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.

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. 😉

Where Do We Go From Here? Part 1

After complaining in some of my recent posts about the lack of anything new to look forward to in the world of Star Trek, I have come to find out that the Science Channel will be airing a new documentary entitled Trek Nation on November 30th.  In addition, filming on the second J.J. Abrams Star Trek motion picture begins on January 15th.  Admittedly I am looking forward to the former much more than the latter but it’s all good.  Meanwhile, as I wait patiently for the 30th to arrive,  I have been thinking back on my own particular journey through the realm of sci-fi fandom and realized that it started with Trek but didn’t end there. The 60’s classic Star Trek TV series was merely a jumping off point from which I delved into a number of other fascinating movies, television shows, and books.

As anyone with similar interests knows, the relationships among all these various works within the genre can be somewhat circuitous, leading a fan right back to where he started in the most glorious and unexpected of ways.  So it was with me, with Star Trek and the collection of other enjoyable stories that I am going to touch on here.  Seeing them or, in some cases, reading them, was interesting in and of itself, but also in the respect that they allowed me to  gain new perspectives.  I found that getting away from my favorite Trek episodes for a while and checking out a new sci-fi movie or story allowed me to return to the Star Trek universe with a greater appreciation – picking up on nuances I’d perhaps missed earlier.  In other words, everything reinforces everything else in some way.

So, to any readers of this blog who may be interested in sci-fi vehicles other than Star Trek, today’s entry begins a multi-part overview of some of the earliest additions to my list of favorite sci-fi stories.  If my memory is intact enough, I will endeavor to organize them in the order in which I discovered them.  As far as I know, they are all readily available now to anyone wishing to check them out.  Gotta’ love 21st Century, instantly gratifying, streaming, downloadable, on-demand media availability!  Anyway, here we go with Part 1:

Silent Running – Theatrical Motion Picture – 1972

Like the best Star Trek episodes, this film is a morality tale.  Set in “the first year of a new century”  (the 21st I suppose), the film establishes that all trees and plant life on Earth are gone, except for a small collection forests being cultivated under giant domes aboard ships in deep space. The crews of these enormous vessels have apparently worked onSilent Running the forestation project for a very long time with a view toward reintroducing the greenery to our abused planet.  They have their doubts that the project will come to fruition, though, and, one way or the other, they are anxious to get home. Bruce Dern plays Freeman Lowell, a botanist charged with caring for the forests on one of the ships – The Valley Forge.  When the project is abandoned, the crews of all the ships are ordered to jettison and detonate the forest domes and return to Earth.  Lowell is devastated and cannot accept that the forests must be destroyed. Driven by his (laudable) desire to save at least one forest, he takes drastic actions that ultimately determine the outcome of the story.

The film was directed by Douglas Trumbull who had previously worked on the visual effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey (which didn’t make today’s entry in the list primarily because I didn’t see it until 10 years after it came out).  Although the emphasis on saving our ecology that was prevalent in the 70’s is very thinly veiled in this movie, it nonetheless manages to entertain – with a convincing performance by Dern, believable effects, and a moving (if somewhat dated) soundtrack featuring songs performed by Joan Baez.  Notable also are the “drones”, small utility robots played by amputee actors in very believable costumes, forerunners of George Lucas’s “droid” concept from Star Wars.

Westworld – Theatrical Motion Picture – 1973

This film afforded me my first exposure to the work of Michael Crichton, who both wrote the story and directed the movie.  It’s basic theme is one that Crichton had dealt with Westworldbefore and would return to again in some of his later tales – namely, the dangerous consequences that can occur when we assume we can control technologies or elements of nature that we don’t entirely understand.

Sometime in the not too distant future, vacationers can visit a  resort where, for $1000 a day, they are able to interact with completely realistic android robots in three specific historical settings: Roman World, Medieval World, and Western World.    In these adult amusement parks, nothing is off limits.  There are deadly sword battles, gunfights, good old fashioned brothels, and more.   Visitors to these resort-worlds can live out their every fantasy, no matter how violent or perverse. The story centers around a pair of businessmen, played by Richard Benjamin and James Brolin. They’ve chosen to unwind in Western World, where they engage in barroom brawls with outlaws, shootouts with a gunslinger (expertly portrayed by Yul Brynner), and romps with 1880’s style prostitutes – all of whom are lifelike robots.  The movie also depicts a number of secondary characters who have similar adventures in the other two themed resort-worlds.

When the robots and the systems that control them begin experiencing inexplicable malfunctions, the engineers in charge have to decide how best to proceed.  Although they initially consider closing the resort to address their concerns, it is ultimately decided to wait and allow the current guests to stay out their planned visits.  That’s when all hell breaks loose!  This is a compelling movie for sure.  I especially like how the line “Nothing can go wrong” prefaces all the action.  If you enjoyed the Trek TOS episodes, “What Are Little Girls Made Of?”, “I Mudd”, or “Requiem for Methuselah”, you’ll probably like this film.

Next time around, I’ll touch on a collection of short stories and a novel, both of which were adapted for the big screen.

Bricks…the final frontier

I went to great lengths in my last post – well, not so great and not so lengthy – to describe the lack of anything new in the world of Star Trek about which to get truly excited.  Silly me. When you’re a 9 year old in the body of a grown man, there’s always something to get excited about.  You just have to know where to look for it.

In my case, I needed to look no further than a little online forum I belong to.  Its sole reason for existing is to provide a virtual gathering place for people who wish the Lego Company would introduce Star Trek sets in the same way they have done with Star Wars, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, and so many others.  It seems clear the market is there.

So, what’s taking them so long?  The rights to produce Star Trek merchandise can’t be that difficult to obtain.  Heaven knows just about every other toy company has marketed a Star Trek line at some point. How cool would it be to have officially licensed Trek sets from Lego?!  Apparently not cool enough for the good folks in Billund, Denmark.  No matter.

In our online community, we sometimes have contests to see who can design the best Star Trek Lego kits.  The most recent was a ship design contest.  I chose my belovedLego-Contest-Entry-TOS-Enterprise NCC-1701 (No bloody A, B, C, or D!).  The goal was to construct the model using your own design and then submit a single photograph for consideration.  Of course, being a bit of a perfectionist, I couldn’t just photograph the finished product.  I had to do so in a way that would demonstrate what I envisioned as the cover of the box it would come in if it were ever mass-produced.  It took me a few evenings after dinner to construct the model and perhaps one or two more to refine the design and tweak things a bit.  The photo at the right is my finished entry.  I was so excited by the chance to do the model, I celebrated with a marathon of classic Trek remastered episodes on NetFlix!

Who says there isn’t anything new in Star Trek to get excited about?  Well, I do – but I’m wrong!

The End of an Era

Anyone who checks out my posts regularly may have noticed a drop in the frequency with which I have been writing new ones.  This is due in part to the typical things life throws at us but, in larger part, is a result of my feeling that there is less and less to write about regarding my beloved Star Trek.

Perhaps it’s just a phase I’m going through.  However, with the exception of the forthcoming followup to J.J. Abrams’ 2009 re-imagining (which I despised), there isn’t very much new going on for an aging Trek fan like myself to get excited about.  In fact, in a perfectly appropriate imitation of life itself, Star Trek, at 45 years old, is at the point where it is experiencing more endings than beginnings.  To quote Jean Luc Picard, “Lately, I’ve become very much aware that there are fewer days ahead than there are behind”.

Nowhere in the world of Star Trek was this more evident than in Leonard Nimoy’s final appearance at a trek convention, which took place in Chicago this past weekend.  Mr Nimoy, who is 80 years old now, has stated publicly that he wants to focus his energies on other things – including his family, his work in photography, and just generally slowing things down a bit so he can enjoy himself.  He’s certainly earned the opportunity.  Nevertheless, among the fans, he will be sorely missed.

I first saw Leonard Nimoy at a Trek convention at the Hotel Commodore in New York CityLeonard Nimoy at Star Trek Las Vegas - 2011 in 1973 when he was a surprise guest alongside George Takei and James Doohan.  I have seen him 4 times since and was more and more impressed each time with his warmth, joviality, genuineness, and appreciation for his fans. The simple fact that he is now an octogenarian is startling enough in and of itself – to say nothing about the realization that comes with that fact, namely that Star Trek is a thing of the past.

The biggest impact of all this, I suppose, is the addition of Star Trek to a growing list of things that constantly remind me how old I am.  It’s an unsettling feeling as I used to think of Trek as something that made me feel young.  This is why I wish I had some new beginnings to write about!  However, it’s an unrealistic hope.  It seems to make more sense for me to accept the aging of Star Trek and its subsequent exit from the limelight much as I try to accept my own aging.  So, I will count myself lucky if I can get through all the changes later-life hands me by exhibiting the same dignity and class with which Leonard Nimoy said goodbye to the convention circuit.

Thanks for the memories, Mr. Nimoy!

I’ve Just Won My Fourth Game

There is something extraordinarily satisfying about playing a good game of chess.  I think this is due, at least in part, to the necessity of using so many different areas of the brain in so many different ways simultaneously.  A competent player needs not only a thorough understanding of the rules and strategies, but the ability to visualize geometrically in multiple dimensions, to recognize patterns, to think ahead several moves, to consider numerous possible outcomes, and to intuit from his opponent the likelihood of playing a given piece.  It is an intellectually demanding, yet stimulating, experience to be sure and the game is one that we might expect master strategists to play in their spare time.

Kirk and Spock playing chessI think the producers and writers of Star Trek realized this as well.  There are at least thirty separate references to, or depictions of, the game of chess throughout the various Star Trek TV series.  In fact, in several episodes of the original series (TOS as we Trekkies refer to it), chess is pivotal to the plot.  Not surprisingly,  Kirk and Spock are seen playing chess in the opening sequence of the pilot episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before”.  This makes perfect sense in terms of the development of the two characters, both of whom are exceptionally intelligent but who are so very different in their approach to the galactic difficulties they encountered each week, as well as their approaches to the game.

Of course, like so many other things depicted in Trek, the game of chess is given a futuristic update in the form of a three-dimensional board on which pieces can be moved up or down as well as laterally.  As it turns out, this isn’t really futuristic at all as many three-dimensional variants on the game of chess have existed since the 19th century. Nevertheless, the version in Star Trek is the one with which most people now seem to be familiar.  One more instance of the enormous pop-culture impact of the iconic TV series.

Although many people are aware of the existence of three-dimensional chess thanks to Star Trek, they may not be aware just how “real” the game has become because of the influence exerted by Trek fans.  Several sets of rules have been developed to allow for fully realized games using the board designed for TOS.  The Franklin Mint manufactured and sold two different Star Trek 3D chess sets for avid collectors.  Star Trek: The Next Generation and its sister series depicted 3D chess in a goodly number of episodes.

As a fanatical lover of Star Trek, I was always a bit disappointed that our heroes weren’t depicted playing the game in any of the theatrical motion pictures.  It always seemed to me that Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock were better prepared to deal with whatever the galaxy might throw at them after a good chess match.  Of course, they are only fictional characters.  I suspect, however, the decision makers who control many aspects of our lives in the real world could benefit greatly from the occasional game of chess, too.

Interestingly, I find that I have greater clarity of mind after playing chess for a while than at almost any other time.  By the same token, however, the focus required to succeed at chess, forces one to suspend (temporarily, at least) concentration on any other topic not related to the game at hand. Perhaps this is why such mental cobweb clearing is often the result.  I have to wonder what the world would be like if more people approached the serious business of life as Kirk and Spock do, with the much-needed distraction of a challenging game of three-dimensional chess.

Getting Animated Over TNG

The shirt came from K-Mart.  Or maybe it was Target, I’m not sure.  In any case, the recent trend toward retro fashions has resulted in the availability of some really awesome clothes and my wife, knowing what a die hard Trek geek I am, couldn’t resist getting me the dark green T-shirt depicting the lead characters from Star Trek in their 1970’s animated form.  So enamored am I with my retro TAS (The Animated Series) shirt, that I wore it on the first day at Creation Star Trek Las Vegas.  Today’s post has its genesis in a conversation about that very shirt; a conversation involving Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, and myself.

Brent Spiner

"Yep, I can do Old Baldy's voice pretty well."

For those very few readers who may not be aware, the aforementioned gentlemen portrayed Cmdr. Will Riker and Lt. Cmdr Data (respectively) on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  I had the good fortune to meet them in the dealers’ room at the con and we were discussing something completely unrelated when Spiner commented on my shirt.  “Are those cartoons of the original series guys?”, he asked.  “Did they have an animated show?”  When I told him that they had, indeed, done a Saturday morning Star Trek cartoon, he leaned over toward his costar and inquired, “Hey Frakes, did you know the old guys did an animated show?”.

Mr. Frakes was well aware of the existence of the ’70’s Star Trek cartoon series and suggested to Mr. Spiner that the Next Generation cast should do something similar,  “We could do that.”. “Yeah”, said Spiner, “…and we wouldn’t even need to look good!”.  When I suggested that either one of them could voice Picard if Patrick Stewart were unwilling or unable to do it, Brent Spiner regaled me with his excellent impression of Sir Patrick and we all had a good laugh.

It was a memorable moment for more than one reason.  Obviously, as a fan, I was thrilled to even be talking to those guys.  However, as a fan who believes there hasn’t been any really good new Star Trek since Voyager went off the air, it really got me thinking about how great an animated version of NextGen could be!

It’s an affliction from which we Trek fans suffer – we are forever hopeful that our favorite characters from our favorite show(s) will return to television or theatrical films in one form or another.  And why not?  With rotoscoping and other awesome animation techniques now being possible (and affordable) on computers as well as the wealth of experience the cast has in voicing cartoon characters, it seems that good writing would be the only other element required to produce a phenomenal TNG cartoon series.  Personally, I’d love to see that happen.

The 1970’s animated Star Trek was actually fairly cheesy in many regards but it included the voices of [most of] the original cast and it did have good writing.  In fact, it won an Emmy in 1975.  I can’t think of any reason, except perhaps the prohibitive salaries of the actors, that a TNG animated series couldn’t be made and be ten times as good.

I know I’m not the only person who’s ever thought of this either.  Several years ago CBS/StarTrek.com artist David Reddick had a similar idea and even prepared an imageJean Luc Picard cartoon pitch depicting Captain Jean Luc Picard as he might appear in animated form.  A slightly altered version of his original image appears to the right.  It is fairly obvious that he chose to emulate the animation style of the old ’70’s animated Trek … and that’s fine.  Although I still contend that better animation would be easily and cheaply achievable.  All the same, there might be something rather novel about a TNG cartoon that borrowed the visual characteristics of its classic Trek predecessor.  The quality of the stories and the believability of the voices would really be the keys that could make it work.  Terrific animation quality would just be a bonus.

As exciting as the prospect is though, it seems wildly unlikely.  After all, if there were a market for a TNG cartoon, someone would probably have seen to it already.  Furthermore, Sir Patrick Stewart himself indicated at the Vegas con that he would have no interest in reviving Captain Picard in animated series (other than Family Guy anyway).  Oh well. Maybe, by some miracle, it can be made to happen and, if need be, Brent Spiner can do his very convincing Picard impression on a weekly basis.

The Voyage Home

We couldn’t wait to get to Las Vegas to experience the Creation Star Trek convention and then, suddenly, it was over.  Like so many other significant events in life, our whirlwind tour of all things Trek passed far too quickly; as did our visit to Santa Barbara afterward.  Yet we managed to squeeze in a great many things in five days and we’ve come away with so much that mere words cannot adequately describe.

Perhaps the greatest thing we got from the trip was a lasting memory to be shared by a father and son.  At 13 years old, my boy is rapidly approaching the period in his life when hanging out with Dad will undoubtedly be pretty low on his priority list.  So it was with great satisfaction that I brought him on this journey with me – not just because I love his company but to allow him a unique opportunity to experience so many things on such a grand scale: the plane rides, the hotel stay, the convention with its myriad activities and galaxy of stars, the drive to California afterward, staying with cool relatives he had never met, and so much more.  I like to think the convention was a high point of our trip but really the whole trip was one big high point!  I hope my son feels the same way.  I’m pretty sure he does.

In any case, since this is a Star Trek blog, it would seem that a summary of the final day in Vegas is in order.  If I haven’t completely crapped out when I finish typing, I may recap the con as a whole also.

Our Sunday began even earlier than our Saturday did.  The biggest difference, however, is that we were well rested.  So we managed to get out of bed and dressed in ample time to make our 7:00 am “Classic Trek Breakfast”.  This is a continental breakfast attended by a half dozen actors who appeared in the original ’60’s Star Trek TV series – some regulars, some guest stars.  It’s a great concept.  50 or 60 fans have breakfast, seated at round tables in groups of 7 or 8 each.  The stars in attendance come and sit down, sip coffee and eat croissants, and talk to the fans.  After a while they rotate to different tables.  When an hour or two have elapsed, all the stars have ended up sitting with all the fans.  We had the great pleasure of dining with George Takei, Nichele Nichols, Grace Lee Whitney, Charlie Brill, and two actors who appeared as gangsters in the episode “A Piece of the Action”.  It was a terrific way to start our final day and it immediately put us in a good mood.

After a brief return to our hotel for check-out, we proceeded back to the Rio and hit the dealers’ room one last time.  So many family members deserved souvenirs that we felt like we were on a mission to find something special for each of them.  Of course, we were so successful that I had to make a trip to the car with all of the items we had bought. Meanwhile, my son decided to wait for me in the unmanned “Star Trek – Infinite Space” booth and he saw Patrick Stewart while I was gone.  As luck would have it, Sir Patrick left the room almost right behind me – had I stopped and turned around I’d have likely bumped right into him! Oh well.  It didn’t bother us that much because after I returned, we found the incredibly talented David Gerrold sitting alone at the tribbletoys.com booth and we were able to spend a good 15 minutes talking to him about the excellent seminar he had conducted the previous day and about my son’s interest in writing.  Mr. Gerrold, of course, remembered my son and called him by name.  He also autographed a copy of his book and two Star Trek scripts for us which had us walking on air for the remainder of the morning.

We wandered around a bit more and ran into some very nice fans dressed asPosing with "Yeoman Rand" Yeoman Rand and Captain KIrk.  We took some pictures with them and then finished our last little bit of shopping, stopping to say hi to Lawrence Montaigne (“Stonn”) along the way. After a break for lunch, we went to the main theater to find our seats for the upcoming appearance of Patrick Stewart.  Once we got situated, I stepped out of the theater for a moment and ended up bumping into Don Marshall (“Lt. Boma”)… he really is a nice guy whose acting career apparently fizzled after the ’70’s and he does the cons as a way to make a little extra cash.  It was the second time I had a chance to talk to him at length and I thoroughly enjoyed his company.

When I returned to my seat, the house lights were just coming down and an instant later Sir Patrick Stewart was stepping onstage to a rousing ovation.  He did a very abbreviated presentation before going directly to Q&A with fans who had lined up at microphones on either side of the stage.  This is standard fare at the cons and most actors who take the stage will answer questions from some fans.  I had experienced this in New York City when I saw Patrick Stewart in the early ’90’s.  His answers were entertaining and, in some cases, led to the telling of wonderful stories.  Then, out of the blue, he called out to Adam (the Creation Entertainment rep who oversees the stars’ stage appearances) and said, “Adam, I thought you told me this guy wasn’t going to be allowed at any more of your conventions!”.  We were a bit taken aback at first until we realized it was Brent Spiner standing at the mic waiting to ask a question!  Mr. Spiner hilariously poked fun at Mr. Stewart – the whole time in character as nerd who pesters the star to the point of aggravation.  It was obviously improvised and side-splittingly funny!

About 30 minutes into his appearance, Sir Patrick was joined onstage by Kate Mulgrew Three Captains onstageand William Shatner.  The three Star Trek captains did a great shtick and kept us entertained for the better part of the next half hour.  It was really the most exciting stage appearance of the whole con in terms of sheer “wow factor” and both my son and I were fairly well blown away by it – so much so that we didn’t feel it necessary to stay and hear Ms. Mulgrew and Mr. Shatner speak individually.  We really felt that nothing they could say or do alone would top the camaraderie they exhibited when together and we had a 350 mile drive ahead of us!  So we left the Rio Suites and headed for Santa Barbara, CA to visit relatives but we felt completely satisfied doing so as we had gotten more than our money’s worth out of the whole experience.

A Star Trek convention is, after all, so many wonderful things all under one roof.  There are countless activities other than the ones I’ve touched on here: trivia contests, cabaret performances, music videos, costume balls, and more.  There are so many unique opportunities for fans to feel connected to their beloved Star Trek and its actors & creators,  Mostly though, there is the pervasive attitude among all the fans who get together there that our future, as depicted in Star Trek, is one that is worth looking forward to, aspiring to, and making happen.  I have had two lovely days on the shores of sunny California to mull over what a wonderful experience it was to be with so many other people whose outlook (and love of Star Trek) is so much like mine and my son’s.  Now that it’s time to begin the voyage home, I know those great feelings will stay with me and make this part of the journey a memorable one.

NOTE:  For a visual recap of the events at the con, follow the link below to the Las Vegas Sun website for photo coverage of many of the events (including a shot of the humble author and son taking a much needed lunch break!)

http://www.lasvegassun.com/photos/galleries/2011/aug/14/las-vegas-star-trek-convention/#127181

The Measure of a Fan

Our second day at Creation Star Trek Las Vegas was a little less hectic than our first but filled with fun stuff just the same.  In a way, it was nice to slow down the pace a bit and focus our energy on some special things we wanted to do.

The day began sluggishly, however, as we had to be up quite early and we were still exhausted from yesterday.  Our slow start was most evident in the ineptitude of two over-tired Trek fans trying to get into complex costumes and having a great deal less enthusiasm than one might expect – it was, after all, only 7:00 AM.  This was necessary though because we had to be at the Rio Suites by 8:00 AM for our beginners writing workshop which was directed by none other than David Gerrold, the author of the TOS episode “The Trouble With Tribbles”.   Having seen him way back in the ’70’s I knew we were in for a treat!  I didn’t realize just what a treat it would be, though.  I expected to be seated in a ballroom with about two hundred other people, straining to see and hear. Instead, we were nestled in a little space with only about 15 other fans and had Mr. Gerrold practically all to ourselves for two hours.  What made it even more special was the fact that my 13 year old son was the only youngster in the group and he received a great deal of personal attention from Mr. Gerrold throughout.  So excited was my son that, shortly after the heavy duty lesson began, he requested a pad and pen so he could take notes.  I wonder if he ever gets that enthusiastic at school.

We wandered the dealers’ room for a while after the writing seminar and then took a muchLeonard Nimoy needed rest back in our hotel room. We wanted to be as fresh as possible for the big events of the afternoon, both of which were high points of our day. After catching a presentation by the CBS merchandising rep, who showed off all kinds of nifty items that will soon be hitting store shelves, we had the great joy of seeing the incomparable Leonard Nimoy on stage in the main theater.  This was to be his last appearance at the Vegas con and he really gave it his all, telling stories, showing photos, reading poetry, and ultimately moving all of us in the crowd to tears and then to a 5 minute standing ovation as he said his farewell.  I had seen him 4 times in the past and this was, far and away, the best!

We had a short time to eat our lunch and did so standing in the large corridor thatFather and son in Star Trek costumes interconnects all the ballrooms. Since this is the main route between the theaters and the dealers’ room, and is often crowded with fans playing dress up, we were not particularly surprised when a young man stopped nearby to take our picture (we were still in costume, of course).  This type of impromptu photography has been going on between fans since the convention got underway.  We were, however, elated when he introduced himself as a member of the press from the Las Vegas Sun and asked us our names and where we are from.  It does seem as though we could end up in the local paper tomorrow and the potential for a little personal publicity made us all the happier that we had our Star Trek uniforms on.

Fans gather to attempt a world recordThe big event, and the one that put a beautiful finishing touch on our day, was the gathering of fans  in an attempt to set a new Guinness World Record for the most people in one place in Star Trek costumes.  The 45 minutes or so that we spent huddled together with over 1000 others was the culmination of weeks of anticipation (and hard work on the part of my lovely wife who handmade our costumes).  Moreover, it was a continual demonstration of the good will and friendly outgoing nature that permeates these conventions.  We met and talked to dozens of great folks.  We took pictures and posed for pictures.  We cheered at the tops of our lungs whenever an update on our approach to the record was announced.  The stage was lined with members of the media snapping pictures and taking video as 1040 of us surpassed, and ultimately obliterated, the previous record of 691.  When it was all over we wished a happy 45th birthday to our beloved Star Trek and it took quite a while to come down from the high of the afternoon.

Iamtosk and friend in dessert robesOne specific meeting of a fellow fan stands out from the many that took place today.  For some time leading up to this convention, I have been an active participant in the trekkbbs.com web bulletin board.  There is an ongoing thread there that focuses entirely on this Las Vegas convention and in it one of the members posted pictures of the costume he had wanted to make for the con. All of the other members who planned to be in Vegas posted promises in the thread to look for him.  Although I don’t know if any others were successful, I had the good fortune to meet this nice young man face to face and see the fruits of his labors – the desert robes worn by the character of Ezri Dax in DS9.  The encounter was a refreshing reminder to me that behind the words appearing daily on my computer screen was a real live human being who is genuinely nice, friendly, and obviously as big a Star Trek fan as I.  It was also an impressive statement as to the lengths to which we fans will go to demonstrate and share our love for everything Star Trek.  I can think of no better yard stick by which to gauge the measure of a fan.

“It’s Just a TV Show!” or: Was Star Trek Revolutionary?

Merriam Webster lists the following among its definitions of the word revolutionary:  “constituting or bringing about a major or fundamental change”. Other similar reference sources use the word innovative as a synonym.   I have found myself thinking about this a great deal recently and, given these definitions, I think it is fair to say that the original Star Trek TV series of the 1960’s was revolutionary.

This begs the question, “What major or fundamental change did Star Trek bring about?”. In other words, what made it innovative?  I have several answers, some of which are common knowledge even among non-fans, while others are more personal to me.  Herein I will tackle them one at a time and attempt to explain each in some detail.

Star Trek depicted a future of racial and gender equality:
While it may be true that Trek was not the first TV show to place “non-whites” in prominent roles (see: I Spy with Bill Cosby opposite Robert Culp – 1965-68), it was the only one bold enough to consistently portray a human future in which skin color, national origin, gender, etc. in no way determined a character’s level of importance or ability.  In Star Trek we see a multi-national crew comprised of officers both male and female who function as a completely cohesive unit; one in which individuals’ standing is rarely questioned because of race or sex.

I have heard complaints from young Star Trek fans that characters like Uhura and Sulu weren’t featured prominently enough.  Certainly, I too would love to have seen more from those members of the ensemble who were co-stars.  Nevertheless, anyone who has watched the bulk of episodes from the original Star Trek series can’t argue that Uhura, Sulu, and even Chekov later on weren’t given important parts to play.  It was, after all, the 1960’s – a time when African and Asian Americans still had to suffer indescribable indignities in many parts of the United States and Russians were looked upon as little more than cold-war enemies.

Consider that Uhura was portrayed not only as a full Lieutenant but a competent electronics technician, a capable navigator, and an insightful, talented, and gutsy woman on top of her position as Communications Officer.  Sulu too was a commissioned officer who served as a department head, deft Helmsman/Weapons Operator, accomplished botanist, and a confident commander in the absence of Kirk, Spock, and Scotty.  The character of Chekov may have been the most under utilized as he was there primarily to appeal to the same young people who were fans of The Monkees.  All the same, he was given plenty of time in the limelight in his role as Navigator, often being assigned to landing parties, taking the science station in Spock’s absence, and even “getting the girl” in an episode or two – to say nothing of his “national pride”.

I had a great many friends at that time who were of diverse national origin.  All of them counted themselves as Star Trek fans and simply loved the characters I have described. In addition, many celebrities and public figures have cited the characters and philosophy of Star Trek as inspirational, actress/comedienne Whoopi Goldberg and astronaut Mae Jemison among them.

Star Trek was aimed at adults but appreciated equally by children:
With the possible exception of The Twilight Zone (which wasn’t necessarily science fiction anyway), there was very little believable adult sci-fi on TV or in movie serials prior to Star Trek.  Much of what was being shown was intentionally written for children or quickly changed its focus to appeal to the young after otherwise promising starts (see: Lost in Space – 1965-68).

Star Trek, on the other hand, never lost sight of its adult audience.  Even in its third and final season when the writing was sometimes less than stellar, the stories were often thought provoking morality tales that might not have been shown at all had they been conceived for any television series format other than sci-fi.  Moreover, the series always managed to maintain a level of quality that adults could appreciate while sprinkling in more than enough action and adventure to keep kids like me (I was a little tyke when the show first aired) glued to the TV.

Star Trek engendered strong feelings of loyalty among its fans:
The above is an understatement of galactic proportion!  I can think of no other television series, in any genre, that garnered the respect, devotion, and love of its fans the way Star Trek did.  When rumors of cancellation began circulating during the 1967-68 TV season, fans organized a massive letter writing campaign quite possibly contributing to the renewal of the show for another year.  After its network demise, Trek achieved such cult status during its run in syndication that, at one point in the mid 1970’s, fifty two percent of Americans considered themselves Star Trek fans.

Fan conventions brought out thousands when only hundreds were expected to attend. The stars of the show were highly in demand for personal appearances and were asked by organizations as prominent as NASA to be goodwill ambassadors.  The show become such a cultural phenomenon that four years after its cancellation it spawned a Saturday morning cartoon and after five more years of increasing popularity was re-imagined as a major theatrical motion picture.  The country’s first space shuttle was renamed Enterprise in deference to the show’s popularity.  It is highly likely that the market for films like Star Wars might not have existed had it not been for Star Trek.

I could go on but I think the point has been made.   If even one life is fundamentally changed by something, there is no measure of the importance of the thing.  Millions of people have been affected positively by Star Trek – some in the most trivial fashion and some in life altering ways.  I think Merriam Webster would agree – that is revolutionary!