star trek

VHS Archives #130: Star Trek cast members introduce “Best Dance Video” at the MTV Awards 1993

The 1993 MTV Awards included an awesome performance from Lenny Kravitz with John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin on bass, and Aerosmith rolling out their new hit “Livin’ On the Edge”.  But I can’t show you those!  For some nerds in the audience, the highlight of the show might have been a video appearance from Brent Spiner and Jonathan Frakes from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and William Shatner himself in a parody of his show Rescue 911.

Sunday Screening: “I Still Hate You” from Star Trek: Picard

Spoiler embargo off! Last week’s Star Trek: Picard featured an unexpected cameo from a familiar face. Kirk Thatcher reprised his role as the “Star Trek punk” from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. You remember him, playing that song “I Hate You” on his ghetto blaster, before Spock gave him a neck pinch?

Picard season two is a time travel story with several beats lifted from The Voyage Home, First Contact, and the original series.  As it turns out, the punk on the bus still rides the bus, still sporting the same hair, and still wielding an 80s ghetto blaster.  This time though, things go a little different when Seven of Nine asks him to turn it down.

Yes, this sort of thing is the very definition of “fan service”.  Does it matter?  Let me put it to you this way.  My 80+ year old dad laughed his ass off.  That’s all that matters.

Thirty-five years later and nothing much has changed,
Those in charge are living large,
The rest are all deranged,

‘Cause I still hate you,
Can’t wait to eviscerate you,
‘Cause I still hate, all of you.

The temperatures are rising,
The sea level as well,…

 

 

#890.5: Easter in the Age of Covid, 2.0

It didn’t come as a surprise when the province of Ontario went back into the “grey zone” again last week.  But sad to say, when I asked myself “How will this change my daily routine?,” I had to admit that it wouldn’t.  Easter wasn’t that different from last year.  I did some live streaming, I did some listening, I did some writing.

Actually I did a lot of listening and writing.  Andy Curran (Coney Hatch, Soho 69, Caramel) will be on the show this Friday April 9.  The guy is fount of rock knowledge so this will be quite a tour-de-force, and I have been doing my research.  I’ve been listening to Coney Hatch and solo Andy, on repeat.  I have three Rock Candy remasters here with valuable liner notes and bonus tracks.  I’ve been reading.  Deke will be in seventh heaven getting to talk to one of his heroes.  It’s going to be a lot of fun, and that’s one reason I do this.  It’s fun.

Friday afternoon I went over to my parents’ house to pick up some mail.  Mail theft became a serious issue last year so now I have my mail delivered elsewhere to be collected.  In the mail were two Star Trek movies that I haven’t seen in a long time.  Two years ago, I made the mistake of donating all my Star Trek DVDs while doing a big purge.  I said “No big deal, I’ll just buy a Blu-ray set.”  But none of the Blu-ray sets had the features I wanted from the DVDs.  I have been slowly buying them back, and this weekend I got to star Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

It has been literal years since seeing The Voyage Home, or “the one with the whales”.  Perhaps a decade.  What a perfect film, at least as perfect as any movie with time travel conundrums can be.  I smiled and chuckled the whole way through.

As for Khan, I know I streamed it somewhere fairly recently, but it has been just as many years since I watched the extended director’s cut.  It only adds up to a few minutes here and there, but it was all fresh and new to me.  The restored scenes help clarify the identity of young Peter Preston, who dies in the first attack.  “He stayed at his post, when the trainees ran!” mourned Mr. Scott.  A restored line reveals Peter Preston is Scott’s nephew.  “My sister’s youngest,” he says.  “Crazy to get to space.”  Lines such as this add value to the already perfect film.  Others do not.  Additional exposition was probably cut because it wasn’t necessary.  I did like one in which Kirk explains to Spock who David Marcus is.  “That young man is my son”, says Kirk.  The only reply necessary from Spock:  “Fascinating.”

So I had fun.  I made lots of time to play some music.  I listened to Paul Stanley’s Soul Station, and I’m trying to find a way to be objective about reviewing it.  I like it a lot.  But if anybody else with a better voice put out a similar record, would I give it the time of day?  Unlikely.  So there is a certain hypocrisy there that I must address before I attempt to review it.  But I will.  I genuinely like the album.  But I like it on the same level that I like the Peter Criss solo albums:  as a reasonable facsimile of the real article.  A forgery through the lens of somebody I already like and am familiar with.  Easier to digest.

Tonight:  Easter dinner courtesy of Golf’s Steakhouse, via the generosity of my mom who always spoiled us.  Friday night’s live stream was Easter themed, and viewers were shocked at how spoiled we were as kids.  We got great Easter gifts while other kids got a chocolate bunny.  My sister and I didn’t question it, we just went with it!

Thanks mom for dinner tonight.  I ordered a porterhouse.  It’ll be here in 10 minutes.

Happy Easter my friends.

 

Sunday Screening: “I Hate You” from Star Trek IV

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) is remembered for many things, all of them good.  People call it “the one with the whales”, but I call it “the funny one”.  It really was the closest they got to doing flat-out comedy.  (Don’t forget:  director Leonard Nimoy also directed the hit comedy Three Men and a Baby.)  As the second-best Trek (behind The Wrath of Khan), The Voyage Home was successful by utilising the old reliable time travel gimmick.

Sending the crew of the USS Enterprise HMS Bounty back in time to 1986 set up numerous fish-out-of-water sequences.  One of the funniest involved Spock and Kirk on a bus, annoyed by a punk rocker playing a song called “I Hate You” on a boombox.

Just where is our future, the things we’ve done and said!
Let’s just push the button, we’d be better off dead!
‘Cause I hate you!
And I berate you!
And I can’t wait to get to you!

The sins of all our fathers, being dumped on us the sons.
The only choice we’re given is how many megatons?
And I eschew you!
And I say screw you!
And I hope you’re blue, too.

With a single-fingered gesture, the punk refuses to turn it down.  Spock makes the point moot with an ol’ neck pinch.  It’s a brilliant scene.

“I Hate You” was written and performed by associate producer Kirk Thatcher, who also played the punk in the scene.  The full song was never heard in the movie, only a few seconds.  Now you can hear the whole thing on Youtube.  Enjoy!

Best of 2020 Part 3: TV & Movies

Best movie: 

I’m not a Christopher Nolan junkie, nor a spy thriller fan, so it’s quite a surprise that I loved Tenet as much as I did.  I think I understand 95% of it now, and I’ve only watched it three times, so that’s not bad.  Seriously, I think John David Washington is great, as was the whole cast.  One normal and one inverted thumb up for a movie I file in my science fiction collection.  Great stuff.


Best shows:

5. Jeopardy! – final season with Alex

4. Star Trek: Picard – Season 1

3. American Dad! – Season 17

2. Star Trek: Discovery – Season 3

1. Star Wars: The Mandalorian – Season 2

Jeopardy’s never made my lists here before but watching Alex Trebek keep on going and going only weeks before his death is awe-inspiring.

American Dad had a better than average season this year.  Some of the episodes this year will go down as the series’ best:  “Brave N00B World“, “300“, and “First, Do No Farm”.  The latter features a new Weird Al Yankovic called “Rabbitage” based on — you guessed it — “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys.  The season also featured pop star The Weeknd in an episode called “A Starboy is Born”.

I’m jumping the gun a little bit on Discovery as the season hasn’t ended yet.  However, setting the season over 900 past the days of Kirk and Spock has opened the show up to new possibilities and…discoveries.  It has been a great season with some standout episodes that felt more like The Next Generation than anything since.  Contemplative episodes with minimal (sometimes zero) violence.  Trek is back, and Discovery is currently the superior show, even over Picard, which was pretty good itself.

And finally we have Mandalorian, which despite an unimpressive initial teaser trailer went on to be the show we always hoped it could be.  And it was Bill fucking Burr’s Mayfeld that really pushed it late in the season, adding some much needed character development.  All this made it so much more delicious when Giancarlo Esposito’s Moff Gideon did all the moustache-twirling villain stuff at the end.  Then we get Boba, more vicious and primal, and the stoic but intense Jedi.  Bonus points for doing what Qui-Gon Jinn failed to do in Episode I:  just crush the fucking droid with the Force already!  Thanks, Luke.


2020 was the Year Without a Marvel.  Boo.

#846: The United Federation of Planets

GETTING MORE TALE #846: The United Federation of Planets

I used to be an optimist.  In my younger, more impressionable 20s, I felt like humankind had the universe by the balls.  The things we could achieve when united were remarkable but only the tip of what we could do collectively.  Where did I think we’d be by 2020?

Not here, that’s for damn sure!  I didn’t think we’d have the flying car, or free energy.  I thought we’d be on a better road than this.

At that younger age, I immersed myself seriously in science fiction.  Clarke in particular, but Roddenberry was also crucial to my mindset.  The optimistic future of Star Trek was the one I chose to believe in.  Gene Roddenberry was not wrong about what humanity could do when united.  I believed unity was our ultimate destiny, as we left behind our tribal pasts and prejudices.  I thought it was inevitable that eventually we would have something like the United Federation of Planets.  Prosperity through technology and collective wisdom.

It makes me sad and broken to see that we have not made many strides towards Roddenberry’s future, but have taken many steps backwards.  What would Gene think?  While I think he would be delighted to see that technology has leaped faster in some regards than he predicted, he would also be crushed by our continued divisions.

It’s in the news every day.  People are angry.  Some have forgotten the basic manners that their mothers taught them while others are behaving like, frankly, assholes.  Covid has us all stressed, and it has brought some of us together more closely while dividing others even more sharply.  I try to consume as little news as possible but it’s all but unavoidable to see this bullshit.  Even if one only reads music news, it is everywhere.  Ratt and Bobby Blotzer’s son feuding with Sebastian Bach and Dee Snider over the wearing of masks during this pandemic.  This cultural tension has pervaded every aspect of society.  At least you can buy some sweet Kiss-branded masks now.  Yet the amount of hate in the air over this issue is actually quite scary.

Incidentally as a side note, as our economy continues to be devastated by this disease, every brand in the world should start making masks.  Metallica, Maple Leafs, Kiss, Kellogg’s Froot Loops.  People are going to buy them and it’s time to strike while the iron is hot.  Only by adapting to this pandemic are we going to save businesses.  But back to where we were.

I used to believe good would always triumph over evil.  That is what all my favourite stories taught me.  Good is stronger.  Show humanity some adversity and we will unite and overcome.

Roddenberry did predict we’d need a Third World War before we get there.  I hope he was wrong about that too.

Star Trek was popular because people wanted to live in that world.  Star Trek fans exist in every part of the political spectrum.  Millions dreamed of being the helmsman on a starship, and to live in that world.  A world where the Earth knows no war, no poverty and no starvation.  Some of Arthur C. Clarke’s fiction was equally optimistic.  I figured guys as smart as Clarke, who conceived the communication satellite, were smart enough that they were probably right about the future.  Yet here we are, stuck in the mire like it’s still the 1950s.

Of course it’s not too late.  We can still turn around and say “I don’t care if you are this or that, and believe in A, B or C.”  We’re going to have to.  Why can’t everybody see this?  Humanity has no hope of survival if we can’t rise above our tribal differences.

 

#828: The Ones That Got Away

GETTING MORE TALE #828: The Ones That Got Away

A year ago we did a massive de-clutter.  We had gotten to the point where we accumulated too much stuff.  Especially after Jen’s mom passed away.  We probably kept too much of her stuff out of sentiment.  But in a very short period of time we made massive purge; a painful purge.  And it wasn’t the first.  As you go through life you get rid of things.  You can’t carry all your possessions with you through your whole life.

Although I have forgotten many of the myriad DVDs, books, T-shirts and collectibles that I tossed to the curb, there are some that I now regret losing.  Doner’s regret is a very real thing.  Some decisions were made in haste and others were made without sufficient foresight.

I used to record all of my CDs and LPs to cassette so that I could play them in the car.  Once I had a car CD player, I didn’t need to keep doing that.  Eventually I decided to give away all my excess cassettes and that’s how they ended up in a Thunder Bay landfill.  I only regret giving away a small handful of my tapes.  I wish I had hung onto some of the more obscure ones, and anything that I made cool artwork for.  I guess I didn’t imagine that one day people would want to look at photos of old cassettes and read reviews of them.

In years past, any time I have done a major de-cluttering, I’ve thrown a massive garage sale.  Sorting through and pricing items gives you some time to process what you’re doing, and make final decisions.  It’s an ideal way of getting rid of stuff.  But even so, I have made mistakes that I regret now.  My childhood rock magazine collection — what I would give to have some of those issues again.  They would come in handy with what I’m doing now.  I had just about every issue of Hit Parader from 1987 through to 1990.  From there I moved on to RIP, Metal Edge and the various guitar magazines available.  When I purged my magazines, I hung onto just a small handful, but knowing they were irreplaceable, I kept all my M.E.A.T.  Thank God I did!  I’d never be able to replace them all if I hadn’t, and those things have been invaluable research sources.  At least I know my magazines went to a good home.  My old friend Len came to the garage sale and took every one.  I know he is someone who would appreciate them for what they are.

I got rid of the magazines when I got married.  I had to make space for my awesome new wife and her boxes and boxes full of clothes!  Around the same time, I passed all my old Star Wars toys down to my sister Kathryn.  Again, I have no regrets.  They went to the right person to care for them.  I admit I do get a nostalgic craving to hold my Han Solo one more time, but I think that could be arranged if necessary.

More recently, I’m kicking myself for giving away all my Star Trek DVDs.  All the movies (I had the double DVD collector sets), and all the seasons of the Original Series.  The entire “Fan Collective” series, which were so good.  Gone in one trip to the Goodwill store.  Decision made far too quickly and I’ve been regretting it ever since.  Why donate instead of sell?  Because we were trying to do this very quickly.  Hiring an organizer is expensive.  Getting a couple bucks per disc wasn’t worth trying to hawk them all.  I put them in a huge bag, dropped them off at Goodwill and tried to feel good about the regained space.

Don’t get me wrong — I needed the space.  But my purge went too far.

So now I have to re-buy all the Trek movies.  I can do without the series as they are all on Netflix, but I need the films back.  I don’t know what to buy: blu-ray, DVD, whatever has the best content?  This would have been simpler had I just kept them all.  A couple weeks ago I re-bought an old Star Wars comic that I somehow lost.  It must have left the house accidentally jammed between something else because I never would have gotten rid of issue #47, “Droid World”.  It’s the only issue that means anything to me and the only one I want to have.  I used to try and draw all the different robots inside over and over again.  Cost me $5 to replace, but oh well.  Never should have left the house.

At least I didn’t let a single CD go.  That organiser tried, oh did she ever try.

“So what are we doing with these?” she asked about the three CD towers and numerous mountains of dics in my workspace.

“These are all staying.” I replied bluntly.  “These are my life and they are non-negotiable.”

“You know that you can put all of this on a computer now and not have to worry about storing all of these?  I mean when can you listen to all of this?”

The same questions everybody asks.  Everybody who’s not a music fan that is.

“I’m putting them on my computer all the time.  That’s what this setup is for.  But I collect CDs, some of these are irreplaceable.  I love them all.  I could tell you where I got almost every single one.  I read the notes inside.  I look at the artwork.”

Trying to explain it was like talking to a wall.  “But all that stuff is online!”  She was begging me to reconsider but guess what.  I still have all my CDs.

Still trying to work on a decent storage layout, but I’m not a carpenter.  I can barely hammer a nail.  I need people to help with stuff like that.  It’ll happen one day.  But the discs. aren’t. leaving.  And just on a logistical level, I need to have my music backed up to a hard copy like CD anyway just in case something happened to my 2-terrabyte digital library!

 

I would never recommend hiring a professional organiser to any of my music fans.  They won’t understand your needs and you could end up making mistakes.  Don’t make the same ones I did, but do stick to your guns when it comes to your albums!

 

 

TV REVIEW: Star Trek – Picard (2020)

“Please, my friends.  Choose to live.”

STAR TREK: Picard Season 1 (CBS All Access 2020)

It truly is a shame that the most Star Trek of all the current Star Treks isn’t Star Trek at all.  It’s a goddamn show by Seth MacFarlane, and it is more true to the spirit of Gene Roddenberry’s vision than any of the three modern Trek incarnations.  If Seth can do it, why can’t CBS?  The newest series (which wrapped up its first season on Thursday March 26) is Star Trek: Picard, based on Jean-Luc of course.  It’s closer to the feel of Trek than Discovery or the Abramsverse, but only by small margins.

Warning:  This review will be light on major spoilers, but there will be spoilers, so proceed only if you don’t mind.

Short Treks:  “Children of Mars”

As set up in the final episode of Short Treks season 2: “Children of Mars”, 14 years ago a devastating attack occurred on Mars.  Mars is close to home, Earth, the seat of the Federation.  The attack, by a new line of androids with a golden skin like Data’s, was devastating.  Jean-Luc Picard was blamed for Starfleet’s inability to respond.  He had taken the fleet to Romulus to save their race from the supernova that would destroy the Romulan homeworld in 2009’s movie, Star Trek. To make matters worse, the Romulans blame Picard for not finishing the job and leaving their people behind when the fleet is urgently recalled to Mars.

Jean-Luc at home at Chateau Picard

In a last-ditch attempt to muster some relief for the Romulan race, Picard offered Starfleet a choice:  help assemble a new rescue fleet or accept his resignation.  They chose not to help.  The broken hero went home to the family vineyard of Chateau Picard while Romulus died and Mars burned.

With all this now in the past, a retired and shunned Picard bears a heavy burden.  Because of the attack on Mars, androids have been banned by the Federation.  The only people that seem to appreciate the former Admiral are his two Romulan housekeepers and bodyguards.  At age 94, Jean-Luc is not as spry as he was when he took command of the USS Enterprise-D decades earlier.  And not all Romulans blame Picard, for some understand that he was powerless when the fleet was sent back to Mars.

Picard’s quiet existence is soon shattered by the appearance of Dahj (Isa Briones), an android who thinks she is human.  Dahj has come to Picard for help.  Someone (Romulans!) tried to kill her in her home, and she somehow knows Picard’s face as one she can trust.  It doesn’t take long for Jean-Luc to recognise Dahj for what she is:  an artificial lifeform, created by unknown means as an offspring of Commander Data.

Dr. Agnes Jurati and Jean-Luc Picard

After a visit with Dr. Agnes Jurarti (Allison Pill) at the Daystrom Institute in Japan, Jean-Luc learns that Bruce Maddox (remember him from “Measure of a Man” in The Next Generation?) was working on a technique called fractal neuronic cloning to create a new kind of android.  Using a single neuron taken from Data’s prototype B-4 (remember him from Nemesis?) Maddox apparently succeeded despite the ban on synthetic life.  Interestingly, fractal neuronic cloning always results in two androids.  Meaning, Data had twin daughters — Dahj has a sister!  Due to her familial relationship with Data, the android that gave his life to save Jean-Luc, he decides he must find and protect the sister.

We have a mission!  To find Dahj’s twin, he needs to locate Bruce Maddox who disappeared when the Federation banned synthetic life 14 years ago.

It takes Picard a few episodes to assemble a crew and get the hell back into space.  Once more, Starfleet refuses to help, and drops the first of many unnecessary F-bombs when asked.  “Just because you can swear, doesn’t mean you should,” says Rob Daniels.

Lieutenant Commander Raffi Musiker

The first three episodes of the show move slowly, as we are spoon-fed dribbles of information about this new Star Trek world.  Jean-Luc had another another first officer after Riker; Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd), and guess what?  Preposterously, here’s yet another individual who blames Picard for a whole bunch of things related to the Mars incident.  She’s hooked on booze and smoking “snakeleaf”, but she does have a lovely little motorhome-looking place right near the Vasquez rocks.  Due to the slow moving nature of the writing, it takes a while for Musiker and her motivations to come out.  Apparently she’s a conspiracy theorist, and when Jean-Luc (or “JL” as she calls him) reveals that Romulan agents are running wild on Earth looking for androids, that’s right up her alley.

Raffi is very much correct about her conspiracies, and they go deep.  Dahj’s identical twin sister is named Dr. Soji Asha, and she has been on Romulan radar for some time.  She is blissfully unaware of her own true nature.  Tal Shiar agent siblings Narek and Narissa plan to manipulate her to reveal information they need to wipe out the android homeworld once and for all.  Wait — homeworld!?  That’s right.  Apparently Maddox, on an unknown planet, has been very busy making Data babies.

But why do the Romulans care so damn much about androids?  Things get complicated when you ask that question, and the slow-coming answers never completely satisfy.  It’s all a little too Battlestar Galactica.  “All this has happened and will happen again.”  Cylons uprising against their creators.  Picard digs itself into a pit with this whole storyline, the ancient and previously unmentioned Romulan hatred of artificial life.  A sub-sect of the Romulan Tal Shiar secret police, called the Zhat Vash, is sworn to end all synthetic life — before it ends them, as they have mysteriously foreseen.

Captain Cristóbal Rios

As we slowly piece this information together, Picard also gradually picks up the pieces of the crew in sloth-like fashion.  Next is Captain Cristóbal “Cris” Rios (Santiago Cabrera), yet another former Starfleet officer with a dark, hidden past.  What, are there no happy people left in this world?  What would Gene Roddenberry say about this?  Rios drinks, he smokes cigars — vices that Roddenberry thought most people would recognise as dangerous.  Additionally, Rios has a whole series of holograms of himself, all with different accents and nationalities, to help out around the ship.  Wait…what?  Holograms of himself, with different accents? What the hell is that?  While it’s fun to see Cabrera play five or six “characters” together in a single episode, this makes no sense whatsoever.  Who has that much ego, that they want to be surrounded by holograms of themselves all the time?  With different accents?  Though he’s portrayed as a dark and mysterious captain on an existential journey to heal his broken past, apparently Rios is also a raging narcissist.

OK, are we ready to launch yet?  At the last minute Dr. Jurati from the Daystrom Institute decides to join the crew.  We board Rios’ ship La Sirena and we’re off!

Wait, wait, hold on.  Hit the brakes.  We still have to make a stop.  Once upon a time ago, we learn that the once child-hating Jean-Luc Picard befriended a young Romulan boy named Elnor during the attempted rescue.  Now an adult and fierce warrior raised by an obscure sect, Elnor (Evan Evagora) becomes another of Picard’s new allies.  Needing muscle, we make this one last detour at Vashti to pick up the adult Elnor.  Here we find that…oh, come on — Elnor has a grudge against Picard, too?  It takes one episode (a really good one, admittedly) to introduce Elnor and the Roluman warrior nuns (Qowat Milat) that raised him and taught him those awesome ninja skills.  Only for Elnor to be underused in the instalments that follow.

Elnor

“Please.  Choose to live.”

You will love every time those four words are heard on screen.  You would choose to live too when you see what Elnor can do with a sword.  Those warrior nuns mean business, and they do not like the Tal Shiar one bit.  Elnor practices a lifestyle called the Way of Absolute Candor — total honesty in every word.  This results in some of the lighter, more humourous dialogue in the series.

Picard excels in this first season when going deeper into Romulan culture.  It was never really explored in detail during The Next Generation.  No, instead TNG took it upon itself to define the Klingons.  Deep Space Nine did that with the Ferengi.  And Voyager greatly expanded upon the Borg.  It’s about time the Romulans were fleshed out onscreen, and it’s quite well done.

Because of its setting in time, Picard is also the first exploration of the galaxy post-Romulus.  Its destruction in Star Trek (2009) was established but the repercussions never seen until now.  And guess what — those Romulans have been busy.  They’ve established a colony on a derelict Borg cube, cut off from the collective.  This cube, called the Artefact, and its Borg drone inhabitants are harvested for technology.  And that’s where we find Dr. Soji Asha, assigned to work and study.  Zhat Vash agent Narek (Harry Treadaway) has her wrapped around his fingers.

Seven of Nine

The ties to the Borg story allow us to revisit a couple old friends:  Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) and Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco).  These characters are shoehorned into the plot just so that they can be in a new Picard series.  Though once upon a time they were all connected by the Borg collective, Seven’s never met the other two on screen before.  Hugh’s storyline is warm but short.  Seven is…oh man, not again?  A broken soul searching for meaning.  Why can’t any of these damn characters have had a happy life after their series ended?

At least there’s Riker and Troi (Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis).  They seem happy on planet Nepenthe, with their daughter Kestra Riker-Troi.  Riker’s making pizza, and there’s grass and trees and nature and…oh come on!  They have a tragedy too?

Listen, tragedy strikes.  It hits us all.  Lord knows it does.  Star Trek has been building characters on tragedy ever since it killed Sisko’s wife in the DS9 series premier.  It doubled-down when it murdered Kirk’s dad and Spock’s mom in Star Trek (2009).  But why can’t some of our heroes just have life turn out the way they wanted it to?  The way we hoped it would?  Just one character?

Frakes, who directs several episodes of Picard, is still Riker.  The booming voice is augmented by a bigger stature.  Captain Riker has several great moments in this show, in some of the best episodes.

Jean-Luc’s adventures take him from a glitzy Vegas-like planet, to an apprehensive reunion with a Borg cube.  They put our hero in great danger and shine a spotlight on his highest moral standards.  Though the galaxy may have fallen into disarray since we last visited it, Picard himself is just as dedicated to his principles as before.  Perhaps now he is truly able to act according to his moral beliefs, freed of the yoke that was Starfleet command.  Patrick Stewart, as if without pause, has simply become Jean-Luc Picard again.  He still inspires that sense of greatness and meaning that we should all strive for in our lives.  When the adventure concludes, we are reminded that all events set in motion happened because of Picard’s loyalty to his friend.

Commander Data

The lynchpin of the series is Data (Brent Spiner).  Though the beloved android sacrificed himself for Picard in Nemesis (aka Star Trek X, the 10th film), there was always a thread left behind for him to return.  The comic books depicted his return in one way.  Picard takes it in a different direction, one which could either make fans cry or seethe in anger.  Personally speaking I found it to be appropriate and incredibly well performed and directed.  Nemesis was not a great film (perhaps the worst of the original 10) and Data’s farewell was not nearly as impactful as Spock’s was in The Wrath of Khan.  Perhaps this series helps set things right.

We already know a Picard season 2 is in the works, which means we know that the titular character was never in any real danger.  I anticipated one plot twist that happened in episode 10, but a full episode earlier.  It’s a shame they can’t just leave such things unannounced and let the story unfold in surprising ways, not predictable ones.

By season’s end, Picard is a new man again.  With a family-like crew by his side, bonded by life and death and life, the future is promising.  Fans have campaigned for a season featuring Q (John DeLancie) as an antagonist.  This does not seem impossible given that Q’s nemesis, Guinan (Whoopie Goldberg) is confirmed for season 2.  But there are still unresolved threads left hanging in Picard that might be picked up in the second season.  One might even directly tie into Star Trek: Discovery or its spinoff Section 31 starring Michelle Yeoh.

Here’s something else the writers should consider doing next season:  standalone episodes.  We’ve set up Picard’s new ship and crew, as if the season was one 10-hour long pilot episode.  It would be cool to visit strange new worlds every once in a while.  Discover new civilisations.  To boldly go!  To do something more akin to the Seth MacFarlane show, because he’s proven you can do it.  If standalones aren’t likely because overarching seasons are the current fashion, then at least feed us information more quickly and resolve questions sooner.  Picard took forever to get off the ground and moving.  Once that happened…they still spoon-fed the audience in drips.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  To quote Jean-Luc himself, “To say you have no choice is a failure of imagination.”

Soji Asha

Most valuable players:  Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes (as director and actor), Evan Evagora, Jeri Ryan, Jonathan Del Arco, composer Jeff Russo, and newcomer Isa Briones.  In key dual roles as Data’s daughters Dahj and Soji, and even as a singer in the finale, Briones never ceased to impress.  Welcome to Star Trek, Isa.  You’re in it for life now.

Star Trek series typically have rough first seasons.  The Next Generation‘s first season was quite awful.  Deep Space Nine took several years to get moving (literally since it was a space station and they used a new starship to expand horizons).  Discovery underwent a complete re-jigging after its controversial first season.  It would be nice if Star Trek would stop being afraid of its own shadow.  Be what you are, Star Trek.  Don’t try to be Star Wars, or Battlestar Galactica, or anything else that followed in your footsteps.  Writers have always complained that Star Trek is hard to write for, since it has such a long and extensive canon.  Well, Picard is how you avoid those problems — by moving forward into unknown territory, instead of trying to shoehorn your series between others in the timeline.  The future is wide open.  Not only did 2009’s Star Trek create a new playground for the franchise to exist in the cinemas, but it also allowed a “reset” of sorts in the original Picard timeline.  Something bad happened, and the galaxy changed.  This enables freer writing of stories.

It was a good season.  Now run with it, and be intelligently true to Trek at the same time.  It can happen.  To say you have no choice is a failure of imagination!

3.5/5 stars

The next Next Generation.  Engage!

#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.

 

MOVIE REVIEW: Star Trek Beyond (2016)

STAR TREK BEYOND (2016 Paramount)

Directed by Justin Lin

The “Kelvin era” or “JJ-verse” Star Trek movies have been more “miss” than “hit”.  There was a time when you could count on every even-numbered Trek to be excellent, but Star Trek Into Darkness (#12) and Star Trek Beyond (#13) were two rotten movies in a row.  What went wrong?

Too.  Much.  Dumb.  Action.

Specifically, there is one modern action motif that is freakishly common today and it drives me insane every time.  It’s when a vehicle or body hits a wall or other obstacle, going right through, and keeps going, and going…minimal damage and zero loss of momentum.  This happens far too often in Beyond.   Hell, the bad guy Krall (Idris Elba) has a swarm of spaceships completely based on this physics-defying visual.

Every time Beyond feels like it’s going somewhere, the movie devolves into meaningless, dull action.  The shame of it is, there are other scenes that are character-driver and almost vintage Trekkian.  Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) caring for an injured Spock (Zachary Quinto) felt right.  Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) tiring of his daily space-grind was reminiscent of the original Star Trek pilot “The Cage”, and also colours in a little bit about how the prime Kirk eventually became an Admiral.  These slower, more contemplative shots are then succeeded by numbing action, so far removed from Gene Roddenberry’s original vision that you can hear his complaints in the back of your mind.

Idris Elba is unfortunately underdeveloped and buried under layers of makeup.  His character Krall has cloudy hatred for the Federation, believing that their mission of peace and exploration weakens humanity, who must instead be prepared to defend itself.  Krall is not all he appears to be, of course, but the reveal is far less interesting than it could have been.  Ultimately, the setup is never enticing nor is the execution.  Since the plot is based entirely on the motivations of the villain, the movie can’t hold together.  It’s just an alien looking for a superweapon so he can kill lots of people.  And it’s never made clear why he even needs that superweapon, since he can do plenty of damage on his own.

Case in point?  Krall [SPOILER] takes down the U.S.S. Enterprise only three years into her five-year mission.  Compare this to the original prime U.S.S. Enterprise, which only went down only in a last ditch attempt by her captain to keep his crew alive.  Only after 40 years in space, three television seasons, and three movies.  Its ending was poignant, and after saving the crew countless times, it was earned.  This ships’ ending was not earned, to use the words of Rob Daniels.  We’ve only known her in a few hours of screen time.  Her demise was not earned.  It was just a gimmick to sell tickets.  See the Enterprise go down!

A new character created for this movie, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) is a tough nut and good companion for Scotty.  Unfortunately, knowing the past history of female sidekicks in Star Trek films, that means you’ll never see her again.

Sadly, Anton Yelchin (Chekov) died tragically in an accident shortly before the film’s release.  J.J. Abrams has said that Chekov would never be recast by another actor.

Star Trek Beyond both gains and loses points for some real-world references.  The death of Leonard Nimoy in 2015 is reflected by [SPOILER] the death of Spock prime in this film, and there is a beautiful moment to reflect on that.  Less successfully, the character of Sulu (John Cho) is ret-conned as gay, to honour George Takei who played the original Sulu.  Even Takei found this ret-con to be strange since he never portrayed Sulu as gay at any point in the series.  It technically doesn’t directly contradict anything from the prime universe, but it feels so awkwardly shoed in.

Star Trek Beyond has, for the time being at least, ended Star Trek’s theatrical comeback.  Patrick Stewart has confidently returned to television in Picard, and so Trek never dies.  No thanks to Beyond.

1.5/5 stars