Saturday, October 3, 2015

Star Trek Continues: "Divided We Stand" - A Review

There is little doubt that Star Trek in any variety is my favorite science fiction franchise. After nearly five decades it has continued to entertain, inform and been the source of much debate and controversy as it steams along at full speed telling contemplative and enjoyable storytelling.

Star Trek Continues (STC), while not the first to offer independent Star Trek programming, has certainly become the new Gold Standard for any independent, fan created and dare I say it - even CBS/Paramount sanctioned endeavor. For those who have read my past reviews for Slice of SciFi and on SciFi Obsession of the vignettes and past four full-length episodes produced by the cast and crew of STC already know that I believe this show to be the finest representation of what creator Gene Roddenberry had in mind for his original saga which first aired those many years ago.

That being said, even the original 1960's series of Star Trek had a few below average episodes over the course of its three season run ("Spock's Brain" anyone?). Fortunately for the next couple of generations those shabby episodes were few and far between, however STC has in its first four escaped that quandary. It was with this idea in mind that I approached this latest STC episode titled, "Divided We Stand" with some reservations. Vig Mignogna and crew have hit the ball out of the park so expertly with a great deal of love and respect for the show that after seeing this title and the official poster release for it I grew to be concerned that this may be the production's first lemon in a fine array of vintage autos.

Boy oh boy was I mistaken and greatly relieved once I actually viewed "Divided We Stand." As my past reviews have shown I truly do love the direction STC is going with the continuing five-year mission of the original series and with each of those past episodes it only got better with each actor becoming more and more comfortable in the skin of those iconic characters. With "Divided We Stand" all the principals and even the periphery characters really do seem to have found that groove. Mignogna and Chuck Huber are so much Kirk and McCoy at this point that I can honestly say I have totally accepted them as those original Roddenberry creations. Todd Haberkorn came into his own Spock in the third episode ("Fairest of the All") and by this fifth one is so relaxed as Spock it's as if he has played him for the last fifty years. Chris Doohan, from day one, has embodied the spirit and heart of his real father (James Doohan) as the veritable chief engineer Mr. Scott. Each of the actors tasked with the monumental burden of wearing the clock of all these icons that have affected the worldwide culture of our time have done so expertly and it's apparent they do it with a great amount of affection and respect for the originals. In fact, as I watched Wyatt Lenhart, the young actor portraying Ensign Chekov, I found myself talking to my TV screen saying, "Hey, you guys are in the fourth year of your five year mission - isn't it time to promote Pavel to Lieutenant?"

"Divided We Stand" puts both Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy in the precarious position of having their consciousness transferred in time to Earth era circa 1862 and in the middle of one of the bloodiest battles of the U.S. Civil War, the Battle of Antietam. What makes matters even worse is Kirk and McCoy find themselves on opposite sides of this landmark battle. How they got there is somewhat of a mystery but it occurred when both were on the bridge investigating a strange viral-like lifeform that had hitched a ride on the old Friendship 3 probe they had beamed aboard the Enterprise several months earlier. The nanite lifeforms downloaded themselves from the probe into the Enterprise computer without the knowledge of Spock or Scotty and have been slowly and unobtrusively infecting the entire system, that is, until it began reviewing the history logs when it was discovered by the crew. As Spock and Scott seek to find a way to remove the contamination both Kirk and Bones are somehow mentally transported to the past on Earth while their bodies remain unconscious in sickbay and suffering from whatever is inflicted on them during that barbaric time in America's past.

The episode stays true to the format established by Roddenberry by addressing the reasons for the war, the divide in the country that brought the new nation to this brink of destruction and the ever constant theme echoed throughout the franchise's history "When even one person is enslaved then all people have lost their freedom."

Like the original show did in the 1960's by addressing contemporary issues with science fiction stories, so too Mignogna, his cast and crew, continue to do so today. This episode, while set in the field of battle outside Sharpsburg, Maryland in 1862, addresses the racial tensions that still divide America today. It also reminds us that while, for the most part, freedom is available to all in the U.S., it certainly isn't the case around the globe and since Star Trek is now a global (dare I say galactic) phenomena the issues of slavery, freedom and standing on principles that free the individual's ability to find compromise while at the same time living up to those benevolent ideals is strongly reflected in "Divided We Stand." Gene Roddenberry must be smiling ear to ear from his Great Bird of the Galaxy perch at what Star Trek Continues has and remains doing with his beloved creation.

I give Star Trek Continues "Divided We Stand" * * * * * out of 5 Stars.

Friday, October 2, 2015

"The Autobiography of James T. Kirk" - A Book Review

This look into the life of one of this galaxy's greatest futuristic heroes, for the most part, are the memories of that hero as reported to author David A. Goodman. Shortly before Kirk's death while inspecting the virginal launch into the cosmos of the NCC 1701 U.S.S. Enterprise-B, captained by the very young and inexperienced Captain John Harriman, Kirk met with Goodman over a period of several months and recounted to him the events of his life from early childhood to his final retirement from Starfleet. This photo-op aboard the new Excelsior-class Enterprise was to be this icon's final journey into that final frontier. Little did anyone realize how final it would be for the famous captain.

Before getting into some of what Goodman related a little about him is important to relate. Kirk picked him to put in writing the gist of his life because he, like Kirk, was no second-rate scribe. David A. Goodman is a well known author and screenwriter who has been responsible for such landmark television series such as "The Golden Girls," "Futurama," "Star Trek: Enterprise," and most notably one of the main producers and writers for the animated hit series created by Seth MAcFarlane, "Family Guy." Goodman has also written several tomes including "Star Trek Federation: The First 150 Years."

"The Autobiography of James T. Kirk" is a wonderful addition to the stories of the fabled captain who sat in that center seat aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise for longer than any other leader in Starfleet history. His storied career is well known, feared and respected by millions across the expanse of this galaxy and this autobiography doesn't attempt to retell that narrative. However, what it does do is fill in many of the gaps left untold from the perspective of the man himself, James Tiberius Kirk.

While everyone who has followed his life for the last five or six decades knows the big picture of his life ... some of the details of his cadet days and early postings, as well as his time as Enterprise captain in its first five year mission after refit post the Captain Pike years; what hasn't been told was how Kirk himself actually felt and thought about those periods of his life. What it actually meant for him to lose the friendship of such a long and trusted ally like Ben Finney, or the depths of the guilt and agony he endured over the loss of his mentor Captain Garrovick, the deaths of Edith Keeler and his son David, as well as the emotional hole left in his heart during those early years in Riverside, Iowa when he was being raised on that Iowa farm by his father while his mother was off on Tarsus IV doing her scientific thing. All these, and so many other events helped to form and mold him, the renowned captain-admiral-captain, into the person we have all come to think we knew and certainly loved and admired.

"The Autobiography of James T. Kirk" gives the reader just enough of a peek into the life of this man. His heroism, flaws, faults, strengths, and yes, his weaknesses. With Goodman's editing of the material the reader is left with a more realistic and well rounded picture of the human called Kirk who literally helped shape the galaxy of the 23rd Century.

Those not familiar with the story of Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the famous crew of the Enterprise under their tutelage may not follow the story as well as those who do so I recommend watching the episodes of the original series and the first six films in the Star Trek franchise. Once done this book will remain as an important companion piece to what has already been presented about the life and times of Captain James T. Kirk (2233-2371).

I give "The Autobiography of James T. Kirk" * * * 1/2 stars out of 5.