star trek the next generation

#820: 1991 Was the End and 1991 Was the Beginning (Part Two)

GETTING MORE TALE #820: 1991 Was the End and 1991 Was the Beginning (Part Two)

Part One:  The Last Note of Freedom

In the annals of rock, the year 1991 is one of the most significant in the entire history of the genre.  No year since 1969 had been so singularly important.  1991 featured the newfound domination of (for argument’s sake) a brand new sub-genre.  Countless influential bands released their breakthrough records that year.  The overturning of an old order had begun.

And highschool had come to an end.  The very last locker posters had come down.  I said goodbye to my friends as we all went our separate ways.  We moved onto different universities and our little group was broken up forever.

1991 was a shock to the system, both personally and musically.

A year before, my Jon Bon Jovi Blaze of Glory T-shirt was cool as hell.  In 1991 it was stuffed in a drawer.  What the hell was going on?  I couldn’t relate to these new bands.  Kurt Cobain was baffling to me.  What was appealing about not washing your hair?  Say what you will about the merits of Bon Jovi, at least when you saw a photo of him, he had bathed and was wearing clean clothes.  I also couldn’t appreciate the musicianship of these grunge bands; not when the groups that were breaking up boasted such virtuosos as Steve Vai and Vito Bratta.  After studying serious players through the 80s, there was nothing about Cobain that I could get behind.

Even my access to mainstream hard rock was becoming limited.  The final episode of the Pepsi Power Hour aired in 1991.  The very last host was veteran Michael Williams.  It was filmed at a welding shop in Calgary, Alberta.  Williams played Metallica’s “One”, and “Hunger Strike” by Temple of the Dog.  The shape of things to come.  The very last band ever played on the Pepsi Power Hour was Van Halen, and the the very last song was “Runaround”.  The Power Hour was then replaced by the inferior Power 30.  It was a significant change for me.  I rarely missed a Power Hour.  The Power 30 was often not worth catching at all.

The sea change in music paralleled a similarly massive shift in my life.  Out with the old, in with the new.  I didn’t know anyone in my classes.  There I sat in the World War II history classroom (really a huge auditorium) by myself.  I overheard a conversation behind me.

“Have you heard of Pearl Jam?  They sound like Black Sabbath.”

What?  What the — no they don’t!  But Seattle was being compared to early 70s Sabbath quite readily, probably due to Soundgarden and the multitude of new riffs that were emerging from the city.  The bands didn’t sound like Sabbath, per se, but the riffs and heavy doomy gloom vibes were reminiscent of the band from Birmingham.  Who were in the midst of a reunion with Ronnie James Dio, but would ultimately fail to overthrow the new grunge kingpins.

I really wanted to turn around and tell the two guys behind me what Black Sabbath were actually about, but that probably wasn’t a good way to make new friends.  University was a lonely time.  Not until second year did I meet new people to hang around.  My love of hard rock was not something I shared with my classmates.  I remember sitting in one of my history classes writing down lyrics for a song I was working on called “Clones”.  One of the lines was “Ball cap, turned back, you’re all clones.”  I couldn’t find a pathway to bonding with any of these people.  Not until I met some fellow Trekkies.*

1991 was significant for me in another way.  It was the year I became obsessed with Star Trek.  I had always watched and even had a lil’ “red shirt” when I was a toddler, but The Next Generation was hitting peak popularity.  It was always good, but five seasons in, it was becoming quite great.  This sadly coincided with the death of Gene Roddenberry in October of that year, but that only served to make Trek even more popular.  In November, The Next Generation pulled in its biggest viewership numbers since the 1986 series premier:  the two-parter “Unification” featuring Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock himself.  Pardon me — Ambassador Spock.  And if that wasn’t enough, in December Trek returned to theatres with The Undiscovered Country, the sixth and final movie with the original crew.  All of this coincided with the 25th anniversary of the original show.  It was a bittersweet but absolutely massive time to be a Trekkie.

And it just so happened that Wilfrid Laurier University was a hotbed of Trekkies.


The years that followed were all Trek-heavy in my life.  I was began buying individual episodes on VHS.  (My first tape was “Balance of Terror” featuring Mark Lenard in the debut appearance of the Romulans.)  I built model kits, I collected the books, and I pieced together a full set of Star Trek stickers from Hostess potato chips.  There was a Trekkie girl in history class named Lee that I really liked.  Lee Ditchfield.  A group of us would get together after class on Fridays to watch Monty Python and Star Trek.  (Or even study sometimes!)  The nucleus of the group was Tim Solie, a guy I knew from highschool and reconnected with in second year.  That guy could (and would) talk to anyone!  Ice broken, we formed a small little group of friends, including Lee.  But she had a boyfriend back home in Woodstock and I just didn’t even try.  I blew it.

My precious metal was not cool at Laurier, not anymore, but Trek was.  I had at least two professors that used Star Trek references in class (Anthropology 101 and European History).  I had a psychology professor whose personal philosophies mirrored the optimistic future that Gene Roddenberry instilled in his work.

After the successful Leonard Nimoy episodes of The Next Generation (“Unification” parts I and II), they were bound to try something like that again.  The following season, in an episode called “Relics”, James Doohan reprised his role as Scotty.  I overheard two professors discussing it in a stairwell.  “They did it without time travel,” said one to the other.  “And they did it reasonably well”.  He was right!

I collected a full set of these.

As time (and Trek) went on, I felt more and more comfortable at University.  By ’93, my sister Kathryn was getting ready to choose post-secondary schools.  I invited her to come to class one Friday morning to sit in and see what it was like.  I chose my Ancient Roman history class as I knew she’d find it interesting.  She was already getting nervous about starting university.  “I bet it’s nothing but Star Trek geeks and losers there!” she said.

“No, no.” I assured her.  “Nothing like that.”

So we walked in, headed down a corridor, turned a corner and walked right past a skinny Trek geek, standing there in the middle of a hallway, digging a Trek sticker out of a bag of Hostess chips.

“I knew it!” she said.

The unfortunate thing about University is that friendships are even more temporary than highschool, and it soon it’s all over.  I didn’t have any classes with Lee or Tim Solie ever again.  In fact I only saw Lee once in passing after that year.  In my third and final years, it was all new faces in every class.  And just as quickly as it started, school was all over…and so was Grunge.  Kurt died during my third year and the best work of most of those new bands was now behind them (Pearl Jam being an exemption).  In hindsight it seems unfair that this massive musical change had to coincide with these critical school years.  Like a cruel joke, metal peaked and crashed when I needed it most!  If it wasn’t for Star Trek, it would have been a far more lonely time.

*I am a Trekkie; I’ve been a Trekkie since my date of birth.  I think “Trekker” is a silly term and people look at you funny when you use it.  But if you identify as a Trekker and want me to address you as such, I’m happy to oblige.

 

Blu-ray REVIEW: Ted 2 (2015)

TED 2 (2015 Universal)

Directed by Seth McFarlane

What happens when you let a bunch of now-grown Star Trek nerds from the 80’s make a movie? Apparently, they make Ted.  If you let ’em do it twice, you get Ted 2.

I really don’t know how this works, but Ted 2 provides ample proof of its own Trek-nerdiness.  Forget the fact that the climax takes place at New York Comic-Con.  Do you realize how many Trek actors appear in Ted 2?

  • Patrick Stewart (Jean-Luc Picard), as he was in the first Ted, is the narrator.  (Don’t forget he is also currently CIA Deputy Director Bulloch on Seth McFarlane’s American Dad! )
  • Nana Visitor, better known as Major Kira Nerys on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, is an underrated performer with a good role here.  She still looks amazing.
  • LeVar Burton (Geordie LaForge) appears in a brief clip from Roots as Kunta Kinte, but I’m still counting it.
  • Pushing it here, but Ron Canada (from Canada!), who plays the judge in Ted 2, did guest shots on three different Star Trek series.
  • Best of all is Michael Dorn (Lt. Worf) as Rick; gay lover to Patrick Warburton’s Guy.  Took me a while to pick up on the fact that it was Michael Dorn.  Only when he showed up in uniform at Comic-Con did it sink in!
Dorn and Warburton as...well, you know who.

Dorn and Warburton as…well, you know who.

So: McFarlane likes Star Trek.  That’s obvious.  He likes a lot of stuff, and Ted 2 is less a story than a running series of references to other movies.  From Jurassic Park to the cheesy ending to Contact, these characters walk and talk quoting movies all the friggin’ time.  It’s all they do!  One thing you will see and hear less of going forward:  Star Wars in any McFarlane production.  According to the audio commentary, the friendly relationship that Seth used to have with Lucasfilm has vanished since they were sold, and Disney have made it pretty clear that further collaborations will not be happening.  So you can kiss the idea of a Family Guy: The Force Awakens goodbye.

Unfortunately, characters that quote stuff is as deep as it gets.  Mark Wahlberg’s Johnny has divorced Mila Kunis, because she was trying to change him too much.  Well, yeah…that was the whole plot of Ted 1.  Wahlberg wanted to grow up and marry Mila.  Now he decides that’s actually not what he wanted, after fighting for it so hard in the first movie.  In Ted 2, we see Marky Mark hanging around with Ted a lot, and we see him getting into plenty of hijacks, but Mark Wahlberg is little more than a non-character sidekick in this one.  Ted is Ted; a foul-mouthed Peter Griffin who gets away with it by being a teddy bear.  Newcomer Amanda Seyfried steals the movie with her likeable lawyer character, Sam L. Jackson.  And yes, she has not heard of the actor Samuel L. Jackson, nor does she pick up on any of Ted and Johnny’s movie quotes, and that’s the driving force of the trio’s interactions.  Seyfried is a wonderfully talented actress with a very expressive face, and she easily outclasses everyone she’s in a scene with (except obviously Morgan Freeman).  To her credit she’s a good sport about her famous large blue eyes.  They are the butt of a few jokes in the movie — the best ones actually.  Seyfried is obviously a good shit and I bet she’s fun to have a beer with.  She also gets to sing, and that award-winning voice performs the original theme song “Mean Ol’ Moon”.

The plot, such as it is, was inspired by the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Measure of a Man”; I shit you not.  This is even acknowledged by McFarlane in the commentary.  Ted and Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) have been married a while but it’s not working out.  So, they do what every struggling couple in America does to heal their relationship:  have a kid.  At first, you think the movie will be about Ted and Marky Mark getting into hijinks and capers, trying to steal donor sperm from demigods like Tom Brady.   Then it awkwardly shifts to a legal slant, with Ted having to prove he is a person and not property in a court, just like Lt. Data did in Star Trek.  Data had Captain Picard to defend him, and McFarlane says that Amanda Seyfriend’s opening comments in the courtroom scene were inspired by Picard’s.

In Star Trek, if Data were declared to be property, then Starfleet could have cut him open to mass produce intelligent androids to serve as a working class.  In Ted 2, Giovanni Ribisi’s evil Donny wants to do something similar.  He convinces Hasbro that they can take Ted, and cut him open to see what makes him tick, and repeat the magic.  Billions of dollars would be made.  All this hinges on him being declared property in court.  There would be few repercussions for Hasbro to steal a teddy bear, compared to a person, to dissect it!

You have to give McFarlane credit for a great Mel Brooks-inspired opening musical number, and a brawl finale.  You have to admire Amanda Seyfried’s abilities, and Pantene Pro V-perfect hair.  Otherwise Ted 2 is a lazy retread.  I don’t mean “lazy” in the sense that it wasn’t hard work.  It clearly was hard work making this movie, doing the perfect CG bear and motion capture.  The reason we don’t talk about the bear much is that he seems perfectly real at all times.  No, I mean “lazy” in the writing.  There are plenty of funny jokes, situations, and lines.  There are no characters we care or even know much about.  How did Seyfried’s Sam, age 26, become a lawyer who can play guitar and sing better than 95% of the ladies currently in the top 40, all while suffering debilitating migraines that require her to constantly smoke marijuana?  How???  It’s hard to get involved in the characters when they’re so obviously not human, and I’m not referring to Ted!  How does Marky Mark support himself?  Does he still have a job?  We never see him at work.

Best gag:  A Liam Neeson cameo.  Stay tuned for the post credit scene.

Special features:  Unrated version of the movie, audio commentary, gag real, deleted scenes (mostly alternate lines from scenes in the movie), and plenty of making-of featurettes.  The “Creating Comic-Con” feature was interesting, from a Trek nerd point of view.  Check out how they made that giant starship Enterprise that hangs from the ceiling.  It’s just based on a model that McFarlane had on his desk!

Blu-ray annoyance:  These text info-boxes advertising other movies pop up on every menu, unless you specifically look for the setting that turns them off.  That’s…mildly vexatious.

Stupid infobox.

Stupid infobox.

Joke tagline: Ted 2 – more of the same, but now with Seyfried!  Whose last name I can now pronounce correctly, thanks to the commentary.

3/5 stars

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MOVIE REVIEW: The Captains (2011)

This review is for Sebastien!

CAPTAINS 1

THE CAPTAINS (2011, directed by William Shatner)

Who else but William Shatner should do a documentary on all the major Star Trek captains and the people who played them? Shatner obviously knows the rigors of a weekly TV series, and the impact that Star Trek has on a career. With that in mind, Shatner boards a Bombardier jet to speak with Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew, Scott Bakula, and Chris Pine.

William Shatner is excellent as an interested, intelligent interviewer. Just watch him with Patrick Stewart. Listen to his questions, as he probes. These are some of the best, deepest Star Trek interviews you will ever see. Shatner clearly has a talent for conversation. This is a remarkable side of the man that has carefully crafted a later image as a funny guy. The only place he awkwardly stumbles is with Avery Brooks.  Brooks, also a very intelligent man, chooses to answer many of his questions by tinkling away at a piano. That must have been strange….

If you are a fan of Star Trek, old generation, next generation, any generation, then this movie is recommended. It will certainly help you get to know and appreciate these great actors who played the captains. William Shatner accomplishes this with an appropriate mix of humour (watch how he meets Kate Mulgrew) and feeling. Mix into that some wonderful footage of him clowning around at conventions, too.

Great film. Shatner’s best directorial offering.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Seventh Star (deluxe edition)

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BLACK SABBATH featuring TONY IOMMI – Seventh Star (2011 deluxe edition)

The only Black Sabbath album with Glenn Hughes on vocals. The only one released under the somewhat silly name “Black Sabbath Featuring Tony Iommi”. The first one to feature no original members except Tony himself, with Geezer and Bill departing after the disasterous hiring of a new singer named Dave “Donut” Donato, a male model. That bore no fruit, and Iommi instead toiled away on what he intended to be his first solo album….

Finally, Seventh Star has been given the Deluxe Edition treatment. I’ve been waiting for some kind of official release of the music video remix of “No Stranger To Love” for 25 years. Finally it is available on this Deluxe Edition, along with a pretty good live show featuring the late Ray Gillen on vocals. I already have a Ray show on bootleg (a very common one called The Ray Gillen Years) but this is a completely different show, with a different setlist.

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Seventh Star as an album probably never should have been released under the Black Sabbath name. It’s truly a solo album that Warner Bros didn’t want to release as a Tony Iommi album. So here it is, an official Sabbath album. If that didn’t occur, would Sabbath as an entity even have continued in the 1980’s? I doubt it. Sabbath here consisted of:

Tony Iommi – guitars
Glenn Hughes – lead vocals
Dave “The Beast” Spitz – bass  (*brother of Dan)
Eric Singer – drums
Geoff Nicholls – keyboards

Only Iommi and Nicholls remain from previous Sabbath lineups. You know Glenn Hughes of course from his soulful wail in Deep Purple, and Eric Singer from his later work in Kiss. Here, the five musicians coalesce into a more commercial version of Black Sabbath. The hard hitting riffs are still there, the frenetic solos, the mystical lyrics, the pounding drums. Yet these songs are more melodic. Glenn infuses them with a soulful touch never heard before on a Sabbath album. Whether that is to your taste, only you can decide. Personally I love almost every song on this album. I find the standouts to be “In For The Kill”, “Seventh Star”, “Angry Heart”, and “No Stranger To Love”. Only “Heart Like A Wheel” bores me, a slow blues that doesn’t really go anywhere.

As mentioned, the video version of “No Stranger” is included, which I have never found anywhere else. For years I had it on VHS and I thought there were female backing vocals. This remaster reveals that it’s actually Glenn — I could never hear them clearly enough before to discern this.

The remastering on this CD is quite excellent. The drums have a fullness that wasn’t there before. The guitar absolutely sizzles. The liner notes are nothing new, just recycled from a previous edition of the CD, as are the included photos.

The bonus live show with Ray Gillen on vocals exists due to Glenn’s vocal and drug problems.  Ray Gillen was hired when it was clear that Hughes was in no shape to tour.  This CD reveals that Ray was really trying to be Ronnie James Dio. Personally I find Ray’s renditions of the Sabbath classics to be very overwrought, especially on “Black Sabbath”. Only two songs from Seventh Star are played. (You can get Ray’s version of “Heart Like A Wheel” on the Ray Gillen Years bootleg, as well as “Sweet Leaf”.)

While Ray’s tenure in Black Sabbath was brief, it was still important historically.  Ray did one tour and recorded an album.  There are some singers in Sabbath’s history that are not documented at all.  (One TV broadcast exists with Dave Walker singing “Junior’s Eyes”, and there’s a demo of Dave Donato singing an early version of “The Shining” called “No Way Out”.)   This live show, while not stellar, is an important piece of the Sabbath puzzle. It is the first (but not final!) official release of any Ray Gillen material with Sabbath.  The sound quality is slightly better than bootleg which is fine by me.

This remaster is not for Sabbath snobs. You know the kind. “Sabbath suck without Ozzy!” or “Dio is the best!” Sabbath’s history is far longer and richer than that, and there’s room for all kinds. Just one question:   Is Headless Cross going to get the deluxe treatment too?…may as well wish for the moon!

4/5 stars

Yup…that’s Star Trek TNG’s Denise Crosby in the “No Stranger To Love” video!

NOTE: If you like this album, Hughes and Iommi hooked up twice more: On the Iommi solo albums The DEP Sessions, and Fused.