Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Boldly Goes Back To Basics With The Star Trek Franchise

The first season for the latest Star Trek TV show to stream on Paramount+, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, has just concluded with a strong episode (“A Quality of Mercy”) that represented the best stories of the season. The show is a spinoff of Star Trek: Discovery and another prequel to the original Star Trek. In this case, the show chronicles the voyages of the starship Enterprise under the command of Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) a few short years before Captain James T. Kirk assumed command.

Getting this out of the way, this series is fantastic with its much needed and refreshing back-to-basics approach for Star Trek. The franchise has been faltering lately with subpar live-action entries, Star Trek: Discovery and the second season of Star Trek: Picard. However, the franchise feels reinvigorated now with the new series. A huge part of the success of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds has to do with its lead characters.

When Pike and Spock (Ethan Peck) were introduced as feature characters in the second season of Star Trek: Discovery, they quickly stood out and added a lot of gravitas and charisma to the show. In fact, the reason why the second season was so well received was largely due to the characters, how they were portrayed and their engaging storylines. After the season concluded a wise choice was made to bring back Pike and Spock into their own series to continue their story arcs.

Spock, as in the original show, is trying to find a balance between his human and Vulcan sides. Ethan Peck does a fine job as Spock and while he made the role his own, he does quietly emulate the spirit of Leonard Nimoy’s famous portrayal of the Vulcan.

Meanwhile, Anson Mount completely took over the role of Captain Pike, which was first portrayed by Jeffrey Hunter in the original pilot for Star Trek. For decades people associated the early captain of the Enterprise with Hunter, but Mount’s smooth and amenable version of Pike captivated fans to the point that when Captain Pike is mentioned it is easy to picture Mount instead of Hunter. This is something that happened over with the Star Wars franchise where Ewan McGregor made the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi his own instead of Alec Guiness, the original actor who played the Jedi. Getting back to Mount, the actor endows his Pike with a casual competence and an approachable demeanor, which makes Pike a believable starship captain. He is haunted throughout the season by the knowledge that in a few years, he will be incapacitated and spend his last days as a near invalid, as seen in the original Star Trek episodes “The Menagerie, Part I and II”). So, Pike is torn over whether or not he should avoid his fate or try to change it. Nevertheless, Christopher Pike carries on throughout the show with his sense of calm and reason as the crew of the Enterprise deal with weekly crises.

Aside from Christopher Pike and Spock, the series has many interesting characters. Some are familiar characters who were well recast (Celia Rose Gooding as Cadet Uhura and Jess Bush as Christine Chapel), others are new to the franchise, such the ship’s security cheif, La’an Noonien Singh (Christina Chong) and the ship’s engineer, Hemmer (Bruce Horak), and they were all instantly captivating.

Unlike recent TV shows with serialized storytelling techniques, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, went back to the basics in terms of episodic storytelling. The episodes were standalone entries and the season as a whole lacked a unifying plot thread. It’s simply about the adventures of Christopher Pike and his crew on the Enterprise. Some of the stories were well crafted and smart, others fell a bit short, but the approach worked quite well. The best episodes this season were “A Quality of Mercy”, “Memento Mori”, “All Those Who Wander”, and “Strange New Worlds”. The last two were notable in that “All Those Who Wander” was a well-done homage to Alien with a shocking and sad character death, while “Strange New Worlds” was an exceptional pilot episode that enraged right-wing nutjobs with its claim that their recent and current activities wind up being the cause for a second American Civil War and ultimately, World War III. As mentioned before, not every episode is a homerun, but had interesting twists. But, the only misfire was “Spock Amok”, it was supposed to be one of those lighthearted, humorous episodes. However, it failed to deliver any laughs and was unfocused, but it had a few good nuggets.

As with modern Star Trek shows, this one boasts cinema-quality special effects and production that rivals the best of J.J. Abrams and the Kelvinverse, but with superior storytelling and characters. That is the key with Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, it focused on telling tight stories that do not meander and spin wheels like the second season of Star Trek: Picard. Like the Berman-era Trek shows, this one makes the effort to devote episodes to other characters besides Pike and Spock, unlike Star Trek: Discovery. In just a handful of episodes we learned some vital background info on several characters. For instance, La’an not only suffered from childhood trauma thanks to the predatory Gorn, but was a descendant of Khan Noonien Singh, yes, that Khan. It was revealed that first officer, Una Chin-Riley or Number One (Rebecca Romijn), is not human, while the ship’s chief medical officer, Dr. M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) was secretly hiding his ill daughter in the ship’s transporters as he tried to find a cure for her. Since the time was taken to explore these side characters, they became endearing, we cared about them and wanted to know more. More importantly, when these characters suffered, we felt for them.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds injects new life into the Star Trek franchise with its simple and effective back-to-basics approach, but its fused with so much more to elevate it. In addition to its crisp production values, and solid cast, the show captures the soul of Star Trek with a sense of adventure and discovery.

José Soto

The Legacy Of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

Forty years ago this month, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was released in theaters and captured the collective hearts and minds of moviegoers everywhere in 1982. To say it was a cultural phenomenon is certainly an understatement, yet it can be hard to believe for those who were too young to remember or were alive at that time. That is because unlike other culturally relevant properties from that time period like Star Wars, Star Trek, Alien, etc. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial did not have the staying power in our collective minds.

Regardless, the sci-fi film by legendary director Steven Spielberg is a bonafide classic that knows just how to hit a viewer in the feels. Spielberg was in top form (and remains so to this day) and received a well-deserved status as a master storyteller with his tale of a stranded alien being in the forests of California who befriends a lonely boy, Elliott (Henry Thomas). As Elliott introduces the being he calls E.T. to his suburban lifestyle and pop culture, he does what he can to keep E.T. hidden from the outside world while E.T. tries to contact others of his kind to rescue him. The film boasted many classic Spielbergian tropes and themes, such as a reverance for middle-class childhood while exploring family trauma, examing a magical sense of wonder about the world through the use of lighting, pop cultural references, and of course, those famously long natural takes that define a Steven Spielberg film.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is a fairly simple tale about an unlikely interstellar friendship or as a sci-fi version of a boy and his dog tearjerker, but the film excels in emotion and Spielberg pulled out all of his skills to wrench our heartstrings. He was aided by an exemplary filmmaking team which included special effects guru Carlo Rambaldi, a deeply emotional script by Melissa Mathison, genuine acting by the cast, breathtakingly beautiful cinematrography by Allen Daviau, and John Williams brilliant score. The master composer won a well-deserved Oscar for the film as the film won several technical Oscars. Unfortunately, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial failed to win the major Academy Awards like Best Picture or Director because by the time the awards ceremony came around, the allure of the film had worn off and the Academy instead bestowed the major awards to more standard fare like Gandhi. Go figure.

Perhaps if E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial had won the major awards it may have been more remembered these days. Another reason could be because the film was overhyped by media and in-your-face marketing and merchandising during that time and it finally burned out its good will after some time. It may be hard to imagine today but think of the constant merchandising of Star Wars, the Marvel and DC films, and Jurassic Park and picture that for one film that dominated the box office for 16 weeks straight. This is something that would be nearly impossible to pull off today in our fractured society. Many films released that summer in 1982 fared poorly because E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial sucked out all of the air from the competition. What is ironic is that many of those films are better remembered today and are considered classics in their own right. These include Blade Runner, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Tron, and The Thing.

Yet, another factor that probably impeded E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial’s legacy is that no sequel film or reboot was ever made to keep the film in the public consciousness. The closest instances it received for follow ups were a sequel novel by William Kotzwinkle called E.T.: The Book of the Green Planet, a well-received 2019 Xfinity commercial featuring a now-adult Henry Thomas, who is reunited with E.T., and then introduces the alien to his family, and a theme-park ride at Universal Studios Florida, Japan and Hollywood (the Hollywood and Japan versions closed down years ago).

As to why Spielberg did not adapt this novel or went ahead with a film sequel, the answer is that E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial holds a special place in his heart and he did not want to dilute it with follow ups. However, he did consider it. He and Mathison wrote a treatment in 1982 called E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears, which would have had Elliott and his friends kidnapped by evil aliens and E.T. rescuing him. But as we all know, Spielberg abandoned the idea and moved on to other projects. The last time E.T. was actually seen in theaters was when he and members of his race appeared in a gag cameo during Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

Even though the film is not in the forefront of the public these days, it is still fondly remembered and still commands attention as seen with the positive word of mouth from the 2019 commercial and successful re-releases in theaters and home media. During its 20th anniversary the film was re-released and Spielberg altered the film with improved special effects, deleted footage and digitally altering a scene where federal agents who originally brandished guns and threatened E.T., Elliott and his friends, now had walkie-talkies instead. Spielberg has changed his mind about the alterations and encourages that only the original film be viewed.

With so many properties commanding our attention these days, it is so easy to overlook E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which would be foolish. The film is a cinematic wonder that should be required viewing for film buffs, genre fans and families. Simply put, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is a perfect showcase for the artistry and magic of Steven Spielberg.

The Return Of Obi-Wan Kenobi

The latest Star Wars TV show to stream on Disney+, Obi-Wan Kenobi, is naturally focused on the noble Jedi Knight and his story of redemption ten years after Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. When we last saw Obi-Wan (reprised by Ewan McGregor, who played the character in the prequel trilogy), he was devastated after his Jedi apprentice, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), turned to the dark side of the Force, assume the identity of Darth Vader and decimated most of the Jedi Order. The show picks up years later on Anakin’s home planet Tatooine where Obi-Wan is in exile watching over Anakin’s young son, Luke (Grant Feely), from afar.

This version of Obi-Wan is a far cry from the confident and brave warrior from the prequels. Obi-Wan Kenobi, who goes by the name of Ben, lives a quiet life in solitude and generally avoids contact with other people. He also manages to avoid the prying eyes of dark side followers called Inquisitors, including Third Sister Reva Sevander (Moses Ingram). For some reason, Reva is obsessed with finding Kenobi and capturing him for the Inquisitors’ leader, Darth Vader.

On the planet Alderaan, Luke’s twin sister, Princess Leia Organa (Vivien Lyra Blair), is kidnapped to lure Kenobi. Her adopted father, Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits), travels to Tatooine to ask Obi-Wan to help find her. After some prodding, Obi-Wan Kenobi realizes he has a duty as a Jedi to help his friend and sets out to rescue Princess Leia. After rescuing Leia on the planet Daiyu, the Jedi Master is pursued by Reva, and later Darth Vader, across several worlds. Before long, Obi-Wan realizes that although he left the Jedi lifestyle years ago, he cannot let go of it and his responsibility to the cause of freedom in the galaxy.

Unlike the other Star Wars Disney+ TV shows, at certain times, Obi-Wan Kenobi feels more like an extended Star Wars film, even the end credits follow the style of the films. But at other times, the limits of television are obvious in terms of scope and budget. Of course, this has no bearing on the quality of the show, which is excellent, but the clash in style and scope may offput some viewers. However, the show is a near-perfect presentation about one of the most revered Star Wars characters. In the prequel films, Kenobi was a supporting character but thanks to McGregor’s performance the Jedi rose in stature to the eyes of many fans. Unlike the conflicted and bratty Anakin, Kenobi was a noble and gallant presence who personified the perfect Jedi. To see him as a hollow, pessimistic, and timid person hiding in the sands of a remote planet at the start of the series was disheartening to watch. Disconnected from the Force and taking pains to avoid conflict, it was disturbing to see how far Kenobi had drifted from the courageous Jedi way. It was also realistic. But, when he slowly regained his connnection to the Force during the show, well, those moments were very gratifying. Of course, McGregor’s performance is stellar as always and his love for the character clearly shows.

One of the best moments was during a flashback sequence that had Obi-Wan dueling with Anakin before he became Vader. The sequence was a brilliant way to reunite the two actors as it showed not just the arrogance of Anakin, but Obi-Wan’s hubris, which would blind him to Anakin’s fall later on in Star Wars Episode III.

There are many other thrilling and inspiring moments throughout the series, such as the final duel between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader; Kenobi reconnecting with the Force in dramatic fashion; Kenobi’s interactions with young Leia; Vader’s moments of quiet rage and explosive and vindictive menace; suspenseful chases and battles; and the fanatical nature of Reva, who hid a tragic backstory. At first, Reva came off as a one-dimensional, cartoonish villain but through the course of Obi-Wan Kenobi, she became more nuanced and complex as her cause was finally revealed. A lot of credit has to go to Ingram who delivered a commanding performance.

There are many great scenes with secondary characters who had their shining moments and left an impact. Take Rupert Friend as the Grand Inquisitor, his savage putdowns of Reva were epic. Then there was Indira Varma as Talla, a Rebel spy masquerading as an Imperial officer. She had a natural chemistry with Ewan McGregor and her inner strength and sacrifice was truly inspiring. Kumail Nanjiani gave an inspired performance as Haja, a con man pretending to be a Jedi and later has a spiritual change of heart. Blair did a fine job as Leia as she captured the essence of the Rebel princess and we saw the laying of her emotional foundation. And finally, the onscreen rivalry of McGregor’s Kenobi with Vader was completed with the return of Christensen, who shone as Skywalker/Vader. As noted above, their friendly rivalry was well executed in the flashback scenes as we witnessed the underlying insecurity of Skywalker. Christensen pulled this off fantastically with subtle facial revelations.

Despite its greatness, Obi-Wan Kenobi had its narrative flaws, which were alarmingly blatant. Take the fourth episode (arguably the series’ weakest, though it was entertaining), where Talla clumsily slapped around some stormtroopers in an Imperial base and defeated them. Or later in the episode when Kenobi threw on an Imperial cloak as a disguise and obviously hid Leia underneath him as they walked around unnoticed among oblivious Imperial personnel. Then there were the common Star Wars space and time puzzles where characters instantly travel from planet to planet, non-fatal stabbings from lighsabers, and spaceships with broken hyperspace engines being able to traverse star systems and avoid Imperial star destroyers.

Thankfully the merits of Obi-Wan Kenobi far outweigh its negatives. It was great to see Ewan McGregor return to a role that he made his own, but now as the central character. It was also fun seeing other actors from the prequel trilogy reprising their roles and seeing how the prequels connect more strongly with the original trilogy of Star Wars films. Even though it is a limited series and its main story feels complete, there is talk about continuing the adventures of Obi-Wan Kenobi: Jedi-In-Exile. It’s not clear what direction more episodes would take without feeling repetitive, but they would be welcome.

José Soto

Jurassic World: Dominion Is A Thunderous Epic Conclusion

The final film in the second Jurassic Park trilogy, Jurassic World: Dominion, has been released to mixed to negative reviews, which is puzzling. Yes, it has its flaws, but on the whole, the film is a sprawling dino-epic that is a satisfying conclusion (for now) to the Jurassic Park films.

Jurassic World: Dominion takes place several years after Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom and we see the global impact of that film’s end where bioengineered dinosaurs were released into the world. Visually striking montages and imagery highlights a modern world forced to co-exist with the diverse prehistoric fauna. However, most of the larger dinosaurs have been captured and relocated to a private sanctuary in Europe run by Biosyn, a corrupt bioengineering company that is supposedly studying the dinosaurs to derive medical treatment for humanity. In reality, the company, which is run by Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott), have bred a giant prehistoric species of locust that they release which soon threaten the world’s food supply.

This comes to the attention of Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), who recruits her former lover, the paleontogist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) to help her get to Biosyn’s headquarters in the dinosaur sanctuary to get DNA samples of the locusts in the facility. As the two make their way to Biosyn, the company sends out poachers to the Sierra Nevada region to kidnap Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), who is the first cloned human. She is hiding out in the snowbound forests with former raptor wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and former Jurassic World theme park manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard). The trio soon learn that Blue, the raptor that Grady once wrangled on Jurassic World, is living nearby with her young raptor, which Lockwood names “Beta”. The poachers kidnap Maisie and Beta, which leads Grady and Dearing to Biosyn and their plot to control the world’s food supply with their locusts.

Colin Trevorrow returned to direct the finale of his Jurassic World trilogy and he certainly can deliver action-packed thrills and intense scenes involving high-speed chases and dino battles, as well as genuinely suspenseful moments. While some of the set pieces seem familiar such as humans stuck in a crumbling infrastructure and chased by vicious and hungry prehistoric predators, other scenes are truly inventive and capture the awe of seeing dinosaurs in our modern world as they rampage through cities and farms. For a moment early on, there was a threat that the film would be bogged down and overlong with the two plotlines headed by the OG and new heroes of the franchise, but thankfully Colin Trevorrow kept the action and plot moving briskly. The anticipated team up of both groups was well worth the wait when it finally happens. It was great seeing the original Jurassic Park heroes back together, which includes Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), who as always steals the show with his quirky, but charming speeches. Other characters from both trilogies make memorable appearances and the film has numerous Easter eggs and references to the previous films, which were fun to spot.

While it was great to see the old familiar characters, the true star of Jurassic World: Dominion were the dinosaurs themselves. In addition to the beloved species such as tyrannosaurus rex, velociraptors, dilophosaurus, and so on, this film introduces new and terrifying creatures like the giganotosaurus, who naturally duels with the t-rex from the previous films, dimetrodons (though they are not dinosaurs), and a the long-clawed therizinosaurus. The only complaint about these dinosaurs is that individually they do not get as much screen time as one would expect. Even Blue, the raptor from the other Jurassic World films does not appear a lot. For the most part, the prehistoric animals are presented as just that, animals. They are background material that move the plot forward without much personality. This means there are no unique standout terrors like Indominous Rex or Indoraptor who took on monstrous auras. By the way, it should be pointed out more accurate feathered dinosaurs do appear in this film. Still, in this world that has co-existed with dinosaurs, many people in the film have lost their sense of awe with the animals, which is a shame but inevitable. This is how it is with our society. Once something that is extraordinary becomes commonplace, that thing becomes familiar and taken for granted.

The film does have its faults such as some convenient plot holes. Seriously, it is hard to believe the surveillance at a high-tech headquarters would have allowed our heroes to pull off their deeds unnoticed. Then there is the now common complaint of deceptive marketing where trailers feature scenes that do not appear in the final film. Also, while for the most part the special effects were wonderful, there were a few instances were the CG was spotty, but to his credit Trevorrow actually uses live-action effects quite well. Of course, Trevorrow is no Steven Spielberg, but he definetely has made his mark on the recent films, which will be well regarded in the future when people start hungering for more Jurassic Park/World films.

Is this the actual end of these films? Most likely. The story has reached its logical conclusion as reflected in the final moments of the film, which impart a powerful and hopeful environmental message. For now, it is best to let the franchise rest for some time. They can either find some way to continue the adventures of a world where dinosaurs co-habitate all corners of the world with us or the franchise could be rebooted to present a more faithful and brutal adapation of the original source material. No matter what, to paraphrase Malcolm, the Jurassic Park films will find a way. Until then, we have a great batch of films to enjoy with repeat viewings, including Jurassic World: Dominion, which is a thrilling and thunderous epic of a finale to the Jurassic World trilogy.

José Soto

Potential Directors 4 The Fantastic Four

The recent news that director Jon Watts left the upcoming Fantastic Four (FF) film by Marvel Studios was a big surprise for fans of the Marvel Comics property and apparently the film studio itself. Unlike Ant-Man and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness where the original directors of those films were replaced fairly quickly, it seems as if Marvel Studios is taking its time and keeping to its vest who the replacement will be. There are many possible choices and rumors of who will take over. The popular talk was that John Krasinsky, who appeared as an alternate version of Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic in the latest Doctor Strange film was the frontrunner and one reason why Watts left the project. But those rumors have died down since it is not clear that the actor will even be cast as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) version of Richards.

When choosing the replacement director for the Fantastic Four, the president of Marvel Studios,Kevin Feige, has to pick a solid director with a proven track record. Unlike some other MCU films, the Fantastic Four truly has to be phenomenal because the superhero team is one of Marvel Comics’ top properties and the previous vilm versions of the Fantastic Four have been major letdowns. So, Marvel Studios has to get this film right and cannot afford a misfire. The latest rumor has it that Feige prefers to have a proven veteran filmmaker tackle the film instead of an up-and-coming director. That makes sense because for every Joe and Anthony Russo, who blossomed with MCU films, there have been forgettable picks like Alan Taylor.

With that let’s look at some possible choices, which will include the latest rumored potential directors and some suggested possibilities for the Fantastic Four. Of course, bear in mind Kevin Feige may tap someone completely unexpected for the task.

John Krasinski

As noted above, Krasinski is considered the frontrunner for the job, at least among fans, given all the fan art of his casting and his directing resume. He has shown the ability to not only direct. but star in genre films, as seen with A Quiet Place and A Quiet Place, Part II. One hindrence is that the actor/director may not want to commit to a long-term film deal. At best, he may only star and direct one Fantastic Four film and hand off the directing duties to someone else for the sequels.

Bryce Dallas Howard

She is the latest rumored frontrunner for the directing task, and for the role of Susan Storm. Fueling the rumors are her recent acclaimed directing of the better episodes of The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. Currently she is set to star in and direct a remake of Flight of the Navigator, so this may prevent her from taking the job, but then again she may jump ship for a higher profie job.

Peyton Reed

The director of the Ant-Man films famously pitched a Fantastic Four film back in the noughties to 20th Century Fox that would have taken place in the 1960s and would have been a comedy. For some time it was rumored that the superhero team would debut in Reed’s upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, but that is doubtful since there has been no news or updates and the film’s release has been moved up to early next year. So there goes Reed’s chance to direct the FF, but, given his interest with the property and his MCU background, Reed would be a perfect choice.

Sam Raimi

After a long absence, the Spider-Man director made a superhero film comeback with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness where he proved he could still deliver an enjoyable superhero venture. His Spider-Man films were very whimsical and adventurous with the unique Raimi camera tricks that should go well with the FF. Plus, Bruce Campbell could cameo as the Impossible Man or some other comedic role!

Chris Columbus

Back in 1995, Columbus was attached to write and direct an adaptation of the Fantastic Four, but unfortunately left the project due to the astronomical cost for the special effects, which would have been difficult to pull off in that time period. The director has solid genre credentials, most famously with the early Harry Potter films, and should be considered.

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