Monday, May 20, 2013

Film Review - Star Trek Into Darkness

Fair warning, this has spoilers!

Into Darkness was an enjoyable theater experience, something that JJ Abrams has delivered twice in a row, a rare feat for Star Trek movies. Although his movies sometimes feel more like Star Wars, seeing good Trek on a big stage making millions of dollars is a good thing.

Let's start with the things I liked: (1) I liked the symmetry of the story, seeing Khan use his own blood to save a girl and start his plot against the Federation leaders at the beginning then seeing the Enterprise crew do the same to save Kirk at the end, (2) Cumberbatch was good, but the glowing praise for Benedict Cumberbatch seems a bit much...he was great compared to Eric Bana's Nero, but that's like competing against a cardboard cutout. I felt like Cumberbatch was outshined in the bad guy department by Peter Weller's Admiral Marcus, and Weller was incredible, (3) The visuals were stunning, especially the redone warp departure, and the Enterprise felt like much more of an important piece of the story this time around, (4) I loved the return of suspense to the Klingon relationship after decades of post-TOS stories made the Klingons friends, (5) Almost each character in the ensemble crew had a memorable and significant role, much more so than the 2009 Trek.

There were a few things I did not like also: (1) Did we need another Prime Directive story to start off?, (2)  Why do we insist on going back to Earth again, there was little reason to stage much of the ending there, (3) I'm not a massive fan of the flipped Wrath of Khan redone ending, good for nostalgia only but lost the emotional punch of the same scene in Wrath of Khan, (4) Not a fan of Carol Marcus so far, but that was one of few weak points in the character development, (5) the Klingon fight scene on Kronos felt like a rejected scene from Mortal Kombat.

Bottom line: I had fun, but for some reason the movie left less of a positive overall impression than 2009 Trek. I give it 4 out of 5 stars. However, I love that the beginning of the 5-year mission ended the movie, as that hopefully means a new fresh story far away from home in the next movie or even better, a new television series.

TWITrek Character Insight No. 52: T'Pau

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here.
Welcome back to Character Insight!  This week, we continue Vulcan Month with T'Pau, from Enterprise and TOS.

(Insert clip of T'Pau British rock band ) - No, not that T'Pau. However, the British rock band was named after this character thanks to the lead singer watching the TOS episode Amok Time when naming the band.

T'Pau was a leader of the Syrrannite movement on Vulcan, a movement seeking to reform Vulcan society based on the true teachings of an ancient Vulcan philosopher Surak. When she takes over as leader of the movement following Syrran's death, she is farily quickly framed for a bombing of the United Earth Embassy.

While the crew of Archer's Enterprise investigate the bombing, T'Pau initially does not trust these officers. However, Syrran had transferred the katra of Surak into Jonathan Archer, and T'Pau immediately accepts them and tries to force Archer to undergo a procedure for removing the katra from him. This was unsuccessful, but Archer was not killed by the process, which was a precursor to the successful removal of Spock's katra from Dr. McCoy in Star Trek III.

T'Pau ends up curing T'Pol of Panar Syndrome, which was caused by the previous mind meld. She helps Archer prove the teachings and peaceful history of the Syrrannites, which helps her off the hook for the bombings. This also lofts her to one of the high ranking ministers in the new Vulcan government following the dissolution of the Vulcan High Command.

T'Pau later serves as the officiating priestess at Spock's formal Vulcan wedding in the episode Amok Time. She established the disdain for outsiders in this episode, a theme that is picked up by Jolene Blaylock as she played T'Pol in Enterprise. In fact, the role of T'Pau was highly influential on many future actors who played Vulcan characters.

Our notable quote this week comes from the episode Kir'Shara:

T'Pau: [to Archer] You may be witnessing the start of a new era, not only for Vulcan, but for Earth as well.
Vulcan Ambassador Soval: The Minister intends to pursue a less aggressive policy toward your people. The High Command will be dissolved.
T'Pau: You'll no longer have us looking over your shoulder. It's time for Earth to stand on its own.
Actor: As noted above, Kara Zediker played young T'Pau in Enterprise after Celia Lovsky played the character in Amok Time. Zediker has played in the TV show 24 and the movie Contagion.

Until next time, live long and prosper...

Sunday, May 12, 2013

TWITrek Character Insight No. 51: Sarek

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here.
Welcome back to Character Insight!  This week, we continue Vulcan Month with Sarek, from TOS and TNG.

Sarek is an ambassador for Vulcan and also serves on the Federation Council.  Sarek is the father of Spock, who was profiled last week and is a central persona in Star Trek lore. Before serving in the ambassador role he is seen in during most appearances on the series, Sarek was an astrophysicist.

Similar to his father Skon and later his son Spock, Sarek uses his role as ambassador to negotiate the entry of multiple species into the Federation. Sarek also builds early treaties with the Klingon Empire, which sets the foundation for the work that Spock would later do many decades later. Although Sarek appears in more movies than television episodes, we learn more about Spock and his history in these few appearances.

Sarek initially had a child with a Vulcan princess, and then he married Spock's human mother Amanda Grayson. This half-brother Sybok does not appear until Star Trek V, and some might say the wait was not worth it considering the story that was told with Sybok. However, Spock ends up understanding how to be a Vulcan better than even Sybok thanks to struggling with Sarek's inter-species marriage through his childhood.

Sarek has a strained relationship with Spock after Spock joins Starfleet Academy, but he mends that relationship and ends up being the driving force behind getting Spock resurrected in Star Trek III. Sarek then serves as the first major crossover character starring in episodes of The Next Generation, appearing in two episodes before Montgomery Scott made the other significant appearance by a TOS character.

Mark Lenard immediately made Sarek a fan favorite, although it took nearly 15 years for him to reprise the role in his first movie appearance. Ironically, he did not know that Sarek was killed in the TNG episode Unification I until after it aired since he only saw part of the script. However, Sarek leaves a part of himself with Captain Picard in a similar manner to how Spock left his impression on Dr. McCoy before his death.

Our notable quote this week comes from the episode Journey to Babel:

Gav: There will be payment for your slander, Sarek.
Sarek: Threats are illogical. And payment is usually expensive.

Actor: As noted above, Mark Lenard played Sarek after first appearing as a Romulan Commander earlier in TOS. Ben Cross took over the role in the 2009 reboot.

Until next time, live long and prosper...

Sunday, May 5, 2013

TWITrek Character Insight No. 50: Spock

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here.
Welcome back to Character Insight!  This week, we continue Vulcan Month and celebrate our 50th segment installment by profiling the Vulcan who started it all, Spock, from TOS.

Spock serves as first officer and science officer aboard the Enterprise under Captain Kirk. Although Kirk and Spock share very few qualities, they become best friends that learn to harness each other's natural abilities for the best of the crew. For example, Kirk's intuition and impulsiveness shores up any weaknesses in Spock's detached logical nature, and vice versa.

Spock went on to be an ambassador, following in the steps of his father Sarek. Spock was the lead force behind the alliance of the Federation and the Klingon Empire, a union that ended up being critical as bigger threats came in the future such as the Borg and the Dominion. Perhaps his time with an opposite personality Kirk led him to lead the charge for combining the opposite cultures in the Federation and the Kilingon Empire.

Spock grew up as the son of a human teacher and a Vulcan ambassador, which led him to struggle with fitting into either human or Vulcan culture. Spock ends up taking on the traits of a Vulcan more than a human, but it is his humanity that plays a vital role in many of his Starfleet endeavors. Some of this he does not realize until his time working with Captain Picard in TNG.

Spock also has an interesting relationship with Dr. McCoy, the two never holding back from verbal jabs when the benefits of being human or being Vulcan crop up in a particular mission. Some of the best dialogue in the entire TOS series comes between these two characters.

Spock cements how close this friendship is by giving his katra or Vulcan soul to Dr. McCoy before dying in the Wrath of Khan, but this decision allows his resurrection in the next movie. Spock's death and resurrection are signature moments in the Star Trek story, showing just how critical his character was to the Enterprise and to the Federation at large.

Spock has many interests, including poetry, music, art, and chess. He is a vegetarian, yet another Vulcan trait he took on. Our notable quote this week comes from many episodes:

"Live Long and Prosper"

Actor: Leonard Nimoy played Spock, and he also appeared on other shows Gunsmoke, Mission Impossible, and Fringe. He also directed multiple movies, including two Star Trek films and Three Men and a Baby.

Until next time, live long and prosper...