Star Trek: Voyager

startrekvoyagerStar Trek: Voyager is the worst Star Trek show. And by that I don’t mean it’s the fifth-best Star Trek show. I mean it’s just a bad show.

And, yes, it’s worse than Star Trek: Enterprise, which wasn’t very good either. But at least Enterprise had some interesting crew and tried to do a few things, although it annoyingly ignored canon at times. Still, that’s better than Star Trek: Voyager, which was an exercise in the writers growing far too comfortable (read: complacent) with the genre and the era.

 
What Works
Interesting premise, flinging the ship and crew seventy thousand light years from Federation space. One query with this is that Kirk and Picard regularly had their ships flung to the far reaches of the galaxy, and always got back within forty minutes. But at least the idea is sound.

Robert Picardo is excellent as the Doctor, and Jeri Ryan strong as Seven of Nine. Robert Beltran brings a quiet nobility to Command Chakotay, but is underused (allegedly, because Beltran was so outspoken about the direction of the show). Kate Mulgrew is a good actress and was solid as Star Trek’s first commanding female officer but, unfortunately, Captain Kathryn Janeway is a terrible character.

 
What Doesn’t Work
Mulgrew herself described Janeway as ‘bipolar’ to explain why she was so erratic, although apparently the reason for this were different writers had different ideas on how Janeway should be portrayed, so were always pushing their own agenda given their opportunity.

The rest of the cast is bland – Tuvok (Tim Russ) was just a Spock clone without what made Spock interesting (the half-human side). Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) was meant to be killed off a few seasons in, which shows how valued he was. B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson) just seemed to run around being angry or frustrated with everybody. Tom Paris (Robert Duncan MacNeill) is likeable, but doesn’t get to do much. Kes (Jennifer Lien) walks around in a perpetually dreamy state, and Neelix (Ethan Phillips) is appalling, with little to offer once Voyager moves out of the regions he knows. All these characters become one-dimensional, even when their lives change circumstantially. They hit their beats, do their thing, and that’s it for them.

Following The Original Series, the writers struggled creating adversarial races. The Ferengi were initially laughable, and the writers could never make the Romulans work as this omnipresent threat. The Breen were often mentioned but never went anywhere. Ultimately, to create threatening aliens, the writers fell back on using a warrior archetype, which meant they just cloned the Klingons, e.g. the Jem’Hadar were just juiced-up Klingon, while the Cardassians were cultured Klingons. What helped the Cardassians come to life were two compelling characters, Gul Dukat and Elim Garak, played brilliantly by Marc Alaimo and Andrew Robinson. Through Dukat and Garak, the Cardassians gained depth. The Borg were genuinely good as mechanised Klingons. In Star Trek: Voyager, the initial threat were the Kazon, another brand of alien who were just Klingon Lite.

Initially, Janeway integrates Chakotay’s Maquis crew onto Voyager, which is meant to create conflict and tension. That’s briefly explored, but then dropped. The show then unfolds as a clone of Star Trek: Next Generation, with the crew stopping to investigate new life, new civilisations, and all that. You’d think given how far they are from home, there’d be some urgency about their journey, and that their Starfleet integrity would be tested more. It happens a few times, but never with any real complexity.

Robert Beltran was also critical of the show as it went on, saying that Janeway had grown tyrannical, that supporting characters were forgotten, and any time any situation came up, all Janeway had to do was consult Seven of Nine’s repository of Borg knowledge for a solution, thus it made the rest of them redundant.

The technobabble progressively grows out of control so that it undermines any dramatic tension. If you look at the climax of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan as a comparison, we have a very simple set up: the ship doesn’t have enough power to warp away before the Genesis device explodes. Spock goes down and we see him fixing something to do with the engine. The Enterprise regains power and warps away. Nice, simple, yet compelling. We understand that. Technobabble used? Zero. In Voyager, you know they’ll get out of any situation just by spouting some meaningless technobabble. It becomes a deus ex machina. Then there’s the Borg: they were intimidating in Star Trek: The Next Generation. In Star Trek: Voyager, they’ve lost any real threat. Whenever the crew of the Voyager deal with them, it’s with complete aplomb.

Finally, I’m unsure why the needed so many time travel stories. The writers have the vastness of the galaxy, they’re in uncharted space, and they still have to screw around with time travel. That goes infinitely for the finale, which has to rate as one of the laziest and most offensive finales in television history.

 
How I Would’ve Done It
We can keep the premise. We can keep the bulk of the characters. Tom Paris is good, but I would’ve played on him as disreputable – always looking for an angle to try to get Voyager home quicker. Cut Tuvok’s long-standing friendship with Janeway. And cut him as a Vulcan. Make him a Romulan observer who was aboard (for their initial mission), and now has to integrate into the crew, but whose motivations and choices are often questionable, although he learns morality along the way. Harry Kim and Neelix are out. Instead, I would’ve used Nog (Aron Eisenberg) from Star Trek: Deep Space 9, who now has to embrace his Ferengi instincts to barter with people in the Delta Quadrant for supplies and resources. Atop of being a Starfleet officer, he has to learn to accept who he is.

Janeway and Chakotay can stay, but both are pushed way down the chain of command – Janeway to Lieutenant Commander, Chakotay to equal rank, more general experience, but no real bridge qualification. When the Voyager is shunted into the Delta Quadrant, the bridge crew – including the Captain and the First Officer – are killed. Janeway survives because she’s in Astrometics, and is now thrown way out of her depth because she has to take command. The crew are divided about her. Half want to uphold Starfleet principles, the other half feel they should just do whatever’s required to get the Voyager home as quickly as possible. Everybody’s unsure whether Janeway has the capability to command. It doesn’t help that Chakotay feels he should be in charge. Torres also stays, but not as this fledgling engineer, but chief engineer who’s been around, is decorated, and has the respect of the crew. Her support of Janeway validates Janeway’s standing.

Throughout, Janeway’s ideals are tested. But the Voyager is a big ship, and she has a lot of people wanting to get home, so there are times she has to compromise for one reason or another – either to keep the ship functioning, because she finds a possible shortcut, or simply because she recognizes the crew’s coming apart. Voyager (the ship) also experiences wear. Throughout the existing show, Voyager always looks pristine, but the ship would become scarred, run out of resources, and even go through stretches (as in episodes) where systems aren’t working. It’ not like they can just stop at a starbase and get a service, so keeping the ship up and running drives the urgency of their mission.

Mad Max: Fury Road

madmaxfuryroadI didn’t like Mad Max: Fury Road. There, I said it.

Lots of people did like it. Lots of people love it. And they’ll tell you how great it is. I’m fine with that, whereas if that happened with some other movies (e.g. Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Man of Steel) I might try to convince people otherwise. But, as far as Fury Road goes, I can see why people enjoy it.

I didn’t hate it, like those other movies I’ve named. I just didn’t connect to it in any meaningful way as a Mad Max movie. If it was a Furiosa movie, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. It’s a great action movie. But it’s not. It is a Mad Max movie, and that’s the standard by which I measure it.

 
What Works
Charlize Theron is magnificent as Furiosa, and Furiosa is the only truly fully-rounded character in the story. The supporting characters are good. Visually, Fury Road is spectacular, bordering on awe-inspiring. You can sit there and lose yourself in the visuals.

 
What Doesn’t Work
My biggest query is that Max is a guest star in his own movie. People will suggest this parallels Mad Max 2 – Max is just a loner getting caught in other people’s problems. But Mad Max 2 is about redemption. Max doesn’t care anymore. He forsakes a man who begs for his help until the man promises gasoline, he forsakes Pappagallo’s plea for help, and it’s not until the end – after he’s truly lost everything – that he decides to throw his lot in for a greater good, only to be duped. The story follows him at all times. The plight of the refinery is an aside to his journey.

Fury Road is strictly about Furiosa’s plight. Max is captured at the beginning, then used in a way where he has no control over his own fate. When he finally frees himself and decides to help, it’s not for any spiritual or emotional growth of his own (although some might say he’s motivated by flashbacks of whatever horror befell his family). He is an aside to Furiosa’s journey. Furiosa is the one driving the story. This is her story. And that’s great for Furiosa. But this is meant to be Max’s story, hence the title, Mad Max. (The same problem undermined Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.)

Another query is the lack of the mystique around the character. In MM2, we have a brilliant scene where Max is cuffed by the people of the refinery, and he casually picks the locks, frees himself, listens to them rant, and then tells them if they want to get out of there, they talk to him. This is on top of outwitting his pursuers at the beginning and capturing the snake guarding the gyro. In Fury Road, our introduction to Max is him eating a two-headed lizard, his car getting trashed, and him being used as a ‘blood bag’. The one time there’s a chance for some mystique-building – Max dropping back to intercept their pursuers – it happens off-screen.

The world is gorgeous but feels absolute, like it’s always been. The gangs are so entrenched and idiosyncratic, that you’d imagine that they’ve been like this for decades, whereas in both Mad Max II and Beyond Thunderdome there’s clear references to the world before, so you actually understand how horrible yet necessary a transformation these people have undergone to survive. That’s confronting. And cool.

In Fury Road, the Vuvalini – the old women Furiosa brings Max to – talk distantly about the ‘Green Place’. Given the age of the Vuvalini and the vagueness of their memories, the Green Place must’ve existed (at the very least) decades ago. Max would’ve been a child before the world turned to shit. It’s hard to believe he could share the same Max backstory (although there’s no reason he has to) as the original – his leathers and Interceptor might have nothing to do with previously being a cop. However, ironically, I thought the Mel Gibson Max would’ve fit much better into this story, and given the world and its problems context.

Tom Hardy – usually a great actor – also seems to struggle with the lack of dialogue, much of his emoting overdone and better-suited to a silent picture. When he does speak, he manages some bizarre accent that sounds like a mongrelized South African. The Australian accent is one of the hardest to pull off. Actors who can’t, should just leave it alone.

 
How I Would’ve Done It
Firstly, I’d still use Mel Gibson as Max. I understand Mel Gibson’s somewhat on the outer, and that Hollywood loves their reboots, but the original Max is an interesting character, and still has a story to share. It would’ve been interesting to revisit an older Max.

I would’ve opened with a V8 Interceptor – identical to Max’s in Mad Max 2 – pursuing a gang car. The gang car leads the Interceptor into an ambush. One gang car is destroyed. The Interceptor is run off the road. The door opens. A booted foot plants itself on the road. Somebody emerges in the police leathers. But it’s not Max but somebody about eighteen (who I’ll name Kid). The gang cars pull up. There’s a shoot out. Kid is overwhelmed. Then Max does arrive, emerging from behind a dune. The gang members are petrified. Max kills several of them. Other gang members flee. Max talks to Kid, and in him sees the son he would’ve lost. Kid is in awe of Max – Max has literally become a legend over the years. Nobody truly believes he exists (and the implication is he’s done other things to help people out since Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome). Max is more fascinated by the Interceptor and wants to know where Kid got it.

Kid offers to show Max and drives him out into the desert and explains that he wants to bring law back to the wasteland. Max finds the suggestion fanciful, but Kid brings him to a secret underground bunker filled with weaponry, cars, and other supplies. Kid explains his dad was in the army, and when things started to go bad, they took refuge in this bunker with other families, whilst resources were commandeered and militarized. But over the years, the others have died, leaving Kid alone. Recently, though, he’s heard a voice from the radio, which he shows to Max. The voice is from some faraway government installation, which has begun to airdrop supplies to remote regions, as they’re trying to restore civilization. But out here, the leader of the gangs, known as the Grand Abbott, is stealing the supplies. Kid wants to help, but it’s a question of getting Max involved. Max has stayed away from people and civilization for decades, but now must help to rediscover his own humanity.