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.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.27: Axanar Axed, and Hopeful Sci Fi

Lots of people have been commenting on how the unofficial fan-made Star Trek series, Axanar, was axed by CBS. Its producers were sued for violating CBS’s copyright. It was a fan series that drew a lot of excitement and hinted at a ton of potential, but the chances of Axanar ever coming to life now appear to be at or near zero.

To be clear, CBS almost certainly has the right to block Axanar. While CBS had a long history of letting fans create non-profit fan-made series, it is under no obligation to continue. Ultimately Star Trek is CBS’s property and CBS could, at any time, kill any fan-made series, for any reason (even penny-sound, pound-foolish ones).

That said, the shocking thing to me is the lack of empathy so many seem to have for what’s happened to Axanar (and the fans who funded it). I’ve been very surprised to read the number of commenters across the net who’ve almost been gleeful about this decision. Many have criticized the fans behind it (and others), attacking the very concept of fan fiction as people wishing to ‘steal’ from their favorite fandoms for some kind of fame or fortune. Create your own IP, they say, do your own thing.

While they have a serious misunderstanding of fan fiction and why people make it… it made me wonder: do they have a tiny, glimmer of a point?

There’s something truly special (and rare) about Star Trek, its stories, and the Roddenberry vision of the future — where there are problems, but technology and togetherness are able to solve them.

Aside from Star Trek, there’s been a dearth of that in science fiction — especially in TV or movies. I couldn’t think of any other major movies or series where large crews work together in space, with a positive vision and a mostly-bright future. Maybe Babylon 5, although even that’s pretty bleak and came about a fairly long time ago at this point.

Part of me wonders if Star Trek’s decades of quality, forward thinking and its long-lasting legacy has sucked up all the oxygen, making it difficult for other, similar stories to take shape and click with audiences. Most successful sci fi space opera since Star Trek has succeeded for being different than Star Trek, darker, often downright dystopian.

Think BSG, Aliens and Blade Runner — none of them are great places for people, or offer much hope of a better future.

As difficult as it would be to replicate that Roddenberry secret sauce, hopeful, forward-thinking space opera is worth the effort. That’s especially true now, with CBS and Paramount moving away from the Roddenberry vision. The new movies have been some good popcorn fun, but not the kind of films that would inspire the next generation of scientists and NASA applicants, encourage people to think of our world as a place where we could find peace, or even satiate the people who grew up with TOS and TNG.

It seems doubtful that the new Star Trek streaming series that CBS is planning will change that direction, or that the latest film’s director (of Fast and Furious fame) will deliver a film that greatly differs from the two JJ Abrams made.

To be clear, I think there is space and should be space for fan fiction, including on film. I hope CBS doesn’t do unto the rest of the fan series community what it’s done to Axanar, and that it at least strongly hints at what sort of circumstances would prompt it to take action (or not) in the future.

Yet, let’s take this Axanar news and the changing direction of Trek, as fans and creators, as a challenge to make or support new, hopeful science fiction — new space adventures where society works together to overcome villains and environmental threats. Let’s see fans put together Axanar-like projects that may be inspired by Star Trek, but stand on their own.

The Roddenberry vision without Star Trek will be difficult, but the world needs more of it and Roddenberry was the one who told us to go boldly.

[Update: this post has some food for thought that suggests the legal issues may be more complicated than I imagined, among other interesting points. It’s worth reading.]