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Entries in star trek (8)


In Which We Pick Up Where Everything Else Left Off

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The Most Boring Cultural Relativism


Star Trek Discovery
creators Bryan Fuller & Alex Kurtzman

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"My people were hunted, farmed," explains a science officer of the Federation somewhere in the painful two hour premiere of Star Trek Discovery. His face looks like a waffle. Everyone looks on sympathetically.

The plan for this resurrection of the Star Trek franchise was as follows. Here is what people enjoy about this moribund intellectual property: Klingons and Vulcans! Nevermind that we spent the last thirty years minimizing them and expanding the diegesis of Star Trek to include you know, actual other races and peoples. There are really only three, and who cares if they are boring and simplistic exaggerations of a peaceful and war-making race? It is going to be like Star Trek meets Orange is the New Black. We'll get Bryan Fuller to come up with story ideas — who else but the man who made cannibalism unexciting?

While Star Trek: The Next Generation was great until Brannon Braga took over, the original Star Trek series was utterly miserable to watch at the time. It only succeeded because the other only thing on television was Walter Cronkite suffering through his monthly period. A return to that era is equally distressing, a problem Bryan Fuller solves in Star Trek Discovery by showing us ten minute long scenes of the Klingons communicating with each other in subtitles about how afraid they are of the men who come in peace.

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Who can save this utter trainwreck of a television production? How about the soft, loving relationship of first officer Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh)? Well, no, since Star Trek Discovery is one of those shows that pretends to be risky with its casting but then delivers on the most conventional set of characters imaginable.

That's why making this a prequel is so fucking dumb — you are married to this weird 1960s version of reality, and by 1960s I don't mean free love, I mean the people who were sick of reading about free love and seeing it on television, so they changed the channel.

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Martin-Green's stupendous acting is the only thing that makes Star Trek Discovery even halfway palatable. She never mugs for the camera or any other dumb shit like that. She could easily fall into such bad habits, because god knows everyone else on this scattershot cast makes faces whenever they can. Bryan Fuller cast Jason Isaacs as the white captain who has faith in the woman who started the Klingon-Federation War, and the two of them are so subdued throughout Star Trek Discovery that I began to slip into a deep sleep.

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I guess they couldn't get Michelle Yeoh for the full series, since they kill her off rather quickly. It's a shame since the relationship she has with Martin-Green's first officer is the only interesting narrative aspect of the show's pilot.

There are other positive aspects to Star Trek Discovery. The show's budget does not appear to be catastrophic, but they put it into the right touches. Fuller is a genius of set design and aesthetics, if not actual storytelling, and boy is this the genre for his skills in the field. This is by far the best Star Trek has ever looked, and that includes the J.J. Abrams version, which wasn't half-bad visually and had the advantage of spending a substantially larger sum of money.

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The show's mix of sleek retro design and excitement over the standard technology makes Star Trek Discovery a joy to watch on mute. For some reason, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman was brought onto this project to contribute the most wooden dialogue imaginable. Star Trek Discovery is such a chore to listen to. You almost can't reconcile both of your senses watching it: it looks so good and sounds so completely bad.

For all the show's diversity in its cast (and it really is not actually much outside of the choice of an African-American lead), the commentary on contemporary race relations has all the nuance you would expect from the white men writing the show. Putting Martin-Green's character in jail was a good idea, but the show never actually does much with that, and since you know she will not be there for long, you don't feel for her.

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Bringing an actual long-term plot and characterization to the Star Trek universe was long overdue, but outside of an exciting makeover for the Klingons costume-wise, all the mystery has long been sapped out of these concepts. We know, for example, that peace between the Klingons and the Federation will eventually last for centuries, and that the Klingons are not really much of an enemy.

I recently rewatched an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Commander Riker was doing a semester abroad on a Klingon ship. He ate their food, which seemed vaguely Ukrainian. They seemed like a sincere, hearty people. "This isn't about race," Martin-Green says at one point. "It's about culture." Then it's good you can choose your culture, since I never want to be a part of this one again.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.

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In Which J.J. Abrams Tries To Murder Other Peripheral Franchises



Star Trek Beyond
dir. Justin Lim
122 minutes

What kind of interest do you have in hearing Idris Elba perform a distinctly racist version of his own voice as a pseudo-alien named Krall as Zoe Saldana, looking like the mom of everyone involved, screams, "You already got what you wanted! Let her go!" I hope the answer is none.

At the beginning of the interminable Star Trek Beyond, Saldana's character Lieutenant Uhura politely informs her boyfriend Spock (Zachary Quinto) that she no longer feels attracted to him and she would like to part ways. She offers back a necklace he gave to her, but he allows her to keep it because it tracks her location. He will always know where she is.

This is the most entertaining scene in the entire movie.

Shortly thereafter screenwriters Doug Jung and Simon Pegg entertain us with the worst fucking cliche in all of Star Trek: the destruction of the Enterprise. Director Justin Lim has Idris Elba's ships swarm and destroy the larger the vessel, and what feels like it should take only moments lasts a good half hour. Pretty much everyone survives, and the artifact Elba pursues is luckily safe. It easily might have been destroyed, rendering his tactics somewhat questionable at best and jawdroppingly nonsensical at worst.

But I mean you won't want to be focusing on the plot here, since there really isn't any. The entire crew is marooned on an alien planet, which would be exciting except there is literally nothing to distinguish this world from any other random place the original Star Trek cast set down upon.

The original Star Trek was always shit and the only reason that these movies even exist for J.J. Abrams to torture us with was the tremendous critical and commercial success of the follow-up television serial, Star Trek: The Next Generation. Patrick Stewart singlehandedly carried the entire cast, but the writing was also very good at times and LeVar Burton wasn't terrible either. 

Star Trek: The Next Generation realizes a key lesson about the vast boredom of space intoned by Kirk at the beginning of Star Trek Beyond: if you don't have someone to ejaculate inside of, it can get super lonely out there. Kirk is so completely done with space that he applies to become the vice admiral of an orbital installation named Yorktown. I guess if Chris Pine's career gets bad enough, they can spin that off to series.

Pine's enthusiasm is usually his strongest selling point, along with his comedic timing. In Star Trek Beyond you can tell that he was ill during some of the shooting, because many of his line readings are completely off and he sounds like he has a frog in his throat. The end result is the most unprofessional final cut of an actor I have seen in awhile.

In order to compensate, most of the attention is thrown to the Enterprise's engineer, Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg). Pegg makes himself basically the star of this movie the exact same way he did in the last horrid Mission: Impossible jaunt. In that movie he at least had lots of great lines and a decent foil in the playful wiles of tiny Tom Cruise, but here his partner in crime is a bit more serious: an alien named Jaylah (Sofia Boutella).

The thing Star Trek Beyond misses the most is any sense of wonder at all. Even encountering this strange woman on an alien planet who lives in the desiccated shell of a Starfleet ship should be a moment of astonishing vitality and novelty. Instead two seconds later Montgomery Scott is being called a cute nickname by the alien and they are bickering like old friends. In every conceivable way it can, Star Trek Beyond skips the B that comes between A and C.

The rest of the cast is given very little. The supposedly southern accent of Bones (Karl Urban) waves completely from scene-to-scene, and he is paired with Spock for most of the film for in-depth conversations about serious and important topics like fear of death and their respective futures in Starfleet. Elba's Krall is not particularly calculating or fearsome villain, and the reveal of his true identity later on both repeats notes from the previous film and makes you wonder why they waited that long.

At the box office, early returns on Star Trek Beyond were that it was down fourteen percent from the previous film. That isn't so bad, but the previous movie really struggled with its tone as well and it had the benefit of a far better villain and story. At least with Star Wars, Abrams can just remake The Empire Strikes Back like he did A New Hope and at least the story itself won't be absolutely terrible. He seems to have no idea what to do with these characters; or maybe he has just realized they don't have very much potential anyway. 

The real answer is war. Star Trek was at its best when it turned space diplomacy into a canvas for the intersections of different ethics and views. A larger, powerful alien enemy is likely to be the focus of the next film, and there is a way to completely revamp this story into something compelling for a modern audience. First contact always has tremendous potential to make us reimagine our own ideas about what meeting other intelligent species in the universe would be like.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.


In Which We Are On The Fringe Of Things

The Edge of Good


Occasionally a television show gets everything right but botches all one or two large decisions. This happened with Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman's show Fox show Fringe. They made a litany of awesome title sequences; they reminded one of a return to one of the great series of the last decade, The X-Files, they have solid writing when it doesn't verge on melodrama, but the casting is awful.

why is plaxico in jail while josh jackson walks free?Heterosexual man's hatred of Joshua Jackson goes back to his days as Pacey. Do you even understand how much less action I got in high school because of that? Pacey was a dick. All you needed was a mop of blonde hair. Paceys were fucked. Now Jackson enunciates every dreadful line of dialogue and sounds like a foggy horn. He doesn't look all that great either, kind of what a poppy bagel might look like as a person. Let's deport him back to Canada where he and Michael Moore can increase in size quietly together.

His would-be paramour (in one episode they went undercover together!) is the officious Anna Torv. She's probably the best actress on the show, but she's cold and icy and frankly, boring. Gillian Anderson is turning over in the grave she occupies with the career David Duchovny took from her. (Amazingly, Gillian Anderson is 64 years old and David Duchovy is 26. Who knew?) Torv's seriousness is ungainly and her hair looks as bad as her boss's.

Why do I feel like J.J. Abrams had a steamy night on the set of Lost with the bald former Dharma drone who ruins every single scene he's in? Lance Reddick is the worst actor on television besides Reba McEntire and Tyler Perry. Every single sentence is conveyed in this cold, unnerving grizzle. It's off-putting, and it gives his co-stars nothing to play off of.

trusting your career to j.j. didn't work for matthew foxThe only thing the show can find for a young black FBI agent (Jasika Nicole) to do is babysit criminally insane former human engineer. Torv whirls about radiantly, doing "work" when it suits her, double-timing the agency which she purports to represent. At the end of last season's finale, she met William Bell, the show's central MacGuffin. It was Leonard Nimoy, and I was not amused. The finale showed Bell in another universe where the World Trade Center didn't exist and Kanye stayed in college and was still interning for Louis Vuitton.

As intellectual or visual fodder, the concept of parallel universes doesn't really make any sense. Unlike serious science fiction, another universe draws no basis in reality from human experience. If there's more than one universe, then there are billions, and none of us mean very much. This isn't a very enlightening way to believe in the world.

Lost had the good fortune to become a jovial comedy, and Fringe seems to be aping this goal so far in season two. Here messy science fiction clichés combine with Pacey to create the show's only relief from the drudgery of weird science. What's missing is the wonder of discovery; the pattern that was created by universe splitting need not be an awful fate for those who must investigate it. Properly done, such a happening should free us from ourselves.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He tumbls here.

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