Unboxing Star Trek: The Next Generation on Blu-Ray

05-Apr-16 9:00 AM by
Filed under Star Trek; 3 comments.

In 2010, I bought the complete box set of Star Trek: The Next Generation on DVD. It was an indulgence I'd long lusted after, and once I finally had it… it sat in its box, unopened and unwatched.

A year later, I bought my first Blu-Ray player and began lusting after a new prize: The Next Generation in high definition. I blogged at that time about the significant work the studio had done to remaster this classic television series, and theatrical screenings of highlights of each updated season were proof that my dusty old DVDs fell short. I sold the old box set to a friend last fall but left its space open on my shelf for a high-def replacement.

The only thing keeping me from buying the complete series (again) was that each of the seven seasons was available individually only; there was no box set collecting the entire run at a more affordable price. Such a set was announced just yesterday: Star Trek: The Next Generation — The Complete Series: Epik Pack launches on June 7 for $208.99.

But I didn't know that a month ago, which is when I felt the itch to splurge. Some online searches unearthed an alternative to waiting for a domestic release: Amazon.co.uk sells a complete box set of region-free Blu-Ray discs for only £66, or roughly $100 USD including shipping. Such a deal! I was sold.

The result of my purchases recently arrived and, just in time for today being First Contact Day, is the subject of my latest unboxing video:

I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation with my father; this box set, ordered while he was still alive, arrived two weeks later, the day after his funeral. Rather than being a melancholy reminder of our time together, it's serving as the surprising foundation for a new relationship: my mother has now expressed an interest in discovering Star Trek, which she never paid much attention to before. I thought I'd lost my Star Trek buddy and am astonished and thrilled to find I have a new partner with whom to share these voyages. Her introductory episode was "The Inner Light", after which we're going back to the first season and progressing chronologically through these episodes that focus on human-interest stories:

This box set was a perfect purchase at a time it was most needed. I look forward to boldly going through my first Star Trek, seeing it as never before, sharing it for the first time with my mom.

My first Star Trek convention

03-Jan-14 12:21 PM by
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This past June, I attended my first Star Trek convention.

"WHAT?!" you say. "You've been a Trekkie since TNG debuted in 1987, and you've never attended a con?! What's wrong with you?!"

For one, there hasn't been an abundance of Star Trek conventions in Boston, at least not that I've been aware of. Two, I've traditionally gotten my Star Trek celebrity fix at Super Megafest, where I've had the honor of meeting Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, and Marina Sirtis. Three, I wasn't really sure what a Star Trek convention would consist of. Video game conventions like MAGFest or PAX East have panels, workshops, seminars, and speeches on topics from programming to gamification to gender representation to crowdfunding. I didn't imagine that a Star Trek convention would boast such variety.

But when Creation Entertainment brought to Boston a convention featuring almost the entire Next Generation cast — only Stewart, Frakes, Diana Muldar, and Wil Wheaton would be absent — as well as actors from TOS and DS9 (though none from Voyager, Enterprise, or the new movies), I knew it'd be worth at least the short trek into Beantown.

As it turned out, my expectation of the con agenda's homogeneity was right on the mark. Other than a costume contest, every session was dedicated solely to celebrity Q&A, with almost no preamble, presentation, or even moderation — the actors simply took the stage and immediately turned to the audience for topics. Almost no actor appeared alone, instead being paired with someone with whom they shared screen time, such as Michael Dorn with Suzie Plakson (Worf and K’Ehleyr), Brent Spiner with Gates McFadden (Data and Beverly Crusher), and Rene Auberjonois with Nana Visitor (Odo and Kira Nerys). The questions were fun, ranging from personable ("What was it like working with so-and-so?") to technical ("Why doesn't the Prime Directive apply to a planet's flora as well as its fauna?"). My favorite line was from someone who had done his research, who presented this fact to Dorn: "We watched every episode of TNG, and the number of times the captain took one of Worf's suggestions in seven years was only once!" The audience roared to learn what a pansy our favorite Klingon was.

IMG_3262 The best panel was Saturday night, when Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Gates McFadden, Michael Dorn, Marinia Sirtis, and Denise Crosby all shared the stage while ostensibly being moderated by William Shatner. From the camaraderie exuded by the crew, it was easy to imagine the show was still on the air, with everyone working together every day and having bonded into a family. At one point when discussing an issue of diversity, Shatner said, "Let's ask our resident black person." Dorn appeared ready to speak as Shatner turned and, pointedly ignoring the Klingon, asked, "LeVar?" Dorn immediately clammed up, got up from his chair, walked to the corner of the stage, folded his arms, and pouted. Only a hug from Burton brought him back to the group. My co-attendee Gene related more anecdotes from this panel in his blog.

The auditorium in which these panels were held, part of the Hynes Convention Center, was massive, seating thousands of people. Although some seats were better than others, there was never concern about not getting into a panel, unlike the massively overcrowded Super Megafest.

As fun as these hour-long sessions were, I preferred the one-on-one interaction offered by autograph sessions, no matter how brief. I got to tell Michael Dorn that I had backed his failed Kickstarter project for the movie Through the Fire. He reflected that fans can be rabidly loyal, but only within a genre, as he found when trying to crowdfund his romantic comedy. I was going to tell Gates McFadden that I'm a fan of her photography with her Beverly Crusher action figure, but she beat me to it when she saw me pick up her business card advertising exactly that exploit, telling me I should check it out. I told LeVar Burton how much I enjoyed the PBS music remix of Reading Rainbow. There was surprisingly no line for Denise Crosby, who was an absolute sweetheart. I reflected how surprised I was that they actually killed off her Lois & Clark character — "Denise Crosby always comes back!" I insisted. When I asked her to make the autograph out to Ken, she said, "A name I know well — my husband's name is Ken." I quipped, "You have excellent taste." She actually had to put down the pen for a moment while she laughed.

All of the above happened on Saturday, and I would've had my fill then, except that the DS9 actors I wanted to meet were attending Sunday only. After a power outage delayed opening of the convention hall that morning, I got in to meet Nana Visitor. I thanked her for portraying the strong yet nuanced female character of Kira. She demurred, "That's just the way she was written." Still, I thanked her for bringing the character to life, though I neglected to suggest how different the show would've been with Michelle Forbes. I also commented how surprised I was to see Visitor appear on the news not for her acting work, but as a person on the street affected by Hurricane Sandy. She laughed, acknowledging that of course she'd be caught on TV without any makeup on!

I got Visitor's autograph twice: once for myself, and once for a friend's daughter (who I described as my niece), who had just started watching DS9 as her introduction to Trek. Visitor asked how old my niece is, and I guessed (correctly!) eight, which gave her pause — DS9 is pretty dark for such a young person to be watching. But it's how old I was when I started with TNG, and we all have to start somewhere!

Next in line was Rene Auberjonois, who earlier in the day had been selling simple line drawings of Odo's bucket in exchange for a donation to Doctors Without Borders — a worthy cause, but I wanted the standard 8"x11" autographed glossy. When he started signing my photo, I asked him to make it out to my first name. "Well, Ken," he hesitated, "here's the deal: I'm personalizing autographs only if you make a $5 donation to Doctors Without Borders." Given that I'd spent almost all my money on other autographs and had already spent $25 to get this far in Auberjonois's line, I felt a bit ambushed. Had this surcharge been advertised sooner, or if the autograph had been $5 less, I might not have been so caught off-guard. Fortunately, when I emptied my wallet on the table, showing him the only $4 I had, he accepted that donation. I made up the difference and then some when I got home, as again, it's a great cause, and I admire Auberjonois for lending his celebrity status to it — I just thought the delivery could've been better.

STcreat13_10 The last treat of the weekend were the photograph opportunities, which are sold separately from the autograph sessions. If you want to drop a ton of money very quickly, autographs and photographs are the way to go. Photographs ranged from $80 (William Shatner) to $40 (almost everyone else), and autographs were $90 (Shatner again) to $20 (Suzie Plakson). Not rich enough for your blood? A single photo with Shatner and the entire TNG panel he moderated was $379 — oof! The saving grace is that these prices are valid for one or two guests in the same photo, and my cohort Gene invited me to share the stage with (and expense of) LeVar Burton and George Takei. I appreciated his generous offer and graciously accepted!

I enjoyed my first Star Trek convention, but although I can imagine many other sessions and topics it could offer, I'm hardpressed to imagine that this con's 2014 return to Boston will be much different from the 2013 event. I'd like to eventually collect autographs from the entire TNG cast — I'm currently missing only Wil Wheaton and Diana Muldar, and their attendance would lure me back. I'd also like to meet more actors from the three post-DS9 shows, as well as some of the shows' directors, producers, and writers. The Boston con featured Morgan Gendel, author of award-winning TNG episode "The Inner Light", but how about getting Rick Berman, Brannon Braga, Manny Coto, or Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens?

Every Star Trek fan should attend at least one convention in her or his life. I can now say that I've attended mine!

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Star Trek mosaic's Christmas landing

27-Dec-12 8:29 PM by
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This year, Star Trek: The Next Generation turned 25. The occasion was popularly celebrated with theatrical screenings and Blu-ray releases, but I wanted to commemorate the milestone personally as well, for this year marked the 25th anniversary of my introduction to the franchise. And I wanted to thank the person responsible for that turning point in my life: my father.

There exists a company called Fan Mosaics which operates on a tried-and-true theory: include your fans in your product, and their ego will guarantee a sale. I've previously and happily supplied my contact info to Paramount and CBS, and Fan Mosaics must've collaborated with them, as they reached out to me with an invitation: provide them with a photo, and they'd include it in a mosaic of the starship Enterprise NCC-1701D, absolutely free. Thousands of other fans had previously provided the photographic material for Fan Mosaic to assemble images of Kirk, Spock, and the original Enterprise, so I'm sure they felt confident letting me know that, if I wanted the final print, it'd be only $19.95 plus shipping.

Although the software to create photo mosaics is nothing extraordinary, I was charmed by the prospect of a visual representation of the community that has formed around Star Trek. My father made me a member of that group, and though he may not participate as enthusiastically as I do, he too belongs in that pantheon. It seemed appropriate for us to be included in the mosaic. I submitted a photo taken of us and my oldest brother at the opening of J.J. Abrams' Star Trek movie. Although it does not show any one of us close up, it is the most thematically appropriate photo I could think of to submit.

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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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As Star Trek: The Next Generation turns 25, my 14 favorite episodes

28-Sep-12 1:08 PM by
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My father never signed me up for Little League or Boy Scouts or karate lessons. Instead, 25 years ago today, he sat me down to watch the premiere of the follow-up to a show he watched as a boy: Star Trek. The debut of The Next Generation in 1987 marked the first return of the show to television since The Original Series went off the air 18 years earlier. With TNG, Star Trek remained on TV for another 18 years, until the cancellation of Enterprise in 2005. It remained a weekly tradition for me and my father for that entire time, more than half my life thus far, and has defined more of my interests and ambitions than I can measure.
Star Trek: The Next Generation cast

They boldly went — and took me and my dad along for the ride.


TNG is now being re-released on Blu-ray DVD, including several bonus features, such as "The Origins of The Next Generation". "There are a lot of issues and challenges in the Eighties and Nineties and the end of the century that need talking about — and they need talking about in drama, because drama will move people, cause people to think much more than any street show," said Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. In the course of addressing those issues, Roddenberry and crew created some wonderful, memorable stories featuring a talented cast. I recounted many of them in a special package that friends Peter Watson, Gene Demaitre, and I put together for the show's 20th anniversary in 2007, but at no point did I specifically name my favorite episodes.

Since the cast and crew of TNG recently identified their favorites, I figured I should, too. So finally, out of 178 episodes, here are 14 that, in no particular order, stand out in my memory.

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Star Trek: TNG on Blu-ray & silver screen

14-May-12 9:55 PM by
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As a geek, I may surprise you by not being beholden to the latest and greatest technology. In addition to cell phones and tablet computers, I'm not yet convinced of the need for Blu-ray DVDs. Their improvement over standard definition seems minimal, especially when a good BD player will upscale existing DVDs to take some advantage of a 1080p display.

However, it's hard for me to ignore the differences between the standard and high definition editions of a show like Star Trek. Having already remastered The Original Series (TOS) for Blu-ray, Paramount and CBS are now turning to The Next Generation (TNG). I hoped this announcement would not undermine my fairly recent investment in all seven seasons of TNG & DS9 on DVD, but this trailer suggests I am, in fact, missing out:

If you want a hands-on experience with TNG in high definition, a $22 sampler was released in January that included the show's two-part pilot, as well as episodes "Sins of the Father" and "The Inner Light". That disc apparently was sufficient proof of concept for the studio to commit to releasing the entire first season, hitting store shelves on July 24th with an MSRP of $118. But even that will have its own sampler — not on yet another retail purchase, but on the silver screen. TVShowsonDVD.com reports that, on Monday, July 23, 600 theaters in 49 U.S. markets will screen episodes "Where No One Has Gone Before" and "Datalore", in addition to some behind-the-scenes extras, as part of the show's 25th anniversary.

Star Trek series are becoming just like Star Wars: now you can own them again for the first time!

Rethinking Super Megafest

11-Nov-11 11:06 AM by
Filed under Celebrities, Potpourri; 2 comments.

For the past several years, I've made an annual tradition of attending the Super Megafest, a sci-fi and nostalgia convention held in Framingham, Massachusetts. It's not a massive affair, but for its size and location, it's still fairly enjoyable, with several aspects to entertain the showgoer: vendors of various geek goods; celebrities on-hand for personal autographs (not free or even cheap!); Q&A sessions with said celebrities; and more.

R2!But I found 2010 to be mildly disappointing, due to a variety of logistical decisions. The Q&A sessions are scheduled for specific times and days, but the event coordinator chooses not to publicize those schedules ahead of time, such as on the Super Megafest Web site; my email requesting this data confirmed that it is not available in advance. Although I realize celebrities' schedules often cannot be determined until the last minute, it's frustrating for me to not know if I should be at the conference on Saturday at 10 AM or 5 PM, or on Sunday. Without the Q&A, I need only an hour or two to absorb the event in its entirety; it's unreasonable to block out an entire two-day weekend for whenever the Q&As might be.

The comfort of the celebrities is of course the organizers' priority, so rather than have the stars stand for an hour during Q&A, they're allowed to sit. But the session is held in a conference room large enough that folks in the back can't see someone seated at the front. A simple riser that would elevate the celebrity would be a simple fix.

Last year, I calculated the cost of admission plus that of Christopher Lloyd's autograph and decided it was worth getting the "VIP speed pass", which included admission and autographs by Lloyd and Lea Thompson. The "speed" aspect allowed me to bypass the line for this celebrity, which would otherwise take hours to traverse. But there was no fine print indicating that this privilege was valid only from 9:30 AM to 10:30 AM! The Web site informed me only that I was paying for "a beat-the-line speed pass". Such vague terminology bordered on the deceptive.

Christopher Lloyd at the Q&A.Despite all that, I was still glad for the opportunity to meet the stars. Few people had paid for the speed pass, which also granted exclusive access to Lloyd's Q&A session, which made for an intimate setting. Everyone got to ask a question, with mine being: "Does an actor of your renown still have to audition for parts, or are they written for or handed to you?" Lloyd said that sometimes, the writers say to themselves, "Oh, this script calls for a drunk? Let's get Lloyd." But more often, he still needs to audition, as it's not always clear whether he or someone else will be right for a part. Lea Thompson never showed up, so my pass got me two Lloyd autographs instead.

I also met Marina Sirtis, better known as Deanna Troi from Star Trek: TNG. She was very friendly and fun, laughing and smiling and calling everyone "hon". When I saw the various 8"x10" glossies she had available to autograph, I chose an off-camera shot from First Contact, commenting, "You were so funny in that film!" She responded, "I was more myself in that Star Trek movie than in any other."

I had some time to kill between sessions, so I sat in on a Q&A by Kristin Bauer, who plays Pam De Beaufort on True Blood. I'd never seen this show so wasn't very interested, but she redeemed herself with the credit of playing Lt. Laneth on an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise.

I ended the show by getting Peter Mayhew's autograph. The taciturn Wookie didn't have much to say and didn't offer to personalize his signature, though he did do so after I handed it back with the request.

The headliners for this year's Super Megafest are Patrick Stewart and Sean Astin. After a month of waffling, and with just a week to spare, I coughed up the dough for another VIP speed pass. I'm a bit disenchanted with Super Megafest, though, and would not have been roped in for another expensive pass for anyone other than Captain Picard.

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)