It’s been nine months since last I joined a PCHH panel, and they’ve been dog months. In that span I’ve bought myself a pricey new microphone, had knee surgery, run zero point zero miles, and watched in impotent rage as a global pandemic has slain hundreds of thousands of Americans who might still be with us had responsible adults been in charge when the plague hit. Police officers murdered George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, millions took to the streets (I was still too weak to do that back in May and June) to protest police violence against persons of color, and my beloved hometown of Washington, DC was invaded by the U.S. military.
Dog months. And all without the outlets of running or boxing, the strategies I have relied upon to exorcize corrosive feelings since I was a kid. (OK, I never tried to box until I was 27, but I’ve been a runner since I was 14.) I got a bicycle at the end of June, and the increasingly long rides to which I’ve been treating myself have helped.
Anyway, Pop Culture Happy Hour! And a new Star Trek series, which is both animated and fluid-rich (blood, bile… alien vomit).
Lower Decks is set in the Next Generation era, aboard the U.S.S. Cerritos, a California-class vessel. The first shuttlecraft we see parked in its shuttle bay is the Joshua Tree, a naked play for my affection. The shuttle Yosemite gets more airtime in the early episodes.
I was delighted to dissect the show with Stephen Thompson, Glen Weldon, and Petra Mayer. You can hear the episode here if the embedded player above isn’t working.
I basically got into journalism because I wanted to write for Rolling Stone. That took longer to happen than I’d hoped it might, but it was a real thrill to get to do this piece for them yesterday, reflecting on what Star Trek hath wrought on the occasion of the franchise’s 50th anniversary.
Last night, the National Air and Space Museum showed “The Man Trap,” the first Trek episode broadcast (albeit not the first one produced), at 8:30 p.m. Eastern — the same time NBC had shown it 50 years earlier. It’s a really fun episode that demonstrates that the rich character relationships were present in the Original Series right from the beginning, and that most of the comedy in Trek was fully intentional. (Also that what was progressive in 1966 is decidedly not in 2016. But that’s how progress works.)
Thanks to Scott Tobias for suggesting me for it, and to David Fear for editing the essay.
Karl Urban and Zachary Quinto in 2016’s “Star Trek Beyond.” (Kimberly French / Paramount)
Kirstie Alley and Leonard Nimoy in 1982’s “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” (CBS Consumer Products / Star Trek Archive)
Zachary Quinto in 2013’s “Star Trek into Darkness.” (Zade Rosenthal / Paramount)
Leonard Nimoy and Jill Ireland in the 1967 Original Series episode “This Side of Paradise,” wherein the rational half-Vulcan Mr. Spock finds love while under the influence of a strange plant. (CBS Consumer Products/Star Trek Archive)
John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Karl Urban, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Simon Pegg in 2016’s “Star Trek Beyond.” (Kimberly French / Paramount)
The U.S.S. Enterprise studio model in 1965. (CBS Consumer Products / Star Trek Archive)
Chris Pine and Zoe Saldana in 2013’s “Star Trek into Darkness.” (Zade Rosenthal / Paramount)
Nichelle Nichols, William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, and James Doohan in “Mirror, Mirror,” which first aired Oct. 6, 1967. (CBS Consumer Products/Star Trek Archive)
Brent Spiner in the “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” (CBS Consumer Products / Star Trek Archive)
The September issue of Air & Space / Smithsonian, featuring the cover story I desperately wanted to call Warp Corps — because it’s about a corps of people whom Star Trek has inspired and influenced, you see — is now on sale at the National Air and Space Museum (both locations, on the National Mall and at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia) as well as at Barnes & Noble stores and the digital retailer of your choice. You can read the feature here. Also, I’d love it if you would come buy a copy of the magazine from me for a paltry one-time fee $6.99 at the Museum during its three-day celebration of Star Trek‘s 50th anniversary. The event kicks off at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 8 — the evening the Original Series episode “The Man Trap” was first broadcast on NBC. Continue reading →
I had the good fortune to interview Star Trek’s resident alien linguist Marc Okrand this week, for a video that’ll posting next week as part of Air & Space / Smithsonian’s coverage of Trek’s 50th birthday. I met Marc through his involvement in DC theatre. After the shoot, we got some coffee and talked about—well, okay, yes, about his work on various Trek movies mostly, again, some more. But we also discussed how much we both enjoyed writer/director Kathleen Akerley’s ambitious new play FEAR, which I review in this week’s Washington City Paper.
Star Trek Beyond, the third Trek in the 50-year-old franchise’s rebooted “Kelvin timeline,” wants to be a Skyfall-style cocktail of tradition and modernity. I wish it were bolder, but it’s energetic and fun. Here’s my NPR review.
What a pleasure it was to speak with Simon Pegg, an actor and writer whose work I’ve long admired, for my day job with Air & Space / Smithsonian magazine. I’ve been overseeing a special section of our September issue commemorating the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, and I was especially keen to have Pegg — as the co-screenwriter of the new movie Star Trek Beyond, as well as one of its key cast members — be a part of our coverage. He was as enthusiastic and smart and funny as I’d dared hope. You can read the interview here, and my NPR review of Star Trek Beyond will be up Friday. Continue reading →
With the release of a new iteration of Ghostbusters — Sequel? Reboot? Don’t know; the DC screening conflicted with the first session of the new Boxing Fundamentals class I’m teaching at Y — every single one of 1984’s ten highest-grossing films has either been sequeled or remade. I believe ’84 is the only year for which this is the case. In terms of what ruled the box office, it resembled 2014 a lot more than it did ’83 or ’85. Because I enjoy staring at box office charts, apparently, I wrote about this discovery for NPR Monkey See.
The Nice Guys, which I expect history shall remember as my favorite film of the summer of 2016, came out last week; Captain America: Civil War, probably the best of the Marvel bunch, is old news. But Memorial Day weekend is still the traditional start of the summer movie season. Here, for the third consecutive Memorial Day weekend, is my Village Voice list of summer movies I want to see. Light up a phone in any of these and you’ll hear from me. Continue reading →
I am acquainted through DC theatre with Marc Okrand, the man who developed the Klingon language to for Paramount Pictures. I was surprised to seem him make a very brief appearance in Jennifer M. Kroot’s documentary To Be Takei, which I reviewed for The Dissolve.
Hikaru Sulu and George Takei at Midtown Comics in Manhattan.
I hate to see her go but I love to watch her fly away.
The un-detailed port side. NASM covered up openings in the model used to run wires to power its motorized interior lights.
The Enterprise is surrounded by Star Trek merch.
My first radio story will be broadcast today. You can listen to it here right now. The process of assembling and editing it was not all that much different from making these. Although in this case I had expert help — WAMU managing producer Tara Boyle — to make the piece sound better. The story is about the starship Enterprise. That is, the impressively large, now-49-year-old model that appeared in every episode of Star Trek, 30 years before computer graphics became Hollywood’s defacto visual effects methodology.
I haven’t spent enough time with the various spinoff series to get much of a read on them, but original-flavor Kirk-Spock-McCoy Star Trek is a thing I love.I initially imagined this segment as a Daily Show-style news package wherein I would feign indignation that an artifact as significant as the civilization-seeking, boldly-going Enterprise rates a spot only in the basement of the National Air & Space Museum. (Apparently they also have some spacecraft there that have actually flown in space.) That approach proved to a be little ambitious for my first time out of the gate. There were a couple of jokes and a couple of clips it pained me to lose, but I’m happy with how it turned out.
My favorite formal thing about the story is that I managed to use, chronologically, music from three eras of Trek: Alexander Courage‘s 1966 theme for TV series, two snippets of James Horner‘s score for The Wrath of Khan from 1982, and finally, Michael Giacchino‘s theme from the 2009 Trek reboot directed by J.J. Abrams. Continue reading →
Spock’s final farewell to his old buddy Jim, from “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.”
…and Spock and Kirk (2013).
Director Nicholas Meyer with Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner on the set of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” 1982.
I once attended a midnight screening of the Cadillac of Star Trek films — that would be numero dos, The Wrath of Khan — wherein the projector bulb burnt out right in the middle of Mr. Spock’s heroic death scene. If the theater hadn’t given us four free movie passes to compensate for this effrontery against all that is good and decent, I would’ve suspected an especially cruel prank, perhaps orchestrated by a partisan of the bloodless, squeaky-clean Next Generation-flavored Star Trek, which I suppose is okay if vanilla is what you like.
Naturally, I had to dig up my Khan DVD at home and watch the final 10 minutes before I could go to sleep that night. Spock’s grand and tragic expiration would soon be reversed in a not-so-good movie with the surprise-negating subtitle The Search for Spock, but whatever.
All of which is to say that my love for The Wrath of Khan is mean and true. And it fascinates me that that film, more than any other of the hundreds and hundreds of subsequent Star Trek items (a great number of which — like the entire Deep Space Nine and Voyager and Enterprise series, for instance — I’ve never seen or read), remains the primary source document that continues to guide the cinematic Star Trek universe, especially in the heavily Khan-indebted new movie Star Trek into Darkness.
J.J. Abrams’ second Trek film takes a generation-old, backstage fight over the meaning and purpose of Star Trek and drags it right to the center of the camera-flare-buffered frame. I make my case today on NPR’s Monkey See blog. Continue reading →
A young Chuck Close with one of his many portraits of Philip Glass, from his 1969 photo of the composer.
Man, it is just crazytown that I’m blogging semi-prolifically over at the Washington City Paper’s Arts Desk and forgetting to update my own Internet sock drawer with linkage. Here’s my interview in twoparts with the wildly versatile and adventurous composer Philip Glass. I still haven’t transcribed the part where we talk about his film-score work, but I promise I’ll get to it. Movies are always relevant.