Reflecting on Super Megafest 2011

17-Nov-12 11:41 PM by
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Every year's weekend before Thanksgiving is host to the Super Megafest, an annual convention of sci-fi, comics, wrestling, and nostalgia. I have recently returned from my sixth consecutive attendance at the event — but what about the fifth?

I report on every Super Megafest for Showbits, but the past few years I've taken procrastination to new heights. Before I can in good conscience relate my experiences at the 2012 convention, here I must finally reflect on the 2011 show.

The headliners of 2011 were two stars well-known to science fiction and fantasy fans: Sean Astin and Sir Patrick Stewart. I had the opportunity and pleasure to first visit their tables, where I paid handsomely for their autographs, then attend their free Q&A sessions. In that former one-on-one encounter, the two actors could not have been more different in their receptions.

Sean AstinAstin had a table in the common area, where no one minded the queue moving slowly, as it was the product of the actor taking his time to recognize each fan as an individual. He'd shake their hands, listen to their comments, and respond with stories. In my case, I told him how, in my sporadic career as an educator, I had a high school student who wrote a paper about his family movie starring Sean Astin. Goonies? Rudy? Lord of the Rings? Nope — Slipstream, a 2005 science fiction time-travel movie that got panned by critics. When I told Astin about this paper, his eyebrows shot up to accompany a disbelieving "Really??" He then quickly harrumphed and, trying to take more pride in his work, offered a casual, interested "Really!" Astin then suggested that Slipstream was the basis for Jake Gyllenhaal's more successful Source Code, though I consider the connection between the two films tenuous at best.

Sir Patrick StewartBy contrast, Sir Stewart gave me almost nothing to relate here. Rather than wait three hours in line for his autograph, I paid for a pricey "speed pass" that got me to the head of the queue. When I was finally face-to-face with Captain Picard himself, I held out my hand, as I did with every other actor I'd met that weekend. Stewart seemed intent on putting his John Hancock on my purchased 8×10" glossy, so thinking he hadn't noticed my gesture, I asked, "May I shake your hand?" "No, sorry," he replied. Fair enough; many stars are concerned about being introduced to too many fans and their germs. I offered as an alternative: "How about a fist bump?". "No, sorry." I persisted: "Elbow bump?" At this point, his handler stepped in: "Sir Patrick has arthritis." Both gentlemen then looked to the side at the next person in line, making it clear that my time had expired. It was an impersonal experience and a real letdown: The Next Generation was my first exposure to Star Trek and defined me and my life. I never even got to say "Thank you".

Despite the discrepancy in personal encounters, both actors proved entertaining in their Q&A sessions, in which neither had to deal with fans on an individual basis. With this being Stewart's first New England convention, he reflected on the first such con he ever attended after gaining fame as Jean-Luc Picard. He said that when he stepped on the stage and the crowd went wild, "In that moment, I knew what it felt like to be Sting." Stewart has rarely turned that fame to the silver screen, though, commenting that his movie career had been limited to Robin Hood: Men In Tights (a slight exaggeration) — but that he'd recently asked his agent to actively solicit movie options. Why not just retire completely? Because in 71 years of life, 54 of them spent acting, Stewart has found that "Actors are some of the most inspiring, respectful, generous people I know." Stewart went on to talk about his gardening — he'd recently produced 24 dozen cases of apple juice, a dozen cases of pear juice, and 16 pounds of damson jam — and about taking risks, The Inner Light, William Shatner, his workout routine, and more. (He also mentioned handing out diplomas at a college and shaking 800 hands… but he couldn't shake mine?)

Sean Astin, better known to some as Samwise Gamgee, was equally entertaining, sharing the stage with Sala Baker, who played Sauron in Lord of the Rings. The two recounted how the trilogy's cast were joined in a real-life fellowship through the art of tattoo. He laughed when the film's star found the experience painful: "I'm ten years older than Elijah [Woods]; he's a punk kid." As it turned out, Astin didn't have so easy a time with it, either.

In a turn of events, Astin even took a photo of ME! You can see me in the right rear in the red sweater.

I told Astin how unusual it is to have a career that spans so many decades and genres. Demonstrating the humility of any great man, Astin seemed even more amazed than I did. As many Hollywood veterans will tell you, nepotism is alive and well, and Astin couldn't help but be recognized during auditions due to his lineage, mother Patty Duke and adoptive father John Astin. A father of three daughters of his own (with the oldest playing his on-screen daughter in The Return of the King), Astin is glad to have a filmography in which each of them can find something to relate to, especially as they near the ages at which he began his career.

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TNG at 20: The Human Condition

25-Sep-07 11:59 PM by
Filed under Star Trek; 5 comments.

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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