Star Trek Wrath of Darkness

I went to see this movie the first weekend it was out but I held off on posting this to avoid violating any sort of unwritten rule on spoilers, but at this point, enough time has passed  that knowing that the character Benedict Cumberbatch plays is Khan is either already well known, or totally irrelevant.  If you’re not familiar with the Star Trek Universe and are just interested in an action movie in space, whether the villain is named Khan or John Harrison is hardly a spoiler to anything important to the movie.  If you are a long time Trek fan, the fact that the villain is named Khan is… frankly it’s not a spoiler either way.  Unlike Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the villain’s real identity isn’t really important to the plot of this movie, and he could really just been named John Harrison without really adding or subtracting from the story.  Khan’s identity is more of an Easter egg than a spoiler for this movie.

But that’s fine if JJ Abrams secrecy on this point seems a little overdone.  That is part of how Abrams markets his movies.  I liked the Easter eggs in this movie and makes me feel as though the people who made the movie really care about the source material, and they are winking, just to me, that “Hey, we really get Star Trek!”  Even though Abrams probably didn’t know the difference between Star Trek and Star Wars before he took over the project.

As movies go, it was a thoroughly entertaining film, and it both answered some old questions and raised some new ones in the new Star Trek universe.

One of the things that had bugged me from Abrams first Star Trek film was how quickly Kirk went from cadet in trouble to Captain of a starship.  Really?  Even if you save the world, I’m thinking that Starfleet still doesn’t want to give a relative newbie the command of one of its top of the line starships.  How do you skip all of those ranks anyway?  Surely there are some Starfleet regulations having to do with time in service.  In this movie, that’s rectified by how quickly Kirk loses his rank and position when he’s caught violating the Prime Directive.  Kirk, busted down to First Officer, held the rank of Commander.  So just extrapolating here, but that leads me to believe that Captain was only a brevet rank, meaning he was assigned to the rank of Captain based solely on his position as skipper of the Enterprise, not as a rank he had actually earned and been promoted into.  So Commander was probably Kirk’s permanent rank.  Still, that’s not bad for someone who skipped most of the junior officer rank structure.

The other thing that I had an issue with was what was up with the white Khan?  Don’t get me wrong, I think Benedict Cumberbatch did a fantastic job playing the villain and really upped the ante on the level of acting in this movie, but he’s a man without a trace of melanin in his system, and he was cast to play Khan Noonien Singh, an Indian character.  I understand that in 1960’s Hollywood, you probably wouldn’t even think of casting an actual Indian to play an Indian.  They went with a Latin actor, Ricardo Montalbán instead.  Montalbán turned out to be an inspired choice.  He had not only the acting chops, but the sort of command presence that’s required to successfully play someone who was a deposed leader.  And boy, did the ladies love him!  Check out this clip from the original series Star Trek when he turns on the Alpha game on one of Kirk’s crewbabes.

That’s total Alpha Game, but fair warning; don’t try this at home kids.

It goes without saying that Montalbán steals every scene in 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

When JJ Abrams was looking to cast his new Khan, once again he was looking at Latin actors.  Casting a Latin to play Indian in 1967 may have made perfect sense, but why would you do that in the 21st Century?  There are plenty of actual Indian actors who could have played that role.  But instead, the actor who wins the role is the whitest person from an island whose populace is already known for being pasty faced.  I’m not the only one who noticed this, the folks at Racebending.com made a big deal about it as well.

So how does this fit into the overall Star Trek alternate timeline?  Based on 2009’s Star Trek, JJ Abrams made his divergent timeline from Kirk’s birth, so every event from that point on was up to be changed or altered.  But Khan was from the 20th Century.  He preceded the divergent timeline and should have still been an Indian actor with a Mexican accent, rather than an Indian character with a British accent (I know, an Indian character with a British accent makes more sense).  If you allow me to geek out a bit, a couple of possibilities present themselves.

It’s possible that the Original Series Kirk altered the timeline.  The episode Space Seed, established the character Khan, his origins as a genetically engineered superman, and his role in the Eugenics Wars, which took place from 1992 to 1996.  Remember the war years?  Good times…  Within the three seasons that comprise the Original Series, the crew of the Enterprise was involved in time travel incidents that could have altered Earth history on at least three occasions:  Assignment Earth, taking place in 1968, The City on the Edge of Forever, which has Dr McCoy drastically altering events in depression era San Francisco, and Tomorrow is Yesterday, taking place in 1969.  Although all of these incursions were “fixed,” they were fixed via the band-aid approach.  Except in the episode Tomorrow is Yesterday, they didn’t undo the original timeline alteration; they merely made other changes to repair the original changes.  With that method, who knows what differences in the time line seeped through that were not obvious initially?

It’s also possible that the Temporal Cold War, from the Enterprise TV series could have altered 20th Century events.  In the two part Enterprise episode Storm Front, aliens from the future drastically alter the 20th Century by providing assistance to the Nazi’s so that they win World War II.  By the end of the episode, the timeline has been “reset” and things are back to where they are supposed to be, although what exactly that is seems unclear.  The Eugenics Wars and Khan could have all been reset as well.

Just so I’m clear, one of the changes that I’m discussing is whatever DNA that was used to create Khan in the first place may have been altered.  Khan was genetically engineered after all, so different timelines could mean different strands of DNA could have been selected to create Khan.

In other words, the genetic material could have come from a different Cumber-batch of DNA.

Get it?

How about, a whiter shade of Khan?

No?

Anyway… by the time the crew of the Voyager get their opportunity to mess with 20th Century Earth, in the episode Future’s End, the Voyager crew wind up in 1996, supposedly the last year of the Eugenics Wars.  However everything seemed… much like our 1996.  No major world wars featuring genetically engineered supermen.  Nor did the Voyager crew seemed to be expecting a Eugenics War.  Maybe it had been shifted or eliminated from the timeline?

My guess (and really, this is all nothing but guesses) is that the Eugenics Wars did happen, only not in the 1990’s as they did from Khan’s original timeline.  They probably happened some decades later, but they still happened, since the Eugenics Wars were still an issue during the time period of the Enterprise TV show.

This is the type of trivia that only a nerd could love, but it’s important.  That’s why JJ Abrams pulled the alternate timeline trick rather than just do a re-imagining of the series like was done with Battlestar Galactica.  Doing a hard reboot of the series and ignoring what came before would have been the easiest path, but it would drive Trekkers crazy.  Who needs that?

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The Tao of Stargate Universe

A head-on view of the Earth Stargate.
Image via Wikipedia

As a longtime fan of the Stargate franchise, I was looking forward to the new entry in to the Stargate television family, Stargate Universe.  Although I have to admit I was a bit cautious in my expectations.  The Stargate shows, Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis, have been in my opinion damn near perfect science fiction TV.  The premise, that aliens thousands of years ago had kidnapped humans from Earth and settled them all over the galaxy as slaves via a Stargate, a massive ring that allows instantaneous travel between solar systems, allows just about any type of potential science fiction plot device.  In one episode the heroes could be halfway across the galaxy liberating humans from an evil alien overlord; in the next they could be downtown in Colorado Springs, getting a pizza.  Or sometimes in the same episode.  Humor and current pop culture references kept the show anchored in the here and now, while at the same time allowing the traditional action adventure in the stars.  Earth and the US Air Force manage to beat technologically superior aliens time and again.  Go us!

But when I first heard the premise of the show; humans trapped on an Ancient spaceship halfway across the universe, my first instinct was, “Uh oh, this is going to be Stargate’s Voyager.  Voyager was the second to last in the Star Trek shows, which has a starship from the Star Trek Federation… halfway across the galaxy.  The purpose was to take advantage of the Star Trek franchise but at the same time pull away from the usual cast of situations and aliens, which had started to grow stale.  It was a concept that had only meager success, and showed the franchise was on life support, finally flat lining during Star Trek Enterprise.

But the producers had promised an “edgier” Stargate than the previous incarnations.  Edgier?  Full frontual, or a FX-like use of profanity?  But setting down to watch the premiere episode I was afraid edgier would merely mean the same thing as it meant to the makers of Heroes; cut the lights off and film in the dark.  Note to TV producers: noir doesn’t mean filming without klieg lights.  At this point, the brightness level on my TV is all the way up and I still can’t see what’s going on in Heroes.  If I decide to finish the season for that show, I may just finish it as podcasts and listen to them since I can’t see what’s happening on the screen anyway.

And in the premiere episode Air, that started to look like what they meant.  The quick premise of the show, is that a planet that has unique properties and Stargate, has a secret military base.  The  Earth base personnel, who were on the planet to discover the mysteries of the “Ninth Chevron” figure out how to use the unique gate just as the planet comes under the attack of perfectly timed aliens.  Beating a hasty retreat through the Stargate, the base survivors discover themselves on board an Ancient (a humanlike highly technological race that disappeared tens of thousands of years ago in the Stargate mythology) starship, with no means to power the ship’s stargate to get back to Earth.

Naturally the ship is in total darkness when they board.  Edgy.

The first couple of episodes of the show revolve around the crew trying to wrap themselves around solving the most basic survival needs, as the episode names indicate, Air, Light, Water… Episodes filled with the grimness and stress of their situation, but little humor or action to break the ice.  Frankly, not bad episodes, but not great either.   However I’m embarrassed to say it took me until the most recent episode, Justice, to figure out what “edgy” was supposed to mean.

The producers were not doing the Stargate version of Voyager; they were doing the Stargate version of Battlestar Galactica.

Galactica (the updated version, not the 1970’s feathered hair version) was almost revolutionary in it’s approach.  It stripped out the aliens, weird spatial phenomena, time travel, technobabble, and other props of the SF genre and just left the people; highly imperfect people.  Heroes were not always heroic, or truthful, villains were not always villainous, or lying.  Galactica raised the bar on TV science fiction, making it an adult drama, and the Emmy’s that Galactica won during its 5 season run bear that out.

So I consider myself fully on board with Stargate Universe now, and feel free to recommend the show, although with caveats.  While Galactica had me hooked with the first miniseries that launched the show, I’ve been mulling over Stargate Universe.  I was not hooked until recently.  It may be that just my expectations of what a Stargate show should be made me blind to what the producers were trying to do with this version of Stargate.  This isn’t your geeky father’s Stargate.  It definitely has a different feel to the show, dare I say edgier?

Why bring this up now?  The show has been on for months.

True, but the show is on a brief hiatus until the spring and tomorrow the Syfy channel is running all nine of the previously aired episodes back to back all day.  So if you are out of work, nerdy, and somehow missed the previous showings, now is a good opportunity to catch up.

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