20091225

Happy In Paraguay

Okay, if this doesn't give you an insight into my warped sense of humor, I don't know what will. I just found this YouTube channel this afternoon, and laughed myself silly watching these re-dubbed Star Trek: The Next Generation clips. I laughed so hard I started crying. I laughed so hard my face hurt. I laughed so hard that I came close to passing out. You get the point by now.

This is what I was laughing at. What's so hilarious about these clips is that they don't digitally alter the actors' mouth movements, so it looks like they're actually saying the ridiculous dialogue that's being voiced over the visuals! See for yourself ... and make sure you've peed first, otherwise you could be sorry. (WARNING: contains naughty language.)



I may end up posting more of their clips soon, or you can check out their YouTube channel for yourself. I hope you're all having a happy holiday. Live long and prosper (or, as they say in these clips, "f**k a fruit basket")!

20091215

Tumblin' With Tony and Doug

Given how much I love the sci-fi subgenre of time travel, it's pretty incredible that I've barely (if even at all) mentioned it thusfar in this blog. For the same reason, it's also pretty unbelievable that, until now, I had only seen snippets from the classic Irwin Allen TV series The Time Tunnel. I had of course been aware that the series came out on DVD some time ago, but since it was doubly expensive (having been released in two 15-episode volumes) I kept putting it off. But a couple of weeks ago, I heard that our nearby Suncoast video store is one of the 125 nationwide that are closing up, and fortunately for me, they had both volumes in stock and, like every other DVD in the store, on sale for 25% off, and that made them well worth picking up. (Hey, how often am I likely to actually spend less for something at a mall chain store than at Amazon?!?)

Last night I finally popped in the pilot episode, "Rendezvous With Yesterday". Being a show from the '60s, I was expecting a program rife with hammy acting, historical inaccuracies, and scientific implausibility. But seeing as how this is an Irwin Allen series, I should have known to expect better. This show has aged far more gracefully than one might think, and its '60s vintage only adds to its appeal. Sure, the computers used by the lab personnel are dinosaurs, but the show's writers drew so little attention to them, using them matter-of-factly like any mundane scientific tool that their contemporaries used, that their obsolescence is almost unnoticed. The attention to historical detail may have been lacking (the name of the Titanic's first officer didn't jibe with history, and far as I know there were no shuffleboard courts on the liner's decks), but one can hardly expect a '60s TV show to do the kind of exhaustive homework that James Cameron did for a major motion picture.

The fast-and-loose explanation of how the headquarters scientists can see and hear Tony and Doug across time just like on a TV set comes off as a bit silly, but then you just have to chalk that up to the aforementioned scientific implausibility ... and besides, how else are they supposed to take part in the action, and pluck the two intrepid adventurers out of danger when they need to? And if there's one thing that is a little hard to get past, it's the vastness of the Project Tic Toc underground complex, both in its size (descending some 800 stories below ground) and its body of personnel (a staggering twelve thousand) ... obviously nowadays, knowing more about how the government and the scientific community operate -- and probably just the way the world is now in general -- those kinds of statistics would make us viewers roll our eyes and/or snicker out loud. But this is a TV show, after all, and we're just not supposed to dwell on such minutiae.

One can plainly see the influence that The Time Tunnel had on future time travel shows, particularly Quantum Leap, which carried on the semi-cliffhanger-style endings that TT pioneered: much the same way that Sam leaped into a new and often awkward situation whereupon he would utter his famous "Oh, boy!", viewers would catch a glimpse of the following week's adventure into which Doug and Tony found themselves arriving. I must say I'm looking forward more eagerly to watching this show than I have any other for quite awhile ... I imagine it'll be fun to see the dynamic take shape between the young, impulsive Tony and the more mature, thoughtful Doug, and I'm also curious to find out how much we'll see of the scientists back at Tic Toc headquarters.

And, of course, the Trek geek in me simply can't close this post without pointing out the more obvious Trek connection -- the lead role of DS9's "Vic Fontaine" himself, the dashing James Darren -- as well as the less obvious one -- the fact that The Time Tunnel premiered on September 9, 1966 ... just one day after Star Trek did. Now I have to think about my biggest dilemma: Can I wait until after I watch all 30 episodes before my curiosity overwhelms me and I have to watch the most drool-inducing extra of them all -- the never-aired 2002 pilot episode of a Time Tunnel reboot that never became a series...? Okay, now I know I'm a geek.

20091213

Star Trek: The Lost Missions - Episode 8

Sorry I've let this blog linger for three weeks without any updates, but I've been consumed with a flurry of activity on my other blog lately, and that's probably going to continue at least through January. And then there's the whole getting Christmas presents ready to send thing, too. But I'll try my hardest to make my updates here more frequent. But for now....

Well, folks, we move from one of the best Peter Pan/Power Records Star Trek stories to one of the silliest. These last four are rather unimpressive entries (at least in any good ways), but they deserve to be heard as much as the others. This week we have "The Man Who Trained Meteors" (written by Alan Dean Foster, astonishingly enough), about a megalomaniacal alien who intends to rule the entire galaxy, or leave destruction in his wake. Here goes nothing...!

20091122

Star Trek: The Lost Missions - Episode 7

Here comes episode 7 in the series of Star Trek audio adventures produced by Peter Pan/Power Records. This is perhaps my favorite of the series, mainly because it's just not the kind of story that one would normally associate with the sort of stuff that regularly appears on story records made for children. There aren't any adult themes like sex or alcohol in it ... it's just that it's more drama than adventure. But, most importantly, it's a good story. "The Logistics of Stampede" (written by Alan Dean Foster) sees the Enterprise come to the aid of a Federation colony facing a natural disaster. Listen long and prosper!

20091113

Us versus Them

So, a friend and co-worker decided a couple of weeks ago to whimsically put on her computer, as her wallpaper, the picture shown here. Now, normally I would probably ignore the ages-old "Star Trek versus Star Wars" debate -- let's face it, we've all seen the "Why [this universe] is better than [that universe]" email lists circulating ad infinitum in all their various forms, and it really is an argument that has no definitive answer since it really can't be examined with complete objectiveness ... but my fingers have been itching ever since that image started taunting me. Sheesh, it's still taunting me even though she replaced it a week ago with a really cool American Revolution themed painting that's been altered to show both sides' soldiers armed with lightsabers, and even a half-finished Death Star in the sky above.

But anyway, back to the point. Here's my take on Star Trek versus Star Wars ... and I've deliberately tried to avoid looking at any of the existing lists so as to ensure as much as possible that I'm not re-hashing them. In other words: any similarity to any pre-existing lists is purely coincidental and unintentional. And I'll try to be as unbiased as I possibly can here ... but don't hold your breath.

Data vs. C-3PO -- Okay, sure, Threepio can interpret six million languages, but every comm-badge in Starfleet has a little chip in it that can do that instantaneously: it's called the Universal Translator. And maybe Data's components are a bit more fragile than Threepio's, but when the going gets tough, Data could dismantle Threepio and use half of him to power his phaser and the other half of him to enhance his tricorder's functionality, all without batting an eye. And just try and get Threepio to calculate the travel time to the nearest starbase at Warp 7. Advantage: Star Trek.

Chewbacca vs. Worf -- They're both big, hairy, and strong, no doubt about that. But if you gave me the option of going into battle alongside either a bat'leth-wielding Klingon or a Wookiee with a laser-crossbow, I wouldn't have to think twice. Wookiees are decent warriors, I'm sure, but I'd bet all the gold-pressed latinum, Republic credits, or wupiupi I had to my name on Kronos whipping ol' Kashyyyk's butt any day of the week. (And what's with all those friggin "y"s in the name of that planet, anyway?) Advantage: Star Trek.

Neelix vs. Jar-Jar Binks -- Okay, we've talked about some of the good parts of the two franchises, now let's take a look at one of the less flattering ones. Who would you rather be trapped in an elevator for three hours with? Tough call, I know. They can both be rather annoying little pricks, to be sure. But whereas Jar-Jar is by and large just a clumsy buffoon who speaks in irritating, probably-racially-offensive-but-nobody-knows-for-sure jabberwocky, Neelix is an optimistic, imaginative guy who honestly tries to make everyone feel better. Besides, that Talaxian can cook. Advantage: Star Trek.

Anakin Skywalker vs. Wesley Crusher -- I guess we could call this one "Battle of the Brats". Each one has been more annoying than the other at particular points, and when you think about it, they could both be dangerous if they threw enough of a hissy-fit: Anakin could seriously mess people up with The Force, and Wesley could get creative in Engineering and blow up the whole Enterprise. But really, folks, when it comes down to attitude, we really have to give this one to Anakin. And then there's the question of who I'd rather be trapped in an elevator for three hours with, but for an entirely different reason in this case. No contest: Anakin circa Attack of the Clones ... or, more to the point, Hayden Christensen ... oh yeah, baby. (But before he got the mechanical arm, 'cause that'd just be gross.) Advantage: Star Wars.

Khan vs. Darth Vader -- As much as I'd like to give this one to Khan, it just ain't that easy. Khan may have the charisma, but Vader has The Force. They've both mastered the art of their mere presence instilling fear in people, but Khan's exotic Latin accent is no match for that spooky mechanical breathing sound. Not to mention the fact that Vader can suffocate people just by thinking about it, but Khan can't be bothered to lift a finger to torture or kill his enemies and has to get one of his minions to do it. Khan gives great speeches (the "he tasks me" one from The Wrath of Khan is great), but that's his problem: he talks too much. And we all know what Vader would do to someone who talks too much ... it would probably involve his thumb and forefinger in a "pinching" motion. Advantage: Star Wars.

Star Destroyer vs. the Enterprise-D -- Of course, this is the one that's depicted in the picture that started this whole mess. My co-workers had their arguments (really, in a kamikaze run, enough damage is done to both ships that nobody wins), but here's mine: In The Empire Strikes Back, one puny asteroid lopped off the whole command tower section of the Star Destroyer (certainly crippling it), but the Enterprise's deflectors and shields could just bounce those meddlesome things out of its path. And what about the weapons? The Enterprise has both phasers and photon torpedoes, but the Star Destroyer only has "turbo-lasers". As has been established in Star Trek, lasers are a far inferior technology to phasers, and I rather suspect "turbo-lasers" are about as much of an improvement over the original technology as "light" cigarettes. Advantage: Star Trek.

Captain Kirk vs. Han Solo -- Far be it from me to reduce this to a contest of macho swagger (indeed, I've always found the scenario of men needing to behave "like men" quite amusing), but consider the following: Kirk "bagged a babe" (as Anthony Michael Hall's character in Sixteen Candles so poetically put it) nearly every week, but Han Solo pined away for nobody but Princess Leia halfway through the Classic Trilogy. Not only that, but while Solo was "captain" to a crew consisting of one solitary Wookiee, Kirk confidently commanded an unwavering crew of four hundred. Don't get me wrong, Harrison Ford is one of my all-time favorite actors, but Shatner minced no words in Free Enterprise, when told by a boy that his schoolyard tormentor said that Han Solo was cooler than Captain Kirk: "Kick that little f**ker's ass." That was all the motivation the little guy needed ... let's see Ford pull that off. Advantage: Star Trek.

Just to be a good sport here, I'm not even going to tally the scorecard in this post. Besides, I have the distinct impression that this topic will carry forward into a second post sometime in the near future, so I'll just say the race is too early to call. And anyway, though I am more of a Trek fan now, I've never stopped being a Star Wars fan, and probably never will. Each one has its advantages and its drawbacks, and is loved by different people (and in many cases the same people) for different reasons. But it's still fun to debate, though, isn't it?!

20091108

Star Trek: The Lost Missions - Episode 6

Well, here we go (boldly) with the next exciting episode in the Peter Pan/Power Records Star Trek audio adventures. "A Mirror For Futility" (written by Alan Dean Foster) tells the story of an ancient and long-forgotten interstellar conflict -- so ancient that Spock has to do some of his famous digging through the library-computer -- that the Enterprise suddenly finds not only alive and well, but itself stumbling into the middle of. Unfortunately, the two combatants aren't about to listen to reason. Beam on board and enjoy!

20091104

This Little Piggy Stayed Home

Well, folks, I'm sorry about the slowdown of posts here lately, but I was unexpectedly struck down by what I think is that dreaded H1N1 (a.k.a. "swine") flu several days ago. I'm feeling much better now, though I understandably haven't had a lot of energy to dream up a new topic lately, so here I go with my promise (or would that be threat?) that I was going to re-create an entry every now and then from the previous incarnation of this blog. I hope it entertains you....

This story is a study in contrasts, in just about every possible way, except when it comes to the nature of the subjects themselves: a pair of sci-fi movies and their television offspring. One of them I fell in love with as a kid, and the other I didn't happen upon until much later; I watched the movie version of one of them first, and the TV version of the other was the one I first found. And then there's the much more significant contrast, which I'll get to in due course. Just to make it fun, I'll address them in reverse chronological order.

A few years back, I had a pretty significant coupon (40 or 50 percent off, as I recall) for a nearby store, and I couldn't think of anything else I wanted that was in stock, so I decided to take the plunge on something I had been curious about for awhile: the DVD set of "Alien Nation: The Complete Series". I hadn't yet seen the movie, but I had seen bits and pieces of TV episodes, plus the show's premise -- half sci-fi, half cop show -- interested me. I ended up not regretting the purchase, as it took just a couple of months to work my way through all 22 episodes. It was a lot of fun to watch: a great cast, as well as entertaining and thought-provoking stories that have aged well. Although I wasn't quite eager enough to see the resolution to the freeze-frame cliffhanger final episode to convince me to buy the TV-movies box set, I did eventually pick up the original movie, starring James Caan and Mandy Patinkin, which inspired the series. I enjoyed it as well; I could definitely agree with whoever believed there was TV-series potential in the concept ... and the fact that I've always enjoyed Patinkin didn't hurt either. Despite the fact that the series lasted only one season, it was one of the better movie-to-TV adaptations I've come across.

Blue Thunder, however, is a different story. I saw the original movie, with Roy Scheider and Malcolm McDowell, as a kid and loved it. True, I was more into the gadgetry that made up Blue Thunder herself, but I later came to appreciate the story and the acting just as much. Well, when I found out that the very-short-lived TV series was being released on DVD, I was hit with a pang of nostalgia and eventually picked it up (on sale, 'cause I wasn't quite so nostalgic that I wanted to pay full-price for it), since I eagerly watched it week after week also. Well, how do I put this delicately? I hadn't realized how utterly crappy this show was until I started watching the DVDs. I wasn't even able to make it through all the episodes before I traded the thing in ... and to my surprise, I regret that far less than I thought I would. Maybe it's the casting -- a pre-"SNL" Dana Carvey as co-pilot to James Farentino (about the only watchable one here), and former NFL players Dick Butkus and Bubba Smith as Blue's ground support team and the show's comic relief ... and how can Sandy McPeak hold a candle to Warren Oates' portrayal of Captain Braddock? -- or maybe it's the slipshod scriptwriting, which may or may not seem far more so now than it did back then (the tightening of air safety, especially since 9/11, being just one thing that's changed quite a bit, and the extreme advances in computers being another). It can be funny how sci-fi shows can sometimes be the ones that age the least gracefully, can't it?

So, bottom line: If you haven't seen Blue Thunder, definitely check out the movie but skip the series (believe me, you'd be doing yourself a favor, even if you're a die-hard Butkus, Bubba, or Dana Carvey fan). If you haven't yet discovered Alien Nation, it doesn't matter whether you see the movie first or the TV show, but I recommend both. I am actually still toying with the idea of seeking out some of the comic-book miniseries that have come out over the years....

20091024

Star Trek: The Lost Missions - Episode 5

Are you ready for another Peter Pan/Power Records Star Trek audio episode? Of course you are. Written by Alan Dean Foster, "To Starve a Fleaver" is the curious title of this one, in which the Enterprise plays host to a civilization seeking Federation membership. You know how sometimes you run into a person who's so pleasant to be around that their good mood is nearly contagious? Well, you don't know the half of it with this lot. Buckle up and enjoy the ride!

20091016

My Trekker Timeline - part 2 of 2

You can find part 1 of this timeline here.

The year 1995 marked a new chapter of sorts in my Trek fandom. My father had just recently passed away, and we'd grown tired of the podunk town we were living in and were now browsing around a new part of the country (the Pacific Northwest) for a new place to live. It turned out to be prophetic, to a degree, that the new show would premiere the same week that we first set foot in the city that would, not long afterward, feel more like home than any other had before (even though we wouldn't end up actually residing in the city proper). Was it just a coincidence, or does the Trek connection have some deeper significance...?

1995 -- Yet another new Trek series debuts ... Star Trek: Voyager! I'm watching the pilot episode in a hotel room in a state I'd never been in before, but I like it. Echoing a sentiment heard from Rick Berman later on, I too felt like the show hit its stride right off the bat. Deep Space Nine, on the other hand, seems to be struggling, because they feel the need to bring in Worf to try and bolster the show's ratings. It looks like Paramount is about to stumble upon the answer to the question, "How much Trek is too much?" Fandom factor: accelerating to warp 9.

1996 -- Star Trek: First Contact ... sure, there was a TV episode with the same title, but this movie kicks ass! I love Robert Picardo's cameo, and I get a big hoot out of James Cromwell's all-too-human portrayal of the father of warp drive. It's pretty well-timed, too, 'cause the Borg were still pretty scary in this movie, but they'd soon fall victim to severe overuse on Voyager. Fandom factor: slight deceleration to warp 8.5.

1997 -- Presumably because Voyager is beginning to drop in the ratings, Kes is somewhat awkwardly written out of the show, and replaced by a blond Borg babe in a skin-tight catsuit with huge warheads (and no, I ain't talkin' photon torpedoes). With this shameless attempt by Paramount to lure in a less-enlightened 18- to 35-year-old male demographic, my suspicion of Trek's downhill slide is thus confirmed. Fandom factor: slowing to warp 8.

1998 -- An all-too-brief two years after the last movie comes the next, Star Trek: Insurrection. It'd be way cool, if it didn't seem so much like a glorified TV episode. Were the writers so much out-of-steam that they couldn't come up with a really slam-bang Q story for their next big-screen outing? In other news, Deep Space Nine comes perilously close to not being worth watching anymore when Terry Farrell decides to leave the show ... silly, when there's only one year of it left. Fandom factor: further deceleration to warp 6.5.

1999 -- Deep Space Nine goes out with a big, sweeping, serialized, pull-out-all-the-stops, ten-episode bang! If the build-up and payoff hadn't been this good, I wouldn't have been able to forgive Ms. Farrell for sticking us with the comparatively dull Nicole deBoer. As for Voyager ... thanks to the forementioned overuse, the Borg no longer scare the hell out of me, but Jeri Ryan's armor-plated hooters still do. Fandom factor: barely maintaining warp 6.

2001 -- Voyager ends with far less of a bang, in a rather dull and slightly clumsy episode, and not a moment too soon. But wait, still another Trek series is coming out ... Enterprise (sans the "Star Trek" in its title, at least at first). As much as I like Scott Bakula, the show fails to hold my interest through the end of its first season. I guess we should be thankful that they refrained from trotting out this series until after Voyager was finished. Fandom factor: momentarily accelerates from warp 4 to warp 5.

2002 -- We started thinking there wasn't going to be another movie, but after four years, here comes Star Trek: Nemesis. As a movie in general, it was decent, but as far as Trek movies go, it's no surprise it did in the franchise ... I had a headache after I left the theater, if that tells you anything. By this time, I'm just plain all Trekked out (as evidenced by the distinct lack of exclamation points in the last two paragraphs). Fandom factor: slowing from warp 3.5 to warp 2.5.

2005 -- Enterprise limps to an end, not that I care. It's the first Trek series since the original to be canceled due to low ratings. As it should have years before, Star Trek enters a period of dormancy. Fandom factor: antimatter supply depleted, but maintaining warp 2.5.

2007 -- Feeling nostalgic (wait a minute -- can you feel "nostalgic" about something you weren't around for the first time?), I buy all three seasons of The Original Series on DVD, and watch them all from beginning to end, many of the episodes for the very first time. Fandom factor: antimatter reserve allows slow acceleration to warp 3.

2008 -- After a couple years of whispered rumors, confirmed details begin to emerge about a new Star Trek movie, to feature the original crew played by -- gasp! -- new actors. Fandom factor: spontaneous recharge and acceleration from warp 3 to warp 5.

2009 -- At first only mildly interested in the impending big-screen reboot of Star Trek, I become more and more excited with every tidbit I hear and every image that I see, and when I finally see it, I've fallen in love with Star Trek all over again. Fandom factor: continuing buildup to warp 7.

So, as you can see from the chart, my history Trek of fandom has truly been a roller-coaster ride. I'm not much for real roller-coasters, but this one has been fun, and I wouldn't change any of it. Live long and prosper, indeed!

20091014

Carl's Jr.: "F**k You, I'm Eating."

The movie I'm talking about here might not be quite in line with this blog's usual subject matter, but it's my blog and I can talk about whatever I want in it, so there. Besides, it does have a bit of a sci-fi element to it, so as far as I'm concerned it's close enough. I'd heard about Idiocracy several months ago, but didn't bother picking it up until I found it at a price equivalent to what I'd expect it to be worth -- in this case, about seven bucks. It turns out my "blind appraisal" was just about right: not great by any means, but not quite a waste of an hour and a half, either.

Idiocracy tells the story of a slightly-less-than-intelligent government lackey (played by Luke Wilson) who's easily duped, along with an equally lower-middle-intellect prostitute, into being the guinea pig in what's supposed to be a one-year-long cryogenics experiment run by the government. However, when the project's funding is yanked, they're both somehow forgotten (in a not-quite-plausible sequence of events, which is better left as glossed-over here as it was in the movie) and remain in deep-freeze for a staggering 500 years. Unfortunately, instead of awakening to a marvelously enlightened utopia, they find a woefully neglected and dumbed-down world of the future in which, to the audience's horror, they're by default the most intelligent humans on the planet.

You might be thinking that this is a bit thin of a premise to base a 90-minute movie on, and for the most part you'd be right. But writer-director Mike Judge and co-writer Etan Cohen make the most of it, peppering the movie with plenty of subtle and not-so-subtle visual and verbal jokes to keep it reasonably entertaining. A primary theme: the consumerism and product-placement that's already begun a steady increase in our present day has so saturated the future world as seen in Idiocracy that no one can really go -- or even simply look -- anywhere where they won't be bombarded by an advertisement of some sort -- even to the point that literally every piece of clothing that the characters wear is emblazoned with some corporate logo, and the people reflexively spout corporate slogans (routinely containing four-letter words, as in the example in this post's title) without thinking. The future state of health care and of Costco will also be sure to amuse, as will the most subtle sight gag in the movie -- I'll keep that one a secret and see if you pick up on it.

The more astute viewer will of course see the subtext of social commentary that's veiled in the movie's humor. Having worked around young adults for years now, I've been witnessing first-hand how the dereliction of the U.S. educational system and the technologically-induced shortening of the youth's attention spans have begun stripping today's kids of the ability to think for themselves, and chipping away at the IQ of the average American at an almost noticeable speed. (Indeed, I frankly don't know how many more years my patience for these youngsters is going to hold out.) It might sound like I'm exaggerating, but considering that the movie takes place 500 years in the future, I can actually envision a world as haplessly screwed-up as the one we see come to pass in Idiocracy ... especially taking into account the positively hilarious -- and frighteningly plausible -- theory for the nation's intellectual deterioration that's laid out in the movie's opening scenes.

While the students I'm exposed to here at my place of employment still seem to put more importance on socio-political affairs than entertainment (and can still tell the two apart), and the English language hasn't yet descended into an expletive-laden mess of barely-coherent mumble (though I can't stand these kids who say the word "like" 27 times in the average sentence), I do still fear the day when that balance will shift -- a day when "Ow! My Balls" will be TV's highest-rated show, a foul-mouthed pro-wrestler/porn-star (and not retired, either) will somehow be elected President, and Fuddrucker's has had its name unintentionally morphed into Buttf**ker's with the humor of it being totally lost on the uniformly dim-witted populace. For the moment, though, this movie is still more entertaining than it is frustrating. Its audience may be limited -- since I haven't traveled outside my home country in over twenty years and thus have no gauge of the level of commercialism elsewhere, I'm not sure how well the movie's social commentary will translate to overseas audiences -- and even in America, there are only so many people who would be able to appreciate it as anything more than a screwball comedy.

20091011

Star Trek: The Lost Missions - Episode 4

Better late than never ... here we are with the next exciting episode in the nearly-forgotten audio adventures of Star Trek, as presented by Peter Pan/Power Records. In "The Time Stealer" (written by Cary Bates and Neal Adams), the Enterprise crew is caught in a fracas between a barbarian, his wizard-like companion, and a time-warping creature in space -- but you won't hear them quoting the Prime Directive, since it's in their best interest to join the fight. It's reminiscent in places of a few different Trek episodes, but it's entertaining nonetheless. I hope you enjoy it!

20091008

Stone Knives and Bearskins

The lad in this picture is not actually me, but it might as well have been. Back when I was about his age, I got my very first computer: the Osborne 1, the same model you see in the picture. It may not look like much now, but back then the Osborne 1 was a groundbreaking machine -- the first totally self-contained portable computer for the retail market. Maybe it wasn't within everyone's financial reach, but $1,795.00 was actually a competitive price for a home computer at the time, especially considering that it included a well-rounded suite of home-office software (word processor, spreadsheet, and database programs) -- indeed, Osborne essentially started the trend of pre-bundling software with computers.

The Osborne 1 may have had its functional limitations -- it weighed a cumbersome 24 pounds, had a puny 5-inch display, and yielded about as much computing power as your average programmable universal remote control does now (a processor speed of 4 MHz and a whopping 64KB of RAM). And this was back in the day when the most popular computer storage medium was 5.25-inch floppy disks: thin, flexible and lightweight, but they each only held about 100KB of data. The Osborne 1 sported two such disk drives, labeled Drive A (from which the program disks were run) and Drive B (where the data files would be read and/or written). In case you younger computer users out there have ever wondered why the letters assigned to drives on modern computers start with C, this is why ... as one disk medium superseded the next, eventually being rendered obsolete altogether with the advent of plug-and-play USB-based flash drives, Drives A and B vanished with them.

And speaking of Drive C ... sorry to burst your bubble, but a built-in hard drive was a feature that was still years away. So was the mouse, but that was because Windows (or any other kind of graphical user interface, for that matter) also had yet to exist. Osborne computers used an operating system called CP/M ... not the most user-friendly in the world, but it did its job. (I have to wonder if CP/M was the inspiration for the writers of "Tron" to call their evil, tyrranical mainframe the "MCP".) I don't remember if I had the daisywheel printer (for letter-quality text printing) or the dot-matrix printer first, but they both used tractor-feed paper. To save me from eyestrain, my folks fixed me up with a larger external monitor (probably had a 10-inch picture tube, near as I can recall), which was a good thing, 'cause the built-in display died before the system was a year and a half old.

Anyway, I can still remember the somewhat limited fun I had with this machine for the few years I had it, and I was pretty-much never without a computer from then on. After the Osborne 1 outlived its usefulness, I was hooked up with a more advanced machine ... it still didn't have any of the fancy advances that we take for granted nowadays ("not even a mouse"), but it was capable of what I thought were pretty nifty graphics at the time ... I remember playing early versions of "Wheel of Fortune" and a couple of other games on it. And I think I had one other computer -- with a hard drive (something like 4MB), a mouse, Windows, and even a color monitor!! -- before I boldly stepped into the digital age in 1995 with an Acer, my first computer with a modem of any kind, internal or external, not to mention the first one with a CD drive.

Call me crazy, but despite the fact that today's notebook computers pack a thousand times the power and versatility into a package one-tenth the size and weight, I still look back on that old dinosaur called the Osborne 1 with nothing but fondness. It may have been a simple machine, but it's also true that the simpler the machine is, the fewer things can go wrong with it. I'd hate to have to choose between the limited-but-reliable technology of yesterday and the powerful-but-precarious possibilities of today. And I have to wonder about the future; advances in PC speed and capacity seem to be leveling off from their far quicker pace of ten years ago, but how powerful are computers going to be 30 years from now? Hmmm ... isn't it funny how we can hardly remember what the world was like before the Internet, let alone computers of any kind? How time flies.

20091005

My Trekker Timeline - part 1 of 2

At the risk of revealing too much information (not of the grossly personal or stuff-only-a-doctor-should-hear variety, but just generally speaking) too early, I thought it would be fun to trot out my history of Star Trek fandom, sharing a list of bullet-points of interest along this particular 25-year stretch of the space-time continuum. The list ended up being longer than I thought, but it shouldn't bore you (too much) ... turns out something noteworthy about Trek happened almost every year. You're welcome to follow the handy-dandy chart included below. Enjoy!

circa 1984 -- Curious about Star Trek, more to contrast it with Star Wars than for any other reason, I acquire (can't remember how) a videocassette -- Betamax! -- of the Original Series episode "Shore Leave", and watch it a few times over the course of a year or so. I'm mildly fascinated by my first introduction to Star Trek, even though this was probably one of the worst episodes to be introduced to it with. Fandom factor: leaving spacedock on maneuvering thrusters.

1986 -- During a lull in the curriculum of a high-school science class, the teacher is playing Star Trek III: The Search For Spock on video. My fascination begins to grow at a steady pace; soon afterward I obtain the "Space Seed" episode on video so I can figure out who the hell this Khan guy is before watching Star Trek II. Fandom factor: half impulse.

1987 -- Not yet having enough interest in Star Trek to see the movies on the big screen, I wait to watch Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home until it hits video. Being a big fan of time-travel stories, it wins me over big-time, and I would soon regret not having seen it in the theater, or being ready for the arrival of the new Next Generation series. Fandom factor: warp 1.5.

1988 -- Somewhere between "11001001" and "The Neutral Zone", I become completely and totally enthralled with Star Trek: The Next Generation and begin waiting anxiously for each new episode, regrettably missing the repeat telecasts of the first several episodes. By now I have officially crossed over from the Star Wars camp and will never look back.* Fandom factor: warp 7.

1989 -- Due to my hyper-accelerated fandom, I develop a momentary warp-field imbalance (in contemporary parlance, a "geek-out") that causes me to phase into "get-a-life" territory, but it's counterbalanced by the eventual realization that Dr. Pulaski, although she had her moments, wasn't much more than a female Bones McCoy and never really gelled with the rest of the cast. Fandom factor: stabilizing at warp 9.

1990 -- "The Best of Both Worlds" arrives, and the Borg scare the hell out of us. Star Trek: TNG hits its stride, and it will stay there for years. I've been recording each and every episode on VHS tape -- finally catching those few unseen first-season episodes when the show goes into daily reruns -- to watch and re-watch and treasure "forever" (until the advent of the DVD season box set). But fortunately, I waited to see Star Trek V until it went to video. Fandom factor: warp 9.

1991 -- Star Trek hits its 25th Anniversary, and it's in the prime of its life. (Weren't we all when we were 25?) The occasion is bittersweet, with the loss of Gene Roddenberry and the original crew taking its final film voyage together, but I've never been prouder of being a Trek fan. I'm making audiotapes of selected episodes to listen to in the usually-quiet little bookstore where I worked at the time. Fandom factor: remaining constant at warp 9.

1992 -- Plans are announced for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. A whole new Trek series ... with one of my favorite characters, Chief O'Brien, as a regular! Wahoo! Can life get any better? Fandom factor: maintaining warp 9.

1994 -- Another bittersweet moment, with the TV voyages of The Next Generation coming to an end (prematurely, in my opinion). I watch the Enterprise-D crew's feature-film debut, Star Trek: Generations, four times in the theatre, but partly because I'm living in a small town and there's really nothing else to do within a 40-mile radius. When I realize that this movie was primarily the studio's way of making room for the next TV series, I begin having my first inklings that Star Trek has begun a slow orbital decay. Fandom factor: drops slightly to warp 8.5.

In the interest of avoiding a ridiculously long blog entry, I felt this was a natural dividing line between parts one and two; I'll explain why in the second half, coming up soon. Stay tuned...!

*figure of speech ... hey, once a Star Wars fan, always a Star Wars fan.

20090924

Oh No They Di'int!! -- episode 2

Why are they remaking Clash of the Titans? They don't need to ... it's just as uncalled-for as all the other remakes that are littering the landscape already. Maybe it's just the fact that I'm becoming older than I feel, but there should be a law out there that says a movie can't be remade if it's less than 50 years old, and a movie adaptation of a TV series can't be made if the TV series ended less than 30 years ago. It's not as if every original idea that could possibly exist has already been done, right? And doesn't the track record of so-called "reboots" of movie and TV series kind-of speak for itself? There have been far more misses of that sort lately than there have been hits ... and don't even get me started on the A-Team movie (Oh, heaven help us, Liam Neeson is going to play Hannibal Smith? What are they thinking?!?) and the Karate Kid rehash that are on their way ... I can already see the dismal box-office receipts for them. People say nostalgia sells nowadays, but I say if you want nostalgia, go out and buy the original series on DVD and watch that; 98 percent of all TV series worth any pop-culture value are out on DVD, and trust me, they were all done far better the first time around.

But, back to the topic at hand: Clash of the Titans. Not everyone will agree with me, but far as I'm concerned it was a classic. Sir Laurence Olivier as Zeus, king of the gods (hey, who else would he play?) ... the always delightful Maggie Smith as the goddess Thetis ... the late, great Burgess Meredith as Ammon ... and, last but certainly not least, Bubo the mechanical owl as himself!! Not to mention the formidable Kraken, the icky Stygian Witches, the creepy Styx ferrymen, and the scare-you-shitless Medusa. The folks over at The Sci-Fi Movie Page complain that the original was "slow and dull", but I never ever get bored watching it; in fact, I'd rather have a movie that's comfortably paced rather than the lightning-fast, flashy and noisy video-game-stylized movies that are all the rage now. They also whine about the special effects being poor, but I consider them an artform -- think of all the man-hours it took to produce those shots ... not the most realistic-looking scenes in the world, but I tend to appreciate effects that actually took a lot of effort. Toiling in front of cameras for endless hours to put together a ten-second scene shows a kind of care and character that sitting in front of a computer and sliding various light/shading/color/contrast tools back and forth never can and never will.

I'm just not impressed with anything I've seen or heard yet about the Clash of the Titans remake. Liam Neeson as Zeus? Sure, I like the guy fine (he was in Krull, after all, and of course he was Qui-Gon Jinn!), so he'll probably do nicely in the role. Sam Worthington? Okay, I can't comment on him one way or another since I don't think I've seen anything he's been in ... but I bet he won't have the charisma that Harry Hamlin had in the role. And what's Hades doing in this thing? He wasn't in the original ... I bet we'll see a flashy, effects-laden battle, ala Anakin versus Obi-Wan, between them ... whatever. I am mildly interested that Nicholas Hoult is going to be in it, 'cause I liked him in the British series Skins. And is Medusa going to be a strictly CG character? Oh ... actually she was entirely animated in the original, now that I think about it. And dollars to doughnuts, they won't even have a Bubo in this one at all. Well, that just tears it right there. Unless the trailers seriously blow me away, I won't be seeing this thing until it hits DVD.

20090920

Star Trek: The Lost Missions - Episode 3

Okay, it's time once again to boldly go into the world of the Peter Pan/Power Records Star Trek stories. (Click on the 'Star Trek: The Lost Missions' label for others in the series, including an overview in the first post.) This one, "The Crier In Emptiness" (written by Alan Dean Foster), tells the tale of a very unusual kind of visitor that unintentionally wreaks havoc aboard the Enterprise. This is one of my favorites in the series, not only for the rather unique and innovative story, but also because the "visitor" happens to be one of my greatest loves. Listen long, and prosper.

20090915

Oh No They Di'int!! -- episode 1

For quite a number of years now I've been a casual fan of the classic '60s animated adventure series Jonny Quest. I'm not nearly as into it as I am Star Trek, Quantum Leap, or other series, but I like it enough to have collected the excellently done '80s comic book series published by Comico, and to have bought the DVD set when it came out a few years back -- and the '90s TV retooling of it probably stoked my interest in it too. I'm also familiar enough with it to know that, for a good 20 years or so, there's been talk of a live-action feature film version being in the works. Indeed, in issue #1 of Starlog Press' "Comics Scene" magazine, published in 1987 and which I just consulted, there was a small sidebar article in which Fred Dekker, director of the then soon-to-be-released Monster Squad, was gearing up to go into pre-production on it. But now, after more false starts than Bandit can shake a stick at, Hollywood appears to have finally shifted into high gear on the project, thanks most likely to the list of high-profile retro animation reboots and comic book hero adaptations.

But, all is not quite rosy in Quest land, at least if you ask me. What's bothering me, specifically? The actor they've all but officially confirmed as being cast in the title role ... Zac Efron. (His IMDB page still says he's only "rumored" to be cast, so I'm still holding out hope.) Now, understand that I don't have anything against Mr. Efron personally, or even critically; he's a decent actor and a good-lookin' dude (whether he deserves all the adulation and adoration that's been heaped upon him is a debate for another time ... or not, since it's not a subject fit for this blog) ... I just think he's flat-out wrong for the part. He's too old to play the Jonny we know and love -- in the original series, he was 11 years old, and in the '90s update he was in his early teens -- and Efron basically looks his age, which is, as I said, too old. Are they wanting to cast a big name primarily to draw the crowds to the theaters? The Jonny Quest brand arguably carries enough of its own weight to bring in not only the people who grew up watching the show, but their grandkids and the nostalgia buffs, so the producers should feel reasonably free to seek out a lesser-known name, or even an unknown -- a younger (or at least younger-looking) actor, with a closer visual resemblance to Jonny, good acting chops, and a bit of an athletic inclination certainly wouldn't hurt (for the potentially demanding physicality that the role would implicitly demand). Surely, with the population of this country, a young man matching those criteria couldn't be too hard to find.

But then, the whole "pulling the crowds in with the Jonny Quest brand" thing might be moot, because the producers are -- get this -- considering not even calling the movie (or, presumably, the character) Jonny Quest at all! More absurdly, they're basing this thinking on the box-office failure of the recent live-action Speed Racer movie. Uh ... what?!? Not only were the original JQ and SR animated series not even produced in the same country, let alone by the same people, but as far as I know the Speed Racer movie wasn't written or directed by any of the same people who'll be involved in Jonny Quest. So why are they automatically presuming it'll be a failure? I can just hear the JQ writer and director, whoever they may be, now: Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence, studio mucky-mucks. But then, the Hollywood studios don't appear to have ever placed a whole lot of stock in outside-the-box thinking anyway. But, I digress. If they're going to make a Jonny Quest movie without calling it Jonny Quest, then what's the point? And what, exactly, is making the studio bigwigs assume that such a strategy won't backfire on them, and cause the movie to be an even bigger flop than it would have been if they'd kept the Jonny Quest title?!?

But, back to the question of who to cast in the role of Jonny. I'd have to think about already established names in that age group, but the one that comes to mind first is junior Gossip Girl cast member Connor Paolo. He looks like he's still firmly in his mid-teens (and I think a JQ movie would work better with Jonny at that age), and even has a bit of a Jonny Quest look to him. Sure, he's naturally dark-haired, but he looks pretty good with dyed hair and could always wear colored contacts. But then, does Jonny even really need to be a blond? (But, like the above question, that can wait till later.) He's a pretty good actor, to boot -- was kind-of creepy in his Law & Order: SVU appearance recently (not that JQ would demand creepy acting) -- and could probably hold his own with the physical stuff. So, how about it, Hollywood? Connor could use a big feature-film break, and I'd bet he could pull this one off with flying colors.

20090909

Short In Stature, Tall In Power

Of all the "sword-and-sorcery" movies that came out in the early to mid 1980s, Krull is the only one I like. As I recall, it didn't get very good reviews when it was released, and it wasn't a box office success, so I can't help but feel that it's just never gotten the respect that I feel it's deserved. But then, it got a pretty decent special-edition DVD release (with commentaries, and a behind-the-scenes featurette -- narrated by Tom Bosley, no less!) a few years back, whereas Dragonslayer never has, so I could just be biased by my undying love for this movie. Sure, it has the oft-used scenario of the princess taken captive by the evil beast (quite literally Beast with a capital "B", in this case), and her lovelorn prince wrangling a scrappy band of outlaws and braving a series of hardships to come charging to her rescue, plus it was being released in the middle of a near glut of semi-sci-fi/medieval-fantasy movies (so much so that it had started becoming difficult to tell them apart), but to me this movie is like nothing else out there.

First of all, there was the toally bitchin' weapon-of-choice in the movie (this movie's Excalibur, if you will), the Glaive -- not your ordinary run-of-the-mill sword, but rather a five-armed flying blade, kind-of a cross between a starfish and a ninja throwing star. True, in real life it'd probably be about as aerodynamic as a pop-tart, but how ├╝ber-cool would it be to actually have one of those? And then there was the character of Rell, the cyclops (played by the late Bernard Bresslaw), an imposing figure who could throw his trident weapon with deadly precision from yards away, but who was just a big teddy-bear on the inside. Heck, all the characters in the movie are enjoyable for one reason or another ... but then, as I said before, that just might be me gushing on about this movie as I am wont to do.

One of the neatest things about Krull, though, is the cast ... the Brits will be able to spot two EastEnders players in their much-younger days, Todd Carty and Graham McGrath, but more significantly, we get three early peeks at actors who are at least semi-notable genre personalities now. Two of Torquil's band of escaped criminals, who end up showing their hearts of gold in aiding the prince in the rescue of his lady, are played by Liam Neeson (who would, of course, go on to play Qui-Gon Jinn in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace) and Robbie Coltrane (who is now loved the world over as the hulking but huggable Rubeus Hagrid in the Harry Potter films). But take a close look at the lead character, Prince Colwyn himself -- if he looks familiar, that's because he's Ken Marshall, who went on to play the duplicitous Maquis operative Michael Eddington in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine).

But perhaps the most overlooked aspect of Krull, and also one of its most enthralling, is the magnificent score by James Horner. It has seen three different commercial releases over the years, in progressively more expansive forms leading up to a two-CD issue of the complete score, but none of them are in print or readily available any longer. And one of the most tragic things of all is that no pieces from this score ever seem to make an appearance on any compilation, whether it's a general film music recording, a genre-specific collection, or a James Horner anthology ... not even the wonderful and well-rounded releases by Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra have ever played a Krull selection on any of their releases. I simply don't see how that can be, as I honestly feel it's one of Horner's top three works ever (behind Titanic and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan).

As if you couldn't tell by now, I love Krull immensely and strongly recommend it to anyone who's never seen it. Unless you simply don't like anything to do with medieval-themed sci-fi/fantasy or sword-and-sorcery movies, I just don't see how you wouldn't love it. And I didn't even mention Ergo or the firemares ... wait till you see them!

20090906

Star Trek: The Lost Missions - Episode 2

Here we have the next episode in the Peter Pan/Power Records series of Star Trek stories, released back in the '70s. (See the first post in the series for background info.) In "In Vino Veritas" (written by Alan Dean Foster), Kirk and Spock serve as mediators in a territorial dispute between the Romulans and the Klingons, but the meeting is thrown into chaos by a man who appears to be a cross between Harry Mudd and Cyrano Jones (I'm guessing the producers of the story records didn't have permission to use either of those two characters, so they made up this guy instead). I hope it's just as entertaining for you as the last one. Enjoy!

20090902

Will It Be "Marvey" or "Dismal"?

You know when you hear some news, and you feel like you should react about it in a certain way (or in some way, period), but it turns out you don't? Well, that's what happened when I read the recent news that Disney is buying out Marvel. I don't have any particularly strong opinions about Disney one way or another -- I'm a fan of a few of their movies, mostly from the late '70s to mid '80s, but that's about it. And I'm not all that emotionally invested in Marvel, either -- I totally dig the "Spider-Man" and "X-Men" movies, but am not much into super-hero comics otherwise. I venture to guess that we consumers will see little to no evidence of Disney's acquisition of Marvel, except that characters from the Marvel Universe will probably take up a fairly high-profile residence at the Disney theme parks ... and we might see the Disney production company "tag" (whatever the little five-second logo thingie is called in the industry) alongside the Marvel "tag" at the beginning of any future Marvel hero movies.

Frankly, they would be wise to keep the Marvel brand separate from the Disney brand, at least when it comes to the existing line of comic books; somehow I imagine the hardcore Marvel Universe readers would balk a bit at the thought of being seen buying Disney comics. But I doubt we'll need to worry in that regard; I'm sure Disney isn't all too eager to "sully" their family-friendly logo by slapping it on books featuring masked avengers brutalizing ruthless crime lords. And from there comes the one worry that's probably on a bunch of people's minds: Will Disney demand that the Marvel Universe clean itself up, and become less violent and more family-friendly? Somehow I doubt it -- the powers that be at Disney are smart enough not to dump four billion dollars into an acquisition, only to run the risk of watering it down and effectively flushing it straight down the crapper.

Hmm ... I guess I did have more to say than I expected to on this subject, despite having very little emotional investment in the scenario or its consequences ... at least, as it pertains to any particular companies. It does, however, bug me in the larger context of an ever-continuing series of corporate buyouts in the entertainment industry. The Disney/Marvel deal is the one I've had the most trepidations about since the Sony/BMG merger in 2004 -- but that one bothered me more, as I'm far more into music than any other facet of entertainment. (But then, record company mergers do have their advantages when it comes to being able to release comprehensive anthologies of artists who have a tendency to hop labels.) One would think that these buyouts and mergers would have to be stopped at some point to avoid concerns over ant-trust or monopolies in any given industry.

It makes me wonder if these corporate CEO's have ever seen that cartoon where the little fish gets eaten by a slightly bigger fish, and then that one gets eaten by a bigger fish, and so on. Such as it is with the entertainment world, where smaller companies progressively get absorbed into larger ones. Are they forgetting that this will eventually just leave one fish in the water? (And isn't it in that same cartoon where a character carrying dynamite is swallowed by that super-big fish and blown up? Okay, maybe that's carrying the analogy out on a limb.) They also need to be careful of the old adage, "The bigger they are, the harder they fall." If these mega-publishers end up collapsing under their own weight from a bad business decision of some sort, they'll take down all the smaller companies they bought out.

But then, as I said, Disney is pretty smart, so that probably won't happen. And even if it does, and Marvel somehow falls victim to corporate foibles, the comic book industry is one of those that seems (at least, at my level of scrutiny, which admittedly isn't intense) to do best at re-inventing and re-invigorating itself when it needs to. So, let's have positive thoughts about the Disney/Marvel merger ... we might as well, since we can't undo it.

20090827

You Better You Best

While perusing TVshowsonDVD.com the other day, I ran across the press release for the upcoming second volume in the single-disc "The Best of Star Trek: The Next Generation" series-that-I-didn't-know-was-going-to-be-a-series. Now, I of course already own all seven of the full season DVD sets, so I don't have any vested interest in buying these budget releases, but having my feelers out for all things Star Trek (especially TNG) has become such a second nature to me that I just can't let this go by without spewing my thoughts out through my keyboard like so much hydrogen exhaust through the Enterprise's bussard collectors.

Specifically, my thoughts are on the selection of episodes (basically the only thing to gripe about with these releases, since they don't include any extras). The episodes chosen for the first volume more-or-less made sense: the two-part Borg blockbuster "The Best of Both Worlds", the masterpiece fan-favorite "Yesterday's Enterprise", and the most arguable of the bunch (but still excellent by any means), "The Measure of a Man".

As with any top-ten list, the further away from Number One you get, the more questionable the selections can become, so in that respect it's almost inevitable that the choices for volume two don't stand up quite as well to scrutiny. "The Inner Light", which probably should have usurped the spot taken by "The Measure of a Man" on volume one, is of course fully qualified to be there. Unfortunately, it goes downhill from there (although we are talking Star Trek: TNG, so it's all relative); they seem to have given more credence to the guest stars appearing in each given episode than to the actual quality of the stories. I don't have much problem with the choice of "Tapestry", because I like Q and it was one of the better Q outings, and I've always had a soft spot for good ol' Scotty, so you wouldn't get much complaint out of me for "Relics", but the fact of the matter is that there are plenty of episodes with more enthralling and well-written stories than these two.

The real capper, though, is that this disc's lineup of episodes is rounded out by "Cause and Effect". Are you kidding me? "Cause and Effect"?!? I mean, sure, it was an interesting premise with a decent story, but on my better days (today not being one of them, but that's off-topic) I can think of a good seven or eight episodes, off the top of my head, that would be more suited for a disc calling itself "The Best of Star Trek: The Next Generation" volume two ... or even volume three, for that matter. I have to wonder if the simple presence of Kelsey Grammer (who, by pure coincidence I'm sure, has a role in the moderately-anticipated remake of Fame that's about to hit theatres) is what bumped this episode into favor. We all loved Jimmy Doohan, so I'll let "Relics" off easy.

So, after looking at a list of episodes, here would be the lineup I'd have chosen for "The Best of Star Trek: The Next Generation" volume 2: "The Inner Light", "Darmok", and "Unification" parts 1 and 2. For volume 3, you ask? Let's see ... I think "Half a Life", "Loud as a Whisper", "Symbiosis", and "Hollow Pursuits". Of course, we could mix-and-match those, for anyone who might object to one whole volume being taken from a single season. And then there are some of my personal favorites, like "A Matter of Time", "Thine Own Self", "The Chase", and "Suddenly Human" ... that would be volume 4. I'd better stop here, 'cause I could go on for hours.

20090816

Star Trek: The Lost Missions - Episode 1

I should have known better than to come up empty-handed when I searched for information on the eleven Star Trek audio adventure stories that were released on Peter Pan/Power Records back in the late '70s -- after all, they are Star Trek collectibles, and anything Trek that has ever existed has got to have decent coverage somewhere or other in cyberspace. Well, I would like to have known who the actors were that voiced the characters in these stories (some of them did pretty darn decent imitations of the original actors, I've gotta say), but at least I found out that most of the tales were written by veteran sci-fi writer Alan Dean Foster, with one other written by Cary Bates and Neal Adams. Unfortunately, the writers of three of the stories are unknown ... come to think of it, it's probably for the best, as two of them were kind-of sucky.

For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, Peter Pan Records was a label known for producing kid-friendly story and song records for many years, including stories based on comic book heroes such as Superman and Batman, and sci-fi/fantasy series like Space: 1999 and The Six Million Dollar Man. Back in the mid '70s they produced a series of seven original Star Trek stories and released them both individually on 7-inch records (usually accompanied by a read-along comic book) and in collected volumes on 12-inch LPs. The release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979 provided them with the opportunity to not only re-release the existing stories, but to add four new tales to the library. Unfortunately I have only the three ST:TMP re-release LPs (whose jackets are decorated simply with stills from the movie) rather than the original releases (which, aside from being more rare, have semi-cool original artwork on their jackets, from what I can tell on the web).

But anyway, these story records seem to have a bit of a following, so their existence might not be new to as many of you as I'd hoped ... but nevertheless I'm going to start posting them in MP3 format. I'll be posting them in what I believe is their original order of production (following their order of appearance on each LP, in the albums' order of release). A few years ago, I ripped them and burned them onto two CDs which I called "Star Trek: The Lost Missions" volumes 1 and 2, and that's what the MP3 tags will correspond to. (I had to shuffle them around in a rather specific order so that they would fit -- and they just barely did -- on two discs!) For your amusement, when I'm done uploading them all (about one every other week is the plan), I'll then follow up by uploading the artwork I created for the two CDs, should you decide to burn your own set.

I trust that these stories are old and obscure enough, not to mention completely out-of-print, that nobody will particularly care that I'm posting MP3s of them ... but, if the creators insist, for whatever bizarre reason, that I cease and desist, then I invite them to email me, stating their credentials, and politely ask me to do so. I hope not, 'cause they're a really neat little curiosity for Trek fans out there.

First up: "Passage To Moauv" (written by Alan Dean Foster), a cute story about a dignitary's pet that, when brought aboard the Enterprise for transport, causes chaos aboard the ship, but not quite in the way one might expect....

By the way, not only does Memory Alpha have an entry regarding these Trek story records, but here's a really cool web resource, from which I found quite a bit of info about them that I hadn't known before: Guide to the STAR TREK Story Records

20090809

Geek Pastry

I must be in a River Phoenix mood lately ... after watching The Mosquito Coast last week, I found myself watching Explorers several days later. That has all but convinced me to start a series of posts about some of my favorite sci-fi/fantasy films from my childhood, and I thought this one was as good a place as any to start. Explorers was filmed in 1985, and starred a young River Phoenix and a young Ethan Hawke (both in their first feature film roles, according to IMDB) as two junior-high-school misfits -- one a science nerd and the other a comic-book/sci-fi geek -- who come up with a way to create a spherical force field which allows them to fly through the air, and ultimately into space. With their new friend (played by Jason Presson), just as much an outcast but for entirely different reasons, they set out on the journey of a lifetime, which goes even farther than they had ever imagined.

I think I've finally realized why I love this movie so much: it's full of childlike wonder, much like its protagonists, but it neither talks down to the teen and tween audience it was mostly made for, nor does it try to be more than it is with an overly dramatic storyline. And it's not just the kids who are the good guys of the story; there's also the character played by Dick Miller -- an air patrol officer who, upon finding out the kids' secret, doesn't expose or arrest them, but instead completely identifies with the boys and wishes he were in their shoes. I can't be sure, but I rather suspect that it was a person much like him that wrote the script for this movie. They just don't make 'em like this anymore, it seems -- when Disney or someone else makes a movie for kids nowadays, it ends up underestimating its audience's intelligence, almost to the point of being condescending.

Not only is it fun to see Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix at such young ages (though still, to this day, I can't look at River without a shadow of pain in my heart, thinking about his untimely and senseless death), but James Cromwell is a hoot as Wolfgang's father, and Robert Picardo plays no less than three roles (though in two of them you'd be hard-pressed to see his face through the heavy prosthetics). If you haven't seen Explorers yet, you owe it to your inner geek.

20090728

The Letter

Okay, you remember the letter I was telling you about at the end of my previous post? It didn't take me long to find it after all (it just took me longer than I thought to actually get to looking for it). Here it is in the back of issue #8 of DC's second Star Trek series, which launched in 1989. Read it and weep -- weep for him and others like him, that is. I just hope that this Mr. Mason has come to his senses and seen the ridiculousness of his prejudices since this letter was printed.



(Click image to enlarge.)

20090723

The Trek Comics Motherlode

My collection of Star Trek memorabilia is basically concentrated in three major categories, all of which I'll eventually reveal to you. The first of these is the comic books. Allow me to introduce you to what may very well be the bitchinest piece of Trek-related merchandise out there (click on the product's image to go to its Amazon listing) -- at least I've got the feeling that most of you missed it when it came out, seeing as even the proprietor of my local comic book store didn't even know about it until I clued him into its existence. I've never gone looking for such a statistic, but I have to wonder what percentage of Trekkers are or have been regular readers and/or collectors of the various Trek comics. If you've never read them, then you're definitely missing out on bunches of well-written and entertaining stories. And if you do read/collect them, then odds are there are probably some that you've never read or been able to add to your collection. Well, that's where this item comes in.



Imagine, if you will, every issue of every Star Trek comic book ever published (up until 2002, when Wildstorm stopped producing them), all packed onto one DVD disc. Yes, each and every page -- including the front and back covers, the letters pages (in which I was immortalized once in 1991), and even the vintage advertisements -- are all scanned into clearly readable PDF files and accessible by an easy-as-rokeg-blood-pie interface. And though you can't copy the files for use elsewhere, you can print them out in whole or in part (though an unobtrusive Starfleet arrowhead watermark will show on the printed page). These restrictions are a small price to pay for the convenience of having literally hundreds of comic books squeezed into the shelf space of a DVD case, not to mention being able to fill any of the gaps in your comic collection ... assuming you're not a hardcore comics collector and are concerned only with the content (I fall into that category, and don't own any of the vintage Gold Key issues or the initial 1980 Marvel series, so this DVD does nicely to take care of that.)



Best of all, this item is a pretty decent bargain even at full retail price, considering the funds it would take to accumulate the hard copies of all the comics in question. I read one review that says there are a few botched scans (mucked-up or cut-off images) in the mix, but I personally haven't found them yet. But even a Trek nut like yours truly finds it hard to complain about a relatively small shortcoming like that. Did I mention that the thing runs right from Adobe Reader, so that no software installation on your computer is even necessary (unless you have an outdated version of Adobe Reader)? You couldn't ask for more, could you? Now if you'll excuse me, I think I'm gonna go now and see if I can find the issue where some horse's ass in the letters pages, who claimed to be a Trek fan, had a problem with Scotty and Uhura getting tender with each other (a continuation of sorts from their flirting in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier) 'cause he didn't believe in the "mixing of the races". (You think I'm making that up? Sadly, I'm not. Maybe I'll share it with you once I've found it....)

20090712

Live Long And Party

Here's a movie with which I can identify a little bit more closely than I'm comfortable with ... although I do really enjoy watching it. It's called Free Enterprise, and without giving too much of it away, it stars Rafer Weigel and a pre-Will & Grace Eric McCormack as two best friends who are dealing with stalled love lives and stalled careers as they approach their 30th birthdays. Both avid Star Trek fans, they see a glimmer of hope for their respective futures when Mark (McCormack) gets the chance at collaborating with their childhood idol, William Shatner (in a brilliantly warped but thankfully minimally-hammed-up performance as a caricature of himself), and at the same time Robert (Weigel) meets the girl of his dreams.

I don't want to risk spoiling any more of the plot. Those of you who have watched the Trekkies 2 DVD will probably recognize the dramatization of a tale that Robert Meyer Burnett, Free Enterprise's co-writer and director, told of showing up at school in a Star Trek uniform -- indeed, the movie is based loosely on the lives of Burnett and Mark Altman, the film's other co-writer. The script is packed with pop-culture references, mostly Star Trek and sci-fi but some otherwise, so we geeks will have plenty to laugh at (assuming we don't take our lives or our fandoms too seriously). If you haven't seen this film yet, you must ... and if you're like me, you'll probably end up picking up the two-disc special edition ... and at only ten dollars, what have you got to lose?

20090628

The Sound and The Furie

Wow ... I am simply in awe. Unfortunately, it's not in a good way. You see, several months ago I happened upon a boxed set of all four Christopher Reeve Superman films at Costco for a mere $18, which was a spectacular price, seeing as how all four were the special/deluxe editions (Superman: The Movie in this case being the 4-disc bonus-features-packed deluxe package). Until then I'd had just the bare-bones original DVD releaes of the films, except for Superman III whose deluxe edition I found on special one day, and Superman IV which I'd never felt the slightest compulsion to buy, even before I'd heard confirmation of how bad it was in the excellent documentary Look, Up In The Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman.

But I finally gave into the temptation this evening and put Superman IV: The Quest For Peace into my DVD player, expecting full well to have 90 minutes of my life completely wasted. I'm pleased to say that, in that capacity alone, the movie surpassed my expectations. Now, mind you, I have a personal history of liking -- even loving -- movies that were largely panned by critics (The Black Hole, Johnny Dangerously, Krull, and yes, even Superman III). But I'm afraid that even I couldn't find anything to love about this sorry-ass piece of ... filmmaking. What were they thinking? Did they not realize, even by the time they'd gotten to post-production, what a turkey they had on their hands?

Christopher Reeve, bless his soul, did what he could with the material ... but Margot Kidder, Jackie Cooper, and Gene Hackman all seemed to be going through the motions, almost as if they themselves couldn't wait for the movie to be over. Marc McClure was kind-of just there, because the script essentially gave Jimmy Olsen nothing at all to do but follow Superman around like a puppy. And poor Jon Cryer, trapped in the netherworld between his bygone John Hughes teen-comedy glory days and his current, very enjoyable stint in Two And a Half Men ... what do you wanna bet he wishes this movie had never happened at all, or at least had happened to someone else? Nah, I can't imagine there's anyone out there he'd hate that much.

I'll grant you that the Superman movies have never adhered rigidly to scientific credibility to begin with, but even this script's writing was nothing short of pathetic. I won't go into the details, except to say that Lex Luthor's sketchy "scientific" plan would have looked silly even in a 1940's sci-fi serial, and that Superman's eyes should never, at least in a live-action film, be given any powers beyond heat vision and X-ray vision (okay, to spare you the pain of watching the movie: he uses his eyes to magically re-assemble destroyed sections of the Great Wall of China out of thin air ... I shit you not).

Come to think of it, there was one shot that was quite priceless in the movie: possibly the best ever bit of physical shtick by Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent, in which he stumbles on a marble floor and narrowly avoids falling on his ass. But that sure doesn't make up for perhaps the most annoying part of the movie: Gene Hackman pronouncing the word "nuclear" like George W. Bush ("nucular") -- all the more painful because the script called for him to say the word at least a dozen times. I had respect for Mr. Hackman until this movie ... maybe Superman can use that memory-erasing trick on me for that hour-and-a-half like he did on Lois for discovering his secret identity...?

Update: If you're still jonesin' to get all four Superman movies for a good price, you can't get much better than this -- although this set is quite skimpy on the extras by comparison.