Star Trek + ER + Buffy = The Librarian

16-Jul-09 10:46 AM by
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I'm a fan of Jonathan Frakes, be he acting as Commander William Riker or directing silly sci-fi flicks. It's been two years since the second Librarian film, a made-for-TV series of action-adventure movies in the style of Indiana Jones. Looking back, I wonder why I judged the first two entries so harshly, as I thought the recent third film, The Curse of the Judas Chalice, to be a fun romp.

The main character, Flynn Carsen, is a young man with an eidetic memory and a knack for finding himself in trouble — a perfect combination for someone charged with finding and preserving all the artifacts of lore. His newest adventure sends him not through mountains, deserts, and other exotic locales (been there, done that, I suppose), but to New Orleans in search of the relic that made the first vampire.

And yes, this film features not just vampiric cups but vampires themselves (in much the way the fourth Indiana Jones film featured aliens — do we really need to suspend our disbelief this much?). But I love how stereotypical they aren't. They aren't pale, they don't wear all leather, they don't mope around, and they definitely don't sparkle. There's hardly anything to give away who is or is not a vampire. And really, isn't that how it should be? If I had to flop my sleeping schedule and change my diet, I don't know that it'd make me evil.

I've never seen Noah Wyle play any role other than Flynn Carsen or Steve Jobs, so I can't attest to his acting range, but one trait he has down cold is subtly competent. Flynn can get himself out of any situation, even if he is easily distracted and rarely sees them coming. Stana Katic (Quantum of Solace, The Spirit) as the love interest has a twinkle in her eye that reminded me of… I'm not sure who. Perhaps Famke Jannsen's character on Star Trek: The Next Generation? Bob Newhart and Jane Curtin (Third Rock from the Sun) are amusing in supporting roles as library staff.

Jonathan Frakes (can you spot his cameo?) directs the action well, though again, The Librarian scores points for execution, not originality. There was one odd transition, one scene that made no sense, and a plot twist that can be seen coming a mile away (when has Bruce Davison ever played a good guy?). There's also a plot device that's lifted right from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the ending is similar to Twilight. But it's obvious the actors are having fun, which makes it easy to empathize with them and the occasionally hard decisions they make.

The DVD's special features includes a deconstruction of the special effects, similar to the Pink Five video previously posted here. Though some are obvious, the extent of the subtle effects is astounding. A rural library becomes a metropolitan one; a townhouse becomes a cathedral. It's a stunning reminder that little of what we see out of today's Hollywood is truly authentic. Kudos to the actors for not letting that stop them from making a film on par, in both quality and enjoyability, with Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The Profits and Prophets of Star Trek

26-May-09 7:53 PM by
Filed under Star Trek; 1 comment.

Moviegoers have voted with their wallets: Star Trek is awesome. JJ Abrams' reboot of Gene Roddenberry's universe has been raking in the dough over the last three weekends. Box Office Prophets reports on the opening weekend:

… young Kirk and friends did blow the cover off the box office with an opening weekend take of $72.5 million, plus another $4 million from pre-midnight Thursday showings, which gives the movie a running total of $76.5 million so far. … The debut is huge for this franchise, as the opening frame is more than the combined total of the last three films' opening weekends (Nemesis — $18.5 million opening, Insurrection — $22.1 million opening, First Contact — $30.7 million opening). The debut throws out the trend of Star Trek films opening between $14 million and $23 million, when removing the top and bottom score. The average opening for Star Trek is about $19 million with all films included… The 2009 Star Trek outgrossed the last film (2002's Nemesis finished with only $43.3 million in domestic box office) in two days.

In its second week, Star Trek was second at the box office, where the "sci-fi staple earned an impressive $43 million, falling only 43% from its $75.2 million debut." It fell to third place over Memorial Day Weekend, ending with $183.5 million. Its fourth weekend will surely put it over $200 million. Previously, the Star Trek film with the highest domestic gross, and the only one to break $100 million, was The Voyage Home at $109.7 million; the film with the highest total gross (foreign and domestic) was First Contact, at $146 million.

Though it was agony a year ago to receive the announcement that this film was delayed from its original release date of Christmas 2008, it seems Paramount knew what it was doing. Star Trek is an excellent summer blockbuster, and I'm relieved the distributors showed faith in the franchise to position it to capitalize on the season. But it's not just my own hopes that were realized; earlier this month, my local newspaper reported:

While promoting an appearance at the Boston Super Megafest back in November, Jonathan Frakes (aka Commander William T. Riker in Star Trek: The Next Generation) said he was "cautiously optimistic" about the new take on Star Trek. So are many area Trekkers who have been faithful to the 40-year-plus phenomenon.

This is a good article, and author Craig S. Semon has done well in representing geek culture at the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. However, as you may recall, I too was at the Super Megafest and remember Mr. Semon being in the same audience I was for Mr. Frakes' session. My recollection of the occasion is a bit different, as I reported back in November:

[Jonathan Frakes] asked our opinion of the new Star Trek movie. I offered "cautiously optimistic", to which he replied, "I feel the same, except for the 'cautiously' part."

It was therefore not Commander William Riker, but Blogger Ken Gagne, that Mr. Semon was quoting. (It's possible the quotation was based on a separate but similar occasion for which I was not present — but unlikely.)

But I'll let this misquotation go. Not only do we share a common goal — the success of Star Trek — but if I'm going to put words in someone's mouth, it might as well be someone out of this world.

The Star Trek Family Guy

28-Mar-09 9:09 AM by
Filed under Star Trek, Television; 1 comment.

With the new Star Trek movie due in just six weeks, there is hope that JJ Abrams' take on Gene Roddenberry's vision for the future will revitalize the entire franchise. The last time Star Trek needed a rebirth, it received it courtesy The Next Generation — and that show's cast is eager for a swan song and the chance to reprise their roles in another TNG film.

That day may never come, as that show's actors have mostly aged and moved on, the set dismantled, the public ready for something new. But diehard fans can be very un-Vulcan-like in their passion for these memorable characters. For them, the animated series Family Guy offers a special reunion in this Sunday's episode that reunites the bridge crew of the Enterprise-D:

Trek lore is rife with tales of on-screen characters played by actors who loathed each other, and it's refreshing to know the cast of TNG is not immunue to such petty rivalries, even twenty years after the show's debut. Their seven-year mission must've been laced with false politeness that just barely masked their contempt for each other:

(Hat tip to Levar Burton)

Looking Back on the Future of Star Trek

14-Mar-09 2:43 PM by
Filed under Star Trek, Trailers; Comments Off on Looking Back on the Future of Star Trek

This week, the Star Trek franchise turned exactly 42.5 years old. Despite being a not particularly noteworthy milestone, I used the occasion to finally watch the show's 40th anniversary special. The special, hosted by Leonard Nimoy, aired on the History Channel in February 2007 and will be included in next month's release of TOS Season 1 on Blu-Ray. Though the primary purpose of the documentary is to showcase the then-recently-concluded Christie's auction of thousands of Star Trek props, it also features several stars of the franchise's first four shows reflecting on their roles. I found the most striking observation came from Kate Mulgrew: "I don't know a lot of doctors and lawyers who watch doctors and lawyers shows — but almost every scientist I've ever known loved Star Trek." It's a sentiment consistent with the need to have shows like Star Trek on the air.

The franchise's 726 episodes and ten movies are condensed into this other 40th anniversary tribute, which for some reason was uploaded to YouTube just last week. The video — set to one of my favorite instrumental pieces, the orchestral suite from "The Inner Light" — is a brief visual tour of the entire history of Star Trek's two-hundred-year history. Considering how many characters there are to fit into the montage's seven-minute length, you'll forgive the editor if he transitions from one character to the next a bit too swiftly.

I was moved by how familiar I found each of these characters, and how glad I was to see them again. But then, I shouldn't be surprised: Star Trek was on the air consistently for 18 years, making it a constant companion for roughly two-thirds of my life. You could argue it was just a TV show (in which case I wonder what you're doing reading this blog), but every day without a Trek seems dark, as the program represents a hope for humanity.

With the cancellation of Enterprise, television has been without a Star Trek for four years. Now we stand on the cusp of a new Star Trek film — the first one in seven years, the longest span between any two Star Trek movies ever. This movie has the potential to reenergize the franchise and bring it back not only to the public consciousness, but to the television screen. It will be a long time before we can effectively measure the film's success and impact — but it will be only two months before we will have the full feature to judge, and not just this trailer:

(Hat tip to Dayton Ward)

The Return of Super Megafest

26-Nov-08 11:16 PM by
Filed under Celebrities, Potpourri; 5 comments.

The weekend before Thanksgiving has become a tradition of celebrities of sci-fi, wrestling, and nostalgia. A half-hour west of Boston, a Sheraton hotel again became the home of the annual Super Megafest, a convention for comic book dealers, cosplayers, and all manner of geeks and fans.

Having attended last year's Megafest, I knew what to expect: a small but full hall of merchandise, with a few smaller aisles of celebrity signings. I'm not a collector and, as appealing as the vintage toys, comics, and posters were, I wouldn't need to budget much time to peruse the various vendors' wares. I'd be there for the stars, who offered not only their autographs but also their time. A fee for their signatures meant the lines to meet these guests would be short, which equated to more time they could spend with each fan. There were actors, wrestlers, artists, and other big names to appeal to everyone, but I narrowed down my must-meet list just three.

Meeting them occurred more quickly than I predicted. Aside from the show floor, there was a too-small conference room in which each celebrity was granted a half-hour moderated Q&A session. No schedule was posted to the show's Web site, so I took a gamble and showed up as late as 2:30 PM on Saturday. At exactly that moment, the first star on my list was taking the stage, followed immediately afterward by the next. I could not have planned my first hour at the Megafest more precisely.

Dawn Wells, famous for her innocent portrayal of Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island, was happy to entertain questions from the fans. Though Ms. Wells now runs a film school in Idaho, most of the discussion was about the role and show she is best known for. Ms. Wells said that in the Sixties, Gilligan's Island was how the rest of the world saw America, though she made no allusion to another group that thought the show was real. More recently, she considered the 2004 reality show based on the series a travesty — "Why would you take anything so wholesome and have Mary Ann and Ginger mud wrestle?" Yet even the original series has its dark rumors, such as that the seven castaways were modeled after the seven deadly sins, with Mary Ann representing envy. "Preposterous," claimed Ms. Wells. During this short session, I did not get the opportunity to ask either of my burning questions: how did she and the Professor feel about the theme song reducing them to "the rest"; and why could the Professor build a radio out of coconuts, but he couldn't repair a hole in a boat?

I bumped into Ms. Wells again later when she was signing autographs, but she seemed preoccupied. I briefly mentioned the book Gilligan's Wake to her, but she'd never heard of it. We then both moved on.

After her Q&A, I kept my seat for Jonathan Frakes, prolific sci-fi actor and director best known for the role of Commander William T. Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation. He paraded down the room to the theme of TNG, courtesy his own vocal talents — remarkable, since the theme has no words. "Sorry, but I love that song," he grinned. That introduction set the tone for the rest of the session, as Mr. Frakes seemed genuinely amused by absolutely everything: his history, his fans, their questions. I did not expect someone attending his umpteenth convention in 20 years to be so gracious, but there he was. He asked our opinion of the new Star Trek movie. I offered "cautiously optimistic", to which he replied, "I feel the same, except for the 'cautiously' part." He added, "I got to visit the bridge, and it is spec-TAC-ular" (emphasis his). "And the studios are serious about it. For the money they're pumping into it, we could've made three or four more Trek films — NOT THAT I'M BITTER!" Mr. Frakes also had a full portfolio of other roles he was happy to discuss: everything from having recently auditioned for a part on Reaper to his work as host for Alien Autopsy. "I was the spokesperson for the paranormal for several years," he reflected. "'We can't get Stewart, but call Frakes! He'll do anything!' I was the Mikey of sci-fi." This time, I got my turn to ask a question: "I loved Gargoyles. Could you talk about your work as a voice actor?" (two sentences which he interrupted with, "You have excellent taste.") "It's a dream job. You get to go to work in your pajamas." Also: "I don't understand why Gargoyles didn't last longer." That makes two of us.

I later caught up with Mr. Frakes at his autograph table. Just ahead of me was a young girl of six or seven to whom Mr. Frakes was enthusiastically recommending Seussical the Musical. As she left, he commented to me, "She had no idea what I was saying." I disagreed: "You'd be surprised what sticks at that age. I was only eight when my dad sat me down to watch the sequel to a show he'd grown up with." "And he made you watch every episode after that?" "Are you kidding? After that first episode, he didn't have to make me do anything!" "… You were born in 1979?" he asked. I expected this question to lead into an unoriginal crack about how old I made him feel. Instead he nodded sagely and commented, "That's a good age to get into Star Trek." I'd brought along my copy of First Contact for Mr. Frakes, the film's director, to sign, telling him, "This really was the best movie. You really understood what Star Trek was about." Another director might've taken that as an opportunity to denigrate Stuart Baird, who capsized the TNG film franchise with his direction of Nemesis. Mr. Frakes simply added, "We had a great script to work with." Before then, I'd already respected him as an actor; I did not expect him to exhibit such humility and grace as to leave me also respecting him as a person.

The final highlight of the day was meeting Carroll Spinney, the man inside the Big Bird costume since 1969. (Mr. Spinney also brings to life Oscar the Grouch.) Like my three older brothers, I grew up on Sesame Street and was moved to meet someone who had been such a good friend to me; part of me regrets not taking the opportunity to give him a big hug. When I told him I still remembered the day everyone met Mr. Snuffleupagus, he replied, "That was a Thursday." What a gentle and amusing sense of humor!

I got far more out of my two hours at this year's Megafest than one would think. Whereas Adam West and Burt Ward charged $50 per signature in 2007, this year was more reasonable, almost disproportionately so: $30 for Dawn Wells, $25 for Jonathan Frakes, and $20 for Carroll Spinney. But though I went home with fewer autographs this year, I took with me more memories. Sure, Ray Park and Helen Slater have an undeniable "cool" factor, but their performances didn't have nearly the impact on my upbringing as Mr. Spinney's and Mr. Frakes'. This weekend, they gave me more than their autographs: they gave me the chance to say "Thank you."

Library Distortion Field

15-Jan-07 5:35 PM by
Filed under Reviews; 3 comments.

Just as my Trekkie nature led me to watch What the Bleep?!, a film with a cameo by Quark, I've now been pulled in the direction of The Librarian. Commander William Riker directed the recent second film in this TNT series of action-adventure-comedy films, both of which are now available on DVD.

The underlying concept for these films is that every myth, legend, or rumor you ever heard, from King Arthur to King Midas, is true. The artifacts of these tales are stored in a high-security museum, and Noah Wyle's character, with his genius intellect and short attention span, is its new protector. In the first film, Hitler's Spear of Destiny is stolen; in the second, the storeroom of Solomon's biblical wisdom is revealed. In each, Wyle is sent overseas, where he meets a headstrong woman, wins her over with immature innocence, and beats the Bad Guys and their nefarious booby traps.

Yes, these films are as predictable as they sound; no, I can't say "But despite that, they're actually quite good." The series borrows from Indiana Jones, Casablanca, and everything in between, without doing any one thing better than its source — unsurprising, considering the quality company The Librarian is trying to keep.

But I can imagine these films being perfect for a younger audience. Wyle's character is enough of a caricature of an accidental hero to be entertaining; the plot is evenly paced between action and exposition; and there's no nudity, vulgarity, or violence beyond Power Ranger levels. Adults will enjoy the dry wit of Bob Newhart, Wyle's employer and mentor. So, for these reasons, the films warrant having been made, and I anticipate a third to close out the trilogy.

Coincidentally, I went from watching Wyle, best known in geek circles for his starring role in The Pirates of Silicon Valley, to watching the actual Steve Jobs deliver his MacWorld keynote speech. A recent hardware malfunction had me a week behind in such news, so I downloaded the entire 105-minute video from iTunes to get the scoop straight from the horse's mouth. I have no interest in either an iPhone or an Apple TV, but it was an entertaining presentation nonetheless. It makes me wonder: What would Apple be without Steve Jobs?