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Ranking Star Trek

In honor of Star Trek Discovery  debuting sometime later this year on CBS/ CBS All Access/ Netflix, I want to rank the Star Trek films and television series to date (save the animated series which I have never seen).

Let me begin with the films, from low to high.

13. The Motion Picture is very dull. I’ve watched it once or twice and feel nothing for it. I wouldn’t mind never seeing the film again.

12. The Final Frontier. Has some interesting bits. But Spock’s brother and his search for God is lackluster.

11. Star Trek. The Abrams helmed reboot is a disappointment. Pretty effects? Yes. But that does not excuse the fact that this film has horrendous world building that leads to a horrid plot.

10. The Search For Spock. It has its moments. But a poor follow up to a much better movie.

9. Into Darkness. The reboots need an original plot. And to not whitewash Khan. I do like that the supporting characters are branching off into their own subplots (which the original series’s films never did).

8. Insurrection. The worse of the Next Generation films. My problem with this film is that it takes place during the Dominion War. And the Enterprise is not engaged in the war? Really?

7. Nemesis. A clone of Picard really? Cool battle sequence. And I love the fact that the Romulans realize their mistake and aid the Enterprise in preventing genocide.

6. The Voyage Home. I really don’t like this film. But I do like the fact that characters other than Kirk, Bones, and Spock have subplots, if only minor.

5. Generations. An okay movie. My favorite bit is Lursa and B’Etor. And Whoopie Goldberg.

4. First Contact. I love the exploration of Picard’s character, the Ahab comparison and touches of PTSD are excellent. I even like Data’s continued exploration of his nature. But I wish other characters had gotten more chances to shine. (Data is my least favorite Next Generation character.)

3. Beyond. Damn I like this movie. The effects are well done. The villains make more sense than they usually do. And the cast has finally made the characters their own. And the crew stand on their own separate from Kirk, Bones, and Spock.

2. The Wrath of Khan. What? Number two? Yes. I love Wrath. It is one of the best example of space opera on film. But. . .

1. The Undiscovered Country. I really love this movie. It is my favorite Trek film. I love the usage of politics in the film. The acting is really good. The themes are incisive and well executed. Just an amazing example of space opera on film.

Now. What about the television series? Again from low to high.

5. Enterprise. The third and fourth seasons are good. Unfortunately, the first and second seasons are disappointing in the extreme.

4. Star Trek. Blasphemy! I know. I just am not too terribly fond of the Original Series. There are great episodes. But there are also some terrible episodes. The problem with the Original Series is that it hasn’t aged well (which is a problem with a lot of science fiction over time).

3. Voyager. There are good episodes. And there are bad episodes. I enjoyed it when I was younger. But revisiting the series recently, I must admit that it does not hold up well.

2. The Next Generation. My first experience with Star Trek. I like the series. But I’m not sure how well it holds up. Introduced me to Wesley Crusher.

1.Deep Space Nine. By far my favorite series. It has, honestly, improved with each viewing. I love the extended plot arcs that typified the later series. There are some issues. The Mirror Universe episodes are terrible. The Ferengi episodes are disappointing. But over all, I love Deep Space Nine.

I am a fan of Star Trek. I don’t consider myself a Trekkie, though. But I do hope Star Trek returns to form and produces more excellence. More Trek is always needed.

Star Wars vs. Star Trek: Beyond the Force Awakens (A Double Review)

When it comes to dramatic science fiction, no two names evoke as much passion as Star Wars and Star Trek. These two storied franchises have been pitted against each other for decades now. (Even if the two properties are apples and oranges). Conveniently, the newest Star Wars film, The Force Awakens was released only a few months before the latest Star Trek film, Beyond. That means I can do a double review and pit these two films against each other. Which one is the better film?

First, a disclaimer. I am a bigger fan of Star Trek than I am Star Wars. I have seen pretty much every episode of Star Trek (though I have only completed Deep Space Nine). I have also seen every film. My familiarity with Star Wars rests solely with the seven films. I have zero interest in the Expanded Universe or whatever the new version of it is.

All of that said, I am not going to tear either movie down for the benefit of the other. I enjoyed both The Force Awakens and Beyond immensely. I do give the edge to Beyond because there are elements in The Force Awakens which annoys me to no end.

The Force Awakens

On the whole The Force Awakens is a return to excellence for a franchise that suffered through a not well received prequel trilogy. The film is beautiful and finely acted. The narrative is pretty good save when nostalgia trumps originality.

The film looks amazing. From Jakku to the Starkiller Base everything is gorgeous. Even when the set is meant to look menacing. The CGI is excellent and seamlessly merges with the real sets.

The acting is very well done. The principal leads (Isaac, Ridley, and Boyega) are amazing. Fisher and Ford are great in the brief time they are on screen. Carrie Fisher is especially compelling as General Organa (pity she isn’t more prominent in the film). Gleeson and Driver a pretty good as the villains Hux and Ren. I am not fond of Kylo Ren. I think he is the new Jar Jar. But Adam Driver wonderfully captures that manchild.

I love the main narrative of the film: the search for Luke Skywalker. It allows the new characters a chance to develop outside of the parameters set by Luke, Leia, and Han.

I am annoyed, at best, by everything related to Starkiller Base. Narrative sacrificed to nostalgia of the original trilogy does not make for a good secondary arc. I would not be so annoyed if plot beats did not repeat from the first films. Is there not a ring system or asteroid field around the Resistance Base? Why not use some of them in mass drivers to assault Starkiller once the shield is down? Or come up with some original battle plan?

Overall, though, I did really like The Force Awakens. I especially like the new trio of Rey, Finn, and Poe.

Beyond

I cannot say that I have liked the Kelvin/ reboot Star Trek films. While successful, I do not believe that Abrams’s vision of Star Trek is anything other than turning a great science fiction franchise (flaws and all) into nothing more than a blockbuster without much soul. Of the three films, Beyond is the best. While not what I want in my Star TrekStar Trek Beyond is an enjoyable and fun film.

The film is beautiful. I especially love the Yorktown. That is an amazing scene. And the battles are awesome.

The acting is good. I especially like Sofia Boutella as Jaylah and Zoe Saldana as Uhura. I do think that Idris Elba and Shohreh Aghdashloo are underutilized in the film, though.

The story is good and fun if a little repetitive (the plots of all three Star Trek reboot films are very similar). I like the fact that the crew is split up and engaging in their own character arcs that further develop them all (rather than just Kirk, McCoy, and Spock).

My lone problem with the film, besides the lack of material for Elba and Aghdashloo, is the final battle. In a battle to save thousands if not millions of lives, is it not corny to rock out?

Despite that one grievance, I really like this film.

So, which film is better? Again,I give a slight edge to Star Trek Beyond. I cannot get over my annoyance with Starkiller Base. Or my hate for Kylo Ren.

The futures of Star Wars and Star Trek are bright. If you haven’t seen both these films, what are you waiting for? Go watch it now!

Star Trek: Discovery

Star Trek is finally returning to television! Okay, it is going to a streaming service after premiering on CBS. But at least there is a new Star Trek series! I am honestly both excited and pessimistic about the new series. And, of course, there is the looming issue of how I am going to watch it.

Not much is known about the new series. Although more is known now than it was a month ago.

We know the series is titled Star Trek: Discovery. We know that the ship will generally draw visual inspiration from the attempts to produce a second Star Trek series before the movies were settled upon.

We know that the protagonist is a woman. We know that she will be a junior officer rather than the usual captain. We know that there is a good chance that her actress will be a woman of color. We know that Star Trek: Discovery will continue the tradition of having diverse casts (including an out LGBT actor). We know there will be an out LGBT character.

We know that the series takes place five to ten years before Kirk’s five year mission in the Prime Timeline. We know it touches upon some part of Star Trek history. What that is, we don’t know.

We don’t know the cast, yet. We don’t know how the final visuals will turn out. We don’t know a lot of the details.

Everything else is rumor, speculation, and make believe.

I am excited about Star Trek continuing to be diverse in cast and character composition. Star Trek has always been diverse. And is stronger for that diversity, even if it fails to live up to its potential.

I am not excited about the setting. I’ve never been as big a fan of Star Trek as I am a fan of the later spin offs. I don’t want another prequel like Enterprise. I want to find out what happened to the Federation after the Dominion War. I want to find out if the Romulan Empire survived the destruction of Romulus. I want a new leap forward.

But I get that with Star Trek turning fifty there will be a nostalgic push to revisit the 2200s.

Will I watch it? I want to. But I am not in love with the idea of Star Trek: Discovery being exclusive after the premier on CBS All Access.

I get why CBS is going this route. They want to build their streaming brand.

But it is unfortunate for consumers who will now have to pay $5.99 a month to watch Star Trek: Discovery.

The added cost would be worth it if CBS All Access had anything else a consumer would be interested in. Writing for myself, CBS has nothing of interest except for Star Trek. So, do I want to spend the money for one series?

I need more solid information before I make that decision.

Sulu vs. Sulu

In Star Trek Beyond, Hikaru Sulu (portrayed by John Cho [formerly portrayed by George Takei]), will be revealed to be in a same sex relationship. Well past damn time there is a LGBTQ character in Star Trek! So I’m doing a happy dance (even though I am not fond of the reboot/ new timeline). And it is being reported that there will be LGBTQ representation in the new Star Trek television series. So excited for that! (even if I’ll have to get CBS All Access to watch it).

But there is controversy over Sulu’s gayness. Or bisexuality. Should a new character have been created instead? How does George Takei and his opinions factor into this?

(I’m not going to argue for what seems like the hundredth time defending diversity and inclusion. If you don’t get why it is so important by now, I’m not going to waste my valuable time on it.)

Sulu being depicted in a same sex relationship serves a number of functions. It rights a wrong in Star Trek that has been allowed to persist for far too long. It honors George Takei. It is narratively efficient. And the character already has a characterization (which promotes the narrative efficiency).

George Takei, however, has voiced his disappointment with the decision. Rather than recasting or queering a preexisting character, he has voiced support for creating a new character to be the vanguard of LGBTQ representation. His reasoning, if I have it right, is because he played Sulu as straight and Roddenberry wrote him as straight (even if they wanted to add some queerness at the time of the original series). I can see Takei’s point. Seeing your work discarded (even if it is an alternate version in some form) has to be frustrating. Especially when the discarding comes with the intent to honor.

Both sides, I think, have good points.

Queering Sulu is more efficient. Precious narrative time is not going to be wasted on introducing a new character. A new character who, let us all face it, will not have the impact or staying power of Sulu (as Iceman proved when he became the most prominent gay superhero after his coming out). There is also, as Simon Pegg points out, the perception of the new LGBTQ character as “The LGBTQ Character.”

A very compelling case for queering Sulu, I think. (Assuming he is even straight in the primary timeline. There has been some debate over whether or not there are explicit references to his sexuality in Star Trek and the subsequent movies he appears in.I really cannot comment on this with any authority, myself. I am a fan of Star Trek, but I am not as fond of the original series as I am the later series.)

Personally, I am reticent to promote the recast or queering of characters as an absolute good thing. Recasting/ queering must improve upon the original. It must, I believe, provide new avenues of narrative and characterization. Sometimes, editing existing characters is a sign of lazy writers, no matter how well the intent. A new character, well written and with a compelling narrative, can create a whole new fandom. (Pity no one takes the time).

Ultimately, I think Sulu in a same sex romance is the better option. Star Trek Beyond is only two hours. Not much time to introduce an original character with a compelling character and narrative that lifts him or her above the usual cast of forgettable original characters in Star Trek films.

 

A Four Movie Review: Iron Man, The Sorcerer and the White Snake, District 9, and Star Trek (Reprise)

At my local library, there is a limit of five movies. This past week, I checked out five movies. Of the five, the one I will not be reviewing is Howl’s Moving Castle. I love that movie and I’ve already written about it. Or at least the book by Diana Wynne Jones. 

Anyway, on to the four movies I will be reviewing.

Iron Man (2008 dir. Jon Favreau)

I can’t believe it has taken me this long to finally watch this movie. The short of it is that I love this movie. Seriously, this movie is great. 

The evolution of Tony Stark from playboy merchant of death to hero is powerful. Especially when contrasted to Obadiah Stane, who is likely what Tony would have become eventually, though maybe not so maniacal. 

Robert Downey, Jr. is, honestly, an inspired choice to play Tony Stark. Is there any questions as to why he headlines the Marvel Cinematic Universe? 

Jeff Bridges and Gwyneth Paltrow are equally well casted. Especially Paltrow’s awesome Pepper Potts. 

The one problem I have with this movie is with Stane’s villainy. He goes from being a very well developed corrupt corporate executive to a standard maniacal super villain. I like Stane when he acts like the cool mentor who is selling Stark weapons to both sides. But Stane as the Iron Monger is just your average supervillain. 

But that problem aside, I love this movie.

The Sorcerer and the White Snake (2011 dir. Ching Siu-tung)

My opinion about this film is torn. On the one hand, I love the scenery porn. On the other hand, I’m not entirely sure what the hell the movie is trying to tell us.

The visuals are gorgeous. Even if the CGI is poorly done at times. 

The film tells the story of Susu, a white snake demon, who falls in love with Xu Xian, a doctor and herb picker. Standing in their way is the sorcerer/ abbot Fahai, who views all demons as not belonging in the human world. 

Throughout the film, Fahai’s sentiment is supported as he and his disciples battle and trap various malignant demons (an ice harpy, a bat demon, and a pack of fox demons). But, those sentiments are challenged by Susu and Qingqing, the green snake, who are largely benevolent. And, perhaps most tellingly, by Neng Ren, a monk who is transformed into a bat demon.

Things begin to fall apart when Fahai learns that Susu and Xu Xian are married. He demands that she either leave him or face what ever punishment he decides to mete out. The conflict comes to a head when Xu Xian stabs his wife and subsequently steals a magical herb from the temple to save her.

Once saved, Susu attempts to return the favor. At this point, Fahai is clearly the movie’s antagonist. For much of the final fight, he is no match for Susu.

But then, a deus ex machina occurs and the whole point of the movie seems to be lost. In my opinion, this event ruins the movie. Of course, given the deus ex machina, not that surprising.

District 9 (2009 dir. Niel Blomkamp)

This movie is not as bad as I thought it would be. But I’m still not overly fond of it, either. 

The biggest problem I have with the movie is that it tries to be The Office married to a science fiction thriller. I don’t think this works. 

Another problem I have is that the politics of the movie are a little too much like a hammer. Allegory should always be more subtle.

Do I think the apartheid South African government would do what they did to the aliens? Yes. But I seriously doubt that the rest of the world would have let them get away with it, even if speciesism is as omnipresent as the film makes out. I just don’t buy it.

And that, I think, is where science fiction runs into one of its major weaknesses. Does the reader/ viewer actually buy the world created? 

Star Trek (2009 dir. J.J. Abrams)

Speaking of not buying the world created, I still don’t like this movie. I just don’t buy it at all. The plot is still stupid with a poor antagonist. 

I may be the only Star Trek fan who prefers Into Darkness.

Too bad Star Trek won’t be returning to television in the near future. That is where the franchise belongs. 

31 Days of Post (2) Day 17: On Star Trek

Star Trek Into Darkness was. . . not as bad as I had expected it to be. A pleasant surprise, honestly. I didn’t care for the first Star Trek (the reboot). But the sequel wasn’t too bad. It had a few moments, though. But, this post is not just about the reboot. This is a post about all of Star Trek.

After Star Trek Into Darkness, I’m reconsidering my attitudes towards the reboot. While I still hate the plotting, I think I”m starting to like the expanded roles for the supporting cast. Kirk is still insufferable, but Spock comes across as a credible counter protagonist, Uhura and Bones are competing admirably for the third most important spot. And Chekov, Sulu, and Scotty all have their moments to shine. Which is more than I can say about the Original Series where Kirk dominated with rare episodes giving any of the other characters a chance to shine (and then largely limited, if memory serves, to Spock). In my opinion, this is a move in the right direction. (Plus, I love the fact that there are far more aliens in the crew compared to the Original Series).

But the plotting still sucks. My biggest issue with Star Trek and (now) Star Trek Into Darkness is that the plot is not up to snuff compared to the characters. 

It has been a while since I last saw Star Trek, but I think I can remember my problem with it. Nero’s plan was idiotic. Destroying Vulcan makes no sense. And certainly destroying Earth makes no sense. Rather, why not give the Romulus of the past the advanced tech on the Narada? That way, the Romulans could have a stronger position in galactic politics (and warn of the supernova with enough time to avoid the destruction of Romulus and Remus in the new timeline). I get the anger at Spock, but it just doesn’t work. 

My problem with Star Trek Into Darkness lies in the usage of Khan and the Klingons. Khan just doesn’t work in this film. And the Klingons? Wasted opportunity. 

But the films are pretty, I’ll give you that. 

When I originally conceived of this post, I planned to rant in favor of the need to put Star Trek back where it belongs. On television.

But do I still agree with that position? I don’t know. 

You see, the question is: where can Star Trek go from here? How can Star Trek be made new and relevant now?

I don’t know. Watching Star Trek Into Darkness, I really don’t know how a new series on television could work. A continuation of the films? (But would the current cast be content on television?) A continuation of the original timeline? (But how to make it new?) Something else? Just keep with the films?  I don’t know. 

Star Trek is one of the most important media franchises. Left for dead after the failure of Enterprise, it rose from the ashes with Star Trek. Now, with many of the creative team likely migrating to Star Wars, what will Star Trek do?