Tag Archives: Star Trek

Galaxy Quest – Why I Love It Like Wrath of Khan

In honor of the late, great Alan Rickman, I watched Galaxy Quest again the other night. In my mind, I know that it’s a fantastic movie, but seeing it again always surprises me at just how good it is. Not only is it infinitely quotable on the order of Big Trouble in Little China or The Princess Bride, but I think it’s one of the greatest Star Trek movies ever made.

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Ooooooooh Yeeeeeaaaaaa! *said in a Kool-Aid Man voice.

No really, I love it in some ways even more than Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and for those who may not know me, let me tell you that’s saying something. The bagpipes at Spock’s funeral and Kirk’s voice catching when he said “His was the most…human” still bring tears to my eyes. True story.

So why do I love Galaxy Quest so much? Good question, I’m glad you asked.  Here’s the rundown of my top 3 reasons:

#3 It Understood Star Trek Better Than Star Trek Did:

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Nope.

Galaxy Quest arrived right between the rather ‘meh’ offering of Star Trek: Insurrection and the soul-numbing death knell of the TNG movies, Nemesis.  The Next Gen movies were often a bitter pill for Trek fans back then. Yeah, First Contact was quite good, and certainly the best of the bunch, but I never cared for the idea of a Borg Queen, or at-will time travel (again), or their portrayal of Zefram Cochrane. But I digress…ahem.

In truth, Galaxy Quest seemed to have a better understanding of Star Trek and its fans FAR and away better than the people who were in charge of the actual franchise at the time. From the fans who seem painfully familiar on the convention floor, to the tropes of the Original Series (and straight through the chompers…), all of these things told me that it was a parody made with utmost love for the source material. The elevator scene where the actors see the NCES Protector in space dock, glowing like an angel, could have been the Enterprise clearing its moorings to the sweep of a James Horner score.

Dean Parisot, David Howard, and Robert Gordon knew what we wanted to see in a Star Trek movie, and in so doing, gave us a parody that was better than the thing it was imitating. You know, like a cinematic Weird Al Yankovic.

#2 Brandon & Quellek:

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Yeah, I was totally this guy.

There are two characters that deeply capture what it means to be a Trek fan (no, I’m not using ‘Trekkie’ or ‘Trekker’ here. Debate the usage elsewhere, please). The first is Brandon, the nerdy teenager played by Justin Long. He totally echoes my 15-year-old self who dreamed that my incredible Trek nerdiness and knowledge of the official tech manuals might one day come in useful when William Shatner or Patrick Stewart showed up and needed my help.  When Brandon exclaims, “I knew it!” it speaks to the hope that somewhere, out in the vastness of space, the Enterprise is a real ship, a real place you can go, and not just a TV set made of wood and Christmas lights.

The other is Quellek, the Thermian who idolizes Dr. Lazarus. Ask yourself this: how many real-life scientists were inspired by Leonard Nimoy’s Spock? A great deal, I’m sure. The characters that actors portray can mean something to us deep down, really mean something.  They can inspire us in ways the actor may have never imagined.  Quellek says, “Even though we had never before met, I always considered you as a father to me.” That really sums up the actor-fan relationship, especially for that one character that really speaks to you. Galaxy Quest understood that, embraced it, and made it part of the story.

#1 Alan Rickman:

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😥

The cast of this movie (including the Queen of Sci-fi herself, Sigourney Weaver) really shines, no doubt about it. Alan Rickman, however, is off the chain as Sir Alexander Dane/Dr. Lazarus. For an actor so celebrated for his villainous roles, it’s refreshing to see his comedic side as an actor who feels trapped by the role of Dr. Lazarus, and constantly upstaged by his rival, Jason Nesbitt.

But as funny as he is, it’s during those serious moments in the film that Rickman really brings it all home. Going back to Quellek’s death, we see that Alexander, who has never liked his character’s oft-repeated tagline, says “By Grapthar’s Hammer, by the Sons of Warvan, you shall be avenged.” And we know that he means it thanks to Rickman’s masterful dramatic delivery.  I think this is the most powerful scene in the movie. It gives the movie, which is mostly parody, a dose of real gravity. It would be like getting a full-on “Live Long and Prosper” from Leonard Nimoy if we thought he was, in fact, Spock. Oh, the feels. THE. FEELS.

Conclusion:

This movie has a special place in my heart, not only because of the reasons I listed above, but because as a whole, it just works. To me, it’s about hard reality intruding on fantasy, which makes watching it bittersweet since Alan Rickman is now gone, along with his character’s real-life analogue, Leonard Nimoy.

You know, writing that last sentence, putting it into words, really hurt.

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“…”

Being a Star Trek fan is in my blood. I was blessed to grow up with two parents who both liked the Original Series, and embraced Next Gen immediately when it came around. I went to Star Trek conventions when it was actively uncool to do so, but I met a lot of my fellow fans.  For a kid who was incredibly shy and introverted, it was such a relief to strike up a conversation with a total stranger on the convention floor just because we both loved something.

The fans are, and shall always be, one of the greatest things about Star Trek, and that is what Galaxy Quest included that other, actual Star Trek films just can’t. This is why a parody like this rates right up there with Wrath of Khan. It taught me that if you truly love something you should…

…say it with me…

Never give up! Never surrender!


Thinking Around the Periphery

So, I watched World War Z recently.  I’m a fan of Max Brooks and the epistolary tale he created about life during (and after) the zombie apocalypse.  This big-budget  summer blockbuster starring Brad Pitt really only has the name in common with the book, however. While I’m not a huge fan of the zombie genre in general, I went in with an open mind. I wasn’t expecting Shakespeare or Joss Whedon, just a visually stimulating romp through zombie-infested cities.  Even with what could be considered modest-to-low expectations, I did not care for the movie overall. There were far too many coincidences that bothered me, too many things that seemed to ring false.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a movie review, but there’s some spoilage ahead both for World War Z and Star Trek: Into Darkness. If you are allergic to spoilers, and haven’t seen these movies, you should ‘opt out’ now. Consider yourself forewarned.

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Not to be confused with the book, World War Z.

Okay, continuing on…there is one sequence in WWZ that takes place in Jerusalem. It was the breaking point for me. The Israeli government has erected an incredibly tall, seemingly unassailable wall to keep out the zombie swarm. When I say ‘swarm,’ I mean it. The zombies on the other side of the wall look like an overturned anthill or something from A Song of Ice And Fire. The Israelis even have armed helicopters running air patrol around the edge of the wall.

It wasn’t that a young Muslim girl singing over the PA was apparently loud enough to draw the zombies en masse (especially when there are a bunch of helicopters nearby). It wasn’t the zombies piling on top of one another (in what was certainly a concerted effort) to scale the gigantic wall in two minutes that was the breaking point either. No, it was the fact that there were zero guards up on the top of the wall keeping an eye out. When zombies start coming over the wall, everyone is surprised. You would think that if the Israelis were so intent on building this gigantic fortification, that it might look like something from a prison with watchtowers every hundred feet or so.  Nope, the zombies get all the way to the top and start pouring over, catching everyone flat-footed.

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Really? Really?

That scene felt incredibly contrived when I saw it. It felt like that the various screenwriters attached to the project had needed the zombies to get over that wall because A.) It would make a striking visual and B.) Brad Pitt could make a daring escape. I answered my own question, and I didn’t like it.

Q: Why didn’t the Israelis have people on the wall to prevent something like from happening?

A: Because the story wouldn’t have worked if they did.

Of course, every fiction writer lives in the world of convenient contrivances, and I’m no exception. Fiction needs contrivances or else the story might be believable but bland. Say the Doctor lands the TARDIS and finds immediately that he’s in a dangerous situation. If he just said, “Forget it, I’m outta here!” slammed the door and got away, the episode would be extremely short and not very interesting. So, oftentimes the Doctor must stay where he is, or can’t get back to the TARDIS, or there’s something to keep him in the thick of things. I’m pretty forgiving of these contrivances because I see how necessary they are. So long as the justification for the Doctor hanging around (when he should just leave) is acceptable, I can suspend my disbelief long enough share in his adventure.

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I write a blog now. Blogs are cool.

It’s when that justification is weak or too jagged a pill to take that the wheels start to come off of a story. So, it’s that justification that holds things in place around the periphery. Think of a story, or even a specific scene in a book, movie, etc. as a trampoline. The black bouncy part is the scene/story itself while the justifications are like the springs that keep it all in place.  In the case of World War Z, it feels like not enough thought was given to the periphery of that particular scene, and so my suspension of disbelief came crashing down just like I had hopped on a trampoline with only a fifth of its springs.

Let me give you another example, also from a movie. In Star Trek: Into Darkness, there is a scene that really irked me. Kirk and Khan must get from the Enterprise over to the enemy dreadnought, Vengeance.  Conveniently the transporter system is down, but the Enterprise is damaged, so I give them a bit of a pass there. So, Kirk and Khan decide to physically launch themselves across to the other ship using spacesuits. There’s a debris field between the two ships that they have to navigate through to make things interesting. Okay, I’ll bite. The hatch that they have to hit at incredibly high speeds on the Vengeance is extremely small.  Um, sure, a small thermal exhaust port right below the main port. Got it.

Scotty, meanwhile, has infiltrated the enemy ship, and it’s his job to open the hatch when the two space jumpers get close. The controls to open the hatch are in a long, narrow bay with a high ceiling. Here’s the odd thing, though – the hatch is just a hatch, not an airlock. Opening the hatch will decompress that entire large compartment.

Wait, what?

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How my face looked at the time. Maybe I just needed a Snickers.

On a starship wouldn’t you want all of your exits to be airlocks? What purpose does that bay even serve if the whole thing can be decompressed at the touch of a button? Could it be a cargo loading bay, where things either can or must be loaded/unloaded under vacuum? No, the hatch is barely big enough for two men to fit through at the same time. So, why is the hatch even there then? Once again, I answered my own questions.

Q: Why isn’t that hatch an airlock?

A: Because Kirk and Khan would smash into the inside door if it was.

Q: Why is that hatch so small?

A: To artificially inflate the drama of the scene.

Q: Why is the room so long and narrow?

A: So Kirk and Khan have enough room to skid to a halt.

The whole scene unraveled for me right there in the theatre.  My best guess is that the writers came up with the idea for a cool action scene and didn’t spare much on all those elements surrounding it. Once again, a trampoline without springs. Unfortunately, this is a trend I see in movies more and more these days.

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Yeah, in more ways than one.

So, where I am going with all this? This is a plea to fiction writers to think around the peripheries of their stories, the parts that are sitting just outside of the spotlight. I know fiction writers out there already have their hands full creating compelling characters, coming up with exciting storylines and so forth. Even still, please don’t forget to at least give the edges of your stories a once over, maybe even spend some quality time making sure the springs are secure before attempting a backflip.

Can you over-justify a scene? Can you make the springs so big that the black bouncy part is the size of a trashcan lid? Of course you can, but I would much rather be accused of putting far too much thought into something than not enough.


My Origin Story

So, how did all start for me? What’s my origin story? Sadly it does not involve radioactive spiders or being launched from Krypton as it exploded. At least, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t.

The following is a look at how I became a storyteller. Note that I use the word ‘storyteller’ instead of ‘author.’ As you’ll see, I was telling stories before I ever started writing them down. Parts of this are shamelessly cannibalized from the ‘About’ section of my website and this blog.

So, I grew up in a pretty small town rural Texas. I often describe it as being a lot like the Dukes of Hazzard, though with far fewer car chases. I was an only child. Though I had plenty of cousins who were like brothers and sisters (and still are to this day), I was often in need of ways to entertain myself. Television of the 80s played a big part of my childhood. Sure, many of the shows like The A-Team and Knight Rider really don’t hold up all that well when you watch them now (even if they have very hummable theme songs), but they were fertile soil for my young imagination. It also sowed the seeds of my eventual fanboy-dom.

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Try to be in a bad mood while humming it.
Go on, try it.

Both of my parents were big fans of Star Trek. Some of my earliest memories of watching TV include scenes of Kirk, Spock and Scotty arrayed in their bright 60s uniforms. I think the Enterprise (1701) started me on my life-long love of ships. I was pretty young when I started creating stories in my head. Sure, most kids make up stories at that age, but I found that I built up a repertoire of stories that I could recite consistently and on command. And, well, I never really stopped after that.

Many of those early forays included cartoon characters from the 80s teaming up to go on adventures together. (The tale of Optimus Prime and Rick Hunter teaming up to defeat the mechanized legions of Mumm-Ra springs to mind.)

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Mumm-Ra must be stopped…no matter the cost.

I also found my love of reading at an early age, which was the gateway drug into writing stories. In Second Grade, I wrote a story in the form of a The Twilight Zone episode entitled “Identity Crisis.” When I read it to the class I did my best impression of Rod Serling speaking the intro, complete with the intense eyebrows.

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Not bad for a total n00b.

Even back then, I knew that the fantastical side of fiction was what really called to me. It wasn’t that I found real life boring. No, it was largely the creative canvas that fiction afforded me. If I wanted the colors of the rainbow arranged in a different order than they appeared in the sky, no problem. Say I wanted the Pacific War fought with dragons launched from giant turtles instead of aircraft carriers. Done. Not even the sky was the limit. I could take reality and reshape it as I saw fit.

Since that time, the thrill I get from creating worlds and writing fiction has never left me.

Sure, I could go into my years at school, which led to college and my eventual writing career, but all of that is mundane, the kind of stuff they skip in the comics or at the beginning of a movie.

Without a doubt, those early influences put my life on its current trajectory. While I didn’t uncover a powerful alien artifact or find that I’m a latent telepath, I did discover a deep and abiding love of stories, characters and far away horizons.

That love is a big part of who I am today.

True story.