Star Trek: Lower Decks, TV, Writing

TV Review: STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS (Season 1)

Conventional wisdom, ever since the very first Star Trek series in the 1960s, suggests that new shows take three seasons to find themselves. Lower Decks is now the first new Star Trek show to bust that myth.
The Next Generation only stopped trying to be The Original Series, and levered itself into the 1990s under Michael Piller while balancing a measured tone with space bound escapism, after two profoundly awkward seasons that have dated far more readily than the 1960s show. Deep Space Nine emerged from a staid chrysalis two seasons in once Ira Steven Behr engaged serialised storytelling alongside pulp adventure. Voyager, by its third year, tried to combine ongoing story arcs with recurring villains and a more consistent balance of episodes. Enterprise galvanised itself under Manny Coto after two lacklustre seasons, even if it was too little too late despite widespread and exciting changes. We will soon know if Discovery, under Michelle Paradise, has pulled the same trick – but the omens look good.

What do all of these examples have in common? By and large, a strong creative force at the helm at the point these shows found their feet. Voyager’s best years were arguably when Brannon Braga was heavily trying to shape the series, even if it lacks the same powerful creative as DS9 or ENT. Mike McMahan is that force but, and here’s the difference, he’s been around since day one. Lower Decks is very much his baby, to a degree previously unheard of in Star Trek. We might need to track back to Lower Decks’ chief inspiration, The Next Generation, to find a show which was so deeply tethered from the beginning to series creator Gene Roddenberry, and even then its success is attributable to many different cooks stirring the broth. Lower Decks is McMahan’s vision and you feel that from the very beginning.
There is little doubt the resulting show is an acquired taste but this sojourn into sweet-natured comedy is hugely faithful to Star Trek lore, imbued with a love of the subject matter, and hits the ground running without the identity crisis every Star Trek series that has preceded it faced.
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Film, TV, Writing

STAR TREK is at a cinematic crossroads – which path should it take?

Though we may have entered a second possible ‘golden age’ for Star Trek on television, the same cannot be said for the iconic franchise at the movies.
Forbes writer and movie critic Scott Mendelson, in a recent article, decried that Paramount’s experiment to transform Star Trek into a franchise worth of rivalling Star Wars, the MCU, even Pirates of the Caribbean or Transformers, is dead in the water after the box office failure in 2016 of Star Trek Beyond. He points out that while Star Trek 2009 and Star Trek Into Darkness both made a profit and are in the higher percentile of Star Trek films in financial terms, neither of them came anywhere close to making the profits witnessed in franchise films such as The Dark Knight or Skyfall over the last fifteen years. In all of these summations, he is arguably quite correct.

This topic has reared its head once again following two recent news stories. First, that the reputed movie script being worked on by Fargo and Legion scribe Noah Hawley has for now been shelved, on account of the story revolving around a topical killer virus. Secondly, that Quentin Tarantino’s much speculated film idea would be set heavily in the 1920’s gangster era. Paramount are reputed to be weighing a decision on which path to take for Star Trek at the movies – either of these options, or the fourth intended ‘Kelvinverse’ film for the reboot crew. If not three scripts ready to film, then three very different ideas. All of which place Star Trek at a fascinating crossroads.
The question is simple… which road should the franchise take?
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Film, Scene by Scene, Star Trek: Nemesis

Scene by Scene: STAR TREK: NEMESIS Pt II – ‘Captain’s Prerogative’

As Star Trek: Picard begins, with the return of The Next Generation era, I’m going to take a scene by scene look back in the next couple of months about the tenth Star Trek film, Stuart Baird’s Nemesis, from 2002…

It almost became a running joke across Star Trek: The Next Generation… when exactly would Will Riker accept a promotion to Captain and command his own starship?

It’s a question that defined perhaps the most legendary episode of TNG, Season 3’s finale and Season 4’s premiere The Best of Both Worlds, in which Riker has to step up and truly command the Enterprise when Captain Jean-Luc Picard is abducted and assimilated by the Borg, challenged all the way by spunky first officer Elizabeth Shelby. Riker, ultimately, refuses to take the logical next step in his career for many years. For the remainder of TNG’s run on television. Even during the big screen outings, indeed we see Commander Worf, the Enterprise’s chief security officer, captaining a ship before Riker in Star Trek: First Contact, as he commands the USS Defiant against another Borg invasion. Riker resists his destiny right up until the very last moment, the ‘generation’s final journey’, and it comes in tandem with finally tying the knot with the love of his life, Counselor Deanna Troi, after their romance was rekindled during previous film Star Trek: Insurrection.

The fact Star Trek: Nemesis pulls the trigger on these seismic personal events for Riker is further proof of just how final this film was meant to be for the crew of The Next Generation. That show, born as it was of an episodic television structure designed for later syndication and built on many of the episodes being watchable out of sequence, would resist time and again the natural promotion for Riker and relationship with Deanna, both of which almost certainly would have taken place on the serialised, riskier Deep Space Nine at the time. Nemesis has the freedom to change Riker and Troi’s circumstance by virtue of the fact we were never supposed to see them again. Their adventures on Riker’s new ship, the USS Titan, were a chapter meant for tie-in novels and fan fiction, not the canonical Star Trek universe. Nemesis could instigate these developments because it was where the line was being drawn.

Nevertheless, it remains a huge moment for the crew of TNG, the wedding of Riker and Troi, and particularly for Picard himself. He may start his best man speech in jest, yet there is truth beneath his words. “I have commanded men in battle. I have negotiated peace treaties between implacable enemies. I have represented the Federation in first contact with twenty-seven alien species, but none of this compares to my solemn duty today …as best man.”

Picard understands nothing will ever quite be the same again.

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Film, Scene by Scene, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Scene By Scene: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN – Pt XI – ‘Live Long and Prosper’

As voted for on Twitter by followers, I will be analysing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan scene by scene in this multi-part exploration of Nicholas Meyer’s 1982 sequel…

Given how powerfully The Wrath of Khan ends, it is easy to miss the beauty in it, certainly in terms of how perfectly it caps off a character journey for Admiral James T. Kirk that we’ve witnessed almost from minute one. It may be Spock who dies in The Wrath of Khan, but the film unquestionably throughout is about Kirk.

It is also hard to overestimate how much of a shock Spock’s death might have been at the time. Characters like Spock didn’t die. You didn’t kill off someone like Leonard Nimoy. Star Trek had emerged from an era of largely safe, colourful, now even kitsch television in which America reflected its aspirational virtues for the post-war future in the 1960’s in heroes. Kirk. Bruce Wayne. Jim Phelps. Cinema had James Bond or Matt Helm. Morally flawed or compromised at times they might have been, but they were designed to save us from the hopeless devastation a generation had lived through. Star Trek’s heroes would fight battles, defeat foes, explore new worlds, but they would always at the end finish on TV with a little joke or the acknowledgement that they’ll be back next week for another adventure.

Even The Motion Picture, which tones down the colour and comedy of The Original Series to depict a post-Watergate, late-1970’s cooler vision of Starfleet’s future, saw Admiral Kirk and the Enterprise—with Spock having regained his purpose as a Starfleet officer—warp away toward a sequel. The human adventure, after all, was just beginning. Nicholas Meyer’s sequel is an incredibly humanistic film but it acknowledges that with humanity, with hope, has to come the balance of pain, and of sacrifice. While Kirk’s arc of spiritual rebirth has a resolutely Christian bent, Spock giving his life to save the Enterprise makes him the Christ figure who saves the crew from Khan’s defeated Devil. Kirk’s first best destiny is to lead, is to find his way back to himself, and to do that he must lose someone he takes for granted for much of The Wrath of Khan. His anchor. His best friend.

To even contemplate such a remarkable ending to a story like this proves just how special The Wrath of Khan is. That ending of Avengers: Endgame? It wouldn’t exist without what The Wrath of Khan dared to try.

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Film, Scene by Scene, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Scene By Scene: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN – Pt II – ‘Surely, the Best of Times’

As voted for on Twitter by followers, I will be analysing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan scene by scene in this multi-part exploration of Nicholas Meyer’s 1982 sequel…

Very early on, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan positions itself as a film not just about life and death, but also about age.

We like to think of Captain James T. Kirk as one of the iconic heroic figures of 20th century media. Gene Roddenberry envisaged Star Trek as a Western in space, a “Wagon Train to the Stars”, and for the second film director Nicholas Meyer thought a lot about Horatio Hornblower, from the mid-20th century novels by C. S. Forester. The younger Kirk was a space cowboy, an honourable sharpshooter riding his starship steed across the galaxy with his trusty crew, encountering life forms, putting out fires, starting a few unintentionally, and finding a girl in almost every port. Meyer reconfigures Kirk in middle-age as the swaggering commander in chief, the seasoned voyager whose cowboy days are long over. “Galloping around the cosmos is a game for the young, Doctor” he tells Leonard McCoy, after all.

Yet this elder Kirk is restless and Meyer conveys this from the beginning. Following the disastrous Kobayashi Maru, Kirk’s trusty, unlikely best friend, the equally seasoned and middle-aged Spock, presents his commander with a birthday present – Charles Dickens’ 19th century classic A Tale of Two Cities, in a beautiful, historic hardback edition. Kirk reads the legendary opening lines: “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times… message, Spock?”. Kirk understands that his friend gives everything deliberate and naturally, as a Vulcan, logical thought, so guesses Spock would not have passed this book onto him on such a key day arbitrarily. “None that I’m conscious of” Spock replies coyly, but we don’t believe either. Kirk is intelligent and well read enough to be aware Spock detects in him a melancholy, a sorrow, which the Kobayashi Maru—a reminder of his youthful brio—serves to simply underscore.

Captain Kirk is gone. Admiral Kirk endures. Yet what is left when the cowboy hangs up his boots?

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Film, Scene by Scene, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Scene By Scene: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN – Pt I – ‘A No-Win Scenario’

As voted for on Twitter by followers, I will be analysing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan scene by scene in this multi-part exploration of Nicholas Meyer’s 1982 sequel…

In many senses, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was the second coming of the Star Trek franchise.

While 1979 had given us The Motion Picture, a film which has improved like a fine wine with age, The Wrath of Khan imposed a framework and iconic visual structure which defined Gene Roddenberry’s creation across the subsequent films of the 1980’s and into The Next Generation sequel TV series and spin-offs over the next two decades. The Wrath of Khan, under the guiding hand of Nicholas Meyer, rediscovered a humanity within Star Trek that the elegant but stale The Motion Picture struggled to recapture, existing at the end of a depressed 70’s where the optimism and colour of the original 1960’s show had been ripped from the American psyche.

That film removed certain key principles of Star Trek’s original mission statement. Time had passed and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise were, to a degree, diffused. James T. Kirk had been promoted. Spock had left Starfleet. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy grew a beard and went through a failed marriage. The ship even had a new Captain in the young, handsome yet naive Willard Decker. Come the end of The Motion Picture, the crew were reunited and, as the film promised, ‘the human adventure is just beginning…’, but what would that voyage look like? The world of the 1980’s was a far different one from that of 1969, when the Original Series of Star Trek was initially cancelled after three seasons.

The Motion Picture proved it could never entirely return to where it began.

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Essays, Star Trek: Picard, TV

Making it So: the Return of Jean-Luc Picard & STAR TREK’s Nostalgic Future

A couple of months ago, I pontificated on whether the pursuit of nostalgia was a good thing for my second favourite entertainment franchise, Star Trek, in the wake of rumours that Sir Patrick Stewart may well be reprising his iconic role as The Next Generation’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard. This weekend, at the Star Trek Las Vegas fan event, those rumours became reality. The second captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise is, officially, on his way back.

What does this mean, now, for the future of Star Trek?

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Film, Reviews

Film Retrospective: STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE (1979)

In many respects, Star Trek: The Motion Picture signifies the purest, truest form of what Star Trek is.

How often have you asked that question, as a fan or not – what is Star Trek? The answer may be different when considering the movies over the last, almost forty years, and the fifty-year history of the multiple television shows. It’s a question we are asking once again now with new TV series Star Trek: Discovery, and it’s an answer different to a great many people.

Is it about our exploration of the universe? It is about our innate humanity and how it relates to the future, to technology, or to our place in the cosmos? Is it about comradeship, friendship, or the bond of a crew in the face of the unknown? Or is it, as the mantra from Spock over the opening titles of the iconic 1960’s series states, about strange new worlds, and boldly going where no man has gone before? 

I can only tell you what Star Trek means to me, and how The Motion Picture embodies many of the above questions in the answers it delivers.

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Essays, Film

Quentin Tarantino’s STAR TREK makes no sense to me – this can only be a good thing

Let’s be honest, nobody expected this, did they?

Though specific confirmation hasn’t exactly taken place, it’s looking more and more likely the rumour that Quentin Tarantino met with Paramount and series producer J.J. Abrams to pitch a Star Trek movie is true, and that said movie could well be his tenth picture after filming his 1969 Manson era drama. Not only that, Paramount reputedly have assembled a working writers room to flesh out Tarantino’s idea into a script, and have signed off on his insistence the picture be R-rated.

Just let this all digest for a moment… that’s an R-rated Star Trek movie directed by Quentin Tarantino.

It really does sound like the stuff crystal meth dreams are made of, don’t you think? That level of fantasy casting when it comes to cast and crew for your favourite property. Usually when rumours like this float up to the surface, they’re quickly disposed of as lunacy or the workings of a website or tabloid, a perfect example of Trump-ist ‘fake news’. This one, bizarrely, seems to be true, at the very least the notion that Tarantino pitched Paramount a Star Trek movie idea which they absolutely loved.

Star Trek IV: Effing and Jeffing? Well, this is now part of the reactionary state of worry within much of the fandom.

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