Wednesday 22 August 2018

So, Trek 4?

This article is a week or so old, but the issue is still not resolved. Will Star Trek 4 (or 14, depending on your mileage) actually happen? Notwithstanding the possibility of a Tarantino-directed movie, which is still a few years away if it ever happens. It's looking increasingly unlikely that a fourth Kelvin-verse film will ever happen, which is a crushing shame and is entirely the fault of Paramount.

It sounded like a great direction for the next film: get Chris Hemsworth back as George Kirk, using time travel or something similar, and pair him up with Chris Pine as James T. Father and son take on whatever galactic threat the writers bring up this time. Paramount were banking on getting the two stars onboard first, using their involvement as linchpin for negotiations with the rest of the cast. And they've fucked this up totally.

The two Christophers are now among the biggest stars in film today; Hemsworth due to his role as Thor in the MCU, and Pine because of the Trek movies themselves (with some high profile roles in Wonder Woman and A Wrinkle in Time helping considerably). Since Star Trek Beyond didn't do as well as previous Trek films, well below predictions, Paramount has cut the pay offers for both actors. Not surprisingly, they've told them to go stuff it.

What does Paramount expect? Pine's contract was for three films. Hemsworth was only signed up for the first. Neither one has any obligation to be involved. They are both much bigger fish now than they were in 2009, so Paramount has to pay up. It's the only way to ensure their involvement. And if the company is concerned about the dropping sales, getting Hemsworth involved is a sure way to excite people about it - but they've got to actually pay for him.

The stupid thing is that the poor turnout for Beyond is entirely the studio's fault. They barely trailed the film at all. Advertisement was virtually non-existent. How can a major studio fail to promote one of its biggest properties, then act all surprised when it doesn't bring in an audience?

Wednesday 8 August 2018

Jean-Luc Picard returns

So, the big (if already heavily rumoured news) from the Star Trek Las Vegas weekend is that Patrick Stewart is returning to Star Trek as Jean-Luc Picard. It's been 16 years since his last appearance in the role in Star Trek Nemesis and 24 years since The Next Generation went off the air. The new project is going to be a TV series streaming on CBS All Access, just like Discovery, and presumably also will be on Netflix for viewers outside the US. Alex Kurtzmann, who is now the new showrunner on Discovery as well as one of the scriptwriters on the reboot films, is the creator of this new series, so he is now the overall supervisor of the Trek universe.

A lot of fans, especially those who aren't keen on the new movies or Discovery, are enthusiastically calling this a return to the Star Trek they remember. I think they're going to be very disappointed. It's not 1994 anymore. Television and Star Trek have moved on, in ways that not everyone enjoys. Whatever this latest series turns out to be, it's going to be a modern series made with contemporary sensibilities. Stewart himself suggests something very different to what's gone before. Equally, lots of fans are excited about Trek travelling further into the future again, after over a decade of prequels, but this is still a revival of an existing character and will likely explore established parts of the universe.

According to the announcement, it's twenty years on from the last time we saw the character, and he is an older, very different man than when we left him. Stewart talks about how these are different times we live in, but also how he hopes Picard can shine "a reforming light" on them.

I suspect what we're going to get will be very much in the spirit of Star Trek Beyond, balanced between the optimistic view of the future of the originals and TNG and the darker, more problematic view of humanity of more recent series. Stylistically, we'll probably see something very like Discovery. If it's exactly twenty years since Nemesis (which it may not be) it will take place in the year 2399. Other than possible far future eras, the latest point we've seen in Star Trek onscreen has been flashbacks/forwards in Star Trek 2009, which saw the destruction of Romulus in 2387. We're going to be looking at a turbulent time at the beginnings of a new century.

There have been several potential looks at the later life of Picard and the fate of the Galaxy post-Nemesis. Any of these could offer a clue to where things might be going in this new series.

The novelverse

Events post-Nemesis are particularly brutal for the Federation in the books, with a massive Borg invasion leading to millions of deaths, before the Borg are finally defeated for good (it's all rather complicated and runs over many books). Picard is forced to make some tough decisions and comes close to abandoning his principles when he orders the creation of an outlawed superweapon to destroy the invaders. On the personal front though, things are rather better for Picard. He marries his long-time love interest Dr. Beverley Crusher, and they even have a son (rather late in life, but then it is the 24th century).

Following these events, Picard does everything he can to stay in the captain's chair, but his diplomatic skills lead him to more political missions. While he helps maintain peace in the galaxy, he finds himself on the wrong side of important political figures in the Federation. It's made abundantly clear to him that he'll never become an admiral.

Star Trek Online

The MMORPG is set in 2409 onwards, a good ten years after the proposed setting for the new series. The background to the game lays out that in the 2380s, Picard was positioned as head of an anti-Borg taskforce, recruiting Seven of Nine. He then resigns from Starfleet and becomes Federation ambassador to Vulcan. He retires in 2402, aged 97, and moves back to France.

Star Trek: Countdown

In the sort-of-nearly officially canonical comicbook prequel to the 2009 movie, Picard is also Federation ambassador to Vulcan, still working closely with Spock who is now a Romulan citizen working towards reunification. Then, in 2387, Romulus is destroyed and Spock is swept back in time, presumed dead. Incidentally, the Enterprise-E is now under the command of the resurrected Data. Given that Alex Kurtzmann was directly involved with the storyline for Countdown, it's a safe bet that at least some of these elements might be incorporated into the new series.

"All Good Things..."

The only glimpse of Picard's later life we've had onscreen was in the final episode of The Next Generation. A lot of what we see in the potential future cannot come to pass in the "real" timeline - the Enterprise-D is destroyed in Star Trek Generations, and Deanna Troi is distinctly not dead by the end of the 2370s - but some things might still be followed up. In this version of events (the year's uncertain but probably a few years earlier than the new series) Picard is now a retired ambassador, divorced from Beverley (now Captain Picard herself). The Klingons have conquered the Romulans, which could easily follow on from the destruction of Romulus described in the 2009 movie. Picard is also suffering from an Alzheimer's-like illness called Irumodic Syndrome.

Any of the above elements could make their way into the new series, or we could see something very different. One thing that has been made clear is that we shouldn't expect Picard to be captain anymore. This makes sense - if Picard was still captain he would have held the rank for over forty years. We could see him as admiral or even a fleet commander position. On the other hand, it's just as likely he'll have resigned from Starfleet. As described above, there's a general consensus that his diplomatic skills lead him to an ambassadorial role. Alternatively, Picard's other great love was archaeology, so perhaps he'll have moved into that field - either academically or even exploring the ruins of lost civilisations on other planets. I don't think we can expect anything too action oriented - Stewart is nearly eighty and his character is in his nineties. Perhaps, however, his years of experience result in his being called back into Starfleet when there's a new crisis.

Picard's links to Spock and the Romulan reunification project provide a possible situation for the new series. Romulus and Spock are both gone, likely leaving the Star Empire in turmoil and providing a very personal loss for Picard.

Whatever direction Stewart and Kurtzmann take for this series, there's one thing everyone agrees on: having Picard back is something to look forward to. At the very least, Patrick Stewart will make this series something worth watching.

Tuesday 7 August 2018

Brighton Pride 2018

This post is in response to an article available here, about the corporatisation and homophobic commodification of Pride. It was published last year and its author, Hannah Cowen, makes some excellent points about issues that have only become worse this year.

I agree with a lot of what she says, although not all of it. There's a common saying this time of year: "Pride is a protest, not a party." I've heard this a few times over the last couple of weeks as things have geared up. I don't quite agree. Pride is a protest and a party. We're celebrating ourselves, and how far we've come, as well as protesting how far we have left to go.

I had a wonderful Pride this year, but it's increasingly becoming in spite of the official organisation rather than because of it. The main Pride event in Preston Park has now become completely apoliticised. This year it turned the corner and became simply the Britney concert. I had no particular interest in going, although at one point it looked like I might have been able to get a free ticket off someone, and I would have happily taken it, if only to carry on partying with my friends when they went off to see the performance. Even last year, when I attended following the parade (not that even marching guarantees entrance anymore) I was disappointed to see how the poetry, performance and protest tents had been relegated to the sidelines. More disappointing is the cost of attending the street party in St. James's Street, which once was a wonderful celebration of community. I have no problem with there being a small charge to enter - it keeps out troublemakers and helps pay for the clean up - but it is becoming increasingly costly, so much so that even people who live in the street don't attend. They, of course, can enter for free, but none of their friends or family can. Now the whole of Kemp Town is completely fenced off for the duration.

I was really pleased to see some actual protest groups in the parade. The protest against BA's complicity in deportation was powerful, and they went on to take over the BA-sponsored i360, (a tall piece of tat that has been planted in the Brighton shoreline). There were several anti-TERF groups, an LGBT Muslim group with anti-Islamist placards, and much more. There were also plenty of purely celebratory groups. Yes, there are a lot of corporate floats and marches. Some of the corporations are very pro-LGBT inclusion. American Express are mentioned in the article, but they're consistently in the top two UK employers on the Stonewall Index (the other being Lloyds Banking Group, whose Rainbow network is based in Brighton and marches every year).

On the other hand, there were floats for things like Nestle, and Pride was sponsored by BooHoo - neither one anti-LGBT as far as I know, but both linked with appalling human rights abuses. I can't speak for things like Tesco or BT, really, but there doesn't seem to be any discrimination against who or what can join the parade. If they can pay, they're in, whether their actions and ethos are compatible or not.

It's deeply disheartening to read of Ms. Cowen's homophobic experiences at Pride. Straight people should be completely welcome at Pride - they may be there as allies, either in general or to support family or friends, or they might just be there for the party, which is fine too. As long as they are respectful and not homophobic, which you'd think would go without saying. It's not as though (as she also makes clear in the article) gay people are always respectful either. Last year I marched with my girlfriend, and got some filthy looks from some people. It presumably never occurred to them that we're both bi. I'm not the only one who spoke of biphobic abuse at the event.

Still, there are always going to be arseholes at any event, because frankly, most people are arseholes and once something's public you're never going to keep them all out. However, it's deeply depressing that the core parts of the Pride celebration are catering more to anyone with enough money- individual or corporate -  than those who have a real personal or political reason to be involved. But that's our culture all over. Everything is commodified. Pride is only going to become more about money as it goes on, and less about what it should be about: the community, the protest, the real celebration. Still, at least there are plenty of independent, free things to do on Pride weekend, and they're getting more and more focus from the community as the official event sells itself out.

Friday 3 August 2018

Who Novelisation Quest 10: "The Christmas Invasion" by Jenny T. Colgan

Jenny Colgan has been one of the surprising hits of the Doctor Who book line lately. A huge fan of the series but coming from a completely different genre of work, she's provided a new voice in the increasingly predictable novels line. So it's no surprise that she was chosen to write one of the novelisations in the new range, being, in fact, the only non-television writer to do so.

With The Christmas Invasion Colgan has probably the least momentous story of the four. It is, of course, the first Christmas special and the first story for the tenth Doctor, which is quite significant, and blimey, it seemed like the most important thing on TV at the time. Looking back at the episode through the novelisation, and it's surprising how little actually happens, and just how long it is we have to wait to really get to know the new Doctor. Reading it retrospectively, when we already know Ten and he's a fixture of the past, it doesn't have the same impact when he finally arrives.

However, this is a solid retelling of an enjoyable story, extremely easy reading and a real pleasure. It's by far the most straightforward adaptation of the four new novelisations, but that's not a bad thing. And it's not to say it doesn't add something to the story; in particular, the lesser characters are expanded considerably. Daniel Llewellyn of the Guinevere project is especially well-rounded, coming across as a full character now, and even enjoys the beginnings of a romance with UNIT secretary Sally. The entire Guinevere project is expanded and given context, and UNIT seem far more vital to the plot than before.

There are some nice touches - the chapter titles are all Christmas songs, for example - and some extra scenes are included to give some more context for events. For example, the idea that the tenth Doctor picked up his accent from Rose is reinstated from a cut scene, and the Children in Need mini-episode that introduced Tennant is incorporated. The novel really gets into Rose's head and the mix of emotions she feels having seen her friend suddenly transform. For all RTD's reputation for emotional drama, there's a lot more to the novel than the original episode when it comes to human feelings.

The only real downside to including The Christmas Invasion in the line-up is the similarity between it and Rose. It's two stories featuring Rose, Mickey and Jackie set largely on the Powell Estate in the same time period, and this makes it seem less exciting. The fact that the audio versions of both books are read by Camille Coduri drives this similarity home (and I'm not much inclined to one book read by her). It just makes things a little too samey in a very short series.

On its own merits though, this is a lot of fun and a pleasant way to spend an afternoon or two.

First published by BBC Books (Target imprint) in 2018
Based on "The Christmas Invasion," first broadcast in 2005
Audiobook read by Camille Coduri