Star Trek, of course–what kind of question is that? Actually, if I’m going to write an essay, I should have more to say….
Star Trek, in its original incarnation (which I will henceforth refer to by the standard fan abbreviation TOS for “The Original Series”) began its prime-time network run on NBC in 1966, at which time I was three years old. Its last season ended in 1969, at which time I was six, and about to begin the first grade. I know Mom and Dad watched it, so I no doubt did, as well. I’ve seen every episode multiple times since, and given that, it’s hard to sort out any genuine memories of the series’s original airing.
It doesn’t really matter, though. Throughout my childhood and young adulthood, TOS was more or less constantly in syndication somewhere on one channel or another. Every time it was available on any of the channels we got, I always watched it. For reasons that are obscure, certain episodes (e.g. “The City on the Edge of Forever” and “A Piece of the Action”) were in very heavy rotation, whereas others (such as “Errand of Mercy” and the insanely elusive “The Mark of Gideon”) were rarely if ever aired. I made it my goal to watch every one of the original seventy-nine episodes at least once. I set this goal at the age of around twelve or thirteen, and it took into my mid-twenties to complete it, but complete it I did. In the meantime, my involvement with Star Trek was expanding far beyond watching reruns.
Someone I follow on Tumblr had a post recently discussing what makes for good writing in a fan fiction context. The conclusion was “good technical skills”. The idea is that, while writers and readers of fanfic may have different criteria of what makes a fic “good” than do the gatekeepers of “mainstream” fiction, and while those differing criteria are valid, good technical skills are universal, allowing you to develop the story you want to tell and to say what you need to say. Technical skills may not be the end-all and be-all; but you have to be able to control what you’re saying if you want to get anything across to the reader. I totally agree with this.
Anyway, I reblogged and added a response dealing with an aspect of fanfic that I think isn’t often realized or understood. It occurred to me that it might be worth putting up here, too, especially since I’ve been discussing pop culture–which of course includes fanfic–in the course of writing my series “Religion, Role-playing, and Reality“. I have edited it very lightly for publication here, but it’s substantially the same as the original form. Enjoy!
This is a follow-up of sorts to my recent post on aliens, robots, and perpetual motion. There, I rather harshly criticized the tendency of many science fiction (henceforth SF) writers to portray robots, androids, and sometimes aliens as being capable of functioning with no energy inputs of any kind. It gets a bit irritating for those of us who are scientifically inclined, and it would be nice, once in a while, to see someone actually address the issue—having a robot being charged, for example.
Despite this, I have still enjoyed many books, movies, and TV series with such perpetual-motion robots. I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation throughout its run, despite the fact that Data never once was shown being charged. I also have read all the robot stories of the granddaddy of robot stories, Isaac Asimov. Even he, to the best of my knowledge, never explained how robots are powered (I am open to correction on this if anyone has any references). Certainly, Asimov knew better. The thing is that, as he himself pointed out, the appeal of robots in fiction is not mainly about how they work, but our fascination with human-like beings we ourselves have created. It is the mixed fascination and fear, expressed as far back as Frankenstein—fascination that we ourselves become like God; fear that our creations will rise up against us. The very play that gave us the word “robot”, R.U.R. (an abbreviation for “Rossum’s Universal Robots”), by Karel Čapek, expresses this fear explicitly—the robots rise up and overthrow mankind.
The point is that sometimes SF gives us potent themes that are more important than details that get the science exactly right. This leads to the topic I want to talk about here: What should one expect from good SF in terms of scientific accuracy? That is a long-debated topic, and I make no claims to come to a definitive conclusion here; but I do want to look at some of the things that work for me, personally, at least.
In the course of this reconsideration of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, we’ve looked at all the major aspects of production except for what some consider the most important, the director. I don’t really have any strong feelings either way with regard to the auteur theory–I think there are cases to be made both ways. In either case, the director is certainly one of the most important aspects of any film; and the director chosen to helm STTMP was the distinguished veteran filmmaker Robert Wise.
Robert Wise was a Hollywood veteran of long standing, who had worked in almost all cinematic genres. He won Academy Awards for West Side Story and The Sound of Music. More germane to the present consideration, he directed the movie widely considered to be the best science fiction movie of the 1950’s, The Day the Earth Stood Still. He also directed the science fiction thriller The Andromeda Strain. Unlike later directors who often stamped their personality onto all their films, Wise had a reputation as a consummate craftsman who worked with what he was given to make the best movies he could. Wise had not been familiar with Star Trek, but he had been a favorite director of Gene Roddenberry. Thus, after several possible directors were discussed, Wise was chosen to direct Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
Awhile back, I wrote a series on Mystery Science Theater 3000. My main focus was on what I saw as the archetypes of the Trickster and the Holy Fool that one could discern in the series. However, I also talked a little bit about how I came to be a fan of the show, and my thoughts on the two hosts, Joel Hodgson and Mike Nelson. The previous seasons have been around long enough that I assume everyone has seen them by now, and I won’t be discussing them, anyway.
As MST3K fans are doubtless aware, in April of 2017, the show, after many years off the air, returned with much fanfare and popular acclaim, as well as with new cast. I watched the new season–the 11th–and enjoyed it. It occurred to me that having written previously on MST3K, I should post something about its newest iteration. However, alas, at that time, I had lapsed from regular blogging. Of late, I have got back to at least periodic writing here at the Chequer-Board. I decided, therefore, that it was high time that I should return to MST3K and to write about my thoughts on the revived show.
Spoiler Alert: There will be mild spoilers for Season 11 below.
Awhile back I wrote four posts on the series Mystery Science Theater 3000. I’ve recently decided to writer another post, and more may follow in the future. Therefore, I’ve decided to make an index page to get them all together in one place. Enjoy!
I’m a likely and yet improbable fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Having been born at the cusp of the Boomer Generation and Generation X, I’m in the target age group. As a male and a science fiction fan, I’m certainly in the target demographic. Despite this, it took me a long time to become an MST3K fan.
I remember running across it a few times in the early 90’s while looking for something to watch. I couldn’t figure out what it even was at first. After watching a few snatches of it, I originally thought it was something like What’s Up, Tiger Lily? This was an early movie by Woody Allen in which he took a standard-issue Japanese spy drama, and dubbed it in English with totally new dialogue that turned it into a farcical spoof about the search for a secret egg salad recipe. I had seen that as a kid and liked it; and when I first saw MST3K, I thought the voices of Joel and the bots were an overdub as in Tiger Lily.
Last time we looked at the changes in technology related to television in the 90’s and early 2000’s. The sum total of these changes gave us much more control over what we watched. This in turn had effects on the content itself. How did this happen, exactly? Read on.
The first increases in control were cable TV (more different channels serving more niche interests) and home video (VHS). With the first, the content was still provider-driven–you had more channels, but each one decided what it was going to air. The second gave more control–you could watch a video anywhere, anytime–but the content was even more limited. This followed from the mechanism itself.
A VHS tape is relatively large and clunky. It can record up to six hours of material, but at the speed that gives optimal picture quality and resolution, it can store only two hours. This is the perfect length for most movies, but it is not good for TV series. A VHS tape could hold two hour-long episodes (typical for dramas) or four half-hour episodes (as with sitcoms) at optimal resolution. This means that a typical 22 episode season would require eleven tapes for an hour-long drama, or six for a half-hour sitcom. A single season, therefore, would fill up nearly one entire row of a media center stand. For long-running series, one’s available space would fill up rapidly. Sufficiently avid videophiles could tape episodes themselves, but for most of us it’s not worth the effort.