REVIEW — Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

I’ve been working my way through all seven seasons of Deep Space Nine on Netflix on-and-off for the past 10 or so months. Because a girl’s gotta have goals, right? And guess what? I finished it this past weekend!

DS9 was my dad’s least-favorite Star Trek series. In practical terms, this means that we never had any old VHS tapes of recorded episodes (complete with commercials) lying around the house when I was growing up, whereas with every other Star Trek series, we had quite a few of those (although not necessarily of very good visual or story quality — I recall watching an incredibly grainy version of “The Lights of Zetar” once upon a time), plus a bunch of actual purchased VHSs and DVDs, not to mention the tie-in novels and other such goodies. But DS9, nope. I’d never seen an entire episode of it until I started watching it on Netflix lo those many months ago.

So I have to say, given how low my expectations were set, DS9 was a million times better than I thought it would be, though it did have some notable weaknesses. It also had some really wonderful strengths, mostly due to it being more serialized than other Trek series.

Strength #1: Character continuity and development.

This wasn’t necessarily taken as far as it could have been — there are certainly plenty of standalone episodes that are never referenced again and never have major consequences for the characters — but often I was very pleasantly surprised to see elements that I thought were one-off concepts return and be developed in interesting and relevant ways. I’m not going to give specifics because *spoilers* but there are quite a few, especially surrounding Dr. Julian Bashir.

And then there’s the fact that the characters themselves are given arcs and journeys that genuinely change them, bringing them to entirely new psychological territory between the beginning of the series and the end of it. The standouts to me in this area are the aforementioned Dr. Bashir, and Nog, the young Ferengi. Bashir starts out as a cocky, motor-mouthed, frankly annoying manchild, and evolves into a serious, idealistic, genuinely charming dude. (I’ll admit, by the end, I was quite fond of Julian Bashir.) Nog’s transformation is even more extreme — he starts as a stereotypical Ferengi: scheming, manipulative, irritating, an overall no-goodnik. He ends as the first Ferengi in Starfleet, a conscientious officer, even a war hero, and it all happens in a slow and natural progression that is convincing to watch.

Strength #2: Two words: Kira Nerys.

I have such a mad crush on this woman that I intend to write an entire post about her alone. Stay tuned.

Strength #3: Interesting, multidimensional villains.

This area could be especially spoilertastic, so I’m not going to go into much detail. Suffice it to say, very few villains do not switch sides in some way at least once, and sometimes the good guys can go bad, or at least go rogue. And not in the typical sci-fi, possessed-by-aliens way. Real, voluntary choices made under conflicting pressures. Good stuff.

There are of course many more strengths — if you’re a fan of serialized plotting with a huge big-picture arc that spans an entire series, you’ve definitely got a lot to sink your teeth into in DS9 — but those are my faves.

Now, the bad.

Weakness #1: Avery Brooks as Captain Sisko.

I hate to say it, but it was almost always painful to watch Brooks onscreen. Throughout the series, he is wooden, has very little range of expression with his face, he makes strangely deliberate-seeming choices with his movements and facial expressions that rarely feel organic, but worst of all is the way he has the character speak. He pauses in odd places, huffs out some of his words, emphasizes others unnecessarily, and just overall sounds like a bad, scripted actor who doesn’t know how to make the lines sound like something a real person would spontaneously say. It’s unbelievably distracting. The show is infinitely stronger when it focuses on characters other than Sisko, or on plots so strong that even his involvement can’t trip them up too much (“In the Pale Moonlight” is an ep that comes to mind in that department).

Weakness #2: Mysticism.

This section is pretty spoilery, so skip it if you don’t want any of that.

The show basically invents its own religion, practiced by the inhabitants of the planet Bajor, surrounding aliens that live in the wormhole right next to Bajor and the Deep Space Nine space station. The aliens are referred to by the Bajorans as “the Prophets” and the more we interact with them during the series, the more it seems that they are built on the God-concept of “powerful but limited beings with unfathomable motives and little concern or understanding of the average person’s day-to-day life, but with influence over the big picture.” I understand that this is certainly a God-concept in plenty of religions, but I find it hard to believe that the vast majority of Bajorans would be totally cool with this, and that the population is so united religiously. Then again, in Babylon 5, every alien race is portrayed as having one major religion, so maybe it’s just a sci-fi trope.

The bigger problem with this God-concept, though, is that the rules and limits regarding The Prophets are so vague that the writers can pretty much do whatever they want with them. Over and over and over again. It often feels like a cheat, and makes me wonder if a better story could have been told without the religious/mystical angle, because having it at their disposal means the writers can essentially use magic to solve their problems when they feel like it, instead of coming up with complex and satisfying solutions.

Weakness #3: Ferengi.

…Yeah, Ferengi can be really annoying, and there’s a lot of Ferengi stuff on DS9. Surprisingly it’s not bad all the time. DS9 actually made a few Ferengi-centric episodes that I found enjoyable. Quark is multi-layered character, thanks largely to Armin Shimerman’s nuanced performance, and the writers did give some character development to characters who initially seemed like they’d just be walking punchlines, like Rom and Nog. But yeah, sometimes Ferengi are just REALLY ANNOYING.

Those are my main pet peeves about the show. They can interfere with the enjoyment of quite a few episodes, unfortunately, and often the show seems to be great despite them, not because of them. But the show at its best is great, and at its worst is still pretty darn okay.

Rating: 4/5

Advertisements

REVIEW: Adaptation by Malinda Lo

 

 

 

I try not to go into anything with expectations. Having no expectations that something will be good means you’re free to absorb whatever it is — a book, a movie, a TV show, a game — with fewer biases, and are less likely to be disappointed, because hey, you never expected it to be good in the first place.

On the other hand, sometimes I can’t help but get excited about something before I even read or see it. This book was an example of that. A 40 page preview was released a few months before it came out, and I read it and it was fantastic. Intense, fast-paced, action-packed, with dozens of questions set up to be answered in the rest of the book. So I was excited about that.

I also knew a bit about the author, Malinda Lo, who is a Chinese-American lesbian Young Adult writer who is known in the YA publishing community for being a wonderful voice on issues such as racial diversity and LGBTQ portrayals in YA literature. Adaptation was nominated for a Lambda award, plus I knew there would be at least one major LGBTQ character, and I was looking forward to seeing how Lo would balance that aspect with the action-adventure plot. I was really excited to read a book with an LGBTQ main character that wasn’t ABOUT being LGBTQ, but rather having that as just one element of the character and the story.

And well . . . I should have known better than to have expectations. I was unfortunately disappointed.

The opening chapters are riveting, no doubt about that. The book starts with the main character, Reese, and her high school debate partner and their coach waiting to fly home from a debate tournament, and then suddenly planes start crashing all over the country. No one knows what’s going on, all flights are grounded, people start to panic, and to top it off, all information about the plane crashes is being systematically wiped from the internet. It’s intense.

But then . . . things slow down. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t need nonstop action to keep me happy as a reader. But the problem is, when the action slows down, the faults in the characterization become more apparent. I really wanted to like Reese and be invested in her story, but I felt like I didn’t have a good enough handle on who she was as a person, what makes her tick outside of direct influences from the plot, and that made it difficult to empathize with her.

Perhaps this was because there was so much frantic action in the first few chapters — it’s hard to establish personality under those circumstances. But also, Lo seems to skimp on details that aren’t directly plot-relevant. For instance, Reese and her debate partner, David, just lost a huge tournament after making it to the finals. But we never once hear what the topic of the debate was. We never once hear about any topics for any debates, which presumably there have been a lot of if they made it all the way to the finals. We never see Reese use any possible knowledge she learned in her years as a debater. Research skills, methods of arguing, reasons why Reese was so driven to succeed in this particular area, specific memories relating to previous debates — none of these are demonstrated or explored. This was frustrating to me from a character perspective. I love when female characters are given passions that have nothing to do with romance (sadly all too rare), but this passion seemed sorely underdeveloped, to the detriment of the character.

And then I had issues with the romance. Not to give too much away, but toward the middle of the novel, Reese meets a girl who makes her question her sexuality, and they begin to pursue a relationship.

As someone who has close friends who identify as bisexual or fluid and have struggled with it, I was really glad to see it represented so matter-of-factly. Unfortunately, I didn’t think highly of the romantic relationship because of the underdeveloped characterization. Romance is a great way to reveal character — you learn about what a character values, what they need, what they respond to in another person, what they connect with. Disappointingly, it seems that most of what Reese is shown to connect with in her love interest is that she’s hot, like really really hot. And flighty and adventurous in the vein of the manic pixie dreamgirl. Not much substance to the relationship at all. And I guess being able to show that hormone-driven high school relationships (cough Twilight cough) have every right to be homosexual as well as heterosexual is a good thing, but it’s not very satisfying.

So overall, I really wanted to like this book. It had a lot of good ideas and interesting elements, but the execution was lacking. There’s a sequel in the works, and I’m on the fence about whether I want to read it or not. Characterization has been known to improve over the life of a series, though, so I might give it a shot.

Image source

MOVIE REVIEW: Gattaca

I freaking love this movie, I’ll just get that out there right from the start.

It is tightly written, it is alien but scarily plausible, it is well-developed down to the fictitious slang terms the characters use, the objectives are so clearly defined, the characters are likeable, the details are precise and painstaking (the letters in GATTACA are all letters from the genetic code, entirely appropriate for a movie about a dystopian society where everyone is judged based on their genes), the stakes are high, every scene adds something to the overall picture . . . it is just a thing of beauty.

This was my third time seeing this movie — the first was in AP Bio after we’d taken the AP and class became basically party time, the second was when I forced my dad to get it from Netflix and watch it (he fell asleep grrrrr) — and even on my third viewing I have only three minor complaints:

 

1)   The murder victim whose death shifts the movie from fascinating setup to whodunit mystery is not someone we viewers ever meet. This is a minor quibble, because meeting him is obviously not necessary, but I really would have liked to know who he actually was and why he opposed the mission he was killed for opposing.

2)   The final confrontation between the narrator, Vincent, and his brother Anton kind of turns into a testosterone fest. There was a great line about motivation — Vincent says, “I never saved anything for the way back” in order to explain how he could swim farther than his genetically advantaged brother — that almost makes it worth it, but I’ll admit the scene is kind of silly.

3)   I’d have liked to have seen more of the world outside the Gattaca institution and its astronauts. How do the other genetically perfect people spend their time? What futuristic jobs do they do? I don’t know where this would have fit in, but I am CURIOUS.

 

Things I loved that far offset these tiny criticisms:

 

1)   The concept of exceeding your preordained potential. As Locke from LOST would say, “DON’T TELL ME WHAT I CAN’T DO!” I’m pretty sure Vincent says that verbatim at one point.

2)   Jude Law is fantastic as the wheelchair-bound Jerome. Favorite role I’ve seen him in by far. (To be fair, the only other Jude Law movie I can recall seeing at the moment is Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, but still.)

3)   Uma Thurman is stunning. Also, her performance is very poised, but she conveys so many nuances in every slight change of her expression. Makes me want to see more of her movies.

4)   The fact that once people perfected genetic engineering in this universe, they apparently stopped bothering to find cures for things. Like Jerome broke his back and there is no surgical procedure even suggested in order to fix it. It’s a culture of disposability — like going to an Apple store with a problem with your laptop and instead of fixing it, they just give you a new one.

5)   The doctor is played by Mason from 24.

 

So what I’m saying is, if you haven’t seen this movie, you’re missing out big time.