P. 41: Star Trek Discovered, for now.


What a good stand-off in Star Trek looks like.

*******

I decided to give the CBS All Access trial a whirl and watch the first couple Discovery episodes.

Things I like:

  • The hero ship’s look and feel. It was vastly improved from the earlier shots. Glad the team behind it went back and got that right. Internally, we don’t see much of it, but what we do is even better.
  • Michelle Yeoh. She’s wonderful in everything, and was extra extra wonderful in this.
  • I liked the rest of the crew — what little we’ve scene from them — as well. But didn’t quite love them, not yet.

Things I didn’t like:

  • The early focus on just a few characters. This is going to make caring about other characters in later episodes a lot harder.
  • Absolutely no humor. These characters are in space (!!!) and not having any fun.
  • Almost everything about the Klingons.
    • Mopey Klingons huddling around a room doing nothing but complaining about a peaceful Federation is boring.
    • Klingon, as a language, sounds cool when it’s just a couple phrases here or there. Qapla’! Long monologue after monologue? Not so much.
    • The Klingon villain ship looks like gigantic coagulating vomit. (Another Klingon thingy we see, which I won’t mention because spoilers, actually looked pretty cool, though. It’s a shame we didn’t get more of that.)
    • While I think Klingons looked great between the original cast’s movies and the TNG/DS9/Voyager/Enterprise era, I’m fine with there being changes — in an ‘okay, whatever’ fashion. But if CBS suddenly decides Klingons need to look radically different, can they at least look different in a way that allows the make-up and cosmetics team to still let the actors portray their characters with emotions?
  • The writing.
    • Character conflict is great, but if there’s going to be character conflict, can they be over things that make sense? With rational characters acting in ways that feel natural to their character — and not just pigeonholed in there to move the plot along? And can the conflicts derive from issues viewers feel invested in?
    • Speaking of which, it would have been nice to have spent more time with the primary cast of characters before the story really started. This was a huge writing failure. Being thrust right into the central story almost right off the bat — before people had the chance to really meet the characters, and get some understanding of what this new Trek was going to be all about — did not help this series at all. This is one thing the Bad Robot movies mostly nailed, and why many people love the 2009 film as much as they do (despite its many warts), so it’s a disappointment CBS didn’t figure this all out.
  • Meanwhile, it feels like CBS learned all the wrong lessons from the JJ films.
    • Obligatory space suit launch scene, because that’s what everyone is waiting for when watching Star Trek.
    • Obligatory “call a Vulcan we know from a previous series who’s very far away from the plot while actual exciting shit is happening” scenes. Yes, more than one.
    • Villains we’re given no reason to care about.
    • Was there lens flare? There was probably lens flare.
  • Sarek, Sarek, Sarek. I actually like the actor who plays Sarek, and I think his portrayal was fine, but this series did not need Sarek, especially so soon, and especially how he’s tied up into the plot. Complete with magic! Subtraction would have been addition here.
  • In the middle of a big giant stalemate, I was bored.
  • If there’s going to be PEW PEW PEW, it be nice for the phase cannons to stand out in contrast with the blackness of space.

So, will I watch more? If CBS decides to air it on TV at some point, I’ll give it a whirl — because I’ve always watched Star Trek everything. But unless I’m reading about a dramatic turnaround by the end of the season, it’s not something I’m going to sign up to CBS All Access to watch.

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P.35: Deathly Hallows Part 1, a Retrospective

Spoilers, of course.

It’s weird. Right from when I heard that Warner Bros. was rereleasing the Harry Potter movies — all on IMAX — the movie I was most excited about seeing again was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1.  I may be in the minority, but it’s by far my favorite in the film series.

For starters, the movie is fantastic. The acting, the direction, the cinematography, the score — everything delivers.

A lot of people at the time scoffed at the idea of separating the last book of a popular franchise into two different movies (me included!) — and it certainly set a bad industry standard — but unlike so many of the others that have followed, the two Deathly Hallows films are really well thought out.

Each part is almost the diametric opposite of the other, and yet they fit together so well. It makes the two films resonant — if Part 2 has all the action, Part 1 has all the feeling. And feeling wins for me.

But, of course, Part 2 doesn’t really have all the action. Part 1 has action in spades, maybe even more action sequences than any other Harry Potter film other than the Deathly Hallows Part 2. We get everything from a broomstick getaway to a diner shootout. There are two major heists, a blown-up house, a wedding raid, a battle with a Big-Bad-Wolf-esque snake in human clothing. There’s a magic-dueling chase, a prison break and a homicidal necklace drowning scene.

And all of them effect our heroes, and often the world around them, in very personal ways — for good or bad. A character doesn’t just die, but is cried over and buried. A wand isn’t just broken, but is used as a symbol of the need to not dwell on the bad in times of crisis. Our heroes don’t just save random strangers, but get to know them just well enough to make viewers care that they were saved at all.

Almost nothing is glossed over — even outright victory has consequences, as when Hermione had to compromise her morals and erase the memories of Voldemort’s snatchers, to keep the trio safe. Winning the fight, for Hermione, was the easy part. The results aren’t always predictable, and the film usually takes the time to let the impacts sink in.

Further, this film oozes character and relationship growth, hitting so many different emotional notes. By taking viewers out of Hogwarts completely, it gives us the chance to see Hermione, Harry and Ron stand on their own — and Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint deliver.

Another point in its favor? This is a Big Blockbuster that’s not afraid of taking chances. For example, it has all these beautiful settings and lingers on them, chewing on the scenery and moment, not afraid to stop and breathe. It creates this beautiful message — that even in the worst of times, the world is a beautiful place and there can be moments of peace.

It also puts the geeky Wizarding World lore at the focus. To beat the bad guy, the characters have to — for the first time — understand the world. They need to know how wands really work, something even Voldemort didn’t quite get. And for a franchise that never really tried to establish a detailed or rigid magic system before, wand lore adds surprising depth — depth the film wasn’t afraid to dig into.

Further, while the Harry Potter movies have always given us a great world, the Deathly Hallows gives us great stories. And those stories are important to the film itself. The Tale of the Three Brothers hits so many notes for me, from the film’s ridiculously gorgeous animated sequence (which was a huge risk!) to the way the story itself serves as a perfect pastiche of all the old European folktales.

But the really important thing is what the Three Brothers represents. If the Harry Potter universe were a mystery cult, it’s basically the outer and inner mysteries of the entire Wizarding World. In Harry’s world, there’s those who (like him, in Philosopher’s Stone) know nothing and are completely new to or unaware of the Wizarding World. They’ve never even heard of the Three Brothers, much less read it. Then there are those initiated into the outer ring — those who are well versed in wizarding culture, who understands the world in the same way most anyone would understands the one we live in. These are the people who’ve read the Three Brothers, or at least know the story.

But then there’s the people fully initiated — who not only understand the world, but how it came to be. They know what’s really going on. For Harry, Ron and Hermione, they’re just entering the “real” Wizarding World here, as they’ve come to know about (and believe in) the Deathly Hallows. It brings a greater depth to the story, and sets our characters in an almost Arthurian quest narrative, where they (like many others before them) have quested to find the elusive Grail Elder Wand, and its Deathly Hallow companions.

Of course, the book did many of these things, too, and it did them all first. We shouldn’t forget that, or how much JK Rowling rocks. But think of how easy it would have been for these scenes to have been written out or truncated in the translation to film. Or how easily Warner Bros could have forced David Yates to manufacture a bunch of different, plot-centric scenes to dumb this thing down and strip away all the character beats.

Did anyone read the first half of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and expect all those scenes of Hermione, Harry and Ron wandering the English countryside to somehow all make it in the final movies? I sure didn’t, and yet they all made this movie so good.

So, wow, was seeing this film again a real treat. It’s one of the rare times I’ve gone to see something on the big big screen and thought, “I wouldn’t want to see that any other way.” In fact, I often don’t like IMAX for the simple reason that it can be too much. But not this one. That’s for sure. It really made this great, unique and emotive movie a perfect movie-going experience — sort of the fine wine of the Harry Potter movie franchise — and I didn’t even have any popcorn.

P.31: Star Trek Enterprise (A Retrospective)

Over the past few weeks, I watched/re-watched Star Trek: Enterprise. Wow, was I surprised. It was much better than I remembered it.

Its flaws are still there, of course, but I wasn’t bored. And if I’m not bored, that’s good enough for me.

Here’s just a few things that are a lot better than I remembered:

  • The sets. They really succeed at capturing a feel that looks dated compared to Next Gen/Voyager, yet advanced compared to today.
  • The horror episodes. There are only a few, but these were some of the standouts of the entire series to me. This is one thing ST:E did better than any of the other ST series. Silent Enemy was the best, but by no means the only good one.
  • The Andorians. The show goes a long way to fleshing out the species, one we barely saw before, despite the fact that they were one of the original few species to form the Federation. I wish the series brought a lot more of the early Federation member species into play. (Caitians, Tellerites, Deltans, etc.)
  • Limitations. We have a crew that wanted to help others it came across, yet a ship that’s not advanced enough to deal with much of what confronts them. While the show was criticized by many for making the ship too modern in some respects, ST:E actually does a great job at making the ship’s limitations impact the story. It creates problems on the show that the characters have to work around (aka good storytelling), and fits incredibly well with the show’s ‘early’ setting. Nothing’s easy, but they get it done.
  • The opening song. I used to *hate* it, as did most fans at the time. It eschewed the beautiful orchestrations from every previous Star Trek series for a pop song (!) — one first sung by Rod Stewart, at that. Maybe it’s been so long since we’ve last had a new Trek show that it doesn’t really matter to me anymore, or maybe it’s the JJ verse movies also emphasizing pop songs that have inoculated me, but now I find the song pretty catchy — and one that certainly fits the feel of the show.
  • Porthos, Captain Archer’s pet dog. Clearly, there should be more dogs in space.

The problems of the show are all still there, but it’s much better than most people give it credit for.

P.11: Check Out Tade Thompson’s “Child, Funderal, Thief, Death,” Arie Coleman’s “20/20,” and Other Things I’ve Read

  • Child, Funeral, Thief, Death by Tade Thompson. Apex Magazine. I feel like I visited just visited Nigeria and bore witness to this story. The writing is gorgeous, the story builds quite nicely and I loved that Thompson was able to build an entire mythos here, and wasn’t afraid to go where he went with the ending. Loved it.
  • 20/20 by Arie Coleman. Strange Horizons. I really enjoyed the slipstream elements of the story — it’s so hard to pull off well, and Coleman succeeds here. Plus, as someone who’s known my share of nurses, I deeply appreciated just how real the writer made life working at a hospital out to be. Also, as a bonus, the wonderful Anaea Lay does a reading of it for the Strange Horizons podcast.
  • The Circle of Life by Aline Carriere. Daily Science Fiction. I love speculative fiction that tackles overpopulation, and this one succeeds in a very short word count. Some vague-so-as-to-avoid-spoilers food for thought: I can’t decide if I think the narrator is creepy as in a sociopath creepy, or creepy, but in her own empathetic and caring way. That said, I’m leaning toward the former. I don’t think the narrator’s decision is really about the person who she thinks it is. That’s just my 2 cents.

P.2: Check out “Eve’s Father” by Miriah Hetherington

This could be one of the best stories I’ve read in some time, published in yesterday’s Daily Science Fiction.

In an very short number of words, it manages to have:

  • A well developed plot, covering a number of events that have wide impacts on the story.
  • Characters which all feel very real and three dimensional.
  • Characters which also manage to change over the course of the story, no small feat in Flash Fiction.
  • Incredible world-building. I can visualize this place, imagine what it would be like to live in this society.
  • Some great writing, that flows really well for me.

If you have 5-10 minutes to spare, I’d check it out. Hetherington did an amazing job with this story.