Archive for the ‘star trek’ Tag

[50/50] Genre Movie #1: “Star Trek II”

Monday, October 28th, 2013

Genre Movie #1: “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1982)

star_trek2-01For the 25th anniversary of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”, we saw a special showing at The Carolina Theater with a fully restored 35mm print — and it was gorgeous. While you can laugh at William Shatner’s overacting or Ricardo Montalban’s chestplate, this is a stunningly beautiful film and, for all its special effects, a tense intimate drama. Kirk and Khan never appear in the same scene together, yet their interstellar mano-e-mano is one of the best boxing matches in cinema. Plus, thanks to big screen budget, we finally get to see the kind of damage starships can do.

“Star Trek II” isn’t just the best Trek movie, it’s a great sci-fi movie period. And, without its success — both commercially and storytelling-wise — there would never have been a “Next Generation,” no “Deep Space Nine” and (for what it’s worth) no JJ Abrams reboot.

And yes, I cried when Spock died. If you can get through Leonard Nimoy’s iconic death scene without shedding a tear, Scotty playing “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes will finish you off — heck, anyone playing “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes chokes me up. It’s a scene that deserves its reputation.

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[50/50] Books: Keep on Trekkin’

Friday, October 11th, 2013

Book #6:
“The Making of Star Trek” — Stephen E. Whitfield (1968)
“Star Trek: The Inside Story” — Herbert Solow/Robert Justman (1996)

Book #7: “Star Fleet Technical Manual” — Franz Joseph (1975)

themakingofstartrekWe had two bibles in our house. One was The Holy Bible, and the other was … The Making of Star Trek. I dare say I read the later much more than the former. The paperback copy my dad gave me in the early ’70s (at left) went with me to school every day, and into my backpack on many a hike. It has been loved into mulch and is still held together — barely — with old cellophane tape. It was a huge best-seller, and beyond its nerd cache, “The Making of Star Trek” is a seminal title in both publishing and Hollywood. It was the first behind-the-scenes book that showed the public the step-by-step of how a TV show is actually created, right down to budget memos. It also introduced fans to the idea of a ‘show bible’ and reproduced early production sketches, set photos and prop measurements. If Star Trek (the show) inspired kids to become astronauts, scientists and doctors, then “The Making of Star Trek” inspired a generation of writers, filmmakers and producers, and gave them their first look at what it takes to make something for the screen.

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And if “The Making of” was the alpha of Trek books, “Inside Star Trek,” by the show’s two original producers, Herb Solow and Robert Justman, was the Omega. Written soon after Gene Roddenberry’s death, Solow and Justman decided to finally tell the rest of the behind-the-scene stories, and their version differs greatly from the official mythos Roddenberry encouraged.

insidestFull of fascinating tidbits (such as the fact that Lucille Ball herself put up the money for the show and bet the future of her production company on getting it on the air), “Inside Star Trek” deals with the downside of the creative process: the insane politics of the studios and the networks, and what it takes to keep a business enterprise like this going. It also reveals a number of long-rumored truths about creator Gene Roddenberry.

While Roddenberry was the driving force behind the show, it turned out he frequently went off rails and needed constant reining in. Known for promoting strong female characters, it seems this was because he often promised big speaking parts to actresses he slept with, not because he was a feminist. Roddenberry also often took credit for others’ work (he got co-author credit on The Making of book, for example, though he had nothing to do with it). Luckily for us, he was very good at hiring very talented people, and it was their collaborative effort that gave us one of the best TV shows of all time. If you like the show at all, or are interested in how television productions are made, it’s worth tracking down this book.

StarTrekStarFleetTechnicalManualFinally, there is the “Star Fleet Technical Manual.” If Star Trek invented modern fandom (for good or for ill), then this codified it. Building off the ideas and images in “The Making of Star Trek,” engineer and Trek fan Franz Joseph created a stunning and influential tome that provided ship designs, prop schematics, maps, dress patterns — everything that was so lovingly mocked in Galaxy Quest — in a title that is still regularly reprinted today.

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[50/50] New Fall Schedule for JPTV

Monday, September 30th, 2013

cbs_logoI watched too much television growing up. My dad always warned us that if we didn’t stop, we’d turn into one giant eye — like the CBS logo. And he was right. TV is a drug, a powerful narcotic, and I was an addict. I wasted many many hours on really stupid shows, hours that I wish I had back now to waste on something important.

That said, there was one thing I loved about television, and that was the strange modern custom American networks developed around the launch of the fall season. The TV Guide preview, the annual handicapping of new shows, the ritual sacrifice of the first cancellation. Even if I didn’t watch all the shows (and you couldn’t back then), I loved looking at the programming grid.

Head over to wikipedia and check out the grids for every TV season back to 1946: it is a fascinating time capsule, especially when it comes to shows, concepts and entire networks you’ve probably never heard of (Rhumba dancing in prime time! Something called the DuMont Network!)

It wasn’t just me — there were actually several different board games in the ’60s and early ’70s where players would compete against each other in creating successful programming lineups for fictional networks.

While I generally agree with Marshall McLuhan’s famous assessment of TV, there are a few shows I could watch again (and again in summer repeats) that I have fond memories of, or are just truly great on a literary, cultural or entertaining level. So with that in mind, I give you the perfect Fall Schedule for JPTV.

TV grid

[click on grid to enbiggen]

[50/50] Video Game #4: “Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator”

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

Video Game #4: “Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator” (1982)

Star_Trek_-_Strategic_Operations_SimulatorLet’s just put it this way: my brother and I own a copy of this game.

The 400 lb. arcade version.

[50/50] Video Game #5: Space Wars

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

Video Game #5: Space Wars (1977) aka Spacewar! (1962)

1181242171185Want to determine once and for all if an Imperial Star Destroyer can beat the USS Enterprise? Want to play THE original video game? You can do both with what is considered by many to be the very first digital game: Spacewar! Created in 1962 to showcase the computing power of the PDP-1 computer, Spacewar! is credited with helping to close many a sale of the expensive mainframe. Object? Blow up your opponent. While popular with programmers, the game was never available to the public.*

One of those programmers, Nolan Bushnell, who would eventually go on to found Atari, was inspired by Spacewar! to build the first commercial video game a decade later: Computer Space. Alas, in spite of its cool futuristic cabinet (which made a cameo in 1973’s “Soylent Green“), Computer Space wasn’t much fun to play.computer-space-ad

What was fun? Space Wars, the commercial version of the PDP-1 game. Released in 1977 in the wake of Star Wars, the programmers creating the game had the brilliant idea, and presence of mind, to update the appearance of the two ship to look like those in Star Wars and Star Trek. And a star was born.

Talk about simple: the ships were composed of a handful of vector lines, moving against a black screen with a few dots on it for stars, and a circle in the middle representing the sun.  And yet this simple setup produced one of the greatest games ever. Object? Blow up your opponent. Don’t fall into the sun. Really. That was it.

Honestly though, if its your brother’s ship you’re annihilating, what more do you need?

 

* Until now. Last year, someone emulated the original Spacewar! game and put it online. Enjoy.

[50/50] Short Story #8: “A Sound of Thunder”

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

Short Story #8: “A Sound of Thunder” — Ray Bradbury (1952)

k-bigpicI have two very clear memories of my father introducing me to science fiction. When I was 7 and my brother was 5, he took us to see “2001: A Space Odyssey.” On the big screen. It was the cinematic equivalent of giving a child acid, and I will always be grateful. Before we went into the theater, I remember him crouching down in front of us and saying something like, ‘boys, you’re not going to understand what you’re about to see, but it’s important that you see it.’

The next summer, while we were at the beach during one particularly rainy family vacation, we stumbled across “Star Trek” on TV. It had just gone into syndication, and he was excited that we would get to experience it. The first episode we saw was “The Trouble with Tribbles,” which of course meant we were permanently hooked. For the next couple of years, he and I would watch Star Trek together most afternoons when I got home from elementary school. Again, I am eternally grateful.

I know he also pointed me in the direction of “A Sound of Thunder,” though the details are now fuzzy. I just remember laying on the couch at my grandmother’s house, gobsmacked, as I finished reading Bradbury’s most famous short story. It is not his best, far from it in fact, but its O. Henry ending — and that it helped coin the term “butterfly effect” – ensures you probably know it even if you haven’t read it.

Hunters + Time Travel + Dinosaurs. What could possibly go wrong?

Find out here: http://www.lasalle.edu/~didio/courses/hon462/hon462_assets/sound_of_thunder.htm

Image courtesy of io9 and its “Can you outrun a T-Rex?” (The answer is no.)

[50/50] Albums #21 & #42: Ambient & Electronic

Monday, March 25th, 2013

Album #42: “Man in Space with Sounds” — Attilio Mineo (1962)
Album #21: “Switched-on Bach” — Walter/Wendy Carlos (1968)

Mineo Attilio - Man In Space With Sound (Front)Echoes, one of the oldest ambient music shows in the country, airs from a station in Pennsylvania — as I discovered soon after graduating from college. I stumbled across it one night looking for Hearts of Space, THE oldest ambient show, which has been placidly broadcasting from San Francisco for almost 40 years. Losing track of both when I moved away from Central PA and WITF, I joyfully rediscovered them once internet radio had been established. All-nighters went so much easier with these shows, I’d track them to different online stations as the timezones rolled on…

Switched_On_BachOf course, it turned out I’d been listening to ambient and electronic music from the very beginning. One of our favorite albums, one that my brother asked my dad to play again and again, was “Man in Space with Sounds,” a record he had brought back from the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. Originally recorded in the early 1950s, it is pure space age lounge music, sweeping orchestrals punctuated by moody electronic sound effects. Released at the height of the space race, and with back-to-back World Fairs showing Americans the promise of a shiny future, “Man in Space with Sounds” was the perfect soundtrack for its time.

Created when composers were beginning to experiment with new technologies — such as the all-electronic soundtrack of “Forbidden Planet” — Attilio Mineo’s album had to have been an influence on Alexander Courage, the original composer on Star Trek, as several of Mineo’s effects sound eerily similar to those on the TV show.

Here’s a little video I did in 2011 while simultaneously watching an online conference and the last space shuttle launch, set to the track “Gayway to Heaven” (that’s not a typo — apparently the amusement park area of the Fair was called the “gayway.” Oh, you people of the past!)

Which brings us to the next album, the first best-selling record composed entirely on the Moog Synthesizer. Walter Carlos’ Switched-On Bach was a huge hit for Carlos and Moog, and in our house, where it endlessly fascinated us — especially my brother, who went on to later try and and recreate the sound on his DX-7. Carlos went on to do the soundtrack for Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” but not before becoming better known for changing his sex and name to Wendy Carlos.

The future had clearly arrived.