Tuesday, February 27, 2018

To Brazenly Reboot... Star Trek Discovery Review (Part 2)

Also, in case it's not obvious...  *SPOILER ALERT!  CONDITION RED!*  The review contains spoilers for the first season.
The Ugly

Let's start with the Klingons... they're horrible.  Mush-mouthed over prosthetic'ed alien of the week makeup with little to no flexibility or ability for the actors to convey emotion or at times even simply move their necks.  They physically and philosophically bear almost no resemblance to the established Klingons in Star Trek.  I was too young to participate in the bruhaha in Trek fandom that happened when green facepaint Mongolian Space Communists turned slowly into ridged foreheaded Viking Samurai hybrids.  I expected more grimdark in tone and action Klingons given post-BSG reboot scifi but I didn't expect them to abandon almost everything that made them Klingons.  They pay lipservice to the old lore but these would have been much better as completely new aliens rather than Klingons.  The same holds true to the Klingon ships that bear *ZERO* resemblence to what came before and after supposedly in the same timeline.  The D-7 made an appearance midway through and was completely unrecognizable.  The ship asthetics really do bolster my opinion that the what Discovery calls Klingons would be much better if classified as a completely new alien race/fleet.

On a similar note, I'm simply not a fan of the asthetics used on a show that is ostensibly set only a few years before TOS.  Again, I fully expected and wanted updated visuals and tech but the showrunners have effectively rebooted 90% of the visuals with little regard for what came before beyond an occasional bridge beep boop or photon torpedo whoosh.  The bridge feels way too dark and metallic for a Star Trek show and the ship designs look someone spilled Stargate and Tron (both of which I like) all over some Trek outlines and forgot to clean it up.  Ironically there is the occasional almost exact port of an old prop like a communicator that I'd have prefered them to update instead.  Again, I'll use the JJverse Starfleet uniforms as an example of what I expected as they're both modern, different, yet instantly recognizable as Trek.  Something as simple as using primary colors (grey, red, blue, yellow) and brighter lighting on the exact same Discovery bridge with the exact same special effects would have been enough to scratch that itch.  The showrunners wanted to change everything in a reboot while still claiming to be a prequel to the classic Trek timeline.  I'm sorry but you can't have it both ways and they should have just flatout admitted they were changing so much ahead of time like JJ Abrams did with his movies so that the series could be judged on its own merits.  A clean break with classic Trek might be what the IP needs but they should have been honest with the fans after doing so instead of hedging their bets.  It also feels like the showrunners did a 60 degree turn after the midseason break with more blatantly forced fanservice nods to TOS culminating in the appearance of *THE* U.S.S. Enterpise in the season finale that looks somewhat like it doesn't belong in either visually.

Lastly we have the blatant intrusion of real world politics into the show by a creative team with a distinct left leaning agenda.  Star Trek has always tackled social issues in a progressive way but I've never seen it couched so blatantly in political rather than moral terms.  The writers are on record as having based the Klingons on Trump supporters and the parody continues over in the Mirror Universe.  Comments by actors prior to the show's premiere actively dismissing classic fans as unimportant in response to the criticism of the asthetics and politcs certainly don't help either.  Now my political leanings are decidely in the ever shrinking center and I was completely disgusted with both mainstream party choices in the 2016 election but the writers taking out their frustrations on having lost an election within their scifi work is a step too far.  Leave the one sided real world politics out of Star Trek and stick to debating the morality that underpins the issues at hand instead.

The Final Verdict

Overall, I'd give the show as is a 1.5 stars out of 4 despite the relatively different word counts I gave to the category above.  If the show had been properly advertised as a reboot without the baggage of classic Trek, I'd have given it a 2 / 4.  If you don't fancy classic trek, that latter score is probably more applicable to you.  It has/had promise (some of it already squandered with wasted good characters) but I'm not entirely sure it'll make it much past the first two or three seasons.  The beginning of a Trek series has always been rough with those initial seasons traditionally being the worst (TNG, DS9, VOY, ENT) but the TV landscape has changed and I don't know if fans and/or the network will stick with the show long enough for it to find its own niche.

Will I watch the second season?  Probably.. if I can yet again find a way to do it for free like I did this time with the introductory free week of streaming on CBS All Access... but I certainly won't pay separately for the priveledge to do so.  I also have no interest in the associated merchandise that I'd normally be a shoe in for like T-shirts, models, and books.  I suppose I'm simply just not in that new 18-40 demographic that the show is looking to hook but rather in the 40+ dedicated fan demographic that they largely (at best) take for granted or (at worst) actively disregard.

To Brazenly Reboot... Star Trek Discovery Review (Part 1)

I finally got around to watching the full first season of Star Trek Discovery and decided to post a rambling review.  I'll start out by addressing what I expected from the show as there unfortunately is a common strawman argument/insult that comes up in discussions.  As a fan of classic Trek, I expect a new show set a few years before The Original Series (TOS) to absolutely have modern special effects and "future" technology but I also expected those asthetics to be inspired by and reminiscent of the originals.  I typically use the JJ Abrams Trek movie uniforms as an example of that.  Sadly, the most common response to a critical analysis of this recent show by fans is to instantly dub the critic a luddite who wanted the show to stay exactly the same as the 1960s version.  Also, in case it's not obvious...  *SPOILER ALERT!  CONDITION RED!*  The review contains spoilers for the first season.

The Good

The special effects are top notch and well they should be given the rumored budget of over $8 million per episode.  Simply put, they're probably the most consistent and best quality effects in technical terms that I've seen on a TV ever.  I'm particularly sensitive to needless greenscreens and there were only a few scenes in the entire season where the quality or proficiency of the special effects made me raise a Vulcan eyebrow in disappointment.  While I dislike the chosen asthetics on the show for different reasons (see The Ugly below), their implementation on the show was done very professionally.

I'm also a fan of many of the secondary supporting characters like Cadet Tilly, Captain Lorca, Doctor Culber, and Commander Saru.  They add alot of depth to the show that the main character lacks and portray the width and breadth in personality that someone in Starfleet could display.  Cadet Tilly is the wide eyed stand in for the fans who geeks out awkwardly when cool things happen.  Captain Lorca was (at least initially) a TNG Jellico style no nonsense hardball captain who is willing to occasionally skirt the rules and regulations for the greater good.  Doctor Culber is in a way the opposite to Lorca in that he represents the veteran character who likely has seen much but still espouses the caring and ideals that underpin the Federation.  Commander Saru feels like the link to the previous TNG/DS9/VOY era of exemplary Starfleet Officers leading by example despite his inner turmoil.  Unfortunately, I don't expect to see much of some of them in the next seasons (spoilers! see below).

 The Bad

First up here is the delivery service for the show in the U.S.A., CBS All Access.  Unfortunately for those of us here in the country that created Star Trek, it's being used as a ham fisted way to get people to join a streaming service with literally nothing else in terms of new unique content to offer.  I subscribe to both Amazon Prime and Netflix streaming services and have access to almost everything else that I might want to stream from the CBS library already without paying for largely the same (old) shows yet again.  On top of that, the show wasn't delivered in normal Netflix style "bingeable" season lumps but instead drip drabbed out over the course of 5 months to inflate subscription revenue.   The cherry on top is that the quality of the app on my xbox was absolutely horrible.  Out of the dozen discrete times I watched the show, only once did the app actually work on the first attempt.  Almost every time, I had the initial video missing (while the audio played) necessitating a restart which led to a crash and another restart where hopefully it would finally work.  One time, it took almost 10 attempts/crashes and 15+ minutes to actually get any video signal.  Once it worked, it then worked for the rest of the viewing session though but the initial stat up was very frustrating.  And, no, it wasn't an issue with my internet as I was able to surf the web looking for advice while it was screwing up and the xbox itself had been online and working with other apps/games both just prior.

Next up is the story line.  I expected a darker tone in the new show in this post BSG reboot era of scifi television but what I didn't expect was the shoehorning in of a mutiny and subsequent war with the most contrived ending after the writers realized their mistake.  The show gave us no time to get to know or appreciate the characters before mutilating, killing, and ruining their lives supposedly before convientently reversing some of that by the end with no real reprecussions.  The main character directly caused the death of thousands in the hours after her mutiny and then likely millions to billions in the subsequent year and a half of galactic war with the Klingons in which the Federation took heavy losses.... and yet all was forgiven by the end with her good name and rank restored along with a rousing speech and medal on her chest for deus ex machina'ing the end of the war that she started.  Michael Burnham is ironically the main character in a mainstream Star Trek series but feels like she is lifted right out of bad 1970's fanfiction.  There has always been an element of lack of reprecussions in Star Trek for the main character(s) but starting a galactic war and getting a 6 month sentence takes that leeway orders of magnitude further.  Simply put, I think the show would have been better without Michael Burnham and had instead focused on the supporting cast I mentioned above.

I was quite disappointed with the fate of two of my favorite characters, Captain Lorca and Doctor Culber.  The captain went from a nuanced portrayal of a hardnosed but loyal officer to a moustache twirling villain and allegory for modern US politics.  Doctor Culber was simply wasted as a needless death midway through the season.  In the meantime, the unlikeable main character portrayed by an actress who seems to be phoning in the performance despite displaying obvious talent in a supporting role in the Walking Dead is given a tons of screen time and a free plot pass for crimes against the galaxy while better characters are either misused or tossed to the wayside.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Let Slip the Ships of War! (Ares Class)

Anyone remember when this ship and its production were the most controversial and divisive topic in Trek fandom?  Ah, the good ol' days of 2016!  :)   It took me a while but I've finally gotten around to stating up the cool looking Ares class from the Prelude to Axanar fan film for both the new Star Trek Adventures RPG by Modiphius as well as the old FASA Starship Combat and RPG game.  There isn't a single complete repository of information about this fan created ship so I've looked around various wikis and the extensive series of Trekyards interviews in order to properly stat up the ship.  Special thanks to CaptShade who has allowed me to use his images on my blog as well as to Sean Tourangeau and Alec Peters for creating the Axanar ship design in the first place.  While I may disagree with how the Axanar team conducted themselves in the years after their initial crowdfunding, I can't deny that I enjoyed the initial fruits of their labor in Prelude.

For balance purposes, the Ares in the FASA rules has "only" six (!) photon torpedo launchers for the Mk I instead of the eight officially listed and I've reclassified it as a frigate built during the Four Year's War given the its role in the Axanar lore as a dedicated warship (instead of an assault cruiser which doesn't exist in Fasa).   Additionally, I've included some small counters for the class to use as needed on a hex board.  The more abstracted and less nitty gritty Star Trek Adventures rules for ship frameworks meant that I could pretty much stat it up without changing anything significant.  Just click on the images below in a new window for full sized versions of the sheets or click on the subsequent PDF links for that format.  As always, feel free to comment below and I hope you all enjoy this tough uncharacteristic warship of the Federation!