Unboxing Star Trek: The Original Series

08-Sep-16 1:00 PM by
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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!

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?

To Boldly Go Where No Mac Has Gone Before

17-Sep-09 4:48 PM by
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Every now and then, something will pop up in an auction that sets geeks drooling. Whether it's an undiscovered Macintosh prototype or a famous movie prop, the chance to own a piece of history can drive us to extremes. But the combined fanaticism of Apple devotees and sci-fi fans will likely have more destructive potential than the Genesis device when this relic shows up on sensors: an early Macintosh Plus, given by Apple Computer Inc. to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry.

Read the rest of this entry at Computerworld.com »

First Lady of Star Trek

19-Dec-08 8:43 PM by
Filed under Fade to Black, Star Trek; 4 comments.

LOS ANGELES, CA (December 18, 2008) — Actress Majel Barrett Roddenberry, beloved star of sci-fi phenomenon Star Trek, passed away early this morning surrounded by family and friends. Roddenberry was 76 years old. [Story continues on her son's Web site]

Majel Barrett and Gene RoddenberryWith the exception of her late husband, Gene Roddenberry, there may be no one who did more to promote the world of Star Trek than Mrs. Roddenberry, who kept "The Great Bird of the Galaxy"'s vision alive after he died in 1991. Television shows Earth: Final Conflict and Andromeda, both inspired by the works of Gene Roddenberry, were produced under her guidance. More visibly, she was the only actor to have performed on all six Star Trek series: as Number One in the rejected pilot for The Original Series, then as Nurse Chapel once it was picked up; as a voice actor on The Animated Series; as Deanna's mother, Lwaxana Troi, on The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine; and as the voice of the computer in TNG, DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise ("In a Mirror, Darkly"). Her final work before passing away from leukemia was to continue providing this continuity as the voice of the computer in the upcoming Star Trek film, originally set for release on December 25th, 2008, and now scheduled for May 8th, 2009.

There have been hundreds of people to contribute to the Star Trek legacy over the years, and I mean no disrespect to the likes of William Shatner, Alexander Courage, and Rick Berman. But without Majel Roddenberry, I suspect Gene Roddenberry's universe would've become something far different than it did. Thank you, madam, for the hope you gave us; may we prove worthy of you and your husband's work.

Uncaged

15-Nov-07 6:50 PM by
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Poster for TOS MenagerieIt's good just the way it is — don't touch it!" is the rabid response of many classic sci-fi fans. Yet just as George Lucas revisited his Star Wars, the original Star Trek is now also being remastered. As a special promotion of that project's results, "The Menagerie", a forty-year-old two-part episode, was screened this Tuesday and Thursday nights at select theaters nationwide. I reserved my tickets five weeks ago, and this Tuesday, I finally, eagerly took my seat.

The evening opened with a brief introduction by Rod Roddenberry, who reminisced on Star Trek's genesis and his father's efforts on same before sequeing into a brief overview of the TOS remastering effort. Some of this featurette I'd already seen on StarTrek.com, yet I wished it had run longer. In hindsight, I don't know how it could've without expanding its scope to celebrate all of Star Trek — but isn't that why we were all there?

"All" wasn't as many as I expected, though: I was surprised and disappointed by how not sold out the show was. Only one person represented Starfleet in full uniform (TNG era, but so what). Nonetheless, even if they didn't wear their geekery on their shoulders, it was comforting to share the company of those discussing the finer points of Trekdom while enjoying this morsel to hold them over until next year's film release.

"The Menagerie" is a repackaging of "The Cage", a rejected first pilot for Star Trek. I'd seen "The Menagerie" before, but not recently enough to recognize exactly what special effects were changed. Whereas only a veteran of the series might pick up on minutia, the delineation between old technology and new can otherwise be garishly blunt to the uninitiated. From that latter perspective, I observed nothing out of place; all the special effects were seamless.

Plotwise, we amused ourselves by spotting various inconsistencies, back when there was no continuity to be inconsistent with, such as Spock grinning with amazement at observing the local flora. Majel Barrett, who would later play Lwaxana Troi, Nurse Chapel, and the voice of the computer on all six series, here plays the first officer — though in just one episode, she didn't have the same opportunity to develop this character. Other character moments were also fun, such as Bones' propensity for sudden and passion speeches. It capitalized for me that, despite all the marvels, wonders, and tragedies the crew of the Enterprise encountered, they never became inured with it. Perhaps, in Roddenberry's vision for humanity's future, it's that sense of wonder that propelled us to the stars, and not vice versa.

The show ended with a brief preview of the second season of TOS, remastered. It reminds me that I had spent $25 for the two of us to watch one episode — a disproportionate cost compared with getting the entire first season on HD-DVD upon its release later this month. But I'm not interested in owning this series — only in sharing and experiencing it. My life was changed when I was introduced to Star Trek on September 28th, 1987. I appreciated the opportunity to return the favor and reintroduce the franchise's origin to the man who brought it to me — and so did he:

I enjoyed going back to those days of the "first" Star Trek Enterprise actors and reflecting on just how well they did acting and especially with the technology of the times for their special effects. As I said yesterday, "Gene Rodenberry was the Galileo and Jules Verne of our era all wrapped up in one." Going where no man has gone before is always more enjoyable with a friend especially when that someone is your son.

If Only, If Only…

24-Oct-07 11:15 AM by
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Today, on the anniversary of Gene Roddenberry's passing, StarTrek.com has a thoughtful tribute to the legacy of Star Trek's creator:


… with Star Trek he created an iconic mythology which has succeeded in providing popular culture with a common reference point for all things futuristic and achievable. ("Achievable" being what distinguishes Star Trek from Star Wars.) Because Star Trek has become so firmly planted in our collective consciousness, far-reaching ideas can more easily bubble to the surface and gain acceptance, as the optimists among us push forward to realize that vision of the future. Replicators, tricorders, bio-beds, cloaking fields, transporters, and even warp drive are all concepts being pursued today by scientists and innovators, even when overwhelming conventional wisdom would dismiss them.

The article goes on to posit that humanity could realize its great potential if we would set our sights on the stars and not on petty terrestrial squabbles over land and oil. I suppose that's what makes Star Trek science fiction…