A Tale of Two Treks

Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down. Antz and A Bug’s Life. 30 Rock and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Sometimes 2 movies or TV shows with the same premise are released at the same time. Some people say that it’s the result of the zeitgeist. I believe that they are usually a coincidence since there is so much media. Either way, it’s the perfect setup for a head-to-head comparison, and unless you traveled through the wormhole to a desolate planet (or maybe just aren’t a trekkie), then you should know that we are witnessing the greatest TV show fight of all: The Orville or Star Trek: Discovery? Continue reading “A Tale of Two Treks”

“Star Trek Into Darkness” Review

Just over 4 years ago, JJ Abrams rebooted the Star Trek series with Star Trek, a movie made for the modern moviegoer with a young, hip cast. Star Trek Into Darkness is the sequel and is again directed by JJ Abrams, who again takes the audience on another thrilling adventure with the crew of the Enterprise.

The film is centered around Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) and his pursuit of John Harrison, a rogue Starfleet agent played by Benedict Cumberbatch (best known as Sherlock Holmes in the BBC series Sherlock). After committing a terrorist act on Earth, Harrison flees, and the Enterprise is responsible for dealing with the threat. Pitching in are first officer Spock (Zachary Quinto), communications officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana), medical officer Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban), and more. Continue reading ““Star Trek Into Darkness” Review”

The Gift of a Hat

(Author’s note: I wrote this in mid-January but haven’t gotten around to posting it until now)

Julie was surprised when I mentioned a scarf as a possible Christmas gift. I explained to her how nice a scarf would be for the cold, minter nighttime bike rides I regularly do, but she was actually surprised that I didn’t have one from my mom, who recently has been knitting up gifts for many non-childrens of hers. This Christmas, however, I discovered that I was not left off the list when I found a knitted black hat in my stocking.

On first take, it wasn’t too special: for warmth, my primary hat is a black toque, but then I saw the 2 pointy ears on the sides. They looked a little puffy, but it was unmistakably a Mr. Spock hat with a black cap of hair and 2 pointy Vulcan ears. Fortunately, I haven’t become too cool to be excited about it and popped it right on to check the fit.

In the minutes after opening it, I questioned whether I would actually wear it. My black toque was thicker, but more importantly, I didn’t know whether I really wanted to loudly proclaim my nerd side as with the hat. Regardless, I brought it back to the west coast with me, and for a week or two, it was mostly a novelty I would pop on to show and amuse my friends with my mom’s handiwork. Nights, however, became colder as January progressed, and my fingers and ears suffered the most on my bike rides. Unfortunately, my toque is too thick for me to wear it and my helmet safely. The Spock hat, however, was thinner and also covered my ears with the pointy version. Since I made this realization, a biking Vulcan has been seen around Mountain View.

I was still self-conscious about it at first: I didn’t put the hat on until just before mounting my bike, and even then, I hoped that no one would see the ears at night when I whizzed by. A few days later, however, I wore it around San Francisco to show to my coworkers with whom I was on a coffee crawl. In fact, it might actually have helped me blend in more than stick out in San Francisco.

The big test came shortly after on a particularly cold morning. I decided the warmth was worth it and put on the hat for my commute in the morning light.

People were looking.

If you don’t know what I look like, visit the links in my blog’s sidebar. I’m sure you will agree that my appearance is largely unremarkable. I’m a little short, quite underweight, and very Chinese, but other than a funny birthmark on my nose, there isn’t much to notice, and I’m used to receiving little attention. Wearing the Spock ears in daylight, however, has taught me what it means to “feel” others staring.

The best of the bunch was a second grader being walked to school by his mom. I pulled up to a red light and while I waited, he crossed the street in front of me with his hand held tightly by his mom. From the opposite sidewalk to the sidewalk beside me, his head turned smoothly to lock his eyes on me, and as he passed in front of me and past me, he looked back until I had a green light and sped off.

I think I liked the attention, but not strongly. It isn’t a mixed bag as much as disappointment about how little I felt about it. I thought that the attention would be more remarkable than this. The comparison is perhaps weak, but I think this is about the closest experience I will have to what attractive girls experience in public. The intent of staring strangers isn’t the same curiosity as I received for the novelty of my ears, but I hope that the attention isn’t a negative for anyone.

Regardless, I feel pretty good about wearing the hat now. I’m comfortable enough being a dork that if the worst someone can do is make fun of my hat, I think I’m doing well. I don’t usually fuss about my appearance much, but I now know what it’s like to project an image. It isn’t so special, so I guess I’ll carry on with my t-shirts and jeans.

And Spock hat. Just for the ear warmth.

Star Trek Review

I had only just gotten out of my seat, not even to the aisle, before I already wanted to see the sequel.

This evening, my dormmates and I went to a late 11:00 showing of “Star Trek.” Having watched the trailers, I got the gist of the movie. We were going to rewind all the way to young Kirk and Spock where they would fight some great Romulan threat. And as soon as the movie begins, you can see the massive Romulan ship as it destroys the Federation starship from where Mrs. Kirk escapes while giving birth. Having just seen “Wolverine” last week, I was in the mindset to immediately jump into the action, and it felt good to get the rush in a legitimate way. Sometimes, it’s good enough just for the action to look amazing. But it works out much better when it’s actually well done as well.

Watching the movie, it’s clear that it’s not your traditional Trek. Indeed, the cast including Sylar, Harold from “Harold & Kumar,” Hot Fuzz, the oracle from “Pirates of the Caribbean,” an assassin from “The Bourne Supremacy,” and some guy from “Princess Diaries 2” doesn’t sound like it’ll work. Obviously no one in the world can be Captain Kirk like William Shatner, yet it absolutely works better that Chris Pine doesn’t try. Instead of the vaguely cheesy style of classic Trek, he actually plays a believable character faithful to the cockiness and humor of Kirk, without the halting speech. Karl Urban does just as good a job pulling off a McCoy accent and maintaining his cantankerous nature. The best acting, however, came from Zachary Quinto as Spock, who’s inner conflict as half-human and half-Vulcan comes off in a truly believable way.

Another major tip-off that they weren’t going to stick to classic Trek aspects is the completely re-designed look of the ship and bridge. From the clips in the preview, you can see that the crew is no longer working on boxy, black-and-white displays, but actually have something that looks sharper than an iPhone. Even so, the general layout of the bridge remains the same with the captain’s chair in the middle, viewscreen straight ahead, and the crew in a circle around that. Combined with flawless special effects integration, and the visuals won’t disappoint.

More importantly, I think the movie works because of how it decides to maintain the Star Trek feel. It would’ve been very easy for the producers to just re-hash Star Trek in all its glory one more time. Find the old props and throw them in. Keep the transporter effect. Use the same costumes. Tell the same jokes in the same ways. But instead, they amazingly tastefully discarded just about anything unnecessary from Star Trek and kept only the spirit to appease the trekkies.

So the pace of the movie is remarkably unlike that of any Star Trek to date. It’s hip, it’s sexy, it’s dramatic, it takes itself seriously. Not to say it doesn’t stick to a couple good laughs for old time’s sake. But when Scotty yells, “I’m giving her all she’s got!”, he actually means it. The token gestures to classic Trek lines might or might not be familiar to you, though if not, I’d bet that the only reason why’d you know is the trekkie snickering in the corner at a seemingly random time.

The verdict is that this movie is fantastic. Screw the fact that it’s Star Trek; it’s a damn good movie on its own merits. Argue whether the Star Trek universe actually has the merit to pull something like this off; I don’t care. It’ll run the full gamut of amazement, humor, action, and empathy that you want a movie to make you feel. My vote’s in; cross-referenced with my “favorite movies” on Facebook, it’s the best movie I’ve seen

And I’m so glad for it, because for the first time in human history, it’s cool to be a trekkie.

Trekking Back

From the contents of my blog, one might think I’ve spent my entire summer either journeying, working, or cooking. And while I’ve happily done a lot of that, downtime appears often enough, and I’ve had passive activities I’ve wanted to tackle there as well.

CBS has been kind enough to upload all of Star Trek: The Original Series to their video site, and since spring break, I’ve watched an entire season (and some) of classic Trek and been amazed that people ever watched this show. Warning: the rest of my post is all about flaws in Star Trek. I highly recommend that you stop if you don’t care.

I can’t vouch for why, but the style of classic Trek varies significantly from my conception of Star Trek. Having watched Patrick Stewart and Armin Shimerman deliver meaningful, authentic performances in (usually) equally meaningful episodes, I was somewhat surprised by the artificiality of classic Trek. Barring the less advanced special effects and the premise that little green men travel in intergalactic spaceships that are frisbees glued onto engines, classic Trek lacks the compelling, convincing aspects from dramatic presentation. Before commercial breaks, William Shatner flatly delivers a stilted summary of the plot in a desperate attempt to make often simple situations seem more suspenseful.

These situations usually are a consequence of Captain Kirk’s tactless approach to interspecies diplomacy. In “The Squire of Gothos,” a god-like–yet childish–being takes hold of the Enterprise and forces several crew members to join him in a recreated castle. Instead of acquiescing to humor Trelane, Kirk decides that he’ll keep his pride at the risk of having his entire crew destroyed.

But it’s not entirely his fault because apparently only the most oblivious beings are allowed to be in the Enterprise crew. In “Shore Leave,” the crew finds a planet where anything one thinks about is created, from WWII bombers to medieval dresses. In fact, the crew faces 6-7 very real (but normally impossible) situations they had just thought of before they manage to realize that they won’t get killed if they think happy thoughts.

And with the mention of medieval dresses, Kirk always decides to beam down a single, random (new; different each episode) female crewmember as well. Instead of being as strong as her fellow male crewmembers from tough academy training, she usually ends up being eye-candy and almost entirely feminine. The crew-woman in “Shore Leave” thinks of and decides to wear a medieval dress despite its impracticality and the situation’s dangerousness. And in “Who Mourns for Adonais?,” the crew-woman is only a love interest for the Greek god Apollo (and also goes through a wardrobe change).

Delving deeper, the episodes either come off as in-your-face or meaningless. Deep Space 9 gives us episodes like “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” where we watch Nog, a young Ferengi Starfleet officer, deal with losing his leg, even going as far as to live largely in a holodeck to escape reality. Classic Trek gives us “The Changeling,” where Kirk ends up talking a robot to death because it is cleansing everything that is not perfect, and it itself cannot be perfect. Obviously, a sample from the extremes of both series, but I’ll trust that the distributions are also separated.

The hollowness hurts even more because some episodes had potential. In “Operation — Annihilate!,” Spock risks his own sight to be an experimental target for a radiation burst meant to destroy the parasites in his system. They even add a twist when they learn that the visible spectrum wasn’t necessary as part of the radiation to destroy the parasites. Yet instead of adding blindness to his character and developing him, we learn at the end of the episode that Vulcans have second eyelids that protected him and allowed him to retain all of his vision

But all of this–the fortieth time Kirk talks a computer to death (“The Return of the Archons”), Kirk’s fighting technique like an overhead two-handed fist slam (“The Arena”), the painfully cheesy monsters (“The Galileo 7”), the complete unreasonableness of some characters (“Court Martial”), the dramatic close-ups of Shatner, the pointless ending where everyone laughs at a dumb joke (“Galileo 7”)–just manages to work in a charming way now. I ask myself why I’m still watching after every episode. Maybe it’s because I’m a trekkie. Or maybe it’s just really entertaining in a way that they didn’t intend.

I’ll have to look into why Star Trek is as it is, though. As bizarre as the show seems to me now, many of the elements were likely familiar parts of shows from the 60s. And I’ll bet the portrayal of females has changed a lot in these couple decades. Sounds like good material for a PWR paper.