Posts Tagged ‘science fiction television’

John Scalzi’s ‘Redshirts’ explores the downside of life as a supernumerary aboard a TV spacecraft

July 24, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 24, 2015

John Scalzi’s 2012 novel, Redshirts, is a wonderful comic exploration of what life might be like for the crew of a spaceship featured in a campy television series.

Scalzi’s protagonist is Ensign Andrew Dahl, a 25th-century xenobiologist who has just been assigned to the Intrepid, the flagship of the Universal Union. He’s one of five new junior crew members who quickly become aware that their new starship is, well, a little unusual.

For instance, take Dahl’s first away mission, to a space station overrun by deadly robots:

Dahl screamed McGregor’s name, stood and unholstered his pulse gun, and fired into the center of the pulpy red haze where he knew the killer machine to be. The pulse beam glanced harmlessly off the machine’s surface. Hester yelled and pushed Dahl down the corridor, away from the machine, which was already resetting its harpoon. They turned a corner and raced away into another corridor, which led to the mess hall. They burst through the doors and closed them behind them.

“These doors aren’t going to keep that thing out,” Hester said breathlessly.

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‘Star Trek Generations’ got the 24th-century Enterprise crew off to an uneven start in the movie theaters

March 11, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 11, 2015

Star Trek Generations, the seventh feature film in that science fiction franchise, opened in theaters in November 1994, a few months after the end of the seventh and final season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The movie, which was written by TNG producers Rick Berman, Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga, was explicitly intended to springboard the newer cast into a cinematic series.

Generations did so in part by transporting a character from the original show and movie series into a 24th-century adventure. The Next Generation had largely avoided this kind of crossover, at least partly out of deference to the wishes of Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, who died in 1991 at age 70.

(Dear readers: There be spoilers ahead. I mean, they’re for a 21-year-old movie, but still, you’ve been warned!)

The movie starts in the 23rd century as Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and two of his former crewmen participate in the maiden voyage of the fourth starship Enterprise. This time around, Kirk isn’t in charge — he’s just a guest aboard the Excelsior-class vessel, registration number NCC-1701-B. The crew includes a young ensign named Demora Sulu (Jacqueline Kim), the daughter of Kirk’s old helmsman. Kirk wonders aloud how Sulu was able to start a family. “If something’s important, you make the time,” Montgomery Scott (James Doohan) reproachfully tells his former commanding officer.

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A brief history of ‘Star Trek’

March 10, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 10, 2015

Author’s note: I know the blog has been Star Trek–heavy lately, thanks to all the musings prompted by the recent death of actor Leonard Nimoy. As it happens, I recently acquired DVDs of the four movies starring the Star Trek: The Next Generation cast, and I watched one of them the other night. But before I wrote about the film proper, I wanted to put it in the context of the Star Trek franchise.

Also, I recently read two books: Sweet Tooth, a spy novel by Ian McEwan, and The Lecturer’s Tale, an academic satire by James Hynes. Please bear with me… I’ll get back to non-Trek programming soon, I promise! MEM

Creator Gene Roddenberry envisioned the television show now known as Star Trek: The Original Series as being a “Wagon Train to the stars.” Despite its status now as a pop-culture icon, the program — which chronicled the 23rd-century adventures of Captain James T. Kirk, Mr. Spock and the crew of the starship Enterprise — got off to a rocky start. In 1968, two years after its debut, NBC executives decided to commission a third season only after fans mounted a letter-writing campaign. But the show was canceled for good in 1969.

The franchise limped along over the next decade. A cartoon version featuring most of the original cast, which is now called Star Trek: The Animated Series, was produced for the 1973-74 TV season.

But Trek survived mainly in the form of reruns; this was how (and when) I first came to know the show as a young child. Trek fans were also able to enjoy print adaptations of the TV episodes, original stories told in novel and comic-book form, and a variety of franchise-themed toys and clothing. After the cartoon show was scuttled, however, there were no new television or cinematic adventures to be seen.

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After Genesis: More notes on the evolution of ‘Star Trek’ and Spock following ‘The Wrath of Khan’

March 9, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 9, 2015

The recent death of actor Leonard Nimoy prompted me to watch and think about the ending of Star Trek II: The Wrath of KhanThat 1982 film, which was written by Harve Bennett and Jack B. Sowards and directed by Nicholas Meyer, is probably the high point of the Star Trek franchise.

(Note: As with my previous post, this blog entry contains mild spoilers. Of course, it’s for a 33-year-old movie, but anyway, you’ve been warned: There be spoilers ahead.)

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Farewell to Spock: Notes on the poignant denouement of ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’

March 6, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 6, 2015

After hearing that actor Leonard Nimoy, famous for portraying Mr. Spock from Star Trek, had died last week at age 83, I did the same thing as many thousands of others, and perhaps hundreds of thousands of others: I watched this clip from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

If you’ve never seen that movie, and if you care nothing for the Star Trek franchise, then move on; this blog post will be of no interest to you. If you like Star Trek but haven’t seen The Wrath of Khan, then by all means bookmark this page and put off reading the rest of this blog entry until you’ve watched the entire film.

(Yes, friends: There be spoilers ahead.)

If you’ve seen the movie, then you know the grim climactic details that I avoided spelling out in my post about the afternoon I went to watch Star Trek II in the movie theaters.

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Farewell to Spock: On seeing, and suffering through, ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’

March 4, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 4, 2015

Leonard Nimoy, the actor who played Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, died Friday morning. That sad occasion prompted me to mull the first time I watched Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which many (including me) consider to be the best of all the Star Trek films.

The Star Trek universe is largely a positive place, especially as depicted in the original TV series, which aired from 1966 through 1969. Yes, conflict exists, but in general, Star Trek was a much more family-friendly milieu than that depicted in landmark 1970s science-fiction entertainment such as AlienOutlandCapricorn OneSaturn 3 or even Star Wars. (Granted, George Lucas’s universe is pretty PG-friendly. But there’s very little in early Star Trek that approaches the seediness that the first Star Wars film displayed in the scenes at the Mos Eisley cantina and the Death Star trash compactor.)

Star Trek II takes a very different approach from earlier Trek. In many ways, the film — written by Harve Bennett and Jack B. Sowards and directed by Nicholas Meyer — is a rehearsal of mortality. In the opening scene, the Enterprise is brutally attacked by Klingons while on a rescue mission; Spock, chief communications officer Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), helmsman Sulu (George Takei) and Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) are killed before the ship’s master, a fresh-faced female Vulcan named Saavik (Kirstie Alley) gives the order to abandon ship.

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BR25C: Vegas in Space

May 20, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 20, 2013

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

Vegas in Space — Season 1, Episode 5

Synopsis

The episode opens with Buck Rogers and Col. Wilma Deering unsuccessfully battling “hatchet fighters,” which confound the starfighters’ automatic targeting systems. Rogers’ vessel sustains a direct hit, but this turns out to be only a training exercise.

The Earth squadron having been supposedly demolished by what are described as the remarkably speedy and maneuverable hatchet fighters, a discouraged Deering orders all ships to return to base. En route, Rogers tries to persuade the colonel that the Terran pilots can destroy their enemies if the computer initiates targeting but humans actually pull the trigger. Deering is skeptical, saying that the Earthlings are unable to do so.

In New Chicago, a young woman named Felina returns home and reviews her video messages. (Rather charmingly and quaintly, these appear to have been recorded on some kind of linear tape device — there’s a tell-tale squeal when Felina hits the rewind button.) The second of two messages is an urgent warning from the woman’s boss, who tells her to leave her apartment immediately because she is in danger. Just after a perplexed Felina finishes watching the message, she is surprised by something off-screen that has been stalking her since she arrived home. Read the rest of this entry »

BR25C: Planet of the Slave Girls (two-parter)

February 18, 2013

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

Planet of the Slave Girls

Season 1, Episodes 3 and 4

Synopsis

As the episode opens, Buck Rogers and Col. Wilma Deering are approaching Earth after a scouting and/or training flight that has evidently lasted some days. A scanner on their starfighter, which Rogers is piloting, calls their attention to an Earth Directorate starfighter that is being attacked by two pirate ships. Rogers successfully engages the pirates, thereby sparing the life of Cadet Regus Saroyan, who has fallen out of formation from a training flight led by Major Duke Danton.

Danton is annoyed both that Saroyan fell behind and that Rogers intervened. Rogers is annoyed that Danton is annoyed, and they spar verbally. Deering comes on the channel to say that Rogers’ actions were fully warranted. (“Wilma!” Danton exclaims when Earth’s top military officer first joins the radio exchange. “I mean, Col. Deering.” “Right on both counts,” she replies.)

After the starfighters land, Saroyan collapses and is sent to a health clinic. Rogers and Danton exchange more heated words. Deering asks Danton to have Rogers as a guest lecturer on 20th century battle tactics; when Danton balks, she orders him to follow through.

Deering then checks on Saroyan, who is among a huge number of starfighter pilots who have fallen ill while she and Rogers have been away. Deering and Dr. Huer visit Dr. Mallory; he and a computer named Carl are researching the illness. They’ve discovered that the disease stems from contaminated food discs, all of which were manufactured on the agricultural planet Vistula.

Rogers’ turn as a guest lecturer for Danton is a fiasco. The major, obviously irked by his guest, goads his class to laugh as Rogers discusses battle strategies in terms of the ancient game of football. The class devolves into Rogers and Danton tackling each other.

Vistula turns out to be home to a very charismatic and belligerent rabble-rouser named Kaleel. He tells his followers that soon they will go into battle and take their revenge on the Earthlings who have enslaved them. Kaleel has the ability to make his hands glow red and kill a person with the barest touch; he demonstrates this ability on a man whose wife calls him out as being skeptical of the leader. The adoring crowd chants Kaleel’s name.

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Boyish charm isn’t enough to thrust ‘Buck Rogers in the 25th Century’ to greatness

January 31, 2013

In the late 1970s, there appeared a genius who made many exciting science fiction adventures. His initials were GL, and his name, of course, was — Glen Larson?!

Larson is hardly as famous or successful as filmmaker cum Disney sellout George Lucas, creator of the iconic Star Wars saga. But Larson had some high-flying space opera of his own. In a short span of time in the late nineteen-seventies, Larson produced both the cheesy second-tier Star Wars knockoff Battlestar Galactica (which was revived to critical and popular success a decade ago) as well as an incarnation of 1928 pulp scifi hero Buck Rogers.

The 90-minute pilot for Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, which also received a theatrical release, debuted in 1979. It kicked off a two-year, 37-episode run (per, yes, the Internet Movie Database) that lingered in reruns and memory for a while. Then Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted in 1987 and it, along with wholly new science fiction franchises such as Stargate and Independence Day, started to push BRit25thC — as no one, to the best of my knowledge, actually calls it — into obscurity.

Recently while browsing through videos at my favorite second-hand entertainment store, I discovered a pristine-seeming box set of the entire Buck Rogers series, priced at just $10. After some hemming and hawing, I carried it to the checkout counter with my selections.

I recently watched the extended pilot episode/theatrical movie, and… Well, I suppose it’s fitting that Buck Rogers in the 25th Century remains a distant memory for most.

From concept to execution, Buck Rogers is a thoroughly middlebrow operation. Some stuff is done well, but very little could be called great. (One exception would be the very cool design of the Terran starfighters flown by the good guys.) There are some jarringly bad notes, such as the embarrassing title sequence with a close-lidded Rogers languidly embracing scantily clad space babes and the hokey spaceman adventure song that accompanies. (Imagine a song in the style of the Muppets classic “The Rainbow Connection,” only about the original Battlestar Galactica and sung by a third-rate John Denver imitator, and you begin to get a sense of how bad the song is.)

Sadly, there’s never enough of the well-done stuff to make this adventure soar, alas. And there was never quite enough of the jarringly bad stuff to motivate any mildly friendly BR25C (as no one to my knowledge dubs it) to turn off the film and do something else — which isn’t to say that I didn’t contemplate doing so…  Read the rest of this entry »

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