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Star Trek: Mirror Universe – Shards & Shadows: The Greater Good by Margaret Wander Bonanno

This August, to celebrate the upcoming release of Star Trek: Into Darkness on DVD and blu ray, we’re taking a look at the Star Trek movies featuring the original cast. Movie reviews are every Tuesday and Thursday.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the movies with tie-ins around (and related to) the films. We’ll be doing one of these every week day. This is one such article.

If Star Trek and Star Trek: Into Darkness proved one thing, it’s that it sucks to be Christopher Pike, in any universe. The first captain of the USS Enterprise not only had to wait until 1988 to see his pilot (The Cage) finally broadcast on television, he also got shuffled off-screen unceremoniously in the franchise’s first two-parter (The Menagerie) and was never really mentioned again. When JJ Abrams’ Star Trek introduced us to a rebooted Christopher Pike played wonderfully by Bruce Greenwood, he observed of George Kirk was captain of a starship for eight minutes. It seemed like Pike ended up in command of the Enterprise for only slightly longer than that.

It seems that even mirror!Pike can’t catch a break, as Margaret Wander Bonanno demonstrates in her short little glimpse into how exactly mirror!James Tiberius Kirk took control of the ISS Enterprise.

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Star Trek – The Menagerie, Part II (Review)

To celebrate the release of Star Trek: Into Darkness this month, we’ll be running through the first season of the classic Star Trek all this month. Check back daily to get ready to boldly go. It’s only logical.

I will admit that I am sceptical of Gene Roddenberry as a writer. There’s no denying that Roddenberry was a fantastic ideas man. After all, his concepts and characters have stood the test of time. Without Roddenberry, there would be none of the Star Trek that we all love so dearly. As such, I feel a little guilty when I criticise his writing, or when I argue that his influence on the early years of Star Trek: The Next Generation held the show back from greatness. (I’d suggest that it was only when Roddenberry’s involvement was minimised, and the writers were allowed to add shading to his futuristic utopia that The Next Generation truly came into its own.)

Still, Roddenberry was always an excellent salesman, and his script for The Menagerie brings out that quality in abundance. The Menagerie is effectively an excuse for why the show ran out of original scripts half-way through its first year, and Roddenberry might not make the most convincing argument, but he still makes it compelling.

Watching Star Trek on Star Trek...

Watching Star Trek on Star Trek…

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Star Trek – Burning Dreams by Margaret Wander Bonanno (Review)

To celebrate the release of Star Trek: Into Darkness this month, we’ll be running through the first season of the classic Star Trek all this month. Check back daily to get ready to boldly go. It’s only logical.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry.

It’s amazing just how iconic and influential the character of Christopher Pike is, despite the fact that he only appeared as a guest character in a two-part episode of the first season of Star Trek. Of course, he was the lead character of a pilot that was filmed in 1964, but not aired until almost a quarter of a century later, but it still seems strange that the character should hold such sway over Star Trek fandom. Perhaps it’s a sign of how preoccupied fans are with trivia and minutiae. Maybe it’s a sign of how skilfully Star Trek cultivates holes in its own mythology (in this case Pike’s time as captain) for the fans to fill. It might even be the lingering sense of tragedy surrounding the “captain who never was”, played by an actor who died at the young age of 42.

Whatever the reason, it feels appropriate that Pike was one of the characters celebrated and included in the franchise’s 40th anniversary celebrations, and the character is well served by the decision to task Margaret Wander Bonanno with writing “the definitive Pike novel.”

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Star Trek – The Menagerie, Part I (Review)

To celebrate the release of Star Trek: Into Darkness this month, we’ll be running through the first season of the classic Star Trek all this month. Check back daily to get ready to boldly go. It’s only logical.

Ah, clip shows. The bane of modern television. Okay, I’m being a bit harsh. After all, home media is a relatively recent invention. Up until the past couple of decades, it seemed that most people would only catch their television shows on… well, television. The audience was generally thought to be somewhat transient, the realities of scheduling and life making it highly unlikely that everybody would see everything. Indeed, most fans of old television shows found themselves at the mercy of fickle network schedules. Particularly for long-running shows, it was reasonable to assume that a significant portion of your audience might not be intimately familiar with the show.

Of course, the emergence of DVD box sets and on-line streaming have radically changed the way that television operates. Most obviously, there has been a massive a swing towards serialisation in the past few years, overlapping with the expansion of home media. While it’s tough to imagine a show like The Wire or Game of Thrones working in the early nineties, the fact that people can record and download and own their television shows means that producers can get away with assuming that everybody has seen everything.

What I’m getting at here  is that there was a time when clip shows were an understandable, maybe even desirable, part of the network television landscape. They could bring new viewers up to speed, or allow old viewers to celebrate the favourite parts of the show that they would otherwise never see again. Indeed, The Menagerie, the only two-part episode of the classic Star Trek, has a better excuse than most. The clip sections of this adventure are taken from the 1964 pilot, The Cage. Not only was this footage two years old when The Menagerie was broadcast, it had also never been aired.

Spock the difference...

Spock the difference…

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Star Trek 103: The Best of Deep Space Nine

To celebrate the release of Star Trek: Into Darkness, we’re holding a month full of Star Trek related fun. We’re reviewing every episode of the show’s first season, from The Cage through to Operation — Annihilate!, one-per-day for all of May. We’re also looking at some of the various spin-offs, tie-ins and pop culture intersections, so there’s always something going on to do with Star Trek. Anyway, with the release of the new film, we thought it might be interesting to make some recommendations for fans of the new films who wanted to “dip their toes in the water” so to speak. Today, we’re making recommendations from the second of the 24th century spin-offs, and the first to broadcast concurrently with another Star Trek project, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

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Star Trek 102: The Best of The Next Generation

To celebrate the release of Star Trek: Into Darkness, we’re holding a month full of Star Trek  related fun. We’re reviewing every episode of the show’s first season, from The Cage through to Operation — Annihilate!, one-per-day for all of May. We’re also looking at some of the various spin-offs, tie-ins and pop culture intersections, so there’s always something going on to do with Star Trek. Anyway, with the release of the new film, we thought it might be interesting to make some recommendations for fans of the new films who wanted to “dip their toes in the water” so to speak. Today, we’re making recommendations from the first of the 24th century spin-offs, Star Trek: The Next Generation.

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Star Trek 101: The Best of The Original Series

To celebrate the release of Star Trek: Into Darkness, we’re holding a month full of Star Trek  related fun. We’re reviewing every episode of the show’s first season, from The Cage through to Operation — Annihilate!, one-per-day for all of May. We’re also looking at some of the various spin-offs, tie-ins and pop culture intersections, so there’s always something going on to do with Star Trek. Anyway, with the release of the new film, we thought it might be interesting to make some recommendations for fans of the new films who wanted to “dip their toes in the water” so to speak, offering a quick taste of the best that the classic 1960s original Star Trek has to offer those wanting to boldly go with Kirk, Spock and McCoy.

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Star Trek – Where No Man Has Gone Before (Review)

To celebrate the release of Star Trek: Into Darkness this month, we’ll be running through the first season of the classic Star Trek all this month. Check back daily to get ready to boldly go. It’s only logical.

In a way, there’s a very clear divide between The Cage and Where No Man Has Gone Before. It’s clearer than the strange new actor sitting in the middle of the Bridge or the fact that Spock is suddenly a lot less casual. In a way, each is perfectly positioned in popular consciousness. The Cage was produced in late 1964, but wouldn’t be shown on television until 1988, after spending years touring the fan circuit. It remains a strange bit of Star Trek history, sitting simultaneously outside any of the five television shows, and simultaneously a completely inexorable part of the franchise’s evolution. It’s where it all began, but not where the first Star Trek began.

In contrast, Where No Man Has Gone Before feels more like the pilot episode of Star Trek. Sure, the fashion changes a bit in the episodes to come, the entire cast has yet to be assembled, but this is recognisably the same ship and the same show as The Corbomite Manoeuvre or The Man Trap. It’s more than the actors filling roles, the consistent characterisation of Spock or the fact that it actually aired on television in September 1966. This is what the next three years of Star Trek will be like. It’s an aesthetic or an approach to storytelling that is markedly different to the way that The Cage tackled many of the same themes and ideas.

While The Cage laid down many of the philosophical underpinnings of the broader Star Trek universe – including the classic show – it is also a lot less physical and visceral than the classic Star Trek. Indeed, The Cage featured the Captain of the Enterprise reasoning with an advanced bunch of god-like aliens, appealing to human virtues. The action sequences felt a bit extraneous. In contrast, Where No Man Has Gone Before sees the Captain of the Enterprise punching a god-like being repeatedly in the face while hitting on the same themes.

I think that’s perhaps the most dynamic difference between not only The Cage and Where No Man Has Gone Before, but between Star Trek and its spin-offs.

All the old familiar faces...

All the old familiar faces…

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Star Trek – The Cage (Review)

To celebrate the release of Star Trek: Into Darkness this month, we’ll be running through the first season of the classic Star Trek all this month. Check back daily to get ready to boldly go. It’s only logical.

The Cage is fascinating. Looking at it now, it holds up phenomenally well a s apiece of sixties science-fiction. However, it feels like we’re watching a prototype of Star Trek. In many respects, The Cage feels like a rough sketch that captures some essentials, but is missing out on the finer details. Spock is there! But he smiles! The set design looks the same, but the characters are different. Some of the cast fill the same roles, but some are dramatically different. Watching The Cage, you can see a lot of the philosophy that Gene Roddenberry would bring to Star Trek, but it’s very difficult to imagine an on-going series spinning out of this adventure, let alone one that managed to become as iconic or influential as Star Trek would ever be.

Still, it’s pretty solid viewing. It’s entertaining on its own terms, but it’s also informative in the context of the series. It’s more like dry run or a test drive of the concept.

To boldly go... for some reworking...

To boldly go… for some reworking…

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Non-Review Review: Snake Eyes

Snake Eyes could have been a much better movie than it ultimately turned out be. Brian De Palma can be a frustratingly uneven filmmaker, but the basic premise of the movie isn’t sort of promise. A murder mystery and conspiracy thriller in a crowded auditorium, with the investigating officer a corrupt cop? That’s a fairly interesting hook right there, even before you add Nicolas Cage and Gary Sinise to the mix. Unfortunately, the movie never seems entirely sure what it wants to be, ultimately serving as a random mish-mash of different elements that never add up to a conclusive whole.

In the Nic of time...

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