Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Geekly Oddcast On Reboots, Cartoon or Otherwise

In case you haven't heard, I'm in the new The Geekly Oddcast podcast with my friends Thomas, Nick, Daniel, and some other people I don't know as well. The second episode, which covers cartoon reboots, is the first episode I'm actually in.

Here you go!

Most of the programs we discuss on the podcast are shows I didn't regularly watch as a child, like Reboot or The Powerpuff Girls. However, I do remember regularly watching DuckTales despite, even as a preschooler or early elementary schooler, I found the theme song incredibly annoying.

(When I dropped that bomb that got a lot of people on the podcast aggravated. However, to prove my DuckTales cred, I will cite a VHS tape "Lost World Wanderers" Mom got me, which had "Dinosaur Ducks" where the gang visits a prehistoric lost world and "The Curse of Castle McDuck" where they encounter the Hound of Baskervilles. I also remember watching episodes featuring a robotic killer whale and Donald Duck in the Navy, as well as Magica de Spell and creatures that remind me a lot of Sirens from Greek mythology. My grandmother Quinn even took my little brother and I to see DuckTales The Movie: The Treasure of the Lost Lamp, which the Myopia podcast discussed here.)

The podcast got derailed some into non-cartoon reboots like Michael Bay's Transformers and Ninja Turtles films, which I enjoyed but the others didn't particularly like. That was probably my fault, since I didn't watch the main shows being discussed to the degree the others did. However, it did generate some good conversation and jokes. :)

However, there was one cartoon property I do have some familiarity with, and that was Thundercats. I remember watching the original show when visiting my grandparents, which would have been in the late 1980s, and I saw some of the Thundercats reboot on YouTube. Those episodes seemed a lot more thoughtful and sophisticated in terms of characterization and storytelling than I remember the original show being. Unfortunately, it didn't attract the attention of today's kids (despite being more anime in visual style), nor did it bring in the fans of the original. So it ran for only one season. :(

So if you like animation in general or you're a fan of the Myopia episodes dealing with animated movies, come check this episode out!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

How I Would Have Done STAR TREK BEYOND (Spoilers)

Last night I saw the science fiction action film Star Trek Beyond with a friend. It's really too late at this point for a movie review, but I did find the big plot twist at the end kind of annoying. The whole "Federation military man who can't handle peace" plot has been done already with Admiral Marcus in Star Trek Into Darkness and that was one of the weakest parts of the movie.

But anybody can complain. Here's how I would have done it:

ACT ONE

The movie opens with Kirk's failed attempt to negotiate a peace treaty between the two alien species and the amusing reveal that the big scary aliens are really Chihuahua-sized. I'd also keep the description of how they're three years into the five-year mission, how every day is bleeding into another day, and Kirk's birthday angst. I'd also throw something in there about Carol Marcus, who at the end of Into Darkness seems to be Kirk's girlfriend but is never mentioned in this movie at all.

(Maybe she requested a transfer for reasons unknown and left the ship, breaking Kirk's heart and contributing, along with his Daddy angst, to his depression. The "reasons unknown" could be revealed in a later film to be David Marcus.)

The Enterprise arrives at the Yorktown, which is explicitly described as being the farthest Federation outpost and up against unknown space. Kirk applies for a desk job at the station. Vice-Admiral seems a bit high for a relatively young captain, so perhaps the position is Commodore or even another captaincy, just with a different job. There are captains who command combat units and captains who run bureaucracies, after all. Spock learns of Ambassador Spock's death and briefly breaks up with Uhura so that he can travel to New Vulcan and, as Bones would put it, "make little Vulcans."

However, everybody seems on-edge at the Yorktown command and we eventually learn that there've been probes of the Yorktown by unknown alien craft apparently from a nearby nebula. The nebula's radiation blocks out Federation long-range reconnaissance and unmanned probes have disappeared, apparently lost in the debris fields, dangerous gases, etc. The Federation leadership at the station puts on a big happy face about how this is an opportunity to meet new alien life-forms, but there's a lot of worry that the Yorktown could be attacked. Yorktown commander Commodore Parris dispatches Kirk and the Enterprise to the nebula to investigate. We get Kirk's speech about how they can't communicate with the Federation, which will be important in a minute.

Upon arrival in the nebula, the Enterprise is surprise-attacked by the drone swarm like in the movie. The ship is badly damaged (the warp nacelles are torn off like in the movie), but Scotty's "redirect the warp core into the impulse drive" plan allows them to break contact. They manage to limp back to the Yorktown just in time for...

ACT TWO

A massive attack on the Yorktown by the nebula aliens. The Enterprise, despite being in no shape to fight, is drafted to help hold the line. Here we have the boarding action by Krall and the hand-to-hand battle between him and Kirk, who leads an attempt to relieve some cut-off Starfleet personnel in person instead of doing the intelligent thing and delegating like he's supposed to. The Bones-Spock interaction from the film can go in here as well--perhaps they've got to rely on each other to escape alien boarders or something. Many Federation ships are destroyed, but the Yorktown itself is unpenetrated and the alien fleet, which has taken losses of its own, retreats. Krall then calls for negotiations. Kirk is sent along with Uhura and Spock to parley.

At the negotiations, Krall submits his terms. He demands the Federation evacuate Yorktown and turn the station intact over to him and his people. Kirk is angry at the unprovoked attack, points out the Yorktown as a free-floating artificial planetoid is in no way an intrusion on any world his people inhabit, etc. Kirk then defends the Federation as a peaceful state that only fights if attacked and is primarily interested in exploration, new discoveries, providing a happy life for its citizens, etc.

Krall plays his trump card. He shows the Federation ancient television transmissions of a documentary on Red Cloud's War and the subsequent defeat and subjugation of the Sioux Nation by the United States. "I will not be the Sioux." He then makes a big speech about the expansion of the Federation before dropping the "this is where the frontier pushes back" line that made me think Krall was the leader of an alien polity that felt threatened by the expanding Federation. He might also mock the Federation's ethos of unity, cooperation, etc. by pointing out how his fleet has just savaged theirs.

(Imagine the gloating of a victorious Japanese soldier in 1941-42, mocking Americans as weaklings easily defeated by superior will.)

However, Krall has no interest in blowing up the Yorktown the way the Sioux burned the Powder River forts. The Yorktown's shipyard's and automated industrial facilities would make Krall's race invulnerable to any kind of outside coercion and allow them to be "free" forever. Some of the Federation people are even open to the proposal--Spock might think that Krall is clearly more interested in maintaining his independence than any sort of aggression against the Federation and the placement of the Yorktown was unduly provocative. Kirk tries to argue the Federation isn't like the U.S. was back in the day, that it never incorporates a world against the will of its inhabitants, etc. but Krall is not impressed.

Then we meet Jaylah, one of Krall's soldiers who is clearly not of his race who defects. She tells the Federation delegation that Krall's people have conquered her species, another race residing within the nebula, and fears they will continue this behavior once they capture the Yorktown.

Commodore Parris, fearing that Krall could use the station's productive facilities to conquer other lower-tech races nearby (like the dog-people from the opening), begins evacuating non-combatants aboard warp-capable civilian ships while preparing to defend against another attack and, if necessary, blow up the station. We have the line from Kirk's confrontation with Krall in the movie about how it's better to die protecting others than live killing them--said by Kirk, agreeing with Commodore Parris's proposal. She recalls Kirk and the Federation delegation, who escape under fire when it's clear they intend to take Jaylah with them.

ACT THREE

It turns out Jaylah has served in Krall's army as a draftee (think a more authoritarian-industrialized version of the Indian scouts who accompanied the US cavalry in the Old West) and knows just how Krall's fleet works. Most of Krall's ships and soldiers are drones and/or Terminator-type robots--Krall's race is not particularly numerous but uses advanced technology to conquer other races. This is in explicit contrast with the high-tech Federation, which is democratic, voluntary, etc. Scotty, Jaylah, and his little alien friend begin putting together the plan to disrupt the coordination of the drone swarm with radio waves. The problem is, they have to get close enough to the swarm for this to work. Jaylah is reluctant to participate since she fears Krall will retaliate against her subjugated people, but Scotty tells her if they work together, her people will no longer need to fear Krall. "Ye canna' break a stick in a bundle" or whatever the proverb his grandmother told him can be deployed here.

So Bones and Spock are dispatched with a captured drone craft to disrupt the swarm from within, while the Enterprise (which has had some repairs) and the remaining Federation ships prepare to hold the line against the drones and then, once the swarm is disrupted enough, attack and destroy the drone fleet. The Yorktown will add the station's powerful transmitters to the plan, although the skeptical Parris is still planning on scuttling the station if necessary.

The attack begins. The Federation takes some losses and the Yorktown itself is damaged before Bones and Spock trigger radio waves (yes, I'd keep Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" as the song) within the swarm, disrupting their coordination and causing lots of them to crash into each other. The remaining Federation ships take the offensive, disrupting the swarm and destroying the uncoordinated drones at knife-fight range, before the Yorktown's mega-transmitter breaks the swarm completely. Krall and the (few) survivors pull back toward the nebula. Kirk, rather than immediately pursuing, transmits a request for a parley to the surprised Krall.

At the parley, Kirk tells Krall that if the Federation were as bad as he thinks they are, he'd have finished off Krall's armada and invaded the nebula to either exterminate his people or reduce them to a planetary reservation. Instead, Starfleet will allow Krall to return to his homeworld with the remainder of his fleet in peace. Of course, with Krall's fleet largely destroyed, unmanned probes bearing records of the defeat have been dispatched to Jaylah's world, which Kirk expects will rebel against Krall and request Federation membership shortly. Krall is welcome to seek membership in the Federation as well, of course, or he can remain independent and un-interfered with. He has a choice between reigning in hell or serving in heaven and the Federation will respect that choice.

Krall is outraged by this "duplicity" (encouraging a revolt within his realm while negotiating with him), but tells him that it's no matter. The shipyards and industrial production that allowed Krall's people to build their huge fleet and conquer the other civilizations in the nebula are on worlds that Krall's people dominate. Setting Jaylah's people free won't change that. Krall will rebuild and then take back what is his at first opportunity.

Kirk just nods and tells him the Federation will be ready if he tries again. However, the shot will reveal other members of Krall's entourage looking at the Federation delegation with respect and at Krall with disdain. Even if Krall is able to maintain his regime in the short run, in the long run his empire is doomed. The Federation has shown itself to be morally superior and, owing to its unity and tolerance, strong enough to repel more aggressive and less moral foes. Krall's philosophy has just been shown to be a bunch of nonsense, just like how World War II showed racism, fascism, etc. as deficient.

My version ends the same way the actual film does, with Kirk withdrawing his application for a desk job at the Yorktown, Spock reconciling with Uhura, and Jaylah joining Starfleet. The badly damaged Enterprise is rebuilt as the Enterprise A and once it's done, the crew is off again on new adventures.

You all like? The only problem I can think of is having Kirk and not Commodore Parris being the one in charge of the final parley with Krall, offering Federation membership to Jaylah's world, etc. Killing or incapacitating Parris in Krall's attack on the Yorktown is too easy. Perhaps she delegates to Kirk while she focuses on repairing the damaged Yorktown? A gigantic space station is vulnerable to losing its gravity, air, and other things that keep millions of people alive in a way that a planet isn't, so this might be a more urgent priority

Either way, this maintains Trek's optimistic ethos without indulging in yet another parable about how the real danger comes from within, not from without. Someone who believed that in World War II would be screaming about the democracies being the warmongers for preparing themselves, the Axis being a phony threat to justify FDR accumulating more power, etc. while German panzers and Japanese Zeroes roll behind them. The original series even touched on that with "The City on the Edge of Forever" episodes about the danger of pacifism when faced with aggressors like Nazis Germany.

My version of Beyond would maintain the superiority of democracy, racial tolerance, etc. in the face of racism and imperialism without being naive and weak.

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Geekly Oddcast Is Here!

There's a new film and culture podcast out there in the world. It's called The Geekly Oddcast and was put on by the good people from The Brothers Herman and The Dudeletter. The first episode, dedicated to the subject of spoilers, premiered on Podbean a few days ago and further episodes will appear every two weeks. This episode features Daniel from The Corner Critic, a Myopia regular, as well as Myopia: Defend Your Childhood and Dudeletter overlord Nick and the merry Hermans.

The podcast is dedicated to "geeky" topics (hence the name). I'm in three episodes that I can think of--one dedicated to Star Wars, one to Harry Potter, and a third to the realities of working as an Internet writer. The first two have companion blog posts I've already written that will appear here once the podcast goes up.

So enjoy!