Archive for the 'Star Trek' Category

Whether your favorite captain is William Shatner or Chris Pine, a Shakespeare-quoting Frenchman or a lady with a bun of steel, Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek is sci-fi at its best — and sometimes its worst. All check out our Star Trek: Discovery podcast, Transporter Lock!

My first Star Trek convention

03-Jan-14 12:21 PM by
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This past June, I attended my first Star Trek convention.

"WHAT?!" you say. "You've been a Trekkie since TNG debuted in 1987, and you've never attended a con?! What's wrong with you?!"

For one, there hasn't been an abundance of Star Trek conventions in Boston, at least not that I've been aware of. Two, I've traditionally gotten my Star Trek celebrity fix at Super Megafest, where I've had the honor of meeting Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, and Marina Sirtis. Three, I wasn't really sure what a Star Trek convention would consist of. Video game conventions like MAGFest or PAX East have panels, workshops, seminars, and speeches on topics from programming to gamification to gender representation to crowdfunding. I didn't imagine that a Star Trek convention would boast such variety.

But when Creation Entertainment brought to Boston a convention featuring almost the entire Next Generation cast — only Stewart, Frakes, Diana Muldar, and Wil Wheaton would be absent — as well as actors from TOS and DS9 (though none from Voyager, Enterprise, or the new movies), I knew it'd be worth at least the short trek into Beantown.

As it turned out, my expectation of the con agenda's homogeneity was right on the mark. Other than a costume contest, every session was dedicated solely to celebrity Q&A, with almost no preamble, presentation, or even moderation — the actors simply took the stage and immediately turned to the audience for topics. Almost no actor appeared alone, instead being paired with someone with whom they shared screen time, such as Michael Dorn with Suzie Plakson (Worf and K’Ehleyr), Brent Spiner with Gates McFadden (Data and Beverly Crusher), and Rene Auberjonois with Nana Visitor (Odo and Kira Nerys). The questions were fun, ranging from personable ("What was it like working with so-and-so?") to technical ("Why doesn't the Prime Directive apply to a planet's flora as well as its fauna?"). My favorite line was from someone who had done his research, who presented this fact to Dorn: "We watched every episode of TNG, and the number of times the captain took one of Worf's suggestions in seven years was only once!" The audience roared to learn what a pansy our favorite Klingon was.

IMG_3262 The best panel was Saturday night, when Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Gates McFadden, Michael Dorn, Marinia Sirtis, and Denise Crosby all shared the stage while ostensibly being moderated by William Shatner. From the camaraderie exuded by the crew, it was easy to imagine the show was still on the air, with everyone working together every day and having bonded into a family. At one point when discussing an issue of diversity, Shatner said, "Let's ask our resident black person." Dorn appeared ready to speak as Shatner turned and, pointedly ignoring the Klingon, asked, "LeVar?" Dorn immediately clammed up, got up from his chair, walked to the corner of the stage, folded his arms, and pouted. Only a hug from Burton brought him back to the group. My co-attendee Gene related more anecdotes from this panel in his blog.

The auditorium in which these panels were held, part of the Hynes Convention Center, was massive, seating thousands of people. Although some seats were better than others, there was never concern about not getting into a panel, unlike the massively overcrowded Super Megafest.

As fun as these hour-long sessions were, I preferred the one-on-one interaction offered by autograph sessions, no matter how brief. I got to tell Michael Dorn that I had backed his failed Kickstarter project for the movie Through the Fire. He reflected that fans can be rabidly loyal, but only within a genre, as he found when trying to crowdfund his romantic comedy. I was going to tell Gates McFadden that I'm a fan of her photography with her Beverly Crusher action figure, but she beat me to it when she saw me pick up her business card advertising exactly that exploit, telling me I should check it out. I told LeVar Burton how much I enjoyed the PBS music remix of Reading Rainbow. There was surprisingly no line for Denise Crosby, who was an absolute sweetheart. I reflected how surprised I was that they actually killed off her Lois & Clark character — "Denise Crosby always comes back!" I insisted. When I asked her to make the autograph out to Ken, she said, "A name I know well — my husband's name is Ken." I quipped, "You have excellent taste." She actually had to put down the pen for a moment while she laughed.

All of the above happened on Saturday, and I would've had my fill then, except that the DS9 actors I wanted to meet were attending Sunday only. After a power outage delayed opening of the convention hall that morning, I got in to meet Nana Visitor. I thanked her for portraying the strong yet nuanced female character of Kira. She demurred, "That's just the way she was written." Still, I thanked her for bringing the character to life, though I neglected to suggest how different the show would've been with Michelle Forbes. I also commented how surprised I was to see Visitor appear on the news not for her acting work, but as a person on the street affected by Hurricane Sandy. She laughed, acknowledging that of course she'd be caught on TV without any makeup on!

I got Visitor's autograph twice: once for myself, and once for a friend's daughter (who I described as my niece), who had just started watching DS9 as her introduction to Trek. Visitor asked how old my niece is, and I guessed (correctly!) eight, which gave her pause — DS9 is pretty dark for such a young person to be watching. But it's how old I was when I started with TNG, and we all have to start somewhere!

Next in line was Rene Auberjonois, who earlier in the day had been selling simple line drawings of Odo's bucket in exchange for a donation to Doctors Without Borders — a worthy cause, but I wanted the standard 8"x11" autographed glossy. When he started signing my photo, I asked him to make it out to my first name. "Well, Ken," he hesitated, "here's the deal: I'm personalizing autographs only if you make a $5 donation to Doctors Without Borders." Given that I'd spent almost all my money on other autographs and had already spent $25 to get this far in Auberjonois's line, I felt a bit ambushed. Had this surcharge been advertised sooner, or if the autograph had been $5 less, I might not have been so caught off-guard. Fortunately, when I emptied my wallet on the table, showing him the only $4 I had, he accepted that donation. I made up the difference and then some when I got home, as again, it's a great cause, and I admire Auberjonois for lending his celebrity status to it — I just thought the delivery could've been better.

STcreat13_10 The last treat of the weekend were the photograph opportunities, which are sold separately from the autograph sessions. If you want to drop a ton of money very quickly, autographs and photographs are the way to go. Photographs ranged from $80 (William Shatner) to $40 (almost everyone else), and autographs were $90 (Shatner again) to $20 (Suzie Plakson). Not rich enough for your blood? A single photo with Shatner and the entire TNG panel he moderated was $379 — oof! The saving grace is that these prices are valid for one or two guests in the same photo, and my cohort Gene invited me to share the stage with (and expense of) LeVar Burton and George Takei. I appreciated his generous offer and graciously accepted!

I enjoyed my first Star Trek convention, but although I can imagine many other sessions and topics it could offer, I'm hardpressed to imagine that this con's 2014 return to Boston will be much different from the 2013 event. I'd like to eventually collect autographs from the entire TNG cast — I'm currently missing only Wil Wheaton and Diana Muldar, and their attendance would lure me back. I'd also like to meet more actors from the three post-DS9 shows, as well as some of the shows' directors, producers, and writers. The Boston con featured Morgan Gendel, author of award-winning TNG episode "The Inner Light", but how about getting Rick Berman, Brannon Braga, Manny Coto, or Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens?

Every Star Trek fan should attend at least one convention in her or his life. I can now say that I've attended mine!

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Star Trek Into Darkness' origins and impact

25-May-13 11:09 AM by
Filed under Films, Star Trek; 6 comments.

Four years after J. J. Abrams rebooted Gene Roddenberry's original television show, the youthful crew of the original NCC–1701 have again taken to space in Star Trek Into Darkness. As is now our tradition, my father and I attended the film's opening night. Two hours later, I left the theater feeling a way no other movie had ever left me: overwhelmed. The layers, implications, and consequences of the Enterprise's latest mission are too complex to be boiled down into a simple recommendation. Although I do wholeheartedly recommend this film, it's not enough to say that it's a good film, as it's much more than that.

I'd walked into the movie having successfully avoided all trailers, teasers, rumors, and revelations. I cannot promise I will do the same in this review, so proceed with caution. For example, the latest trailer has a single word that would've ruined for me the identity of the antagonist, which some might consider an already poorly kept secret — but even as I watched the film, I was never sure of myself right up until the big reveal. It would be impossible to comment on the film without including that moment.

Spock in flames

What better way to start a summer blockbuster than with a volcano?

More broadly than those specifics, it's important to first acknowledge that this is no longer Roddenberry's Star Trek. Some have criticized Abrams for dumbing down Star Trek from its ideological origins into a generic action-packed blockbuster. But with these two films, Star Trek has undergone a natural evolution from philosophy defined to philosophy realized. Star Trek is no longer about debates around tables and in turbolifts, as it so often was in The Next Generation, a series I adored. Now it is about making difficult decisions in the heat of the moment — and dealing with the consequences. The most talkative we see this crew of the Enterprise is Kirk's confrontation with Scotty, which does not go the way either Scotty or the audience expected; the look on his face says, "Did we really just pull the pin on this grenade?" Other conflicts, such as Uhura and Spock's spat, seem almost comically timed and forced. But even these moments move the story and the characters forward through challenging times. Just because the set has moved from a conference room to the heat of battle does not make the decisions any less difficult.

That gravity is carried by the excellent acting of the cast. Although the credits list the actors in alphabetical order, implying an ensemble cast, it is very much Kirk and Spock's show. Most everyone else gets their chances to shine: Scotty is integral to the plot; Bones and Uhura have some fantastic scenes; and Sulu's moment in the spotlight is the first time I've seen a hint of the man who will eventually captain the U.S.S. Excelsior. Chekov, unfortunately, is mostly wasted in this episode, serving as a poor substitute for Scotty. But the movie is ultimately about Kirk and Spock's friendship and their diametrical approaches to situations, as indicated by McCoy's answer to Kirk's early question, "If you were here, Spock, what would you do?" The returning cast is joined by Alice Eve (Men In Black 3) as Carol, Peter Weller (RoboCop) as Admiral Marcus, and Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) as John Harrison.

Harrison vs. Kirk

A new rivalry…
or an old one?

John Harrison? Yes, that is the name of our villain, at least at first. His early act of terrorism was brutally unwelcome here in Boston, where we had just suffered a similar tragedy. From there, his actions are pettier than I'd expect. His escape to the Klingon homeworld gave us a first glimpse at this re-imagined alien race, but they are otherwise a red herring. Harrison was neither conspiring with them nor enticing the Enterprise into a war with them. Given those missed opportunities, what was he going to do on Qo'noS — hide? It seems an unfitting and unambitious fate for the tyrant he eventually reveals himself to be. Had he succeeded, we might once again have had a movie where Kirk and Khan never come face-to-face — a missed opportunity from the 1982 film, finally realized in 2013.

Carol and Jim

Watch their love explode across the screen!

Cumberbatch's character is one of the film's many ties to the known Star Trek timeline. Another is Section 31, the brief mention of which elicited a gasp from this long-time fan. It indicates a familiarity with Star Trek lore, both the unaltered timeline that precedes Nero's incursion — Section 31, although introduced in Deep Space Nine, was alive and well in the age of Captain Archer — and the implications of what it could become in the future. The same occurs with the introduction of Carol Marcus: her introduction to Kirk produced little unique chemistry, but we know what it could become.

But no character, alien, or organization carried as much weight as a scene revisited from The Wrath of Khan. Kirk's rescue of the Enterprise came so suddenly that, when I realized what was happening, it hit me like a ton of bricks. "Not again!" I despaired. Leonard Nimoy's Spock had just said that Khan was defeated "at great cost" — a heavy statement: how many people can reflect on their own deaths, then be chilled by the knowledge that their murderer has risen from the grave? Now here we are, seeing it happen again, this time with Kirk as the human sacrifice. The captain who'd started the film with the proud proclamation of having never lost a member of his crew had more than a perfect record in mind; the agony with which he had, moments ago, apologized to the bridge for what he thought was their ultimate defeat was palpable. Kirk cares for every member of his ship as much as he cares for Spock — the latter being a friendship that is no less weighty for having been witnessed across only two films instead of two decades, as it was the last time Khan threatened the Enterprise. Kirk bookends the film by saving Spock's life, and the evolution we see is in Spock's reaction: from a detached betrayal of his captain to Starfleet, to a vengeance-fueled hunt his friend's killer. Through Kirk's selflessness, Spock has gotten in touch with the best and worst of his own humanity.

Spock and Kirk

Watch their love explode across the screen!… or not.

This scene, combined with using Khan as the film's protagonist, may suggest an unoriginality among the scriptwriters. Four years ago, Khan seemed the least likely candidate for the sequel, lest Abrams walk the same cinematic path laid out in decades past. But critics clamoring for this new generation of Star Trek to go on an original adventure need look only four years to the past, when the Romulan Nero arrived on the scene.

By contrast, this sequel is not a rehashing of an old plot but rather a brilliant exploration of destiny. How much of these characters' fates are their own to decide? Are Kirk and crew destined to always clash with Khan, no matter how much the circumstances may change? Just how far-reaching are the effects of Nero's destruction of Vulcan? The exhumation of the SS Botany Bay is a small change with dramatic consequences. Will the next film continue referring to the pivotal moment in time when a villain from the future set a new course for the galaxy?

With the full weight of Star Trek's history behind this movie, it is hard for me to say if this sequel is as much meant for a general audience as the 2009 reboot was. You can get away without knowing what Section 31 is, or who Carol Marcus becomes — but is Khan a good villain on his own merits? There is no reference to the Eugenics Wars, which may be too much backstory for one film to deliver, lest it become the preachy Trek it is trying to move away from. Not only his origin, but also his ambition, may be lost on an audience that is not as likely to respond to Khan's identity with "Holy crap!" than they are with "Who?"

Star Trek Into Darkness opening night

Star Trek: Generations.

For those filmgoers who take this film as just another summer blockbuster, there's still plenty to enjoy on just that level, and plenty to gripe about, too. As with any Trek (or even sci-fi in general), there are plenty of plot holes and technological inconsistencies. Some were elegantly addressed: when I wondered how Khan could beam himself to Qo'noS, they tied back into the 2009 film with a reference to Scotty's transwarp beaming technique, a direct result of Nero's temporal incursion. But then the question becomes: why send the Enterprise to Qo'noS when they could just beam there? Of course, the choice to plot a course into enemy territory furthered Admiral Marcus' agenda, but it still seems an oversight. Also, I think the film may've addressed this, but is within an explosive device the smartest place for Khan to have hidden his family? And, even if the Eugenics Wars was two hundred years ago, shouldn't at least one member of Starfleet have studied enough history to recognize the leader of the Augments? Or was plastic surgery part of Khan's transformation into John Harrison, that he might work alongside Section 31 without revealing the depths to which Admiral Marcus had plumbed for inspiration?

Still, most other scenes can be neatly explained. Marcus sharing the secret of Section 31 with Kirk seemed a faux pas, but I suspect Marcus never expected Kirk to come back from his next mission, taking the truth of the clandestine group's existence to his grave. The explosion of the 72 torpedoes first seemed heartless and cruel, especially given McCoy's involvement — what happened to "First do no harm"? When Kirk learned that the Augments had been extracted, his response took the words right out of my mouth: "I'll be damned." And the use of Khan's blood to save Kirk (which has its own implications for the future of Star Trek — is there anything Augment blood can't cure?) was foreshadowed not only by the tribble's resurrection, but also by the cure for the diseased girl, which was likely a dose of the same elixir. And sure, we knew Kirk wouldn't die, not so early in Pine's career in the role. But if only the admirable Pike had been afforded so heroic a death, or at least the peaceful one we can assume he was granted in the original timeline, rather than gunned down in cold blood — even if the latter was necessary to provide Kirk the drive to go after Harrison.

Whatever level you view this film on, it has special significance for its core audience. For someone who has seen all 726 episodes and 12 movies and read dozens of novels of Star Trek, I cannot take what J.J. Abrams has done here lightly. It is a powerful combination of fan service and creative license — a message of "I will use what you like, but you may not like how I use it." I almost cannot render judgment without seeing what comes next. Will Abrams continue to rely on the familiar, remixing it in unexpected ways? Or will he contribute something wholly original to the Trek universe? In a sense, he has already gone boldly, with his direction and pacing of this action-packed sequel. What more lies far beyond the stars for the Enterprise and her fans to discover?

Even Trekkies need cars & insurance

08-May-13 10:45 AM by
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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:

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!

We Are the Explorers

14-Apr-13 10:46 AM by
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Next month sees the return of several important sci-fi franchises to the silver screen: Star Trek, Superman, and Iron Man. Possibly the most important, the most relevant, of the three is Star Trek, as Gene Roddenberry's vision has long prognosticated the future, inspiring generations of scientists and explorers.

It is with that dream in mind that the Aerospace Industries Association has created a trailer promoting the past and future work of NASA, to be aired before next month's Star Trek Into Darkness. Said Dan Hendrickson, Director of Space Systems for the AIA:

When the Space Shuttle landed for the last time, we noticed that a public misconception seemed to be taking hold that the U.S. human spaceflight program was closed for good. Nothing could be further from the truth; in fact, more vehicles are being developed right now for human spaceflight than at any other point in history. Placing a trailer for Star Trek Into Darkness was the perfect opportunity to show that U.S. human spaceflight is alive and well, and that we’re making real, tangible progress toward an exciting future in space. We can leave audiences with a very simple message: NASA today, Starfleet tomorrow.

The trailer to be aired in theaters will be a 30-second version of "We Are the Explorers":

I find this spot inspirational (if a bit melodramatic) and reminiscent of both the opening sequence of Enterprise and the previous fans campaigns to save that series, which argued that Star Trek isn't just about entertainment; it's about motivating humanity to reach for the stars. Like NASA's previous PSAs, the above video has its own star power, being narrated by Peter Cullen, better known as the voice of Optimus Prime (and, less relevantly, Eeyore and Venger).

To produce a condensed trailer and buy airtime in theaters across the country, AIA went the crowdfunding route, giving fans the opportunity to participate in the evangelization of space exploration. The original goal of $33,000, which would put the commercial in fifty theaters, was reached in under a week. Their new goal is $94,000, "which would ensure that the space program trailer will play on 750 total screens and in at least one theater in every state across the U.S." according to StarTrek.com. You can contribute to the Indiegogo campaign until May 1.

Star Trek mosaic's Christmas landing

27-Dec-12 8:29 PM by
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This year, Star Trek: The Next Generation turned 25. The occasion was popularly celebrated with theatrical screenings and Blu-ray releases, but I wanted to commemorate the milestone personally as well, for this year marked the 25th anniversary of my introduction to the franchise. And I wanted to thank the person responsible for that turning point in my life: my father.

There exists a company called Fan Mosaics which operates on a tried-and-true theory: include your fans in your product, and their ego will guarantee a sale. I've previously and happily supplied my contact info to Paramount and CBS, and Fan Mosaics must've collaborated with them, as they reached out to me with an invitation: provide them with a photo, and they'd include it in a mosaic of the starship Enterprise NCC-1701D, absolutely free. Thousands of other fans had previously provided the photographic material for Fan Mosaic to assemble images of Kirk, Spock, and the original Enterprise, so I'm sure they felt confident letting me know that, if I wanted the final print, it'd be only $19.95 plus shipping.

Although the software to create photo mosaics is nothing extraordinary, I was charmed by the prospect of a visual representation of the community that has formed around Star Trek. My father made me a member of that group, and though he may not participate as enthusiastically as I do, he too belongs in that pantheon. It seemed appropriate for us to be included in the mosaic. I submitted a photo taken of us and my oldest brother at the opening of J.J. Abrams' Star Trek movie. Although it does not show any one of us close up, it is the most thematically appropriate photo I could think of to submit.

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Star-studded NASA PSAs

11-Dec-12 1:33 PM by
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It's my policy to not express political opinions in any public online venue, but I suspect readers of this blog will agree: NASA is underappreciated. The United States' National Aeronautics and Space Administration is one of the most advanced, intelligent, resourceful, and reliable agencies our government has. In the past year, it launched a Mars rover on a nine-month space journey, navigated it through seven minutes of terror, and successfully landed it within 1.5 miles of its intended target. The event was documented through an incredibly savvy Twitter account and a professional, informative, and dramatic video:

Yet the right people don't seem to appreciate these astonishing accomplishments. NASA knows that to reach the stars, they're going to need some star power — so they've recruited some celebrities to help get the word out.

In a recent series of public service announcements (PSAs), pop culture stars such as June Lockhart, Norah Jones, and Alex Trebek. Of course, you can't hope to trek across the stars without acknowledging the icons who have been there. Here's a PSA with Wil Wheaton:

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As Star Trek: The Next Generation turns 25, my 14 favorite episodes

28-Sep-12 1:08 PM by
Filed under Star Trek; 1 comment.
My father never signed me up for Little League or Boy Scouts or karate lessons. Instead, 25 years ago today, he sat me down to watch the premiere of the follow-up to a show he watched as a boy: Star Trek. The debut of The Next Generation in 1987 marked the first return of the show to television since The Original Series went off the air 18 years earlier. With TNG, Star Trek remained on TV for another 18 years, until the cancellation of Enterprise in 2005. It remained a weekly tradition for me and my father for that entire time, more than half my life thus far, and has defined more of my interests and ambitions than I can measure.
Star Trek: The Next Generation cast

They boldly went — and took me and my dad along for the ride.


TNG is now being re-released on Blu-ray DVD, including several bonus features, such as "The Origins of The Next Generation". "There are a lot of issues and challenges in the Eighties and Nineties and the end of the century that need talking about — and they need talking about in drama, because drama will move people, cause people to think much more than any street show," said Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. In the course of addressing those issues, Roddenberry and crew created some wonderful, memorable stories featuring a talented cast. I recounted many of them in a special package that friends Peter Watson, Gene Demaitre, and I put together for the show's 20th anniversary in 2007, but at no point did I specifically name my favorite episodes.

Since the cast and crew of TNG recently identified their favorites, I figured I should, too. So finally, out of 178 episodes, here are 14 that, in no particular order, stand out in my memory.

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Star Trek gets spoofed in John Scalzi's Redshirts

07-Jul-12 6:03 PM by
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RedshirtsGalaxyQuest was a funny movie for a general audience and hilarious for lovers of Star Trek. Conversely, I can't imagine anyone but Trekkies who will appreciate John Scalzi's latest book, Redshirts — but boy, will they love it!

Set on a fictional starship, the book parrots almost every element of the Star Trek universe — or, more precisely, the television show. When lowly ensigns start to realize that they're always the ones to die on away missions, and "main characters" never do, they start to look into exactly why. What they discover is as surprising as it is riveting.

I've read a few of Scalzi's other books (Old Man's War, Fuzzy Nation) and knew him to have a sense of humor, but it's never been as obvious as it is here. When an opening chapter can have the following happen to our then-protagonist: "But then he tripped and fell and a worm ate his face and he died anyway" — you know you're in for a good time. (You can read the first five chapters online.)

Yet after the story is done, three codas told from three different perspectives, making for a total of 70+ pages of "bonus" material, do more than pad out an otherwise relatively short tale. These chapters adopt a completely different tone, hitting a variety of emotional cues and balancing the story out.

Redshirts is a quick and fun read that you'll be sorry to see end — heck, it's even good enough to have its own theme song by Jonathan Coulton. I highly recommend it to all geeks.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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