Brief Thoughts on Star Trek: The Motion Picture

I shared this on Reddit last week to (some) acclaim last week; I recently watched Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979, IMDB) and really enjoyed it. So I shared my thoughts on /r/StarTrek:

Is It Star Trek? Fandom and Gatekeeping

But, Is It Star Trek?

Is discounting a piece of the Trek franchise for not following in the direct footsteps of TOS tantamount to gatekeeping?

That’s a question that immediately popped into my head when I saw a podcast title from Mission Log, “But, Is It Star Trek?”.  I find Mission Log (and similar podcasts) extremely entertaining to listen to, but sometimes I wonder about their mission.  On the surface, it’s a good one: 

Mission Log is a Roddenberry Entertainment podcast with the sole purpose of exploring the Star Trek universe one episode at a time. That’s right, this podcast will cover six different series and 30 seasons of television by journeying into every one of the 726 episodes with a single mission: to explore, debate and discuss one of the largest science fiction phenomena of all time, Star Trek.

http://www.missionlogpodcast.com/

For the most part I’m totally on board with them.  They are able to look at even some of the most terrible Star Trek episodes (Code of Honor, Move Along Home) and take something away from the episode.  But often, ever since they moved on from TOS, they ask the question: “But, is it Star Trek?”

What they mean with this question is to discover whether the story being told has a deeper meaning or message behind it other than just a fun SciFi story.  Can a story set in the Star Trek universe be considered Star Trek if it doesn’t address a social issue of some sort?  That is essentially what they’re asking.  

This is a big problem for Star Trek in relation to the new series, Discovery.  It’s to a point where some fans consider Orville to be “more Star Trek” than Discovery.

I think that if it says Star Trek and it’s an officially licensed property, then yes, it’s Star Trek.  Because if you’re arguing otherwise, you start getting into gatekeeping.  This is a big problem for Star Trek (and to a greater extent, Star Wars) in relation to the new series, Discovery.  It’s to a point where some fans consider Orville to be “more Star Trek” than Discovery.  

I think it’s fine to dislike a show.  Where it becomes a problem is if you try to prevent new people from discovering it.  That’s how it becomes gatekeeping.  It’s not up to the fans to determine what is or isn’t part of the franchise; while it is entertainment directed at a certain group of people, we have to accept that the fans aren’t in charge.  If they were, there would be a lot more problems with the story telling in general.  Let’s face it – fans are not the best group of people to write stories.  That’s why we have fan fiction.  

I will admit to not having listened to that particular podcast from Mission Log (“But, Is It Star Trek?”).  I have some faith that their conclusion is going to be in line with mine.  I just hope that people realize that there is an inherent danger in even asking the question, “Is It Star Trek?”  

Black Mirror – USS Callister

Black Mirror’s season 4 was recently made available on Netflix. This is a show I’ve been meaning to watch for a long time, but haven’t gotten around to. Peak TV, everyone. Anyway, I heard a bit about the first episode of the season, USS Callister, and decided to at least check out that one episode. I don’t have too many thoughts to write down about the episode, but I have some. Mild spoilers follow, but I don’t think you’ll lose anything knowing a few details before viewing.

Production Quality

The production quality of this episode was amazing. I know that a lot of TV shows, especially those on Netflix, are really upping their game in terms of picture quality, but this one really felt cinematic. I can’t help but be blown away by the quality; the sets aboard the USS Callister were deliberately cheesy, and of obvious lower quality, but it’s still high quality. The scenes in the real world are well shot, and I really enjoyed the sound design in the episode – something that I think is often overlooked.

There were some small, subtle touches as well in the set design. Most of these that I enjoyed were the light technology touches. The apartment door for example, using a display screen to show the apartment number as well as a nice little Christmas wreath. Cell phones appear as sleek devices that are essentially just a screen. The downside to this is that some of the video game equipment seems inappropriately clunky in comparison to the rest of the tech.

Ship In A Bottle

The ending of the episode, which I don’t really want to spoil, reminds me a lot of the ending of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Ship In A Bottle. The open ending of both episodes are really quite similar. Unfortunately since I don’t want to spoil it, that means I’ll have to stop talking about it.

Humour

USS Callister was very hit-or-miss with the humour. Some of it worked really well for me, but other places it felt very flat and didn’t work at all. I think in some parts they were clearly trying to invoke different sci-fi franchises (Star Trek being the most prominent) but stopped short of using copyrighted terms for some reason? I’m not sure why, because it would very clearly fall under the category of parody. For example, when Nannette asks if Daley is going to throw a fireball at her…I was expecting her to ask if he was going to use the Force. I guess the point was to avoid any mention of real life properties in the show?

Another thing – sometimes the humour felt out of place with the rest of the episode, which at times played as a sort of body and psychological horror show. What I mean is that the overall tone of the episode was uneven, leaving me unsure of what kind of message the show was trying to leave about technology. I think they were just telling a cool story they wanted to tell?

Overall Thoughts

I don’t think this episode convinced me to pick up watching the rest of the series. It was good, and I thought it was well-produced, but I don’t think this particular anthology series is for me.

If you want to hear some more detailed, spoiler-filled thoughts about the show, check out Anthology Pod’s bonus episode coverage.

Star Trek Discovery Opening Titles

I think this is probably the best opening sequence of any Star Trek show.  It would be cool if they made versions for all of the other shows that look like this.  My current desktop wallpaper is a screenshot of the Discovery from this sequence.  It looks really great.

Star Trek: Discovery Review

I finally finished watching the final bits of “The Battle at the Binary Stars”, the second episode of Star Trek: Discovery.  Here’s my quick review of the show!

Overall impressions

I thought the premiere episodes were great.  In Canada, Discovery is being released on Space, the Canadian version of the SyFy channel.  I’m incredibly thankful that I don’t need to subscribe to CraveTV, which is where you can stream the show in Canada.

If I were to give it an arbitrary rating, I’d say 3.5/5.  The show was visually impressive, and had a story that was somewhat straightforward to follow.  There were some bits I didn’t like (I’ll get to that), but overall I found enough that will keep me coming back weekly.

What I didn’t like 

The Klingons – but not for the reason you’d think.  I’m not hung up on the design choices for the show; in fact I think I’d find it distracting if the technology looked dated compared to what we have available to us today.  Similarly for the Kilngons, the updated look didn’t phase me a bit.

What bothered me was the way they spoke, and the slow subtitles.  I found it very hard to follow along, because they spoke so slowly and the subtitles used such short sentence fragments.  Let me correct my phrasing a bit; it wasn’t that they spoke slowly at all, it was actually just the subtitles.  I think their speech patterns were the most “realistic” of all Klingon depictions.  Their scenes just felt extremely slow and took me out of the episode because of it.

I also found it confusing that we started with a crew that had already been together 7 years, and we’re most likely never seeing them again.  Why couldn’t we start with the Discovery, if that’s where we’re going?  That’s a minor beef though, and I’m willing to see what they’ve got for the rest of the season.

What I did like

Yep, the list of what I didn’t like was pretty short.  While introducing the Shenzhou was a negative, it was also somewhat of a positive for me.  It really did feel like we were seeing a crew that had spent 7 years together – there was no awkward “nice to meet you” moments we might usually get in a Star Trek pilot.  Especially the relationship between Saru and Burnham was really well done.

I mentioned the impressive visuals earlier; like I said, I wasn’t caught up with the fact that these sets look even more advanced than the Enterprise sets did at the time.  They do look like a natural progression from the Enterprise sets, which I thought made sense for 100 years’ difference.  From the technical standpoint, I thought it was great that this didn’t “look” like a TV show (whereas you can tell the original Trek series are filmed on sets, no matter how alive they tried to make them).

I thought Commander Burnham was portrayed excellently – you could tell she was a different character from when she first joined the Shenzhou to her moment of defiance 7 years later.  You can feel that there is a lot of character development that happened in between, and you can trust that it happened without having to see it.

Final Words

When I first saw the trailer for this, I wasn’t initially interested in the show.  I would watch the first episode, and try to catch it if I could.  But as the premiere date came, I realized I was legitimately excited for a new Trek show.

And now, after seeing the first two episodes, I can’t wait to have a weekly Sunday night TV date.  Everybody is talking about it – it’s great.

If you haven’t seen the episodes yet, go and watch them.  Judge for yourself whether it has a “Star Trek” message or not (I think the jury is still out on that).

Other Space – A Review

Other Space is a 2015 sci-fi comedy show produced by Paul Feig, and is available online at http://www.shareotherspace.com.  I first heard about it from Engage, The Official Star Trek Podcast.  It was originally released on Yahoo! Screen, a service I’ve actually never heard of before until today.

Other Space stars Karan Soni, Bess Rous, Eugene Cordero, Milana Vayntrub, Neil Casey, Joel Hodgson, Conor Leslie, and Trace Beaulieu.  The show also features guest appearances from Dave Franco, Sarah Baker, and Bjorn Gustafsson.

Apparently, Other Space was conceived by Paul Feig in the early 2000’s but wasn’t picked up for development until he was working on The Heat.  The show is set in the year 2105, and has been described as “Red Dwarf, USA, take two” by Rob Bricken in an early review.

I watched the first four episodes in preparation for this review – so how does it hold up?

The Setting

The setting is fairly standard for most science fiction properties – a space ship.  In Other Space, the ship is the UMP Cruiser, which is sent on what boils down to a public relations mission to increase support for the UMP organization.  Not even minutes into the mission, the Cruiser is transported into another realm of space, known as “other space”.

Not much is really put into the background – what’s really important is the jokes between the characters and their setting.  I think I agree with Bricken’s “Red Dwarf” comparison, because that show was essentially the same concept.

The set itself looks great – Feig described it as a very low budget show, and you can sort of tell, but they did a good job of making it look good.  The Cruiser looks like a good parody of the rebooted Star Trek Enterprise sets.

The Characters

Karan Soni shines as the captain and is the best character by far.  He’s basically not at all qualified to be the captain of a ship, but he’s promoted because of his charisma (my interpretation).  His sister is made first officer, and is inherently more qualified, but lacks any people-skills of any kind.

The characters all have some sort of back story that gets fleshed out in the first few episodes, which is pretty cool for a 26-minute show.

Joel Hodgson is my next favourite, who portrays a spaced out engineer.  He’s kind of like Tony Shalhoub’s Fred in Galaxy Quest, but a lot more laid back.

The chemistry between the crew is really great, and the casting director did a great job pulling them together.

Bottom Line

I’ve only watched the first four episodes, but I really liked it.  Episode 3 wasn’t as good as the other 3, but was still mostly great.  I’m looking forward to the other 4 episodes (there are only 8 in total).

Other Space gets a 4/5 rating from me.  Check it out at www.shareotherspace.com!

The Connectome

I was listening to the official Star Trek podcast (as you do) the other day, and there was an episode that featured Morgan Gendel, the writer of The Next Generation classic episode The Inner Light, to discuss the episode and various topics.  The whole episode was interesting, but he was particularly focused on what’s known as the Connectome.

Here’s a description of the Connectome, from Wikipedia:

A connectome is a comprehensive map of neural connections in the brain, and may be thought of as its “wiring diagram”. More broadly, a connectome would include the mapping of all neural connections within an organism’s nervous system.

The study of the connectome was described in the podcast as akin to mapping the human genome.  Basically, understanding this aspect of the human brain would be HUGE in terms of understanding how we work, and also in adapting technology to fit our needs.  I won’t go into all of the specifics and ruin it for you, but some of the ideas broached in the episode with Gendel and Hoffman talk about some really cool, and also slightly terrifying, things that could theoretically be done with an understanding of the connectome.

If you’re not into Star Trek, just ignore some of the trappings of the episode and focus on the interview.  It’s really good, and is a good way to kill an hour while you’re at work or commuting.

I really want to meet Robert Picardo and Ethan Phillips

This is going to be largely another podcast recommendation, but if I’m ever asked what celebrity I’d most like to meet, it’d be Robert Picardo and Ethan Phillips, together in the same room.  Those two are downright funny, and also (mostly) down to earth.

Apparently they know each other quite well since starring together on Star Trek: Voyager, and have crossed paths several times.  I learned today that both Picardo and Phillips were cast in Cowen Brothers movies – and I specifically want to seek out Inside LLewyn Davis now.

I would definitely want to meet both of them, but if I had to choose, probably Robert Picardo.  Anyway, if you want to hear some proof of their genius together (and apart), have a listen to some episodes from Engage: The Official Star Trek Podcast.  I’ve listed them in order of newest to oldest.  Don’t worry, inside jokes are kept to a minimum.

Next Generation Memories

I mentioned in a previous post the Mission Log Podcast; currently they’re covering THE NEXT GENERATION (and in a recent episode, indicated they should be getting to the movies in about a year).  It got me thinking about the episodes I remember most fondly compared to the episodes that I appreciate today.

I don’t clearly remember too many episodes from the first three seasons of TNG; in fact I’m pretty sure I never watched season 1’s first run on a regular basis – though I think I can remember an episode where Klingons escaped from the brig by taking their uniform apart.  Beyond that, I couldn’t tell you what happened in that episode.  Season 2 is a bit spotty for me as well, but I remember some bits like Elementary, Dear Data and The Big Goodbye (and my memory fails me even now – I just remembered that’s a season 1 episode!).

Season 3 is a little clearer – I still don’t remember all of it (and that’s not surprising – it aired in the 1989-1990 season, so I would have been only 5 and 6 years old), but one of the standouts was Yesterday’s Enterprise, and of course The Best of Both Worlds.  Looking back at the episode list, some of them seem familiar in premise only.  I remember watching Geordi and a Romulan find their way off a stormy planet (The Enemy); Data builds a daughter (The Offspring); and the Ferengi kidnapping Riker and the Troi’s (Melange A Trois).  But watching season 3 in order revealed a lot of things I don’t remember seeing before.

I don’t think I have clear memories of TNG until Season 5 (Darmok being a favourite), but going back to my original point: the episodes I remember really liking were gimmicky shows.  Geordi and Ro are thought dead, but really they’re “phased”; Scotty comes back and drinks something green!  Worf fights a bunch of Datas in the Holodeck as a cowboy.  The crew of the Enterprise travel back in time to the early 20th century.  Data dreams of Troi as a cake.  Q takes Picard back to his academy days.  Stuff like that.

But it strikes me that I’ve learned to appreciate episodes like Family or The Inner Light more than I would have growing up.  I think these concepts would have gone straight over my head when I was younger, because I was more interested in the action-y bits.  But through my teenage to adult years, I became more interested in story and writing, which is why I got into DEEP SPACE NINE so heavily and it’s still my favourite series.  So I now appreciate those deeper TNG episodes.

But while some people contest that the gimmick shows don’t really hold up (and they don’t, as good stories or Star Trek), I still really like them.  I’m able to look past their flaws and still get a kick out of Geordi sending a Romulan through the window, even while asking “well why don’t their feet fall through the floor?”.