On STINO: "Star Trek" In-Name-Only

[The following essay was first published in 2009, following the release of STINO, at www.startrekxisucks.blogspot.com and is reprinted for the first time here at The Lost Signal.]

Star Trek (2009) is best summed up in a line of dialogue from the film, whereupon the elder Spock (Leonard Nimoy’s “Spock Prime”) admonishes his younger self (Zachary Quinto): “Let go of logic. Do what feels right.”

At the time of this writing, the onslaught of remakes, re-imaginings and “reboots” of classic films and television series continues unabated. Decedents of late include The Day the Earth Stood Still, Planet of the Apes, War of the Worlds, The Stepfather, V and Red Dawn. While the V re-imagining looks promising (no doubt due to the addition of Firefly’s Morena Baccarin and Alan Tudyk to the cast), remakes as the rule rather than the exception are symptomatic of the industry’s attempt to drain profit from every pocket and exploit every conceivable market demographic. Very few of these efforts are worthy of the mantles hijacked from popular culture that they attempt to drape about themselves. No amount of money or mainframes can make a Hollywood shitfeast taste any better, even if it sparkles rainbows. To belie the reader’s concern that the author harbors a general distaste for any form of remake in science fiction movies or television, a brief exploration in successful efforts thereof is necessary. In so doing, the author maintains that there exist at least two remakes, re-imaginings or reboots in science fiction film and television are superior to, yet simultaneously honor, the original story.
Turn back to 1982’s The Thing a-la John Carpenter. A remake of the 1951 classic The Thing From Another World (featuring the beloved James Arness in the title role), Carpenter’s early signature style of characterization through paranoia (Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween) coupled with a veteran cast and as-yet unparalleled make-up effects by Rob Bottin comprised a thoroughly successful admixture in realizing a far more accurate portrayal of Joseph W. Campbell’s timeless novella Who Goes There? A quarter of a century on after breakthrough films like Tron and The Last Starfighter, plainly CGI still can’t hold a candle to The Thing.
It would be difficult to find a more human scene than the departure of the unfortunate character Norris’ “head-spider” from the infirmary and Windows’ exasperated, “You gotta be fuckin’ kidding me?” It is ludicrous and horrible and overwhelming. And it never fails, after a dozen (or two dozen) viewings of The Thing. There are numerous other meaty scenes like this throughout the film; if anything, it is about consistency, and twenty-five years after its release, The Thing will consistently scare the hell out of you. The elements of geographic and physical isolation at the McMurdo Sound weather research station sets are equally tenable in both the original The Thing From Another World and Carpenter’s later effort, although the helicopter-based exterior shots in The Thing convey this isolation on a grander, even darker scale when paced with John Carpenter’s excellent score. And both films tellingly feature big explosions only at the climax of the story and the hopeful destruction of the monster, rather than constituting its entire momentum (more on this later).
The post-Star Wars sci-fi frenzy spawned many clones and imitators in the late seventies and early eighties. Having moved from the exclusive realm of relatively harmless eccentrics, science fiction as a cultural phenomenon became, if for a time, as mainstream as disco. On occasion, they even merged (shudder). While enthusiasm for the genre generated a viable response at the box office for deserving films (ergo Alien, Blade Runner), standards inevitably fell as more product was being pumped out on a worldwide scale merely to accumulate profit (Starcrash, Battle Beyond the Stars), a condition that also afflicted westerns in the forties and fifties and which permeates the movie-going experience at present. While admittedly, the author is guilty of having most of these clones, imitators, and hundreds of other space operas and b-westerns in his personal collection, it should be noted that some of these films are not without merit. Hopefully, the same can one day be said for late twentieth and early twenty-first century remakes, re-imaginings and reboots. Star Trek (2009) will not be among these.
Into the maelstrom of the late seventies sci-fi craze came television mainstay Glenn Larson’s Battlestar Galactica (1978). Citing a score of imagined similarities and adversely reacting to a possible threat to Star Wars as godhead of the science fiction market (save for the final frontier of television), Twentieth Century Fox ensnared Universal’s Battlestar Galactica into a vicious and rather costly cycle of copyright infringement litigation that was not resolved until after the demise of Galactica 1980, the bizarre, Wolfman Jack-infused and horrendously awful bookend to Battlestar Galactica, both of which perished after just barely one season. Twentieth Century Fox’s claims were finally thrown out of court altogether, but not without affecting the overall production of Battlestar Galactica in terms of dwindling finances relative to the duration of the lawsuit.
A product of the sci-fi disco zeitgeist, Larson’s original featured a likeable if otherwise two-dimensional cast, superb interior sets, and gratuitous space battles galore, stock footage of which was used repeatedly, ad nauseaum, until the last episode of the bastardized Galactica 1980. Some of this footage even found its way into a handful of fly-by-night science fiction films, most of which were produced outside of the United States. [A similar fate is manifest in the myriad films making ample use of stock footage from Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond the Stars well into the 1990s.] Lorne Greene’s familiar, warm voiceover concluded every original episode with, “Fleeing the Cylon tyranny, the last Battlestar, Galactica, leads a ragtag fugitive fleet on a lonely quest: a shining planet, known as Earth.” Stirring stuff, harkening back to Wagon Train and even Gene Roddenberry’s earliest musings on what would eventually become (with the timely input of lodestone production designer Matt Jeffries) Star Trek.
While the package looked promising, the delivery was not. Battlestar Galactica in 1978 suffered from abysmal writing and plot holes one could comfortably fly a Cylon Basestar through. It was a typical, if flashy, product of seventies television- continuity was a barely existent concept as implemented, story arcs were (outside of a miniseries) altogether unknown, and the convention of hero-saves-the-day-just-before-the-last-commercial-break ruled without peer. That being said, the author still reserves a special place in his heart for the original inception of Battlestar Galactica. This conceit would initially produce a profound revulsion at its re-imagining some twenty-five years later.
Having rejected the superb Star Trek writer Ronald D. Moore’s repeated promises to honor the 1978 series, the author proudly closed ranks with Richard Hatch, et al in vociferous condemnation of Battlestar Galactica’s 2003 “reboot”. Dubbed “GINO”, or “Galactica In Name Only” by Richard Hatch, a rift that to some extent still remains polarized the entire generation of Galactica fandom. GINO was anathema to the author, who promptly dug out the old tapes again to watch the original run, albeit this time in silent protest. This revulsion had nothing at all to do with the character of Starbuck being portrayed by a female, as some fans (and alas, Dirk Benedict) pointlessly ranted on about; still smarting years after the disastrous Lost In Space (1998) and The Avengers (1998) remakes, some things simply had to be regarded as sacrosanct.
One night while channel-hopping between The Sci-Fi Network (read: “Syfy” and the continued dumbing-down of the human species) and Encore Westerns, the author began idly watching a program about some people who were trapped on a spaceliner fleeing some sort of holocaust. To the consternation of the other passengers, one fellow maintained a panicky dialogue with his imaginary lover. This seemed like something out of The Twilight Zone, really engaging stuff. Then someone said the word: “Cylon.”
Not only was the author watching the dreaded GINO, but by the commercial break a moment later he was absolutely hooked. After the conclusion of that first episode of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica, “33”, he immediately went out and bought the miniseries dvd. This remade, re-imagined, rebooted Battlestar Galactica was the best damned show he had seen since Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Even Richard Hatch crossed the picket lines and became a regular on the cast, finally allowed to really act. The Machiavellian character of Tom Zarek is miles above the old cutout Apollo. Edward James Olmos as Adama; it may be a good thing that poor old Lorne Greene did not live to see himself be so outdone. Katee Sackhoff. Mary McDonnel. James Callis. Michael Hogan. Aaron Douglas. [Just watch the frakkin’ show already.]
In the hands of Ronald D. Moore and David Eicke, a pall of claustrophobic darkness akin to Alien swept over the rag-tag fugitive fleet. A brilliant premise was finally coupled with gifted writing and superior production style. Like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and later Star Trek: Enterprise, the binding strength of the show was being character-driven at its core as these poor bastards, Cylon and human alike, struggled with The Big Questions (more on this later) in a consistently fundamental manner for four mind-blowing seasons. Every character is a twitching bundle of vulnerabilities and passions, altogether so human and frail and real.
In the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica, even the space battles suck. A lot of people (including many of your favorite cast regulars) die, in violence and cold and silence. All the childhood romance is gone, sucked into the Big Empty to drift dead forever. It is truly horrible to contemplate, and this is what separates good science fiction from the mere space opera of the original 1978 incarnation. The revolutionary style of “space battle perspective” pioneered in Battlestar Galactica would later be shamelessly aped without grace throughout Star Trek (2009).
For the sake of brevity, it should simply be stated that Battlestar Galactica (and perhaps Firefly, though FOX strangled it while still in the cradle) will remain, for many years to come, the standard by which science fiction television is measured for storytelling greatness. In this remarkable program, the lesson learned is that pretty much all of the time, the “bad guys” win, and they are far more like us than we have the strength to admit. (In a notable irony, at the time of this writing Ronald D. Moore is at work on another reboot of The Thing.)

“Let go of logic. Do what feels right.”

The original Star Trek series, for all its perceived kitsch, was always about The Big Questions (even in “Spock’s Brain” and “The Paradise Syndrome”): What makes us all human? What is our place in the cosmos? From Plato to Kant to Wells to Clarke, The Big Questions have driven the human experience ever forward and (tentatively) into space. In the words of Russian rocket pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, "Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot live in the cradle forever." For nearly half a century, Star Trek has been the cultural vehicle through which millions of people around the world have vicariously explored our collective similitude and ultimate destiny of reaching outward to the stars. Although many of the essential components are in place, The Big Questions are what makes the Star Trek phenomenon difficult to classify (or even dismiss) as mere space opera, unlike the long-running Perry Rhodan print series, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and yes, the Star Wars saga.
It is perhaps because of its longstanding place in our cultural parlance that made Star Trek vulnerable to what amounts as a hostile takeover by bad people with worse ideas. In the closing days of the Las Vegas Hilton’s Star Trek: The Experience, a promo reel for Star Trek (2009) was run on the largest screen above the exhibit’s DS9 Promenade mockup. Notwithstanding the rather silly dramatic license of a Constitution-class starship being constructed planetside from where it could never lift off, there was a tangible excitement in the air. A story going back to the original five-year mission was just what the fans needed after the untimely demise of Star Trek: Enterprise in 2005. Unlike some Trek purists, the author was looking forward to a new, effective cast and a good story. The truly excellent online fan-made series licensed by Paramount, Star Trek: Phase II, was a hopeful glimmer of what a large studio could accomplish with the vast Trek community of fans, writers and production crew. Sadly, Paramount absconded with its holdings and left every one of them behind in the production of the new film. No Rick Berman, Ronald D. Moore, nor Ira Steven Behr. Not one member of the thousands-strong franchise production community, which kept it all going on planet Earth for nearly half a century and a decade after Gene Roddenberry’s death, was to be part of “Star Trek XI”.
A new administration of suits at Paramount ushered in hotshot know-nothings and self-declared Trek haters J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman to re-make, re-model and “reboot” Star Trek. Between them, these men are the ones that brought us such unforgettable film gems as The Legend of Zorro, Mission: Impossible III, Transformers, and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. With such combined stellar filmmaking credentials, storytelling expertise and exclusive power to determine the future of a global cultural phenomenon like Star Trek, surely nothing could go wrong with a makeover (“Let go of logic. Do what feels right.”). While a more comprehensive list of its failings are beyond the scope of this essay, it can be said with assurance that Star Trek (2009) is henceforth known as STINO (“Star Trek In Name Only”) for the remainder thereof. Let it be understood that the author does not preach a Luddite approach to Star Trek, whereupon any thing new is inherently wrong or automatically awful. Enterprise is the best example of a recent, even revolutionary change in Star Trek that just happened to be one of its finest incarnations. “In a Mirror, Darkly” is arguably the best episode of Star Trek ever, right up there with “Specter of the Gun”, “In The Pale Moonlight”, “The Inner Light” and “Scorpion”.
Never once in its 127 minutes does STINO attempt to address the concerns that have been at the center of Star Trek (even the animated series!) since the production of “The Cage” back in 1965. Cobbled together from a Frankenstein’s abattoir of plot devices and production techniques brazenly lifted from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Battlestar Galactica and Firefly, Messieurs Abrams, Orci and Kurzman plead their case with tiresome, thoroughly nauseating winks to the actual franchise throughout. This is highly reminiscent of the disaster that was Die Another Day to James Bond; however, there is no Daniel Craig to save us from STINO, unless he is somehow cast as Kirk in the inevitable sequels.
In lieu of our beloved characters from the original five-year mission, we are treated to Disneyfied caricatures, child supermodels staggering around under the weight of their own petty, inflated egos. In the Star Trek: Phase II series, Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Sulu, Chekov and Uhura are all played by fans, folks referred to as “amateurs” by any other name. These “amateurs” are not merely channeling Shatner, Nimoy, Dee Kelly et al – there is a tangible love for the character that shines through every one of their performances (for which, it is worthy of note, they volunteer their time). In STINO, there is simply no love for the characters which have become mainstays of popular culture over a lifetime. In a famed Star Trek skit in the earliest years of Saturday Night Live, the over-the-top performances of John Belushi, Chevy Chase, and Dan Ankroyd as Kirk, Spock and McCoy respectively were far more convincing. Particularly disappointing were the performances of Simon Pegg and John Cho, two actors with whom the author had placed the most faith prior to seeing the film. Perhaps if more screen time had been allotted to Karl Urban’s McCoy, STINO would have been a touch more tolerable at times. Not even the appearance of Leonard Nimoy as “Spock Prime” lends a waft of legitimacy to the film, as some fans have maintained. By that same reasoning, should T.J. Hooker be similarly lauded merely because William Shatner was in the title role?
After 127 minutes, the viewer is no closer to finding what makes us all human, and still has no clue as to what our place is in the cosmos. The answer for both is apparently Big Explosions, which leads us to the actual main character of STINO. Big Explosions has more screen time than any other character. There are shiny, many-tiered ones. There are sparkly booming ones and huge, blinding supernova ones - in fact there are quite many of the latter. The aesthetic arrangement of Big Explosions retains center-stage throughout the film, and as such has the most character development. The author wishes he could elaborate a more on the growth of Kirk and Spock – it was sad that Kirk was made an orphan. It was a bummer when Spock’s mom died. That homeless band of RightSaidFred Romulans was some bad people that hated everybody. But Big Explosions captured our hearts in STINO, and subsequently all of our oohs and aahs, from the opening scenes to the credit sequence. Surely, Big Explosions will feature in the sequels.
A particularly irksome feature of STINO that deserves mention was the blatant product placement. Notwithstanding the fact that capitalism doesn’t exist in Star Trek (except maybe within the Ferengi Alliance, or wherever enterprising Ferengi roam), the overt commercialism throughout seriously undercut an already laughable attempt at Star Trek credibility (imagine if you will William Shatner hawking “Hai Karate” dressed as Kirk). This was particularly manifest in the design of the bridge, which seemed to have been built on the sales floor of a Bath & Bodyworks outlet, brazenly lit in a manner that could easily send a feline into seizures. The iconic turbolift itself was completely indistinguishable from everything else – how did our caricatures ever find the door?
Outside of the bridge (or the equally atrocious transporter room), the entire ship’s interior was reminiscent of a sewage treatment facility circa classic Doctor Who. It would indeed take a TARDIS to accommodate these selfsame cavernous interiors on a ship that (traditionally) accommodates some four hundred crewmembers. The attempt at the “lived-in” look (via such innovators as Dark Star, Silent Running, Alien, and Star Wars) is thus carelessly amateur in execution. Star Trek spaceship sets, even the Klingon and Romulan ones, are primarily about functionality, just like real naval and commercial vessels. Matt Jeffries and his worthy successors maintained this throughout every Star Trek production in order to maintain a strong sense of realism for the viewer, a formula that worked for nearly half a century. There actually was a sewage treatment and recycling vessel on Battlestar Galactica featured in a number of episodes, and throughout it looked like a functional ship. Props to Matt Jeffries.
Another painful aspect of STINO is the total abandonment of ship’s protocol, namely the chain-of-command. On any vessel of any configuration, this is the most critical element of operations, even on the Space Shuttle. Star Trek rigorously employed this fact of life throughout in order to maintain that vital sense of realism. It does not take a regular contributor to Jane’s Defense Weekly to grasp an elementary understanding of this. However, the Abrams-Orzi-Kurzman cabal did away with such a nuisance in STINO. You too can be captain, just by sitting in the chair. And why have anyone tell you differently? After all, George W. Bush did it for eight years. The same self-absorbed, know-nothing spirit abounds throughout the film, a complete affront to an institution of good science fiction and a lifetime of profound creative endeavor by a community of thousands which was abandoned in the process of its manufacture (emphasis on the last word).
The greatest shock of this “rebooted” Star Trek franchise comes in the form of an exchange between the new-and-improved Kirk and Spock on the sales floor of Bath & Bodyworks: the notion of clemency to the marauding homoerotic Romulans trapped on their dying ship/collection of random metal objects-de-art is abandoned on the spot. Kirk and Spock can barely contain their giggles at the prospect of totally annihilating a fallen enemy. The message is the same as on talk radio and television news: revenge is good for you, even scrumptious. In fact, revenge fucking rocks, dude! This scene is without compare the most antonymic one in STINO as opposed to actual Star Trek.
It would be appropriate to cite this total contradiction in theme with that of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, considering all of the plot devices blatantly ripped from them and morphed onto STINO by the Borg-like corporate cabal that made the latter. In both films, revenge is obviously a central theme and (like the oft-quoted Moby Dick throughout) results in the undoing of the lives of all the characters involved. It is epic tragedy, not a football game or a fraternity beer pong mixer. Revenge is destructive to everyone, and ultimately self-destructive. This has been a consistent theme in Star Trek since the original series, which in STINO most assuredly it is not. In Star Trek II and Star Trek III, revenge is altogether karmic in its envelopment: in Khan’s obsession to destroy Kirk, he destroys all of his own people. The Genesis Device, the erstwhile instrument of Khan’s vengeance, upends the entire Mutura Sector. The shaky peace with the Klingon Empire nearly unravels, no thanks to the ambitious Lord Kruge. The captains and crews of both the Reliant and Grissom meet grisly fates. Scotty’s nephew is killed, Kirk’s own son is murdered, and of course there is the death of Spock. These are but two sweeping examples of Star Trek’s traditional abhorrence for any notion of revenge. There are many dozens, if not hundreds, more in the television shows as well. Where STINO departs, with a smug grin, from one of Star Trek’s most crucial themes is revealing of its ugliest aspect.
To further illustrate, the following exchange from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country reveals how Kirk’s own prejudices nearly become his own undoing:

Kirk: “They’re animals!"
Spock: "Jim, there is an historic opportunity here."
Kirk: “Don’t believe them! Don’t trust them!”
Spock: "They are dying.”
Kirk: “Let them die.”
Spock: “There is an old Vulcan proverb: ‘Only Nixon could go to China’.”

A stint on the frozen penal colony of Rura Penthe notwithstanding, Kirk realizes it is himself who is an obstacle to peace with the Klingon Empire. He must change and overcome his grief at the death of his son, and his resultant hatred of the Klingon people, to make the galaxy a peaceful place for everyone. We are afforded no such introspective developments with the “rebooted” Kirk, nor any other character in STINO whatsoever. In the rebooted “alternate universe” or whatever where we now find ourselves, the Klingons would have most certainly been better off dead. Perhaps this is already a sequel pitch?
Under the misguidance of the Abrams-Orzi-Kurzman cabal, STINO’s storyline officially now dispenses with all that follows in Star Trek, a slap in the face to the creative effort of thousands of writers and production crew. Gone are all the adventures of the original five-year mission, and as such the literal unraveling of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, to say nothing of the feature films. It is not a tiresome matter of what is “canon” and what is not, but of good storytelling and endeavoring to bring us all closer to finding those troublesome answers to The Big Questions. The work of many lifetimes amounts to so much carrion for the corporate jackals in question to rip pieces from in their quest to fool the public into giving them its money.
It is difficult to fathom how a franchise could be considered “ailing” with millions around the world continuing to throw their money at Paramount, et al for decades on end, with mass conventions with an average attendance of tens of thousands in any major city around the world in every week of the calendar year. Truly, the Las Vegas Hilton rues the day it stunningly refused to renew the lease of Star Trek: The Experience after ten hugely successful years of standing-room only crowds of fans in their annual hundreds of thousands. [At the time of this writing, its return to Las Vegas’ Neonopolis Mall in 2011 or 2012 is indeed a harsh lesson learned for the cash-strapped Hilton hotel chain.] Rather than attempting to “revitalize” the Star Trek franchise, STINO merely repackages it in a sickly, shiny manner and waters it down beyond all recognition. STINO is the Zima to Roddenberry’s Guinness. We are witness to a shell game played with millions of dollars- just as Carrot Top is not comedy and Fox is not news, so too is STINO most definitely not Star Trek.
Regardless of the upcoming five-picture contract between “Jar Jar” Abrams and Paramount, there is still plenty of Star Trek out there for the otherwise deprived fan. Star Trek: Phase II is worthy in every way of being called “Season Four” of the original series. In addition, the recent independent release Star Trek: Of Gods and Men features an encompassing array of cast members and guest stars from the movies and every television series. Both Star Trek: Of Gods and Men and Star Trek: Phase II feature stories written and produced by long-serving Trek crew, some of whom wrote for and worked on the original series itself. These accomplishments did not even require the GDP of your garden-variety Balkan state to produce and market, either. Making good Trek is a herculean labor involving many people, but most of all it takes love – love of Trek’s uncompromising vision and the compelling questions it asks of us, and love of a good story. Unlike much of the television and movie chaff, Star Trek has always required a certain level of intellectual and emotional engagement, and a thing that was called willing suspension of disbelief, which nowadays we unconsciously apply to television news. And on the rare occasion that the writing or production is subpar, a little forbearance may be necessary. For the record, a double-header of “Spock’s Brain” and “The Lights of Zetar” beats the hell out of just staring at pretty lights and a hackneyed collection of big explosions (this time minus good old Carl Sagan) for two hours plus.
The power of the Internet means that there are actually good fan flicks out there. Who could possibly argue that the entire Star Wars prequel series was better or more convincing than the excellent installment known as TROOPS? The mere ten minutes of this fan film is vastly superior to the grueling, mind-numbing seven hours of prequels, and far more worthy of the Star Wars mantle. “Let go of logic. Do what feels right,” was surely the rationale behind the disastrous Star Wars prequels. In a like fashion, the number of Star Trek fan films and even whole independent series are increasing as moviemaking technology and distribution acquire ever more off-the-shelf characteristics. Millions of fans will inevitably continue to make Trek that is superior to STINO for years to come. Star Trek will definitely live on, albeit in a guerrilla fashion, a virtual People’s War against its usurpers. Thirty years ago, there was no new Star Trek on television. But with equal parts networking and ground-pounding on the part of the fans, the feature films and Star Trek: The Next Generation kept Trek flying. Never, never doubt the dedication of Trekkers. There are millions of them around the world, many of them quite disgusted with STINO. On to People’s War!
Based on the criteria presented, STINO is in every possible manner unworthy of the Star Trek mantle. Not only did the film avoid The Big Questions altogether, but in lieu of a story, the viewer is required to withstand a 127 minute lights show without benefit of a mandatory dose of strong hallucinogens with which to enjoy the ride. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and Star Trek: Insurrection, though admittedly ham-fisted in their storytelling capability (and certainly not the best of Trek by far), remain superior films to STINO not because they are “canon”, “real universe”, or some such contrived argument for validity or recognition. The Final Frontier and Insurrection (directed by William Shatner and Jonathan Frakes, respectively) are better Star Trek movies because their stories are far more coherent and engaging than STINO, if a bit garbled in their execution. These are characters and to a degree, situations that we care about. Even Shatner’s ego benefits his character, rather than being the character itself as in Chris Pine’s Kirk. Ergo,“Why does God need a spaceship?” And F. Murray Abraham is far more menacing in Amadeus than Eric Bana’s boytoy STINO Romulan.
In these dark days of the early twenty-first century, the author is happy to continue watching the feature films and series on dvd. There is also the the latest installment of Star Trek: Phase II entitled “Blood and Fire, Part 2”, written by longtime Star Trek contributor David Gerrold (“The Trouble With Tribbles”), made and performed by everyday fans purely out of love. STINO was obviously hacked out in a closed room of suits devising ever more insidious ways to hawk their shiny wares and expand their stock portfolios. All the while, as the remakes, re-imaginings and reboots proceed with more green lights and capital investment than the deck of an aircraft carrier, the suits continue to gouge away the expectations of the movie-going public until we are all reduced to the hopelessly self-absorbed consumer chattel of Idiocracy.

- The preceding essay is my personal broadside fired in defense of all that is Star Trek. While it was my intention to veer wide from an anti-Star Trek (2009) polemic, I cannot help but write defending an integral part of my life. Like millions of other people, my second home has always been the bridge or engineering deck of a Federation starship. While I do not pretend to aspire to the role of film critic, in the realm of Star Trek and the genre of science fiction I have a lifetime of knowledge to draw upon. Some of my earliest memories are watching the original and animated series in syndication on the local UHF networks. My first Happy Meal was from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Hell, those were the first Happy Meals ever. In retrospect, the feature films and series which followed mark different phases of my life. I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet and spend time talking with many members of the cast and crew. You would not believe my mad Trek street cred if I even told you half of it. Having been such a huge part of my life, Star Trek has become something inseparable, very personal and treasured. There are pictures of my wife and me on two different bridge sets. While she insisted that we not have a Star Trek wedding (I believe it sounded something like, “No fucking way.”), you can bet your gold-pressed latinum that when Star Trek: The Experience re-opens in Las Vegas we’re renewing our vows in costume. Did I mention that I am a proud owner of a “monster maroon”? [For the record, my wife is a fan by proxy; she maintains that she knew what she was getting into when we first started dating and I could no longer conceal my fandom as we got to know each other better. Her take on STINO: “This isn’t Star Trek.” Life is good - even Trekkers can get the girl!]
While I personally reject the drawing of a proverbial line in the sand, I do maintain that Star Trek (2009) is Star-Trek-In-Name-Only. It was so godsawful I had to watch it twice just to wrap my head around how much it completely sucked, both as a Star Trek movie and as a science fiction movie. The abomination that was Lost in Space (1998) is better by virtue of the fact that it at least has Gary Oldman in it. The burden of proof now rests with Mr. Abrams, et al if they can redeem storytelling with the (inevitable) future sequels and create a Star Trek movie worthy of the name. Perhaps we will see the development of a dynamic not unlike The Motion Picture versus The Wrath of Khan? In the meantime, rather than subject myself or my loved ones to STINO, I will pop in the dvd for Star Trek V: The Final Frontier or Star Trek: Insurrection. Stone sober, even. And rest my beverage on the STINO disk, which is all that it’s good for now.
Finally, to the attention of Messieurs Abrams, Orci and Kurzman: there no such things as Klingon warbirds!

Posted by pariah.file | at 3:50 AM | 1 comments

“Beyond the Rising Moon” (1987)

Insert the dvd copy of “Outerworld” and go directly to the special features. There you will find the original cut of the film released direct-to-video back in the glorious 1980s: “Beyond the Rising Moon”. The new twenty-first century cut, of course, has all the insipid CGI and tedious “SyFy Channel” soundtrack loops one can stomach, if you go in for that sort of thing. It’s also missing a number of important scenes from the original film, which was hammered out from equal parts George R.R. Martin, Arthur Clarke, Bruce Sterling, and Bob Vila. This is a workingman’s science fiction film made with models, miniatures, Casio, epoxy fumes, and (if you come equipped with an imagination) what was once known as an engaging story.
Faster-than-light travel, terraforming, genetic engineering and deep-space navigation are all made possible by the discovery in 2054 of an alien derelict, long since mysteriously abandoned by a species known only as the Tesseran. Rival corporations ruthlessly compete in proxy war for the myriad technological developments stemming from this original claim. When a second craft is accidentally found on faraway, barren Elysium, Kuriyama Enterprises operative Pentan intercepts this information on assignment. However, she goes rogue in an attempt to stake the claim on the second Tesseran derelict and economically dismantle her former employers. Of course, Pentan needs a ship and that old standby, the rakish pilot with the heart of gold, in order to reach Elysium before Kuriyama Enterprises sink their yuppie claws into the find and get all the loot for themselves.
What appears on the surface to be the same old story - corporate assassin meets boy, boy and corporate assassin fly off to the stars together with the bad guys in pursuit – is told with intimate and breathtaking detail on a shoestring budget. All of the characters involved, even the prototypical goon squad guys in big helmets, you get to know very well in under eighty minutes. Death is so cold out there in the new frontier; forget about good guys and bad guys altogether. And the Tesseract find is less about getting paid in the proverbial Escalade and more about the future development of humankind, especially for Pentan, who isn’t legally considered human.
Drink in the establishing shots and effects sequences like that last bottle of a rare imported beer you’ll ever get your hands on, because they’ll never be made like this again. In fact, “Beyond the Rising Moon” was one of the last of its kind, to say nothing of its status as an independent production. While the naysayer will inevitably scoff at the “cheap” special effects, subpar production values and perhaps even the sophomoric acting employed at times, the story and the script rise above these mere technicalities.
This was a project put together by a group of friends enthusiastic to make a good science fiction movie, and in doing so they succeeded brilliantly. Admittedly, the author never found this one in his stacks twenty years ago, and is very thankful that creator/director Phillip Cook included an original print tucked in with the blasé “SyFy” re-cut. Now I have twenty years to look forward enjoying “Beyond the Rising Moon” along with its obvious inspirations and contemporaries: “UFO”, “Dark Star”, “Silent Running”, “Firefox” and “Nightflyers”. They are in good company with Phillip Cook and friends’ little film with big implications. Pour and enjoy.

Posted by pariah.file | at 11:01 AM | 1 comments