Category: Star Trek

Happy Hallowe’en, Trekkies!

I’ve always said:  Hallowe’en encourages the inner drag queen.

I rarely get dressed up for any occasion, my wardrobe limited to t-shirts, ragged-ass jeans and a fleece sweater to keep the chill off my aging bones.

But this Hallowe’en coincided with the birthday of a dear friend of ours. A costume party was the celebration of choice, its theme “the Sixties”.

Several different ideas passed through my mind, but then Sherron discovered a couple of sweaters in a thrift shop and, well, we were off.

Happy Hallowe’en to my fellow Trekkies.

 

Photo: Karen Williams

Star Trek XI: The Search for Relevance

abramsBy handing the Star Trek franchise over to J.J. Abrams, lock, stock and pointed ears, the folks at Paramount Pictures made it manifestly clear: we want to see a new, fresh look at the Enterprise and its namebrand, trademarked crew, a re-invention, if need be.

Mr. Abrams, let’s be candid, is no auteur, more like a cross between Michael Bay and M. Night Shmayalan. His films and projects are slick, gimmicky and well-attuned to the tastes of the moment. How long his vision and body of work will survive is another matter: action movie directors are a dime a dozen these days, their films virtually indistinguishable. Mr. Abrams has shown us little so far (“Lost”, “Mission Impossible III; Exec. Producer, “Cloverfield”) except that, like any half decent utility man, he knows how to handle a good bounce…and how to make an easy play look spectacular.

Mr. Abrams has an undeniable gift for concocting middlebrow eye candy and so many within and without the Trek universe reacted favorably when it was announced he was producing and directing the next film. The first trailer was released and that really got the grapevine humming. Leonard Nimoy started popping up, speaking cryptically about the plot of “Star Trek XI” but professing himself thrilled with the script. Wow, cool, an endorsement from Mr. Spock himself! Trekkies everywhere held their breath, waiting for May, 2009 to roll around.

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Well, it’s clear from the forums and fan message boards that the latest film has met with overwhelming approval–and why not? It’s filled with action and special effects and there is that much-touted return to the early days. And you get to see Uhuru in her underwear! Fan-dumb seems to like the three young leads and don’t appear unduly concerned by the liberties taken with the premise and backstory. Like the screenwriters, most film-goers grew up on comic books/graphic novels and are used to things like alternate universes, mirror realities, lapses in logic, plot discontinuities and (yawn) “red matter”.

spockkissI’m willing to put up with Jim Kirk’s troubled childhood, a different, sleeker Enterprise, a command bridge that looks like a cross between a high-end china boutique and a really cool video arcade, but what I find most objectionable, unforgivable, in fact, is the ridiculous romantic subplot involving Spock and Uhuru. Reinvention is one thing but this notion of a repressed, lonely Vulcan and a thoroughly professional Starfleet communications officer snogging like a couple of teenagers is nothing less than an abomination.

The plot is standard revenge stuff. The bad dude, a Romulan renegade named Nero (Eric Bana barely registering in the role), is an over-familiar Trek villain, a tattooed terrorist who hardly merits an individual episode, let alone a $150 million movie.

winonaStar Trek’s minor characters—Scotty, Chekov, Sulu, Uhuru—are easy to ape or emulate. Simon Pegg is, frankly, a distraction as Scottie and Anton Yelchin’s (Chekov) outrageous Russian accent makes Walter Koenig’s seem pitch perfect by comparison. To be fair, most of the youngsters acquit themselves ably, within the limits of the material…but can someone please explain to me the thinking that went into casting Winona Ryder as Spock’s mother, Amanda? A favour? Act of charity?

I liked Karl Urban as Leonard McCoy, though on a few occasions he tries too hard (“Damnit, I’m a doctor, not a physicist!”). Playing up Bones’ tendency to catastrophise is a nice touch. A passing grade.

Zachary Quinto’s resemblance to a youthful Leonard Nimoy has been much discussed. He’s a ringer, all right, and at times his mimicry of Nimoy is uncanny…but is imitation, impersonating a guy impersonating an alien, really acting?

Chris Pine as James T. Kirk, future captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise, gets better as the film progresses. By the latter third he has Shatner’s sidelong glance, swagger and half smile down to a “T”. The only thing missing is the keylight on his eyes. Pine is likely the one cast member who has the most opportunity to grow into his role (no swipe at Bill Shatner’s midsection intended). The other players can resort to tried and true catch phrases, retreat into caricature, but Jim Kirk must always be vital, three-dimensional, flawed, impulsive, heroic, endearingly and recognizably human, or the whole franchise founders.

live longAbrams and Co. have presented us with a new, unimproved Trek—glossy and diverting without being particularly likeable, engaging without involving us emotionally. “Star Trek XI” makes no stirring appeals to human destiny, mortality, cosmic evolution, democracy, tolerance or any of the other high-falutin’ ideals the show once espoused. That moral core is notably absent from “XI” and the film suffers as a result. This isn’t a “message” picture, it’s a thrill ride, an experience, with tons of explosions, rapid fire editing and starships going foosh!

Initial box office returns are promising so it looks like we’ll be subjected to a sequel or three. Perhaps the next film (an even number, gotta be a good one, right?) will feature a story worthy of being told, something that will contribute meaningfully to the mythos and grow the legend.

They’ve added some fresh faces, sunk a lot of money into a franchise some believed had run its course. They even coaxed poor old Leonard Nimoy out of retirement for a cameo appearance—he looks like a superannuated sea turtle but his last hurrah is supposed to lend authenticity to the venture, a tip of the hat from one of the Original Cast.

It isn’t enough. “Star Trek XI”, like all of Mr. Abrams’ projects, is overlong, clumsily structured, superficial, implausible, instantly forgettable. He has temporarily salvaged a series that was on the rocks, but is his “aesthetic” compatible with a concept that has remained remarkably consistent through 40+ years and various incarnations? How far are fans willing to let him go in terms of rewriting or tossing out great swathes of the accepted canon?

roddenStar Trek, whatever its faults, didn’t used to shy away from big ideas and cosmic themes and it was never intended to be a Saturday morning children’s show. Gene Roddenberry had higher aims than that.

But the Great Bird of the Galaxy is gone now and the whizkids are in charge. They’ve studied the demographics and done their test screenings. The gamers, geeks and mall rats are their target audience, aged between 14-23 and not overly concerned with such niceties as characterization and a coherent plot. The old fogies may complain about what’s been done in the name of progress but even Star Trek must move with the times and if that means getting bigger, dumber, louder, so be it.

Warp speed, Mr. Abrams, the helm is all yours.

For now…

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New RedRoom post

penI just finished posting a short essay (“Last Days”) on my RedRoom author site.

Pop over for a look, I like how this one turned out.

Off to see the new “Star Trek” film tonight.  After skimming the Anthony Lane New Yorker review, I’m going in with pretty low expectations.

But a friend gave us free movie tickets as a family Christmas gift (thanks, Amy!) so what the heck, let’s go for it.  We’ll only be out 126 minutes of our lives (and twenty-five bucks for popcorn and drinks).

Review to follow shortly.  In the meantime, check out that RedRoom essay.

It’s a peach…

Postscript:  Special thanks to Gord Ames for providing this author with fascinating links and drawing his attention to articles and resources I would’ve otherwise missed.  Gracias, Gord.

Stardate 29.04.09

star-trekWell, I couldn’t let an opportunity go by without referencing the upcoming Star Trek movie.  The franchise is hanging on this one, boys and girls; the Next Generation sputtered out after the woeful “Nemesis” and nothing that followed appealed to anyone other than hardcore fans.  A drastic re-tooling was in order.  That’s why the guys in suits chose J.J. Abrams to carry the torch.  A guaranteed crowd-pleaser.  Hell, that Lost show made buckets of money–as a gun for hire he comes with a pretty high rep.

Abrams has been around awhile, longer than I realized.  And he hasn’t always been a golden goose either.  He receives a brief mention in Richard E. Grant’s film diary With Nails.  Grant runs into him at some Hollywood gathering and  with his acute perceptiveness, describes J.J. and his cronies thus:  “Meet a twenty-four-year old screenwriter called J.J. who wrote ‘Regarding Henry’, has a three-picture deal, and talks real fast, as do his friends, all of whom seem young, ruthless and rich.”

Hmmm… “ruthless and rich”.  Not “gifted” or “witty” or “intelligent”.  Ruthless and rich. And “Regarding Henry”?  Remember that turkey?

kirkBut all will be forgiven if J.J. can revitalize the old gal, make it contemporary without abandoning the campiness and charm of the original show; I’m a retro nut and I’m worried the writers (one of them the “genius” behind “Transformers: The Movie”), will bury the story under CGI, comic book level dialogue and stock characterizations, while bending as far as possible to meet the abysmally low expectations of the fan boys/girls.

End of rant.

Now, as you’ve likely guessed, since my last post a couple of weeks back I’ve been working, plugging away on new material and prepping old stuff for revision.  Beginning to gear up…there’s something about the summer that gets my creative energies revved up to full throttle.  I can’t explain it.  While the rest of my family is off traveling or out at the beach, I’m up in my office, sweating buckets, scribbling like mad.

With the coming of warmer weather this month, something clicked into place and I’ve been at it for long stretches, working on–well, I can’t say yet.  You know me.  Like to play it close to the vest.  Might show it to Sherron later on this week but until then–shtum.

So I’ve been working hard and every so often scrambling down the stairs to watch a period of hockey–it’s the Stanley Cup playoffs, doncha know–before rushing back upstairs to work some more and then back downstairs to check the score, watch highlights, never missing Don Cherry…

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I’ve been a Boston Bruins fan for nigh on forty years–oh, yes, my children, the big, bad Bruins and I go wayyy back.  Watching old footage of Bobby Orr still brings tears to my eyes.  And this year…well, the boys had a terrific regular season and then they destroyed the Habs in four straight games.  I hardly dare wish for anything else.  Must not tempt the hockey Gods to turn on the B’s like some blind Greek guy with a taste for older women…

It’s a pleasure to watch players like Marc Savard and I love that Lucic kid.  Wideman is an under-appreciated talent and Tim Thomas has been good when called upon.  But if that idjit Phil Kessel doesn’t stop with the lookit-me-dangle-all-by-myself-I’m-Jason-bleedin’-Spezza lone man dashes up the ice (which, inevitably lead to odd man rushes the other way), I’m going to end up kicking the front of my television set in.

Sorry, had to get that off my chest.  It’s just that one commentator described Kessel as the Bruins’ best player during the Montreal series and I just about swallowed my beer mug.

kesselOkay, I admit it, I picked New Jersey and San Jose to make the final this year.  Tells you what I know.  Yeah, and now watch Kessel go on to win the fucking Conn Smythe Trophy.

Okay, besides  work and the odd period of hockey, I’ve also somehow managed to squeeze in a fair amount of reading, lotsa music and even a movie or two.  Part of that whole getting-some-balance-in-my-life thing I’ve been working toward.  With mixed results (hey, but at least I’m trying!).

Read John Fante’s 1939 novel Ask the Dust and absolutely loved it.  Set in 1930’s Los Angeles, the story of Arturo Bandini, aspiring novelist, come West to seek his fame and fortune.  I described the book elsewhere as a cross between Nathanial West (Day of the Locust) and Knut Hamsun (Hunger).  I photocopied  two pages and glued them into a “Book of Commonplace” I keep of favorite quotes and excerpts.  I also hand-copied these sentences:

Over the city spread a white murkiness like fog.  But it was not the fog:  it was the desert heat, the great blasts from the Mojave and Santa Ana, the pale white fingers of the wasteland, ever reaching out to claim its captured child.

fanteHere’s a piece from Salon.com that talks about  about Mr. Fante’s life and work.   Definitely a book–and an author–worthy of rediscovery.

In terms of movies, Sherron and I puzzled our way through David Lynch’s ultra-weird “Mulholland Drive” and I’m nearly done watching the second and final season on the 1967 TV series, “The Invaders”.  Fun to slam down one or two episodes with a stiff glass of scotch after a hard day of writing.  That’s my method for stress relief (patent pending)…

Lots of time in my office means lots of tunes playing too…and, as of yesterday, that includes Bob Dylan’s latest, Together Through Life.  Not sure what I think of the new one yet.  Maybe give it a few more listens before I decide.  It lacks a cut with the mythic, spiritual power of something like “Man in the Long Black Coat” or, from  Time out of Mind, the searing and entrancing “Highlands” (all sixteen-and-half minutes of it).  Some good songs, especially “Beyond Here Lies Nothin'”, “My Wife’s Hometown” and “It’s All Good” and I like the Tex-Mex flavor but I wouldn’t count Together Through Life in the front rank of Dylan’s body of work.  Not by a long shot.

godPlenty of instrumental, ambient stuff pouring out of my speakers:  Explosions in the Sky, God is an Astronaut, the soundtrack of “Mysterious Skin” (Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie collaborating).  Old Tangerine Dream (“Atem”), Mogwai and NIN’s “Ghosts I-IV”.

The perfect accompaniment; the music transports me to a place beyond physical laws and temporal constraints.  In this undetermined location I can work without distraction, removed from obligations and duties.  That door over there opens on nothing, the backdrop outside my window cunningly executed but, upon close inspection, reveals imperfections, chips in the paint and swirls left by careless brush strokes–

The artifice holding, for now, but I keep the door closed and the blinds mostly drawn.  To maintain the necessary illusion, preserve it through a combination of higher physics, prayer, alchemy and the judicious use of duct tape, when all else fails…

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“…I’d rather be in Philadelphia!”

fields2jpeg.jpgOh, I hear you, W.C.

For the last few weeks I have been grinding away on final edits of So Dark the Night and it has not been fun. Rewarding, yes; mentally stimulating, undoubtedly. Fun? Not a chance.

I responded to a post on another blog this morning by opining that maybe the computer wasn’t the besttypewritrjpeg.jpg invention for obsessive compulsive perfectionists like yours truly. In the bad old days of typewriters, if you made a mistake or needed to slice out a paragraph, you had to type the entire fucking page all over again. Which either made you do it right the first time or decide that it was “good enough”.

Alas, those two words are not in my vocabulary. There is no such thing as “good enough” and now, thanks to the cut and paste functions, the ease of editing with computers, my work may never be “good enough”. That’s a terrifying thought.

I’ve been banging away on So Dark the Night for over three years now. I’ve gone through the “final” editing process before and always seem to get drawn back for one last run-through. Imposing a deadline for myself this time around has really helped. This book will be loaded onto my blog the end of March, even if it kills me. It’s like the last rounds of Ali-Frazier’s “Thrilla in Manila”: both fighters battered, Frazier nearly sightless but neither giving up or backing down. Telling their corners not to stop the fight, no matter what.

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This book has nearly destroyed me…and redeemed and strengthened me in the process. When virtually every singlenewmanjpeg.jpg editor and agent either refused to look at it or turned it down after a cursory glance (or, like Jessica Wade at Ace Books, simply refused to respond to my queries after telling me how much she liked the first excerpt I sent her), I was traumatized. Doubted my talent, my courage, my Creator…but now, a la “Fast Eddie” Felson at the conclusion of “Color of Money”, I’m back. Oh, baby, am I ever.

Working with confidence and vision, seeing the novel in more dimensions and depth than I ever have before. I’ve finished edits on the first half of the book and today I begin Part II. I’ve divided So Dark into 20 page chunks and I pound away on each one like a heavy bag until I’m satisfied I’ve knocked the fucking stuffing out of it…and then I move on to the next segment.

fawltyjpeg.jpgThe intensive editing has led to some, ah, interesting, side effects. Most notably, dreams; incredibly vivid ones. To the extent that when I stop work around 9:00 each night I have to deprogram myself, ease out of my fictional world, watch an old “Fawlty Towers” or original “Star Trek” episode with Sherron and have a giggle. My two sons are good sources of distraction too–funny, smart, interesting buggers. Their thought processes never cease to fascinate me. Their February break is coming up and during the timetarntulajpeg.jpg off I’m hoping a couple of old films I’ve ordered off the internet (“Conquest of Space” and “Tarantula”) will arrive and we can sit down, as a family, for a midnight-double-bill-creature- feature. I love sharing old flicks with them, chortling at the hokeyness and marveling at the absence of CGI, the wires showing and none of us giving a shit.

Sorry, have to make this post short. If I don’t make my daily page count, I can’t sleep at night. Insistent, nagging voices keeping me awake, telling me what a lazy, shiftless bastard I am.

Make sure you come back the end of March and see the end result of all this crazy-making work. So Dark the Night will be the leanest, tightest 470-page novel you’re likely to come across. That’s a promise–and as anyone who knows me will tell you, I always keep my promises.

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