Thursday, July 28, 2016

Top Ten Most Annoying and/or Useless Aliens in Star Trek

Star Trek introduced us to a wide variety of aliens in the galaxy. Some are fearsome, others are allies, while some provide us with some good laughs. Still, in every galaxy not every species can be seen a good use of space. Here are my picks for the aliens that I really don’t think added a whole lot to the Trek universe and would have been happier if they had never graced my TV screen.

10. The Catullans (Original Series) – From the episode “The Way to Eden” we are introduced to a Catullan, the son of an ambassador, and one of a band of intergalactic hippies. This is their only introduction, so to be fair we do not know for certain that this one wayward son is a true representative of his entire race, but on the offside chance that he is, his is a planet I have no wish to ever visit. Call me “Herbert” if you must. Because they only have the one character representing them, I placed them much lower on the list, but if the whole planet is full of cringe-worthy hippies, then they would shoot right on up (or down, as it may be) this list.

9. Dopterians (Deep Space 9) – These guys are close relatives to the Ferengi, which means Betazoids can’t read them. They were often used in civilian roles and as petty criminals, such as smugglers, thieves, and the like. Not much to them to make them stand out. It was almost as if they were used whenever they needed an unscrupulous character but for some reason the writers didn’t want to have a Ferengi.

8. The Aldeans (Next Generation) – This group of people are so enlightened that they cut off all ties with the rest of the galaxy. Talk about your elitist snobs. They went so far to achieve their perfect isolation that they cloaked their entire planet. Unfortunately, this eventually made the race sterile, to the point where they kidnapped Wes Crusher and a handful of other children to help repopulate their species. This made me scratch my head a little when I first saw it, because even as a teenager I realized that they needed more than a single-digit number of children to repopulate a species. So much for being a highly advanced and intelligent species.

7. The Overlookers (Voyager) – Take the Teletubbies and cross them with bitter potatoes, and you get the Overlookers. Based on how much time some of them spend watching other crews, you could say that this crossing included couch potatoes. They were the Delta Quadrant’s Peeping Toms, spying on passing ships to determine if it was worth it to raid them. Their Hierarchy definitely was a bit OCD on the whole Risk vs Benefit scale. Try as I did, I just could not take these guys seriously, especially considering more impressive alien species that Voyager encountered.

6. Son’a (Star Trek: Insurrection) – The Ba’ku were a highly advanced species of human-looking aliens that gave up their technology to live a simpler life on a planet that basically granted them immortality. At one point, a group of their youth decided to rebel from their parents and kick themselves out of the proverbial Garden of Eden. From them the Son’a were born. They quickly learned that not living forever sucked, so they built their civilization on acquiring riches, slaves, and facelifts (or, more accurately, face stretches). They then conspired with a grumpy old Starfleet Admiral to overtake their home world in exchange for the Fountain of Youth. These guys were supposed to be the Big Bad villains of the movie, and they ended up looking more like spoiled whiners who wanted to be sitting at the adult table again. In all the movies, the Son’a were arguably the most disappointing villain (and yes, I am putting the Whale probe in The Voyage Home ahead of them).

5. The Wadi (Deep Space 9) – From the episode “Move Along Home” these were the first official invited visitors from the Gamma Quadrant. They arrive at Deep Space Nine and immediately…head to Quarks to gamble. After they catch Quark cheating them, they force him to play a game where Sisko and three of his officers are the game pieces. They subject them to poisonous gas, falling off of cliffs, lights that make you disappear, and the ever stuck-in-your-head rhyme song “Allamaraine”. When it was all said and done, it is revealed that Sisko and his crew were never in any real danger, because it was “only a game”. With all that technological power, I guess I expected more than being avid gamers. I bet they’d be awesome at Pokemon Go.

4. Ornithoids (Original Series) – Korob and Sylvia had a lot of potential. They could use magic, create castles, turn into giant scary cats, and turn the Enterprise crew into mindless automatons. While appearing in human form they seemed powerful. Then, at the end of the episode, they are shown in their true form. Having the shape, size, and features of puppets made out of dryer lint. I get that the surprise of seeing these powerful beings as somewhat less than impressive in their true form, but did the producers have to go with the lowest budget creations imaginable?

3. Kazon (Voyager) – The Kazon were intended to be the primary villains for the Janeway and her crew for at least the first few seasons. I could never really wrap my head around them. They looked like some hybrid of a Klingon and a seriously bad case of dreadlocks. The writers tried to infuse some depth into their culture, but after a while the Kazon became a bit boring. To see the crew of Voyager tangle with them for the better part of two seasons took away some of the reality of their journey (I mean, either the Kazon region of space is enormous or Tom couldn’t get the ship much past impulse speed). They only became a threat when Seska betrayed the crew and joined up with them. Of all of Voyager’s adversaries, the Kazon hit very low on the list, if not rock bottom.

2. The Pakleds (Next Generation) – “We look for things. We are not smart.” How a species like the Pakleds ever evolved to become space-faring boggles my mind. Their IQ levels are so low that I think my four year old daughter could best them in a battle of wits. We are introduced to them in “The Samaratin’s Snare” where they take Geordi hostage to acquire technology that will help them “go”. Afterwards we only see them in the background, but they are probably looking for things that will make them strong or smart. Obviously not the brightest bulbs in the galaxy, I am thankful they only had dialogue in the one episode.

1. The Edo (Next Generation) – Taking the term “pleasure planet” to the extreme, these guys personify hedonism. I can only wince when I try to imagine the STDs that must be running rampant in a civilization where people wear barely enough clothing to not enrage the censors and will make out with whatever person they come across. I just did not see how this could have possibly been seen as a great creation by the powers that be. So happy they brought in Risa as the exotic vacation of choice.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Review – Star Trek Beyond

Last night my wife and I went to see “Star Trek: Beyond” on opening night. We enjoyed the movie, even beyond our high expectations. While I will save a more in depth review for later (I don’t want to spoil it for those who have not yet had a chance to see it), I thought I would give you my initial thoughts on how the latest of the Kelvin Timeline movies.

It is three years into their five-year mission, and Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise arrive at the wonderful space station Yorktown. Both Kirk and Spock begin to contemplate a future away from the ship, when a mysterious alien arrives asking for help. The Enterprise is sent on a rescue mission and quickly find themselves being the ones in need of a rescue. Before too long the ship is attacked and the crew scattered across a strange planet. Their enemy is Krall, a mysterious and violent man who is determined to push back against the Federation. With the help of a new ally, Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Sulu, Chekov, and Uhura are pushed to their limits in saving not only themselves but the future of the Federation.

The movie is a roller coaster ride of action. It keeps you engaged and eager for more throughout the whole movie. The pacing of the movie is not perfect but is better than most movies. The dialogue is clever and fits the characters well. Everybody gets a good dose of screen time. Naturally the focus is on Kirk and Spock, but Scotty and Chekov get a bit more attention than they usually have in the reboot franchise. While it is true that the storyline is a bit formulaic and can be a bit predictable, it is still a story that shows elements of thought and planning with a few surprises here and there. Yes, there are moments when, contrary to Scotty’s classic plea, the Laws of Physics are changed. Guess what people? It’s a movie. It helps to allow yourself to ignore these things from time to time. Oh, and if there is nothing else that critics of the first two movies have to rejoice over, the lens flare effects are gone. And there was much rejoicing.

Most importantly, the movie introduces us to a wonderful villain. While not on the level of Khan (I should add, Wrath of Khan, not Into Darkness Khan), he is right up there as the best villain of the Kelvin Timeline series. Krall is intensely portrayed by one of today’s most talked about actors Idris Elba. Krall is evil, but as we learn was not always this way. To develop his character more would have required either more time or a second movie, but he did well for the time that he had. Most importantly, as in all things Trek, Krall provides the movie with some much needed social commentary. Krall is convinced that the Federation concepts of unity among different cultures is weakness, while our heroes beg to differ. In a time where the United States is choosing their next president and one of the main candidates claims that the cooperation between the US and its allies has contributed to a weakening of US influence, I found this attitude of Krall’s to be quite timely. My one critique of this theme is that it does not become fully resolved. I hope this does not give too much away, but the unity of the different cultures in the Federation does not defeat Krull or prove his ideology wrong. Instead, the resolution of this ideological conflict is forgotten.

This movie also has a healthy and appropriate dose of tribute to the past. While the previous film was heavily criticized for trying too hard to retell familiar stories, this one finds the right balance that would help the movie appeal to both the diehard and the newer fans. Events such as the Xindi War (from Star Trek: Enterprise) and the Romulan War are referenced as having an impact of the events of this story. Also, the movie pays a loving tribute to the previous Star Trek crew and the actors who first brought these iconic characters to life. Near the end of the movie there is a special scene that brought tears to my eyes as Shatner, Nimoy, Kelley, Doohan, Takei, Koenig, and Nichols are given a special tip of the hat. For me, it was especially touching as we no longer have some of these wonderful people with us. Most recently, we lost Leonard Nimoy. His absence is specifically touched on as the movie is dedicated to his memory. When the characters discuss Ambassador Spock (and, by proxy, Leonard Nimoy), the actors are no longer acting. Their reactions are genuine, heartfelt, and true.

Sadly, another dedication for this movie brought about a certain sense of loss and sorrow. In June we lost Anton Yelchin, the actor who brought such energy and enthusiasm to the character of Pavel Chekov. He was killed in a freak and tragic accident. In recent interviews producer J. J. Abrams has stated that he would go ahead with the fourth movie but without the recasting of the character of Pavel Chekov. What will this mean for the character has yet to be decided, but there was a sense of finality when the last dedication “For Anton” came across the screen. Rest in peace, Anton. Say hi to the rest of the gang for us.

Star Trek: Beyond is a fitting film to help us celebrate 50 years of Star Trek. It has amazing visuals, exciting action, and great relationships. Whereas the other movies featuring the original cast had the benefit of pre-established characters to allow more in-depth story development, “Beyond” does well in giving us a good story. Some meaningful characters are introduced, and some familiar characters are further developed. While not the strongest of Star Trek films, it is a worthy entry into the franchise. It goes beyond the expectations of this Trekkie.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Episode Review - Move Along Home (Deep Space Nine, Season 1)

Episode – Move Along Home (Deep Space Nine Season 1)

For those who are new to my episode reviews, you can find the post where I establish my point criteria here.

Episode Overview – The crew of Deep Space Nine welcome a delegation of a newly discovered species, the Wadi, from the Gamma Quadrant. Much to Sisko’s surprise, the guests of honor head straight to Quark’s where they soon begin to play a game that has Sisko and his officers facing stakes that appear to be higher than anyone expected.

Episode Score – 4/10. I found this episode to be fun, yet not very meaningful. The idea of Sisko and his team fighting for their lives in an elaborate maze of puzzles and obstacles is intriguing yet unoriginal. As is typical, the four crew members have to each use their own skill sets to overcome the different levels. Colm Meaney was filming a movie when this episode was filmed, so Chief O’Brien is absent. Replacing the role of the character is Lt. George Primmin, played by James Lashly, and marks the second and final appearance of the character. I liked Primmin, and wished he would have returned a few more times. This being a first season episode, I found that some of the actors were still trying to find their groove with their characters, most notably Alexander Siddig as Bashir. Quark and Odo get some great moments as they try to save the senior officers. What is most telling about this episode is the ending, and it is still debated by fans. Largely, the ending falls flat for many fans. I thought the idea of the whole story being just a game and that the crew were never in any real mortal danger to be unique and original, yet it didn’t quite work for me. It took a potentially great show and made it a bit ho-hum.

Relevance – 1 point. The only thing of true relevance is the mention of the name of one of Quark’s regular waiters, Broik, who will appear in several episodes over the whole seven-year run of the series.

Continuity – 2 points. Trek universe continuity – 1 point. Nothing seemed to be out of place in the Trek universe, especially how greedy Ferengi can be. Character continuity – 1 point. Nobody is acting out of character. Story continuity – 0 points. There really isn’t anything that contributes to story continuity, one way or another.

Character Development – 1 point. Quark shows a bit of affection towards the senior staff as he believes he is playing for their lives. Other than that, nothing really moves any particular character along.

Social Commentary – 1 point. The social commentary in this episode is a stretch for me to make. We can argue that gaming can be dangerous, or we can say that games are simple games and not to be taken too seriously. As I am writing this review, the game Pokemon Go is beginning to sweep the world and is becoming a huge phenomenon, so the message that can be taken from this episode might have a little more meaning than before (told you I was stretching).

Cool Factor – 0 points. While this is a silly, light-hearted episode, I can’t really say there is anything cool about it.

Rank – Ensign (9 points). Not a great episode, and if you are only wanting to watch key, important episodes then this is one to skip. I do have a fond memory connected to this episode. Shortly after it first aired my friends and I attended a Trek Convention in Edmonton (the guest was Nana Visitor). We entered a sound-alike contest which we won with variations of the “Allamaraine” rhyme based on various characters. The only one I can remember off hand was me doing Odo: “Allamaraine, I hate Quark; Allamaraine, he’s a dork. Allamaraine, he thinks I’m not there; Allamaraine, I’m actually the chair”. A silly skit for a silly episode.

If you would like to read other reviews from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, please click the following link.

If you would like to read an episode review from any of the Trek series, click the following link to get to the series catalog. If the episode you want reviewed has not been done yet, then feel free to request it in the comments and I will see what I can do.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Episode Review - Tsunkatse (Voyager, Season 6)

For those who are new to my episode reviews, you can find the post where I establish my point criteria here.

Episode Overview – (Star Trek: Voyager: Season 6) While on some much needed shore leave, members of the Voyager crew discover “tsunkatse”, a sort of mixed-martial arts combat sport. Meanwhile, Seven of Nine and Tuvok are captured by the producer of the games, who forces Seven to fight in his arena. The crew must then attempt a rescue as Seven finds herself in a fight to the death.

Episode Score – 6/10. This was a fairly routine episode. The story is a rehash of the typical “forcing a character to fight against their will”. It is not poorly done, but when you compare it to a similar DS9 two-episode story (“In Purgatory’s Shadow” and “By Inferno’s Light”), it is very superficial. So while this is a good episode, it does not give us anything special beyond a reason for then-WWF (now WWE) fans to watch the Rock in his first acting role.

Relevance – 2 points. The Hirogen have been used before, and the Hirogen character played by veteran Trek actor J G Hertzler adds another dimension to this species. The species responsible for tsunkatse (the Norcadians) show up again in the form of Mezoti, one of the child drones taken aboard by Voyager in the next episode, “Collective”.

Continuity – 2 points. Story continuity, check. Nothing contradicts anything. The fact that in the next episode we see Mezoti, a Norcadian, makes sense since we are still in the same region of space. Character continuity, check. Everyone acts within established parameters. Seven and Tuvok go on a survey mission for their shore leave, everyone thinks they’re nuts, etc. Universe continuity... hold on there. The Hirogen acts the way we would expect him to act, and I would add that this character, while unnamed, definitely adds depth to this alien race. Where I have an issue is that in the audience, there are several aliens who are background aliens in Deep Space Nine. Have to ding them for that.

Character Development – 1 point. Yet another Seven of Nine episode, but this does not do a whole lot to develop her character. She shows allegiance to her crewmate and continues to butt heads with B’Elanna. Beyond this we learn that many members of the crew enjoy a good old fashioned MMA fight. That’s it for character development.

Social Commentary – 1 point. The best I can figure is that this episode makes reference to mankind’s fascination with combat sports. Since the times of the Coliseum in Ancient Rome, we have loved blood sport entertainment. This theme is only lightly touched upon. While professional wrestling is all theatrics, we do have MMA organizations such as UFC, and boxing is still a major attraction, yet rarely is a person’s life threatened. Any commentary on the legitimacy of such combat sports is buried in the vessel of the plot to make a Seven of Nine focused story.

Cool Factor – 2 points. The guest stars make up the cool factors for this episode. If you are a professional wrestling fan, you appreciated the Rock as the intimidating Pendari Champion. This was the first acting job for Dwayne Johnson (although to any WWE/WWF fan he basically was the Rock in prosthetics, right down to the Rock Bottom finisher and the raised eyebrow). This was also a deliberate cross-pollination of UPN products, as in addition to Voyager they were also aired WWF Smackdown. I am giving the second cool factor point to having J G Hertzler and Jeffrey Combs making their first Voyager appearance after having established popular secondary characters in DS9. This is also the first time that the two actors appear in the same scenes on a Trek episode. Combs plays Penk, the Norcadian producer of the sport (and Combs’ fifth Trek character), while Hertzler plays the unnamed Hirogen veteran (also his fifth character).

Rank – Lieutenant (14 points). This is a fun episode. Nothing too serious, nothing too revealing. A good mid-level quality episode with some cool features. Wrestling fans will likely get a little more out of it, but it has some good moments for all.