Saturday, December 8, 2018

Discovery - Short Treks 1x3 "The Brightest Star"

rating: **

the story: How Saru ends up joining Starfleet.

review: Well, "Calypso" officially seems like an outlier.  This is the second of three Short Treks to produce underwhelming results.  High hopes for the fourth, though, as it features Mudd, who has become one of my favorite Discovery elements.  "Brightest Star" wastes all its time, basically, fifteen long minutes.  Take the opportunity, people!  Be bold!

We see Kelpian society, at least Saru's experience of it, probably for the first and last time, including Saru's father and sister, and a wisp of the competing species they live amongst.  Maybe this is all revisited, but Kelpians are pre-warp, and only Saru is apparently clever enough to not only question why things run the way they do, but also to use technology on an instinctive level...This is all stuff that could be better explained if it's to be accepted easily at all, by pulling back the lens much more, make it less simplistic.  I realize that Star Trek's bread and butter has often been this kind of storytelling, but usually for aliens of the week, not main characters and their origins.  One of the franchise' strongest legacies is background material.  Even going back to the very beginning, Kirk and Spock had solid experiences sketched out at a time when it's wasn't particularly necessary.  Saru has been presented as one of Discovery's lead characters from the start.  There's no excuse to leave him with so little to go by, especially once you actually show it. 

I don't know.  I don't mean to be grumpy.  I hate grumpy Star Trek fans.  But these Short Treks haven't been showing Discovery at its finest (aside from "Calypso" which is the franchise at its finest), and that's somewhat inexplicable to me. 

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Having Georgiou explain what a huge exception she's making for Saru doesn't really fill the credibility gap in the whole concept.
  • series - This is not Discovery at its finest by any measure.
  • character - Still, you gotta give points for trying harder with Saru than they did with Tilly.
  • essential - If this is the best they ever get with the guy, it is nice they tried, because we don't often get to actually see this kind of material.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Discovery - Short Treks 1x2 "Calypso"

rating: ****

the story: A thousand years in the future, Discovery's AI makes a startling new friend.

review: The first Short Treks was ultimately a disappointment, a crude narrative that suggested the whole concept was a mistake.  "Calypso" is the complete opposite.  It's also basically the same exact story, and that's how you can tell that it's the strength of the storytelling that's always key.  You can probably pin the victory on Michael Chabon, the celebrated novelist who helped come up with the idea and wrote the teleplay. 

Like "Runaway," "Calypso" features a single character visiting Discovery and interacting with a single character, and both visitors ultimately leave, and there's personal discoveries (ah) learned along the way.  But where "Runaway" feels forced, "Calypso" is a rich and rewarding experience.  It maybe doesn't hurt if you're an Odyssey nerd like I am, and realize that the title and arc of "Calypso" are drawn from Homer's ancient epic poem about Odysseus's ten-year journey homeward after the Trojan War.

That's actually a lot of what I love about the story, what it says about The Odyssey itself.  Calypso the Homeric character might be said to be a villain, who sidelines Odysseus for an extended period, keeping him from his mission, but as a commentary, "Calypso" helps explain how the experience might have been beneficial to him, therapeutic.  Too often, especially in our present age, we reduce everything to the most negative, simplistic interpretations possible. 

"Calypso," on a more superficial level, also revels in Star Trek's frequent indulgences in old Hollywood footage, in this instance Betty Boop and the Audrey Hepburn film Funny Face (1957).  Footage like that will always be cost-effective, but "Calypso" particularly uses it effectively, involving it directly in the plot.

No familiar faces appear, but the storytelling is strong enough where you become drawn into it anyway, and the concept of Short Treks suddenly awakens, as "Runaway" didn't manage to accomplish, a whole new world of possibilities in a more than fifty-year-old franchise. 

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - There's something that just feels right about an old Starfleet ship still doing good for the universe well after its crew has departed. 
  • series - If that ship isn't named Enterprise, then a story like this almost does more to solidify Discovery's bid for an enduring legacy than anything in the first season.
  • character - Easily draws you in with previously unknown characters.
  • essential - This is Star Trek in a nutshell: evocative storytelling on every level.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Discovery - Short Treks 1x1 "Runaway"

rating: **

the story: Tilly encounters a stowaway.

what it's all about: This is Discovery doing what every other incarnation of Star Trek did on a regular basis.  Somewhat appropriately, as with the lone episode from the first season that attempted the same thing ("Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum"), it's a relatively clumsy affair.  The best that can be said about it is that it puts the spotlight squarely on Tilly, which strangely never really happened in the first season. 

As with "Para Bellum," the writers seem positively ill-equipped to handle this kind of storytelling.  Their attempts at shorthand in a short episode (roughly fifteen minutes, but this is called Short Treks) are painfully rough, and come off more as the work of an amateur playwright than professional screenwriter, the same na├»ve conclusion (experience literally makes Tilly feel better about herself) common to such efforts.  What Discovery does far better is breakneck speed storytelling, or letting Michael Burnham ruminate (or torture herself, which was why Ash Tyler was such a good match for her) on problems.  That's the complete opposite of what "Runaway" attempts to accomplish. 

But again, spending time with Tilly also helps us get to know her better.  Knowing at all that she struggles against an overbearing mother (imagine the young Troi!) adds welcome depth.  The story also builds on the Mirror Universe experience, where Tilly was a command-track type (to say the least).  Having her struggle along that path puts her in the same footsteps as the Doctor, say, or yes, Troi, and that's a nice bit of resonance.

But I really hope further Short Treks are less clumsy.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Familiar material for Star Trek fans.
  • series - Unlike the whole first season (practically), there's nothing of particular significance going on here.
  • character - Except some welcome character work for Tilly.
  • essential - Nope.  Not at all, if for no other reason than it doesn't showcase Discovery's storytelling strengths very well.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Star Trek Discovery Season 2 Trailer

Here's what the second season of Discovery, and our third version of Christopher Pike, is going to look like!

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Star Trek at the box office

I've always been interested in box office results.  Recently I've begun taking a closer look at different sets of figures: the international box office and the adjusted-for-inflation box office, which is something I previously didn't care too much about but now view as a window into comparative popularity.  This is going to be a look at how Star Trek movies look from these vantage points.  All figures come from Box Office Mojo, retrieved on 6/5/18.  (B = billion, M = million)

The first list is the US box office report:

1. Star Trek (2009) $257M
The first of the Abrams reboot series; this will be the most successful movie in two of the three lists.

2. Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) $228M
The second in the Abrams reboot series will take the top slot in one of the two remaining lists.

3. Star Trek Beyond (2016) $158M
This will be the third Abrams reboot series entry's best showing.

4. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) $109M
The obvious favorite among general audiences, it's never been as popular among fans.  We might see why in another list.

5. Star Trek: First Contact (1996) $92M
The second Picard flick and by far the most successful.

6. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) $82M
This total is going to have long legs.  You'll see why its exposure caused problems.

7. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) $78M
Its inordinate popularity with fans always seems to indicate it was more successful than the first one.  It wasn't.

8. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) $76M
Yet fans are never as excited about its sequel, even though it was about as successful.

9. Star Trek Generations (1994) $75M
This meeting of Kirk and Picard was a huge disappointment in a lot of ways.

10. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) $74M
The final full cast appearance of the original Kirk crew made up a lot of ground from its predecessor, but not quite enough.

11. Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) $70M
Surprisingly, despite its reputation the third Picard entry was about par for the course.

12. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) $52M
The first real flop of the franchise.

13. Star Trek Nemesis (2002) $43M
The second and far more disastrous was also Picard's fourth and last appearance.


Now onto adjusted for inflation, in which we see some interesting things develop:

1. Star Trek (2009) $316M
Still the most popular!  This is officially Star Trek as a whole at its most popular.

2. The Motion Picture (1979) $300M
Here's the biggest surprise!  Maybe it shouldn't be, being the oldest entry in the series, and therefore the greatest beneficiary of inflation.  But here we see that the first and subsequently much-maligned movie in the franchise was also its most successful for years.  Thirty years, to be exact!

3. The Voyage Home (1986) $264M
And here we see just how popular this one really was!

4. Into Darkness (2013) $250M
And here's where we see where all the fan outrage about Khan's second movie appearance comes from; it officially made more money, and thus had more exposure.

5. The Wrath of Khan (1982) $245M
Just a little more, but that's a little too much competition for some.

6. The Search for Spock (1984) $208M
When you look at the unadjusted box office, it looks like the follow-up follows more closely than in the adjusted box office. 

7. First Contact (1996) $189M
In the unadjusted box office this looks like a much more impressive hit.

8. Beyond (2016) $170M
You can see how far this one fell in comparison.  That's why it was so little talked about compared to its two predecessors.

9. Generations (1994) $165M
But it still did better than this one.

10. The Undiscovered Country (1991) $163M
Fans were so relieved to like a Star Trek movie again, they didn't really give this one its due.

11. Insurrection (1998) $134M
It doesn't look like par for the course in the adjusted box office.

12. The Final Frontier (1989) $120M
Although Final Frontier doesn't look as bad in comparison from this vantage point.

13. Nemesis (2002) $67M
Hard to make this one look good.


Box Office Mojo doesn't have a full chart for international results (totals in parentheses include unadjusted results).  Here's what's available:

1. Into Darkness (2013) $238M ($467M total)
Here's where Wrath of Khan fans really have kittens.  It's technically the most successful Khan movie.

2. Beyond (2016) $184M ($343M total)
Surprisingly, this ranks above the first Abrams on this list.

3. Star Trek (2009) $128M ($385M total)
Still near the top, naturally.

4. First Contact (1996) $54M ($146M total)
Unsurprisingly charting high here.

5. Generations (1994) $42M ($118M total)
Here's where Generations most looks like a winner.

6. Insurrection (1998) $42M ($112M total)
And here's where you can see Picard made Star Trek more popular internationally than Kirk.

7. Nemesis (2002) $24M ($67M)
Even the least successful one was more successful than the most successful original Kirk film on the list.

8. The Undiscovered Country (1991) $22M ($96M total)
Which was the last one.  So internationally, Generations really was, comparatively, a huge hit, and original Kirk's biggest exposure, at least as far as Box Office Mojo knows.

And now you know!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Every episode and every movie in the Star Trek franchise now has a review!

A journey that began in 2010 has now been completed.  I have now written a review for the Star Trek Fan Companion of every episode and every movie, from all seven series and across all thirteen movies, 1966 to 2018, from the first season of the original series to the first season of Discovery.  There have been plenty of starts and stops along the way, but started a few years back I started making a concerted effort to get it done, and incredibly, something that seemed a long way off just a few years ago is finished.  Wow!  This whole project has always been driven by the belief that fans new and old alike deserve to be able to explore the franchise from a different viewpoint than the increasingly cynical one that developed during the late 1990s, that saw it more likely to reject new material than attempt to embrace it.  It's possible in my reviews to find a positive take on every series, something few fans are willing to admit.  You can trace their legacies as they develop, and find a new vision of the classics, and a new conception of the worst episodes, and even new takes on what the worst episodes have traditionally been considered.

Along the way I refined a couple of times how reviews were written.  At some point I thought it would be fun to apply tags for notable guest-stars, and that required some revision of older reviews, but hopefully the results speak for themselves.  There are a number of ways to work through the reviews, including those guest-star tags, as well as star ratings and even by the peculiar set of criteria I chose to use in coming up with the star ratings.  I labeled the criteria "franchise," "series," "character," and "essential."  Each of them was a way of calculating whether an episode had any intrinsic worth.  The full impact of an episode was either aided or hindered by whether or not they were worth viewing on any of these scores.  If they managed none of them, they got no stars at all, and so that was how I determined for myself the all-time worst episodes. 

Of course, this is all subjective, but I hope it's a good starting point on an immersive journey of discovery throughout franchise lore.

Enterprise 3x24 "Zero Hour"

rating: ****

the story: The Xindi conflict's resolution.

what it's all about: Well, this is it!  And finally we see where Archer's bull-headed pursuit of victory has landed him, and that's almost more interesting to talk about than the episode itself.

But let's just acknowledge that seeing the crew defeat Dolim and the Sphere Builders is a terrific and thrilling reward, well worth investing in three episodes to see them beat the clock.  Archer first demonstrates his apparent lack of perspective by pushing Hoshi, who's just survived slightly worse pressuring by the Xindi-Reptilians in "Countdown," to help him destroy the weapon.  Then Daniels appears and at first it seems like a reversion to "Carpenter Street" making the Temporal Cold War arc look cheap, instead of "Azati Prime," which made it look strong.  Fans who think it's a little on the nose for Archer to be outright crucial for the birth of the Federation might gag at this material, and again, it makes the Temporal Cold War look weak if all it ultimately accomplishes is produce Daniels to say how important Archer is, in this instance putting truth to the old adage show rather than tell.  But by the end of the series Archer is once again being given credit for the Federation, and fans complain that we don't get to see his big speech in "These Are the Voyages..."  So I wouldn't worry too much about whether or not fans are happy about Archer's status so much as quibbling about how it's presented.

But the real treat of "Zero Hour" is its twist ending.  In a way, it redeems two other Temporal Cold War stories.  One is from near the start of the series, "Shockwave," which concluded the first season and began the second.  In hindsight "Zero Hour" links "Shockwave" with "Storm Front," the two-part story that opens the fourth season and concludes the Temporal Cold War arc.  Daniels showing up to warn Archer in "Zero Hour" in effect translates "Storm Front" into a rephrasing of "Shockwave."  "Shockwave" is about what happens if Archer is removed from history.  He and Daniels discover a future that has been devastated.  "Storm Front" suggests much the same, only instead of going with Archer and Daniels to the future, we go to the past, WWII.  Our last glimpse of Archer in "Zero Hour" is with Nazis staring down at him, and one of them is an alien.

Now, I began to view "Shockwave" as ultimately disappointing, and "Storm Front" has always frustrated me as a conclusion to the Temporal Cold War arc.  "Shockwave" shortchanges its story by making it too simple too early.  "Storm Front" shortchanges itself by providing no conclusive answers about "Future Guy," the leading antagonist of the bad guys in the conflict.  And yet, as Archer angrily states he's tired of being a pawn in someone else's conflict...he's also admitting what "Zero Hour" makes plain, that he has been a pawn.  The Temporal Cold War is a complex series of power plays.  "Storm Front" illustrates how a faction of antagonists becomes trapped in the past.  I always wanted to believe that alien Nazi was "Future Guy," but I guess that was never really necessary.  Archer's disgust is its own statement, and illustrative of his emerging need to take control of his own fate, and as such embrace his destiny.  But it's also a confirmation that Daniels wasn't kidding when he said Archer was crucial to the future.  Whether or not he ends up captive of the Nazis for a time, we see him isolated from his crew by the end of "Zero Hour," and so it's is Archer and not him and his crew that Daniels is worrying about.  It's his choice to destroy the weapon personally that Daniels worries about, the risk he's taking, and Archer is transported to the past, and the rest of the crew, separately, too. 

In a last desperate bid, Daniels is responsible for transporting Archer and the crew to the past.  Happily, he sets about the circumstances that stop the alien Nazi and also Archer's declaration.  So Daniels has actually helped push Archer out of the conflict.  You kind of need the whole context to appreciate this, and so I give "Zero Hour" most of the credit for this.  It's appropriate for Daniels' ultimate role to be obscure like this, as his first appearance, in "Cold Front," features his rival Silik trying to convince Archer it's not so clear cut about which of them to trust.  But both Silik and Daniels, or versions of them, die in "Storm Front," Silik more obviously as a hero.  So it really does even out.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - The big conclusion to one of Star Trek's biggest arcs.
  • series - And the setup to the conclusion of another.
  • character - Archer's determination motivates him to the last of his extreme actions.
  • essential - Provides the key to unlock the Temporal Cold War.
notable guest-stars:
Matt Winston (Daniels)
Scott MacDonald (Dolim)
Tucker Smallwood
Rick Worthy
J. Paul Boehmer
Jeffrey Combs (Shran)
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