Sunday, January 20, 2008

Captain's Log: New Trek Movie Trailer, Doctorless? Aliens Among Us

J.J. Abrams production of Cloverfield is breaking box office records this weekend, which is providing a big audience for what's called a preview trailer (which I guess means it gets you coming and going) for his Paramount Star Trek movie, currently in production.

The trailer, which you can see via TrekMovie (where you can also peruse detailed review and response) does a clever riff on the film being "under construction" with a view of the starship Enterprise under construction. The size it suggests hints at the scope of the movie's visuals--not too surprising given the film's budget which is much larger than for previous Trek features. I got a laugh out of the tag line, though: The Future Begins. I used that slogan some years ago to promote an arts endowment. I've got the low-budget booklets I put together to prove it. So of course I think it's brilliant.

Apparently the trailer doesn't name the film it is previewing, which seems to mimic the advertising for Cloverfield, that got publicity out of misdirection and secrecy. That movie is said to be innovative in that it spent little on unknown actors and filmmaking but a great deal on visual effects. Is that something like the Trek plan? On the publicity front, script writer Roberto Orci has established a presence, and has some interesting things to say about the trailer--including a sophisticated theory on warp drive. As for the film itself, well...unknown actors certainly. But it's only "under construction," so we'll see.

It occurs to me we are at an odd moment in Trek history. It used to be that the actors who created the Trek characters we know were making studio feature films and television shows, while unknown young actors played those characters in low budget fan films. Now many of those actors who created Trek characters are making low budget fan films, while unknown young actors are playing those same characters in a big budget studio feature.

In his dialogue with Orci, TrekMovie's Anthony Pascale asks him about the use of JFK's voice in the trailer--whether this was a reflection of the theory that Gene Roddenberry based Captain Kirk's character partly on JFK. I've written at length (as usual) about the many connections between GR, JFK (for starters, they were stationed near each other in the South Pacific when JFK's PT boat was sunk and planes were sent from Roddenberry's base to search for him) and Star Trek (beginning with GR's first proposal, weeks after JFK's assassination.) I've got back and labelled the pertinent posts on this site, so they're all accessible under JFK. There's not very much that's original in covering Trek history these days, but I believe this is.


While searching for something else entirely, I ran across a TV column (somewhere, I didn't bookmark it) that said the Sci-Fi Channel has yet to make a deal to show the fourth season of Dr. Who. Apparently the BBC may want it to go to their BBC America cable channel.

Unfortunately or not, I don't get that channel. I don't much like watching the Doctor on the Sci-Fi channel, with its cutting out bits for its infinitely repeating promos and other obnoxious practices. Checking out the eps on You Tube is almost better. I just hope it's going to be possible.

Aliens Among Us

I've always maintained that the aliens and creatures from other worlds portrayed on Star Trek and other sci-fi aren't nearly as strange as some creatures here on Earth. Even without the limitations of actors portraying them, human imagination doesn't seem to be equal to making up anything nearly as weird as what some of the animals are like that share our planet.

And that's just the creatures we know about. We may wonder about life in outer space, but it turns out we know almost nothing about life on nine-tenths of our own planet.

I got a tutorial in this when I read a review of two new books about discoveries in the deep (really deep) blue sea. I learned the following:"Only the uppermost part of the oceans—the top two hundred meters—bears any resemblance to the sunlit waters we are familiar with, yet below that zone lies the largest habitat on Earth. Ninety percent of all the ocean's water lies below two hundred meters, and its volume is eleven times greater than that of all of the land above the sea."

How deep is it? The Marianas Trench off the Phillipines goes down 11,000 meters. Just what does that mean? "Ships plying the waters over the trench glide as far above Earth's surface as do jet aircraft crossing the face of America."

Scientists know that "the most common backboned creature on our planet is a fish known as the benttooth bristlemouth, and it is only found in the deep sea." But we don't know a lot more--because less than one percent of the ocean deep has been mapped. By our standards, there are very strange creatures down there--some of them, in the deeper of the deep, are wispy, transparent animals barely different from the water around them, whose metabolisms are incredibly slow.

But there are also large animals about which we know next to nothing. And by large, they mean: very large. In this elegantly written review, Tim Flannery notes: "It says much of our ignorance that the very largest denizens of the deep have never been captured or seen alive."

The deepest of the deep is so far from sunlight that literally no light penetrates it. Yet the deep is not completely dark: bioluminicent creatures, who supply their own light, are far more common there than on land. We know so little about the deep, and we aren't learning much more now, because there was only one vehicle capable of reaching the deepest ocean, and this robotic craft was lost at sea in 2003. There is no other.

But our persisting ignorance doesn't prevent us from destroying what we know not of. Dumping of nuclear and industrial waste and chemical weapons, oceanic pollution, industrial fishing and the climate crisis are killing the environment that sustains these beings. Flannery concludes:"The ocean depths are not some hellish and distant zone, but are an element of our living planet which is connected in very intimate and immediate ways to ourselves. They are also our last frontier, where wonders innumerable await the next generation of brave bathynauts who choose to journey there. Let us hope that we do not destroy this amazing place before they get their chance. "

One of the pioneers of deep sea exploration, by the way, was Jacques Piccard, who has gone where noone has gone before or since--deeper into the deep. An ancestor no doubt of the 24th century explorer we all know and love.

There Be Whales

Speaking of the sea and Star Trek, after years of relative quiet, the Japanese attempted to resume whaling this year, including the pursuit of humpback whales like those that were the subject of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. As I noted in my review here and over at TrekMovie, one of the inspirations for that film was the anti-whaling efforts of Greenpeace. One of that organization's founders decided to take a more activist role in stopping whaling ships through a new organization called Sea Shepherd. Recently one of its ships has been harrassing Japanese whalers, and one of the Japanese whaling boats has apparently made off with two of the protestors.

By the way, I've sent a new review of Star Trek V over to TrekMovie, where presumably it will appear soon, possibly when the latest spate of new movie news dies down.

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