"He might have read the document when he was tired, at the end of a long day of being tied to a whale."
December 31, 2010 6:38 AM   Subscribe

"They're not out to make a quick buck, they're looking to protect the integrity of the franchise and its mythology." 1998's Star Trek Insurrection went through a number of different plots before becoming the film we ultimately saw. Starting out as Star Trek: Stardust, the first take on the idea involved Captain Picard going all Heart of Darkness on a former friend from his Starfleet Academy days in a bid to find the Fountain of Youth. That treatment evolved into a remarkably Avatarish story called simply Star Trek IX in which Picard must go upriver to kill a malfunctioning Data as part of a Federation/Romulan alliance to displace strange alien natives from a planet teeming with a valuable and rare ore (spoiler: Picard actually kills Data in this treatment, and Tom Hanks was supposed to have a major role somewhere). Let the late Michael Piller guide you through the writing of Insurrection in his unpublished book Fade In: The Making of Star Trek: Insurrection (his "last great gift to the fans and to aspiring writers everywhere") in which he presents his original story treatments, story notes from his bosses at Paramount, surprisingly reasonable Trekker-type reactions from actors Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner, and much more. First made freely available by TrekCore.com, Piller's family has since asked that it be removed, but you'll still find the file roaming the Internet if you boldly go looking for it.

Selected excerpts of note from the 271 page PDF:

"The Pitch" (pg 22):
I came back to Rick [Berman] with a premise I called “Heart of Lightness.” I told him we’d be using a structure based on Heart of Darkness, but that the trip “up the river” would lead Picard and his crew on a very different kind of adventure. “We open at Starfleet Academy in Picard’s youth,” I told him, “Establishing Picard as a curly-haired, high-spirited cadet. We give him a best friend, another cadet who is as close to Picard as any man has ever been and ever will be.

“Flash forward to the present day and find adult Picard being given a mission by Starfleet Command. His old friend is now a wanted man -- he’s been attacking ships in an unexplored region of space and no one knows why. Picard has to track him down and if necessary, kill him. “The Enterprise sets off through this mysterious region and the crew begins to act in unusual ways. We don’t know why yet. After several curious incidents, they finally find the hiding place of Picard’s old friend. Picard transports down to the planet and discovers that he looks exactly the same as he did at the Academy! We ultimately learn that this is a fountain of youth and somebody is trying to steal it from the people who live there. Picard’s friend has been defending the natives on the planet.”

I waited a beat and tried to gauge his reaction. If he’d hated it, his mouth would have twisted into a frown by now. It wasn’t twisted at all. Not up. Not down. Even. He just looked at me and nodded. “I love it,” he said.

From "Old Soldiers" (pg 62) in which producer Rick Berman doubts that Patrick Stewart will approve of the treatment:
[Rick] read from page 35 of the document: “We begin to realize that Picard is getting younger, first psychologically and then gradually physically as well. We see that swashbuckling spirit of an earlier era revived in his heart.” He looked at me. “In other words, Picard’s an old man who doesn’t get to buckle his swash until the planet makes him young again. But he’s our hero. When the movie’s over and he’s back to normal again, he needs to be a vital man of action. Patrick will hate this. He’ll never do it.”

“But he didn’t have a problem with a fountain of youth concept,” I said.

“He will when he reads this,” said Rick. “You’re telling our star he’s an old man!”

I sputtered looking for words to argue but I couldn’t find them. “If it’s a fountain of youth story, he’s got to get younger,” I finally said.

“Then maybe it shouldn’t be a fountain of youth story. I won’t be able to sell this to Patrick.”

I let out a deep breath. It was hard to disagree with Rick’s prediction of Patrick’s reaction. For the moment, I couldn’t find a way around it. “I have an idea” said Rick, pulling me out of my despair. “What if the guy Picard finds on the planet... is
Data.”
From "Patrick" (pg 98) in which Patrick Stewart offers his negative criticisms of the revised treatment:
In the story I have been reading this weekend we are enmeshed in a context of Federation politics, fine interpretations of The Prime Directive and ancient history - as ancient as Star Trek - of conflict between two members of The Federation. In the middle of all this there is a vaguely defined, characterless, uninteresting civilization who seem to have attended too many performances of Siegfried and Roy. [..] what I have read would have hardly composed a moderately interesting episode somewhere in the middle of season five of TNG.
From "Brent" (pg 130) in which Brent Spiner asks for Data to be killed off:
Brent was unhappy about Data malfunctioning early in the picture. He
had behaved abnormally in the last two movies. He was afraid it was beginning to seem like Data was an untrustworthy officer. Beyond the malfunction, Data seemed to him like an after-thought. Discouraged, he offered up a solution: kill Data off in this movie. We declined and tried to assure him that we would continue to develop Data’s story on the Ba’ku planet. As for the story itself, Brent liked the notions of the rag-tag army, the elements from
Heart of Darkness, Magnificent Seven, The Alamo and Lost Horizon. But he had a lot of questions. I mean a lot of questions. Like hundreds of them.
posted by Servo5678 (104 comments total) 81 users marked this as a favorite

 
In the middle of all this there is a vaguely defined, characterless, uninteresting civilization who seem to have attended too many performances of Siegfried and Roy. [..] what I have read would have hardly composed a moderately interesting episode somewhere in the middle of season five of TNG.

Yep, that's Insurrection, all right.

I'm so excited to read all of this! Thank you so much for posting it!
posted by Greg Nog at 6:50 AM on December 31, 2010 [10 favorites]


This is a great post and you are a great person for posting it.
posted by Jairus at 7:12 AM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


In the middle of all this there is a vaguely defined, characterless, uninteresting civilization who seem to have attended too many performances of Siegfried and Roy. [..] what I have read would have hardly composed a moderately interesting episode somewhere in the middle of season five of TNG.

Yep, that's Insurrection, all right.

posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:13 AM on December 31, 2010


Snark aside, at least they were trying. They were thinking about this stuff and knew the audience and still just missed somehow. At least they understood that young Picard could have hair without confusing the audience.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:15 AM on December 31, 2010


I had no idea about any of this. Fantastic post, thanks. Also, yes, Insurrection is bad.
posted by slimepuppy at 7:19 AM on December 31, 2010


Plinkett reviews Insurrection
posted by The Whelk at 7:23 AM on December 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


Good things about Insurrection: it's not Nemesis. That's about it.
posted by Artw at 7:42 AM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


Good things about Insurrection: transport inhibitors.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 8:08 AM on December 31, 2010


What I took away from this: It would have been better to have Brent Spiner and Patrick Stewart in on the initial storyline meeting in the first place, given that Patrick can correctly identify when a storyline will suck and Brent is good at asking sensible questions.

As it was, it did.
posted by jaduncan at 8:11 AM on December 31, 2010 [7 favorites]


I was always profoundly disappointed that the TNG movies bared essentially no resemblance to the much-loved TV show of my youth. A lot of TNG episodes have decent 'repeat watching' value, but I can't imagine willingly sitting down and choosing to watch any of the movies other than possibly First Contact.

Looking forward to reading this; thanks for posting.
posted by modernnomad at 8:24 AM on December 31, 2010


"In other words, Picard’s an old man who doesn’t get to buckle his swash until the planet makes him young again. But he’s our hero. When the movie’s over and he’s back to normal again, he needs to be a vital man of action. Patrick will hate this. He’ll never do it."

Of course, half the TOS films are all about how Kirk is getting on a bit but a quick adventure perks him up.
posted by Artw at 8:25 AM on December 31, 2010 [6 favorites]


I was always profoundly disappointed that the TNG movies bared essentially no resemblance to the much-loved TV show of my youth.

I enjoyed a lot of the series (TNG, that is) but I never got into the movies. I always had the feeling that this was the case and I didn't want to add that kind of baggage to my memories the way the original series movies added some baggage to my love for it and its 60s cheese.
posted by immlass at 8:47 AM on December 31, 2010


This is great. On the flip side I'd like to know what went so damn right with First Contact just a couple years before. I love that movie so.
posted by eugenen at 8:49 AM on December 31, 2010 [4 favorites]


Confirmation that those writers were less than innovative... I did like Generations, even for it's fan patronizing.
posted by uni verse at 8:56 AM on December 31, 2010


Man, I'd completely forgotten about Insurrection. I suppose that says something.

OTOH, I remember First Contact, but only in a negative light so I suppose that says something too.
posted by sotonohito at 8:57 AM on December 31, 2010


This is great. On the flip side I'd like to know what went so damn right with First Contact just a couple years before. I love that movie so.

First Contact is a well-enough made action movie in a shiny Trek wrapper with a number of interesting set pieces and a cast that was game and comfortable with each other. It's also helped that being "decently and competently made" is a big step up for the Trek movies.

It still bares no relation to the TNG TV show, of course.
posted by The Whelk at 9:04 AM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


NuTrek did the same thing First Contact did which was "Problems in your story? Ignore them by keeping the energy high and never looking back!" Which is a legit action movie style - if any common thread of awful connects the Trek movies it's that they're boring
. First Contact, for all it's many flaws, was at least engaging.

Oh and after First Contact they kept trying to make it an action series and get back some of that box office but with increasingly diminishing results and an aging cast (That Fountain of Youth Idea? ...yeah).
posted by The Whelk at 9:09 AM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


In all honesty, Insurrection is one of my favorite Star Trek movies, mostly because the movie feels like just another episode of TNG.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 9:12 AM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


Great post! I'm so glad you brought this to our attention. It'll take me a while to read the whole thing, but I definitely will. Probably more than once.

I seem to be in the minority, but I actually didn't hate Insurrection. I didn't love it either; it failed to live up to the Star Trek name. But I didn't feel it was any worse than the average "summer movie" like Iron Man, Independence Day, or Tron: Legacy. And I've been known to enjoy those every now and then.

I still think that DS9 is the best Trek material produced to date, especially the Dominion War arc.
posted by Vorteks at 9:19 AM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


I was always profoundly disappointed that the TNG movies bared essentially no resemblance to the much-loved TV show of my youth. A lot of TNG episodes have decent 'repeat watching' value, but I can't imagine willingly sitting down and choosing to watch any of the movies other than possibly First Contact.

Actually, there are tons of TNG episodes that feel like Insurrection. You know, where they go down to a planet of bland people and have some sort of moral dilemma but still, like, like each other, because TNG crew members pretty much always do. The problem is that this works fine for a one-hour science fiction series, but not a movie.

As I've gotten older, I've developed a kind of strange relationship with the Trek films, particularly the TNG ones. For all of my love for the Enterprise E, and despite the fact that I loved First Contact when it was first in the theater, I realize that the more successful movies have been the ones that approached the stories more as action films, and often sexed them up in a way that felt weird for the characters/situations to boot if you think about them too much (see: Data and the Borg Queen). They're not good sci-fi or anything like that. But when you have movies that approach the franchise like an episode, it's boring (part of this, I suspect, is TNG's approach to its characters, which sometimes reminds me of a sitcom: they're largely static, and their development is very slight and very gradual. It's idea-based writing, not character driven, but again, that works on TV and not so well in movies and so you need things like fountains of youth to make these characters compelling if you're not a capable writer). The result is super super boring. That's the problem with Insurrection.

Don't even talk to me about Nemesis. So freakin stupid.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:23 AM on December 31, 2010 [5 favorites]


Or what those three guys who posted in front of me said.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:26 AM on December 31, 2010


Ignore them by keeping the energy high and never looking back!" Which is a legit action movie style - if any common thread of awful connects the Trek movies it's that they're boring

Not Wrath of Khan, but it wasn't Die Hard either. The tone they should be going for is "Military Drama" not "2001: A Space Odyssey" (even though TMP is underrated) "Space Communists" (even though the series was okay at that) or "Star Wars" (First Contact/JJ Abrams)

Now that I think of it, it's actually a pretty diverse set of movies and shows. I think the "Dominion War" arc is my favorite out of all of it, it has that nice military drama tone I liked in Khan.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:31 AM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have to say, though, that I liked the reignition of the romance between Troi and Riker in Insurrection. Sirtis and Frakes have tremendous chemistry. This picture makes me squee. Imzadi, indeed.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:34 AM on December 31, 2010


I liked the reignition of the romance between Troi and Riker in Insurrection

I swear I was the only kid watching TNG going like "Wait aren't they supposed to be love? Wait how come we never see them together. I don't get this at all."

I was talking to a female friend recently and TNG came up somehow and she, as if she had been waiting her entire life to say this, went off on a long, obscenity-laden rant on how much she hated Troi and how useless and stupid she was and she wore a frecking velvet cat suit the color of a skin graft and what was her superpower anyway, FEELINGS?

I'd never seen a cathartic release like that.
posted by The Whelk at 9:40 AM on December 31, 2010 [23 favorites]


Troi's characterization IS lame on a lot of the show, and I think the writers also botched the romance between them, which Peter David did better in a bunch of licensed novels, fechrissakes. After seven years on a ship together, they should have actually been together. That's something else I see as indicative of the writing staff's attachment to maintaining the status quo on TNG. Nothing really changes, particularly the relationships between characters.

Makes for a show with a lot of slashfiction potential, though.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:46 AM on December 31, 2010


I downloaded the pdf and went straight to the Patrick Stewart correspondence. Dude is pretty smart.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:50 AM on December 31, 2010


"In other words, Picard’s an old man who doesn’t get to buckle his swash until the planet makes him young again. But he’s our hero."

Imagine a Star Trek movie where Picard quietly draws his phaser and shoots Greedo under the table. Starfleet commanders are Horatio Hornblower not Long John Silver! If they're buckling their swash then things have gone "not according to plan" and they're making shit up as they go along. (Or they have a weird space disease, or the planet is a giant alien artifact that makes them do weird shit, or....)

I think Jaduncan is right - they should have had Steward and Spiner write the screen play. As it was, they had people who didn't seem to get that there is some middle ground between tired old man and hot-headed adolescent.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:50 AM on December 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yeah, Trek is, at it's core, all about order. If you start going more and more chaotic and ass kicking it stops being Trek.
posted by The Whelk at 9:54 AM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've always liked Insurrection--the cast was exceptionally comfortable with each other, the script completely and incredibly ridiculous, with the writers throwing in every bizarre idea and silly one-liner they can think of. "We're fresh out of warp cores!" "In the event of a water landing, I can be used as a floation device"! Worf gets acne! They finally use the captain's yacht that's been docked on the dorsal side of the ship for fifteen years! F. Murray Abraham!

I mean, yeah, I completely understand why people don't like it. It's so out there, and you have to really be in touch with the super-dorky side of Star Trek and yourself to enjoy it. But having accepted super-dorkitude several years ago, I don't even feel guilty about it.

First Contact, though: rewatched that again recently since it was on the Netflix Instant and really, really wish I hadn't. I had made the movie into something way more awesome and dark in my head (telling myself it was essentially a zombie film in space), and something just doesn't quite click there.
posted by thecaddy at 9:58 AM on December 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


This picture makes me squee

What is "kiss" "squee"?
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 9:59 AM on December 31, 2010


Man, the original idea seems way better than, well, almost anything I've ever seen in an actual Trek movie.

I find it hard to believe Stewart really is so shallow he'd refuse to play as an aging character.
posted by rodgerd at 10:03 AM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


Huh oh wow I never made the Borg-Spaze Zombie connection before.

Something that gives TNG trek it's own flavor is the complete lack of coolness. No one is cool. It's not about being cool, it's about being upright and moral. It's a hard mood to translate into a feature film.
posted by The Whelk at 10:06 AM on December 31, 2010 [12 favorites]


As opposed to DS9, which had Garak, the coolest tailor/spy in the Alpha Quadrant.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:12 AM on December 31, 2010 [17 favorites]


I enjoyed any hint on TNG that it wasn't all Klingon's who are as tightly wound and concerned with honor as Worf - that's just him cause he's a raging dork.
posted by The Whelk at 10:17 AM on December 31, 2010 [27 favorites]


Since I wasn't part of the blue when Michael Piller died, so I'd just like to pay tribute to him now. I think that it's quite likely that, if Piller hadn't joined the TNG staff, the show may not have lasted past the third season, and DS9 may not have existed at all. Despite what happened to the franchise later (on shows he wasn't involved in), his contributions were immeasurable.

That having been said... yeah, pretty much what everyone else has said about Insurrection. There's an interesting idea somewhere in there, but the execution was remarkably blah. (It didn't help that the villains seemed to have been based on Katherine Helmond in Brazil.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:26 AM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


I find it hard to believe Stewart really is so shallow he'd refuse to play as an aging character.

Indeed. Patrick Stewart has played King Lear. I think he's comfortable with characters confronting their declines.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:27 AM on December 31, 2010


I downloaded the pdf and went straight to the Patrick Stewart correspondence. Dude is pretty smart.

Please tell me that you read Stewart's comments with his remarkable voice echoing in your head. I know I did.
posted by Servo5678 at 10:31 AM on December 31, 2010


And then all your clothes fell off.
posted by Artw at 10:43 AM on December 31, 2010 [31 favorites]


We saw everything!
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:53 AM on December 31, 2010 [11 favorites]


I find it hard to believe Stewart really is so shallow he'd refuse to play as an aging character.

I find it easy to believe that Rick Berman is so fucking stupid he'd think Stewart would flip out about playing someone who is aging.
posted by kafziel at 10:55 AM on December 31, 2010 [9 favorites]


I liked the reignition of the romance between Troi and Riker in Insurrection. Sirtis and Frakes have tremendous chemistry.

The other day I watched the one where they all lose their memories and the mysterious new evil officer sends them off to blow up a space habitat that looks like a stool, and at the end when the Riker/Troi/Ro human centipede was having its confrontation I was in hysterics. It was the most awful, hammy, sitcommy scene but the actors fit so well together that I could watch them prat around for hours.

Sadly, it's hard for me to watch Trek with any kind of seriousface these days because the other half, after watching the jandrewedits too many times, can no longer contain the giggle fits that ensue whenever the theme music plays, or Riker's beard is visible.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 10:59 AM on December 31, 2010 [6 favorites]


that's just him cause he's a raging dork.

Actually isn't this Spock's deal as well - he's got to be more Vulcan than Vulcan and is a bit of zealot?

Cause I'd like to think only dorky do-gooder wonks would end up working in Starfleet.
posted by The Whelk at 11:05 AM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah there was a whole episode of TNG about Picard revisiting his (straight-haired) youth, and realizing that how he behaves as a middle-aged man is totally wussy compared to the ballsiness of his youth. "Tapestry" is the name of the episode.

So the whole "Patrick wouldn't buy in to something that makes him seem old" seems like a bunch of bullshit. A more reasonable critique is that the fountain of youth story is pretty similar to "Tapestry". (didn't read the PDF though so maybe there's more to it than that)
posted by breath at 11:11 AM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


and yes that intital pitch really hits at something central in the Trekverse - The Federation can afford to be peaceful and take the high road because they're a zero-scarcity society. They have infinite resources so their principles never have to come into question until there actually is something rare and unreplicable and they really really want it and ...how do they get what they want without appear to betray their core mission.

And that is one of the most interesting pitches for a Trek thing I've read.
posted by The Whelk at 11:11 AM on December 31, 2010 [13 favorites]


The other day I watched the one where they all lose their memories and the mysterious new evil officer sends them off to blow up a space habitat that looks like a stool, and at the end when the Riker/Troi/Ro human centipede was having its confrontation I was in hysterics. It was the most awful, hammy, sitcommy scene but the actors fit so well together that I could watch them prat around for hours.

Hey, now, that's one of my favorite episodes!
posted by interrobang at 11:20 AM on December 31, 2010


Sadly, it's hard for me to watch Trek with any kind of seriousface these days because the other half, after watching the jandrewedits too many times, can no longer contain the giggle fits that ensue whenever the theme music plays, or Riker's beard is visible.

Thank you for the link to these- they are hilarious!

I was a huge fan of TNG when I was a kid but the movies never seemed to rise to the level of the show, let alone surpass it, at least not in the way that Wrath of Khan did.
posted by dave78981 at 11:31 AM on December 31, 2010


Please tell me that you read Stewart's comments with his remarkable voice echoing in your head. I know I did.

No, I didn't.

Instead, I finished each paragraph by mentally inserting, "The line must be drawn HEAH!"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:36 AM on December 31, 2010 [5 favorites]


Yeah, Trek is, at it's core, all about order. If you start going more and more chaotic and ass kicking it stops being Trek.

Counterpoint: DS9

They have infinite resources so their principles never have to come into question until there actually is something rare and unreplicable and they really really want it and ...how do they get what they want without appear to betray their core mission.

Counterpoint: DS9

You guys let's all make a pact to agree that DS9 is very boss
posted by Greg Nog at 11:41 AM on December 31, 2010 [14 favorites]


Each each series has it's own flavor. I was referring to TNG there.
posted by The Whelk at 11:49 AM on December 31, 2010


If you start going more and more chaotic and ass kicking it stops being Trek.

This was my issue with First Contact. I mean, I still really like First Contact, but it didn't feel particularly like Trek -- it had little to no intrigue, not even an attempt at negotiation (well, I mean, you can't exactly negotiate with the Borg, anyway), and Picard's unwillingness to self-destruct the Enterprise was absurd and out of character.

As far as the other TNG movies are concerned, Generations was just a hot mess, good as little more than fodder for mocking Riker -- I mean, he wrecked the Enterprise in an attack from a 20-year-old Klingon ship. Sure, it was a surprise attack, but still. And I refuse to talk about Nemesis. So, really, out of the three TNG films, Insurrection is both the most Trek-like with the fewest plot holes.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 11:49 AM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Generations was just a hot mess, good as little more than fodder for mocking Riker

But that's the whole meaning of Trek! You guys remember Darmok? It's like 45 minutes of Riker going HURRRRM THEY SAY WORDS AT US HURMFADURMMMMM URRRRHHH

If I were in charge of the franchise I would completely make the next movie about the revelation that Riker's mom was actually half-Pakled and it would just be ninety minutes of the rest of the crew trying their best not to act any different around him after he tells them.
posted by Greg Nog at 11:53 AM on December 31, 2010 [13 favorites]


The Whelk: "The Federation can afford to be peaceful and take the high road because they're a zero-scarcity society. They have infinite resources so their principles never have to come into question until there actually is something rare and unreplicable and they really really want it and"

See also: Excession. One of the reasons I like that book so much. Although I was hoping Banks would decimate or destroy the Culture at the end of it...
posted by meehawl at 12:08 PM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


You guys remember Darmok? It's like 45 minutes of Riker going HURRRRM THEY SAY WORDS AT US HURMFADURMMMMM URRRRHHH

Subjective recollection is subjective. I remember it as Picard nearly eating his boots out of frustration as Paul Winfield in an alien pig-mask uttered gnomic phrases like "Shaka, when the walls fell." There were probably some shots of Riker in the Big Chair, looking as if he were working on a crossword puzzle and trying to figure out what the five-letter word was supposed to be when the only possible answer to the clue was "tribble", but that's kind of his default mode. I do like your idea of having Riker be 1/4 Pakled, though.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:08 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is a wonderful post. Thank you.
posted by brundlefly at 12:16 PM on December 31, 2010


I like to pretend that First Contact is the last Trek movie, until I rewatch the wise-guy Holodeck scene. Then I pretend it's Star Trek VI.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:16 PM on December 31, 2010


That episode is horribly like trying to communicate with nerds who can only relate things to episodes of Farscape or Firefly.

Like Wash, when the leaf was on the wind.
posted by Artw at 12:16 PM on December 31, 2010 [10 favorites]


ArtW I can do that with Simpsons quotes.
posted by The Whelk at 12:19 PM on December 31, 2010


This is such a wonderful community of nerds. Thank you.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:23 PM on December 31, 2010


Hey, now, that's one of my favorite episodes!

Mine too, actually! I adore how Worf spends an exciting hour or two thinking he's in charge, so he goes to brood in the Captain's office coming up with stupider and stupider ideas for what a bunch of amnesiacs in a heavily-armed spaceship shaped like a spoon should do with their time. And then the way his face falls when the computer is listing the senior staff and he turns out to be the anger janitor is just fabulous.

My favourite episode is probably the one where everyone gets addicted to a video game that's basically psychic trumpet croquet and Wesley and his ladyfriend have to save the day with strobe lights. I like the ones where Wesley has grown into a responsible adult and presumably has burned that jumper from series one.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:23 PM on December 31, 2010 [7 favorites]


Not Wrath of Khan, but it wasn't Die Hard either. The tone they should be going for is "Military Drama" not "2001: A Space Odyssey" (even though TMP is underrated) "Space Communists" (even though the series was okay at that) or "Star Wars" (First Contact/JJ Abrams)

Agreed. The ideal formula for a TNG movie is pretty simple: make Das Boot in space. Only shorter, and with the Borg.
posted by vorfeed at 12:33 PM on December 31, 2010 [6 favorites]


I liked the Borg better when they came from the solar systems tenth planet.
posted by Artw at 12:34 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Whelk: "The Federation can afford to be peaceful and take the high road because they're a zero-scarcity society. They have infinite resources so their principles never have to come into question until there actually is something rare and unreplicable and they really really want it"

More proof that DS9 is boss is that Sisco comes out and says, "it's easy to be a saint in paradise," but tougher out on the frontier. I've never the zero scarcity economy bull, since even though they can replicate anything physical they need, there's still scarcity in the form of labor, real estate (there are lots of class M planets, sure, but what good is being six weeks from Earth at Warp 9?), fine single-barrel bourbon and other aspects that would require something resembling an economy. But at any rate, Earth's got their issues under control, and that's all well in good, but what DS9 brings back to the series is the sense of a frontier, where life is more difficult and there are rarely any perfect answers.

As much as I love TNG--it did hardish SF better than any of the other series, especially when dealing with artificial intelligence--I often think about it as a propaganda documentary put out by the powers that be in the Federation.

On preview: "'Das Boot' in space." Yeeeeeeeeessssss.
posted by thecaddy at 12:35 PM on December 31, 2010 [9 favorites]


I am favoriting comments so hard in this thread.
posted by thecaddy at 12:36 PM on December 31, 2010 [4 favorites]


I liked the Borg better when they came from the solar systems tenth planet.

If you mean Mondas than I may have to love you.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 1:13 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Agreed. The ideal formula for a TNG movie is pretty simple: make Das Boot in space. Only shorter, and with the Borg.

They did this. It was called 33. Won a Hugo.
posted by Sparx at 2:04 PM on December 31, 2010 [7 favorites]


Man, there really wasn't anything that made 33 good that they didn't dump as being inconvenient at a later date, was there?
posted by Artw at 2:24 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you mean Mondas than I may have to love you.

The old school Borg
posted by Artw at 2:26 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


They did this. It was called 33. Won a Hugo.

33 was fun, but the Cylons are nowhere near as compelling as the Borg. Battlestar Galactica would be more watchable if you replaced all of the Cylons--even the ones you aren't supposed to know are robots--with nearly anything. Such as, I dunno, floating metal cubes.
posted by IjonTichy at 2:48 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


the Cylons are nowhere near as compelling as the Borg

De gustibus non disputandum est and all that, but in 33, when they had the whole psychopathic robots crossed with 'invasion of the body snatchers' thing going for them, they were pretty darned compelling. I always found the Borg faintly ludicrous, in a "space zombies without the sense to simply kill all humans, like, say, when they're creeping around their spaceship during their attempts to assimilate them" kind of way. I appreciate that was supposed to make them appear menacingly indifferent, but that way lies extinction, not perfection.

Though I have to admit, I'm intrigued by a show in which key characters are replaced by floating metal cubes and no one notices.
posted by Sparx at 3:29 PM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I'm also a Cylon fan. The sort-of-human-but-really-really-really-not-human thing they were doing up until midway through season 3 was awesome -- it was like Blade Runner and Tubeway Army's Replicas crossed with a vicious case of post-9/11 identity crisis. Too bad the writers retconned it through the floor in favor of family-drama crap cribbed from an especially weird episode of The Brady Bunch.
posted by vorfeed at 3:59 PM on December 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


OK so I've been watching all of TNG again and it has been a pleasurable revisiting of my adolescence--particularly seeing my own growing maturity reflected in the progressing seasons.*

Obviously my next task is to rewatch DS9 which... would really be helped if there were some sort of episode guide out there. Basically I want a list of which episodes are about Odo turning into goo and thus skippable, and which have one eyed klingons stabbbbing from hells heart at theeee!


*We all have those horrible fish creature assassins from season 1, that we cringe to think of now, in our past.
posted by danny the boy at 4:18 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


I only ever semi-liked ST-TNG during its run but I've tried to watch some re-runs recently and they've been pretty cringe-worthy and unwatchable. Half the episodes were like a soap opera in space and boring as hell. I've only seen the movies Generations and First Contact, the later was OK when I saw it but only for the Die Hard on the Enterprise parts. By the time Insurrection came out, I'd long given up on Trek.
posted by octothorpe at 4:45 PM on December 31, 2010


I have to re-watch me some DS9. I remember it being pretty okay but then Voyager came and ripped any sentimental love I had for the new franchises straight out. Couldn't pay me to watch that series. DS9 had Odo, though, and that was pretty boss.
posted by cavalier at 5:06 PM on December 31, 2010


(de-lurking/de-cloaking)

Was Insurrection the one film where Troi and Dr. Crusher have that conversation about their boobs, as in "Have you noticed your boobs getting firmer?" That just felt so very wrong in the context of a Trek film. Like that was footage from a blooper reel that someone forgot to take out of the final film edit.

And yes: DS9 was better than TSG, which itself was far, far better than whatever Trek series featured Katherine Hepburn as a starship captain.

(re-lurking/re-cloaking)
posted by spoobnooble at 5:18 PM on December 31, 2010


fuax Hepburn, thankyouverymuch. Actual Hepburn would've had them home before cocktails.
posted by The Whelk at 5:20 PM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


Too bad the writers retconned it through the floor in favor of family-drama crap cribbed from an especially weird episode of The Brady Bunch.

Since I now want to watch 33, and will probably start watching the rest of them after that, is there a good place to stop to avoid... whatever weirdness happened towards the end of the series?
posted by Evilspork at 6:52 PM on December 31, 2010


danny the boy: "Obviously my next task is to rewatch DS9 which... would really be helped if there were some sort of episode guide out there."

Well, there's this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Star_Trek:_Deep_Space_Nine_episodes

but you want more like, review caps, yeah?
posted by mwhybark at 7:26 PM on December 31, 2010


Not that I mind another example, but the people in the entertainment business - music, movies, TV, radio, sports - have proved over and over, for decades, that they don't know shit from shinola.

My reaction to decades of Star Trek is that it started at the summit.
posted by Twang at 7:33 PM on December 31, 2010


Since I now want to watch 33, and will probably start watching the rest of them after that, is there a good place to stop to avoid... whatever weirdness happened towards the end of the series?

You could potentially watch everything up to season 4, episode 14 ("Blood on the Scales") without wanting to kill yourself, but I'd suggest stopping just after the New Caprica arc (which ends in season 3, episode 5). Despite some bright spots, it's a slow slide down from there, and it ends only in the reveal of the show's big, mysterious "truth"... namely, that the writers plotted the entire thing with a Sharpie, a hat, and some blank slips of paper.
posted by vorfeed at 8:29 PM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


After the one where they do something really cool with the FTL (you'll know the one) just give up - there is nothing much of anything past that point.
posted by Artw at 10:20 PM on December 31, 2010


I pretty much assume they all blew up at the start of New Caprica and everything else is fanfic.
posted by The Whelk at 11:34 PM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


With regard to BSG, I derive immense pleasure from watching people who accept FTL whine about God being a science fictional concept, since they have roughly equal intellectual standing.
posted by mobunited at 4:47 AM on January 1, 2011


God

He hates that name.

I'm as nonreligious as they come, but I didn't mind BSG's ending. I almost feel that if you warn someone: look, the ending is a bit more... metaphysical... than the series up to then would lead you to believe... then with that knowledge going into it, they can enjoy the whole run. I don't think it's a bad ending, exactly, in fact much of it is beautifully done, it just doesn't quite match up in tone and spirit with what they spent a few years implying it would be, and it's jarring.

So if you want to watch the whole series, just keep that in mind and you're essentially inoculated from that in a way the original viewers were not.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 5:32 AM on January 1, 2011


I read the whole thing. As a working writer (tabletop and computer games), I thought a lot of it rang true, specifically:

1) The fact that "Giving fans what they want!" is so often a disaster. Piller mentions that DS9 tested terribly and Voyager was designed to have everything people said they wanted in a Trek property. We live in a fanfic-drenched era where anybody can create what they want our of an intellectual property. It's a pro's job to give people what they *like,* not what they decided they wanted ahead of time.

2) Egos on various sides of the process, and how they can be benefits to the process as long as there's a decent balance of interests and significant give and take. The book had examples of the process working and failing. I'm surprised folks thought Patrick Stewart was so useful here, because in my reading he's very much responsible for the terrible movie that happened. He wanted to be an uncomplicated hero with few heavy emotional beats this time around. Basically, a lot of this is Stewart wanting to be a conventional action hero with a gal and some set piece fights. That said, he did point out a lot of unnecessary dithering in the backstory (the whole Academy flashback thing was terrible) and lack of focus. Piller was right about how tension and strictures help generate creative responses.

3) The cult of clarity as a destructive force. End stage rewrites and reshoots destroyed a lot of Insurrection's economy. Once you're so many films into a series and years into a property, you should be able to trust it to handle explanation through its visual language, tropes and accumulated cultural capital. You don't need a talking head reiterating what we've just seen. It's better to make people *want* to know than to tell them straight in a manner so dumb that it makes a thing not fun to know.

In the end, sometimes stuff just doesn't work. I think the original mistake was the Fountain of Youth concept. It's too bad Stewart brought it back. There was not an easy way to hit that concept in a way that created analogies with its predecessors (regenerative radiation?) and fit with what we reflexively think happens in Trek's story world.
posted by mobunited at 5:41 AM on January 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


With regard to BSG, I derive immense pleasure from watching people who accept FTL whine about God being a science fictional concept, since they have roughly equal intellectual standing.

Well, the FTL is a conceit to get them from place to place, whereas "god" is a massive handwaving copout used to avoid having to resolve anything properly.
posted by Artw at 9:34 AM on January 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm as nonreligious as they come, but I didn't mind BSG's ending.

I don't get why people were so surprised about this. This is Ron Moore we're talking about here. The guy whose prophecies are always true, whose gods are always real, and who always enjoys making the life of the chief hell.
posted by thecaddy at 10:27 AM on January 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Basically, every question raised in the Red Letter Media review started with the original script. Would have made a great two-parter episode though.
posted by metaldark at 11:23 AM on January 1, 2011


I haven't read the hole book yet, but I have to say, that original Boothby/friend from the academy/ambiguous ending/heart of darkness take sounds awesome to me. Far more than the film actually ended up being.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 11:48 AM on January 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


TNG--it did hardish SF better than any of the other series, especially when dealing with artificial intelligence

I strongly disagree. I think that Voyager actually did better hardish SF than the other series, although the standout episodes (like this one or this one or this one) were interspersed amid long stretches of episodes that featured characters without any real character arcs, some of them played by actors that didn't seem that enthused about being in the show. (That lack of enthusiasm extended to Ron Moore, who described his short tenure on the show as being one of the worst in his career.)

I don't think that it's a coincidence that two of the episodes I linked to above featured The Doctor, and the third has a strong Doctor scene, because not only was Robert Picardo the best actor on the series--able to mix humor and pathos deftly--but the writers at least had a decent idea of how to handle issues connected to AI and to see the potential inherent in the concept. But TNG? TNG is the show that had "The Measure of a Man", the episode based on the utterly fucked premise that Starfleet would even consider vivisecting one of its own officers(or, for that matter, any sentient being), because they really really wanted to know how he worked and the poindexter who had this brilliant idea thought that he could probably put Data back together again afterward. I understand how people had a really frustrating time working with Gene Roddenberry, and in particular Melinda Snodgrass (the writer of this episode) was particularly bitter about her experiences working with Gene, but when something like this is the kind of episode that she comes up with, I'm on Gene's side.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:44 PM on January 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Whelk, his Simpsons quotes exhausted.
posted by fleetmouse at 3:09 PM on January 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


Something particularly interesting to me, in light of the Red Letter Media reviews, is that one of Plinkett's major observations - that movie Picard acts very different from series Picard, turns out to be a very deliberate choice by Patrick Stewart (and others), and not just imposed by the studio as I had assumed. Stewart's own letters in this book say:
One
 deliberate
 change
 we 
made 
was
 to
 Picard.
 
We
 toughened
 him 
up,
 chipped 
away 
at 
his
 smooth
 surface,
 roughened
 and
 intensified
 his
 feelings.

 Shifted
 him
 from
 Captain/
Diplomat/Philosopher
 to 
Captain/Rebel/Activist.

 He
 could
 still
 be
 thoughtful
 but 
now
 it
 came
 out
 of
 the
 action.

 He
 became
 more 
unpredictable
 and
 I
 felt
 filled
 the
 big
 screen
 in
 a
 more
 dynamic
 and
 interesting
 way.

posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 3:57 PM on January 1, 2011


lets go crazy broadway style
posted by The Whelk at 4:28 PM on January 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


[major spoilers for BSG follow]

The problem with BSG's ending isn't metaphysics per se. It's lazy, self-contradictory writing. If you're going to spend four years pounding on the Shades Of Grey drum, giving your characters lines like "we are trying to dump all that guilt and all that shame o­nto o­ne man, and then flush him out the airlock and hope that that just gets rid of it all. So that we can live with ourselves. But that won't work," then don't have God Himself show up out of nowhere to genocide the "bad guys" so you can have an easy happy ending, one where all the previously-flawed characters can suddenly live with themselves. Why? Well, because that won't work.

Season 4.5 was a cop-out. Pure and simple. BSG wasn't just "about the characters, maaaan", and it wasn't just about watching Adama brush his teeth, barf on himself, and thrash around on the floor. It was about a conflict between two civilizations, neither of which had clean hands. In the end, Ron Moore couldn't deal with that with any sort of honesty, so he punted. He dragged out the Bible, waved it over the story a couple times so he could get a nice, convenient set of White Hats and Black Hats, and then leaned on it right to the point of a literal deus ex machina.

The last half of season 4.5 was simplistic, moralistic, and just plain stupid, none of which fits with the tone or message of the rest of the series. Yes, the show had FTL and prophecy and people who lived in other people's heads, but actions and their consequences were always serious, always realistic. What's serious or realistic about having a suicide mission where nobody dies, followed by a scene where the "good guys" break a truce with their overwhelmingly powerful enemy, who then fall into a singularity for no good reason?

The entire finale is one big self-indulgent wank on RDM's part, and he didn't even bother to hand the rest of the show a Kleenex.
posted by vorfeed at 4:29 PM on January 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Like I said before and in every BSG discussion if I can fix your big finale in an afternoon just by making things a little more fuzzy then you have done it Wrong.
posted by The Whelk at 4:31 PM on January 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Like I said before and in every BSG discussion if I can fix your big finale in an afternoon just by making things a little more fuzzy then you have done it Wrong.

[more spoilers]

I like this a lot better than the ending we got, but it doesn't change the problem of fixing a genocide with another genocide. If getting rid of the Cylons were as easy as "BIG EXPLOSION, VERY FUN", I wouldn't have been watching. If this was the ending all along, why not just let Roslin and Adama kill them all with the magic plot-device virus in season 3?

There's no way eight nukes should have done anything to the Colony, anyway. It was a giant, symmetrical, living ship the size of hundreds of Battlestars, and we watched those survive a nuke more than once on the show. I realize everyone wants the Evil Robots to die in the end, but actually having it happen is too convenient by half, both narratively and realistically speaking.
posted by vorfeed at 4:50 PM on January 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, the FTL is a conceit to get them from place to place, whereas "god" is a massive handwaving copout used to avoid having to resolve anything properly.

FTL is Nerd Approved because it's in several Nerd Approved franchises, and God is a sign of the Threat to Nerddom and Peace From Fundamentalist Palin-Christianity. Really though, the ability to get to a distant world and the idea of providence from some higher power were both integral to the series. Once Head-Six made accurate predictions and was proved not to be an implant, it was time to to accept that this was where the show was going. It was *always* there. Its final implementation wasn't there from the start, but it most certainly was around.

I think fandom also gets stuck on minor tropes and mistakes them for the meat of the thing. The heart of BSG wasn't some military SF jerkoff session, and that was actually the least interesting part of the show. I thought the uniforms and starting positions for relationships were okay, but does anyone give a fuck about Colonial military doctrine? Only a handful of episodes are about any of that shit. But nerd values give inordinate privilege to military SF tropes.

There's a similar thing to the alleged "Clash of Civilizations." The funny thing here is that this whole meme is right wing political doctrine that has been inserted into the mix and treated as something elemental. BSG acknowledges this and then spends a whole bunch of time trashing it. It's ultimately an insubstantial conflict because it's a *dumb* conflict. It has no impetus from true rational actors, but from military paranoids and religious ideologues. And to get into *those* motivations? Sorry boys and girls, exploring those means it is in fact "about the characters."
posted by mobunited at 6:22 PM on January 1, 2011


I find it easy to believe that Rick Berman is so fucking stupid

Agreed.

Isn't "The Pitch" just a re-working of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier?
posted by gjc at 6:34 PM on January 1, 2011


I'm not talking about "right wing political doctrine". I'm talking about the actual, literal clash of civilizations you get when you have machines who want to be machines, fighting humans (and, later, their machine allies) who want to be human. This was a major theme throughout the series, especially during season 4, where it was the motivation for much of what was going on, and it was something elemental -- without the physical and societal conflict between the humans and the Cylons, there would have been no show. And yes, exploring that conflict means doing it through the characters... but that doesn't mean you can simply write the conflict off without a realistic resolution, any more than you can write the characters off without a realistic resolution (Leoben and/or Kara, I'm looking at you).

Far from rejecting right-wing political doctrine, I think BSG went with a very right-wing "solution" to this conflict: one side is Good and the other Bad, therefore it's fine if the Good side kills the Bad one, after which all the Good side's problems will magically vanish. The Galactica might as well have been always-at-war-with-Eurasia, for all the impact the primary conflict had on the last season.
posted by vorfeed at 6:49 PM on January 1, 2011


People love to hate on Rick Berman. No one is perfect, and no one in charge of a huge property like Star Trek can be expected to shit gold every time a movie studio sits on your gallbladder.
posted by Brocktoon at 6:55 PM on January 1, 2011


And by the way: "nerd values" or not, the first two seasons were, actually, very much a military drama, and were far, far better than the latter two. I agree that "the heart of BSG wasn't some military SF jerkoff session"... but as soon as the writers lost sight of the war, they lost the tension and narrative drive that gave the "heart" much of its power.
posted by vorfeed at 6:57 PM on January 1, 2011 [3 favorites]



FTL is Nerd Approved because...space is boring without it.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:40 PM on January 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


You guys let's all make a pact to agree that DS9 is very boss

Star Trek: B5.
posted by rodgerd at 7:56 PM on January 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just read some more of the book, and this comment of Stewart's made me laugh:
I think it is retrograde to emphases ‘family’ so strongly. I think
that is sentimental and uninteresting and eventually leads to
space heroes sitting round a camp fire singing “Row, row, row
your boat...”
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:21 PM on January 1, 2011 [7 favorites]


The colors children, you wont enjoy it on as many levels as I do.
posted by The Whelk at 9:34 PM on January 2, 2011


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