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The sorrowful state of Star Trek

by on Aug.11, 2020, under SciFi

I like Star Trek. I really do. It entertains. It explores interesting moral issues within the framework of science fiction. The main characters are, almost exclusively, respectable and admirable. It has an optimistic vision of the future.

The current generation of Star Trek, starting with Star Trek 2009, meets very little of that rubric. It is, in every way that is important, not Star Trek.

Let’s just go through it. I may update this from time to time as I think through it more and endure more New Trek.

Common Themes in New Trek

  • We are the Enemy. Most of the villains are within the Federation or Starfleet, rather than external forces. While Real Trek is no stranger to exploring (some) problems from within, for the most part conflicts arise from outsiders.
  • Over the top action sequences. While Real Trek has its share of absurd hand-to-hand conflict and space battles, New Trek feels the need for nauseating visual extravaganzas that try to mimic what you might see from an Avengers movie. It’s not necessary, and ultimately takes away from its realism.
  • Absurd camera work. The camera has to start upside down and twist to align with the orientation of the ship. Or even characters in the ship. Or excessive “camera circling the conversation” shots. It’s just about unwatchable at times. Yes, I know, it’s trying to be clever with “no gravity” and whatnot, but again, it’s taking away. The use of quick pans and zooms in the Battlestar Galactica reboot was great. This goes way too far and again, takes you out of the story.
  • Lens flares. Seriously. Let’s just pretend whatever future visual scanners are used in the future do not experience this annoying artifact. Get rid of them.
  • Quoting regulations. Yes, quoting regulations is a theme in Real Trek. But New Trek seems to go even further with it, using it ever more as a throw-away, and it gets grating.
  • Swearing. In particular with Picard, the use of the F-bomb is unwelcome. Star Trek is best when it leaves behind profanity, sex, and gore. The fact that streaming services are not bound to decency rules for broadcast television is no reason to abandon them. This is not South Park, it should not be going for shock value or pushing the envelope in this area.

Star Trek 2009

It was a fun watch, and good to see familiar characters with new portrayals. The enemy was essentially a terrorist who is trying to avenge a failed attempt at averting an extinction-level natural event. The scenario to get all of the original crew together in very different circumstances is not believable. The notion of using a different timeline for the reboot is very Star Trek though, and they get some credit for trying to make the origin of this reboot in-universe.

Star Trek Into Darkness

The enemy is Section 31, an off-the-books organization within Starfleet, who co-opts Khan. I don’t think they should have gone there. Then when I realized they were using Kirk to mimic Spock’s self-sacrifice from Star Trek II, it started to feel more like a parody, and that was hard to shake.

Star Trek Beyond

The enemy is an ancient Starfleet captain that has mutated into someone else with an extremely xenophobic perspective. Ugh. It was a fun romp with the ship and crew though.

Star Trek Discovery

It’s really quite bad. In so very many ways.

  • Mirror universe as part of the main plot. No. Don’t do that please.
  • Spore drive. Please. It would be fine as a throw-away SciFi concept in an episode or two from some other civilization or experimental project, but not something that can be taken seriously as part of a series bible.
  • Unlikable characters. The only one that at all resembles Real Trek is Captain Pike, but the cast of characters is essentially intolerable or in the case of some, just unremarkable.
  • Injecting into Spock’s past. This was unnecessary and goes beyond what suspension of disbelieve will buy you. Also, his portrayal in the series just does not jive with the character we know.
  • Section 31. Why is this secret organization so well known and have such a huge footprint? The power of Section 31 from Real Trek is how far in the shadows it is. It should not be a major overt component.

Star Trek Picard

Star Trek Picard does some unforgivable things, but it is perhaps the best of the New Trek TV series. A lot of effort is given to try to weave past TNG-era plots into the new story with varying degrees of success, which ends up coming off as forced. The behavior of Starfleet seems to not be consistent with in-universe precedent. I did not find any of the new characters to be compelling. What they did to some of the existing characters was unwelcome. The best part was likely an afterthought – the reunion of Picard with Riker and Troi. Why are the Romulans now portrayed like elves? As is usual with the modern serial mystery-drama (think Lost), too much time is spent in avoidance of advancing the plot. Star Trek is far better when episodic.

Star Trek Lower Decks

Only one episode so far, but they do a lot of damage. The characters do not, for the most part, be the upstanding respectable and admirable folks I want to watch. It’s very Rick and Morty… and there is a reason for that. But Star Trek it is not.

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Ender in Exile

by on Feb.18, 2010, under SciFi

Last night I finished reading Ender in Exile (ad), the “mid-quel” that is essentially the hub in the wheel of the Enderverse, despite it being the most recently published.  As is apt to happen in any prolific series, it does suffer from some continuity issues the author describes, but since I more recently read the shadow series and least recently Ender’s Game, I really didn’t notice them.

It was good to read more of Ender following the war before his transition to the much older character found in Speaker for the Dead.  The journey to Shakespeare Colony and Ender’s work there was a great story line, and one that I think could have been expounded upon further.  The book also gives a much more complete picture of Colonel Graff that was welcome.  The story line surrounding Ganges Colony and the Bean-offspring-raised-to-be-Achilles seemed more forced and interested me less.

What stories are yet to be told in the Enderverse?  Well, apparently one is in the works.  My hope is that it will continue Bean’s story.  If I remember right, we last see him departing Earth on his own relativistic voyage.

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The Plan

by on Nov.10, 2009, under SciFi

After having watched The Plan, I’ve become convinced that the Cylons were actually just following the leadership of one Bender Bending Rodriguez: “Kill all humans” followed by the occasional “I love you, meatbag.”

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Star Trek 2009

by on May.17, 2009, under SciFi

I’ve seen Star Trek twice now, and might see it yet again in the theater.  It was certainly a lot better than Nemesis.

When I first heard the general plot outline – something to the effect of “Kirk fights Romulans on Pike’s Enterprise” I was sortof astounded that those few words contained two cannon inconsistencies that me, someone who has not really watched every TOS episode more than once, could immediately pick out.  Kirk explicitly states that he met Pike when Pike was promoted to Fleet Captain and Kirk took command of the Enterprise, “The Menagerie, Part I” (TOS 1×15, about 90 seconds from the start).  And in “Balance of Terror” (TOS 1×08, 5 minutes in) it is stated that “no Human, Romulan, or ally has seen the other.”  The several ENT episodes dealing with Romulans were very careful that this stayed consistent.  How would they have a movie in which the enemy Romulan wasn’t seen by the Enterprise crew?

How does JJ fix this?  Well, they create a divergent timeline at approximately the moment of Kirk’s birth with the appearance of a Romulan ship from the Trek universe that we know and love.  They’re pretty explicit about explaining this in the movie, and the amount of confusion this and the appearance of old Spock from the established universe must have been deemed a necessary pandering to the fans at the expense of the general audience the movie intended to capture.  Personally, I think it’s not a bad idea.  A lot of fans hated the idea of a “reboot” and yet JJ rebooted without really destroying what came before (in fact, he added some to it).  There could still be a continuation of the original universe, while this one continues in parallel.  In a way, it’s totally consistent with Trek precedent.  The Mirror Universe spanned three of the five Star Trek TV series.  Honestly, I skipped watching the DS9 mirror universe episodes  – since they mattered little to the highly serial DS9 storylines.  I’m looking forward to the next installment of Star Trek 2009’s Universe (which Memory Alpha is currently terming the Alternate Reality).  One interesting fact about the point of divergence is that, in theory, ST:ENT is canonical for both realities, as reinforced by Scotty’s comment about Admiral Archer’s beagle.

The movie’s soundtrack was good, but very repetitive, and used the TOS theme directly at points instead of the much more impressive (and modern) theme developed by Jerry Goldsmith for ST:TMP.

I found the heavy quoting of Starfleet Regulations to be offputting during my first viewing, but more tolerable on the second.  Not that regulations aren’t quoted in Star Trek, it just seemed that more than usual were in this movie.

There seemed to be a conscious effort to avoid general use of technobabble which though noticeable, wasn’t really missing because the movie spent much more screentime showing things rather than talking about them, as is more typical of Trek.  One counterexample is Scotty’s Transwarp Beaming, which almost has to be a cannon violation as old Spock is providing it from the original universe, and there’s no indication of this existing in the original universe.

Anyway.  Overall very pleased and looking forward to the DVD/Blu-Ray release, and sequels!

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Star Trek will never be the same

by on Dec.18, 2008, under News, SciFi

As you may have heard from other sources, Majel Barrett-Roddenberry passed away today.  She was the  “computer voice” for the majority of the franchise (and also on Family Guy), and appeared one way or another in each Star Trek series, and also in the upcoming movie.

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