The real significance of sending WILLIAM SHATNER into space…

It all started in the summer of 1983 with the flight of the first female astronaut, SALLY RIDE, orbiting the earth on board the space shuttle Challenger. And it ended on January 26, 1986 with the death of civilian teacher CHRISTA McAULIFFE and six other crew members on board that same spacecraft as it exploded and broke apart just 73 seconds after liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

What ended? The hope of sending a poet into space.

“We need people other than MIT physicists to tell us what it’s like up there,” said novelist JAMES MICHENER in the early 1980s. A space enthusiast, Michener served at the time as a member of a special NASA task force. In 1983, after Sally Ride had reinvigorated Americans’ enthusiasm for the multi-billion dollar-a-year NASA space program, the task force issued a report that called for sending professional communicators, such as writers and educators, on future space missions. “It is desirable for NASA,” the report explained, “to fly observers on the shuttle for the purpose of adding to the public’s understanding of space flight.”

And so began the search for the perfect candidate out of literally millions of Americans. A NASA spokesman said they were looking for “…someone who can make an eloquent contribution to the literature…a broadcast journalist, a newspaper reporter, an artist, a song writer, or even a poet.”

I remember at the time (I was just starting college) learning that singer/songwriter JOHN DENVER was lobbying hard to be considered for this program. I imagined the man who wrote one of my all-time favorite songs, Looking for Space, actually traveling TO space and coming back to share that experience with the world through music and lyric. It could have been glorious because most people (nearly all) who were alive in the 1980s would have no chance to ever go into space.

And as lovely as the words of NEIL ARMSTRONG (“One small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind…”) and BUZZ ALDRIN (“Magnificent desolation…”) were when they stepped onto the moon’s surface in 1969, they really weren’t trained to be communicators. They were military men, pilots, engineers, and scientists of a sort. Their training and skillsets never included inspiring others with words and evoking visceral feelings and emotions. Writers and artists know how to do that, but they weren’t the ones leaving the planet.

Christa McAuliffe

In 1984, the decision was made to send a teacher into space to kick off the program. Thousands of applicants were whittled down to 114 semifinalists from all fifty states, and then to 10 finalists—six women and four men—with Christa McAuliffe of Concord, New Hampshire being the final selection.

Phase two of this civilian-in-space program would have sent a journalist into orbit the year following the teacher. More than 1,700 candidates were under consideration, including former CBS anchor WALTER CRRONKITE (who was 69-years-old at the time), WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY, JR., GERALDO RIVERA, TOM WOLFE (author of the widely-acclaimed book The Right Stuff) and NORMAN MAILER. Phase three would launch some kind of artist.

And then the Challenger disaster happened.

Continue reading “The real significance of sending WILLIAM SHATNER into space…”

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE spoofs Star Trek (again!) AND billionaire astronauts…

Saturday Night Live has never shied away from parodying Star Trek…starting way back in their first season (1976) when JOHN BELUSHI, CHEVY CHASE, DAN AKROYD, and ELLIOTT GOULD brought viewers the unforgettably hilarious “Last Voyage of the Starship Enterprise.” Since then, their parodies have been somewhat hit-and-miss, with mixed reviews on such sketches as “The Restaurant Enterprise,” Love Boat: The Next Generation,” “Emergency Room/Worf, M.D.” and the recent “Lost Episode” featuring CHRIS PINE as Captain Kirk and BOBBY MOYNIHAN as Spock’s vulgar half-brother from Queens, Spocko. Now THAT’S a Star Trek!

The last one was also the latest parody of Star Trek until this past Saturday night when SNL kicked off its 47th season (c’mon, you’ve GOT to have a Star Trek sketch when the season is 47!), with host OWEN WILSON. Take a look:

As Homer Simpson would say, “It’s funny because it’s true.”

Now, if you’ll indulge me for a moment, I’d like to make two editorial observations…

First off, billionaires have been getting MUCH more interesting lately! Granted, none of them are dressing up like a bat at night and fighting crime in Gotham City or designing suits of flying armor and leading a team of superheroes. But even still, building rockets to take civilians and other payloads into space is pretty darn cool. I mean, a century ago, a “typical” billionaire looked like this:

John D. Rockerfeller, Henry Ford, and Andrew Mellon

These guys were certainly impressive and all—successful businessmen, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, patrons of art and science, and even one a secretary of the treasury. But were they fun? I mean, no complaints about making automobiles affordable to the masses or starting a top notch university…but fun?

Billionaires became more fun with this fellow:

That’s WILLIAM RANDOPH HEAST…the man built a frickin’ CASTLE on the central California coast, fer gosh sakes!!! And then he would invite famous celebrities, political leaders, and brilliant minds from all over the world to come and stay there, asking only that they attend communal dinners and certain other gatherings to share their thoughts, ideas, and perspectives with each other and with him. Seriously, if you ever have a chance to visit Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California, and learn its history, it’s totally worth the visit. It’s fascinating!

And who could forget this guy…?

Continue reading “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE spoofs Star Trek (again!) AND billionaire astronauts…”

Some thoughts on “TOXIC” fandom… (editorial)

The “fallout” from my Star Trek Day blog editorial continues even five days later…on Facebook, in the comments section of that blog, and even via e-mail. In fact, after sharing my excitement over the new Trek series with my best friend, he was adamant in his resistance to the new direction of Star Trek.

You can slap the name on it but it don’t make it Star Trek! Okay, maybe it’s a little bit Trek, but it really is just bad TV, forget bad Star Trek. Terrible writing, terrible acting, bad directing. Unwatchable to me. If I had never seen Trek I still wouldn’t watch it as just below the standards of everything else I prioritize.

Yeesh! Well, hoping that I might be able to change his mind just a little, I sent my friend something I was really psyched about: the just-released trailer for the brand new animated series Star Trek: Prodigy

He watched it, but my friend was NOT impressed…

Terrible.  Not recognizable as Star Trek no matter how much you put old Trek actors in the show.  It’s all young kids, stupid aliens, and action and special effects.  It’s not about people and it lacks any depth and intellectualism.  It bears no resemblance to Star Trek.

I joked to my friend that I was a Star Trek “liberal,” and he was a Star Trek “conservative.” This is also true in real political life. He voted for Trump and other GOP presidential candidates going back decades (although he has recently left the Republican party and re-registered as an Independent, but he is still quite conservative), and I’ve voted for Democrats pretty much since I turned 18. And yet, we’re best friends…we just constantly argue about politics. Yes, folks, it CAN be done!

However, in reference to Star Trek, I was using the terms “liberal” and “conservative” not politically but literally…as in dictionary definition of each word. Liberal literally means “open to new ideas, not bound by traditional forms.”  I’m totally that way when it comes to Star Trek. I have a love/hate relationship with Discovery, and I think Picard did well for eight episodes and then jumped the shark on the last two in its first season (and the villains totally sucked). But I remain open and supportive of the various new series…as I’ve said in countless blog posts.

As a comparison, conservative means “tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions.” That’s my friend (and many fans) when it comes to Star Trek these days. And back in 1987, it was those “conservative” fans who thought Star Trek must be about Kirk and Spock (or maybe Captain Sulu) and 23rd century adventures, not a bald French captain with an English accent in the 24th century flying around in a starship that looked like a pregnant duck.

In short, my friend is Scotty looking at the U.S.S. Excelsior and saying, “Aye, and if my grandmother had wheels, she’d be a wagon.” And I’m Kirk responding, “Now, now, Mr. Scott…young minds, fresh ideas. Be tolerant.”

Continue reading “Some thoughts on “TOXIC” fandom… (editorial)”

Now THAT was a STAR TREK DAY…I am SO excited now to be a fan!!!! (editorial)

What a difference five years makes!!

No, you are not accidentally reading yesterday’s blog where I compared the anemic celebration of Star Trek‘s 50th anniversary with the announced “Star Trek Day” livecast and events scheduled for the 55th anniversary. In that blog, I asked whether NO Star Trek really was “better” than BAD Star Trek? And honestly, I thought the answer was obvious…so much so that I worried that folks on Facebook would make fun of me for writing 2,210 words on a question as easy as “Is the sky green?”

Man, was I surprised!

Nearly a thousand views of yesterday’s blog, and every few seconds another “DING!” from Facebook where someone added a comment in one of the dozen or so groups where I posted a link. While many folks agreed with me that even low-quality Star Trek provides room for improvement (and CBS Trek HAS been improving)., others passionately disagreed. They felt angry and betrayed, insisting that the sacrifice in quality isn’t worth it. Star Trek needed to remain pure and true to GENE RODDENBERRY’s vision. And if it didn’t, if Star Trek simply became “bad TV” (which they felt the new shows were) then better to have no Star Trek at all…if forced to make that binary choice.

I almost couldn’t believe how many fan still felt so thoroughly negative about the newer Star Treks. Frankly, it kinda brought me down as the day went on knowing how many fans would really choose to have no new Star Trek at all over at least something…no matter the quality. By the time the Star Trek Day livestream started, I was almost too bummed to watch it.

In fact, I started out NOT watching it because I had to pick up my son and drive him home from Robotics. By the time we returned, the first half of the online event was already over, but I noticed folks posting all over Facebook, excited about the characters joining the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise under commad of ANSON MOUNT’S Captain Christopher Pike on in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. Perhaps you saw the following…

Now, I did shudder a little at the Andorian/Aenar make-up—assuming that’s what he is. But despite being somewhat different than established canon, it still looked pretty cool (WAY better than first-season Star Trek: Discovery Klingons). And I’m not sure yet about those uniforms. On the other hand, being able to see a younger Nurse Chapel and Cadet Uhura is intriguing to me. It’s a bold move, and not entirely outside of the realm of canonic possibility. We’re at a time now when Kirk is likely already serving aboard the Farragut (in his early 20s), so if Uhura is a few years younger than that, it works. As for Dr. M’Benga, he could totally have been on the Enterprise at that point. And there’s a crew member named La’an Noonien Singh? KHANNNNNNN!!!!!!

But wait! What was this emotion I was suddenly feeling? Oh, yes…excitement!

Continue reading “Now THAT was a STAR TREK DAY…I am SO excited now to be a fan!!!! (editorial)”

STAR TREK at 55…is NO Star Trek really “better” than BAD Star Trek? (editorial)

Today is “Star Trek Day“…marking 55 years since the first-ever episode of Star Trek was aired on NBC Television back on September 8, 1966.

In celebration of this special day (at least for us Trekkers), ViacomCBS announced a series of panels that will stream live today at 5:30 PM Pacific Time/8:30 PM Eastern Time from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. These panels and a number of related special events will be free to watch on StarTrek.com/Day. The panels will also be available to stream for free in the U.S. on Paramount+ and Paramount+’s Twitch page. After their initial airing, the panels will be available on-demand on Paramount+’s YouTube Channel and on Paramount+.

To go along with this announcement, the studio released this wonderful montage video…

Seriously, how cool was that? I mean, even if you aren’t a fan of the newer CBS Star Trek series, this whole event is pretty impressive. Indeed, that same Skirball Cultural Center will be running an exclusive Star Trek: Exploring Strange New Worlds exhibit for four months beginning in October. During that time, a new animated Star Trek series titled Star Trek: Prodigy will be debuting not only on the subscription-based Paramount+ streaming service but also on the children’s broadcast channel Nickelodeon. This will be the first Star Trek series in 48 years to be targeted specifically at kids (the next generation of Trekkers).

But that’s not all! Next year will see the debut of ANSON MOUNT as Captain Christopher Pike in the brand new series Star Trek: Strange New Worlds…a return to episodic Star Trek where storylines won’t stretch over entire seasons featuring ever-escalating risks, challenges, and dangers. Instead (we’re desperately hoping!), it’ll be good old-fashioned Star Trek the way we’ve loved it in the past.

And of course, we’ve got Q, Guinan, and the Borg Queen coming to Star Trek: Picard, and whatever the U.S.S. Discovery is gonna do now that her nacelles detach. (Okay, maybe not EVERYTHING is coming up roses.) Oh, and we’ve still got two-thirds of a season of Star Trek: Lower Decks coming out each week.

But hey, let’s stop for a moment and take a look back—way, way, waaaaaaaay back in time (with the help of a Guardian named “Carl”) to a year you all might barely remember because it was soooooooo long ago. That year, of course, was…

Continue reading “STAR TREK at 55…is NO Star Trek really “better” than BAD Star Trek? (editorial)”

Did STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS just make fun of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY??? (editorial)

JONATHAN, HIS BLOG FILLED WITH SPOILERS!

I almost couldn’t believe it, but there it was. STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS‘ second episode of season 2, “”Kayshon, His Eyes Open,” includes a total zinger at the end aimed directly at its older sister-series, Star Trek: Discovery. But before I show you the clip (you’re just gonna scroll to the bottom of this blog to watch it anyway, but y’all come back up now, y’hear?), let me share a few thoughts with you…

It’s becoming increasingly more challenging to write these blogs about the various CBS All Access…er, I mean ViacomCBS Paramount+ Star Trek series. The reason is that I’m not really a reviewer…and most people don’t actually care what I or other reviewers think about the episodes, anyway. It’s not that we don’t have interesting insights to share, but people either agree with us and just want validation that someone else believes the same way they do, or else they don’t agree and pretty much just want to argue and tell us how wrong we are. Star Trek reviewers these days might as well be shouting “Kal-if-fee!” at a Vulcan marriage ceremony or “All Klingons are wussies!” at an Ascension Ritual.

That’s certainly the case with Discovery and, to a SLIGHTLY lesser extent, to Star Trek: Picard. Lower Decks, however, has been a bit of a strange puppy. Unlike the two other Trek series I just mentioned, not nearly as many fans seem to have that same level of soul-devouring moral indignation about Lower Decks. In other words, there’s not quite as many Lower Decks “haters” out there. And indeed, there’s rather a few fans who think Lower Decks is the only “real” Star Trek series being produced anymore—embracing Star Trek‘s rich heritage and feeling very much like a sequel to Next Gen, DS9, and Voyager rather than a complete makeover reboot that shakes canon like an Etch-a-Sketch. The stories on Lower Decks FEEL like Star Trek…except for one thing:

Humor.

It’s not that Star Trek can never be funny. Ever since Captain Kirk got buried under an avalanche of dead tribbles and Spocko uttered the words, “I’d advise ya’s ta keep dialin’, Oxmyx,” Trek has demonstrated itself to be quite capable of humor. The most quotable lines from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (“Well, a double-dumbass on you!” “I love Italian, and so do you…” “Hello, computer…” “No, I’m from Iowa; I only work in outer space…” “Ve are looking for nuclear wessels…”) were the funniest ones. Data studied comedy from Joe Piscopo, for goodness sakes, and an entire episode of DS9 could well have been titled “The Bad News Niners.” And don’t even get me started on Dr. Chaotica!

But Lower Decks is different. It crosses a line.

Or does it…?

Continue reading “Did STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS just make fun of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY??? (editorial)”

COVID takes the life of a fan filmmaker, sends another to intensive care…if you’re coming back from Las Vegas, PLEASE get tested ASAP!

Y’know how sometimes in movies and TV shows (even Star Trek), they give you a “fake out” ending where you think the good guys have won, but suddenly the villain escapes or comes back to life or something and there’s an even bigger challenge to the hero leading up to the exciting climax?

Welcome to the summer of 2021.

A year ago, operation “Warp Speed” seemed to be our only hope to overcome this incomprehensible global pandemic. Infections, hospitalizations, and deaths were reaching terrifyingly historic levels, and those of us who weren’t calling the whole thing a hoax were praying daily that a vaccine could be developed in the nick of time the way Dr. McCoy used to do on Star Trek.

Then we got the vaccine—four of them, in fact!—Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca, and many people took their shot(s). But almost inconceivably, many did not. Actually, it’s not so inconceivable when you consider that the name “Warp Speed” carries with it the implication that the vaccines were rushed out rather than what really happened…which was actually building on a vaccination technology that had been decades in the making and testing and just needed a push over the finish line.

Remember how everything seemed to be so honky-dory this past July 4 when infections and hospitalizations (and deaths!) finally started to drop to encouraging levels? Many cities with mask mandates had already dropped them for outdoor activities and were starting to lift them for indoor areas, as well.

But then, the Delta Variant arrived. It sounds so sci-fi, doesn’t it? Trekkies know “delta” as the quadrant of the galaxy that Voyager was stuck in for seven seasons. And “variants” are a big thing in the Marvel Universe thanks to the events of Loki. But don’t let the familiar-sounding terms lull you into a false sense of security because the Delta Variant of COVID-19 is deadly serious.

Michael Sylvester (right) with Vance Major in 2016

Just how deadly serious hit home to the fan film community this past week with the announcement of the passing of MICHAEL SYLVESTER from Coronavirus. Michael lived in Huntsville, Alabama, and before anyone says, “Oh, he must have been one of those anti-vaxxers/COVID-is-a-hoax idiots,” Michael took the virus VERY seriously. He always wore a mask in public (even in a state where such a thing is sometimes mocked), washed his hands constantly, and according to his close friend ERIC L. WATTS, Michael was indeed vaccinated.

A man celebrated and loved for having a big heart and wonderful sense of humor, Michael has been involved in the fan film community for a long time, working on the crew of STAR TREK: RENEGADES back in 2014-2015. Later on, he appeared in seven of VANCE MAJOR’s early MINARD saga fan films and then starred in the two-part MELBORNE fan film “Storm Front” in 2017 and 2018…

Continue reading “COVID takes the life of a fan filmmaker, sends another to intensive care…if you’re coming back from Las Vegas, PLEASE get tested ASAP!”

If STAR TREK supposedly “sucks,” then why did ALEX KURTZMAN just get a $160 MILLION mega-deal??? (editorial)

Over the past few days, there has been a combination of irate indignation, embarrassed disbelief, and smug “I toldja so!”s going around Star Trek fandom faster than COVID at a super-spreader event! And all of this is because ViacomCBS just inked a five-and-a-half year, $160 million development deal with ALEX KURTZMAN and his SECRET HIDEOUT production company.

Make no mistake, this is a HUGE agreement…even for Hollywood. It’s comparable to other recent 9-figure mega-deals like the ones Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy just inked with Netflix and Jordan Peele closed with Amazon Studios. Kurtzman is now sitting quite pretty and comfortably as not only an unquestioned powerhouse in the entertainment industry (and at CBS specifically) but also as the unquestioned and unchallenged “Trek Tsar” (get it?) for at least the next half-decade.

Some fans were not amused.

After confident (and often arrogant) prognostications that Mr. Kurtzman was not only on the way out at CBS but had already been fired—multiple times!!!—over his “humiliating failures” with the Star Trek franchise, news of this mega-deal shocked most of these previously self-assured fans. It has sent many of them into an overly dramatic show of resigned indignation, like this fellow…

Some folks just couldn’t accept that VCBS actually loves Alex Kurtzman—even AFTER the deal was announced. Amusingly, I was chatting with one of these people the day before the announcement, and we had this exchange (I am not sharing this individual’s name). My comments are in blue…

Continue reading “If STAR TREK supposedly “sucks,” then why did ALEX KURTZMAN just get a $160 MILLION mega-deal??? (editorial)”

Why is the Fan Films & Audio Dramas Facebook group REJECTING posts about the AVALON UNIVERSE? (editorial)

I’m extremely troubled about something that happened last week on Facebook, and I’m not sure what to do about it other than bringing it to the attention of my readers.

As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve been putting in a fair bit of effort over the past few weeks trying to help encourage donations to the current GoFundMe campaign for the AVALON UNIVERSE fan series. They’re doing pretty well so far, about 18% ($3.6K) of the way to to their $20K goal. If you’d like to give a little sumthin’, by the way, here’s the link:

https://www.gofundme.com/f/zdn4p-AvalonUniverse2021

Now, helping fan productions get the word out for their campaigns is nothing new for me. Over the past three months, I’ve written multiple blogs about SAMUEL COCKINGS’ TREK SHORTS crowd-funder back in May and GARY DAVIS’ campaign for DREADNOUGHT DOMINION in June. Naturally, I’d also want to help out JOSHUA IRWIN with his Avalon GoFundMe…not only because he’s a Star Trek fan filmmaker but because he did an awesome job as DP and editor on my fan film INTERLUDE and because he’s a good friend.

So last week when I posted to Facebook a “progress” graphic like the one at the top of this blog, I shared it with the usual collection of Star Trek and fan film groups on Facebook that I’m a member of. I do this with all Fan Film Factor and related posts to increase visibility, and invariably, I either see an immediate “Your post has been shared with your group” message or, within a few minutes to a few hours, “An admin has approved your post.”

What I don’t usually see is a DECLINE notice like this one…

Huh?

Now, two things immediately struck me as odd about the note from the admin at the bottom. The first was that a Facebook group called “Star Trek Fan Films & Audio Dramas” was restricting anything related to JJ Trek. There’s almost no Star Trek fan films set in that universe anyway, but why exclude the few that are? I mean, even if you loathe J.J. ABRAMS and the motorcycle he rode in on, why should the “sins of the producer” also be an albatross worn around the neck of a fan filmmaker? (What a wonderful mix of metaphors!)

So I looked at the rules of the group, just to be sure. And lo and behold…

7) No Kelvin universe fan films will be permitted. Nor will discovery based fan films

Continue reading “Why is the Fan Films & Audio Dramas Facebook group REJECTING posts about the AVALON UNIVERSE? (editorial)”

It’s FEAST OR FAMINE here at FAN FILM FACTOR…and it’s about to be FEAST! (editorial/news)

Have you noticed that these past couple of months have been relatively quiet in the Star Trek fan film world? There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. There’s an “ebb and flow” with news and releases from time to time…feast or famine, as they say.

And it’s not like there’s been no new Trek fan films whatsoever. The folks at POTEMKIN PICTURES never let us down, and there was a new release from STARSHIP ANTYLLUS a couple months ago that I haven’t gotten around to covering yet. Oh, and we can’t forget the steady stream of new content from that fan filmmaking machine known as VANCE MAJOR, who has been releasing one new episode per week of CONSTAR COMPLETED this past month. Vance says that he’s only going to release another five Trek fan films and then he’s hanging up his cell phone. Of course, he’s “retired” before.

Okay, so maybe things haven’t been nearly as quiet as all that. But they have been pretty quiet, all things considered. Since January’s release of the AVALON UNIVERSE’s AIR AND DARKNESS and STARSHIP VALIANT’sANIMALS,” and then February’s release of the blockbuster Czech fan film SQUADRON, there haven’t been many totally new releases other than those I mentioned above.

This was actually somewhat serendipitous for me, as it opened a convenient four-week window for me to release my four-part History of STARSHIP VALIANT blog series. Then I filled up some “thin” weeks by covering (two months late) the December release of the German Spock JENS DOMBEK’s TIMES ARE CHANGING, the launch and staggeringly successful conclusion of the Star Trek: Voyager documentary Indiegogo campaign, along with some features about older fan films that I’ve had on the back-burner, like STAR TREK: SECRET VOYAGE and the amazing stop-motion fan films ENTERPRISE II from German wunderkind JÜRGEN KAISER.

Oh, and let’s not forget the release of my AXANAR-universe fan film INTERLUDE and some of the the subsequent Interlude Confidential behind-the-scenes blogs that I’ve published since. And of course, the Star Trek/Dr. Seuss mash-up lawsuit is still going on and is as interesting as ever!

And sadly, we lost that beloved cheerleader of Trek fan films, BARBARA READER, last month.

So even when the Star Trek fan film world is a little slow with new releases, I’m still doing my best to supply you fine folks with new content. Indeed, between the “back-burner” features I’ve been working on and an impending uptick in new fan film news and releases, Fan Film Factor is about to be getting VERY busy VERY soon!

Here’s what’s coming down the, er, pike…

Continue reading “It’s FEAST OR FAMINE here at FAN FILM FACTOR…and it’s about to be FEAST! (editorial/news)”