Blog Project: Star Trek: The Next Generation

Blog Project: Star Trek: The Next Generation

My friend Andy cannot resist an amazing blu-ray deal so when had Star Trek: The Next Generation on sale for some obscenely low price earlier this month, he ordered it. I had been wanting to rewatch TNG for awhile, so we are taking this opportunity to team up and watch the show, blogging our thoughts and reactions 30 years later.

A little background for me: TNG was a HUGE part of my childhood. I have lots of happy memories of Saturday nights, getting Pizza Hut on the way home from church (my parents were big fans of the 5 o’clock mass) and sitting at the table in front of the tv in the basement, happily watching and eating together. We never really had a show like that again, that kept us all entertained, that brought us together, and I remember the emotions of watching the series finale and knowing that this was more than an end to a TV show…

So it has been interesting watching these episodes, produced in 1987, watching on an HDTV screen in 2016 (well, bouncing between my TV and my iPad, and realizing how much my life has started to mirror the Star Trek technology, especially when I start watching by asking Cortana to launch the Netflix app on my Xbox). I’m not sure I will be able to blog in-depth reactions to every episode – there are seven seasons worth! But I want to at least give a mention to them and see what memories, if any, surface while watching.

S1:E1/2 “Encounter at Farpoint”
I remember this episode pretty well but I think that is because it was rerun the most and I’ve tried to start the series over before and become distracted. Plus, Q. Q is one of my favorite characters in the series and a lot of the episodes I remember have Q in them (and Barkley…but we’ll get to him later!).

I think this is a pretty solid pilot. They manage to introduce everyone without making it feel like a line-up. And there are a lot of characters on this show – we have a whole crew of people! And the plot of the first half of the premiere, with Q putting them on trial for the crimes of humanity, gives the audience a chance to catch up on the history between 1987 – The Original Series (TOS) – to TNG.

The second half we meet Riker and Wesley, who I think are written to be the audiences eyes. Riker is new to the Enterprise, Wesley was there for the kids. I love the hint we get of Riker and Troi’s previous relationship, calling him “Imzadi”. If I had to trace back in fandom and find my first “ship”, I’d say it was Riker/Troi and Picard/Crusher. Not the most imaginative, but they were the first show relationships I was invested in and wanted to happen.

The end of the episode sets up the series – that Q will always be watching and judging and they have plenty of time to prove if humans are worthy.

S1:E3 “The Naked Now”
The next two episodes felt like homages to the original series, which makes sense. Unbeknownst to me at the time, TNG met with some push back from TOS fans, plus I’m sure the network wasn’t sold on the idea of a science fiction show. Sci Fi shows are expensive and never seem to get as big of a following. This episode was supposed to be similar to “The Naked Time” from TOS, which I’m sure writers hoped would appease the TOS fans, but had the opposite effect of making it look like TNG was just going to copy+paste episodes.

S1:E4 “Code of Honor”
And if “Naked Now” hadn’t been trouble enough, this episode is very problematic, even more so 30 years later. Again, it feels like a throw back to TOS, with the ridiculous “fight to the death” challenge. It is hard to watch this episode now, with a planet population by black people who talk with slight accents and who act uncivilized, making comments about Tasha being head of security and a woman and all other kinds of things that make your eyes roll back into your head.

For some reason E3 and E4 focus a LOT on Tasha Yar. I suppose have a woman as Head of Security was a big deal for this reboot and they were really proud of it, but in “Naked Now” she ends up getting brainwashed by the virus and running around in a skimpy outfit, trying to seduce Data and in “Code of Honor” she is made to fight to the death with another woman.

S1:E5 “The Last Outpost”
This episode was a little more straight forward, with the introduction of the Ferengi. I was excited to see proto-Quark because isn’t he one of the best things on DS9? I have a few thoughts on the Ferengi but I want to see a few more episodes with them before I come to any conclusions.

One thing that Andy and I have already talked about – it seems the best TV shows have some of the worst first seasons. Watching TNG, I was reminded of the first season of one of my favorites shows of all time Parks and Recreation. P&R has a terrible first season (in fact, I didn’t watch it when it originally aired because I was so turned off by the first few episodes). They are trying way too hard to be The Office and 1) we already had that show airing on the same channel and 2) we were ready for something new.

Right now, TNG feels like it is trying really hard to be TOS. But that’s not what the people of 1987 wanted – they already had TOS. They knew those episodes by heart. They didn’t want lessons from the 60s, they needed stories about the 80s, stories about our future. So I expected these first few episodes to be bumpy and awful. Thank goodness CBS kept it going. Nowadays shows barely get a chance (**coughFIREFLYcough**) before they are cancelled. I can’t wait to get to the classic episodes, but I want to watch the whole series, see how the characters grow and change and evolve over the seven seasons. And I can really only appreciate that if I watch them all again.

Make it so.

Book Series Thoughts: Unwind Dystology by Neal Shusterman

Book Series Thoughts: Unwind Dystology by Neal Shusterman

unwind dystology

When I read Unwind in 2009, I had no clue it was going to be a series. The book was published in 2007 and the story seemed to end on the final page. At least, I felt like Connor and his friends would keep fighting and surviving even if I wasn’t reading along with them.

Then in 2012 I saw Unwholly on the new books cart. I was skeptical – was Shusterman just cashing in on the “YA series” craze? Could the story still be as powerful in a second time?

I was not disappointed, with Unwholly, Unsouled, and Undivided raising even more questions and issues. It was the kind of Science Fiction I loved – one that takes ethical dilemmas we are dealing with right now and throwing them to an extreme, but an extreme that doesn’t seem too far off (as Shusterman regularly points out by including actual articles from the past few years, complete with URL information in case you wanted to follow up).

The Unwind Dystology, as it has come to be known/marketed, is the story of the near future. After the Heartland War, a war that came about because of the abortion debate, a truce of sorts was reached – parents had until the age of 18 to decide if they wanted their child or not. If a parent no longer wanted a child, they could be unwound, a process by which the body parts are extracted and sent somewhere to be used. No waste, the child is technically still “alive” but their body is being “put to good use”. Connor Lassiter makes several mistakes and pushes his parents to the point that they feel he should be unwound. Connor manages to escape from the transport when he takes a hostage, Levi Calder. Levi is a tithe from a very religious family who has been raised to be unwound as a sacrifice. While on the run, they also meet Risa Ward, a girl from a state orphanage who is being sent to be unwound because the government can no longer support the funding.

There is a WHOLE lot more to this story, especially now that it spans four book, but it is better to read it and experience it than me spoiling it for you. You will be confronted with issues like biomedical ethics, terrorism, politics, propaganda and more. I was on the edge of my seat, up until 2am reading the finale and it was worth it. The scene from that final page will stay with me. Actually, there are several moments from this series that will haunt me.

A recent Huffington Post article compares it to The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins, though I would not pit the two against each other. While both have to do with the aftermath of war and it’s effects on the next generation, Collins and Shusterman are focusing on completely different issues beyond that.

This is a must-read series for anyone over the age of 16. There is SO much to discuss here. And while the last two books falter a little bit (I think Shusterman could probably has published a HUGE third book and gotten away with it but he clearly had one too many ideas he wanted to get down so the fourth book came to be as he hashed out the details) this series is one of THE BEST SCIENCE FICTION SERIES.

Movie Thoughts: Elysium (2013)

Well, that was a mess.

Elysium is the writer/director Neil Blomkamp’s follow up to District 9. It is a prime example of what happens when you have someone who before was used to scraping by to create his movies and give him all the funding in the world. There was a good story there, another story similar to District 9‘s about inequality and how humans needs to learn to work together instead of constantly separating ourselves. But, alas, Elysium is full of special effects and a lot of missteps.

Plot Summary Time! Max (Matt Damon) was a street rat who grew up in the ghettos of Future!LA. Now he’s trying to stay straight and do his (shitty) job and stay on the right side of the law. Ever since he was a child, he dreamed of going to Elysium, the orbiting space station where all the rich white French speaking people went after the Earth got too dirty for them. But the world has worn him down and he has forgotten that dream. And he hates everything, just trying to get by. Then shit happens and he only has days to live and he must go back to his ghetto ways to try to save his own life…by getting to Elysium!!!!

One of the big problems with the movie is that it takes waaaaaaaaay too long to get going. There’s a lot of world building that needs to be done, but it could have been done with more finesse in half the time. But it was probably a lot more fun to find two kids that kinda looked like Matt Damon and the other girl and have them be all “we are BFFs and some day we will run away together”. I’d say at least 30 minutes of the movie was spent in creating an unnecessary backstory for our main character.

Except the backstory that needed to happen was HOW DID ANYONE LET ELYSIUM HAPPEN!? How did the entire world decide this was okay? I was sort of hoping the twist would be an underground group on Elysium was trying to help out the people on Earth. Is part of the screening process to become a citizen on Elysium that you’re a selfish asshole? Also, wouldn’t that limit the gene pool?? These are the things that would have been better explored. Instead we focus on Max, who is just this guy, you know? He’s not particularly interesting. He’s the cookie cutter ex-con trying to do good but oh we know he’s only this far from being bad again.

Accents are a problem in this movie, to the point that I wish they had just thrown them out completely. Actually, I think the biggest problem was Damon’s LACK of an accent. Jodie Foster flips between French and British accents. Her crony has a thick South African accent. Most of the people in L.A. have Spanish accents. Damon, who grew up with all these people…he just talks like Matt Damon. He should have done his thick Southie accent, at least. I know it wouldn’t have fit in L.A. but this is the FUTURE and at leas the would have sounded more ghetto than he did. Slapping fake tattoos on Matt Damon does not make me believe he is an ex-con. Sorry.

Yeah, what a mess of a movie. There is nothing new here and it’s kind of disappointing. District 9 had so much more going on with it, even though the themes were the same. But in that movie, we really got to see Wikus grow. Max is pretty much the same until the very end.

Disappointing all around. If you’re curious, it’s worth a rental or wait until it pops up on a streaming service. But I think you could spend your time better.

Ender’s Game and the problem with adapting “classics” to film

Ender's Game Theatrical PosterLast week, we rented the big screen adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s science fiction classic, Ender’s Game. I think it is safe to say that this movie was doomed from the start, and part of that had nothing to do with the script or the actors but the legacy of the story.

Published in 1985, I have a feeling that many young adults fans of the genre were happily reading anything science fiction that was published. And many of those young adults became authors and screenwriters whose work was influenced, directly or indirectly, by the story of Andrew Ender Wiggin and his life in the military academy.

But now? In 2014, the dystopian novel with a teen protagonist is all the rage. Hunger Games, Divergent, Roar — many of the top books for teens are about young adults fighting the wars of their parents. Of the blurred lines between right and wrong when it comes to war. And I’m sure we can sit and point at dozens of science fiction movies that have come out since that take the same premise, of raising the super soldier to protect us, of sacrificing childhood innocence to keep the world safe. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…it’s all been done to death.

And here comes Hollywood, so excited that it can capitalize on the popularity of such franchises as The Hunger Games by making a film of a book that many consider the start of it all. But because so much time has passed, the power of the story loses a lot of it’s weight. As usual, the movie becomes obsessed with having the special effects work more than giving us characters we can get behind.

This is my theory as to why Science Fiction films are so looked down upon by the general populace. Fans of Science Fiction novels read the stories and love them for their social and political commentary. They try to spread the word and people scoff at “Sci-Fi” as pulp stories that should be recycled as soon as they are read. Then Hollywood says they will make a movie and (for some strange reason) the Science Fiction fans are excited because finally their love will be our love. But, no, Hollywood must butcher your story, chop it down to 2 hours, and just keep the bits that have explosions. And so the general populace walks out of the movie theater, unaware that there is more to the book, unaware that the movie they just viewed is based on a 30 year old novel that has inspired most of their other popcorn movies since then — all they see is a 2 hour explosion fest with little character development and a plot they have already seen before.

This is true of adapting any classic to the big screen, but I think because Science Fiction and Fantasy are already picked on for being “nerdy” it makes it harder for general viewers to forgive bad film version. Everyone knows (or has been told by their teachers time and again) that Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare wrote classics, so if the movie stinks, its just the movie, not the book. I think the only high fantasy movie series that managed to survive was Lord of the Rings (but then Jackson turned around and gave us the epic mess that is the unnecessary Hobbit trilogy).

I could blog about this for hours, giving examples of other movies that have fallen short but let’s turn it over to you — What do you think? Should Hollywood bother adapting “classics” to the big screen? Are they doomed from the start?