Friday, November 25, 2016

Why I Love the Original Movie Series

Celebrating the five full decades of Star Trek should be a yearlong event, so I thought I would spread the love of all things Trek. Previously in this series I touched on why I loved the Original Series, the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise. I then looked at the Kelvin timeline movies, and most recently looked at the animated series. Now, it’s time to look at why I love the ten motion pictures from what is now being referred to as the Prime Timeline. Yes, we are looking at everything from Star Trek: The Motion Picture to Star Trek: Nemesis. I wanted to look at this list of movies separately from the more recent J.J. Abrams movies because the two groups are very different. Many fans enjoy both, but a significant number see the recent trio of films as not true Trek. The two sets of films are different entities, and they are treated as such here.

December 1979, after more than a decade since the live action original series first appeared on television, the crew of the USS Enterprise returned for their next adventure. Many have rightfully given credit to Star Wars, being released a couple years before, as the catalyst that allowed Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the rest another shot at telling us important stories. There was a desire to see more space movies on a big scale, and Paramount had just the franchise to mine. From 1979 to 2002, it was not uncommon news to have new Star Trek movies to look forward to. Some, such as Star Trek V, were duds, but we had some great gems of movies (Wrath of Khan, Voyage Home, and First Contact usually topping your typical fan’s favourite list). While it may not have made as much money as other franchises, it was generally successful and quite often well received. It allowed a new generation of fans to discover the show, and the critical success of movies 2-4 allowed interest in a new live-action series to grow. This resulted in the Next Generation, who would carry on the movie tradition with four films of their own. Despite the flaws and misses of some of the movies, there is so much to love about them that it has been hard for me to come up with my Top 5 reasons for loving them, but here we go!


1. Even when bad, there is something to love – Many will argue that the odd numbered films were inferior to the even numbered (except for Nemesis, which many found to be sub-par). While some will speak of “The Motionless Picture” and “Shatner’s Folly” (The Final Frontier), we still have something to love about each of the movies. The Motion Picture was heavily criticized for its slow pace, it is hard to argue that the special effects were brilliant. The Search for Spock is often overlooked because it was not at the same level as the two films that book-end that trilogy, but it struck some fairly emotional cords with its story. Yes, the Final Frontier was loopy, but I have yet to find a film that was able to capture the friendship of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy better than what we saw on their camping trip. Many thought Insurrection was nothing more than a glorified two-part episode on the big screen, but we did get to see some great moments when our beloved characters were able to be in different roles (plus, Geordi finally gets to spend some quality time with his full and proper vision). As for Nemesis, well, we get to see some great cameos of old favourites (Wes Crusher, Guinan, and Admiral Janeway). There is always something good in each of the movies.

2. Big name stars – In Hollywood there are movie stars and television stars. It is difficult to find one who is huge in both. This means that some of our favourite movie stars were only likely to show up in Star Trek in a movie role. We were able to have legends like Malcolm McDowell, Christopher Lloyd, Tom Hardy, and Christopher Plummer take to the stars in memorable roles. The movies were even able to help launch the careers of some great future stars (Kirstie Alley being the most notable).

3. Actor-director precedent – Star Trek III: the Search for Spock set a precedent in the Trek franchise by allowing Leonard Nimoy to work from behind the camera as director. This was a first in the franchise. While many may feel that it was not a big deal as Nimoy was barely in the movie, it was important for a few reasons. First, at the time, many fans were uncertain as to whether or not Spock would return. He had died in the previous movie, and people just did not know how to embrace Trek without our favourite Vulcan. This at least let us know that Leonard Nimoy had not left the Trek family, but was still integrally involved in telling its story. Second, because it was a success, this not only allowed Nimoy a chance to direct “The Voyage Home”, but opened the door for William Shatner to direct the fifth movie (for better or for worse), as well as start people thinking about letting some of the actors in the TV shows direct episodes. This paved the way for the likes of Johnathan Frakes (who also directed back-to-back Next Gen movies), Levar Burton, Michael Dorn, Patrick Stewart, Gates McFadden, Avery Brooks, Rene Auberjonois, Avery Brooks, Roxann Dawson, Alexander Siddig, Robert Duncan McNeill, Robert Picardo, Tim Russ, and Andrew Robinson to have their turn behind the camera. It became a great tradition that all started with the movies.

4. The “You Don’t See That Every Day” factor – the movies allowed Star Trek to do things that had been previously unheard of in Star Trek. It started with Spock’s death in the Wrath of Khan. Never before had a major character been killed, and this led to some great moments for several movies to come. We also were witness to other big events as both Enterprises were destroyed (the original in The Search for Spock, and Picard’s ship in Generations). We were able to see the inside of the Borg cube in much more detail as well. There’s something about having a big movie budget that allows you to do more than you could in a TV series. Everything from climbing a mountain to taking a stroll along the hull of the Enterprise was on the table. We saw the deaths of beloved characters in Khan Singh, Data, and Captain Kirk himself. More could happen than was allowed on the television, and that is what the movies are supposed to be.

5. The stories – Generally speaking, the story-telling in the original movie series was mostly very good to excellent. Yes, looking for God was a bit hokey, the V’Ger story was slow, and the planet of eternal youth was not revolutionary by any means, but the stories told in the movies were, for the most part, engaging. Death, sacrifice, vengeance, forgiveness, war, peace, loss, rebirth, hope, new beginnings, and the end of a journey were all focused on during the course of ten movies. There were great moments that showed our beloved characters doing something new or in a situation that allowed them to shine in unique ways. Think of a drunken Troi trying to get info out of an equally drunk Zefram Cochrane, Chekov stealing his scenes in late 20th Century San Francisco, or McCoy trying to give a Starfleet security officer the Vulcan neck pinch. Lots of “fish out of water” moments for so many of our crew members, and they were all due to great story writing.

So, there we have it, my Top 5 Reasons for Why I Love the Original movies. If you want to see how the movies rank against each other, check out Part 1 and Part 2 of my movie article. This also concludes my look at the many reasons why I love all aspects of Star Trek. It has been a fun year celebrating a half-century of this beloved franchise. I hope yours has been equally enjoyable.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Why I Love the Animated Series

Celebrating the five full decades of Star Trek should be a yearlong event, so I thought I would spread the love of all things Trek. Previously in this series I touched on why I loved the Original Series, the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise. I last wrote on why I loved the Kelvin timeline (my skin has recovered somewhat from the burns that I endured at those who vehemently disagreed with me). Next up, we look at what some consider to be the conclusion of the five year mission of James T Kirk on the USS Enterprise, Star Trek: the Animated Series.

On September 8, 1973 (exactly seven years after Star Trek premiered), the Animated Series warped onto television screens. At the time, animation was still largely seen as a format exclusive to children’s entertainment, so the vibe was a bit different. Death was not as common on these new adventures, episodes were a half hour long, and the theme song was different. The familiar includes most of the main cast. William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Deforest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, and Majel Barrett all reprised their roles, with several supporting characters being voiced by Doohan and Barrett. Only Walter Koenig was not brought back, due to budgetary restraints, although he made his own contribution by writing the episode “The Infinite Vulcan”. 22 episodes were made, and the show won a Daytime Emmy for outstanding Children’s Series in 1975. Many fans felt that they were allowed one last set of adventures with their beloved crew. While this series is not necessarily considered to be canon, there were many elements of it that became incorporated into the other series and films. I will confess that this series is the one that I am the least familiar with, but that has more to do with the fact that I was only able to watch the series in the recent years once they were available on DVD. That does not mean that I am not fond of the series. Here are the top 5 reasons why I love the animated series.

1. The fans were validated – in the reference book “Star Trek – Where No One Has Gone Before”, it was reported that in the early 70s NBC had reworked their Nelson ratings system. They reran the numbers and found that Star Trek, the show they had cancelled in 1969 due to low ratings, had actually been reaching their target audience and had really good numbers. For years NBC was baffled at the amount of fan mail that they had been receiving for Star Trek and were puzzled by the success of the show in syndication. The new ratings system solved that mystery; the show that they thought was a dead duck had actually been the golden goose, and they killed it. The Animated Series was, in part, NBC’s way of saying they had made a mistake and they were sorry. It turned out all along that the fans were right, and the Animated Series was their validation.

2. Sequels to Popular Stories – Ever wondered what happened to Cyrano Jones and the Tribbles? Did you want to return to the shore leave planet? How about wanting another encounter with Harry Mudd? Those were all answered in three separate episodes: “More Tribbles, More Troubles”, “Once Upon a Planet”, and “Mudd’s Passion”. Each fit within the new format wonderfully. We also saw return appearances of other favourite characters such as Sarek (voiced by Mark Leonard), Amanda Grayson, Kor, Koloth, Korax, and Commodore Wesley, and Lieutenant Kyle. The Guardian of Forever was also revisited. It was nice to see the familiar faces that had become so popular with the fans, although they were not all exactly as how they were last seen. The tribbles received an unintentional upgrade. Due to the colorblindness of director Hal Sutherland, who did not realize that the tribbles were not the intended grey, the tribbles appeared pink.

3. Yesteryear – In all of these essays I have written I haven’t used a specific episode as a reason. Well, that will change now. I think “Yesteryear” is one of the strongest episodes of all the series. I would rank it with great classics like “City on the Edge of Forever”, “The Inner Light”, and “The Visitor”. It involves time travel with the Guardian of Forever and has Spock going back in time to help his younger self. It was a great story that really develops the character of Spock, and we get to see Vulcan in a way that we haven’t yet.

4. Increasing the realm of the possible – animated series have a distinct advantage over a live action series, or at least back then they did. Things that directors and producers could only dream of doing but were unable due to budget and technology were now possible with animation. New technology and more alien-looking planetary designs were now achievable. We saw the first holodeck, which would later be adopted by TNG. Most notable in this department was a difference in the aliens. In the Original Series, the ship was almost exclusively manned by humans (Spock being the major exception). Now, we were able to have the Edosian navigator Lt. Arex, and the feline-esque Caitian operations officer M’Ress. Animation allowed more diversity in aliens on the ship in a way that had previously been impossible, and is still limited today in a live action show’s budget.

5. Nimoy’s stand – When the show was first pitched, the idea was to not bring back Nichols and Takei to reprise their roles. This was done to save money by having Doohan do all the male voices and Barrett to do all the female voices. When Leonard Nimoy heard of this, he made a stand that almost stopped the show from happening. Nimoy argued that what made Star Trek special was that it showed great diversity in the crew, most notably the presence of Uhura and Sulu. Nimoy said that Nichelle and George were essential to maintaining that spirit, and if they were not going to be a part of the show, then neither was he. Since nobody could imagine Star Trek without Spock, nor Spock without Nimoy, the producers gave in and Uhura and Sulu were voiced by the original actors. Say what you will, but Leonard Nimoy had power and knew how and when to use it. For that alone, I love what the Animated Series represented.

And there you go. There is one last entry in this series, and that is why I love the Motion Pictures (Prime Timeline, of course). Enjoy!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Why I Love the Kelvin Timeline Movies

Celebrating the five full decades of Star Trek should be a yearlong event, so I thought I would spread the love of all things Trek. Previously in this series I touched on why I loved the Original Series, the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and most recently Enterprise. For my next entry, I am diving into shark-infested waters. Well, not literally, although that might be safer than what I am attempting to do. Yes, it is time for me to give my top 5 Reasons for why I love the Kelvin timeline movies. If that name does not ring a bell, you may know it by a different title, such as the reboot movies, the JJ Abrams-verse, or the Horrible-Piece-of-Defecation-That-Has-Destroyed-Star-Trek. Yes, not since Kirk and Spock went looking for God in Star Trek V has anything with the name “Star Trek” created such an outcry among the fans. To all the haters of the Kelvin Timeline, I get you. I understand. I feel for you. I have some issues with these movies as well (two words: lens flare). All I am asking you is to hear me out, please. If you really don’t think there is any redeeming quality about these movies, that they are a disgrace to the franchise, and cause for Gene to be rolling over in his grave, then please, stop reading right now. Go back to your life. Find something else to do. Watch The Wrath of Khan or First Contact. Do whatever you need to restore your blood pressure. I am not going to try to change your mind, but I don’t want to get you so upset that you turn violent and start breaking things.

Still with me? Good for you. If you are like me, then you find something good in these movies. If you are hating what Abrams has done to the franchise but are still with me, I hope you are keeping an open mind. If not, you have been duly warned.

In 2005 Paramount wanted more Trek on the big screen. At the time, J.J. Abrams was working on Mission: Impossible III and had gained quite the reputation with his TV work on shows like “Alias” and “Lost”. Writers Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman were brought on board, and for the next four years a new Star Trek film was in the works. Fans waited with anticipation, some with more dread and some with more excitement. Rumors flooded the internet. Questions arose at warp speed. Names like Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Ryan Gosling, and Adrien Brody were tossed around as potential cast members. Then, as things began to crystalize, the movie took form. In May of 2009, a new crew of the Enterprise blasted onto screens. We were shown a new version of the classic crew we had loved for over 40 years. Chris Pine was the new James T. Kirk, Zachary Quinto as the new Spock. We even got to see Leonard Nimoy reprise his iconic role, and the Star Trek universe changed. A new timeline was established that allowed the powers that be to pay homage to the original series yet not be chained to the extensive canon that had been previously established. The first movie was a success, and as of this writing two sequels hit the summer screens with a fourth installment in the works.

That is not to say that the new series wasn’t universally well received. Many life-long fans felt that the show lacked the spirit and essence of Star Trek. The exploration was traded in for flashy effects and action sequences. The financial success of each sequel became less and less. Into Darkness retold the story of one of Trek’s greatest villains, Khan Singh, and some felt that the show was just trying to ride the waves of nostalgia without offering anything new. When Star Trek: Beyond hit theaters in the summer of 2016, it was meant to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, yet the tragic death of actor Anton Yeltin (Chekov) and a weak performance at the box office dealt some heavy blows to the beleaguered film franchise. Whether it was lack of story-telling, the perceived slights to what had come before, or too much lens flare on the bridge, the Kelvin timeline series had more than its fair share of detractors. For myself, however, I found that there were some real gems in these stories. Yes, Abrams himself admitted that he was more of a Star Wars guy than a Star Trek guy, but I do believe that Abrams was trying to find a balance between showing love to the old while making the story new again. I have enjoyed all three films for different reasons, and yes, I see the points that the other side makes. In many instances I agree with them, but that does not mean that I could find nothing in this re-imagining to love. I give you my Top 5 reasons here.

1. The Enterprise’s update – Anytime a franchise is rebooted there will be updates to what was familiar. As technology improves things like the starship Enterprise can be reimagined. I like the design of the new ship a lot. It still looks like the Enterprise we loved in the classic series, yet it looks more like something we would see in the future and less like a TV show prop from the 60s. When Shatner and Nimoy appeared in the first motion picture, the Enterprise received a bit of modern tweaking. The same happened here, and for me it works.

2. The timeline solution – Whenever a franchise is rebooted or a new sequel comes out, there is always the fear that it will not stay true to canon. Well, there is a reason why these films are referred to as the Kelvin Timeline. By introducing the time travel element in the first movie, the producers found a way to preserve the existing canon, but allow them freedom to do things differently. To have Vulcan destroyed and Spock’s mother die in the 2009 movie made it seem like anything could happen, and while this timeline might seem familiar in some regards, it gives us the unpredictability that provided the opportunity to tell stories that were new and fresh.

3. Karl Urban channels Kelley – When the casting announcements were made, there was a lot of chatter about it. People had opinions formed before the movie hit the screens. After the movie was released, there were even more debates as to who gave the performance that was most in touch with the original character. Some were great (Quinto as Spock), others were harder for me to accept (Pegg as Scotty), but I thought all involved did a good job. Above and beyond all of the rest, however, is Karl Urban. Urban played the role of our favourite southern doctor perfectly. Yes, he wasn’t DeForest Kelley, but if I closed my eyes I could almost see the old Bones on the screen again. It has been reported that when Leonard Nimoy saw Urban’s performance, he wept tears of gratitude at how much he was reminded of Kelley. I have seen Karl Urban at a few conventions, and he has said that all he wanted to do was honor the rich character that DeForest Kelley made so important to us all. Well, Mr. Urban, you succeeded beyond our greatest hopes. This is the one point that I have yet to hear even the harshest of critics dispute, and for good reason: they can’t.

4. Spock’s Approval – there are so many things about Star Trek that are iconic. The Enterprise is widely recognizable, Kirk is a legend, and everything from Tribbles to Klingons have become well known even among the population that know little of Trek. There is one character, and with it one actor, that is the most iconic in all of Star Trek, and that is Spock portrayed by Leonard Nimoy. These movies were able to bring closure to Nimoy’s character. He was essential to the first movie, a neat cameo in the second, and a touching tribute in the third. None of this would have been possible if Leonard Nimoy had not agreed to do it. Nimoy had retired from acting by this time. He was under no obligation to be a part of this project. I believe that had he disapproved of the films, he would not have been a part of them. Nimoy’s validation should rightfully carry much weight, and I think he saw much of the value that was in those films. Leonard Nimoy loved Star Trek, and if the new movies were good enough for him, then that should mean something to his fans. You may not have to agree with his opinion, but you cannot help but respect it.

5. A new generation – As I mentioned before, I understand why some fans utterly despise this incarnation. There are Star Trek groups that forbid any mention of the Kelvin Timeline in any way, and some fans can see literally nothing of value in these movies. I will use what I think is my strongest argument for why I love these films. It has allowed a whole new generation to discover Star Trek. With Netflix and other media-streaming providers, the youth who were not fortunate enough to be raised by Trekkie parents had a way to be introduced to the franchise. I have attended two conventions in Las Vegas, and I talk to some of the kids and younger adults who were not even around when the Next Generation and Voyager were on the air. Many of them became fans because of these movies. When they saw the movie, they looked up the show to see what the fuss was all about, and they were hooked. They would then start to binge-watch all the series, and before long were as knowledgeable and fanatical as those of us that have been around for the majority of the five decades that Trek was there. Some agree that the Abrams movies are mere shells of what Trek was, but they admit that they might not have seen Star Trek without them. So, whether you love or hate these movies, you cannot discount the fact that it has brought new fans into the fold.

Well, there you are. I hope to hear your comments on this. Due to the controversy that is wrapped up with the Kelvin Timeline, I respectfully ask that all comments be that: respectful. Each of us is entitled to our opinions, which is why IDIC is so beautiful and delicate to manage. I welcome your thoughts and opinions (but please, be civil). Next up in this series: the Animated Series!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Episode Review - Tin Man (Next Generation, Season 3)

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: The Next Generation, Season 3). The Enterprise meets up with the USS Hood where they are given both an unusual assignment and an unusual passenger. Picard and his crew must race towards a disputed system to make contact with a strange entity, code-named “Tin Man”, before the Romulans do.

Episode Score – 6/10. This episode is OK, but not outstanding by any means. The mystery is there, but not significant. The effects are OK, but not stellar. The story is routine, but not special.

Relevance – 1 point. This episode finally shows us the captain of the USS Hood, Captain Robert DeSoto, Riker’s former Captain. He is mentioned again in DS9, though this is the only appearance of the captain.

Continuity – 3 points. Character continuity gets a point. Everyone acts as they should. Universe continuity gets a point. We get some insight on Betazoid abilities. Storyline continuity gets a point. 3 points total. Nothing contradicts anything else before or after.

Character Development – 1 point. This story is about Tam Elbrun, plain and simple. While Deanna has a past with him, Data has a connection with him, and Riker has misgivings about him, this story does nothing to propel the development of any of the main characters. What we do explore is the character of a gifted telepath who struggles to find a place for him in the galaxy. He is never seen again, so character development is minimal.

Social Commentary – 1 point. There is not much that hits home in society in this episode, except for perhaps addressing the needs of those who don’t quite fit in. Tam Elbrun is not your typical Betazoid, and is socially handicapped because of it. I have met a few individuals who remind me of him. They tend to see the world in a way that is different, and they struggle with social conventions and fitting in. The story does not delve too deeply in that story, however, and the commentary is superficial at best.

Cool Factor – 2 points. It is cool to see Gomtu (the name for Tin Man) as a living space vessel, capable of sustaining a crew. This is also the first time that Romulan Warbirds were given the classification of D’deridex class.

Rank – Lieutenant (14 points). Not a bad episode, but things just did not quite click the way I thought they could have. Take it or leave it

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Episode Review – Horizon (Enterprise, Season 2)

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

Overview – As the Enterprise goes to gather scientific data on a new planet, a message is received from the cargo ship that Travis Mayweather grew up on and that his father commanded, the Horizon. Travis learns that his father’s health is failing, and he requests a leave to help out. After learning that his father has passed away, Travis is faced with a decision between loyalties to his family and to his Starfleet crew. All of this gets put on hold when an aggressive alien species attempts to take over the Horizon. Meanwhile, T’Pol is invited to movie night.

Score: 6/10 – One of the rare episodes that focuses on Travis Mayweather. Nothing too extraordinary in this episode. At first, it seems like it will be a fairly dull “family conflict” episode that only starts to ramp up its pace when the alien ship comes to hijack the Horizon. The B plot line of T’Pol going to see “Frankenstein” on movie night allows for the rest of the crew to have something to do as the main plot occurs almost entirely off-ship. Some humorous moments arise, including T’Pol addressing a chatty Phlox during the movie. Well written and acted, but nothing too momentous. A good filler story.

Relevance - 1 point. We get to see the “sweet spot” again, which we hadn’t seen since the pilot episode, and it made sense that Travis would be there upon learning about his father. That scores a point.

Continuity - 3 points. Character continuity could have easily scored a point here, if not for one little thing. There is nothing happening that contradicts anything that the characters have previously established except for T’Pol eating popcorn with her hands. It was established in the pilot that Vulcans do not like to touch their food. I will allow the point, however, for a couple reasons. One, T’Pol has been encouraged that it is logical to fraternize with the crew, and eating popcorn at the movie in a different manner would go against that. Two, the way that Jolene Blalock handles the scene shows that she is both unfamiliar and uncomfortable, acting in a truly logical way for the sub-commander. A point is scored for story continuity as it gives us some detail as to how long the ship has been on its mission. Universe continuity also scores a point as things continue as had been previously established.

Character Development – 2 points. Travis gets likely the most development his character has ever seen, especially background with his family. Much like other such characters in different series (Sulu, Geordi, Jake, Kim), a Travis episode is a breath of fresh air for the development. I really liked the one line that archer shared with Travis from his father’s recommendation letter. Great stuff. We also see T’Pol build on her character. I especially enjoyed how she used the Frankenstein movie as an analogy to Earth-Vulcan relations.

Social Commentary – 2 points. The age-old “loyalty to family” dilemma is brought forward again. It isn’t new, but it is very applicable to any age in society. This story deals with the aftermath of choosing something else over the family expectation, which many can relate to.

Cool Stuff – 1 point. Sharp-eyed fans will see a book called “Chicago Gangs” in the old quarters of Travis on the Horizon. This is an homage to the Original Series episode “A Piece of the Action”, where Kirk and his crew find a planet that had been drastically affected by another ship called “Horizon” leaving a book with a similar title. These little tips of the hat are always fun, you just have to know where to look for them.

Rank – Lieutenant (15 points). A really solid second season episode that gives great insight into Travis’s character. He deserved more like this, I feel. While it was solid, it was not earth-shattering in any way. Not a “must-see”, but definitely a “should-see”.