Even Trekkies need cars & insurance

08-May-13 10:45 AM by
Filed under Humor, Star Trek; leave a comment.

Star Trek celebrities have been long sought after to endorse a variety of products, from William Shatner pitching Priceline and DirectTV to Jonathan Frakes hawking enterprise software. The connection between Star Trek and the product being sold can be tenuous or non-existent, but a savvy director and clever script can nonetheless make the most of their actors' heritage.

With the release of Star Trek Into Darkness just a week away, we're seeing a new spate of advertisers timing their tangential promotions to coincide. Car insurance company esurance collaborated directly with the team at CBS and Paramount to get their hands on the 2009 film's set and shoot a short encounter on the bridge of the U.S.S. Not Enterprise:

There is a slightly longer version of the commercial, as well as a behind-the-scenes making of, though both wear thin what was a cute concept that works well at its original length.

Opting away from a Star Trek setting and instead relying on known actors, Audi has created a car commercial that pits the two Spocks in a race to the golf club:

Leonard Nimoy's the real star here, working in references not only to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan but to his singing career. He also proves that he's a far more experienced Vulcan than young upstart Zachary Quinto, who still has much to learn!

For those of us who have been avoiding spoiler-laden summer movie trailers, these commercials are fun little doses of original content bases on our favorite spacefaring franchise. Still, they're no substitute for the real thing. See you next week!

It All Started with a Big Bang

25-Jan-10 1:45 PM by
Filed under Television; 3 comments.

I've now had a month to play with and evaluate my Christmas bounties and have come to a conclusion: the thought and care that went into my handmade Pac-Man scarf puts it on top, but the first two seasons of Big Bang Theory on DVD made for a close match.

True to the conjecture that "the geek shall inherit the Earth", we finally seem to be in an era where it's hip to be a geek. The world runs on the Internet and is beholden to those who have mastered it, while the success of movies like Batman and TV shows such as Battlestar Galactica are evidence of the consumer power of the geek demographic.

Big Bang TheoryBig Bang Theory puts those geeks in the spotlight with two cohabitating physicists, Leonard (Johnny Galecki) and Sheldon (Jim Parsons). Together with co-workers Howard (Simon Helberg of Dr. Horrible) and Raj (Kunal Nayyar), they play Halo and Dungeons & Dragons, attend Star Trek conventions and costume contests, and postulate about quantum mechanics and string theory. When Penny (Kaley Cuoco), a cute Cheesecake Factory waitress, moves in next door, Leonard tries to get her attention without abandoning his esoteric lifestyle. Hilarity ensues.

Although the show does play to some stereotypes, it does so respectfully. Leonard, Sheldon, Howard, and Raj are respected by their peers and are successful in and fulfilled by their careers and hobbies. The humor arises not from lampooning what it means to be a geek as much as it does by highlighting the culture clash that occurs when geeks try to interact with the rest of society. Besides, how could the show poke fun at geeks when the geeks in the audience can empathize with so many of the jokes? This is a show about laughing with, not at, the heroes.

Although adorable and well-intentioned Leonard is ostensibly the star of the show, the scenes are often stolen by Sheldon, who exaggerates the geek archetype by proving himself completely devoid of emotion. Imagine a creature as logical as Spock but with a complete unawareness of the existence of other organisms' emotions or how to be sensitive to them. Such extreme snarkiness is unattractive, but it makes Sheldon's occasional humanity all the more surprising.

Take this scene from the second season's Christmas episode. Sheldon, not knowing what price range his gift from Penny will fall under, has prepared several gifts to give her based on the value of what he receives. Once he has received and evaluated her gift, he intends to sneak away to choose the appropriate reciprocation.

Would any of us have reacted any differently? (The fact that you're reading Showbits in the first place suggests "no".)

From the opening number performed and sung by Barenaked Ladies to the epilogue, each episode is a riot of intelligent, witty humor. If you liked the superior stylings of Frasier, you'll like Big Bang Theory. My thanks to those who took a chance on introducing me to this series for Christmas.

Beantown Is Geektown

02-Nov-09 2:22 PM by
Filed under Potpourri, Star Trek, Star Wars; 4 comments.

The passing of Halloween means the holidays are nearly upon us — but if you're a geek in Boston, then there are far more significant festivities headed your way. The biggest and best celebrities of science fiction will be coming to Massachusetts for three different events this month:

• On Saturday, November 14th, the touring "Star Wars In Concert" comes to the TD Garden for both a 3:00 PM matinee and an 8:00 PM performance. The concert is described as "John Williams' breathtaking score from the epic Star Wars saga … performed by a live symphony orchestra and chorus, accompanied by a stunning video montage on an enormous LED screen." Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) has been narrating this concert, though it's unclear if that's only at specific venues. Us Bostonians are no stranger to hearing Mr. Williams' soundtracks performed live, as the composer is also the director emeritus of the renowned Boston Pops Orchestra and often serves as guest conductor, but a dedicated concert to this particular score is a rare treat. Tickets are $32.50, $52.50, or $72.50, plus applicable taxes and fees.

• That same weekend is the New England Fan Experience (NEFX) sci-fi convention. Star Trek headliners include Bostonian Leonard Nimoy (Spock Prime) as well as John de Lancie (Q), though the former will be available only on Saturday, competing with the aforementioned Star Wars concert. Online tickets (via a Web site that is remarkably reminiscent of a GeoCities page) are available through November 6th for $45 each, or for $50 at the door.

• NEFX 2009 is held a week earlier than in 2008, avoiding the conflict that occurred last year with the annual Super Megafest, traditionally held the weekend before Thanksgiving. That means this year, you can attend NEFX one week and Super Megafest the next! The latter is held in Framingham, less than a half-hour west of Boston. The expo — which features an unusual amalgam of sci-fi actors, comic book artists, TV show stars, and pro wrestlers — will this year present Brent Spiner (Star Trek's Data), Ray Park (Star Wars' Darth Maul and, more recently, G.I. Joe's Snake Eyes), and James Marsters (Buffy's Spike). In addition to signings, each star also has a half-hour Q&A session, though the schedule is unknowable prior to the event: an email from its coordinator informed me, "No, panels will not be posted on the site. Most celebs will do Q&A sessions both days. However sat is probably the better day to see more Q&A sessions." Last year I happened to show up just in time to see Jonathan Frakes; otherwise I would've been out of luck. The actual show floor is quite small but packs a lot into it. Tickets for the entire November 21-22 weekend are only $20.

Though the two conventions offer cheaper admittance than the orchestral concert, they also have the most potential to drain your allowance, based on how many celebrity autographs you want to go home with; typical fees range from $20 to $50 or more per signing. This will be my third Super Megafest, and I usually budget $100 for at least three autographs.

If you'll be attending either the Star Wars matinee or the Super Megafest, be sure to say hello to Showbits!

A New Star Trek for a New Generation

08-May-09 6:32 PM by
Filed under Reviews, Star Trek; 6 comments.

My father with his oldest and youngest sons

My father with his oldest and youngest sons

After years of cautious optimism, this is the week we've long lived and prospered for: the return of Star Trek to the silver screen. Much has changed in the seven years since the last film, including the cancellation of the TV series Enterprise, marking not only the end of a continuous 18-year run for the franchise on the small screen, but also a changing of the guard. A familiar cadre of talent had run Star Trek for decades — into the ground, some would say. The 2009 film, directed and produced by J.J. Abrams and starring mostly unknowns, could either invigorate or distort Star Trek. With my father (who introduced me to the show in 1987) and my oldest brother, we were there for last night's premiere. How did we — dedicated and casual Star Trek fans, young and old — react?

I'll answer for me: The first ten minutes had me in tears. That isn't hyperbole or dramatic effect; it's literal truth. This action-packed opening sequence is so tragic, yet so heroic; and what it does to the Star Trek universe is terrible, yet also elegant and necessary. This film is both a prequel and a reboot, documenting the first voyage of Kirk, Spock, and company — but it's not the same ship and crew we remember from 1966. There are differences, both subtle and profound, which the opening sequence makes possible, thus giving the creative team the leeway they need to make something both fresh and familiar.

Fans will find much to like here, such as in nods to Trek lore that don't feel forced, be it the death of a character or Chekov's accent. But there's more going on here than in the details, such as the recasting of the iconic crew. I found it surprisingly easy to accept fresh faces in roles that we've long identified with particular actors, and these newcomers' performances are mostly true to the characters as originally written, without being mockeries. Sulu, Chekov, and Scotty each get notable scenes; Bones and Uhura, a bit more. But this adventure is really about the young, brash Spock and Kirk. These aren't the older, wiser Starfleet officers we're accustomed to, yet I can imagine Chris Pine's Kirk acting and reacting just as William Shatner's Kirk would've under these circumstances.

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Looking Back on the Future of Star Trek

14-Mar-09 2:43 PM by
Filed under Star Trek, Trailers; leave a comment.

This week, the Star Trek franchise turned exactly 42.5 years old. Despite being a not particularly noteworthy milestone, I used the occasion to finally watch the show's 40th anniversary special. The special, hosted by Leonard Nimoy, aired on the History Channel in February 2007 and will be included in next month's release of TOS Season 1 on Blu-Ray. Though the primary purpose of the documentary is to showcase the then-recently-concluded Christie's auction of thousands of Star Trek props, it also features several stars of the franchise's first four shows reflecting on their roles. I found the most striking observation came from Kate Mulgrew: "I don't know a lot of doctors and lawyers who watch doctors and lawyers shows — but almost every scientist I've ever known loved Star Trek." It's a sentiment consistent with the need to have shows like Star Trek on the air.

The franchise's 726 episodes and ten movies are condensed into this other 40th anniversary tribute, which for some reason was uploaded to YouTube just last week. The video — set to one of my favorite instrumental pieces, the orchestral suite from "The Inner Light" — is a brief visual tour of the entire history of Star Trek's two-hundred-year history. Considering how many characters there are to fit into the montage's seven-minute length, you'll forgive the editor if he transitions from one character to the next a bit too swiftly.

I was moved by how familiar I found each of these characters, and how glad I was to see them again. But then, I shouldn't be surprised: Star Trek was on the air consistently for 18 years, making it a constant companion for roughly two-thirds of my life. You could argue it was just a TV show (in which case I wonder what you're doing reading this blog), but every day without a Trek seems dark, as the program represents a hope for humanity.

With the cancellation of Enterprise, television has been without a Star Trek for four years. Now we stand on the cusp of a new Star Trek film — the first one in seven years, the longest span between any two Star Trek movies ever. This movie has the potential to reenergize the franchise and bring it back not only to the public consciousness, but to the television screen. It will be a long time before we can effectively measure the film's success and impact — but it will be only two months before we will have the full feature to judge, and not just this trailer:

(Hat tip to Dayton Ward)

Back to the Future

23-Oct-07 4:16 PM by
Filed under Humor, Star Trek, Television; 1 comment.

It was ten years ago that I first became aware of The Daily Show with Craig Kilborn. The political commentary and satire that are the show's hallmarks provided welcome relief from the doom and gloom of daily newspapers and evening news. The show lasted only a short time with its first host but has enjoyed great success with Kilborn's successor, Jon Stewart.

Now the entire archives of the Stewart era are available for free online viewing at the show's official Web site. Comedy Central's library features an easy-to-use slider for calling up specific days, months, and years of episodes, as well as offering a standard keyword search. It's easy to find and watch classic interviews such as with Scott Bakula or Jeri Ryan, or more recent episodes such as an aforementioned critique of Representative Wu's analysis of the White House administration:




(Hat tip to Slashdot)

TNG at 20: The Voyage Continues

26-Sep-07 6:00 PM by
Filed under Star Trek; 1 comment.

Twenty years ago this autumn, I was a sophomore in college. I remember watching the premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation (or TNG) with friends. While most of us were fans of speculative fiction, we had little idea of how entertaining and influential TNG would become.

I had grown up on the writings of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke, but I had watched the original 1960s Star Trek only in reruns. During freshman year, I had fought for the dorm lounge television with people who preferred The Late Show With David Letterman over some old show with people wearing colorful pajamas, odd makeup, or both. But we were a small but dedicated band, and we made it to the stars. Among the friends I met then was my future wife.

Over the course of many late nights and foosball games, I learned about the United Federation of Planets, its Starfleet, and the Prime Directive that forbade its explorers from interfering in the internal affairs or development of alien worlds. The so-called "Wagon Train to the stars" combined Westerns with ray guns, and mythology with scientific speculation.

By the time TNG began, I was indeed a Trekkie — or "Trekker," as some prefer — having learned the cant among the franchise's fans: phasers, warp speed, and the Vulcan nerve pinch and salute. Of the eventual six movies with the space opera's original cast, the best two — Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and IV: The Voyage Home — had already been released. Thanks to magazines such as Starlog and various "technical manuals," I learned about transporters and Jeffries tubes (the access tunnels throughout starships, named after an original series art director). Around Thanksgiving of 1987, I would attend my first science fiction convention, one run by Creation Entertainment in New York.

It's also worth remembering the context into which this Enterprise was launched — that, despite the success of multimedia franchises such as Planet of the Apes and Star Wars, there was little genre entertainment on television at that time. As we look forward to 2007's premieres of Heroes, Lost, or Battlestar Galactica: Razor, among others, note that 20 years ago, there was only Stephen Spielberg's anthology Amazing Stories, horror drama Friday the 13th: the Series, and another Earth-based movie spin-off, Starman. Weak visual effects, even weaker writing, and a lack of interest among mainstream viewers and networks had doomed all but the U.K.'s Doctor Who to short lifespans or syndication.

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Fascinating

21-Feb-07 8:00 AM by
Filed under Celebrities, Star Trek; leave a comment.

FatFreeFilm, a podcast by and for directors, has an interview with Leonard Nimoy. Topics include his transition from acting to directing to photography; experiences behind the camera of Star Trek III and Three Men and a Baby; the hardship of independent film; the digital revolution; and the benefits of being typecast as a Vulcan.

I am not a filmmaker, nor do I have any aspirations to be — but I nonetheless found Mr. Nimoy's insider perspective engaging.