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Review: Discovering A Whole New Trek

To get disclosure out of the way, I've been a Star Trek fan since the original show was in first run back in the 60s.  I'm not a Trekkie or Trekker, though.  I have watched all the movies a dozen times, I can practically quote every episode of the original series, I dutifully watched the animated series, and stuck with the Next Gen through the rough early years to actually get some good Trek again. 

However, I've never read a Trek novel or been to a convention, nor have I ever seen more than a couple of episodes of Deep Space 9 and Voyager, though I must admit that by muting the theme song, I found Enterprise quite entertaining.

With that list of qualifications, I will offer my two-cents' worth on the new Star Trek Discovery series recently launched by CBS as a means to drag hard-core followers into its online pay service.  I watched the first two episodes - ostensibly the pilot/teaser for the rest of the series, online for free on YouTube.  I hope CBS understands that their signals don't reach Indonesia...yet.

First impression?  Why the hell is everything these days dark and moody?  What the hell ever happened to good lighting?  And while I'm on a rant, every damn editor in Hollywood needs to be fired immediately.  I can't see anything, and what I can see is cut so fast as to not let me enjoy the settings that have some light on them.  And who is the drunkard that shot this thing?  Has he/she/it never learned to balance and level a camera on the tripod?  Hint, there is a knob under the head and a spirit level on top.  Loosen the damn knob and adjust until the bubble is in the center circle.

For cryin' out loud, what are they teaching in film schools these days?

Now that I have that out of my system, I can rant about everything else.  Oh, and if you can here for lots of poetry and praise, you might as well leave now.  Ain't gonna happen.  And one more thing, I don't give a flying leap at a rolling donut about spoilers.  There may or may not be some here.  That's your problem.  Read with your eyes closed so you don't see any.

I am sick to death of Political Correctness being shoved down my throat from every angle.  With American "entertainment", it was the Jews for decades, now it's every subclass of human being one can imagine, and not a few that one couldn't imagine before it was stuffed in one's gullet.

Star Trek Discovery (pilot) follows the story of one Michael Burnham, who appears to be half black human and half white Vulcan, and is the step-whatever of Sarek (if you don't know who Sarek is, go look it up).  He/she has a human name and ears, but a distinctly Vulcan attitude and background.  He/she is also fairly androgenous, except in scenes where he/she takes off his/her clothes, and then suddenly he/she is a she.

We begin on the bridge of the USS Shenzhou, staffed by vaguely Asian crew (even the aliens) as a concession to the Chinese masters of Hollywood, so the vast markets there can be tapped and wallets emptied.  The ship encounters the Klingons for the first time in 100 years, and of course, things get nasty pretty fast, as the title of Part 2 says, "The Battle of the Binary Stars."  I'll get to the Klingons in a moment.

At this point, I will admit that I like the set designs, costumes and effects - what little of them I can see without lighting.  The designs exist somewhere between the functional blues and polished blacks of Enterprise, and the pastel beige of the original series.  I would have enjoyed this aspect of the show much more if they had hired a lighting director and a DP that knew how to balance and level a camera, not to mention an editor that would linger on the wide shots for just a second or two to establish the settings.

Technically, the show looks great.  I very much enjoyed that part, but that is obviously not a foundation for a good story.  That requires writing that is fun and engaging, not hell-bound determined to hammer the audience over their heads with Progressive propaganda.

This brings us to the Klingons, and what the hell happened here?

The central figure among the Klingons is a character apparently called T'Kuvma, though it's hard to tell because the writing and editing are so damned frenetic, we never get a clear introduction to any of the characters.  Let me reiterate that this show looks as if it was edited by a jonesing cocaine addict.

The Klingons have been completely redesigned and apparently have not discovered the Universal Translator yet, since they all speak Klingon throughout the entire show - except for a couple of lines - as if their mouths are full of marbles, or in this case, dental appliances.  Furthermore, the subtitles flash by so fast that I had to pause playback several hundred times to get a significant part of the story from the text.

And why are the Klingons the only aliens in the whole damn show that don't speak English?  Even the Vulcans speak English to each other when no one else is around (Michael and Sarek in the jail cell), as do the training computers on Vulcan.

T'Kuvma (a Vulcan name using old series conventions) is an obviously black Klingon, unlike the submission pale blue ones, who thumps his Klingon bible and has a rather nasty temper.  He is seeking to unite his people under theocratic dictatorship using a ship lined on the outside with dead Klingon bodies.  This "sarcophagus" ship is apparently from a Star Trek novel some years ago and has never made an appearance until now, so it's purpose is as much your guess as mine.

Despite the ham-fisted effort to shove Progressive propaganda down my throat, the lack of lighting, unlevel camera work, and an obvious coffee addict editing, I really liked the little bit of CGI work I could focus on.  The battle scene in the second half of the show was quite good, even though I couldn't figure out what the hell was going on.

I particularly enjoyed the fact that the CGI folks finally realized that space is three-dimentional.  Ships approach each other in all directions and orientations, which is I believe the first time I have seen this.  The closest thing to this instance was in the Wrath of Khan, with the original cast, where Nicholas Meyer had the ships coming at each other from all directions.  Kudos to whoever decided that space is much more interesting than sea level.

That I spent a lot of time noticing the technical aspects of the show should tell the reader a lot.  I liked the costumes.  The creature makeup was quite good and much more interesting than the old Star Trek stand-by of glue-on prostetics.  The sets were spacious and detailed, and quite interesting to look at, when I could see any detail.  I also liked that starlight came blazing through the windows and lit the interiors, something picked up from the J. J. Abrams movies, although whoever put lens flairs in this show should be thoroughly beaten, then fired.

The score was unremarkable and the theme sounds like the preamble to a complete piece of music.  It is also completely unhummable and I couldn't whistle a single bar if my life depended on it.  The opening titles reminded me of Six Feet Under or the film Hollow Man, but it was interesting from breaking the old convention of showing the ship blasting through the screen every two seconds.

In the end, there are some hopeful elements that make me think there might be some redeeming value to the show going forward, but I'm not holding my breath.

A hallmark of Star Trek is the relentlessly positive Humanism that makes the universe it presents seem exciting and desirable.  It appears that the new take on the series is about to make a hard Left turn into relentless Progressivism, with lots of darkness and moral ambiguity.  If that's the case, then all is lost.  There is an endless pile of such shows out there that make me feel worse about the human condition.  The attractive aspect of Star Trek is that it left the darkness behind and didn't dwell on differences, but made each human able to advance one's self through mental exercise and physical achievements, not because they were members of annointed victim group du jour.

Technically, the show is fun and interesting.  Let's hope that it grows out of this whiny Progressive phase into something more like Star Trek.  I'll stick around for another episode or two to give it a chance, because I'm an optimist, but I will bail quickly if I don't get what I want from it.

And as a side note, how come we have to keep beating the same time period to death?  Why can't someone make a Star Trek set 100 or 200 years in the future?  Let's do some real exploration and take ideas and discoveries of the past 50 years into account?  I don't give a flip about canon and faithfulness to timelines, but the original series jumped way out into the future.  Do it again!

And here's a show idea, and if I see it on-screen, I better see a story credit for me:

According to the laws of physics, phasers and photon torpedoes don't just stop in space, they continue forever until they hit something.  So what happens to all those shots that miss?  Why not have a stray photon torpedo hit a planet hundreds of light years away, and the creatures trace it back to it's origins and come looking for revenge?

Just a thought.

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