Tag: Star Trek
Now that we've hit the halfway mark in the first season, some more refined thoughts on Star Trek: Discovery.
Short version: I like it, it is proving to indeed be good Star Trek as well as good sci-fi, though the "spore drive" that much of this season relies on stretches the "sci" part of things pretty far.
Longer version follows...
Michelle Yaoh as Captain Phillipa Georgiou
So, tonight Star Trek: Discovery premiered. First Trek on TV since 2005 and first to be distributed via internet (the first episode on over-the-air CBS in a "first one's free" strategy, behind the CBS Internet paywall thereafter). The leadup was a bit chaotic, with personnel changes and debut delays and a total prohibition on advance reviews of any kind. Expectations were ... let's say moderate.
In some ways, it didn't disappoint. Production values were off the scale. Visually striking, detailed, and I was especially geeking out over the sound effects in the background. Performances mostly good.
In other ways, it rankled, but in minor nitpicky fashions; continuity discrepancies between other Star Trek series, Treknological/scientific liberties that could've been avoided with more attentive writing, that sort of thing.
And in the most important ways, it left me ambivalent. I'll need to see how the story develops to form an opinion on the basic identity of the show and its fidelity to Star Trek ideals and its overall strengths. I think it's a failure of a pilot to leave that much ambivalence, but there's plenty of potential for redemption. What little has been reported about subsequent episodes suggests episode 3 begins a somewhat lighter tone as the titular ship and crew are introduced.
Things I liked:
- Michelle Yeoh as Captain Georgiou. Yeoh presents a complex character of ideals, confidence, compassion, and gravitas, and does it very well. (Spoiler: Too bad she doesn't survive episode 2, hopefully we'll see more of her in flashbacks.)
- Doug Jones as Lt. Cdr. Saru. Saru is an alien of a type we haven't seen before, and both his racial background and his individual demeanor are interesting. He comes from a planet where his species is/was livestock to another species, which is kind of fascinating, and as such his response to potential danger is most often to flee, instinctually preferring the flight aspect of fight-or-flight heavily. He's also caustic and a bit brazen, and he's a science officer, making him kind of a Spock/Bones hybrid character. Clever.
- Design. Mostly. As I said, the visuals are rather impressive and the care that went into graphics and background sound is admirable. There's a touch too much JJ-verse influence on the bridge of the Shenzhou (complete with occasional lens flare), but not enough to distract.
- The "feel" of the culture on Georgiou's starship Shenzhou, which is laid-back yet professional, casual yet disciplined. Captain Georgiou would be fun to work for.
- Starfleet sideburns on the men. Yes! In your face, JJ Abrams.
Things that left me raising my eyebrow Spock-like in a skeptical-not-amused way:
- Our lead character, Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequah Martin-Green), is somewhat unlikable. This may well change, but in the pilot episodes she makes some decisions that are simply too contrary to what we're supposed to believe about her as a character to make her sympathetic. We're apparently supposed to be left thinking she was right and did what she did for good, sensible reasons, but it doesn't fly with me. (Spoiler: It may well have been logical to want to show immediate force when encountering Klingons to get them to respect you, making a kind of effort to speak to them on their cultural grounds, but (a) that's counter to what she's supposed to believe in; (b) she was raised in Vulcan culture and as such would expect to err on the side of pacifism; (c) she's supposed to have this awesome mentor-mentee bond with Georgiou that she completely betrays as if it's of no consequence; (d) the history she's basing her course of action on is from pre-KirShara reform days on Vulcan, which may not be strictly relevant, but does play into its ethics; and (e) it rather predictably would play right into the Klingons' hands, and though she wouldn't be aware of the specific Klingon machinations here, they already have a working theory that they were lured here for a confrontation and she is sufficiently forward-thinking [supposedly] to plot out a few moves ahead and realize engaging Klingons violently would be counterproductive to Federation interests. She thinks she was totally in the right, and I think we the audience are supposed to think that too, but really she just fucked up and betrayed her friend and mentor out of recklessness. The war may have started anyway, but her decidedly un-Vulcan bullheadedness did not help avert it.)
- James Frain as Sarek. I'm cool with using the Sarek character here, and he was written well enough, but Frain didn't fit the role. Frain is a fine actor, but he does not remotely evoke Mark Lenard (original portrayer of Sarek) in appearance, cadence, expression, really anything, nor does he bring anything new to the role to distinguish himself from Lenard (or Ben Cross, who played the role — badly — in the JJ movies). As my friend Mark pointed out as we were watching, it is rare for any actor to play a Vulcan well; we came up with only the Big Three Vulcan actors who've successfully pulled it off, not counting Zach Quinto's JJ-verse Spock — Lenard, Leonard Nimoy (obvs), and Tim Russ, who was in some ways channeling Nimoy. I added Gary Graham, whose Ambassador Soval became pretty decent by the end of Enterprise's run, and gave special dispensation to Jolene Blalock's T'Pol due to the writing she was given (mostly good, but often given "reasons" to be un-Vulcanlike) and Kim Catrall, who had the unenviable job of playing an atypical Vulcan pretending to be typical. Not one guest-Vulcan did it well. (Well, maybe Dame Judith Anderson in a rather small role. And Robin Curtis put in the effort.) Even Celia Lovsky's original T'Pau was a bit like your old grandma who's cantankerous and a bit racist but you tolerate it because she's old and will die soon. It's a difficult task, and not even the best actors are always up to the challenge. But with Sarek being such an important character, it's disappointing to have a subpar performance in the role.
- Burnham leaving the bridge during crisis to call home, even if it was to ask for specific info about dealing with Klingons. Paints her in a bad light, and besides, it's dramatically unnecessary. She could have known this bit of history already (might have actively sought it out much earlier given her Klingon-related trauma, and that could have been integrated as part of her flashback sequence).
- The reimagined look of the Klingons. I've read somewhere that the series will over time show us greater variation of the species than we've seen previously, but right now it just seems like the Klingons have a new look just because this time there was more money to spend.
- The music. The opening theme is quite forgettable save for the Alexander Courage fanfare and carries nothing of the splendor found in Jerry Goldsmith's, James Horner's, and Dennis McCarthy's respective themes. Maybe it'll grow on me. Also, the opening credits visuals are different — not bad different, I actually like the storyboardish style — but a little jarring, at least at first.
Things I cringed at, at least a little bit:
- The Klingon scenes. My late friend Scott was a big fan of all things Klingon, and I know others are too, but they were never among my favorite Trek cultures, so maybe that informs my relative lack of interest in the scenes on the Klingon ship; highly expository, and in subtitled Klingon spoken haltingly by actors through prosthetic teeth, these bits give important setup information for what's to come, but are just not compelling. One of the Klingons, Voq, is mildly interesting as an outcast wanting to prove his worth, but the rest are, to this point, kind of cardboard.
- The aforementioned scientific/accepted Trek-lore writing laziness:
- The Klingon fable played out by our villains involves a giant beacon that lights up bright as a star to signal all the heads of important Klingon houses to meet. Signaling across light-years with, well, light is a long-term proposition and completely ill-suited to bringing anyone to you within a handful of centuries. Yes, there were additional components to the signal that shook and vibrated the Shenzhou's superstructure, but the idea was that it was a literal beacon. The light from which was useless. Oops.
- Technological anachronisms. Holographic two-way transmissions, even in real-time across light-years? The "new" holographic communicator was used a couple of times in Deep Space Nine to reasonable effect, but here — 100-plus years earlier — the tech is way more elaborate and serves zero story purpose. In and of itself, it's fine, but as an anachronism that could have been easily avoided it takes me out of the flow of the story. And Klingons with a cloaking device. It wasn't called that and it was implied that it was unique or at least uncommon, but Klingons don't get cloaks until they trade with the Romulans for it later on.
- The mind-meldy conversation between Burnham and Sarek was bothersome not for its content (which was actually quite good), but for its utter non-believability and for exacerbating the real-time-holographic-transmission issue as it rendered that prior bit somewhat redundant. The only similar type of established telepathy with Vulcans is a psychic link between bonded sexual couples, and borrowing that and explaining it away with a "katra" mulligan (contrary to earlier uses of katra mulligans) was irksome and a little icky given Burnham's familial relationship with Sarek.
- The background bridge character that was ... a robot? Cyborg? Weird augmented alien with a full helmet display head? A refugee from Star Wars or the JJ-verse. In the words of V'Ger's probe, "this device serves no purpose."
- I'll swallow it, but the (understandable) retcon of using what becomes the Starfleet-wide delta insignia as the Starfleet-wide iconic image 15-20 years too early, in an era in which we know it is linked exclusively to the starship Enterprise, is a nitpicky nerd-gripe that I will have to explain somehow in my internal head-canon.
- And finally, too much emphasis on action and gee-whiz-neato look-what-we-can-do effects (which, as I said, look great) at the expense of theme and substance. In the absence of the full story and most of the regular characters, this is perhaps an unfair criticism and may change with context. Hopefully it will. But as a pilot it's odd to give this sort of thing short shrift.
Potential here is vast, and it's more solid as a production (even allowing for budget/tech inflation) than The Next Generation's pilot, but with Star Trek I always expect on some level to be, if not overwhelmed, satisfactorily whelmed; DS9's pilot was very good, Enterprise's had flaws but gave a fine foundation, Voyager's was...well, it was much better than what followed. But Discovery's jury is still out, at least until next week.
UPDATE: TrekMovie has a decent recap/review up now that's worth a look. It is spoiler-heavy, though, so beware.
The Occupation Begins
Well, here we are. Day One of the Trumpocalypse. For two-and-a-half months we've been anticipating this day with anxiety of epic proportions. Just what are we in for now? And will we survive it?
One of the few amusing things about the election results is the general consensus of the nerdosphere on social media that the 45th president is basically Gul Dukat, the principal villain on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It is remarkably fitting; Dukat even made the claim that he was sending his people into the ruinous clutches of a hostile foreign power in order to "make Cardassia strong again" (he may as well have said "great"). Gul Dukat is a narcissistic, autocratic, brutal oppressor who fools people with smarmy charm, all the while believing fervently that he's the hero, and that true victory is not vanquishing your enemies but "to make your enemies see they were wrong to oppose you in the first place. To force them to acknowledge your greatness." He was even a cult leader for a time. There are at least ten Dukat Twitter accounts that conflate the Cardassian dictator with Mr. Trump. The best is Joe Sondow's @realRealDukat, that copies tweets from @realDonaldTrump with small edits to substitute Dukat for Trump and other DS9 terms for real-life ones:
Though Dukat was eventually deposed and his successor ultimately defected to the good guys, by the end the planet Cardassia Prime was war-ravaged and in utter ruins. May fact play out better than fiction.
The analogy isn't perfect—Gul Dukat is smart and has a knack for oratory, while Trump can't properly read or string together consecutive coherent sentences. But we'll call that artistic license.
With all this in mind, here's my latest sketchbook entry.
Playing theatrically for a brief run in select markets and available now online at various sites (for a few bucks)
Some friends and I took in a theatrical showing of Adam Nimoy's new documentary film about is father tonight. "For the Love of Spock" was originally conceived as a partnership project between Adam and Leonard Nimoy before Leonard's death in March 2015; the endeavor naturally changed in tone and scope after that and became a perhaps less-focused but more expansive look at both the character of Spock and the man who portrayed him.
It's a good film; not being a documentary aficionado, I can't speak to its merits compared to other documentaries, but it's enjoyable, informative, touching, and interesting, which I think is as much as one can ask of such a project. Being the nerd that I am, I already knew a lot of what is covered in the film. But having it presented from the perspective of Leonard's son gave it a new twist and revealed some new tidbits and clarified some things that were only hinted at in "the official record," if you will. (It also includes, over the end credits, a cover of David Bowie's "Starman" performed by Leonard's grandson and his band, and it's really good.)
Before the screening, there was a live-via-Skype introduction and Q&A with Adam Nimoy himself, which was kind of neat. He said that when originally conceived the film was to be 100% about the character of Spock, but after his dad's passing it morphed into more of a look at Leonard Nimoy in and out of Star Trek, but really, I think, it became more about fathers and sons, as personified by three generations of Nimoys. A powerful narrative device has Adam reading a letter to him from Leonard written in 1973. He reads the letter in chunks that are interspersed throughout the film to good effect, shedding light on a difficult relationship between the two; I wanted to see something similar from a later point in time to similarly offer insight into a later estrangement they had more recently, as there is a lot of referencing of troubles without much specificity. But I suppose the specifics aren't important for us as the viewing audience. There's only so much we can expect of an internal family drama to be brought out for all to see, and there's still a lot here.
Adam surprising his dad on the set, 1966
The one part of Leonard Nimoy's life covered in the film that I didn't have a decent knowledge of was his alcoholism, and having recently lost my mom to exactly that, I find myself more interested in that aspect of his history than I'd been before. I had gleaned from various writing over the years that Leonard began drinking heavily around the end of Star Trek's production years -- probably helped along by the stressful and unfulfilling third season (there's another documentary in that) -- but I had not realized that he managed to continue to function and keep it in check for as long as he did before it became overtly destructive; I had assumed he'd beaten it back during the '70s, which turns out to not at all be the right timeframe. It makes me wonder if my mom had a similar experience, hiding it successfully and continuing to function for a good long time before it took her over completely.
Leonard eventually did beat it, but not until the late '80s or so, after he began his second marriage, which was stunning to me. There are interview clips in the film that I had somehow not seen before in which he openly discusses it; in the exhaustive world of fandom where nerd tenacity and celebrity heroes intersect, it's hard to keep anything under wraps, but somehow this was never part of his public profile. Perhaps because his version of alcohol abuse didn't result in obvious or public poor behavior, or because throughout it all he still managed to be Leonard Nimoy, brilliant actor/director and font of thought and creativity, at least publicly.
Interestingly, there is little mention of Nimoy's photography, which was his focus after he was mostly done with Hollywood. There's some bits near the end of the film, and some images from his body-image project of about 10 years ago, but it's kind of a footnote to the movie.
I guess that makes sense, though. As Adam Nimoy said in his introduction, there was just so much that had to be cut to keep the film under two hours long, and obviously little or none of the Star Trek stuff was going to be lost. Or, as Luke Thompson put it in his review of the film for Forbes, the movie "feels like it’s barely nerve-pinching the surface. For fans, a Ken Burns-style multi-hour miniseries may be needed when it comes to Star Trek as a whole, or even Nimoy in particular."
I'd watch that. Hell, I'd help make that. Anyone know Ken?
Cosmically speaking, it was just a regular ol' 365.25-day circuit. Not so much down on the ground.
Labor Day weekend again. That was fast.
Also, man, what a long year it's been.
Today would have been my grandfather's 95th birthday. It's also two days shy of the first anniversary of my mom's death. Makes for a depressing occasion. I miss both of 'em, in different ways and for different reasons. And the same reasons. It's kind of muddled. But this is the closing hours of the year 1 After Mom, so that's where my head's at. I watched "The Visitor" entry of DS9 last night and found myself bawling my eyes out at the end. Because, hey, it's a touching episode on its own, but it takes on a different significance for me now than it did every other time I've seen it.
The past 12 months have been an education in the ways of bureaucracy, in cultural collisions, in frustration with society, and many other things, but mostly it's been a blur of grief. Both overtly expressed and buried under anger and frustration.
My mom died from completely preventable causes, and that makes me mad. It was her own fault, which makes me madder. At the same time, it kind of wasn't really her fault, which confuses me. And it's taken most of a year to get to a point where I can just feel sad without the rest of it.
"The Visitor" has a different edge to it now
She also left me in charge of things, which I have had mixed feelings about. (My step-father was still around at that point, but he had Alzheimer's, so I got put in charge of him too, at least so far as money and practicalities were concerned; he died eight months later, which if I'm being honest is a mixed bag. It's sad and I'm sorry to not get to see him again, but it spared him living with the end stages of Alzheimer's, which would have been hell.) I had no idea a year ago what it meant to be left in charge, what I would be tasked with in any real way. Nor did I have a clue as to the logistical hurdles society had erected in place for people in my position, or the closer-to-home internecine warring that would occur with extended family. I learned a lot. Not all of it positive, but learning is learning. And it's not done with, either, some of those hurdles are elaborate and arbitrary and exist to make people in my position tear their hair out and scream at functionaries that have no power over the situation while they place more and more creative obstacles in their paths.
Meanwhile, the Earth turned and went about its merry way orbiting the sun, and more happened. I learned that another long-term association wasn't what I thought it was, my cat got sick again, and yet more dental trauma hit my jaw and my wallet, all of which was well in keeping with the mood of the orbit. On the other hand, my dad had heart surgery, which you might not think of as a plus, but the result has been exceptionally positive, so score one for the forces of good. And perhaps as important as anything else, I was able to reconnect with someone whom I'd been close to but had drifted away, and with luck and effort will keep her in my personal orbit better than before. So, not all bad, to be sure.
Still, it's not a year I'd care to repeat. If Al and Ziggy Quantum Leaped me back to September 2015 I would be very displeased. No, I prefer to turn that page. Move on to another turn 'round old Sol, and see what the next orbit brings my way. Hopefully things I'd like to revisit, should I someday find myself by an Atavachron.
Reality Bites, But There is Fanfiction
Belly up to the bar
The first four months of being motherless has been trying, to say the least. In addition to the normal emotional turmoil that one might expect when losing a parent, there has been the extra fun of being the person named to handle all the financial fallout. Right around the first of the year, though, all the headaches, obstructions, and general pains-in-the-ass that have come with taking over all the finances eased, it was starting to look like going forward things would be, if not easy, then manageable in a non-overwhelming sort of way. So, naturally, it was time for Murphy’s Law to kick in and make some hay, and what hay it is. Not going to get into the nitty-gritty on the Internet, but suffice to say it’s gotten ugly and has once more taken over my whole state of mind. One trait of my mom’s that I did not inherit is the ability to compartmentalize; no, I am the Processing King of North Seattle and I can’t let anything go, even temporarily while there’s nothing I can do about it but wait for the holiday weekend to pass. The whole issue just churns over and over in my head, conversations replayed, root causes contemplated, scenarios played out, imaginary future arguments had. All the while knotting my stomach into a tangle worthy of the most disorganized box of Christmas lights you can think of. It’s an emotional smorgasbord the sawblade from “Day of the Dove” would get fat on.
For my general health’s sake, despite the frustration of paralysis on the above, I need distractions. And here’s one I’d been looking forward to for a bit: the release of the latest episode in the fan-film production Star Trek New Voyages/Phase II. The series has been a bit hit-and-miss, but I always enjoy them and just marvel at the work that goes into them. Fanzines made for the screen! And made pretty well, too. But I didn’t like this one very much; the story kind of bugged me as a Trekspert. (For the nerds, here’s why: the story shows the first meeting and fling between Captain Kirk and Carol Marcus, setting up the situation we all know from Wrath of Khan. The math doesn't work; this encounter would have to have been about ten years prior to the time of this story, plus the attitude Kirk exhibits at the end falls flat given when this is in his evolution. Would have worked ten years prior, though. Also, the Ferengi are in it, and though I don’t think that’s necessarily bad, they should not have revealed their name, that ruins the fact that they’re supposed to be a total mystery when 1701-D first encounters them. The interaction between Kirk and the Ferengi is actually a neat scene, with Kirk startled to realize that they’re not threatening at all, just out for a buck. OK, the non-nerds can come back in now.) Understanding these are not professional performers (for the most part) helps forgive the rest; it’s not an easy thing, I tried my hand at playing Captain Kirk at a convention once, it’s not all authority and dramatic pauses.
Anyway, more distraction is needed. I have a few comics here and might boot up OOTP for a few seasons’ worth of GM-ing.
For the nerds who care, here’s the New Voyages effort.