Monday, May 16, 2016

Accidental Star Trek Cosplay is my new Tumblr about the fascinating subject of people who unintentionally dress like Star Trek characters

The Star Wars franchise had quite an artistic comeback last winter. Not everyone was over the moon of Yavin about The Force Awakens, but when even my former colleague Richard von Busack--the Metro Newspapers film critic who prefers the Bond movies and Alexander Salkind's Superman movies over the Star Wars franchise as '70s and '80s tentpole entertainment and has found the Star Wars flicks to be too much like bad '70s Sid and Marty Krofft kids' shows--considered parts of The Force Awakens to be genuinely moving and more akin to something like Robin and Marian rather than a Krofft show, you know it's an above-average Star Wars installment.

I found The Force Awakens to be satisfying as well, even though the film totally wasted Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones reduced her screen time as Brienne of Tarth last season for this, a role where she never says anything memorable and never takes off her helmet?) and Raid stars Yayan Ruhian and Iko Uwais. You don't hire Mad Dog and Rama to just stand around and become people-shaped snacks for a giant space monster two minutes later. You hire them to smash people's noggins in with their knees and break motherfuckers' legs with their bare hands.

Now it's Star Trek's turn to experience an artistic comeback as a sci-fi multimedia franchise after a major low point, and the timing for its potential comeback is perfect because 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the original Star Trek's premiere on NBC. I don't know why Paramount doesn't acknowledge 1964 as Star Trek's birth year: that was when Lucille Ball, who was breaking ground as the female head of an indie TV studio, took a chance on Star Trek, and Ball's Desilu studio, writer/producer Gene Roddenberry and director Robert Butler began filming "The Cage," the first of two pilot episodes for Star Trek. So Star Trek is actually 52 years old, but who's counting--aside from Poindexter in a basement somewhere in Yonkers, who claims to be the world's only expert on the exact time and date when Roddenberry first started typing up the "Cage" writer's bible about "Captain Robert M. April"?

Paramount has two major Star Trek projects on the horizon: Justin Lin's Star Trek Beyond in July and an hour-long Star Trek anthology show from Hannibal showrunner Bryan Fuller for the CBS All Access streaming service in 2017. I'm a fan of the episodes Lin directed for Community and the Lin movies Better Luck Tomorrow and Fast Five, so I have some faith that Star Trek Beyond won't be atrocious, especially when--in addition to a director who grew up watching the original Star Trek on KCOP and isn't going to turn Trek into godawful 9/11 truther propaganda--the threequel is co-written by cast member Simon Pegg, whose past writing credits include the terrific Cornetto trilogy. The current J.J. Abrams-produced Trek movies appear to be echoing the path of the Mission: Impossible movies: the first one is a highly entertaining action flick, unless you're a hardcore fan of the source material who can't stand the changes that have been made to the material; the totally dumbed-down second one sucks ass; and the threequel appears to be a soft reboot after nobody--not even a lot of the more casual fans of the franchise--would admit to liking the second one, despite the second one making a shitload of money.

Star Trek Beyond (Photo source: Wired)

But I'm more enthusiastic about Trek's return to TV--the medium where Trek can be as cerebral as it wants to be and it doesn't have to dumb itself down in order to satisfy international audiences, who have always been indifferent to Trek movies--because Nicholas Meyer, the director of two of the best Trek flicks, The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country, is attached to the project. Also, Fuller--who wrote for both Deep Space Nine and Voyager before going on to create several short-lived and weird but enjoyable shows and envisioning, as he was working on those cult favorites, a nicely progressive take on Trek in which Angela Bassett would get to be the captain and Rosario Dawson would be her first officer--is the perfect person to be at the helm.

I like three of the seven Star Wars movies and Genndy Tartakovsky's Star Wars: Clone Wars animated shorts, but my heart belongs to Trek because at its best, Trek has a lot more on its mind than just action sequences and space battles, and it cast Asian actors in major, non-stereotypical roles, long before Star Wars did the same this year when it cast newcomer Kelly Marie Tran in a leading role for the eighth installment. Though I like Trek slightly more than Wars, I don't believe in pitting these two sci-fi franchises--or any other pair of sci-fi franchises--against each other as if they're Drake and Meek Mill, which is why I've rolled my eyes when Scrubs star Donald Faison, a Wars nerd, publicly bashes Trek to create beef between the Wars contingent and the Trek heads, or when Kevin Church, a writer who runs They Boldly Went, a Tumblr about the '60s Trek, uses his Tumblr to bash Doctor Who. A person can like both Wars and Trek at the same time (or Trek and Who at the same time), just like how someone doesn't have to be a Nas person or a Jay Z person. Can't a motherfucker be both? Nas and Hov are about the same quality-wise. They've both had the same amount of above-average material and lousy material. The same is true about Wars and Trek.

That being said, Trek, its first three spinoffs and nine of its first 10 films are also home to some of the ugliest futuristic clothes ever stitched together in Hollywood (the outlier out of the 10 films is First Contact, which marked the first time when, thanks to Deborah Everton, the costume designer for The Craft, Trek's ideas of futuristic attire looked sensible and GQ-ish for a change and they didn't suck). Trek costume designer William Ware Theiss' offbeat work on the '60s show isn't totally ugly. I'm a red-blooded male--I like looking at the female guest stars slinking around in skin-baring costumes created by Theiss. Those costumes are the highlights of Theiss' work. But the uniform tops Theiss designed for Starfleet, especially the male officers, don't look like uniform tops made for a futuristic space Navy. They look more like softball ringer T-shirts. I keep expecting to see Spock run out a bunt. The brightly colored Starfleet uniforms were intended to capitalize on the rise of color TV and showcase NBC's visual advances as the self-proclaimed "Full Color Network," but in 2016, the cartoony and cheap-looking velour shirts just look strange and can occasionally take attention away from the drama during a dead-serious, non-campy and exemplary episode like "Balance of Terror."

At least the '60s uniforms aren't as hideous as costume designer Robert Fletcher's Starfleet uniform redesigns in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Sure, it's great that female officers finally got to wear pants again, 13 years after "The Corbomite Maneuver" threw away their pants and required them to wear only miniskirts, but otherwise, the Star Trek: TMP outfits are the ugliest clothes in all of Trek. Entertainment Weekly's Darren Franich, who's been reassessing each of the Trek movies because of the franchise's 50th anniversary, came up with a great description for the epic fail that was the TMP revamp of both the uniforms and the Enterprise set design color schemes: the beige, gray, light brown and off-white clothes look like furniture, and the furniture looks like clothes.

Enterprise engineer Ron Burgundy clearly isn't enjoying the shit out of this meeting.

Gene Roddenberry wanted no traces of militarism in the TMP uniforms, which doesn't make much sense because then they end up not looking like uniforms anymore. The result of Roddenberry's demands was pajamas straight out of a creepy commune instead of a futuristic space Navy.

It's interesting how the worst uniforms in Trek history were followed by the best: for The Wrath of Khan, Fletcher recolored and heavily tweaked his own much-maligned TMP uniforms, and without Roddenberry in charge anymore, he finally made the uniforms actually look like uniforms. The off-duty clothes weren't as good though--those costumes looked as if Botany 500 butt-fucked Space: 1999, especially when Dr. McCoy complemented his beige Roger Moore safari outfit with a Mr. Furley ascot during the Genesis trilogy.

(Photo source: Bones, buckle up!)

The off-duty (or civilian) outfits continued to uglify when Star Trek: The Next Generation came along, and Theiss returned to Trek to stick Wesley Crusher in drippy Cosby sweaters no ordinary teen would ever be caught dead in. Wesley's duds are the kind of futuristic fashion that's about as hip as the music of black Republican rapper Aspiring Mogul--or as hip as that time when Rick Berman, perhaps influenced by Armageddon and its Diane Warren-penned Aerosmith theme, thought it would be a good idea to modernize the music of Trek during the Enterprise opening titles by rehashing Rod Stewart's sappy, Diane Warren-penned theme from Patch Adams. Theiss also gave Starfleet a fashion makeover that hearkened back to the comic strip colors of the '60s, but instead of velour softball tees, he outfitted the officers this time in spandex bobsled jumpsuits. Costume designer Robert Blackman later had to revamp the Next Generation uniforms and replace the tight-fitting spandex suits with two-piece wool costumes in order to put an end to some back problems Patrick Stewart developed from looking like an Albanian bobsledder at the Winter Olympics. Blackman's modifications to the Theiss design were also intended to make the uniforms look more noble and heroic, and if a cast member's waistline started to expand due to either pregnancy or too many plates of gagh from the craft services table in between takes, a two-piece wool outfit would be able to make it look somewhat flattering, unlike Buddy Love's favorite fabric.

Despite their cheesiness, the Theiss uniforms aren't so awful-looking that they completely ruin the storytelling during Trek, and it's easy to see why Trek fans--particularly those who, unlike me, don't care that psychedelic-era Kirk and Spock look like softball jocks instead of space Navy men--are in love with the Theiss uniforms, whether those unis are from the original Trek or The Next Generation: the simplicity of the Theiss designs makes the costumes easy to recreate when they cosplay as their favorite characters. Just grab a black undershirt and a bright yellow sweatshirt, and you're automatically Kirk or Sulu, ready to face the universe or whatever photon torpedoes the Klingons hurl at you.

Anyone can easily look like they serve in Starfleet, so that's why I'm amused and, like Spock would say, fascinated by online photos of people who dress like characters from one of my favorite sci-fi franchises without realizing they look like them. Ever since I stumbled into a 2009 photo of a passenger in a Hong Kong train who looked like he was promoting the release of J.J. Abrams' first Trek movie, I've been collecting pics of accidental Trek cosplay.

Trek's 50th anniversary means it's the perfect time for me to take those pics of accidental Trek cosplay that I've found and compile them on Tumblr, as well as track down a few new ones to add to my new Tumblr, which I'm calling Accidental Star Trek Cosplay. Preppies and grandmas aren't the only folks who dress like they're being chased around space by Borg cubes. A lot of news anchors and meteorologists appear to be into accidental Trek cosplay as well.

Hmm, I wonder why no one's accidentally cosplaying as the characters during their TMP phase. I guess puke-colored unitards that look like furniture are passé this century.

While Accidental Star Trek Cosplay warps into the fashion frontier during the 50th anniversary, here's an oldie but goodie from June 20, 2014, in which I looked at a fan-made movie trailer that's not exactly an Honest Trailer for the horribly dressed TMP, but like what Jamie Lee Curtis did to a dorky-looking black dress with nothing more than her bare hands in True Lies, it stylishly trims the tedious 1979 movie down to just a few of its best parts.


A fan-made Star Trek: The Motion Picture trailer from 2013 does a better job of selling Robert Wise's mixed bag of a film than the original 1979 trailers did

Yo Spock, you ought to be aiming your phaser at that Killer Klown from Outer Space.
(Photo source: My Star Trek Scrapbook)

Mission Log is an excellent Star Trek podcast I've previously written about here and more recently here. Hosts Ken Ray and John Champion have undertaken an ambitious mission: to analyze every single episode of Star Trek and its TV and movie spinoffs, from 1965 to 2005 (I'm not sure if they'll reach 2009 and 2013, but I already know bits and pieces of what Ray thinks of 2013, and I assume a lot of it is going to be him saying, "Orciiiiiiii!").

The two Star Trek fans want to find out which older Trek episodes stand the test of time, especially in the age of both the antihero on cable and more sophisticated sci-fi shows like former Deep Space Nine writer Ronald D. Moore's Battlestar Galactica, former DS9 writer Ira Steven Behr's much-missed creation Alphas and the current BBC America hit Orphan Black. Anyone who either currently writes for TV or is, like me, considering transitioning to that kind of career ought to listen to Mission Log. The audience gets to learn a lot from Ray and Champion about the things episodic TV from any era does effectively and the things episodic TV--especially TV in the '60s, long before the game-changing, novelistic Hill Street Blues or Game of Thrones--didn't do so effectively. For instance, if the '60s Trek were made for TV today, Edith Keeler's death at the end of "The City on the Edge of Forever" would have deeply affected Kirk's character for the rest of the series, and exploring his grief and guilt over Edith's death would have been a much better move than how the '60s Trek handled her death afterward, and that was to oddly brush Edith aside and completely forget about her as if she were yet another dead Cartwright bride.

Ray and Champion have reached the '80s Trek feature films by this point, and after they did their analysis of Robert Wise's Star Trek: The Motion Picture last week (Ray doesn't think the 1979 film stands the test of time, while Champion thinks it still does), a Mission Log listener from Norcross, Georgia named Alex Bales posted on the podcast's Facebook wall a fan-made TMP trailer he produced. Unless it's made by the people behind the Screen Junkies channel's Honest Trailers series or Ivan Guerrero, I don't care for fan-made movie trailers, but Bales' trailer is a rare fan-made trailer I actually like--and even more so than the 1979 film itself.

TMP is a mixed bag of a film. It's a rehash of concepts from both the 1967 Trek episode "The Changeling" and 2001: A Space Odyssey that were better executed in those '60s productions. TMP ripped off 2001's "evolution into a superior life form" finale (the film even recruited 2001 visual FX genius Douglas Trumbull, who was also involved with Close Encounters, a smash hit that, along with the success of Star Wars, spurred Paramount to rush a Trek feature film into production). I get that Wise and Gene Roddenberry wanted to make the last great old-fashioned space epic (TMP was one of the last Hollywood epics that opened with an overture before flashing the studio logo), and while I kind of appreciate how TMP chose to emulate the contemplative and moody 2001 instead of the then-frequently duplicated Star Wars, plopping crowd-pleasing heroes like Kirk and Spock and quippy secondary characters like McCoy and Scotty into the clinical tone of 2001 is like asking Kendrick Lamar to rhyme over polka music. It's not going to work.

We want to see Kirk, Spock and McCoy wittily sniping at each other and debating over serious ethical dilemmas or fighting their way out of trouble like they frequently did on the '60s show (and would later frequently do in Nicholas Meyer's superior Trek films). We don't want to see them gawking silently for 15 minutes at pothead-friendly laser light show FX. Even Wise's previous '70s sci-fi procedural, the equally clinically toned but much superior Andromeda Strain, had more humor and personality than this film, McCoy snarking about Spock being "warm and sociable as ever" aside.

Scottish Daily Dot writer Gavia Baker-Whitelaw runs Hello, Tailor!, a blog that analyzes costume design in geek-friendly movies ranging from TMP to the Marvel Cinematic Universe blockbusters, and in a biting Hello, Tailor! critique of TMP costume designer Robert Fletcher's ugly Starfleet uniform redesigns that's a must-read, she summed up TMP best. She called it "a three-hour screensaver interspersed with shots of William Shatner emoting into the middle distance."

Watching Bales' well-edited fan-made trailer made me notice that Paramount and whatever trailer house it hired in 1979 had no idea how to work around the weak material of this three-hour screensaver and market the film effectively, as evidenced in its Orson Welles-narrated teaser trailer and final trailer. Sure, the film wasn't finished and Jerry Goldsmith's incredible score--the strongest element of TMP--hadn't been recorded yet when the trailer house worked on the teaser, so they didn't have much footage to choose from. But aside from that still-amazing-looking model of the refitted Enterprise in drydock, they chose the least interesting footage--and the least enticing score music, some atonal, THX Deep Note-style synth piece.

Good God, Lemon, the Irwin Allen disaster flick music and the synth church organ cue in the final trailer are even worse than the THX Flat Note. And the announcer who's not Charles Foster Kane is the worst announcer in an illustrious history of Trek trailer and promo announcers that's included Welles, Hal Douglas, Christopher Plummer, Ernie "The Loooove Boat" Anderson, Don LaFontaine and Phil Terrence. The announcer in the final trailer has all the gravitas of Derek from Teenagers from Outer Space. I think maybe it is actually Derek from Teenagers from Outer Space.

It's too bad Goldsmith's score wasn't completed at the time because that would have helped the dully narrated final trailer immensely, like how "Leaving Drydock" and "Ilia's Theme" added so much awe to TMP's Welles-narrated TV spots, which were a vast improvement over the two trailers (and were remastered in 2012 by TMP "Director's Edition" visual FX supervisor Daren R. Dochterman, which explains why these TV spots from 1979 look as good as Betsy Russell and Marisa Tomei). Despite the appropriate gravitas of Welles during the teaser, neither trailer would make me want to watch the film, whereas Bales' trailer does.

What Bales gets right that the 1979 trailer house behind the two trailers didn't is emotionally involving the viewers. He accomplishes that by 1) using "What Do You See?," a powerful--without being overbearing--John Murphy score cue from a sci-fi film I haven't seen yet (and I'm kicking myself for not having seen it), Danny Boyle's Sunshine; 2) choosing the perfect clips to go with the Murphy score cue; and 3) focusing on the best and most dramatically satisfying part of TMP's otherwise derivative and uninvolving story (and it's dramatically satisfying only during the "Director's Edition" that was assembled for DVD in 2001 and, unfortunately, hasn't been remastered for Blu-ray). That part would have to be Spock's lifelong inner conflict over his biracial heritage and his search for some sort of meaning in his life, which mirrors the V'Ger entity's search for its creator (Spock's arc also contains my favorite sequence in the film and the one lengthy V'Ger FX sequence that works, the genuinely gripping "Spock walk" sequence). Bales' trailer embodies the emotional depth that Baker-Whitelaw said was what "made the original Star Trek series so compelling" and was too absent for her tastes during TMP.

Is it me or does late '70s movie trailer making just really suck, 1979 Alien teaser trailers aside? The cluelessness of Paramount and TMP's trailer house reminds me of Warner Bros. Family Entertainment's cluelessness when they had to market Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, an above-average 1993 animated film that was understandably difficult to market because it was too adult for kids and too kiddie for adults who were immune to the pleasures of Batman: The Animated Series. But instead of rolling up their sleeves and pulling a Don Draper/Peggy Olson all-nighter to tackle this marketing dilemma, WBFE's ad department came up with the laziest written copy for a Batman movie marketing campaign ever: "America's most exciting and legendary motion picture hero comes to the screen like you've never seen him before, in an all-new, larger-than-life feature film." Why so tedious?

She's got legs. She knows how to use them. Sheer Energy L'eggs!
(Photo source: The Propstop)

Though he first posted the fan-made trailer in 2013, Bales looks as if he took a cue from last month's "9 (Short) Storytelling Tips from a Master of Movie Trailers." To get some advice on how to be effective at modern movie trailer making, Co.Create turned to John Long, co-founder of Buddha Jones, the trailer house behind Muppets Most Wanted's Golden Trailer Award-winning "Across the Internet" TV spot, the first TV spot for a movie that's actually made me laugh out loud in ages. One of Long's tips is "you have to hook people immediately whether it's a great piece of dialogue between characters, an unexpected jolt of some kind or a wonderful piece of music. Then, you need to escalate." That's exactly what Bales does: hooking the viewer with both Spock's "Why am I here?" line and "What Do You See?" and then escalating. The result is a trailer that makes TMP appear to be a better film than the three-hour screensaver it actually is.

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