Star Trek

Keep the engines running

I remember the first time I watched Star Trek: the Next Generation on a television with a halfway decent sound system. Until that moment, I'd never known that every scene aboard the ship had been Foley edited to include a subtle underlying audio track: the constant thrumming of the ship's engines. 

Now you can listen to the Enterprise's engines in your own sleeping quarters, idling uninterupted for a full twelve hours.

If's that's not your ship of choice, you can fall asleep to the gentle engines of Deep Space Nine, the Nostromo, and the Millennium Falcon.

All your Mary Sue are belong to us

The Star Trek franchise has inspired an active community of fans who produce short films and web series set in the fictional universe. I knew of a few projects, but I had no idea how many were out there. 

One of the most impressive, Star Trek Continues, captures not only the flavor of the original series, but its distinctive cinematography and production values. It transcends the fan service of most amateur efforts and offers a warm homage to a show that changed television and popular perceptions of science fiction. It is also unabashedly cheesy. 

These fan productions have historically been tolerated Trek's copyright-holders, as long as they were non-commercial projects. But now there's some real money in play. The Kickstarter campaign to fund a full-length film, Star Trek: Axanar, raised over $600,000. Star Trek Continues raised over $200,000 to fund its ongoing web series. 

Now, after a generation in which their existence became the stuff of whispered legend, the dreaded twin empires CBS and Paramount Pictures have returned to our galaxy with heavily armed lawyers, promising to assimilate everyone into their vision of utopia. 

Throughout the years, many of you have expressed your love for the franchise through creative endeavors such as fan films. So today, we want to show our appreciation by bringing fan films back to their roots. 

Their "Tips for Avoiding Objections" (re: crippling legal action) include that fan efforts cannot be more than 15 minutes long and cannot involve any sequels or episodes. If anyone on board your fan ship wants to wear the Starfleet uniform or carry any of the gizmos, they'd better purchase one of the officially licensed versions. Also, the title of your production cannot include the words "Star Trek."  You can crowdfund, but your production cannot have a budget over $50,000. 

In short, non-commercial fan films are fine, as long as they suck.

As you might imagine, the guidelines have been called things like "super uncool."

But is this entirely the case of an evil empire vs a plucky resistance? This isn't the Star Wars universe, after all. Trek has always embraced a bit more subtlety. Self described "egotistical malcontent" Chris Murray alleges that Paramount isn't entirely at fault and the producers of Star Trek: Axanar ruined it for everyone

Torch, passed

My initial reaction to The Force Awakens was that it was a much better Star Wars Film than J.J. Abrams' Star Trek films worked as Star Trek films. 

[Note: I won't be saying anything here that I believe will ruin your experience if you haven't seen it yet.] 

I've been thinking about why this was the case. For starters, Star Wars was born on the big screen. Its storytelling DNA comes from film- themes, story structure, character development, even its visuals - all were all designed to illuminate a darkened theater. Even the primary struggle, light and dark, with generally clear delineation, works in the 2-3 hour context of a big budget movie. Star Trek's episodic nature, its ensemble cast, and its willingness to embrace some moral ambiguity have always made it a challenge to bring to the big screen. 

That said, the new Star Wars is as much about developing an interesting cast of characters as it is about a novel plot. And its bag guy, while perhaps less outright badass as Vader was, is such a better villain precisely because we see some moral ambiguity in him. 

Also, reboot vs. continuation. You would think rebooting would allow you to harness all the vitality and essence of its preceding version, fixing the wrongs and accentuating the positives, but it's so seldom the case. {Exceptions apply} Continuing an existing story line, however flawed, is often the choice with more richness of possibility. Sometimes, working within the constraints of a world builds a better story than disabling the safeties and starting over.

I suspect this may make me enemies on both sides, but if you think about it, the old Star Wars is to Force Awakens as Star Trek (The Original Series) is to Star Trek: The Next Generation. 

In standardized testing parlance:

Star Wars canon : Force Awakens :: TOS : TNG


What could it be? It's a mirage.

I'm all over the place with the new Star Trek trailer, which I honestly thought was a fan-made mashup when the Beastie Boys' Sabotage kicked in. 

It isn't the first time someone has thought to apply that track to some frenetic space action. This mashup of footage from Battlestar Galactica makes the Star Trek trailer look like a first draft.  

To truly appreciate the obsessive labor of love this project must have been, watch a side-by-side comparison between the Galactica version and the Beastie Boys' original music video. It's just stunning. Some of the visual parallels in each cut are truly inspired, particularly when you consider they flash by in mere fractions of a second.

Pew pew pew

Laser weapons, long the staple of sci-fi movies, are getting closer to becoming military reality. This article in Nature discusses where we stand in the quest to destroy more shit with light. 

The "problem," apparently, is that light doesn't make enough noise:

“The engagements happen quickly, and unless you're staring at a screen 24–7 you'll never see them,” Blount says. “So we've built sound in for whenever we fire the laser. We plan on taking advantage of lots of Star Trek and Star Wars sound bites.”

This was the bit that media picked up on, much more so than "hey, before long we might be able to incinerate anything we can get a line of sight on." 

So, hmmm.

  1. I assume Boeing will have to pay licensing fees to the trademark holders for the respective franchises. I'd love to see the contract that specifies how much money each gets paid for the funny noise produced when people get killed. And BTW I have to believe that "rolling over in his grave" doesn't even begin to describe how Gene Roddenberry would greet this news. 
  2. I'll leave it to others to explore the obvious, but still extremely troubling observation that this is another milestone in the progress toward the gamification of warfare - or "war by wire" as I just decided to call it. 
  3. There is a failure of creativity here. Come up with your own distinctive power-chord of hellfire, Boeing.