Movie Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

I’ll be honest, I didn’t like J.J. Abrams’ first Star Trek. I thought there were some fun moments and visuals, but it felt more like a standard summer action movie than the enticement for us to all beam up and explore space. It was like Starship Troopers but without the satire. Perhaps I was just bitter about the casting choices.

While Star Trek Into Darkness is definitely still a high velocity action romp, J.J. Abrams artfully adds some solid questions about war and killing. Kudos. The movie even opens up on Nibiru, a nod to all us crackpot conspiracy minded kooks (and the nods don’t end there).

The movie starts, like the first one, with some strong 9/11-War-on-Terror parallels which had me already judging this film as another boring vengeance driven pro-militaristic summer spectacle. But then right as we’re getting ready to go blow up the bad guys, Star Trek finally emerges from the explosions and lens flares: Scotty resigns, exclaiming they’re supposed to be explorers not a military operation. Then Spock delivers some gems about the morality of war. And we’re off on a fun action packed adventure with some food for thought.

I saw the movie  as a smart sci-fi take on the pursuit Osama bin Laden. How do you pursue someone who is a great danger to the peace? Are there those who profit from such a villain? Where would our space program be if we didn’t spend so many lives and resources fighting terror? Maybe I’m pushing my own agenda with that last one. There’s even a scene questioning the use of private security forces. And everyone might not agree with me on this one, but Abrams pulled a move that would have made Roddenbery proud: having Kronos sit in for Afghanistan. I loved this movie.

However, here are my complaints:

  • I didn’t like how future earth was portrayed. It looks exactly like our society but bumped up a couple decades (taller buildings, flying cars). I know this choice sounds practical, but think of it: Star Trek takes place in a time where humanity has matured. We all get along and work well together. I think that world would look different, especially the bars.
  • I had some problems with the portrayal of women. I remember reading the The Making of Star Trek (nerd alert). Roddenbery originally wanted to make the crew of the Enterprise 50/50 men and women. The studio said this would make people uncomfortable. He tried. Now it’s 2013 and in this Star Trek movie there’s a scene where all the captains of Starfleet are assembled; they’re all men. Come on, really? This is the future. That being said there were some good Uhura scenes. But while weapons specialist/science officer Carol Marcus was a nice addition to the crew, the movie makes sure to throw her in her underwear while having Kirk ogle her. I know this is standard movie fare, and other blockbusters treat women far worse, but it’s unfortunate to continually portray women as objects (at least make them Captains of space ships). However, there is a scene where Spock eyes Marcus jealously which is a nice touch. There’s also a healthy mix of men, women, and aliens in the Enterprise crew.
  • When they beam people up, it looks all swirly. I think they should have kept the old beam effect.
  • There’s no scene after the credits. I thought all movies had these now.
Here’s what I liked:
  • Classic Trek ethical dilemmas!
  • Classic Trek sound effects!
  • Classic Trek references!
  • Klingons!
  • Great performances – Benedict Cumberbatch gives us a slick villain.
  • Lots of standard Trek humor – Thanks, Scotty and Bones!
  • No shortage of cool visuals – I really like the look of the Enterprise, there’s even uniforms reminiscent of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
  • The start of the credit sequence, especially the music.

I saw this movie in 3D. It was cool, but I don’t think necessary. I’m not a 3D fan. I didn’t even like Avatar in 3D. Fast movie cameras (as opposed to a stationary frame), lens flares, and rack focus don’t tend to translate well into 3D. But space, especially in the final credits works well. I’d recommend seeing it with your normal eyes.

MOVIE RATING: Three Vulcan Ears.

BONUS: Before Star Trek, I saw the trailer for Man of Steel. It looks like there’s some fun Jesus allegory being packed into this movie: Superman works on a fishing boat, has a beard, gets arrested… looks good!

 

Good Old Sci-Fi Cartoons: Star Trek and Return to the Planet of the Apes!

As I’ve been recovering from my cold, I’ve drifted from watching Dragnet re-runs to Star Trek: The Animated Series and Return to the Planet of the Apes. I like these shows. The 25 minute drama is the perfect length. Why don’t we have more of these today? So many hour long shows tend to either drag things out or for some reason feel that they don’t have enough time and have to cram six stories and twenty main characters into forty seven minutes. Or they miraculously pull of both of these pet peeves.

Return to the Planet of the Apes has a trippy 70s animation style, that some label cheap, but I think is quite effective in creating that bizarre/nihilistic/kooky “Planet of the Apes” vibe. I’ve embedded the youtube video of the first episode at the bottom of the page.

Star Trek: The Animated Series I might dare to say is more enjoyable than the live action show, which makes sense since it involves many of the same writers as well as lots of the original cast. The Filmation animation is also kind of trippy, adding to an enjoyable offbeat sci-fi feel.

Star Trek: The Animated Series is available on Netflix Instant Watch: http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/70208521?strkid=841741966_0_0&trkid=222336&movieid=70208521

You can also watch episodes on Bing video. Here’s an episode ”Yesteryear” which almost had me at tears: http://www.bing.com/videos/watch/video/yesteryear/17uj19hoi 

“Yesteryear” is also cool because Mark Lenard returns to the role of Sarek. That dude is all business.

Make no mistake about it, these cartoons are made for kids, but that doesn’t stop this 35 year old from watching them. Star Trek in particular doesn’t seem to dumb down its stories for youngsters, but merely simplifies things. Some of the concepts in the shows I’ve seen so far offer a lot for conversation. I’d give examples but I’m lazy. But seriously, I think simplifying the stories for kids actually improves the storytelling, cutting out a lot of boring fuss we adults get in our programming. Also, animation allows for the stories to be more imaginative and not fall prey to budgetary restrictions. There, I have justified my right to enjoy these cartoons as a childless 35 year old.

One of the glaring omissions from the Star Trek show is Chekov (and pants on women… miniskirts are huge in space—but that’s another blog post). Poor Mr. Chekov has been replaced by a big alien with three arms. I was curious about this, so I took my investigation to the internet and I came across this cool site: http://www.danhausertrek.com/AnimatedSeries/Q_and_A.html

In response to Chekhov’s absence, danhausertrek.com replies:

The reason Chekov wasn’t on the Animated series was money. As many of the original actors as possible were brought onboard to reprise their roles by providing the voices of their animated versions. At first, Filmation planned on not having George Takei and Nichelle Nichols come back to do their roles again. But when Leonard Nimoy learned of their exclusion he said that he would “… not be a party to this if two of the minorities who contributed to making STAR TREK what it was when we were on television cannot be incorporated.” It was due to Nimoy’s stand that Sulu and Uhura’s characters made it into the animated series. Unfortunately with that many star voices, the budget simply didn’t allow for Walter Koenig to return as Chekov.

But, in the STAR TREK universe, it is reasonable to assume that Chekov went away to receive further training to prepare him to return to the Enterprise as the ship’s Security Chief, which he did in STAR TREK: The Motion Picture which takes place in 2271. This is only a conjecture based on the available facts.

Way to go, Leonard Nimoy! But I still feel bad about Walter Koenig/Chekov. But not too bad. He just got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame this week, which brought me to this page: http://bhcourier.com/star-treks-walter-koenig-receive-hollywood-walk-fame-star/2012/09/10. This article mentions, Koenig (Chekov) actually wrote an episode of the animated series “The Infinite Vulcan.” It’s Season 1, episode 7 if you want to watch it on Netflix Instant Watch or you can check it out on Bing: http://www.bing.com/videos/watch/video/the-infinite-vulcan/17u0j42gq. So it feels like there’s some harmony in the universe. Here’s an interview with Koenig about the animated show, in which he sounds kind of understandably bummed about the whole thing: http://www.startrek.com/article/walter-koenig-remembers-the-infinite-vulcan.

Further reading of http://www.danhausertrek.com/AnimatedSeries/Q_and_A.html yields such interesting facts as James Doohan (Scotty) supplied the voices to 55 other animated characters. Fascinating, Captain.

Here’s the first episode of Return to the Planet of the Apes!

MLK was a Trekkie

Being that it’s Star Trek’s birthday I came across this article on the Christian Science Monitor: http://www.csmonitor.com/Innovation/Horizons/2012/0907/Star-Trek-The-Original-Series-surprising-role-in-US-civil-rights

Who knew Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Trekkie?

In fact, Nichols later revealed in an interview with NPR, King was actually a driving force in persuading her to stay on the show when she was mulling other career opportunities. This happened in the 1960s, at an NAACP fundraiser in Beverly Hills. Nichols was approached by King, who claimed to be a “Trekkie” himself, as well as her “greatest fan.”

Nichols confessed she was thinking of leaving Star Trek.

” ‘You cannot do that,’ ” King said, in Nichols’ recollection. “And I was stunned. He said, ‘Don’t you understand what [series creator Gene Roddenberry] has achieved? For the first time, we are being seen the world over as we should be seen.’ He says, ‘do you understand that this is the only show that my wife Coretta and I will allow our little children to stay up and watch.’ I was speechless,” Nichols remembered.

Star Trek Book Review: Uhura’s Song by Janet Kagan

I just finished reading Uhura’s Song. I really enjoyed this one. The story involves the crew making first contact with a cat like people in hopes of aquiring the cure for an AIDS like epidemic that threatens the Federation. Because of a couple thousand year old grudge, the cat people have trouble being able to help. The crew treats the cat folk with such respect, patience, and thoughtfulness, it’s really kind of sweet and at the same time comes across as a practical way to handle people who have something that you need. What I like about Star Trek and what this book beautifully illustrates is that there is a future where the adults have finally taken over. Sure the universe has its problems, but the humans a couple hundred years from now seemed to have learned from our mistakes and progressed. The book was a long read for me. Even at 370 pages, it took me a couple weeks, but I enjoyed it. I felt like I went on a camping trip with some old friends.

I’m embarassed about admitting this but I really like media tie-in books like this. It’s fun to see an author explore an already established universe. That being said, the new characters and the introduction of the cat people and their culture weave together well with the stock elements of Star Trek.

Sure, I could complain about a couple things (like where did the crew shower and go to the bathroom on the alien planet?), but why bother. It’s a fun Star Trek book.

Star Trek Book Review: Q Squared

I just finished reading Q Squared, a Star Trek: The Next Generation novel by Peter David, and boy are my arms tired. I couldn’t put it down! I loved this book.

I have to admit, while I was a steady fan of Star Trek as a child, I have recently come to terms that I might not have enjoyed it as much as have been searching for a kooky teenaged identity. Don’t get me wrong, I love space movies and think Star Trek’s great, but whenever I think of Star Trek: The Next Generation I feel a little embarrassed for spending so much time with it and not really liking it, like asking a girl you don’t like to the prom just so you can go. I know, kind of weird, but here I am. While I liked certain aspects of the show, in hindsight it all seems kind of boring. I can’t think of any of the characters (save maybe Data and Dr. Pulaski–what can I say, I’m a contrarian) that I would want to hang out with in Ten Forward: Picard seems cold, Riker–a kind of dullard/dollar store Captain Kirk, Counselor Troi is just weird, Beverly Crusher sighs too much, Wesley has too perfect skin for a teenager, and what’s Whoopi Goldberg doing there? Not exactly a formula for adventure, as was evidenced by the heavy stock of unread Star Trek books in my teenaged bedroom.

Well, I have seen the error of my ways. Q is always a fun character and Peter David writes him well. The story is about Q and a young petulant member of the Q Continuum who wreaks havoc on three different universes (as well as Kirk’s Enterprise). The whole book read like a well done Star Trek film on par with The Wrath of Khan. It has it all: intersecting multiple realities, humor, steamy sex (at least in my imagination), a love triangle, Worf looking like a fool, suspense, space action, and a dose of speculative theology. There’s a lot happening here and Peter David weaves it all together into a fun read.

After finishing it, I’m left hungry for more Star Trek: The Next Generation books. Anybody have any suggestions? Make it so.

Star Trek Sketch!

I’m still learning how to use my sound board and mic. I thought I’d try to get a little hands on experience by putting this sketch together. It was pretty noisy in the room where I was recording so I ended up throwing a blanket over my head to cut some of the reverb and deaden the sound of the passing cars.

There I am.

Star Trek Amok Time Deleted Scene