Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Gnome: Rated R

The Gnome. Rated R.

Is this costume great? My daughter came up with it. She won an award for it because all the other girls were dressed up as princesses. It's absolutely terrifying and screams to be franchised.
The killer Garden Gnome! 'nuff said!
Actually, I haven't looked, but it's probably already been done.
The knife was entirely supervised. : )
Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Star Trek: TNG S1 Ep3: The Naked Now & Ep4: Code Of Honor

Ladies and gentleman, the Star Trek franchise simply cannot help getting naked. Please do not adjust your screen, The Naked Now must not be confused with The Naked Time though Star Trek: The Next Generation wouldn't mind if that happened.

David Gerrold wrote of Star Trek: The Original Series [ST:TOS] in his Foreword: The Trouble With Trek segment within the book Boarding The Enterprise, "Here's a clue to the enduring popularity of Star Trek: it's a way of believing. Star Trek doesn't just say that there will be a future-it says that the future is full of possibility. Star Trek represents a promise that tomorrow can be better than today-if we are willing to design and build it. ... Star Trek promises that... problems are only momentary. We will do better."

This may be the fulcrum by which I base my adoration for ST:TOS over the more anti-septic, pristine, Utopian vibe of Star Trek: The Next Generation [ST:TNG]. ST:TOS presented a crew of the Enterprise exploring, discovering, coming up with solutions as it went. There was a sense of imperfection and normalcy to these regular officers. They made mistakes and we understood and connected with where they were in their evolution. Somehow, we were there with them. Kirk, a kind of middle-class everyman, was the perfect voice for a generation. Roddenberry too saw his original incarnation as an aggressive, child-like discoverer, whereby his ST:TNG crew was more evolved, more restrained, more polished, less rough around the edges. This is true. There's even a kind of elitism about ST:TNG. The crew of the Enterprise-D appeared to have all of the answers even if they didn't. Perhaps it was the refined, cultured, mannered, English-voiced Patrick Stewart as the gentleman lead that added to the impression. While Stewart is a tremendous actor there is an air and an aura that does keep one at a distance through his more sophisticated or distinguished style. Mind you, I enjoyed ST:TNG, some of it, but there was certainly a sense of knowing. The surrounding sense of discovery seemed less important somehow. It was gone, despite the fact they were clearly looking for new life and new worlds, supplanted by lessons without the thrills so pronounced in ST:TOS. It's hard to articulate in words because it's certainly not black and white and ST:TNG has some amazing moments fused with entries that clearly offered mixed results.

That's not Lisa Stansfield, but rather Denise Crosby as Tasha Yar looking an awful lot like Lisa Stansfield circa Affection [1989]. Does the Yar kiss curl pre-date Lisa?
I think Gerrold's reflections in that earlier statement reflect where fans were at the time. They were hungry for more Star Trek and ST:TNG expectations may have been unfairly elevated to some degree to be something bigger than it actually was ready to be. The cast is wonderful, but the stories, at least in Season One, really highlight the series' flaws. Nevertheless, the promise and potential of that future is strong when hailing from the world of Roddenberry. We the people choose to believe even if the material doesn't quite measure up to the classic originals. We believe in the promise of Star Trek. Even when it doesn't quite measure up to ST:TOS we're willing to buy into the framework and the potential for greatness established by the original.

These two installments are placed together with good reason. These clearly retread or riff on ST:TOS. One can look at the entries as homage in an effort to introduce the new cast, but they lack originality to be sure. The episodes are not exact copies, but are eerily familiar to episodes established during the ST:TOS run. ST:TNG, Season One, Episode 2, The Naked Now is essentially ST:TOS, Season One, Episode 4, The Naked Time [1966] and ST:TNG, Season One, Episode 3, Code Of Honor, while not as obvious, has echoes of ST:TOS, Season Two, Episode 1, Amok Time [1967] written all over it.

Synopsis: In The Naked Now, as crewman become infected judgment is impaired and characters like Tasha Yar get unclothed [never a bad thing] and I kept imagining Data saying "Get Naked Now!" It never goes that far, but things do begin to play fast and loose with the crew of the Enterprise-D as they did for the crew of the original Enterprise. This was clearly man going where man had gone before. The Naked Now even if it is an obvious copy is still nowhere near as good as its source The Naked Time.

Harsh criticism must be suspended as the series clearly makes efforts to placate the original fanbase, find its identity and take us down new roads. This was indeed old school, old guard straight up. This is best signified by the screenplay as penned by John D.F. Black [scriptwriter of The Naked Time] and J. Michael Bingham [ghost name for D.C. Fontana]. If it feels recycled it's because it is. Rick Berman said of The Naked Now, "It was an homage, not a copy." The concept of the Tsiolkovsky virus is old news, but our new crew fights the good fight as the crew of the Enterprise did once upon a time. Relationships are introduced not least of which is the William Riker/ Deanna Troi connection first established in an almost love-at-first-sighting in the Pilot, Encounter At Far Point. There is also the suggestion of a complex relationship between Dr. Beverly Crusher and Captain Jean-Luc Picard. This underlying tension would go on unaddressed until ST:TNG, Season Seven, Episode 8, Attached. The team behind ST:TNG were clearly packing a lot of elements and information into their upstart series just a little too quickly. But, as the Captain indicated at the end of the episode, paraphrasing, if the crew could avoid temptation, it could be one of the best crews. It may have been code for conflict, tension, sex, or what have you. Any way you sliced it, ST:TNG needed focus and strong character drama, which Gene Roddenberry was clearly holding back on during Season One. The Naked Now offers some, but it's merely a tease and certainly wasn't the tight package found in the ST:TOS episode for which it was paying tribute.

Code Of Honor truly taps the spirit of Amok Time, but once again is left a mere pale imitation or "homage" of the original idea. With Tasha Yar, a character embodied by Denise Crosby, central to the story, it didn't stand a chance of holding a candle to the talents noted in the classic helmed by Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner. Writer Tracy Torme [Season One, Episode 25, Conspiracy] indicated she felt the same way about the episode in Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion. It looked very much like the battle between Kirk and Spock from Amok Time.

Synopsis: A plague on Styris IV leads the Enterprise to a vaccine found on Ligon II. Unfortunately the crew must negotiate with a primal, socailly primitive tribe that lives by a code of honor that has the tendency to get panties in a bunch. Chief Lutan is impressed with Tasha Yar and she must fight his wife to the death. This is certainly one form of wife swapping. The politically correct, and in this case, Prime Directive-driven Captain Picard stands by in the hopes his security officer can survive the game while the Enterprise crew essentially sits this one out. That Prime Directive always was selective and will be in ST:TNG as well.

The episode is preachy and, of course, this is early on and reminds me of the clunky, preachy dialogue and scripting that reared its ugly head on Stargate SG-1, Season One, Episode 3, Emancipation. Fortunately, after the serious misstep of SG-1's Emancipation, that series ironically freed itself and got back on track. I suspect ST:TNG will do better, but Code Of Honor lands squarely in that realm. As it turns out, to my surprise later, Emancipation was also penned by the same scriptwriter, Katharyn Powers, as Code Of Honor. It all started coming together.

Thus, The Naked Now and Code Of Honor live in that all too familiar air of similarity. The episodes are decent, perhaps because they are based on strong scripts, but like a great film followed by a sequel they never quite measure up. It's been there done that, but better. There's not a lot to get excited about with ST:TNG.

Of course, a nation starved without the prospect of a Star Trek series for years were hungry. ST:TNG offered something close to the beloved classic. It was familiar and different enough to keep fans tuning in the hopes the creators would get it right. At the end of the Pilot, Encounter At Far Point, Picard looks to the bridge screen and gleefully pronounces, "Let's see what's out there." As it turns out, at least in these first few installments, it would be a retread and homage to past glories. What was out there was classic Star Trek: The Original Series. Nevertheless, fans would patiently wait for something more.

That is not a Star Wars lightsaber, but with ST:TNG you never know.
Ultimately, when the gates opened to the new series, ST:TNG, there was a predisposition to rely and fall back on some of the writers from ST:TOS as evidenced by Gene Roddenberry, D.C. Fontana and John D.F. Black's involvement. Unfortunately even the classic writers couldn't muster enough of the old magic to get this series rolling right away. There was a tendency to riff on themselves and what came before. Unfortunately it created a rush to judgment by many involved in the creation of ST:TNG. Everyone wanted results and they wanted them quickly. This ushered in a new wave of thinking and a new era of writers with a new way of writing. I admire writer Allen Steele's thoughts on the subject as outlined in his essay All Our Tomorrows: The Shared Universe Of Star Trek in Boarding The Enterprise. Star Trek: The Original Series is the classic it remains today for many reasons. Those reasons are far and wide and too many to list here. The actors, production design and much more played an important part in that series. One important factor was the writing. The science fiction writers involved and to some extent guided by Gene Roddenberry made for an epic saga that just rolled along like a runaway freight train even if people didn't notice it at the time. ST:TNG suffers without the confidence in sci-fi writing that was much of the bedrock behind The Original Series' cast and direction.

Steele had this to say about ST:TNG, "...the first season featured a few scripts written by veteran original-series writers and a couple of SF authors... it's second season... relied almost entirely upon scripts supplied by a staff of scriptwriters who'd previously written about cops, lawyers and doctors."

As I mentioned in my review of Encounter At Far Point, Gene Roddenberry eventually became overruled and "reduced to that of a figurehead."

Steele adds some interesting analysis with this closing thought. "SF writers were seldom allowed to set foot on the Enterprise."

Apparently, Rick Berman reached out to the SF writing community in 1992 when "he sent an open letter to the SFWA Forum, the in-house publication of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Of America, inviting its members to submit story proposals. If any were ever accepted, or even seriously considered, though, this writer never heard of it."

Herein lies the problem with spin-off franchises in Steele's humble opinion. ST:TNG, ST:DS9, ST:Voyager and ST: Enterprise all carried on with the implementation of writers primarily outside of the science fiction writing community. When the aforementioned incarnations of Star Trek seemed reminiscent of ST:TOS it was generally by design. It normally was the result of imitation on stories straight out of the classic original whether it be tribbles, alternate realities, Klingons or Klingon replacements.

Steele's conclusion brings home the point of where Star Trek had gone and where it needs to go. "If Star Trek is to be continued though, it must return to its roots. Using the latest generation of CGI special effects or putting another fashion model in a skintight uniform won't do the trick. The strength of the original series lay in its diversity. Star Trek was a science fiction anthology series; it needs science fiction writers to survive." Absolutely, Roddenberry pitched a kind of Outer Limits series with substance, only with a recurring cast of characters and limited sets to bring down costs. There was indeed a diversity of storytelling. Steele finishes with the recollection of Spock's words from Theodore Sturgeon's Amok Time, "Live Long And Prosper." "Always remember that an SF writer came up with that."

It is indeed the science fiction writer combined with the quality talents of the creative team that brought those stories and ideas to life. ST:TNG is clearly uncertain of where it's going here and arguably set its own course shortly thereafter, however awkward. But listen, about that fashion model in the skintight suit. We should talk.

The Naked Now: C+
Writer: John D.F. Black & J. Michael Bingham [D.C. Fontana]
Director: Paul Lynch

Code Of Honor: C
Writer: Katharyn Powers & Michael Baron
Director: Russ Mayberry

Writer Footnote: Katharyn Powers. She would pen the horribly preachy Stargate SG-1, Season One episode, Emancipation, which is horribly reminiscent of ST:TNG Code Of Honor. Things did improve on the writing front for Powers with seven more SG-1 episodes including: Brief Candle, Thor's Hammer, Fire And Water, Enigma, Thor's Chariot, Family and Serpent Song. Powers also penned Past Prologue for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

SciFiNow's Top 10 Sci-Fi Vehicles

The Ford Falcons from George Miller's Mad Max are quite simply bad to the bone.

ciFiNow is really winning me over with its Top Ten lists. I'm always inspired by my love of thumbing through a quality sci-fi magazine and feeling the thin paper against my weather-worn fingertips. Mind you, SciFiNow is like a science fiction fan on speed between two covers. This magazine is busier than the Mos Eisley spaceport at rush hour. It throws images and bits of information at you so fast and furious your head could spin straight off your body. But, it's large and colorful and segments like their The Complete Guide To... are always a lot of fun.

Starlog Magazine used to be one of the finest monthly reads filled with terrific, well-penned articles and thoughtful, insightful interviews. Starburst Magazine was a close second for me. SciFiNow, the last man standing and essentially their replacement for me, is filled with colorful photos, photos, pictures, images and photos. The writing may not be as intensive as those now defunct personal favorites, but I am relenting and accepting SciFiNow's strengths at this point. It's a bit like a science fiction film with wonderful special effects, but minor character development. Nevertheless, there are some fine moments in SciFiNow. There are some decent interviews, good retro pieces and lists here and there. I love my lists! I only purchase when I find something I really must see and look longingly at for minutes on end. They do a nice job with their layout! Farscape, Stargate, Star Trek are generally sells for me.
SciFiNow Issue#10 offered its list of the ten best Sci Fi Vehicles. I thought I'd give you their list and then serve up my far superior list at another time. :^) Seriously, you can't tell me your list wouldn't be better than this one.

These things are always subjective and I didn't care for some of there selections at all. Does the writer watch science fiction? It's a strange list. However, they did include a few I fully support.
SciFiNow's Top 10 Sci-Fi Vehicles:
1. Millennium Falcon [Star Wars]
2. The DeLorean [Back To The Future]
3. Optimus Prime [Transformers]
4. Planet Express Ship [Futurama]
5. The Tardis [Doctor Who]
6. The U.S.S. Enterprise [Star Trek]
7. The Warthog [Halo]
8. Thunderbird 2 [Thunderbirds]
9. Max [Flight Of The Navigator]
10. Kraken II [Innerspace]
I'll grant them the Millennium Falcon is a classic, but the bloody DeLorean? Seriously? If we're including cars I'd have to submit James Bond's Lotus from The Spy Who Loved Me over this vehicle any day of the week or just about any James Bond car.

How about the 1974 Ford Falcon Black Pursuit Special Coupe Max Rockatansky had souped up for Mad Max? Now, that is bad ass to the bone. The Mad Max 1974 Yellow MFP [Main Force Patrol] Ford Falcon Interceptor is a close second.

Of course there's the Bat Mobile or Tumbler. Blade Runner's police hover vehicles are cool. But, the DeLorean? Really.

Minority Report's Pre-Crime Hovership rocks it pretty sweet. Just about any craft from Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within qualify as aces.

By the way, while we're on the subject, Transformers sucked! So Optimus Prime is out because he's a creation of Michael Bay and Michael Bay sucks. Most of all, Transformers sucked and my prejudices toward the Michael Bay franchise aside, Optimus Prime is a robot truck so it really should be ineligible for this list. The magazine is clearly playing to the kids with this call.

If we're going to include robots [and I don't care that it turns into a shiny truck], I would have selected the Evangelion units from Neon Genesis Evangelion over these silly toys. EVA-01 or EVA-02 are completely off the chart monsters! I'd even go with the robot from Gunbuster if we're including robots from the towering-over-man department. How about the patrol labors from Patlabor?

Max is actually collecting rust in the back studio lot at MGM in Florida. I saw it with my own eyes. It's not exciting and it's not impressive. Would this be on your Top 25?
What is up with Max from Flight Of The Navigator and Kraken II from Innerspace. Good grief. Really? These are the best you can come up with for your top ten? We're suppose to take you seriously.

I can't really comment on Planet Express Ship from Futurama, because I've never seen it, but it's Futurama, the same people behind The Simpsons. Should Matt Groenig's cartoon ship count?

Finally, the Warthog from the Halo video game seems an odd stretch. I'm not sure video games are an option without opening up a can of worms. Bottom line: SciFiNow is clearly pandering to an audience here and I really don't think the Warthog should qualify.

I do love the U.S.S. Enterprise and the many variations of said ship throughout the Star Trek franchise. The various incarnations to follow are all distinct and deserve their own place, but selecting the original template that made it all possible is the only real option. This is an absolute decision. If Star Trek: The Original Series ranks as the best science fiction series of all-time, the Enterprise, with all of its thoughtful, lived-in design, personality and character clearly makes the top of any list.

Star Wars has so many ships to pull from it's hard to settle on just one. The Slave 1, Tantive IV, the Sandcrawler, the Clone Turbo Tank and the Republic Gunship are just some examples of the vast selection of vessels that could make the list from Star Wars.

Additionally, the Thunderbirds series has alot to offer, but I think it's fair to say Thunderbird 2 is the queen mother in a manner of speaking. The T2 Pod bay even gives us classics like the Firefly and the Mole. T2 hands down is the right choice beyond the equally cool T1.

SciFiNow is an English publication so you can expect a vehicle like The Tardis to make an appearance. So unsuspecting isn't it?

So, SciFiNow, what the heck kind of list is this? Not to mention you disparage the Serenity from Firefly in your Five Of The Worst list. WOW! How could you discount Serenity? As much as I find your list disconcerting I refuse to burn this issue. Seriously, there's a great section on Space:1999 in the issue and I plan on revisiting the issue for that segment. Not to mention, your import magazine is far too expensive to burn, at least until I run out of firewood this winter.

Friday, October 22, 2010

OMD: History Of Modern

Bright orange is always good. That Peter Saville [New Order] cover art works beautifully for OMD and recalls Very by the Pet Shop Boys.

You have to hand it to OMD for being as clever as ever with their latest effort, History Of Modern [2010]. It's not so much an oxymoron, but rather a musical retrospective applying the techniques of their past, historic classics like Architecture & Morality [1981] with a touch of the modern.

Founders Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys have reunited since departing company back in 1989 at the height of their commercial success following the release of The Pacific Age [1986] and The Best Of OMD [1988]. It certainly seemed like a logical point to shake things up. It's been a long road to hoe for both artists. Paul Humphreys dabbled with his own The Listening Pool [with fellow OMD members Martin Cooper and Malcolm Holmes] releasing Still Life [1994]. He later forged OneTwo with former Propaganda singer Claudia Brucken for a CD Instead [2007] and an earlier CD Ep Item [2004]. The Ep turned out one amazing track featuring Paul Humphreys on vocal called Sister. The song was classic Humphreys a la Secret and Forever Live And Die.

Yes, my OMD collection in my Fanboy Cave.

Meanwhile, McCluskey was continuing the tradition of the OMD name with lesser returns but greater success financially than Humphreys. Let's face it, there's much value in a name [example- Tears For Fears' Roland Orzabal carried on without Curt Smith]. McCluskey gave us three successive pop classic recordings sans Humphreys in Sugar Tax [1991], Liberator [1993] and Universal [1996]. He hung up his hat and placed the OMD moniker on hiatus and looked into the production realm for other pop acts [Atomic Kitten] to lesser success. It seemed like the OMD day had dawned and another act [like the wonderful Thompson Twins] had faded into the sunset. But like any retired group, acts are never dead completely [The Eagles].

Revitalized in 2006, OMD got the band back together. Their latest recording, History Of Modern, is classic 80s pop magnificence most of the time. It's McCluskey's first recording with the OMD name since Universal. Unlike the previous three projects created without Humpheys the duo's presence as a unified front is easily recognizable. Just as Roland Orzabal rejoined Curt Smith for Tears For Fears' Everybody Loves A Happy Ending [2004], OMD's reunion is a sweet and welcomed audio tour de force.

Reaching back to the kind of wonder that filled classic OMD works like Architecture & Morality, History Of Modern pays tribute to the aforementioned classic's two part Maid Of Orleans [Waltz Joan Of Arc] and Joan Of Arc with this effort's History Of Modern Part I and Part II, two bona fide originals with their own distinct styles. Like those unforgettable earlier tracks these two songs are infinitely listenable and will hold up.

To be honest, and I'm breaking with formula here [because I wanted to simply focus on classic recordings], The History Of Modern isn't splendid from start to finish, but it does start strong and finish strong. It's often few and far between when a fan of the 80s gets to enjoy a proper band's return to form and OMD's project certainly offers cause for celebration here and the respect of a proper purchase. The last such arrival that was equally strong, and arguably better was Prefab Sprout's Let's Change The World With Music [2009], but OMD is right there thanks to some standout selections. OMD opens up the doors to their glorious past through song and sound and their are some amazing moments here.

Apart from the two part title track OMD lays down one of the best, balls-to-the-wall bass lines I've heard in some time. While certainly not known for bass lines, not since New Order has a group delivered as potent an opener as the one here on The History Of Modern. The high energy show opener will have you jumping out of your car seat. New Babies New Toys is an instant classic. It's the kind of song that makes one pleased as blood pudding that McCluskey and Humphrey's intend on getting a second reunion effort recorded and delivered within the next two years. We can only hope they stay on task.

Sister Marie Says, the second single, is vintage early-era OMD a la Enola Gay and thus a classic OMD pop number. You can't deny its production power complete with operatic, disembodied voices to enhance the pomp and circumstance factor driven by the synth riff of yesterday.

If You Want It is straight up OMD as their lead off single. The song is filled with grand, epic, OMD flavor and despite being the weakest choice for a lead off single it will grow on you following your initial rejection of the song.

Pulse is intriguing and offers OMD in b-side mode, but it is catchy. Speaking of b-sides, be sure to check out the If You Want It single. It features Alone which is a wonderful new b-side to add to the plethora of b-side spectacles from across OMD's long career [1978-present].

RFWK sees OMD riffing on Karl Bartos and Elektric Music. The song is nearly identical to a song from the former Kraftwerk man's Esperanto [1993] project. On that collection, Andy McCluskey applied guest vocals in full to a song called Kissing The Machine. RFWK is nearly that song without being quite as catchy. Still, it's a better audio master and is a decent fill-in.

Finally, History Of Modern ends with the epic eight minute plus The Right Side and its synthetic simplicity will have you grooving right along and never tiring. It's easily one of their strongest closers in memory.

History of Modern isn't perfect, but it's pretty damn close. Two thirds of the project make it a must buy in the way The Human League's Secrets [2001] was worthy addition to the music universe. OMD formed in 1978 and to see them still recording is such a pleasure for me. I hope, along with acts like The Human League, Paddy McAloon [Prefab Sprout] and Roland Orzabal [Tears For Fears], these expressive artists and musicians continue to make music and designing some of the best pop music that ever was, because they don't make music like this anymore. At the very least no one makes new music better than originals like OMD. Now if we could only bring Tom Bailey out of Thompson Twins retirement and hang up his International Observer.

OMD Discography:
Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [1980]
Organisation [1980]
Architecture & Morality [1981]
Dazzle Ships [1983]
Junk Culture [1984]
Crush [1985]
The Pacific Age [1986]
The Best Of OMD [1988]
Sugar Tax [1991]*
Liberator [1993]
Universal [1996]
The OMD Singles [1998]*
Navigation: The OMD B-Sides [2001]
Messages: Greatest Hits [2008]
History Of Modern [2010]*

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Star Trek: The Next Generation: The 25 Best

From the Starlog archives and in keeping with the long directory of science fiction lists I am slowly assembling, whether acquired or self-created, I stumbled across another list of interest. I give you The 25 Best Star Trek: The Next Generation [ST:TNG] episodes as chosen by readers of the now defunct Starlog Magazine #195.

The magazine's readers stacked up their personal favorites. The list, however, is sadly incomplete as the voting was based solely on Season One through Season Six [up to and including ST:TNG, Season Six, Episode 15, Tapestry]. The list is missing eleven episodes of Season Six and all of Season Seven. So this is a fairly odd, premature list, but nevertheless an interesting artifact capturing a particular moment in time from a magazine I once loved now put out to pasture.

Here is the rundown, apparently from best to classic.
25. Reunion [Season Four, Episode 7].
24. Brothers [Season Four, Episode 3].
23. A Fistful Of Datas [Season Six, Episode 8].
22. Q-Pid [Season Four, Episode 20].
21. Face Of The Enemy [Season Six, Episode 14].
20. Tapestry [Season Six, Episode 15].
19. Ship In A Bottle [Season Six, Episode 12].
18. The Next Phase [Season Five, Episode 24].
17. The Host [Season Four, Episode 23].
16. Q Who? [Season Two, Episode 16].
15. Remember Me [Season Four, Episode 5].
14. Family [Season Four, Episode 2].
13. The First Duty [Season Five, Episode 19].
12. Rascals [Season Six, Episode 7].
11. Cause And Effect [Season Five, Episode 18].
10. Darmok [Season Five, Episode 2].
9. The Offspring [Season Three, Episode 16].
8. Deja Q [Season Three, Episode 13].
7. The Measure Of A Man [Season Two, Episode 9].
6. Relics [Season Six, Episode 4].
5. I, Borg [Season Five, Episode 23].
4. The Best Of Both Worlds, Part II [Season Four, Episode 1].
3. The Best Of Both Worlds, Part I [Season Three, Episode 26].
2. The Inner Light [Season Five, Episode 25].
1. Yesterday's Enterprise [Season Three, Episode 15].

Cetainly, it is notable there isn't a single showing from Season One. I will note that Season One, Episode 20, Heart Of Glory was indeed my personal favorite from the entirety of that first season followed by Episode 26, The Neutral Zone.

I will have a complete ST:TNG list forthcoming as drawn from all seven seasons. It will be interesting to see which of these episodes fall off the chart as supplanted by the inclusion of the missing Season Six and Season Seven episodes in a full list. One thing is certain, the much maligned actress Denise Crosby escapes with one of the last laughs with the inclusion of Yesterday's Enterprise. Who knew following her ill-fated finale she would return to deliver one of the series' classics?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Star Trek: TNG S1 Ep1 & 2: Encounter At Far Point

"Let's see what's out there..." -Captain Jean-Luc Picard-

Dodgy special effects combined with a weak DVD transfer, connect the slow-moving, preachy, not-so "engage"-ing Encounter At Far Point. That oft-discussed, Remastered Star Trek: The Next Generation complete with new special effects can't come soon enough, but it still can't match Season One of Star Trek The Original Series on substance alone.

David Gerrold [ST:TOS, Season Two, Episode 14, The Trouble With Tribbles] wrote of Star Trek: The Original Series [ST:TOS] in the Foreword: The Trouble With Trek segment of the book Boarding The Enterprise these thoughts: "We search because we're curious-because we simply want to know. Because the asking of the question is insufficient, we want to know not just the answer that the question requires-we also want to know the possibilities that are opened up as a result." Gerrold continued, "We search because that's what we do, that's who we are, that's what it means to be human. We ask questions because we want to know what's on the other side." ST:TOS certainly gave us this world and Star Trek: The Next Generation [ST:TNG] would be its successor. Gerrold's words are entirely fitting. I'm reminded of a scene from an episode of Jerry Seinfeld when he joked he had to go. When he got somewhere else he had to go. When he got there he still had to go. He didn't know why he had to go, but he had to go. He had to move on to something new and we as a people are certainly driven to seek out new things and constantly be on the move. We can't help ourselves. We get bored if we sit in any one place for too long. The central theme of discovery of space and of personal discovery in Star Trek is a beautiful and rare thing in television to be sure. ST:TOS got it right. It got it so right, it was astoundingly good even when it was least successful.

As Norman Spinrad [ST:TOS, Season Two, Episode 6, The Doomsday Machine] put it in the Boarding The Enterprise piece Star Trek In The Real World, ST:TOS charted our "spiritual evolution as a species." Sadly, that is not the case with ST:TNG. It lacks the influence and the impact of its predecessor more often than not. Still, the sense of discovery and those sentiments echoed by David Gerrold earlier propel the series even through its harshest, most tedious story treatments. When you sit through a bad film you often want to get to the other end; discover its conclusion despite all evidence suggesting otherwise. ST:TNG Season One demonstrates a similar refrain at times. It isn't that bad, but it's not entirely good either. With Roddenberry at the helm, fans were eager to take that ride again and stayed loyal to ST:TNG giving it the benefit of the doubt. ST:TOS wasn't as fortunate in duration and never received the same support from its backers that ST:TNG was the choice recipient of. It was something of a small miracle ST:TOS survived three seasons. This new kid on the block, ST:TNG, was able to find its own voice over a much greater, more protracted period of time. ST:TOS achieved amazing feats in science fiction over a condensed period of time.

The cushy bridge of the Enterprise-D doesn't hold a candle to the bridge of the original Enterprise. Furthermore, the setup, including Troi and Yar in their positions as noted, is uncomfortable to me. It's rather stiff. You'll note Yar's rare uniform with skirt.
Norman Spinrad added it was the fans who saved ST:TOS. It was the fans who kept the dream and hope of Star Trek alive for years. It was the fans who heralded the possibility of ST:TNG's existence. The fans delivered The Original Series cast in film and a new cast in ST:TNG. It was indeed an exciting time for Star Trek.

Synopsis: The two-part introduction to ST:TNG, Encounter At Far Point, witnesses the crew of the Enterprise-D investigate strange occurrences at a space station. En route the crew encounters a recurring character named Q [John de Lancie], of a race of beings also known as Q, from a place dubbed the Q Continuum. Q places Picard and company on trial for crimes by humanity. The newly introduced crew ultimately proves why humanity is worthy of existence.

Truthfully, I don't have a whole lot to say about ST:TNG Pilot, Encounter At Far Point. In fact, I don't have a lot to say about ST:TNG, Season One in general. Certainly I could perform a summary-based analysis on each episode in detail. But honestly, I was not inspired to do so. It has its highlights and I plan on covering those entries in detail. Thus, I plan on being a bit more selective regarding the ST:TNG highlights.

Encounter At Far Point is notable for establishing the cast, casting a love-at first sight glance between William Riker [Number One] and Deanna Troi. The introduction of John DeLancie as ST:TNG's ongoing doppelganger is noteworthy, but the episode is poorly paced. The writing for Season One does have its problems. We'll touch on those factors in a moment.

The Pilot does feature one of my all-time favorite Star Trek alum, DeForest Kelley. One could even call the chance meeting of the new crew with his unnamed Admiral THE encounter that symbolizes a kind of proverbial passing of the torch.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion book makes note of the appearance of the late DeForest Kelley, formerly Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy of ST:TOS. Gene Roddenberry, a longtime friend of Kelley's, invited him to be part of the Pilot in the form of a cameo. Kelley, to Roddenberry's surprise agreed. Justman said the scene "really got me; it was a beautiful, beautiful scene." Kelley said, "I just wanted scale, to let it be my way of saying thank-you to Gene for the many good things he has done for me." Kelley was a tremendous gentleman of the old-fashioned variety. You can read a little more about Kelley's life in the wonderful book, From Sawdust To Stardust.

Kelley's appearance, while brief, is truly one of the most significant moments of this labored, but satisfactory premiere. Encounter At Far Point isn't a complete disappointment thanks to the script by Gene Roddenberry & D.C. Fontana, but the series would have a way to go before finding its legs.

So what exactly qualified as problematic for ST:TNG, Season One? Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion offers some explanation to the season's problems in its introduction to Season One.

1. There was a "Revolving door of writers." This led to a "perceived lack of continuity." Extensive rewriting even pushed out "old guard" writers like D.C. Fontana.

2. There were "Too many ideas being thrown into one script.... There was a tendency to do a real quick wrap-up." All those involved were having difficulty getting their "house in order."

3. There was difficulty fusing entertaining, well-developed stories with Gene Roddenberry's personal vision. This included Roddenberry's desire to strike all inter-personal conflict from the stories of these future explorers. This is truly stunning and quite clear throughout Season One. Conflict and tension are paramount [to use a word] to the creation of exciting character studies and character developments. Without conflict or tension it's just pure, damn boring. I think this lack of creative tension and character tension shines through much of the first season. It's shocking because Roddenberry's ST:TOS was chock full of delicious character conflict. These are human beings. However advanced we might be, wringing all signs of emotion out of these characters is tantamount to killing them. This is a startling tact since its almost like Character Drama 101. This approach would slowly be phased out as the writers realized that was a significant element missing from the energy of this new franchise. As one accurately put it, this was Roddenberry's "Wacky doodle" hope-filled future vision. No matter how evolved or how advanced we aspire to be, sadly humans will always fight.

Stability began to register with the creative staff around Season One, Episode 18, When The Bough Breaks. As the companion book points out, ST:TNG began to find its footing and its "identity" rather than suffering comparisons to ST:TOS for obvious reasons as it did with some episodes in its inaugural season like Episode 2, The Naked Now. The creators were certainly shooting for the stars and with lofty goals came some missteps. TV Guide wrote, "Star Trek depicted us in reckless youth." ST:TNG revealed "the child grown- a little more polished, but also more complacent." This is a terrific observation and essentially fair. Roddenberry was definitely shooting for the Utopian in spirit, but as a result Season One is just a little too sterile for my tastes as a result of those plans. No need to panic, it will no doubt improve. As Gerrold mentioned earlier and Captain Picard put in words in the closing frames of its debut, "Let's see what's out there."

Encounter At Far Point [Pilot]: C+
Writer: D.C. Fontana & Gene Roddenberry
Director: Corey Allen

The Season One Cast:
Patrick Stewart [Captain Jean-Luc Picard]
Jonathan Frakes [First Officer William Riker a.k.a. Number One]
LeVar Burton [Chief Engineer Geordie La Forge]
Brent Spiner [Chief Operations Officer Data]
Michael Dorn [Chief Of Security Worf]
Gates McFadden [Chief Medical Officer Beverly Crusher]
Marina Sirtis [Ship's Counsellor Deanna Troi]
Wil Wheaton [Helmsman/Ensign Wesley Crusher]
Denise Crosby [Chief Of Security Tasha Yar]

I'm reminded of the silly King Missile track Detachable Penis with the daft Enterprise-D saucer separation concept. It never really works and looks positively ridiculous.
Special Guest: John de Lancie [1948-present]. American born. De Lancie appears in ST:TNG [eight episodes], ST:DS9 [one episodes] and ST:Voyager [three episode]. Apart from a long run on Days Of Our Lives [1982-1986, de Lancie is best known to genre fans for his recurring iconic role as Q in the Star Trek franchise and as NID Colonel Frank Simmons on Stargate SG-1. He also appeared in Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda. He has made several film cameos since 1979. He co-owns Alien Voices with Leonard Nimoy, a voice production company.

Director Footnote: Corey Allen [1934-2010]. The late Corey Allen passed away in June 2010 from Parkinson's disease. Allen had a hugely successful career directing in television. His work appears in such series as the Scarecrow And Mrs. King [starring Babylon 5's Bruce Boxleitner], Hill Street Blues, Murder, She Wrote, Magnum P.I., Simon & Simon, Trapper John, M.D., The Rockford Files, Quincy, M.E. and many more. Allen would go on to direct three additional ST:TNG episodes in Final Mission [Season Four, Episode 9], The Game [Season Five, Episode 6] and Journey's End [Season Seven, Episode 20]. He would also direct four installments of spin-off series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine including Captive Pursuit [Season One, Episode 6], The Circle [Season Two, Episode 2], Paradise [Season Two, Episode 15] and The Maquis: Part 2 [Season Two, Episode 21].