Nathan's Laserium - The F.A.F.A.F.

The bunnies and beavers, the mice and the moose 
All gathered together by the gnarled old spruce 
The elk and the deer helped fill up the quorum 
For the First Annual Forest Animal Forum 
The Chairman Chipmunk called a start to the meeting 
First on the agenda was concern over eating 
Of innocent animals by big ugly bears 
Who crunch on the bones in their big ugly lairs 
The squirrels suggested a pre-emptive strike 
Mr. Moose had a laugh and said, "Do as you like 
"Bombard them with acorns until they surrender 
"When their heads start to ache and their heinies get tender" 
The squirrels sat down and the bunnies took the floor 
"We are known for our cuteness and not for our roar 
"So we have a proposal and we hope you will grab it 
"Henceforth we shall be known by the name Grizzly Rabbit" 
The motion was passed and the rabbits were glad 
But the field mice stood up and they looked kind of mad 
They squeaked something out about how it just wasn't fair 
For a rodent to take on the name of a bear 
"We are NOT rodents, and we will do as we please 
"So sit down and be silent and eat some of your cheese" 
Next thing you know all the animals were fighting 
There was scratching and clawing and beating and biting 
Elk called Racoon a bank-robbing bandit 
The bighorns banged heads and the beavers said dam it 
The F.A.F.A.F. was an utter disaster 
It went south like the geese but only much faster 
Homie looked on and shook his head, all disgusted 
He could have helped but predators weren't trusted 
This all goes to show that you never should dare 
To try changing the world without the help of a bear!

( Originally Posted 18th November 2003)

- Nathan Waddell

Pick of the Week – February 23-March 1, 2015

There are very few events in my life about which I can tell you exactly where I was when they occurred.  One of those was on September 28, 1987.  You remember that one, right?

Possibly not.

So perhaps a bit of background is in order.  About a year earlier, I discovered Star Trek.  Yes, I’d seen a couple of the movies prior to that, but they didn’t really make an impression.  But in the Fall of 1986, I started watching the original Star Trek series (TOS) at 5PM every weekday in syndication, and I became OBSESSED.  I devoured every episode of the original, dragged my family to see Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home on opening night, and, when word broke that a new Star Trek series was in development, I hunted down every bit of information I could find.

Then on September 28, 1987, while the rest of my family ate dinner in the kitchen, I was planted in front of the TV with a tray table waiting anxiously for the new series, titled Star Trek: The Next Generation, to premiere.  Next Generation (Henceforth, TNG) ran for seven seasons, racking up 178 episodes, more than double the count of its parent series.  Despite airing in syndication rather than on a network, it was hugely popular and garnered a Best Dramatic Series Emmy nomination in its final season.  That popularity allowed the crew to jump to the movies, taking over for the TOS crew when TNG ended in 1994.

With 178 episodes to choose from, narrowing them down to a single episode for this week’s Pick is exceptionally difficult.  There are several fantastic episodes, such as “The Inner Light,” “The Offspring,” and the epic “The Best of Both Worlds” two-parter (Part One ends with Trek’s first-ever season-ending cliffhanger that quite literally had me screaming at my TV.), that are not the best place to jump in for someone who has never seen the show and doesn’t know the characters.

So which one to pick?  After a bit of consultation with Corinne (Herself an avid TNG fan), I have selected “Darmok” from the fifth season.  Don’t worry that it’s so far along into the show.  This is a standalone episode, and it does a wonderful job of both showing the characters’ personalities and telling a solid science fiction tale about differing cultures working to understand each other.

In the episode, the USS Enterprise establishes first contact with an unknown species, the Tamarians.  The usually-reliable universal translator (One of Star Trek’s inventions that speed up storytelling and would be fantastic to have in the real world) can’t make sense of the Tamarian’s language structure.  It translates the words, but the message is lost.  The Tamarian captain (Played by Paul Winfield, who was also Captain Terrell in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.) basically kidnaps Captain Picard and takes the two down to the surface of a nearby planet to try to find a way for them to communicate.  The episode is very well done and consistently makes “Best Of” lists for the series.  “Darmok” is an example of TNG at its peak.  I hesitate to say more about it and risk spoiling or over-hyping it.   As a side note, “Darmok” also has a small appearance by Ashley Judd, in one of her first roles, as Ensign Robin Lefler.

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter


I’ve Got a Secret

First, allow me to apologize in advance because this is going to be my second Sunday superhero post in a row.  I think I can be forgiven, though, since superhero shows and movies are everywhere.  Between Marvel and DC, we’re looking at several movies per year between now and at least 2020.  And on TV, current superhero or hero-related shows like The Flash, Arrow, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Gotham are soon to be joined by Supergirl¸ The Atom (Possibly), and coming soon from Netflix, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and iron Fist leading to The Defenders.  Beyond these, there’s a whole slew of superhero cartoons on Cartoon Network and Disney XD.

Superheroes are everywhere, but I’ve realized that the many of them are bringing along a particular trope that’s been part of the lore since the beginning.  Actually, since even before the beginning when heroes without superpowers, such as the Scarlet Pimpernel and Zorro, wore masks to conceal their true identity.

Based on the current crop of live-action superheroes, secret identities seem to have gone out of fashion.  Or maybe they seem silly now.  I’m not certain.  At the end of Man of Steel, Clark Kent starts a job at The Daily Planet in the guise of the mild-mannered, glasses-wearing reporter that we’re used to from prior incarnations of the character, but why is he bothering?  Based on the events of the preceding two hours, everyone on the damn planet should know that he’s Superman.  The military, Lois, and most of Smallville, including the manager of the local IHOP know.  General Zod landed a ship at his mom’s house and basically asked if Clark could come out and play.  The jig is up, pal.  They know.   Hiding behind a pair of glasses isn’t going to help.

In the Christopher Nolan Batman/Dark Knight films, the entire League of Shadows knows that Bruce Wayne is Batman.  They very kindly don’t tell anyone, though.  You would think that after the death of their leader, Ra’s al Ghul, the remaining League members might blab in revenge.  Nope.  Instead, two movies later, Bane shows up, knowing that Bruce Wayne is Batman, captures him, snaps his back, and dumps him in a prison far away while again not telling anybody.  Considering Bane’s overall plan for Gotham, you would think that telling the populace that their hero was actually Bruce Wayne and that he wouldn’t be showing up again (Although, he did) due to a minor back breaking would be useful.  But no.

Meanwhile, over on the television side of the DC hero universe, Arrow’s Oliver Queen at first decided to go all vigilante in Starling City wearing little more than a dark green hoodie and some eye makeup to hide his true identity.  He has moved up to a mask, but last I checked, there are at least 10-15 people and possibly more who know that he’s the Arrow.  Granted, many of those are people who work with him, but one is the TV version of Ra’s al Ghul.  Probably not the best guy to know who you really are.

Over on the spin-off series The Flash, Barry Allen is barely bothering to hide his identity.  Sure, he has his mask, but he’s also taken it off and just plain not worn it many times.  His show has only run half a season, and there may already be more people, including several villains, who know his identity than who know that Oliver Queen is the Arrow.  Side question: how do the villains imprisoned in the Star Labs makeshift cells use the bathroom?  Those things are awfully small and I haven’t seen a toilet or sink or bed.  Granted, it doesn’t seem like anyone except turns-into-gas-guy stays in there very long because the Star Labs folks are incredibly incompetent jailers, but when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go…somewhere.

Over on the Marvel side of the superhero cavalcade, right out of the gate with Iron Man, the studio decided to dispense with the secret identity thing altogether.  It doesn’t get much clearer than Tony Stark stepping up to a podium and announcing to the world, “I am Iron Man.”  His fellow Avengers aren’t any more secretive.  Everyone knows Steve Rogers is Captain America.  He has his very own Smithsonian exhibit.  Thor is just Thor.  And at the very least S.H.I.E.L.D. and the army know that Bruce Banner is the Hulk.  Natasha “Black Widow” Romanov and Clint “Hawkeye” Barton aren’t as known, but they are S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and now exactly hiding who they are.  By the end of Captain America: The Winter Solider, Romanov was very publicly testifying before Congress. 

There haven’t been any superheroes running around with secret identities in the Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television series either.  The upcoming Daredevil series on Netflix promises to change that, but the overall lack of secret identities does make the Captain America: Civil War film, due in May 2016, interesting.  In the comics, Captain America and Iron Man took opposite sides in a debate over whether or not superheroes should have to register their identities and powers with the government.  Unless something radically changes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe between now and next year, the number of superheroes running around with secret identities will be approximately one: Matt Murdock aka Daredevil.  Of course, Spider-Man is now joining the mix, and, in the comics, his secret identity is a huge part of the story.  Will that hold true in the film version?  Honestly, I don’t see how it can with the way the movie universe is currently established.  We shall see, though.

I would like to see a return of the secret identity, though.  In this age of the Internet, keeping a secret identity would be both more difficult and more important than ever.  One slip and every villain on the planet could have your name, address, and phone number.  We’ve seen doxing attacks against regular people.  Imagine if some of the perpetrators go ahold of a superhero’s real name.  It could lead to some interesting storytelling as the hero tries to do good while still protecting his/her identity and family’s safety.  Tony Stark can deal with the world knowing he’s Iron Man (Mostly.  He seemed a bit unprepared for a missile attack in Iron Man 3, but he’s probably upped his defenses by now.), but someone like Peter Parker or Matt Murdock needs the anonymity.  Hopefully the MCU will oblige.

-Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter


Nathan's Laserium - Star Trek Memories

I’ve been enjoying Alan’s quick survey of the Star Trek universe in his Weekly Picks. I’m a very fickle Star Trek fan, for reasons I can’t really adequately explain. When I was little, I watched TOS with my mom, who was a big fan. I liked them too. Except not that one where Spock crashes the Galileo shuttle on the planet with the sasquatch monsters. Too scary!

Also those earworms that Khan stuck in Chekov and Terrell’s brains in Wrath of Khan freaked me out too. Maybe that’s the source of my ambivalence towards Trek- I’m just not much of a horror fan.

Yes. I said it. Star Trek is horror.

It pretends to be Utopian science fiction, which is why it is so diabolical.

Alright I kid, a little.

The whole first season of The Next Generation was a little horrifying, you have to admit. I had high hopes, as a 12yo, and it almost ruined Trek for me forever. It was so bad! And not just in hindsight, either. In sight. Normal sight that you could see at the time. No hinds required. But I remember watching the reruns after school almost every day and loving it from about season 4 or so onwards. The one with the Enterprise-B? Kind of want to watch it right now.

Come to think of it, I saw the first seven Trek movies in theaters. Was First Contact the 8th? If so I saw the first eight, and my streak was broken with Nemesis. The VampireNomad herself introduced me to Nemesis, and the glory that is Tom Hardy, back when we lived together. I . . . might not have immediately seen Tom’s appeal, though I have since definitely come around. I guess it’s true that a lot of great actors get their start in horror franchises.

The year we lived together was really the last time I watched any Star Trek. I remember we bought season 5 of TNG on DVD, for the astonishingly bad price of $107. But we needed our fix. Here, let me dig out a little salient something from my archives:

Lately my Room-mate (ie the VampireNomad) and I have been watching Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes for supper. Well, not for supper, since they provide no real nutritional value, but during supper. Anyways, it's been really fun going back to them- it's been years since I had any real interest in Trek. Watching them now, I am surprised at how good they are, and my love for TNG is rekindled.

Wait, let me back up a bit and dissect that sentence. "How good they are." Hmm.

We have watched episodes where the Enterprise gives birth to a rubick's cube that commandeers the holodeck in order to run a train simulation for some reason;

where we discover that Jean-Luc had an ancestor named Javier Picard;

where Worf's future adult son comes back in time (after meeting "someone"- just some guy, apparently- who had the power to control time) and tries to kill his younger self;

where Dr. Beverly Crusher falls in love with a ghost who can reanimate the corpse of her dead grandmother;

where Troi turns into a frog, Worf a spiky alien, Riker a caveman and Data's cat devolves into an iguana.

Hmm. Ok- "good" may not be the best term to use. Incredibly entertaining, though, especially watching them with someone as versed in Trek lore as my room-mate. And the episode we watched last night, called "Lower Decks," was in fact very well-written and engrossing. And "Genesis", the last one in that list, was actually really cool, despite (or because of) its wonky evolutionary science that claims that cats are descended from iguanas.

- Nathan Waddell

Pick of the Week – February 16-22, 2015

This week we’re continuing our voyage through the various incarnations of Star Trek.  For my Pick, I want to focus on the movies starring the cast of The Original Star Trek television series (Henceforth to be referred to as TOS.). 

After the end of the animated series, which was the subject of last week’s Pick, in 1974, Star Trek continued to grow in popularity thanks to syndication.  In 1977, Paramount, which now owned Star Trek after acquiring Desilu Studios, was planning to start its own television network with a new Star Trek series, to be called Star Trek: Phase II, as the new network’s flagship show.  While the network did not happen, the work on Phase II, including sets, the pilot script, and the cast, were instead promoted to a full-fledged movie, 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

After that, 5 more movies followed with the TOS crew, ending with 1991’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.  The movies were officially handed off to the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation in the 1994 film, Star Trek: Generations.

If you were to watch only one of the six movies focused solely on the TOS crew, most fans would probably direct you to 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  Honestly, I find that selection hard to argue with.  It consistently wins fan polls as the best of the movies, it’s got a great story, effects that hold up even today, and, despite its origins in a TOS episode, it’s perfectly understandable to someone who has never seen Star Trek before.  In fact, The Wrath of Khan (TWOK in fandom) was the very first Star Trek I ever saw, several years before I would become a die-hard fan myself.

Instead, though, I’m going to recommend 1986’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (From here on out to be called TVH).  While TVH is really the third and final part of a storyline that starts back in TWOK, the film can be enjoyed by newcomers and long-time fans alike.  Anything new viewers need to know about the crew’s situation at the beginning of the film (which isn’t much) is quickly summarized and we get to the actual story of the movie. 

And the story is really what makes TVH stand out from the other Star Trek films.  First off, it’s really the only one of the series that could be described as comedic.  The plot, which has the crew traveling to 20th Century Earth in order to find something necessary to save their own time, puts the characters into many fun “fish out of water” situations as they try to find their way through a world that is very different from what they are used to.  Additionally, the movie uses the entire cast well, which cannot be said of many of the films. 

TVH was the most profitable of the TOS movies and was very popular with audiences outside of Star Trek fandom.  If you don’t have a lot of familiarity with the series, it’s still a fun way to spend a couple of hours.

As a fun aside, in an alternate universe somewhere, there’s a version of TVH co-starring Eddie Murphy.  He was originally interested in a role, and a story was developed with him in mind.  It didn’t end up happening, and instead he went off to make The Golden Child.

Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter