Talented Pianist is Talented

Passengers at the Václav Havel Airport in Prague waiting for their flight were recently treated to an impressive display by musician Maan Hamadeh. In the clip he performs Beethoven’s “Für Elise,” in multiple styles and then around the 2:30 mark turns to the theme to ‘Titanic’ in amazing fashion. I’m always astounded by people who possess such ability for musical instruments. I tried and failed at the drums and piano as a kid but always enjoyed watching and listening to my father play the piano when I was growing up. If you have a few minutes, take a moment and enjoy this brief clip, it really is wonderful.

Remembering Robin Williams

I and many other people are feeling a deep loss at the sad news that funny man and Oscar-winning dramatic actor, Robin Williams, has died at the age of 63. From my introduction to Robin as Mork from Ork on Happy Days to his break-out stand-up performance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, I followed his career at every step of the way and enjoyed everything he appeared in. Some of my favorite Williams’ performances include Good Morning, Vietnam, his amazing voice over work as the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin, Dead Poet’s Society, Awakenings, Toys and The Birdcage. It pains me to say it but there are many films he’s appeared in that I’ve never seen. With his passing I think I’ll have to correct that oversight and re-discover some of Robin’s incredible work anew.

There are only a few celebrities & personal heroes who, when they pass, I will truly grieve for. Robin Williams is one such person. He brought so much happiness, laughter and light into our lives it’s difficult to imagine a world without him. Personally, I’ll be focusing on all those wonderful moments and characters, all the belly-laughs and chuckles and even the tears he conjured as he entertained and transfixed us. He was a bright star in the lives of those friends and fans who loved him and he will be dearly missed.

Percussive Maintenance

Anyone who can find commonality between Deep Space Nine, Hogan’s Heroes, Back to the Future and Happy Days is okay in my book. I love TV and movie supercuts and this is one of the most clever I’ve seen. Take all those times when characters fix broken equipment with a good whack and what you get is percussive perfection. Enjoy!

(via Collossal)

The User Interfaces of Oblivion

As an UI designer, I love seeing what artists come up with for fictional user interfaces. I’ve admired the work talented folks like Jayse Hansen has done for films like Iron Man and the Avengers for some time and secretly longed to do this kind of work. The latest work from Joseph Kosinski and Crater Lake Productions for the film Oblivion is pure magic. The level of detail, both animated and static, is staggering. I hadn’t intended to see Oblivion in the theater, but after seeing this wonderful work I just might. If you want to learn more, head over to GMUNK and check out their process.

Movie Poster Makeovers

Ïve Bastrash, a Canadian-based illustrator has been busy pumping out stylish renditions of some of his favorite sci-fi, fantasy and action movie posters. The results are charming and bold and remind me a great deal of one of my all-time favorite artist’s work, Bruce Timm. Head on over to the post at DesignTaxi to see more, and then visit Bastrash’s Deviant Art page to see other work from this very talented artist. Well done sir, well done!

Disney’s Brave Both Hits and Misses

SPOILER WARNING: This post contains pretty big spoilers for Disney’s animated adventure, Brave. If you don’t want to know key plot points, then you should ride on my friend.

The problem with high expectations is that once you have them, it’s very difficult to let them go. PIXAR has spent almost two decades building up a loyal, praise-filled fan base for their cinematic offerings, and with good reason. For years the studio consistently put out the best animated adventures with masterpieces like Finding Nemo, Toy Story and The Incredibles that pushed the limits of great cinema. Recently however, other studios have come into their own and produced some amazing animated adventures that are just as good, if not better than the best PIXAR has had to offer. Movies like Tangled, How to Train Your Dragon and Despicable Me have proven that PIXAR no longer has a lock on the genre it helped pioneer back in the 1990′s.

Enter their latest film, Brave. The story is a familiar one – oppressed child longs to find her own destiny out from the watchful eye of her overbearing parent. The hero, in this case the flame-haired Merida, resents her mother’s attempts to turn her into a prim and proper future queen and in doing so embarks on an adventure to “change her fate”. As I watched the amazing first act of Brave, the obvious parallels to another classic Disney animated film, The Little Mermaid, quickly became apparent. Like Ariel, Merida is unhappy with her lot in life and longs to be elsewhere. Both characters are strong-willed women of action and they both enlist the help of a magical witch to help them in their quest to alter their destiny.

Unfortunately for Brave, that’s where things take a turn for the worse. In seeking the witch’s help, Merida receives a magical pastry that she is to feed, not to herself, but to her mother. It’s obvious that this pie is both powerful and dangerous, having come from a large cauldron of steaming black goo, and yet Merida thinks nothing of sneaking it back home, presenting it on a plate and having her beloved mother swallow it. Now, you may dismiss this as simply a necessary plot point, but the act itself didn’t sit well with me. Our heroine, the person we’ve just spent the entire first act getting to know and love, suddenly feels it’s perfectly okay to possibly poison her mom. Feeding the pastry to Queen Elinor isn’t an act of bravery, it’s one of cowardice. Unlike Ariel, who boldly chooses to take the risk and the danger of Ursala’s life-changing spell onto herself, Merida lays that burden upon the feet of her unsuspecting mother. When the spell first sickens and then changes her mom into a hulking grizzly bear, Merida repeats again and again that it’s “not her fault” – selfish brooding from a character we’re supposed to be rooting for. It is true that by the end of the film Merida regrets what she’s done and would never do such a thing ever again, but she should never have done it in the first place. Any time a character displays a lack of empathy for their loved ones, it makes me like them less.

Other problems in Brave include a meandering second act that basically turns into one long, predictable chase scene, a delightful, originally-written villain we only see once and a seemingly un-motivated change of heart for Queen Elinor, who out of nowhere suddenly decides it’s okay for her daughter to marry out of love instead of tradition. Perhaps the biggest missed opportunity however comes in the form of Merida’s passion and love of archery. Merida is given a bow at an early age and quickly becomes an expert markswoman. She spends her free days riding at break-neck speeds through the glenn, getting off incredible shots on horseback, and bursts into tears when her mother throws her beloved bow in the fire (another wasted opportunity for great character development – we never get to see Elinor give the rescued bow back to her daughter). Given how important archery is to our main character, it is disappointing Merida never gets to use her skills in any truly heroic fashion. The archery contest with the suitors ultimately ends in tears and doesn’t change anything. When Merida uses her bow to catch a fish for her transformed mother, a few seconds later, mom is ankle deep in the river and catching her own dinner. In the climatic finale, it isn’t a skillfully placed arrow that lands the crushing blow to the cursed Mor’du, nor do her shots even slow the animal down. I liken Brave’s ill-use of the bow to that of giving Luke his magical lightsaber and then never letting him duel Darth Vader.

Now here’s the good news. Despite all of these things, Brave is still worth seeing. The visuals are simply stunning. From our firey heroine’s amazing raven locks, to the misty woods inhabited by glowing wisps, the art direction for Brave is incredible. In my eyes, it rivals that of Finding Nemo and Wall•e and alone is worth the price of admission. Also a joy are the realization of the secondary characters like Merida’s father, King Fergus brilliantly played by Billy Connolly, the hilarious Triplets and all of the clansmen who come to compete for the hand of the fair princess. There are many moments in Brave when I laughed out loud or was in sheer awe of the beauty of what was seen on screen. I also enjoyed the Scottish settings and accents which felt surprisingly fresh for a movie of this genre.

Was Disney’s Brave good? Yes. Was it one of their all-time best? No. Is it worth seeing? Definitely yes. Would I see it again in the theater? No. I have to say I’d reach for DVD’s of The Incredibles and Wall•e before Brave, but in the end I can recommend the movie because of its sincere effort to put a fresh new face on the title “Disney Princess”. It’s obviously crafted with blood, sweat tears and love which I appreciate very very much. At the same time I wish Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman and Steve Purcell (the film’s co-directors) had a clearer vision of the central character. She does things that aren’t worthy of truly great heroes and of all the characters in Brave, changes the least when the story is over. Brave is like an arrow loosed in the heat of the moment, full of promise and anticipation that doesn’t quite fly true. If you enjoy tales of adventure and PIXAR films in general, you’ll most likely love it. I just wished Brave had hit the bullseye.

Batman And Robin: The Musical

From the same amaziballs creators who gave us Conan the Barbarian: The Musical comes this new, hilarious piece of work. Batman: You Son Of A Bitch!

Sad when a parody is about a bazillion times better than the actual flick.

Indy Comes to Blu-Ray

After what seemed like 1,000 years buried in the Well of Souls, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have finally announced the release of all four Indiana Jones movies on HD blu-ray. Little is known at this point about the release other than it’s coming this fall and promises to contain interviews with the creators and stars as part of its extras. You can pre-order the set now on Amazon.

I don’t get too excited about the release of movies on physical media these days, but hopefully the Indy collection will sport digital copies, and if so I’ll probably pick it up. I’d like to say that the release of the set in HD means that we can look forward to also being able to buy it on iTunes, but as we all know that’s not necessarily the case. If you’re a fan of Indiana Jones, be sure to head over to YouTube and view the collection trailer in HD today.

Fan Raiding the Lost Ark

While browsing the Vimeo channel on Apple TV, I came across a wonderful fan film about one of my all-time favorite movies – Raiders of the Lost Ark. Created over a period of 8 months by filmmaker Jamie Benning, Raiding the Lost Ark combines radio and TV interviews, script and storyboard excerpts, trivia and more to give Raiders fans a deep insight into the film. When I pressed play I thought I would watch for a few minutes to see if I learned anything new. A few minutes turned into 30 minutes which turned into an hour and by the time I was done I had watched the entire thing, it’s just that good.

I don’t want to spoil the incredible content that Jamie has gone to great pains to produce, but one nugget stands out that I just have to share. Amazingly enough, the entire airstrip sequence where Indy plans to steal the flying wing and escape with Marion & the Ark was entirely improvised over the course of a week. The shooting script for Raiders had no details what-so-ever about this action packed sequence and so Steven Spielberg worked closely with Harrison Ford and improvised everything. Through interviews presented by Benning, we learn how this sequence came together and how much Spielberg loved filming it. This is just one of the golden, gelaming treasures unearthed in Raiding the Lost Ark. I highly recommend it.

The Art of the Ringtone

Although modern smart phones can play a wide variety of musical and audio files as ringtones, very few work well. Popular songs are great for entertainment but aren’t written as attention getters from inside your pants pocket. Ever since the iPhone debuted, I’ve been using Marimba as my ringtone. Not because I’m a technophobe who doesn’t enjoy customizing his phone, but because nothing I tried managed to catch my attention like Apple’s default setting.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a brainstorm to ask friend and one of the composers behind Ramp Champ, Mike Weiser, to create a custom ringtone for me based on Marimba. I asked him to take the main theme from one of my favorite films and “Marimba-ize” it, with the following awesome results:

Please don’t ask me to post the Marimba-TRON ringtone. It’s based off music by Wendy Carlos written for the Disney movie and I had it made for my personal use. The last thing I’d want is to get myself or Mike in any trouble by re-distributing it. If you’d like your own custom designed ringtone, be sure to head on over to Mike’s website and learn all about the music-based services he provides, which now includes ringtones. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got to go watch that TRON Legacy trailer for like the 50 billionth time. Is it December yet??

Star Trek Online Tips & Tricks

Thanks to Erica, I’ve been playing Star Trek Online since closed beta. The game has evolved and improved since that initial release, but overall I’ve been able to get a solid understanding of what it takes to have fun and play well in the universe that Cryptic Studios has created these last two months. The game officially launches in just a few days and I thought I would take a moment to share with you some quick and dirty tips and tricks that will help any new player function effectively in STO. I wish something like this had been available when I started playing World of Warcraft back in 2004. As I learn more I’ll be updating this post with new tips and things to watch for. I hope it’s helpful.

Playing on a Mac: Although Star Trek Online doesn’t officially have a Mac version, you can certainly play it on one. You’ll need a copy of Boot Camp running either Windows XP SP2 / Windows Vista / or Windows 7 (32 bit). I don’t recommend playing STO using Parallels on a Macintosh, running in emulation mode is too slow. I don’t know how fast your Mac needs to be in order to run the game well in Boot Camp, but obviously the faster the better. I’m running on a 2.8 GHz Intel Core i7 iMac with 8 GB of RAM and the game purrs like a space kitten. TUAW has a great illustrated guide on how to install Win 7 on Boot Camp, check it out.

Before You Buy: Some special in-game equipment and abilities can only be obtained by ordering the game through a certain retailer. If you order the Deluxe Collector Edition for instance, you’ll get access to Next Generation & movie era uniforms and more. Cryptic offers a complete list of retailers and what you get when you order from each of them. Do your research before you purchase.

Take Your Time: Customize the appearance of your character at creation. Changing physical attributes, the look of your uniform, etc after your character has been created costs “money” in Star Trek Online in the form of energy credits. The same goes for crew members you recruit.

Use Your Map: Pressing the “M” key in aboard ship, in spacedock or on a planet displays various types of maps. Before shouting out “where is so-and-so” take a look at your map first, it will often display what you’re looking for. FYI, at Starfleet headquarters, Sulu is in the Admiral’s office.

Linking Items: You can easily link in-game items you pick up in chat by control-clicking on them.

Item Rarity: Energy credits can be earned by selling items in your inventory. The more uncommon an item, the more it’s worth. Items in Star Trek Online follow a similar path as those in Warcraft. White: Standard issue, Green: Uncommon, Blue: Rare, Purple: Epic. I don’t know if there are colors beyond purple or even what they’re called yet.

Loot System: Loot “drops” when certain ships are destroyed, usually the last ship in a squadron. If loot is available to pick up, you’ll see a glowing, floating orange pylon in space or an orange sphere in ground missions. Unlike Warcraft, loot in Star Trek Online is only available to a specific player, so don’t be afraid to pick it up by pressing “F” when you see it.

You’re In Charge: Don’t forget about equipping your crew as you progress. Those under your command will not pick up loot and equip themselves, so it’s important that you do so for them. A low-level shield may not be useful to you, but could be just what your science officer needs to keep from being sent to sickbay every away mission. Be sure to examine everything before selling it.

Instances: As of this writing there are no “realms” in Star Trek Online. The game is played on a single, massive server for everyone. There are however, instances within this server. So you can be talking to someone in zone chat who’s at the same location you are and not see them floating in space next to you. You can change instances by clicking on the small downward pointing arrow in the upper right of your HUD.

Powers: As soon as you get your own ship and are floating above Sol Spacedock, press “P” and open the available list of powers. Drag and drop the shield power management controls into your HUD so you always have access to them during battle. Throwing power to a particular shield has saved me more times than I can count in Star Trek Online.

Emotes: Click the little Starfleet badge icon in the corner of your chat window to list all of the emotes your character can perform. I especially love the “Tug”, “Dance: Robot” and “Prosper” emotes.

What about you? Do you have tips and tricks for Star Trek Online that other players can benefit from? If so, please leave them in the comments of this post and I’ll add the best ones to the list. Thanks and feel free to add me to your list of in-game friends, I’m Kodos@Gedeon.

Favorite Film Funnies

I’ve been seeing quite a few of these “Best Movie Lines” videos on YouTube and so I thought I would take a shot at making my own. It took some work to grab all of the clips, but the result was worth it. Editing this short ode to silver screen silliness was really fun. Next up, my favorite dramatic lines. Enjoy!

All I ask is a tall ship…

Thanks to the generosity of a friend, I’ve been lucky enough to beta test the new MMO, Star Trek Online from Cryptic Studios. The game is set to launch in early February and at least for this Star Trek fan, it’s a winner. Playing around in Gene Roddenberry’s universe has given me a new appreciation for the art direction of designers such as Matt Jeffries and Michael Okuda. Designing anything is challenging, but designing interiors, user interfaces and uniforms of things that have yet to be must be especially difficult.

Most beloved of all the designs of Star Trek is perhaps the bridge of the Starship Enterprise itself. The bridge is the command center of the ship and is often the focus of action on both the big and small screens. Jeffries’ original utilitarian layout eventually gave way to more modern looking interiors, but the basic design (center command chair, flanking support positions) has withstood the test of time. The bridge is such an integral part of Star Trek that due to popular demand, the developers of Star Trek Online recently announced they were implementing them for individual ships within the game. Virtual captains told Cryptic they wanted their “big chair” and the game designers responded in kind.

All of this got me thinking about which starship bridge I liked the best. The answer has to be that of the Enterprise-D from Star Trek: The Next Generation. To many Trek fans this bridge seemed more like a hotel lobby than a high-tech command center, but I always admired its sleek curves, high-tech surfaces and muted colors. The original TV design was modified slightly for Star Trek Generations (seen here) to accommodate new science/tactical stations, giving the set a more cinematic feel.

Designed by Andrew Probert, the bridge of the Enterprise-D was the ultimate set for the weekly TV series. The layout was big enough to allow the actors room to move around comfortably as well as give characters space for private conversations, tucked away from prying ears. The raised back level provided an elevated platform that made Worf look even more imposing while offering Geordi and Data stations where they could work out solutions to the problem of the week. The set also introduced flanking seats to those of the Captain’s something that Star Trek Voyager would also adopt.

In contrast to The Next Generation’s warm earth tones, the bridge of the U.S.S. Voyager presented TV viewers with the cool grays and electric blues so often associated with science fiction. Created by production designer Richard D. James and illustrator Rick Sternbach, the interior design of the bridge of Voyager introduced subtle under lighting techniques that contributed to the “deep space feel” of the show. This design also reduced the traditional two-man con and navigator positions to a single console, putting emphasis on Captain Janeway.

I love the look of these two sets because they put the focus on the characters and their actions rather than the technology all around them. Some production designers tend to get out of hand with their creations and let the look of the set overpower its inhabitants. Voyager’s and Next Gen’s bridges are awesome examples of futuristic interior design precisely because they don’t go overboard. Compare these simple designs to the complex bridges of the Enterprise-E or the franchise reboot and you’ll see Star Trek art direction run amuck. Overlapping lines, textures and lens flares get in the way of the action and detract from the audience’s ability to focus on the characters.

Designing anything, even a fictional universe is an art form. More so when a large part of that universe’s appeal centers around details. Through the years, those entrusted with designing the bridges of Starfleet have evolved and molded it again and again. These talented artists have put their stamp on Gene Roddenberry’s original vision of the future and given Trek fans a place they could easily call home. Star Trek Online will soon give players a chance to roam the bridges of some of the most beloved starships in Star Trek history, all from the comfort of their computers. So until we can all afford to build a bridge in our basement, a virtual one has to be the next best thing.

Biff’s Question Song

To be fair to actor Tom Wilson, who played the infamous bully Biff from the Back to the Future films, I’d probably ask him all of these questions too. That’s why I’m so glad I discovered this gem of a clip where Tom puts all of the answers to song. The result is something that should somehow be worked into the next season of Big Bang Theory. Enjoy!

Hat tip to IO9 for this post

Ebert on the ‘Festering Fringe’

I’ve always admired Roger Ebert as a movie critic. When he and his partner Gene Siskel started reviewing films I always found my views aligning with the Ebert half of the aisle. As he and I have grown older, that alignment has only strengthened. Lately, Roger has also earned my respect as a political voice of reason. In a piece out this week, Ebert takes the fringe elements of today’s political society to task for their increasingly bizarre and worrisome tirades against the President, even in the face of logic and reason.

A great example of what Ebert’s talking about is today’s announcement that the United States and the city of Chicago lost the bid to host the 2016 Olympics. In the past week President Obama flew to Europe to throw his hat in for his country and try and convince the IOC that Chicago was the right place at the right time. As soon as the bid failed, conservatives all across the board cheered the loss and berated Obama for his failed attempt to bring the massive event home. This despite the fact that hosting the games would have undoubtedly been an economic boon for Chicago as well as the country as a whole. Tens of thousands of jobs would have been created, billions of dollars in revenue generated and goodwill for the U.S. spread around the globe.

Sadly, right-wing fringe hypcrites such as Michelle Malkin, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh would rather see shame come to our country and our President than have Obama be on the side of success. These gas bags have the gaul to root against their country in the midst of massive economic hardship simply because they want to spite Barack Obama. Self-indulgent children, one and all.

These are the very same fringe elements that have been whipping up fear and loathing against the young administration in the hopes of bringing it to utter ruin. They think nothing of ignoring facts and pushing their own agendas even in the face of massive contradictions, some of which they themselves have railed against in the past. They call Obama Hitler, they claim he’s not an American, they want you to believe he’s trying to brainwash your children or that he’s the most ineffectual President of the modern age. In his latest journal entry Roger Ebert speaks out:

“These beliefs are held by various segments of our population. They are absurd. Any intelligent person can see they are absurd. It is not my purpose here to debate them, because such debates are futile. With the zealous True Believers there is no debating. They feed upon loops within loops of paranoid surmises, inventions which are passed along as fact. Sometimes those citing them don’t even seem to care if you believe them. Sometimes they may not believe them themselves. The purpose is to fan irrational hatred against our president.”

He goes on to say:

“They are told to oppose, even hate, those who might be trying to help them. Leaving all ideology aside, who in his right mind doesn’t want an affordable health insurance plan for his family and his loved ones? Who doesn’t believe religion, any religion, does not belong in the schools? Who really thinks the census, which is a vital tool of democracy, represents some kind of occult threat? If census figures had been frozen 50 years ago, most of these people would be disenfranchised today. Who can seriously compare American president to Hitler? Who believes a man who attends church more regularly than any president since Carter is an atheist?

What is the benefit of this hate? What good can come of it? Where might it lead us?”

When an entire segment of the population roots against their President to fail (be it Bush or Obama), something is seriously wrong. I came to believe that George W. Bush was bad for the country, but never once did I wish him to fail in his mission to stamp out terror and keep the United States safe from violence. I longed for checks and balances to curb Bush’s disregard for the rule of law but I never abdicated insurrection against his authority. I believed him and his efforts were misguided but I never compared him to Adolf Hitler or cheered when the results of his actions had a negative impact on my country.

All of these things are happening now with Obama and his administration and we’re only 8 months into a 4 year term. What will the festering fringe be like a year, two years from now? How can “the center hold” in such an atmosphere? Occasionally there are voices of reason from the right as there were today with Joe Scarborough’s piece applauding the President for attempting to capture the Olympics, but they are a dying breed.

It seems like all the reasonable people in this country are hogtied in the back of an ’87 Buick, kidnapped by the lunatic currently at the wheel. The right thinks the driver is the President, but as most sane people can see the car is driven not by Obama but by the fringe elements of our society. As precious seconds pass, the car speeds up and careens towards certain disaster. It has all the makings of a blockbuster movie, but it’s one that neither I, nor Roger Ebert can recommend in the least. Thumbs waaaay down from the both of us.

So What? Big Deal!

The fine folks over at IO9 take a moment to let us know today is the 25th anniversary of the release of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. Released on August 15th, 1984 Buckaroo Banzai is one of those movies that you either love to death or hate with the passion of a 1,000 burning suns. I and many of my college friends fall firmly into the former category. Buckaroo was one of the dozen or so movies we would pop into the VCR in our dorm’s lounge on a regular basis. Other movies in this category included Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, Vampire Hunter D and The Princess Bride.

When it was released, Buckaroo Banzai was met with mixed success and boastfully promised that Buckaroo would return in a sequel titled Buckaroo Banzai Against The World Crime League. Unfortunately the movie’s campy premise, confusing cast of characters and low budget special effects doomed the sequel from ever appearing. Never-the-less the film sticks in many fan’s hearts as a sci-fi favorite. For my part, Buckaroo has been the inspiration behind several icon sets and desktop pictures.

There has been much talk of reviving Buckaroo in recent years. Everything from a new TV series on the SyFy network to a re-imaging similar to what Battlestar Galactica received have all been thrown against the wall to see what sticks. Needless to say, so far, nothing has. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, because as any true fan will tell you, it just would wouldn’t be Buckaroo without the original cast. Hearing “Remember, no matter where you go, there you are.” coming from anyone but Peter Weller just wouldn’t cut it. So mo matter what may come, at least we can fire up the DVD player and put ourselves in New Jersey’s shoes to wonder “Why is there a watermelon there?” Why indeed.

Happy Birthday Buckaroo!

One Fan’s Perspective on Star Trek

SPOILER WARNING: This post contains major spoilers for J.J. Abrams’ new film Star Trek. I mean really, really big spoilers. If you don’t want to know about things that might ruin your enjoyment of this movie, then you really should stop reading now and go somewhere else.

So much has been said and written about the new Star Trek film from J.J. Abrams that it seems to make little sense to write my own thoughts up. But seeing as Star Trek has been such a big part of my life ever since I was a little boy, and given that I’ve often written about Trek in the past, I figured what the heck.

Overwhelming consensus seems to be that the film is “Great!”, “Fantastic!” and “Fabulous!” Of all the guys from work that I went to see the movie with, I think I was the only one who came out of the theater not jazzed. I think Corey might have had some reservations too, but overall he was very excited about it. Did I like it? Yes I did. Did I love it? No I didn’t, at least not yet.

The Good

There are tons of things in the new film that I liked and others I even loved. In no particular order they include:

The cast: Every actor in the film did a wonderful job of translating their character for a new generation. I especially enjoyed Quinto and Pine as Spock and Kirk, but also thought Simon Pegg as Scotty was wonderful and was surprised by the turns put in by the actors behind Checkov, Sulu and Uhura.

The twists: I had seen so much of the movie in the commercials and trailers leading up to its debut that I thought I knew what was going to happen. I was surprised and delighted therefore when Kirk wasn’t the one under Uhura’s bed, but was under her Orion roommate’s instead. Same goes for the scene with Kirk sitting in the Captain’s chair with his black shirt where Spock tells him to “Get out of the chair.” It was wonderful and went against what I thought was going to happen going in.

Spock rejecting the Vulcan Science Academy: Loved this scene to death. Quinto played it to a perfect Spock “T” when he asked the elders about his “disadvantage” and basically told them to go to hell. If you had put Nimoy in that scene instead, it wouldn’t have played any differently. Brilliant stuff.

The action: It was quite a roller coaster romp from start to finish and had great pacing. The time seemed to fly by while we were in the theatre which is always a good sign.

Uhura & Spock: I thought the scenes with Uhura and Spock becoming close would bother me, but they didn’t at all. They were played very well by both actors and Abrams’ direction here was wonderful. I can’t wait to see where this goes in the sequel.

The Meh

• The music: Totally didn’t live up to Star Trek standards. The main theme (which Louie pointed out was used in almost every track of the film) seemed like it *wanted* to be Star Trek, but was just slightly off. I kept expecting to hear the familiar Next Gen theme at points in the movie, but didn’t.

• Engineering: Being the die-hard Trekkie I am, I didn’t really appreciate the way Engineering looked more like a chemical plant from 24 than the heart of the flagship of the Federation.

Enterprise in Iowa: Sorry, but the Enterprise was never built on the ground. It just wasn’t and the entire ship was never intended to land either. If Roddenberry was around today he would have told J.J. this small fact to his face. A totally unnecessary and pointless scene that would have at least been semi-credible if it had taken place in San Francisco instead of Iowa.

The Bad

Abrams’ wanting to have it both ways: The studio promised us that this wasn’t “Your father’s Star Trek” and made a big deal about how everything was different. In reality, the only things that were different were the things Abrams wanted changed. There were so many TOS classic references that when they were thrown in, they seemed oddly out of place. More than a few of them seemed gratuitous. If you’re going to promote the film as all new Trek, have the space balls to see it through to the end.

The Kobayashi Maru: As a huge fan, this was the scene I was looking forward to the most. I had run this classic tale of how Kirk beat the no-win scenario in my head dozens of times. I had always imagined it that Kirk reprogrammed the simulation just enough to make it seem like the rescue was plausible through heroic actions or sheer guile. What we got instead was a smug, overly-cocky Kirk eating an apple while everyone around him is astounded to find that the simulation has been reprogrammed. The most throughly unsatisfying bit in the entire movie.

The destruction of Vulcan & death of Spock’s Mom: Listen, I get that this probably only matters to geeks like myself, but it does. The destruction of Vulcan negates HUGE portions of Star Trek history and cannon. Sure, this is an “alternate reality”, and it was probably necessary for several of the plot points, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. You know how you felt when Lucas made Greedo shoot first? The loss of Vulcan is like that for me.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter what I think of Star Trek. Everyone seems to love it and have hailed it as a wonderful re-boot of the series. To be honest, I’d rather have new Star Trek movies than not, so I can live with the parts I didn’t like, at least for now. I think by the time the inevitable sequel comes I’ll have come to terms with the disappointing parts of Star Trek and learned to see only the good stuff. After all, there is a great deal in the new film to like especially since I don’t enjoy being called a dickhead.

For the Buckaroo In You

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai is one of those films. You know the ones I mean, you either love them to death or you hate them with the passion of a 1,000 burning suns. Being the child of the 80′s I am, I fall squarely into the former category when it comes to Peter Weller’s hero, Buckaroo.

I first watched this quirky film back at R.I.T. with my good friends David, Anna, Bob & Jiffy, all of whom still share my affinity for Team Banzai and their globetrotting, save-the-day antics. I got on a Buckaroo kick a few weeks back and whipped up a Team Banzai Patch icon that was released over at The Iconfactory as a QuickPix as well as the desktop I’m making available today. If you’re a fan of Buckaroo, then head over to my Goodies page and download Team Banzai for your iPhone, Mac or PC desktop and be the envy of all your buddies. Remember, no matter where you go, there you are!

Star Trek Boldy Goes Blu Ray

In their seemingly never-ending mission to get fans to buy more stuff, Paramount will soon be releasing a new blu ray box set aimed right at Trekkers. Although the ‘Star Trek Motion Picture Trilogy’ does not contain Star Trek: The Motion Picture, as the name would seem to suggest, it does contain re-mastered versions of The Wrath of Kahn, The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home in glorious HD.

According to Amazon.com the box set will be released May 12th, will retail around $50 and come complete with loads of extras. A quick glance at the product specs reveal commentary by William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Nicholas Meyer, Ronald Moore (of BSG fame) and many others as well as stacks of shorts, trailers and other goodies. It’s difficult to say if these new high-def versions are worth enough to replace any older copies you may have on DVD, but I suspect that given the amount of bang for the buck Paramount’s packing, updating your collection just might be the logical thing to do.

Hat tip to @Talosman for this post.

Lucas’ Loose Threads

SPOILER WARNING: This post contains basic spoilers for all six Star Wars films. If you are the only person left in the universe who has not seen these movies, then you might not want to read on. Just sayin’.

If there was a bright spot regarding the Star Wars prequels, it was the opportunity for fans to get answers to many of the questions Lucas introduced in episodes IV, V and VI. Fans were hungry for any information relating to the Jedi Order, the evil Sith, where Anakin came from, the story of his children and more. With very few exceptions, Lucas dutifully managed to tie up many of the various plot lines in neat little bundles and send even the most rabid fans home satisfied.

Although I freely admit I’m far more of a Trekkie than a Star Wars geek, there are still questions that none of the six movies answered to my satisfaction. Since I’m not familiar with every bit of the Star Wars universe, I thought I would throw some of these questions out to the masses and see if anyone had plausible explanations for how they fit into the grand scheme of all things Star Wars.

“Do you remember your real mother?”

In Return of the Jedi, right before Luke goes off to turn himself over to the Vader and the Emperor, he has a farewell talk with Leia where he explains why he has to leave. Luke begins the scene with a simple question to Leia “Do you remember your mother? Your real mother?” Leia responds that “She died when I was very young. She was beautiful, but sad.” When I saw this scene in the theatre (before the prequels) I assumed Leia was speaking of her real mother, not her adopted one, which is the point of Luke asking about her “real mother”. But since we know from Revenge of the Sith that Padmé died in child birth, Leia couldn’t have been talking about Padmé.

The dialog is confusing on several levels and because of that, I don’t think we have an accurate understanding of whom Leia is describing. Luke is obviously trying to get some info, any info on his mother, and so he asks his sister about their collective mom. But since the story from Episode III doesn’t jibe with what Leia describes, this entire scene seems to be apocryphal. If Leia was simply describing Queen Breha Organa, then there was little dramatic motivation for Luke’s question in the first place.

“The son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi”

Although Lucas does a satisfying job of explaining the birth of Luke and Leia, and how they were hid from the Empire, we are still left with a pivotal unanswered question. Namely how and when did Darth Vader discover he had a son? The answer to this question isn’t just one of curiosity, it also holds one of the key developments in the entire story arc. Since Emperor Palpatine lies to Vader and explains that Anakin’s own anger killed Padmé, the eventual discovery of Luke must come as a revelation on multiple levels. This revelation would logically be the tipping point where Vader decides to plot to overthrow the Emperor.

The most logical explanation is that after the Battle of Yavin, Imperial spies learn that the young rebel who destroyed the Death Star was named Luke Skywalker. Vader instantly realizes he has a son and that the Emperor has lied to him. If this is the case, then this dramatic development is one of the greatest missed opportunities in the entire series. I would love to see how Vader’s rage played out against the Emperor, but alas this was not to be.

From the audience’s point of view, the first time Darth is informed about the “Son of Skywalker” is in The Empire Strikes Back when the Emperor himself tells Vader that “The son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi”. Thanks to Vader’s non-reaction in this scene, between Episodes III and V, Darth must somehow learn of Luke, the Emperor’s deception about Padmé’s death, and a long lost son. Through all of this, ironically Vader doesn’t even blink. I don’t buy it for one second.

The Virgin Birth

In The Phantom Menace we learn the origin of Anakin Skywalker. Shmi tells Obi Wan and Qui-Jon that amazingly, Anakin had no father. This in itself wouldn’t be too difficult to accept, except for the strange scene in Revenge of the Sith where Palpatine tells Anakin the tragedy of Darth Plagueis. The future Emperor relays the story of a Sith master so powerful he was able to control life itself. The subtext of this scene is that Plagueis was Palpatine’s master and that it was Palpatine himself who slew Plagueis after he had taught his young apprentice everything he knew.

Given the implied nature of the scene, we are left with many questions. Chief among them – is Palpatine Anakin’s “father”? Did Plagueis himself will Anakin into existence by using Shmi Skywalker to bring him to term? Did Palpatine kill Plagueis when he learned he was grooming a replacement apprentice? All of these questions (and more) are never answered in the films. Some Star Wars comics have put forth theories about these plot points, but since they cannot be considered “cannon” they remain only fan speculation.

Although it’s no secret that I consider the prequels to be inferior follow-ups to the original Star Wars trilogy, it is none-the-less a testament to Lucas’ storytelling that I find myself asking these questions, even today. The archetypes he used in weaving the Star Wars universe are powerful and speak to the allure of great drama. Given Lucas’ propensity to keep churning out all things Star Wars, we may very well get many of our answers. I think I speak for fans everywhere when I say, go for it George, just leave Jar Jar in a galaxy far, far away… from us.