Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Boldly Went Where No Trek Had Gone Before

Twenty-five years ago, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9) premiered on syndicated TV and right from the start this Star Trek spinoff charted its own unique direction. Unlike other Star Trek TV shows, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine stood out beginning with its premise and later by taking advantage of it. The show did not take place onboard a starship that traveled to different planets each week. The main character was not even a captain and was deeply troubled. More than any other Star Trek show, this one truly focused on its ensemble cast to create a rich tapestry of characters who actually grew throughout the run of the series.

When executive producer Rick Berman and writer/producer Michael Piller set out to create a new spinoff after the success of Star Trek: The Next Generation they did not take the easy route. Instead of just recycling the elements of Star Trek that made it so phenomenal they tried something different. The result was a show based on a space station with fallible characters that did not always get along with each other. Instead of having the cast explore other planets, other races came to the station, some coming from a nearby wormhole, and often the consequences of meeting the aliens were explored.  Showrunners like Ira Steven Behr took over and ran with the premise. Simmering political, social and religious situations were explored. Tensions boiled over into a long-running arc where the Federation went to war with the formidable Dominion and the impact of the war was fully examined in the program. For the first time, Star Trek became more serialized as season-long arcs were introduced, a rarity in ’90s television.

Unlike the more safe Star Trek shows running at that time, DS9 was edgier, took more risks, and went where no Trek had gone before by exploring volatile issues like social injustice, ethnic and racial tensions, taboo relationships and more. In fact, for all the noise made about Star Trek: Discovery with its non-white lead, homosexual relationships and hot-button issues, it has to be mentioned that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine covered all of this twenty five years ago.

To say that DS9 was ahead of its time is an understatement, but it can help explain why it was not a huge hit back in its day. More attention was paid to Star Trek: The Next Generation and later to Star Trek: Voyager since the latter show featured Trek’s first female lead. Yet both shows played it safe with its storylines and characters. After a while fans noticed that their familiar premise of spaceships exploring the unknown was becoming too pedestrian and predictable. DS9 on the other hand, took chances and the result was some of the richest and most memorable Star Trek stories.

Unlike many programs, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has aged well and is as relevant today as ever. Many are discovering the show and appreciate what it set out to do, which is why its reputation has grown over the years. While most will claim that the original Star Trek is still the best, a valid argument can be made that DS9 is actually the best Star Trek ever. If you haven’t seen the show, I highly recommend you sample it, even though the earlier episodes are the show’s weakest. However, DS9 comes into its own and before long, you will be binge watching it.

 Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is the most groundbreaking Star Trek show ever made because it boldly went where no Trek had gone before with its unique premise and rich characters and stories.

Lewis T. Grove

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Star Trek: The Next Generation Showed It Was Possible To Catch Lightning In A Bottle Twice

As we’re getting ready for the return of Star Trek to TV (or rather Trek’s first foray into original streaming service) with Star Trek: Discovery, it’s a prime time to look back at Star Trek: The Next Generation, which was Star Trek’s first foray in a then-unique syndication format. Devoted fans already know that it’s the 30th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The series is almost as beloved as the original Star Trek, but many overlook the fact that when it debuted thirty years ago in syndicated televisionit was dismissed automatically. Fans of the original show were understandably skeptical about Star Trek: The Next Generation ever since it was announced. After all, it did not feature Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the other beloved characters and the first promo images looked strange. A bald captain? Klingons are no longer the enemies of the Federation? Why did the new Enterprise look ungainly? What was the deal with those weird one-piece uniforms and lounge chairs on the Enterprise bridge? People wondered what the creator Gene Roddenberry must have been thinking when he developed the new Trek incarnation. Even Leonard Nimoy wondered if the show would succeed. Citing that it was impossible to catch lightning twice in a bottle, Nimoy turned down the offer to develop the show before Roddenberry was approached.

When it finally premiered in September 1987, let’s say that many fans were underwhelmed by what they saw. The first episode “Encounter at Farpoint” was interesting and gave the main characters good introductions. Plus, it introduced the omni-powerful entity Q into Star Trek lore and thanks to John DeLancie’s sardonic line delivery, the character stood out. But more importantly, the main star of the show Patrick Stewart, who played Captain Jean-Luc Picard, made a powerful impression. Sure, he was not the swashbuckling Captain Kirk, but Stewart made his character uniquely different from Kirk while exuding a commanding and thoughtful presence in the show.

Still, Star Trek: The Next Generation was nearly derailed in its wobbly first season. What handicapped the first Star Trek spinoff were poorly written scripts and characters. One of them was especially hated by fans, young Wesley Crusher played by Wil Wheaton. In many episodes he came off as petulant, self-important Gary Sue who was a critical key in many plot lines. Some episodes were incredibly dull and did not go anywhere. The early episodes aped the worst qualities of the original show where the Enterprise crew would visit a planet of the week and solve that planet’s problems. The made-up societies they encountered were just unbelievable and its people reeked of caricatures. The show also had a problem with coming up with interesting villains, aside from Q.

Yet, the show showed promise. As the first season drew to a close, Star Trek: The Next Generation seemed to find its bearings. The characters were better developed with the breakout being Data (Brent Spiner), who emulated the Spock position of being the outsider who questioned humanity. The stories also became more interesting as Star Trek first toyed with the idea of episodes-spanning sub-plots. In this case, a nefarious conspiracy at the heart of Starfleet and the first hints of the Borg, a cybernetic race that would not appear until the second season. It took some risks such as the above-mentioned conspiracy storyline that upset some parents for its violent content. There was also the killing off of a major character in the show (Tasha Yar, played by Denise Crosby), which was a first for Star Trek.

Fans began to come around and eventually embraced the Star Trek spinoff. Although the original show continues to be regarded as the best Star Trek show, it cannot be denied that Star Trek: The Next Generation has achieved its share of greatness through the season. It stood apart from its predecessor for being more thoughtful, for better exploring themes and characters and for its updated special effects.

When Star Trek: The Next Generation was being developed it was supposed to have featured descendants of the original Enterprise crew. Thankfully, the show evolved away from that and went with all-new characters. References to the original show were extremely rare, which allowed the show to develop its own identity. It would have been all too easy to just continue the same formula, but Roddenberry knew that for the new show to succeed it had to follow a different path. That is why we’re celebrating the show thirty years later.

Enterprise D

Now as if to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a new Star Trek TV show will debut this month to pick up the baton. However, many fans are highly skeptical and dismissive of the new Star Trek: Discovery. The list of complaints continues growing as more details come to light, and many of them are valid. The core complaint is that the new show does not feel like Star Trek. But think about that, it’s the same gripe leveled at Star Trek: The Next Generation when it first aired. The new show seems like it will take Star Trek in a new direction, just like the first Trek spinoff did. Star Trek: Discovery may not hit a homerun at first, but fans should keep an open mind and show some patience when it premieres. It may find its legs and be as memorable and great as Star Trek: The Next Generation, the first Star Trek spinoff that proved it was possible to catch lightning in a bottle twice.

Lewis T. Grove

 

Robocop: Celebrating The Cyber Masterpiece

Robocop poster

On August 1987, genre film fans received a bonafide treat when the film Robocop made its debut. To say that the film was a thrilling surprise would be an understatement on the league of the title character’s stoic line delivery. Part of the reason for the enthusiastic reaction to Robocop is that August is usually a dumping ground for non-starter films that no one remembers weeks after they debut. Robocop bucked that trend with its no-holds-barred action, over-the-top violence and wry social commentary.

Serving The Public Trust

Robocop starred Peter Weller as Murphy a beat cop in a futuristic and crumbling Detroit who is viciously gunned down. Left for dead, and with a ruined body, Murphy is resurrected into the mechanical body of Robocop, a prototype robotic constable. The cyborg police officer is touted as the crown jewel of Omni Consumer Product’s (OCP) media blitz to promote a revamped Detroit to be renamed Delta City. Robocop makes an immediate impact in the public consciousness as he patrolled the dangerous streets in his sleek chrome body that was designed by Rob Bottin. Buttressed by Basil Poledouris’ pounding and bombastic score, Robocop efficiently curbs crime thanks to advanced cybernetic skills.

morton and robocop

However, beneath the chrome armor Murphy’s mind and humanity, which was supposedly wiped clean during his transformation, starts to re-emerge. At the same time, the film follows the ruthless corporate antics of Robocop’s overlords who care little for their community. Eventually, Murphy’s emerging morality clashes with his handlers, who are in league with the local crime lords. In this case, Robocop’s arch rival Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith), who looks like a typical suburban father but has a severe aptitude for violence that rivals a favela gang leader. Even though these villains did not have any superpowers, their cunning and willingness to go the extra mile were quite a match for Robocop.

Robocop and Boddicker

The film made quite a splash that late summer and for good reason. Thanks to Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, Robocop excelled in macabre humor and biting action scenes. Verhoeven and the other filmmakers including producer Jon Davision, and screenwriters Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner, were clever enough to inject a balance of pathos for Murphy’s plight and inspired social observations.

Dystopian Corporate Culture

Robocop’s futuristic America is one where the country is slowly decaying as common decency gives way to empty consumerism. An insensitive corporate culture has taken hold on society as the top business leaders claw each other to get to the top while the rest of community suffers from their decisions. The main corporate scumbags in the film were Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) and his boss Dick Jones (Ronny Cox), and both men exemplified the callous, slimy and two-faced negative image of corporate leaders. Seeing Morton’s conniving machinations and Jones’ ruthless actions were fascinating to watch and reflected the narcissistic business-oriented culture of the ‘80s.

Jones and ed209

Sadly, the film’s commentary echoes the fraying moral fabric of today’s society and illustrates how prophetic Robocop was in predicting our future. Of course, violent crime is not as prevalent as in that film, but many of the other dystopian aspects presented in that film seem just around the corner for us, if not here already.

The level of violence shown in the film is still quite shocking today given the way Verhoeven seems to revel in showing us how vicious humanity can be. What helped make the level of violence so intense and shocking was the superb makeup work by Bottin.

First Modern Superhero

In many ways, Robocop can be considered a prototype for modern superhero films. The film was inspired by The Six Million Dollar Man and the more adult-oriented comic books that appeared in the 1980s. Groundbreaking comic book writers like Alan Moore and Frank Miller were making a splash with their graphic comic book stories where the heroes were more than willing to use extreme violence to fight crime. Robocop employs similar means, using all of his weapons and high-tech tools at his disposal. A good example of this in the film is where a thug took a woman and used her as a shield against Robocop. The cyber cop then used his advanced marksman skills to castrate the bad guy through the woman’s dress with a perfect shot that left her unharmed.

But Robocop didn’t just have street punks to fight against. His greatest enemies were his corporate handlers who stripped Murphy of his humanity and did not have the public’s best interest at heart. OCP only saw Murphy not just as an asset but as a quick fix. The company wanted to replace Detroit’s human police force with a robotic one they could control. Their first attempt, the lumbering ED-209, proved to be a failure and so the Robocop program was quickly brought online as a stopgap measure. Even though Robocop was a public success, he was distrusted by many human police officers who correctly saw him as a threat to their livelihood. The one exception was his partner Lewis (Nancy Allen), who eventually deduces Robocop’s original identity and helped him recover his humanity. Although ED-209 was considered a failure, due to software issues, the robotic sentinel was still a credible threat to Robocop. ED-209 was quite popular with fans and the stop-motion effects by Phil Tippet used to bring him to life was one of the last times the effect was used in a major film.

Violent Laughs

ED-209’s failed debut when he mistakenly kills a hapless OCP executive was one of the film’s funniest and macabre moments and illustrated how Verhoeven reveled in directing over-the-top violent scenes that brought out guilty laughs. Keep in mind, that the executive’s death scene was actually edited from a more violent version where the robot repeatedly fired on the corpse, which sprayed blood all over the boardroom. Then there were the clever commercials that were inserted in between scenes, which were bursting with satire. Fans of the film still love the line from some ads “I’d buy that for a dollar!” which was shouted from a john buying the services of prostitutes.

 

Given all the film’s merits, what made Robocop a masterpiece that still resonates thirty years later was its core conflict of individuality versus an overbearing corporate culture. We empathized with Murphy’s dilemma as his humanity shone through all the hardware covering up what remained of his physical body. It was also a metaphor for the capacity of our human spirit to rise above encroaching technology.

José Soto

 

 

Predator Is Still On Top Of The Game 30 Years Later

The 1980s were the height of the testosterone-fueled action flicks. Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger ruled the box office in those days with their many action films where they shot repeatedly first and mumbled lines later. One of those films from that era was the epitome of that genre except that it crossed over with sci-fi and horror and the result was a classic film: Predator.

Original Predator cast

Directed by John McTiernan (who would later film the greatest action movie of all time, Die Hard), Predator starts off as your standard Schwarzenegger action fest. He played Dutch, a soldier of fortune who leads a motley group of fellow mercenaries in a Central American jungle to rescue hostages. Before we could all collectively groan about how we’ve seen this before (and we have), the film piqued our interest with the introduction of an extra-terrestrial that begins hunting down Dutch and his men thanks to super stealth, alien weapons, cunning and maliciousness.

predator with mask

From the moment we start seeing the alien’s POV shots of the men being tracked, Predator completely changed its premise and became a classic cat-and-mouse thriller with a sci-fi twist. It was perfect because one problem with many Schwarzenegger movies is that the former bodybuilder is so huge and imposing that it’s hard to pair him up with worthy opponents. Thankfully, Kevin Peter Hall, a rather tall man, was cast and decked out in imaginative makeup to outdo Schwarzenegger. The look of the Predator was unique with his dreadlocks, mandibles and tribal gear. Most of all, when he was finally revealed, the Predator was not just grotesque and intimidating, but more than a match for Dutch and his group of musclemen with their big guns. Some of whom were portrayed by action favorites like Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura, Bill Duke and Sonny Landham. One of those actors was future director Shane Black, who not only tinkered with the film’s script but is now filming the latest Predator film, The Predator, which is coming out next year.

With a testosterone-injected cast it’s funny to think that it was almost joined by future action star Jean-Claude Van Damme. Originally he was cast to play the Predator and wore this ridiculous and ungainly outfit that didn’t look good in screening footage. To confirm their fears, the filmmakers brought in James Cameron to review the footage with Van Damme’s version of the Predator and he opined that it was not working. Wisely, they went back to the drawing board and this time hired Stan Winston who used his movie magic skills to create the iconic look of the alien hunter. Also, while Van-Damme is a great martial artist his build was not up to par with Schwarzenegger and his stocky crew, plus he was unhappy with his role so he was replaced with Hall.

All of this would not have amounted to anything if not for the directing skills of McTiernan. He crafted a tense, suspenseful and exciting thriller and used the jungle background to full effect to create a fearful atmosphere. No one in Dutch’s crew was safe as the thick green foliage hid the relentless monster that hunted them down one by one. The way the Predator killed the men was very grisly and helped add to the fear factor. The alien creature treated the men like they were hapless animals by the way they were either skinned, had spines ripped out or taken out with swiftly with laser fire. Naturally, by the last act Schwarzenegger was the last man standing and the final confrontation between him and the Predator was intense. In an ironic twist, the muscle man had to rely on brains rather than brawn when confronting the alien. We actually wondered if Schwarzenegger had finally met his match and the film played up this angle perfectly. Adding to the film’s classic status was its rich cinematography, outstanding special effects and Alan Silvestri’s pulse-pounding score. It evoked a feeling of tribal warfare and is one of the composer’s best scores.

dutch vs predator

The sequels that followed could not live up to the original Predator but they were worthwhile films in their own right. Well, except for Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem. The original film, which came out on June 12, 1987, still holds up to this day and is considered not just the benchmark for the Predator franchise but one of the greatest action/sci-fi films of all time. In fact, it is not even considered by many to be just an Arnold Schwarzenegger film but as the first Predator film that just happened to star Schwarzenegger. That is why thirty years later we’re still marveling over this brilliant gem.

Lewis T. Grove

 

 

A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far, Far Away: Celebrating The 40th Anniversary Of Star Wars

“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” those simple words, projected on movie screens, would herald a phenomenon in theaters on May 25, 1977. Forty years later, Star Wars is celebrating its 40th anniversary and just like the time when it was released, it’s as popular and beloved as ever. So what makes this franchise so iconic and successful? For starters, when the original film, which was later given the subtitle A New Hope, was released in 1977, the state of cinema was very different than today. With the exception of the Planet of the Apes films, there were no major blockbuster franchises. Sci-fi as a genre was stagnant and the only major film in this area was Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey from 1968 almost a decade earlier and the Apes films, which had wound down by the mid 1970s. Movies those days were dominated by dark and violent anti-heroes which reflected the cynical mood of society. Genuine movie heroes and feel-good films were a rarity before Star Wars.

The release of this swashbuckling outer space adventure transformed the landscape of films and singlehandedly reinvented genre films in the ensuing decades. It was a simple story of good vs. evil with now legendary characters like Luke Skywalker, the simple farm boy whose destiny would change the galaxy; Han Solo, the roguish space pirate turned into a rebel with a cause; Princess Leia, the indomitable leader of her people; Chewbacca, Han’s yeti-like buddy and partner in crime; Ben Kenobi, Luke’s wise mentor and warrior of the Old Republic; and everyone’s favorite robotic duo R2-D2 and C-3PO. All of them are instantly recognizable to literally everyone in the world. Their struggle against the most famous villain in movie history Darth Vader was set against a backdrop of a fully realized universe meticulously crafted by creator George Lucas.

a long time ago

The film director was inspired by classic myths and stories and successfully merged them into something new that was magical to audiences back then, and still feels that way even now. Basically, he took the timeless elements and themes from these tales and put it into an appealing and original backdrop. The settings were literally out of this world, yet had a gritty and realistic touch that made everything seem relatable. All that caught everyone’s attention, but what enchanted people the most were the interesting characters who we could identify with as they struck a chord within us. That is quite an achievement considering that many characters were not even human. To an outsider, Star Wars and its extraordinary trappings may seem bizarre but at its core it has easily relatable themes and subtexts.

Lucas directs C3P0

Seeing how influential the film was and continues to be, it is baffling to ponder that many film studios passed on George Lucas’ pet project. Back then he was a young up-and-coming filmmaker and had a hit film, American Graffiti, under his belt. Yet, he had a hard time convincing skeptical film executives to greenlight his film. It seemed so strange to them, a space fantasy without any references to our civilization, one almost cannot fault them for not wanting to take the risk. But thankfully, 20th Century Fox saw the Lucas’ visionary potential and took a chance. Even then, few imagined Star Wars would explode like it did. That includes Lucas himself who hoped that his film would make just enough money to bankroll a sequel. Hardcore fans know that the original Star Wars novel that was released shortly after the film, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, was supposed to be a low-budget Star Wars sequel. Of course, the monster success of Star Wars meant that Lucas could fully realize his vision of a sprawling galactic epic without any limits in terms of budget and special effects.

Another aspect that made Star Wars so hugely influential is that it had revolutionary special effects. The many scenes of outer space combat enthralled audiences with X-Wings and TIE fighters clashing in dogfights, along with the iconic shots of enormous Star Destroyers and let’s not forget Han’s Millennium Falcon, the faster piece of junk this side of the galaxy. They were such a spectacle to watch and entirely different from earlier sci-fi films that had cheap models hanging on strings. The editing and camera work was also incredibly done. Take for instance, the POV shot of Luke piloting his ship into the Death Star trench, it seems like you are flying right into the trench. The model and puppet work of the many aliens on the desert planet Tatooine in the famous cantina scene were also a real spectacle and added to the feeling that these were real places you were looking visiting. Many of these effects are rarely seen these days since Lucas took it upon himself in the 1990s to update the original Star Wars films with updated CG effects because the original effects work had become dated. Ironically, many of the CG effects now look dated themselves and proved how fruitless it was to tinker with classic films just to embellish them with the latest in special effects.

What Star Wars also accomplished was the film ushered in a whole new era of sci-fi and related genre films. This industry is still going on to this day. The huge success of Star Wars proved that genre films could be massive hits and led to other filmmakers and companies to try to do the same thing. As a result, sci-fi and fantasy films are now the major genre in Hollywood that studios all try to have in their portfolio to keep things going. We all know that the big tentpole films for studios these days are big-budget genre spectacles. The whole concept of having huge summer films with the accompanying merchandise, as well as the idea of ongoing sagas that span multiple movies and other media can all trace their paths back to that movie that came out on May 25th 1977.

Star Wars 40

It’s not an exaggeration to state that Star Wars basically caused a figurative earthquake not only movies but in the culture at large. Look around, you’ll see Star Wars everywhere. Certainly that is due to Disney, who after buying the rights from George Lucas earlier this decade for billions, wanted to get their money’s worth and went into merchandising overdrive. But this means that Star Wars will have a long-felt presence in our global society. As cynical as that sounds, keep in mind that in order for film to resonate long after it has left cinemas, it has to be great and unique. Star Wars is that and much more and is why it is so pervasive. For the few that have never seen Star Wars, even they know exactly who Darth Vader is and can pick out R2-D2 in a picture. That kind of recognition means that this movie has transcended its medium and, like other epic tales of old, has now passed on to the realm of legend.

C.S. Link