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.

Thoughts on Star Trek Into Darkness

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I've now seen Star Trek Into Darkness, and I've had some time to collect my thoughts together. This collection of aneurysms is likely to contain mucho spoilers. If you haven't seen Star Trek Into Darkness yet, and you don't want to know what it's all about, stop reading. Click the jump for the spoily spoilers.

I'm just going to bullet-point my thoughts and observations. You wanted an essay? Write your own.

  • I find the new character of James Kirk to be a bit hard to take. Chris Pine does a spectacular job of the acting, and the character is certainly real and likeable as far as the films go, but I have some issues with the way the character has been written. Captain Kirk was always the captain. He was always large and in charge. He was the shit. Now, he seems to be the kid who's constantly in the right place at the wrong time to somehow accidentally assume command of the Enterprise. If the third Abrams Trek film -- and there'll inevitably be one -- pulls the same trick, I'll be of half a mind to write a cranky letter.
  • I liked the planet full of red plants and weird flaky white people with four nostrils and peculiar eyelids. I can see a potential sequel based on their worship of the bizarre thing that came out of the water, but that's probably unlikely.
  • Spock inside the volcano -- I understand it was symbolic shorthand, but I don't believe Spock's resignation to death would have him on his knees with his hands in the air.
  • Admiral Marcus's collection of starships seems to have codified the NX-01 from Star Trek: Enterprise as part of the Abramsverse. Joy.
  • While the idea of a starship functioning underwater seems ludicrous at first consideration, they're designed to take quite a beating. Whether the engines and what-have-you would benefit from being drenched in brine is another story, though. Scotty did start to say something about the salt water causing problems. It looked pretty cool, though.
  • I rather liked the Earth-based Starfleet uniforms, with their little cap. They're an unfortunate blend of the Star Wars Imperial Navy and Nazi SS uniforms, but you can't win them all.
  • Admiral Robocop.
  • Harrison's drop-ship thing apparently eats the firehose/rifle combination Kirk throws at it, then shits it out of its rear end. I do not know if this was intentionally slapstick, but it was both awesome and awkward simultaneously.
  • Absolutely gratuitous underwear shot for Alice Eve as Carol Marcus, with Kirk glancing at her, despite the fact he didn't even remain on the mission as McCoy took his place!
  • Why the heck was Carol Marcus in this film, anyway? She served no purpose apart from the very brief scene in which she pleads with her father not to destroy the Enterprise and its crew -- something that anyone could have done, considering he didn't listen to her anyway. Then she gets her leg broken and just hangs around for the rest of the film for no useful reason. The fellow in the blue shirt with an iPhone in the back of his head served more of a purpose to the story. I find this particularly curious and frustrating, as her character was established in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan to be Kirk's former love intererest (and indeed, mother of his son), and there was zero chemistry between her and Kirk in Star Trek Into Darkness, given that Kirk will hump anything that's not bolted down. She was also written to be a mysterious character of questionable intent from the moment she appeared, and nothing whatsoever came of this. I don't mind something being set up to seem predictable, then the writers turning it on its ear to startle the fans, but taking something so established in canon and leaving it utterly lifeless is a bit disappointing. Maybe something will happen in a sequel. If it does, that's great, but it doesn't help Carol's limp character arc for Into Darkness.
  • There's really no reason that Spock (Quinto) needed to punch in the cheat code and phone home to Spock (Nimoy) to ask for a hint on the final level. This scene was very obviously shoehorned in to get Nimoy into the film, presumably while he's still alive and willing to appear in Trek -- both fair points, I'll add -- but it added no real substance to the film. It's great to see Leonard, of course, but there was no secret given away in his message that Spock (Quinto) couldn't have figured out for himself.
  • Kirk's communicator apparently works aaaalll the way from Klingon space to a pub on Earth. That's some good communicatoring.
  • The Klingons were pretty cool. I appreciate the fact that they didn't stray too far from the established design for their makeup. The contact lenses were a bit more exotic, and I think the jewellery and masks were appropriate. The uniforms were pretty cool, too. I'm also pleased that no changes seemed to have been made to Marc Okrand's Klingon language.
  • John Harrison was an interesting character. I avoided reading any hype about the film prior to watching it, and managed to largely avoid spoilers. I think it's a testament to the film's design and writing that I did actually question Harrison's identity right up to the point that he introduced himself as Khan. Various other possibilities crossed my mind, ranging from him being a Soong-type android to even possibly being a Founder. Obviously none of these things were true, but I'm glad the film made me consider them.
  • Having said that, Ricardo Montalban's scenery-chewing, bare-chested, Melville-quoting, ear-slug-inserting psychopathic nutjob is a hard act to follow. I really had no hope that Benedict Cumberbatch would outdo (or even match) Montalban, so I kinda dismissed it entirely and took Cumberbatch's performance for what it was. It worked. I'm happy.
  • As an addendum to that, however, I found the "bonding" scenes with Khan and Kirk sharing one-liners while completing their mission to board the Vengeance to be a bit out of character for both of them. I fail to believe even young Jim Kirk is dumb enough not to recognise that Khan is up to something diabolical.
  • I've read some unfair criticism of the design of the U.S.S. Vengeance, along the lines of "it looks like a fanboy designed it out of Lego". Y'know what? It's awesome. Because it looks like a fanboy designed it out of Lego. IT NARROWS ITS EYE AT THE ENTERPRISE. The ship has freakin' emotion. And it's angry. I approve.
  • Speaking of the Vengeance, that noise it makes as it overtakes the Enterprise at warp is all kinds of awesome.
  • Scotty strapping himself to a console in the cargo bay and blowing the hatch is reminiscent of the Next Generation episode Disaster, in which Geordi and Beverly do much the same thing to clear the cargo bay of cannisters that are leaking radiation.
  • The Kirk/Spock role reversal as Spock captains the ship into battle, unaware that Kirk is killing himself while saving the ship inside the Death Star's main reactor -- sorry, engineering room -- is a cool idea. Unfortunately, it suffers because it doesn't have the big selling point that the original scene in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan had up its sleeve: in the original, no one knew that Spock was coming back to life in the next movie. It wasn't written yet. Nimoy had essentially quit the franchise. Spock was over. In Star Trek Into Darkness, though, there's really no doubt that Kirk would be brought back from the grave, and rather obviously by the Khan/tribble science experiment McCoy was fooling about with a few scenes before.
  • Was that a 2-1B medical droid in sickbay, or a nurse in a really crazy looking costume?
  • KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN
  • So the Enterprise is falling towards Earth. That's okay. They fall. They manage to get the thrusters to work again. They stop falling. They then rise, but without the thrusters firing any more. While I'm sure there's some kind of anti-gravity-gundulator helping to lift the ship, it seems strange that the thrusters wouldn't be firing to help raise the ship through the atmosphere.
  • They fly starships through the atmosphere a lot in these movies. Hey, I guess they can do that, now. After all, the Abramsverse Enterprise was born on Earth, after all.
  • Spock leaps from one floating garbage truck to another, identical floating garbage truck. This shot is clearly intended to show Action Spock, but smacks of not being able to afford or being unable to care to make another, different CG vehicle for him to leap onto.
  • Starfleet Headquarters people: If you look up into the sky and see that a genetically enhanced madman has stolen a starship and is going Osama Bin Laden on you with it, you should probably run away from the impending catastrophe, not towards it.
  • Until Kirk's resurrection using synthesised Khan blood, I expected the little girl from the opening of the film to reappear, probably in the context of "but wait, there's still an augment!". I guess Khan's blood just heals people, though. He's not a vampire. He doesn't make people into Khans. (Although, Kirk was healed with chemicals that were synthesised. He wasn't injected with Khan's blood directly as the girl was. Maybe there's still hope.)
  • The mission statement of the Enterprise is really awkwardly worded for a mission statement. Cool for the introduction to a television episode. Bad for a mission statement. Just sayin'.

In conclusion, I thought the film was a bunch of fun. It had some quirks, as all movies do, but I'm happy with it. I'd watch it again, and I'll no doubt splurge for the Blu-ray when it comes out. Probably not in 3D, though. I despise 3D. More on that later.

Thanks for your time.

Follow up, August 2013: Comments on some common search queries that lead people to this article:

star trek into darkness nazi uniforms, star trek into darkness uniform nazi, star trek into darkness imperial navy Yes, I may have mentioned that the uniforms the Trek characters wear on Earth look a bit like Nazi uniforms. Who'da thunk anyone would have agreed with me?

Yarr: Pirated Star Trek: TNG DVDs

I bought these because they were cheap. I bought these because I thought they were official. I mean, lots of stuff is officially released in Asia. However, I discovered once I’d bid on this item on Ebay that Star Trek: The Next Generation was never released officially in Asia. So these are not for real. Which is readily apparent when you examine them. I write this article not for sympathy, and certainly not to promote these DVDs. I write this article to warn others away from Asian import DVDs, particularly when Star Trek is concerned.

Here are the signs that will pretty much guarantee what you buy of Ebay will disappoint you:

1. Item is described as having “Asian text on discs and some menus”. In the case of ST:TNG DVDs, there’s no Asian text on the menus. The discs and boxes are loaded with it. I don’t have a problem with Asian text on the boxes or menus, however we must remember that Paramount has never licensed Asian releases of Star Trek on DVD.

2. Auction item claims DVDs will be shipped out specific to your region. Actually, they’ll be shipped out with no region encoding whatsoever, and will play on any DVD player on the planet. Due to the formalities and realities of international trade, virtually all official DVDs are region encoded.

3. No photo of the item is provided on the auction. This is because the Asian knock-off DVDs ship in hideous cardboard boxes and look so blatantly fake you’d never buy them otherwise. (And we’ve already established I’m an idiot for buying these DVDs.)

So, what’s all the fuss about, anyway? Lets examine the booty! Yarr!

The box.

This is the absolutely gorgeous box that ST:TNG Season Five comes in! I bought all seven seasons, and they progress through vile primary colours as the series spans out (pink, purple, green, blue, turquoise, brown and orange if you’re curious). I’ve only opened season five as I own official copies of seasons one to four already. I may not open any more of them, as they have an unpleasant stench of that weird glue elaborate Asian cardboard packaging is always sealed with. It’s worth noting the text looks absolutely nothing like the real ST:TNG logo. Hmm.

The box, open.

We’ve established the boxes are cardboard. For some reason, every single thing ever made in Asia always seems to be packaged in an over-the-top cardboard case, usually complete with metal hinges and clips, or a magnetic seal, and often some kind of canvassy fabric covering it. To be honest, I don’t mind these types of boxes. I think they’re classy, in a weird way. The boxes the ST:TNG DVDs are shipped in are not so classy, though.

The inside is covered with gold paper, and the lip of the case is held closed with magnets set behind the paper. The DVDs live in a recess in the box.

Inside. Be glad this is not smell-o-internet.

The discs themselves are packaged in incredibly cheap plastic pouches. Season five is arranged with two sets of three discs in individual thin pouches which are then wedged tightly into a third, thicker pouch. A third thick pouch houses the remaining disc. There is no booklet containing the episode names for the season, as per the official DVD sets. The inside of the cover has a crappy black and white picture of the Trek crew that has most of their faces cut off.

Gene Roddenbery (sic) would not be pleased!

One of the discs, note blobby disfiguration at 11 o’clock.

I suppose you could forgive the packaging if the discs were of decent quality, right? Well, not this time. The discs themselves have several flaws. Worst of all of these are the extremely obvious malformations around the edges (inside and out) of the discs. These look like a result of either heat damage (unlikely) or the use of extremely cheap, poor quality discs (ka-ching!).

I keep using the phrase “you could forgive these things if“, but it all comes down to this, really: You could forgive all of these things IF….the DVDs worked properly.

Do they? What do you reckon? Place your bets!

Of course they don’t!

Copyright notice. How thorough.

Episode menu for season 5, disc 7. Works great until..

You select the last episode, and the menus for it vanish!

Selecting the last episode of the last disc, which is the disc with only two episodes and a bunch of special features, presents an issue. There’re no menu items visible. The DVD arrow thing (shown as a red semi-circle hovering to the far left of “mission logs” in the third picture above) cruises around the screen, but you have no idea what you’re selecting. Which is incredibly convenient. This is obviously a flaw in the DVD duplication process, where they’ve evidently used the same software from the other four episode discs for the last disc. The copyright notice is included, but the language selection screen is absent.

So that’s about it, really.

Almost.

There’s one other minor issue.

It’s not really that important, I suppose.

But it annoys me ever-so-slightly.

Wanna know what it is?

Oh, alright.

EVERY FOURTH EPISODE HAS NO ENDING.

No biggie.