Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

star trek Archive

Tuesday

14

May 2019

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COMMENTS

What We Left Behind Is a Heartfelt Tribute to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

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The raw beauty of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine stems from the ways in which it changed the very definition of what it meant to be Star Trek. The primary form of exploration came not from visiting planets, but the characters who inhabited an isolated space station out in the Gamma Quadrant. The show pioneered serialized narratives well before the “golden age of television” ushered in the era of long-form storytelling. As with many trailblazers, the initial reaction proved divisive, but recent years have been kind to DS9, with the ease of streaming paving the way for future generations of fans to experience the show.

What We Left Behind is a documentary crafted to celebrate the legacy of Star Trek’s “middle child.” Co-directed by Ira Steven Behr, who served as the showrunner on DS9, the film takes a thorough approach to exploring all the various elements that went into making such a complex show. The extensive interviews, which feature the entire principal cast, practically every recurring actor, and plenty of members of the production crew and writing staff, highlight the profound impact that the show made on all of their lives.

It’s clear from the very first moments of the film that Deep Space Nine changed the lives of practically everyone involved. Behr does an excellent job not only capturing that energy, but also sustaining it throughout the course of the documentary. Building on that strong connection, Behr brought back a few of the writers to plot what season eight might have looked like. Complete with numerous animated graphics, the prospective episode is featured throughout the documentary, perhaps serving as the best example of the show’s staying power after all these years.

While the Deep Space Nine’s streaming and DVD releases haven’t had the same complete HD makeover that its two predecessor series received, most of the footage from the show included in What We Left Behind has been beautifully modernized. The show looks absolutely spectacular in HD. The chance to see one of the series’ many space battles up on the big screen with that kind of careful restoration is well worth the price of admission itself.

Behr’s greatest strength as a director is his ability to maintain an introspective lens. Like any show, mistakes were made along the way. An interview with the former chairman of Paramount Television Group Kerry McCluggage in particular took a hard look at the decision to forbid Avery Brooks from shaving his head or wearing a goatee. For all of Deep Space Nine’s progressive values, the show fell short on the subject of LGBTQ inclusion, a misfire that Behr acknowledges head-on in a way that brought me to tears as a gay Star Trek fan. That kind of raw honesty is quite rare for a documentary crafted by people personally involved with their subject.

While the documentary goes to great lengths to avoid being just a “talking heads” retrospective, it is rather powerful when it examines pivotal moments in the show’s production history. There are times when the cast and crew get pretty emotional with each other, understandable given the immense stress of working on a television show that puts out twenty-six episodes a year. Though Behr acknowledges the narrative confines of a single documentary, his film provides an immensely satisfying look at all the elements that went into making the show.

What We Left Behind is a beautiful celebration of Deep Space Nine, crafted with love by the people who poured their hearts into the show. Fans of the series couldn’t hope for a better examination of the show that changed Star Trek. It’s the kind of documentary that makes you want to put on an episode right when you get home, a powerful tribute to a show that lives on in the hearts of so many.

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Tuesday

26

March 2019

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Star Trek: Discovery Season Two Uses Fan Favorites Without Letting Them Take Over the Show

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For a franchise that popularized the phrase, “where no man has gone before,” the past twenty years of Star Trek have seen a lot of familiar faces. The idea of Christopher Pike playing a prominent role both in the 2009 reboot film and season two of Discovery seems almost impossible to fathom after his unceremonious exit in the original series. While Captain Pike was intended to helm the Enterprise in the original pilot “The Cage,” which had its footage reused for the season one two-part episode “The Menagerie,” the character became a footnote in franchise lore for decades. That is, until Bruce Greenwood was called upon to play the character, now meant to be a mentor for a young James T. Kirk. Ten years later, Anson Mount has brought considerable depth to the man once intended to lead the franchise.

After a bumpy start, Star Trek: Discovery put together one of the strongest freshman seasons in the franchise. The serialized format played well to the cast’s strengths, allowing the characters to grow alongside the complex long-form storytelling full of twists and turns. The conclusion of the season-long Klingon War left the future for Discovery completely open, somewhat conflicted by the sight of the Enterprise in the finale. After a season building up a whole new cast, it seemed a little puzzling that the show would want to highlight characters who have been around for decades. Season two ran the risk of devolving into a literal TOS prequel rather than simply a show set before it.

Perhaps season two’s greatest achievement is the way it integrated Captain Pike onto the bridge of Discovery without taking away from the enjoyable dynamic already in place. He’s an asset to the crew, not a leader hell-bent on molding his subordinates in his own image. Pike feels like a natural part of the team and it’ll be sad to see him go, assuming the rumors about his departure at the end of the season are accurate.

Discovery is still very much Michael Burnham’s show. Sonequa Martin-Green has done a superb job this season in making sure Burnham still commands the stage in scenes opposite Starfleet higher-ups as well as her half-brother Spock, quite possibly the franchise’s most beloved character. As intriguing as the Red Queen is, the plotline is further accentuated by the personal weight it carries for the show’s leading character.

Season two makes use of the series’ talented guest cast, with characters like Admiral Cornwell and (Mirror) Captain Georgiou making extensive appearances, but the show is at its best when it focuses on its core cast. Episode four “An Obol for Charon,” showcased the relationship between Burnham and Saru, delivering an emotional payoff that was quite impressive for a show only in its second season. Characters like Ensign Tilly and Paul Stamets haven’t had as much time to shine this year, but actors Mary Wiseman and Anthony Rapp make the most of the time they’re given. The show has also gone out of its way to highlight background characters like Lieutenant Kayla Detmer and Airam, giving its bridge officers an additional sense of purpose.

Placing Spock at the heart of the narrative was a tricky proposition, but the show’s navigated the popular Vulcan quite well. Ethan Peck does a great job playing the character, putting his own spin on Spock while staying faithful to the spirit of Leonard Nimoy’s performance. The mood of the show is a bit different without the Klingon War, but the varying tone from episode to episode is refreshing from an audience standpoint, never quite sure what’s going to happen each week.

Season two uses fan favorite characters to bolster its strong cast without relying too heavily on the franchise’s existing lore. I don’t know how much Spock is too much Spock, but the show handles him with grace. Star Trek: Discovery has been consistently great at long-form storytelling. While I’d like a little more of the focus moving forward to be centered on Discovery-created characters, the show has proved adept at navigating whatever part of space it chooses to fly into.

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Wednesday

3

August 2016

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Star Trek Beyond Is As Entertaining As Skeptics Feared It Would Be

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The fans who raised concerns over Star Trek Beyond’s action packed, Beastie Boys fueled trailer had a point. The comparisons to the Fast and the Furious franchise were warranted even before considering that director Justin Lin helmed four installments, overseeing the series’ shift away from car racing into buddy action films. Vin Diesel would have look more appropriate in Beyond than Patrick Stewart or Kate Mulgrew. The problem for those critical of the trailer is that while they weren’t wrong to point out the franchise’s shift in direction, the result is the single best thing to happen to Trek since Seven of Nine’s introduction to Voyager back in 1997.

Funny thing is, I can’t really find a spot where the fast pacing, sharp writing, and overall strong performance from the cast would have been improved by longwinded technobabble exchanges or impassioned debates on the Prime Directive. Lin took Trek and made it his own, but it’s still Trek. Giving Simon Pegg control of the script proved genius as he brought his comic wit and fan’s perspective, giving Leonard Nimoy one of the most heartfelt tributes I’ve seen in fiction, giving me great optimism for how Anton Yelchin’s unfortunate death will be handled.

Beyond succeeds because it knows where to concentrate its phaser fire. The plot is about as forgettable as The Final Frontier or Insurrection, certainly no whales, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The film wastes none of its two hour run time, knowing when enough is enough. My only real complaint is that Idris Elba is largely wasted in the role of Krall. Having been highly underwhelmed by Benedict Cumberbatch’s go as Khan in Into Darkness, I’m not sure more Krall would have been a good thing, but it’s always at least a bit of a shame to see a talent like Elba underutilized.

It’s rare to see a blockbuster film, let alone one that’s part of a franchise, to not suffer under the weight of its perceived obligations to its universe. My main criticism of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Batman V. Superman, various films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that they spend too much time worrying about the bigger picture of the franchise that they don’t put enough focus on being entertaining films. A cameo from an older cast member or from the upcoming Discovery series would have been fun, but I’d rather not have either than suffer an unnecessary subplot designed to “connect” individual works together. Beyond is a pleasant throwback to the days where movies dedicated themselves to satisfying the audience sitting right in front of them rather than those who complain in coffee shops, comic book stores, or the internet.

The film is fun. That’s about all there is that needs saying. Those who were bothered by the trailer probably won’t like the film, but the trailer was inaccurate in at least one regard. Beyond has a lot of heart for a movie that’s mostly focused on explosions.

The new Star Trek films have different obligations than the earlier films, which were continuations of television series featuring characters the audience had ample opportunity to get to know. We’ll never know Pine’s Kirk as well as Shatner’s. Every few years we get to have a couple hours of fun with these characters. For Trek fans who haven’t had the luxury of a Trek series on TV in over a decade (at least until January), resistance to Lin’s different style is, well, logical. As an ardent Deep Space Nine fanatic and a fan of the other series, I welcomed Trek’s decision to boldly go where no captain had gone before, even if it that involves going into the Fast and the Furious’ quadrant.

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Monday

18

January 2016

2

COMMENTS

What Marvel Can Learn from Star Trek

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture

Though the Star Trek franchise will soon celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, much of its on screen canon was released in one decade. The 90s were a great time to be a Trekkie (Trekker) with three different TV series (The Next Generation premiered in 87 and Voyager ended in 01) and four movies out in such a short time span. It would have been hard to fathom in ‘96, with Voyager on network television and First Contact proving that the film franchise could thrive without the original cast, that the franchise would soon be in decline. By 2005, Star Trek was nowhere to be found except for a hundred times a day in re-runs and on DVD and VHS at old yard sales.

Though the franchise would make a comeback just a few years later with the 2009 reboot and will be returning to TV in 2017, it’s hard to imagine a world where Star Trek reaches the same level of prominence it enjoyed in the 90s. Star Trek Beyond is already under fire from fans and members of its own cast for its action heavy trailer and the decision to place the TV series on CBS All Access will severely limit its exposure. The status of entertainment behemoth belongs to a different franchise.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the most ambitious shared universe ever attempted. Since 2008, we’ve seen twelve films and four television series released with plenty more on the way. To put things in perspective, the Star Trek franchise has released twelve films and six series in a fifty year span, though Marvel’s TV series have a long way to go before they come close to Trek’s combined total of 30 seasons and 726 episodes.

It’s clear that this is a total that the MCU would like to eventually surpass, along with more films than one can possibly imagine. Backed by Disney, it’s hard to imagine a world where the MCU doesn’t blow that total away. Then again, it was once hard to imagine a world without a weekly Trek series either.

Though the MCU is in little danger of not being a multi-billion entity, there are some reasons to be concerned with its overall longevity. The status of the main Avengers cast post Infinity War is unclear and it seems highly unlikely that all will stay with the franchise. Age of Ultron may have grossed 1.4 billion dollars, but was met with significantly less critical praise than its predecessor. Jessica Jones has been a critical gem, which helps to soften the near irrelevance of its other three series, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Daredevil, and Agent Carter. Recent estimations done by NBC Universal place the viewership of Jessica Jones as competitive with the middle pack of network TV dramas with an impressive performance among the key 18-49 demo, though Netflix disputes these reports.

Not even Chicken Little would say that the MCU is in any danger of imploding anytime soon. Their schedule looks to packed with bankable box office draws all the way to 2019 and a team up of the Netflix superheroes in The Defenders should elevate their smaller screen presence. If the MCU was the seemingly unsinkable Titanic, making its voyage through an ocean of cash, there is one thing to be worried about.

Apathy.

Star Trek: Nemesis and Enterprise didn’t kill the franchise because they were terrible. The chief complaint against Nemesis was that it felt tired and the poor box office can realistically be blamed on stiff competition from Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. Reviews of Enterprise got better with time and the series’ cancellation has more to do with a shift in UPN’s demographic rather than a ratings implosion given the series’ modest decline in ratings when moved to a Friday timeslot opposition Stargate SG-1. I’m not a big fan of Nemesis or Enterprise and certainly don’t want to come across as an apologist for either, but it’s important that we understand that neither can strictly be blamed because of quality. Fans stopped caring.

The MCU will inevitably face the same problem down the road. There will come a time when more of the same simply won’t cut it anymore. Granted, a chief problem with Age of Ultron was that it wasn’t particularly memorable, but that isn’t likely to have any long-term impact on the franchise unless Captain America: Civil War is a complete bomb, which seems about as likely as a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine film (a man can dream).

Variety will be the factor that keeps the MCU relevant when the post-Downey Jr. era inevitably arrives. The MCU has already shown a willingness to take risks with Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, Daredevil, and Jessica Jones which all could’ve been expensive flops. The Benedict Cumberbatch led Doctor Strange will be a further deviation from their standard superhero offerings later this year.

Unlike Star Trek in the early ‘00s, the MCU is well protected against bombs. A person who stops watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t necessarily not going to go see Thor: Ragnarok. Agent Carter fanatics may not be interested in Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Few mainstream franchises have such diverse assets that don’t collide with one another.

Failure is okay for the MCU as long as the fans care. It’s when the indifference settles in that Disney should start to worry. Maybe Paramount would’ve shifted gears if there had been fiery outrage to Star Trek: Enterprise. Instead, it just powered down.

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