I spent a little time today touching up and adding detail to the final crew shot of The Motion Picture Redux. It makes a really great wallpaper for your desktop! Click the picture to get the full size image.
Guess what folks? We’re moving across the Bay, to Alameda!…County! We’ll be East Bay citizens in four days. Due to all the packing and unpacking and settling I don’t know when the comic will be coming back, but I’m guessing two weeks the latest.
So, what’s with that exquisitely rendered scene from Star Trek: The Motion Picture on the front page? That’s the beginning of a new interim project I’m calling TMP:Redux. It’s something to tide us all over while the next original comic storyline is being worked on. Mixing what we saw on screen with concepts from Roddenberry’s novelization of the film, I’m attempting to create an ending for The Motion Picture that I think makes more dramatic sense. Part of that means recasting Decker. Besides the fact that Stephen Collins the man is fucking gross, as an actor he’s also terribly bland with all the emotional impact and sex appeal of an over-cooked lima bean. I replaced him with Glynn Turman, a much more attractive and dynamic actor who is the same age as Collins and also did much of his work in the 70s and 80s.
There’s going to be a lot of changes besides just the visual, but I don’t want to ruin the surprise. Even though The Motion Picture is a polarizing film with most fans considering it a slow-moving mess, there are many, like myself, who really dig it. To those who hold the film sacrosanct, know that I do love it. That’s why I want to play with it. Shitty things you hate just aren’t worth the effort. For the rest of you, maybe this will give you a new appreciation of the slow-moving mess.
The first week of my daily live read of Star Trek: The Motion Picture’s novelization was a sexy blast of hot Roddenberry futurism and boner alerts. You can check out the fun archived in the threads posted below. If you want to join me live, the next read is about an hour. You can catch it here.
Day One – The Forward and Catching up with Kirk and Spock.
Day Two – Kirk get’s back his ship and the Enterprise prepares for launch.
Day Three – Ilia arrives, Kirk and Sulu get stiffies, and the Enterprise finally launches.
Day Four – The Enterprise nearly hits an asteroid and phaser bypasses are discussed to death.
Day Five – The crew face the cloud head on and Ilia bites it trying to save Spock.
The comic may be on a bit of a hiatus, but Ryan and I are definitely on it. In the meantime, while you’re stuck sheltering-in-place, why not join me for a live reading of Roddenberry’s novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture on Twitter. Every weekday, starting Monday March 23rd at 1pm EDT/10am PDT, I’ll be reading a few chapters from the book and giving my notes on the various interesting aspects and total deviations from the movie. TMP’s novelization is a cornucopia of often bizarre and sometimes brilliant Roddenberryisms that this comic has drawn from on occasion. In some ways it’s superior to the movie. In others you can tell Gene’s a TV writer who can’t quite summon the energy for a 400 page book. It’s a must read for any Trek fan. Start following @trekcomic, #TMPRead, and join me daily. What better stuff do you have to do anyway?
I’m sure most of you already know from my recent batch of posts that I haven’t been particularly excited about the new Star Trek series, Picard. Sitting down to watch it felt very much like a job, not unlike going to see the final Star Wars film, The Rise of Skywalker. And in some ways the two have things in common, the biggest among them being an over abundance of plot based on old story lines.
Picard comes off less like a show than a collage of old plots and cannon pieced together with elements of Ronald Moore’s Battlestar Galactica. The first episode rushes us through a bunch of exposition disguised as a news interview where we learn the events of Nemesis and the 2009 Abrahams movie have interwoven together with a robot uprising to give us the gloomy Federation we have today. From there on we get a ton of name and concept drops, like Bruce Maddox, Lal, rogue “synths”, skinjobs, and dum, dum, dum, the Borg. We know in up coming episodes we’ll get Seven of Nine and Hugh. It’s all just a sort of Star Trek word jumble.
It also bothers me a lot that Picard is continuing the introversion of Star Trek. Nearly all the Star Trek films are guilty of this obsession with staying within the Federation’s orbit and keeping all politics local, but the series have been largely immune. However, Discovery’s first season was about a war between Klingons and the Federation. Its second season was more exploratory, but was ultimately about a rogue AI created by agents of the Federation that wants to destroy the Federation. Season three may well be about putting back together a future broken Federation. Picard, again, is a very local show, set in known space with known players dealing with very local Federation politics. In fact, the Federation itself, not just the plot, has turned in on itself.
It’s interesting to compare Star Trek: Picard to what we expected when the character first arrived in The Next Generation. Picard’s opening lines in “Encounter at Farpoint” promised us the “great unexplored mass of the galaxy”. When episode two rolled around fans were furious that it was a direct sequel to the Original Series episode, “The Naked Time”, instead of a new premise as we were promised. Taking a look at The Next Generation’s original first season story outlines (many of which you can read in this thread) we’re lucky that’s as bad as it got. Roddenberry had to be quite vigilant and insistent about making sure the new series stood on its own, because nearly every single episode referenced Kirk and his Enterprise in some way or another.
Yet today we’re perfectly ok with getting what is essentially an exercise in nostalgia. When I heard Fred Steiner’s Romulan theme I couldn’t help but smile, but I knew I was being played like a fiddle. Especially because it was tracked over Romulans building a Borg cube with Data’s daughter. I don’t think that sentence could be any fan-wankier. I feel like when Picard chastises the Federation for no longer having the curiosity to look outside itself that he’s really talking about the franchise.
Also, it’s the 21st century and we’re still killing the black guy first? Sigh…
The rekindling of a theoretical fourth Star Trek film has brought a new voice into the argument of “what Star Trek is”. Director Noah Hawley has made some bold statements about what the franchise is all about:
“Star Trek is such a special story about exploration and empathy and diversity and humanity at its best and creative problem solving,” Hawley said. “It was never designed in its origins as an action series. It was always about humanity having to fit into the universe and solve problems through diplomacy and outsmarting their opponents. So I’m excited to get back to that.”
I agree with Hawley to a certain extent. Star Trek is utopian fiction about a brighter future where people of all species join together to explore the galaxy in peace. Where he loses me is the “action” part. The series’ original pitch document, interestingly titled “Star Trek is…”, said otherwise. Before a single character name was decided on and a word of dialogue was written, Roddenberry defined the show as an “Action Adventure”. Even though the show’s pilot, “The Cage”, was always pushed by Roddenberry as having been rejected for being too intellectual with not enough fist fights, the episode still contains a several minute scene of Pike being stalked by, fighting with, and killing a large beastman. Another has him violently subduing an ape creature. Weapons are fired on the surface twice, and Number One’s very rational solution to the whole affair is to blow themselves up. Star Trek, at its very core is an action series.
This idea of Star Trek not being action packed comes up a lot and has been used to put down the lastest film incarnations, of which Hawley would be adding to. There’s no doubt that Star Trek is more action packed than those complaining admit. I’m always fond of saying the same fans making this claim will also list “Doomsday Machine”, “Yesterday’s Enterprise”, The Wrath of Khan, and First Contact among their favorite stories. Guess what they all have in common?
I have no problem with action in Star Trek, even the occasional mindless kind. What I usually object to is protracted space battles, which often get boring in their length and franticness, especially with unlimited modern budgets and computer processing. Plus, they’re incredibly ridiculous considering they often follow a kind of World War II, close-range, fighter/capital ship scenario that is already obsolete today. But, what I really hate in Star Trek is war, and I think when we talk about action that’s the kind we should be the most cautious about indulging in.
Star Trek always skirted war when Roddenberry was at the helm. Certainly there were Cold Wars, but hot wars were made out of the question. In the first episode with the Klingons, “Errand of Mercy”, war was made impossible through a fairly effective deus ex machina. War is definitely not part of “Star Trek is…” nor any other Roddenberry approved writers guide created after that. War didn’t become a part of Star Trek until Deep Space Nine. I know a lot of vocal people really like that show, but it was, by the numbers, the decline of Star Trek’s popular appeal. It’s just not what people wanted to watch. It certainly wasn’t what I was interested in.
And yet war keeps rearing its head as a topic worth portraying in Star Trek even though it’s consistently not done well. In Deep Space Nine the battles always seemed very low stakes and small to me, even if there were a million ships pewing at each other on screen. Watching a bridge full of people shake in their seats while continually reporting the shield percentage is, frankly, a drag. Plus the show introduced a lot of dubious and silly concepts that still plague the franchise.
In Discovery war is also central to the plot of the first season, but the war itself was so boring it was never the focus of the actual show. In fact, that year’s best episodes were the ones completely devoid of Klingons. And now we have the new Picard series, which, if its double fisted phaser trailers and the latest Short Trek are to be believed, is about an all out flying saucer style attack on our home soil, however improbable that seems. Even fan films can’t shake the war plot, with Axanar‘s leaked script containing page after page after page of tactics, torpedoes, and tech failures and little else. And yet it badged itself as the indie alternative to the action hell of the official Paramount films. Why do producers keep reaching in that pot when it seems to not be that much fun for the audience or even for themselves? We’ll never know without asking them, and so far nobody has.
So, Mr. Hawley, Star Trek is designed for action… just not every kind of action. It’s lizard bazooka action. It’s Klingon fist fight action. It’s rocketing out of the galaxy, crew crushing, mind fire, salt sucking, acid squirting, robot tossing, crotch kicking, lirpa vs ahn woon action. Some times it’s even space laser action. But it’s never at its best when it’s endless, multi-ship, screaming soldier war action. Pick two or three of the other options you’ll do just fine. Most Star Trek movies suck anyway, no matter what you put in them.
There’s no doubt that The Enterprise-D was a way more lax and laid back ship than her predecessor. Fans used to refer to it as a “luxury liner”. The bridge crew was way more chummy. There were men in skirts, women in transparent robes, and kids running around with teddy bears. I’m pretty sure everyone was schtupping. The ship even had it’s own bartender. So, with all this pull away from traditional militarism, why was there still something as old-fashionably authoritarian as a captain’s chair?
A lot readers wondered why there’s no captain’s chair beyond the one at the conference table on the Vikrant’s bridge. Again, I’d have to say, why would there be? Kirk’s center chair was definately a way of showing who’s boss. It’s in the middle of the control center of the ship, for heaven’s sake. But it also had a function. On that tiny bridge, Kirk could swing 360º in any direction and check out any monitor and address any station he wanted without getting up. It was more than symbolic. It made his job easier.
Picard’s chair, on the other hand, is nothing more than a glorified TV watching station. His only view is of the main screen. He can’t really see the helm or navigation, and he sure as rain can’t see any other vital part of the bridge. When he gives orders to tactical he has to bark at someone he can’t see without breaking his neck. A captain’s chair on the Enterprise D’s bridge is useless because the bridge is made for exploration on foot. It’s not a place that can be taken in at a glance. Even as a place for the captain to simply sit down and work, it sucks. There’s not even a table to set things on. All Picard can do is twiddle his thumbs and watch the stars go by.
The only reason why the captain’s chair exists on the Enterprise D is because of tradition. It doesn’t serve any other function than to show who’s in command, kind of like a throne. That just doesn’t mesh with The Next Generation‘s take on Starfleet. So, when the Vikrant’s bridge was enlarged to a two level affair the captain’s chair became even more useless. A center chair on the Vikrant would also undermined the idea that, in this new Starfleet, being captain is not the old fashioned, command barking institution Delos Reyes still wishes it was.
I just received my Thanksgiving flavored Pringles pack in the mail, so gluttony season is almost upon us. ‘The Word of God” will start wrapping up on December 3rd. Until then enjoy time with family and friends!