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.


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


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.