Tagged: Patrick Stewart

John Ostrander: The Family of Sociopaths

Commercials are the point of commercial TV. I realize that, for those of you who do only streaming services, this concept may seem a bit foreign, but your monthly fees take the place of paid commercials, assuming the streaming service isn’t double-dipping.

Advertisers buy time to pitch products and/or services and/or whatever and the amount that the channel can charge is based on how many people are watching and which demographic groups those people represent. That’s why an ad during the Superbowl costs so much.

You probably knew all that.

I tend to mentally surf commercials; they’re on but I’m tuned out. Some I wake up for because either there’s some element I like or it really annoys me and I want to throw something at the TV. An example of the former is a commercial with Mark Wahlberg as the spokesman at the end of which his mirror image turns into Sir Patrick Stewart who is, as he says, “more handsome, more talented… and more British.” All of which he is. JK Simmons had been doing a series of commercials for Farmer’s Insurance; it’s always a pleasure to watch JK Simmons. And their theme is memorably goofy: “We are Farmers, bum-da-bumbum bum bum bum.” I also love watching Sam Jackson in just about anything but I won’t get into his credit card commercials until he says “What have you got in your motherfucking wallet?”

I do wonder at the use of CGI English spokesowls. Several companies have them. Why? Why all at the same time? There’s also the use of pieces of classical music in the background of more than a few commercials. I often don’t understand why the use of a particular piece of music in a given commercial but maybe I’m not supposed to understand.

I’m also not a fan of the commercials that try to guilt you, whether it’s to adopt a pet or help a child in Africa or somewhere else. I appreciate that there is a great need but they really hammer on it. It’s gotten so that the moment I hear Sarah McLachlan start singing, I switch the channel. And I like Sarah McLachlan!

PBS pledge nights also fall under this truck.

And then there are the commercials that I hate so much, I remember them only so I will never use the company, product, or service being promoted. One is a car parts company that uses animation so cheap and primitive it hurts my eyes. Another is for a travel booking website that has a kindergarten teacher who is totally inept at her job. The kids have completely taken over the classroom and are running riot and all this forlorn cow can do is moan about how she is looking forward to her vacation. Put her on a permanent vacation. She doesn’t belong within five miles of a classroom. Children will die under her watch. She’s the Betsy DeVos of the kindergarten set. I’d change the channel if it wasn’t so much effort to find the TV remote.

The worst commercial is the one for another insurance company. It’s a family – mother, father, ten-year-old boy. We’re in a suburban front yard, Mom has just gotten back from who knows where (I suspect a covert affair) and Dad is holding a cloth to his face. Son reports that Dad got hit in the face with a swing (I suspect the son was on it at the time). Mom groans: there goes our Hawaii vacation. Dad says he really needs to go to the hospital. “There goes the air conditioner,” Mom sighs. Kid votes for going to Hawaii; Mom laughs and agrees, “Hawaii!” Dad appears to reluctantly cave in to the pressure.

This is a family of sociopaths. I’m supposed to identify with them? Please. That’s the problem with a lot of commercials for me – the person using/touting the product is a moron, an asshole, or a creep. Why should I want to buy what they want me to buy?

I understand that, in many cases, I am not the target audience. I can’t help wondering who is. Does the target audience find this funny? Will it entice them to buy the product or use the service? Please tell me it’s not so. I don’t want to totally despair on America.

John Ostrander: Lost Vision

I don’t always get around to seeing movies that I want to see while they’re in the theaters. I prefer seeing movies first in the theater and preferably in IMAX. I love the big screen and I think that’s how they were meant to be seen. I don’t mind seeing it later on the small screen, especially if I still have the memory of seeing the large-scale version.

Sometimes, for one reason or another, I just don’t get around to getting to the movie theater in time to catch the feature. Logan was one of those films.

As you already probably know, Logan is the last film that Hugh Jackman will make playing Wolverine. It’s a part that made him a star and that he basically owns. This time it’s set in the not too distant future of 2029 and things have not gone well for the mutant population. (Spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen the film and want to, best stop reading now or you may learn more than you want to.) By inference, we learn that there are almost no mutants left and none have been born in the past 25 years. There was some kind of unspecified disaster around the school in Westchester NY several years back.

Logan is now keeping it on the down low near the Mexican border as a driver/bodyguard. He drinks a lot and he’s sick; his mutant healing factor is fading and the adamantium that laces his bones (and claws) is poisoning him. He’s also taking care of Professor X, Charles Xavier (played once again by Patrick Stewart, who has said this is also his last go-round with the X-Men), who is also ailing. The man with the most powerful brain in the world is losing control of it; every once in a while, he has seizures that wreak havoc on everyone near him.

Into Logan’s and Professor X’s life comes an 11-year-old girl named Laura who is a mutant, who may have been created in a lab where she was dubbed X-23. She also has retractable claws, rage issues, and a violent nature. Sound like anyone we know? She is Logan’s “daughter” in that his DNA was used to create her.

The movie is a road picture, one in which Logan, Laura, and Professor X are chased as they try to find their way to a possible haven. The film is very violent (having earned an R rating) and bleak. Very bleak.

Professor X founded the X-Men in the belief, the hope, that mutants and normal humans could find a way to live together. His frenemy, Magneto, didn’t think they could and his path was more violent. He saw humans and mutants as being at war.

Evidently, Magneto was right. That appears to be the premise of Logan – very few mutants are left and the ones that exist are being hunted. Xavier was wrong.

That’s also been the premise of more than a few X-Men comics that touch on the future. I don’t recall seeing one such future where Professor X’s vision came true. I will admit, I find that a bit depressing. It seems to me to undercut some of the basic premise of the X-Men – that there is hope that all these different types of people can live together. The X-Men have been stand-ins for so many different persecuted minorities. Xavier’s dream, his vision, has always held out hope to me that our differences can be overcome, however tough the battle.

That’s not what Logan seems to say.

I don’t know if I have the right to gripe. My career seems to be about anti-heroes and bleak characters and bad times; it’s how I make my living. I can certainly see the allure in taking that attitude in Logan; it feels closer to life as we see it these days. More and more so all the time. But maybe that’s why we need a little more hope.

This is not to say that Logan is a badly made film; far from it. It’s not simply violent; it’s intelligent and well written and has wonderful performances. In the blu-ray pack that I bought, I had a chance to experience it in black and white. They call it Logan Noir and it has the feel of noir films of old. I was very impressed.

I was also a little saddened. It’s hard to watch a dream die, especially one that was meant to give us hope. These days, I think we need all the hope we can get.

Marc Alan Fishman: What DC Could Learn from Logan

Having finally caught and absorbed James Mangold’s Logan, the finale to the OG X-films, I find myself hoping that the execs behind the soon-to-be-released Wonder Woman and Justice League movies were taking notes. A caveat: I’m going to attempt to keep my lens wide this week. While I don’t believe I’ll be spoiling anything more than people on your Facebook feed have blathered about, be nonetheless forewarned.

Before I get into my listicle (they’re what make articles click-baity, don’t-cha-know), let me quickly pontificate. Logan was one of the most powerful superhero films I’ve ever seen. Perhaps second only to The Dark Knight. It was a straight-forward small-scale road picture that kept a handle on a single-thread story, presented as an homage to the westerns it evoked throughout the picture. In spite of a heavy-handed two-hour run-time, the film itself moves at a steady pace. The performances are top-notch, with Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman taking astounding leaps above their initial performances of Charles Xavier and Wolverine circa 2000. Sweet Rao I feel old just typing that. But I digress. On with the listercizing!

  1. Things get dark, but never for the sake of needless angst.

The first thing DC should take note on… and perhaps highlight, circle, underline and install neon lights around… is that it’s perfectly acceptable to be maudlin if it’s earned. X-Men, X2, and to a much-much-much-much lesser extent any of the other X-films did much to pile on the action and gravitas towards the mutant life en masse. But Logan abstains from needless retreading. Instead, it delivers us heroes who are hurt inside and out. It gives them needs, wants, and desires that don’t coincide with some greater plot or McGuffin. And when a McGuffin lands in their lap, they pleasantly drape it in subtext (Charles Xavier, through his delusional state, would seek to mentally communicate with any over living mutants, wouldn’t he?) that earns the gravitas the film requires. And when a character screams to the heavens in a shrill cry of anger and sadness, it comes by way of two-hours of earned malaise and not because it looks cool.

  1. Show. Don’t tell.

During a lull between brutal set pieces, Professor X waxes poetic about the final days of his former academy. He doesn’t speak in pure exposition. He drifts in and out, dancing around nuanced and painful memories, and ultimately evokes the feeling of tragedy and regret deeply rooted in his psyche. We never hear the full details of what occurs. We never see some spiffy CG recreation. And we never need to.

In addition to Charles’ admission of guilt and shame and the slow reveal of X-23’s backstory, Logan elicits the show-don’t-tell ethos that DC needs to heed. While yes, we get the obligatory backstory tacked to her early on, it’s delivered without hanging a lampshade on it time-and-again. Laura is feral and untrusting. She’s lethal and raw. While we see her drop her guard eventually, it comes over the course of many scenes and instances where Dafne Keen shows us how powerful a performer she is. Logan never once feels the need to montage our way toward understanding a new norm.

  1. Keep the violence real, believable, and still other-worldly.

The biggest issues I’ve had with Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad came solely in their fetish for destruction. Logan certainly was built for violence. But when it occurs, it’s not only earned by the stakes in the story, it comes layered with emotional and physical fallout. As Logan and others are forced to fight a youthful Wolverine clone (my one spoilery thing, I apologize…), suddenly fighting a savage killer with a healing factor feels like a true threat. It also stands to note that even in the climax of the film — with multiple combatants, gunfire, and viscera — there’s no death for the sake of spectacle. War is waged for hope, humanity, and vengeance. All that, and there’s nary a single beam-being-blasted-towards-the-sky. Natch.

  1. The story is fearless in the face of predictability

If nothing else could be counted on by DC after seeing Logan, it should be the safe admission that sometimes it’s OK to tee-up a predictable story. There’s nary a single twist to the picture if you pay clear attention. But, due to the patience of director Mangold, we get a film that never needed to rely on ham-fisted trickery to earn the 92% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The potency lies in the characterizations and believable escalation of antagonism. Villainy in Logan is no less super-villainous that Lex Luthor creating Doomsday, or Darkseid declaring war on Earth. But it’s the reactions of our heroes that carry us through to the end credits. Jokes occur naturally and not at the behest of breaking a tense and necessary silent moment for the sake of relieving the stress on the audience. Mangold lets the story unfold through deliberate character-driven motivations. We never see the puppet-strings of action-figure-merchandisers creating moments for future marketing. Honesty and artistry over bottom-dollar-profits. And because of it, the fans have carried a hard R-rated film to over 500 million dollars in ticket sales.

I know Justice League and Wonder Woman are being built to pitch out to a larger PG-13 audience. But the sincere hope remains that DC paid attention. Logan was amazing not because it used the word fuck a few hundred times, but because the story delivered earned every last fuck delivered.

 

Box Office Democracy: Logan

It’s kind of funny that the inferiority complex that has plagued comic books for decades has migrated on to comic book movies.  Every time you read an article with the headline “Bam! Pow! Comics aren’t just for kids anymore” you get this kind of desperate need for some of the less secure in the industry to justify their life’s work when they really don’t need to.  Good work is good work regardless of who reads it, and most importantly regardless what people who don’t read it think of it.  Comic book movies are getting to the same place with this death spiral race to the bottom to make the movies more and more gritty to prove that they’re more and more adult.  It made me nervous when I heard the final Wolverine movie was going to be rated R; that we would get a joyless slog of a movie more focused with blood and body counts than with making a good movie.  Logan is a great movie, a violent movie to be sure but also a thoughtful one, it’s a movie that gives you time to think— and while it is bleak, it has joy and it has hope.

Logan has a thin story, but I mean that in the most flattering way.  The whole movie is essentially a road trip where Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) takes an aging Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and a young clone (Dafne Keen) , that the film only refers to as X-23 once but we all know is X-23, looking for a mutant sanctuary in the North Dakota wilderness.  The good guys are being chased by some awfully nebulous bad guys who never get much more motivation than wanting to mess with the heroes.  I’m also not 100% sure that the emotional center of the entire X-Men franchise has been the relationship between Wolverine and Professor X, but it doesn’t matter.  Jackman and Stewart have the chemistry and the sheer magnetism to drive the whole movie as long as you don’t stop and fixate on what happened in any of the previous films.  Keen is a star in the making, she has a quiet intensity and seems great at ripping bad guys to shreds.

I’m thrilled that Logan is a superhero movie that doesn’t feel compelled to tell me that the world is ending or a city is in peril.  The central conflict of the film is one with a very small footprint.  That’s not to suggest I’m somehow okay with the corporate exploitation and then extermination of children— but there’s no ticking time bomb, no cosmic threat.  I’m honestly not sure the wider world would have noticed if the good guys had failed in this one; everyone who seemed to know what was going on was either directly involved or dead by the end.  This is just a character arc for Wolverine (and to a lesser extent X-23) and everything in the movie is just in service to that.  It shouldn’t be every superhero movie (or even most; I bet this would get old very quickly) but it’s refreshing to see a movie that could be wall-to-wall action stop for a second and appreciate the quiet moments.

I know I literally just finished praising Logan for being willing to linger on quiet moments, but this movie is also just too damn long.  I want small character moments, but I don’t need quite so many of them to be just another way of reinforcing the notion that Logan drinks too much, I got that pretty quickly.  I also think a harsher editing eye could have been taken to some of the action sequences.  I know the rule is an action beat every ten pages, but so much of the middle of the movie is different variations on Wolverine with or without X-23 just crazy murdering a bunch of evil redshirts, and what does that really accomplish the fifth time that we didn’t get on the third?  There is nothing like seeing Wolverine go nuts on people, even more so now that we got an R-rated version of it, and the first few times seeing X-23 go at it is a delight— but at a point it’s just blood and falling bodies and isn’t revealing anything about character or pushing the story forward, it just seems to be there because that’s what a studio executive thinks good pacing is.

Logan is the end of an era— it’s supposedly the last time we’ll see Jackman play Wolverine or Stewart play Professor X.  Stewart was the best casting decision in the 2000 X-Men film, and while they’ve been transitioning to James McAvoy for a while now it’s sad to see the actual curtain call.  Jackman has been the bedrock for the entire X-Men franchise up until this point, and while it’s sad to see him go I’m sure he’ll appreciate being able to gain 15 pounds without it being a complete life-altering disaster.  I firmly believe at some point someone will wonder why they’re giving up all the money they could be making by having Wolverine in movies and the part will be recast… and I’m both scared and excited by that prospect.  Scared because Jackman leaves huge shoes to fill, but excited because I want to see more of these roles turn over as a matter of course.  Actors should be able to leave these roles without needing giant continuity resets that tire out the audience.  We should accept a new Wolverine or Iron Man the same way we accept a new James Bond or a new John Connor.  The actors are important but the roles need to be timeless.  There’s an exciting opportunity here, and I hope Fox does as good a job with it as they did in making a movie as brave as Logan.

Mindy Newell: Any Given Wednesday

lego-millennium-falcon

“Last Wednesday I stupidly dropped my iPhone in the bath, and my life has sort of spiraled almost out of control.”Patrick Stewart

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before, but just in case – I’m a spoiler whore. Yep, I’m one of those geeks that absolutely love to suss out information, be it in print or by streaming video, about a movie or television show that I absolutely can’t wait to see! It’s foreplay, you see. Gets me all hot and bothered and excited and really ready, if you know what I mean. (All us Star Wars: The Force Awakens nerds – which pretty much includes the entire population of the planet – should know exactly what I mean. C’mon, admit it – “Wet did you not get when the Millennium Falcon you saw in the first trailer?” asked Yoda.)

Of course, the marketing suits get this. The really good marketing suits understand exactly what to give, what to reveal – or not reveal; the really bad ones don’t. Case in point: go check out fellow ComicMixer Arthur Tebbel’s latest “Box Office Democracy” review of Terminator: Genisys. Go on, I’ll wait….

Im-not-so-ho, Arthur is absolutely right. Dead on. The “big reveal” in the movie’s trailers reminds me of the “big reveal” in the previews and ads for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock – the death of the U.S.S. Enterprise, NC-1701. The ship was as much a character in Star Trek as was New York City in Sex and the City (which is why, im-not-so-ho, the second Sex movie failed so miserably, because the Big Apple was missing for 99.9% of the story.)

So why do the bad marketers do this? Two theories: (1) they believe the movie really stinks, it’s dead in utero, so they are desperate to fill the theatres, because, after all, if the movie doesn’t make a profit their jobs could be just as dead; and (2) they just don’t a fucking clue.

•     •     •     •     •

Go read Denny’s latest column, The Grand Old Flags. Dennis, you hammered the proverbial nail on its head. And I also grew up with all the rules about the flag – they are so much a part of me that when I see Grand Ol’ Glory still waving in the wind (or lying like a dead sloth against its pole) at night I’m surprised and just a little bit, teensy-weensy disturbed. (By the way, did you see Republican Representative Jenny Horne’s impassioned, tearful, and wonderful speech in South Carolina’s Statehouse last Wednesday? If not, I highly recommend you search it out.)

•     •     •     •     •

The San Diego Comic-Con will be over by this time, but instead of being in California this past weekend I will have been in Indianapolis to celebrate the wedding of my cousin Delightful Devin to the Marvelous Maria (as Stan Lee might put it).

Only I hope I made it.

Did you ever have “one of those days” on which you wish you had never gotten out of bed?  No, not just “one of those days,” but one of those days which leaving you wishing that, to paraphrase Captain James T. Kirk in response to Spock telling him that “we have three days to live over again (“The Naked Time”)“not that day.”

This past Wednesday I got up, took a shower, got dressed, left my apartment, and took the stairs down instead of the elevator, heading off to work. (I take the stairs pretty regularly, only rarely choosing to go down via elevator. Up is another matter, even though I know I should, since it’s “good for me.”) Only last Wednesday something happened, I don’t know what, my heel got stuck or my ankle turned…

…anyway, down I went, six stairs, trying to catch myself, only to end up on the floor of entry foyer to my apartment building. And I was in pain.

I mean, P-A-I-N!

So many things went through my head in nanoseconds – I broke my leg, I broke both legs, I’m alive, I didn’t break my neck, god, it hurts, I need help, shit, I left my cell phone upstairs, I need help, I need help, I need help…

“Help!” I said weakly.

“Help!” I said with a little bit more energy.

Nobody. Of course, it’s 6 in the morning!

I couldn’t stay on the floor. Besides, I attended the “Walk It Out” School of Medicine: “Get up. You’re okay. Don’t be a baby. You’re just shaken up. You’ll be okay.” So I gingerly stood up.

Okay, that works. Maybe, thankfully, thank you God, I didn’t break anything. Get to the car. Get to work. Someone there will help you. Doctors. Nurses. X-Ray machine.

I took one step.

B-I-G mistake.

Okay, hobble, sidle, shuffle, slide. Out the apartment door. Down the stoop like a “real grandma.” Thank God I got a parking spot right in front of my building. Got in the car. Turn the ignition. Slowly join the traffic.

I was still thinking, “I don’t think anything’s broken. Couldn’t work the gas pedal or the brake if it was.” But then I think, “Shit, what if it’s adrenalin, what if I’m like Bruce Banner and I’m just hyped up? Fuck it, keep driving.”

I get to work somehow. Hobbling, sidling, shuffling, sliding. I don’t bother clocking in, don’t bother changing into scrubs. I sit down in one of those “wheely-chairs,” roll over to the sink, turn on the tap, raise my legs, and stick my feet under the cold water. It helps a little. I sit there.

My friend and co-worker, Kathy, will not take “no” for an answer. She gets me on a gurney in PACU (Recovery Room). My buddy Frank brings me two ace bandages. Kathy brings me more ace bandages and an ice pack. Ace bandages surround me. Kathy says none of the doctors are in yet. “Why did you come in?” she asks. “I didn’t know what else to do,” I said. Or something like that. I’m also wondering why the hell I did come in, why didn’t I just drive to the hospital (I work in a surgical ambulatory center), what if my ankle, or both, are broken, I’m supposed to go to the wedding this weekend, shit, it hurts.

Dr. Reiss, ace anesthesiologist, bless her, is in. I asked her to take a look. She does. “I don’t think anything’s broken,” she says. I break down and cry a little bit. I ask her for a hug. She gives me a good one.

My boss comes to see me. She wants me to go the ER at the hospital. How to get me there? I don’t want her to call 911, I don’t want to go in an ambulance to the hospital, which is just across the street. Claudia, super PACU nurse, has a brainstorm. She calls hospital transport. My boss wheels me down in a wheelchair.

I’m brought right in. And when the registrar asks me for my driver’s license, the second worse thing happens on this fucked-up, miserable day:

My driver’s license is not there!

Where the fuck is it!

Shit! Shit! Shit!

Oh my fucking god how the hell am I gonna get on the airplane for the wedding?

I swear to you, that was the order of my thoughts.

•     •     •     •     •

Did Mindy break her ankle, or ankles? Did she find her driver’s license? Did she make to Delightful Devin and Marvelous Maria’s wedding?

Tune in next week, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel, to find out.

 

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Tweeks: Days of Future X-men Fans

X-Men-Days-of-Future-Past-character-photo-Jennifer-Lawrence-as-MystiqueFangirls love Jennifer Lawrence and Theatre Kids love Hugh Jackman, so the question The Tweeks had to ask themselves is: Will our kind love X-Men: Days of Future Past even if we haven’t kept up on the X-Men franchises?  Will we be able to enjoy the CGI if we’re too busy being confused about who’s who in the movie?  The answer?  Watch the review & see how X-Men fans are made.

Watch the “X-Men: Days Of Future Past” trailer now

The ultimate X-Men ensemble fights a war for the survival of the species across two time periods in X-Men: Days Of Future Past. The beloved characters from the original “X-Men” film trilogy join forces with their younger selves from X-Men: First Class, in an epic battle that must change the past — to save our future.

Based on the classic story from Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and Terry Austin, the movie stars (deeeep breath) Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Shawn Ashmore, Ellen Page, Daniel Cudmore, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Lucas Till, Peter Dinklage, Omar Sy, Booboo Stewart, Fan Bingbing, Adan Canto, Evan Peters and Josh Helman. Written by Simon Kinberg from a story by Kinberg, Matthew Vaughn, and Jane Goldman, and directed by Bryan Singer, X-Men: Days Of Future Past is due in theaters May 23, 2014.

REVIEW: Star Trek: The Next Generation Season Three

Star-Trek-The-Next-Generation-S3-br-usI find myself writing about Star Trek: The Next Generation Season Three more than any single season of any season from any franchise. And that’s fine by me given the quantum leap in quality improvement from the previous two seasons. I am happy to do it one more time as the Blu-ray set from Paramount Home Entertainment is due to arrive on Tuesday.

The behind-the-scenes turmoil that led to the first two seasons feeling incredibly inconsistent began to fade with the arrival of a new set of writers and producers. As Gene Roddenberry grew frailer and ceded more day-to-day control to producer Rick Berman, the show also bid farewell to the exhausted head writer Maurice Hurley. He was briefly replaced by Michael Wagner but illness forced him to leave after just four episodes, but his recommended replacement, Michael Piller, proved to be the turning point in the show’s fortunes. As Berman focused on the physical aspects, Piller took control of the writing staff, incorporating input from the actors, especially Patrick Stewart who not only wanted to see Picard off the Bridge more often, but running, shooting, fighting, and kissing babes.

The cast had also been complaining about the physical discomfort caused by the spandex uniforms. They were retooled by newly arrived costumer Bob Blackman, made looser with the addition of the high collar, but complaints continued so during the season, the regulars received near wool gabardine outfits with the men welcoming the jackets while the women continued to wear one-piece outfits.

Picard & VashThe most significant alteration to the writing staff was most likely the arrival of Ronald D. Moore, who submitted “The Bonding” as a spec script and was promptly hired on staff. His familiarity with the original series helped him tremendously and he also quickly grew to be the writer to focus most on the Klingon culture, which resulted in significant developments for Worf and the Federation’s allies.

The show’s evolution went beyond stronger scripts as the series truly lightened up with the elevation of Marvin V. Rush to cinematographer. The change meant the show went for brighter and bolder colors, establishing a look for the remainder of the series.

Another significant addition was actually the return of Gates McFadden as Beverly Crusher. Other character alterations saw Crusher’s son Wesley receive a field promotion to ensign while Geordi La Forge was promoted from lieutenant to lt. commander and Worf advanced from lieutenant J.G. to full lieutenant – none of which required walking the plank.

Sins of the FatherAll told, the changes on camera and behind it meant the show was maturing and fast. We got a greater sense of the cosmic politics through shows like “The Defector” and “Sins of the Father”. More character-centric shows allowed different members of the ensemble to shine, notably Brent Spiner in “The Offspring” and Dorn in “Sins” and “The Bonding”. It should be noted that the dictate against continuing story threads from episode to episode began to erode during this season, freeing the writers to more deeply explore the characters the repercussions of their actions.

Jonathan Frakes began his directing career this season with the moving Data tale “The Offspring”, making an impact away from Riker, a character that may have experienced the least challenge this season.

SarekThe ensemble was augmented with many returning guest stars led by the delightful John DeLancie and Majel Barrett We also welcomed back old friends in the moving “Yesterday’s Enterprise” and Mark Lenard’s turn as “Sarek”. New additions to the canon included Reg Barclay (Dwight Schultz), who became a favorite and was brought back in subsequent seasons. Whoopi Goldberg made scant appearances as Guinan and Colm Meany continued to man the transporters as O’Brien (who didn’t get a first name yet).

The third season’s most significant impact, perhaps, is the final episode, the series’ first cliffhanger and a ratcheting up of the threat level. The Borg, introduced a season earlier with a warning from Q, finally arrived and wanted to add mankind to their diversity.  Seeing Picard assimilated as Locutus followed by Riker’s order to fire phasers meant fans had a very long summer of anticipation ahead of them. It was the first time a threat was introduced with lasting repercussions unlike the thread introduced at the end of season one.

One of the greatest challenges with these releases is convincing audiences that already own them on VHS or DVD that the high definition restoration is worth the bucks. In the case of ST:TNG, it is definitely worth it as the special effects are sharper and the overall look of the series is brighter, clearer, and crisper. Then there are the bonus features. All the previous extras are back as standard definition “archival” pieces but the new ones also make a compelling argument for purchase.

Yesterday's EnterpriseFor 1:15, you can be enthralled with Inside The Writer’s Room, hosted Seth MacFarlane as he chats with Ronald Moore, Brannon Braga, Naren Shankar and Rene Echevarria. It’s late in the program before you get a sense of the mechanics of the Writer’s Room but before then you watch the four reminisce and remind one another of inspiration from desperation and cringe-worthy episodes that haunt them still. It’s a little too loose as they talk over one another and don’t always answer their host’s questions, but MacFarlane demonstrates an impressive memory for episode titles.

For 90 minutes or so, there is the three-part Resistance is Futile – Assimilating Star Trek: The Next Generation, which carefully explores the show from both before and behind the camera. Wagner’s role is totally missing but Ira Steven Behr steals the documentary with his anecdotes and casual approach to the history compared with some of the reverential views. It’s interesting to hear the crew talk about them noticing the improvement in the stories and the effect Piller had on one and all.

There is a very moving Tribute to Michael Piller where his widow and coworkers all discussed what made him a special person and just what the series needed at right that moment. On more than one occasion it is noted that Piller thought he was leaving the series after one season and was leaving the cliffhanger resolution to “Best of Both Worlds” to his successors, until Roddenberry himself asked Piller to stay on for one more season. It may well be the last great act the producer did on behalf of his creation.

Dennis O’Neil: A Comic Book Convention… About Comic Books?

O'Neil Art 130307…wind down through the labyrinthine passage to the farthest depth of the cavern and there find a wire, and from the wire will come a spark, and from the spark a flame and from the flame a light that will illuminate the truth…

Well, sometime, maybe. But not today. Today is for blobbing – or, if you prefer a slightly classier and more contemporary work that I learned just this afternoon, chillaxing. Yesterday was the ordeal of being pulled for hours through a tube that’s a teeny bit narrower than I am while breathing sulfur or, as some would call it, airline travel.

I’ve been doing it pretty regularly for almost half-a-century and so you’d think I’d be used to it by now. Okay, I’m resigned to it, but that’s not exactly the same as being used to it.

The occasion, this brisk and, in some areas, snowy March, was a visit to a comics convention in a city I have fond memories of, Seattle. Now, some of you who are my age and have retained the ability to read and thus are reading this, may recall the early fanzines: generally produced on mimeograph machines on cheapish paper; these were not slick and often not very professional, but they had the charm of work done for the love of it, with no hope of gain other than the satisfaction of indulging in a cherished hobby. These publications often featured “convention reports,” accounts of visits to science fiction or comic book gatherings, written by the zine’s publisher or one of that person’s friends. About those conventions: some fans, a professional or two, maybe a movie, maybe – a real treat! – a reel of outtakes from film or television. And maybe…even the appearance of an actor from film or tv. (The first con I attended featured Buster Crabbe.)

Them days is gone forever, Clem. Any convention report would have to be quite lengthy to do justice to its subject. There were, give or take, 75,000 attendees in Seattle and a whole roster of show biz celebrities topped by Patrick Stewart or, as those of you adverse to reading credits might know him, Jean Luc Picard, captain of the starship Enterprise. This mammoth gathering is not the biggest convention – the ones held in New York City and San Diego are bigger – but its still pretty awesome and, I was told, has doubled in size since last year, so…watch your backs, New York and San Diego!

What can I bitch about? Not much. The accommodations bordered on luxurious and everyone we encountered – I’m talking everyone – was friendly and courteous.

What did I like? Well, let’s skip the women – hordes of lovely human beings in costumes, many with interesting tattoos and didn’t my dirty old man merit badge almost burn a hole through my vest! Let’s skip them and remark on how the idea of a convocation devoted to good ol’ comic books didn’t seem to be lost among all the show biz glitter and bling.

Yeah, I’d go back, even if I had to be pulled through a tube while breathing sulfur.

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman