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“It’s not over, it’s just not yours any more”: Thoughts on Fandom and Growing Old Gracefully…

It is not a new observation to suggest that modern audiences live in a world dominated by existing intellectual property.

It has been argued frequently and convincingly that the era of the movie star has surrendered itself to the era of the brand, where the biggest draw for audiences it not which actor is on screen but which universe is being developed. Cinemas are flooded with long-delayed sequels and spin-offs to beloved favourites, films often separated from their predecessors by decades; consider the gap between The Incredibles and Incredibles II or between Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049, even between xXx 2 and xXx 3 or between Trainspotting and Trainspotting 2.

It is easy to exaggerate the scope of these issues. After all, there have always been films based around established intellectual property, whether early films or television series or even novels. Gone with the Wind was a book before it was a film. The Magnificent Seven was a remake of The Seven Samurai. Philip Marlowe was continuously reimagined on film from Time to Kill in 1942 to The Big Sleep in 1978. Star Trek: The Motion Picture transitioned a failed television series into a big budget science-fiction film franchise. This is to say nothing of perennial favourites like the story of Robin Hood or Jesus Christ.

At the same time, the indie market is thriving. Although making any movie is a tremendous accomplishment, there has arguably never been a better time for people making movies. Companies like Netflix and Amazon are buying up as much “content” from film festivals as they can, and in doing so are making filmmakers and production companies whole. Companies like Annapurna are adopting a model that consciously puts creativity ahead of commercial concerns. Even technology has advanced to the point where it is possible to make films on a phone. Cinema is not endangered or under threat. It is vibrant.

Still, it feels like things are different in the modern era of blockbuster entertainment. For one thing, there are fewer big budget blockbusters based around wholly original ideas. In the past decade, only the work of Christopher Nolan stands out; Inception, Interstellar, Dunkirk. There have obviously been other success stories, like J.J. Abrams’ Cloverfield and Super 8 or like Jordan Peele’s Get Out, but these are notable for being the exception rather than the rule. There is a sense that the mainstream is dominated by revivals of beloved properties, and not just in film. Hannibal, Star Trek: Discovery, Fargo, Watchmen.

One of the interesting tensions of this era has been in watching the way that fandoms react to these revivals, the manner in which they approach these new takes on established mythologies. By and large, it has not been especially flattering or engaging. There have been death threats, misogyny, cultural wars, heated arguments, simmering disagreements. Recent years have seen the growth of a strange cult of fannish entitlement within the cultural mainstream, perhaps reflecting the manner in which the mainstream has embraced fannish desire. There is something deeply frustrating and disheartening about this.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – For the Uniform (Review)

For the Uniform forms the second entry in a loose trilogy of Michael Eddington stories, sitting between For the Cause and Blaze of Glory.

Much like The Begotten before it, For the Uniform feels like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is tidying up a bunch of loose ends before it barrels into the second half of the season with In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light. It is offering one last story built on the status quo established by The Maquis, Part I and The Maquis, Part II before things change dramatically. It is also quite heavy on the kind of impressive space battles that will become a major part of the final two seasons.

Terrorise this!

Terrorise this!

The episode even puts an increased emphasis upon the series’ military themes, with much made of the crippling blow dealt to the Defiant by Eddington’s virus and the operational protocols that this attack necessitates. With Nog standing on the edge of the bridge echoing Sisko’s orders to Engineering, For the Uniform occasionally feels more like like a submarine movie than an episode of Star Trek. This is to say nothing of the attention paid to the Defiant’s departure from Deep Space Nine itself, which plays up the military protocol of such a launch.

However, there is more to For the Uniform than all of that. It is an episode that touches upon a number of key themes for Deep Space Nine. It is a story about moral compromise and ambiguity, about narrative and mythmaking. It is a tale about obsession and vindictiveness, rooted in the flaws of its central character. For the Uniform struggles a little bit in how it approaches Sisko’s monomaniacal pursuit of Eddington, wrapping up so fast that the closing lines offer a sense of tonal whiplash. Nevertheless, it is a bold and breathtaking piece of television.

Shadow boxing...

Shadow boxing…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Singularity (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Star Trek: The Next Generation casts a pretty long shadow.

Singularity aired over eight years after All Good Things… and it still feels like an attempt to re-capture the mood and atmosphere of that second-generation Star Trek spin-off. Singularity feels like it might have made for a passable seventh-season instalment of The Next Generation, airing somewhere between Phantasms, Masks and Genesis. You would probably only have to tweak Singularity ever-so-slightly for that earlier cast.

"Hai!"

“Hai!”

Of course, this fixation on The Next Generation is not unique to the second season of Star Trek: Enterprise. After all, Star Trek: Voyager spent a significant portion of its run trying to re-capture the magic associated with The Next Generation. There were lots of generic aliens- and anomalies-of-the week. The second season of Enterprise is just interesting in this regard because it is really the last gasp of this sort of nostalgic storytelling on so wide a scale.

It would not be easy. It would take the box office failure of Star Trek: Nemesis, a change of management at UPN, falling ratings and the threat of cancellation. Nevertheless, Enterprise would eventually manage to exorcise the ghost of The Next Generation. In the meantime, Singularity offers a reminder of just how closely Enterprise was hewing to The Next Generation.

"Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

“Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.”

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Star Trek – Obsession (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Star Trek franchise really does like Moby Dick, doesn’t it?

The show had done its first appropriation of Herman Melville’s iconic story of obsession and revenge earlier in the second season with The Doomsday Machine. In that episode, Commodore Decker sought to avenge the loss of his crew upon an unstoppable planet-killing machine. However, the basic formula quickly worked its way into the franchise’s blood. Obsession casts Kirk in the role of Ahab, albeit with a radically different ending and tone. After all, it is very cast Ahab as the heroic lead of a weekly television show.

"It's behind you!"

“It’s behind you!”

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan would return to Moby Dick for inspiration. Khan would even paraphrase from the book, without a hint of self-awareness or irony. After that point, it seemed like the franchise was more interested in mimicking the themes of The Wrath of Khan , which inevitably meant carrying over the themes of Moby Dick as well. Nevertheless, Star Trek: Voyager did its own variant of Moby Dick in Bliss and Star Trek: First Contact would reference the book directly.

Obsession is a competent if unspectacular episode, one that suffers from the fact that it has been done better and more compellingly in recent memory. However, given all the changes taking place behind the scenes, Obsession flows surprisingly well.

It really sucks to be a red shirt, eh?

It really sucks to be a red shirt, eh?

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Star Trek – The Doomsday Machine (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Doomsday Machine is another Star Trek classic.

Much like Amok Time directly before it, The Doomsday Machine is a piece of Star Trek that works both as powerful drama and clever allegory. It is an episode that has had a tremendous influence on the franchise. The “planet killer” has become a staple of Star Trek tie-in fiction, and even the franchise itself has kept the episode’s legacy alive, with the son of Commodore Decker originally planned as a regular in Star Trek: Phase II and eventually appearing in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

All hands on Decker...

All hands on Decker…

The Doomsday Machine is at once a beautifully tragic character study and a potent cautionary tale for the atomic age. The episode the first example of “Star Trek does Moby Dick”, a story template that would become popular enough to sustain another episode in the same season, quite a few later Star Trek episodes across the franchise and no fewer than two of the franchise’s trips to the big screen. In many ways, The Doomsday Machine sets the template for Star Trek engaging with classic literature, building off The Conscience of a King.

It’s also beautifully produced, right down to the creature that Spinrad himself described as “a windsock dipped in cement.”

A commandeering presence...

A commandeering presence…

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Star Trek – Debt of Honour (Review)

This June, we’re taking a look at some classic Star Trek movie tie-ins and other interesting objects. Check back daily for the latest reviews and retrospectives.

By all accounts, Debt of Honour should be an unqualified success.

It’s a prestige graphic novel from DC comics, produced around the twenty-fifth anniversary of Star Trek and the release of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. It is written by celebrated comic book scribe Chris Claremont, fresh off his career-defining stint on Uncanny X-Men. An avowed Star Trek fan and comic book veteran, this should be in his wheel house. The art is provided by Adam Hughes, one of the most celebrated and respected artists of his time.

Talk about kicking off a comic...

Talk about kicking off a comic…

By any measure, Debt of Honour should count as some sort of hallmark for DC Comics’ Star Trek tie-ins. Unfortunately, that isn’t quite the case. A rather muddled storyline that is hopelessly devoted to Star Trek continuity while awkward interfacing with it,  Debt of Honour is just packed a little too tight. Charting a story from the earliest days of Kirk’s career to the aftermath of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Claremont bites off more than he can chew.

Over the course of Debt of Honour, Claremont introduces a vague alien threat that has apparently been haunting Kirk for his entire career, a new arch-foe or love interest for Kirk, and even a supporting role for Kor. Along the way, he packs in cameos and shout-outs to various parts of Star Trek lore. He even explains why Klingons suddenly had ridges around the time of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Ultimately, Debt of Honour is ambitious, but a little over-stuffed and quite over-cooked.

Warp speed ahead!

Warp speed ahead!

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Is Avatar Addictive?

I read an interesting article on Avatar over at CNN last week, which basically suggested that some audience members were feeling a deep depression on returning home from the cinema. Since my dislike of the film appears to a very minority view (a borderline fringe view, to be completely honest), I will assume it has nothing to do with the poor storytelling of the movie. Instead, they seem to depressed at the prospect of leaving Pandora, having been so immersed in the 3D world that James Cameron had created.

Did the end of Avatar leave you feeling blue?

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