Review: Star Trek goes back to basics with Strange New Worlds and it looks beautiful

Character poster for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds on the Paramount + network.

I have not been been a big fan of all the new Star Trek series on the Paramount + network. Discovery was a time travel flip-flop that didn’t know what it wanted to be when it grew up while Picard gave a beloved character another chance by rehashing old storylines. Sorry, boring.

But then, I started watching the new series Star Trek: Strange New Worlds and breathed a sigh of relief. Thank God, they found a way to hack into Gene Roddenberry’s brain and pulled out a winner. THIS is what Star Trek was meant to be.

I think the biggest complaint from nerds like me is that writers don’t stick to the source material. They stray from the storyline that we, as the experts (nerds, geeks, fanboys) know is supposed to be (or should be) canon. They try too hard to incorporate modern issues into science fiction storytelling, and to do that, they stray into multiple tangents that ruin the source material. That’s been the problem with every reboot, upgrade, and reimagining done in TV and movies over the past 20 years.

But I digress . . .

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is everything I want in a Star Trek series rolled up into a neatly packaged weekly episode. No drawn out storylines, no complex back story to deal with. This is what Gene Roddenberry envisioned when he first started his trek more than sixty years ago (God, that makes me feel old) and its what’s been missing from these new series.

The casting is absolutely brilliant. Anson Mount is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors. I loved him as Black Bolt in the very, very bad Inhumans TV series AND WAS ECSTATIC to see him reprise the role in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. His portrayal of Christopher Pike is spot on, on par with—if not better than—Jeffery Hunter (original Trek) and Bruce Greenwood (reboot J.J. Abrams movies). Watching him is like Kirk and Picard had a baby and it grew up to be the best captain in Star Fleet. Add Rebecca Romijin, Ethan Peck, and a host of others that fill out one of the most diverse crews in the Star Trek universe. The little twists of adding new characters like the blind, telepathic alien Hemmer and La’an Noonien-Singh (a descendant of KHAN, no shit!) with early reveals at how Uhura and Nurse Chapel came aboard Enterprise makes for a complete, well-rounded cast.

Then there’s the writing. First and foremost, they have updated things to modern standards by bringing in more sexual banter and uncomfortable situations, along with diversity and social justice issues, BUT the writers are not force-feeding it to the viewers (think Chris Chibnal and Doctor Who) rather integrating it in a way reminiscent of Roddenberry’s original storytelling. It’s woven into the storyline like a maestro conducting a symphony of science fiction. These stories are poignant and yet heartfelt and uplifting in the simplest of ways. Plus, they are telling us stories where we know the characters but never got to know who they truly are. I mean, we had an entire episode on the Gorn and it was better than the original introduction of the alien race in TOS (The Original Series for any noobs out there reading this).

USS Enterprise (CVN 65) Sailors of the Year for the Year meet cast members of the “Star Trek: Enterprise” television series. Pictured here on the set of the series are (from left) Conner Trinneer, who plays Chief Engineer Charles “Trip” Tucker, III; Aviation Electronics Technician 1st Class Robert S. Pickering, Sailor of the Year; Personnelman 3rd Class Sarah E. Pizzo, Blue Jacket of the Year; Aviation Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class Timothy J. Whittington, Junior Sailor of the Year; and Scott Bakula, who plays Capt. Jonathan Archer.

I have had an ongoing love affair with the Star Trek universe, especially since the last ship I served on was the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65) and I got to meet the cast of Star Trek: Enterprise and see actual production of the series. Here’s a hint: Watch the episodes “Desert Crossing” and “First Flight” to see U.S. Navy Sailors of the Year as background characters. It was fun to watch the multiple takes necessary for just one scene in an episode. Plus I got to sit in the captain’s chair, bonus for me! That’s why I don’t get into the “Star Wars is better than Star Trek” BS argument. Not just because I love them both, but to me, Star Trek will always be the original OG. Roddenberry created a universe based on the human race, with all our flaws but also highlighting the best things about us. From broaching cultural boundaries (the kiss between Kirk and Uhura) to hidden commentary on the Vietnam War and the Cold War (i.e. the episode “The Omega Glory” where Kirk recites the Pledge of Allegiance and reads the U.S. Constitution. In 2015, Entertainment Weekly highlighted the scene where Kirk reads the United States Constitution as one of the most important moments in that character’s life.) I see the same spark in watching Strange New Worlds.

We know where this is heading. From episode one, and from the original series, we know what Captain Pike’s fate is (watch “The Menagerie” if you don’t know what I’m talking about). It’s enticing to see how this will progress as the series moves on. But I can say, without a doubt, that if your a “Trekkie” then you need to be watching Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. It’s the series we’ve been waiting for.

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Mark Piggott is an independent author of the Forever Avalon fantasy book series and other fantasy/steampunk novels and short stories. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon and as an audiobook from Audible and iTunes. The Dark Tides: Book 2 of the Forever Avalon Series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from iUniverse Publishing and at Amazon, and other booksellers. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from Austin Macauley Publishing, and at Amazon and other booksellers. His latest fantasy novel, The Last Magus: A Clockwork Heart is available through Lulu and other booksellers.

Get ready for The River of Souls fantasy novella, coming soon from Curious Corvid Publishing along with the steampunk historical fiction, Corsair and the Sky PiratesThe Prometheus Engine: Book 4 of the Forever Avalon Series and The Last Magus: Dragonfire and Steel are future installments of his current fantasy book series, coming soon.

Is “Krull” the most underappreciated science fiction and fantasy movie of all time? YES! Yes it is!

Krull Movie Poster #2 | Fantasy movies, Movies by genre, Movie posters
Movie poster for Krull (1983)

I’ve been wanting to write this blog for some time but I never got around to it. I know I’ve mentioned Krull and shown my love for this movie in previous blogs, i.e. Top sci-fi/fantasy movies of the 1980s, etc., but I’ve never focused in on just how AWESOME this movie is. You had an all-star cast (by today’s standards), a fantastic storyline, and great special effects (okay, by the 80’s standards anyway!) So, why has this movie been relegated to the back shelves of video stores, streaming services, and the dustbin of many dvd collections. The fact is it shouldn’t be. This movie is a gem that should be watched and often. It’s binge worthy in more ways than one.

Krull is a 1983 science fiction/fantasy swashbuckler film directed by Peter Yates and written by Stanford Sherman. It followed the journey of Prince Colwyn and a group of outlaws on the planet Krull who are attempting to save Princess Lyssa (Colwyn’s bride) from the Beast and his army of Slayers from her captivity in the Black Fortress, an impregnable citadel that teleports to a new location at dawn. To aid in his fight, he seeks soothsayers, sorcerers, a cyclops, and a mystical weapon called the Glaive.

The film stars an ensemble cast: Ken Marshall as Prince Colwyn, Lysette Anthony as Princess Lyssa, Trevor Martin as the voice of the Beast, Freddie Jones as Ynyr, Bernard Bresslaw as Rell the Cyclops, David Battley as Ergo the Magnificent, Alun Armstrong as Torquil, the leader of a group of outlaws (including early screen roles for actors Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane), John Welsh as The Emerald Seer, Graham McGrath as Titch, and Francesca Annis as The Widow of the Web.

The first thing you need to understand that this is the early 1980s, when everyone was trying to match the popularity and box office bonanza that Star Wars brought with it. So, it had a big budget for special effects, marketing, etc. I mean, Krull had an arcade video game, not something they did for every movie. They really thought they had a box office hit on their hands. Unfortunately, the critics were not on their side.

Critic Janet Maslin found Krull to be “a gentle, pensive sci-fi adventure film that winds up a little too moody and melancholy for the Star Wars set”, praising director Yates for “giving the film poise and sophistication, as well as a distinctly British air”, and also “bring[ing] understatement and dimension to the material.” Baird Searles described Krull as “an unpretentious movie … with a lot of good things going for it.” A retrospective review by AllMovie journalist Jason Buchanan hailed it as “an ambitious sci-fi/fantasy that even in its failures can usually be forgiven for its sheer sense of bravado.” Ryan Lambie, reviewing for Den of Geek in 2011, called it “among [t]he most visually creative and downright fun movies of the enchanted 80s” and “a well-made film, and an entire galaxy away from other cheap, quickly made knock-offs that showed up in the wake of Star Wars.”

The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: Krull | 411MANIA
Ken Marshall as Prince Colwyn and Lysette Anthony as Princess Lyssa in Krull (1983)

Everything sci-fi that came into the movie theater megaplexes of the 1980s was compared to Star Wars or considered a Star Wars ripoff, but Krull was different. It had one thing that other movies did not… Magic! This was a full-bore fantasy genre movie locked into a world of science fiction. Yes, Star Wars has some fantasy elements in it with “the force” and other abilities, but in Krull, we are talking swords and sorcery. I mean, there are three certifiable “Gandalf-type” wizards (and one “not so much”) in the mix here. Krull blends the two together so perfectly that you don’t know what your watching, and by the time you do, the movie has already sucked you in.

Then there’s the weapon… The Glaive. It’s a bladed, flying metal starfish that, in truth, reminds me of Xena’s Chakram in how it flies through the air and returns to his hand. We are told in the beginning of the movie that the Glaive was just a myth, but the old wizard Ynyr knows where it is and that Colwyn will need it to defeat the Beast. My one complaint about this movie is that we don’t get to see him use it until the very end. Granted, the final fight between Colwyn and the Beast and Slayers is fun to watch, but it’s not enough. I mean, this weapon is what sold the movie to many fantasy fans like myself, and we didn’t see enough of it. You have to wonder how many D&D Dungeon Masters tried to recreate this weapon in a game (hint, I did!)

This movie also has your various fantasy tropes including magical beasts (Fire Mares or “Clydesdales on Steroids” running across canyons without stopping), magical beings (Changelings that kill with a touch) and an ancient, albeit bad ass soothsayer, living in the heart of a spider web (the Widow of the Web, aptly named). Not to mention a cyclops with a tragic back story, a great overhand throw, and a heart-breaking death (sorry for the spoilers but it’s true!) This is a true fantasy world invaded by a space-faring megalomaniacs hell-bent on destroying one world, then the next. You get this from the end of the movie when the narrator (Ynyr) proclaims they (Colwyn and Lyssa) would rule Krull, and their son would rule the galaxy! Really? I’d like to see that sequel!

Krull
Spider guardian of the Widow of the Web, Krull (1983)

The special effects were, without a doubt, some of the best to come out of the 80s. It’s not CGI, but the different sets combined with brilliant costumes, make-up, and effects blended well together. The fighting was a little staged and rigid in places, but it was overall well done. I loved the weapons of the Slayers, firing off a laser blast from one end before turning it around to use as a sword. The main magic we see used by the wizards in this movie was foresight and shapeshifting. There was no fireballs or lightning bolts, but transformations into everything from a tiger to a puppy (yes, a cute little puppy!) With all that, it was laid out brilliantly in the story.

Like I said, this movie is not Shakespeare and it’s nowhere near Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, or other big movie genres. Krull is just plain fun, from start to finish. It’s a great story to follow along, interesting characters to laugh and cry with, and keeps you in your seat from beginning to end. Krull is a movie that should be part of a film festival, not relegated to the back row of your dvd collection. If you haven’t seen it, watch it today! If you have seen it, but not in a while, pull it out and watch it again! See what you’re missing!

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Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon fantasy book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon. The Dark Tides: Book 2 of the Forever Avalon Series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from iUniverse Publishing and at Amazon, and other booksellers. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from Austin Macauley Publishing, and at Amazon and other booksellers.

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” is worthy of the legacy

It’s a Christmas tradition (at least in my house) to watch a Star Wars movie over the holiday. First, I spent the holidays thrilling over The Mandalorian and Baby Yoda. Then, on Christmas Day, I got to see the end of the original series with Episode IX.

My son called me before I saw it to let me know he really didn’t care for it and I may be disappointed. I wasn’t fazed by his review. After all, he liked The Last Jedi.

BTW, NO SPOILERS HERE!

In any event, I think people seeing this movie will either like it or hate it. It’s that polarizing. The way the story of Rey, the Resistance, the First Order, the Jedi and the Sith, and the Emperor all came to a conclusion was a bit clunky. It was all over the place, from beginning to end, not sure which way was up or down, light side or dark side, etc. But even through all that, the story came to a close with a bang, not a whimper. It was brilliant.

The way this all started out, I thought they were taking Rey down the dark side, learn to control her emotions or end up like Vader and Kylo Ren. We all got that vibe from images in the trailer. Luckily, there was more to it than that. Rey’s story is the most complex within the movie, and I wish it didn’t take the whole movie to sort it out, but I’m glad it finally did.

The Rise of Skywalker ticked all the right boxes for a Star Wars movie… Epic battle scenes, beautiful vistas, balanced comedic and tender moments, and “edge of your seat” suspense. It was quintessential Star Wars.

One of the things I tend to hate about Star Wars movies is the over/under use of characters. Rose, who played a big role in The Last Jedi was so under used here. Likewise was Dominic Monaghan. You don’t bring in someone like him to Star Wars and give him four lines. I am thrilled they were able to work in the last scenes of Carrie Fisher. It was an appropriate end for “our” princess!

I loved the various cameos and the nods to characters from film, television, books and comic books. That’s one of the things that made this movie great for me. They didn’t forget where the story began and brought it to a close.

We can now look forward to new stories from the Star Wars universe, or so we’re told by our Disney Sithlords. Let’s hope we get more like The Mandalorian and less like The Last Jedi.

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Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon. The Dark Tides is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iUniverse Publishing. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is coming soon from Austin Macauley Publishing.

R.I.P. Rutger Hauer, one of the best actors fans loved to watch

Related image“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.” — Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), Blade Runner (1982)

There are many actors remembers for their performances in sci-fi and fantasy films, but to me, there was no one better than Rutger Hauer. His performance in Blade Runner is, without a doubt, one of the greatest scenes in the history of science fiction films. Sadly, he passed away on July 19 at the age of 75.

Rutger Hauer was a Dutch actor, writer, and environmentalist. In 1999, he was named the Best Dutch Actor of the Century by the Dutch public. He has been in more than 104 film (three of which are currently in post-production and will be released posthumously) and 38 various television productions, as well as voice talent in two video games (he was the voice of Master Xehanort in the 2019 video game Kingdom Hearts III, replacing the late Leonard Nimoy). He has had many roles, but some, like Roy Batty in Blade Runner, are what he’s well known for.

He played the villain so very well, and yet, there were times that we felt sorry for or compassion for his character. He had a way of making you understand why his character was that way, whether it was good or bad. It was said he only took roles that interested him, so this makes his various roles a sight to see. Another interesting aspect of Hauer was that he was a pacifist, and yet he played very violent characters at times. He was born in the Netherlands during the German occupation in World War II. He stated in a 1981 interview, “I was born in the middle of the war, and I think for that reason I have deep roots in pacifism. Violence frightens me.”

Next to Blade Runner, my other favorite movie of his is LadyHawke.  Whereas Roy Batty was the villain, although a sympathetic one, Etienne Navarre was the consummate hero. He fought for his love, his friends, and his people, everything you would expect of a knight. And yet, he had many flaws that Hauer brilliantly brought out. The scene where Hauer and Michelle Pfeiffer (playing his love, Isabeau) see each other briefly at dawn before they transform is one of the best scenes in a fantasy movie.

He had roles in a variety of films just as memorable, such as The Osterman Weekend (1983), The Hitcher (1986), Escape from Sobibor (1987), The Legend of the Holy Drinker (1988), and Blind Fury (1989). In the 1990’s on, Hauer moved into low-budget films, and supporting roles in major films, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992), Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002), Batman Begins (2005), and The Rite (2011). He also made a return to Dutch cinema, and won the 2012 Rembrandt Award for Best Actor for his lead role in The Heineken Kidnapping.

Outside of acting, he founded the Rutger Hauer Starfish Association, an AIDS awareness organization. He also supported the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and was a member of its board of advisers. In 2013, he was made a knight in the Order of the Netherlands Lion.

Hauer was one of those actors that fans love to watch, not for his physical prowess or amazing stunts, but rather for bringing his characters to life. I remember the roles he played because they were inspiration for me, as a writer. He gave life to characters just from the written word, and he did it better than anyone else (in my opinion). God bless you, Rutger Hauer, and rest in peace.

“Good guy or bad guy, hero or anti hero; doesn’t matter to me, what role I play, only the character have something magical.”–Rutger Hauer

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Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon. The Dark Tides is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at AmazonBarnes and Noble, and iUniversepublishing. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is coming soon from Austin Macauley Publishing.