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!

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

View all my book reviews on Goodreads

Star Trek: TNG on Blu-ray & silver screen

14-May-12 9:55 PM by
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As a geek, I may surprise you by not being beholden to the latest and greatest technology. In addition to cell phones and tablet computers, I'm not yet convinced of the need for Blu-ray DVDs. Their improvement over standard definition seems minimal, especially when a good BD player will upscale existing DVDs to take some advantage of a 1080p display.

However, it's hard for me to ignore the differences between the standard and high definition editions of a show like Star Trek. Having already remastered The Original Series (TOS) for Blu-ray, Paramount and CBS are now turning to The Next Generation (TNG). I hoped this announcement would not undermine my fairly recent investment in all seven seasons of TNG & DS9 on DVD, but this trailer suggests I am, in fact, missing out:

If you want a hands-on experience with TNG in high definition, a $22 sampler was released in January that included the show's two-part pilot, as well as episodes "Sins of the Father" and "The Inner Light". That disc apparently was sufficient proof of concept for the studio to commit to releasing the entire first season, hitting store shelves on July 24th with an MSRP of $118. But even that will have its own sampler — not on yet another retail purchase, but on the silver screen. TVShowsonDVD.com reports that, on Monday, July 23, 600 theaters in 49 U.S. markets will screen episodes "Where No One Has Gone Before" and "Datalore", in addition to some behind-the-scenes extras, as part of the show's 25th anniversary.

Star Trek series are becoming just like Star Wars: now you can own them again for the first time!

Ode to Spot Rap

28-May-11 8:18 AM by
Filed under Humor, Star Trek; 1 comment.

Data is one of my favorite characters in all of Star Trek lore. He's so sincere and earnest, yet he often falls short in his attempts to become more human. The best that others can do is patiently appreciate the effort and be encouraging.

A prime example is in the TNG episode "Schisms", in which various crew members are subjected to nighttime alien abductions. This episode is also the origin of the fondly remembered demonstration of iambic heptameter known as "Ode to Spot", a poem written by the ship's android describing the qualities of his feline companion.

Despite its misspoken opening line, I love this artistic effort of Data's. Although his audience members roll their eyes, is there anything truly wrong with the piece? It's clever, it rhymes, and it shows true affection.

The only thing that could make it better — is if it were set to music:

Add "hip" to the list of Data's qualities.

A version of this rap is also included in a longer nerdcore dedication to Data.

(Hat tip to ROFLrazzi)

Views of First Contact

25-May-11 6:17 PM by
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This past April 5 was First Contact Day, marking only 52 years until humans first encounter beings from another world. I observed the occasion by watching the film that introduced this milestone into Star Trek canon: First Contact, the first film to feature the TNG crew exclusively.

But it wasn't until this week that I finally popped in the set's second disc of bonus features. I'm not usually a fan of such material and can't remember the last time I listened to a director's commentary, but I'm always willing to make an exception for Star Trek.

As I expected, this disc was a welcome addition to the set and not just some tacked-on money-grab. Some of these featurettes were filmed on the set of the movie, but others were shot exclusively for the special edition DVD's 2005 release. They're broadly broken down into "The Star Trek Universe", "The Borg Collective", "First Contact Production", "Scene Deconstruction", and "Archives", for a total of 19 pieces.

Star Trek First Contact menuI first watched the 11-minute "The Legacy of Zefram Cochrane", which details the inventor of the warp drive and how he was cast and written for First Contact. The interviews with Rick Berman, Michael Okuda, James Cromwell, and Brannon Braga focused primarily on the First Contact portrayal of the character but does include some clips and discussion of Glenn Corbett, who debuted as Cochrane in TOS. (Corbett died in 1993, well before Cochrane's reinvention for First Contact.) No mention of a very different interpretation in the non-canon novel Federation was made, though.

I spent the next 18.5 minutes with "First Contact: The Possibilities", which was in fact not a montage of scenarios from science fiction or hypothesis of humanity's first encounter with extraterrestrials, but was instead a profile of real-world, modern-day efforts to detect signs of alien intelligence. Representatives of SETI and the Planetary Society shared their methodologies and hopes, detailing some interesting intersections with Star Trek. For example, I had no idea that SETI@home would not exist if not for Paramount Studios!

"Design Matrix" dissected the artistry of the Enterprise and its cybernetic inhabitants, the Borg. Although I imagined the budget of the silver screen allowed for more complex cyborgs than their television roots did, I had never consciously noted some of the differences — for example, TNG Borg had helmets and caps, and movie Borg did not. The attention to detail that the First Contact Borg received also allowed for eyepieces that you probably didn't know blinked Morse code messages, usually the names of the electrician's friends and pets. With so much investment in each outfit, the crew had the time and budget to design only eight individual Borg outfits, which were reused time and again in this film and in Voyager. Director Jonathan Frakes was quick to give credit where due, a quality consistent with my meeting him at the Super Megafest a few years ago.

"The Story" revealed some alternative angles the scriptwriters tried, including putting Picard in Montana with a local photographer as a love interest, or even setting the entire film in Medieval Ages. I'm not surprised that MAD Magazine spoofed this film when it came out, but I didn't know that their parody was apparently based on one of those earlier scripts. Now I'm keen to get my hands on that lampoon!

I was disappointed to find the featurette dubbed "From A To E" was not about the history of the Enterprise, but rather the putting together of First Contact. The crew's analogies amused me, from Ronald D. Moore calling the film "Die Hard on the Enterprise" to Brannon Braga describing the film's conclusion as the "Star Trek nativity scene, with three wise Vulcans". Throughout these interviews, though, Braga and Rick Berman rarely cracked a smile, even as other cast and crew cheerfully shared that "Star Trek is so much fun!" and "First Contact is my favorite film." It was a sharp contrast.

There are also a few scene breakdowns that show how the CGI was done (ever liken the Borg sphere to the Death Star?), with narration by ILM special effects supervisor John Knoll. This and some Easter eggs topped off a great package, though a lack of deleted scenes was noticeable.

Star Trek First Contact bookAs much as I appreciated learning more about my favorite Star Trek film, what truly gave a new perspective of it was the novelization. Whether a movie is being adapted to book or vice versa, the source material is almost always superior, but there are nonetheless opportunities to explore the characters and plot in a way unique to that medium. In the case of First Contact, the J. M. Dillard's novel explains to us why Zefram Cochrane is both brilliant and an alcoholic. It gave our protagonist much more gravitas and let me better empathize with him, rather than seeing him almost as the film's comic relief.

Two negative changes the book featured (perhaps due to working off an unfinished script) were relatively minor. When Picard claims the phaser from Lily and she demurs "It's my first ray gun," the preceding line in the film indicates that the weapon was set to kill. In the book, it's on its lowest setting, which would've given Picard only a bad burn, making the perceived threat of the scene into fantasy. Finally, before Data's novelized betrayal of the Borg, he gives Picard many not-so-subtle cues. I much prefer the tension produced by his last-minute cinematic revelation.

That there are so many important details, both within and behind the scenes, demonstrates how much love was poured into this movie. It's the Star Trek film that I've returned to time and again, and I look forward to celebrating many more First Contact days.

A Cappella Star Trek

22-Feb-11 4:39 PM by
Filed under Star Trek; 1 comment.

As an undergraduate, I was a happy member of the school's Glee Club, the second oldest collegiate men's choir in the United States. Yet, unsatisfied with this brotherhood of song, I annually set my sights on the elite subset that formed the a cappella group, as it was their performances that drew both the applause and the ladies. Alas, whether it was my vocal quality or my lack of suavity, I never made the cut.

Perhaps I was auditioning for the wrong group, as I recently became aware of Hi-Fidelity, who performed at the 2006 Harmony Sweepstakes competition. I've often attended the preliminary rounds of this annual competition and have observed that the best groups have either plenty of personality or a gimmick. Hi-Fidelity had both, performing a pair of original, Star Trek-themed songs — in character, no less!

These comic stylings are courtesy tenor Craig Ewing, lead Dan Jordan, bass Martin Fredstrom, and baritone Gregg Bernhard. Together as Hi-Fidelity, they accrued an eclectic geek portfolio in the past decade, even providing the vocals for an incongruously violent Xbox video game commercial. Alas, their Web site has not been updated since their Pan Pacific Championship 2008 win.

Now, where's my pitch pipe …

Star Trek Voyager Turns 16

16-Jan-11 10:58 AM by
Filed under Humor, Star Trek; 1 comment.

On this day in 1995, Star Trek: Voyager made its premiere, launching Paramount's own television network, UPN. Though building on plot threads developed in The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine (most noticeably the existence of the Maquis rebel faction), by stranding a Starfleet vessel in the far reaches of the Delta Quadrant, the show promised to return the franchise to its founding premise of exploration and discovery, something that was often absent from the more operatic DS9.

For all that potential, Voyager is often maligned as the worst Star Trek series of all. Consistent plot holes (no stranger to the Star Trek universe), atrocious writing (Threshold beats out Shades of Gray anytime), sexy but shallow characters (Kes, Seven of Nine), non-threatening adversaries (leave it to Voyager to defang the Borg), and an over-reliance on spatial anomalies (including time travel as a series finale deus ex machina) hamstrung the show.

Voyager had its strong points as well, and I enjoyed its episodes more often than I didn't. But a proper roast doesn't focus on a subject's admirable qualities, so to bid a happy sweet sixteenth birthday to the fourth live-action Star Trek series, I offer this breakdown of Voyager's secret formula (note: the following video contains a subtitle with the f-word — you have been warned):

Happy anniversary, Voyager. May you live long and prosper!

(Hat tip to uncultured via ROFLrazzi)

New Celebrities for Star Trek

09-Sep-10 12:57 PM by
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When Star Trek: First Contact premiered, the Boston Herald published a rather incendiary review by James Verniere. Though he was judging the film from the perspective of a non-Trekkie, many of his comments were baseless, such as the utter confusion he experienced over Picard's history with the Borg. Did the film not feature a monologue addressing that very point?

One of Mr. Verniere's more interesting comments was that Star Trek had to stop recruiting from within its own ranks (the film's director was Jonathan Frakes). Why not have Antonio Banderas as an ensign on the Enterprise, he suggested? I presume the critic was trying to expand the franchise's appeal by giving non-Trekkies a point of familiarity by which to be introduced to the series. Though it would be jarring for an established cast to suddenly be joined by an actor known for non-sci-fi work, Mr. Verniere's suggestion proved correct in the appropriate context: the presence of Bruce Greenwood, Winona Ryder, Zachary Quinto, and others didn't detract from but added to last year's reboot of Star Trek: TOS, which provided an entirely new slate on which these actors could gel as a team.

What other celebrities might Star Trek benefit from introducing? We still don't know what's to come in the sequel, slated for release on June 29, 2012 — but we can imagine what it might look like if Nicolas Cage, Summer Glau, and David Tennant joined the ranks of Starfleet, courtesy the Photoshop machinations of Rabittooth.

Several of the stars in this small sampling would surely be scene-stealers; Kevin Spacey warrants nothing less than prime antagonist, for example. But Brandon Routh, whose one leading role as Superman was fleeting enough to allow him to turn in a stellar yet innocuous performance in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, could be a subtle yet effective addition to any bridge crew.

This isn't the first time non-Trek actors have been inserted into Gene Roddenberry's universe. Alex Luko transposed one show's entire cast onto the Enterprise with a result that left geeks salivating:

Firefly Star Trek

I had likened Serenity's crew to the Enterprise's myself so can totally see such a shift of universes as successful.

Who would you like to see in the next Star Trek movie, and why?

How It Should Have Ended

02-May-10 12:37 PM by
Filed under Humor, Star Trek; 1 comment.

Film directors must work with an intrinsic limitation: whatever story they've set out to tell, they have only two hours in which to tell it from beginning to end. Wrapping everything up in time sometimes requires either a deus ex machina or a dramatic climax that strains readers' suspension of disbelief. Given that we checked such logic at the door, it's rarely a problem to continue accepting the movie's reality up until the end credits — but does that mean it couldn't have been done even better?

How It Should Have Ended is a series of animated re-imaginings of popular film endings. Having assumed you've seen the original film, the shorts present their own interpretations of key points of the stories, resulting in dramatically different endings. The series was started as a fun side project that non-viability threatened with extinction; fortunately, Starz media network provided HISHE's creators with the incentive to keep going.

With Iron Man 2 due out in a few days, it seems timely to review its predecessor's conclusion. That last battle always did strike me as a bit forced. Here's how Iron Man should have ended:

The confab with Superman, Batman and Spider-Man is a running gag that alludes back to earlier videos.

Not all HISHE shorts are consistent within their films' universe; sometimes, their non sequiturs apply a sort of meta-awareness of Hollywood. A good example is how Star Trek should have ended:

I imagine hardcore fans might not cotton to their favorite films being parodied in such a manner — the Lord of the Rings spoof is especially threatening to such fanboyism — but we're here to enjoy ourselves, and anything that uses film to get us to laugh at ourselves as well is a means to that end. Check out HISHE's full library of over two dozen reinterpretations. What film ending would you like to see added to their collection?