Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Visit to the Set of Star Trek Continues

It's no secret that I am a big fan of Star Trek. Regular visitors to my blog know that I frequently blog about Trek, especially classic Trek from the 60s. A couple of years ago I discovered that there is a group of extremely dedicated fans that are creating new episodes of TOS Star Trek called Star Trek Continues (STC).
STC is extremely faithful to the original Star Trek and well worth watching. The sets, props, costumes, lighting, scripts, effects and acting are all top notch. You shouldn't take my word for it though, you should watch one of their episodes and decide for yourself.

I've blogged about STC before and, after having supported their first Kickstarter campaign, my wife and I got to collect one of our perks by visiting their set last January. While we were there the STC cast & crew was filming for their fifth episode. That episode "Divided We Stand" has just had its premier so the veil of secrecy has been lifted from our visit and I can share some photos.
I was amazed by the size of their production crew. At one point as we were watching the filming of a scene I counted 25 people, about six of them were actors in the scene. The rest were for lights, sound, camera, hair, makeup, costumes, continuity and a whole lot more. There were others scattered here and there about the studio bringing the total somewhere up to around 35 or so.
Here we are in Sick Bay with the cast during a break in the filming of what we now know to be a pivotal scene in Divided We Stand.
The Sick Bay set looked really great all lit up for filming. Here' a portion of the set above and a close up of some of Dr. McCoy's instruments.
After seeing the filming in Sick Bay, we got our set tour from Chris Doohan. That's Chris (above, left) standing with Steven Dengler, who plays the Security Chief.

For STC Chris is playing Scotty, the role his father had in the original series. His involvement in STC really helps to connect their new episodes to the legacy of the original series. Of course, STC is all about keeping that legacy going and they do so in many ways.
Here is Chris in front of the Jefferies Tube (at left) and the view looking up into this set piece. It is hard to see here but inside it is labeled "GNDN" which was an inside joke during the production of the original series. It stands for Goes Nowhere. Does Nothing.

Of course, no tour of the Enterprise would be complete, especially one conducted by its chief engineer, without visiting the transporter room. 

The transporter controls.
Even the corridors are awesome.
Unfortunately it was pretty dark on the bridge set when we were there (filming was taking place elsewhere, so lighting needed to be controlled), but it was still wonderful. There were many signs of the great attention to detail displayed in recreating the bridge set.
A still of Spock's science station above and a short clip of it below.

Here's the helm with its controls and Sulu's viewer. 
They've even got the chronometer, a wonderful addition to the set.
While on the Bridge, I got to sit in the Big Chair. 
Here is what is currently STC's lone engineering station, a panel from Auxiliary Control. Their last Kickstarter (held just after our visit) was so successful that they have been able to build an Engineering set, which we'll see in future episodes.

All-in-all it we had a great time visiting the 23rd Century.

Big thanks to Kasey Shafsky and Lisa Hansell for their time and attention in getting our set visit arranged and of course to Vic Mignogna and the entire Star Trek Continues cast and crew, including their photographer Donald for providing some of the images here (the bad shots are mine). 

We'll continue supporting Star Trek Continues and look forward to more great things to come from them.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Lunar Eclipse 2.0

We had a wonderful sky show last night. Was it a Super Moon? A Blood Moon? Nah, it was just your basic (but quite beautiful) total lunar eclipse. Our second of 2015. I enjoyed the event with a bunch of college astronomy students and members of the general public at an observing session last night.
Way out west here in California (where I now reside) the eclipse had already begun at moonrise. It was a nice sight seeing the Moon rise in the east already partially eclipsed, but the real show began as darkness fell and the Moon advanced further into Earth's shadow.
Here it is, nearly total, through a thin layer of cirrus clouds.
Ah, totality.

Here are some people in silhouette seen against the city lights of San Marcos and Vista. Their glow illuminates the cirrus clouds. The Big Dipper can be seen through the clouds. With all this this light pollution it is hard to imagine that the Milky Way was visible from our observing site, but it was.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Star Trek: A Piece of the Action

Hey, it's time to talk about Star Trek again. Today, it is A Piece of the Action.
 If you loved Romans in Space, you'll love Gangsters in Space. Right? Check.
The trick with A Piece of the Action is to not think too critically about it, just put your feet up, relax and enjoy it. After all, this is lighthearted, humorous Trek, not something with a message or a scifi story to tell.
The Enterprise is sent to Sigma Iotia II to follow up on the mission of the Horizon, a space vessel that visited the planet 100 years ago. The visit from the Horizon was before there was a Non-Interference Directive, so Kirk and the gang are to check to see if there was any contamination to the local culture.
Yeah, there's contamination all right and it all stems from The Book, left behind by the Horizon - Chicago Mobs of the Twenties. By the time Kirk, Spock and McCoy arrive the gangsters have taken over. Their entire culture is based on this book.
The episode is a seemingly endless array of captures and escapes as Kirk and the gang deal with the various crime bosses.
It's all far too much to recount here, but when Kirk and Spock don their gangster outfits and step into their roles, that's all that matters.
"Captain, you are an excellent starship commander, but as a taxi driver you leave much to be desired." 
Spock steps into the gangster role surprisingly quickly, while back on the Enterprise Scotty is slow to catch on, and even when he does, he doesn't quite have it right: "You mind your place, mister, or you'll be wearing concrete galoshes."

The big problem for me, like in many Trek episodes, is that it's all too small. The crime bosses they are dealing with here represent the entire planet, but are all just a city block or two away from each other. Maybe there's only one city on all of Sigma Iotia II, or maybe I just overthink things.
Kirk gives this episode two thumbs up and you should too, if you like lighthearted Star Trek. If not, pass it by and stick to the more serious episodes.

Next up is By Any Other Name.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Star Trek: The Immunity Syndrome

Hey, it's time to talk about Star Trek. Today, it is The Immunity Syndrome.
The Immunity Syndrome is sort of middle of the road Trek, it's not one of my favorite episodes, but it has moments that are pretty good and others that are pretty bad. Read along and you'll see what I mean.
A decade before Obi-Wan Kenobi felt millions of voices suddenly cry out in terror that were then suddenly silenced, Mr. Spock felt the death of 400 Vulcans aboard the starship Intrepid.
For my money Leonard Nimoy's Spock was much more convincing. Nobody seems to remember this moment, yet the Obi-Wan moment is part of pop culture.

Even though everyone really needs some time off, the Enterprise is ordered to investigate the disappearance of the Intrepid and the fact that Gamma VIIA, a star system that had been home to billions of inhabitants,  now shows as "dead" on the scanners.
Spock is sent to Sickbay and while there, as he is prone to do, he has a verbal sparring match with McCoy, this time with a bit of social commentary thrown in:
Spock: "I've noticed that about your people, Doctor. You find it easier to understand the death of one than the death of a million. You speak about the objective hardness of the Vulcan heart, yet how little room there seems to be in yours."
McCoy: "Suffer the death of thy neighbor, eh, Spock? You wouldn't wish that on us, would you?" Spock: "It might have rendered your history a bit less bloody."

Spock also tells us that "I know not a person, not even the computers on board the Intrepid, knew what was killing them or would have understood it had they known." Wait, what? They wouldn't have understood what it was that killed them if they knew what it was that killed them? I don't get it.

Later he explains "Vulcan has not been conquered within its collective memory. The memory goes back so far that no Vulcan can conceive of a conqueror" and that when the Vulcans died they felt astonishment. Say, what? Vulcans are a smart people and they have had a somewhat violent history of their own, so I'm just not buying at all the idea that Vulcans cannot conceive of a conqueror or that they can't understand that they might possibly face defeat.
Anyway, as ship heads to their destination they encounter what at first looks like a dust cloud. Yeah, it's not a dust cloud.
They launch a probe to investigate the zone of darkness. It doesn't tell them much, but it does have an immediate negative effect on the crew. McCoy reports that half the crew fainted. It's okay though, as he's quick in shooting them all up with stimulants.
They head in to the big zone of darkness and Kirk wants to know what happened to the stars. Really. He's surprised that the stars have gone after they headed into the dark cloud that blotted out all the stars behind it.

Scotty reports that the ship is losing power. And now more people are now suffering ill effects, thankfully ol' Shoot-em Up McCoy keeps everyone going.

Spock reports, "We still have no specifics, but we seem to have entered a zone of energy which is incompatible with our living and mechanical processes. As we draw closer to the source, it grows stronger and we grow weaker." McCoy recommends survival and getting out of there.
Sensing that the crew might need a shot of confidence from the Captain, Kirk gets on the intercom with one of the worst messages ever: "Our mission is to investigate. We're sick, and we're getting sicker. We have no guarantees, but we have a good ship and the best crew in Starfleet. So do your jobs. Carry on. Kirk out." We're sick and we're getting sicker and we have no guarantees. Seriously? Sigh. Kirk, your crew deserves better from you.
To make things worse McCoy then calls in from Sickbay to deliver news that's both poorly written and poorly delivered: "Jim, according to the life indicators, the energy levels ... According to the life monitors, we're dying. We're all dying." Yeah, maybe they'd better hightail it out of there.
Except, they can't. Scotty explains that power levels are falling, "everything is acting backwards" and that they are "being pulled forward." With no stars or reference points visible I'm not sure just how they can tell that which way are moving at all.
At least until they encounter what's at the heart of the zone of darkness. Which happens to be a giant (11,000 miles across!) single-celled organism!
McCoy suggests that they send a shuttlecraft to learn more about the Giant Space Cell and he wants to make the trip. The trouble is Spock thinks that he himself is better qualified. Kirk knows that this is almost certainly a one way trip and finally decides that it must be Spock.
So off Spock goes, with what looks like a moray eel face looking on. I've always really liked the original effects done for this - face and all. No, really.
Spock's mission is successful, but the news isn't good. Chekov reports, "According to Spock's telemetry information, there are over forty chromosomes in the nucleus that are ready to come together, ready to reproduce."  McCoy explains, "Well, all I know is, that soon there'll be two, four, eight, and more. The entire anti-life matter that that thing puts out could someday encompass the entire galaxy."Anti-life matter? That's not cool at all, nor does it make much sense. 

Always the optimist Kirk says that "When it grows into millions, we'll be the virus invading its body." Millions? That's thinking positively. I like McCoy's response though, "Here we are, antibodies of our own galaxy, attacking an invading germ. It would be ironic indeed if that were our sole destiny, wouldn't it?" That sounds like a spinoff TV series to me. Star Trek: Antibodies.
Anyway, communications with Spock come an go, the ship is nearly out of power and everybody is just barely hanging on, when they remembered that in just the last episode they used an antimatter bomb to kill the evil vampire cloud that was menacing them. So why not try it here too? 
So they do. There's some serious shaking, but it totally works. They killed the Giant Space Cell and in doing so the explosion threw both the Enterprise and the shuttlecraft to safety. Who could ask for anything more?
It looks like Kirk will get his vacation after all. I wonder what he has in mind?

All-in-all, I really disliked McCoy's talk about the "life indicators" and "anti-life matter," but the McCoy-Spock interplay early on and then before and during Spock's shuttle trip is pretty good. It feels like, with another round of editing on the script this episode could have been top notch. The effects, as I mentioned, were really first rate for 1968, so I give the whole thing a thumbs up.

Next up, is a fan favorite - A Piece of the Action.