Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Most reviews of Star Trek Into Darkness have been glowing. I'll admit it – I can't for the life of me understand why.

On the flip side, there have been several reviews that summed up its shallowness nicely, but none more so than these three. They are articulate and to-the-point and I wish I'd written them!

Movie Karaoke

The Star Trek Into Darkness FAQ




Friday, May 24, 2013

A TALE OF TWO TRANSLATORS – Screen-matching Props

Several years ago I was fortunate enough to acquire a screen-used Klingon Translator used in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. From the photos of the piece, I thought it might match one used by Captain Kirk/William Shatner in the pivotal courtroom scene. Once I got it in hand I was able to specifically confirm that connection – it was indeed Kirk's translator!  The more imperfections there are, the easier it is to match a piece. And Klingon props are purposely "weathered" to emulate great use. The rough, handmade quality of the prop acts as a fingerprint.

My version showing identical weathering
made with brushed-on silver paint
Fast forward to February 2013. I saw where Propstore was selling another Klingon Translator. I hoped that it might perhaps be the translator used by Dr. McCoy/DeForest Kelley in the same scenes with Shatner. If so, I'd have a complete, screen-matched set. I eagerly pored through my photo archive desperately trying to match the translator to McCoy, but no joy. I couldn't say that it was never used by either Shatner or McCoy, only that I couldn't prove it either way. And since it would make sense that they made more than two of the props in case something happened to one or both while in use, I figured the Propstore version was an "extra" – made but not necessarily used. With that, I decided to pass on buying it. 

As it turned out, a collector friend of mine named Doug was the winner (Doug is a member of the Star Trek Prop Room). Knowing of my Kirk version, he contacted me and asked me if I could lend any insight about his version. I shared my findings with him and told him that I was unable to prove specific use. And since I owned the Kirk, and his didn't match the McCoy, I couldn't give him any useful info as to whether or not it was actually screen-used. There was no doubt that it was a production made piece, but proving screen-use was another matter. I was bummed, but probably not as much as Doug.

But then something cool happened.

Like many collectors, I'm a voracious keeper of reference images. As such, I frequently check out Trekcore, an invaluable resource for Trek collectors. Among other things, Trekcore posts screen caps from every episode or film of Star Trek ever made. And they constantly update those images, so that when something is released on HD, for instance, new, BETTER images are posted. So back in April I decided to check their HD images of Star Trek VI to see if there was anything noticeably better that would act as better reference for screen-matching my translator. Sure enough, there was a great series of HD images of the courtroom scene and they were much clearer than older images. I downloaded everything that I thought would be useful and started sorting through them to see which showed the details I was looking for. And that's when I noticed something that I hadn't been able to see before. 

In some of the frames, Kirk is definitely holding a translator that WAS NOT MINE. There were several great shots that showed mine clearly, but a handful were definitely NOT a match to mine. Because of the lower image quality of earlier screen caps, it had not been possible to notice this fact. But now I had pics that were clear enough to show two different examples, both used by Shatner. I got a little excited and pulled out the reference shots I had kept of the Propstore version. Hey, I told you I was voracious.

Doug's version showing tons of organic
features that match perfectly
As I scanned the photos, I saw exactly what I hoped to see – details seemingly matching the new screen caps. I couldn't definitively say they were a perfect match – the Propstore shots didn't show the area I needed in great enough detail for that. But it definitely looked possible. I quickly shot off an e-mail to Doug and told him about what I had found. He didn't have his translator in hand yet, but told me he'd forward some shots to me as soon as he did. 

Last week, those shots showed up in my in-box. I was working at the time, but I was so anxious to see if there was a match that I quickly pulled up my reference shots and started comparing. It took me all of twenty seconds to confirm the match. Doug had a Kirk!  Later on I took my time with Doug's shots and created the comparison image below. I showed it to Doug as well as a few other collector friends to get their opinions. It was unanimous – the prop was a definitive match. I've since been told by Doug that he was able to open it up, put in a new battery and it lit up, just like we see on screen. Even better!

Along with defining the prop's use, the experience also taught me a bit about how props are used on set. Since all the translators looked alike on-camera,  the prop masters would not have needed to keep track of which was which. As props were put down for breaks between takes, there was no need to keep them sorted so that for any given take, the actors might be holding any given version. The courtroom scene undoubtedly took days to shoot, so the translator props could have easily exchanged hands any number of times. There's also the fact that my Translator was damaged, perhaps during shooting (it has since been repaired). If that was the case, my damaged one might have been replaced with Doug's intact version. There's a number of possible scenarios.

So that's the story. I'd be lying if I said that I didn't wish I'd bought the piece for myself. After all, you can never have too many hero props! But Doug is a really nice guy and loves the movie stuff like I do, and I'm always happy when a deserving collector ends up with something cool. Even if it isn't me! 

So congratulations, Doug, you've got a true rarity – a screen-matched hero prop used by Captain Kirk himself! VERY cool. Q'Pla!



Thursday, May 23, 2013

Original Series Prop Windfall? BS Alert!

Premiere Props, a seller with some baggage, will be offering what they claim are "screen-used" Star Trek items from the original Star Trek series. Their offering reads like a greatest hits list:

Star Trek Communicator – Original Series 1966 - From the first orignal black and white episodes. Designed for the series by Wah Ming Chang, this is a screen used original “stunt non-functional” communicator.
Star Trek Phaser – Original Series 1966 - From the first original black and white episodes, designed for the series by Wah Ming Chang, this is a screen used original “stunt non-functional” phaser. This is one of the early rare “white handle” phaser’s, with the black/white color scheme. Rare since many of these were repainted for the color versions.

Star Trek Science Tricorder – Original Series 1966 - From the first original black and white episodes, designed for the series by Wah Ming Chang, this is a screen used original “stunt non-functional” Science Tricorder. Very rare and in excellent condition.

Star Trek – Uhura Pen – Original Series 1966 - A rare triangle shaped pen (made of wood), used in the original Star Trek (1966) series by Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) at her station.

Star Trek – Mini-Phaser Type 1 – Original Series 1966 - The stunt mini-phaser (Type 1), designed by Wah Ming Chang and used in the original black and white episodes of Star Trek.

Star Trek – Orignal Tribble – Original Series 1966 - From what many considered their favorite Star Trek episode (and one of the intentional humorous episodes as well), “The Trouble With Tribbles, which was the 34 episode first broadcast on December 29, 1967. A trader named Cyrano gives Lt. Uhura a Tribble, a furry Hamster like ball of fur. However it multiplies quickly. 1500 Tribbles of various materials (depending on their purpose) were created for the show. Very few remind. This is a very rare actual screen used “Tribble” from this truly classic episode!

If real, such props would fetch well in excess of $100,000. But just the fact that they are being offered through PP and not one of the big dogs – Profiles in History, Julian's, etc – gives me pause. Add to that the fact that the Communicator shown displays a commonly-faked aging detail on the antenna. References to a "white-handled phaser" and "black and white episodes" are also problematic. FYI: there were no B&W episodes. Ever. Not a good sign. This tells us there was ZERO research done.

It's too early to say anything specific, and their site offers NO details as yet. As with all TOS pieces, the proof of authenticity would have to be incredibly solid. Keep in ind that the Big Three – TOS Phaser, Tricorder and Communicator – might be the most faked props ever. To say that I'm skeptical is an understatement. My bullshit meter is shrieking already!

I'll add more info as things become available.

Release the Kraken!



Monday, May 20, 2013

"Star Trek Into Darkness" Boldly Goes Where Better Star Trek Movies Have Gone Before


Whether or not you're not a Star Trek fan, you might enjoy "Into Darkness" as a fast-paced adventure story. I've read numerous comments and reviews that support this. But if you're anything like me, you might walk away scratching your head. I've read a number of comments from moviegoers who say they really liked the movie but the story wasn't very good. My response to that is "how the hell can a movie be good without a good story?"

The Prime Directive: don't screw it up

I love good movies of all kinds. And good movies, whether they be Star Trek or not, rely on key universal elements: excellent stories, good acting and solid direction.  Two out of three won't cut it. Unfortunately, "Into Darkness" can't offer that much. Is it exciting? Yes! Does it make sense? Not at all.

In the beginning there was... confusion

The intro scene of the film perfectly demonstrates the huge problem the film has throughout: the plot ignores basic logic. The film starts out on an alien planet with a volcano that is about to erupt and wipe out the indigenous primitive population. The Enterprise crew has launched a rescue plan – place a device within the volcano that will basically diffuse it. To that end, Sulu is piloting a shuttle over the volcano while Uhura sends Spock down a line into the fiery volcano to place the device, set a timer, and get back out. Nothing goes right of course, with Spock falling into the volcano and the shuttle crew helpless to retrieve him. But that aside, let's look at the situation.

Why not just use the transporter to beam the device into the volcano and be done with it? We eventually find out that the transporter does indeed work, so there's absolutely no reason for Spock or the others to risk their lives! Or fly an unmanned Shuttle into the volcano with the device and activate it remotely. The plot holes begin!!

While all this is going on, Kirk and McCoy are inexplicably being chased by the very natives they're trying to save. To get away from these natives, the duo plunges off a cliff into the sea, and we get one of the dumbest elements of the movie. The pair swim underwater to – you guessed it – a submerged Enterprise! Why is it submerged? To hide the ship from the natives, of course. After all, if they saw the Enterprise, it would be a violation of Starfleet's Prime Directive which states there can be no interference with the development of alien civilizations. So naturally, they put the Enterprise under water instead of – oh, I don't know –  KEEPING IT IN ORBIT. With the transporter and shuttles, there's no reason for the Enterprise to EVER land on a planet. Indeed, over the lifetime of Star Trek, we've been led to believe that it's not even possible due to it's huge mass. After all, it's a SPACE ship. It operates in SPACE. But director J.J. Abrams never lets established Star Trek rules get in the way of a great special effects shot. And that is the ONLY reason the Enterprise is under water – so that we can see her majestically emerge from the ocean. It's a great shot! But it defies logic and should have never been there unless there was a far better reason other than "it's the money shot". It's lazy storytelling and that kind of thinking plagues the film throughout. "But it looks cool!" many will say. "Have it make sense, then" is my reply.

Note to Star Trek writers: "cold fusion" isn't really cold.

As a result of the Enterprise's position under the water, the only way they can save Spock from the volcano is to raise the ship from the water and fly to the volcano (suddenly the Enterprise is a helicopter) and beam him up. But that will be in the full view of the natives so it's not allowed. But Kirk does it anyway, directly violating the most important law of the Federation. He saves Spock but contaminates the natives who are reverently drawing pictures of the Enterprise as she flies away. The whole scene shows us that basic reasoning skills are beyond Kirk (stay in orbit!) and that he's willing to break his oath when the going gets tough due to his own bad decision-making. Great start.

Screw the starships – I got me a transporter!

Which brings me to the next stupid moment of the film. After the volcano episode, the Enterprise returns to Earth where the crew discovers that a terrorist attack in London has occurred. During a Starfleet briefing on the subject, the attendees are attacked by the film's villain, John Harrison, played wonderfully by British actor Benedict Cumberbatch. Floating outside the meeting in a small gunship, Harrison opens fire, killing many in the room. Kirk gathers his wits during the slaughter and dispatches the villain's gunship which crashes to the ground. But wait, the villain got away! How? By transporting himself off the ship before the crash using a portable transporter. Cool idea. He probably beamed himself to a hiding spot or ship, right? Nope. Not even close. He used a "transwarp transporter" to beam himself lightyears away to the Klingon homeward of Kronos! And he left behind the evidence that told where he went.

Here's the thing. The "transwarp transporter" was introduced in the last film as a way to quickly get Kirk and Scotty on board the Enterprise from a planet. It was a stupid idea then and it's a phenomenally stupid idea now. Why? In Star Trek, as in real life, there are limitations put on the fictional technology, and for good reason. If anything is possible, then there's no challenge. Given the device as we've seen it in two films, the "transwarp transporter" makes starships obsolete. Now you can simply beam yourself to another star system INSTANTANEOUSLY and do away with that pesky ship altogether. Imagine if Neil Armstrong could have pressed a button and instantly shown up on the Moon. There would be no need for a space race, or spaceships at all. That's what this new Trek has given us – the Enterprise and her crew are now obsolete. And Abrams doesn't care. Whatever plot device facilitates his story, no matter how ill-conceived, is good enough for him.

A Tale of Two Khans – one is from Brighton

And now I'll get to the heart of the biggest problem that I had with "Into Darkness": the villain. The character of John Harrison is revealed to actually be none other that Khan Noonien Singh, a genetically-engineered superman from the 20the century made famous in the film "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" as well as "Space Seed",  the original series episode on which the film was based. In both cases, Khan was played wonderfully by the great Ricardo Montalban. As the name implies, Khan was written to be an Asian dictator who ruled over billions before leaving Earth with his followers, and Montalban's performance of Khan was to become legendary. The character is generally believed to be one of, if not THE greatest foe in all of Star Trek, and every film is still compared to Wrath of Khan even now, some 31 years after its release.

So naturally, when you want to recast such a role, you go right for – a white British Guy. Cumberbatch is a wonderful actor, and commands every scene in which he appears. But he's totally miscast since, first and foremost, Khan should never be played by a western caucasian! Montalban was Mexican-born, and both his appearance and accent gave the character an authentic, exotic flavor. And while I would never want to see them cast an actor who would try to do a blatant Montalban imitation, nether should they cast one that totally ignores the established ethnicity of the character. 

When casting the 2009 film, the producers made sure they used actors that had at least a passing resemblance to the original actors, especially in terms of ethnicity. Would moviegoers have accepted a Swedish, white Uhura? Or a French Sulu? How about a Scotty from Alabama? Of course not, and a blue-eyed Brit as Khan is just as absurd. Apparently, the producers tried to get Javier Bardem for the role of Khan. A perfect choice, in my opinion. But when they couldn't get him, instead of going with either another "exotic" actor, or doing a different storyline altogether, they had the bright idea of casting Cumberbatch. He's an excellent actor, but Othello should only be played by a black actor and Khan should only be played by a non-American/Brit. The fact that the producers didn't get that tells me a lot. You can't respect what you don't understand, and apparently they don't understand Star Trek. Or basic story-telling.

And then things really go south

After Harrison/Khan reveals his identity, the film really goes down hill. We're told that Khan was found and unfrozen by a Starfleet vessel and was being utilized by a secret Starfleet lab to help create new armaments. After all, who is going to know more about building super weapons than a guy whose science is 300 years out of date?!? After all, if we could thaw out Hitler, that's what we'd do, right? Also, he's apparently a genius, but can't figure out how to thaw out his followers who were being stored by Starfleet, despite having full access to them. Riiiight.

And let's not forget the ten-minute long LITERAL remake of the Wrath of Khan climax which reversed the roles of Kirk and Spock. I suppose it was meant as an homage, but it came across to me as a case of the writers being unable to come up with something great on their own so they borrowed from the best.

Oh, and there's also Khan's magic blood which can cure anything – even death! Don't get me started on that. Nor how Khan is apparently from Krypton. Originally, Kirk beat him with the TOS equivalent of a wrench, but here he's freakin' Superman!

Been there/seen that 

So there you have it. If you've never seen Star Trek, you might enjoy the film as pure nonsensical escapism. But Star Trek should at least make sense, in my opinion. And it should take us to where we've never been before, and maybe, if we're lucky, show us some new insight into the human condition. 

This movie definitely does NOT go where no one has gone before. Quite the contrary.



Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Nimoy and Quinto battle it out! Sort of.

OK, I think this is too damn funny:

R.I.P. Ray Harryhausen – Master of Special Effects

The words "great" and "legendary" get thrown around a lot these days. But they are totally justified when describing special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen who died today on London at age 92.

The film industry and movie fans everywhere owe much to Harryhausen, who brought the impossible to life long before the advent of computer graphics. Instead of software and pixels, Harryhausen used the very basics of moviemaking: film and patience. His creations ranged from aliens and flying saucers to gods and demons – and everything in between. He was the acknowledged master of stop-motion animation and was best known for films like 1949's original "Mighty Joe Young", "The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad" (1958), "Jason and the Argonauts" (1963), "First Men In the Moon (1964), and perhaps most notably, the original "Clash of the Titans (1981).

Using stop-motion animation, Harryhausen brought the fantastic to film screens – imagery that was impossible to create in any other way. George Lucas used Harryhausen's techniques to bring to life the immense AT/AT and Luke's Tauntaun in "The Empire Strikes Back". Lucas once said that no other fantasy films had "the same kind of awe" as Harryhausen's movies.

Here's a video synpsis of his work:

Rest in peace, Ray. Thanks for your awesome vision.



Friday, May 3, 2013

New "Into Darkness" poster is one big spoiler

The marketing folks for "Star Trek Into Darkness" seem to have no faith in the innate attraction of the film. They can't seem to make a poster without giving away big plot points, ie, spoilers.

The first US general release poster showed the Enterprise wounded and falling from orbit (see previous post). The new poster for the IMAX release now shows a dark, immense starship chasing down the Enterprise. In my mind, I instantly compared the image to the Star Destroyers chasing the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars. The mystery ship is absurdly large given that the Enterprise is already so big. The thing would have to be a mile long or more!

The thing is, I've avoided as many spoilers as possible. But Paramount seems bound and determined to show me as many spoiler images as possible. So despite my best efforts, I now know more than I'd like to.

This isn't new for Paramount, of course. In the trailer for Star Trek III: The Search For Spock the film is touted as "the final voyage of the Starship Enterprise" as we see the ship self-destructing – HUGE plot point given away!

So I'm trying to walk the media mine field until the Into Darkness opens and avoid further spoilers. I think I'm going to need blinders!