Monday, June 29, 2015

Interstellar Is Just That

It is not often that a movie can really impress me. Interstellar is such a movie. I love behind the scenes stuff so I usually watch all the special features. Being a writer, I get lots of insights into the creative process. While Interstellar as a movie is probably the best SF film I have seen in a long time, after watching the special features it has to be one of the most incredible movies every made.

With a legacy of quality effects that goes back to Kubrick's 2001, it is easy to get jaded about the nature of the special effects and the science behind the story. Interstellar just raised that bar to a brand new level. Most movies have noticeable special effects and holes in their science. Interstellar was flawless. Mainly because of how many effects they achieved in camera. It's science is impeccable. It should be with a gravitational scientists on the crew. They went to such lengths that they actually made some interesting discoveries about how light bends and how objects would look.

Not only are the effects and science great, but the story is great as well, with just enough that goes beyond the pure science in to scientific speculation that this is the epitome of what science fiction should be. At the heart of it, it is a father daughter story set in space and abounding with science. But you don't need to be a scientist for the story to make sense.

This film most certainly deserves the Hugo award this year. It is what the Hugo is all about. It is, unfortunately, on the Sad Puppies list. I'm quite sure it would have been nominated anyway. In other areas it has received many awards, beating out the other Hugo Nominees. And it is really quite funny that the puppies would nominate this film. They are so against stories with a message and if you don't get the messages in this film you have to be brain dead. As against the puppy slates as I am, I am forced to concede that this is indeed the best SF film of the year and I must put it first when I vote. I just have to. From the emotional, enjoyment, box office response, and industry award perspectives this film comes out on top among those nominated. If you believe in the spirit of the Hugos, you won't let the source of a good nominee that deserves to win cloud your judgement. Of course, not all will agree that this is the best offering, but from my perspective, I have no choice.

The effort that went in to making this an outstanding production is amazing. The music scored before and during production, the front projected backgrounds that the actors saw out of the windows, the full size props used as effects models, the painstaking attention to the science behind wormholes and black holes and the amazing rendering of those objects faithful to the science, not to mention the serious warning that if we ruin our planet it would take a miracle (the wormhole in this case) for use to survive. And underneath it all, a story about one man sacrificing his family to save humanity and the ripples that causes. Amazing story telling and an amazing production resulting in the best SF movie I have seen. Better than 2001, better than Star Wars, better than Star Trek. Absolutely amazing.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Has Star Trek gotten too Star Trekky?

According to Simon Pegg, who is penning (of is it co-penning) the next Star Trek feature film, at the moment titled Star Trek Beyond, he has had to make it less Star Trekky. What does this mean? Is this a good or bad thing. My take is that it is a good thing and here is why.

We have had Star Trek for over 50 years now (the final shots of The Cage, the shots of the Enterprise, were filmed early in 1965). But it is not a unified body of work. There are some distinct versions of Star Trek. It, of course, started with Gene Roddenberry's vision of Star Trek. Gene was a dreamer and crafted this utopian future where the crew of a ship would travel around and get into adventures. His dream is fully realized in The Cage, starring Jeffry Hunter as Christopher Pike. He had a chance to give us his pure dream a couple of other times, but let's keep this chronological for now.

Well, NBC like his concept but they wanted some changes. Gene made them. Some might argue that this diluted Gene pure idea, but I would argue that the success and popularity of Star Trek is directly linked to the changes NBC requested. They wanted more action, more relateable drama. What we got was the original Star Trek series starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley, plus an animated series, and a series of 6 feature films. This is Star Trek, but is it really Star Trekky? I would say no. Read on.

Gene's second shot at Star Trek was Phase II (not to be confused with the fan production of the same name). Phase II had scripts, sets, costumes, test shots, a model of the Enterprise, and new cast members. Phase II turned into the first movie. The sole script used was In Thy Image, reworked into a "welcome back" movie. It is again that very cerebral story that we had in The Cage. It isn't looked to favorably on by most Star Trek fans. The second film, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is a return to the action packed style of story from the original series. And why? Nicholas Meyer sat down and watched the original series. The following 4 films followed that pattern.

Then Gene had his third and final chance to give us his vision and Star Trek: The Next Generation was born. This is Gene's vision. The pilot, Encounter at Farpoint, is the third installment of Gene's undistilled vision. Except that this time, what followed was something completely different. Star Trek: The Next Generation was unique. A magic feat of casting led to a group of people who were as close when the cameras were off as their characters were when the cameras were on. But Gene was fading. His name was carried on the episodes as executive producer, but as the series progressed, Rick Berman took on more of the production duties and the stories that were produced became more his vision than Gene's. Star Trek: The Next Generation became a second unique produce of the Star Trek franchise. It was followed, before it even ended, by Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. And as soon as Star Trek: The Next Generation wrapped and moved on to feature films, Star Trek: Voyager joined the franchise. All three of these had strong 7 year runs. They were followed by Enterprise, which had a truncated 4 year run.

But what has happened? Why has Star Trek been out of production for so long. After more than 15 years in constant production, there is no Star Trek. Why? Now we come to the issue. As it went on, Star Trek took on a quality that I grew to dislike. I'm a big fan of the original series and The Next Generation, but the others failed to grab me. It became formulaic and seemed distant, not only from the Star Trek that started it all, but even from Gene's vision. That unique mix of what Gene wanted and what NBC wanted was lost. It took on a pattern that I feel exemplifies the label of Star Trekky. It is what is expected, what fans think they want, what the franchise is perceived as. But that is NOT Star Trek. It is what we got, however twisted, in the latest two feature films. Roberto Orci is an avowed Star Trek fan. It is clear from what he gave us, along with Abrams wild ideas, is the type of story that Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise gave us. But when you paste those ideas onto the original 1960's characters, it really shows the flaws that have crept into the franchise.

What is sad is that the best episodes of Deep Space Nine and Enterprise are the ones that harken back to the original series. Trials and Tribble-ations and In a Mirror, Darkly bring back that action of the original series. So what has happened to Star Trek? Well, it has become its own worst enemy. It has become a franchise with an expected format. NBC's changes to Gene's vision have become the enemy. But what we have is NOT Gene's vision, it is other people's interpretation of it. Too much emphasis is placed on doing what Gene wanted. Why? He had three chances to give us his vision. It is great, but it is not what garnered all the fans. And more importantly, it is not what the studio wants in a film. Why did Star Trek Into Darkness not bring in the money? Well, sucky writing, to start with, but it had action and effects, and the original characters. But the biggest thing was it was hampered and derailed by that ghost of the franchise. Orci constrained how the story was told.

Now take a look at Star Trek: New Voyages/Phase II and Star Trek Continues. What are they giving us that Abrams and Orci didn't? They have returned to that original format. Essentially it is Gene's universe with NBC's storytelling. That gold combination isn't that hard to return to. NBC wanted the same thing that Paramout wants. They want something that is highly successful that reaches the widest possible audience. Gene's vision was in the sort of future we are going to have. It isn't really Star Trek if you leave that out (and frankly Abrams and Orci seemed to miss that part). But it also isn't really Star Trek, not Kirk's Star Trek, if you abandon that goal that NBC forced Gene to adopt. The magic happened from the mix of Gene's creativity and vision and NBC's experience of what worked and desire for commercial success. That was repeated in 1982 with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (6th highest grossing movie that year), in 1986 with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (5th highest grossing movie that year), and even to some extent in 2009 with Star Trek (7th highest grossing movie that year). If Paramount is to have a success with the new Star Trek, they have to do a different direction than Star Trek Into Darkness. They need that mix of Gene's vision and the action adventure that NBC originally asked for. You can't do that just by having a big action movie and steal some scene from the most popular Star Trek film. You have to understand that Gene's vision reflects the culture of the Federation and that you can then have a huge action adventure story that can carry those ideas.

So in my estimation, Simon Pegg saying the new film with be less Star Trekky is a good thing. He is a Star Trek fan himself and he knows how to make awesome films, so with that combination, I'm hoping he will be able to produce something more worthy of the legacy of Star Trek and at the same time less franchisey.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Weary of Insults by the Stupid and Ignorant

When I get into political discussions, I get called a liberal and socialist. When I get into similar discussion on science fiction and fantasy I get called a SJW (social justice warrior). I get that these people are trying to insult me and usually act accordingly, but what I rarely talk about is how accurate these terms, when applied with their correct meanings, are.

I have been a science fiction and fantasy reader since.... well I can't really remember. At first I read both, not really having a preference, but gradually I dove into science fiction. I think the wide variety of quality media had a lot to do with it. The fantasy options in movies and TV left a lot to be desired back in the 80's. I started out with Star Wars, then Doctor Who, and then (even though my mother had been trying since I was born) Star Trek. When I found Star Trek I become a huge fan. I watched the original series religiously on weekdays and Battlestar Galactica on weekends.

And I read. Asimov, Heinlein, Norton, the Star Trek Pocket Books series, and a host of others. I always had a book with me or was scribbling my own story attempts in notebooks. I am a great fan of behind the scenes stories and I have absorbed the influences, inspirations, and goals of Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas.

What that all culminates in is me. I am a product of what I read, of my family background, of where I grew up. And as a result, my politics are viciously moderate. I do not put up with either extreme conservatives or extreme liberals very well. I don't tolerate bullies or liars or people who twist things around to suit their telling of the story.

So where does that leave me today? I am a firm believer in equality for all. A lot of my beliefs were tempered by Star Trek. Anyone who actually paid attention to what Gene was doing will know that he didn't hold with the racist and misogynistic attitudes of the 1960's. While it is hard to see it to day, he cast the most ethnically diverse and gender equal cast of the decade. He poured his idealism into the Vulcans and their ideal of IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations). Star Trek featured the first interracial kiss and the first same sex kiss on television. It starred a mixed species character. Gene wanted it to feature a woman as second in command, but that went to far for 60's sensibilities.

From the written word I got more of the same. Equality, diversity, justice, doing what is right, fighting those who don't want things to change. I seriously don't believe that science fiction can exist without the so called 'SJW's because so much of the genre has focused on that for so long. Heinlein's first novel from 1939, For Us, The Living, touches on all this. Asimov challenged us to find the robot, Andrew Martin, human in Bicentennial Man. Time after time, story after story, this is what I have read. This idea by one group that SJW's are a new thing and have "taken over" the genre and are redirecting it from its roots is asinine. This so called SJW movement IS the genre of science fiction. It always has been. The people who use SJW or the more ridiculous GHH are the ones trying to change the genre to suit their political beliefs.

I have this nice chart that shows the voting habits of our US government and it clearly shows how far our government has descended into madness. The right has gotten more and more radical over the last 40 years to the point where even trying to discuss things with those of that bent is an exercise in frustration. This movement that accuses science fiction of being taken over by SJW's seems to stem from the same right-wing insanity. Yes, the stories have gotten more daring, with more homosexual and transgender characters, with more equality for all, but isn't that what we have been building towards? Isn't that what Gene Roddenberry saw in our future? Is that not what Star Trek portrayed? Is that not what the writers were striving for in the constraints of their time?

So I fail to see the danger in what these people fear because it is what the genre has been striving for since its inception. And who cares if a year or two sees more women winning awards than men? We've had it the other way for far too long and it is about time the majority gender gets its due? So if anyone cares to call me an SJW for these viewpoints, or a liberal, or socialist, I see no point in taking it as the insult they mean. It is time to own up that even as a moderate, I have causes to fight and equality of all is a big one.

On one final note, this post/rant was inspired by a blog post by David Mack ( that finds him dealing with this issue with someone who has no clue what a social justice warrior Gene Roddenberry was.