Weekly Trek - July 25-31, 2016

This past weekend was the release of Star Trek Beyond, so ideally I’d be spending today’s post talking about the movie.  Unfortunately as of this writing, I haven’t seen it.  I’m sorry!  I’ve been busy.

I will say that my anticipation for the film has grown over the last few weeks.  As I’ve said in several posts over the last year or so, the early trailers had me dreading the film because I worried that it was going to be an empty action spectacle that didn’t bother with petty annoyances like character and story.  I also wasn’t pleased by a major event that was revealed in those trailers.

But then the film opened in the UK a week before it opened here, and the reviews were good.  More importantly, they said that the film was fun (I like to have fun when I plop down that much to see a film) and severed the characters and the overall Star Trek franchise well on in its 50th anniversary year.  The US reviews have been much the same, and a good friendof mine (and fellow Trekkie) saw the film and really liked it.

I’m in.  Now I just have to find the time to get to the theater.

Honestly, Star Trek needs a win because the last few weeks have not been kind.  Anton Yelchin, who plays Chekov in the new films, was killed in a tragic accident that has cast a pall over what should have been a celebratory time for the franchise.

Less newsworthy (although it got more coverage that I expected) was an announcement from CBS/Paramount regarding guidelines for fan films.  I’ve discussed many of the various Star Trek fan films over the last few years, and I’ve been very impressed at what many of them have been able to accomplish.  Let’s be honest, though.  Every single one of these is using copyrighted material.  CBS/Paramount had been tolerant for years and not really gotten involved.  They even borrowed a set piece from Star Trek: New Voyages (aka Phase II) and gave New Voyages creator James Cawley a cameo in 2009’s Star Trek film.

That changed in December 2015 when CBS/Paramount filed a lawsuit to stop the making of a fanfilm called Star Trek Axanar.  Without getting bogged down in the particulars, there are many in the fanfilm community who feel that the head of Axanar, Alec Peters, went too far and tried to use the fanfilm to enrich himself and open a studio.  Others feel that that CBS/Paramount was threatened because Axanar was getting so much positive publicity and looked better than what they were putting out.  Regardless, a lawsuit was filed.

At a fan event promoting Star Trek Beyond in May, the movie’s producer, JJ Abrams (who directed the first two of the reboot films) said that the lawsuit was going away and that fans would be able to continue working on their projects.

That turned out not to be true.  The lawsuit is still going, and, thanks to the new guidelines that CBS/Paramount released on June 23rd, no fan project is going to be able to continue the way it had before.

So what is in the guidelines that’s so terrible?  First, give them a read HERE

I have absolutely no problem with Items 2, 8, 9, and 10.  They are perfectly reasonable requests for a fan project.  I’m going to go in reverse order for the rest of these.

#7 – Most of this one is fine, but the wording gives CBS/Paramount a lot of leeway to smack down a film they don’t like under the vague lines about “harmful or illegal activity” and “threatening.”  Does this mean that a fanfilm can’t have action?  Villains can’t threaten anyone?  No one can get shot, punched, or kiiled?  Yes, I realize that this is a ridiculously strict reading of those lines, but we are talking about a document that is supposed to allow fanfilm makers to operate without threat of being sued.  They can’t even show the crew going for a drink after their shift based on the “no alcohol” edict.  I’m not sure if synthehol counts or not.  They’re pretty much left with tea time on the bridge.

#6 – I’m honestly shocked that CBS/Paramount allowed crowdfunding at all, since that’s a big part of what got Axanar into trouble.  And I don’t have a problem with the restrictions against profiting from the fanfilm.  That’s way over the line as far I’m concerned.  I don’t see any reason not to allow the projects to make a DVD or Blu Ray of their films.  They can’t offer them for sale under other parts of the rule, so what’s the problem?  I also have an issue with the prohibition against streaming the films from a site that has advertising.  I can understand if the prohibition is against the fanfilm profiting from said advertising, but what about Youtube? I need someone who knows more about Youtube to help me out here.  Is there a way to upload something to Youtube without them putting advertising before the film or during as a banner?  Both this and the DVD/Blu Ray rules come across to me as CBS/Paramount saying, “You can make your film, but good luck distributing it.”

#5 – This rule that anyone who ever worked on Star Trek in any way cannot be involved in your fanfilm feels the most vindictive of all of the guidelines.  Many of the major fanfilms have people involved who worked on Trek in some way, shape, or form.  Even James Cawley qualifies now, thanks to the help he gave CBS/Paramount and his cameo in a film.  CBS/Paramount says that it’s because the films should be made by “real fans,” but many of the people involved with Star Trek are also fans of Star Trek.  Why should someone who happened to do the title cards for a DVD extra on the Season 2 Star Trek: The Next Generation DVD set be banned from acting in a fan film?  My guess is that CBS/Paramount cannot legally forbid someone like that from being involved in a fanfilm, but they can threaten the fanfilm makers themselves.  Woe be unto you if they learn that your cousin Bob playing the Klingon also worked catering on Star Trek: Enterprise!

#4 – This one might be okay, but it needs to be clarified.  After the guidelines were published, there was a lot of dispute in the fan community as to what it actually meant.  Can you make your own uniforms for a fanfilm?  Some read it as saying that you can make your own, but, if you buy them, they have to be official products and not ones from a place like one of the many cosplay companies on eBay that will custom make you an outfit.  Others read it as saying that if you are going to use anything that CBS/Paramount sells a version of as an official product, you have to buy theirs.  No sewing your own uniforms.  No vacuforming phasers.  Buy theirs if you want to make a Star Trek  fanfilm.  My guess is that CBS/Paramount really meant the former, but when we’re talking about getting sued by a major corporation, I’d want absolute clarity.

#3 – This isn’t a huge deal, but I wondered if it was a direct slap at Star Trek Continues, which made a vignette recreating the final scene of the original Star Trek television series and then continuing (See what they did there?) on from that moment.  This rule also effectively killed any crossovers with other properties unless you think you can get J.K. Rowling and Warner Brothers to sign off on that Star Trek/Harry Potter idea you’ve been developing.  And you’d better talk to me, since I already wrote one.

#1 – While the previous rules I’ve discussed are annoying in many cases, unclear in others, and very possibly vindictive, this one is the absolute worst and tells me everything about how CBS/Paramount really feels about fanfilms: They don’t want them to exist at all.  However, they couldn’t just come out and say that without infuriating the fans (which they managed to do anyway.  More on that in a moment.), so they effectively killed Star Trek fanfilms with this rule.  A fifteen minute limit?  Thirty if you split it into two parts?  No additional parts, episodes, sequels, etc?  Let’s go back to the opening narration of Star Trek: The Next Generation for a moment, shall we.  “It’s continuing mission…”  That’s nice, but no fan project will be continuing.  Who is going to go through the time and the effort of creating sets, costumes, and everything else involved when they only get one shot?  How do you get to know or care about a new ship and crew in 15-30 minutes?  But again, who is going to bother?  Sets are an enormous cost for something that is only to be used once.  Or will we be back to all fanfilms being shot against green screens? 

I get that CBS/Paramount owns the Star Trek copyright and can legally do whatever they want.  However, these guidelines seem more like a way to shut down fan productions altogether.

As I mentioned earlier, reactions to these generally were not positive.  Check out the comments to the article on the official Star Trek website announcing the guidelines HERE.  I’m surprised that the website has left them up.  The major players in the fan film community have reacted in different ways.  Axanar, who as I said before many blame for the whole mess, seems to have decided to keep fighting, which make sense since they’re still being sued anyway.  Star Trek Continues seems like they are moving ahead with the release of their next episode, which had already been filmed before the guidelines hit.  Based on their Facebook posts, they are acting like nothing has changed.  It remains to be seen if they will make any more episodes, though. 

Star Trek: Renegades, a project that involves a huge number of former Star Trek actors both in front of and behind the camera, had just started filming a new episode when the announcement hit.  This episode was supposed to be the final screen appearances of Walter Koenig’s Chekov and Nichelle Nichols’ Uhura.  Rather than shut down, the project was renamed simply Renegades with all Star Trek names changed and signage removed.  You can still see the Starfleet delta blurred out on the uniforms in some of the publicity photos they’ve released.

As for Star Trek: New Voyages/Phase II, there were already discussions that James Cawley was ending the series.  I haven’t found Cawley’s actual comments on the subject, though, but it sounds like he wasn’t having fun anymore.  The New Voyages team has, however, taken things in an interesting new direction.  They were shooting on an exceptionally faithful recreation of the original Star Trek television series sets, right down to the way they were laid out on the soundstage.  Rather than lose all of that work with the end of their series, they have made a deal with CBS/Paramount to open their sets to the public as an officially-licensed attraction.  If you are headed anywhere near Ticonderoga, New York, you can swing by to take a look at the Star Trek Original Series Set Tour.

I just hope the endeavor is a success, so that it will still be open by the I make it up there to see it.

 

Back to fanfilms, though, as it stands, I think Star Trek fanfilms as we have known them are dead.  I’m sure some people will make new ones under the guidelines, and I wish them success.  Maybe I will turn out to be wrong, and this will lead to all kinds of new films that I didn’t anticipate.  I have my doubts, though.

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

Weekly Trek – July 18-24, 2016

Up until Star Trek: Deep Space Nine developed a continuing storyline that involved season-long and series-long arc, the episodes of the various Star Trek television series were self-contained in nature with little continuity between them.  When a story thread did extend past a single episode, it was usually in a two-parter that was resolved the following week or, in the case of the cliffhanger season finales Star Trek: The Next Generation began producing with “The Best of Both Worlds Part 1” at the end of its third season, in the following season’s premiere episode.

In one case, though, Star Trek: The Next Generation introduced a plotline and a potentially-formidable new adversary only to never speak of it again.  Near the end of TNG’s first season in May 1988, the series aired an episode called “Conspiracy” based on a plot idea from show (and overall Star Trek) creator Gene Roddenberry and written by Tracy Torme’. 

In the episode, Captain Keel, a colleague of Captain Jean-Luc Picard contacts him to warn him of a possible conspiracy inside Starfleet Command.  Soon after giving delivering the warning, Captain Keel is killed when his ship is mysteriously destroyed.  Picard has Commander Data investigate Keel’s claims, and, after Data confirms that Command has been issuing strange orders, Picard takes the USS Enterprise to Earth. 

Once there, Picard and crew discover that several Starfleet admirals have been taken over by an alien parasite that completely controls them.  One disgusting dinner and several phaser blasts later, Picard and his First Officer, Commander William Riker, are able track down and destroy the mother creature, which was hiding in another officer, killing all of its baby parasites.

But before it died, the mother creature sent a signal out into space.

Dun DUN DUNNNNNNNN!

And then we never heard from them again.

It was a bit anti-climactic.  I don’t know why the TNG writers never decided to follow-up on the storyline.  If I had to guess, I’d say it was probably because the Borg took the role of threatening antagonist, complete with the ability to control people via assimilation.  Whatever the reason, the show left it alone.  In 2003, the DS9 novel Unity finally picked up the plot again.  If you’re really curious to know more about the parasites, that book has your answers.

“Conspiracy” did lead to a fun moment for me at a Star Trek convention held the summer after the episode aired.  Majel Barrett (Christine Chapel, Lwaxana Troi, the voice of the Federation computers, and Gene Roddenberry’s wife) was a guest at the convention and was taking questions from the audience about TNG.  Someone asked her about the violence level in “Conspiracy,” particularly in regard to “blowing up a body” (Which is what Picard and Riker had to do to destroy the mother creature.).  Barrett then responded, “Blow up a body?  I don’t remember us blowing up a body?  Did we blow up a body?”  She was just so matter-of-fact about it as though blowing up a body was at the same level as leaving the living room light on.  I was amused.

One other note about the episode: the writer, Tracy Torme’ is the son of singer and frequent Night Court guest star, Mel Torme’.

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

Weekly Trek – July 11-17, 2016

For a little over 10 years (January 1998-September 2008), the Las Vegas Hilton was home to Star Trek: The Experience, an attraction that housed exhibits, dining, shopping, and two…I hesitate to call them rides.  Let’s use their terminology, and just call them experiences.

For a Star Trek fan like myself, going to The Experience was the closest I will ever get to making a pilgrimage.  From the moment I first heard about it, I wanted to get there.  Seeing the real show sets in Hollywood wasn’t exactly realistic, and the only other Star Trek-themed attraction I’d ever been to was the very brief and incredibly embarrassing Star Trek: The Next Generation section of the Paramount on Ice show at the Kings Dominion amusement park in Virginia.

I spent the first eight years of the Experience’s existence only hearing about it from others.  Even my parents, who are decidedly not Trekkies, got to it before I did.  I appreciated that they checked it out for me, but I WANTED TO SEE IT MYSELF!

Finally in 2006 I got my opportunity.  My then wife and I were invited out to Vegas to attend a wedding.  Obviously I had to make time for the Experience, but there was one minor detail to attend to: my wife.  While she would have gone, she was not a Trek fan and would not have wanted to linger there like I did.  Fortunately, the Las Vegas Hilton had at that time another attraction that was more of interest to her: Barry Manilow.  I had about as much interest in sitting through a Barry Manilow concert as she did in hanging around a Star Trek attraction, so I bought her a ticket to see Mr. Manilow. 

After we arrived in Vegas and made it to our hotel, Paris, which I highly recommend to anyone visiting the city, we took the monorail up to the Hilton.  First on the agenda was dinner.  I did convince my wife to eat at Quark’s Bar and Restaurant.  I didn’t want to eat on the restaurant side, which was decorated in a semi-generic sci-fi style, so we ate at the bar.  The bar side was a decent, if small, recreation of Quark’s on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and at one point during the meal a Ferengi approached me and attempted to buy my wife.  So it was a guy in makeup.  I was at Quark’s and bantering with a Ferengi!

With the meal over, my wife headed off to the hotel theater for her concert while I went to the main event.  Star Trek: The Experience had two main attractions: Klingon Encounter and Borg Invasion 4-D (The Borg attraction was added in 2004).  Both of these were accessed through what they called the History of the Future Museum.  This was a walkway lined with display cases showing the timeline of the history of Star Trek universe along with several props and costumes from the various shows and movies.  Then at the end of the walkway, you chose which attraction you wanted to see.

I’m not going to spend much time on Borg Invasion 4-D.  I enjoyed it for what it was, a mix of live actors and sets leading to a 3-D movie, which was made “4-D” by smoke effects and your seat, which had some interactive elements.  I was not, however, a huge fan of the Borg or Star Trek: Voyager.  This video provides a full walkthrough of the attraction, including the movie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5Or83fcDbo

No, I was there for the Klingon Encounter attraction, which was set during Star Trek: The Next Generation.  The attendant for the attraction started out by leading us into a room and lining us up in front of doors for a simulator ride.  If you’ve ever been on Star Tours at Disney’s Hollywood Studios park, you know the layout.  The safety video began, but pretty soon it and the lights started to flicker.  Suddenly, the room went pitch black, there was a whoosh and a sound very familiar to fans of the TV series, and when the lights came back on, we were standing in the transporter room of the Enterprise-D.

To this day, I don’t know exactly how they pulled this off.  Obviously they moved the walls, but the floor changed as well, and WE WERE ON THE ENTERPRISE!  The transporter officer confirmed that fact, and we were led to the bridge, where other officers were waiting.  Riker and LaForge spoke to us via the viewscreen, since they were down in the ship’s shuttlebay, and briefed us on the situation.  A Klingon had pulled us through time, and, since one of us was evidently Captain Picard’s ancestor, Picard vanished from the Enterprise.  The Enterprise had managed to intercept our transporter beam, and now they had to get us home safely to restore time and Picard to the way they should be.  Info dump complete, we were then taken into a turbolift and down to a shuttle for the trip home.

This was where the actual simulator ride was.  We got into our seats, the craft started to move, and then the best thing ever happened.

The ride broke down.

This is not normally what you want to happen on a ride, particularly a roller coaster while you are upside down.  We, however, were inside a Trekkie’s dreamland, and the breakdown was considered minor.  So, while they fixed it, we were taken back to the bridge and given free run of the place.  I was able to look at all the details, sit at every station, and completely bask in the glory of where I was.  The show had been off the air for 12 years, the real sets were long gone, but I was sitting in the next best thing.

When the simulator was fixed, the actual ride was a bit anticlimactic compared to just hanging out on the bridge 20 minutes.  We were in a shuttle following another shuttle piloted by LaForge as we bobbed and weaved to avoid pursuing Klingons and get back to our own time.  Fun, but I would have been quite happy to spend more time on the Enterprise.

Also, while very cool, the attraction wasn’t perfect.  Some spots needed a new coat of paint, the legally-mandated Exit signs were distracting, and the die-hard Trekkie in me bristled at the idea that we could walk from the transporter room to the bridge, entering from what should have been the doors to the observation lounge.   I know.  I know.  I couldn’t help it, though.

Still, I loved it.  And when I went back to Vegas later that same year for a conference, I made sure to head to the Hilton for another meal at Quark’s and a few more times through Klingon Encounter.   This video, while not nearly as high quality as the Borg one, gives a decent look at the attraction.  It begins with the flickering simulator safety video.  Just stick with it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qi5DFCa8SRw

Two years later, the Experience closed.  I’m sure attendance was a factor, but mostly it seemed to be due to the inability of the hotel and Cedar Fair, the company that owned Paramount’s theme park license, to come to an agreement. 

For a while after the closing, there was talk that the Experience would reopen at a location in downtown Las Vegas, but that never came to fruition.  The Experience was dismantled and the parts sold off or thrown away.

A couple of years ago, I went back to see the site.  The Las Vegas Hilton had been renamed the Las Vegas Hotel, and they hadn’t put anything new in place of the Experience.  Instead that end of the hotel was empty.  Outside of what used to be the Experience, they had a vaguely sci-fi themed bar, but when I visited, not a soul was in sight.

Depressing really doesn’t begin to cover it. 

(As a final note, here’s what Vegas could have gotten instead of the Experience if things had gone slightly differently:  http://collider.com/star-trek-enterprise-vegas/)

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

Weekly Trek – July 4-10, 2016

The final episode of Star Trek: Enterprise in 2005 marked the end of an 18 year uninterrupted run of Star Trek on television.  Of that, 526 episodes (Or 527 if you count the final episode of Enterprise, but…uggh) and 4 movies are set in the 24th Century with the crews of the USS Enterprise-D (and E), Deep Space Nine, and USS Voyager.  Needless to say, viewers got to know those characters and that overall time period pretty well until it all came to an end with 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis

With the television shows done and rumblings on the film front that the entire franchise would be rebooted back to the 23rd Century era of Kirk and Spock in the next movie, the 24th Century appeared to be over.  But for Pocket Books, holders of the Star Trek novel license, this presented an opportunity.  Up until that time, the Star Trek novels published by Pocket Books had to fit around the existing shows and movies.  Adventures were generally standalone and didn’t have consequences, since the characters and such all had to be put back the way they were at the beginning of the story in order to mesh with the continuity of filmed Trek.

After Star Trek: Nemesis, though, the 24th Century was wide open.  Pocket Books took advantage of the situation and set about continuing the stories of the TNG, DS9, and VOY crews beyond the events of Nemesis.  The editors at Pocket worked with writers of the novels from the various series to create a shared continuity between the books.  Readers didn’t have to read every novel from every series to understand what was happening, but events from one could be mentioned in a novel from another.  They also fleshed out more of the Federation beyond the Enterprise, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager, which novels like Articles of the Federation, which was centered around the Federation government and President Bacco.

Starting in 2007, the novels began building toward a massive invasion of the Alpha Quadrant (Home to the Federation, Klingon Empire, and Romulans) by the Borg (Incredibly dangerous and powerful cybernetic beings) starting with Before Dishonor by my favorite Trek author, Peter David.  This was followed by Greater than the Sum by Christopher L. Bennett.

The Borg plot culminated in the Fall of 2008 with the three novel mini-series Destiny by David Mack.  There’s really nothing mini about it, though.  Destiny is (And I don’t use this word lightly) epic.  The three books add up to over 1100 pages, and they touch on almost all of the 24th Century crews as well as characters from the timeframe of Star Trek: Enterprise over 100 years earlier. 

By the end of Destiny, I was very satisfied with the story it told.  More than that, though, I felt like I had just read the equivalent of a series finale for Star Trek’s 24th Century.  It wasn’t the actual end, of course.  Pocket Books has published over 20 more novels since then in the TNG line alone, not to mention DS9, Voyager, and Titan (Following Captain Riker’s new ship).

I was done, though.  I don’t mean that to sound like I was walking away in anger.  Far from it.  I’d gotten a massive conclusion that filmed Trek was never going to be able to provide. 

Of course, with the coming of the new Star Trek series in 2017, there’s a chance that Pocket Books’ new continuity will be completely undone.  If the rumors about the show being an anthology series set in the Prime timeline (as in the timeline before the new movies) are true, there’s every chance they could revisit the 24th Century and fill in events after Nemesis.

If they don’t, though, I will be fine.  Perfectly happy, actually.  Destiny gave me all the closure that I needed.  And it didn’t need to kill off any of my beloved characters in order to do it!  Yes, I’m looking at you Force Awakens!

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

Weekly Trek – June 27-July 3, 2016

As I mentioned a few weeks ago in THIS POST, Star Trek hasn’t had the best luck when it comes to video games.  Pure combat games don’t feel very Trek (Although the space combat game Star Trek: Starfleet Academy and the first-person shooters Star Trek: Elite Force 1&2 are fairly well regarded), and other attempts to recreate the crew on a mission aspect of the show have met with varying levels of success.  Many of the resulting games are mediocre, and some are downright bad. 

What most of them have not been able to accomplish is making the player feel like they are inside an episode of Star Trek.  Two titles that were released 1996 sought to get around by…well…putting the player inside an episode of Star Trek.

Star Trek: Borg and Star Trek: Klingon are interactive movies (The box for Borg calls it “The Ultimate Interactive Movie”) that utilize sets and a full casts of actors to tell stories set in the Star Trek universe.  In each, the player sees the story from a first person perspective and at certain points is required to perform actions to move the story along. 

Both games were written by Hilary Bader, who also wrote for Star Trek: The Next Generation and developed stories for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager as well as contributing teleplays for other series including the Batman Beyond and Superman animated TV series, Xena: Warrior Princess, and Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman before her death in 2002 at the age of 50.

Star Trek: Klingon was directed by Commander Riker himself, Jonathan Frakes, and puts the player into a holodeck program created by the Klingon Chancellor Gowron to help teach humans about Klingon culture.

Star Trek: Borg was directed by James L. Conway, who also directed episodes of every Star Trek television series from TNG onward.  It stars John de Lancie as Q and puts the player into the role of a Starfleet cadet who lost his father 10 years earlier at the Battle of Wolf 359.  Q sends the player back in time to just a few hours before the battle and gives him a chance to save his father.  Borg used may of the sets from the Voyager television series and featured music by frequent Star Trek composer Dennis McCarthy.

Of the two, I only played Star Trek: Borg because frankly the Klingons never interested me that much and I had no interest in being one for an entire game.  And if I’m honest, calling these games is really a stretch.  It really is an episode of Star Trek, but one that needed me to occasionally click something.

Since we live in the future, wideos of both games are available on Youtube.  I’ve included links to videos that also include the scenes where the player makes the wrong choices, but you can find the shorter “just the correct choices” versions as well.

Star Trek: Borg

Star Trek: Klingon

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter