Flashback: ‘Star Trek Generations’

It’s 25 years since the cast of ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ transitioned to the big screen…

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Captains Picard (Patrick Stewart) and Kirk (William Shatner) unite to save the galaxy in ‘Star Trek Generations’ (image credit: Paramount Pictures).

Year:  1994

Starring:  Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Malcolm McDowell, William Shatner, James Doohan, Walter Koenig

Directed by:  David Carson / written by:  Ronald D. Moore & Brannon Braga (story by Rick Berman, Ronald D. Moore & Brannon Braga.  Based upon Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry)

What’s it about?

Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise must stop an obsessive and dangerous scientist from causing the deaths of millions as he searches for a way to return to a mysterious extra-dimensional realm…

Retrospective/review

With Star Trek: The Next Generation completing it’s highly successful seven year run on television and the original Star Trek crew’s big screen voyages concluded with 1991’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country it was time for the torch to be passed.  Production on a seventh Star Trek film, in which the newer Star Trek cast would make their silver screen debut, commenced almost immediately after work had wrapped on The Next Generation’s series finale with Star Trek Generations releasing in cinemas in the fall of 1994.

An enjoyable and fun science fiction adventure, Star Trek Generations facilitates a meeting between William Shatner’s Captain Kirk and Patrick Stewart’s Captain Picard whilst also incorporating smaller cameo roles for two other classic Trek characters – Chekov (Walter Koenig) and Engineer Montgomery Scott, a.k.a. “Scotty” (James Doohan).  The story begins in the 23rd Century as Kirk, Chekov and Scotty are guests of honour aboard the newly commissioned successor to Kirk’s ship, the Enterprise-B.  Her maiden voyage is interrupted by an incoming distress call from the Lakul – a transport ship ferrying El-Aurian refugees to Earth, amongst them future Enterprise bartender, Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg).  Discovering that the Lakul is tangled in a mysterious energy ribbon with destructive tendrils threatening to tear it apart, the Enterprise (under the command of Captain John Harriman, played by Alan Ruck) risks all to save the refugees – including Captain Kirk, seemingly lost when the Enterprise’s hull is breached.

Flashing forward 78 years to the 24th Century, Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D investigate the attack of a deep space observatory.  Recovering the only survivor, the El-Aurian scientist, Dr. Tolian Soran (Malcolm McDowell, star of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange), Picard soon learns that Soran, along with Guinan, whose race has a life span many times greater than humans, were rescued during the Lakul incident and that the energy ribbon encountered by the Enterprise-B is a recurring phenomenon known as the Nexus, a gateway to an extra-dimensional realm were one’s fantasies and dreams are realised and time has no meaning.  Soran, in cohorts with the Klingon Duras sisters Lursa and B’etor (Barbara March and Gwyneth Walsh, respectively, reprising their villainous roles from Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), in exchange for providing them with a powerful new weapon, plans to draw the Nexus to him by destroying stars and threatening the lives of millions.  With the stakes set high, Picard is soon confronted with Soran on the planet Veridian III before being swept into the Nexus, leading to an encounter with a legendary Starfleet captain once thought dead…James T. Kirk, offering Picard his only hope of stopping Soran.

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Malcolm McDowell as Soran (image credit: Paramount Pictures).

Although they may have felt encumbered by a laundry list of requirements for the film (the essential ingredient being a Kirk/Picard team-up), screenwriters Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga – who also wrote the TNG series finale (the feature length “All Good Things”) took their knowledge and experience as former writers on The Next Generation to construct an entertaining narrative that gets the job done, providing some decent character moments together with an imaginative and action-packed science fiction story, under the capable direction of David Carson, himself no stranger to the franchise having helmed fan-favourite TNG episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise” and the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine series premiere.  Generations also boasts a music score from veteran TNG and Deep Space Nine composer Dennis McCarthy, particularly effective during Picard’s scenes in the Nexus where the music has an appropriately wondrous, mystical quality to it.

Focusing on the acting performances and characterisation, there’s a lot for fans to appreciate.  Beyond the obvious delight of having Kirk and Picard onscreen together, both William Shatner and Patrick Stewart are given a reasonable amount to chew on.  Stewart’s Picard suffers the tragic accidental deaths of his brother and nephew (his scenes with Whoopi Goldberg’s Guinan are also a highlight, as they always where in TNG) before his later experience in the Nexus which presents the noble starship captain with the dream of an idyllic family life at Christmas time and a renewed sense of faith as he unites with Captain Kirk to save the day.  Despite only appearing in the opening and closing acts of Generations, Wiiliam Shatner is still given enough time to prove his worth as his meeting with Picard invokes a realisation that the fantasy the Nexus offers just can’t compare with the reality of risking all for the greater good.  The horse-riding scenes also allow Shatner to combine his real-life enthusiasm for the equestrian with his defining and most iconic screen role.

James Doohan and Walter Koenig are a pleasing addition to the opening of Generations and along with Kirk, a comforting sight, yet although William Shatner is afforded a larger role, this is still very much a Star Trek: The Next Generation film – with Brent Spiner’s Data particularly well-served as the Enterprise’s android experiments with emotions allowing him to experience a range of feelings and human concepts, from humour and joy to fear and regret.  The always excellent Spiner rises to the occasion with ease and its unsurprising that Data becomes such a key player in the subsequent Star Trek films.  As the central villain, Malcom McDowell delivers a decent measure of threat, Soran’s desire to revisit the Nexus driven by the yearning to see his dead wife and children.  It’s something touched upon but sadly not fully explored but does however provide the character with some depth and the script furnishes McDowell with some memorable lines, such as “they say time is the fire in which we burn” which has something of a literary and philosophical quality to it.

Of course, the biggest surprises of Generations (spoilers…) are the heroic – but highly controversial – death of Kirk (reshot after test audiences were underwhelmed with the original scene, in which Soran simply shoots Kirk in the back), truly marking the end of an era and the destruction of the Enterprise-D to make way for a new and more big screen friendly U.S.S. Enterprise for the sequels.  Both elements help to supply Generations with a suitably tense and gripping finale and an emotional farewell to a beloved character.  Whilst Star Trek Generations is not on the same level as perennial favourites Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, it’s still a fitting first big screen outing for the crew of Star Trek: The Next Generation which would lead to the superior and popular sequel, Star Trek: First Contact.

Geek fact! 

It was originally intended that Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley would reprise the roles of Spock and Doctor McCoy in Generations in place of the Chekov and Scotty cameos, but both actors declined feeling that Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was a more satisfactory finale for their characters.

Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Flashback: ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’

2019 marks four decades since Gene Roddenberry’s ‘Star Trek’ was relaunched on the silver screen…

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Bob Peak’s wonderful poster art for ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ (image credit: Paramount Pictures).

Year:  1979

Starring:  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Majel Barrett, Persis Khambatta, Stephen Collins

Directed by:  Robert Wise / written by:  Harold Livingston (story by Alan Dean Foster)

What’s it about?

As a mysterious and hostile force advances towards Earth, Admiral James T. Kirk is reunited with his former crew as he takes command of the newly refitted U.S.S. Enterprise on a mission to intercept the intruder…

Retrospective/review

Celebrating its fortieth anniversary this December, Star Trek: The Motion Picture may not be as popular as its 1982 sequel – Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – but its place and importance in the history of the franchise shouldn’t be overlooked.  Originally conceived as a pilot for a new Star Trek television series, the production would evolve into a big budget feature film in the wake of the success of Star Wars – although Star Trek: The Motion Picture would take more of a high-concept science fiction approach similar to that of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Produced by Gene Roddenberry (who would write the film’s interesting but slightly bizarre novelisation) and skilfully directed by The Day the Earth Stood Still’s Robert Wise with a story, credited to noted SF author Alan Dean Foster, that echoes elements of classic Star Trek episode “The Changeling”, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is presented on a visual scale that could only have been dreamt of back in the days of the original series.  The film opens as Klingon (the iconic Trek race given a more alien-like makeover for the big screen) warships commence an attack on an approaching force – an expansive and powerful cloud of energy which soon neutralises the aggressors.  As the cloud proceeds on a heading for Earth, an unfulfilled and desk-bound Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) convinces his superiors to place him in command of the newly refitted U.S.S. Enterprise on a desperate mission to intercept and establish contact with the intruder.

Believing the benefit of his experience and leadership will provide the best chance of success, Kirk initially finds himself troubled by an unfamiliarity with the refitted Enterprise and in conflict with her would be captain, Will Decker (Stephen Collins), whose situation is complicated further by the posting of his old flame, Ilia (the late Persis Khambatta, in her introductory film role) as ship’s navigator (Walter Koenig’s Chekov now occupying the post of security chief).

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Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) and the crew of the Enterprise (image credit: Paramount Pictures).

Dealing with engine troubles and a near fatal wormhole encounter before rendezvousing with science officer Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) along the way, the stakes are raised as the Enterprise intercepts the approaching danger – traversing the energy cloud to discover a colossus alien vessel at its centre.  As Ilia is replaced by an android duplicate serving as a representative of the alien ship, Kirk learns that the intruder is ‘V’Ger’, a life-form on a journey to find and ‘join’ with its creator.  It all leads to a startling finale in which (spoilers follow…) Kirk and his crew face V’Ger, which they are astonished to discover is the lost 20th Century NASA probe, Voyager VI – repaired by an unknown machine race and sent on a return voyage to its point of origin where it can complete its programme of “learning all that is learnable” and providing all the information it has amassed to the creator.  Having gained sentience on its journey, V’Ger has reached the limits of its understanding and must evolve by joining with its creator…and one amongst the Enterprise crew volunteers to do so.

The film is commonly criticised for its slow pace (detractors unfairly labelling it as ‘The Slow Motion Picture’) and whilst this may be true, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is best viewed for what it is – a cerebral cinematic experience that reunites an iconic and beloved set of characters, unfolding steadily and subjecting the viewer to some striking visuals as it presents intriguing and intelligent science fiction ideas.  Despite the more conceptual and visually driven story, the cast are all reliably great – especially the central trio: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley, representing, respectively, the celebrated troika of Kirk, Spock and McCoy.  As the main star, Shatner is provided with some decent material as the ever-passionate Kirk wrestles with his regret at accepting promotion and his yearning to return to command of a starship.  Likewise, Nimoy gets to once again grapple with Spock’s conflicted half human/half Vulcan nature, his sensing of V’Ger and an inability to attain ‘Kholinahr’, the Vulcan ritual of complete emotional purging, driving his desire to re-join the Enterprise crew and seek out the mysterious invader.  DeForest Kelley’s Doctor McCoy is once again the cantankerous yet valued conscience and moral centre.

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The glorious refitted U.S.S. Enterprise, designed by Andrew Probert (image credit: Paramount Pictures).

The production design and special effects for Star Trek: The Motion Picture are reasonably impressive considering their age.  The redesigned Enterprise is simply beautiful, brought to life by the superb model work.  The sets are sparse but have an appropriately futuristic feel to them as do the crew uniforms which are a fitting evolution of those in the original series in comparison to the more military-based attire of the sequels.  In terms of the effects, led by 2001’s Douglas Trumbull and Star Wars’ John Dykstra, they remain a key element, the mesmerising sequence of the Enterprise’s penetration of the cloud, the jaw dropping ‘V’Ger flyover’ scenes and Spock’s ‘spacewalk’ being the most obvious highlights – in addition to the wonderfully executed launch of the Enterprise, of course.  Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar nominated score is one of the composer’s best and an inseparable accompaniment to the story and visuals, capturing the romance and majesty of space in the 23rd Century, the grandeur of the Enterprise, the eerie mystery of the enigmatic force that threatens humanity and the wonders of the unknown.

It’s no secret that the production of Star Trek: The Motion Picture was troubled by last minute script re-writes, increasing costs (its budget inflating to a then eye-watering $46 million, making it the most expensive feature film at that time) and a tight schedule to meet its 7th December 1979 release date, leaving director Robert Wise with no time to produce a final cut and unsatisfied with the film in its theatrical form.  Much of this was remedied with the 2001 DVD release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture – The Director’s Edition, a superior edit of the film with Wise reinstating some of the more character-orientated scenes missing from the theatrical version whilst trimming down some of the longer and more superfluous moments, a fresh sound mix and new CGI effects to enhance and embellish the existing visuals.  Unlike the Star Wars Special Editions, the changes made were to benefit what Wise felt was an unfinished film and, largely, choices that would have been made in 1979 had the production been permitted the extra time and resources required.

Despite receiving a critical drubbing Star Trek: The Motion Picture would prove a box office success, paving the way for several sequels and an eventual television rebirth of the franchise.  Whilst Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is considered to be closer to the overall spirit of the original Star Trek series with a deeper focus on the characters and emphasis on morality play elements (whilst injecting a larger measure of action and excitement), Star Trek: The Motion Picture is perhaps more cinematic and – especially in its Director’s Edition form – an enjoyable and underrated first big screen adventure for Kirk, Spock and company that’s deserving of a revisit and perhaps a reappraisal as it reminds us that “The Human Adventure is Just Beginning”…

Read the classics review of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan here

Geek fact!

Mark Lenard, who portrayed Spock’s father in the original Star Trek series appears as a Klingon commander in the epic opening scenes of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Flashback: ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ – “Endgame”

Looking back at the finale of the fourth live action ‘Star Trek’ series…

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The U.S.S. Voyager and her crew battle the Borg once more in the finale of ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ (credit: CBS).

Year:  2001

Starring:  Kate Mulgrew, Robert Beltran, Tim Russ, Robert Picardo, Robert Duncan McNeill, Roxann Dawson, Jeri Ryan, Alice Krige, Dwight Schultz, Richard Herd

Series created by:  Rick Berman, Michael Piller & Jeri Taylor (based upon Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry)

Written by:  Kenneth Biller & Robert Doherty (story by Rick Berman, Kenneth Biller & Brannon Braga) / directed by:  Allan Kroeker

What’s it about?

A decade after the starship Voyager’s return to Earth from the Delta Quadrant, an older and haunted Admiral Janeway discovers the means to travel into the past and bring her former ship and crew home before any losses are endured…

Retrospective/review

Launching in 1995, Star Trek: Voyager seemed to have hit its creative peak in its fourth and fifth seasons and although there are still some decent episodes in the show’s final two seasons they’re outnumbered by less memorable and more average stories in comparison to those earlier years.  “Endgame”, the feature length series finale, whilst not as impactful as the conclusion of Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine, is still an entertaining and fitting finish to the fourth live action Star Trek series.  It opens as Earth celebrates the tenth anniversary of the U.S.S. Voyager’s return after being stranded in the Milky Way’s distant ‘Delta Quadrant’ (the ship transported there by a powerful alien being in the series premiere, “Caretaker”) for 23 years and a sombre and reflective Admiral Kathryn Janeway, haunted by the loss of crewmembers during the journey home as well as the subsequent death of her trusted right hand, Chakotay, as well as Seven of Nine, together with the failing mental health of Tuvok – as a result of a Vulcan neurological disease – discovers the means to travel back in time and bring the starship safely home.

The first half of “Endgame” neatly jumps between the future and the present before Admiral Janeway arrives to aid her younger self – Captain Janeway – and the Voyager crew in battling Star Trek’s iconic cybernetic adversary, the Borg and utilising their wormhole network to travel back to Earth years earlier and without those losses the elder Janeway would later have to endure.  Once the groundwork is done, “Endgame” builds up the drama and action but not without losing focus on its characters.

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The superb Kate Mulgrew as both Admiral and Captain Janeway (credit: CBS).

The cast performances are solid and each of Voyager’s principal troupe are permitted to stretch themselves a little with most given the opportunity to play the older versions of their characters (minus Robert Beltran’s Chakotay and Jeri Ryan’s Seven of Nine whose romance, although set-up in previous episodes still feels like an odd match), the most notable being Tuvok whose degrading mental state allows the talented Tim Russ to expand his portrayal of his otherwise stoic (by the very nature of a Vulcan, a race committed to controlling and repressing their emotions) and disciplined character.  Kate Mulgrew is, as ever, a superb lead and excels with the rich material she is given, bringing a slightly tortured and embittered quality to her portrayal of Admiral Janeway.  Unfortunately, given his character’s exit two episodes earlier in “Homestead” Ethan Phillips is only able to feature in a brief cameo as Neelix, but at least he could be a part of Voyager’s send-off in some capacity.  Dwight Schultz makes a welcome return as Barclay, his previous appearances in the series (and the character’s role in Earth finally establishing communication with Voyager in season six) making him a part of the Voyager family and a pleasing addition to the finale.

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Alice Krige returns as the Borg Queen (credit: CBS).

The Borg where a chilling and formidable enemy in the days of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but the effect had become somewhat diminished with their more regular appearances on Voyager.  This feels rectified in “Endgame” thanks in no small part to the return of Alice Krige as the Borg Queen, a role the actress had originated in the feature film Star Trek: First Contact and was previously played by Susanna Thompson in previous Voyager episodes “Dark Frontier” and “Unimatrix Zero”.  Thompson was great in those stories but Krige brings a real sense of gravitas and a sultry menace to the character that elevates the threat of the Borg.  It also helps that Kate Mulgrew brings her talent fully to bear in her scenes with Krige when the more seasoned Admiral Janeway is confronted face-to-face with the Borg Queen.  Those tightly written and directed sequences contribute significantly to the climax of “Endgame”, the tension notching up as Janeway (both Admiral and Captain) and the crew of Voyager execute their plan to return to Earth and deal a crippling blow to the Borg Collective.

The closing scenes of “Endgame” are quite touching, the arrival of Tom Paris and B’Elanna Torres’ daughter just in time for Voyager’s return helping to provide a heartfelt farewell to Star Trek: Voyager, a series that perhaps ran too long but non-the-less yielded some good episodes and always made more enjoyable by its central cast.

Geek fact!

Veteran Star Trek guest star Vaughn Armstrong, who previously played a Romulan in the classic Voyager episode “Eye of the Needle” returns for “Endgame” as the Klingon, Korath.  Armstrong would go on to portray Admiral Forest, a recurring role on prequel series Star Trek: Enterprise.

Flashback: ‘The Twilight Zone’ – “Where is Everybody?”

It’s almost sixty years since the pilot for Rod Serling’s classic anthology series premiered…

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Earl Holliman searches for answers in ‘The Twilight Zone’ (image credit: CBS).

Year:  1959

Starring:  Earl Holliman (narration by Rod Serling)

Written by:  Rod Serling / directed by:  Robert Stevens / series created by:  Rod Serling

What’s it about?

A man wanders into a small town devoid of people, with no memory of who he is or how he got there he tries to unravel the enigma…

Retrospective

Celebrating it’s 60th anniversary this year, Rod Serling’s classic science fiction/fantasy anthology series The Twilight Zone began airing in October of 1959.  Frustrated by the rigid censorship of television, Serling (much like Gene Roddenberry would later do with Star Trek) used The Twilight Zone as a means of telling imaginative, thought-provoking stories exploring the human condition and often touching upon issues of the day that would otherwise be unlikely to escape the scrutiny of TV executives.  The series is also famous for its surprise twist endings providing a memorable outcome, several of which have become quite iconic.

Written by Serling (who would, impressively, go on to write or co-write 92 of the series’ 156 episodes) and directed by Robert Stevens, “Where is Everybody?” is the debut episode of The Twilight Zone.  It stars Forbidden Planet’s Earl Holliman as a lone amnesiac who wanders into a deserted town as he tries to figure out who he is and why the streets and buildings are empty.  Serling’s talent as a writer is evident from the outset and whilst “Where is Everybody?” may not deal with hard-hitting social issues it is an engrossingly mysterious tale about isolation and loneliness that keeps the viewer intrigued and engaged throughout the 25-minute running time.  Holliman is great in the central role and together with the monologues Serling (who draws the audience in with his opening narration) provides for the actor, we truly get a sense of the unease and exasperation his character endures – the only clue to his identity being the Air Force flight suit he is wearing.

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The incredible Rod Serling, creator of ‘The Twilight Zone’ (image credit: CBS).

Director Robert Stevens keeps things moving along steadily, never keeping the camera fixed in one place for too long and there’s some particularly effective use of lighting and off-angle shots in the climactic night-time scenes that increase the spookiness of the story as well as the feeling of increasing anxiety and desperation of Holliman’s character.  The sequence in which Holliman enters an empty movie theatre and the shock as the projector begins running is a quintessentially classic Twilight Zone moment of conception, acting and execution.  “Where is Everybody?” is also enhanced greatly by the atmospheric and eerie music score by Bernard Herrmann, perhaps best known at that time for The Day the Earth Stood Still before going on to frequently collaborate with legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock.

The final twist (to spoil it would be cruel) establishes The Twilight Zone’s most celebrated trope of pulling the rug from underneath the viewer and an example of Rod Serling’s gift for imagination and forward thinking.  Running for five seasons, The Twilight Zone was revived in the 1980s and a short-lived series was also produced in 2002.  A film adaptation with contributions from directors such as Steven Spielberg and John Landis was released in 1983 and the series has since been rebooted for the CBS All Access streaming platform, fronted by Get Out’s Jordan Peele.  Yet nothing compares to Rod Serling’s beloved black and white original series (with reruns continuing to this day) and “Where is Everybody?” serves as an enjoyable and fitting introduction to the wonders of The Twilight Zone.

Geek fact!

Superstar Tony Curtis was originally considered for the main role in “Where is Everybody?” but most likely deemed too expensive.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

TV Review: ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ – Season 2

The crew of the U.S.S. Discovery embark on a new mission with the help of one of Starfleet’s finest…

Warning! Contains SPOILERS

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Anson Mount joins Sonequa Martin-Green in season two of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’.

Starring:  Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Anthony Rapp, Mary Wiseman, Anson Mount, Wilson Cruz, Shazad Latif, Michelle Yeoh, James Frain, Tig Notaro

Series created by:  Bryan Fuller & Alex Kurtzman (based upon Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry)

What’s it about?

Placing Enterprise captain Christopher Pike in command, Starfleet orders the U.S.S. Discovery to investigate a mysterious and dangerous cosmic phenomenon…

In review

Star Trek: Discovery’s now concluded fourteen-episode second season is proof that the series has a bright future.  Season one may have had its detractors and provoked controversy amongst sections of the Star Trek fan community but those who may have neglected continuing with the series are missing out.

Season two of Discovery took the series in a slightly more hopeful direction in comparison to its darker war-focused (and although the Klingon war is over, they still have a role to play) first season but not without sacrificing the more mature and morally complex approach to the characters and storytelling we saw in the previous season.  Once again presenting viewers with a serialised season-long story arc, season two of Discovery deals with the appearance of the mysterious ‘Red Angel’ – an apparent saviour trying to prevent the destruction of sentient life across the universe.  Accompanied by cosmic red bursts of devastating energy, the Red Angel enigma initiates an emergency mission by Starfleet, who place Enterprise captain Christopher Pike in temporary command of Discovery who together with Commander Michael Burnham, Saru, Tilly, Stamets and the rest of the crew face the challenge of unravelling the mystery and securing the survival of everything and everyone they hold dear.

The Red Angel narrative proved to be an intriguing one, precipitating a central debate of science vs faith and with numerous teases and twists keeping viewers on their toes – the final reveal of the Red Angel’s identity (more on that later) a surprising one and subverting expectations and speculation.  As with the first season there are a number of other subplots interwoven throughout, the result of which at times threatens to convolute the main storyline but manage to unravel by the end of the season.  The addition of Captain Pike is one of the season’s most successful components, played wonderfully by Anson Mount (the only positive element of Marvel’s dreadful Inhumans series) who brings an assuring quality of leadership and humanity to the role.  It also helps that the character is serviced well in the writing as Pike is given a satisfying arc, with a bittersweet touch of the sombre as it deals with the gallant Starfleet captain’s eventual fate in the original series of Star Trek (as seen in classic two-parter “The Menagerie”) courtesy of some ‘time crystals’ – a convenient albeit necessary plot device that plays it’s part in the overall seasonal arc.

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The Mysterious ‘Red Angel’.

Discovery season two also sees the inclusion of the fan-favourite shadow organisation known as Section 31, except unlike how they are depicted in Deep Space Nine (which takes place a century after Discovery) they are an acknowledged, functioning black-ops division of Starfleet.  A point of confusion for long term Trek fans, perhaps, but it seems likely that this will be explored further and reconciled next season and/or in the Section 31 spin-off series which is currently in development but as it stands, the organisation has a significant presence that facilitates conflict with the regular Discovery group without disrupting the camaraderie between them.

Dealing with the pointy-eared elephant in the room, Discovery introduced us to a younger version of Spock with Ethan Peck tackling the role originally played by Leonard Nimoy and portrayed by Zachary Quinto in the J.J. Abrams film series.  After several weeks of baiting the viewer, Peck made his debut in episode six, entitled “Light and Shadows“.  Peck’s introduction is unexpected, presenting a mumbling, near catatonic Spock whose contact with the Red Angel has left him mentally frazzled.  The situation results in the delightful surprise of a visit to Talos IV (the setting of original Star Trek pilot “The Cage” – read the retrospective here) where Burnham enlists the help of the telepathic Talosians in restoring Spock’s faculties in “If Memory Serves” – one of the season’s standout episodes.  It’s from hereon we get a sense of Peck’s performance and whilst no-one could ever truly compare to Leonard Nimoy, he does a solid job of encapsulating those intricate elements of the character we know and love.  The writers of Discovery also, maybe to the chagrin of some, add new layers to Spock as we get glimpses of a less than perfect childhood where we learn of his struggles with a form of dyslexia.  It’s actually a very interesting addition to the history of the character and expands the decades old mythology of Star Trek in a way that doesn’t trample on what has gone before but only deepens it.

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Ethan Peck as Lt. Spock.

The characters of Discovery continued to grow during the season as do the relationships between the various crewmembers.  The inclusion of Spock, of course, provides an exploration of the bond – and disconnect – between Burnham and her adoptive brother and both Sonequa Martin-Green and Ethan Peck share some great moments.  Martin-Green has certainly come into her own this season with consistently strong performances, bolstered by the efforts of the show’s writers.  Not only does Burnham have to grapple with her relationships with Spock, Tyler and the Mirror Universe Georgiou – both now Section 31 operatives (under the command of Alan Van Sprang‘s Captain Leland) – but also the revelations of her past, principally her parent’s involvement with the clandestine organisation.  This triggers season two’s biggest and cleverly executed narrative flip (those wishing to avoid major spoilers should skip to the next paragraph now) which occurs in the aptly titled “The Red Angel“.  It’s here that we learn of the identity of the Red Angel: Michael Burnham’s mother (played by The Wire’s Sonja Sohn), long thought dead but in fact jumping through time as she attempts to prevent the decimation of all life in the Federation by the acts of an evolved A.I. known as ‘Control’.  This sets-up the conflict of the latter end of the season as the crew of Discovery fight to stop Control from unleashing universal devastation.  Again, the plot does tend to become tangled at times with so much crammed into the narrative, particularly in the final stretch of episodes but it’s a small criticism and something that can be applied to a lot of other contemporary series (think Westworld).

Doug Jones and Mary Wiseman – Commander Saru and Ensign Tilly respectively – continue to be standouts and get their share of screen time, with Saru returning to his home (following up on the Short Trek instalment “The Brightest Star”) as he and his people find themselves facing up to the predatory race overruling their existence and being unshackled from their fears as a prey species and Tilly wrestling with her spore-induced connection to the mycelial network via visions of her old childhood friend, May.  The Tilly/May subplot does perhaps go on longer than necessary, but it does tie into the welcome, if not wholly unexpected, return of Wilson Cruz’s Hugh Culber, ‘reborn’ courtesy of the mycelial realm which leads to some interesting soul searching and identity crisis.  This also affords Anthony Rapp the opportunity to further flesh out his character as Stamets’ reunion with Culber isn’t what he expects and causes him to reassess his future aboard Discovery.  The only black sheep in the casting is Tig Notaro’s engineer, Jett Reno, whose inclusion felt out of place with sporadic appearances and no substantial development, although their may be future potential for the character.

What is great about season two of Discovery is alongside the growth of the principal players, the writers take effort to give small but key roles to the ancillary characters (some of whom you would’ve been previously hard pressed to recall by name) with the likes of con officer Detmer (Emily Coutts) and navigator Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo – who gets to join an away mission in the excellent “New Eden”, one of the season’s most ‘Trek-like’ episodes) feeling more integrated than they were during season one.  More pivotal though is Airiam (Hannah Cheesman) in the Jonathan Frakes directed “Project Daedulus“, written by Michelle Paradise (wisely appointed as co-showrunner with Alex Kurtzman for season three).  Discovery’s cyborg officer had felt like a missed opportunity, yet this is undone in a single episode that boasts solid scripting and powerful acting from not only Hannah Cheesman but the likes of Sonequa Martin-Green, Mary Wiseman and much of the rest of the cast.  It all adds to the increasing sense of family amongst the crew, something which has always been key to the success and appeal of any Star Trek series and will hopefully continue to be nurtured in subsequent seasons.

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Starships Enterprise and Discovery unite to save the universe.

Discovery’s second season came to a dramatic and energetic conclusion with the gripping two-part finale “Such Sweet Sorrow” (fan-pleasing ties to the original Star Trek further enhanced by the sight of the beautifully realised Enterprise bridge, given a respectful 21st Century makeover to fit in with Discovery’s more modern design aesthetics) where there’s an additional twist to the identity of the Red Angel and the revelation of what exactly those cosmic red bursts are, culminating in a rousing and epic final battle with Control (now merged with the body of Leland in a manner that’s slyly reminiscent of Borg assimilation) and a game-changing set-up for season three that seeks to not only chart new territory for Discovery but also reconcile its place in canon, a task that’s somewhat messy and impossible to neatly sync-up given the five decades of continuity established beyond the original series.

In terms of the production, Star Trek: Discovery continues to present the viewer with feature film quality visuals and cinematic direction (especially when in the hands of either Jonathan Frakes or Olatunde Osunsanmi) that enhances the writing and together with the excellent cast performances results in a superb sophomore outing for the series.

The bottom line:  Star Trek: Discovery season two is an exciting, if occasionally jumbled, outing for the newest Star Trek crew that boasts decent writing, strong cast performances and quality production values.

All episodes of Star Trek: Discovery’s second season are now available to stream via CBS All Access in the U.S. and via Netflix internationally (Canadian viewers can watch it via the Crave TV service).

Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Flashback: ‘Star Trek’ (2009)

In 2009, the ‘Star Trek’ franchise made a bold return to the big screen…

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The cast of J.J. Abrams’ ‘Star Trek’ (c. Paramount Pictures).

Year:  2009

Starring:  Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood, Ben Cross, Leonard Nimoy, Eric Bana

Directed by:  J.J. Abrams / written by:  Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman

What’s it about?

A young James Kirk and Mr. Spock meet for the first time aboard the newly commissioned U.S.S. Enterprise where they soon find themselves tasked with saving the universe from a vengeful out-of-time Romulan…

Retrospective/review

With the underwhelming box office and tepid critical reception of Star Trek Nemesis in 2002 and the cancellation of television series Star Trek: Enterprise in 2005 due to declining ratings a creative refresh of the Star Trek franchise was needed in order to rekindle fan interest and bring in a whole new audience that would help carry Gene Roddenberry’s creation into the future.

Whilst Star Trek would remain dormant on the small screen until the arrival of Star Trek: Discovery in 2017, it’s theatrical voyages would recommence just four years after the conclusion of Enterprise.  Enlisting J.J. Abrams (together with his Bad Robot production company) to produce, direct and help craft the story – with screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (co-creator and executive producer of Discovery) – Paramount Pictures commissioned Star Trek for the big screen.

Released in May of 2009, received to favourable reviews and a healthy worldwide box office of around $385 million (a fairly respectable figure at a time when $1 billion grossers were few and far between and comparable to Marvel’s Iron Man), Star Trek would prove to be a rollicking action adventure that, although favouring popcorn spectacle and Star Wars-style visual grandeur over the deeper philosophical explorations of previous iterations, excels in its characters and engaging story.  In order to be free from the burden of decades of continuity whilst still tying into the established universe, Star Trek would employ the popular time travel trope by bringing Leonard Nimoy’s (gifting the project with true Trek royalty) Spock back in time in an event that would create an alternate reality – now referred to as the Kelvin timeline – allowing a new series of Star Trek films to forge their own creative path.

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Eric Bana as Nero (c. Paramount Pictures).

Star Trek opens with the arrival of the Romulan ship Narada, thrust back in time after the destruction of the Romulan homeworld in the wake of a catastrophic supernova, which Ambassador Spock and the Vulcan High Command pledged, and fail, to avert.  The Narada, under the command of the embittered Nero, is discovered by the U.S.S. Kelvin which is subsequently attacked and its captain killed – leaving Lt. George Kirk (a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth) in command.  The Kelvin’s crew, including Kirk’s wife (played by Jennifer Morrison) – about to give birth to their son, are evacuated as Kirk sacrifices his life to save others.  Jumping forward several years we meet a young trouble-making James Kirk and an equally troubled Spock, struggling to reconcile his half-human/half-Vulcan heritage.  Little do both know that destiny awaits (which for Kirk includes the captain’s chair of a certain starship), events drawing them together as the fate of both their worlds hang in the balance.

Finding new actors to inhabit the roles of the beloved original series crew was undoubtedly a daunting task and fortunately, the casting of Star Trek is exceptional.  Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are perfect choices for the roles of Kirk and Spock, respectively, both actors bringing respectful and recognisable performances to classic characters whilst making it their own and their chemistry helps drive the core narrative.  Likewise, Karl Urban is a revelation as the cantankerous but loyal Doctor Leonard “Bones” McCoy – the final component in the celebrated Kirk/Spock/McCoy troika that was such an important part of the original series.  There are equally strong turns from Zoe Saldana as Communications Officer Uhura, John Cho as Helmsman Sulu, the late Anton Yelchin as the incredibly eager Ensign Chekov and Simon Pegg as Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott.  Bruce Greenwood’s portrayal of Captain Christopher Pike (played by Jeffrey Hunter in Star Trek’s original pilot episode, “The Cage” and by Anson Mount on Star Trek: Discovery) is also a highlight, particularly in his relationship with Pine’s Kirk as he inspires the bright but directionless young rebel by daring him to be better and enlist in Starfleet.  Playing the part of the villainous Nero is Eric Bana, who had previously starred in Ang Lee’s Hulk.  He’s not necessarily the most complex of antagonists but Bana gives it his all, delivering a decent measure of menace.

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A slick redesign for the U.S.S. Enterprise (c. Paramount Pictures).

The design of Star Trek is exemplary, from the Academy Award winning make-up, costumes and props (both nifty updates from the original series) to the lavish, brightly lit sets by Scott Chambliss and the sleek redesign of the Enterprise herself, providing viewers with a pleasing new look which respectfully adheres to the overall configuration conceived by Matt Jeffries.  Whilst there’s a comforting sense of the familiar, Star Trek also takes some creative risks – primarily the destruction of Vulcan by Nero and his cohorts in retribution for the failure to save Romulus from its own obliteration in the future.  It’s a shocking and dramatic sequence that establishes the highest of stakes to unite the Enterprise crew and allows for a more emotionally vulnerable depiction of Quinto’s Spock.

As director, J.J. Abrams (who made his feature film debut in 2006 with Mission: Impossible III) brings energy and enthusiasm to Star Trek, keeping the viewer invested whether it’s in his execution of action and visual splendour or the tight and attentive focus in the quieter, more intimate character moments.  A good film is always enhanced by a great musical score and composer Michael Giacchino’s soundtrack is a memorable one, exciting, emotional and wonderfully intertwining cues from Alexander Courage’s original Star Trek theme with fresh themes to take the new big screen franchise forward.

Star Trek may have been divisive so far as the fanbase is concerned but there are those that enjoyed it for what it was, a polished and highly entertaining rejuvenation of an ageing franchise that opened up the universe to a whole new audience which is something that shouldn’t be undervalued.

Geek fact!

The story of Star Trek was fleshed out via tie-in comic books from IDW Publishing (and overseen by co-screenwriter Roberto Orci) with prequel titles Star Trek: Countdown and Star Trek: Nero adding a lot of insightful detail and background to the narrative of the 2009 film.

Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Comics Review: ‘Star Trek: Discovery – Captain Saru’

IDW continues its expansion of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ with their latest comic book tie-in… 

ST Disc - Captain Saru

Cover art for ‘Star Trek: Discovery – Captain Saru’ by Paul Shipper (c. IDW Publishing).

Written by:  Kirsten Beyer & Mike Johnson / art by:  Angel Hernandez / colours by:  J.L. Rio and Valentina Pinto

What’s it about?

After the nearly catastrophic events on the Klingon homeworld and the U.S.S. Discovery’s return to Earth, Starfleet orders the ship, under the temporary command of Commander Saru, to investigate the disappearance of a science vessel…

In review

IDW Publishing continues its winning streak of Star Trek comics with the one-shot 2019 annual Star Trek: Discovery – Captain Saru, based on the hit CBS All Access series.  Written by Discovery staff writer Kirsten Beyer together with veteran Trek comics writer Mike Johnson and with art by Angel Hernandez, Captain Saru is a superb tie-in to the latest Star Trek series and a great comic overall.

Slotting neatly into place at the end of Discovery’s inaugural season but prior to the closing scenes of the season one finale, Captain Saru further expands on the titular Kelpien’s leadership abilities as he continues his role as acting captain and the faith that Starfleet Command has in his skills when they despatch the skeleton-crewed, under-repair Discovery to investigate the whereabouts of the U.S.S. Dorothy Garrod, a science vessel aboard which Ensign Tilly is spending her leave – only to discover that it has fallen prey to Orion pirates that soon endanger Discovery and her crew.  Can Saru effectively marshal his experience and skills to overcome this latest challenge?

It goes without saying that Beyer and Johnson’s script is excellent given their history as Star Trek writers.  Beyer (appointed to oversee the licensed fictional expansion of the Discovery universe in books and comics) as novelist, co-writer, with Johnson, of previous IDW Discovery titles “The Light of Kahless” and “Succession” and scribe of the outstanding Saru-focused first season episode “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum”.  Johnson, comparatively, is now in his tenth year of writing Star Trek comics for IDW and has given fans numerous stand-out stories including the Star Trek (2009) prequels “Countdown” and “Nero”.  Both writers bring all of their talents, knowledge and love for Star Trek fully to Captain Saru where they perfectly capture the voices of the various Discovery characters (aided in no small part by the performances of Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Mary Wiseman and Anthony Rapp et al providing strong points of reference), the feel of the show and the spirit of Gene Roddenberry’s vision which imbues it in its finest moments.  Saru’s tenure as temporary commander during the Mirror Universe crisis was a highlight of Discovery’s first season and that is strengthened here.  Whilst there is action and suspense in the story, Captain Saru excels in characterisation and emotional investment as Beyer and Johnson dive deep into not only Saru’s capabilities and resourcefulness but also his doubts and inability to view himself as his ship-mates do.  There’s also a great deal of focus on the familial relationship between Saru and Michael Burnham which has, after a fraught beginning, blossomed (but with that occasional hint of professional tension remaining) during the series.

Just as Beyer and Johnson faithfully adapt the narrative dialect and characters of Star Trek: Discovery, Angel Hernandez (who cut his Star Trek comics teeth on the Mike Johnson written Star Trek/Green Lantern crossovers) perfectly recreates the look of the series with meticulous detail and attention and evoking the cinematic scope and direction that the makers of Discovery bring to television screens each week.  Hernandez is also adept in making the reader ‘feel’ the characters with his intricate range of facial work and their placing within the panels.  Colouring by J.L. Rio and Valentina Pinto further embellishes the visuals with a slight painted, water-colour quality that’s a little reminiscent of J.K. Woodward’s work on titles such as Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor WhoAssimilation² and Star Trek: Harlan Ellison’s The City on the Edge of Forever.  It all amounts to a wonderful read and essential for fans of Star Trek: Discovery.

The bottom line:  a highly enjoyable tie-in to the CBS series, Star Trek: DiscoveryCaptain Saru is another unmissable Star Trek release from IDW Publishing brought to life by a superb creative team.

Star Trek: Discovery – Captain Saru is published by IDW and is available in print and digital formats now.

Incorporated image is used for illustrative purposes only and remains the property of the copyright holder(s).

Flashback: ‘Star Trek’ – “The Cage”

Where the voyages of ‘Star Trek’ truly began…

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Jeffrey Hunter leads the cast of “The Cage” as Captain Christopher Pike.

Year: 1964

Starring: Jeffrey Hunter, Leonard Nimoy, Majel Barrett, John Hoyt, Susan Oliver

Series created by: Gene Rodenberry

Written by: Gene Rodenberry / episode directed by: Robert Butler

What’s it about?

Searching for survivors of the S.S. Colombia on the unexplored planet Talos IV, the crew of the Earth space ship Enterprise are thrown into crisis when their captain, Christopher Pike, is captured and imprisoned by a race of powerful telepaths…

Retrospective/review

As any Star Trek fan more than likely knows, the voyages of the starship Enterprise didn’t actually begin with Captain Kirk. Whilst the series would launch with the airing of “The Man Trap” in September of 1966, viewers at the time were unaware that two years previously another version of Star Trek had been produced – and canned. Screened at conventions during the 1970s but unaired until the 1980s and now widely seen thanks to decades of home video releases (greatly enhanced by its beautiful 21st Century high definition remaster with new CGI effects), “The Cage” is a fascinating glimpse into the genesis of Star Trek.

Springing from his ‘Wagon Train to the stars’ concept, Star Trek married Gene Roddenberry’s love of science fiction and adventure with the frustrations of television censorship to create a vehicle for telling serious, adult (eschewing the campier comic book approach of Irwin Allen’s Lost in Space) stories about humanity, exploration, discovery and tackle social and political issues without the interference of network executives. Realising that science fiction fans would recognise the deeper themes offered by Star Trek and the television suits would in most instances not, it would be the perfect passion project for Roddenberry and a means to explore compelling and thought-provoking ideas.

In “The Cage” the U.S.S. Enterprise, under the command of Captain Christopher Pike, traces a distress signal to the unexplored Talos star system, a region where the S.S. Colombia reportedly disappeared eighteen years prior. Arriving at Talos IV, Pike and a landing party discover survivors of the Colombia expedition, including the beautiful Vina. Quickly learning that the survivor’s camp is a fake, it’s too late for the Enterprise party to prevent Pike’s capture by the Talosians. Forced underground when the surface was decimated by war and having developed powerful telepathic abilities in the succeeding centuries, the Talosians imprison Pike with Vina – the only true Colombia survivor – subjecting them to various illusionary scenarios, for their captors’ own satisfaction and in the hope that the pair will become close and produce offspring to add to the Talosian ‘zoo’.

A notable actor with roles in big screen features including the John Wayne-fronted Western The Searchers and as Jesus Christ in King of Kings, Jeffrey Hunter is an assuring lead and, as written by Roddenberry, brings a complex and layered performance to the role of Captain Pike – a resourceful and capable commander suffering a crisis of conscience and loss of direction and desire for responsibility following his most recent mission which saw members of his crew injured and even killed.

 

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The late, great Leonard Nimoy as a very different Mr. Spock.

 

Joining Hunter is Leonard Nimoy as a far more ebullient and emotive Mr. Spock, the only character who would make the transition to the series where the concept of the emotionally repressed and logic-driven Vulcan race would be defined, Majel Barrett as Pike’s unnamed first officer – referred to only as “Number One” (Barrett would later become Mrs. Roddenberry and join the Star Trek cast as Enterprise nurse, Christine Chapel), a skilled and intelligent women in a position of authority which was uncommon in television and film at the time, John Hoyt (previously seen in the George Pal science fiction cult classic When Worlds Collide) as Chief Medical Officer, Doctor Philip Boyce and Peter Duryea as ship’s helmsman Jose Tyler and Laurel Goodwin as Yeoman Colt – whose characters are both unnamed onscreen. Guest starring as Vina is the excellent Susan Oliver and Meg Wyllie as the Talosian ‘Keeper’ with dialogue redubbed by Malachi Thone, the vocal pitch adjusted to give the Talosian race a mysterious androgynous quality.

Gene Roddenberry’s narrative is exciting, dramatic and filled with intelligent SF ideas but it’s in character that he excels – he provides Pike with a richness of depth and humanity and his scenes with Oliver’s Vina provide pathos and emotional investment (and offering food for thought as the theme of slavery is examined), which complements the science fiction aspects of the story and the morality play elements. Roddenberry backs this up with some great dialogue that verges on the poetic, best exemplified by the ‘doctor, bartender’ exchange between Boyce and Pike (played superbly by Jeffrey Hunter and John Hoyt) in which the doctor shares a martini with his conflicted captain and reminds him that “a man either lives life as it happens to him, meets it head-on and licks it, or he turns his back on it and starts to wither away”.

The production values are impressive and hold up extremely well, whilst the Enterprise sets are drabber and more muted in terms of colour (likewise, the crew uniforms, which would be re-designed once the first season of Star Trek proceeded) they are largely the same, minus subtle changes, to how they would appear in the series. Props such as the communicator and laser pistol (the forbearer of the phaser) are highly detailed and believable, functional devices. The subterranean caverns of the Talosian community are sparse but effective, the make-up design of the Talosians themselves is exemplary, their large, bulbous craniums given life with throbbing veins indicating the use of their advanced mental abilities.

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One of CBS Digital’s new CGI effects sequences for the remastered edition of “The Cage”.

Although the Enterprise model effects work is somewhat primitive and experimental in comparison to the series proper, Matt Jeffries’ design remains iconic and the substituted CGI effects for the remastered edition of “The Cage” render this point moot and increase the enjoyment of the story greatly. Equally legendary is Alexander Courage’s theme music (so celebrated that Courage’s cues are incorporated into Jeff Russo’s theme for the latest Star Trek series, Discovery), identifiable to even those who may not be fans of Star Trek. Beyond the main theme, Courage’s score for “The Cage” is quite magnificent – conveying all the action, emotion and mystery of Gene Roddenberry’s script.

“The Cage” would run over schedule and over budget and ultimately be rejected by the NBC television network for being “too cerebral” but enough potential was seen in Gene Roddenberry’s creation to commission a second pilot leading to the more action-driven (but actually, still fairly intelligent) “Where No Man Has Gone Before” (read the retrospective here) with the incomparable William Shatner taking over the lead as Captain James T. Kirk. The rest is of course history but there should always be an appreciation for “The Cage” and its role in the birth of a cultural phenomenon.

Geek fact!

Footage from “The Cage” would later be incorporated into “The Menagerie”, the original Star Trek’s only two-part story which guest stars Malachi Throne as Commodore Mendez.

All images included herein remain the property of the respective copyright owners and are used for illustrative and commentative purposes only.

TV Review: ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ – Season 2 Premiere

The newest ‘Star Trek’ crew embark on a new adventure…

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The crew of the U.S.S. Discovery are ready to begin their next voyage as season 2 of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ begins (image credit: CBS, used for illustrative purposes only).

Starring: Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Anthony Rapp, Mary Wiseman, Anson Mount, Wilson Cruz, James Frain, Tig Notaro

Written by: Ted Sullivan, Gretchen J. Berg & Aaron Harberts / episode directed by: Alex Kurtzman

Series created by: Bryan Fuller & Alex Kurtzman (based upon Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry)

What’s it about?

“Brother” : Captain Christopher Pike takes command of the Discovery with orders to investigate a mysterious and dangerous cosmic phenomenon…

In review

Star Trek: Discovery returns to screens with an intriguing and highly promising start to it’s second season. Following on from those enticing final frames of the season 1 finale, “Brother” picks up right where things left off with Discovery responding to an emergency distress call from the U.S.S. Enterprise. Viewers are thrust right into the excitement as Enterprise captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) boards the Discovery to take command in order to investigate a series of mysterious red bursts which have appeared throughout space and resulted in catastrophic systems failures aboard the Enterprise. The investigation ultimately leads to the stricken U.S.S. Hiawatha (where we meet Tig Notaro’s wonderfully dry Chief Engineer Reno), grounded deep within a chaotic asteroid belt and Lt. Commander Michael Burnham’s encounter with a strange vision of a red angel-like figure that may have some connection with the red burst phenomenon.

There’s an awful lot established here – the introduction of a new lead character for the season (Pike, of course), the set-up of the ‘Red Angel’ mystery, the post-war status-quo for the crew of Discovery and further exploration of Burnham’s back-story, her upbringing on Vulcan and her seemingly uneasy relationship with her adoptive brother, Spock. Thankfully (and aided by an extended running time for this episode) it never feels rushed or unfocused and enough time is taken to provide a reasonable amount of overall interest and anticipation for the story arc that lies ahead.

As Captain Pike, Anson Mount is a great addition to the series and much like Bruce Greenwood in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness makes his own mark on the character originally played by the late Jeffrey Hunter in “The Cage”Star Trek’s original pilot episode. Mount is instantly likeable in the role, confident, authoritative but personable and engaging, he has an immediate rapport with the crew of Discovery and the writers take steps to address the distrust they may have after being betrayed by their former commander (Jason Isaac’s Gabriel Lorca). Mount is sure to be a highlight going forward.

Whilst Mount certainly makes an impression, Sonequa Martin-Green continues to be the central focal point of Star Trek: Discovery and she doesn’t disappoint and delivers on the solid material she is given. An opening voiceover reiterates Burnham’s renewed sense of faith in herself and her place in Starfleet whilst flashbacks to Burnham’s Vulcan childhood and her interactions with Sarek (James Frain) in the present add emotional value. The flashbacks also facilitate a glimpse of a young Spock, preparing viewers for the impending introduction of Ethan Peck as the adult version (who is heard, via voiceover, but as yet unseen) which is bound to stir matters up dramatically.

Whilst Martin-Green’s Burnham is undoubtedly the narrative focus of Discovery, Mary Wiseman’s Ensign Tilly is once again the heart of the series and the character who most exemplifies the positive values of Starfleet and the Federation – her wide-eyed, child-like enthusiasm balanced by an innate kindness and endearing humanity. Wiseman also has a lot of fun with the role and there’s some great interplay between her and her co-stars – particularly her friendship with Burnham – and the fumbling star-struck moment Tilly has with Pike is priceless. The ever-impressive Doug Jones makes an assured return as Saru and although there is less for him to do in this episode, he still has a presence and applies the same level of skill and passion he demonstrated during the first season. Anthony Rapp brings a similar level of commitment as Stamets, with a slightly more sombre and reflective twist as he mourns the loss of his partner, Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz – able to participate via holographic messages) and announces his plans to leave Starfleet once Discovery’s current mission has been completed. This leads to some sweet moments between Stamets and Tilly that accentuate the building feeling of family amongst the crew, always an important part of any iteration of Star Trek.

The visuals of Star Trek: Discovery are again hugely impressive with epic, feature film quality production values – in fact there are moments where you’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek (2009), especially during Discovery’s tense navigation of an asteroid field and an edge-of-the-seat space-pod set-piece as Pike and Burnham attempt to reach the Hiawatha. It’s all handled superbly under the direction of series co-creator and executive producer Alex Kurtzman.

Now that the Klingon War and Mirror Universe storylines have concluded, Star Trek: Discovery is free to chart a lighter and more hopeful course and that’s clearly intended from the outset. That’s not to devalue season 1, and those darker narratives provided gripping drama and helped define and galvanise the crew but it will be a welcome fresh direction for the series as it ties further into Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a positive future for humanity whilst continuing to tell stories about the issues of the day through the prism of compelling science fiction and identifiable characters.

With CBS’ plans to expand the franchise – from the hotly anticipated Jean-Luc Picard series, to the forthcoming animated comedy from the creators of Rick & Morty and the recently announced Discovery spin-off that will focus on the Mirror U Philippa Georgiou and the clandestine Section 31 organisation, despite the lack of movement on a fourth J.J. Abrams produced film it’s a great time to be a Star Trek fan.

The bottom line: The second season of Star Trek: Discovery launches confidently with a highly promising premiere with impressive visuals, strong characterisation and a tantalising mystery at its centre.

New episodes of Star Trek: Discovery are released Thursdays via CBS All Access in the U.S. and available to stream internationally every Friday on Netflix.

It’s a Classic: ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’

Looking at some of the best pop culture offerings in film, TV and comics…

“Open the pod bay doors please HAL…”

2001

David Bowman (Keir Dullea) faces an unbelievable journey in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (image credit: MGM/Warner Bros. used for illustrative purposes only).

Year:  1968

Starring:  Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwwood, William Sylvester, Daniel Richter, Leonard Rossiter, Margaret Tyzack, Robert Beatty, Douglas Rain

Directed by:  Stanley Kubrick / written by:  Stanley Kubrick & Arthur C. Clarke

What’s it about?

Mankind learns they are not alone in the universe when a strange artefact is uncovered on the Moon, leading to a journey to the outer solar system and beyond all imagination…

In review:  why it’s a classic

Fifty years ago, author Arthur C. Clarke and director Stanley Kubrick brought what many consider to be the greatest of all science fiction masterpieces to the big screen.  Based on Clarke’s short story “The Sentinel”, 2001: A Space Odyssey is not only a seminal masterwork of SF cinema but also, frankly, one of the best films ever made.  An ambitious production that’s still impressive today, 2001 is a mesmerising, haunting and beautiful visual and aural experience that marries high concept science fiction ideas with incredible photography (captured by Director of Photography Geoffrey Unsworth, who would later work on Richard Donner’s Superman), innovative special effects and an inspired mix of classical music and contemporary orchestrations, eschewing the use of a traditional motion picture score produced by a single composer.

2001: A Space Odyssey can be an enigma to the uninitiated, it’s more focused on hard SF concepts (technological and existential) and extraordinary visuals than a “coherent” plot – although repeated viewings and a reading of Clarke’s novel (which he wrote whilst collaborating on the film’s screenplay with Stanley Kubrick) deepen both understanding and appreciation for, and enrich the experience of, the “proverbial good” science fiction film Kubrick and Clarke set out to make.  The lack of clear explanation, especially in the mind-bending finale, is an intention on the part of Kubrick and Clarke, wanting to impart interpretation and meaning on the viewer.

In terms of the underlying narrative, 2001 follows the evolution of man and its encounters with an alien intelligence via black, featureless slabs – or monoliths – at key points, from the human race’s primitive beginnings to its spacefaring ways millions of years later (connected by that iconic jump cut) as mankind reaches for the stars and is ultimately taken on a journey beyond comprehension.  Following the unearthing of a mysterious monolith on the Moon a powerful signal is blasted into space, leading to humanity’s first expedition into the unknown.

The main bulk of 2001 focuses on the spacecraft Discovery as it journeys on a mission to Jupiter.  The ship’s scientific crew in hibernation, only her commander, David Bowman (Keir Dullea) and co-pilot Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) remain awake to attend to the day-to-day functions of the mission along with Discovery’s advanced supercomputer A.I., the HAL 9000.  Without delving too heavily into spoilers, everything runs smoothly until the HAL 9000 – or HAL – begins to exhibit signs of malfunction and turns against Bowman and Poole as they consider the possibility of disconnection.  This provides drama for the central act before viewers are taken on “The Ultimate Trip” as 2001 moves towards a conclusion that has been endlessly debated and dissected.

Kubrick’s expert direction coupled with the understated and naturalistic performances of the actors gives an almost documentary style of execution to 2001.  Again, it’s more of a visual and auditory experience that challenges the mind (and the senses) than a showcase for awards worthy character portrayals (as it happens, there is actually – intentionally – very little dialogue in the film).  The exception to this of course is Douglas Rain (who sadly passed away in November) who provides the voice for HAL.  A chilling and unrivalled performance, Rain’s subtle, soft tones and restrained delivery bring a sense of unease that only becomes more unsettling as HAL’s programming begins to unravel.

The production design of 2001 is staggering, with intricate model work and meticulously detailed sets having a functional and believable quality to them.  Adding to this are the astonishing special photographic effects, designed with assistance from Douglas Trumbull and directed by Kubrick – the iconic ‘Star Gate’ sequence remaining one of the most incredible and startling in all of cinema.  The use of music is also ingenious, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra’s jubilant rendition of Johann Strauss’s The Blue Danube the perfect accompaniment to the dreamy, waltz-like imagery of man’s journey into space whilst Adagio (from Gayane’s Ballet Suite, performed by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra) conveys the isolation and loneliness of the Discovery’s voyage to the outer solar system.  Most effective though are Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra and Gyorgy Ligeti’s Atmospheres (performed by the Berlin Philharmonic and Sudwestfunk orchestras respectively), compositions that complement and accentuate the eeriness and mystery of the monolith and Bowman’s cosmic and reality spanning journey ‘beyond the infinite’ as he encounters a larger version of the alien object floating in the vicinity of Jupiter.

There’s so much that has been said and can be analysed about 2001: A Space Odyssey but in basic terms it is simply outstanding and an enduring masterpiece that will forever be influential and revered by lovers of science fiction, film, music and art in general.

Standout moment

Unable to verify HAL’s report of a fault in the Discovery’s communications system, David Bowman and Frank Poole employ subterfuge as they enter one of the ship’s EVA pods to discuss deactivating the ship’s computer, unaware that HAL is observing…

Geek fact!

Prior to filming on 2001, Gary Lockwood appeared in the second pilot for Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”.

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2010 : Peter Hyams directs the Kubrick-less sequel that sees Roy Scheider’s Heywood Floyd journey to Jupiter in order to reactivate HAL and uncover the secrets surrounding the monolith and the disappearance of David Bowman.

Solaris : Russian cinema’s answer to 2001, Solaris is a similarly cerebral and enigmatic piece that’s worth checking out.