Early last month, I published my one-thousandth blog and announced a new Patreon campaign to help pay the bills for Fan Film Factor and (potentially) provide a little extra support for me personally. (I typically spend between 10 and 30 hours each week covering Star Trek fan films.) Twelve generous fans have since signed up to donate a combined $60/month to help me out, and I can’t thank them enough for that!
But my gratitude extends far beyond those dozen people to the hundreds (possibly thousands?) of regular readers of my blog posts and to the Star Trek fan filmmakers who make this blog site possible in the first place. Many of these wonderful folks have become friends (some of them very close friends), and I would like to take a few moments to thank certain of these fan filmmakers by name…
SPOILERS ARE JUST A REVIEWER’S WAY OF SAYING: “I LOVE YOU”
Before anyone thinks that I didn’t like STAR TREK: DISCOVERY‘s sixth episode of the season, “Scavengers,” I did very much enjoy it. I simply had to get past the stupid stuff that really annoyed me. So let’s get that out of the way first…
Okay, I just need to say it: DETACHED NACELLES ARE RIDICULOUS!!! Seriously, who thought of that? I want to see some fan with VFX skills take a CGI model of Discovery, cut to Saru ordering the ship to warp, and then have both nacelles whoosh forward and out of sight while the rest of the ship just sits there motionless. (You reading this, SAMUEL COCKINGS???)
Likewise, the NCC-1031-A was completely unnecessary…and wrong. When the U.S.S. Enterprise was refit in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, it remained NCC-1701. The “A” came later on a different ship because its predecessor had been destroyed over the Genesis planet. Same with the bloody B, C, D, and E…and any other letters that came later.
Those personal site-to-site transporter badges might not be stupid, but they’re annoying as anything…just ask anyone who is trying to make out in a turbolift just as Linus shows up and announces, “This isn’t the science lab!” just before disappearing again. Yeah, hooray for the comedy relief, but the gag got old really fast and brought up a lot of very disturbing questions:
Does everyone on the Discovery suddenly have the superpower of teleportation? (Suddenly, Nightcrawler of the X-Men isn’t particularly impressive anymore.)
What about privacy on board? Can you materialize inside someone’s bathroom and go, “Oops”? I actually might not feel particularly safe on a ship full of people who can suddenly appear anywhere at anytime.
Isn’t there a danger of materializing inside of someone else…or something else? One would hope there’s a “shove” function built into the beam, but what if two people transport simultaneously into the same spot?
How do people doing delicate tasks requiring steady nerves and concentration guard against the sudden, unexpected pop-ins that now happen regularly?
All three examples come under the heading of “just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean that you SHOULD do that thing.” The writers decided that the future has some amazing stuff. But perhaps they went a little too amazing with things like personal transporters and “programmable” matter and detached nacelles. When technology becomes more like “magic,” you might have jumped a shark or two.
Just one more kvetch before I get to the good stuff: while I’m more of a dog person, I like cats, too…and fat-shaming a feline is not cool (unless it’s Garfield). The jokes about Grudge’s size bother me—perhaps because I have a weight problem myself. It wouldn’t be appropriate to make those snarky comments about Tilly’s shape, so why is it okay to mock the cat?
Okay, I’m done complaining. Let’s start saying some nice things…
FOUR OUT OF FIVE REVIEWERS RECOMMEND SPOILERS FOR THEIR PATIENTS WHO CHEW GUM
STAR TREK: DISCOVERY‘s fifth episode of the season, “Die Trying,” was pretty strong. There were, of course, a couple of annoying aspects of absurd writing, like a 1,000-year-old “seed ship” floating defenseless in space with no protection and a crew of four (two of whom were children)—why not build more than one seed ship, or locate the seeds safely on a planet, or use a ship that isn’t a millennium old?—and Empress Georgiou knowing how to “blink-off” 32nd century holograms. That would be like a 10th century Viking showing up today and somehow knowing that he could clap his hands twice to turn off a light when he shouldn’t even know what a light is!
But hey, nobody’s perfect…and Discovery‘s writers aren’t the first in Star Trek history to come up with unrealistic and absurd ideas. “Spock’s Brain,” anyone? How about “The Royale” or “Threshold”?
What I’d really like to talk about in this blog, however, is an aspect of this episode that elevated to a much higher level—and that was the handling of the various characters, both old and new. The strength of “Die Trying” wasn’t an amazing story (’cause, frankly, the plot itself was pretty predictable: Discovery‘s homecoming wasn’t what they expected, future Starfleet was suspicious, and the crew had to prove themselves by completing a mission that only they could accomplish).
No, what made this episode such an effective success was that viewers got introduced to new, intriguing characters while also being treated to wonderful scenes featuring the characters we already know getting to strut their stuff. Let’s discuss…
I was going to title this blog “Now, THAT’S a Star Trek!” But I wasn’t certain that most of my readers would get the reference to the “Spocko/Lost Episode” skit from Saturday Night Live from 2017. And also, the more that I thought about it, the latest episode of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY, “Forget Me Not,” wasn’t just Star Trek. In many ways, it was also very much like the 1970’s TV series M*A*S*H, and it was just what I’ve been wanting—praying!—to see out of this show.
Okay, a LOT to unpack there…
Let’s first talk about what “today’s” Star Trek is and isn’t, and what it can and cannot be. Gone are the good ol’ days of TOS and TNG where Kirk could talk a computer into committing suicide and everyone always got along swimmingly. In fact, the days of perfect people and perfect relationships had already disappeared by the time Deep Space 9 started airing. And that’s fine. I like seeing folks with frictions and problems and then watching how they deal with themselves and each other. I certainly don’t want to follow a completely dysfunctional cast or crew each week, but I’m happy to see realistic people with realistic issues.
Even folks who say that The Orville is what Star Trek should be right now need to remember that Bortus is having marital problems, Ed Mercer has been struggling with his feelings about Kelly Grayson, and Isaac’s people are a threat to the entire galaxy. The Orville ain’t your daddy’s Star Trek either. (“Oh, I am my daddy. Wait…huh?”)
So the Star Trek of today cannot be the Star Trek of yesterday. The world has changed too much. Audience’s tastes have changed too much. Television has changed too much. But that doesn’t mean that any piece of crappola can be thrown at fans and still be considered Star Trek. Yes, Star Trek needs to evolve to suit the ever-changing viewer landscape. But the question remains: has Star Trek been evolving in the right way?
SPOILERS…I’VE HAD A FEW…BUT THEN AGAIN, TOO FEW TO MENTION
Okay, first let’s get the review part out of the way. I liked the third episode of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY season three, “People of Earth.” I didn’t love it, but it was a solid “like.” JONATHAN FRAKES did a very nice job directing, the acting was strong, as usual, the episode was exciting, and there was some decent character development (or at least attempts at it…more on that later). I’m intrigued by Adira, the new human character with the Trill symbiont…and let’s face it, Frakes knows all about being a human with a Trill symbiont in your abdomen!
Were there some things I didn’t like? Yep. I realize the whole “What was the Burn?” is the mystery of the season, and so each episode gives us more clues. But it seems like we’ve gone from “A century ago, all the dilithium in the quadrant/galaxy/universe suddenly exploded” to “Oh, by the way, the galaxy was also running out of dilithium before everything went KABOOM.” This seems like an important detail that could have been added previously, since it appears to be something big worth mentioning.
Also, I was annoyed for a second week in a row to see Michael Burnham once again save the day. And not only did she save everyone on the ship and restore peace to Earth and the Titan Raiders (sounds like a mash-up of two AFC football franchises), but she did so without telling Saru her plan first. Look up “loose cannon” in the dictionary, and you’ll see a picture of Michael Burnham. Look up “trustworthy first officer” and she’s nowhere to be seen. The fact that Saru still kept the offer of being his first officer open AFTER Burnham pulled that stunt amazed me (in a bad way). How many second chances is this headstrong woman gonna keep getting???
But enough about all that! I still liked the episode, and I’m sticking with Discovery for a bit longer. But that’s more than I can say about my best friend, who just told me that he’s now completely bailed on the show. He won’t watch it anymore, and his reason intrigued me enough that I’ve decided to devote today’s blog to talking my way through it, as it’s not the standard “This isn’t MY Star Trek!” But yet, at the same time, maybe it is. Maybe my friend has finally hit the nail on the head of why so many long-time Trekkies don’t like the show.
AND THE REVIEWER SAID UNTO THE READERS: “LET THERE BE SPOILERS!”
Reviews for STAR TREK: DISCOVERY‘s second episode of season three, “Far from Home,” have been mostly positive (with a few dissatisfied clunkers that I skimmed here and there). Speaking only for myself, though, I think it was my most enjoyable episode of Discovery so far.
Now, “enjoyable” doesn’t mean best or strongest or most amazing. But I very much ENJOYED the experience of watching it. It was an “easy” episode to watch—not too dark or broody, funny in a lot of places, not too convoluted or filled with exposition, decent character interplay, and a pretty straightforward bad guy to root against.
But that’s just the view from orbit. Let’s get closer to the surface and discuss WHY this episode worked so well and was so enjoyable to watch. Let’s look at what they got right and what they got wrong…
AND THE AWARD FOR BEST STARSHIP CRASH INTO AN ICE WORLD GOES TO…
Visual FX are no substitute for good writing and acting and directing and all the rest, of course, but you do need to give credit where it’s due. And while I detested most of the over-cluttered “epic” battle at the end of season two and found most of the VFX in season one too dark and undefined, I now have a favorite Discovery CGI sequence…by a wide margin.
This episode opened with a very exciting sequence where the Discovery crashes into a strange, new world. You might remember that, a week ago, Michael Burnham in her time suit also emerged from the temporal rift and immediately crashed—twice!—once into Book’s ship and then into the world with the Orion and Andorian Mercantile. Perhaps it’s just a pet peeve left over from when I was taking Astronomy 101 back at Cornell in 1987, but I do hate it when writers forget how big and empty space actually is. In this show, however, space is as crowded and as tightly packed as a Trump campaign rally. (Sorry, no politics, Jonathan! Bad blogger! Bad!)
Be that as it may, I’m not going to hold any of that against Discovery. So space is crowded—if it weren’t, the show would be super-boring. Anyway, Discovery emerges and then this quickly happens…
I did find it amusing that, once again, so many lives could have been saved from injury through the use of a 20th century invention known as the seat belt. But hey, at least they can always shout, “Brace! BRACE!!”
However, all kidding aside, that is one awesome sequence! And it shows how far Star Trek has come visually from 1998 when Voyager previously won the award for best starship crash into an ice world…
It’s been a year and a half since we saw Michael Burnham leading the U.S.S. Discovery and her crew into the far future. Eighteen months for us, 930 years for them. Either way, it’s a whole new world for us and for the actors/writers/producers (hey, anyone remember 2019—before the pandemic?), and a whole new galaxy for the show. And it seems like we’re going to need to get used to both 2020 and 3188!
Okay, so it’s time to start these editorial reviews again. When last we left CBS’s flagship Star Trek series, I had a LOT to complain about:
The show was way too serious.
The plots were too convoluted.
The scripts were overly contrived showing lazy/sloppy writing.
There was almost no banter between characters.
Michael Burnham remained an undeveloped character—coming from a place of controlled logic from a demanding Vulcan upbringing, Burnham was never much “fun” as a character and often uninteresting to watch (despite SONEQUA MARTN-GREEN being a strong actor)
The writers jumped from beat to beat without giving the characters a chance to breathe in between.
The stories felt too dark and seemingly hopeless most of the time.
Trek canon was, more often than not, completely out the window.
For a franchise born from “exploring strange, new worlds,” we almost never made it down to an actual planet.
The series didn’t feel like Star Trek…only a sci-fi mish-mash with Star Trek elements hung on it like decorations on a Christmas tree.
So when STAR TREK: DISCOVERY jumped to the far future and added a new co-showrunner, MICHELLE PARADISE, to join the always-controversial and always-rumored-to-be-fired-and-never-actually-being-fired ALEX KURTZMAN, I wondered if the series would finally be able to course-correct in its third season. I really wished it would because it’s hard to be a Star Trek fan with such mixed and often frustrated feelings about a current Star Trek TV series.
I love watching Star Trek with my son Jayden. We’ve been enjoying the Trekkie experience together since he was four when we started with the animated episodes. Then we moved onto TOS and watched them all though twice. Then we watched the movies (going chronologically, of course) followed by NEXT GENERATION. Jayden is now ten, and we’re nearly at the end of TNG season five—in a few more months, he’ll get his first taste of Deep Space Nine!
It’s so much fun sharing these wonderful episodes and movies with Jayden, and I plan to do it as long as Jayden is enjoying it, too (and maybe just a weeeee bit longer if he doesn’t turn into too much of a grouchy teenager!).
When CBS All Access first began airing new Star Trek, I suspected that DISCOVERY would not be appropriate for my son…and $#!& was I right!!! Even three years later, I still wouldn’t let Jayden watch that series yet. As for PICARD, same f*cking problem.
I was actually a little uncertain when LOWER DECKS was announced. As an animated show, it would be something that Jayden might like to watch with me. But would the content be appropriate for a kid Jayden’s age? I screened the first episode without him and felt relief to see that they were bleeping the swear words. And while some of the content might be a little mature for Jayden (some people die), it was nothing worse that what he’s already seen on TOS and TNG.
So Jayden and I started watching (and loving!) Lower Decks every Thursday for the past ten weeks. It was so cool that neither of us knew what to expect next!
As the first season came to an end last week, I began wondering whether I should write a final review of the entire season. I seemed like everyone had already commented—good or bad—on what they thought of it. In fact, so did I! I joined in a group podcast for Axanar Confidential last week with a number of movers and shakers in the fan film community asking “Is Lower Decks Canon?” (the podcast is really worth checking out). So what else was left to say? Every kind of fan had chimed in.
Or had they?
I suddenly realized that the one kind of Star Trek fan that hadn’t shared their opinion yet was a KID…and I had one of those easily available! And not just any kid—Jayden is all personality, all the time. If you’re wondering what Jonathan Lane’s offspring would be like (even though Jayden is adopted), this is your chance to see where the acorn is relative to the tree.
That said, Jayden did a really awesome job with this interview, and I’m very proud of him. Trust me, you’re gonna laugh…a lot (often at ME!). So please give a round of applause to one of the two best things in my life, JAYDEN LANE…
Do you remember that scene in the TOS episode “The Menagerie, Part 1” where Spock sends a message to the Enterprise from Starbase 11 and uses the computer to recreate Captain Kirk’s voice? Seemed pretty cool back then, didn’t it? And it was VERY futuristic…just like when Ben Finney was able to alter the ship’s visual logs in the episode “Court Martial” to show Kirk jettisoning the pod when he actually didn’t. SO futuristic!
Picture a galaxy where anyone can alter voices or recordings to make it look like someone is saying or doing something they never did or said—pretty cool, huh? Well, actually, it’s kinda SCARY to think about! Fortunately, we folks on Earth won’t need to worry about such things for at least two and a half more centuries, right?
Well, maybe not that long…
Like so much of Star Trek‘s “futuristic” technology, computer-reconstructed faces and voices seem to have arrived about 250 years earlier than anyone expected back in the 1960s…or even the 1980s or 1990s! And “deepfake” technology promises (or is that threatens?) to make the world an even more troubling place than it already is…and that’s saying something! Imagine being able to make it look and sound like a celebrity or a politician said something controversial when they never did any such thing.
On the other hand, that same kind of “troubling” technology allowed Disney to bring actor PETER CUSHING “back to life” (with arguably mixed results) in Star Wars: Rogue One…along with providing fans a young Princess Leia at the very end, digitally altered to look “almost” exactly like a young CARRIE FISHER. Fans have debated how much the film’s creators succeeded, but the fact is that the technology is only getting better and better.
And indeed, one of the most recent deepfake videos to hit YouTube on September 6, 2o2o showed how far the technology has come, as the faces of WILLIAM SHATNER, LEONARD NIMOY, DeFOREST KELLEY, and RICARDO MONTALBAN were swapped into scenes from the three J.J. ABRAMS Star Trek reboot movies to make this mind-blowing fan film (at least, I’m calling it a fan film) titled STAR TREK: THE FIRST GENERATION…
The creator of this deepfake film, FUTURING MACHINE, has used the ever-improving technology to create a whole series of deepfake videos, including other Star Trek ones along with this inspired reinterpretation of a recent (pre-pandemic) Saturday Night Live sketch…
So just how does this new technology work? It involves a sort of artificial intelligence (A.I.) known as machine learning that, in the case of these new deepfake videos, can turn your home computer into a digital plastic surgeon! Here’s a brief overview of the process (feel free to skip if you don’t care about the technical stuff)…
I think I’ve discovered the secret of STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS…and it’s a revelation! Granted, if you’ve already figured it out, too, then you’re just gonna write “So what? Big deal. It was obvious from the first episode…” and curse me out for wasting your time. And of course, if you’re an irate fan determined to hate this show and the very molecules of VCBS and ALEX KURTZMAN, then I doubt any “secret” is going to make you suddenly re-watch Lower Decks with and kind of fannish love and adoration.
But I digress…
Let’s wander back to last Thursday and what turned out to be my favorite episode of the series so far: “Terminal Provocations” (and not just because J.G HERTZLER guest starred as the alien captain). The episode opened with this one-minute gag…
After the episode had ended, I was e-mailing back and forth with my friends David, Marc, and Gorf…telling them how much I (and my son Jayden) enjoyed the latest episode. Like most fans, we’re not all in agreement on how we feel about the show, and Gorf (former DC Comics Batman editorJORDAN GORFINKEL) responded with the following:
GORF – My problem with it is [that] the characters are played as contemporary people with far advanced technology. I’m enjoying it. It’s the closest thing to aspirational Trek that New Trek is putting out. But it’s still living in the shadow of what was.
Although I agree that Lower Decks isn’t on the level of TNG, DS9, or VOY, I didn’t feel it was fair to complain about the characters played as contemporary people because, to be fair, that’s what makes comedy work. It needs to be relatable to the audience in some way. The viewer/listener needs to say, “Oh, I soooo get that!” And thus did my next e-mail contain the following response…