Review: Star Trek – Live In Concert

wpid-181055a.jpgMelbourne Symphony Orchestra,
Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre,
31st January 2015

Although it has constantly been changing throughout its numerous television and cinematic instalments, J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reimagining of Gene Roddenberry’s classic Star Trek brought with it the biggest reinvention of all. Having cast fresh faces as the well-loved characters helming the U.S.S. Enterprise, the film and its sequel Star Trek Into Darkness are currently reinvigorating the cinematic experience with fully orchestral screenings.

With two performances over one weekend, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra are the latest, and first Australian musicians to bring this international concert tour to their home city. Saying it’s more than a normal screening may sound obvious, and at the same time it was less than a normal orchestral performance. Halfway between the two, it wasn’t entirely either.

A valuble asset in creating the desired reaction from the audience, music is too often overlooked but would be conspicuous by its absence. Highlighting the moments of action, drama, and tension in Star Trek, it is also highly emotional in places; never more so than the pre-credits destruction of the U.S.S. Kelvin. Despite the intensity of George Kirk’s sacrifice being unmatched throughout the rest of the film, Michael Giacchino’s accompaniment score serves as a great introduction, and the opening title was ushered in with well-earned rapturous applause.

Being played in front you the music was naturally given more prominence than in a standard cinema, but the fact that more emphasis, or even lighting, wasn’t placed on the orchestra themselves was a missed opportunity. As much as it was a film screening rather than regular concert it was still disappointing that so much of your attention was drawn to the screen by design in the first place.

A lack of programme was also highly noticeable. Not only did this deny the fans a souvenir of such an infrequent event, but it also hinders the individual orchestra members from gaining the recognition they deserve (although information on the performers can be found on the MSO’s website).

Not that the orchestra weren’t given their time in the spotlight by the end, as the lights were raised once the action had finished and the end credits were overseen by their rendition of Alexander Courage’s iconic TV theme, and Giacchino’s finishing suite. An encore of the Star Trek: The Motion Picture/Next Generation theme was also a welcome surprise for the audience.

An audience which, not surprisingly, was largely made up of avid Trek fans, several clad in Starfleet uniforms of varying eras, but it was also rather mixed. There were those who dressed smartly and presumably came to see the Orchestra’s latest concert, but as a bastion of geek culture in general, Star Trek also attracted those wearing T-shirts from Alien to Game of Thrones. Even a Captain Jack Harkness was in attendance.

As an award-winning Hollywood composer Giacchino has worked frequently with Abrams, and has also composed the score the for several Pixar features and shorts, including The Incredibles, and Up. It is not surprising a film with his score was chosen for Live In Concert screenings, and the film itself was treated well; even the intermission was well placed within the film’s narrative, allowing breathing room for the impact of Vulcan’s destruction to sink in.

Orchestral performances of well-loved films is something that should occur more often, and will do if the ‘coming soon’ teaser is anything to go by. Just the dates of a future performance might not be much to go on, but being given in the style of a certain DeLorean’s dashboard display garnered a huge cheer.

Review: ‘Star Trek: The Fall – A Ceremony Of Losses’

Whilst no longer in their heyday in terms of the number of books published each year, current Star Trek novels now seemingly try to outdo each other in terms of galactic importance. A Ceremony Of Losses comes as part of the The Fall miniseries, and sees a third threat to a Galactic head of state in as many novels.

A_Ceremony_of_LossesIn this volume it’s the turn of the Andorians, as Doctor Bashir turns his attention to the reproductive crisis that has plagued the former Federation members so prominently in recent years. As such, this novel relies the most on prior knowledge of ‘current’ (ie, relaunch novel) 24th Century events.

Not only does the political angle continue the ongoing story-lines of Andoria’s medical problems and succession from the Federation, but even those who have read the 23rd Century Star Trek Vanguard series will have an advantage over those who haven’t. Obviously the preceding Fall novels Revelation and Dust and The Crimson Shadow also both go without saying.

All the relevant back-stories are adequately explained however, but it is the fresh cloak and dagger – and eventual all out knives drawn – angle that make this story shine. For all the various plot threads it relies upon, it is the tradition of using Bashir’s espionage tales sparingly that Ceremony best continues. It is here that Dr. Bashir makes what is possibly the ultimate decision of his ongoing personal struggle between superior intellect and bleeding heart.

Bashir’s decision (and its consequences) are chronicled with all the talent of dramatic description readers have come to expect from Mack, the political issues are far less enduring than some others, all the while focusing squarely on those characters readers know and love.

Review: ‘Star Trek: The Fall – The Crimson Shadow’

For the second in a five part mini-series, it could be easy to argue exactly how much of a Deep Space Nine novel The Crimson Shadow really is. Although its Next Generation credentials are obvious, the fact it revolves around the political turmoil of a major DS9 planet does point in the direction of that series. That said however, it’s not as though The Next Generation has ever treated the Cardassians delicately, David Warner notwithstanding.

Despite the inclusion of characters from both however, The Crimson Shadow is first and foremost simply a Cardassian novel, with any other setting taking second place; as with the recent Typhon Pact books the lines between TV series are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Also like Una McCormack’s previous novels, this is a story of an entire people rather than just those few who tell it.

Crimson_Shadow

And it is through this ability to tell the big picture from a small perspective that McCormack brings out the full potential of what a Star Trek novel can be. As Trek at its best not only is this tale of another world both highly enjoyable and also relevant to our own – the withdrawal of allied troops cannot be taken as mere coincidence – but her writing is second to none.

The opening narration is reminiscent of Dickens himself and the depiction of the various levels of unrest, from boots on the ground to the offices of government, are handled with a level of skill that belies the fact this is only McCormack’s fourth full length Star Trek novel. Despite this however, it is the meeting of two diplomatic heavyweights, Elim Garak and Jean-Luc Picard, where The Crimson Shadow shines.

The depiction shows not just her in-depth knowledge of these disparate figures, McCormack’s particular fondness for Garak is no secret and as such his own story is the most compelling, but the interplay between the two is as engrossing as the rest of the novel combined.

Despite such a positive rendering of those characters that are included, the heavy political themes of the novel do tend to leave some left out; Geordi La Forge in particular is once again relegated from major player to the smallest of appearances.

Overall this novel presents such a powerful account of one of Star Trek‘s most influential races that it is easy to forget The Crimson Shadow is designed to be just one part of larger whole. Regardless of the Federation’s aid, or even the Castellan’s leadership, Cardassia couldn’t be in better hands than Una McCormack’s.

Review: ‘Star Trek: The Fall – Revelation and Dust’

Despite the plethora of novels in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine relaunch series, their number has diminished in the all-encompassing post-Nemesis relaunch novels; which now includes Captain Riker’s Titan in addition to the regular Next Generation, DS9 and Voyager staple, not to mention the various cross-overs. Although no books have been published with a Deep Space Nine title since 2009, the series has been the focus of a number of Star Trek: Typhon Pact novels however, not least of these is Plagues of Night, in which the beloved titular station is spectacularly destroyed.

Revelation_and_Dust_solicitation_coverBetween the longer than average span between publishings, and the dramatic events of the previous novel, Revelation and Dust understandably takes longer than most to get started. Although there is little that has happened in the interim there is still a new station to introduce and previous events to recap, which includes the kidnapping of Rebecca Jae Sisko. Something that has to be recapped, as it was a presumably major event that was never actually told.

The relaying of the exposition is helped by the fact that the characters we are reacquainted with are mostly old favourites from the TV series once more, as with Vaughn and Shar no longer aboard it is only the addition of Ro Laren and Sarina Douglas who new readers may be unfamiliar with. Although old and new alike will feel those such as O’Brien and Odo could have featured more heavily, Revelation makes the best of a new start thanks to author David R. George III’s ability at picking up right where he left off, having written three of the four DS9 set Typhon Pact novels.

Interwoven with the main comings and goings of the new station’s opening ceremonies, the novel also charts the experiences of former colonel (now vedek) Kira within the celestial temple. As is often the case when dealing with the prophets, this tale is shrouded in metaphorical mystery and by the end poses more questions than it offers answers. Doubly interwoven as the introduction of Rebecca’s abilities similarly seems to have been added as the start of an ongoing narrative of which this is only the beginning.

As the first of a five part mini series however, it is clear that Revelation is a beginning of many things by design, not least considering the fact that narratively it has to be the most influential Star Trek novel of recent times, its singular pivotal event is made all the more surprising by coming much later in the novel than is normally expected of something so inciting.

And despite George’s fine writing this is perhaps the only downfall of Revelation and Dust. Despite being accessible to regardless of how well read in Star Trek fiction, and an exceptional start to what promises to be a game changing mini-series, it is not simply a tie-in novel that can read independently from any others.

Book Review: ‘Star Trek: Enterprise – The Romulan War’

For all the potential that Star Trek: Enterpise was living up to in its fourth season, it is hard to imagine how it would have portrayed the already canonical six-year Romulan war had it not been cancelled. It is arguably for this reason that telling the story through the two-volume novel mini-series is no bad thing, even if it is perhaps something of a double-edged sword.

Enterprise_The_Romulan_WarWhile the first volume, Beneath Raptor’s Wings, gives a great view of the galaxy at large, this does come at the expense of the Enterprise itself. A far cry from Broken Bow‘s initial four-day trip to Qo’Nos, it takes 27 days for the eponymous ship to get from Earth to Vulcan, and more than half the book goes by before her becomes half way anything close to adventurous. Despite this slow start for the Enterprise crew, it has to be said that author Michael A. Martin’s descriptions of the galaxy at large make it worth the wait.

Right from the start we are shown a great view of Humanity’s initial colonisation of the stars through the inquisitive eyes of the Federation’s Newstime reporters, the pioneering image of a Native American/Western style Mars not only creates an atmosphere any terraformer would be proud of, but is also highly believable. Unfortunately though, this is not the same for the XVIII Dalai Lama; as much as the current incarnation may be humility personified, Martin could not have made his successor any more of a Californian high-schooler if he tried.

Minor gripes aside however, this first volume achieves as much as you would expect from its more than average 568 pages. Apart from perhaps only Malcolm Reed, even those characters who are given little page time still manage to have significant impact. Even Phlox’s journey from explorer to battlefield medic is just the tip of the iceberg as Captain Archer is haunted by the ramifications of previous decisions, and Charles ‘Trip’ Tucker III’s continuing spy mission continues to escalate into more than he was bargaining for.

Perhaps most importantly however, this book’s strength comes in its feeling of connection to our own world (even if a certain Braveheart reference could have done without such vivid imagery) while at the same time sowing more seeds of bridging the gap between Enterprise and the 23rd and 24th century Star Treks that spawned it. More than just in the “why does something set 100 years in the past look more modern?” way, the inclusion of a particular gifted but introverted engineer is a particularly nice touch, as is reverse-naming Romulan officers after future Warbirds.

RomulanwarbravestormWhere the first volume stretches itself across space, the second does likewise across time; despite its smaller size of only 334 pages, To Brave The Storm spans an almost impressive five years. “Almost” impressive in that as much as it keeps a coherent story, it seems that very little happens in the months between chapters. Something which again evokes the vast distances of pioneering space travel, but also seems to be only something done in order to comply to a previously established timeline.

All in all The Romulan War is a fair portrayal of what many fans would like to have seen on-screen, worthy of a read but two books aren’t quite enough to fulfill the potential of a galactic event with such wide-reaching consequences.

Book Review: ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation – Cold Equations’

When leaving the cinema having just watched Star Trek: Nemesis, it is likely that many disappointed fans correctly presumed it would herald the end of The Next Generation on the big screen. What they may not have predicted however, is the successful relaunch that the tie-in novels have been enjoying in their decade of free reign storytelling since.

Persistence_largeCoinciding with the final films ten year anniversary the Cold Equations trilogy, released during the final months of 2012, told what is arguably the one story which fans had been eagerly waiting for ever since, particularly after the publication of 2009’s Star Trek prequel comic, Countdown. Between his sacrifice on board the Scimitar and his captaincy of the USS Enterprise E, readers were finally treated to the tale of Data’s resurrection in the first of the three books, The Persistence Of Memory.

The bulk of the story recounts the secret history of cyberneticist Dr. Soong, retconning his death in the TNG episode Brothers to an elaborate deception in the process (something which, it has to be said, Brothers itself was guilty of first). Having designed and built himself a top-notch – even by his standards – android body to carry his own consciousness, he sets off to find and win back his beloved Juliana Tainer, with whom he plans to share his immortality. Until the pesky Breen show up, that is.

Silentweapons_largeContinuing where Persistence leaves off, Silent Weapons sees a newly resurrected Data, all too fully aware of how possible it can be, embark on a quest to do the same for his own daughter, Lal. Caught in the middle of a Breen/Gorn scheme to turn the balance of the galaxy’s power in their favour however, this second book also continues in the tradition of the more recent Typhon Pact novels as much as it does its immediate precursor. In fact Federation president Nanietta Bacco also makes a welcome return, accompanied as ever by her loyal staff, although as events unfold it is one appearance she would most likely end up regretting.

Set largely on the Orion homeworld, readers are also shown a largely unexplored side to this culture that has generally remained overshadowed by its criminal syndicated underworld, but does so in such a way that all but makes its existence almost inevitable in the first place.

Body_ElectricIn contrast to the first two however, the third and final novel, The Body Electric, seems almost a stand alone story were it not for the continuation of Data’s personal quest. Leaving the Typhon Pact far behind, the crew of the Enterprise find themselves against an antagonist so incredible that believability is almost defied to the point of becoming non-existent. Especially when a billions of years ticking clock is reduced to a matter of minutes.

A Next Generation tale of reunion wouldn’t be complete without fully grown Traveller Wesley Crusher however, even if the comparisons to character and TV actor Wil Wheaton aren’t all that subtle either.

Although Cold Equations may not have the same page turning suspense as author David Mack’s Star Trek: Destiny, this is something that can be put down to the previous trilogy’s sheer scope, and shouldn’t be held against this offering personally. That said however, the more personal events of the novels are treated with the drama and weight they deserve, the cold climax of Persistence in particular is felt throughout Worf’s continuing narrative, no doubt well beyond Weapons and Electric, almost as much as the events of DS9‘s Change Of Heart.

This itself is one of the trilogy’s strengths, containing as it does nods to both canonical events and previous novels in all the right places, that can only come from such a knowledgeable Star Trek author. 

All in all, a trilogy of stories that recounts one defining moment but doesn’t for a second rest on its laurels, adding its own to the mix that stand their own ground, on their own terms.

Review: Piranha DD

With an IMDb (Internet Movie Database) rating of 3.9, it’s fair to say that Piranha DD is a film that isn’t for everyone. Having watched it last night however, I’d say that it does have more going for it than you’d expect, and would argue that you shouldn’t knock it until you’ve tried it. A sequel to the remake Piranha, released as Piranha 3D in cinemas, Piranha 3DD (predictably pronounced 3 Double D) as it was also known in cinemas, was produced to be what you’d expect from the name, a gore filled titillation fest.

Having not seen the original remake (has Hollywood really reduced us to using oxymorons such as this?) I can only judge the film on its individual merits, likewise having seen it at home I cannot comment on the 3D conversion. Although it was made with some level of self awareness, I am not sure precisely how much the film-makers intended it to be scrutinised, and so please forgive me if I am falling into that postgradute pitfall of overanalysing things.

Obviously aiming at the male 16-24 demographic, Piranha DD tells the story of a water park that is eventually invaded by killer fish. Generally, the trailer tells it like it is although there is more to it than meets they eye, even if Ving Rhames’ part in the actual film is pretty much all seen in the trailer, added only to show more than a passing resemblance to its predecessor, and to include some superfluous footage of shotguns. At only 82 minutes the film is shorter than average, but it does wisely take its time in setting up the blood filled inevitability which is given just the right amount of screen time before it gets old.

As I’m sure you can tell from the name even if you haven’t watched the trailer, DD‘s biggest selling point is scantily clad ladies. Apart from featuring more nipples and even glimpses of full frontal than most films however, something which the trailer wouldn’t have been able to get away with for obvious reasons, the amount of time the films focuses on these assets is actually rather deceiving. Having been hooked and reeled in by the introductory tour of The Big Wet waterpark and all its, ahem, “features”, the middle of the film is pretty much nudity free.

Offering only teasing hints of the climactic massacre the audience is no doubt waiting for, the film follows the traditional slasher setup (complete with an obvious Nightmare On Elm Street homage) and shows a number of incidents focusing on teenage hijinks, antics which despite their sexual nature are somewhat less explicit than the style of the film would suggest. Nakedness aside, adolescent tropes are catered to in the form of one particular trist which would actually seem to argue for abstinence much more than others that are purported to. For all it’s birth trauma, I hardly doubt the Twilight sage comes close to uttering the line “Josh cut off his penis because something came out of my vagina.”

But this is not to say the film doesn’t have its more subtle moments, Christopher Lloyd may be all to familiar but perfectly cast as the expository fringe scientist Mr Goodman, and in fact the scene where Chet (Anchorman‘s David Koechner) tries to convince a small child that it wasn’t his fault is actually unexpectedly touching. Wondering if it has gone to far with this however, the film drastically negates any emotion with gross immaturity within the the next fifteen seconds.

Maddy is a heroine many others could learn from.

Maddy is a heroine many others could learn from.

Where the film shines however, is the fact that despite its rather biased marketing campaign conforming to a world of one sided female exploitation (just ask any gamer), the inclusion of rampant but choreographed swimwear modelling is actually defendable. As the films central character, Maddy (Danielle Panabaker), despite needing to be rescued by her eventual love interest Barry (Matt Bush), is more thoughtful, decisive, and proactive than certain other female leads from recent years (yes Twilight, I’m looking at you again); it is through selflessly putting herself in harms way to rescue others that she is endangered, and  the fact she is one of the most fully clad females is arbitrary. Even the somewhat obligatory slow motion running sequences are about the best argument for natural rather than fake breasts as you can get, and as such the general portrayal of women throughout the film can actually be described as fully rounded, no pun intended.

On the flip side of this, the only male character with a substantial part not seen to be any combination of horny, greedy, sexist, arrogant, cowardly, and selfish throughout, is considered to not be hetrosexual either. While making the men (or should I say boys?) in the audience laugh at their exploits, the film does so whilst holding something of an exaggerated mirror in front of them.

Overall Piranha DD is a film which, led by a brilliantly self depreciating David Hasselhoff, is more than happy to swim in its own silliness, and even the ‘serious’ characters get brilliant one liners. All of this results in it arguably joining the likes of Starship Troopers as a multi-layered film which features unabashed blood splattering on top of thinly veiled satire.

Oh, and it’s produced by Bob and Harvey Weinstein, too.