Friday, April 10, 2015

Earth or the Stars: Interstellar's False Choice

Interstellar, last year's science fiction theatrical film hit, was released on DVD at the end of March.  My main purpose in writing about it here is to relate it to concerns of this site, the soul of Star Trek.  But if you haven't seen it and don't want it spoiled, read no more of this.  Or if it means so much to you that any criticism would drive you nuts, that's another reason to give this a pass.

There is of course a lot to like about this movie. The film's scope and detail, the cinematic narrative, the acting, the technical accomplishments all carry us along in an adventure that uses past science fiction, especially in film, as a baseline, and then adds its own contributions.

 Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey is the most obvious narrative, visual (and at key moments, musical) source and touchstone.  There are nods to Star Wars and other films of that era.  Since the 1970s and 80s, we've also seen a lot more very good imagery from real space launches and flights, and Interstellar makes excellent use of those images.  (I didn't have to be told that the launch was based on Apollo footage--I recognized it.)

There is much more that is reminiscent of past science fiction.  The exposition meted out as dialogue while in spaceflight is straight out of the earliest 1950s space travel movies.  What does a black hole look like? the pilot wants to know, just before he sees one.  Whereas real astronauts are thoroughly briefed on everything they will or might encounter long before they leave.

Interstellar even has a contemporary take on the basic characters of 1950s sci-fi and creature features: the Cowboy Hero, the Elder Scientist and the Scientist's Beautiful Daughter (When Worlds Collide, Them! etc.)  They're treated very differently, though. The Cowboy Hero as Dad is a more recent addition of the past few decades (The Day After Tomorrow, Speilberg's War of the Worlds, etc.)

Even some of the key ideas aren't new.  The future deliberately affecting the past, and the past sending messages forward to the future, have been done ( recently for instance in the Doctor Who episode Blink.)  An alien species that turns out to be future humans is as least as old as a 1940s Edmund Hamilton Captain Future novel.  And to a lesser extent, time dilation was dramatized in Star Trek: The Next Generation.   (Though the relative speeds of aging involved in space travel even without black holes are usually ignored in Trek and most other space stories.)

What is new is how well this film humanizes these concepts, especially the consequences of time dilation.  Matthew McConaughey watching 23 years of his childrens' lives he missed in (for him) a matter of hours, was a powerful scene.  There's some sense of its effects in those on earth, particularly in his son, who seems burdened with the plod of time from being left behind, as well with the realities of his hard life.  It is perhaps in this sense that Interstellar brings together technology and human feeling, as was the original theme of the early sci-fi film Metropolis.

It's the actors who make the characters believable.  I had no trouble in believing Anne Hathaway as a scientist-astronaut.  In particular her speech about science and love was pitch perfect, right down to her enunciation--I've heard that voice from real scientists. Mackenzie Foy and Jessica Chastain were appealing as Murphy, a character that is more believable as a mythic figure than a person.  The most memorable acting I thought came from the unacknowledged Matt Damon, who created a thoughtful--and therefore believable--villain.

Much of what the film had to say moment to moment was about human nature. Most science fiction heroes since the 1990s have been motivated by love of their children, (lots of divorced fathers in Hollywood I guess) and it's true of this film as well.  The Michael Caine character represents a point of view on human nature --he believes that people won't work together unless their own survival and that of their children is at stake.  It's an interesting point of view given our current circumstances, but I'll get back to that.

The individual's survival instinct (as a parent, apparently, since according to the Matt Damon character, the last thing people see before they die is their children) is another statement on human nature, leading to something that should be familiar to Star Trek fans--two people who have traveled through space to another galaxy, having a fist fight.  According to Gene Roddenberry, the studio insists on it.

The film carries us along and into a fantastical ending that gets people who've seen it talking and arguing about what it means--which again is very much like the ending of 2001.

We see a kind of quantum relativity timey-whimey view that beings existing in the fifth dimension would see---essentially without time as a factor, all events just are.  (Which is how the Tralfamadorians see things in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five. Events in time are simultaneous, like peaks on a mountain range.)  We see father and daughter come to the same not exactly obvious conclusions at the same "time," so humanity of the very far future saves the past, which is the daughter's present.

It's to the filmmakers' credit that we believe all this long enough to enjoy a satisfying coda, in which the time paradoxes are humanized again--aged daughter sees young father before she dies, and he goes off to help Anne Hathaway's character set up her colony, because even though it is years later in the solar system, it's just  hours later for her.

So maybe it is possible for patterns in sand to be read as a binary code yielding map coordinates, and books dropped to the floor somehow represent dots and dashes in Morse code.  Not to mention translating complex numerical data into dots and dashes represented as ticks on a wristwatch.  Maybe it's possible and makes sense, but once again, accepting it is part of the ride.

What I really don't get is how humans survived into the far future in the first place, so they could construct the wormhole and become five dimensional beings and make things better in the past so they could survive into the far future. Unless it is a multiple paradox you have to be a five dimensional being to figure out.

But that's actually not what really bothers me about Interstellar.  The movie was promoted on the basis of scientific accuracy, with physicist Kip Thorne as an executive producer.  I'm willing to accept that the physics applied to black holes etc. is state of the art, even the stuff about gravity transcending time. But the same can't be said for the biology and chemistry of Earth. So let's go back to the premise of the movie.

As the movie starts, the Earth (not just Iowa, or the US Midwest) is in crisis from a blight that is killing food crops, beginning with wheat, and apparently the human population has taken a major hit.  The last crop standing is corn.  We see one effect of this crisis in the titanic dust storms.

The imagery of the dust storms was taken directly from photos and descriptions of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s that swept the western prairies, especially Oklahoma. The farm we see, despite modern computerized implements, is also taken from the 1930s (more directly from film depictions of the farm where Clark Kent grew up, originally in the 1930s.) Farms aren't like that anymore in 2015, especially when they farm corn.  They are huge industrial tracts, managed intensively with GMOs and pesticides, by corporations.  They don't include family farmhouses.  It's hard to believe the solution to a global food crisis would be left in the hands of individual farmers.

Maybe the filmmakers wanted the archetype.  And maybe NASA being out there in (presumably) Iowa is a nod to JJA's Star Trek in which Jim Kirk grew up in a 1930s landscape as well. All that avoidance, or denial of the contemporary world might be forgivable except for two things.

The first is the bogus crisis that threatens humanity.  A single blight that affects the world's crops of everything is mind-boggling enough.  But the film doesn't posit starvation as the ultimate.  The loss of these crops is supposed to snuff out the planet's oxygen, so people will suffocate.  In a few years.

But the science is off.  And according to experts, not by a little.  By like thousands of years.  That's what it would take to deplete the planet's oxygen by this method.

So why do this?

It's interesting that some people assume the basis of Interstellar's apocalypse is the climate crisis, because, well, apocalypse is what scientists tell us we're heading for if we don't address the climate crisis.  And truly, this movie had an opportunity--without very much fuss or bother-- to make the climate crisis the basis of its apocalyptic future, and thereby humanize that, make that real.

That would be something that might actually help us address the climate crisis and make the real future better.  But inexplicably they blew the opportunity.  I'd like to think it isn't because they got chickenhearted, afraid of offending that part of the audience that goes in for advanced physics but doesn't believe in the climate crisis.  Or perhaps the fossil fuel billionaires who materially encourage such sentiments.

I understand the "ticking clock" device of humanity about to suffocate, however bogus it is scientifically.  Surely a climate crisis that results in drought and starvation, the spread of insect-borne illnesses and so on could be made sufficiently apocalyptic to motivate our spacefaring heroes to hurry up.  How much better it might have been, even as a movie, to start with a real crisis that actually threatens the future, as a growing number of people realize.  It's a credible threat, because it is a real threat now.  How much better, dramatically as well as morally, to use it in this film.

The second major element I object to is related.  Very early in the movie, Dr. Brand, the Elder Scientist played by Michael Caine, asserts that humans are not meant to save the earth, they are meant to leave it.  No one in the room--including several of the major characters--disagrees with him.

 This statement is more or less paired with a scene in which a teacher explains that the new textbooks say humans didn't really land on the moon.  But her reason is not the fundamentalist and anti-science zealotry we might expect (since such things for those reasons are happening right now in our world.)   No, it's because space exploration wastes resources, and she represents a "caretaker" generation for the Earth.

So an either/or is stated and supported: either save the Earth or be explorers in space.  Is that the choice?  Certainly the allocation of resources and money is an issue.  But what does that mean?  Do we literally stop efforts to save this biosphere, this ecosystem to--do what exactly?

If we want bigger space programs and we need to save money somewhere, maybe we should look at the budgets of blockbuster films.  For it took more money to make and sell Interstellar than it took India to send a space probe to orbit Mars.  (Actually it took less for this space mission than the even smaller budget of Gravity.)

Compounding this folly is Dr. Brand leading an apparent effort to save much of existing humanity that he knows is a lie. He is using up immense resources on a lie, because he knows that the formula he is supposedly working on, that is supposed to make this possible, won't do the job.

Set aside for a moment that creating space habitats doesn't require mastering gravity at its basic level.  But apart from the genetic seeding of planets in the other galaxy,  in this movie all of NASA's eggs are in this one futile basket.  This doesn't pass my smell test, but if we grant it, as we grant a movie its own rules, we are still left, not with that "save it or leave it" choice, but the choice not to apply these resources to try to save the planet or humanity, but to spend them to support a great lie.  This is apparently raging against the dying of the light (the Dylan Thomas line that gets repeated several times.)

There is something profound hidden in this, which is that hope is a feature of the present, regardless of what the future holds.  But hope for its own sake is empty, and hope generated by a big lie is worse that empty.  It might even be called evil.

Once we leave the movie and apply this to the real world, the real trouble begins.  Starting with the either/or: Earth or the stars. The folly of believing that the climate crisis can be ignored and a space program advanced is nicely suggested by this real world recent event: that NASA has recognized that the only launchpads that now exist in the U.S. space program--at Cape Canaveral--are threatened by sea level rise, not in the future but now.

Doing all we can to address the causes of the climate crisis and battle its effects may be ultimately futile in some senses, but we don't know that it is.  So it is honest, and it infuses life with meaning.  It is enacting hope, because as far as we know we can still make a difference.

The Star Trek future begins with  21st century war and a societal return to the Dark Ages. The discovery of warp drive and first contact with another intelligent and space-faring species leads to a major change in how we view ourselves and life itself. There is no choice made between space travel and life on Earth.  If we would choose to abandon our planet in that way, we would simply be extending our history of ravaging each "new" place, of  wasting and destroying ecosystems, of war and empire, and of taking our fistfights to other galaxies. Because we don't value life, just ourselves.  That's not what happens in Star Trek.

For one thing, people who are consciously and deeply committed to life--of humanity but also of the Earth--have no trouble working to better the future for unborn generations, for life they'll never see.  That's what being rooted in this planet means, even as we take this ethic with us into space.

In our world today, we advance technology and explore space.  We also use the vantage we've gained to see our planet whole from beyond it, to help us address our biosphere's challenges.  We may (as some scientists suggest) find evidence of life elsewhere in a decade or two.  But we don't have warp drive, or worm holes for easy travel to other stars or galaxies. Right now we have no where else to go.

It also is entirely possible that humans cannot live anywhere other than Earth.  Human travel to the stars is at present a beautiful and exciting metaphor, an exercise of the imagination.  And it may remain only that.

Right now this is the only planet we've got.  Fittingly if ironically, our space program showed us this, showed us the beauty and fragility of our special planet in those first photos of the whole Earth that have become the emblem of our age. We can't allow our love affair with our technology to blind us to the reality that our lives are sustained by the life of this Earth.  It is irresponsible to suggest otherwise.

We need to confront the climate crisis, both for generations now living who will suffer its first effects, and--in a way that Dr. Brand and the others didn't believe humans would do--we need to address the causes of the climate crisis for generations unborn. And for the conditions and diversity of life that support our lives, and the planet we know and should cherish.  That's our version of the conscious evolutionary step that humanity takes in Star Trek.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Captain's Log: Next Movie Chatter, Dark Matter and Watery Worlds

A few items approaching news surfaced recently regarding the next Star Trek Paramount feature film, due for release in the 50th anniversary summer of 2016.  Actually they were more like somebody spilling tea leaves on your plate, but then a lot of news is like that.

One story (which flared like a meteor and disappeared) was about a prominent British actor "in early stages" of negotiations to play the "villain" in the next Trek feature.  While Trek bbs parse the idea, nobody seems to be asking the key question: where did this story come from? It's possible it leaked from Paramount, perhaps as a trial balloon but the phrase "in early stages of negotiation" suggests to me that it's much more likely to have come from this actor's agent or publicist, who seems adept at getting publicity for this client that has no substance beyond speculation.

If that's so, it seems less likely that this bit of casting is going to happen.  It looks too strategic in terms of the actor's career.  Doesn't mean it won't happen, but it doesn't feel that way to me.

Of course the V word is discouraging to a number of Trek fans, who've seen three straight Trek features try to reinvent the single-villain success of exactly one of the previously successful movies, namely the second, The Wrath of Khan.  And even that film was about more than revenge or Kirk v. Khan.

The other tea leaves spill was an interview by one of the new writers for the movie, who also plays engineer Scott, Simon Pegg.  It seems to confirm that the story for the film as well as the previous screenplay have been totally thrown out, suggesting to some fans that there isn't enough time for (a) a movie in summer 2016 or (b) a good movie in summer 2016.

However, several of the first ten Trek movies were made on tight schedules, with new screenplays written quickly after prior ones were rejected.  Whether it works out this time, and especially with the complexities of visual effects and editing of movies now, remains to be seen.

Some fans see Pegg's insistence on being true to the original series as hopeful, which it may be.  On the other hand, it is the 50th anniversary of a saga that went well beyond the original series.  Star Trek began but did not end with the original series or even its films.  The soul of Star Trek contains elements from the entire saga.

There seem to be two concerns building about this feature.  First, that it will be the kind of pandering big villain misfire as some believe the last one was, and second, that it will not honor the saga by including actors from prior Trek series, especially the first.

As one comment on the Trek Movie thread noted, the JJA Star Wars movie in preparation includes its classic crew while it seems unlikely that this 50th anniversary Trek movie will.  It makes the death of Leonard Nimoy--the only such actor to appear in the JJA features-- just a year before the 50th anniversary especially poignant.

Trek Universe V. Real Universe

The Trek universe includes a mirror universe, and with the JJA films, embraces the reality of parallel universes.  This week's science suggests that if there is a mirror universe, it isn't made of dark matter.  But what dark matter is remains a mystery.  Since it comprises some 70% of the known real universe, that's a big mystery.

We may experience first contact with a parallel universe however, along with a the creation of a mini-black hole, at least in this interpretation of what the Large Hadron Collider will be up to next.

But like a lot of phenomena (and inventions) that draw Trek universe analogies, these are much more modest and technical.

The more understandable stuff, and in its way the more exciting, has to do with recent discoveries about our own solar system, which gets short shrift in Trek but is likely to be our outer space future, if any, for a considerable time, and perhaps forever.

Scientists announced recently that they believe observations by means of the Hubble Telescope confirm the existence of liquid water--of an underground ocean in fact-- on Ganymede, a moon of Jupiter.  Scientists were already excited about the possibilities for life on two other moons of Jupiter: Europa and Callisto.

  At almost the same time, other research suggests that Saturn's moon Enceladus has hot springs in its own underground ocean, which on Earth hosts some of the more exotic forms of life on the planet.

The existence of water at one time or another in so many places, and especially these latest findings, means life may be possible to find elsewhere in the solar system, or at least evidence of life in the past.  But proof of life will take actual observation, and the outer planets are still very far away.  So even if probes are sent soon, it will probably be near the end of this century before the questions can be answered.  (The discovery of nitrogen on Mars however is another plus in the search for life in that nearer planet's history.)

The solar system itself is sort of changing, at least in our view.  There's a theory that there are actually one or two more large planets on its outer edges beyond direct observation, and another theory that there once may have been more small planets closer to the sun, until Jupiter blew them away.  It turns out we're still not sure there aren't more very small planets in our solar system, especially since scientists can't decide on what qualifies as a planet.

Evidence grows also for the possibility of panspermia--the spread of microbial life from one place in the universe to others, including to Earth--and also of lithopanspermia--the spread of life from Earth to Mars and elsewhere.  Life arising independently on planets and moons, or life transferred from a common ancestor to several places---both are exciting possibilities.  Though we seem tantalizingly closer to answers, we are still in the realm of science fiction.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

His Star Trek Statement

In my 2004 interview with Leonard Nimoy, he talked about Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the film he created and directed. "That was the high point of my experience with Star Trek," he said. "That was my Star Trek statement."

My essay on The Voyage Home can be found here , although you'll need to scroll down past a few related posts.  Even better, watch the movie again, and remember.

Leonard Nimoy was buried in Los Angeles today.  Once more, may he rest in peace.  His work lives on, into the future.

Friday, February 27, 2015

He was, and always shall be, fascinating

There was news some days ago that Leonard Nimoy had been rushed to the hospital.  A story I read concluded that he was feeling better because his Twitter feed had resumed, but when I saw that the tweets were previously published poems, I had a feeling that all was not well.

Still, it was a shock to wake up to the news today that he had died.  It's a major moment that will take time to absorb.  Sobering and sad, but occasion to remember his many contributions, especially to the living mythology of Star Trek.  Coincidentally I've been focusing recently on that mythology, and those contributions. This event will sharpen and deepen that exploration.

My relationship with Nimoy was brief and pleasant.  I interviewed him by phone and met him once in person in connection with a New York Times article I was writing on Star Trek, just as what turned out to be the final season of Enterprise was starting.  He emailed me to say how much he had enjoyed the article, and the feedback he'd received about it.  We exchanged emails, as he advised me on book publishing matters.

This past week I caught up on his recent interviews on YouTube--I especially liked these, with Geoff Boucher.  Also this one with Pharrell Williams. Nimoy had a singular life, and a very full one. He had a lively mind and a complex personality.  He was large souled.  In many ways he was a keeper of the soul of Star Trek.

Of all the Nimoy photos floating about today, I like the one below, with the Buddha statue in the background (Trek Movie used it, among others.)  I ended my phone interview with Nimoy by telling him a story that involved the San Francisco Zen Center.

I stayed there once, a few months before our conversation, in one of the rooms they rent to visitors.  My room didn't have its own bathroom, so that night I walked down the hall to the large common bathroom and shower.  Monks, many of them young, also lived on that floor.  I took a wrong turn on the way back to my room and found myself in the monks' wing.  As I turned back in the correct direction I noticed a bookcase in the hallway outside the monks quarters, filled with books.  I couldn't see the titles in the dim light, except one: I Am Spock.

He laughed and said, "Thanks for that."  Along with difficulties and travails, he had rewarding careers and a rewarding life, but it turns out that all I have to say today is just that: Thank you, Leonard.  It's been fascinating.

May he rest in peace.  His work and his legacy live on.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Take on a Deep Breath & Listening Trek

The first Peter Capaldi season of Doctor Who is now available on DVD etc., my preferred medium, so I've recently seen the first one, "Deep Breath."  This is also the long episode that got shown in movie theatres (a la the 50th anniversary ep "Day of the Doctor") following a world publicity tour.  So the most disappointing thing about this DVD is that the special features are mostly about the pre and post showing hype.  Although even that has its moments.  No commentary on the episode, though.

It's interesting that the guests and fans on the BBC and BBC America post-episode shows were so breathlessly hyped up about "Deep Breath," and talked about its most pleasing surface features, its cute, exciting, touching and tweetable moments, so the show succeeded on that level immediately.  The opening image (a dinosaur in Victorian London, spitting out the Tardis) got predictable wows, and everybody loved Peter Capaldi as the Doctor.

But what really interests me is that once producer/writer Steven Moffat got all the flashy stuff going, and all the coy references that fans will get, he actually did what he probably didn't have to do and gave the story some texture and substance, as it dealt with the Doctor's questions about his own identity, and went head-on at the most obvious change: he's older.  In the process, the ep said some things about how people feel as they get older, that you maybe have to be older to get.

There are these writerly, even classical moments of reflected meanings, as when the Doctor (apparently asleep) seems to be vocalizing the thoughts of the dinosaur roaring outside but ends up saying something that's about himself, identifying himself in some sense with the dinosaur, as a stranger and perhaps--in a way--as old.

Later Calpaldi in a Scrooge-like nightshirt has a great rant as he tries to deal with his new self after regeneration, muttering that he's seen his face before (and of course, fans know where--in the David Tennant episode about Pompei), speculating on what message he was trying to send himself with this face, but still not remembering where it came from.

Then when he confronts the android (derived from yet another Tennant episode) who is a machine remaking itself with human parts, he accuses him of not even remembering where he got his face. To emphasize the connected point, he's holding up a shiny metal tray to the android's face as a mirror, but we can also see the Doctor's face reflected in the other side.  (Mirrors as well as various kinds of reflections and projections are prominent in this ep.)

You've changed so much and so many times, there must be very little of who you were originally, the Doctor shouts, in a nice piece of projecting, so you wonder if he's not wondering if that's his fate as well.

Moffat neatly disposes of the possible awkwardness of quite older Doctor and quite younger companion by having the Doctor say directly, I'm not your boyfriend.  But he also manages to broaden the Doctor's post-regeneration identity crisis, and Clara's not being able to accept him because he's much older than her boyfriend Doctor (Matt Smith, who makes a brief and emotionally effective appearance), by having the Capaldi Doctor say, "You can't see me, can you?  You look at me and you can't see me.  You have any idea what that's like?  I'm not on the phone.  I'm right here standing in front of you.  Just look at me."

Besides the Doctor talking to Clara, he's speaking for many older people, who may no longer look like the person they feel they are inside.   Younger people do tend to look right through them, but even worse, they don't see who they are.

The episode also includes that intrepid trio of Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax, fighting crime in Victorian London.  Strax is great comic relief, Jenny is appealing and apparently a fan favorite, but I am most impressed with Neve McIntosh as Vastra.  I sense their repeated appearance is setting up the possibility of their own spinoff series, which would only be right: since the Moffatverse has eliminated Sherlock Holmes from late 19th century London, it's only fair to replace his crime-solving skills with Madame Vastra and her crew.

Meanwhile in Trekville...

Speculation and consternation continue as, soon after the new director for the 2016 official NuTrek feature film was announced, so were the new writers.   Consternation seems natural, whatever the gifts of the people newly in creative charge, since 2016 happens to be Star Trek's 50th anniversary, and so far there is no clear connection to that living legacy.  Even Abrams' Trek films had a connection through Leonard Nimoy.  Now so far there's nothing, except rumors of cameos.  Meanwhile there are all these talented and experienced directors, actors etc. whose lineage goes back to Gene Roddenberry, who know what Star Trek is about, with many of them quite eloquent on the subject.

Meanwhile, it's interesting to look at the Star Trek sites in this period between movies, and the Doctor Who sites, between seasons.  Though both announce new ancilliary stories through comics and novels, and both tout products (toys, memorabilia), the balance on the Trek sites is much more towards products, and on Doctor Who sites towards stories.  And it's worth seeing why.

Doctor Who seems much more active in revisiting its past, in creating new stories for past characters, and especially in using actors from that past.  That's largely through an emphasis on audio/radio drama, something that Star Trek has never really done much of.

Partly that's a cultural thing--radio drama (as well as stage drama) is much more part of UK culture (and Canadian, come to that) than US.  Some years ago, Star Trek actors employed themselves in radio/audio drama, doing (for example) non-Trek science fiction, through Alien Voices and L.A. Theatre Works.  But official Star Trek has not embraced this medium.  Which means that those great voices out there associated with various Star Trek series are not doing the new stories they could be doing, adding to the Star Trek legacy as well as reviving it.  Instead, we get the Star Trek cuckoo clock.
  

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Star Trek Movie That Could Have Been

Since I've adopted the more civilized practice of watching TV programs on DVD (or when more convenient, online), life has been better.  But in this tweeting-hysteria world, I'm out of step with what others are watching.  Nevertheless, sometimes there's a coincidence with what I've just seen, and something happening in the world of now.

That was the case recently when my viewing of the first disk of the fifth season of the TNT series Leverage coincided with the moment that the next Star Trek movie didn't have a director anymore.

In that moment (or those few days) there were stories that some fans wanted Jonathan Frakes to direct the 50th anniversary movie--and he enthusiastically agreed. Reportedly he let Paramount know he wanted to do it.

 It was about then that I watched his direction of "First Contact."  No, not the Star Trek movie--the one that's generally regarded as one of the best, that Frakes directed.  The 2012 episode of Leverage that Frakes directed.

The story isn't that important (dishonest tech mogol tricked into believing he's been contacted by aliens), just the date: 2012.  That was just a bit more than two years ago, as opposed to the 18 years since Star Trek: First Contact. 

Much of the positive response to the idea of Frakes directing the next Trek film had to do with his connections to the Trek past, as part of the Next Generation that had direct contact with Gene Roddenberry, and worked with members of Star Trek crews of all its eras, from the fictional 22nd to the 24th centuries.  He knows how to make Star Trek, as opposed to just movies.

Which seems both true and very important to me.  But what maybe got lost is that while he'd directed about a dozen episodes of  the three Trek series on the air in the early 90s before he directed First Contact, he's been directing films and especially television ever since.  In fact, a glance as his IMDB profile suggests he's done much of his directing since 2010.

So with the Trek possibility in mind, I took note of this Leverage episode: it had story, character moments, action, visual effects in a complex story with a large cast.  From a directorial standpoint, it had pretty much all the elements of a Star Trek story on film.  And the direction was really good.  The visual style, camera movement, the cuts, were all up to date for today's audience.

I was disappointed that he didn't do the commentary, but on the other hand, the alias of one of the con artists was Willie Riker.  The point is, Frakes is a more experienced and better director now than he was 18 years ago.

Then Paramount pretty quickly announced that Fast & Furious director Justin Lin would be the director of the next Trek.  On TrekMovie at least, fans greeted this with less than total happiness-- to say the comments were half and half is generous.  That seems to be the mood of Trekdom in general concerning what I've called Star Trek JJA but has elsewhere been dubbed JJ Trek, and (now that JJ is in another universe far far away) NuTrek.

Much of the discontent over the direction of NuTrek was reflected in a Trek Movie editorial by Lukas Kendall of Film Score Monthly.  I don't agree with everything he wrote but the general point is one I've made here in different ways.  Kendall focuses on the central importance of story to Star Trek, as opposed to CGI action, and that's certainly part of it.  Story is in many ways intrinsically soulful, and highly important to the soul of Star Trek.

I guess my point here is that I agree that Jonathan Frakes could have brought a sense of institutional memory, of Star Trek's identity, to what is going to be (after all) the 50th anniversary film.  But I would also add: the movie would lose nothing in terms of contemporary filmmaking.  Frakes is not just an excellent Star Trek director, he's an excellent director.

Meanwhile, congratulations to Star Trek: Voyager on its 20th anniversary.  A good time to revisit this 2013 piece on why Voyager is the ultimate Trek series. (Not that I think it is, but it's an interesting piece.)

Friday, December 26, 2014

R.I. P. 2014

We pause to remember those in Trekdom who passed away in 2014.  Among them are: Arlene Martel (T'Pring in TOS Amok Time,) Bob Orrison (stunts), Bob Baker  (puppeteer), Joseph Sargent (director), Sarah Marshall (actor), all from the Original Series.  Also animator and director Hal Sutherland, the animated series (TAS.)

From TNG: actors Wendy Hughes, Stephen Lee, James Becker; director Bob Wiemer (also for DS9), art director Joe Longo.

 From Voyager: director Nancy Malone, actors Booth Colman and Lynn Meneses, stuntman Jophery C. Brown.  Kim Koscki, stunts for Enterprise.

From the Doctor Whoverse, director Jane Baker, writer Michael Hayes and actor Billy McColl.

Science fiction writers Frank M. Robinson (Nebula and Hugo winner, Judge Dredd), Michael Shea, Sue Townsend.

May they rest in peace.  Their work lives on into the future.