My Romp Inside the Roddenberry Vault

I know I’m a little late to the party, but I finally got a hold of the Inside the Roddenberry Vault Blu Ray set. While owning yet another copy of the same “best of” episodes – which, time-wise, is the majority of the set – was not appealing to me, many reviews seemed to make it clear that the documentaries and extra footage included were well worth the purchase. They were partially right. There is a lot wrong with this set beyond the filler episodes that is nearly fatal. There’s stuff in here that’s worth watching, for sure, but it comes with a heavy price.

Star Trek is fifty years old now and nearly everything that could be said about its uniqueness, reach, and historical resonance has been said, ad nauseam. There will always be a place for that sort of self-congratulatory exercise, but a set promising new material to a dwindling number of hardcore fans who have seen it all is not it. A conglomeration of alternate takes, raw effects footage, and deleted scenes is a very niche product. Only the die-hard would buy it. Yet the documentaries included are 80% talking heads bloviating the same uncritical worship of all that is Gene Roddenberry’s great vision of future humanity. Almost nobody on these discs says anything interesting at all. An utterly bewildering lineup of guests like the creator of Two and a Half Men, the producer of The Librarians, a Family Guy writer, and Bill Nye the Science Guy just talk and talk and talk about how special the show was and how nothing like it had ever been seen or done before. A lot of it is myths about Star Trek‘s exceptionalism that won’t die, but even if it was all true, why would you trot it out in what should be an extremely technical product? Even David Gerrold has nothing revealing to add. He just rambles like all the other famous fans. None of them are more insightful than any random dork you’d meet on TrekBBS. Maybe less. Some Simpsons producer actually marvels about Kirk saying “Let’s get the hell out of here” in “City on the Edge of Forever” as if it’s some kind of censorship breakthrough. Really, dude?

There are a few moments of insight that enter into sublime. Dorothy Fontana has some interesting stuff to say about script production and her disagreements with directors, but her audio is so heavily edited to speed it up that she sounds clipped and unnatural. Meanwhile we’re given the entire, sprawling mess that is Edith Keeler’s starship speech for the hundredth time. No, damn it. Give me more Dorothy! There’s a long interview with Richard Edlund who worked at one of the special effects houses employed by the show. He discusses everything from hand-lettering the opening sequence to developing a library of effects shots, to the freaking ISO of the film they used to shoot the eleven foot Enterprise model. Did you know the asteroids in “Mudd’s Women” were cornflakes? Thanks, Richard! Doug Drexler is also a high point. He wasn’t there when the Original Series was in production, but his knowledge of technical minutiae about model shooting and matte paintings is unsurpassed because he researched that shit. Then it’s all interrupted by the Librarian guy telling us how the transporter is such a brilliant plot device and that shot of Rigel VII belongs in a museum. Wank, wank, wank.

While the other features are peppered with good material, like a discussion of racism Sulu has with Kirk in “Corbomite Maneuver” and extra lines from Kirk’s speech in “Return to Tomorrow”, the best feature in the set is the last one, which contains no talking heads, only unseen clips with titles to tell you where they came from. They include dialogue from “Conscience of the King” that establishes Kirk as a midshipman stationed on Tarsus IV, not a colonist, and an odd, out of context snippet from “Tomorrow is Yesterday” where Kirk asks his interrogator if he’s stopped beating his wife. The raw, unmatted ship footage is fantastic, showing the level of quality the Enterprise was shot at. There are clips of several prototype engine cap effects. One is a set of sparkly jewels rotated on the outer dome, another is a simple glowing pulse effect, and another is the blinking lights they finally used, but without the turbines in front of it. There’s an amazing 180 degree rotation of the ship with a zoom in and out that would have made a really cool fly by. All of this is capped off with Nichelle Nichols singing the entirety of “Beyond Antares” as heard on the La-La Land series soundtrack, but now with visuals.

So, it’s a mixed bag, folks. I’m glad I got to see all this footage, but my sanity was put in utter jeopardy by the constant onslaught of on-screen fan adulation. It’s nothing short of a goddamn slog. Music rarity sets don’t have this problem. If you were to pickup Nivana’s “With the Lights Out” you’d be overwhelmed by 213 minutes of demos, alternative takes, and live performances uncut and with any commentary left to the booklet insert. There will not be more than a introductory paragraph talking about how innovative and amazing Kurt Cobain was. That’s because music companies know the only people who will buy a rarities set are those who have heard everything else and already know how great the band is. Inside the Roddenberry Vault should have been several hours of footage with occasional, completely technical discussion on one of the audio tracks. Instead it comes off as an advertisement selling how great Star Trek is to people who have already been obsessing over it for fifty years. It’s such a poor choice it baffles my mind.

Forgotten Roddenberry: Pretty Maids All in a Row Review

Oddly enough, many of you asked for it. Now, after a long delay, it’s finally here: my Pretty Maids All in a Row retroreview. Check out Gene’s celebration of statutory rape now on TrekMovie.

Happy Pride!

“I have no moral or other objections to physical love in any of its many Earthly, alien, and mixed forms.”
-Admiral James T. Kirk, Star Trek: The Motion Picture Novelization

Is Harry Mudd a Murderer?

While “I, Mudd” sets up Harry as a sort of lovable buffoon on the run from his ghoulish wife (and is completely willing to strand 400 people in order to ensure his own freedom), “Mudd’s Women” sets him up to be a bit more of scoundrel than we often remember him. Obviously Mr. Mudd is a human trafficker. Studio memos at the time refer to Mudd’s women as “space hookers”. Mudd is also a drug dealer, handing out illegal substances to keep the lady’s in line. He’s also perfect happy to see the Enterprise burn up with all hands on board, again, to secure his freedom. This is one flipping terrible human being.

But there’s one bit in “Mudd’s Women” that can be read as seriously evil, and that’s the fate of the real Leo Walsh. After the computer IDs Harry as his Harcourt Fenton self, he admits Walsh, who was the actual owner of the J-Class freighter Mudd and his chattel were found on, met an untimely fate and Mudd was forced to commandeer his vessel in order to complete his business transactions.

Now Mudd is nothing if not a liar, so there has to be more to this story then he’s willing to admit. The question is, did Mudd kill Walsh and take his ship, or did Leo really just keel over at an inopportune time?

Did Harry Mudd murder the real Leo Walsh?

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Have any other ideas about how Harry got that name and ship? Tell us in the comments!

Star Trek Plays the Sci-Fi Blues

CBS finally dropped a full length trailer for Star Trek: Discovery last week revealing a lot of the aesthetics of the new series. While many were ranting about the Klingons, I was more interested in Star Fleet’s fashion choices. I can’t speak to Discovery’s plot or characters, but I certainly have an opinion on its look and it is… bland. The most underwhelming thing about it are the Star Fleet uniforms, which are all one color now: blue. Science fiction has had a thing for blue, tight collared uniforms for nearly thirty years now. Rather than embracing the diverse palette Star Trek has mostly been associated with, like the JJ Abrams films did, Discovery seems to be jumping on an overcrowded bandwagon. I can’t say I’m thrilled.

Discovery also has to contend with sets and ships that look wildly out of place with the era they’re supposed to be in. Ten years before “Kirk and Spock” is “Pike and Spock”. Fifty years later, the original Enterprise bridge stands out as a design classic – simple and functional, yet colorful and energetic. The Discovery bridge looks like every other grey, dark, over-designed, blue-lit ship set we’ve see many times before. People like to crap on the JJ films, but they really stood out, visually, from everything around them. So far, Discovery looks incredibly generic.

And please don’t say, “But Axanar!” Just no.

Next Generation Bridge Panorama

Star Trek: The Next Generation has a lot in common with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, including characters, tone, and design. It only makes sense that Picard does a similar scan of the bridge when he first walks on to it in Encounter at Farpoint that Kirk does in TMP. This was an easier panorama stitch than the TMP bridge, mostly because PhotoShop was able to at least automerge the two screenshots on the left hand side. The other two needed to be hand placed. The pan is faster than the one in TMP, so there is some obvious motion blur that can’t be helped. There was also the problem of the camera lowering during the pan, making me skew the whole left side upward, and some content-aware fill needed to be placed in empty areas.

Can you think of any other panning shots that would make great panoramas? Let me know. Click the image to see it at full, 1080px height.

Refit Enterprise Bridge Panorama

I was shocked that no one made one of these yet until I loaded a couple of screenshots into PhotoShop’s automerge and it couldn’t deal with it. Not only does the camera pan, but focus and lighting are constantly shifting in the shot. The camera also isn’t moving straight left. It’s sinking downward as well. That led to a lot of distorting and fading effects between shots, as well as erasing elements, covering others, and even pasting new ones in. The bottom part of the bridge rail on the left side, for instance, is it’s own little layer. Click on the image to get the full size, 8000×1080 panorama.

Net Neutrality Gets You the Internet You Need

This comic couldn’t exist without net neutrality. As a small, self-hosted site I would not be able to wheel and deal my way on the preferred lists of ever American ISP if things ever got that bad. I rely on an open internet for all of my work, that why I created this video in 2012 to push Net Neutrality and let people know what they would be losing. I can’t believe I have to post it again in 2017. I though we were done with this shit. I was wrong. Complain to the FCC (click on +Express) and contact your representatives now. It’ll only take a minute!

William Shatner on Misogyny vs Misandry

Erin Horáková wrote an article awhile back about how Captain Kirk is not the philanderer and untamed maverick we collectively seem to remember him as. The besic premise is that Kirk has drifted in the popular culture into something unrecognizable. I read it and, while I think it’s premise is solid and Kirk is not the character he’s portrayed as in satire and the new films, I disagree with Erin on who he actually was. I may even write up an answer to the article in full at some point.

But I actually read it. William Shatner obviously did not because he thinks the essay is about what a misogynist Kirk was, and that’s not what it’s saying at all. In fact, it’s actually defending Kirk against those exact allegations. Never-the-less, Shatner has been railing against the article on Twitter complaining that “terms like toxic masculinity are degrading. It borders on that imaginary concept to feminists: misandry.” and “Misogyny exists. Problem is that [Erin Horáková] didn’t want to accept misandry does, too.” I am scratching my head bloody at these responses right now.

Even if the article was about Kirk being a sexist pig, I’m not sure how a tirade about misandry being as bad as misogyny would be an acceptable answer to it. Misandry does, indeed exist. There are women out there who hate men just because they are men. But it’s not systemic and ingrained in culture the way misogyny is. To prove it I’m going to use William Shatner’s own words. Here’s a clip of him discussing “City on the Edge of Forever” with Jon Collins not too long ago:

So, Bill, let me explain it to you as simply as possible. Misogyny is a man feeling perfectly entitled and safe discussing a woman’s looks and desirability right to her face in front of millions of people – example clip included! – and misandry is a woman having to defend herself while silently wanting to kill him for it. See the difference?

He’s Almost Here…

His beginnings may be shown in Star Trek: Discovery, but what could be his final adventure starts this Tuesday.