Star Trek Magazine #63 is out

When the original Star Trek series was threatened with cancellation by NBC, it was Bjo Trimble and her husband John that organized the unprecedented letter-writing campaign that saved the show.

The success of that campaign should never be underestimated, as without it Star Trek would be but a dim-and-distant memory.

In the first part of a two-part interview with me (Chris Gardner) in Issue 63 of Star Trek Magazine, Bjo remembers the highs and lows of campaigning to keep Trek on TV. (Pages 48 to 53)

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In the world of entertainment, success breeds sequels, and with Star Trek guaranteeing big audiences in both cinemas and on TV with The Next Generation, it was only a matter of time before commissioners came looking for another Trek TV series.

So, it was that Deep Space Nine stepped into the limelight, and with it a myriad of opportunities for make-up supervisor Michael Westmore to create countess new aliens.

Michael remembers Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise in the conclusion of his two-part interview with me on pages 54 to 61.

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Review: Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock Bluetooth Speakers by Fametek

Set phasers on fun!

For that’s exactly the feeling this pair of Bluetooth speakers from Fametek evoke.

It feels like the American manufacturer have gone for a Pop! Vinyl sort of feel with this pair of speakers inspired by William Shatner’s portrayal of Captain James T. Kirk in Star Trek: The Original Series. Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock is at Kirk’s side, as if he’s always been there and always will.

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Kirk carries a drawn Starfleet Type 2 Phaser with a Type 1 Phaser correctly inserted in his right hand and a tribble in his left hand.

Spock gives the Vulcan salute with his right hand while holding his left hand, fist clenched, behind his back. A Tricorder hangs around his neck and across his chest.

The speakers include a built in Lithium-Ion 500 mh rechargeable battery. They are charged by plugging the supplied micro-USB charging cable into the back of the speaker and into a computer USB port or 1A/5V charging block. The speaker’s red LED glows while it is charging, tuning off when it is charged.

A three-way switch on the rear of each speaker allows you to switch from off to Auxiliary Mode, allowing you to plug in any audio device via its headphone socket and the supplied auxiliary 3.5mm line-in cable. I tested this function with Engage: The Official Star Trek Podcast from my iPhone 5S and it was delivered clearly and crisply on the 1.5”/38mm Massive Audio driver. They sounded just as good in Bluetooth mode.

Bluetooth Mode is a flick of the switch to the left. On Kirk you get Shatner: “This is Captain James Kirk of the USS Enterprise”. On Spock it’s: “Live long and prosper”. Phaser fire accompanies Kirk’s pairing with your device and “Full ahead, Warp Factor One” when you disconnect. For Spock it’s the whir of a Tricorder and “Captain, I suggest the Vulcan mind probe”. There’s nine sound effects for each of the speakers, in all, which play in different scenarios. Or you can play them directly by pressing the SFX button for two seconds.

I made a call with the speakers, when connected to my smartphone. I could hear the recipient fine, but my voice was too quiet. Not a deal breaker.

Captain Kirk (Model FT-KRK) and Mr. Spock (Model FT_SPK) are available at a recommended retail price of US$49.95.

 

Review: Star Trek Beyond (2016), Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) and Star Trek (2009)

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The last three big budget blockbusting Star Trek movies seem a far cry from the morality tales delivered in the original television series of 50 years ago.

Some fans profess love for one and contempt for the other, with both iterations of Captain James T Kirk and crew having their fans and their critics.

But when you analyse the new films, and the original series that inspired them, you discover they have far more in common than you’d first think.

It’s no secret that the Star Trek series of 50 years ago was created by Gene Roddenberry so that he could tell morality tales that would be nixed by the censors on a conventional show. Star Trek commented on sexual and racial equality, and was deeply unpopular with the establishment for doing so. But it also slipped through other, less obvious, morality tales which flew right under the noses of the censors who couldn’t get past the science fiction format. For this reason, the original Star Trek series, ahead of all the others, is considered by many to be the best.

That same thinking often espouses televised Star Trek, which could tell deep and intimate tales in your living room, the definitive version. Star Trek on the big screen, it follows, is less than pure Star Trek because the format has to be altered to pull in the punters. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) is an example of Roddenberry trying to spin a small screen story on the big screen with a budget to match. While it did OK it did not bust blocks, and is widely criticised by some. (I happen to love it).

When you start reading up on the original series, and delve behind the scenes in books like Inside Star Trek and the brilliant These Are The Voyages series, you discover that while Roddenberry and his crew were breaking many moulds they were also forced to fit into some.

Star Trek’s first pilot, The Cage starring Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike, was rejected for being “too cerebral”. Roddenberry was forced to come up with something closer to the action and adventure format of other shows of the time like Bonanza. The second pilot, Where No Man Has Gone Before starring William Shatner as Captain James T Kirk, was more like it. And when it went to series fistfights were part of each morality play. Half a century later we remember the morality plays, but forget Kirk’s ripped Starfleet shirts.

The new films set in an alternate timeline have a similar genesis.

While telling engaging stories about Kirk, Spock, Bones et al, JJ Abrams reboots have also had to pull the paying punters in. In science fiction, these days, that means blowing up planets and starships. And, just like the torn Starfleet shirts and fist fights in the original series, we see plenty of that in Star Trek (2009), Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) and Star Trek’s 50th anniversary film Star Trek Beyond.

Star Trek (2009) skilfully sets up the alternate time line, created by original Spock (Leonard Nimoy), being thrown back in time to just before Kirk’s birth. It’s a film with an emotional wallop that goes some way toward explaining the loyalty and friendship of the original crew of the Enterprise.

Star Trek Into Darkness is a darker film, that tries too hard to emulate elements of the original series down to frame by frame recreations. The irony is this ended up being lost on the new viewer, who enjoyed Into Darkness as an action packed romp, while feeling contrived to the die-hard viewers. All that said, Into Darkness includes some heavy social commentary around the state of the world in 2013 if you’re prepared to dig for it.

Thankfully Star Trek Beyond gets us back on track, in Star Trek’s 50th year, and hones in on all the things that make Star Trek work. A central story point is the unity of the United Federated of Planets, and the film includes 50 new races to celebrate Trek’s half century. Kirk’s (Chris Pine) opening log entry about the 966th day in space winks to the audience since Star Trek was first aired in September, 1966. But at its core this film is about relationships between the main characters, and explores them in new ways. Kirk is paired with Chekov, played by the late Anton Yelchin, Spock (Zachary Qunito) with Bones (Karl Urban), Sulu (John Chow) with Uhura (Zoe Saldana), and Scotty (Simon Pegg) with a new, alien, character, as the story unfolds.

Kirk and Bones have a wonderful scene together, early on, that echoes a discussion from the first season episode Balance of Terror.

It’s these relationships that make the Enterprise crew strong, and Star Trek Beyond a worthy carrier of the Trek torch. Nimoy’s and Yelchin’s deaths, before the film was released, are also sweetly referenced in the film, as is a nod to the original cast.

Star Trek endures.

 

First lady of Star Trek shines at Armageddon Expo

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Never meet your heroes, they say. After meeting one of mine, Nichelle Nichols of Star Trek fame, today I’d say they are wrong.

Thanks to the good people at the Armageddon Expo in Auckland I interviewed Nichelle today . . . and I must say the 83-year-old actor exceeded all my expectations. But more on that later.

I loved the crew of the original starship Enterprise long before other Star Trek shows came along and, that included Nichelle who played the ship’s communications officer Lieutenant Nyota Uhura.

Gene Roddenberry launched Star Trek in 1966 in the middle of America and the West’s Cold War with Russia, amidst civil unrest in the United States between folk of different ethnic origins and before equality of the sexes was considered.

Roddenberry put a black woman on the bridge of his starship. Uhura served alongside an American captain and doctor, an Asian helmsman, a Scottish engineer and an alien first officer who was so advanced he could double as science officer. Star Trek, set 300 years in the future,  showed we could get past such things when it brought a Russian navigator into the fold in the second season, to reinforce its message of hope for the future of mankind.

It was this optimism that attracted me to Star Trek during its home video release in the 1980s since that other favourite of mine, Star Wars, was taking a long rest.

Start Trek started with the unscreened pilot The Cage, followed by the second pilot Where No Man Has Gone Before getting into the series proper. It was from this point, on September 8, 1966, that Lieutenant Uhura first appeared on American TV screens in her red ships operations uniform.

While it was Captain James T Kirk, science officer Spock and Dr Leonard “Bones” McCoy who were always at the heart of the action, it was Lt Uhura who made first contact with strange new worlds, new life forms and new civilisations from her communications console on the bridge. And it was Nichelle who brought her to life.

Yet Nichelle wasn’t happy with the amount of screen time Uhura was getting and resigned from the show part way through the first season. Roddenberry refused to accept the resignation on the spot and told Nichelle to reconsider her position over the weekend.

That weekend she was approached at an event where she was shoulder tapped and asked to come and speak to a fan who turned out to be none other than Dr Martin Luther King.

But, just as remarkable, was how NASA eventually approached Nichelle to help recruit women and minorities into the space programme. She went into some detail about if during our interview, and how she was so successful NASA has to ask her to stop. Perhaps this was one of Nichelle’s most defining moments.

While she was excited and engaged when we talked about her character, and her impact on pop culture and wider, her enthusiasm reached new heights as we discussed her work for NASA working towards making Star Trek’s fiction a reality.

Nichelle almost exploded with enthusiasm when I introduced my 10-year-old son, who is being introduced to the original series, at the interview’s end.

Imagine my surprise when Nichelle’s team approached us, as we packed up our gear, to have her photograph taken with us.

Moments later Nichelle walked on stage and was greeted with a standing ovation before she had time to open her mouth or sit down for her Star Trek panel. She talked about so much there, included that famous first interracial kiss on television with William Shatner (I interviewed him last year) and much more. 

I’ll be writing up my interview, commissioned by an internationally available magazine, over the next few days and will post about it again when it is published.

In the meantime, if you’re toying with the idea of visiting the Armageddon Expo in Auckland on Sunday to listen to a panel, get an autograph or photo taken with one of you heroes, just go for it. You never know if you’ll ever get the chance again.

Review: Star Trek Beyond

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BELOVED CHARACTERS: Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) in Star Trek Beyond.

 

Just back from Star Trek Beyond.

While not a deliberate 50th anniversary celebration of Star Trek which first aired in September 1966, there were lots of nice nods to Gene Roddenberry’s original series and two very nice tributes to the late Leonard Nimoy (Spock) and the original Star Trek cast.

Star Trek Beyond’s story is much simpler than the Star Trek Into Darkness story that came before. . .the Enterprise crew find themselves stranded on an alien world, racing against time to stop Krall (Idris Elba)  and his cohorts from destroying the United Federation of Planets outpost of Yorktown. The name itself is a nice nod to the genesis of Star Trek – Roddenberry’s original concept being the adventures of Captain Robert April and his crew aboard the USS Yorktown.

Elba does a powerful turn as the heavy, such a shame he’s hidden under so much makeup.

All of the classic characters get their chance to shine, the actors doing a terrific job with Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban leading by example as the triumvirate of alternate universe versions of Captain James Kirk, First Officer Spock and Dr Leonard “Bones” McCoy.

It was sad to see the late Anton Yelchin in his last turn as Lt Pavel Chekov, how wonderful that he should have such a large part in Star Trek Beyond at his captain’s side. Lovely that director Justin Lin should dedicate this film to Nimoy and say it is also for Anton. Here’s hoping Chekov, in the alternate Kelvin time line, gets a heroic death in the IDW comics which s referenced in the next movie. It would be a mistake to recast Chekov.

The appearance of an NX class starship, much like Captain Jonathan Archer’s Enterprise NX-01, is just icing on the cake.

Star Trek Lives! May it continue to be long, and prosper.