Star Trek

Heresy of the Week: Star Wars’ universe needs a spring clean

star wars expanded universe luke

Heresy of the Week is a (mostly) weekly spot in which I entertain some of the unthinkable notions of geek-culture. The arguments I put forward are not always things I personally agree with, but often rhetorical devices designed to force myself (and maybe readers) out of the boxes which fan discussions can get caught in. But that aside, feel free to get yourselves worked up and your knickers in a twist if you really want to.

This week’s heresy:

In its apparently ongoing quest to sacrifice all of geek-culture’s sacred cows, Disney has announced to predictable outrage that it intends to ditch the ‘expanded universe’ which has grown up around the six films. But, once again, Disney is exactly right to do so, and if the fandom could calm itself down for five minutes, it might agree.

Read on…

Star Trek films, from worst to best

star trek first contact

Yes, it’s another Star Trek blog! And another list blog! And just in time for Christmas; aren’t you a lucky bunch?

I know that I’ve done something quite similar before, but I’ve never actually set down my overall preferences of the films directly. So I’ve decided to. With some thought I’ve ranked all twelve films, and given a bit of explanation as to why and what I think of them.

Enjoy. And feel free to call me sad.

Read on…

Top 5 episodes of Star Trek: Voyager

star trek voyager

Ah, Star Trek: Voyager. In many ways the middle child of the Star Trek family (for reference, TOS would be the father, TNG the mother, DS9 the angsty eldest child, and ENT the runt of the litter). There’s nothing out and out wrong with it, but you’ll find few of the rabid evangelists that haunt the fanbases of earlier shows.

Well, there’s a fair following for Seven of Nine, but I think they’re only really interested in Jeri Ryan’s…  Let’s move on.

Voyager took the lessons of Deep Space Nine and applied them to the ship-based format of The Next Generation. The overarching storyline is there in the ongoing journey home, but the episodic, exploration is also there. Invariably we get one or two episodes a season where they almost get home, but don’t quite.

And on the way, there were many episodes which lived up to the very best of Star Trek.

Read on…

Top 5 episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

star trek deep space nine

Of all the four children of Gene Roddenberry’s original Star Trek series (yes, we do have to count Enterprise), Deep Space Nine is my favourite. Sorry, I’ll get my coat.

But really, whilst The Original Series and The Next Generation were off exploring strange new worlds, DS9 was exploring something much more interesting: human nature. Yes, all of Star Trek has done this — hell, it’s what all good science fiction should doDS9 did it in much greater depth.

I think that’s largely down to the setting. Being on a space station, they were stuck. Unlike the various ship-based series, the DS9 crew couldn’t float off at the end of each episode, to ruin someone else’s shit the next week. If they made a mess — which they often did — then they had to sit in it.

And that meant that the themes and the stories were bolder, braver. From the strains of religion running through the entire series, to the brutally devastating Dominion war storyline of the last two seasons — which bizarrely the studio only wanted to last six episodes.

So here’s the run down. My five favourite episodes of my favourite Star Trek series.

Read on…

Top 5 episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation

the next generation

Star Trek: The Next Generation was my very first encounter with science-fiction. Literally, when I was five, six, maybe seven I first saw an episode of the second son of Gene Roddenberry, and from then on I was hooked. Really, my whole addiction to SF and started there.

I sometimes have to remind myself just how ground-breaking a show this was. It broke boundaries of the time in the way that the most cutting edge shows today do. And it beat Apple to the iPad by over a decade —  strangely a source of no small pride to me.

It had its poorer episodes, as with all shows. But it had some real gems amongst its 178 episode run. Below are my own personal top five, and an bit by way of explanation of why I rate them so highly.

Read on…

Star Trek Into Darkness – A Review [SPOILERS]

star trek into darkness

WARNING: this review contains spoilers. I don’t usually write spoilery reviews, and indeed I thought long and hard about how to make this spoiler-free. But in the end I decided that the vague semi-references which would result from the necessary critical acrobatics just weren’t worth it.

So if you haven’t seen the film, and have thus far remained unspoilt and virginal, then don’t read any further than this.

Or do. Whatever; I don’t really care. But you have been warned.

Read on…

Star Trek Into Darkness – Theories and Speculation [Contains potential spoilers]

star trek into darknessSo today saw the release of the first trailer for the next film in the rebooted Star Trek franchise, entitled Star Trek Into Darkness. Speculation about it has been rife for months, but has hit a particular fever pitch with it. Primarily this has been around what character Benedict Cumberbatch (Yes, he’s in this, as well as every other film of the moment) will be playing.

And, after watching the trailer on my lunch break (as a true geek should) I’m ready to make my prediction, and to stake it on line for prosperity to be either vindicated or humiliated in time to come.

I think that Benedict Cumberbatch will be playing Gary Mitchell.

Gary Mitchell, for the uninitiated, featured in the first proper episode of Star Trek: The Original Series as Captain Kirk’s best friend from the academy. I won’t give specifics, but it doesn’t end well for Mitchell. Mitchell is a name which has been mentioned a fair bit amongst fans, along with Khan Noonien Singh (of Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan fame). There are a few reasons why I think Mitchell is more likely than Khan:

  1. Khan would be just too predictable. When Abrams and co rebooted the franchise, they made a special point of turning the concept upside down. To then, for their second film, to follow the track of the orginal second film… It just feels too easy.
  2. There isn’t time for Khan. Khan’s appearance in The Wrath of Khan was actually a follow-up to an episode of the TV series. Cumberbatch specifically says in the trailer “I have returned, to have my vengeance.” There doesn’t seem — to me — to be enough time in a film to do the two storylines justice. He could be taking revenge on humanity, rather than Kirk, but still…
  3. Cumberbatch is wearing a Starfleet uniform. Mitchell, in the original story, was at the Academy with Kirk. Of course, Kirk attended the academy later in the new timeline, so its likely that he wouldn’t have been at the Academy with Mitchell. Hence, Mitchell’s backstory could be told during the film trek into darkness trailer benedict cumberbatch
  4. Benedict Cumberbatch is white. This might seem a silly point, but the character of Khan was not a white character. At the first suggestion that it might be Khan, there were rumblings about why Abrams would cast a white actor in a (rare) minority ethnic role. I think there’s potential for it to seriously piss off people in the “how dare you mess with the cannon?” camp as well as non-white audiences.

So there we have it. I’m by no means certain that it will be Mitchell rather than Khan. And, indeed, it could potentially be neither and we’re just all being led down the garden path. But I’m leaning ever closer to Gary Mitchell.

Of course, the most exciting image of the film wasn’t Cumberbatch flipping around like a slimline Bane, but rather this:

star trek into darkness trailer handsThis frame (only appearing in the longer Japanese version of the trailer) will be familiar to anyone who remembers The Wrath of Khan. It is, of course, Spock’s death scene. It’s a bit of a hint towards Cumberbatch being Khan, but again it runs up against the first point I made. I don’t believe that JJ Abrams would be content to rehash the originals.

Of course, if I was writing the film (which, as you may have noticed, I’m not), I’d reverse it. I’d have it as Kirk’s death scene, rather than Spock’s, especially as the first film moved towards a more emotional Spock. I’m not sure that’s what will happen, especially since you don’t kill off your lead character so early into your new franchise (well, unless he’s played by Sean Bean).

But still, the net result of this trailer is that I’m now very much looking forward to 17th May 2013.

The Odd/Even Theory is Bunkum


The last few weeks I’ve been focusing with a near-maniacal dedication on local politics (specifically bin bags), and I have several more such posts in the pipeline for next week, so I hope my readers will forgive me this little sidetrack into fanboy ranting.

I have, lately, been watching a lot of Star Trek. Of this fact, I am resolutely unashamed. I am a Trekie, and what’s more I have been since I was about eight. Go ahead, mock. It’s nothing I haven’t heard before.

In returning to my first love, I have done a little re-evaluating. See, I’ve always thought of Deep Space Nine as the shining gem of brilliance amid the rougher edges of the franchise, injecting as it does a sense of gritty realism (well, all things being relative) into the Trek universe. I mean, it had a brutal war that took up the last two seasons and dominated the entire arc of the show. Also, it had more of a story arc, compared to its predecessor The Next Generation, where pretty much every episode ended with them floating off to ruin someone else’s shit next week. If DS9 made a mess, they had to sit in it.

My favourite Trek episode was (and remains) DS9‘s “In the Pale Moonlight”. Without wanting to give too much away, it explores the darker side of the Federation and Starfleet, and what a fight for survival does to its trademark idealism. It was well told, emotive and character driven. In many ways it was ahead of its time- more akin to the reimagined Battlestar Galactica (which I hold to be the best science-fiction show of recent years- an acolade that Joss Whedon’s Firefly might have stolen, had it not been strangled in its infancy).

But I’ve been watching Voyager recently, a series which I enjoyed a lot when it was first broadcast, but subsequently went cold on. I know why I went cold on it. The characters are a bit more cardboard cutout-y than DS9. The insistence on throwing the Borg in whenever they got bored rendered a genuinely scary enemy boring. And the outfits they insisted on putting Seven of Nine in were frankly insulting.

But it was slick, and it was fun. And that covers a multitude of sins. Now I’m thinking I need to rewatch the films. Which brings me to the odd/even rule. This is a principal known to most people who have heard of Star Trek: that the odd numbered films were terrible and the even were good. Which, honestly, is an oversimplification. My opinion of the films is as follows:

  • Star Trek (I): The Motion Picture (AKA Kirk vs the Voyager space probe) – Mediocre
  • Star Trek (II): The Wrath of Khan (AKA Kirk vs …well, Khan) – Excellent
  • Star Trek (III): The Search for Spock (Kirk vs Death. And Klingons) – Very good
  • Star Trek (IV): The Voyage Home (Kirk vs Humpback Whales) – Honestly, pretty poor. Very overrated.
  • Star Trek (V): The Final Frontier (Kirk vs God) – Terrible. Probably the worst of the lot.
  • Star Trek (VI): The Undiscovered Country (Kirk vs the Cold War) – Good. A bit hackneyed, but I liked it a lot)
  • Star Trek (VII): Generations (Picard and Kirk vs Heaven) – Very good.
  • Star Trek (VIII): First Contact (Picard vs the Borg) – Excellent. Probably my favourite (sacrilege, I know).
  • Star Trek (IX): Insurrection (Picard vs the Fountain of Youth) – Terrible. It’s only saving grace was its brevity.
  • Star Trek (X): Nemesis (Picard vs himself. Sort of. And Romulans) – Very good. Probably the most underrated of the lot.
  • Star Trek (XI)* (Kirk vs Everyone) – Very good, if a bit light.

So, whilst the best of the films are definitely even numbered, and the worst are definitely odd, it’s an unfair generalisation to say even=good, odd=bad. Or maybe I just need to get out more

*It’s number 11. I don’t care whether it’s a remake, a reboot, or whatever-the-hell. Its the 11th Star Trek film, so it’s number 11. End of.

Dude, Where’s My Originality?

The Swedish "Let the Right One In" was released in 2008- so why is there already a Hollywood remake?

Remakes. I have serious issues with remakes, particularly in the film industry. And I’m not the only one, the internet is full of people with gripes about it. But now is my turn.

My thoughts on this were prompted by a friendly little discussion over at the TTA Press Forums, about Let Me In, the US remake of Swedish film Let the Right One In. Now, I haven’t seen either film (yet), but I have to wonder at the remaking of a film only two years after it’s initial release. Given the gestation period of films, this must have been conceived around the time that the Swedish film was released.

So why do films get remade? I think Pete Tennant hit the nail right on the head, saying that it does fundamentally come down to money. The American studios realise that if they remake it, they can make a whole pile of money off the back of it. And that’s the primary force behind remakes. If it’s been proved to work once, it’ll work again right?

The same philosophy has been behind a number of originality-based problems in the film industry. Unleashing Rob Zombie on the Halloween franchise, the lacklustre and unnecessary Nightmare on Elm Street remake, the seemingly endless parade of Saw sequels. Even The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (another Swedish film) is being remade in an American image for release next year.

The studios are aware that if they trot out something with a recognisable brand, then people will flock to it based on that alone. Maybe the fact that they invariably turn out somewhere between mediocre and utter crap is unrelated, or maybe it’s a symptom of them not thinking they need to work as hard.

The fact is that original films are harder work. They have to be made better (probably), they have to be advertised harder, and there’s none of the “sheep” guarantee that people will turn out to see it. But they are an injection of vitality to the industry, which sustain it creatively. And they can be done successfully.

My two favourite films so far this year are probably Inception and Kick Ass. You might argue with me as to the value of those two films, but I personally loved them. And they were original films. Well, Kick Ass was an adaptation of a graphic novel, but I’ll allow it. They weren’t remakes of foreign films, or even of old genre classics. They were new stories, based on nothing else than some writer’s imagination. So huzzah.

Of course, there are other arguments for remaking films. There’s the subtitles argument. I myself have no problem with subtitled. Dubbing is always an awful idea, because it somehow always manages to destroy the film. But I like subtitles. Some people, however, don’t. I don’t get it, but whatever. That might be a reason for remaking a film, but I have to say that on its own it’s a pretty poor one. In my experience a film takes something (whether a lot, or just a general sense) from the culture in which it is made, and which it is set. That’s part of the reason that Americanisation has become so pervasive (not a criticism, surprisingly), because Hollywood films are revered the world over. But as soon as you try and transplant a film from one culture to another, you start running into weird problems.

I’m not so much against retreading old ground. J.J. Abrams Star Trek was pretty damn good. I’m a massive fan of Ronald D. Moore’s reimagining of Battlestar Galactica. The remake of V sucked because it was awful, not because it was a remake. What’s important though, I think, is not to forget respect and originality. Respecting the original work, and putting your own original take on it, will go a long way to make it look like less of a money-grabber, and less of an insult to the original.

Save Our Sci-Fi

If the future of humanity does begin with a choice, I fear SyFy have made the wrong one.

So, earlier this week BSG spin-off series Caprica was cancelled. I’m not going to spend this blog entry moaning specifically about that, for two reasons. Firstly, I’m quite behind on the series, only a few episodes in, and thus haven’t decided whether it will meet it’s potential (but rest assured, the potential is there). Secondly, there are plenty of other people across the interwebs doing just that.

No, my complaint here is a more general trend indicated in the cancellation; that of good sci-fi television being cut short without being given a real chance. Or worse, being positively brilliant. Firefly is the obvious example, but far from the only instance.

I remember when I was growing up, the TV schedules were full of science-fiction. It wasn’t all good, but it was certainly there. The Star Trek Franchise was working its way through The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager (not to mention several films- some of them even good). The X-Files was giving us conspiracy theories and aliens being investigated by an FBI duo with a taste for sunflower seeds and interesting pronunciation of the English language. Babylon 5 was doing something, though quite what I’m not entirely sure, as I’ve never actually watched an episode. Stargate SG-1 was taking us to distant worlds through a bowl of jelly, with MacGyver as a tour guide.

And there were myriads of smaller, lesser-known sci-fi shows floating around. Five seasons of Andromeda, with Kevin Sorbo whizzing about as Hercules in space, for Christ’s sake. And five seasons of pseudo-philosophical nonsense with Earth Final Conflict (both, incidentally, mining the last vestiges of the late Gene Roddenberry’s imagination). If even these more obscure things managed to prosper, hopefully it will give you a hint of how strong the genre used to do.

Nowadays, they seem to struggle. Aside from the utter bollocks of Firefly’s cancellation (midway through one of the best first seasons I’ve ever seen from a TV series, of any genre), there are a host of similar cancellations littering the path. The demise of the mutated Stargate SG-1 and misguided spin-off Stargate Atlantis probably won’t be much mourned, but back in the 2003 outstanding Australian offering Farscape was given the chop too. Since then Dollhouse (Joss Whedon’s other sci-fi project) has been given its marching orders, lesser-known but still praise-worthy Denying Gravity was denied a second season, as was Flashforward (not a patch on the book, but still better than Lost by a wide margin). And that’s to say nothing of the countless great ideas which have undoubtedly been turned down.

What I think this amounts to, in my opinion, is a shift in the perception of sci-fi. It just doesn’t seem to be cool any more. The only science-fiction series that I can think of to have run its full course rather than being prematurely cancelled is Caprica‘s parent show, Ronald D. Moore’s sterling remake of Battlestar Galactica.

When you factor in the Sci-Fi channel’s bizzare and much-documented name change to SyFy, I think we have to accept that TV studios are not keen on the genre any more. The flagship genre representatives at the moment are X-Files lookalike Fringe (which is fantastic, and if they go anywhere near it with an axe I’m going to have to resort to violence), bold reinvention of the original franchise Stargate Universe, and the BBC’s reinvention of the Doctor Who franchise (which may be facing difficulties of a different sort, before too long). Of course, you have the V remake, but I think the less said about that diluted cat piss the better.

Is there a deeper root to this downturn? Are people not dreaming of the future any more? Do we not look up at the stars and dream of what could be out there? If you look at real world events, such as Obama’s attitude towards NASA, you might think so. I don’t know the answer to that one, but my favourite television genre seems to be under siege at the moment.

Hollywood has never gotten sci-fi. They’ve made token efforts, and sometimes done fairly well, but the extended possibilities of a TV series, of a long story arc, has always seemed the natural home of video science-fiction to me. If it’s going to be allowed to vanish from our screens, I fear not only for the genre, but for humanity’s approach to the future. Science-fiction is, to me at least, imagination incarnate. It is the ultimate “what if?”. And I think we really do need that.

Maybe you disagree, but all I’m really saying here is give sci-fi a chance.