Girl Power? Wonder Woman review and commentary

I’m not a frequent visitor to first run movies, as hubby and I enjoy our Netflix subscription (and homemade popcorn) more. Sometimes, however, a film comes out that piques my interest so we make the trek to our local multiplex and join a group of folks we’ve never met to see a movie. After reading some reviews and seeing a couple of trailers, I told hubby that I intended to see Wonder Woman, with or without him, so we went to see it.

Gal Gadot is fabulous in this film as the title character, as is Chris Pine’s side kick, Steve Trevor. Others do a good job, and Robin Wright is visually stunning as the Amazon general. Indeed, stunning is a word that comes to mind through the first half of the film. An superhero movie that is not a sequel must begin with some exposition, and that is a tricky phase. Too much detail threatens to bore the non-faithful viewer, but too little will disappoint those faithful fans who will show up regardless of what critics say. This version of Wonder Woman nails the exposition, with lots of action woven into the backstory. The costumes are simply amazing as are the settings and the action sequences. The characters do a great job of holding the viewers’ interest as the setting shifts from the island of the Amazons to WWI London. Again, the settings work well, as do the costumes, and it was easy to feel that we’d been transported back a hundred years.

(I am purposely leaving out details, as I do not want to ruin this movie for those who haven’t seen it, if there is anyone left in that category.)

Once the main mission of our heroine gets underway, the action is almost non-stop, and the villains are properly villainous. If I am totally honest, the final action sequence is a tad too long, but the overall effect is that this is a really good movie. Wonder Woman 2017 earns its fabulous score on Rotten Tomatoes.

I know nothing of director Patty Jenkins other work, nor have I seen Gadot in other films, but I have liked Chris Pine’s version of Captain Kirk in the rebooted Star Trek, and I thought he did a great job in the period action-adventure The Finest Hours (Theatrical). This super hero flick really hits on all cylinders: it is reasonably true to the comic book version, won’t disappoint fans of the old television series, and is so well made that newbies will enjoy it, too.

Please enjoy the links to these previous films available online, and consider going to see Wonder Woman.

Star Trek and Philosophy: The Wrath of Kant— a brief review

Okay, I am a sucker for a good title, and this book has a good title and a good cover. Win-win! And it is about Star Trek, which I like quite a lot. But it is rather deep at times, so I wouldn’t rate it five stars, but fans of Trek who have some knowledge of philosophy might award it a solid four, perhaps.

What is between the covers is a collection of essays edited by Jason T. Eberl and Kevin S. Decker. These essays use Star Trek’s various television shows and movies to explore philosophical issues, and it helps quite a lot if the reader is familiar with all forms of Trek. Since I never watched all of DS9 or Enterprise, I was sometimes a bit lost.

The first essay is a nifty one, as it is based upon a Next Generation episode, “Darmok.” Both the essay and the episode dealt with the difficulty of translating a totally alien language. Throughout most of the Trek episodes there was a “universal translator” which was a bit like Google Translate, but it depended upon languages having some commonalities. Of course, communication via such means can go astray quite easily, but what about an alien species that doesn’t communicate the way we do? The issues would be far beyond going from English to Chinese, and I understand that can be difficult.

As the essays in this book are by different authors, the tone and topics vary quite a lot. For me, it was a book to nibble at, but not a cover to cover read. I’ve always viewed Star Trek as more intellectual than Star Wars, but this book takes it to an even higher plane. For fans of all things Trek, there are some really delicious ideas to examine in this collection, so if that describes you, go for it!

Leonard Nimoy, one of the original stars of Trek, has died

Leonard Nimoy as Spock

Mr. Nimoy, in black and white, for that is how I first saw him, on my parents’ old console television.

That sucks. Really.

He was in poor health, but really, I am feeling loss right now. As a youngster, I enjoyed TOS when it was first telecast, and I enjoyed it even more in re-runs when it was in syndication and I could watch it without any disparaging remarks from my father. (Nothing against dear old J.R. but he liked westerns, and just didn’t realize that Trek was a western, set in outer space.) And, Nimoy’s character, Spock, was just a lot more interesting than Dr. McCoy, Scottie the engineer, or even the feisty Captain Kirk. Lots of girls swooned over the intellectual Mr. Spock, and maybe that was part if the attraction, but I really think it was his brainpower that made me love the character of Spock. During my life, I only dated two young men for any length of time, both of whom had very dark hair and lots of brainpower, and I feel very fortunate to have married one of them!

Anyway, I’m not sure how others will react to Mr. Nimoy’s passing, but for me his death touches my heart even more than the deaths of his co-stars, James Doohan and DeForest Kelley, or even the great bird of the galaxy, Mr. Roddenberry himself. I never met Leonard Nimoy, but I feel as if a long time friend is gone. Since I watched TOS countless times, as well as the movies, I suppose my feeling of loss is logical.

We’ll miss you, Mr. Nimoy!

Voyage Through the Stars—and Back in Time!

Image

My husband stumbled upon an episode of “Star Trek Continues” and after just a few minutes, we were hooked. This upscale “fan film” site is really something to see. There are only a couple of full episodes, but a fully funded Kickstarter campaign from last year should fund at least a couple more episodes. We really liked the loving homage of this effort. Seeing new episodes with the same music, similar storylines, familiar costumes and props, and amazingly original looking sets make this nothing like the “reboot” movies.

These free online videos, which do include some shorter “vignettes” are made by a not-for-profit-entity, filming in Kingsland, Georgia, in a warehouse with 10,000 square feet of sets built to look just like the sets from 40+ years back. The actors do not just dress and look somewhat like the original series characters, but add their own interpretations as well. And, get this: the actor portraying Chief Engineer Scott is James Doohan’s son, Chris. That casting choice is far more authentic than the reboot’s Simon Pegg. Kirk is portrayed by Vic Mignogna, a voice actor and director, and Todd Haberkorn is Spock.

At first, seeing these different actors portraying well known (and loved) characters seemed odd, but after a few minutes, we were more interested in the story line than the actor’s faces and voices. There are some new characters, too, as the premise is that STC is telling the tales from years four and five of the “five year mission” that was only three years long in the original series. Had the series continued, no doubt new characters would have come along, so this concept works well.

Fans of TOS should check out Star Trek Continues, because it is quite entertaining. My husband and I are hoping for many new episodes. And, as residents of Georgia, we are wondering if they are going to have another open house, as they did a couple of years back. I’d love to see those sets!

Star Trek Voyager— Still a Marvelous Journey

While exploring the science fiction archives of Netflix, I noticed Star Trek Voyager among the offerings. Not only did I watch most of those Star Trek episodes first run, I’ve seen the original series (TOS) and the next generation (TNG) many times since those now venerable shows went into syndicated re-run status. But I had not seen much of Voyager since it originally aired on the now defunct UPN network. I’m surprised at how well it has held up. That is the beauty of futuristic science fiction, isn’t it? Since no one knows exactly what our world or even our galaxy will be like in a few hundred years, this late ’90’s version is still worthy.

Basically, the plot of this version of Star Trek is that a new Federation ship, Voyager, is thrown some 70,000 light-years away from known space, while chasing a band of rebels. Due to the destruction of the rebel’s ship, as well as heavy casualties on Voyager, the crews combine, under the leadership of Captain Janeway, and set off for home. Star Trek Voyager combines many typical science fiction themes, but the underlying one is even older— the journey. Like Odysseus, the crew of Voyager meets new friends and enemies along the way.

When it was in production, critics complained about many aspects of the show, and some of those criticisms are still valid. Yes, the first female captain to command a weekly journey into space sometimes makes “silly” decisions. But Kate Mulgrew does a good job of portraying a new captain, on a new ship, in a situation that she is certainly not prepared for, shepherding her crew as they make their seven-year journey through the Delta Quadrant. The other characters were interesting, as well. For the most part, Voyager was blessed with extremely good acting and good special effects. The scripts are more uneven, but some of them are quite good. I think that, taken as a whole, Voyager is better than any other Star Trek series, apart from the original, which is set apart by its iconic status.

Voyager was not without its faults, however, and critics seemed to love pointing out the flaws. Yes, they should have run out of shuttle craft long before they built the Delta Flyer, because those little rascals kept blowing up. Maybe those fancy replicators which remain off-line except for emergencies were used to replicate shuttle craft. Running out of shuttles would probably constitute an emergency. And, despite what some critics have said, Captain Janeway does not threaten self-destruction in every episode. I know, because I have watched most of them in the past couple of months. She does have more than one episode where she bellows, “All hands, abandon ship.” Still, a weekly series calls for at least one crisis a week, so all that drama is necessary to keep viewers entertained.

One of the more interesting ploys by the producers of Voyager was eliminating one female cast member (the character Kes) and introducing a “sexy” gal in a catsuit instead (Seven of Nine.) But, if a science fiction show can intelligently use sex appeal, then the evolution of Jerri Ryan’s Borg sex symbol must qualify. As her character assimilates human characteristics, the writers were able to explore many aspects of humanity. And fiction has long served as a means of discussing human behavior without taking it on too directly. While this series stars an ensemble cast, Seven of Nine was a character with plenty of room for growth, and the writers did not disappoint. Apart from a few two-part episodes, each 45 minute story can stand alone, but there were many “story arcs” which allow greater character development (of villains as well as principals) and more complex plots. By the time the series ends, and I did not want it to end, each character is like an old friend.

For fans who discovered Star Trek via the big screen reboot of a couple of years ago, or for anyone who missed Voyager originally, this series offers great science fiction entertainment, without feeling dated. It is available on DVD and via online services such as Netflix. Viewers will be treated to action, adventure, and fascinating people.

Star Trek as the Mother of Invention

iPad/Padd

This is an odd post for Mother’s Day, but it is tough to discuss it without writing about my mom, myself, or other family members.

But, as one who appreciates gadgets, I am grateful to science fiction authors for dreaming up some of the useful objects that we take for granted. Like other science fiction yarns, Star Trek is a mother of invention.

The original series of Star Trek was telecast in the mid-60s, and there were not many computers around. Those that were in existence then were low in processing power and huge in size. They recorded data on large spools of magnetic tape. During its three-year run, the characters on STOS used objects which resembled computer disks. They also used wireless (blue-tooth) ear phones, projectile free weapons, and even flip open communicators that look quite similar to Motorola’s flip phones.

In my youth, I just thought that science fiction writers were a bit prophetic. However, more reading has helped me understand that SF writers may be helping fulfill the prophecies in their fiction. Among the most ardent fans of SF on the page and one the screen are engineers and scientists, and they derive some of their inspiration from SF. So, the reason we have flip phones is because an engineer saw Captain Kirk chatting with his ship, and decided to build a device which can actually do that.

Since the Enterprise was only a space-going vessel, characters used shuttlecraft to make some short trips down to planets, and this concept no doubt inspired the name and some functionality of the space shuttle fleet which came along a few years after the series ended.

Technical inspiration did not end with the original series. When Roddenberry’s Star Trek, the Next Generation aired, the entire ship ran via touch interface. I can’t view a rerun of STNG without seeing technical concepts which have made the jump from screen to reality. Notable STNG inventions in everyday use include their oft used PADD, which clearly helped inspire today’s iPhone and iPad. The frequently used touch panels have inspired many kitchen gadgets, too. My microwave, my stove, and my dishwasher all use multi-colored touch pads, just like the USS Enterprise NCC 1701D.

The Borg of STNG and Star Trek Voyager relied heavily on nano technology. That is an up and coming method of enhancing everyday objects. Recently, I saw a pair of men’s pants which professed to have a nano stain fighter woven right into the fabric.

Star Trek gave us five different television series, and the tech of Trek continues to inspire engineers and scientists to create more and better gadgets. In fact, you may have given one to your mom today.

A Perfect Conflict

When I was finishing my master’s degree, the head of the English Department at North Georgia College related to me that some of my professors were concerned that I was just as apt to quote Star Trek as Shakespeare. To this day, and it is has been more than a score of years since I finished that degree, that complaint brings a half-smile to my face. While it was a matter of concern for the scholarly, I have always viewed my ability to blend modern literature with traditional literature as an asset.

Recently, I was watching a vintage episode of Star Trek, The Next Generation, on BBC America. In Suddenly Human the Enterprise rescues some Talarian trainees from a dying ship. The medical staff of the Enterprise is shocked to find that one of the cadets is a human. Dr. Crusher performs DNA tests and finds that the young man is Jeremiah Rossa, the grandson of a star fleet admiral, who was missing and presumed dead after the colony was attacked by Talarian forces. Since the admiral’s only son was killed in the attack, Jeremiah is her only surviving offspring. Even more troubling, Crusher believes the boy might have been abused, since his body has endured several injuries during the time he has been with the Talarians. The young human calls himself Jono, professes to be the son of Captain Endar, and strictly adheres to Talarian traditions, including a total disregard for women in uniform, which causes quite a few problems for the fully integrated crew of the Enterprise, especially female officers Dr. Crusher and Counselor Troi. Wisely, Counselor Troi suggests the Picard mentor the boy, since he clearly displays affection for “his captain” and Picard reluctantly agrees. Meanwhile, Captain Endar shows up, acknowledges that he rescued the boy and adopted him by Talarian custom, and demands his return.

Picard faces a perfect conflict. On the one hand, Jono/Jeremiah is human, is the grandson of a star fleet admiral, and everyone expects him to be welcomed home. After talking with Captain Endar, Picard comes to realize that the young man was not abused, but suffered injuries in an effort to fit into to Talarian society and to make his adoptive father proud. Endar clearly cares deeply for the boy, although he dismisses the rest of humanity as weak alien creatures. Returning Jono would be violating the wishes of a superior officer, the grandmother. Both Troi and Crusher urge Picard to give Jono time to remember his humanity, while Endar threatens war and brings in backup warships to make good his ultimatum. Releasing Jono would defuse the war threat, and Jono clearly prefers his Talarian father to any of the humans, even Picard.

As the audience waits for Picard to come up with a solution to this well-developed conflict, Jono makes a surprise move. During the night, he takes a dagger and plunges it into Picard’s chest. After the requisite commercial break, Crusher performs surgery, and Picard, though weak, asks to have Jono brought to his bedside. Instead of berating him, Picard asks, “Why? Why did you do it?” and Jono replies that he assaulted a superior officer and is prepared to die.

Picard insists on getting dressed and taking Jono to the bridge, where acting captain Commander Riker is ready to go to war for the admiral’s son. Instead, Picard tells Endar that he made a mistake, and that Jono will be returned to him immediately. After Jono’s attempt to have Picard execute him, Picard realizes that nurture does outweigh nature. Jono was reared by a Talarian, so he has fully embraced that culture. And life, unlike a video player, has no rewind button.

The viewer may be left saddened by this episode. The awakening humanity in Jono/Jeremiah is something the viewer wants to see develop. And, as humans, most viewers will sympathize with the grandmother and want to see her have what remains of her family restored, rather than see the gruff Captain Endar win the conflict.

This episode, first shown in 1990, is not especially satisfying, and that is what makes it great. Characters are just pawns, reacting to situations created by authors. Without facing conflict, characters can’t be either cowards or heros. While most “professors” won’t acknowledge it, science fiction can portray human emotions just as well as classic tales from centuries ago, and Suddenly Human is an example of soft science fiction at its very best.