Our responsibility to the past, a war of words, and sex with machines

WARNING: This post contains vulgarity in quotes from the source material. Some of Spider’s more colorful metaphors have been omitted, but conventional swear words (S, F, etc.) are depicted as originally written. Also since this is a post about a comic that started in 1997, I’m not especially careful for the spoiler sensitive, as a discussion of the plot is necessary in many places.

When history looks down its weird evolved vestigial stump of a nose at us, it’ll have a lot of very shitty things to say. But it will eventually have to admit that the Reservations justify our existence.” ~Spider Jerusalem (Transmetropolitan Issue #9)

The world of Transmetropolitan has a tenuous relationship with the past. They preserve history but they also want the past to leave them alone. Issue #42 will later reveal that the people in this time don’t even know what year it is, instead noting the past in relative terms (5 years since that famous rocker died, 10 years since the big fire, etc.). This allows for a culture in which Nazi fetishism is just a fashion choice, with no greater context because nobody really remembers who Hitler is.

Our relationship to the past can be just as tenuous. Our nation has a document of founding principles written by white men who owned people hundreds of years ago. When it suits our political view we are strict constructionists or liberal with what the constitution actually means, and the intentions of these founders who somehow possessed greater wisdom than the sum total of humanity that followed. More recently we’ve created a view of Ronald Reagan that at times is the opposite of what the man actually thought and felt. We talk about the good old days when America was great without realizing that maybe it was only great for people who looked like us.

Transmet Volume 2 addresses the past at the individual and the cultural level. Issue #8 is told in form of one of Spider’s columns for The Word. Spider tells the story of Mary, a “revival,” a head in a jar thrown into the future through cryogenic suspension. Mary was a photographer in her previous life, chronicling wars and revolutions of the 20th century.

There was history in Mary’s head; hard history, hard-lived and loved. And all Mary wanted was to keep seeing history.” ~Spider Jerusalem (Transmetropolitan Issue #8)

Spider spends a third of the issue describing the stages of the revival process, from nano-machines repairing her frozen brain to retrieve her thoughts and memories, to her new body being grown in a vat, to waking up wet and alone “in a stiff body that felt like a glove too small.”


The people they’re growing all signed contracts. They get new bodies made to whatever ridiculous specifications they can think of. They get to live in a new and exciting future, and even get the money they paid back. Most of them step out the door, take one look at the world, and something breaks inside them. Culture shock of a kind we can only imagine, being thrown into a future you no longer recognize. And this world does not want the revivals. They’ll fulfill the contract, then stick you in a hostel or out on the streets with donated clothes and a hundred year lifespan.

Though the exact year for Transmet is never stated, the rough estimate is sometime in the 23rd century, so 300 years in the future. A lot of sci-fi (even sci-fi comedies like Futurama) like to think about what would happen if we took someone from 300 years ago and plopped them into today. Besides Transmet, I don’t know if I’ve seen a version of this story where the person suffers irreparable psychological damage from the experience but I wonder if that’s a little closer to what it would actually be like. And the pace of acceleration is only increasing. I suspect you could take someone from 300 years ago and the world would look more familiar to them than it would if we went 300 years forward. Hell, I’m not sure if I wouldn’t get a bit of a shock going from floppies to smartphones and that’s only about 20 years.

The sad part of this particular tale is that Mary is an extraordinary person. She has a lot of things she could tell the future, from first hand experience. And no one’s interested in listening, except for Spider.

The next issue deals with history on a macro scale, in the form of the “reservations.” The reservations are compounds in which current humans are stripped of their memories and genetic traits to live out a culture of the past, from Mayan cities, to ancient Japan or Islam. The past is preserved “as-is” with all of the horrible cultural practices from beheadings to FGM preserved without judgment. In the case of the Tikal (Mayan) reservation, this has meant having to create a new reservation five times because each civilization dies out from drinking from the same water where they toss the heads.

Again the future’s only true relationship to these reservations is to watch “Republican Party Compound” on TV. The rest are like national parks on an island nobody ever visits. The most interesting of these is the “Farsight” compound, dedicated to letting technology evolve faster than societal norms would be able to keep up. A glimpse of a possible human future preserved in a biodome.

It can seem grotesque to have to relearn the lessons of history by letting them play out in all over again, but I wonder if this is something we do anyway, making the same mistakes again and again. They say the mark of insanity is to try the same thing over and over again and expect a different result, but this often feels like what we’re being offered by both parties. But it’s something we do on a smaller scale as well. Taco Bell doesn’t agree with me, but every 6 months to a year I need to remind myself of that fact. It’s not human nature to try something once then go, *whew* never again.

Issues 10-12 cover an attempt on Spider’s life by people he pissed off with his columns, ranging from genetic trait farms, to former assistants, to the French. This last stems from Spider’s coverage of “The War of Verbals” five years prior which involved the French fighting to preserve their national language only to have speaking French rendered illegal. The main takeaways from this passage (other than a headless exploding Enfant Terrible sent to assassinate Spider) are these two little gems:

The paying masses never gave a shit about ‘The Miserables’ until it became an anglophone musical.

I can assure I don’t give a crap either way. I find ‘The Miserables’ to be my least favorite musical. I mean, it tries to warn you with its title!🙂

English is an ugly, lurching fool of a language.

But it communicates hate well.

We’re certainly seeing examples of that every day lately.

I’ll end today’s post with beginning of Volume 2, Issue 7, which finds Spider’s assistant, Channon Yarrow, mourning the scheduled death of her boyfriend Xiang. Or rather, the uploading of his consciousness into a cloud of nano-machines. This story takes the idea of transferring our consciousness into an immortal vessel a step further into something that doesn’t even retain the human form. It’s the technological equivalent of being transformed into pure energy.

The “Foglets” as they are called, live as dispersed clouds of millions of tiny machines, unless they pull themselves in tight enough to be seen as a pink cloud with a false face. The issue deals pretty rawly with the emotions involved in someone making this choice, whether it’s death or rebirth. The process has a certain beauty, the chemical energy of the body being used to start up the machines. And it is clear from the presence of Tico, a Foglet friend of Spider’s, that these Foglet humans maintain aspects of their previous personality; they can be just as arrogant and self-centered as the rest of us.


Overall this volume covers ground that are staples of cyperpunk and science-fiction, but does so with a unique bent that at times feels more plausible than the clean future of Star Trek (or the idealized democracy of The West Wing which kicked off this whole marathon diary in the first place). The next volume, Year of the Bastard, dives straight into the middle of a political convention and a contest between two candidates that nobody really likes. And prepare yourself for those last pages, because you’re in for quite a shock.

Next post on Friday, probably.

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Transmet Volume 1 gives us its mission statement at the point of a gun

WARNING: This post contains vulgarity in quotes from the source material. Some of Spider’s more colorful metaphors have been omitted, but conventional swear words (S, F, etc.) are depicted as originally written. Also since this is a post about a comic that started in 1997, I’m not especially careful for the spoiler sensitive, as a discussion of the plot is necessary in many places.

Journalism is just a gun. It’s only got one bullet in it, but if you aim right, that’s all you need. Aim it right and you can blow a kneecap off the world.” ~ Spider Jerusalem (Transmetropolitan Issue #3)

I got into this marathon diary of Transmetropolitan (Transmet) because somehow binging The West Wing didn’t seem to be the appropriate tone for our current election season. But in truth Transmet bumps up against another Sorkin property, The Newsroom. The first half of volume 1 is focused on outlaw journalist Spider Jerusalem’s version of Will McAvoy’s “What Makes America Great” rant from the first episode of The Newsroom:

To back up, for the last five years Spider has been “up the mountain” after fame has made it impossible for him to write in the city. Spider is content to spend the rest of his days isolated from the rest of the world, but for a nagging editor who demands he write the final two books of a five book contract he signed years ago, or face being sued into destitution. The first issue is largely spent showing the contrast between these worlds, and these two Spiders. Spider begins as an isolationist, army jacket wearing, hair down past his butt, hillbilly, but by the end of the issue has assumed his city persona (in part due to an accident with the shower singeing off all his hair):

Spider up the mountain

Spider up the mountain

Spider fully formed

Spider fully formed

Spider takes a job at The Word, the city’s most prominent newspaper, under the direction of his old friend and editor Mitchell Royce. His first column focuses on the transients, a group of humans who have chosen to change their DNA with that of an alien species (who look like the typical “grays” we see in sci-fi). They are no longer content in their human bodies, and wish instead to become their true identity, in this case an alien species. The transients have specific needs that the Civic Center is unwilling to provide, and so the transients (under the direction of a former band manager, Fred Christ), congregate in the Angels 8 district and declare their desire to secede from the city. The non-violent movement is quickly marred when someone pays off a few transients to start a riot, which gives the Civic Center the excuse they need to respond with deadly force, with Spider caught in the middle beaming the story out to the public from the roof of a strip club.

This situation has parallels with trans-gendered rights. The transients want equal treatment by the Civic Center, opportunities to get jobs, accommodation for changing dietary needs, basic “human” rights and equal treatment. Trans-gendered Americans have faced discrimination in the workplace, in the military, from businesses, and even from using the bathroom of their gender. But in the case of the transients, it’s the case of a civil rights battle gone wrong, escalating tensions between protesters and police.

Admittedly, Transmet is written from a strongly anti-authority viewpoint, as we see both in Spider’s behavior toward people in authority, and the cop’s eager enthusiasm to use violence. The acts of violence that happen in the police shootings of today and in the riot response of Transmet may both come from a place of fear for a cop’s safety. But in Transmet there is an enjoyment of violent behavior by the cops, an animistic jungle mentality, as if they were looking for an excuse rather than acting for their own protection. But given the number and character of police involved shootings in the world today, it is important to consider if implicit bias, or even an inclination toward violent behavior is involved.

Spider’s McAvoy moment is in his account of the violence below. Unbeknown to Spider, his editor has sold the live feed of his column (equivalent to a live tweet session being re-tweeted today), putting Spider’s words on screens around the city. While Spider recounts the violence and how it came to be, he turns the situation back on the reader and raises the issue of their accountability in the situation:

Enjoying this? You like the way I describe disgusting shit happening to people you probably walked past in the street last week? Good. You earned it. With your silence.”

I’m sorry. Is that too harsh an observation for you? Does that sound too much like the Truth? Fuck you. If anyone in this shithole city gave [a damn, though stated far more colorfully] about Truth, this wouldn’t be happening.” ~ Spider Jerusalem (Transmetropolitan Issue #3)

Spider’s live feed actually affects the real world, forcing the Civic Center to recall the cops. This is the thesis of Transmet, that someone getting the truth out there can change the world. And that our own desire not to listen to the truth is what is responsible for a lot of the awful things that happen in the world.

Personally, I find myself more in the camp of not listening to the truth, not out of a desire to live in my own reality, but more born of the need to live my life on a day-to-day basis at all. The majority of the time spent not with wife or work is spent on writing my next non-fiction book, which requires a lot of heavy math research and programming time. I don’t make a lot of room in my head for the terrible things happening in the world, and I certainly don’t do a lot to go out into the world and try to change them. Individually this isn’t necessarily a bad choice, but when all of us do it then the world becomes a darker place. It’s the old saw of “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Spider’s no saint, and he certainly isn’t politically correct. He doesn’t see the transient movement so much as a matter of identity, but more as fashion choice. He uses violence when he feels it appropriate to get to the heart of a story, beating his way past barricades. But the motive for much of his seemingly abhorrent actions seems to be to get this movement to take what they’re doing seriously, to warn them of the consequences of their actions and how others will perceive them. If the Trump campaign has taught us nothing it has taught us that we are not as tolerant as we think we are. People are still scared and are looking for someone to blame, and in this story the transient movement just made themselves easy targets for that blame.

The rest of the volume centers around stories designed to introduce us to the world of the city, something that will continue into volume 2. In a moment mirroring Hunter Thompson’s (on whom Spider is partly based) encounter with George McGovern in a bathroom, Spider finds the President (who he refers to as “the beast”) in a bathroom as well.


“The Beast” is clearly patterned after Richard Nixon, an enemy of Thompson, and Spider has a rather unique way of speaking truth to power during the encounter (through the use of a bowel disrupter, a favored weapon of Spider’s).   We’ll get into “The Beast’s” philosophy of governance when we cover volume 4, but this little tidbit from earlier in the story caught my eye on a second read:


Candidate Trump has been similarly accused of using funds from the Trump Foundation to buy paintings of himself and to settle legal disputes to the point that the New York attorney general ordered the foundation to cease soliciting funds. Trump is hardly alone in this, and one does wonder if at some point the distinction between money for the campaign and money for the candidate will be as finely drawn as it is now. Trump’s a little more despicable in that these were charitable donations, but the song’s basically the same, just the lyrics are different.

Issue 5 finds Spider spending the day watching TV, buying “Air Jesus” sneakers, calling into talk shows, and being hit with a subliminal “ad bomb.” Commercials in our dreams is a truly frightening notion. Issue 6 is the weakest of the volume in my opinion, as Spider has his own “Jesus in the temple” moment at a convention for new religions. Transmet doesn’t have much to offer on religion other than seeing it as another area to distrust authority, but thankfully it isn’t really the focus of many issues.

To be honest, the Spider of early Transmet is more cartoon than person. There are glimpses of the Spider who we come to know and love by Volume 3, the moment on the roof is a defining one for the rest of the series. But I found myself having a difficult time deciding whether or not I should go forward after this point. I read the first volume, put it down for about six months, read it again, then devoured the rest of the series in short order. It has a lot of things running against in content and violence at first, but as Warren Ellis (the author) got a better handle on Spider’s character rather than caricature, we begin to see a driven man willing to do whatever it takes to get the truth out to people. And we see the best of what sci-fi has to offer in dealing with the issues of today in a future setting. That’s why this series is one of my favorites, but not one I keep on my shelves instead living only in the digital recesses of my Kindle.

Hell, Patrick Stewart liked it so much he wanted to play Spider in a TV/Film adaptation (sadly never to be), and he wrote the intro to Volume 5. If it’s good enough for Picard, it’s good enough for me.

We’ll continue with the marathon probably Tuesday with Volume 2, Lust For Life.

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Down from the mountain

I was annoyed with John Oliver in late August when he said he’d be taking a month off. Watching him on Monday after work has quickly become one of the ways I can handle all of the nonsense going on in the world. And here I’ve been gone for nearly two months. Hope you guys didn’t miss me too much.

Short version of what’s been going on is this:

  • I got a new job in mid-August. Closer to home, interesting work, nice environment. Overall a big improvement. Still with the same company, just changed divisions, so a nice mix of old and new. I am even dressing nicer on a day-to-day basis.
  • Time that I am not spending with my wife or my work has been spent largely on writing the new fractal book. I am excited to share this with you as soon as possible. I am even considering new platforms for fractal art (I might venture out of the safe pastures of Twitter/Facebook/Wordpress).
  • I am handling this election about as well as the rest of you.
Photo of author taken mid-September

Photo of author taken mid-September

It’s this last point I want to talk about just a bit. Over at Previously.tv they’ve been doing a marathon diary of The West Wing, watching the entire series prior to election day. If you want to feel depressed about the election, I couldn’t think of a better way to do it than to watch what a fantasy American democracy looks like. My instincts are to watch or read something that bears more of a resemblance to reality, or even something far worse, so I can comfort myself in the knowledge that at least things aren’t that bad.

And so I’ve found myself immersed once again in a contemporary of The West Wing: the cyberpunk, post-human, political drama, comic book series Transmetropolitan. “Transmet” follows outlaw journalist Spider Jerusalem as he takes on corruption wherever he sees it, and pursues truth in relentless and foul-mouthed fashion. Much of the series’ narrative takes place during the administrations of two Presidents: “The Beast” and “The Smiler.” Sound familiar?

Admittedly, Transmet is as much a fantasy as The West Wing. It assumes journalism and truth can bring down Presidents. This certainly has been true, but in the fractured cable TV and social media news landscape of today it’s hard to say. But like all great science-fiction the series still has a lot to tell us about the moment in which it was written (1997-2002) and the moment in which we now live.

So I’m running a mini-marathon of my own, from now until election day. Twice a week (hopefully), I’ll be posting my thoughts on a volume of Transmetropolitan, both its place in the overall arc of the story, and what it has to say about our present moment. Already in rereading the comic I’ve seen it touch on themes of police brutality, transhumanism, racial profiling, political scandal, right-wing extremism, rampant consumerism, historical preservation, child prostitution, poverty and more.

If you want to read along I’ll post Volume 1 “Back on the Street” on Thursday (I’m using the new printing numbering, so this covers issues 1-6). Fair warning, the content is rough both in terms of subject matter and especially in the early issues, vulgarity. Also, as a dog owner I want to state clearly I do not agree with Spider Jerusalem’s attitudes/actions toward dogs. But if you can get past the rough trappings, you’ll find a gripping narrative with plenty of twists and turns, and even some genuine human feeling.

In the meantime I will try to write something that isn’t about comic books or fractals, but I’m not promising anything.



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Dispatches from writing a new fractal book

I spent a lot of the weekend making figures. If a picture is worth 1000 words, then my book would be 500,000 words long. There are a lot of things to consider when making an image for a book:

  • Since this will be a B&W book, what’s the best gray-scale values to look two-tone without looking faded?
  • What resolution will work best for the print size, but still work for an eBook (so I don’t have to make two of every picture, hopefully)?
  • How does the image flow with the text? Does it make it hard to read, or does it illuminate a point the text is making?

This last is the primary goal of pictures. Pictures serve two purposes in my book: to show people pretty images, and to show people how to make pretty images. A lot of the heavier math texts I read can still be very informative if they have good illustrations that make it clear what the writer is trying to say. Still, you don’t want to lean on the pictures too heavily, the text still has to make sense.

My early drafting process has been to write the chapter without illustrations. I insert an [ILLUSTRATE] tag into my text where I think an image would/should go, and then I move on. So far this seems to be working okay. I’m remembering from writing the first fractal book that what I think is a clear explanation and image isn’t always what people actually understand, so I may have to try a few different images, and change the text accordingly.

It probably doesn’t make sense to talk this long about pictures without showing you one, so here is a Minkowski sausage:


Neat, huh?

One other weird quirk of the early going is the feeling that I’ve written this all before. In some ways, this fractal book is the culmination of 5-10 years of thinking about fractals, as well as an intense period of six months research. I have run through the progression of thoughts that make up the first chapters dozens of times in my head, and even though this one of the first times I’m committing them to paper in this particular order, it still feels like something I’ve been doing all along. Probably some of that comes from blogging about fractals, that’s really where this recent and previous interest started.

Last thought of the day is a nice little moment at the library. I was checking out yet another fractal reference, and got to talking with the librarian about the new book, and how I got interested in fractals back in the 6th grade EPP program at school (more than 18 years ago now). Turns out, her son had just recently been part of the same program, and had loved fractals and all of the ways you could use them to make math beautiful. It’s for these kinds of kids and curious adults that I’m writing this book, and it was a nice little encouragement to know that they’re still out there.

Have a good week. I’ll check in when I can.


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Squirrel Rant: Mathematical Notation


Since this post veers into very inside baseball territory, let’s start with how we got here.

Have you ever had that book that you had to take with you everywhere? It could be the latest exciting story you were reading, or a really handy reference guide, or something with deep sentimental value. Maybe this book has been a passenger in your car; you take it out to lunch even though you know you’re not going to read it while you eat because you might get sauce on the pages. You just want to pick this book up and hold it, flip through the pages, feel the weight of it as you toss it from hand to hand. Maybe you even… smell the pages. That sort of book.

My latest book of this type is “A Perspective in Theoretical Computer Science: Commemorative Volume for Gift Siromoney“:


I know, it’s cliché. Everyone loves this book and has a copy next to their nightstand.

No? Just me, then? Okay.

Why this book is important is that it is the end of a long trail of looking through references in papers, from a stray mention of Kolam patterns in a L-System book by Przemyslaw Prusinkiewicz to the work of Darrah Chavey, Paulus Gerdes, Marcia Ascher and countless others. This book has some of the best grounding in the computer science behind drawing curved line patterns using context-free and array grammars, and contains images from work in the field. It is perfect because it is obscure and exactly the right book at the right time, even though it was written almost 30 years ago.

Which brings me to mathematical notation.

As a fledging programmer one of the first things they teach you is to use meaningful variable names. A variable is an object that holds a value. So if I’m counting oranges, I might have a variable called numOranges. What I wouldn’t have is a variable called ‘o’. ‘o’ could be anything: orangutans, oscilloscopes, Timothy Olyphants, etc.

Math on the other hand tends to use one letter symbols all the time. You’d think this was okay, because the symbols only ever have one meaning. A ‘+’ symbol is a plus symbol. ‘π’ is pi the number.

Except when π is an iteration symbol, or a time stage symbol. And ‘x’ means multiplication, until you graduate to Algebra where a dot is now multiply and x is a variable. And ‘+’ could mean turn right if we’re talking L-systems.

Math papers in general make an assumption about mathematicians that isn’t always correct. It assumes they can write in a way that can be understood. They understand their field technically, but not in common language, or even readable technical language. Now I’m not picking on the Siromoney book too much. The text is very readable. Some of the paper’s problems come from problems in reproduction. Older books like this one had papers submitted physically and then photocopied into a full book. This was done a typewriter or an early word-processor (courier font is kind of a tip off that we’re looking at a typewriter), so some subscripts and superscripts are incorrect, and some symbols have to be hand-drawn after the paper is typed.

The bigger offenders are the ones who use a symbol without any explanation. I remember after staring at it for a few seconds that ∪ means union, but it might be nice to have some handy definitions at the back or in the text. Defining your terms is often a necessary part of making any proof, or explaining any new concept. It never hurts to make sure your audience is on the same page you are. Especially if you plan to have terms mean something other than their common meaning, like ∪ meaning recursive level, or some such.

For a while now, my goal with this new book has been to take complicated concepts and explain them in ways that make sense to everyone. These papers often do the opposite, take something simple and explain it in a complicated way. Fractals actually aren’t that hard to understand. More and more after reading these papers it feels like I’m translating from some arcane and obscure language, with symbols that change in meaning from one place to another.

It’s confusing, and it doesn’t have to be this way. We can be rigorous AND we can be clear. If you can explain a concept to a 6th grader, then you really understand it.


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Whatever it is, it can’t be that bad…

Long-time readers of the blog will know that I and the esteemed Brian Buckley are pretty big fans of Babylon 5. Babylon 5 is full of great characters and great character actors, and sadly over the years we’ve lost a number of them all far too soon. This week another member of the cast has “passed beyond the veil,” Jerry Doyle, who portrayed Security Chief Michael Garibaldi.

Garibaldi, like all the characters, could be funny, noble, and a pain in the ass, sometimes in the same scene. He makes mistakes, deals with real addictions and loss, and comes out on the other side a better person. In small tribute I thought I’d compile some of the best clips of Garibaldi over the years, most of which I’ve been seeing on Facebook over the last two days.

Jerry Doyle was actually briefly married to the woman who portrayed Talia Winters, though only after she’d left the show (something I didn’t know till my Wikipedia research today).

Probably one of the best known scenes in the first season, and still one of my favorites.

You wanna talk socks?

More Londo’s moment, but still a great scene.

Alright, my second favorite thing…

Funny the Doctor could never prescribe anything for Garibaldi’s hair loss.

Garibaldi kicking some corporate butt.

And taking down evil regimes even as a hologram.

This was how I imagine installing Windows 10 must have gone for some people.

Do not thump the book of G’Kwan!

And this one was being posted around yesterday. Never seen it before.

And lastly, our favorite God of Frustration…

So long Jerry. We will see you again in the place where no shadows fall.

PS. Couldn’t find the clip, but Scott Adams (of Dilbert) plays opposite Doyle in the Season 4 episode “Moments of Transition” (starting around 23:39).

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Review: Star Trek Beyond meets expectations


SPOILER POLICY FOR THIS REVIEW: Most of the plot details I mention in this review are things we knew from the trailers (casting, fate of Enterprise, name of villain, etc.) I plan to talk a bit about the specifics of the Enterprise sequence, but I’ll avoid some details about the villain. The basics of Jaylah are discussed, as well as some of the cast pairings that happen in the middle section of the movie. If you’re spoiler sensitive, avoid this post until you’ve seen the movie. If you want a sense of what’s cool, what could have been done better, and whether you should go see this movie (you should), then read on.

Right from the first trailer and the announcement of this film’s director a lot of fans were worried that we were getting Star Trek: The Fast and the Furious, a generic action movie instead of true trek spirit we’ve come to know and love. Simon Pegg’s script and a lot of sly references do what they can to challenge that expectation and there are bits and pieces of something greater, but most of the middle section is exactly what we expected from Justin Lin. But the movie is still eminently watchable.

The fate of the Enterprise: There’s a real “oh sh-t!” moment early on in the sequence that my wife actually caught a few seconds before the rest of the audience. The design of the Enterprise throughout the decades has often been criticized for putting the nacelles on long delicate arms. And in Beyond we see the consequences of that choice. It actually takes a good ten or so minutes from initial battle till everything comes crashing down as the Enterprise is picked apart by a swarm of ships unlike anything they’ve ever encountered. Most Trek battles are naval engagements, two heavy cruisers duking it out until one is victorious. The swarm of enemy ships in this movie is a force of nature, one that will be next to impossible to defeat. Everyone gets a good moment, from Scotty’s clever escape, to Uhura’s battle with the baddie, to Kirk saying a last goodbye to the bridge. Everything up through this moment is the Trek we love.

Let’s wander around on a planet for a while: There was a lot of potential in the middle act of this movie, and we get glimpses of it through some character beats. Most of the crew is picked off by Krall and huddled together in cells pretty early, but a few are able to escape on their own or with a buddy. We see some traditional and unexpected pairings here: Kirk and Chekov, Spock and McCoy, Scotty and Jaylah. There’s some real potential for interaction and character development in these sequences, but the best we get (as expected) is Spock and McCoy. Their grudging respect for each other is explored, as well as Spock dealing with a big loss. I’ve been a fan of Urban’s McCoy and feel like he’s been underused until this movie. The Kirk and Chekov stuff is all action, and Scotty and Jaylah are mostly played for laughs. Uhura, Sulu, and rest of crew in Krall’s camp is less compelling, though Uhura’s one-on-one’s against the villain aren’t bad.

New life-forms: Jaylah’s a nice character. She’s got a cool character design. Her outfit’s not exploitative. She’s shown as being a capable engineering novice and a fighter. She calls Kirk “James T.” Overall, not a bad effort. Simon Pegg mentioned on Late Night with Seth Meyers that her name comes from her script designation (Jennifer Lawrence from Winter’s Bone) and I don’t know if we would have made more of a connection with this character if it was actually Jay Law. Her development is a little lacking, but I look forward to seeing how potential future movies use her (or at least the comic books).

Ordering off the menu: Idris Elba on the other hand, is buried in the makeup and that voice he put on for this movie. Whatever you think of Cumberbatch’s Khan, you were getting everything that actor had to offer as a sympathetic villain. There’s so much we could have gotten from Idris, even just from his voice, that his slow, spittle-spewing performance didn’t give us. On Fallon, Idris remarked that you didn’t really have to act when you looked like his character, which makes me wonder why they used someone as talented as him for the role. If you hadn’t told me it was Idris, I wouldn’t have known for much of the movie.

Callbacks: The trek references in this movie were largely from one of the least popular series: Star Trek: Enterprise. There were a lot of good TOS refs as well. The Enterprise callbacks make sense, since technically the prime and Abrams (Kelvin) timelines share that common ancestry. There was one choice of music in a sequence toward the end of the movie that came off as very hokey, especially considering what it was being used to do. That was probably the most Fast and Furious the movie got. Yes, I know that First Contact used “Magic Carpet Ride” in a sequence, but it made way more sense in context than the moment in Beyond. The best moments are the movie’s tribute to Leonard Nimoy, which is handled with more than just a title card. There’s a moment at the end that really connects with Trek’s 50 year legacy.

Raise the stakes: Star Trek (2009) destroyed Vulcan mid-movie. It’d be hard for any movie to rise to that level without repeating itself. Into Darkness did it with a personal character death, Pike being killed by Khan early on. Beyond does shock us early on with the Enterprise attack, but the actual threat of the movie seems relatively minor. Most of our villain’s violence, and the devastating power of his weapon, is implied not shown. The thing to protect is largely significant because it looks cool and has a lot of people on it (oh and Sulu’s husband and daughter who we’ve never seen before, and never talk to). I’m not sure how you correct this point, but since there was less connection with earlier movies or Trek lore, it seemed more generic in a building-smashy way than the previous films.

Bottom-line: The movie is fun. There’s a lot of laugh lines. The space action sequences are superb. The planet stuff is more generic, but still fun. We’re back to the curse of the odd numbers, but if you think about it, only 1 and 5 are real stinkers. 3, 7 and 9 are all very watchable. I think Beyond actually most resembles 9 though without the romantical time-freezing bits. It’s definitely still in the top third of Trek movies. I doubt you’ll hate it, and you definitely will want to see it in the theater.

Just maybe go for the matinée.


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