Star Trek: Discovery – Initial Reactions


Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered in the Fall of my Freshman year in college. I missed the first airing, but watched a VHS copy with my roommate, David Melton, a couple of days later.

For the premiere of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, there was a watch party at my friend Matt Harrop’s place. I remember mostly being annoyed that, while NextGen used Goldsmith’s title music for Star Trek: The Motion Picture as it’s theme music, DS9 did NOT use Horner’s brilliant main theme from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, my all-time favorite piece of music from the franchise. (I was pre-disposed, even as a Trek fan, to dislike DS9 at the time, as I felt that it was a blatant lift of the concept of Babylon 5, a show that I was hugely into.)

When Star Trek: Voyager premiered, the watch party was at my place. I wasn’t that impressed. I ended up barely watching (only finally going through the whole series via Netflix a few years ago).

I don’t remember watching the premiere of Enterprise, and didn’t really watch the show (another gap that I addressed via Netflix fairly recently).

So here we are, at the premiere of another Trek. If I’m being honest, I’m not sure where I am on this one. I’ll give it more time (I mean, hell, I Netflixed Enterprise fer chrissakes), but I’ll admit that my problems outweigh my interest, at least so far.

First, I remain irritated that CBS keeps Trek looking backward, instead of forward. There seems to be NO reason to set Star Trek: Discovery in the past of the franchise, and, in fact, as I said to Laura this morning, if they’d set it in the future of the Prime universe, decades after the destruction of Romulus (the last event mentioned canonically occurring in the main setting), it would eliminate pretty much all of my canonicity nitpicks: the tech designs, the look of the uniforms, even the new design of the Klingons. (Tell me that the Klingons now have shed the last of the Augment Virus, and this is what they really look like, and I’m there.)

Second: The writing. Flat as hell. Lots of characters telling each other things that they already know. A ridiculous amount of info-dumping exposition in the form of subtitled fucking Klingonese (seriously?). Worst yet, two episodes spent telling very little story at all. I’m sorry, but in the age of Game of Thrones, The Expanse, and Westworld, that’s just not good enough.

(Also: I saw a comment by a friend this morning where she said that if this was Kirk and Spock, Kirk would’ve come out of the ready room, and ordered the attack — trusting that if Spock had taken so serious an action as mutiny, he had to be sure of his reasoning. Yeah, I never got the “we’ve served together for 7 years” level of connection that we’re supposed to between Captain Georgiou and Commander Burnham.)

The music — doesn’t really do anything for me. I love the re-apperance of the Alexander Courage “call to action” fanfare, but generally, the opening music is just meandering staccato strings which go nowhere. Coupled with the “production design” style opening, and I’m immediately drawn to make comparison to HBO’s Westworld.

Lastly — I suspected, given things I’d heard, that people praising the presence of Michelle Yeoh were going to be disappointed by what I’d assumed (correctly) to be her fate… but I have to say that launching a series with two women of color as leads, only to end the pilot with one dead (soon to be replaced with a white guy as Captain) and the other being stripped of her accomplishments and position, and headed to prison? Comes off as massively tone deaf on the part of the producers.

But we’ll see where it goes. Trek has always had weak pilots — hell, weak early seasons, for that matter — so hopefully it improves.

IT: Unpacked Thoughts

Went to see the new film adaptation of IT last night. As I posted on Facebook when I got home: “Still unpacking thoughts. First blush: I think I liked ’91 version more.” So this post are those unpacked thoughts.

First, a preamble — IT is my favorite of King’s novels. For all of the love that I have for his Dark Tower cycle, I feel that IT is his true masterpiece. I read it when it was originally released, and was stunned by King’s ability to make me feel nostalgia for a time that I had never personally experienced (1957-1958 — which is when the book’s childhood sections take place). So any adaptation is going to face an uphill climb for me.

The 1991 TV miniseries is certainly flawed as an adaptation, limited both by time and by the standards-and-practices requirements of broadcast TV, but I felt that it conveyed the heart of the book well — and absolutely nailed Pennywise, in the performance of Tim Curry. I’d say it’s the second-most successful King adaptation ever made, only slightly behind the original TV miniseries version of SALEM’S LOT, directed by Tobe Hooper.

So… this new one.

Well, first, it’s perhaps a bit unfair to judge, since it’s only half the story. They decided to focus purely on the childhood sections of the book. This is actually my first problem with the adaptation. The nested narrative of the novel was kind of the point — the narratives kind of blend into each other the further the plot progresses, so by the end, the present and the past are blended (appropriate for a monster who largely exists outside of time and space). The 1991 TV version kept them more distinct, with the childhood story in the first night’s broadcast… but even then there were flash-forwards to the adult Losers throughout that first half. Keeping the narrative entirely separate misses the theme of the entire work.

Plus, the new film moves the childhood segments to the late 1980s (keeping within the 27-year cycle of the creature’s life) — but whereas the book was awash in period detail of the late 50s (to the point, as I state above, that it successfully made me nostalgic for a period before I was even born), the movie feels just generically modern. Aside from a few movie titles seen on a marquee, posters in the kids bedrooms, and some ridiculously on-the-nose music cues and references, there is no real sense that this is the 80s at all. To draw a comparison to another work featuring one of the IT cast (Finn Wolfhard, who plays Richie Tozier), STRANGER THINGS does a better job of setting time and place. Honestly, to me, IT felt like a movie set in the 80s made by people who didn’t actually remember it. The director, Andy Muschietti, was born in 1973… but he spent the 80s living in Argentina, so perhaps that might explain why the film doesn’t feel like 80s America.

Another major issue I have with the film is that it almost entirely sidelines Mike Hanlon — to the point of taking away his major contribution to the story and giving it to another character. In the novel (and the 1991 miniseries), Mike is the one who fills in a lot of detail on the cursed history of Derry, and the appearance of Pennywise throughout the years. He shows them an album of photos and clippings that had been kept by his father. He is basically the group’s historian — and later becomes the town Librarian, who stays in Derry, standing vigil, while the other Losers move away.

The film takes this entire role and gives it to Ben Hanscom (the group’s “fat kid”) for no apparent reason. Mike barely gets any lines as a result — reducing him to the “token black kid”, contrary to his role in the novel (and his deep backstory, involving racial animosity and violence in pre-civil-rights-era Maine — is also nearly entirely missing in the film). Comments from the filmmakers have also been made that they’re considering, in the sequel, having him also be a recovering junkie as an adult, as a way of showing the toll that staying in town has had upon him… but taking what is perhaps the strongest character, the one who stays, and making him (the sole Black character) a recovering junkie? That’s a horrible idea — and another example of how it seems the filmmakers don’t actually understand the work they’re adapting.

Those are my major beefs with the movie. The other area in which it falls down for me is Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise. He just lacks the presence of Tim Curry in the role — especially in his voice. There’s too much reliance upon jump-scares and shaky-cam with Pennywise rushing at the camera, to make up for the fact that Pennywise should be terrifying standing in broad daylight, doing nothing but looking at the camera. Again, I realize that this is perhaps another unfair comparison. Bill Skarsgård is nowhere near the caliber of performer that Curry is, but then who is?

I’d give this adaptation a solid C+, or maybe even a B-minus if I’m being generous. Not terrible by any means, and probably worth your time, especially if you’re not already familiar with the story. But for me, it comes in at third place, behind the 1991 TV miniseries in second place, and the brilliant novel in first.

Walter Becker, R.I.P.

So yeah. I drifted away from the site for a bit there. Gave up on #RPGaDay.

I was offline when it was announced that Walter Becker had died. I wanted to note it. Bear with me.

Steely Dan was the first band I was an obsessive fan of — Discovered via the record collection of a friend’s college-age brother, left behind while he was at school. I was 11 or 12, & knew some stuff from the radio, but this was the first group I dove into that wasn’t in my parent’s albums.

Everybody has that moment where their own artistic tastes are established. This was mine. I dove through “bargain cassette” bins, and collected until I had every one. The 1st band I’d ever do that with.

Walter Becker & Donald Fagen are, with no hesitation, my all-time favorite songwriters. Songs which were more like short stories than any I’d ever heard before. So I’ll close with one of my favorites, a perfect slice of noir fiction in song form. Thanks, Walter. RIP.