Friday, December 31, 2010

Episode III review up

Anyone who knows me knows that I love the Red Letter Media Mr. Plinkett reviews of the Star Wars prequels. In my mind, the awesomeness of these reviews justifies the existence of the lousy films. Plinkett has released the capstone review, for "Revenge of the Sith," which is available here:

Part 1



Part 2



Part 3



It's beautiful, and this version has less of the weird serial killer stuff which puts off a lot of people.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thursday shows recap 11/18

Greetings friends of the Interwebs. Here's my recap of our Thursday-night shows.

No. 1 The Office "WUPHF.com"



I confess that this one had won before it even aired. References to "wuphf-ing" something are made on a semi-weekly basis in my office. This episode didn't disappoint though, effectively juggling four different stories (WUPHF, Jim's commission issue, Dwight's hay-play, and Angela's contract business). This episode is another in a long line of shows indicating how well the writers have grown the characters, featuring a particularly poignant scene where Pam tells Michael that Ryan doesn't really like him.

See, two years ago, Pam wouldn't have cared. But through everything - dating her mom, coming to her art show, helping them with the baby, the Michael Scott Paper Company - Pam has come to genuinely care about Michael.



Also, I'm glad they finally dropped the "intercourse contract" issue with Angela and Dwight. It was funny at first, but it got played pretty quickly.

No. 2 Community "Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design"



This episode was enjoyable, and shows how popular the Dean character is: his role in this episode is bigger than everyone else's except Annie and Jeff. If Community makes it to season 3, I predict the Dean moving up to main cast. Clever spoofing of conspiracy movies, great cinematography, and great twist-within-twists at the end.

No. 3 30 Rock "College"



This episode was OK. While it gave Tina Fey a great opportunity to shine as a nerd-trying-to-be-cool-until-she-realizes-she's-a-nerd, there was still too much absurdism in the episode. "30 Rock" always works better when the comedy is understated rather than over the top. The throwaway referencs to the "puridonil cyst" or whatever was funny though.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Smoking Freducation

So in honor of today, the Great American Smokeout, I offer this important PSA of the Flintstones smoking:

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ew - Zombies!

Watch "The Walking Dead" on AMC:


Though, technically, this zombie is crawling. Not walking.











Saturday, November 13, 2010

Thursday shows recap 11/11

So I have decided to start doing a weekly round up of the Thursday comedy shows I watch -- The Office, Community, and 30 Rock. I have been doing that sort of "ad hoc" for a while, so now I'ma gonna do it every week. I will rank them each against the others for the week.

#1 The Office - Viewing Party



OK so the thing with The Office is Steve Carrell is a great front man, but the show has a deeper bench than the '97 Bulls. The danger for many Office episodes because of this is that the Michael Scott storyline becomes too awkward or too over the top and it distracts from the other characters. This happens in the second act of the episode, with Michael's tantrum taking too much attention, but the storyline resolves itself terrifically with the reveal that Erin (who was raised as a foster child and hero-worships Michael) views Michael as her father figure. Once he realizes that, his spirits change immediately. This follows the general Michael meme that he is stupid but loving.

Also, the bits with Dwight and the baby, and Phyllis talking about human intimacy, were dynamite. Moreover, as a person who hates Glee, but is nonetheless intrigued by the idea of Glee, I love Kelly's rant against the show.

#2 30 Rock - Brooklyn Without Limits



This episode was classic 30 Rock, excelling in everything that makes 30 Rock a great show:

1) lampooning Jack's commitment to his company's political expedience (through a great guest appearance by John "Roger Sterling" Slattery)
2) likewise poking fun at Liz's knee-jerk liberalism
3) a storyline which is intrinsically female-centric (pants that make your bum look good)
4) portraying Jenna as eccentric, while not truly crazy (this is something they screwed up last year)
5) hardly any Kenneth

#3 Community - Cooperative Calligraphy



Although I generally like Community better than the other two shows, this week they had the weakest installment compared to the other two. It was still good though, with the tongue-in-cheek reference to "bottle shows" (low-cost episodes of a TV show that involve no new sets or guest stars -- term comes from the phrase "a ship in a bottle"), continuity with the rest of the series (Shirley's pregnancy scare), and some great performances. Community can't kill the goose by always doing over-the-top fantastical episodes like the paintball one or the zombie one; they need to rely on the strength of their characters and this was a pretty good way to showcase them.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Further proof Simpsons has lost it

Hey check it out! "The Simpsons" did this great episode called "Elementary School Musical" -- a spoof of "High School Musical" !!!



So creative! Oh but wait, "South Park" already did this, using the EXACT SAME TITLE two years ago! (Video here.)

Keep in mind that several years ago, the creators of "South Park" gave such deference to "Simpsons" that they titled an episode "Simpsons Already Did It" -- conceding that they could never compete with the grandaddy of their genre. Maybe it's time for "Simpsons" to do an episode titled "South Park Is Funnier"?

I submit that "Simpsons" has now finally and completely nuked the fridge.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

At DC Rallies, Liberals Clearly Have The Home Court Advantage

On Saturday, I went to the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.

...

All it restored was disappointment.

In terms of execution, even the most liberal apologists acknowledge that the program was a bumpy ride, with a lot of waiting and very few laughs. For those who traveled hours (or more) to join the throng of people on the Capitol Mall, the rally was a stunning disappointment, as poor preparation (Comedy Central predicted only 60,000 would come) and inadequate audio/visual equipment left most with nothing to do but people watch.

See but the goal wasn't really to enterain the people who came -- it was to humiliate Glenn Beck.

The Stewart/Colbert rally had vastly more people than the Glenn Beck one in August. CBS News estimated 215,000 attended, compared to about 90,000 for Beck’s. The accuracy of head counts at events like this is greatly disputed, as supporters will tend to overestimate and detractors will underestimate. But regardless. I went to both -- this one had way more people.

But how useful is that of a gauge of relative national influence? Unlike, say, web traffic, book sales, or TV ratings, a rally represents the mood of a community far more than a country. And given that, liberal organizers have an obvious advantage over conservatives for an event like this: demographics.

The District of Columbia is probably the single most Democrat municipality in the country. Its population is primarily African-Americans, college students, and rich, white liberals – Obama’s base. He did get 92 percent of the vote here, and DC was the only place, beside Walter Mondale’s home state of Minnesota, that Ronald Reagan didn’t win in his 1984 sweep. Moreover, the rest of the northeast seaboard is also heavily Democrat and could attend something like this with no more effort than a short bus trip.

If Beck had wanted an overwhelming crowd at his event, he would have held it at some conservative stronghold – he probably could have gotten more people at a rally in Salt Lake City than in DC. But he wanted to show that he could still get a huge crowd without home court advantage.

Comparing the influence of the political ideologies behind the two rallies is certainly not to be gauged by the rallies themselves.

But by that measure, the advantage is clearly to the Republicans.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Freshen your tea?

So I wrote an article abou the Tea Party, and The Daily Caller picked it up!

The link is here.

I start the article with a quote from "TNG" and I end it with a line from the Joker in "The Dark Knight."

...

All in all, a pretty good day.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Hobbit Movie - Peter Jackson prepares to take us there and back ... again

So it is with glorious adulation that I learned the movie adaption of "The Hobbit" has been greenlit. As The Telegraph reports:


The project had been delayed by financial problems at the beleaguered Hollywood studio MGM. No location has been named for filming amid an ongoing union threat to boycott the production if it takes place in New Zealand.

The films, with a budget estimated at up to $500 million (£315 million) will be shot in 3D. Peter Jackson, who was behind the award-winning Lord of the Rings trilogy, was confirmed as the director.

This is of course wonderful. Initial reports indicate that Andy Serkis, Sir Ian McCellan, and Hugo Weaving are all signed on to reprise their roles as Gollum, Gandalf, and Elrond respectively. While I kind of hope they don't go overboard with it, they could also have Aragorn, Arwen, and Legolas appear as cameos ... and John Rhys Davies could easily play Gimli, Gloin's father.




If he'd liked it, then he should have put a ring on it.


While it is both lame and irritating that the film(s - yes, there will still be two of them) has been delayed so much, I think in the long run this will be better for the franchise. The superhero genre is already waning (the Spiderman reboot, while it will probably be cool, indicates how quickly the meme is burning out, and the Avengers franchise will disappoint). Harry Potter will cast his last spell early next year. And this whole vampire crap has got to burn out eventually.
Note the spike in the Alexa score of theonering.net, the main fansite for Middle Earth:


So there will be a void for cool, nerd cinema. (Note: Star Trek 12 will come out it 2012 and will probably be as awesome as No. 11 -- take that prediction however you choose.) The two Hobbit movies will dominate the dojo, and all the teenagers who grew up watching the trilogy will be 20 somethings with cash to spend on nostalgia for the franchise.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Captain Poll...

Poll on Startrek.com:


Now I know that online polling of this kind is hardly scientific, but it does prove a point I made last month - that Trek fans like Picard better than Kirk (or at least certainly Stewart better than Shatner).

Note this other poll:

What is your favorite Star Trek series?
  1. The Original Series - 89 (28%)
  2. The Animated Series - 2 (1%)
  3. The Next Generation - 81 (25%)
  4. Deep Space Nine - 76 (24%)
  5. Voyager - 51 (16%)
  6. Enterprise - 22 (7%)

TNG, DS9, and TOS are all in essentially a dead heat. The numbers for VOY, ENT, and TOS line up almost exactly with the popularity of their respective captains, but TNG takes a nosedive and DS9 soars over Sisko's ratings.

What will marketers do with this? Find some way to get Patrick Stewart into "Star Trek 12." ... Frankly I wish that Stewart had been cast as Sarek in "ST11," but that may have been too distracting from the new crew.

"30 Rock" Live -- win.

OK I haven't even finished watching this and I'm stunned by its brilliance.



"30 Rock" is back on top, baby! And last night's "The Office" was terrible.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

When copycats surpass the originals...

So as I indicated, the blog counter has been going up much faster than it ever has before with my whole "Star Trek Week" that turned into "Star Trek Month." I have more posts I could make on the subject, and will later, but for now let me talk about this subject: when copycats surpass the originals.

Case study # 1: Lindsay Lohan


Hey I'm not going to lie -- I once signed an online petition "make Lindsay eat." Would that anorexia were our only concern with this one! Alas after being blessed with remarkable opportunities, luck, looks, and talent, Lindsay altered her trajectory from the next big star to the next big reality show star through drugs and crime.

Now while she was still relatively successful, movie producers wanted someone in her same vein, but much much cheaper. And thus was Emma Stone discovered.


Cast for an unremarkable role in a surprisingly tender, enjoyable movie ("Superbad") -- a role that would have been beneath Lohan -- Stone parleyed her performance here into progressively larger roles until she has now been tapped as Gwen Stacy in the second Spider-man trilogy. (Note: they have yet again wasted a perfectly good redhead to play this blond character.)

Emma looks like Lindsay ... and she now has her career.


Case study # 2: Michael Cera

Pity poor Michael Cera -- such a lovable character actor, but, man, he cannot perform at the box office. While he's been very prolific, he has not proven he can lead a film: Year One, Youth in Revolt, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, Paper Heart and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World have all been duds, even though Pilgrim was still a great film.


Ironically, he's still been able to ask enough of a salary that tight-pursed producers started turning to Michael Cera look-alike Jesse Eisenberg for Adventurelandand Zombieland in roles that were obviously written with Cera in mind.


When Zombieland (which was a clever idea but still only an OK film) made over $100M, Eisenberg was tapped to headline The Social Network, which has been doing well enough that Eisenberg has got to be feeling pretty good about his future.

Now of course Michael Cera would have been able to play the role, and it would have been nice to see him play a character other than George Michael Bluth.

* * *

Just because someone gets there first doesn't mean they'll be best. Frequently the first generation of a product gets improved by the person watching their mistakes. The examples are copious: Goldwater/Reagan, Gobots/Transformers, Old Testament/New Testament, and (germane for this post) Myspace/Facebook.

But it isn't terrible when one of your favorite stars drops a bit, because that means they might take boutique roles they'd overlook otherwise. Though at this rate, maybe Jesse Eisenberg will play George Michael in the Arrested Development movie, and they'll get Emma Stone to play Maebe Fuenke.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Saturday, October 2, 2010

ST Top 10 Redux – The Next Next Generation

OK last one on this topic for a while. It's going to be time for "South Park Week" soon, so...

Today we’re talking about “TNG’s” legacy – or rather the way subsequent sci-fi shoes have followed in its footsteps by wearing a completely different pair of shoes. The imprint is so strong that you have to defy that standard or you're "doomed to repeat it." For the last 15 years there has been a tendency whenever a spaceship show -- EVEN A PRE-EXISTING ONE is unsure what do to, they default to a "TNG" mindset. Take the Star Wars prequels:
  • The ships were too clean and sleek. Queen Amidala's ship in "Phantom Menace" felt more like the Enterprise-D than the Millenium Falcon.
  • Techno-babble about "meta-chlorines"? Yeah, that's "TNG" speak right there.
  • Endless space politics? Remember "if this is a consular ship where is the Ambassador" ... sessions of Congress are not exciting.
We can summarize it with the following chart. A “win” means the show defied the unsuccessful “TNG” paradigms listed across the top, a “fail” means it didn’t.


There are a couple notes to make on this chart. One is that the least-loved of these seven shows is the one with no anti-“TNG” “wins” – “Voyager.” The show’s concept was cleverly designed to conform to Roddenberry’s “vision” while correcting the problems of limited resources and conflict among characters: strand the ship 70 years away from the rest of the fleet and make one-third of the crew terrorists.

While there are a few key episodes that kept this premise, most of the show did not.



This episode shows actual conflict between crew members, legitimate to the show's premise.

If anything, "Voyager" was even more touchy-feely than "TNG," and the level of technology displayed surpassed even that on the NCC-1701-D. Ron Moore – who wrote masterpieces for “TNG” and “DS9” – was inspired to reimagine “BSG” because of how far “Voyager” fell short of its basic premise. He said:

“Voyager is not true. If it were true, the ship would not look spic-and-span every week, after all these battles it goes through. How many times has the bridge been destroyed? How many shuttlecrafts have vanished, and another one just comes out of the oven? That kind of bullshitting the audience I think takes its toll.”

The kid-sister show of “TNG,” “Deep Space 9,” made as radical departures as they could, not only from the failed “TNG” paradigms, but from other key Roddenberry concepts:

Holodeck: The “DS9” holosuite is not a technology that’s simultaneously omnipotent and utterly unreliable (O’Brien jokes that the Enterprise crew could do anything “except keep the holodeck working”). It’s main use is for simple recreation and (ahem) personal indulgence.

Ferengi: Ira Steven Behr on “DS9” realized that no one took seriously an alien that looked like a mutant monkey and wanted money, not conquest. They were much better suited as comic relief, and as the occasional sarcastic jibe against the Roddenberrian standard of “All praise humanity!”
"Farscape’s” greatest success was with the presentation of aliens – they all look truly alien, and some were created by Jim Henson’s creature shop. Way better than goop on the forehead. And “Babylon 5” was good too, beating “DS9” for a make-up Emmy in 1995.

The shows that do the best along this spectrum are the ones that were most critically/commercially successful (“BSG”) and most devotedly beloved (“Firefly”). On the DVD, Joss Whedon names the failures of “TNG” (without naming “TNG”) as the source of “Firefly’s” strengths: he said real people don’t ever deal with ambassadors; real people worry about getting a job. Characters on “Firefly” are openly religious (one of them is a preacher), and the constructed religion of the “Lords of Kobol” on “BSG” is an integral part of the show.

But the most profound factor is the “homogenous characters who are never in conflict with each other” – every one of these shows avoided that problem. The characters argue with each other, sometimes even coming to violence. “Voyager” tried the whole Marquis-vs-Starfleet idea, and that was OK, but at its best it felt like a ho-hum “DS9” episode. Then they added Seven and she helped.

So then wait: if everyone’s did the opposite of “TNG,” maybe it actually sucked?

The answer to this is easy. No one (including “TOS”) can really compare to “TNG” on its strengths – writing, acting, directing, production values – so they go after its weaknesses. If you have to compete against Michael Jordan, challenge him to a game of darts not basketball.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

ST Top 10 Redux – Why No Love For “TNG”?

So let’s talk about “TNG.” With the benefit of history and the context of so much other content (notably the recent reboot), we can ask the question: why is there so little love for the franchise’s best installment? Only about half the episodes for “The Original Series” are watchable, and only about half of those are truly great – so just about 15 to 20 remarkable episodes. Season 3 of “TNG” alone has that many fantastic episodes. (Now you’re going to ask me to compile a list. I will. Eventually. Probably tomorrow.)

I think someone designed this after watching "Superman"...

Regardless of this fact, people are endlessly nostalgic about “TOS” and somewhat aloof toward “TNG.” While the explanation for the former is simple, the latter is more complicated.

People love “TOS” because the movies were so good. Those movies that boiled down the essence of the show and told their own story were beloved (2, 3, 4), while those that were most like “TOS” were despised (1, 5). “ST6” is well thought of, but it’s not really about “TOS” – it’s really a “TNG” movie with the original cast. (Given how poorly No. 5 did at the box office, No. 6 would likely not have been made were “TNG” not so popular at the time.)

Moreover, per our discussion that Star Trek fans don’t really like William Shatner, they adore Patrick Stewart.

This is my friend Olivia in New York ... with Patrick Stewart. (Sigh.)

He brought unforeseen gravitas to the franchise, and was even voted the "Sexiest Man on Television" by TV Guide in 1992. Plus he embiggened his nerd street cred with his cromulent performance in the X-Men franchise, and he has always been humble about his relationship to “TNG.” He once said:

“The fact is all of those years in Royal Shakespeare Company -- playing all those kings, emperors, princes and tragic heroes -- were nothing but preparation for sitting in the captain's chair of the Enterprise.”

Stewart infused his love of Shakespeare into the Picard character. He’s said he appreciates having introduced so many Trek fans to the Bard, and is grateful there’s always a contingent of (non-uniform wearing) Trek fans to support him at his plays.

I didn’t realize it until yesterday, but General Chang in “Undiscovered Country” is intended to be a Klingon Picard: he’s bald, speaks with an English accent, and quotes Shakespeare. They needed a Klingon rival for Kirk who wasn’t pure evil (like Kruge) or totally mindless (like Klaa), so who did they use as their model? The other captain of the Enterprise. (Note: Chang's name is also one letter away from "change," because that's what the movie is about -- changing from a Cold War to no war, and from one generation to the next.)

OK so then why is there so little nostalgia for “TNG”? (I have pondered this greatly given that “TNG” is the only part of my childhood for which I am nostalgic.) The people who are nostalgic for “TOS” didn’t see it when it first aired 45 years ago. The easy answer is because the “TNG” movies were so bad – and that is certainly true, but it’s more than that. The other easy answer is that the market was over-saturated by three inferior spin-offs – and that’s mostly true (certainly where “Voyager” is concerned), but “Enterprise” was explicitly intended as a nostalgia piece for “TOS” – with all its Vulcans and Andorians and Tellarites – not as a continuation of “TNG.”

Shran was an old-school alien with a new-school look.

The more complicated answer, and ultimately most comprehensive one, is that “TNG’s” legacy was a victim of its creator: Gene Roddenberry. Returning to yesterday’s post, this can be summarized by reviewing the following:
a) A money-less economy because of “technology unchained”
b) Homogenous heroes that are never in conflict with each other
c) Starfleet is not a military organization and too much space politics
d) Goop-on-the-forehead aliens
e) Total religious secularization
So the problem with these three points is that they robbed the show of drama. You couldn’t have any conflict related to a lack of resources, because no one “needed” money (though it was then never explained how society operated or how humans bartered with species that did use money) and their technology (replicators, holodecks) could solve so many problems so effortlessly. The lack of appropriate militarization made it difficult to do action pieces. On “TNG,” ever week we met a new alien only different from last week’s by the design of make-up on his forehead – in “TOS” you either looked like a human or you were a damn Gorn. And the secularization left everyone thinking that Roddenberry’s utopia was one in which religious people were not welcome: so much for all that tolerant embrace of humanities differences!

Then the most salient point – main characters who never disagree with each other – removed another source of potential conflict and therefore storytelling. There wasn't a lot of this kind of scene in "TNG":



And the main reason that “TNG” generates so little nostalgia is its influence on these four points. EVERY science fiction show about a spaceship since “TNG” has defined itself by defying these resoundingly unsuccessful, yet integral, aspects of an otherwise successful experiment, as we’ll see tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

ST Top 10 Redux – Coon Hunting

So maybe I went a little bit overboard on both content and time-dedicated to the “Top 10” of Star Trek project … I was “rewarded” in terms of interest in the project. My blog counter went up about 250 during the “countdown” – more than 10 percent of the total hits since I started the counter a year ago. Turns out nerds use the Internet.

Now while I need to move on to pointlessly bashing “Glee” or making whatever political comments I don’t send to Utah Policy, I want to end on one item in terms of the “legacy” issue I mentioned several times in previous posts. Some of this will be summation, but most of it I formulated (or learned) as I was writing/researching the “Top 10.”

Star Trek does not owe its success to Gene Roddenberry.

Okay yes it does, but not really. While Roddenberry may have built the ship, a lot of other people deserve the credit for taking it to warp speed. The creative person behind so much of what became signature Star Trek concepts was not Roddenberry, but Gene Coon. Because he died in 1973, he wasn’t around to contribute to the movies or “TNG,” so he gets mostly forgotten, but Coon created

a) Klingons
b) Khan
c) Zefram Cochrane
d) The Prime Directive
e) The horta
f) The Gorn
g) Tribbles (with David Gerrold)
h) The term “United Federation of Planets”

Moreover, the high-point of the franchise – movies 2, 3, 4 and 6 – had virtually no input from Roddenberry. The movie he had the most to do with creatively was “The Motion Picture,” which was lame and boring but financially viable. Paramount realized that they had a good product, but not a great leader. So they tapped outsiders Nicholas Meyer and Harve Bennett to do “Wrath of Khan,” and then they – with Leonard Nimony – became the guiding force of the movies.

Roddenberry harrumphed his way through this, and his consolation prize was total control over the spin-off in 1987. While he created the characters for “Next Generation,” Roddenberry is also responsible for a lot of the truly lame stuff in the series. That first season, that’s virtually unwatchable? Yeah, guess who was in charge for those. “TNG” didn’t really start to get good until Roddenberry let go of the reins. And though he’s been denounced by Trek fans for years, Rick Berman was the driving force behind its most excellent work. He became executive producer at season 3, hired Ron Moore and Mike Piller, and the show went to warp factor 11.

Now some of the damage was undone in later seasons, but while Coon’s “TOS” first-season legacy reads like a hall of fame speech, Roddenberry’s “TNG” first-season legacy is like an FBI most wanted list. These include:
a) Counselor Troi’s “pedantic psychobabble” and constant space-PMS (quickly done away with)
b) Data’s “witless exploration of humanity” (Create a daughter? Yes. Learn about comedy on the holodeck? No.)
c) Wesley saves the day (though now Wil Wheaton is a hero to nerds)
d) Q (the first-season Q episodes are awful)
e) Ferengi as the legitimate adversaries (the “new Klingons”)
f) The holodeck




Now these are just details. But the biggest problems were intrinsic to the show’s premise:
a) A money-less economy because of “technology unchained”
b) Homogenous heroes that are never in conflict with each other
c) Starfleet is not a military organization and too much space politics
d) Goop-on-the-forehead aliens
e) Total religious secularization
Now one of my key issues is the fact that “TNG” has virtually no legacy – despite the fact that it (and more affordable, realistic-looking special effects) ushered in a veritable Renaissance of TV sci-fi and fantasy shows. And I think Roddenberry’s influence is responsible for this. Though Berman and others were able to work around some of Roddenberry’s constraints, they were duty-bound to pretty much keep a lot of the problems he created, as we'll discuss tomorrow.
But in short, we can summarize that if Gene Roddenberry had enjoyed as much editorial control as George Lucas had with the prequels, the "TOS" movies would have all looked like No. 1 and the "TNG" run would have looked like No. 2.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Top 10 run down...

OK so the Top 10 were, in order:

10 - The reboot
9 - First Contact
8 - Star Trek 6
7 - Unification
6 - Start of the Dominion War
5 - Galaxy Quest
4 - Voyage Home
3 - Search for Spock
2 - Best of Both Worlds
1 - Wrath of Khan

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

No. 5 (a surprise!) and No. 10 (also a surprise, albeit it less of one)

So continuing on from the last entry, let's explore the topic Trek fans don't really like William Shatner. This is typified in the universal dislike of "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier," which the Shat directed and help wrote -- so it's really the only occasion where we can separate the man (Shat) from the myth (Kirk).

This leads us to No. 5 on our list:



There is speculation about "what killed Star Trek" -- was it the "TNG" films? Was it "Voyager" or "Enterprise"? Or was it simply fatigue from over saturation? Well it may have been all of these, but I think the real culprit was "Galaxy Quest" -- a deconstructionist Star Trek movie that tells an action/adventure that surpasses so much of its inspiration. "GQ" pays loving tribute to not just the series, but the fandom experience (which is ultimately more meaningful because that's the part fans are involved in personally: the hero worship, the conventions, the fixation on minutiae, the shipping).

Now the casual viewer looks at "GQ" and says "Oh, they're making fun of Trek!" Hogwash. This is a love-letter to Star Trek fans that Rick Berman couldn't have written on Valentine's Day if St. Valentine were helping him with a multi-phasic, anti-matter-powered love-letter writing replicator. (I recently amended the Wikipedia entry "References to Star Trek" for the film.)

The fans are the biggest heroes of the show, as my brother Mark has pointed out to me:

1) the redshirt (Guy) who loves the show and doesn't fall victim to its most pointed cliche (being redshirted)

2) the nerdy kids help save the day at the end

3) the aliens who adore the "historical documents" end up leading the ship on its own voyages

Just watch this clip:




If anyone is mocked in this movie it is William Shatner. And in this film he is not only mocked but he is redeemed. For the only time in the history of Star Trek William Shatner becomes as magnificent as James Kirk. (There's video of Shatner interviewing Allen here.)

Now again I want to stress that Trek fans, and myself included, don't hate Shatner. And truly we don't really dislike him. But there is some resentment and maybe even some discontent. Everything he has he owes to Star Trek, but he probably won't admit that. Compare this to the fans' feelings for Leonard Nimoy, who is as magnificent as Spock. Remember, Nimoy was a guiding creative force behind Star Treks 3, 4, and 6 -- and it was his idea to kill Spock at the end of "TWOK." And Nimoy's crossover with "TNG" ("Unification") was spectacular, while Shatner's crossover with "TNG" ("Generations") was the (wait for it) "worst episode ever."

Watch this video, where Whoopi Goldberg (Guinan) essentially baits the four actors to make fun of their fans, and Nimoy goes out of his way to say how great they are while the others make wisecracks.



Notice that there's no figure in "GQ" that lampoons Leonard Nimoy -- the Alan Rickman character is meant to be an exaggerated Patrick Stewart, and his alien character -- with chants of strength of cries of vengeance -- is far more Klingon than Vulcan.

The success of the franchise is due to the personal, professional, and creative involvement of Leonard Nimoy and his success portraying the series' best character.

Which leads us to No. 10:


Now I've already said a lot on the reboot (my review: here), so I'm not going to say a lot more about it now, and if you want a really thorough exploration of the "ST11" -- both its successes (of which there are many) and its shortcomings (of which there are only a few) -- watch the the recent Mr. Plinkett review:






But I will talk about the reboot in the context of the two ideas I've presented here: "Galaxy Quest" and Nimoy.

First: "Galaxy Quest" is such an important part of the Trek legacy that J.J. Abrams said "How do you watch Galaxy Quest and then go make a Star Trek movie?" His answer? Copy them!

The reboot pays loving homage to the Trek franchise -- including completely gratuitous references to Jonathan Archer as a nod to "Enterprise" and Cardassians as a nod to "DS9." And while they used a lot of names and images from Trek lore, the filmmakers allowed themselves to make their own story, just like in "Galaxy Quest." Qapla!

Second: The casting of Leonard Nimoy to "pass the torch" (or better said, "relight the torch") is I believe the main reason the film succeeded. Fans wanted to see Nimoy come back. They did not want to see Shatner come back. Bringing Spock back in a movie about Romulans also connects the film to "TNG," and answers the question "What happened to Spock on Romulus?" in a way we were teased with whenever someone said "cowboy diplomacy," and were totally shortchanged on with "Nemesis."

Moreover, while Zachary Quintos does an excellent job modeling Nimoy's Spock, Christopher Pine goes out of his way to not sound like William Shatner. Had Pine spoken in Shatner's trademark staccato cadence, people would have rolled their eyes. Jim Kirk is more beloved than William Shatner, while Leonard Nimoy is as equally loved as Spock.

Now I may be over-selling the reboot, because we haven't had time to see what its legacy effect will be. If it manages to revitalize interest in the franchise, gets people going to conventions again, and generates successful sequels, then I'll feel justified leaving it in my top 10. For now, I think it deserves a spot here for two important reasons. This is the only installment of the franchise, besides "The Voyage Home" and the very height of "TNG," that has been both

1) financially viable with a larger, non-sci-fi crowd, and
2) not despised by legions of Star Trek fans.

That last one may not sound like much, but it is. Because in the final equation, the only thing that Star Trek fans enjoy more than loving Star Trek is hating Star Trek.

Monday, September 20, 2010

And the final entrants are...

So it's taken more than a week to pack all these in, and today we're going to close the loop, as we go into the numbers 5 and 10 on our list. But first, before we get into it, let me disclose one film that isn't on this -- or probably any -- top Trek list.

"Star Trek V: The Final Frontier"

"ST5" was the first film from the original series released concomitant with "TNG," and - unlike "ST6" - no effort at all was made to synergize the production with the TV show. "ST5" is generally seen as a low-point in the franchise, if not the absolute lowest. It is widely regarded as non-canonical, Gene Roddenberry - the Great Bird of the Galaxy himself - considering it "apocryphal at best." Elements such as Spock just suddenly having a half-brother seemed out of place, and people have tried to sweep it under the rug.

So then ... why was it even made?

The answer, of course, is that the Shat hit the fan. William Shatner was extended "favored nation status" by Paramount, because his participation was so vital to the franchise. He demanded the director's chair and they just had to say yes, or risk his not participating at all.

This is why it was made; this is also why people hate it.

You see, "ST5" really isn't that bad. Some elements of it are actually fantastic, and fit perfectly in the theme and style of both "The Original Series" and the greater Star Trek mythos, such as:



  • The scenes in Yosemite National Park are all fantastic: Kirk climbing a mountain "because it's there," Spock roasting "marshmelons," McCoy using Kentucky bourbon to flavor his chili and telling Kirk "You know, you really piss me off, Jim," and Sulu and Chekov getting lost hiking.
  • The "planet of galactic peace" is a rare and delightful piece of sarcasm in Trek lore. The Romulans, Klingons, and Federation have established this project to show how they can work together and it all fails because none of them really want to work together. Contrary to Trek's typically egocentric presentation of "the human condition," the human ambassador is an alcoholic, chain-smoking pessimist, and the only one who cares about the planet of misfits is the Romulan.
  • The assault on "Paradise City" is good action, with a great set and nice effects on the night-time phaser shots. Uhura's fan-dance to trick the guards is one of the best moments the character ever got.
  • Humor. Spock's line: "Please, captain. Not in front of the Klingons" - is vintage Trek. Or when Kirk is chewing out Spock for not shooting Sybok and Bones volunteers, "You want me to hold him for you, Jim?" There's also a line I love where the Admiral says "This is an emergency -- we need Jim Kirk!" and Kirk mutters under his breath "Oh please."
  • The "secret pain" business. See Sybok brainwashes people by using the Vulcan mind-meld to erase the memories of their greatest, unspoken sufferings. This is actually very similar to what Roddenberry wanted to do with the episode "The Naked Time," where the crew experiences intoxicating effects and they reveal their inner character. His goal with this, early on in the show, was to demonstrate what was inside these people who otherwise keep everything locked up. He felt this was such a good way to provide character exposition that he did a sequel to it in the second episode of "TNG" - "The Naked Now." The only problem with the "secret pain" notion is that we don't really get to see what everyone experiences. We see it with McCoy and Spock, but that's it! What is Chekov's secret pain? Or Uhura's? Or KIRK'S for that matter? (Though that one's not so vital, because I think he came to terms with his "secret pain" in "ST2.)
Of course these all get ignored because the climax to the movie is somewhat heavy-handed and weird: The business with the "God" entity. It felt out of place for everyone along the religious spectrum.



Now even though the presentation could have been a bit more polished, I don't understand why people object to the "God" creature at the end of the movie. Star Trek, particularly "TOS", is FULL of God-like entities. Here are a few of them:
And this is just off the top of my head -- I didn't do research on this because I'm sure there's even more.

SO if Star Trek is full of god-like beings, how was this climax at all out of place in the Trek mythos? It actually seems to fit really well. After all, what could be more Star Trek than the idea that Captain Kirk not only finds God, but he beats him up? That's pure Trek right there! Kirk had already beat up Trelane, Gary Mitchell, and Apollo during the series.

People complain about the "God" story, but the true reason they hate "ST5" is because of one simple, undeniable fact of Star Trek:

Trek fans don't like William Shatner, and this was his pet-project about himself.

Now Trek fans don't hate Shatner, and as one guy in a "TNG" episode said, "I have many friends who don't like me." But they resent him. They resent him for lampooning himself, and by extension them. They resent him for not taking ownership of Trek as the reason for his fame. And most importantly they resent him for being a jerk to his co-stars (notably George Takei).

Furthermore, Trek fans have never identified with Shatner/Kirk -- a dashing, handsome, aggressive leader who wins himself a new girlfriend every week. Who do you think Trek fans identify with more: that guy or the outcast scientist who has sex once every seven years?


And the answer to that question, is why I've ranked the last two movies on our list... (cliffhanger!)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

No. 1 ... on Day 7?

OK you knew this was coming: No. 1 is "Wrath of Khan," but what else would it possibly be?



Among Trek fans, "TWOK" is the uncontested king of the heap (and among non-Trek fans it's still regarded as a fine piece of cinema) -- I'm going to recap it quickly because everyone knows the drill already:

1) Best villain. Montalban chews the genetically superior scenery. Every Trek villian is billed as "the best one since Khan..." and it's never true
2) Best Kirk. Director Nicholas Meyer forced William Shatner to do his scenes over and over so he'd be too tired for his typical bombastic schtick.
3) Death of Spock. "It was a helluva thing when Spock died..." - George Costanza

And speaking of "Seinfeld" references:



"TWOK" successfully works the "same but different" angle that I've mentioned. It's the same, in that its a sequel to a "TOS" episode, but it's different in that the look and feel are more like a submarine movie than a sci-fi movie. It's also different in that Kirk, the man who's always "cheated death and patted [himself] on the back for his ingenuity" finally has to deal with defeat: he's getting old, he fails to see himself walking into a trap, he disregards orders and people die because of it, he's confronted with the son he never knew and the "life that could have been, but wasn't," and his best friend dies. We'd never seen this from Kirk before, and seeing him more human also made him more heroic.

Fill in the hyperbole -- this is the benchmark for Trek. Here's the director describing his masterpiece:

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Day 6, No. 6 ... and heresy!

We’re through about 60 percent of the list here, and those familiar with the franchise have probably already figured out which movies I’m not going to include, speculation turns to the various series. There have been only 11 movies, but there have been 40 two-parters, and many more multiple story arcs. Which of these will make the Whitleypedia cut?

I’m going to reveal now that nothing from “Voyager” met the cut. I do not feel bad about this. Nothing from “Enterprise” is on the list either. I feel slightly worse about this.


The challenge of an ongoing franchise like Star Trek is the demand from the fans for something that is both the same and different at the same time. This is remarkably difficult to pull off, particularly given the precise memories of Star Trek fans. “TNG” made conscious efforts to be the same as its predecessor in key areas while radically different in others. For example, the basic premise is identical: a ship named Enterprise explores the galaxy boldly, encountering dilemmas that serve as thinly veiled commentary on social issues of the day, particularly as seen through the eyes of a tangentially human “mascot” (Data instead of Spock).

But key details of “TNG” were significant departures from “TOS,” such as

1) The presence of families and children on the ship, including a teenage main character
2) A more mature, dispassionate captain (who was also not an American)
3) Protocol that the captain should not lead dangerous away missions
4) An absence of Vulcans
5) Klingons are our friends now, and one serves among us
6) A security chief who didn’t die every episode
7) An onboard therapist

In brief, I believe all of these changes worked well, except No. 7. The idea of a “ship’s counselor” was a great one, and Marina Sirtis has oodles of charm (yes, I have seen her at a convention), but they never used her character as well as they could have as a therapist. If you don’t think a therapy session can help the drama of a show, you need to watch “The Sopranos.” But the problem is when Guinan was introduced in the second season, she became the defacto counselor and got all the good scenes that could have been Troi’s.



But largely the “TNG” experiment was a success. However, as the franchise progressed, the challenge to be the same but different increased. This was the fundamental problem of “VOY.” It’s fundamental character dynamic (a non-Starfleet crew working with a Starfleet crew) was basically a less-effective copy of “Deep Space Nine,” and its signature characters (Janeway, Neelix, The Doctor/Seven of Nine) were basically less-effective copies of those on “TNG” (Picard, Guinan, Data). At its best “VOY” was watered-down version of its progenitors; at its worst it was a sci-fi “Gilligan’s Island.”

“Enterprise” suffered unavoidably from the “same but different” conundrum, although it turned into a much better show than anyone gave it credit – mainly because everyone had stopped watching. Despite the show’s selling points (heavy intertextuality, strong story arcs, Linda Park’s midriff), it didn’t capture people’s hearts like “Firefly,” nor their minds like “Battlestar Galactica.”

SO having said all that, let me make the second-most heretical statement I’ll make in this series:

My favorite Star Trek is “Deep Space Nine.”

“DS9” mastered the art of delivering the “same but different.” It kept true to its roots of Roddenberry’s peaceful vision of the future without feeling like a Hallmark Card the way “TNG” sometimes did. They could do stories that were “about something” without coming off as heavy handed as “TOS” did. Their action-heavy episodes didn’t sacrifice character or story, and they pulled off extended story arcs with a large supporting cast in a way “Babylon 5” could only dream.

Also, I appreciated that on “DS9” people had relationships rather than interstellar one-night stands. Through the whole series, Captain Sisko only sleeps with two women – his wife (who died) and his second wife. He and several other characters also had children they were raising rather than just shooting through space as carefree bachelor(ette)s. Distinct characters, Quark and Garak in particular, allowed for different kinds of stories than we’d seen before but that still fit into nicely into the Star Trek mythos.

Then the question is which “DS9” two-parter to feature. Most of the show’s actual two-parters weren’t that notable (“The Marquis,” that “we have to ruin paradise to save it!” one), but its ongoing storylines were innovative and well done. So, having said that, the “DS9” episode on my list is the eight-parter that started the Dominion War, which is No. 6 on my list.





The “same but different” factor for all of “DS9,” and this sequence particularly, was off the space-charts. Each of the three Dominion races was a super-charged version of a previous Star Trek villain: the Jem’Hadar were tougher than Klingons, the Vorta were more cunning than Romulans, and the changelings were more insidious than the Borg. By making the villain archtypes similar we felt we were in familiar space, but by making them different we didn’t feel like our legacy was being flouted. Klingons were Kirk’s bad guys, the Borg were Picard’s bad guys. This is another reason “VOY” failed – they co-opted “TNG’s” signature villains in a way that trivialized some of the best installments in the franchise.

My favorite episode of this was “Rocks and Shoals,” where the Defiant and a bunch of Jem’Hadar are marooned on a planet and have a fight to the death. There’s a scene where the crew is debating the ethics of wiping out their enemies and Sisko says something beautifully Republican: “In the choice between them and us, there is no them.” They never would have said that on “TNG.”


Sunday, September 12, 2010

No. 3 is No. 3 ... (Day 5 though)


There has, historically, been the saying that ODD-NUMBERED Star Trek movies are bad, but even-numbered ones are good. This long-standing notion was discarded with the last two films: "Nemesis" (No. 10 -- a stinker) and the reboot (No. 11 -- a winner).

However, I always struggled with the odd/even paradigm because of the No. 3 on our countdown -- "Star Trek 3: The Search for Spock."

Now there are some key reasons why "TSFS" might not make the cut in some people's minds, and I understand them. The film is not without its shortcomings, which include:

1) Positioning.
"TSFS" is sandwiched between the two best films in the franchise: "Wrath of Khan" and "Voyage Home." Often times the second installment in a trilogy feels weak compared to its bookends (the writers of the Lord of the Rings films called "Two Towers" their "neglected child"), and in this case, virtually any movie would struggle to compare to "TWOK" and "TVH."

2) Production values.
"TSFS" has some pretty weak production values, with some less than impressive effects shots. (No. 4's budget was 50% higher than No. 3.) The scenes on the Genesis Planet look corny, the space cantina scene is no Mos Eisley, and a lot of the costumes have a distinctly "It came from the 80s" vibe.

3) Saavik.
Yeah, I'm gonna complain about this now. Kirstie Alley was terrific as Spock's protege, and it was a disappointment that she didn't return for the character's two subsequent outings (because the studio offered her _less_ money, even though she was a bigger star now). While the replacement actress, Robin Curtis, was fine -- and good enough to come back as another Vulcan in two "TNG" episodes -- but it would have helped the film the original could have continued.

Now, having said those things, I still like "TSFS," and I place it higher than "TVH." And the reason I do this is because, when it comes to the "legacy" criteria of my countdown, nothing beats "TSFS." Ahem:

1) Klingons.
So Klingons are the signature alien race of Star Trek (yes, they even edge out Vulcans), and "TSFS" is where the Klingon model was finalized. "TSFS" gave us:

a) The look. Klingons did appear with head ridges in "The Motion Picture," (see right) but those guys looked more like Calibos from "Clash of the Titans" than what we would come to know as Klingons. Kruge (see below) and his crew sported the head ridges, hair, and armor as the first standardized "new" Klingons.












b) The language. The real Klingon language you may have heard jokes about on "Family Guy" or wherever was created for this film by Marc Okrand. And since the franchise has shown off its Klingon-speaking chops whenever anyone would listen. Moreover, "TSFS" introduces the signature Klingon word - qapla! - which is translated as "success" when Kruge uses it, though I think idiomatically it should be translated as "victory."

c) The ship. After the Enterprise itself, no Star Trek ship is as instantly recognizable as the Klingon "bird of prey," which was first created for "TSFS." Actually, arguably this ship is ubiquitous than the Enterprise because it has appeared in virtually every iteration of the franchise ("TOS" films, "TNG," "TNG" films, "DS9," "VOY," "ENT") while no individual version of the Enterprise has.


d) Etcetera etcetera. "TSFS" also featured the first appearance the Klingon "daktag" knife and targ (wolf-like dog), and established the Klingons as warriors more like samurai than as a metaphor for the Soviet Union.

Now, in his autobiography, "I Am Spock," Leonard Nimoy says that the bad guys for this film were supposed to be Romulans, and he changed it to Klingons. Had that been left unchanged, I think Romulans would have become the signature race of the franchise, not Klingons.

2) Spirit.

"My God, Bones. What have I done?"
"What you had to do. What you always do. Turn death into a fighting chance to live."

- Kirk and McCoy, as the fiery Enterprise plummets
"Search of Spock" has left a lasting imprint on the spirit of Star Trek, and unconsciously or not, future iterations all followed its model: the focus on the small group of friends whose personal bond is more important than their careers, the emphasis on individual sacrifice and a de-emphasis on their advanced technology (as demonstrated by the destruction of the Enterprise to save Spock and the flippant disregard for the Excelsior). Some of these themes were certainly extant in the series previously, but "TSFS" perfected them.

This spirit is summed up in the closing lines:

"What you seek has not been done since ages past, and then only in legend. Your request is not logical."
"Forgive me, T'Lar. My logic is uncertain where my son is concerned."
- T'Lar and Sarek, on the request of fal-tor-pan for Spock
The only way Sarek can express his love for his son is to say "my logic is uncertain." Then the echo to Spock's speech about the "needs of the many" at the end of the film is equally tender:

"My father says that you have been my friend. You came back for me."
"You would have done the same for me."
"Why would you do this?"
"Because the needs of the one outweighed the needs of the many."
- Spock and Kirk
3) Humor.

"TSFS" includes some of the best one-liners in Star Trek, such as:

"That green-blooded son of a bitch! It's his revenge for all the arguments he lost."

- McCoy, on realizing he is suffering from a Vulcan mind-meld
"Keeping you busy?"
"Don't get smart, tiny."
- Sulu and Security Guard

"Don't call me tiny."

- Sulu, after knocking out a security guard who called him "tiny"
"Sorry about your crew. But as we say on Earth, c'est la vie."
- Kirk, to Kruge
"I do not deserve to live."
"Fine, I'll kill you later."
- Maltz and Kirk
"Nice of you to tell me in advance."
"That's what you get for missing staff meetings, Doctor. Gentlemen, your work today has been outstanding. I intend to recommend you all for promotion... in whatever fleet we end up serving."
-McCoy and Kirk
And "TSFS" includes my favorite line in all of Star Trek:

"How many fingers do I have up?" (Makes a Vulcan hand salute)
"That's not very damn funny."
- Kirk and McCoy, in McCoy's cell


There are some other highpoints of "TSFS" -- like Uhura's "Mr. Adventure" scene, the hijacking of the Enterprise, and the connection between "TOS" episodes "Amok Time" and "Journey to Babel" and the "ENT" "Forge" trilogy. Despite some of its shortcomings, it's a worthy successor to "Wrath of Khan" and a linchpin part of the trilogy that gave the original crew such a lofty reputation while laying the foundation for "TNG" and all that came after.

Also, "TSFS" is the favorite movie of Kramer on "Seinfeld," as featured in the episode "The Foundation." (Jerry's favorite is "TWOK.") Video here and below.



Saturday, September 11, 2010

Day 4 ... No. 4 ... Film 4 ...

So I've talked a lot about "TOS" passing the space-torch to "TNG," and before I leave that point, I need to talk a little bit more about its genesis:

"TNG" premiered in September 1987 under the nervous premise "Could lightning strike twice?" Paramount was not sure they could pull off a sequel to a show that'd been off the air for 18 years, and only has a small (but loyal) fan base. Remember, the film franchise started by basically picking up George Lucas's slop in the post-"Star Wars" sci-fi frenzy of the late 70s. What could similarly give the Trek franchise enough confidence to risk a second weekly series with a mass audience?

The answer to that is No. 4 on my list: "Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home."



Now let me preface this by saying that I don't particularly like "ST4." I don't think it fits well within the canon. Yes, I know that the time "slingshot" effect had been used three times before in "The Original Series," but I still don't time travel stories, because they completely destroy dramatic tension. (William Shatner actually says the same thing in the DVD commentary to "ST4.") Because if you can travel through time, then when you screw something up, you can say:
  • Hey, did that Klingon kill your son, Kirk? Let's go back in time and save him!
  • Hey, did that super-human madman kill a bunch of scientists and steal the Genesis Device? Let's go back in time and fix that!
  • Hey, did that redshirt get killed because he didn't duck in time? Let's go back in time and save him!
Moreover, this sets up the precedent that time-travel is really easy . Kirk pulls it off here in a half hour, in a substandard alien vessel that lacks the Enterprise's superior database OR a full crew complement, and with a science officer whose brain is Swiss cheese. This is not technically a plot hole, the way the time travel aspect in "First Contact" is, but taken outside of the context of this story, it empowers the characters too much. This is why the effect was never used again.

See, I'm of two minds where the "legacy" aspect of "ST4" is concerned, because on the one-hand:

a) Released in 1986, "ST4" was, unadjusted for inflation, the most successful installment of the film franchise until the reboot. This movie is the one that was most successful with a mass audience because it's easy to understand and it uses a lot of humor. Without the success of "ST4," studio executives probably would not have been confident enough to start a sequel TV show less than a year later, which also had the broadest mass appeal of any Trek series. And without "TNG," the franchise would have disappeared 20 years ago.

b) The events in "ST4" had virtually no effect on subsequent movies or TV shows, unlike movies 2, 3, and 6. As said earlier, no one ever uses the slingshot effect again, no one ever talks about whales or the probe, and Gillian never reappeared anywhere. The only reference ever made to "ST4" is a line in "ST6" where the head of Starfleet says to the President of the Federation "Those men [Kirk and McCoy] have literally saved this planet," and frankly at that moment he could have also been talking about when they saved it from V'Ger. For the franchise's most successful installment, it's bizarre that they never tried to return to it. (Note: there's an episode of "Enterprise" where they passingly quote a Vulcan philosopher mentioned in "ST4" -- but that's about it.)

You might point out that "ST4" established that Starfleet Headquarters (and the Academy) are located in San Francisco, a point that's heavily referenced in many subsequent episodes. However, this was actually established in "The Motion Picture," not "ST4." So you would, in fact, be wrong.

Now the exception to my point b) would be the reboot, which includes "ST4" as one of its four prime influences (the other three are "Wrath of Khan," "Journey to Babel," and "Unification.") The first act of 2009's "Star Trek: The Star Trek" takes its cues from "ST4," showing a Vulcan training scene reminiscent of the one in "ST4" and showing that Kirk was, indeed, from Iowa (which "ST4" established).

So I'm torn on "ST4," but because of its pivotal role in advancing the franchise, it has to be on the list. Moreover, it's ridiculously well made, with a great screenplay, believable special effects on the whales, a fun soundtrack, and humor. "ST4" is also pure science-fiction -- there's no villain, no fighting, and a phaser is fired ONLY ONCE: when Kirk locks the doctors in the closet.

The best part of the film is the way they share the action. Yes, Kirk and Spock are the stars, but because there was no villain, the filmmakers had more time to show attention to the other seven members of the crew, who all enjoy more screen-time and character-moments than ever. These include:
  • Scotty "burying himself" in the part of the plastics engineer (OK wait, this is also where they introduce the term "transparent aluminum," a phrase that would be used subsequently).
  • Sulu flying a helicopter and saying "San Francisco ... I was born there."
  • Chekov, a Russian, facing off against an Naval officer while innocently unaware of Cold War politics. (Note: "ST4" also continues the trend of Chekov's tendency to get screwed.) This movie is also where the term "nuclear wessels" was coined.
  • McCoy mocking 20th Century medicine ("the g--d--- Spanish Inquisition").
  • Uhura didn't get a lot (nothing to compete with "Mr. Adventure" in "ST3" or the fandance in "ST5," but she is the one who isolates whale song at the beginning.



This is another way in which the film's invisible, but strong, legacy can be felt: "TNG," DS9," and "VOY" all featured ensemble casts rather than following the "TOS" model of focusing on just a couple main characters. This is another reason why "TNG" was so successful and popular is that they were following the model set by "ST4," even if no one ever followed its details. "ENT" would return to the "TOS" standard of only three truly main characters, but even then Hoshi Sato got way more character development than Uhura ever did.

She also has an awesome mid-riff.

So "ST4" -- mass appeal, humor, ensemble cast, spawned "TNG." Some would insist that it should be higher, but I will argue that the No. 3 spot should be reserved for .... (cliff hanger!)

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