Fans of classic Star Trek can get a glimpse into the whereabouts of Jean-Luc Picard, in a brand new teaser trailer for CBS’s, Star Trek: Picard.
Fans of classic Star Trek can get a glimpse into the whereabouts of Jean-Luc Picard, in a brand new teaser trailer for CBS’s, Star Trek: Picard.
In 1991, Dorothy Jones Heydt formulated what she called the “Eight Deadly Words” that strike a death knell to any story: “I don’t care what happens to these people.” While the “eight deadly words” do not apply to Star Trek Discovery, there is a seven word phrase that does: “I don’t care who wins this war.”
The more episodes of Star Trek Discovery that I watch, the more I become convinced that the writers do not understand how a war works. With the exception of a single mining outpost in “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry,” the entire war is presented as starships cruising around looking for fights, after which, for all intents and purposes, they go home or cruise around looking for more fights.
One can already imagine Futurama’s Morbo shouting, “WARS DO NOT WORK THAT WAY!”
As Clausewitz famously wrote, war is the continuation of policy by other means. When any political entity fights a war, they are working towards set victory conditions. In an interstellar war, the starships may be designed to destroy other starships, but they are used as tools to achieve strategic goals, such as taking colonies and outposts by the border to establish a beachhead, interdicting interstellar shipping, protecting territory, or protecting the flanks of a general advance. When skirmishing or pitched battles occur, they happen in the context of carrying out a mission towards these goals.
Star Trek Discovery does not seem to understand this. Over the course of the first half of the season we are informed at various times that the Federation is winning or losing the war—but what does this actually mean? Star Trek Discovery has not told us.
And this is a problem. For an audience to care about what happens in a story, there have to be stakes worth caring about. And so far, there aren’t any in Star Trek Discovery.
Other science fiction shows have used the events of a war to clarify the stakes and raise tension. In Babylon 5, when the Narns are losing the Narn-Centauri War, it is mentioned on screen that their colonies are being occupied by the Centauri, with the population being oppressed. When the Shadow War is in full swing, a Shadow planet-killer is used to annihilate entire planets, killing hundreds of millions of people. In the Earth civil war, Mars is occupied and Proxima put under siege, with civilians attempting to leave the conflict zone being shot down.
Battlestar Galactica presented even higher stakes. The show begins with all but approximately 50,000 members of the human race annihilated in a single surprise attack and the Twelve Colonies captured by the Cylons. Later in the show, the New Caprica colony where the survivors have settled comes under a brutal Cylon occupation. The standalone prequel Blood and Chrome begins with a visual of a Cylon Basestar over a human city, Cylon ground forces marching through its streets, and of a human city in ruins. There can be no question that any war against the Cylons is a war for basic survival fought on human soil.
The original Star Trek series also took great pains to ensure that the viewer understood the stakes. “Balance of Terror,” the episode that introduced the Romulans, begins with the destruction of several Neutral Zone outposts. Later dialogue informs us that if the Romulan ship returns home from its raid, it will be the beginning of a merciless war of expansion against the Federation. In “Errand of Mercy,” the episode that established the Klingons as a major antagonist, the planet Organia comes under Klingon occupation. The Klingons impose a brutal repression in which they execute hundreds of civilians to maintain control. A twist in the episode later undoes all of this, but there is never any doubt of what it means to lose your planet to the Klingon Empire.
In all of these examples, there is good reason to care about whether the war is won. There are devastating consequences when the tide turns against one side or the other. This in turn gives the audience something to care about. And to this end, Discovery gives us nothing—there are no news reports of colonies falling under Klingon occupation and oppression, or of a Klingon advance that must be halted before a major world is captured or destroyed. We are provided with no evidence that a Klingon victory would mean anything different to the galaxy than a Federation victory. Because we have been shown no stakes worth caring about, we have been given no reason to care about who wins. This is turn disengages us from the events of the series.
With luck, through the fall season finale and the second half of the season, Star Trek Discovery will give us something—some news of a colony being occupied or destroyed, or some stake beyond “spaceships are blown up.” Until Discovery can give us that and make us care who wins the war it is about, it cannot meet its full storytelling potential.
Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out more by Robert B. Marks such as Creating Dread: The Design Decisions Behind Horror Games and How Diablo Became an Instant Classic!
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Earlier this year, during a period in my life where I had a lot of downtime and required some distraction to fill the endless hours, I binged through all of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (the latter I did twice).
Science fiction, particularly in television and the movies, has a tendency to sidestep religion. There are franchises that deal with religion directly—such as Star Wars with the Force—but more often than not, religion tends to be ignored, at least in the human characters. Star Trek is a good example of this: we see a chapel in the Enterprise in the original series episode “Balance of Terror,” but we never see a chaplain. The Enterprise-D has a ship’s counsellor, but not a priest or a rabbi. Religion appears in a number of alien cultures—most often treated with great respect—but while we come away with an understanding of Worf’s Klingon culture and religion, we would be hard pressed to deduce anything about the spirituality of Captain Picard or Commander Riker. Whether or not the new series, Star Trek: Discovery, will continue this trend remains to be seen.
This is, however, an understandable omission. Most of the action in any given Star Trek episode occurs while the characters are engaged in their professional lives, and one of the bridge crew being a Catholic, Anglican or Muslim is not something that would come up in the middle of setting a course, firing phasers, or serving on an away mission. The lack of religion certainly does not make the ideas the show explores any less interesting or the action any less gripping.
But while dealing with the religion of its characters is not something that any given science fiction show needs to do, those shows that have dealt directly with religion tended to be better for it. Unlike Star Trek, shows like Babylon 5, Firefly, and the 2003 Battlestar Galactica not only dealt directly with religion, but also used it to deepen the story and our understanding of the characters.
One of the most nuanced explorations of religion in science fiction television occurred not in Star Trek, but in Babylon 5, which presented a number of different alien and human religions. One of the key characters—and a moral compass for the show—is Delenn, a member of the Minbari religious caste who serves not only as the ambassador to Babylon 5, but on her world’s ruling council. But while she uses her faith to inform her morality, she is also well aware of the danger of combining religion and politics—as the series progresses, we learn that she cast the deciding vote that started a holy war of genocide against humanity after a misunderstanding ended in the death of her mentor, the Minbari leader Dukhat, and she carries the guilt for that throughout her life.
Religion was also used to illuminate and fill out the inner lives of some of its human characters. A plotline of the first season episode “TKO” centred on Lt. Commander Susan Ivanova’s unwillingness to sit Shiva—a Jewish mourning ritual—after the death of her estranged father. Through the actions of Ivanova and Rabbi Koslov, we see the degree to which Ivanova is unable to work through her feelings and her grief, and how she finally does so, providing a window into her psyche that deepens our understanding of her as a person.
While religion can provide a window into a character’s soul, it can also create conflict between two sympathetic characters. This played out in Firefly between Captain Malcolm Reynolds and Shepherd Book. Captain Reynolds was a good man who fought on the losing side of a civil war, and as a result lost his faith and now lives in a state of moral ambiguity. This leaves him openly antagonistic to Shepherd Book, who left his old life behind to become a man of faith. Each is very much the antithesis of the other—we never really learn who Book was over the course of the series, but it is heavily implied that his religious life is a refuge from and a way of atoning for being the type of absolute pragmatist embodied by Captain Reynolds.
Between them, Captain Reynolds and Shepherd Book provide two opposing moral compasses throughout each episode, with Reynolds representing the pragmatic and Book representing the altruistic. Neither one is entirely comfortable dealing with the other—Captain Reynolds is challenged to set aside his pragmatism to do and be better by Shepherd Book, while Book’s altruism is challenged by Reynolds’ understanding that what is necessary must come first. At the same time, there is a mutual respect between them; a recognition that both approaches have value. This creates a character interaction that would otherwise be absent, or at least more difficult to make believable or resonate with the viewer.
Both Babylon 5 and Firefly have a very modern approach to how they handle religion and the spirituality of their main characters—it is a matter of personal belief or faith, without the appearance of a divine force or higher power to justify it. The 2003 Battlestar Galactica took a different approach—by the end of the first season, it had been explicitly established that there is a higher power or divine being of some sort manipulating events towards an unknown agenda.
We never discover just what or who this divine power is, or the true nature of its plan. We learn that it exists, that the Cylons call it “God,” that it has two supernatural or angelic agents (head-Baltar and head-Six) who are openly manipulative, and that it is using its agents to influence events. We do not know if the deities worshipped by the survivors in the fleet—who appear to have their own power and agency revealed through prophecy—are separate entities, or just the Cylon’s divine being under different names. The only solid information we ever receive is at the end of the series finale, where it is revealed that it does not like the name “God.” The characters’ reactions to the existence and presence of this divine power drive the plot of the show.
This begins with the Cylons, who, attempting to understand and carry out their god’s plan, commit genocide against humanity. But the humanoid Cylon models’ reactions to the question of faith are far from uniform. The Number Ones make a show of religious devotion while in reality being atheists, the Twos are fanatically religious, and most are in between. By the end of the second season, many of the Cylons have come to believe that they were wrong about what their god wanted, and that their attack on humanity was a horrific mistake—this in turn leads to a Cylon civil war. Likewise, the human characters in the show have their own reactions as matters escalate—the otherwise secular Laura Roslin takes the role of a prophet after seeing visions, many characters (such as Commander Adama) shrug their shoulders and attempt to get on with business as usual, and the atheist Gaius Baltar undergoes a religious conversion to the Cylon god. The show presents all of these approaches to spiritual matters as inadequate, unable to encompass the experience or lead to true understanding. Baltar’s character arc encompasses this, with the character alternating between basking in his newfound faith, struggling against it, and slipping into full denial of it. This allows the show to explore the experience of religion under pressure to great effect.
Based on the track record of its predecessors, it is unlikely that Star Trek: Discovery will delve into the spirituality of its human characters. Further, whether the show is good, great, or bad will not be determined by the presence of religion or lack thereof. But religion and spirituality is part of our basic humanity—from the fundamentalists who allow religion to subsume them to the atheists who reject it. Star Trek: Discovery may very well not elect to include this facet of our nature, but, if it did, it would have a plethora of new character interactions, motivations, and reactions to explore, in turn providing a better look into the psyche and humanity of its cast.
There is no doubt that the world is buzzing about the upcoming TV series Star Trek Discovery, but aside from a title and a universe to explore, not much is known about the series. Now, fans will know a little more as Jason Isaacs and Mary Wiseman are officially on board.
50 years after the original Star Trek series ended and 12 years after Star Trek: Enterprise ended, the immensely popular, science fiction franchise continues with Star Trek: Discovery in 2017. While fans will have to wait until the new year to join another crew, CBS has announced the actors that will play the series’ Kilingons.
Chris Obi (Roots, American Gods and Ghost in the Shell) will star as the Klingon leader, “T’Kuvma” seeking to unite the Klingon houses. Shazad Latif (Black Mirror, The Man Who Knew Infinity and Penny Dreadful) will star as “Kol” the Commanding Officer of the Klingons and protégé of T’Kuvma. And Mary Chieffo (Natural Disasters, Shelby’s Vacation) will star as the Battle Deck Commander of the Klingon ship, “L’Rell.”
Star Trek: Discovery (named after Discovery One from 2001: A Space Odyssey and NASA’S Space Shuttle Discovery) will be a prequel series to Star Trek, taking place 10 years before the original series (separate from the film franchise). Star Trek: Discovery will follow the crew of the USS Discovery as they explore new worlds and civilizations while also exploring the same ideologies and hope for the future that inspired millions of fans over generations. According the series creator, Bryan Fuller, the first season’s plot will revolve around an “incident and event in Star Trek history that’s been talked about but never explored.”
“The sense of discovery … what [that] means to Star Trek audiences who have been promised a future by Gene Roddenberry where we come together as a planet and seek new worlds and new alien races to explore and understand and collaborate with.” said Fuller.
The first episode of Star Trek: Discovery will air on CBS in May 2017 before subsequent episodes moving to CBS All Access and they will also be available on Netflix, Bell Media’s Space Channel and OTT service CraveTV.
To say that Bryan Fuller has a cult following is a bit of an understatement. The man has been the heart and soul of some pretty unique shows that never really seemed to attract a mainstream audience. Bryan Fuller recently stepped down from his position as the showrunner for CBS’ upcoming Star Trek series, titled Star Trek Discovery, citing a desire to focus on his other projects. Those projects, mind you, are the adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods for Starz and the reboot of Amazing Stories for NBC. I am completely onboard for both of those.
To be fair, Discovery seemed a little odd for Bryan Fuller. Yes, his earliest credits list Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (The best Star Trek), but that was a while ago and a lot has happened since then—Wonderfalls, for instance. Wonderfalls was a quirky little show that followed a hapless clerk from a souvenir store in Niagara Falls who ends up being tasked with helping people through various cryptic inanimate objects. Eventually, viewers are led to believe that her mission appears to be a part of some sort of divine plan, and the show got cancelled.
Bryan Fuller would then go on to create Dead Like Me, another story centering on a directionless girl being tasked with a with a big job against her wishes (ushering dead souls into the afterlife) as part of some grand design. That one would get 28 episodes before the lords of television would decide that its time was up. Then came Pushing Daisies, a show about a quirky pie-maker that has powers over life and death that he uses to reunite with his love but otherwise brings him a great deal of grief. That one managed 22 whole episodes before getting the boot.
What was probably Bryan Fuller’s most commercially successful show was Hannibal. While not a creation of the good Mr. Fuller, the story of Hannibal Lecter’s early days leading up to Silence of the Lambs dominated television through its first season. Hannibal seems like an outlier when compared to the rest of this litany of quirk. Now, we do get Will Graham, the series lead, and fans of what is lovingly referred to as the Fullerverse grew attached to his dog loving ways.
The similarities in his work are pretty apparent. First and foremost, these shows all employ some striking visual design. Pushing Daisies does an incredible job juxtaposing dark and bright colours, echoing the themes of the show to great effect. Even Hannibal, a much more serious affair, presents us with an amazingly artistic spectacle made of blood and bone nearly every episode, inviting the viewer to revel in the gore in the same way as the titular serial killer. This marriage of visual metaphor coupling with theme is, to me, what makes a Bryan Fuller show.
Now, you may have noticed a bit of a recurring idea with all of his creations; the reliance on similar characters is all over his body of work. There are so many proto-hipsters and manic pixie dream girls littering the Fullerverse that it sometimes feels like a liberal arts campus. Furthermore, they always seem to be struggling against fate or a divine plan, gifted with powers that always produce angst and grief. The formula breeds over-wrought philosophy in its more serious moments and irreverent humour in the lighter ones.
Honestly, when I look up at this list of shows, I can’t think of anything less Star Trek like. Gene Roddenberry’s legacy is about as hard science fiction as you are likely to find. Sure, Q and Picard were buds, and would fit nicely in with everything else, but such a capricious space god seems awful cynical by comparison.
All that aside, one has to wonder why all these shows end up cancelled, getting two seasons at best. I think the answer is pretty obvious. While these characters are pretty endearing, despite their nature, they can come off as a bit one note after a season. Their special snowflake status tends to make character development pretty slow and the stories rely on over-wrought philosophy discourse to move the greater plots along at all. Hannibal, in particular, had at least one episode that centered on two characters talking about their nature over dinner. Its great in moderation, but in the age of hour-long television, it can be a bit much.
Furthermore, Bryan Fuller tempts fate by presenting pseudo-religious material to a mainstream audience. Some people are going to love that, and did. Most people, however, are going to immediately find something less subversive. Look, I love Quantum Leap, but a character working directly for any deity might rub people the wrong way.
All this in mind, I think that American Gods is going to be fantastic. Bryan Fuller’s love of religious figures will compliment Gaiman’s work well, and being a Starz production guarantees that it won’t be dealing with your average audience, who might get scared off by the themes and spectacle already present in the source material. Also, having a clear end already in mind will keep the story grounded. If everything goes well, we might even get Anansi Boys out of the deal as well.
It’s Villains Week here at CG Magazine. A joyous time to say the least. Thinking about all the best baddies who have titillated our imaginations can’t help but bring a smile to one’s face. But it also makes one wonder—what makes a villain truly memorable? There are hundreds who have wreaked havoc in comic books and movies over the decades. But what makes certain villains stick in our collective consciousness more than others? What qualities ensure some a place in popular culture, woven into the fabric of generations of people while others just fall by the wayside? When we delve deeper, there are a number of elements that all top tiered villains need. This is the villain’s anatomy.
Delving into comics and movies, the first iconic piece every major baddie needs is the look. Whether it’s the purple clad, green haired, white-faced Joker or the stoic, hulking pitch-black suit of Darth Vader, to become an icon of villainy it doesn’t hurt to have a magnetic appearance. It’s something the audience can’t take their eyes off. The look can’t be corny or laughable, but it needs to stand out, to raise the villain above the rest of the rabble. When we think of top baddies, further examples abound. Doctor Doom covered in grey, rivet filled armour draped in his green hood and cape. The hulking grey mass known as Doomsday (from the comic), with his long white hair and bony spikes protruding from his body. A burnt man wearing an old, tattered leather glove layered with razor sharp knives…Freddy Kruger anyone? A massive, sleek alien with two mouths dripping of acid or a green skinned wicked witch, with a pointy nose and even pointier black hat.
You get the point.
For some villains, their look has become as iconic as the characters or stories themselves.
One thing is clear: the artists that create a villain—whether they are an illustrator, a writer or an actor— have a monumental impact on iconic potential of a super-baddie. Look no further than Anthony Hopkins. His portrayal of Dr. Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs won him an Oscar but it also cemented him in the minds of people the world over as one of the most terrifying villains in film history. And the best part was, he stands behind bars for most of the film. It’s his acting that gives him legendary status, the subtleties, the complexities of his performance as he taunts Jodie Foster. He resonates with audiences, chilling them to their bones. Need a few more examples? How about James Earl Jones’s deep and powerful voice as Darth Vader. Add the heavy breathing and you have an instant icon. Who can forget Ricardo Montalban as the megalomaniacal Khan in Star Trek II. His performance masterfully walked that fine line between being just a hair over-the-top, yet not going too far making him cheesy. It was the perfect balance and audiences loved him for it.
As well, a slight alteration to a character’s appearance can further his iconic status. While the Joker was always present in the minds of comic book lovers from the 40’s to the 60’s, it wasn’t until Neal Adams began drawing the Crown Prince of Crime that he found his psychotic roots. Adams drew the Joker in such a way that his villainy and madness leapt off each panel. Adams’s talent and interpretation enhanced the Joker’s iconic look and cemented him as a top tier super villain.
The Coolness Factor
Being cool is something you can’t fake. You either have it, or you don’t. This stands as true in everyday life as it does in the world of make-believe. This intangible quality is something all iconic villains have that you can’t really put your finger on. Who can forget the scene aboard the star destroyer Executor in The Empire Strikes Back? The various other bounty hunters stand side-by-side, receiving instructions from Darth Vader. Each had their own unique brand of cool, but the coolest of them all became an icon among Star Wars fans: Boba Fett. The more screen time this bounty hunter received, the cooler he became. He was a true bad ass, hunting down our beloved Han Solo. Everything about him was cool from his battered mask and outfit, raspy voice (in the original theatrical release) and his uniquely shaped ship Slave 1. You didn’t want this bounty hunter chasing you, but fans loved watching him hunting down someone else.
Vampires especially have always had an immediate coolness factor. Whether they are the crew led by Kiefer Sutherland in The Lost Boys or the puffy shirt wearing Brad Pitt in Interview with the Vampire, vampires have always been the rock stars of monster movies. Starting with Bela Legosi in 1931 in Dracula, these creatures of the night have always had the ‘it’ factor – balancing their thirst for blood with elements cool sexuality and a suave demeanor.
Finally, audiences must like the villain. Many villains aren’t redeemable, and they don’t have to be. All that is required is something audiences can connect to, something they like. That could be the pure fun of watching Jack Nicholson chase Shelley Duvall through a hotel with a knife in The Shining or Heath Ledger’s Joker torturing our beloved Caped Crusader in The Dark Knight. There must be some joy the audience takes from watching these madmen do their worst. It could be as simple as their sparkling personality: Alan Rickman will always be remembered for his twisted yet likable portrayal of Hans Gruber in Die Hard. Agent Smith, played terrifically by Hugo Weaving in The Matrix Trilogy, offers audiences another memorable baddie—a likeable suit offering a deadpan delivery and lots of exposed teeth when jostling with Keau Reeves.
Some villains don’t have much of a personality, yet they are tied to our hearts regardless. In this case, it helps if you wear a mask—think Michael Myers in Halloween or Jason Voorhees in the Friday the 13
movies. They say nothing, but their presence alone has caused audiences to fall in love with their evil ways for decades.
With Suicide Squad presently shattering records for August movie openings, it proves once again that audiences love the bad guys. One scoundrel from the film has the potential to emerge as a classic villain in popular culture. Margot Robbie nails her performance as Harley Quinn and will almost certainly return in the DCEU movies. And just wait until Halloween, Harley Quinn outfits will dominate sales from pre-teens to adults—and once you’re a costume, you’re a now member of society’s fabric and only an inch or two away from becoming an icon of villainy.
The reboot to the Star Trek movie franchise has been quite successful and has brought delight to old and new fans alike.
Today, the first trailer for Star Trek Beyond was released and is the 3rd instalment in the series since 2009. Not only does it look action-packed as fans have come to expect from these new Star Trek films, but keeps its streak of humour.
I personally am a massive Star Trek fan, and once I was able to swallow the retconning of the entire original series, I actually really enjoyed what Abrams has done with the franchise. And even though he has left the series as Director(to direct Star Wars..), he will be returning as Producer, so fans will still feel his influence.
Even if you’re a die hard fan of Star Wars with no room in your heart for any other franchise, especially that other one, now is the time to do the decent thing, put geek preferences aside for just a minute, and pay respects. Leonard Nimoy, better known to the world as Mr. Spock of Star Trek fame, has died at the age of 83 from symptoms associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Nimoy was admitted to the hospital on February 19
for chronic chest pains, a lingering effect of his heavy smoking earlier in his life, despite the fact that he’d quit over 20 years ago. On February 23
, while still in treatment, he tweeted this
A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP
LLAP is, of course, the annotated version of the iconic Vulcan phrase “Live long and prosper.”
Nimoy was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1931. While he’s been an actor, a director and even a photographer, he is best known to the geek, nerd and entire world community as Mr. Spock, the half-human, half-vulcan science officer of the starship Enterprise. The Vulcans typified an ideal race where logic, not passion, ruled their decision making process, and it is this grounding in facts and common sense—not fear and prejudice—that made Mr. Spock one of the most beloved characters in all of science fiction history.
Even though he was just a character in television and film, Mr. Spock’s legacy will be felt throughout the world, and we’re a smaller, sadder place with his passing. Live long and prosper, Leonard Nimoy, you, and Mr. Spock, will be deeply missed.