Unboxing Star Trek: The Original Series

08-Sep-16 1:00 PM by
Filed under Star Trek; 1 comment.

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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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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William Shatner Performs Bohemian Rhapsody

20-Oct-11 7:55 PM by
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As my friend Andy put it: that which is seen cannot be unseen.

William Shatner, who launched his musical career in 1968, has not let his lack of talent deter him from staying the couse. "Bohemian Rhapsody" is part of a twenty-track album that Shatner released last week:

Captain Kirk lives! With an eclectic set of songs about space, William Shatner continues his hilarious, touching, inspired, and insane approach to music. Since he isn’t really a singer, he surrounds himself with folks like Brad Paisley, Sheryl Crow, and Lyle Lovett to help with the heavy lifting.

Seeking Major Tom is currently available for $11.99 from Apple iTunes, $7.99 from Amazon, or $13.99 as a physical CD. Though before making an investment, you may want to consider how far Shatner's musical abilities haven't come:

(Hat tip to Roddenberry.com)

Fanboys' Rebellion

03-Nov-08 10:35 PM by
Filed under Star Wars, Trailers; 4 comments.

Star Wars has inspired some fantastic fan films, from Chad Vader to Ryan vs. Dorkman. As artistic and engaging as these creations are, they are usually limited in their budget and scope; few are more than a few minutes in length. Meanwhile, more ambitious projects, such as Heart of an Empire or 5/25/77, never see the light of day.

Finally, a feature-length film inspired by Star Wars will get a nationwide theatrical release — thanks in no small part to a cast that includes Kevin Smith, William Shatner, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Kristen Bell, Seth Rogen, Ray Park, and Superman Returns' Jimmy Olsen, with Kevin Spacey producing. The first trailer for Fanboys brings to life every geek's hopes and dreams:

Although I'm not always a fan of either Seth Rogen or Kristen Bell, this star-studded film looks like a ton of fun for anyone who knows Star Wars and Star Trek as well as the typical Showbits reader. A healthy dork is one who can laugh at himself, and I suspect I won't be alone in counting myself among that crowd come Fanboys' opening night of February 6, 2009.

(Hat tip to ComingSoon.net)

Riff Treks

10-Feb-08 10:02 PM by
Filed under Films, Star Trek; 4 comments.

I admit it: I'm a Star Trek fanboy. Almost anything bearing the Star Trek name is instantly fantastic — it's just a matter of degree. Within that realm is a wide variety, from the awesomely fantastic (Deep Space Nine, First Contact) to the pathetically fantastic (Nemesis), but I'll still be first in line for all of them. Such zeal may make me a laughing stock… but I've found the most valuable trait of any hardcore geek is a healthy sense of humor.

Over the years, there have been multiple instances when the combination of geekdom and comedy intersected with brilliant results. The most mainstream occurrence was in 1999, when an all-star cast including Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, and Tony Shalhoub appeared in the feature film Galaxy Quest. The trailers of the time made the movie look like weak sci-fi fare intended for the unsophisticated masses, so I didn't see it until 2002 — at which time I wished I hadn't waited so long. I rewatched it this weekend and was again impressed with how much fun it was.

Galaxy QuestGalaxy Quest doubles as the name of a fictional cancelled television series, its cast of washed-up has-beens since having taken to the tour circuit, making their living signing autographs and reciting famous lines. But their reruns have been misinterpreted as historical documents by an alien civilization that has made into reality all elements of the show (think "A Piece of the Action"). These xenoforms abduct the thespian crew of the NSEA Protector to help their new ship and stave off extinction at the hands of a tyrannical despot (whose vehicle my 80-year-old movie buddy immediately identified as reminiscent of the Doomsday machine — a fitting homage!).

As an amalgam of fantasy and reality, Galaxy Quest succeeds in mocking the synonymous Star Trek as well as its actors and fans. Via the show-within-a-show device, everyone gets their turn: from the pomposity of William Shatner to the inevitable expendability of the red shirts to the obsessive fanboys. Even Star Trek alumni had the sense to appreciate the film.

It's likely many fans of Home Improvement saw Galaxy Quest as a Tim Allen vehicle, but I can't imagine the film being nearly as entertaining for those who have not seen Star Trek themselves. And if you're lucky enough to be one of those veterans of the original material, there are more hands-on opportunities to lampoon the franchise. RiffTrax, the downloadable audio commentaries from the talent that brought you Mystery Science Theater 3000, has thus far parodied 49 movies, and Star Trek has the dubious honor of being three of them. For a limited time, you can buy all three Star Trek RiffTrax for $8.99. Though admittedly that's a savings of only one dollar, it's still a great excuse to grab the MP3s to play alongside The Final Frontier, The Undiscovered Country, and Generations — the latter of which is sampled here:

Don't ever laugh at a Trekkie — but by all means, please do laugh at yourself. As Data would say, "It's a wonderful feeling!"

I'll have a ham and cheese on rye

20-Feb-07 12:00 PM by
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I have never seen CSI, West Wing, Law & Order, or any number of other popular dramas. Not only do my television tastes lean more to The Dick Van Dyke Show, Quantum Leap, and Buffy — you know, fun stuff not likely to be mistaken for the evening news — but I also have not had television service in eight years. I am not secluded from popular culture, though, and I absorb the gist of shows like Lost and 24 rather easily. But one show had me stumped and required direct exposure.

After years of not comprehending the concept of a "legal dramedy", I finally got my hands on the first season of Boston Legal, which has been on ABC since 2004. Before I returned the DVDs, I watched only the pilot episode; without any following or even previous experience (The Practice falls within my blackout zone), I'm hardly qualified to offer an informed opinion. But I'm happy to share my uninformed one, based on first impressions.

The cast was what first struck me. William Shatner was a given, but Rene Auberjonois' inclusion as a changeling lawyer (talk about two-faced!) had escaped my memory. More surprising was Mark Valley, who played Jack Deveraux (or one of them, anyway) on Days of our Lives — a show my overindulgence of which prompted my kicking the TV habit. I don't think I'd ever seen a soap star get a "real" acting job, so it seemed fitting that he's described in this episode as a "Ken doll".

Also notable in the pilot was Larry Miller of Christopher Guests' films — and, of course, James Spader, who I now find unrecognizable from his Stargate stardom.

As for the show itself, I was a bit surprised and relieved that it is not a comedy in the sense of a spoof; it does not do for for the glut of legal dramas what Get Smart did for James Bond. Nothing about the show is infeasible, which probably makes it more consumable and popular to the masses sitting on their sofa seats, waiting for CSI's other shoe to fall. The situations all seemed realistic, but the snappy dialogue that would be used to dramatic effect elsewhere is effectively comedic here.

Though it cannot compete with a show that focuses on doing either drama or comedy well, Boston Legal makes up in breadth what it lacks in depth, successfully straddling the line between the two genres. I don't know that any show can hook someone after just one episode; if first and last impressions were one and the same, how many of us would've become Trekkies? I liked the pilot episode, but I'd have to see more before I fall in love with it. Unfortunately for Boston Legal, I too am a creature of breadth, and rather than explore the show further, I am moving on to my virgin showing of Firefly. If lines are to be straddled, let it be with cowboys and aliens!

To Grandma's House We Go

04-Jan-07 3:16 PM by
Filed under Reviews; 2 comments.

I recently saw the CGI animated film Over the Hedge. I'd not read the comic strip upon which it is based, but like any good adaptation, it didn't seem necessary to enjoy the film.

And enjoy it I did! Like most good animated films, it had plenty of content aimed at kids and adults alike. It was fun to pick out the well-known actors' voices, especially those not typically associated with animation, such as Bruce Willis and Avril Lavigne. Of course, one of the dangers of such top-tier talent is the difficulty disassociating them from their images. They played to William Shatner's and Eugene Levy's nicely, but I had a hard time not seeing "The Verminator" character, played by Thomas Haden Church, as akin to Lowell from Wings (or perhaps even Spider-Man 3's Sandman?).

I was a bit disappointed the film didn't have a stronger moral, though. Wikipedia suggests that, unlike the 1994 animated Japanese film Pom Poko, Over the Hedge "does not… develop the themes of environmentalism or anti-urbanization." OTOH, perhaps that's my own political beliefs viewing a missed opportunity; such may've been misplaced in "just a cartoon" (as some felt it was in Happy Feet).

In November, when I expressed a conflict between seeing Casino Royale or Happy Feet, a group of "adults" mocked me for even considering the latter, especially since I have no grandchildren with whom to see it. I'm disappointed that people are willing to judge, and thus limit themselves, art based on the medium. Something being animated does not necessarily make it a "cartoon"; just watch Richard Adams' Watership Down or Plague Dogs — as a friend of mine recently did, commenting, "I can't believe anyone would let their kids watch this!" (which she thought they would, since it's "just a cartoon", right?) Comic books, video games, Dungeons & Dragons — they too have been criticized by outsiders. Until they learn, I'll happily continue enjoying these media, while the critics don't even know what they're missing…