Posts by Ken Gagne

Sci-fi geek extraordinaire, Ken supports the arts a performer, moderator, and movie-goer. When not appearing on stage or in films such as Fever Pitch, he is a freelance writer, Apple II enthusiast, and Showbits webmaster. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

A Star Trek Christmas with family

24-Dec-17 9:30 AM by
Filed under Star Trek; 1 comment.

It's Christmas Eve, and like many people, I'm spending it with family. And my family? They're spending it with Star Trek.

I have my father to thank for getting me into Star Trek. As a kid, I was a huge nerd: while the other kids were playing baseball and street hockey, I was playing Super Mario Bros. and Dungeons & Dragons. It didn't exactly make me popular, which was hard. It would've helped if my dad had signed me up for karate lessons or Boy Scouts, like all the other kids. Instead, on Monday, September 28, 1987, he sat me down to watch a new television show. It was the sequel to a show he'd watched when he was younger, and he thought we'd enjoy the new one together.

That was the first time I saw Star Trek.

Wow! I'd read fantasy novels, but this was my first exposure to science fiction. It not only expanded my imagination, but it taught me so much. Captain Picard taught me that the way to resolve differences isn't by firing phasers, but through diplomacy. And the android character, Data, taught me that you could be smart and have no social skills and still be a valued member of a team — something I'd never experienced before.

Star Trek was a huge influence, not only on me, but on my relationship with my dad. We watched Star Trek together every week for 18 years. Mom never watched it with us — she was usually doing laundry, and when you have four sons, there's ALWAYS laundry. Star Trek was something unique that Dad and I shared.

In the Star Trek community, April 5 is considered a holiday: First Contact Day. It's on April 5, 2063 — just 46 years from now — that humanity makes first contact with an alien species, when the Vulcan science vessel the T'Plana-Hath detects the warp signature of Zefram Cochrane's test flight of the Phoenix and traces it back to Bozeman, Montana. So, on April 5, 2016, I made the traditional meal of pierogis — Zefram Cochrane's favorite food — and watched the movie Star Trek: First Contact.

Even though the movie has a happy ending, and I'd seen it a dozen times before, this time, when I got to the end, I cried. Inconsolably, I cried — because a month earlier, Dad had passed away… just six months shy of his fiftieth wedding anniversary, and five months before Star Trek Beyond.

When Dad died, I wrote the obituary, I gave the eulogy, and I put together the slideshow that played at the funeral reception. I set it to the orchestral suite from The Next Generation episode "The Inner Light". When Mom heard it, she asked me what that beautiful music was; I said I'd tell her later.

I'd coincidentally ordered the complete The Next Generation series on DVD just before Dad died, and it arrived the day after his funeral. I started spending one night a week at Mom's to keep her company. One night, I said, "Let's watch some TV." I popped in "The Inner Light", and we watched it together. When it was done, I turned to her, tears in my eyes, and she said, "That was great." I was glad she'd enjoyed it; my job was done.

But what happened next, I couldn't've predicted, not in a million light years.

Mom asked, "Do you have any more?"

Yes — I have all seven seasons!!

She said, "Well, if you're going to keep spending one night a week here, let's watch another episode every week."

I could not have been more stunned if she'd shot me with a Romulan disruptor.

I drew up a list of all 178 episodes and trimmed it down to just the ones I thought she'd like — but every now and then, I need to revise. Mom must've been paying attention when Dad and I watched the show 25 years ago, because one night, as I was preparing the next episode, she asked, "Does this one have the Borg?"

The cybernetic organisms that are Captain Picard's greatest foe?! No, I wasn't planning on showing you those, Mom… Do you want to watch them? "Sure!" For every episode we watch, Mom expresses interest in watching two more. She even joined me that summer to see Star Trek Beyond — the movie that Dad never got to see.

I love watching this show with Mom. Sometimes, I glance over at her to make sure she hasn't fallen asleep. And she never has — she's really enjoying this! And she confessed that sometimes she looks over at me. Even if we've made popcorn or some other snack, she sees mine going untouched as I stare raptly at the TV, completely entranced — like I'm a little kid, watching Star Trek for the first time with my dad.

Star Trek has become something unique that Mom and I share — something that none of my brothers have. And it's also a way to keep my Dad's memory alive. When Dad died, I thought I'd lost my Star Trek buddy. I never imagined that my mom would step in to fill that void.

My father has always been and always shall be my friend: he's the one who flew me to the stars. But when our ship lost its captain, it was Mom who took the helm and kept us flying true.

Merry Christmas, everybody.

Rogue One is a one-hit wonder

24-Dec-16 9:30 AM by
Filed under Potpourri, Star Wars; 2 comments.

This holiday season marks several milestones, including the first standalone Star Wars movie. Rogue One debuted this month and is set immediately before the events of 1977's Episode IV: A New Hope, answering several of the questions raised by that movie. In many ways, Rogue One defies what we've come to expect from a Star Wars movie: there is no opening scroll, no Jedi, and no hope — this is a dark movie, more akin to a war film, and is inappropriate for children. That's all in stark contrast to the lighter fare of the original trilogy, which resulted in Kenner toys being popular Christmas gifts; I would be astonished and mildly horrified if any of Rogue One's cast were found under the tree this year.

For all those differences, I liked Rogue One. It belongs in the Star Wars universe and shows a different side of it, both establishing and emphasizing the enormity of the Empire and the desperation and necessity of the Rebel Alliance. There are plenty of hooks and tie-ins to A New Hope that longtime fans will appreciate — though I can't imagine that anyone not well-versed in Star Wars lore will even understand this "standalone" film.

To that end, I was surprised and disappointed that Rogue One had no apparent bearing on The Force Awakens. Last year's Episode VII raised many questions, and it seemed reasonable that the next Star Wars film to be released would answer some of those questions. After all, this franchise is now being developed by the studio responsible for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which practically requires you see three movies a year; I expected Disney to give us every reason to see every Star Wars film as well. But ultimately, the characters of Rogue One, while well-written and acted, are forgettable — I walked out of the theater not remembering almost anyone's names.

The story is co-written by John Knoll, Photoshop co-creator and ILM special effects maven. I interviewed Knoll nine years ago about the impact TRON had on the evolution and acceptance of computer-generated special effects. Knoll was already an industry luminary a decade ago, but I had no idea he'd go on to earn a writing credit for such a blockbuster film.

While Rogue One expands the Star Wars universe, it doesn't move it forward: the franchise was fine without it, and it's not required viewing for continued enjoyment of the new trilogy. I saw The Force Awakens twice in theaters and then bought the Blu Ray; by comparison, while I much enjoyed Rogue One and recommend it without hesitation to Star Wars fans, I doubt I'll ever see it again.

There are many good holiday movies in theaters this season, of which Rogue One is but one. But even Star Wars can get into the Christmas spirit, as seen by our favorite Wookie singing one of his favorite carols:

That's our obligatory Christmas Eve video — but there's still one more occasion to mark: this month is Showbits' tenth anniversary. It was ten years ago, on December 15, 2006, that the site launched, reviving a message board I'd previously operated on the Syndicomm Online commercial service. It was a member of that board, Peter Watson, who encouraged me to reimagine the bulletin board as a Web 2.0 blog. I chose the WordPress CMS with which to do so — a decision that has profoundly impacted my professional development and career.

While I may no longer blog often on Showbits, WordPress remains a tool I use daily to promote causes I'm passionate about. My thanks to Peter, who remains my friend to this day, for setting me down this path.

Merry Christmas, Hanukkah, and holiday season to all!

The Wishgranter

10-Sep-16 10:30 AM by
Filed under Films; Comments Off on The Wishgranter

Happy birthday to a special someone! May all your wishes come true.

Unboxing Star Trek: The Original Series

08-Sep-16 1:00 PM by
Filed under Star Trek; 1 comment.

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the debut of Star Trek, when "The Man Trap", premiered. CBS and Paramount are celebrating the occasion with the release of Star Trek — 50th Anniversary TV and Movie Collection, a set that includes all of the original crew's television, cinematic, and animated adventures, including the first time The Animated Series (TAS) has appeared on Blu Ray.

I already have all the movies on Blu Ray and TAS on standard DVD, so I went with the less expensive and redundant option of purchasing just TOS on Blu Ray in the "Epik Pack", released just this past June. It's not the first Star Trek box set I've added to my library this year: This past April, I purchased Star Trek: The Next Generation's Blu Ray box set. But in the space between buying and watching the TNG set, I unboxed it.

Unboxing is a strange, voyeuristic genre of YouTube video that I don't entirely understand the appeal of — but for my first unboxing of a DVD, I was happy to go all-out, green-screening myself onto the bridge of the Enterprise NCC-1701D while wearing loose-fitting Starfleet pajamas, courtesy Showbits contributor GeneD.

I couldn't unbox TNG and not TOS, so here is my less special effects-laden opening of that set:

I bought this set in time for the release of Star Trek Beyond, which my mom wanted to see in theaters, despite not being familiar with the TOS characters. As quickly as I could, I brought her up to speed with viewings of just two episodes: "Journey to Babel", which introduced Spock's father Sarek; and "The Trouble With Tribbles", which is not only a fun episode but also one that will later tie into Deep Space Nine, should we ever get that far.

Given time, I would've shown her even more TOS episodes — "Space Seed", "Mirror, Mirror", "City on the Edge of Forever" — as well as some of the movies — The Wrath of Khan; The Search fo Spock, The Voyage Home. But time between this box set's release and Star Trek Beyond's was short, so I added only Star Trek (2009) to our viewing schedule.

The Original Series is unique in being the only live-action Star Trek I've not seen every episode of. For example, I'd never seen "Journey to Babel" and was impressed how much of Spock's lore I recognized from the 2009 movie — I didn't realize just how respectful the scriptwriters and director were to the source material. My mom prefers TNG, but it was fun to watch some TOS with her, especially since TNG can't give us the experience of both of us seeing something for the first time.

Still, now that we have this set in hand (and unboxed!), perhaps we'll sneak in some classic episodes every now and then — especially so as to better familiarize ourselves with the era of Star Trek Discovery.

Star Trek at Seattle's EMP Museum

08-Sep-16 9:00 AM by
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Today is the day Star Trek turns fifty years old. On September 8, 1966 — more than a decade before I was born — Gene Roddenberry launched his "Wagon Train to the stars", forever changing the landscape of television, film, science fiction, and the human imagination.

I'm not doing anything in particular to celebrate this specific day, nor have I gathered with other Trekkies to do so: I didn't attend last month's Las Vegas convention or even last week's New York convention. But it has nonetheless been a Trekful year, with multiple viewings of Star Trek Beyond, rediscovering The Next Generation with my mom, and news of the imminent launch of Star Trek Discovery.

But perhaps the most poignant Star Trek experience I had this year was my July visit to Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds at Seattle's EMP Museum. Founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the Experience Music Project Museum temporarily exhibited more than a hundred artifacts from throughout the Star Trek universe: costumes, uniforms, weapons, sets, ships, and more. It was powerful to see touchstones and artifacts from so many memorable episodes and stories made real, removed from their 2D narratives and brought to 3D life. Although I couldn't touch any of them, it nonetheless made me feel closer to both the show and my dad, who introduced me to Star Trek in 1987.

The EMP website doesn't specify how long the exhibit will be running, but I encourage any and all Trekkies to enjoy it while they can — it's the next best thing to the Star Trek Experience that ran at the Las Vegas Hilton 1998–2008. In the meantime, please enjoy my photos from the exhibit.

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Star Trek Beyond review podcast

26-Aug-16 10:40 AM by
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Last month saw the release of Star Trek Beyond, the third film in the JJ Abrams / Kelvin / Handsome universe that began with the 2009 reboot and continued in 2013 with Star Trek Into Darkness. Although I was excited for any new live-action media in the Star Trek franchise, I wasn't sure what to expect from this outing. The 2009 film was a welcome and necessary update to the formula, while the 2013 film was mired in too many weird plot devices and allusions. With a new director and scriptwriter, the latter including Simon Pegg ("Scotty"), would Star Trek Beyond prove a fitting closure to what was originally intended to be a trilogy?

Family photo at Star Trek Beyond premiere

The family that treks together!

Yes. Star Trek Beyond was utterly delightful, with a perfect mix of action and character moments. While the 2009 film may've been decried as being too heavy on action, Star Trek Beyond bookends with intense, concentrated action sequences, leaving the middle of the story to focus on pairs of characters: Kirk and Chekhov, Scotty and Jaylah, Spock and Bones, Uhura and Sulu. There was none of the stereotypes or pettiness we saw in Star Trek Into Darkness, instead allowing the characters to demonstrate genuine introspection, growth, and camaraderie.

Whereas I used this blog to dissect the previous two Star Trek films in prose, for Star Trek Beyond, I took to the air with my friend Sabriel Mastin, the only person I know who can out-recollect me on any Star Trek series. We co-opted Polygamer, my biweekly audio podcast about equality and diversity in games, to produce a bonus episode in which we reviewed and raved about the movie. Give it a listen:

On a personal note, I saw Star Trek Beyond opening weekend with the KansasFest 2016 crew. Conspicuously missing was my father, who had passed away just a few months earlier. He's the one who got me into Star Trek in the first place, and we'd seen the last six films together in theaters. It was tough to sit through this film without him… but a week later, I saw the movie again with my oldest brother and our mom, for whom this was her first theatrical Star Trek outing. Although she's not as mired in Trek lore as some, she nonetheless found the film exciting to watch and was glad she went.

There's talk of a fourth film with this crew (though sadly, without Chekhov, in memory of the late Anton Yelchin; and without Ambassador Spock, in memory of Leonard Nimoy). I'm eager to spend the intervening years continuing to bring my mom up to speed in time to better enjoy the Enterprise's next voyage!

Unboxing Star Trek: The Next Generation on Blu-Ray

05-Apr-16 9:00 AM by
Filed under Star Trek; 3 comments.

In 2010, I bought the complete box set of Star Trek: The Next Generation on DVD. It was an indulgence I'd long lusted after, and once I finally had it… it sat in its box, unopened and unwatched.

A year later, I bought my first Blu-Ray player and began lusting after a new prize: The Next Generation in high definition. I blogged at that time about the significant work the studio had done to remaster this classic television series, and theatrical screenings of highlights of each updated season were proof that my dusty old DVDs fell short. I sold the old box set to a friend last fall but left its space open on my shelf for a high-def replacement.

The only thing keeping me from buying the complete series (again) was that each of the seven seasons was available individually only; there was no box set collecting the entire run at a more affordable price. Such a set was announced just yesterday: Star Trek: The Next Generation — The Complete Series: Epik Pack launches on June 7 for $208.99.

But I didn't know that a month ago, which is when I felt the itch to splurge. Some online searches unearthed an alternative to waiting for a domestic release: Amazon.co.uk sells a complete box set of region-free Blu-Ray discs for only £66, or roughly $100 USD including shipping. Such a deal! I was sold.

The result of my purchases recently arrived and, just in time for today being First Contact Day, is the subject of my latest unboxing video:

I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation with my father; this box set, ordered while he was still alive, arrived two weeks later, the day after his funeral. Rather than being a melancholy reminder of our time together, it's serving as the surprising foundation for a new relationship: my mother has now expressed an interest in discovering Star Trek, which she never paid much attention to before. I thought I'd lost my Star Trek buddy and am astonished and thrilled to find I have a new partner with whom to share these voyages. Her introductory episode was "The Inner Light", after which we're going back to the first season and progressing chronologically through these episodes that focus on human-interest stories:

This box set was a perfect purchase at a time it was most needed. I look forward to boldly going through my first Star Trek, seeing it as never before, sharing it for the first time with my mom.

Darth Santa

24-Dec-15 9:30 AM by
Filed under Potpourri, Star Wars; Comments Off on Darth Santa

Tis the season to believe in the Force. Star Wars: The Force Awakens arrived in theaters last week and smashed all opening weekend box office records. I knew it was a cultural phenomenon, but it was a small thing that made me realize how deeply it had penetrated into our awareness: this sign on my state's highway.

The Force Awakens is a fantastic movie that made me have all the feels: I was exuberant, joyful, angry, anguished, and excited. I loved every moment I spent watching it. After having some time to absorb and reflect on the experience, I am a little disappointed in the direction they took the script. But that does nothing to diminish what a stellar film it is, and it leaves me eager to see if those decisions are followed through in the pending sequels.

Episode VII is the first Star Wars movie to be released in a month other than May. Does that make it a Christmas movie? Probably not, but certainly it's a holiday season movie, with families gathering to enjoy time away from work and school at the movie theater.

But the characters of Star Wars aren't necessarily people you want to be with on Christmas morning. In fact, I might rather a visit from Krampus than Darth Vader:

By the time of Episode VII, Darth Vader is well and truly dead — but true villainy is timeless, and no matter what comes of this new trilogy, we'll always remember our first Sith.

(Full disclosure: I support Corridor Digital on Patreon.)