Archive for the ‘Section 31’ Tag

Brief Reviews: Star Trek Movies VII-X   2 comments

Above:  The U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701-E, from Star Trek:  First Contact (1996)

A Screen Capture

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Preliminary Statements

A few preliminary statements will prove helpful before I get into the meat of this post:

  1. I have been a fan of Star Trek for a long time.  I used to watch the original series in reruns–sometimes on weekends and, when possible, weekdays–and record episodes.  I remember stumbling upon an occasional episode of the animated series (1973-1975) on cable television in the early 1990s.  I recall when I could count the number of movies on one hand and have fingers left over.  I remember watching The Next Generation (1987-1994) in first run.  I have watched every Star Trek movie and most episodes.  I watched every episode all the way through Voyager (1995-2001).  I abandoned Star Trek:  Enterprise (2001-2005) early in the third season, for I was tired of subjecting myself to that series after two years.
  2. Certain Star Trek fans are fanatical to the point of leaving vicious comments online.  I have no use for such behavior.  This is entertainment, not a matter of life and death.  William Shatner’s “Get a life” sketch from Saturday Night Live (1986) rings true for many people.
  3. One can find many podcasts and videos regarding Star Trek episodes and movies.  Unfortunately, many of the creators of these media (A) swear enough to embarrass even the most profane sailors, (B) are hyper-critical, to the point of pettiness, and/or (C) speak out of their ignorance.  All of this irritates me.  I respond by ceasing to watch such videos and listen to such podcasts.
  4. On the other hand, many reviewers, working in written, audio, and audio-visual media, do speak and write out of their knowledge.  I am especially fond of the reviews at tor.com, for example.
  5. My intention in this post is neither to write all that I know regarding four Star Trek:  The Next Generation movies nor to replicate the work of others.  (I know far more about these movies than I have written here.)  No, I plan to be concise and to contextualize these films according to each other.  My most basic standard regarding any of the Star Trek movies is whether I want to place the disc in my Blu-ray player, press the “play” button on the remote control, and watch the movie from beginning to end without skipping any scenes.
  6. No work of human beings is perfect, of course, but it can be enjoyable and well-crafted.  I seek to find the good and praise it, imperfect as it might be.

Star Trek:  Generations (1994)

A screen capture

I recall reading Federation (1994), a novel by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, in which two Enterprises–those of Kirk and Picard–encounter each other.  I acknowledge that this was years ago, so my memories of the plot are sketchy, but I assert without a shadow of a doubt that a movie closer to that novel would have been superior to Star Trek:  Generations.

Next Generation writers Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga wrote the screenplay for Generations over a period of a year and a half.  Toward the end of that time they also wrote All Good Things… (1994), the series finale of The Next Generation, in a handful of weeks.  The latter work, they have admitted on their commentary track for Generations, was superior to the former.  Moore and Braga had a difficult assignment, one which came with a studio-issued list of plot elements to include.  Paramount Pictures contributed to the lackluster nature of this movie.  The Nexus, for example, never worked well.  Neither did the death of Captain Kirk.  Furthermore, Kirk and Picard scrambling eggs was an anticlimax.

My main complaint, however, pertains to the destruction of the U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701-D, a capital ship.  The Enterprise-D being vulnerable to an antiquated Klingon Bird of Prey is beyond ridiculous.  But at least we have the scene in which Data, with his emotion chip installed, swears once as the saucer section falls toward Veridian III.  That is entertaining, but the previous scene in which he sings a ditty about scanning for lifeforms is better.

In Dr. Soran we have a villain whose plans do not make sense.  What is to stop him from flying a ship into the Nexus?  Instead he destroys stars and, by extension, solar systems, to alter the course of the Nexus.  I do not emphasize the irrationality of Dr. Soran too much, for I know from history and current events that people are frequently irrational.  I know what has happened, but cannot make logical sense of those events because they are illogical.

All things considered, I have no desire to watch this movie from beginning to end, without skipping scenes.

Star Trek:  First Contact (1996)

A screen capture

Star Trek:  First Contact, the best of the Next Generation movies, according to conventional wisdom, is a film I have difficulty watching.  The movie is too intense for my comfort, due to the Borg, in their silver screen budget incarnation.  They creep me out.  I tend to skip scenes in First Contact, therefore.

First Contact does have its great merits, however.  The black-and-gray uniforms are superior to the immediately preceding uniforms.  Also, the Sovereign Class Enterprise-E is gorgeous.  The characters are in fine form, with Picard having his Captain Ahab phase and Worf being a full Klingon, as when he tells Picard,

If you were any other man, I would kill you where you stand.

I do, however, have a quibble regarding the Borg Queen.  She exists because of a directive from someone at Paramount Pictures.  The Borg are better without a queen, for putting a face on the Collective raises certain difficult questions in universe.  Does she follow the will of the Collective or does she direct it?  And how is it possible that she was on the Borg cube that blew up in The Best of Both Worlds, Part II?

Star Trek:  Insurrection (1998)

A screen capture

I have listened to podcasts and watched video reviews about Star Trek:  Insurrection.  The creators of some of these media have erupted in frustration and frequent profanity.  These have been overreactions.  I have never objected to the fact that some people do not like the film, but I have always insisted that one should express oneself in the style of an adult whose vocabulary is considerably larger than a collection of curse words.

This is my favorite Next Generation movie.  Yes, it feels like a two-parter from the Next Generation series, but it feels like a good two-parter, specifically what Journey’s End (1994), in which Picard presides over the forced relocation of Native Americans, should have been.  In Insurrection Picard occupies what screen writer Michael Piller called “the moral center of the universe.”  Besides, why is the Federation in league with the Son’a, allies of the Dominion (which is trying to conquer the Federation) in the Dominion War?  The answer comes from an earlier draft of the script:  Admiral Dougherty is affiliated with Section 31.

Of all the Next Generation movies, this is the only one I choose to watch from beginning to end, without skipping scenes.

Star Trek:  Nemesis (2002)

A screen capture

Star Trek:  Nemesis, to quote Marina Sirtis, “sucks.”  The best Star Trek stories are character-focused.  In this movie, however, the best character moments are absent from the theatrical cut and are available in the deleted scenes section of the second disc of the set.  Those facts contribute to the poor critical reception of the movie at the time and the disappointing box office results.  This is the movie that, along with Star Trek:  Enterprise, killed the prime universe of Star Trek on screen.

Above:  The Enterprise-E and the Scimitar, after the Enterprise-E rammed the Scimitar

A screen capture

This was, according to the trailer, the final voyage of the Next Generation crew.  Data died, Riker and Troi married and transferred to the U.S.S. Titan, and Crusher left to lead Starfleet Medical.  However, the downloaded memories of Data began to surface in the primitive android B-4 by the end of the movie.  According to Countdown, the comic book prequel to Star Trek (2009), B-4 became Data (Mark II) and the Captain of the Enterprise-E in time.  There might have been subsequent prime universe movies with characters from various series (The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager), but the failure of Nemesis prevented that.

The plot of the movie depends too much on coincidence.  What is the probability that Romulan agents would plot to clone Picard?  What are the odds that the Enterprise-E would detect the disassembled B-4?  And what is the likelihood that Starfleet would send the Enterprise-E to Romulus?

The script of Nemesis, like that of Generations, tackles ponderous themes ambitiously and fails.  The fault does not reside in the purview of the main Next Generation cast.  Patrick Stewart, for example, is so great an actor that he elevates subpar material.  The fault falls upon the writer, John Logan, whose script does not give the characters a proper send off.  Maybe he should take lessons from Nicholas Meyer, co-author of The Undiscovered Country (1991).

I choose not to dwell too much on the illogical plans of Shinzon, the clone of Picard.  Shinzon, for a man who is dying, wastes plenty of time.  Furthermore, why would the destruction of Earth cripple the Federation?  For an explanation of why I am not making more of the irrationality of Shinzon, consult my remarks about Dr. Soran in Generations.

Above:  The Enterprise-E, Undergoing Repairs

A screen capture

Nemesis gives me no satisfaction; I watch only parts of the movie.

Rankings

Ranking these four movies is relatively easy for me:

  1. Star Trek:  Insurrection
  2. Star Trek:  First Contact
  3. Star Trek:  Generations
  4. Star Trek:  Nemesis

The original series movies, taken together, are superior to the Next Generation movies, taken together.

My overall rankings of movies I-X are here.

Special Note:  Abramsverse Movies and Contemporary Star Trek 

Nevertheless, the Next Generation movies, taken together, are superior to the Abramsverse reboot movies #1-3, taken together.  (Movie #4 is in development as I write this.)  Of the three Abramsverse films so far, Star Trek Beyond (2016) is the best and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) is the worst.

Furthermore, the U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701-A, from the end of Star Trek Beyond, is ugly.  I like the Constitution Class refit from the first six Star Trek movies.

I agree with Simon Pegg that prime Spock and Nero entered the past of another parallel universe, not that of the prime universe.  This is obvious to me due to the technology and uniforms.  Besides, the existence of a multiverse in Star Trek has been part of canon since Mirror, Mirror, in the original series.  One might even argue convincingly that Star Trek:  Enterprise occurs in a parallel universe.

Regardless of what CBS/Paramount says, the trailer for Star Trek:  Discovery (2017-) makes the setting of that series look like the Abramsverse.  As Doug Drexler, who knows more about Star Trek than most people, says, Star Trek is a period drama.  A particular era of Star Trek has a certain look.  Why not, therefore, just state plainly that this is an Abramsverse series?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 20, 2017 COMMON ERA

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The Importance of Being Morally Fit for Triumph   1 comment

Above:  The Confession of Captain Benjamin Sisko in In the Pale Moonlight (1998)

A Screen Capture I Took Via PowerDVD

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Or, What Reinhold Niebuhr Has to Do With Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine

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So… I lied. I cheated. I bribed men to cover the crimes of other men. I am an accessory to murder. But the most damning thing of all… I think I can live with it. And if I had to do it all over again, I would. Garak was right about one thing, a guilty conscience is a small price to pay for the safety of the Alpha Quadrant. So I will learn to live with it. Because I can live with it. I can live with it… Computer, erase that entire personal log.

–Captain Benjamin Sisko, In the Pale Moonlight (1998)

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Recently I completed my rewatch of Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine (1993-1999), the best of the Star Trek series.  I had recorded most of the episodes from 1993 to 1999, but I had not sat down and watched the series from beginning to end, skipping certain really bad episodes.  DS9 was the last great Star Trek series–certainly heads and shoulders over Voyager (1995-2001) and Enterprise (2001-2005), two series notable for, among other faults, playing it safe and ignoring continuity much of the time.  DS9 did not play it safe, especially after its troubled first season.  The Dominion War arc certainly took the series into dark and morally ambiguous territory, only part of which I consider in this post.

The Neo-Orthodox theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), a Cold War liberal, had a strong moral compass and an awareness of human sinfulness.  He opened The Irony of American History (1952) with a statement of the possibility that the means by which the free world, led by the United States, might have to win the Cold War might leave the victors morally unfit to govern.  The use of atomic weapons would not only endanger civilization, kill many people,  and cause much physical destruction, he wrote, but lead to moral complications for the victors:

The victors would also face the “imperial” problem of using power in global terms but from one particular center of authority, so preponderant and unchallenged that its world rule would almost certainly violate basic standards of justice.

–Page 2

As Commander William Adama stated in Resurrection Ship, Part II (2006), an episode of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica (2003-2008),

It’s not enough to survive; one must be worthy of surviving.

In the story lines of Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine the Dominion War raged for years and endangered the great powers of the Alpha and  Beta Quadrants–the Klingon Empire, the Romulan Star Empire, and the United Federation of Planets.  (Aside:  The scripts tended not to mention the Beta Quadrant, but, according to official Star Trek lore, the Klingon Empire, the Romulan Star Empire, and much of the Federation were in the Beta Quadrant.)  Forces of the Dominion, an empire presided over by the shape-shifting Founders, fought to conquer the Alpha and Beta Quadrants.  The body counts were staggering and the Dominion seemed to be on the verge of victory.  Times were desperate.

In In the Pale Moonlight (1998) Captain Benjamin Sisko, with the approval of the Federation Council, conspired to trick the Romulan Star Empire into abandoning its non-aggression treaty with the Dominion.  The plan was to convince one Romulan senator, Vreenak, that the Dominion was plotting to invade the Romulan Star Empire.  There was no evidence of this, so Sisko, with Federation approval, arranged for the forging of evidence.  Certainly the Dominion would invade the Romulan Star Empire in time, given the nature of the Dominion and the Founders’ sense of superiority to solids.  Furthermore, the Federation needed for the Romulans to enter the war on its side.  Vreenak recognized the forgery as such, but Elim Garak, who hired the forger then killed him or had him killed, planted a bomb on Vreenak’s shuttle craft.  The leadership of the Romulan Star Empire blamed the Dominion for Vreenak’s death and declared war.  The Federation had a new ally.  Sisko admitted his crimes in private and confessed that he could live with his guilty conscience.

As I have pondered this episode and others, all the way through the end of the series, I have realized that, as the writers presented the story of the Dominion War, Sisko was correct; his crimes were necessary.  The Romulans were crucial to the defeat of the Dominion, after all.

In The Maquis, Part II (1994) Sisko analyzed the difficult situation of a group rebels-terrorists succinctly:

On Earth, there is no poverty, no crime, no war. You look out the window of Starfleet Headquarters and you see paradise. Well, it’s easy to be a saint in paradise, but the Maquis do not live in paradise. Out there in the Demilitarized Zone, all the problems haven’t been solved yet. Out there, there are no saints — just people. Angry, scared, determined people who are going to do whatever it takes to survive, whether it meets with Federation approval or not!

However, later, in For the Uniform (1997), Sisko poisoned the atmosphere of  Maquis colony world and prepared to do the same to other Maquis colonies.  A vendetta against one Maquis leader, Michael Eddington, inspired this plan.

Above:  Dr. Julian Bashir Confronts Admiral William Ross in Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges (1999)

A Screen Capture via PowerDVD

Sisko, the greatest of all the Star Trek captains, did not live in paradise, neither was he a saint.  Neither was Admiral William Ross, as in Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges (1999).  In a story reminiscent of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold,  a great Cold War thriller, Admiral Ross plotted with Section 31, the Federation’s black operations agency that officially does not exist, to frame an innocent and  patriotic Romulan senator and thereby improve the political standing of a double agent.  After all, as Ross said in Latin, quoting Cicero,

In time of war the law falls silent.

Later in the series Dr. Julian Bashir, who takes his Hippocratic Oath seriously, learns that Section 31 was responsible for infecting the Founders of the Dominion with a fatal virus–that the Federation was responsible for attempted genocide.  The Federation, as Gene Roddenberry conceived of it in the 1960s, was a noble and idealistic organization.  DS9 did more to expose the dark underbelly of the Federation than did any other filmed incarnation of Star Trek.  DS9 gave us Section 31, for example.  The writers seemed to present Section 31 in such a way as to make plain its moral dubiousness as well as its practical necessity.

Roddenberry’s Federation is an analog for the United States of America, just as the Klingon Empire is an analog for the Soviet Union.  Thus, in Star Trek VI:  The Undiscovered Country (1991) the two powers begin to end their cold war.  Since the Federation stands in for the U.S.A., the moral questions the Federation faces during the Dominion War might remind one of morally questionable policies of the U.S. Government over time, especially in the context of the Cold War and events since September 11, 2001.   Overthrowing democratically elected governments that are merely inconvenient to U.S. business interests and installing military dictatorships that victimize their own citizenry for decades contradicts U.S. ideals, does it not?  Supporting brutal regimes–whether fascist or military dictatorships–because they are not communist should trouble one’s conscience, should it not?  Also, committing and condoning torture makes one morally unfit.  Whom would Jesus torture?  As Niebuhr reminds us down the corridors of time, we must be morally fit, not just victorious.

All of this brings me to a point:  How can we defend ideals that are in peril by violating those ideals?  We cannot, of course.  Yes, we might have to get our hands dirty, so to speak, but, if we get them too dirty, we compromise ourselves morally and render ourselves morally unfit to serve the interests of justice.   How we treat others is about our character, not theirs.  We may not live in paradise, but how close to the standard of sainthood can we live?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 17, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF EDITH BOYLE MACALISTER, ENGLISH NOVELIST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT EMILY DE VIALAR, FOUNDER OF THE SISTERS OF SAINT JOSEPH OF THE APPARITION

THE FEAST OF JANE CROSS BELL SIMPSON, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS TERESA AND MAFALDA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESSES, QUEENS, AND NUNS; AND SANCHIA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESS AND NUN

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2017/06/17/the-importance-of-being-morally-fit-for-triumph/

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