Thoughts on Star Trek Discovery

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This article will contain spoilers for the first four episodes of Star Trek Discovery. If you don't want to have the first four episodes of Star Trek Discovery spoiled, please, y'know, read something else for a while. 

So. Star Trek Discovery. 

A summary

It's good. It's enjoyable. It's entertaining. It's not a bad television show. I'm not sure that it's Star Trek, but it's fun.

What terrified me about the idea of a new Star Trek series is that there hasn't been a true Star Trek story for 13 years. The last proper Star Trek stories were told in the last few episodes of Enterprise, which concluded in 2005. 

A "proper" Star Trek story is a story with a moral compass, a dilemma of conscience, a difficult human decision told through the peculiarities of an alien species or culture, and a resolution from which we all learn something and grow up a little bit more. 

Since the end of Enterprise, there have been no Star Trek stories. There have been blockbuster action movies with Star Trek characters in them, but there have been no Star Trek stories. 

(I lie -- there have been Star Trek stories, and they've been told by the talented and passionate fans and Trek alumni who have created fan series such as Star Trek: Continues and Star Trek: Phase II. Unfortunately, these stories are obviously not canon, but they filled a substantial and lengthy vacuum of quality Trek narratives.)

The story of Discovery, so far, is not a Trek story. Perhaps it may become one, who's to know at this stage. We've never experienced Star Trek in a long-form presentation, where episodes link constantly together and a growing story arc emerges. Perhaps the whole, rather than the parts, will be where the moral tale lies.

Starfleet is not an organisation of war

Starfleet is an organisation of peaceful exploration and scientific discoveries. It's not a military operation -- except when it is. There are two sides to war, and if the other guys want to fight you, you have little option whether to fight or back down. Starfleet is well equipped to fight a war, and given the need, will obviously do so in order to regain and maintain peace. That's how it works.

If anything, I find it interesting that in the Discovery timeline (for lack of a better description at this point), the war itself has resulted directly from the Federation's efforts at peaceful encounters.

The Klingons have changed (again)

Yep. They've changed. Again. They changed before, and we didn't care. Why do we care now?

I have no issue with the appearance of the "new" Klingons, nor the changes to Klingon culture. I just think the Klingons are a bit dull. This may be partly by design, perhaps it's partly the fault of the actors. I find they have little charisma.

The Klingon language, once rich in guttural grunts and coughs, seems now a repetitive barrage of equally spaced and monotonous syllabic sputters, with little to no emotion from the actors who seem focused entirely on remembering which phlegm noise comes next. T'Kuvma, the key Klingon in the pilot episode (or as I like to call him: "We couldn't afford Idris Elba"), speaks all of his lines in stanzas of three syllables, as if the actor could memorise the weird sounds only in triplets.

Also, the new Klingons have noses inside their noses. Just saying. Can't be unseen.

Breaking Gene's rules

Gene Roddenberry stipulated that in any of "his" Star Trek series, there would be no interpersonal conflict between Starfleet officers. By the 22nd century (or later), humans had achieved a kind of inner Zen, and no longer fought with each other -- only with aliens of differing cultures and moralities. 

This is why, when Deep Space Nine was developed not long after Roddenberry's passing, the decision was made to team Starfleet characters up alongside Bajoran militia officers. If we can't fight amongst ourselves, lets force ourselves to get along with a war-like super-religious group of individuals, and let the conflict write itself. And it worked.

Since then, however, interpersonal conflict has gone crazy. And it's okay. Just because Gene made the universe of Star Trek doesn't mean that others can't come along and break the rules. It's okay. I promise.

Shifting gears to a competing franchise, don't forget that George Lucas made the Star Wars universe, including the prequels. If Disney and JJ Abrams hadn't broken George's established rules and made something new and exciting, we'd be stuck with green screens, awful acting from amazing actors, a duck-like creature with floppy ears, and "the high ground".

So, in short

Discovery is good. Star Trek is back on TV. It's a good time to be alive.

Brief thoughts on unanimously terrible movies

So, there have been some doozies lately. You didn't ask for it, but here's my opinion on three of them, in no particular order whatsoever.

Suicide Squad

I did not have high expectations for this film, but I managed to avoid spoilers. So that's something. I also had no clue what the film was about, beyond it being a DC Comics license and having ostensibly something to do with a squad of people who may have some connection to suicide.

Turns out, it's not that bad. It's not great, but I don't feel like I wasn't entertained for two hours.

A tremendous amount of screen time is dedicated to introductions and backstories, as a result of the film having a massive cast of characters. Turns out, after all of that effort, that you only really need to care about two of them, and the rest just provide occasional comic relief.

Jared Leto's Joker character is quite impressive, not at all derivative of Ledger's Joker from the Nolan films, and does a good job of being appropriately unhinged. Having said that, I'm getting a bit tired of "unpredictable and unhinged" characters. It's starting to sound like lazy screenwriting. I can't tell if the character is psychotic, or their demeanor just doesn't match the last page of the script because who cares, they're UNHINGED.

There's one scene in a bar that's GREAT, and it's a terrible shame the rest of the movie wasn't as well put together as that one scene.

Also, Margot Robbie has no idea whether she's from Australia, New York or she's Jessica Simpson as Daisy Duke.

Ghostbusters

This is bad. This is really, really bad. I had potential to be awesome, but it's not. It's just bad. Wait -- not only did it have potential to be awesome, it would have been EASY for this to be awesome. But no. It's terrible. It's a stinking, laboured humour-laden, trying-too-hard, confused and frustrating turd of a film. I shall explain.

Cameos. So -- SPOILER ALERT -- (inasmuch as one can spoil a film such as this) the original Ghostbusters (or the ones who are still alive, at least) show up in cameos. As random characters. For some reason. All of them. Every major character from Ghostbusters shows up, with the exceptions of Rick "I've quit acting" Moranis and Harold "I'm dead" Ramis.

Complete denial of source material. Kind of. So...this film is confused. It's clearly a continuation of the Ghostbusters cinematic universe, but it isn't. It's clearly the future of the same timeline, but it isn't. Clearly, there are STRONG and UNDENIABLE connections to the original film(s), but yet, there aren't. There's Slimer. There's the Staypuft Marshmallow Man. There's abundant other alarming similarities. Yet the screenwriters go so far out of their way to never mention a connection to the original films that if they went any further above and beyond, they'd accidentally find their way back to mentioning it. It's impossibly frustrating as a viewer. Is it a reboot? Is it a sequel? WHAT THE HELL IS THIS

Also, all of the jokes are so laboured it's painful. Ghostbusters wasn't built on jokes. It was built on situational humour and four excellent comedians. Ghostbusters (the new one) ALSO has four excellent comic actors, but they don't react to the situations they're in, they just run off stupid sight gags, slapstick scenes and running jokes no one cares about.

I have a suspicion the film could be improved by tighter editing; stop each gag as soon as it's funny, don't dwell on it trying to congratulate yourself like a masturbating monkey at the zoo seeking approval from the giggling audience. It's not working. Stop.

I do not want to watch this movie ever again.

Independence Day: Resurgence

I'm always filled with existential dread when a late remake or sequel is made to a film that had a strong and lasting impact on my youth. Jurassic World terrified me, and rightly so, for it had the potential to tear the goodness out of Jurassic Park, one of the most significant movies of my childhood. (Yes, even given the sorry state of Jurassic Park III. It's about nostalgia, here.) Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Shia LeBouoeufeufff scared me, because it also could have -- and almost did, were it not for my ability to repress ever having seen it -- the entire Indiana Jones trilogy. Independence Day: Resurgence could easily do the same thing.

But it didn't. At least, not immediately. My best summary of Independence Day: Resurgence is that it was a great movie for two hours, and a terrible one ever after. It was a heap of fun, for as long as it was on the screen distracting me from everything that was wrong with it. It was awesome, until I had a chance to think about it without an explosion or Jeff Goldblum to remind me that I should be watching and Independence Day movie.

After leaving the cinema, however, I quickly realised that Independence Day: Resurgence was pretty terrible, had some really questionable ideas and scenes in it, and probably isn't something I care to watch again in a hurry.

Judd Hirsch. I mean, it's great you got him to come back. Did you have to make him surf a wave in a fishing trawler and save a bunch of schoolkids in a school bus just....because? He was originally comic relief, and he did a great job. Now he's a superhero. What.

The African war lord. He served one purpose in this film -- to tell the appropriate people at the appropriate time how to kill the queen alien. He......didn't do this. They just kinda figured it out for themselves. What an excellent storytelling opportunity!

Also, why wasn't the entire movie about him? His back story sounds more interesting than everything that happened in Independence Day: Resurgence.

In summary: Good movie, if you don't think about it. Bad movie if you do. I suggest a strong concussion as soon as the credits start rolling.

Fossils & False Fossils - Specimen Identification at Lightning Ridge

It's not easy separating fossils from everything else that comes out of the ground -- especially when some of it plays tricks on you!

In this video, Dr. Elizabeth Smith of the Australian Opal Centre in Lightning Ridge, NSW, Australia, demonstrates some of the imposters, illusions and complications in the process of identifying fossil material found on the opal fields.