TNG Theatrical Screenings – July 23rd

As I’ve just recently jumped back into doing this blog, it seems only right to report on last evening’s nationwide Star Trek: The Next Generation theater event in celebration of the release today of the completely remastered Season 1 on Blu-Ray.

TNG RemasteredFirst, a bit of background: Star Trek:TNG premiered in 1987 –  25 years ago if you can believe that!  I know I can’t!!  So, it is altogether fitting that the Blu-Ray release of its first full season should coincide with such an important anniversary.  Because of the significance of the 25th anniversary, as well as the great difficulty in remastering the shows, and the immeasurable (potential) improvement in the quality of the visuals and audio, a “one-night-only” theatrical screening of two remastered first season episodes was planned for the eve of the release – which happened to be last night.

The screening provided fans an opportunity to celebrate by enjoying TNG on the big screen; an opportunity which would not have been possible but for the remastering, a process which gave motion picture quality to television shows that had been previously mastered onto video tape. In addition to the two TV episodes, the screening also included a pair of documentaries and a preview of the forthcoming Season 2 Blu-Ray set.

Although not every theater was showing it, the screening was running in 7 or 8 movie houses within 10 miles of me.  In addition, because this was a nationwide event, tickets were available in advance through Fandango and Fathom Events.  So, I went online and acquired the tickets for my wife, my son, and myself and I was flabbergasted at the $12.50 apiece price tag!  That’s more than I paid to see The Dark Night Rises on a Saturday night!

In any case, we got to the theater about 15 minutes before showtime and easily found seats.  In fact, I was a bit disappointed as I would have expected a larger turnout.  By the time all was said and done, the theater was at only about 50-60% capacity; further validation of my recent feeling that the excitement that once surrounded the Star Trek franchise is waning significantly.  I also didn’t see fans in Trek uniforms or other costumes, which was a bit of a let down.  Although, at least, my son and I donned Star Trek T-shirts.  One positive note, however, the event started precisely at the advertised time of 7:00 PM. So, the assembled crowd, which consisted mostly of young adult males and middle-aged couples, didn’t have to sit through 20 minutes of unrelated movie previews.

Up first was a documentary on the technical challenges of remastering the NextGen TV episodes.  It was interesting to say the least, as a great deal of detail was revealed about the painstaking nature of the project and some of the hurdles that CBS Digital had to overcome to get it done at all.  There were interviews, effects montages, and before & after comparisons to show the extreme improvement in visual and audio quality that resulted from the remastering effort.  I do wonder if the overall length of this documentary could have been trimmed a bit – just to keep from losing the interest of any non-hardcore fans who might have been in attendance.  Still, it was informative and enjoyable.

Next, it was time for the TV episode “Where No One Has Gone Before”, an imaginative story, even if it comes across as somewhat silly in its execution.  I think that is the case, though, with many of the 1st season TNG scripts – they could have benefited from just a little bit more polishing before being filmed.  Although, it should be noted that this was a show that was still trying to figure out what it wanted to be at that stage of the game.  In fact, so much of the 1st season came across as either an homage to the original series or a vehicle for the young Wesley character to save the ship that a good deal of story substance was lost along the way.  This episode is no exception.  Also, I must say that, while it was visually stunning, the remastering did serve to make some of the show’s makeup and set-construction weaknesses really stand out.  Furthermore, I was less than pleased with the audio balance – dialogue being buried by soundtrack music and effects which are far too loud by comparison – a difficulty which seems to plague far too many DVD and Blu-Ray releases.

After the first episode concluded, another documentary was shown, this one focusing more on the history of the show.  Again, there was heavy emphasis on interviews and old footage, including some bloopers and early wardrobe & makeup tests which elicited laughter from the crowd.  I liked this second documentary even better than the first –  every regular cast member was interviewed as well as a number of the writers and production crew – it really provided a very loving overview of the history and impact of the show.

The second episode to show was “Datalore”, the last episode of any Star Trek television series in which Gene Roddenberry received a writing credit.  While the visual quality was just as good as the previous one, the difficulties with the audio were also slightly less noticeable.  It is my sincere hope that these deficiencies arose from the slight difference between the Dolby system used in theaters and that used for audio reproduction in homes. If that’s the case, I look forward to the purchase of my own Blu-ray player and the TNG discs to inaugurate it.  Anyway, the experience of seeing Brent Spiner flex his acting muscles in this dual-role was enjoyable and entertaining, even if the episode itself suffered from numerous inconsistencies and weak plot points.

Finally, the evening concluded with a preview of the Season 2 Blu-Ray set which looks really incredible.  Not only is the remastering as good as the Season 1 set, but the second season saw the show and its actors really come into their own.  Some of my favorite episodes were produced in that season!

All in all, it was very entertaining to see TNG on the large screen and to take part in the shared oohs & aahs, occasional laughter,and, of course, applause of the crowd.  In that regard, this was no different than being at the premier of Star Trek The Motion Picture 33 years ago.  The same can be said of attending a Star Trek convention.  Being among other fans who feel as strongly about their beloved show as I do makes me feel like part of some exclusive club in which only really cool people can be members.  I look forward to renewing my membership in that club when I pony up the dough for the Blu-Ray sets.

Remembering “Scotty”

It was 1990 or ’91 when I found myself and a friend at a very lightly attended Star Trek convention in Newark, New Jersey.  I’d been going to these things pretty regularly since reaching adulthood and had even had a chance to go to some of the really early ones as a young child. However, I was especially hyped up for this one.  The reason I was so excited to be at this particular con was the scheduled appearance of James Doohan, better known as Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, who would be addressing the convention crowd and then signing autographs.

By this point in my life I had already seen, and in many cases met, the entire cast of the original Star Trek TV series but I hadn’t seen Doohan since 1973, when he was a guest at my first convention at the Hotel Commodore in New York City.  I was six years old then.  Needless to say, the opportunity to see him again and appreciate the experience from an adult perspective was well worth the nominal price of admission.  Looking back on the day now, I realize what a phenomenal understatement that is!

I should point out, for those who may not be aware, that a typical Star Trek convention is a frenetic experience, highlighted by large crowds, long lines, and lots of hubbub.  In that regard, this Newark, NJ convention was the antithesis of Trek conventions I had been to previously. On the day I attended there was no line to enter, the dealers’ room was rarely crowded, and, most interestingly, there were only about 50 people in the ballroom to hear Mr. Doohan give his talk.

At other conventions I’ve been to, both before and since, the stars will get up on a stage in a large ballroom and speak to the assembled crowd (usually numbering in the thousands) for about 30 or 40 minutes.  Sometimes they take questions, but not always.  At this little hotel in Newark, the ballroom had no stage. That fact, coupled with the extremely small gathering of fans, allowed Mr. Doohan to comfortably stand directly in front of the chairs where we were all seated. He didn’t even need a microphone to be heard by every member of the tiny crowd.

He told stories, he told jokes, he sang songs, he did accents, and he answered numerous questions. When 45 minutes had elapsed, he was still going strong.  An hour; an hour and a half; he just kept on going.  For some strange reason, fans began to leave as the talk approached two hours.  I think they wanted to grab good spots in the autograph line.  That was fine with me. Being seated in the first row, I already had a bird’s eye view but, when the seat next to me was vacated, Doohan sat down and spent the next several minutes talking directly to me.  By the time it was all over, my friend and I were the only ones left in the room with him and we got the benefit of spending a few minutes interacting with him on an even more personal level.  What a terrific opportunity to spend time with such a warm, fun, outgoing, and, of course, gifted individual!  He seemed genuinely thrilled at the chance to be talking with us and would have continued longer but, excused himself because he was overdue to go sign autographs.

James DoohanAt conventions nowadays, the actors who give autographs at all always collect a fee for doing so.  James Doohan did not charge for signing autographs.  He explained that he did it out of enjoyment – he liked mingling with the fans and making them happy.  He took even more time to speak with me while he signed not one, not two, but three different items for me, all the while assuring the other fans in line that he would accommodate them in just the same way.

While I had always been fond of the “Scotty” character he portrayed, I came away from that day with an even greater fondness for the wonderful gentleman who gave the character life.  The world would be a much better place if there were more people as good-natured and kind as Mr Doohan.  There are some celebrities out there who could surely take a lesson from him.

Doohan at NASAToday, July 20, 2012, is the seventh anniversary of his passing.  It is a poignant anniversary to me for a number of reasons not the least of which is its historical significance.  Men from Earth first set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969.  Through his role in Star Trek and his experience as a military pilot, Doohan had a genuine interest in space exploration and the technology used to accomplish it.  In fact, he was a frequent visitor to NASA.

On a more personal level, however, the anniversary of Mr. Doohan’s death touches me because he suffered from Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s, afflictions which have ravaged members of my own family. Recalling him as a vibrant, energetic, and outgoing man brings to mind similar images of my mother, uncle, and grandfather, all of whom withered away much as Doohan did in the last years of his life.  Thankfully, he, like they, got to live a relatively long and very fruitful life – even seeing a star in his honor on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Whenever anyone asks me about my experiences with the various stars of the Trek universe, I always smile when I recount the story of meeting Jimmy Doohan and I will always remember him fondly.

The Once and Future Voyages

OH MYYYYY!! (in classic George Takei voice). Has it really been over six months since I’ve published anything here? I do tend to let time get away from me every so often so, I suppose it shouldn’t be all that surprising.  Nevertheless, any readership I’d developed has probably long since abandoned me.  I wouldn’t blame them.  My last few entries of 2011 made more than a passing reference to my opinion that there was little new or exciting to blog about in the world of Star Trek.

Additionally, my finances have taken a severe beating since last year so there will be no visit to the Las Vegas Creation Star Trek Convention this summer.  That sad fact alone has contributed greatly to my utter depression and lack of motivation where Star Trek is concerned. I’m also not a huge fan of the J.J. Abrams reboot so any news and tidbits on the forthcoming theatrical release of the sequel do absolutely nothing for me.

Yet, there is always something to stimulate the interest of an aging Trek fan. One simply must know where to look.  In this case, it’s Star Trek: The New Voyages.  While the 1960s era Captain Kirk and company may no longer appear on our television screens, their adventures continue and have done so for some time now. Step into the Wayback Machine with me as we explore in greater depth:

The year was 1976 and the now classic original Star Trek TV series had been off the air for seven years.  Its animated Saturday morning spawn was also gone by this point and the major motion picture version was still three years away.  Of course, the public was clamoring for new Star Trek stories so, while Roddenberry and his people futilely attempted to develop a new Trek TV show, fans took to writing their own tales, many of which are quite good.  Some of them are so good, in fact, that Bantam Books released a collection of them in paperback entitled Star Trek: The New Voyages.  There were two copies in my house within days after it hit the shelves (yes, my brother and I each had to have our own).  Not only were the short stories in this book finely crafted, many of them included introductions penned by actors from the Star Trek TV series. Awesome!!!

My hands-down favorite story from the aforementioned paperback is a little gem called “Mind Sifter”, written by the late Shirley S. Maiewski.  The piece details the events that take place after James Kirk is captured by the Klingons and they’ve used their dreaded interrogation device, the mind sifter, on him.  Still alive, his mind hopelessly ravaged, the Klingons determine that he should be disposed of in the past where no one from Starfleet can come  looking for him.  So, they take Kirk to the planet of the Guardian of Forever and send him hurtling back to 1950s era Earth, where he ends up in a mental institution.  The action in the story takes place as he tentatively befriends a female orderly there and then it shifts periodically to the equally tense environment aboard the Enterprise as Spock is forced to give up his search for his friend and assume command of the ship permanently. I won’t give away any other plot details here.  The story is excellent – I highly recommend it.

Fast Forward 28 years.  All of the Star Trek films had been released and there was little hope of Paramount making any more.  All of the follow-up TV series had run their course save “Star Trek: Enterprise” which was shortly to be cancelled.  I was feeling many of the same feelings of disappointment and depression that I am right now (at least in terms of my beloved Star Trek and the dismal prospects for its future).  The brother I mentioned earlier was over for a visit and he made an offhanded comment about Star Trek fan films.  Although I still owned my copy of The New Voyages and numerous other fan-fiction books, it had never occurred to me that there might also be fan-produced Star Trek films.  How could I find them? Where would they be distributed?  Then it hit me… THE INTERNET!!!

Star Trek: The New Voyages Cast

Star Trek: The New Voyages Cast

There are actually several very worthy projects run by fans and they have produced some very enjoyable films.  The best, however (IMHO), is Star Trek: The New Voyages (a.k.a Star Trek – Phase II).  Interestingly, the two names by which this project has been known since its inception are the same as the title of the fan-fiction book and the aborted new TV series I mentioned above, respectively.  Paramount Pictures, which owns the rights to the Star Trek franchise, has even allowed this group of fans – headed by Mr. James Cawley (who also portrays Kirk) to use the Trek name, logos, etc.  Since 2004, they have produced about ten episodes, most of which are available for viewing at their official website.

Most interestingly, however, is the fact that they are currently producing an episode entitled “Mind Sifter”.  A little research on my part has uncovered the fact that, just prior to her passing away, the author of the original tale gave the New Voyages production crew her blessing to shoot a film version her splendid story.  Needless to say the curiosity is killing me!  I hope they manage to get the episode finished in a timely fashion and maintain the quality and love they’ve exhibited in their previous efforts.  Even if they don’t (they are always short on cash and soliciting donations from other fans to help cover their costs), the simple fact that they’ve elected to take on the “Mind Sifter” story has renewed my interest in reading some of the original fan fiction.  So therein lies the enjoyment of Star Trek that I’d thought was waning.  It always comes back – it’s just a question of how and from where. 😉