Monday, April 9, 2018

Worst To Best: Star Trek Movies

Trekkies are a contentious lot.  I should know; I am one of them, and I'm so contentious on the subject at times that I disagree with myself.  I've been saying things about the franchise online for nearly a decade; not as frequently as I'd like, but more frequently than it might seem (if you take into account comments I've made at places like Dog Star Omnibus [which is going to get mentioned frequently in this post]).  And every so often I see something I've said, either here or elsewhere, and I just stop and think, did you really mean that?!?
For example, I recently found evidence that at one point in time I said Chris Pine was a better James T. Kirk than William Shatner ever thought about being.
Pine is fine, but ... no.  Opinions like that, Bryant, are what we refer to as "disqualifying hogwash."  I can only assume that when I wrote that, I must have been bashed in the head (Batman-style), knocked unconscious, and somehow failed to notice it happen.  So I came to, groggily typed a few sentences, and then fucked off for a while.
No other explanation is acceptable.
The bottom line is that it's an incredibly inconsistent franchise, in terms of its philosophies and its ethical beliefs and practices (which are not necessarily one and the same).  It's a HUGE topic, and a blogger is a fool if he believes that he can encompass such topics as a tourist; nope, in order to do that properly, one must be a resident.
Does that make me sound like a would-be gatekeeper?  If so, and that offends you, here's your trigger warning: there's going to be a LOT of gatekeeping in this post.  Or maybe it's not actually gatekeeping; I like to think that behind every opinion piece I write is the implication that I understand that you understand that what I'm writing is just an opinion, and not one designed to strip you of your own.

One way or the other, gatekeeping (alleged or otherwise) is difficult for Trekkies sometimes, because of the aforementioned inconsistencies.  It's likely that if you get two Trekkies in a room together, they will disagree on what the definition of "Star Trek" is.

Mine goes something like this:

Star Trek is a storytelling vehicle set in the future, primarily away from Earth, involving the systematic exploration of the galaxy by Starfleet, a quasi-military service of the United Federation of Planets.  Starfleet carries out numerous functions of the Federation, ranging from scientific research to law enforcement to cargo transportation to diplomatic negotiation.  The underlying philosophy of Star Trek in its many forms is that humanity has united as one people and, in so doing, has begun to realize its considerable potential.  This philosophy is often -- though not exclusively -- expressed via morality plays designed to present moral and ethical dilemmas which are resolved (or sometimes not resolved) through the lens of the characters with whom the audience is familiar.  These characters are largely sketched in one of two different ways: (1) as aspirational humans to whom the audience can look up to; or (2) as aliens or humanoids whose differences -- and sometimes their surprising similarities -- to humanity are designed to spark reflection as to the nature of what "humanity" means.

I'm sure that's a faulty definition in any number of ways, but it's what I came up with on the spur of the moment.  Against that definition, I feel like I could make a yes/no judgment of whether a specific episode or movie or novel or plot point achieved what I personally think of as "Star Trek."  It might work less well for you.

I mention all that so as to be better able to mention this: the very list that you have come here to read is my attempt at sorting the Trek movies by the degree to which they work for me AS Star Trek films.  You may be horrified by some of the results; two of them in particular may well cause you to rescind my invitation to speak to you on the subject of Star Trek.

But maybe not!  Let's be optimistic.

After all, this is a Star Trek post...

#13 -- Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)

One thing I may as well mention now: I'm going to be linking to Dog Star Omnibus for every single one of these movies (minus one).  McMolo never disappoints on the subject of Trek, and I consider his posts about the movies to be essential.  He's also been king enough to allow me to leave copious comments on many of them, and to be frank, I think I probably did a better job in those comments than I am apt to do here.
Dog Star Omnibus on Star Trek: Nemesis

I'll be completely honest with you: I really wanted to put a different movie in the bottom spot.  And if I'm being honest, I don't have the distaste for Nemesis that I have for that film.  But we'll get to that one; for now, let's stick with this one, and THIS one is a pile of hemorrhoids.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

It Would Be Different If You Cared For Me: Star Trek, Episode 10: "Dagger of the Mind"


It's always a good idea to consider what an episode's title means.  In the case of "dagger of the mind," I don't know that I'd ever given the matter much thought until 2013, when Dog Star Omnibus explained its derivation.  It's from Macbeth, as it turns out; Act II Scene 1, to be specific.  Macbeth sees before him the vision of a dagger:

Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle before my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? Or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?
I see thee yet in form as palpable
As this which now I draw.

It's been a long while since I read Macbeth (or, indeed, any Shakespeare; I'm grossly overdue for a reread -- hooray, a new idea for a blog I'll probably never live to write!; but one which would be well worth the doing), so I won't hazard much in the way of interpretation.  I'm content with McMolo's interpretation: that this phrase makes for a great title but is perhaps not really all that useful for the episode to which it has been appended.  He feels that it's Helen Noel who is intended to be the metaphorical dagger of the title; the false love for her engendered in Kirk by the Tantalus device (i.e., the neural neutralizer).

I would add that it could just as easily refer to Helen's misguided feeling that she has a shot with Kirk, or that it also perhaps refers to the general idea that the contents of the mind are a negotiable -- and malleable -- quantity.  (I can't help but think of Poe's exhortation that "All that we see or seem / Is but a dream within a dream.  I'd mistakenly remembered this as also being Shakespeare!)

But what of it?  In the end, I agree with McMolo's stance, which is that the episode is too slight for such a weighty title.  And as such, I don't have a whole heck of a lot to say about it.  I find myself not particularly engaged by this one, so why bother staggering around in the hopes of stumbling over something useful to say?  Seems a waste of time.

That said, I do want to hit two topics.

Monday, February 12, 2018

20,000 Words About "Star Trek: Discovery"


This is not Star Trek.
This is not Star Trek.
This is not Star Trek.
This is not Star Trek.
This is not Star Trek.
This is not Star Trek.
This is not Star Trek.
This is not Star Trek.
This is not Star Trek.
This is not Star Trek.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Life Was Sacred To You Then: Star Trek episode 9, "What Are Little Girls Made Of?"

Dr. Korby has discovered that as their sun dimmed, the inhabitants of this planet moved underground ... from an open environment to this dark world.  
When you were a student of his, Christine, you must have often heard Dr. Korby remark how freedom of movement and choice produced the human spirit; the culture of Exo-III proved his theory.  When they moved from light to darkness, they replaced freedom with a mechanistic culture.  
Dr. Korby has been able to uncover elements of this culture that will revolutionize the universe when freed from this cavernous environment.
One of the predominant concerns of science fiction at large and Star Trek (in most of its incarnations) in general is delineating the place where humanity ends and artificiality begins.  Put another way, science fiction often seeks to answer the question: what is real?
This isn't even the first time Star Trek had wrestled with the issue; early in its run, we'd already been gifted meditations on the question in "The Cage," "Mudd's Women," "The Enemy Within," and "The Man Trap."  Spoiler alert: we'll revisit the question a great many times.
I don't see it as a bad thing.  It's an important question, one that bears asking over and over again.  Even if you never land on a firm answer, the process of asking the question is enriching.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

They Had One Weapon Left and Both Knew It: Dune Club, Session 12

Well, y'all, here we are: our twelfth and final post on Dune.  (I say "final," but you can count on there eventually being a series of posts about the various film adaptations.  Plus, with a novel as good as this one, there's no such thing as having said it all; I didn't even scratch the surface, I just felt the itch and twitched my finger a bit.)
And it came to pass in the third year of the Desert War that Paul Muad'Dib lay alone in the Cave of Birds beneath the kiswa hangings of an inner cell.  And he lay as one dead, caught up in the revelation of the Water of Life, his being translated beyond the boundaries of time by the poison that gives life.  Thus was the prophecy made true that the Lisan al-Gaib might be both dead and alive.
Princess Irulan's epigraphs are almost always worthy of attention.  Some are more worthy than others, and this is one of them.  Consider the phrasing in that final sentence: "thus was the prophecy MADE true" (my emphasis).  This implies that there was a scenario in which the prophecy was not true in and of itself, which surely misses a bit of the point of a prophecy.
Or does it?  It's a matter that could be debated, and one could also debate whether Irulan is -- in her texts -- attempting to subconsciously hint that Muad'Dib really isn't all he's cracked up to be.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Little Enough Profit in Our Venture: Dune Club, Session 11

You cannot avoid the interplay of politics within an orthodox religion.
Can of sandworms avoided...
  • "Suddenly he understood why Stilgar had warned him once about brash young men who danced and played with these monsters, doing handstands on their backs, removing both hooks and replanting them before the worm could spill them." -- This brings up an axiom: on all planets, in all cultures, are there teenage dirtbags.  Do the young men of the Fremen sometimes listen to Megadeth and hang around in Kmart parking lots?  I'm certain of it.
  • "But he knew he could not let any consideration deflect him.  He had to remain on the central line of the time storm he could see in the future.  There would come an instant when it could be unraveled, but only if he were where he could cut the central knot of it."

The Illustrated Dune p. 403

Monday, September 18, 2017

Fate Was Sometimes Inscrutable: Dune Club, Session 10

No woman, no man, no child ever was deeply intimate with my father.
  • The epigraph which begins this chapter is about Count Fenring, who is said to have "refused to kill a man even though it was within his capabilities and my father commanded it."  Irulan ends this epigraph by saying "I will relate this presently," and it's been long enough since my last read of the novel that I can't remember who Fenring refused to kill, or if we ever even find out.  He's a fascinating character, especially considering how little time we spend with him in the novel.  
  • Nobody beats Emperor Shaddam IV for being a great "off-screen" character, though, unless maybe it's Irulan herself.  (Granted, she does become a major on-screen player in the sequels.)
  • There is a leap forward in time of several years here, and he find out about it -- and about the rise on Arrakis of a new religious figure, "Muad' Dib" -- via the Harkonnens.  Earlier in the novel, we were finding out about dangers to the Atreides via the Harkonnens; now we are learning about the (as-yet unknown) resurgence of the Atreides via the Harkonnens.
  • The Baron upbraids Feyd-Rautha for unsuccessfully attempting to assassinate him, which is a lot of fun; he's also disdainful of his nephew's lack of finesse and subtlety.  "And as he had done many times since that terrible day on Arrakis," Herbert writes, "he found himself regretting the loss of Piter, the Mentat.  There'd been a man of delicate, devilish subtlety.  It hadn't saved him, though.  Again, the Baron shook his head.  Fate was sometimes inscrutable."  Paul, of course, would be able to give his grandfather some counsel on this subject.  Herbert, here, is accomplishing some significant tasks: he's allowing us to be somewhat admiring of (and sympathetic toward) for the Baron AND his nephew.  He's pulled that off elsewhere in the novel, too, and it is striking.  I think we naturally do that for any POV character; the mere process of aligning ourselves to another person's mind (even a fake person's) pushes us in that direction.
The Illustrated Dune p. 371 (art by John Schoenherr)


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Things We Do in the Name of Humanity: Dune Club, Session 9

Apologies for the tardiness on this one!  I will explain it away in two bulletpoints:
  • My reading time got subsumed by seeing the new movie version of It last week (twice).
  • My writing time got subsumed by having to work on Sunday (one of my normal days off).
These things happen!  I didn't have to deal with a hurricane, so you'll hear no complaints from me regarding distruption-of-routine issues.  Just wanted to make it plain that it wasn't due purely to being a lazy, water-fat outworlder.
The concept of progress acts as a protective mechanism to shield us from the terrors of the future.
Yeah?  What, then, is the act of progress?
A large topic, and one that is outside the intent of this series of posts, so we'll just drop that there and let it lie.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

She Was Like A Touch of Destiny: Dune Club, Session 8

Prophecy and prescience -- How can they be put to the test in the face of the unanswered question? 
This is the chapter in which Stilgar and the Fremen attempt to take Paul with them while abandoning Jessica.  It's good stuff.  The entirety of the sections covered today are quite memorable, in fact; this joining-with-the-Fremen aspect of the novel was probably always my favorite.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Mind, Long Fixed On A Single Track: Dune Club, Session 7

We return to the dry heat of Frank Herbert's Dune, picking up this week with chapter __.  Frank, would chapter numbers have killed ya?
We will continue to mark the chapters by quoting the first sentence (or thereabouts) of the epigraph that mark their beginnings.
For example:
What do you despise?  By this are you truly known? 
Hmm.  An interesting thought, but I'm not sure I agree with it.  Things I despise include, but are not limited to, the following:
  • spiders
  • tomatoes
  • black holes
  • wearing your pants pulled down to mid-thigh (it's idiotic and makes the wearer look like an idiot and is also stupid and dumb)
  • Kardashians and similar scum
  • people who willingly pay attention to Kardashians and similar scum
  • the fact that chili-cheese dogs are unhealthy
  • the unceasing passage of time
  • Joffrey
  • people who leave the shopping carts in the middle of a parking lot
  • people who don't flush public toilets
  • post-1990 slang

I could go on at some length.  And I'd imagine that by the end of the list, you'd have a strong working knowledge of who I am.

So hey, you know what?  I think I agree with Muad'Dib on this one.

Moving on...