those not-so-great-for-today effects are a thing of the past. Due to it's popularity, Star Trek received a makeover a few years ago, and the effects were thoroughly updated and the series completely remastered. Maybe this will help some of you holdouts accept it more.

As a kid, I don't remember understanding Star Trek, but I do remember it often terrified me. Although at the time, I think nearly everything terrified me.

As an adult (ish), this is my favorite incarnation of Star Trek. Over the years, I've learned to really respect some of the amazing performances, as well as the great writing. It helped that many episodes were crafted by real science fiction writers, such as Harlan EllisonDavid Gerald, Robert Bloch, and Norman Spinrad. In most cases however, Roddenberry himself, or his script editor, DC Fontana, would make some adjustments to the final version. If the rumors are true, even Shatner himself had a hand in some changes to the script, much to the chagrin of the writers. Harlan Ellison even wrote a whole book about his frustration with the process, (which I highly recommend!). 

If I could, I would sit down with you and watch some of these episodes, giving my commentary on each moment, so you have a better understanding of why I appreciate this series. In lieu of that, let me try to convey some of the nuances with my top five quick picks, (aka required viewing) to try to explain the genius contained within this series. 

And no, I will not being doing such a detailed breakdown on the other Trek shows. While other versions are good, I feel like these are worthy of a closer look. 

1. Doomsday Machine

This episode deserves all the awards. The Enterprise finds a trail of rubble in a solar system that once contained several planets. Upon further investigation, they find the Constellation, another Federation ship, which had been badly damaged after a battle with, what is basically a giant planet killer... a Doomsday Machine. The commander, Commodore Matt Decker (William Windhom) is the only survivor after sending his entire crew to one of the planets, fearing the Constellation would be destroyed in the battle. Then he has to watch helplessly as the Doomsday Machine suddenly looses interest in his ship.

Kirk: "Matt, where's your crew?"
Decker: "On the third planet."
Kirk: "There is no third planet."
Decker: "Don't you think I know that? There was, but not any more!"

Windhom's performance is simply amazing. Essentially playing Captain Ahab from Moby Dick, his thirst for revenge drives him completely insane. Decker commandeers the Enterprise trying to destroy this seemingly unstoppable killing machine, while Kirk is trapped on the derelict Constellation, helpless to save his own crew from this madman. If you aren't on the edge of your seat by the last ten minutes, you've obviously spent too much time staring at your phone during this episode. The editing, story, and performances are just fantastic.

And the glue to hold it all together, is the brilliant score by composer Sol Kaplan, written specifically for this episode. FYI the "Planet Killer" theme would eventually inspire John Williams in composing the theme for Jaws.

This is why I love Star Trek!

2. Mirror, Mirror

Even in the future, we need tech support. And never is it more obvious than when a transporter malfunction accidentally sends the away team to an alternate universe. And the people in this particular alternate universe are not so nice. One might even say they are self-centered, sadistic, and opportunistic. Somehow, Kirk and his team have to figure out a way to blend in to avoid being detected, while discretely trying to find a way back to their own universe. Some great moments as everyone explores their own dark side, not to mention a wonderful speech where Kirk tries desperately to inspire a revolution. I'm not even mad at their uniforms.

3. The Naked Time
A crewmember contracts a disease on a quarantined planet after removing his glove and touching his face, (um... ahead of their time?). Transmitted through touch, the results are that everyone behaves insane in their own unique way. To make matters worse, one of the crewmen has locked himself in the engine room and randomly starts pressing buttons for fun, not only causing the ship to spiral towards the planet below, but completely shutting down the engines in the process.  

There are plenty of great moments, and seeing the exasperated look on everyone's face as they continue to try to do their job, while others are falling apart around them is fantastic. 

But maybe the most powerful scene is how Mr. Spock reacts to the disease. Leonard Nimoy's performance is chilling, as a logical Vulcan who desperately tries to stay in control of his own emotions, but fails. The camera follows him with no edits as he desperately tries to keep his feelings in check. 

4. Amok Time
Speaking of Mr. Spock... Let's take a moment to discuss Vulcans.

Space is big. I mean really big. So it comes to reason that it's populated with a vast array of aliens that not only look much different than us, but have completely different philosophies. Having explored a bit of the original series lore, I always felt Vulcans were extremely... fascinating. Like us, they have emotions, but through mental disciplines, they've learned to control them. It was necessary for the survival of their race. In their past, they were a brutal war-like society, but thanks to the teaching of Surak, he helped them overcome their animalistic nature. He taught them a logical and unemotional way to a better world. 

And whether due to their purge of emotions, or just common Vulcan physiology, they do have a rather unique issue that has to be dealt with. Every seven years, they need to mate, or they will go insane and die. And no, this is not something they are proud of. In the original series, there was a certain privacy and mysticism surrounding Vulcans, and generally speaking, Starfleet, or at least humans, never knew about many of those details. I read somewhere that Vulcans had a certain power in their hands, which is why they don't greet by shaking hands. This is also how they perform the nerve pinch, and mind melds. And did I mention they are much stronger than the average human...?

So I particularly love this episode, partly to explore Spock's homeworld, partly because of yet another fantastic score composed specifically for this episode, and partly because it's a great story.

We also see Vulcan women, and no they do NOT have the same bowl haircut as the men as future incarnations of Star Trek will have you believe. For example, here is Spock's wife.
Which brings us to...
5. Balance of Terror
Ever notice how Vulcans and Romulans look alike? That's because hundreds of years ago, when Vulcans purged their emotions, there was a segment of their society that hated the idea, so they left the planet. They relocated on planet Romulus and became... Romulans.

This is the first appearance of Romulans, and their cloaking device. It's an amazing cat and mouse story with Kirk battling wits with the Romulan commander. It also features an important message about racism. One of the helmsmen suspects Spock to be a Romulan spy after seeing their similarities in appearance.

Stiles: "I was suggesting that Mr. Spock could probably translate it, sir."
Kirk: "I assume you're complimenting Mr. Spock on his ability to decode?"
Stiles: "I'm not sure, sir."

Kirk: "Well, here's one thing you can be sure of, mister: leave any bigotry in your quarters. There's no room for it on the bridge."

And FYI, the actor playing the Romulan Commander would eventually become known as Sarek, who is Spock's father. 

Left is the Romulan Commander. Right is Sarek, Spock's father. Both are Mark Leonard. 

So those are my particular top five, however depending on my mood, I could have easily substituted:

Man Trap - An alien that feeds on the salt in humans, and can disguise itself as anyone. This creature gave me nightmares for years!

Trouble with Tribbles - Funny episode involving Tribbles that are cute and fuzzy, and continue to multiply.

Galileo 7 - Spock commands a shuttle that crashes on a desolate planet. He tries to keep everyone alive, but the crew accuse him of being too unemotional during the crisis.

City on the Edge of Forever - Considered by most fans to be the best episode. Unless of course you're the writer, Harlan Ellison, who hated it. Kirk and Spock travel back to the 1930s to rescue McCoy after he accidentally overdoses on a drug, and changes time. Love story with Joan Collins ensues. It's definitely worth adding to the list.

Space Seed - This was the inspiration for the second Star Trek movie, Wrath of KhanRicardo Montalbon is fantastic. Like rich corinthian leather.

You could also include, This Side of Paradise, All Our Yesterdays, Assignment Earth, Tholian Web, Wink of an Eye, Tomorrow is Yesterday, and I Mudd.

Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973-1975)
There's a big debate about whether this series is actually canon or not. It has all the original actors, as well as many of the creative team behind it. And having re-watched recently, there are some very well written episodes. Unfortunately, they were limited to not-so-great animation, and had to resolve an entire story in less than thirty minutes. Had they been full length live action episodes, some of these story ideas would have been great! But often the episodes felt rushed, and the low budget is frustratingly obvious. Season one for the most part, is well written, but later episodes in season two felt like they tried to simplify stories to appease the younger Saturday morning audiences. They're really not bad. But this particular series is definitely for the more hardcore fans.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

This is where it all changed.

Star Trek had an overwhelming fanbase at the time. One might even call them rabid. There was a demand for the series to continue, but nothing ever panned out. There were plans for a Star Trek Phase II series, with a new crew... like a 'next generation' crew, if you will. But this never happened either.

Fortunately for us, George Lucas made a movie called Star Wars in 1977. And as you can imagine, suddenly studios wanted some of that sweet, sweet sci-fi box office money. So studio execs desperately pulled some elements of ST: Phase II out of their trash bin, and in 1979, a Star Trek Motion Picture was approved.

In many ways, this version of Star Trek could easily be equated to Star Wars The Phantom Menace. Sure everyone flocked to the theater to see it, and the fan knee-jerk reaction was to love it. But is it what we wanted?

 From Leonard Nimoy:
"It was a very finely crafted film, and it did well. But from the actor's point of view frankly, it was frustrating. We didn't feel that we were getting to play the characters that we enjoyed playing in the way that we knew how to play them, and it was frustrating for Gene Roddenberry too. It wasn't the story or script he had wanted, and the gaps seemed filled with too much emphasis on special effects."

For some reason, it was rated G. They hired the director of West Side Story (Robert Wise), and he initially didn't want to do it, but his wife convinced him. There were constant re-writes during shooting. The music was different, (although good), the uniforms were drastically different (ugly and very bland), the characters felt plastic, and the dialogue was often cheesy. Even the Klingons suddenly looked completely different for no reason whatsoever. Sure the effects looked great, but we got way too much of that. There were seemingly endless scenes of the camera just panning across the ship. Before the Paramount logo appears, there is over a minute of music with a blank screen. During the first appearance of the Enterprise, there is over four minutes of the camera panning around the ship as Kirk and Scotty fly around in a shuttle. No dialogue, just music and the Enterprise... for four minutes! I cannot confirm whether or not Kirk was actually masturbating during those four minutes. 

The story was okay, but this was not the Star Trek we had grown to love. And it's unfortunate, because from this movie, the franchise was never the same again.

That's not to say there aren't still good versions of Star Trek. Case in point...

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

This is the Star Trek fans wanted! Instead of focusing on effects, they dealt with characters, story, and action. And they did it beautifully. Everyone was at the top of their game, particularly Ricardo Montalban, who should have won all the awards for reviving his performance of Khan, and ramping it up exponentially.

Following the events from the original series episode, Space Seed, Khan's hatred for Kirk was fueled to rather epic proportions. After escaping his exile, he eventually tracks down Kirk to extract his vengeance.

And can we talk about the soundtrack here?? The music composed by James Horner easily rivals John Williams, and is one of my favorite movie soundtracks.

We also got a new character. Kirstie Alley played the half Romulan half Vulcan, Lt. Saavik.

Now, if I'm being completely honest, I think the casting of Merrit Butrick as Kirk's son just felt wrong. But there's so many other wonderful things about this movie, I try to overlook it.

 Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
How can I explain this movie, without spoiling the events of Wrath of Khan? Well, it's been a few years, so maybe you know by now, Spock died. Or did he? Sarek (Spock's father) tells Kirk they need to get his body so they can bring him back to life. Obviously, they have to search for him, despite Starfleet telling him no.

I think this movie is too underrated. I really enjoyed it, and there are some very good moments in this one.

And for some reason, Lt Saavik is played by Robin Curtis this time. I'm not mad.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
Directed by Leonard Nimoy, this is another fan favorite. The characters started to once again feel like they did in the original series (finally!). They had fun, and it shows. Even the story felt like it could have been in one of the episodes of the series. It was an original idea, and not connected to the other movies, except continuing where Star Trek III ended.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
Um, do I have to talk about this one? Ugh... fine. It was a movie. I'm sure they made money from it.

Okay, a bit more. Directed by William Shatner (for some reason), we suddenly find out that Spock has a brother and I guess he wants to meet God.

This is also where the rumor began that all odd number Trek movies suck. And I'll say again, I liked III. But yeah, you can not only skip it, but ignore that it was ever made.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
Another enjoyable movie. Not one of the best, but some good moments as the crew tries to unravel a mystery, and Kirk deals with his own prejudice against Klingons. It helps that we have a fantastic cast, particularly one David Warner, who has always been one of my favorite actors.

This is also the last we see of the original series cast together. Bittersweet, but it was time for their journey to come to an end.

And this is where part one of my review ends. Coming up: The Next Generation.

Live Long and Stuff,


Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Hobbit - Tales of the Deeesher

At the risk of offending some of you, Kanye West is wrong. While I'm sure we agree on many other topics (whoever he is), Kanye doesn't believe in reading books. But the reality is you definitely should read. Read lots of books. Read them often. Read them hard. 

In grade school, I started reading Hardy Boys, most likely because our school "book collection" (definitely not a library) wasn't so impressive, and my guess is, I probably liked the covers too. I'm not sure I really understood them, but I loved the idea of using my own brain to create imaginative scenes from printed words. 

Then in 5th grade, I discovered a short story called Fever Dream, by Ray Bradbury. It truly changed my life! I needed so much more of this! So soon after, I got Fahrenheit 451, then Martian Chronicles, Something Wicked this Way Comes, and eventually The Illustrated Man. Those books were so important to me! I fell in love with Bradbury's imagination, and "poetic" style of writing. It also helped that they were a great escape from the real world (aka school), which generally sucked. This inspired me to join the science fiction book club, and get lots more books. I can't say I read them all... but I wanted to! 

I could go on about some of my favorites, like Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber, or Douglas Adam's Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. And then I'd have to rant about how I became obsessed with Harlan Ellison's writing, who was one of the people I credit for making me who I am today. I can't say if that's good or bad, but regardless, that's what happened. 

So here we are, a few years after high school, and due to life being rather "life-y", I don't read nearly as often. In the last few years, I have picked up some of the classics, such as random Edgar Allan Poe stories, as well as the first Sherlock Holmes book, (which was awesome!). I also started reading Moby Dick, but kept getting distracted and still haven't finished it. I enjoy what I've read so far, and I want to finish it, I swear! I just need to get back into that reading mindset, and simply ignore life's annoying little influences. 

It does help that I surround myself with nerdy friends that enjoy berating me for not having read some of those classics. As I'm sure you can imagine, nerd peer pressure can leave you feeling rather desolated. But never are they more eager to take away my nerd card than when I tell them I haven't read... The Lord of the Rings. Yes, they react about the same way you just did. Sorry! 

In my defense, fantasy books were never my thing. Which is strange, because I played Dungeons and Dragons! Tolkien could easily be credited as the co-creator of D&D. But when I read books, I prefer something otherworldly, futuristic, or at the very least, a bizarre twist on our modern life. 

So it took me some time, but after my friends came down on me like wizards at my doorstep, they finally convinced me to go on an adventure, whether I wanted to or not. And after going there, and back, I'm ready to give you my review of:
The Hobbit

Normally I keep my reviews spoiler free. However since it's been over eighty years ago, I hope you'll understand if I cover some of the more poignant details in the story. If you'd rather not have anything spoiled here, please read the book and come right back. If you need encouragement to begin, I have some rather militant nerdy friends that would be willing to have a talk with you. 

Okay, show of hands, how many of you knew The Hobbit was a children's book? So... everyone but me. Fine. Yes it was written for children, which explains the songs and silly names (Dwalin, Balin, Kili, Fili, Dori, Nori, Ori etc). Keeping in mind that children from the 1930s were already far more intelligent than most adults today, it still made for a fairly easy read.  

Bilbo was a great character, and I could uncomfortably identify with his desire to sit at home and do nothing. But somehow Gandalf and the Dwarves convinced him to get out of the house. How? Apparently because thirteen on an adventure was unlucky...? But unless there is a great reveal later as to why it had to be Bilbo, I think there were plenty of other professional types of burglars they could have hired in the Prancing Pony tavern nearby. But I guess Halflings gotta have a hero too, so...

The actual travelling part of the book seemed to drag a bit, (as is common with most extensive journeys). But it was always fun seeing Bilbo become the reluctant hero. Whether fighting giant spiders, or playing uncomfortable riddle games with Gollum, or even negotiating peace with Bard, he was consistently clever and very good at thinking on his furry little feet, mostly out of desperation. And as we all know, a hero is only as good as the villain, and Bilbo was always facing some very interesting enemies. I particularly liked this Gollum creature, and hope we get to see more of him in the future! 

"...But Deeesher, what about the other heroes???"
Um... I guess Gandalf had a couple nice moments. Maybe I skimmed past the scenes where the other Dwarves saved the day? Okay, let's be honest, this entire book could have happened with just Thorin, Bilbo, and Gandalf. Well, whenever Gandalf wasn't off doing 'other things'. If you want to look at this metaphorically, an argument could be made that Gandalf was the "parent" letting Bilbo learn to do things for himself. But I prefer to think that Gandalf just had a bad gambling problem. Regularly he was teleporting out to the tracks because he had money riding on the ponies. Hey, he was a wizard, not the 'lead-to-gold' alchemist kind.

Now let's take a moment to talk about Dwarves.
Ugh... They're a hairy, beer guzzling, unkempt, warmongering race. My guess is they don't even bathe nearly as often as they should making them also quite smelly. Not only did Bilbo repeatedly have to save them, they did absolutely nothing to further the plot. In fact, they often seemed rather ungrateful for all the times Bilbo did have to save them! One Fourteenth was his cut... seriously?? He should have re-negotiated that contract. More like two-thirds the treasure by the time they got there! 

Having said that, I confess I did get a bit choked up when Thorin finally reconciled with Bilbo in the end. After all they've been through, it was good to see him come to terms with how much Bilbo really did try to help the disgusting hairy little bastards.

So I'm happy that I finally read The Hobbit, and I'm curious to read the next books in the series. I stand with many other LOTR fans in saying that the Peter Jackson Hobbit trilogy really sucked in comparison. He extended a lot of scenes that didn't need to be extended, added elements that didn't need to be added, and with a budget of millions of dollars, I will never understand how he made those effects look so bad!

However, if you get a chance to see the 1977 Hobbit animated movie, I think you will find that a much closer adaptation. And nothing against the Peter Jackson/Andy Serkis version of Gollum, but the animated version made him rather nightmare inducing *shivers*

Your Precious,

Monday, April 29, 2019

Avengers Endgame Review (Non-Spoiler)

"We're in the endgame now."
- Doctor Strange, Infinity War

Okay, let's make this short and sweet... unlike the runtime of Avengers Endgame, which is nearly 3 hours long, (pace your drinking habits).

First, let me repeat the common sense philosophy I said before: If you don't like superhero movies, this was not made for you. Especially if you haven't seen any of the other previous Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies in the last 11 years. Although an argument could be made that you don't have to watch ALL 21 movies. You might be able to watch 8 or 10 of them to get fully up to speed. At this point, it's essentially a career move.

However, if you have seen them, and you do love superhero movies, and find yourself emotionally invested in the fate of these characters, (as many of us are), I really think you'll appreciate Avengers Endgame. But just how much? Let's discuss...

The first thirty minutes weigh a bit heavy, as our heroes come to terms with their losses from Infinity War, (although having gone out in public, personally I often feel Thanos did nothing wrong). But once we get past that mourning period, we're treated to The Avengers Greatest Hits. Without giving anything away, there are lots of references and nods to some of the best moments from their past. Yes, you could call this the Avengers Awesome Mix Tape.. but with so much more!

The length of this movie is mostly justifiable, because there are so many story elements to process and resolve. Realistically, they could have trimmed some of it out, but along the way, we get lots of good laughs, some "F* YEAH!" cheer scenes... as well as some very sad conclusions. Combining all those things effectively is what this movie does right. It's quite the emotional roller coaster, and a beautiful ending to an epic story. 

"But Deeesher, is it really the end...??"
First, stop asking questions. The MCU has plenty of sequels already in production. This universe isn't going anywhere. But for me, they did tie up all the loose ends with a pretty bow. 

I said stop asking questions! Okay, as much as I did enjoy this movie, you have to suspend disbelief a bit more than I normally like. Sure, I accept that an alien from space collects a bunch of colored stones to wipe out half the population of the universe. But I want my story telling to be a bit more linear in thinking. And we all knew there would be some time travel here, and unfortunately, that kind of thing tends to be a bit sketchy. Maybe they'll clear up some of those details in upcoming releases. I've already heard that the repercussions from this will change certain aspects of the existing time line. Ugh... 

Nitpicking aside, this didn't detract much from my enjoyment. Like the previous Avengers movies, no one character or performance stood out. Everyone did very well in their respective roles, although you could say Robert Downey Jr might have nudged out the others just a bit. But, with sooooooo many Avengers in the lineup, they focus primarily on 10 (or so) of the main characters. And if you have a favorite hero from any of the previous 21 movies, don't worry, you will see ALL of them doing some pretty cool stuff. There are plenty of beautiful hero shots that will bring a tear to your eye. 

Many of you know, in the past, I've had some misgivings with the Russo Brothers, who have directed a few previous MCU movies. Some scenes still seemed poorly lit (doesn't anyone in space have light bulbs??), and some of the action seemed a bit too close, but otherwise it looks like they got some of my notes (you're welcome!). In the end, this is how you make a movie that respects so many classic characters. This is what you get when the 'suits' listens to the fans!  

So, if I may channel my inner Stan Lee,

Monday, March 11, 2019

Captain Marvel Review

It's 2019, and FINALLY, women are getting a live action female hero!

Well, unless you count Batgirl from 1966. And unless you count Jaime Sommers from Bionic Woman in 1976. Or Electra Woman and Dyna Girl from 1976. Or Xena from 1995. Or Ellen Ripley from Aliens. Or Buffy the Vampire Slayer from her series. Or River Tam from Firefly. Or Princess Leia from Star Wars. Or Agent Carter from her own series. Or Jessica Jones from her own series. Or Wonder Woman from her series and movie. Or Supergirl from her series. 

Ugh... did I forget anyone? Yes, I did. Many.

So let me rephrase that...

It's 2019, and FINALLY everyone is talking about a female live action hero! But, is talking about it good? My white male privilege prevents me from saying this in public, but YES there is still a LOT of inequality in the world, and no it's not right. But putting it in perspective, Captain Marvel is just another awesome female character, in a long line of other impressive female heroes. But none of them needed to make any announcements about it. It just happened, and we loved it. I feel like women taking over should be much more subversive. Let it happen. Don't try to force us to accept it, and nobody will notice. Then in 50 years or so, white males will suddenly be the minority, or at the very least, mostly equal, and I'm okay with that. 

But I also know as a man, I am completely unqualified to say anything about this, and deeply apologize in advance.

Now, what was I talking about... oh yeah!
If you're keeping score, this is movie number twenty-one in Marvel's long line of comic book adaptations that are all connected. But keeping with it's convoluted timeline, the events here take place in 1995, making it a prequel. And since this is an origin story, for the most part, you can go in without knowing anything. But of course, there are plenty of characters and events that fans will appreciate seeing as well. 

And as far as origin stories go, this is pretty good. After so many movies, the MCU continues to understand and respect the source material, and never really fail to adapt them successfully to the big screen. The movie starts with her having no memory of her past, so we get to learn who she is as events unfold. It's a lot of fun action, and has a decent sense of humor. There's also a few interesting plot twists that might annoy die-hard comic fans. But looking objectively, I think there were some interesting ideas. 

The biggest problem I had with this movie is it's directors, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. As with any duo directing team, I'm always curious who was in charge of what scenes, because some of it was well done. And some of it was not. One of my personal pet peeves is that this movie is another that has no concept of how to pull back the camera and let you see a fight scene. Everything is so close and frustratingly quickly edited, it makes it difficult to really enjoy the action. And while it's not the worst at this, it definitely could have pulled the camera back a few times or just held a single shot and show off some awesome fight choreography. 

Another issue I had was, there are some scenes that are unnecessarily dark. Every scene on alien worlds or in ships are just lit with the neon glow from equipment. Doesn't anyone in space have a light bulb?? At least the Supreme Intelligence is smart enough to know how to keep it's meeting place well lit. 

Brie Larson was decent, and had the right look for Captain Marvel, down to the uniform. Her character has plenty of flaws, and it's great to see her learn, but there really wasn't much range in her personality. Her emotional response was generally somewhere between a shrug and a smirk, and not much else. An argument could be made that she had determination, which I can respect. Another argument could be made that she was trained to ignore her emotions. If that's the goal, she was extremely successful. 

And there are some men in this movie too! Specifically, of course, Samuel L. Jackson as a young Nick Fury, who always gives his Mother F*ing best. We also get to see Clark Gregg, as a young Agent Coulson, who I always like. Someone should give him a regular series where we focus on him as an Agent of SHIELD. And my personal favorite is Ben Mendelsohn, who I've enjoyed in everything I've seen him in so far. 

We also get plenty of 90's nostalgia, which can be fun. While Guardians of the Galaxy focuses on music from the 70's, Captain Marvel has plenty of hits from the 90's. And I know there are a lot of great 90's songs... I just didn't hear many of them here. Yes, I do like No Doubt's, Just a Girl, but was it a bit too cliche?  

So if you want a female hero, Captain Marvel, AND Alita: Battle Angel are both a lot of fun, well written, and just pretty awesome. You won't hate either of these movies, and people will be talking about them for years to come. Obviously I could spend more time nitpicking, but as a dude, I know sometimes I should just shut the hell up.

Now let's talk about the real MVP of this movie!