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)

Super Celebrities at the Super Megafest

24-Nov-09 4:26 PM by
Filed under Celebrities, Potpourri; 2 comments.

The Super Megafest has become one of my many holiday traditions: the weekend before Thanksgiving, I head to the Framingham Sheraton for an unusual amalgam of sci-fi actors, classic celebrities, comic books, and cosplay. Though this year's event had fewer celebrities that personally appealed to me, those on the roster were ones I couldn't believe I'd have the good fortune to see in person. [photos after the jump]

Brent Spiner signs a photo for a fanUpon arriving, I made a beeline for the corner, where there was hardly no wait to meet Brent Spiner, who played Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Instead of a handshake, he offered a fist bump, citing a cold. Though I'm sure he was sincere, even if he wasn't, it seemed an effective tactic to avoid getting sick, given the number of fans I'm sure he was to meet at such an event. I had him sign a picture of Data as a poker dealer, though had I noticed that a shot of him as Sherlock Holmes on the holodeck was also available, I might've opted for that one. As he signed it, I told him how encouraging it was to grow up watching a show where an intelligent, socially awkward individual could be a respected and contributing member of a team. "Yeah, that's a neat thing they did there, isn't it?" he replied. While he next signed the insert from my CD of his 1991 album, Ol' Yellow Eyes Is Back, I commented that a film I rarely hear his fans mention is Out to Sea, a delightful 1997 comedy with Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, and Dyan Cannon in which he played a fantastic villain. "I thought that was a great film!" I told him. "So did I!" he agreed.

James MarstersI next got in a rather long line for James Marsters, best known as the undead Spike on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As with Mr. Spiner, I continued my trend of acknowledging the actors' lesser-known works, as I know from my limited experience in community theater that it's not always your best performance that's the one people remember. "I thought you were a great Lex Luthor," I told Mr. Marsters. He seemed genuinely surprised to hear that: "Oh! Thanks! It was particularly interesting to go back and do Smallville after that," he reflected, referencing his appearance on that show as Brainiac. He parodied a conversation with Michael Rosenbaum, that show's Luthor: "'So, you played my role, eh?'" Mr. Marsters told me he'll be doing more voice work on the Clone Wars animated series, though he doesn't yet know what part he'll play.

I hurried from Mr. Marster's table to the celebrity Q&A session, occurring every half-hour. I arrived a few minutes late to Mr. Spiner's session, at which point I was surprised to find fans asking not about his life on the Enterprise, but his life on the stage. Mr. Spiner is an accomplished stage actor, having appeared on Broadway before he did on Star Trek. He told us about his 1997 performance in the musical 1776: "We had the Tonies wrapped up… until Cabaret opened a week before the awards." Someone else also brought up Out to Sea, to which he said: "My life would be very different if people had seen that movie. My life would also be very different if Kevin Kline had never been born."

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White and Trekkie

31-Jan-09 1:00 PM by
Filed under Humor, Star Trek; 1 comment.

I've been a geek since birth, so when my father sat me down in 1987 to watch the premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the character with whom I most readily identified was the android Data. Finally, there was someone on television who valued brains over personality! He was pasty white as me! And people laughed at him, and he didn't know why! It gave me hope that maybe someday I too could grow up to be, if not popular, at least important.

I doubt I was alone in such fantasies, though the form may've been different for others. Regardless of their particular obsession, geeks often overlap in their interests. Be it Star Wars, Dungeons & Dragons, or computer programming, there's just something about these hobbies that attracts similar mindsets.

When not just the fans but the interests themselves intersect, it is a cause for jubilation. Such is the case with musician and performer "Weird Al" Yankovic, who often performs parodies and spoofs of Star Wars, eBay, and more. Many of these topics feature in the music video for his popular song his song "White & Nerdy", which encapsulates all a geek's attributes into less than three minutes. Could it be any nerdier?

The answer: yes. This video takes the "White & Nerdy" audio and sets it to montages of my childhood hero:

This video's debut was preceeded a month earlier by a Spock version, which has some good chuckles. There's also a Deep Space Nine take, but it limits itself by being based entirely on the "Trials and Tribble-ations" episode. Finally, there's an attempt to set Weird Al's "The Saga Begins", which tells the tale of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, to video from Star Trek: Voyager. It's creative, but I'm not really sure it works.

What are some of your favorite Star Trek spoofs or Weird Al tunes?

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

24-Sep-07 4:30 PM by
Filed under Star Trek; 3 comments.

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/


Also in the TNG at 20 series:

TNG at 20: T-Minus One Week and Counting

22-Sep-07 11:59 PM by
Filed under Star Trek; Comments Off on TNG at 20: T-Minus One Week and Counting

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!


Also in the TNG at 20 series:

To Serve and Protect

01-Jul-07 12:49 PM by
Filed under Films, Television; 6 comments.

Speaking of top films lists, Entertainment Weekly has published, in preparation for Transformers: The Movie, "our 10 favorite mechanical men (and fembots) in movie history". The list honors good guys such as the Iron Giant (a hero after my own Superman-inspired heart, and the subject of scrutiny in the film studies course I taught), Data, and R2-D2 and C-3PO (who I'd never consciously realized to be an Odd Couple) — but also appropriately celebrates the persistent destruction wrought by darker cyborgs, Robocop and the Terminator (the latter described as "an all-purpose golem").

These two futuristic deathbringers represent possibly my favorite action films ever: the original Robocop film and the second Terminator. The former is a haunting tale of a man robbed of his family, his memory, even his emotions — everything but his career. He uses that sole connection to give his life purpose and, eventually, his audience a TV series that I actually enjoyed. The latter is a villain sent from the future to alter the past… but for better, or for worse? Plot twists, character dynamics (especially the humanity of the Terminator and lack of same in Sarah Connor), and awesome action sequences make this a film that's more than meets the eye.

Too bad these two robotic icons never encountered each other… or did they?!

Databits

28-Dec-06 1:44 PM by
Filed under Celebrities, Star Trek; 1 comment.

Via TrekToday comes this neat, two-page interview with Brent Spiner. He talks about the fortieth anniversary of Star Trek (which every surviving Trek alum is doing this year), Threshold, Enterprise, J. J. Abrams, and more.

I've always enjoyed the "trying to be human" characters of Star Trek, even if it has become cliché by now. And though TOS was my least favorite of the five series, it seems to make the best novels; I'll devour anything about Spock, for example. I would love the opportunity to engage some comparable narratives about our favorite android. Can anyone recommend any similarly spectacular Datacentric stories?