Star Trek: Picard – A Season In Review

second picard poster

The first season of Star Trek: Picard has just concluded and it’s time to take a look at the season and the show itself. There will be many spoilers coming up, so if anyone has not seen the show streaming on CBS All Access or Amazon Prime then turn back. Otherwise, read on!

Star Trek: Picard naturally centers on the ongoing story of Admiral (retired) Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) as he left behind a tranquil existence at his French vineyard for one more grand adventure/mission which will reshape the galaxy.

The show takes place in 2399, twenty years after the film, Star Trek: Nemesis, and the death of the android Starfleet officer Data (Brent Spiner). Jean-Luc Picard angrily resigned from Starfleet fourteen years earlier and tends to his vineyard along with his Romulan employees, Zhaban (Jamie McShane) and Laris (Orla Brady). Picard meets Soji Asha (Isa Briones), a young woman who turned out to be a synthetic person and Data’s daughter. She is killed by Romulan secret agents but Picard learned that Soji had a twin sister, Dahj, and sets out to rescue her before the Romulans get to her. It turns out that Dahj is working in a deactivated Borg cube operated by Romulans and ex-Borg drones.

During his sojourn to find Dahj and protect her from the Romulan agents, a team forms around Picard who come in and out of his story. They include Dr. Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill), a cyberneticist; Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), a former Borg last seen nearly twenty years ago in Star Trek: Voyager, and is now a space vigilante; Picard’s former crewmate Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd) who has a bit of an addiction problem; Elnor (Evan Evagora), a noble Romulan warrior devoted to protecting Picard; and Chris Rios (Santiago Cabrera), a former Starfleet commander who pilots his own private spaceship La Sirena and is a roguish space pirate in the Han Solo/Malcolm Reynolds mode.

sirena and old romulan ship

The Romulans secret agents are after Dahj because they believe her to be the fulfillment of an ancient prophesy that spells doom for all organic life in the galaxy. They hope to learn from her the location of her homeworld in order to obliterate it and prevent the prophesy. Obviously it is up to the nonagenarian Picard to get back into the captain’s chair and save Dahj and the galaxy before time runs out.

Star Trek: PIcard is another welcome Star Trek spinoff that effortlessly picks up the story of Star Trek after the events in Star Trek: Nemesis and parts of the Star Trek reboot. Doing this gives weight and meaning to the Star Trek Prime universe by exploring the ramifications of the destruction of the Romulan homeworld shown in the Star Trek reboot and the subsequent refugee status of many Romulans though their overall status of their government was unclear.It also gives a well balanced exploration of the Romulans themselves; something most of the other shows and films failed to do. Not all of them are one-dimensional, sneering villains.

The show is undeniably a sincere tribute to fans of the Star Trek Prime universe and of course, Star Trek: The Next Generation. Some may complain that it’s too much of a tribute with its numerous references, Easter eggs and cameo appearances, but they’re all just background layering for the uninitiated while rewarding for fans.

The show is clearly a Star Trek show, yet it isn’t. How can that be? Well, the show is not focused on current Starfleet personnel but on civilians and former officers. Freed from regulations and decorum the characters give us a feel for how life is like in the Federation and nearby regions for non-Starfleet people. The vaunted Federation is not as revered or as noble as presented in other Star Trek shows. In fact, there is an underlying notion that the Federation may be entering a period of decay; that it’s best times are past. Hence, one of the reasons why Picard walked away from Starfleet. Star Trek: Picard is edgier than the typical Star Trek show; there is a lot of cursing including F bombs. Most of the characters are deeply flawed including the humans, which goes vehemently against the idealistic and ultimately unrealistic Roddenberry future utopia where humanity is completely without fault. This will make some fans uncomfortable but it helps make the show more real and relatable to most viewers.

What we’re left with is a show that feels a bit like Firefly in that it stars roguish types who disdain authority. These are some truly interesting characters with their own complex back stories. Standouts include Rios and Raffie, who are both broken souls with troubled pasts and unwittingly gain redemption by joining Picard’s quest. It doesn’t hurt that both characters are well performed. Other characters like Elnor seek a just cause or for something to believe in. And holding the group dynamic is Picard himself, the moral glue that holds them together.

It goes without saying that Patrick Stewart puts in a bravura performance in the role that made him famous. As always, he eloquently portrays the bitter and defeated old man who finds a real reason to go out and make a difference in the galaxy. Stewart is so comfortable and elegant playing Jean-Luc Picard, it truly is a shame he has not done the role in so long. But at least he is back to usher in a new era of the Star Trek Prime universe.

Unlike most Star Trek shows, Star Trek: Picard follows a serialized format that is essentially a mystery. The payoff in the final episodes (“Et in Arcadia Ego, Parts I and II”) felt a bit predictable but it had its fist-pumping moments with cinema-quality effects and cinematography; one of those standouts was when Admiral William Riker (Jonathan Frakes, who also turned up in the season’s best episode “Napenthe”) literally shows up with the cavalry. Still, the payoff wasn’t as invigorating or as intense as “Such Sweet Sorrow” the second season finale of Star Trek: Discovery. Coming way from the finale its realized that certain plot elements were unresolved, which was annoying. Mother bit of a copout was how the show resolved the personal journey of Jean-Luc Picard. Without giving anything away, it was an interesting twist but it robbed much of the emotional impact of the fate of the former Starfleet admiral. Let’s leave it at that.

picard takes charge

Star Trek: Picard is a welcome return to the classic heyday of the uplifting era of Star Trek: The Next Generation and its immediate spinoffs. In these times, the show provides a much-needed reminder of the wonderful potential of humankind and what we should aspire to.

José Soto

Contagion: A Harbinger For Our Time

 

Steven Soderbergh’s film Contagion has sadly become one of those quasi-science fiction films that became a reality. Of course, this relates to the coronavirus pandemic that has upended our global society.

The parallels between the film and what is going on right now are downright eerie and disturbing. However, there are distinct differences between Contagion and reality, especially later on in the film.

Infections

Contagion illustrated how the MEV-1 virus easily spread from China throughout the world as Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) on a business trip in Hong Kong became patient zero, interacted with many people and infected them. Steven Soderbergh inspired direction discreetly showed how easy it was for the virus to spread as many shots lingered on surfaces touched by infected victims, which were then touched by others.

One way the film differed from reality is how quickly victims exhibited symptoms and the mortality rate. People infected with the fictional virus displayed harsh symptoms apparently overnight, though most likely this can be attributed to film editing. The timeframe shown in the beginning of Contagion has Beth Emhoff already sick when she arrived in the U.S. Careful observations showed that she had been ill for a few days, but we’re shocked when she dies horribly mere minutes into the film. These quick time jumps were shown of how other characters became ill and died. With the coronavirus the incubation period ranges from days to weeks and explains why the disease is more insidious and deadlier than the MEV-1 because many people are already infected but won’t show symptoms for some time. Meanwhile, they’re unwittingly spreading the virus. On the other hand, the MEV-1 virus had a mortality rate of 25 to 30 percent, which was dramatically worse than COVID-19. Imagine how much worse things would be if COVID-19 had that kind of mortality rate.

Deployments

A similarity between Contagion and real life is with the deployment of military and medical services to combat the virus and maintain order. The film turned out to be accurate in its depiction for how the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mobilized to study and combat MEV-1. We are seeing this played out in real time as scientists and doctors race not only to find a vaccine but at least some kind of treatment. Unlike the film and fortunately for us, the intense medical efforts have opened up promising treatments and even vaccine tests. In Contagion, these breakthroughs did not happen until long months had passed. But before anyone reading this starts celebrating, bear in mind that trials and tests need to be completed and we are looking at a vaccine being ready anywhere from a year to eighteen months at the earliest. So for now prevention is the best defense; that includes being as clean as possible and social distancing (which was mentioned in Contagion as means of slowing the spread of the virus).

Even more distressful is the way Contagion portrays the chaos and breakdowns as the fictional MEV-1 virus ravages the world. Thankfully, we have not seen the mass riots, looting and lawlessness that take place later in the film. But we must heed these important warnings of what we face if the COVID-19 virus is not contained and continues spreading. Already healthcare systems are on the verge of collapse in a several places like Italy or are severely strained in many others.

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Tron: Uprising Presents A Bold Digital Realm

As most of us are staying home as a precaution to the coronavirus, one way to pass time is to binge-watch the myriad of TV shows and films available in our physical media collections or streaming services.

Anyone who has Disney+ will see that the streaming service has the animated series Tron: Uprising. This show aired on Disney XD shortly after Tron: Legacy as a holdover to an expected sequel. Sadly, the sequel to Tron: Legacy never happened and the animated series was cancelled. This was a shame because Tron: Uprising was a well-done show that expanded on the world building of the Tron universe.

Below is a quick review of the show that was done for a previous version of Starloggers back when the show debuted. Tron: Uprising may not be as attention grabbing as other shows nor as fondly remembered but it is certainly a notable sci-fi show, which should be on anyone’s queue list; besides there are other things to watch on Disney+ besides The Mandalorian!

Tron: Uprising, the Disney animated series, follows the adventures of a young program called Beck (Elijah Wood), who becomes a heroic rebel leader in a virtual realm that exists within computers. This reality is the Grid that was visited by humans in the films and the series focuses on the programs that exist as distinct entities within the Grid.

The series actually takes place between the two films and has many aspects and references to the films, which will delight fans, while adding nuances and layers to the unique digital world. The cityscapes are wonderfully detailed and build upon the architecture seen in the Tron films. The result is that the digital world seems more complete, more vibrant, and more alive. Kudos to Disney’s animation team for pulling off this feat.

Disney released a preview episode on iTunes, YouTube and on the Disney Channel that sets up the series and is a must viewing to understand what is going in with the regular series. In that preview called “Beck’s Beginning” viewers are introduced to Beck a young happy-go-lucky mechanic and disc player in the distant Grid city called Argon. He has a joyous existence with his friends until the forces of the tyrannical program called Clu arrive and occupy the city.

Clu, is a doppelganger program of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges in the films) that became corrupted, took over the Grid and betrayed the heroic program Tron (Bruce Boxleitner, who reprises his role by providing the voice of Tron in this series).

After Clu’s forces, which are led by General Tesler (Lance Henriksen), kill or derez Beck’s friend, he decides to strike back against Clu’s reign. Tron by this time has become a cult hero who was supposedly killed by Clu. So Beck decides to assume Tron’s identity to inspire a revolution. Along the way he encounters enemies and allies including Tron himself, who passes on the mantle to young Beck.

Some of the graphics of Tron: Uprising are beautiful and faithfully represent the digital world of Tron but while the series is computer animated the series, on the whole, has a more traditional animated feel. It isn’t an obvious approach but it helps distinguish it from the films. But in trying to set itself apart from the films the series goes too far in terms of the characters’ anatomy that are grossly disproportional; characters are drawn with long, giraffe-like legs! It can be distracting but it doesn’t detract from the show. Many sequences are simply stunning to watch and capture the essence of Tron, especially the latter film Tron: Legacy. It’s an auspicious start for an animated series, one can only hope that future episodes maintain the quality seen in the first few episodes.

The digital world of Tron lives on with Tron: Uprising and it can be enjoyed by fans of those films, and even those who haven’t seen them.

Steven Spielberg No Longer Directing Indiana Jones 5

The news was not unexpected, but it was still disappointing. Earlier this week, we learned that acclaimed director Steven Spielberg will not direct the upcoming fifth Indiana Jones film. Now the only person left from the original Indy films is the star himself, Harrison Ford, who is still committed to donning the fedora and leather jacket one last time.

Even though the announced new director for the project, James Mangold, is a great director in his own right, this development cannot adequately inspire much excitement over Indiana Jones 5. James Mangold has a superb filmography, he directed the best Fox X-Men film, Logan, among other terrific films. By itself Mangold’s attachment (keep in mind he is only in talks to take over Indiana Jones 5) should be great news. But this is trying to follow up on Steven Spielberg, one of the greatest film directors of all time. Following up on the auteur is a near-impossible task. Just ask Joe Johnston when he directed Jurassic Park III.

However, Mangold will likely turn in a fine film, but it just won’t feel the same. This will likely inject some new blood into the franchise, but at this point, why not just recast the role and start over with the character?

With Harrison Ford out of the way, the new slate of Indiana Jones films could smoothly go back to the 1930s time period or even the 1940s and tell new stories. The films do not nor should they remake Raiders of the Lost Ark or the other Indiana Jones films. That would be blasphemous and invite unfair comparisons. There are plenty of mystical or sci-fi macguffins that the swashbuckling archaeologist could chase after. Doing a straight recast will be a good jumping on point for those who haven’t seen the previous films and fans, as well. Otherwise, why bother with the film?

Getting back to the original team behind Indy, George Lucas was already not going to be involved with the fifth film. So, right there Indiana Jones 5 felt incomplete without the original trio, though some may have celebrated that idea given the negative reaction to Lucas’ story ideas for the last film, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Frankly, this was a shame since he co-created the character.

Harrison Ford has been itching to wield his character’s iconic bullwhip one last time. He is in his mid-70s now, and although he looks healthier and fitter than his contemporaries, his age would strain credulity that he can carry out intensive action scenes. In the fifth film, no one could see Indy outrunning a giant boulder without suspending disbelief. It could be worse than the nuked fridge scene from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or jumping out of a plane in a life raft during Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Frankly, given Ford’s age, an Indiana Jones 5 would have to be made very soon.

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Sonic The Hedgehog Races His Way To The Big Screen

The general rule is that films based on video games are beyond awful; infamous examples include Max Payne or Super Mario Bros. So, when Sonic the Hedgehog was announced most people thought the film would be just as bad and the first trailer that came out last year did not dispute this notion. The design of Sonic was universally panned and fans of the Sega game hero lamented the film was doomed. Well, the filmmakers heard the outcries and went back to the drawing board. Sonic the Hedgehog was redesigned to look like he is supposed to appear but is the film any good? This will come as a surprise, but it actually is a good film.

Sonic the Hedgehog brings the popular Sega character (voiced by Ben Schwartz) to life starting with a brief opening intro taking place on Sonic’s homeworld when he was a child. Pursued by other creatures because of his super speeding powers, Sonic is forced to use these golden rings to teleport to other worlds. At some point, Sonic ends up on Earth and stays hidden while enjoying our culture. However, the alien hedgehog is lonely for company and an accidental overuse of his powers brings him to the awareness of a loony scientist, Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) who wants to capture him. Robotnik’s pursuit forces Sonic to befriend a small-town sheriff, Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) and the film turns into a buddy road picture as Tom helps Sonic to stay one step ahead of the scientist until the alien can teleport to another world.

By no means is the film groundbreaking or something extraordinary. The plot isn’t unique and fairly standard but it serves its purpose. Also, the film is hampered by some humongous narrative flaws where some subplots were brought up then forgotten and some of the developments were very important but then ignored. Be warned there are numerous and in-your-face product placements littering the film. It is what it is so try to ignore them as much as possible.

But Sonic the Hedgehog is highly entertaining and full of character and spirit. The director Jeff Fowler does a very fine job with the material considering this is his first directing job. The relationship between Sonic and his human friend Tom is surprisingly genuine and the heart of the film. The two characters have good banter and chemistry, which was a pleasant surprise. Not every joke lands but a lot of them do as Sonic is a bit of a call back to a Looney Tunes character thanks to skillful voice acting and silly antics. Sonic has a couple of moments that straight up were “inspired” by Quicksilver scenes in the recent X-Men films, but they work well and are highlights.

The actors in the film do a solid job with their roles, while Jim Carrey evoked vintage Jim Carrey with his over-the-top comedic delivery that was best seen in his films during the 90s. Fans of his work should be pleased by this.

More importantly Sonic fans will be delighted and thrilled by Sonic the Hedgehog as it captures the essence and fun of the video games and the film will entertain non-fans. In other words, fun for the whole family and anyone else looking for a brief escape from the outside world. There are several references to the Sonic franchise, including a popular character that appeared during the mid-credits scene, which promised more adventures. This origin film does warrant future sequels and proves that a film based on a video game franchise can work.

*Check out this fan tribute video of the film done by a skilled Sonic fan close to the editor of Starloggers!