“The Most Profound Experience I Can Imagine” William Shatner Goes Where Few Have Gone Before

On October 13, 2021, history was made as sci-fi melded with science fact when actor William Shatner became the oldest person to ever go into space onboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital launch vehicle.

At 90 years young, Shatner is, of course, best known for portraying Captain James T. Kirk, in the original Star Trek and the first seven Star Trek films. The resusable suborbital system was conceived by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos as a means of commencing space tourism. Bezos invited Shatner to become an astronaut/passenger for the New Shepard’s second crewed voyage, which included three other astronauts/passengers.

Obviously Star Trek and sci-fi fans were excited by the news as finally William Shatner would be able to in a sense emulate the sci-fi legend, who voyaged through space as he commanded the starship Enterprise. Needless to say, what Shatner accomplished paled to Kirk’s feats. After all, the actor simply took a suborbital flight while Kirk traversed the galaxy as if it was nothing. Yet Kirk appreciated the situation he was in, to explore and witness what few or none have before. Now, Shatner, too, was able to have as what he said was “the most profound experience I can imagine.”

Originally the flight was to take place on October 12, but was delayed due to weather. During pre-takeoff, it was clear that William Shatner was nervous about his flight and made no secret about his ambivalence. Still, he went through with the flight and was taken aback by the experience.

The New Shepard launched from Blue Origin’s launch site in West Texas at 10:49 a.m. in a short suborbital trajectory that was similar to astronaut Alan Shepard’s first suborbital flight in 1961. The capsule that Shatner and the other three astronauts were in only remained in suborbit for about 11 minutes before it descended back to Earth. Still, that so-brief voyage left a grand impression upon Shatner and his companions.

Once he landed and was greeted by Bezos, William Shatner gave a moving and visceral description of his journey and how it deeply moved him. “I hope I can never recover from this. I hope that I can maintain what I feel now. I don’t want to lose it.” Shatner confessed as he recounted his short voyage 65 miles above the planet.

Some will argue that the event was a publicity stunt for the very rich and that the cost of the flight could have been better used down at Earth. But these trips illustrate the potential of space toursim and open it up to everyday people who are not scientists or engineers. William Shatner’s journey to where few have gone before was truly inspiring and an excellent way to boost space tourism. He pointed out that observing Earth from afar made him appreciate how fragile and beautiful our world is and how it should be cherished. He also added that everyone should experience to see Earth in a new way. Many other space voyagers described a similar feeling and how it made them protective of our planet. Perhaps if more people experienced what the very few have then it could inspire them to take measures to protect Earth.

Eventually, space tourism will become more affordable and attainable for many people to the point that it can become as routine as taking a flight on an airplane. Shatner’s experience and the way he eloquently described it are excellent ways to promote space tourism and inspire countless others.

So, what next? Will Patrick Stewart be invited for a future flight or antoher Star Trek actor? How about Mark Hamill, Sigourney Weaver, or any other prominent sci-fi actor? How about prominent sci-fi visionaries, such as George Lucas or James Cameron? It’s easy to imagine Cameron staying in orbit to film his next sci-fi blockbuster. They could, as Shatner demonstrated, be the best ambassadors to motivate others and who knows? Space tourism could soon become commonplace. Anyway, no matter what, it was a blast to see a small measure of science fiction becoming reality as we can now envision what it is like for Captain Kirk to be in space as the actor who helped create the character took that next step into the final frontier.

José Soto

Exploring Star Trek: Enterprise 20 Years Later

Twenty years ago, the final Rick Berman-era Star Trek show premiered on the former UPN network to a mixed reception, at best. Originally called Enterprise, the fifth Star Trek spinoff held a lot of promise with its premise—a prequel to the original Star Trek universe which detailed humankind’s initial exploration of space and the events, such as First Contact with famous Star Trek alien races, that led to the formation of the United Federation of Planets, and the acclaimed Star Trek universe.

When Enterprise was conceived, the Golden Age of Star Trek was already coming to a close. Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9), two highly revered shows, were no longer airing and Star Trek: Voyager (VOY) was ending its seven-year run. By the time the final episode of VOY aired, Enterprise and its premise was known to fans, as was the fact that popular genre actor, Scott Bakula, the star of the beloved sci-fi time travel show Quantum Leap, was cast to play the lead, Captain Jonathan Archer. However, around this time the Star Trek franchise under the helm of Rick Berman was running out of steam, creatively. Many episodes of Star Trek: Voyager were formulaic and many feared for good reason this malaise would carryover into Enterprise since Berman created it and was the main showrunner, along with Brannon Braga.

There were signs that the new show was going through the motions, starting with it premise, another starship crew exploring the unknown sectors of space; the characters seemed bland for the most part and echoed the makeup of the original cast with a few differences.

Still, many held out hope that Enterprise would deliver and rekindle the spark of imagination that the Star Trek franchise was noted for. Many were cautiously optimistic about the show, yet others were not enthused about the show and were ready to move on to other properties.

Enterprise premiered on September 26, 2001, which obviously was the first post-9/11 Star Trek show just a few days after the catastrophic event struck the United States.

The pilot episode “Broken Bow” introduced viewers to the crew of NX-01 Enterprise, Earth’s first starship that was capable of reaching warp 5. The more notable crew members consisted of Captain Jonathan Archer (Bakula), Chief Engineer Travis “Trip” Tucker (Connor Trinneer), and First Officer T’Pol (Jolene Blalock), a skeptical Vulcan who acted more as a guide to the humans when they ventured into unfamiliar space.

The ship and crew were pressed into service when an alien Klingon crash landed on Earth and the Enterprise crew undertook the mission to return the Klingon to his people. What they soon learned was that a shape-shifting alien race called the Suliban were after the Klingon. This put the humans into conflict with the Suliban, which Archer learned were being manipulated by a great power in the far future.

This was part of a confusing sub plot throughout most of the show’s run about a so-called temporal cold war. Apparently, the time period Enterprise took place in (the 2250s) was pivotal in history and certain unknown factions in the future wanted to change it. According to some reports, co-creators Rick Berman and Brannon Braga were forced to include this plot line by the network, and the duo even admitted the plot was never fully developed, and it showed. Berman and Braga also revealed that initially they wanted the series to take place on Earth for a large bulk of the first season as the Enterprise was prepared for its maiden voyage. But the network asked that the starship immediately launch into action during the pilot episode.

“Broken Bow” was entertaining but not as inspiring or memorable as previous Star Trek pilots. A bad sign for the show was the opening credits which featured a montage of humankind’s history of exploration. The montage was fine, but it was ruined by a rancid rendition of “Faith of the Heart” that was so treacly and annoying.

Many of the characters introduced felt too familiar or were not memorable. It felt like the showrunners were trying to recreate the famous Kirk/Spock/McCoy dynamic with Archer, T’Pol and Tucker. Just swap the sex of the token Vulcan and make the emotional member of the trio an engineer instead of a doctor. Some characters were interesting but never got the screen time they deserved, such as Dr. Phlox (John Billingsley), a quirky alien doctor who was the chief medical officer of the ship. Other characters were completely forgettable, such as Travis Mayweather (Anthony Montgomery), the ship’s helmsman. What was known about him was that he was one of the first generations of humans to be raised in deep space. Other than that he was relegated to being a glorified extra.

The early episodes themselves were not very exciting or captivating, though there were a handful of standouts, such as “The Andorian Incident”, which established first human contact with the Andorians and introduced Shran (Jeffrey Combs), a volatile Andorian officer who was one of the show’s best characters. But in other episodes basically not much happens and felt routine. The basic premise of the show was that it was supposed to chronicle the first steps humanity took when it began exploring deep space. The tech was supposed to be crude, shuttles and grappling hooks were used by the ship instead of transporters or tractor beams. With that in mind, the transporters were still brand-new technology that was not trusted, yet they soon used all the time instead of shuttles. It’s a shame since the early reliance of shuttles inspired one of the better first season episodes “Shuttlepod One”.

Some of the storylines had interesting premises but the execution was mundane and the end result was by the numbers. Other episodes were outright copies of previous Star Trek episodes. For instance “Vanishing Point” had the same premise as “The Next Phase” from TNG, which did it better. The same went for “Precious Cargo”, an outright rip-off of TNG’s “The Perfect Mate”. It was obvious that Berman, Braga and other crewmembers were burnt out and going through the motions. Many of them, including Berman, had been involved with Star Trek since the mid-1980s. It was time to bring in new blood but the people in charge refused to see this and this is why the show suffered.

By the time the second season of Enterprise came to a close it was clear something had to be done. Ratings were declining, as was interest in the Star Trek franchise. Many fans abandoned it for fresher properties that were making their mark at the time such as Stargate: SG1, Firefly and Farscape.

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Star Trek Turns 55

Yes, the classic sci-fi TV show that started the unbelievable Star Trek phenomenon turned double nickels this year. At 55, Star Trek continues to captivate untold numbers of fans. As any Trekker knows, the show has spun off into nearly a dozen TV shows (which includes Short Treks and the original animated TV show from the ’70s) and thirteen films.

There are many reasons for the enduring appeal and success of the Star Trek franchise. They include the captivating story lines and characters that serve as allegories for our current situation or are at least imaginative. The stories also offer a beacon of hope for humankind, that we will overcome our strife and spread out into the stars. Whatever the reason, Star Trek, despite its ups and downs, will continue to entrance fans and be a part of our culture for a long time.

To help celebrate the 55th anniversary of Star Trek, the streaming app Paramount+ presented a live celebration of the show and its spinoffs on September 8. This day is now known as Star Trek Day because the original TV show debuted on September 8, 1966. The Star Trek Day celebration featured many cast members and showrunners from previous, current and upcoming productions dedicated to Star Trek. The panel presentations featured actors from previous Star Trek shows who reminded the audience of the significance contributions their shows made to the franchise. These were followed up by beautifully performed live scores of each Star Trek show by Jeff Russo and his orchestra.

Probably the most anticipated highlight of the Star Trek Day event were the presentations of upcoming Star Trek TV shows such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Prodigy, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (which revealed its full crew lineup that includes Nyota Uhura, Christine Chapel and new characters), Star Trek: Lower Decks and Star Trek: Picard. The trailer for Star Trek: Picard unveiled that the second season will be time travel romp that partially takes place in modern times and was a delightful callback to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home as the characters struggled to blend in with our times, Good luck with that, many of us are also struggling! It was announced that Star Trek: Picard has been renewed for a third season and premiere dates were given for a few of the shows.

But the most insightful panel was a celebration of the 100th birthday of Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation. The panel, hosted by Wil Wheaton, featured Rod Roddenberry, George Takei, LeVar Burton and Gates McFadden. They all shared their personal stories of meeting Gene Roddenberry and how they worked with him. It was an excellent and heartfelt commemoration of Gene Roddenberry and his impact on Star Trek and our culture.

Even though the current Star Trek shows have their issues, their best aspects were highlighted and it was clear that the people involved with the shows were passionate about their work. It was heartening to see during the Star Trek Day event that the show that started 55 years ago continues to shine which is remarkable considering that most TV shows from that long-gone era have been forgotten. This includes TV shows that garnered more ratings than the original Star Trek.

The celebration was a welcome reminder that Star Trek will continue to live long and prosper.

José Soto

A Review Of Star Trek: Discovery Season 3

The third season of Star Trek: Discovery concluded the other week with the finale “The Hope That Is You, Part II”, which was a peculiar title since the premiere episode was part I. This helps illustrate the off-kilter nature of Star Trek: Discovery’s third season. It had a great premise which functioned as a soft reboot for the show, but the execution was lacking at times and has turned off fans.

In the final second season episode of the show, the U.S.S. Discovery was hurled over 900 years into the distant future and the latest season chronicles the crew of the Federation starship after they arrive in the year 3188. Or rather the series lead Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) arrives in that year ahead of her starship. After Burnham and her crewmates are reunited they set out to find out what happened to the United Federation of Planets. At this time in history, the Federation is a shadow of its former glorious self. Roughly a hundred years prior, the galaxy suffered an event called The Burn that destroyed most of the Federation’s Starfleet and Star Trek’s crystalline power source, dilithium crystals became a rare commodity. Meanwhile, the Federation was forced to contract its vast borders as core member worlds like Earth and Vulcan (now called Ni’Var) left it to become independent states.

Before long, the Discovery and its crew encounter the remnants of the Federation and soon offer their services to help rebuild the Federation with the aid of their ship’s unique spore drive that can travel instantly throughout the galaxy. By the way, the ship received a nifty upgrade.

To repeat, this is a terrific premise but the execution was woefully uneven and frustrating at times. 

First the good: The production was exceptional with film-quality special effects and production design that rivals the J.J. Abrams films (fans of those films will be pleased to know that that alternate universe was mentioned in one episode).

Many of the new characters were instantly engaging and memorable such as Cleveland “Book” Booker (David Ajala), your typical space rogue with a heart of gold and Burnham’s love interest. Book was a fascinating rogue who had selfish motives in the beginning but quickly allowed his inner goodness come to light and he strove to become part of Starfleet. Speaking of Starfleet, the show introduced one of Star Trek’s best admirals with Admiral Charles Vance (Oded Fehr) who projected the gravitas of a seasoned and reasonable leader. He also helped make up for the loss of Captain Pike, one of the best highlights of the second season. The Discovery also recruited a young human Adira Tal (Blu del Barrio), who is co-joined with a Trill symbiont and possesses a keen scientific mind. Occassionally, they (as Adira asked to be referred to) interacts with their deceased lover and previous Trill host Grey Tal (Ian Alexander). It turned out that Grey was not a hallucination and in a later episode when other Discovery crew members were able to see and interact with Grey, these encounters were one of the best emotional highlights of the season. 

The new baddies in the Star Trek universe are the Emerald Chain, a criminal organization led by Orions and Andorians who now occupy significant portions of former Federation space. Their leader is Osyrra (Janet Kidder), a vicious and manipulative thug who will stop at nothing to capture the Discovery and steal its technology. Basically the Emerald Chain are the Ferengi on super steroids and gave us a hint of how the Ferengi were supposed to be portrayed in early episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG).

Some episodes were quite good like the premier episode and season finale; “There is a Tide…”, which basically was Die Hard on the Discovery with Michael Burnham doing a bang up job as as 32nd century John McClane; “Far From Home” reunited Burnham with the Discovery; and “Unification III” had the Disocvery travleing to the former Vulcan. This episode functioned as a distant sequel to the TNG episodes “Unification I and II” and gave us a brief cameo of Leonard Nimoy as Spock. 

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Top Ten Films & TV Shows Of 2020

2020 has certainly been a strange and troubling year with the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting the entertainment industry.

As the film studios and theaters suffered greatly from the mass closures for public safety, the television arm of the entertainment industry saw a boon since they had literal captive audiences eager for any new content.

Films

Even though many films scheduled for 2020 were postponed for the year, there were many other films that either had limited theatrical releases or managed to come out in the early months of the year before COVID-19 created the lockdowns. Hopefully as the now-availalbe vaccines are administered throughout the population, 2021 will see more of a return to normalcy as theaters will be able to safely re-open.

Please note many films that were released solely digitally or through streaming platforms were not considered for this list; a film had to have some kind of theatrical release even if it debuted in few theaters at the same time they were released digitally. Here are the ten best theatrical films of 2020.

10. Onward

Pixar’s other animated cinematic offering for 2020 was an uplifting and fun adventure that took place in a world where mythical and magical beings and creatures exist today. In the film, two elf brothers set out on a road trip across the country to temporarily resurrect their deceased father. As with most Pixar films, the characters and their emotions took center stage as the two realized their brotherly love for one another. 

9. The New Mutants

The sole Marvel film of 2020 turned out to be the coda of the Fox X-Men films, which was a surprise given it has been delayed so many times. Fortunately, The New Mutants turned out to be a decent superhero film about teenagers coming to grips with their superpowers and life as the film was tinged with chilling horror elements.

alone at the midnight sky

8. The Midnight Sky

George Clooney directed and starred in this introspective sci-fi film based on a book by Lily Brooks-Dalton. Clooney played a lone scientist in an arctic outpost who tries to warn the crew of a returning spacecraft not to come to Earth because it has undergone an extinction-level event. The film was a quiet and captivating character study of the scientist and the spacecraft crew as they struggled to survive in their hostile environments.

7. Underwater

Director William Eubanks is perhaps the most underrated director of sci-fi films today and his latest film continued to demonstrate this. Underwater may be filled with the usual tropes of a crew in an underwater research station being hunted by unknown, Lovecraftian creatures, but it was well crafted, claustrophobic and had the right amount of jump scares and unexpected character studies which elevated this film. 

6. Greenland

Gerard Butler starred in a surprisingly effective disaster film that smartly focused on a single family when cometary fragments crashed into the Earth. By staying with the family as they tried to make their way to safety, Greenland was able to directly show how the catastrophic event affected the family as they grappled with fear, uncertainty and confusion. 

5. Sonic the Hedgehog

Who would have thought that 2020 would have given us a winning film based on a popular video game character? It is more remarkable given the negative reaction to the first trailer which led to Sonic being radically re-designed more to fans’ liking. The effort paid off as Sonic the Hedgehog was a fun and endearing road trip/buddy film that delighted many viewers and not just fans. The road trip/buddy aspect of the film may be familiar but it worked as Sonic, the cartoonish alien, experiences life on Earth for the first time. 

4. #Alive

This South Korean film took a tired zombie/survival trope and reinvigorated it. In the film a young adult gamer is trapped in his apartment during a zombie apocalypse and as he undergoes bouts of loneliness and struggles to keep his sanity, he learns about survival and finding one’s inner strength. This character study made the film very engaging as we found ourselves rooting for the young gamer.

 

3. Color Out of Space

Nicolas Cage was in rare form in this macabre adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft short story. This horror/sci-fi yarn was quite unsettling in its first half which told the story of a crashed meteor’s unearthly physical effect in a nearby farm. By the second half, Color Out of Space metamorphized into a vivid and disturbing body-horror ordeal that was literally mind bending and shattering as the meteor’s alien influence transformed all life surrounding it, including the hapless farmer and his family. 

love and monsters dog

2. Love and Monsters

This exciting and more light-hearted post-apocalyptic film was a actually a coming-of-age story about a young man who learned to believe in himself as he set out across the ruined landscape of the U.S. to find his supposed true love. Sometimes it is compared to Zombieland, though that is not entirely accurate. In truth, Love and Monsters focused less on laughs and more on its endearing characters and imaginative, giant mutated animals that the film’s hero and his companion dog had to face during his difficult journey.

1. Soul

Two big films were released on streaming platforms (and had very limited theatrical releases), even though one of them (Wonder Woman 1984) had much more buzz and attention, Soul was not only the better of the two films but the best film of the year. The underlying themes may go over the heads of the younger viewers, though they and everyone else will be delighted by the film’s plot of Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), as a struggling musician who dies and refuses to go to heaven. From there, he sets off on a spiritual and metaphysical quest to return to life filled with solid characters and relationships. 

Not only is Soul perfectly animated and chock full of visual delights, but like the best of Pixar, it examines the larger questions in life and its script is unexpected. At its heart, Soul is about…life and what one makes of it. However, it also forces the viewer to contemplate and appreciate the simpler and most relevant aspects of life, and in this tumultous year, this may be the most important message of all. 

Honorable Mentions:

Bill & Ted Face the Music, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), The Invisible Man, Peninsula, Possessor, Vivarium

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