Terminator 2 at 20

03-Jul-11 12:35 PM by
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Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the release of one of the greatest films of all-time. I am speaking of course of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. I already sang this film's praises on the tenth anniversary of Judgment Day, so I won't again fawn over its intricate plot, layered characters, and stunning action. But I will offer this creative amalgamation of line art and stop-gap motion in tribute to the best sequel ever:

TNG at 20: A Good Day to Die

28-Sep-07 1:57 PM by
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This is it: the entire week has been building up to this. Star Trek: The Next Generation turns 20 today, having aired "Encounter at Farpoint" on Monday, September 28th, 1987.

How best to mark this event? What would be an appropriate climax to this week of commemorative blogging? I could reflect on how different my life would be had my father not sat me down to watch the latest iteration of the show he had grown up with. I could analyze the show's cultural impact, or wax poetic about its message of hope and optimism for humanity's future. I could take a serious look at its special effects, its genesis from Star Trek Phase II, or the franchise's future.

But I think the most dramatic impact the debut of two decades ago was on a most beleaguered class: the red shirts.

When TNG debut, it marked a dramatic change in Starfleet's taxonomy: red, previously the shirt color of security and engineering personnel, was now worn by the indispensable command track. Former redshirts the quadrant over breathed a sign of relief to receive their new uniforms, as in the era of the gold-dressed Kirk, a red shirt was the mark of death, with these expendable bodyguards suffering more away team fatalities than any other group. This trend wasn't just a popular misconception born of fear and superstition, either: courtesy StarTrek.com, a recent statistical study proves what an unfair lot redshirts have.

Not everyone appreciates the burden of being a TOS-era redshirt; in fact, some groups are downright insensitive. Courtesy TrekToday comes news of a health care company that promises its clients "the RedShirt Treatment". Independent Health promises that, no matter who you are, when you call, or what your problem is, you're pretty much screwed.

But that's okay, because even though death is final (unless you're Spock, Kirk, Scotty — or even Denise Crosby), Eternal Image will be the last ones to let you down. When you're ready for the final frontier, this Michigan-based funerary company will ensure you receive the honor normally reserved for photon torpedoes: to be buried or cremated in the Star Trek-branded funeral or urn of your choice. (Tip of the hat to Dayton Ward)

Star Trek is a story with powerful lessons for all of humanity. But most of all, The Next Generation offers us hope for change and for a better future — no matter your shirt color. So live long — or die trying!


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TNG at 20: But Don't Take My Word For It

27-Sep-07 5:22 PM by
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The upcoming TNG complete series box set has a bonus disc of unique features, interviews, and documentaries. Though there is some unearthed arcana from decades ago, much of the material is retrospective in nature, created exclusively for this DVD collection.

It can be fun to look at the making of Star Trek: TNG as it was actually being made. Without the benefit of hindsight, documentaries that are as old as the show they're inspecting have a certain nostalgic quality. And who brings that magic to life better than LeVar Burton, host of Reading Rainbow?

Before (and while!) he was Geordi LaForge but after Kunta Kinte, Mr. Burton hosted this PBS children's educational series that explored the power of books, fiction, and imagination. He took advantage of being an explorer of both space and imagination when he brought the show he hosted behind the scenes of his "other" show. Now available on YouTube as a three-part series is that episode of Reading Rainbow.

So open the video — and open your mind.

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TNG at 20: The Voyage Continues

26-Sep-07 6:00 PM by
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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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TNG at 20: The Human Condition

25-Sep-07 11:59 PM by
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Star Trek is a tale not of aliens, technology, and anomalies, but of humanity. However evolved the future's citizens claim to be, they still find ways to learn and and places to grow. Though Worf or Data or even Wesley may've developed the most over The Next Generation's seven years, the hero I found to be the deepest, most complex, and most intricate was their guide through the stars: the very human Captain Picard.

As many commanding officers do, Jean-Luc Picard initially came across as a stiff and remote authority figure: barking orders, didactically lecturing his crew, and providing an extremely straight man for the tomfoolery of Q. But when Picard was given the opportunity to not be a foil but take the center stage for himself, his humanity truly shined.

Though we met almost everyone else's parents and children, Picard had neither. Yet it was his estranged relationship with his brother Robert that we found most empathetic. This wasn't an unknown child appearing on his doorstep or a licentious mother causing him embarrassment; it was two siblings — one who stayed in the family business, the other a prodigal son. That very basic bond is one with which many of us have struggled, and though we'd hope to overcome such issues by the 24th century, it gives us hope to see a man as great as Picard overcome them.

It is one of many trials Picard faced in his time aboard the Enterprise. He lived decades in an unreal life — separated first from his starship family, then from the one he came to love. He was given the chance to put right what once went wrong, only to see the entire tapestry of his life come unravelled. He loved one woman, only to have duty take her away; he loved another, only to give her away himself. Despite a broken heart, he was held prisoner, tortured to the point of a broken mind.

And, of course, there was Wolf 359: where he was a mere onlooker as his own mind and body were used to send hundreds of his fellow Starfleet officers to their deaths. How does any man — not an android, not an empath, but just a man — overcome so much tragedy?

I don't know — yet Picard did so, and somehow became stronger for it. And he showed his unwavering spirit in his love for Shakespeare, archaelogy — and his crew. The most brilliant Star Trek short story I ever read was "The Promise", by Shane Zeranski, which I will spoil for you by quoting Picard's breakdown when he realizes, after thirty years, he may never leave Kataan:

I loved them… and I never told them. I never told a one! Not Data, not Worf, not Riker… not even Beverly. And now they're gone and I'll never see them again! I always — expected that… that I might, but — but I won't… If only I could see them — just once more, just… once… more! They were my family… my family… and I've lost them.

I can hear each of these words come from Jean-Luc's mouth, and they speak of a man wracked with a despair that can come only from a deep and powerful passion. Picard engages in the full range of human experiences, from joy to sorrow; it is this fearlessness with which he faces his own nature that exemplifies Star Trek as an exploration not of mapping stars and studying nebula… but of charting the unknown possibilities of existence.

The full breadth of Picard's character is demonstrated in the videos presented after the jump:

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TNG at 20: Where, Oh Where, Has My Little Spock Gone?

24-Sep-07 4:30 PM by
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It was the best of generations, it was the worst of generations. Finally, after so many years, Star Trek was returning to our homes. The excitement was tangible: the teaser clips showed this wonderful (albeit strange-looking) new Enterprise, one that made Kirk's Enterprise seem like the family runabout. But never mind all that — it was Star Trek!

However, not all was breathless anticipation. All our favorite characters were gone. (Or so we thought!) How could it be Star Trek without Spock? And what on Earth(!) was this rumor that a Klingon was part of the crew!

Nevertheless, when the big night finally arrived, wild horses couldn't have dragged me away from the TV! In the opening sequence, I mourned the loss of the haunting theme from the original series and groaned at the politically correct change to, "Where no one has gone before…" And as the episode progressed, my fears deepened as it turned into the type of episode I always liked least — some omnipotent being ("Q") was playing havoc with the laws of time and space. I wanted science fiction, not fantasy!

But there were highlights, too. It almost brought tears to my eyes when Admiral McCoy came aboard, providing a physical, connecting link to the past. (Little did we know that Spock and Scotty would also reappear.) The new Enterprise was a work of art, much more streamlined than the old model (so very important in the vacuum of space…), though it still suffered from the same inexplicable ability to provide seatbelts for the bridge crew! The computer still had the same wonderful "voice", another link with the past. The computer consoles were beautiful, as was Counselor Cleavage, err, Troi.

Eventually the episode ended, and for all my misgivings about the changes (Data was no Spock!), I knew I would be back next week. Well, mostly. I'm ashamed to admit I missed some of the early episodes, but a strange thing happened as the series progressed. I found I was growing to like the new characters in their own right, and I was enjoying their interactions and personalities. And an even stranger thing happened. My wife, a profoundly non-SF person, was also enjoying the series. (It didn't hurt getting to watch Will Riker each week!) They had managed to make the show appeal to more than just the Trekkies out there.

The rest (of the future of the future) is history. The Next Generation (and the other Star Trek spin-offs) were not the prime-time success in Australia that they were in the USA, leading to unusual broadcast schedules. I was often forced to watch or record episodes at midnight (or later!) — but watch them all I did. I grew to love the show, and like many people I believe it was the best of all the Star Treks. Certainly I grew to feel that the crew members were part of a family, one I was almost a part of myself. I laughed with them, worried for them, and yes, even cried with them. Picard was an outstanding captain — far better than Kirk, IMHO. Worf taught us all about "honor". And Data was a wonderful character for the scriptwriters to "play" with.

But he never did supplant Spock as one of my favorite non-humans of all time.

Peter Watson is old enough to remember watching the original Star Trek at home in Australia in glorious black-and-white. As a software engineer he gets to hang out with other people who know something about Star Trek. Visit his Web site at http://www.peter-watson.net/


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TNG at 20: To Everything, There Is a Season

23-Sep-07 11:41 PM by
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Star Trek: The Next Generation was the first Star Trek to enjoy a full, cancellation-free run. This October 2nd, its 176 episodes will be available in a new box set (watch the trailer, read the press release). Though $40/season is a fair deal, $278.89, after shipping, is still no small amount of change. And, as Trek Nation has been recently reminding us with their retro reviews, some entire seasons of TNG have not aged well.

There are many ways to separate the wheat from the chaff. Various fan collectives offer thematically-related content, so if you like time travel or Q, you're bound to be satisfied — unless you dwell on what these packages miss, such as "Future's End". For my money, The Jean-Luc Picard Collection is the best value, as I prefer episodes that offer not an anomaly of the week, but significant, focused character development. "Tapestry", "Darmok", and "The Inner Light" are worth their weight in latinum, and with the former two both coming from season five, perhaps that is the series' best season. Other fifth-season episodes "I, Borg", "The Perfect Mate" (another Picard episode, and one which first unites Patrick Stewart with Famke Janssen, prior to their X-Men team-up), Spock's return in the two-part "Unification", and the first half of "Time's Arrow" supports this theory.

But only with the new, complete DVD collection can you get all the above along with gems like "The Best of Both Worlds", "Yesterday's Enterprise", and "Relics" — so if you have money to burn, take the good with the bad and splurge on all seven seasons (plus exclusive features and documentaries). But if you don't, then what season (or fan collective) do you recommend, and for what episodes?


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TNG at 20: T-Minus One Week and Counting

22-Sep-07 11:59 PM by
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October 4th marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik. A year after Russia beat America into space, the White House responded with a document, Introduction to Outer Space, urging America to win this race:

The first of these factors is the compelling urge of man to explore and to discover, the thrust of curiosity that leads men to try to go where no one has gone before. Most of the surface of the earth has now been explored and men now turn on the exploration of outer space as their next objective.

"Where no one has gone before…" Gene Roddenberry took these words to heart, and less than a decade later, he went there — and brought the world with him.

His original Star Trek, which turned 40 last year, may not initially have been a commercial success; but its successor, true to its title, inspired the next generation of television viewers to look up. The passion the Star Trek franchise has stirred in its audience has proven timeless, and its impact on not just our popular culture, but on our scientific progress, is immeasurable. One space industry executive wrote, "We are in the commercial space flight industry and would like to testify that at least one out of two of all the actual entrepreneurs involved in this industry has been inspired by Star Trek."

Though Kirk, Spock, and McCoy marked the beginning, it was Picard, Riker, Data, and company that cemented the franchise in our hearts and souls. And we here at Showbits cannot fail to observe the beginning of that golden era.

September 28th marks twenty years since Star Trek: The Next Generation first aired. To commemorate this historic anniversary, we'll be blogging about Star Trek every day this week, culminating on Friday. We'll be providing news, retrospectives, analyses, and more. They'll be fun, nostalgic, thought-provoking, and who knows what else. So please join us on this wagon train to the stars… The sky's the limit!


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