20101129

Irvin Kershner: 1923 - 2010

Sad news: Irvin Kershner, most famous to us as the director of The Empire Strikes Back and RoboCop 2, has passed away at the age of 87. He was also an instructor at the USC film school, and none other than George Lucas was amongst his students. May the Force be with you, Mr. Kershner.



















(Photo found by way of BrickTuts.)

20101117

Welcome To The 24th Century

Holy crap! Holy crap! Did you know about this? I didn't until yesterday! Holy crap!! If I'd known about this earlier, I wouldn't have bought the last dozen or so CDs I did buy (well, not necessarily the last consecutive dozen, but a dozen) and would have saved up for this instead! But I still bought it anyway, 'cause I just gotta have it. Seriously, I honestly don't know how I would be able to go on living without having this in my possession as soon as humanly possible. Want to know what it is? Maybe you'd better sit down, 'cause I myself had a geek-out on a transphasic level when I found out about this.

It's a limited-edition box set of not four, not six ... no, not even eight ... no, keep going ... would you believe a whopping 14 -- yes -- FOURTEEN CDs jam-packed with never-before-released music from dozens of episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation! Devoted solely to the work of Ron Jones, who traded off scoring duties with Dennis McCarthy through the first four seasons of TNG, "Star Trek: The Next Generation -- The Ron Jones Project" includes nearly every note written and recorded for 42 of the series' first 94 episodes (the score for "The Best of Both Worlds" two-parter is already available on the GNP Crescendo label, so just some bonus tracks from it are included here) plus numerous outtakes, as well as a disc devoted to his work for a pair of Trek video games released later.

The panicked evacuation of the Enterprise in "11001001" ... the tearful farewell of Tasha Yar in "Skin of Evil" ... the appearance of the Romulans in "The Neutral Zone" ... Riker's escape from the Mintakans in "Who Watches The Watchers" ... the terrorist attack on the ship in "The High Ground" ... Lal's tragic demise in "The Offspring" ... the perilous journey across the arid wasteland in "Final Mission" ... they're all cues that I've been waiting 20 years to hear unobscured by dialogue and sound effects, and now's my chance! With this doozy of a package being limited to a production run of just 5,000, I couldn't waste any time in seizing the opportunity to add it to my collection, since the price is certain to only start going up on the aftermarket.

Widely regarded as the best composer that Star Trek: The Next Generation ever had, Ron Jones was known for delivering sweeping, attention-grabbing, feature-film-worthy scores for countless episodes. The problem was that TNG's producers didn't want attention-grabbing music; they wanted the episodes' scores to lay quietly in the background. So after almost four full years of flying in the face of the producers' demands, Jones was fired and replaced by Jay Chattaway (quite a dandy composer in his own right, to give credit where it's due). But I always thought the Trek producers were not only making their episodes just a bit less memorable by taming down the music, but they were also forsaking a perfectly good merchandising outlet. Fans have been clamoring for Ron Jones' scores to be commercially available for years, and I have to wonder how many CD sales they missed out on by missing that opportunity and never licensing retail releases until all these years later.

If you can't live without it, like I couldn't, this incomparably amazing Trek-a-thon of music will set you back a healthy $150 (plus shipping), but at 14 CDs that ends up coming out to less than $11 per disc, which is a great price, especially for something that's a limited-edition collectible like this. It's available for purchase now at SAE and at Intrada, and further information is available from the Film Score Monthly website (and thanks to them for the links to the audio clips!). A friend of mine has all but challenged me to bundle it up in giftwrap when it arrives and not open it until Christmas morning ... but that's gonna be a really tough test of my will.

20101114

Your Friend In Time...

It's hard to believe that it's been a quarter-century since Marty McFly hit 88 miles per hour and flux-capacitored his way into movie history with Back To The Future. I can remember when I was a teenager -- much more of a geek than I am now, come to think of it -- and my family and I took a seven-week vacation to Europe. What was one of the few things I can remember taking along with me to keep me company? It was a Walkman cassette player and (along with other tapes, at least I hope) two cassettes onto which I had recorded the audio portion of the entire Back To The Future movie. I must have listened to those a half-dozen times over the course of that vacation, I was so bored otherwise.

Needless to say, I couldn't go without picking up the brand new 25th-Anniversary edition of the Back To The Future trilogy on DVD. I can't wait to see all the deleted scenes and new bonus features they've packed into this set, not the least of which is, finally, long-rumored actual footage of Eric Stoltz in the role of Marty. And of course there's the neatest extra of all -- here's my geekiness shining through again -- digital copies of all three movies, which I can load onto my iPod if I want to! It's full circle in a way ... I have to wonder what my younger self, armed with mere cassettes of only the movie's sound, would think if he could have in the palm of his hand full-color video and stereo sound of not just the first movie, but of many others, not to mention hundreds of albums of music!?!

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. This was a groundbreaking movie series in a number of ways, one of which being that it was the first one for which more than one sequel was filmed back-to-back (The Matrix is the most noteworthy other example), and it was also one of the first -- and certainly the first with such broad appeal -- to successfully integrate science-fiction with comedy to such an extent that the movie can fit neatly into either genre; Ghostbusters, Innerspace, and Men In Black picked up on the idea and ran with it. Part II definitely laid on the sci-fi a bit more strongly, what with its frequent and potentially confusing references to paradoxes and hopscotching between time periods, and Part III was an almost completely different movie altogether, with a decidedly Western feel and an almost fully self-contained story (not to mention a supporting role by the always enjoyable Mary Steenburgen).

But then, I'm probably not telling you anything you don't already know about the best time-travel movie ever made. Suffice to say I love each and every chapter of the adventures of Marty and Doc, I'll probably sit down and watch the first of the three tonight ... and I'm very soon going to secure my digital copies, too!

20101017

The Whole Planet Houston?

If you're well-versed in the behind-the-scenes saga of the Christopher Reeve-era Superman films, then you know that the producers, Alexander and Ilya Salkind, had hired Richard Donner to film the first and second Superman movies simultaneously -- and that, when budget and schedule overruns got out of control, put the kibosh on the sequel in the middle of its principal photography and had Donner finish only the first film. And you probably also know that said time and money troubles got Donner fired before he could finish Superman II, whereupon the Salkinds brought Richard Lester in as his replacement. Well, ever since then, some fans have been crying out to see Richard Donner's original vision of the movie, and in 2006 they got their chance when Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut was released on DVD.

Well, Superman movie fan that I am, I can't quite say I was one of the "crying out" sort, as evidenced by the fact that I just got around to picking up this DVD a few weeks ago ... used ... for six bucks. It was interesting to watch, and, well ... I don't know if it's just because I'm used to the original Richard Lester version, or maybe it's the fact that Donner, according to his introduction on the DVD, never got around to filming everything he wanted to film back in the day, and thus had to reassemble his vision of the picture as best he could from the available footage (and had to use some footage from that other guy, much as he didn't want to). But, even though I'm quite certainly a big fan of the first film and would even go so far as to call it a masterpiece, I've gotta say that I think Lester's version of Superman II is actually better.

First of all, the editing was somewhat choppier in the Donner cut, particularly the way they kept going back and forth between Clark and Lois at the Fortress of Solitude, and the supervillains' conquest of Earth -- in the Lester version, the sequences were kept in bigger blocks and thus seemed to be more coherent. And then there was the subplot about Lois scheming to "out" Clark as Superman ... the fact that she was smart enough to do so notwithstanding. Lester is supposedly known to have more a sense of comedic directing than Donner, which is all too evident here in that Donner's efforts in this regard come off as a bit more clumsy and forced, while Lester's are more naturally flowing. We can forgive the redundant climax, just because Donner obviously wouldn't have used it for the first movie had he seen the second one through to the end, but it's quite odd that he kept the epilogue in since the climax canceled out the scene it relates to ... don't worry, I'm trying to avoid a spoiler, so if you go and watch it, what I'm saying will make sense, I promise.

I'm still glad that Richard Donner went to what I'm sure was a lot of trouble to re-assemble his version of the film -- as closely as possible, of course -- and I'm glad I picked it up. It's a unique glimpse into a somewhat "lost chapter" of the Superman saga, and has a wealth of what one could call "deleted scenes" from Superman II. Imperfect though it may be (in my opinion, anyway), I'll always consider him a master for the wonderful story he told in the original Superman movie. I do think the Salkinds were wrong to fire him from Superman II prematurely, because I'm quite positive that Superman: The Movie wouldn't have been the blockbuster it was if someone else had directed it.

20101010

It's Been a Long Road, Getting From There To Here

As I mentioned in a previous entry, by the time Star Trek: Voyager went off the air in 2001 I'd had my fill of the Trek Universe for awhile ... something that just a few years earlier was inconceivable. So when Paramount chose to crank out yet another series so closely on the heels of Voyager, I was understandably unenthused ... kind-of like being asked to walk another mile after I'd already walked two (even if there were a record store when I got there). Indeed, if Enterprise hadn't starred Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap is one of my all-time favorite shows), I probably wouldn't have even given it a try. But try I did, and boy did I ever try. The pilot episode was entertaining enough, but all too soon boredom set in, and I mustered all the interest I could until I gave up about two-thirds of the way through the first season.

Fast-forward eight and a half years, and I'm on vacation in California. Several times over the previous few months, I'd started to feel tempted to give Enterprise another chance (apparently unconvinced deep down that I could get bored with a Trek show), and had been checking out the prices of the used DVD season box-sets. By the time I'd arrived at Amoeba Records in L.A., I'd decided to go ahead and pick up season 1 if I saw it at a decent price. I still kind-of balked at $35, but took the plunge anyway. (Good move, 'cause the disc trays inside were still shrink-wrapped and ended up being brand new!) I've now re-watched the first nine episodes so far, and must have been really bored back in the day 'cause I didn't remember jack about most of them.

What a difference eight years makes! There I was, putting the blame on what I saw as imperfections in the show -- the way the crew seemed to fall too soon into treating the supposedly new experience of space exploration with an everyday nonchalance ... the writers sneaking in what were essentially phasers by jury-rigging the established continuity and calling them "phase pistols" ... the confusing concept of the "Temporal Cold War", which to this day even a time-travel geek like me doesn't quite get -- when it really was mostly my boredom after all. Don't get me wrong, I'm quite a ways from being "in love" with Enterprise just yet, but it turns out not to have been the dog (sorry, Porthos) I'd written it off as back in '01.

Prequel shows can be a very tricky endeavour, of course. How do you put a fresh spin on a "been-there done-that" concept that we've already seen? Not to mention that audiences today want faster-paced shows, which means you can't slow things down with all the exposition that, with the unfamiliar environment the characters are in, probably ought to be taking place. So in a way we really can't blame the creators and writers for all their sneaky retconning. I mean, having plain old laser pistols, which we now know aren't very powerful, would be kind-of boring, right? And we all know about Captain Pike and the first Federation Starship Enterprise -- not to mention the furor that can boil up amongst fans with the mere mention of the notion that their cherished characters might be re-cast -- and besides, who says there wasn't a Starship Enterprise before the Federation actually came along? I'm hoping that they let up a bit on the use of the transporter, though, 'cause I don't want things to get too convenient for "ye olde tyme crewe" ... besides, shuttlepods are a kind of cool all their own.

Well, anyway, suffice to say that I'm enjoying Enterprise significantly more the second time around, and I might even think about picking up the subsequent seasons when the time comes. I always enjoy watching Scott Bakula, Porthos is just cute as all-get-out, Anthony Montgomery ain't all that bad-lookin' either, and I'm enjoying watching the budding friendships between T'Pol and Tucker, and between Phlox and Sato. And Heaven help me, I'm even pretty-much okay with the schmaltzy theme song. It makes me wonder how many other fans out there just needed a bit of a break from Star Trek, and if it might have run longer than the abbreviated four years it did, had Paramount simply put off its launch for a few years.

20100913

Kevin McCarthy: 1914 - 2010

A sad day ... actor Kevin McCarthy, who is perhaps best known to genre fans for his role in the 1978 movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but is beloved to me for his delightfully over-the-top bad-guy roles in Innerspace and UHF, passed away over the weekend of natural causes at the age of 96. His resumé according to IMDB stretches all the way back to the dawn of television, with over 200 credits between his film and TV roles. I admittedly haven't seen a whole lot of what he was in, but it's still kind-of like losing an extended relative.

20100820

Starcruiser, WHOOSH!! Starcruiser, CRASH!!

Does anyone else fondly remember that pair of Ewoks TV-movies that aired on ABC back in the mid '80s? For some reason, silly as they were (but not nearly as painful to watch as the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special), I videotaped them when they aired and watched them repeatedly over the ensuing years ... and yes, I even bought the double-feature DVD -- containing the original 1984 movie Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure, and its 1985 sequel Ewoks: The Battle For Endor -- after it was finally released in 2004.

For the unfamiliar, the first movie involves a family whose spaceship has crash-landed on Endor. The parents are abducted by a five-storey-tall baboon, and it's up to the kids -- teenage boy Mace (not Windu, rather a white one with hair) and his little sister Cindel -- to rescue them ... with the help of their new friends the Ewoks, natch. Fionnula Flanagan (How the West Was Won, Lost, and an occasional Star Trek guest) and Guy Boyd (Black Scorpion, Hyperion Bay ... aw hell, just look him up) play the hapless parents, and Mr. "Holly Jolly Christmas" himself, Burl Ives, is there to narrate the story and drive home the obligatory moral lesson in courage, perseverence, and the power of a loving family ... eesh. But at least Eric Walker was there for me to crush on ... not that I knew it was a crush at the time, mind you.

But wait, the sequel is even better! Presumably in a move to counterbalance the revolting cuddliness of the first movie, this one turns way darker. A gang of oafish, quasi-frat-guy lizard-dudes invades the Ewok village, taking all the Ewoks prisoner and flat-out killing off Mace and his parents -- so much for that "power of a loving family" crap. Anyway, Wicket and Cindel narrowly escape their vicious captors and soon happen upon an old curmudgeon (played by Wilford Brimley -- what a stretch for him) named Noa, a space pilot marooned on Endor many years ago. After Cindel is kidnapped by the lizard-dudes' inexplicably non-lizard-looking sorceress (played by Siân Phillips) -- hey, they couldn't be allowed to whack a little moppet like her, it's a broadcast network for cripe's sake -- Noa, Wicket, and Noa's pet whatever-it-is Teek, set out to open up a can of Quaker Oats and whoop-ass -- and Noa's fresh out of Quaker Oats! -- on the castle full of lizard-dudes. Hey, he's got a harpoon gun, so I sure wouldn't mess with him.

Despite how nauseatingly cloying little Cindel was -- can you picture an '80s effort at reincarnating a young Shirley Temple? -- the movies had their moments. The music, by Peter Bernstein, was particularly memorable, and I even have the soundtrack album (I think it was only ever issued on vinyl). The stories were okay -- in the second movie, the power source for the family's spaceship kind-of ties the plot together, in case you might have been wondering (since I left it out of the last paragraph). As much as he has become a kind of caricature of himself, I've always liked Wilford Brimley, so the interest in the second movie I might have lost with the early offing of Eric Walker's character was made up for by the entertaining presence of "grandpa Witherspoon" (and no, I've most definitely never crushed on him, so don't worry). But by far the most unintentionally funny moment was during the buildup to the jailbreak in the lizard-dudes' castle, when two of the guards were playing cards. I swear to you, if you listen closely, you can hear one of them say "chicken shit" ... in a family movie!!

Sure those movies were silly, the general disdain for the Ewoks notwithstanding ... but then, they were made for the kids out there rather than the teens and twenty-somethings who dug the Classic Trilogy during its theatrical run. And there are the obvious questions that these movies bring up -- What happened to the lizard-dudes between that movie and Return of the Jedi? Wouldn't the Empire or the Rebels have at least stumbled upon them or their remains? To say nothing of Teek's race, who could have joined the Ewoks in the Rebels' fight against the Empire... -- but of course we're not supposed to think about that ... although you'd have thought that with all the screwing around Lucas did with the Classic Trilogy, the whim would have struck him to insert a new scene or two to retcon all that junk. Oh well ... at least I'm not disturbingly preoccupied by the whole Endor thing like this guy....

So anyway, if you're a Star Wars completist, or even if you're not so much and just want some silly entertainment, you might want to pick it up -- oh, that is, if you can. (It's out-of-print? Oh, the humanity!!!) And while you're scooting about on the web, I just found out that Eric Walker is all grown up and has his own website. Go, Mace!

20100814

A Fan By Any Other Name

Yup, here it comes, like a Romulan interceptor on an attack trajectory ... the ages-old question: "Trekkie" or "Trekker"? The way the question is handled in the two Trekkies documentary films is amusing and (as much as it can be) enlightening. The vastly differing opinions on the applicability and meaning of the two terms all seem logical (pun intended) ... that it's a generational thing, with the older ones labeling themselves as "Trekkies" and the younger as "Trekkers"; that "Trekkies" are the get-a-lifers while "Trekkers" know it's just a TV show; and, funny as it seems, the opposite -- that "Trekkies" are the casually fanatic viewers while "Trekkers" are the snobs who take it seriously.

Which am I? Well, I'm something of an "agnostic" in that regard ... I've never felt the need to pigeonhole myself into either category, even though I've fit nearly every criteria described in the paragraph above at some point in my history of Trek fandom. Nowadays I fancy myself somewhere in the middle: I'm enough of a Trekkie that it feels like I have a lump in my sock whenever there's a stardate out of whack, but I'm also level-headed enough that I can just roll my eyes and laugh about it. I take my Trek fandom seriously ... but at the same time, I don't take myself terribly seriously.

So, rather than a "Trekkie" or a "Trekker" (or a "Trekken", whatever the hell that is ... don't even get me started on how nerdy that sounds), I like to think of myself as a "Trekkah" ... mostly 'cause the "ah" comes close to the multi-lingual interjection of ambivalence, "ehh". I think that's a tag that fits my fandom quotient perfectly.

20100810

Beaming Back from Southern California

Here's one of many reasons why I love my sister ... she totally sprang this on me by surprise! While I was on vacation down in Southern California, she informed me that a museum within driving distance was running a Star Trek exhibition, with actual costumes and props and stuff from the TV series and movies! It might not have been the most impressive exhibit -- no interactive kinds of displays or presentations, no guided tours, and it was kind-of small in size -- but I had a whole lot of fun anyway. I got to see the gorgeously elaborate dress that Whoopi Goldberg wore in "Time's Arrow", Ricardo Montalban's outfit from The Wrath of Khan, the costume some lady wore in "Spock's Brain", as well as the uniforms of Janeway, Picard, and Data, and Kirk's uniform from the later films! There were also bunches of props -- some original and some recreations -- from the various shows and movies ... oh, would I have loved to take home the bat'leth they had on display!

A bit disappointing was the souvenir shop they had in the back ... sure, they had an assortment of the long-ago-deleted Playmates figures on sale, but otherwise it was the stuff you'd find in most catalogs and toy/hobby stores -- model kits, keychains, etc. I couldn't leave without buying something, so I picked up a T-shirt styled after the gold command tunics from The Original Series ... maybe I'll wear it for Halloween. They did have a room where customers could get their pictures taken in the captain's chair and whatnot, but that didn't seem to interest me. All in all, though, it was a fun way to spend the afternoon, and I'm glad I spent the $15 price for admission! It might have been nice to come away with a DVD of the program they had playing on the monitors, though....

20100725

Thankyouverymuch, Little Paperboy...

What sort of TV show would you get if you were to cross Leave It To Beaver with The Twilight Zone? Probably something like Eerie, Indiana. Omri Katz (best known as J.R.'s son on Dallas) stars as Marshall Teller, who has recently moved with his family to the small town of Eerie, Indiana (not to be confused with Erie, Pennsylvania). While the rest of his family sees nothing strange about their outwardly idyllic surroundings, Marshall and his new best friend, Simon (played by Picket Fences' Justin Shenkarow), know better as soon as Marshall spots a suspiciously Elvis-like gentleman on his morning paper route.

Through nineteen thrilling, sort-of chilling, but endlessly entertaining episodes, Marshall and Simon experience the bizarre goings-on in Eerie, everything from parents who seal their children in Tupperware-type containers to keep them from aging, to a secret underground world where all the socks go that disappear from the dryer, to what really happens to that hour when we switch to (or is it from?) Daylight Saving Time. Even Marshall's first love doesn't go normally -- he's haunted by the heart (literally) of a romantic rival from beyond the grave. All the while Marshall and Simon accumulate, in the Teller family attic, a library of evidence of the strange goings-on in town.

If you've never watched this show, you've really been missing out. The characters are endearing, the stories are whimsically weird and wondrous, and the scripts are clever, witty, and inventive. As soon as this criminally short-lived series came out on DVD I eagerly bought a set, and have watched it all the way through more than once. Check it out, and you too will become a loyal customer at World o' Stuff!

20100713

A Long Time Ago, In a CD Box Set Far, Far Away...

Well, here I go again ... nothing reeks of laziness more than writing one post that will update two blogs at the same time. Well, maybe waiting a freakin' month to make said post is just as lazy. But I warned you not too long ago that this blog was probably going to get quiet. I honestly haven't been in a blogging mood much lately. But with any luck that'll turn around after my vacation at the end of this month (during which, yes, it'll be really quiet ... but not like that's a big change, right?). Anyway, I hope you enjoy my latest topic, as it's close to my heart....

Before Greedo shot first ... before Han stepped on Jabba's tail ... before the digitally-botoxed "Special Editions" turned them into Episodes IV, V, and VI -- in other words, before George Lucas got all full of himself -- they were just Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. As relatively recently as those days were, it's already getting hard for me to remember them. It's also hard to believe that, until the 1993 box-set release of "The Star Wars Trilogy: The Original Soundtrack Anthology", most of the music from this phenomenally successful movie saga had never been available on CD before.

The original CD issue of the Star Wars soundtrack was a generous, two-disc, track-for-track replication of the vinyl release, but the Empire double-LP's run time was chopped nearly in half when squeezed onto a single CD, and Jedi only ever saw a skimpy one-disc release on any format. And those were the only compact disc releases that these awesome scores saw for nearly ten years, until this lush cornucopia of audio bliss came along. Sure, there had been a few other albums featuring music from all three films, but those were re-recordings by other orchestras ... and as any film music buff or Star Wars fan -- both categories in which I freely admit that I belong (albeit to different degrees now than I did back then) -- could tell you, they just don't hold a candle to the actual soundtrack recordings.

Not only did this release give us the second Cantina Band song in its entirety for the first time, as well as the haunting male chorus during Luke's final furious duel with Vader under the catwalk in the Emperor's throne room, but it's noteworthy for other reasons too. It was the last release of the original soundtrack recordings before the "Special Edition" revamping of the movies in 1997, which means that the Jabba jam "Lapti Nek" and the original tribal-drum vocal version of the Ewok Celebration got their final album appearances here before being usurped by the silly "Jedi Rocks!" and the tepid instrumental "Victory Celebration" (sorry, John Williams, I love your stuff, but the original source music was better).

But there's a more subtle aspect to this release that makes it a bittersweet one. Since 1997, the Star Wars soundtrack releases seem to have been preoccupied with delivering the music in an "as heard in the film" fashion, which to my ear makes the compositions flow much less gracefully. I don't know if it's the obsessive film music snobs out there who are to blame or if it's Lucas, but I find so much more beauty in the thematic structure of the pieces on these earlier discs. Who cares if they're arranged more for a concert hall performance than for accompaniment of the visuals in the movies? That's kind-of what I buy soundtracks for in the first place: to hear the music in a way I didn't hear it in the film ... after all, it'll still remind me of the fun I had watching the movies, which is the real point in a soundtrack release.

For a while, I did own the two-disc releases of the Star Wars Trilogy: "Special Edition" soundtracks, but I found them far inferior to the music on this collection and I ended up trading them in. For those of you who don't have the "Star Wars Trilogy: The Original Soundtrack Anthology" box set, believe me that you'd be doing yourselves a favor picking it up ... it's out of print, but still reasonably available from third-party sellers on Amazon and eBay. After all, nobody doesn't like Star Wars, and anybody who doesn't like the music of Star Wars -- well, they just shouldn't be taken seriously about anything, now should they?

20100520

The Boy Who Would Be Swarley

Considering his recent career resurgence thanks to How I Met Your Mother, his talk show, American Idol, and awards show appearances, and most recently his guest shot on Glee -- not to mention the popularity of this show back in its original run -- discussing Neil Patrick Harris' first TV series, the legen-- wait for it --dary (sorry, couldn't help it) Doogie Howser, M.D., isn't exactly an esoteric subject ... although it does fit this blog, since Doogie was one of the first geeks, especially lead-character geeks, to be embraced by pop culture.

Created by not one, but two powerhouse TV producers, David E. Kelley and Steven Bochco (that'd be kind-of like Joss Whedon and J.J. Abrams teaming up for a TV series -- awesome idea, eh?), Doogie Howser, M.D., showed us the implausible but all-too-human life of a 16-year-old boy who happened to be a child prodigy and a practicing physician at a Los Angeles hospital. It ran for four seasons, over the entire course of which Doogie would chronicle his life's lessons learned in a journal on his computer every night before he went to bed. I liked Doogie so much that, for awhile, even I kept a journal just like that. (Unfortunately it's long since gone ... would have been fun to look back on it all these years later.)

Not only was the rest of the regular cast enjoyable to watch -- particularly Max Casella (later of The Sopranos) as Doogie's best friend, the perpetually girl-obsessed Vinnie Delpino, and James B. Sikking as Doogie's down-to-earth, family-doctor father -- but plenty of interesting guest stars also popped up on occasion, such as Nana Visitor, René Auberjonois, Robyn Lively, Jeffrey Tambor, Jennifer Gatti, David Graf, David James Elliott, Tracy Scoggins, and a very young Shiri Appleby.

I picked up the first season on DVD as soon as it was released, because I knew I'd have some fun watching Doogie again after all those years ... but I never imagined I'd enjoy the show enough to buy all the other seasons and watch every single episode! The series may have begun to show its age a couple of years in -- always a danger with shows starring kids -- but it was watchable through its entire run. Curiously, though, the manufacturers have allowed the DVD releases to go out-of-print ... very strange, considering Neil Patrick Harris' return to fame.

20100421

Green Light, Kid -- We Did It!

Not too long ago I shared with you one of my favorite sci-fi series from my youth (that's a bit redundant I suppose ... back when I was a kid, nearly all my favorite TV series were sci-fi), and today I'm going to share another one with you. I rather suspect that it's this series that triggered my (thusfar) lifelong fascination with the time-travel subgenre of science-fiction.

This show was called Voyagers!, and it starred the late Jon-Erik Hexum as a former pirate named Phineas Bogg, who had been recruited as one of a band of time-hopping foot-soldiers charged with making sure that the history of the world stays on the right track. The tools of the trade: a hand-held, brass-clad time machine called an Omni, just a little larger than the average pocketwatch, as well as a handsomely leather-bound historical reference known as the Voyager Guidebook. Unfortunately, the less-than-competent Bogg lost his Guidebook when his Omni accidentally bounced out of his time-zone "jurisdiction" into the 1982 bedroom of 12-year-old Jeffrey Jones (played by Meeno Peluce), who just happened to be a history prodigy.

Neither were crazy about being stuck with each other at first, but with no way to get Jeffrey home, Bogg enlisted his help in lieu of the missing Guidebook. Together they would help the Wright Brothers invent the flying machine, set Spartacus on his quest to lead his famous slave revolt, thwart a Confederate plot to kindap President Lincoln, prevent Teddy Roosevelt from being killed by Billy The Kid, guide Marco Polo and his party safely toward their first meeting with Kublai Khan, and even pluck the stolen Mona Lisa off the doomed ocean liner Titanic.

There simply aren't enough good things to say about this series. Not only was it endlessly entertaining, but it was also worthwhile from an educational angle -- informative and historically accurate to a far greater degree than any other time-travel show before or since -- and it was masterfully designed. The best sci-fi shows seem to be the ones that make the future seem timeless. The most obvious example is the Omni ... rather than a wrist-worn device with digital controls (which, I read in one magazine, was one design that was considered), it was made to look on the outside like an heirloom from a century ago. And in the sole episode which actually visited the Voyagers' never-specified "home time", we saw elegantly crafted wood decor instead of sleek metal or plastic, and classy traditional fashion instead of form-fitting polyester jumpsuits.

It completely amazed me when Universal actually put the complete 20-episode series on DVD shelves back in 2007. It was such an obscure and little-known show (or so I thought), having basically been consigned to an early death from day one, running against ratings juggernaut 60 Minutes. Plus, both of its stars have been long gone from TV -- Peluce all but retired from acting in 1985 (I hear he's now a teacher in the Los Angeles school district), and Hexum died from a tragic on-set accident at around the same time, shortly after beginning his next series, "Cover Up". But, never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I put in a pre-order on Amazon as soon as it was listed, price be damned (and it turns out it was pretty reasonable after all)! Needless to say, I've enjoyed it thoroughly from start to finish once, and I'm about to do so again ... particularly all those scenes that I haven't seen since their original airings (which were, to make room for more advertisements, cut out of the Sci-Fi Channel rebroadcasts from what must have been the mid '90s).

20100408

State of Flux

No, I'm not dead (yet). Sorry for the inactivity on this blog, but I'd been having an extremely aggravating internet access issue, and hadn't been in much of a blogging mood lately. I'm still not quite there yet, and might never be, in all honesty ... the internet has lost a bit of its allure. Plus, I've been getting the jones lately to start some "real" writing (fiction), and may see fit to free up some time by shutting down one or more of my blogs.

So, what am I trying to say here? This blog might be going away ... and I stress the word "might". As long as it's still here, there's always the chance that you'll see updates; they just won't be as frequent as they used to be, unless I have a change of heart. But all the same, I really do appreciate anyone and everyone who stops by to read my ramblings. So ... watch this space!

20100323

Talkin' 'Bout Trek Generations

In the midst of my "ongoing mission" to watch all of my Star Trek DVDs in order of production, I had finished off The Next Generation, was in the third season of Deep Space Nine, and was apparently so focused on gearing up to start in on Voyager (yes, I've been interspersing them just like the series had originally overlapped), that I almost completely forgot about the 1994 feature film, Star Trek Generations. That surprised me, since I've always loved that movie, despite the fact that it served as a further reminder that my beloved crew's TV voyages were a thing of the past. I'll admit that my attachment to it may partly stem from the fact that there was nothing else to do in the podunk town I was living in at the time than to go see it at the theatre each weekend ... plus you might recall that I have something of a soft spot for movies that are not highly thought of by anyone else. Hey, Generations may not be a perfect movie, but it's a sentimental favorite of mine.

Why is Generations looked down upon so harshly? Okay, maybe it doesn't have as strong or choesive a story as most other Trek features, but it's not completely devoid of plot like some amateur critics (including the loudly opinionated woman at the Trek convention I went to shortly afterward) claim it to be. And perhaps the destruction of the Enterprise-D was none-too-gracefully shoved into the story, but in a way it did go along with the overall "love, loss, and mortality" theme of the film. But by far the biggest gripe about the movie, at least from old-school Trek fans, had to do with the way that Kirk died (or, depending on who you ask, the mere fact that he even died at all). They say he was treated shabbily and that his death wasn't heroic. "The man who beat the Kobayashi Maru and defeated the Gorn on Cestus III got killed by falling off a rickety old bridge!?!?!"

Maybe it's just the fact that I'm more a fan of TNG than TOS, but to me that sounds like plain old whining. First of all, forget the circumstance of a busted bridge being his undoing; the simple fact is that not everyone can have a graceful death. Secondly, anyone who says his death wasn't heroic obviously wasn't paying attention. Besides, in a way, Kirk "died" twice in the movie, each time heroic: at the beginning, he marched down into the bowels of the ship and put himself in harm's way to save the Enterprise-B and everyone on board; and at the end he gave his all to save not just the crew of the Enterprise-D, but all the 230 million inhabitants of a neighboring planet!! Not only that, but in between he opened up a can of whoop-ass on Soran in one of those good old-fashioned fistfights of his.

I could keep going on and on in defense of Star Trek Generations -- I also liked the humor in it, and the music was pretty good, too -- but I'll have mercy on you and stop here. But in "commemoration" of this movie, I thought I'd share with you one of the most curious pieces of Trek memorabilia in my collection, which just so happens to have been released in conjunction with that very movie. It was a promotional CD-single of a cute little techno-esque tune entitled "Make It So". A pen-pal from Central America sent me the music video on a VHS tape back in the day, and it was kind-of cool (how I wish it'd been included on this disc!), so I know it was popular down there, as well as in Europe, where the CD was produced. Its connection to Generations is questionable -- the music is a remix of the TNG theme rather than Dennis McCarthy's music from the movie, and the sample of Patrick Stewart saying "Make It So" isn't from the movie either -- but, nevertheless, it's a fun little ditty. Enjoy! (Click here for the song, and click the cover image below to enlarge it.)

20100316

These Are the Voyages of the Starship Endocrine...

Does anyone else remember the Star Wreck books, written by Leah Rewolinski? It was a series of seven parody novels, published by St. Martin's Press in the early '90s, based on both The Original Star Trek Series and The Next Generation, and later incorporating the Deep Space Nine characters. (The series ended shortly before Voyager came into being.)

Sure, the name Star Wreck has been used countless times as a Trek parody title, but otherwise this series was quite funny and entertaining. The author had fun with the names of the characters (my favorites being "Jean-Lucy Ricardo", "Georgie LaForgery", "Julio Brassiere" [Julian Bashir], and "Guano" [Guinan]), as well as with the stories of course. Chief Engineer Snot, for instance, coached Georgie on the use of technobabble, leading Georgie to become an expert with lines like, "the fratzenjammer molecules in this quadrant are making the sprucer inducer run really hard!" In this twisted universe, the transporter was called the UltraFax, and the Klingons were known as the Kringles.

If you've never picked up any of these books, and you take the Trek universe lightly enough to enjoy a totally zany parody that ignores the obvious incongruities like Kirk's crew being alive and well during the time of Picard's crew, then I urge you to seek them out and give them a read. They're not very long, they're pretty easy reads, and they'll tickle your funny bone. I'm sure Doc McCaw, Dr. Cape Pragmatski, and Dr. Beverage Flusher, would all agree that laughter really is the best medicine.

Here are Amazon links to each title in the series:

20100309

Jesse Mach, You Speed Demon

Wow! They're just putting all kinds of crap on DVD now, aren't they? I don't necessarily mean that in a bad way, mind you. I was rather surprised, though, when TV Shows on DVD said that "Since the beginning of the TV-on-DVD era, fans have eagerly wanted this show to come out on disc!" And I'd be flat-out lying if I said I wasn't quite curious to see Street Hawk again, since it's been aeons since I have. I am rather concerned, though, that it might not live up to my fond childhood memories, as has happened with two other sci-fi shows from my youth that I've watched in recent years.

I loved the TV adaptation of Blue Thunder when I was a kid, so I picked up the DVD set shortly after it came out ... but I hadn't realized until adulthood how bad it was, so I ended up trading the thing in before I'd even watched half the set. And several years ago the Sci-Fi Channel aired the very-short-lived, Tron-in-reverse show Automan, and that too ended up crushing the nostalgia bubble that had merrily floated around in my head for oh-so-long. The plots were clumsy and preposterous in the former, and the acting was amateurish and uncomfortable in the latter.

What concerns me most is that Rex Smith was a singer-turned-actor ... and we all know how not well that bodes for a TV series, especially one from early-1980s science-fiction -- a subgenre known for its impaired realism and fleeting shelf-life (two characteristics that are not necessarily mutually exclusive). Nevertheless, its resilience could end up surprising me. Here's the cover art, courtesy of TVshowsonDVD.com ... bitchin', huh?

20100304

Deep Submergence Vehicle

Just the other day I finished watching the DVD set of the first -- and, in my opinion, the only real -- season of the 1993 NBC sci-fi drama series SeaQuest DSV. I remember fondly when it debuted on TV. Quantum Leap was all too soon ending its run, and Star Trek: The Next Generation was heading into its final season (though I don't recall now whether or not we all knew at the time that it was their final season), so my appetite for good science-fiction was at one of its all-time peaks for me. And SeaQuest was a lot like an undersea version of Star Trek: TNG ... up to and including a way-cool main title theme, voiced over with a neat-o introduction by its captain!

I liked SeaQuest for the same reasons I liked Star Trek: TNG -- the smart way that they would integrate real-world science, and believably extrapolate on speculative science, in each episode. I also loved the first-season family of characters ... they were all real and likeable, and they all seemed to actually have a place in the crew. I loved the late Roy Scheider as the stoic captain ... Royce D. Applegate was endlessly likeable as the crusty old security chief with a heart of gold ... Stephanie Beacham lit up the screen as Dr. Kristin Westphalen ... I'm not sure if I had the bigger crush on Tim O'Neill (Ted Raimi) or Miguel Ortiz (Marco Sanchez) ... and who can forget the impish Ben Krieg, charmingly portrayed by John D'Aquino?

I was positively overjoyed when I heard that it was being released on DVD since, during the year it aired, we lived in a podunk town in the middle of nowhere, where the cable reception was about as good as bad TV aerial antenna reception. As a result of all the ghosting and static, we could barely see anything in the typically dark underwater CG optical shots, some of the most thrilling of the show. And what was beautiful about how the first season played out was that, since the producers weren't sure the show would be renewed, its "saga" was closed out nicely with no loose ends left untied, and no sort of a cliffhanger ending. So people like me feel no need or compulsion to buy the second season if we don't want to.

And boy, did I not want to. I don't know why the producers (or, more likely, the network) felt they needed to completely upend the show, throw out two-thirds of the cast, and replace them with some of the most bland and derivative characters ever to grace a sci-fi show -- and, most unnerving, they were all so uniformly young and attractive that it threw what credibility the show might have otherwise had left right out the window. I watched it on TV back then, but I don't even remember if I made it all the way through the season ... I don't think I did. The other thing that more-or-less ruined the show for me was how they veered into the more outlandish "fantasy" elements of sci-fi instead of staying grounded more in reality, which was half of the charm of the show (the original cast being the other half).

Fortunately the DVDs retained one of the best elements of the show's first season: the closing-credits segments in which oceanographer Robert Ballard explained some of the real-world science that inspired each episode. But unfortunately, they missed the boat (no pun intended) on including some good extras: most notably remembrances for deceased cast members Jonathan Brandis and Royce Applegate (Roy Scheider hadn't yet passed away when the set was released). Might I buy the second season out of curiosity, to see if I may have too hastily passed judgment on it back when it aired? Maybe ... if I find a low-enough price tag on it.

20100225

Andrew Koenig: 1968 - 2010

Well, I just found out that my suspicion has come true: actor and activist Andrew Koenig, son of Star Trek's Walter ("Chekov") Koenig, has died of an apparent suicide. He had been missing for over a week while visiting friends in Vancouver, and had written a "despondent"-sounding letter home to his parents just days ago.



















He was most remembered as Richard "Boner" Stabone, Mike Seaver's best friend on the '80s sitcom Growing Pains, but also had numerous guest-starring roles in shows ranging from My Two Dads to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Seeing a friend or loved one die from a sucide is never easy. I myself have lost a couple of people I know this way, and I would hate to see it happen to anyone else. Just please remember that, as lonely as you feel, there is someone -- probably more people than you think -- who love and care about you. Suicide is never, ever the only way out. Life isn't easy, but it's easier to get through when you have a friend to turn to. If you've been thinking about taking such drastic action, I urge you to consult the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

20100224

Hot Tub Time Machine!

It's important to note that I don't usually fall for movies that look this stupid. But this is one of those movies that knows full well just how stupid it looks, and actually seems to be proud of it. I mean, how ridiculous is the concept of a "Hot Tub Time Machine" ... and furthermore, how downright goofy is it to make that the actual title of the movie? In a way, I actually have to commend the makers of this movie on their boldness, even going so far as to name-check a lame-ass movie like Wild Hogs in the dialogue. Not since Dumb & Dumber has a screwball comedy so proudly worn the word "screwball" as a badge of honor. Obviously, I'm simply going to have to see this movie, and the fact that I'm a casual John Cusack fan is just a small part of why.

20100222

Andrew Koenig Missing

Some worrisome news I've just run across ... it appears that actor Andrew Koenig has been missing for several days. He lives in Venice, California, but had been visiting friends in Vancouver, Canada. He was set to return home on February 16, but never boarded his flight. He was last seen at a bakery in the Stanley Park area of Vancouver on Valentine's Day, February 14.

The 41-year-old son of Walter ("Chekov") Koenig, he is best known for playing Mike Seaver's friend "Boner" on the '80s sitcom Growing Pains, but has made numerous guest appearances in other shows, notably the second-season DS9 episode "Sanctuary" as one of the Skrreean refugees.

Koenig had reportedly been despondent lately, so his family and friends are especially worried for his well-being. If you should happen to see Andrew Koenig, you are urged to call Detective Raymond Payette of the Vancouver PD at 604-717-2534. More information is available from Walter Koenig's website.

20100221

Why Am I Jonesin' For McDonald's...?

This time I'm sharing a very obscure, but nonetheless very fondly remembered, bit of science-fiction with you. There are two television series that were favorites of my childhood, that I never in a million years would dare have dreamed would ever see the light of day on DVD, they were so off the beaten path. But I must be doing something to make someone up there happy, because a few years back they were both given DVD releases! The other one I'll discuss sometime soon, but the one I'm talking about today is Benji, Zax and the Alien Prince.

This admittedly silly little show aired exactly where you might have expected it did if you've ever seen an episode: on Saturday mornings, for a fleeting thirteen weeks in the fall of 1983. It told the story of young Prince Yubi (Christopher Burton), who escaped his home planet of Antareus when the evil tyrant, Zanu, overthrew the king, Yubi's father. A droid named Zax (which kind-of looked like a giant hamburger with a neck and head resembling a cartoon version of E.T.'s) was sent along to protect Yubi, and upon their arrival on Earth they were both befriended by that loveable pooch, Benji. But Yubi wasn't out of the woods, because Zanu himself deployed two ruthless soldiers to capture Yubi and bring him back to Antareus for imprisonment.

The acting wasn't impressive, the premise was very simple, and so were the special effects, but the early '80s Saturday morning audience wasn't exactly a demanding one. You'd certainly never hear me complain, as I was glued to the TV every week waiting for Yubi's newest adventure. In fact, if I may get a little personal with you, one reason this show holds such a special significance with me is because it was responsible for the first true inkling of my adolescence: in an episode in which Yubi was robbed of his precious bracelet (which Antareans needed in order to survive in Earth's atmosphere), and began to get ill and weak, I found myself wanting to climb through the TV and do everything I could to care for him, for reasons I wouldn't yet understand for another few years. (And the jewelry connection might have had something to do with my fascination, too ... just kidding!)

The set is a bit of a shelf-hog, I have to say ... four regular-sized single-disc cases housed in a slipcover, taking up the width of two VHS tapes. So I decided to conserve a bit of shelf space by replacing them with one slim 4-disc case, even re-designing a new insert card with all the info tidily packed onto the back panel. When it comes to the DVDs themselves, don't expect a crystal-clear, high-definition transfer ... it looks like the folks assembling this package had nothing better than analog videotape masters to work with -- well preserved considering their age, though there are still the occasional crawling lines of distortion from "wrinkles" in the tape, and maybe a few other artifacts. (Hey, it was well before the digital age, after all ... and I have to wonder if they'd ever imagined they'd have reason to pull them out of the archives!) Again, I'm not complaining ... I'm happy to have these old relics on DVD in any way, to relive those fond childhood memories again.

20100217

Pilot Errors

While poking aimlessly through my bookshelves the other day, I leafed through an unassuming title I've had for many years now, "Unsold Television Pilots: 1955 through 1989" by Lee Goldberg. As the title implies, this is an exhaustive reference book of all those pilot projects that are written, cast, filmed, offered to the networks, and sometimes shown on the air, but that the networks ultimately decided to turn down. How many of you out there are old and/or geeky enough to remember I-Man, the sci-fi special (aired as an installment of The Disney Sunday Movie) from 1986 featuring Scott Bakula as a cab driver turned indestructible secret agent after he's exposed to a strange vapor while rescuing a man from a truck crash (and John Anderson -- Kevin Uxbridge from the Star Trek: TNG episode "The Survivors" and Abraham Lincoln from the Voyagers! episode "The Day The Rebs Took Lincoln" -- as the evil madman whose plans he's tasked with foiling)?

Anyway, I happened upon a very interesting coincidence, just a couple of pages past the I-Man entry. There were two sitcom pilots made for CBS during the 1986-87 season, whose entries appear back-to-back in this book (on page 450 for those of you who just might happen to have this tome yourselves) ... and whose casts have not one, but two Trek connections each:

The Family Martinez (airdate 08/02/86) -- Robert Beltran (Star Trek: Voyager's Chakotay) portrays a former gang member who becomes a lawyer and returns to his East L.A. home to live with his wacky artist mother and his 16-year-old sister. Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar from ST:TNG) also starred as a character named Rachael McCann, though it doesn't say how she was involved in the story. If all that weren't enough, this show was created by Tommy Chong (of the comedy duo Cheech & Chong ... and, of course, Leo from That '70s Show).

Home Improvements (never aired) -- Not to be confused with the similarly-titled classic Tim Allen/Patricia Richardson sitcom, this one starred Tony LoBianco as a widower with three kids who marries a divorcée (Tricia O'Neil, the Enterprise-C's Captain Garrett from the ST:TNG episode "Yesterday's Enterprise") with one. Also in the cast, as the widower's eldest daughter who's married and lives next door, was ST:TNG's second-season bright-spot, ensign Sonya Gomez herself, Lycia Naff!

Imagine that ... four actors, all of whom would become involved in Trek, working on sitcom pilots in the same year for the same network! Quite a co-inky-dink, eh? One has to wonder -- especially if The Family Martinez had taken off -- who might have ended up playing Tasha Yar...!

20100214

Star Trek: The Lost Missions - Episode 11

Well, it's been a wonderfully fun journey, taking you through all the Peter Pan/Power Records Star Trek audio adventures ... and, sadly, we've reached the last one. Fortunately, though, the series goes out on a relatively high note with "The Human Factor" (author unknown). In this episode, a new species, who appear genial and harmless on the outside, shock the Enterprise crew by abducting Lieutenant Uhura for some strange, sinister purpose. What could it be? Listen and find out!

If you really want me to, I'll post the cover art for the two-disc CD collection I made of these adventures soon...!

20100211

Weird Gets Raw

For a short while now, William Shatner has been doing this one-on-one talk show called Shatner's Raw Nerve. It airs on the Biography channel, and is also sold on the U.S. iTunes store. The setting is almost artful in its simplicity: just Shatner and one guest -- in his 26 episodes (and counting), he's had people ranging from Scott Baio to Judge Judy to porn star Jenna Jameson to Meat Loaf to Whoopi Goldberg to, inevitably, his Star Trek compatriot Leonard Nimoy -- having an intimate chat with no studio audience.

Recently, his guest of honor was "Weird Al" Yankovic. As you might imagine, a conflux of two of my favorite pop-culture personalities in one place was too much of a temptation to resist. Knowing most of what there is to know about Al, I expected a rather uninformative, somewhat superficial half-hour of little interest. But you can imagine my surprise when I found myself watching something entirely different ... and unexpectedly riveting. I realized that while I know nearly all the facts, of any significance, about Al's life, he's never dropped his Weirdness long enough to let the world in for a real look, not that he's ever "owed" us one (after all, being Weird is his job!).

Shatner isn't afraid to use the title of his show quite literally and broach the touchy subjects -- and with Al it's no exception. He's begun to mellow with fatherhood and with age (though he can still tuck his ankle behind his neck!), and he rarely if ever sheds his "Weird" persona before the press or the cameras, so this is a rare glimpse into the real Al. Whether you have just a passing interest in Al, or have been a lifelong fan as I have, I can guarantee that you've never seen Al as truly human before as he is here, and it's really quite moving. You can buy this episode (and the whole series) on the U.S. iTunes store.

20100210

Mail It So

Wandering through the local bookstore a few weeks ago, I found an entire caddy of this "Fold-and-Mail" stationery. A very clever idea, I thought ... one side of the page is a ruled sheet with ample space for a letter, and the other side is formatted with room for an address on one half, and one of five beautiful, full-color Star Trek pictures on the other. Just write your letter, fold it in half, fold over the edges so it forms an envelope, seal it together (with its handy-dandy pre-licky-glued edges), and it's ready to be stamped and mailed! What will they think of next?

Nestled in the assortment of cartoon characters and whatnot (Superman, Wonder Woman, Pixar, Bewitched, Wallace & Gromit) was, of course, a Star Trek version which, of course, I simply had to buy. I certainly won't use them at all, not only because of the collectible potential of the item, but also because I lean toward using the more practical and conventional sort of stationery. If I'd had my wits about me (well, that, and a bit more cash), I probably would have picked up all three or four Star Trek pads I'd seen there, in anticipation of waiting patiently to place them on eBay once their value had begun to rise. But as it was, I only bought one for my own collection.

Fortunately, though, they still appear to be manufacturing this neat-o little bauble, which you can order yourself here. Not only is it an unconventional sort of memorabilia item, but it's handsomely designed ... and the sheer nature of the concept would make any "Treknologist" proud that such innovation came from the early 21st Century!

20100204

My Digital Companions

Since Memory Alpha didn't exist ten years ago -- and neither, for that matter, did its "father", Wikipedia -- this pair of digital volumes were quite a nifty and useful resource for us Trek geeks when they were released in 1999. The Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion and The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion CD-Roms contain roughly the same episode summaries, guest cast lists, and season overview essays that their trade paperback book counterparts do (which I have and also highly recommend), but these discs take things to a whole new level.

Not only do they have an assortment of color images as well as every episode's original shooting script (which, it should be noted, don't take into account the on-the-fly dialogue changes made by the director during filming -- but can include scenes that were never filmed, or filmed but cut from the final edit of the episode), but also QuickTime movies of the trailers from every episode! As a special treat, here are the trailers from the TNG episode and the DS9 episode I watched just last night.

As fun as they are, though, these pieces of software are showing their age ten years later ... a rarity amongst Star Trek products, but probably inevitable when it comes to the sort used with a computer. The fixed-size interface was made for smaller displays with a lower resolution, so on my 21" LCD it takes up the space of about a 7" diagonal display, and might make you lean in and/or squint in order to read the text. Also, the scrolling is very mouse-sensitive, so even a quick click can scroll five or six lines, they scroll at such a fast rate (apparently, the standard Windows mouse settings don't apply within the program).

Most inconveniently, the document files containing the scripts, although they seem to display like plain text files, are actually saved on the CD-Rom as "*.cxt" files -- and more aggravatingly, Windows doesn't know how to open the files, and neither do I. (Any ideas out there?) Curiously, though, the video files are in the conventional "*.mov" QuickTime format (as evidenced by the links above), and can be viewed outside of the interface. Granted, they're in an early QuickTime codec and as such don't have the smoothness or resolution that more recent codecs provide, but they're fun to watch regardless.

All that leads me to think about how amazing they could do this same sort of software program if they rewrote it for today's computers. Think about it: a single DVD-Rom disc could probably carry a similar program, but encompassing all five Star Trek television series ... greater screen resolutions would provide for easier-to-read text, and dynamic programming language would allow for resizing the interface to fit one's screen ... newer QuickTime codecs would give sharper, bigger pictures, and probably in even smaller file sizes than are on these discs ... not to mention the multitude of other advances in programming that would make for a smoother interactive experience overall.

And why not take it a step further? They could do the same thing with the Star Trek Omnipedia (the software inspired by the Star Trek Encyclopedia), which I now regret having gotten rid of. How about it, Simon & Schuster? What better time to cash in on the fresh wave of Star Trek nostalgia? You'd have one guaranteed sale right here.

20100131

Star Trek: The Lost Missions - Episode 10

Whew ... I almost thought I wasn't going to get an entry to you this weekend, since our broadband internet was out for two days and finally came back up just a few hours ago. Better late than never, eh?

Did I say that the previous Peter Pan/Power Records Star Trek audio adventure was the dopiest? Sorry, I meant this one. Not only does it boast (and I use that word lightly) a security officer who sounds like he's doing a crappy James Cagney impression, but the rest of the story ain't much better, as might seem to be indicated by its title, "Dinosaur Planet" (no writer credits again, and as was the case last time, it's probably for the best). Here goes nothin'...!

20100116

Happy Birthday, Voyager!

Are you ready to feel old? I sure wasn't, particularly when such a jarring realization came exploding out of the warm-and-fuzzy tidbit of nostalgia that it did, like some macabre jack-in-the-box from the nightmarish Mirror Universe. What am I talking about, specifically? Okay, I might as well at least try to get used to saying it: Today marks the 15th anniversary of the premiere of Star Trek: Voyager. Believe it or not, it's true ... January 16, 1995 saw the auspicious debut of the UPN television network, with its very first program being "Caretaker", the epic two-hour pilot episode of Voyager.

But I really have to stop making this sound like an occasion to mourn ... on the contrary, it's well worth celebrating! I can remember the setting vividly: we were staying in a hotel during our first visit to the Pacific Northwest to find ourselves a new home. My brother and I shared a room, and I had to plead with him to let me watch it since he wasn't, still isn't, and probably never will be, the least bit of a sci-fi or Star Trek fan. Out of the goodness of his heart (two nouns that I had never thought were applicable to him), he allowed me to be part of that landmark occasion in television history.

I can also remember how entertained I was. This was by far the best Star Trek pilot episode ever! It had an interesting premise, a compelling story, and likeable characters. And you know how The Next Generation finally seemed to find its groove in the third season, and Deep Space Nine also took about three years to get its mojo working? Well I felt, right from the beginning, that Voyager had hit the ground running. The cast seemed to fit together and be comfortable with their characters right from the start, and in retrospect that probably had quite a bit to do with how enjoyable the pilot episode was.

It wasn't perfect, of course -- the interpersonal conflict kind-of flew in the face of Gene Roddenberry's "everybody-gets-along-in-the-future" ideal; I wasn't totally keen on the whole sequence of events that brought about the Maquis in the first place; and then there was the biggest plot hole of them all, the idea that people believed a Vulcan (Tuvok) would forsake logic and join the Maquis -- but the greater overall dramatic potential of the show made those nits much less worth picking.

I'm really, really tempted to watch "Caretaker" this very evening, in a true anniversary celebration of its premiere, but I can't bring myself to do it. You see, I've been watching the Star Trek series DVDs in order for several months now, even going to the point of interspersing DS9 episodes at the same point where it originally began running concurrently with TNG, and I'm intent on doing the same with Voyager at the appropriate time. I've only gotten to TNG's early seventh season (DS9's early second season) at this point, so I still have roughly 30 episodes to get through (all the way up to DS9's "Past Tense" two-parter) before I can "legally" start watching Voyager. I want to re-experience the introduction of the Cardassian treaty, the creation of the Demilitarized Zone, and the introduction of the Maquis in the intended order ... it'll help me appreciate it more, as I've appreciated several other firsts in the TNG-era shows that I'd forgotten about in recent years.

As a special bonus on this oh-so-special day, here's a bonus feature from the Voyager Season One DVD set, which shines the spotlight on the unfortunate miscasting of Genevieve Bujold as Captain Janeway, including a real treat -- actual footage from the first two days of shooting, giving us a peek at the captain that almost was. Happy Voyager Day, one and all!

20100111

Late Night Double Feature Picture Show

While taking advantage of the previously mentioned store-closing sale at our local Suncoast, I decided it was as good a time as any to pick up a pair of titles that I had been considering checking out lately. I don't often buy movies sight unseen, mind you (though I probably do so more often than the average person), but at rock-bottom prices (50% off regular price), I figured why not? Besides, if I really don't like them, I can always trade them in at the local CD store.

The first of them is Timeline, adapted from a Michael Crichton novel. It tells the story of a group of college students whose archaeology professor vanishes on a dig, apparently ending up in the 14th Century. After confirming with a technology firm that's experimenting with teleportation that the professor was indeed whisked back to the past by accident, the prof's son is compelled to jump back to rescue him. Of course, it may have something to do with the fact that he's got the hots for one of his dad's students. Anyway, the group has a scant six hours to find and rescue the professor -- on the eve of an historically pivotal battle, no less -- and complications of course ensue, on both sides of the timeline.

It's an interesting story, and fairly well executed, though it's not particularly remarkable. The fact that it stars the studly Paul Walker I'd consider a plus, though he ain't gonna win any best actor Oscars anytime soon. I'd forgotten that Neal McDonough (the ill-fated Lt. Hawk in Star Trek: First Contact) was in it, and I always enjoy seeing him ... and thankfully we didn't see a whole lot of Billy Connolly. It's not that I don't like him, mind you ... it's just that the last thing of consequence that I saw him in was the sitcom Head Of The Class, in which he less-than-adequately took the place of Howard Hesseman, so I'm just not used to seeing him in any kind of dramatic role just yet. But anyway, bottom line: it was a reasonably entertaining movie, but I'm glad I didn't spend any more for it than I did.

The second of these two films is the one I was far more eager to see: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I had bought the comic book miniseries back when it was published, but I still have yet to read it (sad as it sounds, that's the case with most of my comic collection), although the concept has always intrigued me: a group of 19th-Century literary characters cobbled together as an ad-hoc superhero team to go after a madman bent on world domination. Imagine: Allan Quatermain, Captain Nemo, a now adult Tom Sawyer, Dr. Jekyll, the Invisible Man, Dorian Gray, and Mina Harker (from Dracula fame), all together in one story, and going after a villain whose startling true identity is not revealed until the climax.

It was certainly an entertaining movie, though there was something keeping me from calling it "great" ... perhaps the plot meandered a bit and could have been a bit tighter. What wouldn't have kept me from calling it great was the always delightful Sean Connery as Quatermain, nor was the intriguing notion of a grown-up Tom Sawyer ... made all the more watchable by the extremely easy-on-the-eyes Shane West. I'm not sure why this movie was somewhat of a disappointment, because I enjoyed it quite a bit, and I don't regret buying it at all. In fact, I'm actually a bit disappointed that there in all likelihood will never be a sequel.

I also picked up one or two other sci-fi-related releases, which I'm sure I'll get around to discussing eventually. Too bad that Suncoast wasn't really worth shopping at until its going-out-of-business sale....