Saturday, May 18, 2019

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Director's Edition) - Review

KHAAAAAAAN!
Spoilers.


I was pretty sure it was going to happen, but I have changed my mind about this movie. I no longer think it's not that good. In fact, even though I absolutely love the first one and will say that I think it is the better sci-fi movie out of the two, The Wrath of Khan is definitely the better Star Trek movie.

I find it difficult to write a review of this movie without referencing back to the first one, as it seems that the creators, or at least the ones with money, took notes of all the criticism directed at The Motion Picture. Not enough action? Too slow? Not enough Kirk and friends on the screen? Check, check and check - Wrath of Khan fixes all of those issues. Because of that, just as with the first one where I said I could recommend it to any sci-fi fan even if they didn't enjoy Star Trek specifically, your enjoyment of this one really comes down to how much you've been yearning for The Original Series ever since it was cancelled. If The Motion Picture was a disappointment to you mainly because it had so little to do with Uhura, Chekov, Bones and all the others then Wrath of Khan will be your thing.

From the very first couple of scenes we realize that the tone is completely different. Where The Motion Picture starts out with shots of the antagonist, setting the atmosphere of grave danger and threat immediately, The Wrath of Khan starts out with a scene of Starfleet cadets in training, being schooled by Spock. We are some ten minutes into the movie before we get the first idea of what the actual plot will be about. Before then we get reacquainted with Spock, Kirk and Bones and more relation- and character building than in all of The Motion Picture.

The man, the myth

For instance we get to find out that Kirk has a son. They really don't make much out of that revelation in this movie though and frankly it never really becomes anything that seems to matter much to Kirk as a character. They also continue the story thread that Kirk is struggling with being anything but the commander of the Enterprise, that they alluded to in The Motion Picture. Overall the movie suffers from the same problem, or should I say quirk, as the TV-series in this regard - it is very Kirk-heavy. The other characters basically only get attention or screen time because Kirk is involved in it somehow, Spock being a half-exception. It almost gets laughable when Kirk seems to always know what to do better than the presumed expert in the field. "Main power is out!" yells Scotty from the engine room. "Switch to auxiliary!" shouts Kirk, like Scotty couldn't have thought of that himself. But this is simply how the TV-series and subsequently movies based on TOS (The Original Series) were written and not necessarily a flaw (unless you ask the rest of the crew). Kirk, and Shatner as Kirk, is a very good and interesting character. If he's not your thing however, TOS and some of the TOS movies can be difficult to watch. The Motion Picture less so because of what I've already mentioned in my review of that movie, but it becomes full on apparent in The Wrath of Khan.

So to the story then - in essence Khan returns and tries to avenge himself on Kirk for exiling him on what turned out to become a hostile planet. The movie quickly turns into a game of wits, yet again, between the genetically enhanced superhuman Khan and plain old not-genetically-enhanced-but-going-to-win-anyway Kirk.

More elaborately - First Officer Chekov and his new captain on the starship Reliant are on a mission to find a planet completely devoid of life yet in the habitable zone to test out a new invention, the Genesis developed by none other than Kirk's old girlfriend and mother of his son, Carol. The Genesis is a device that pretty much instantly can turn an area without life into a garden of Eden. It has the unfortunate side effect of completely wiping out any life that happens to already be there when it is used. When Chekov and his captain are on a planet for reconnaissance, they stumble upon Khan and his band of not so merry men (and women) who take the opportunity to leave the planet, try to steal the Genesis to use a weapon of mass destruction while also kill Kirk. The Universe sure is a small place sometimes.

The Wrath of Khan is something as interesting then as a direct continuation of one of the TV-series episodes, which at least in my book can be a dream come true. This has the benefit of letting fans, who yet again have been hungering for more Star Trek content for far too long (remember that back in these days you wouldn't have a handy DVD box to refresh your memory with at all times), revisit a fan favorite and see Kirk battle him once again. The Moby Dick and King Lear references in the movie are really completely unnecessary, it is obvious from the get go that this movie borrows heavily from those themes. Khan is totally hell-bent on destroying Kirk for what he has done to him, exiling him on Ceti Alpha V not only killed his wife but most importantly was a mortal blow to his oversized pride and ego. The lunacy of his actions are pointed out to him several times throughout the movie, but Khan can't let it go - he needs his revenge.

From hell's heart I stab at thee...

Ricardo Montalban as Khan is absolutely brilliant, again, and I very much enjoy watching the rest of the crew as well. Poor Uhura and Sulu still don't get much to do, but at least Chekov and Scotty are developed a bit more. As mentioned this is mainly a Kirk-show, but it is fun to see the cat and mouse game between Khan and Kirk unfold yet again and their on screen animosity comes out really well. It is almost a bit frustrating to see how Khan, really against all better judgement and his own superior intellect, makes what are some really bad tactical decisions just because Kirk derides him, but I guess this is why they are playing on the Moby Dick and King Lear references so heavy. Khan has become more mad than smart and his efforts to get revenge bereaves him of everything he has left - even his own life.

Stylistically this movie comes nowhere near the first movie in quality, but it also doesn't need to. It's a completely different kind of story that by necessity is told with different visuals and sound. Rather than long, slow panning and atmosphere building exterior shots (that I love) we get the indoor close up shots that a one-on-one like this requires. While it works well here, it still is far from the same epic feeling that the first movie has (there are some exceptions though, the costumes are way better in this movie and some of the interior sets, like the Enterprise bridge, are better as well). This is a different kind of fan service, maybe even for a different kind of fan. In many ways I'd almost say that this is deliberately designed to feel more like a long, high-budgeted, episode of the TV-series since clearly the style of the first movie didn't fly for enough people.

Finally it looks like they're wearing clothes.

The writing suffers from the same claustrophobic issues as much of TOS in general - you constantly get the impression that the Universe only exists exactly where Kirk and the Enterprise happen to be. In the TV-series it made sense though because they were out on a deep space mission and literally all alone out there (as in, no other Starfleet ships). But just like the first movie, even though they're supposedly not far from Earth, yet again the Enterprise happens to be the only starship close enough to deal with this extremely serious situation for the entire duration of the movie. You begin to wonder if Starfleet even has any other ships or what they're all so busy doing? They even use the words "only ship in the quadrant" which clearly has changed its meaning from here to VOY and DS9.

When I watched this movie for the first time I didn't have the context of when it was released and what it was trying to do. I'm not even sure I had seen the Khan TOS episode before it. Because of this, I must admit my first impression was pretty meh. I've seen it again since then, but the impression lasted with me until this now most recent watching for this review. Watching The Motion Picture and The Wrath of Khan back-to-back and also having seen TOS through several times, has allowed me to value The Wrath of Khan for what it is. It is trying to rectify the mistakes of the first movie and that it does brilliantly. If you're specifically after more of some of the best that TOS had to offer, then this movie is definitely for you.

Some random notes from when watching this movie;
  • Why does Scotty bring his hurt nephew to the bridge rather than immediately to sick bay?
  • How could they not know that Ceti Alpha VI had blown up? Wouldn't there be enough tell tale debris? And how does a planet just spontaneously explode (that would have to be a pretty massive meteor)?
  • The interior shots of the Regula I space station gave me some serious System Shock 2 vibes.
  • There are some really impressive stunts in this movie, there is a scene of a guy literally falling into fire and several scenes where stuntmen look like they're way too close to explosive devices. I hope no one was hurt.
  • Why is the best and most advanced ship in Starfleet being used for training missions? There must really be a lull in space exploration funding.
  • When Regula I seems to be in trouble and the Enterprise is sent in as the only starship close enough to investigate, the Reliant which is in fact working for Regula I is also close enough.
Pictures from amazon.com, IGN.com, treknews.net, startrekpropauthority.com

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Director's Cut) - Review

"The human adventure is just beginning".

Spoiler Alert!


Let me get one thing out of the way right from the start - I think this movie is absolutely epic and anyone who thinks otherwise can go hug a cactus.

I've spent the last half hour reading through reviews of this movie, trying to figure out why it only has a 42% Rotten Tomato score and a 6,4 average on IMDB. While none of those scores are awful, I don't feel they reflect the quality of this movie. It is clear that viewers seem to fall somewhere on either side of the fence - either you enjoy the slow pacing of the movie, or you don't. Yes, 2001 - A Space Odyssey had already presented us to this ponderous style of slowly floating around in each scene over a decade before, but does that mean we never want to see it again? Does it mean that this movie doesn't also do it well? No and no!

At the time when the movie was made, the final episode of The Original Series was also a decade old. The creators of the show had an opportunity not only to revisit the beloved series, but finally with a budget and apparently free hands to truly bring the vision of Star Trek to life. This doesn't feel like a long episode of the Tv series, this definitely feels like a Motion Picture with a scope and craftsmanship that single episodes just didn't have back then. Some people say this doesn't feel like Star Trek. I say this feels exactly like Star Trek. To me it is clear that this is the core of the series, without the need to throw in things that explode or die in fancy ways to keep a TV audience interested and returning. This is about the mystery, vastness, emptiness and sheer marvel of space in all its magnitude. And dang if this movie does not capture all of those concepts brilliantly.

"She's a beauty" - Steve Irwin

The movie starts out by introducing the enemy - a massive cloud of epic proportions, literally, as it spans over 2 AU. It quickly and effortlessly destroys three Klingon Birds of Prey before it continues on its course towards Earth. Enterprise, which has just been almost completely refitted and is commandeered by its new captain Decker, turns out to be the only starship close enough to intercept the cloud before it reaches its presumed goal. What it wants, is or comes from no one knows. It is up to the crew of the Enterprise to solve all of these riddles before it is too late. While both Kirk and Spock have departed the Enterprise since the ending of TOS, the plot gets them back on the ship before long, where they both resume their old positions as captain and science officer respectively.

What follows is a movie that revels in its exterior shots and space models and gives each scene exactly the amount of time it needs to allow for the full impact of the atmosphere and setting it is trying to sell. Yes, the scenes are long, but we want to see this. For every long shot of some model or part of space I am as awestruck and gleeful as Kirk when he first sets eyes on the Enterprise again, it is all so beautiful. Each scene feels carefully and lovingly crafted, you see people doing things in the background that you might not even notice but that you know must've taken them a lot of effort to prepare. The soundscapes are just spot on. The music and especially the sound effect used for the cloud are great. They are really trying to sell this world, and they are succeeding. The editing is so careful that in the end you have the feeling the entire movie was just one long scene from beginning to end. This is as far from the modern day Hollywood style of giving you sixteen scene cuts over ten seconds as you can come. And I love it all the more for it.

Cloudy weather in space.

One of the first things I thought when I finished watching is that this movie would've made an absolutely amazing science-fiction novel. The story is similar to that of Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C Clarke or Nemesis by Isaac Asimov. While you could argue that it's just borrowing ideas, I instead find that it gives these ideas one of the best movie representations there are out there. The initial looming threat of the cloud, with its immense power and incomprehensible existence would have made HP Lovecraft proud. The movie builds up the tension very much in the way of the old horror author. But then, before things go into the weird, it shows itself as the science fiction story it is. We start getting clues as to how the cloud functions and what it might be after. In the end, in true Star Trek fashion, humanity turns out to be the key to saving Earth yet again.

The final plot twist in the end had my mind absolutely blown the first time I watched this movie. Not only is it impossible to guess, the idea that one of our own space probes could come back after having encountered alien life is actually a really cool one that I would love to see further explored. In the movie they find out that the cloud, V'ger as it is called, turns out to be the Voyager 6 (which doesn't actually exist), sent from Earth over 300 years ago. Somewhere out in space it encounters a life form entirely made up of machines, which rebuilds the probe and sends it back to allow for it to complete its programming - to send its collected data back to Earth. Voyager, or V'ger as it eventually calls itself, forgets what it is or where it's from however and initially thinks the humans are "infesting" the planet Earth, preventing it from interacting with its original creators. Kirk et al manages to convince it otherwise by allowing a human (Decker) to merge with the machine, before it destroys life on Earth.

Sailor Moon has a new member.

While I think this movie is a pure joy to watch, I do have a few issues with it. My biggest one is probably with the costume design, because whatever they're all supposed to be wearing both looks ugly and uncomfortable (Nichelle Nichols apparently also had issues with it). What even is that thing they have on their stomachs? Is that a belt buckle or some sort of fanny pack? My second issue is with the plot point that the Enterprise is the only starship within interception range, which sounds forced and implausible to me.

And, here is one where I can see where the "haters" are coming from - most of the characters feel grossly underutilized. Except for Kirk getting to shortly explore what it feels like to possibly be "too old" for the captain's chair that he still covets, most of the other characters barely get any limelight. Interestingly enough, the ones that the story seems to focus the most on are the two new characters of Ilia and Decker, who (spoiler alert again) also die at the end. I can understand why fans get the feeling that this wasn't written as a Star Trek story with the old Enterprise crew in mind. While we get to see some of Spock trying to do the Kolinahr (hilarous scene also where Bones calls it "the culinary course"); an underexplored bit of the reunion of Kirk, Spock and Bones; and Scotty tinkering with the Enterprise warp drive, the interactions between the core group are basically gone. Spock almost seems like he's a bit confused at the whole thing and doesn't know what to do. He says he is there to "get an answer", but to what? No one asks him, for some reason, and it is barely developed. Kirk is clearly the one having the most fun with the movie and is as usual acting the heck out of each scene he is in. Characters like Chekov, Sulu and Uhura are almost completely replacable with non-descript ones. This is apparently an issue that many of the main actors pointed out, but few changes were made.

In this sense I can understand why fans feel like they've peeled away too much of what made the TV-series Star Trek, but to me the end result is still so exceedingly beautiful and awe-inspiring, I can't help but love it all the same.

Their Starfleet Insignias don't do anything either.

The ending is also the sort of non-committing that I know can annoy some people. While we get to see Decker merge with V'Ger, we know nothing of the end result or what becomes of it. I don't have an issue with it though, since this is how many science fiction writers end their stories. They might be great at coming up with concepts, but notoriously bad at wrapping them up into a satisfying ending. Even more hilariously, right after Earth seems to be saved, Kirk literally just waves his hand at the "viewer" and tells Sulu to fly "out there, somewhere". The ending is probably meant to come off as sentimental and adventurous but feels more stupid. Surely he can't just take the Enterprise out into space without any mission or orders like that? He is basically kidnapping the entire crew and ship.

I guess Walter Koenig said it best when he described it as "a Star Trek movie, but not the old Star Trek". Maybe whether you're going to enjoy this comes down to if you're after more Kirk + Spock & gang or you're ok with "just" a really well crafted, interestingly told science fiction story that happens to take place in the Star Trek universe. Even if you don't normally enjoy Star Trek, you'll enjoy this as a movie that will give you a whole lot of great sci-fi ideas in some really cool visuals. Personally, although I am a fan of the Original Series, I am not overly sentimental about it and was perfectly ok with the secondary role most of the characters got in this movie, when the rest of it is so enticing. It just looks and sounds so good, with a story that really captures your imagination, I definitely recommend it whole-heartedly to any sci-fi fan out there. I'd rewatch this over 2001 - A Space Odyssey any day.


Here are some off the cuff thoughts that were spurred while watching this movie;
When they realize V'ger is in fact Voyager 6, Decker mentions that the Voyager 6 was lost to "what they used to call a black hole". "Used to call" implies that they think that black holes will eventually (in the future that is Star Trek) turn out to be something else, but as far as I know this isn't something that has been explored further within the Star Trek Universe? Please correct me if I am wrong!
V'ger has supposedly encountered a machine life form that seems to have immense technological abilities. Wouldn't it have been cool to make a throwback episode referencing this movie in one of the series that take place in the future of the Original Series, like Voyager or Next Generation? I would've loved for them to further explore this civilization of machines, but yet again I don't think this is ever done (there is a Voyager episode of robots at war that are the only surviving ones of that species, but I can't think of any other similar ones).

Images from wikipedia.com, Youtube.com, memory-beta.fandom.com, futurism.media, memory-alpha.com

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Field Report #24 - In The Swamp of RPGness

RPG Fatigue
With two little kids in the home I am usually looking at about 2-2,5 hours of game time per day, at the very best. This is assuming I'm not doing anything else, like writing a blog post, reading, watching Star Trek and then writing a blog post about that, or giving my SO some attention. Apparently he needs that on occasion (which, to be fair, often amounts to us playing a game together so I guess it still counts towards game time). Long gone are the days of my kid-free-ness where I could easily spend 8-12 hours on gaming in a day if I felt like it. Which I often did.

This means I often have to give some extra thought to what games I choose to play. Some shorter games like Gone Home, World of Goo and Four Last Things I can hope to dish out within a couple of weeks. But if I feel like trying some sort of RPG, I am often looking at what could end up being a months long project. Because of this I try to mix up what kind of games I play, so that I don't get stuck with several long-term games and that being the only thing I play for several months. Maybe I will play something like South Park: The Stick of Truth or Dishonored, while also digging into a longer project like Mount & Blade and throw a shorter game like Return of The Obra Dinn in there.

How is it then, that I've gone and found myself having done the exact opposite of that this year? I've ended up playing not one, not two, but five long-term games at the same time. Without even realizing it I discovered that I was actually playing Divinity: Original Sin, Geneforge 3, Secret of Mana, Let's Go Eevee and Monster Hunter Ultimate 3 simultaneously. Dividing my game time between them meant I was probably looking at spending all of 2019 with these games. Something had to be done. While playing the same game for a long period of time isn't a problem in itself, and a necessity if I want to experience a longer game like an RPG, I do need the shorter games to give me a sense of accomplishment every now and then. I just need to actually complete something to feel like I've done something. Also, I am staring down a "To Play" games list that is already over a hundred games long and not getting any shorter. I can't afford to get myself stuck in only long games like this or something inside me will start to panic.

Geneforge 3 - Don't judge a book by its cover.

So, unfortunately, something had to go. Monster Hunter Ultimate 3 was the first thing to be cut, because even though I enjoyed it, it was the game with the least sense of direction of the lot. I can definitely see what pulls people in and there is just so much to do. But in the end that is what made me ditch it, because it felt overwhelming. Let's Go Eevee is put a bit on the backburner, mainly because it is a retelling of a game I have already completed several times before and so doesn't offer much in terms of new experiences. Secret of Mana is the one of the three left I have decided to put the least time into simply because it, so far, is the least fun.

But that still leaves Divinity: Original Sin and Geneforge 3. I have so far spent almost 70 hours with the former and around 35 hours with the latter. Out of those two I am enjoying Geneforge 3 the most and would've probably felt like I was done with DOS now if it wasn't for the fact that I am sure I am quite close to the end (read: maybe only about 20 hours left?) and it feels like it would be silly to abandon the story now after having already invested that much time. Although, in all honesty, the story is not what has kept me around for DOS.

I'm hoping I can finish one of these long runners soon so I can get started on The Witcher 3 this century.

Robloxed
My son is now 5,5 years old and absolutely loves video games with a passion. I am happy he does because I think there can be some great fun to be had when sharing a video gaming experience. So I have been writing before about a couple of games that we have played together, games that I in most cases wouldn't have played on my own but had a lot of fun with when playing it with him. The best kind of video games spur a lot of fun ideas and dialogue, and in a lot of cases we can take inspiration with us outside of the game and turn them into things like arts and crafts projects or ideas for things to do with Lego and whatnot.

So far, the games we have been playing together have been chosen by my son but curated by me. This means I have selected a list of games I thought would be fun to play together and have let him pick something from that list. I haven't struck a dud yet, we have enjoyed every game we've played together. But now something has changed. A month or so ago, for the first time, he asked me to join him in one of the games he usually plays on his own.

Roblox - You can even adopt people.

It started with Minecraft, a game I had never had any interest in playing myself. After seeing on Youtube that you could play Minecraft with other people he asked me if I could join him. Yeah, why not? And it's actually a lot of fun playing it together. I was also amazed at how proficient my son was at the game, because even though we've got him playing where we can always see what he is doing I had clearly still missed the finer details of his Minecraft skills. Since I had absolutely no knowledge of the game he could not only build a lot faster than me, but also often gave me helpful hints and pointers. He also spent a whole lot of time breaking and changing the things I tried to build up, but that's just the way a 5 year old is.

At the moment his interest has shifted from Minecraft to Roblox, a game he discovered completely on his own through Youtube. I had never heard of it, but after checking out what it seemed to be about I helped getting him sorted and it didn't take long before he asked me to play it with him. And wow, it's a pretty neat thing. It provides players with an easy tool to create their own content and because of this there is a lot of content. There is a Roblox game about just about anything. We've played a Cops & Robber style game, Pizza maker game, a game that allows you to be a bird and I even found a Roblox game that is trying to replicate Pokémon (and it really doesn't look like something Nintendo would allow).

While Roblox is pretty cool and all, I am still mostly looking forward to when we can experience some more intricate games together, like Final Fantasy VII, Resident Evil or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (while they might be single player games, that doesn't mean you can't share the experience). I realize those games are still many years away and he might not even have an interest once the time comes, but there is hope!

Finally A Resident
Speaking of Resident Evil, I go way back and share many good gaming experiences with that particular series. It's interesting then, and I've probably mentioned before, that I've never actually played any of the games myself. I've always just been a, albeit enthusiastic, spectator. The only game I've played somewhat is Resident Evil 5 in co-op, which was fun, but I never got around to completing it. My favorite in the series is probably the Resident Evil Remake on Gamecube, coincidentally (but probably not) also the first Resident Evil game I experienced. I am a big fan especially of the first four (RE, RE2, RE Nemesis and RE Code Veronica). Resident Evil 4, while definitely a good game, is not really to my liking and RE7 was definitely not to my liking (very fun to watch a Let's Play of though, but not a Resident Evil game if you ask me).

I realize what I enjoy is the zombie lore, the weird settings and even weirder puzzles. The mansion of the first game is just so atmospheric as you make your way through it, slowly unravelling the chaos that has taken place there just days before. I love trying to imagine what it must've been like there just before the zombie-shit hit the fan and I find the world-building superb even in all its absurdness.

And then came Resident Evil 2 Remake, which I have been looking forward to ever since it was promised inside the booklet of my Resident Evil Remake copy on Gamecube. I really didn't think that it would ever happen, the same way Final Fantasy VII remake will never happen (I've given up hope to be honest). But it did! And it's good!

Resident Evil 2 - Didn't like her then, don't like her now.

After RE7 I was so worried they would go with another Outlast-copy style game, but fortunately they have not. I haven't gotten far into the game yet, but so far it seems like they've really kept the spirit of the original but enhanced it to keep it fresh, just like they managed to do with the original RE Remake (which in my book still stands as the best game remake ever). And that's right, I am the one playing it this time. My very first Resident Evil game, so to speak. It's not like I've never played a horror game before, I've got proof of getting through both System Shock 2 and Dead Space without screaming too much like a baby. And it's going pretty well so far, nothing has scared me brown yet but then I haven't come across Mr X yet so that'll probably change very soon.

It is unbelievably dark, even after I realized I had put my brightness setting way too low so that I could literally barely see anything, and fixing that. While I don't mind so much, I definitely prefer the older style of limiting your visibility through "bad" camera angles rather than making you run through vast areas with just a flashlight. Not because one is scarier than the other, but because I want to see the surroundings to be able to get that immersive feeling of the older games. But overall I must say RE2 remake is very fun.

Here's to hoping they'll remake RE Nemesis too.

Images from myself and gearnuke.com

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

VGM Highlights - April 2019

The drawback of these posts is that they really remind me of how quickly time passes... But the good thing is more great VGM!

Let's start with a track from episode 17-8 "The Return of Dragon Patreon Ninja" of Rhythm & Pixels. The track in question is Sea Monk Boss from Alwa's Awakening. I hadn't heard of the game prior to this but this tune definitely got me interested, at least in the soundtrack. I have less interest in the retro 8-bit style gameplay, simply because I often suck at it. I love how this tune manages to be adventurous and ponderous at the same time. It has a driving back beat but the melody still has something solemn to it. It's beautiful and cool at the same time. Doesn't sound like a boss track to me, but a great track nonetheless.



Next up we have a track from Retro Reprise, which is sort of an off-shoot podcast from the Battle Bards. It's mainly hosted by one of the trio from the Battle Bards, but the other ones make occasional guest appearances. This podcast is of a bit of a shorter style, highlighting "retro" VGM , as opposed to the MMO VGM focus that the regular Battle Bards podcast has. The track in question comes from the "Shareware Show" episode and is the title theme from Halloween Harry, also known as or maybe better known as Alien Carnage. This track starts out pretty heavy, with another driving beat, but quickly turns into a happy little jingle. It really tells you that it's a gritty and shitty world that awaits you, but you're going to have fun in it.



Then we're going to a two-fer from Sound of Play. First up a track from the episode 130, with a focus on hip hop in VGM. Even though I don't normally listen much to hip hop I still quite enjoy it and this episode had so many good tracks it was difficult to pick just one. If you're into that kind of music I definitely recommend checking the entire episode out. The track I chose in the end was Tha Shiznit by Snoop Dogg from Rock Band. I couldn't find the Rock Band remix version of this (that sounded good), but the original is just as good (skip to 0:35 to get to the music below).


The second track is from episode 132 and is called The Device Has Been Modified from the game Portal. Just like everyone else on the planet I've heard the famous outro to Portal, but then I never gave the rest of the soundtrack much thought. The Device Has Been Modified is sung by the same antagonist, but is otherwise less of a guitar sing-a-long-song and more electronic in style.



Finally I am going to give another episode recommendation. Episode C1E43 from Nerd Noise Radio has a highlight of Commodore 64 tracks. The music is great, albeit not easy on the ears if you're listening through headphones or generally not used to the rather jarring Commodore noises. This episode was extra fun for me though since it was hosted by Henrik Andersson, a fellow Swede who also runs his own podcast "Commoflage (which I must admit I haven't checked out yet). Because of this there is some Swedish thrown into the episode, and that doesn't happen often. Overall a fun listen!

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Thoughts on Star Trek Discovery S2E14 "Such Sweet Sorrow pt.2"

So spoilery!

I could summarize this episode pretty much by saying;

This is definitely the final episode.
or
People with epilepsy, be warned.
or
I really wish I had a bigger TV.
or
Am I watching Star Trek or Star Wars?

When we left off last week, Control-Leland had just showed up at Discovery and Enterprises location and things were going to get really nasty, presumably. At least they didn't look too good. They needed to quickly finish the time suit, finish charging the time crystal and open that wormhole into the future or the presence is toast. Or "rökt", as we say in Swedish (which actually means "smoked").

Let me just say first though... this episode doesn't hold anything back. They threw all their moneys in this one. And the end result is definitely spectacular, to say the least.

Look at all that money burn!

I do wonder where the rest of the Federation is, but they keep saying something about being cut off from Starfleet communication. Still though, their absence in the face of the destruction of the universe or whatever seems odd. Surely someone must've noticed all the Section 31 ships are gone (and that Control is missing). Are they impossible to track? Probably.

One of the first scenes is a pretty neat no-cut scene jumping between different personnel trying to scramble together everything needed for the time suit in that science place where Stamets keeps his spore chamber. It's well put together, and while it gives you a whiplash, it's for the right reasons. Like a roller coaster rather than a car crash.

The first five minutes are spent with me just wondering why no one is shooting something already. But then Control-Leland shows his face on screen and demands the sphere data "or else". Of course Discovery and Enterprise choose "or else" and the shooting starts. And it's not just any kind of shooting. This is probably the most amount of shooting I have seen in a movie ever, and I've seen a fair few Tarantino movies. Both Discovery/Enterprise and Section 31 literally have not only their own mini-fleets but also thousands of drones flying around all over the place and everything is shooting everything at the same time.

It doesn't just look really cool, it actually makes a lot of sense. In the future it's probably not going to be as much about massive starship against massive starship, but all about the little, unmanned drones against the massive starship. It all ends up looking, and sounding (I'll get to that) a lot like something out of Star Wars rather than Star Trek, in which we're more used to seeing the former. It's impossible to make out much of what is happening, but that's not the point and it doesn't matter because all we really need from these scenes is the sense and understanding that shit is going down. And that message comes through loud and clear.

"You go for the left 5000 ships and I take the other half"

I'm not sure if the visuals tricked me and my brain is primed somehow, but I could've almost sworn I heard some actual (or extremely similar) Star Wars noises in there. Things swoosh by almost sounding like tie fighters and the musical score was definitely channelling its inner John Williams.

I could also swear there is a scene where Bryce (one of the Discovery main bridge crew we see all the time and know nothing about) gets cut off mid sentence. Just quickly to the action again, no one wants to see anyone talk!

They're not entirely wrong. While I have a 48" TV and never wanted more, well let's just say today I definitely wanted more.

Through tribulations and a lot of explosions (and Stamets getting seriously wounded), they manage to finish everything up and Michael gets herself ready to fly to the point she needs to be at to open the wormhole. I think it was explained why she needed to be in a certain place but I've forgotten, probably because the reason mainly is that the writers needed her to fly around in her suit in space for a bit. As they lower the shields for a mere couple of seconds to let her (and Spock in a shuttle) fly away, Control-Leland beams onboard and wrecks havoc on the Discovery bridge. Just like Michael saw in her time-vision that I mentioned in the previous episode.

Was there a reason she didn't mention this to anyone? I realize that she's been extremely busy, but everyone being slaughtered on the bridge by Control seems like pretty important information. She doesn't really have to say more than "maybe you should erect a force field around the bridge during the fight because I think Control-Leland will visit you". Also, how did Control-Leland know they were lowering the shields? Or did he just have the ninja-speed (or should I say Jedi-speed? In his case maybe sith-speed is more fitting) to react to the Discovery lowering its shields for three seconds? Not impossible since he is a machine I guess.

This also means there is a live torpedo lodged in the Enterprise hull. Not sure if I mentioned it before but that was also part of the future-time-vision, though I can't recall if it is Michael or Pike who sees it. Obviously we know Enterprise isn't going to be destroyed but presumably this is where Pike ends up with his disability. Wrong! But I'll get to that.

Pike sends out a load of R2D2-resembling hull-repairing droids to "standby" for all the damage that will come. The fact that not all of these little hull repairing robots are busy fixing all the damage the Enterprise has already received so far is a mystery.

Control-Leland does try to shoot a lot of bridge people, but this time it doesn't succeed in killing anyone. It doesn't seem to care much though, as it is mainly after the sphere data. It runs towards the room where it is being kept (because apparently you can't access it from just any computer) and Philippa and Nahn run after it. Meanwhile, Michael is flying through space protected by the rest of the fleet, but all the ships are taking heavy damage. Things don't look too good when BAM! Out of nowhere this massive monster of a space ship turns up. It's a really cool and well timed revelation - the Klingons have showed up to help. And not just them, but the Kelpiens too! They've apparently taken the space ships from the Ba'ul. So now that the outside fighting is getting a bit more balanced, let's look at what happened to Stamets shall we?

Say hello to our little friend.

He ends up in the infirmary which obviously is completely crammed with casualties and too few people left to help. Tilly is by his side at first but then has to run off to do other stuff on the bridge so for a bit Stamets lies there all alone and I was seriously worried they would let him die like that. But of course not. Who shows up if not Hugh. He, being a doctor, helps Stamets with his wounds and starts telling him that he came back to the Discovery from the Enterprise because he realized that Stamets is his "home" after all. Stamets is barely conscious through all this but it's a really nice scene, and it works because the writers have worked quite hard on their relationship. And they've managed to have a major bump in their road even though things looked to be working so well initially.

Stamets' and Hugh's relationship, while it has little impact on the rest of the series, is one of the few within Star Trek that I think genuinely works and that feels real. Most of the Star Trek series has a few relationships here and there, and most of them don't come off as worth the time. Heck, I really don't care for Tyler's and Michael's relationship for instance and that one did matter for the story.
But I think that is just it - when I think of other relationships in Star Trek that I don't find to be immediate cringe or snooze fest (like the O'Briens in DS9 and B'Elanna and Paris in VOY) I realize they are still there entirely to be used as tools for the writers. I don't get that feeling from the Stamets-Hugh relationship. This is just two people who love each other on a starship that ends up in a whole lot of doo-doo. What does all of that do to a relationship? It's actually well done and ends up being interesting to follow. The conclusion is very nice, if maybe it feels a little bit rushed. I mean it was only last episode that Hugh was sure he didn't want to be near Stamets and we haven't seen him change his mind on screen. But overall, very nice work and I am glad to see a relationship that is just that.

What is with beds in the Star Trek universe though. Whether its hospital beds or any kind of beds, they all look extremely uncomfortable. The hospital beds in TOS still give me nightmares, who would want to lie on those, especially if you're sick or wounded?! But the later ones are rarely any better, they all look like they just pulled a blanket over a bench or something. But I digress…

They'll make you sicker.

Michael and Spock are at the place trying to open the wormhole but she can't get it to work. Spock suddenly has an epiphany, like he does, and says that the signals were send by Michael after all, but not from the future. They were sent from this point in time backwards, to allow for Discovery and Enterprise to have the upper hand against Control-Leland and its Section 31 armada, right here, right now. It sent out a signal leading them to the time crystal or people who will help them with the time crystal (Jett, Po) or people who will help them in the fight (the Kelpiens). This is a solution to our questions that I hadn't foreseen and that I personally think wraps things up very nicely. It makes a lot more sense than whatever I thought they were going for and it feels quite fresh and original as far as time travel stories go. Michael now needs to close the loop by going back and set the signals so that they will find themselves in the same situation as they just were. You should never think too hard about these things, but I find it really answers all those questions I had about why she would've gone through and done all this and in that way, perfectly.

So Michael goes off to do all that and the visuals for the time travel are, pardon my French, COOL AS HELL. They might just be the most satisfying, mind-bending- "I get what it must feel like" style of time travel visuals I have ever seen on screen and I've seen my fair share of time travel media. They definitely evoke 2001 - A Space Odyssey, but don't go off into weird territory but leave it at just really awesome. If I ever had to tell someone what I thought, or at least wished, that time travel looked like - I would show them that.


What happened to Control-Leland though? While it locked itself into the data-room, Philippa and Nahn work on breaking through the door. They manage and a big fight ensues. Nahn proves herself being further useless as a character by adding literally nothing to all of this and had she been removed from season 2 alltogether I don't think it would've made any difference. Turns out, Philippa has hidden the data so Control-Leland couldn't find it. Now it is going to try to find out where it is and they (Control-Leland, Philippa and Nahn) have a fight scene rolling around the walls of a corridor in true Inception-style when the gravity gets wonky (because of the damage Discovery has taken I think, the details quickly get blurry with these fast paced episodes). Nahn gets kicked out somewhere or something, either way Philippa and Control-Leland end up by the spore-drive-cubicle and Control-Leland tells Philippa that he's figured out she must've hid the data in the there because she's so easy to read.

But, double-psyche, Philippa has only tricked Control-Leland into thinking that's where she would hid it so that she could trap it inside. The spore-cubicle won't hold it for long, but Philippa doesn't need long. She activates some magnets (remember that trick from the previous episode?) and laughs while watching it die a slow and painful (apparently it feels pain) death. And when it dies, its entire fleet of ships stop working too. Did they beat Control? Did Control exist only inside this body? Surely it must've known/realized what a bad idea it is to put your entire existence into a very fragile little human body, especially if you don't have to? It's not entirely clear here if Control is truly gone, but they definitely elude to it. But then…

Not this wormhole though.

Michael is back and suddenly opening a wormhole for all of Discovery to come through isn't an issue anymore. And still necessary even though Control is dead? They're worried Control, or something like it, might happen again so they still feel like they need to get rid of the data. Interesting considering that that data has been floating around space for literally millennia but only the second humans get their hands on it, it becomes a problem so large it could actually destroy all sentient life in the universe. Humans are the reason we can't have nice things. Nothing new there I guess.

But wait a minute, what was going on with that torpedo in Enterprise? Admiral Cornwell and Nr 1 (Pike's second in command on Enterprise) go down there to try and fix it. Apparently the issue is that it is going to explode shortly and they can't close the blast door. Because the difference of one blast door is the difference between everyone on the ship dead or not. I don't get how that works either but that is how it is. Pike goes down there to help Cornwall instead of Nr 1, but Cornwall tells him that she can close the blast door from the inside, trapping her with the torpedo. Pike says he should do it, but Cornwall "wins" the argument about who gets to sacrifice themselves and well, dies with the torpedo. But saved the Enterprise, but we knew that wasn't going anywhere. And neither is Pike apparently! Unfortunate to see Cornwell go actually, I really did like her character. But I am glad Pike is still around though I am not sure he will have any spot in a possible future season.

Michael opens the wormhole and Discovery goes through and that's the last we see of them, for now. Instead, the episode ends with the people who were left behind (Spock, Tyler and Pike among others) being interrogated about what just happened and what happened to the Discovery. They all say that it was destroyed in the battle against Control and we see a different scene of Spock talking about how the truth must never come out. He speaks to his parents about how no one will ever mention Discovery again and this also means that none of them must ever speak of Michael again, but that he will always think of her and keep her in his heart. This all to prevent the information that Discovery is carrying from ending up in the wrong hands and history repeating itself. So this is the explanation they use for Spock never mentioning Michael as his sister in any lore going forward from this time. Fine, sure. Pretty ok way to explain that.

As we remember him.

Honestly though, when has total cover up ever been the way to try to prevent things from happening again? What if that had been the go to way after world war 2 - never speak of the Nazis again or maybe they will come back! Maybe that would've worked because unfortunately what we've tried this time didn't seem to... but I still disagree that completely removing something from history is the best way to prevent it from happening again. But what do I know, maybe that is the way we'll go about it in a few hundred years from now.

Another thing they apparently have in the future is a Golden Gate Bridge completely covered in solar panels. Funny little final commentary right at the end of the season there.
Then at some point they mention that Philippa is dead? Not sure I heard that right, but we don't know what happened to her after she killed Control-Leland. My guess she is going to spearhead whatever Section 31 is going to turn into now.

The season ends with a real fan service scene - Spock back on the Enterprise, sitting by his little viewmaster thingy that really never made any sense and there we have it. Star Trek Discovery, season 2, finished.

And what a ride it has been. It's had ups and downs, but its mostly been very entertaining. It's tried to make us feel for characters we barely know and honestly things have been way too high paced for my personal taste. The core idea is great though, and so are the characters. Maybe I am just getting old and my brain is too slow, but things move by so quickly and happen at such a speed that you barely conceive of something before it's gone or dead or altered or reanimated already.

At the same time, thinking back I realize that not that much has happened really. This could've almost been a two-parter of any other Star Trek series. The core story is pretty short. They see signals, they follow a couple of signals, Control is evil, they fight Control, they win. Inbetween all of this they've got a lot of fluff that is used in completely the wrong way. Almost none of it is used to expand on characters for instance (Saru's episode is an exception for instance), almost all of it used to show some cool effects (like the whole episode about them being in the spore world, I can't even remember how that was relevant to the story anymore). The core concept is good, very good. The fluff on the other hand is just not necessary. On the other hand, while I feel too few characters develop over the course of the season, the ones that do are very interesting. Saru, Spock, Philippa, Hugh & Stamets and even Michael are fun to watch and follow. So many others feel like they could've almost been cut altogether and it wouldn't have changed much. Tilly had that thing with the spore-friend, but like I said I can't even remember what that was about anymore. Tyler feels pointless. Nahn is entirely pointless. Detmer, Owosekun and Bryce are just names. Airiam is only lucky enough to get a backstory because she moves the main story forward in that one episode.

My best analogy would be that season 2 is a stew with all the right ingredients that is just never allowed to simmer to let the flavors truly come through. It'll still taste good, but it'll end up feeling more of a tease of what could've been really great. So in the end while it's definitely entertaining, it just had the possibility to be extraordinary. They are definitely moving in the right direction however and I am intrigued and hopeful for a season 3.

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