For the Parents of Children Who Will Inevitably Enjoy the Super Mario Bros. Movie

It’s okay. I get it. It’s Mario and Luigi on the big screen, but, like, it actually looks like Mario and Luigi in a movie! I took my kids. We bought the popcorn. We found our seats among the ocean of other parents and children. My kids got their first dose of “why are there so many trailers?!” Then, the movie started. I kept my hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times. In a flash, it ended and my kids seemed pretty happy with it. I had the good sense to just smile and nod in agreement.

(Expect some spoilers below, probably.)

Actual screenshot from the 1993 classic Super Blade Runner Bros.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie was destined for success just by virtue of doing anything that looked even remotely like the video game. I don’t want to talk much about the 1993 movie here. It belongs in a very different conversation about cult movies that has thankfully little to do with this newest adaptation. The one thing I will say is, looking at the reviews for this movie, any movie reviewer that decided to make some deluded hipster stance that this new offering somehow validates that the old one is “better” or any other nonsense saying they got it right the first time would do us all a favor to locate the nearest window and throw their keyboard out of it.

I went to this movie seeing the initial Rotten Tomato reviews. Low critic score, high audience score. This naturally makes one go into a movie with an attitude of “well these pretentious critics don’t know what they’re talking about. This movie is probably fine.” The reality is sadly closer to “these pretentious critics don’t know what they’re talking about and the movie isn’t really all that good for reasons the critics didn’t really hit on.” At least, that’s the sense I got from the original reviews I read. In any case, this doesn’t feel “rotten” but also doesn’t feel like a universal crowd-pleaser.

Your kids will enjoy it. They probably already have, based on the absurd box office returns. You’ll probably enjoy it well enough. You’ll probably get it on streaming in a few months, watch it again, and it’ll eventually fall into obscurity until the inevitable sequel. This isn’t a Pixar, make-you-cry-within-ten-minutes-as-payment-for-the-next-eighty-minutes-of-fun-and-drama movie. This is a roller coaster full of bright colors and “things you know” from the video games filling every frame of the animation. Lots of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nods to generations of old Nintendo games. The movie moves from set piece to set piece at breakneck pace. “No time for a movie, we have to get to the next scene!” Additionally, there’s a bunch of nonsensical old pop music selections in the soundtrack that I guess Illumination thinks are being put there for the adults in the crowd, but my experience with each one of them was just JackieChanMakesTheFace.jpg.

Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture

A-Ha’s “Take On Me” is… out of place at best? I mean, the music video did feature some motorcycles in a comic book… and maybe Mario is supposed to be getting ready to “take on” Donkey Kong? But that’s not set up until the next scene so… I don’t know. The movie ends with Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky” which seems too much of a meta choice due to Chris Pratt being involved in this movie. I imagine most of the adults in the room were thinking “oh I guess because he was also in Guardians of the Galaxy? Wasn’t this the beginning of volume 2? Why is this happening in this movie?”

Even in 1992 you got the sense Peach could probably take care of herself.

The plot is 30 years of Mario put into a blender and then hurled onto a canvas for you to feast your eyes upon. Bowser wants to marry Peach. This is something that got fully popularized in Super Mario Odyssey, but suspicions that this was the case were essentially confirmed way back in 1992 when a monthly comic installment to Nintendo Power started getting published. There were a few Mario-related comics done by someone calling themselves “Charlie Nozawa” (apparently actually Tamakichi Sakura) that I remember fondly and likely had a lot to do with Bowser’s and, oddly enough, Wario’s interpretations over time.

TerminalMontage’s “Speedrunner Mario” may have provided inspiration for the movie’s pacing

This movie is in such a hurry to do… everything that there’s not enough time for this revelation to be an amusing surprise. It’s just what it is. Bowser isn’t given time to really seem like a threat to anyone after the first scene, after which he more and more becomes his own comic relief.

Another thing that stood out to me was that even the legitimately cute moments were cut to 12 to 24 frames. Mario briefly appears as Cat Mario and even more briefly can be seen in this form “making biscuits” on top of Donkey Kong, but its on screen so shockingly briefly that I have to wonder why they bothered with it. Was it part of a slightly larger gag that got cut for time? Did the producers make the editors listen to the sound track on post “Hurry Up” double time while they were editing?

The Mario Bros. can handle anything as long as they’re together, which the movie isn’t interested in letting happen. There’s no emotional Weege wedge between them that splits them apart so they can reconcile later to get the job done. Happenstance pulls them apart for most of the film and happenstance eventually brings them together so they can touch a magic star together and invincibly destroy Bowser’s army using the power of… that magic star that I guess Bowser didn’t want to use himself. There’s an utter lack of satisfaction if you’re looking for characters fighting through their own shortcomings in order to win the day. While the movie does manage to set up an (albeit flimsy) reasoning that Mario’s short stature is something he struggles with, the movie’s open acceptance of game mechanics essentially points him right at a way to circumvent it, rather than overcome it.

That’s maybe the most disappointing thing. There’s a huge feeling of “there was an attempt” when story boarding this. It very much feels like the end sequence was a first draft that got accepted too quickly. From a gamer perspective, there’s no Mario vs. Bowser fight that feels more dramatic than going in at full power, then getting clipped back down to 1×1 tiny Mario, only to eke out a victory as regular, not-at-all-super Mario. Normal Mario making it through impossible situations are the type of things that make grown adults choke on their own hearts. I’d much rather have seen an ending of the movie play out the same, with each hero getting knocked down to their normal selves and forced to triumph in spite of it. The movie doesn’t seem to see it that way, however, and the brothers are cheered on by their onlookers for successfully touching the right power up at the proper moment in order to remove all tension from the film.

None of that is really important. It looks really pretty. Your kids are going to enjoy it. This isn’t high art and it sadly didn’t need to be. The disappointment comes from knowing that this could have been something more than it was and it would have been just as successful, but when something is this much of a sure-fire winner, it’s far too easy to take that Rainbow Road of least resistance. You understand that, but your kids probably won’t for a few years, at least. Let them figure that out on their own. Remember when you went to see “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II” or “Batman and Robin” in theaters? Remember that feeling of looking back and thinking “well that sure was a movie, but something doesn’t seem quite right”? I’m not saying this new Mario movie is worse than either of those, but the experience on repeat viewings is likely to be similar. This movie is so shiny it’s almost too perfect as an introduction to dissecting film. At least, once they’re ready for that sort of thing.

Starting 40 Out with a Crash

Forty years old is when you start expecting things to hurt arbitrarily. Maybe not all at once, but the ghosts of wounds of yesteryear are expected to emerge and cause frequent annoyance. Honestly, I’ve been experiencing that for years anyway, so I assumed I’d just cruise into this getting more of the same. Instead, I decided to get myself a shiny new DDR pad and fall the hell off of it.

Well, maybe not fall off of it exactly. L-Tek pads are from Poland and are some of the nicer mid range pads for a DDR hobbyist like myself. I’m not a serious player, but I try to be consistent one, and after decades of dealing with floppy pads shelling out over time and producing infuriating “Boos” I decided to treat myself to something a little more Polish polished.

The trouble is, these things sit about an inch off the ground. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but if you’ve spent your life jumping on flat-to-the-floor cheap floppy pads or even the foam-filled puffy (but still squishy) pads, an inch might be higher than you think. So after a few sessions of thinking I had this thing (and myself) broken in, a moment of distraction was all it took for my foot (while wearing shoes) to wander just a little too far to the left, my weight to be trying to rest on the wrong foot at the wrong time, and my ankle to go sideways in probably the most painful sprain I’ve ever experienced, though admittedly I don’t sprain my ankle terribly often.

After a little over a month I finally felt recovered. I returned to the pad again to see if I could get back into it. What I found was that the fear of the same thing happening again was just too distracting to focus on, let alone enjoy, playing the game. So I finally set out to do something about it.

Four planks of poplar and some screws have done the trick nicely to put a frame around the pad, giving me 5.5 inches of “oh my foot is hitting the frame I should adjust before I wound myself again” buffer. Managed a full session of testing without issue and it did help me catch myself straying farther than I should once or twice. I didn’t even get any splinters!

Need to sand this down and get some wood finish to prevent this from warping horribly at some point, but it looks like I’m back in the game.

30 Years of Magic: The Gathering

I wasn’t there for the very beginning of Magic. In 1993 I’d have been in 4th grade, and not yet into the swing of getting any sort of regular allowance to fuel such expenditures. I seem to recall Tempest being the first set that I got into, and I’m pretty sure I came in near the end of that, so I must have been a high school freshman at that point. The shelves of the various, rather small establishments that would eventually be “local game stores” were still well stocked with 4th edition, 5th edition, and Ice Age. For some reason in my neck of the woods, vaguely Nashville, TN, Chronicles through Weatherlight weren’t as well stocked as the, I assume more heavily printed, 4th/5th/Ice Age sets (though I did have a bit of Portal back then, which felt oddly fake due to the differences in font).

30 is a big number. It’s a multiple of both 5 and 10 so as a species we’re conditioned to expect some fanfare befitting a gorilla-brain “I can count that by flashing my hands a few times” number. Wizards/Hasbro has decided to reprint the old Collector’s edition, which was a set of older cards with an alternate card back, and therefore not tournament legal. This went for about $60 at the time, and came with a full set of cards and plenty of basic lands.

The 30th Anniversary version of this is… not $60. It’s $250 per pack of 15 random cards, sold only in sets of four. There’s no guarantee of what cards you’ll get in these packs, so if you weren’t around and playing magic back in ’93/’94 you can finally experience the thrill of maybe cracking a dual land or one of the power 9… for $250 a shot. What a nightmare.

Is this inhibiting your ability to “celebrate” the 30th Anniversary of Magic: the Gathering? Of course not. Is that even a thing you should care about? Probably not. It’s not up to the players to do that, anyway, or at least it shouldn’t be. If Wizards wants the 30th Anniversary to be a big deal for its players, it’s really on them to back that happen. This is not the product for making that happen. In pricing out the vast majority of players from being able to get at this product, they’re showing that they’ve put a lot of thought into how to best exploit a very specific type of financial speculator, and that feels like a dark path for a game that I would have otherwise hoped to try and get my kids into at some point.

What’s personally, perhaps uniquely depressing (or perhaps not so uniquely based on much of the other rambling on this topic), is that this is something I’ve wanted to see them do for awhile, but not like this. This year, in the midst of this presumed 30th anniversary “celebration” they’re releasing a set called “The Brother’s War,” a time-travel set going back to the beginning of Magic’s story. What more perfect place could there be to just straight up reprint all these older cards? Even if they felt the need to keep a special slot per pack for non-tournament-legal, alternate-back printings for the reserved list stuff it would have been celebrated by the whole of the player base as a wonderful move to push the set. Packs of that junk would be flying off the shelves for a chance at those, and everyone would be able to get a little piece of it. For more fun, make them legal for the draft where they get cracked, but illegal for constructed. Your precious original printings remain valuable because they’re still the only legal versions in their formats, but players get to, you know, have fun with the game? The “play” in “player” is supposed to be that thing you do for having fun, right?

$999 for 60 random proxies is just the worst kind of madness. Mechanically unique Secret Lair cards were bad enough in their work to exploit the FOMO feels, but this is a bridge too far. The way the company has presented it, a video stream where three people, possibly under duress, describe the product while trying to keep a straight face is one of the more unsettling things I’ve seen with this game’s products. This product is so cynical that the whole rest of the game, indeed the brand, suffers in my mind because of it. I had already hit a point where I wasn’t buying sealed product (though I had seriously considered getting a few boxes of Unfinity). Now I think I’m done looking for any of it.

What’s next? We’ve seen continuing absurd escalation. Where could it go from here? $999 for 60 proxies can’t be the end of this madness. I now expect, within 10 years, that we’ll see limited, tournament-legal printings of the reserved list, but it will be treated as an actual “reserve.” Every year a shortlist of Reserved List cards, marked with the year of this latest printing, serialized. These will go to a handful of favored LGSes and sold with the same sort of back-room financing as car sales. Get yourself a copy of the 2040 Black Lotus, complete with gold-leaf embossed foiling, for just $20,000 or $693/mo. at 4.69% APR.

These really feels like a watershed moment. I think I’m finally done with this. I still like playing Magic, but just seeing how apparently desperate Wizards has become to milk the hell out of every possible facet and tier of player, I think the game for me is going to live on in the set of Commander decks I’ve curated, and even those I’ll likely try to keep paring down, and probably I’ll put together a cube since that seems to be the true connoisseur’s version of Magic. Seems appropriate as I’ve already taken some other long-dead mid-90’s card games and boardgame-ified them. This insanity probably won’t kill Magic, but I’m not sure I want to bother with a game that survives by producing this type of gatekept, predatory, absolutely desperate money-grab of a product.

However I keep playing this game, there’s going to be a lot more proxies and they aren’t going to cost $250 per pack.

Prance Trance Restitution

Turns out playing Dance Dance Revolution for 90 minutes a day for nine days straight when you’re 39 is a good way to lose weight and just absolutely ruin your knees.

It’s been awhile since I’ve played a purposeful amount of DDR. After my last vacation, the tremendous amount of eating and drinking that took place forced my hand (or rather my feet) to get back into it, and I’ve gone further off the deep end than possibly ever before. Though I don’t tend to get into the more intense steps (my general level cap is 7, which might be 10 to 14 now, since apparently the scales were extended some years ago long after I stopped playing console versions), though I prefer 5s and 6s, since they’re still a reasonable amount of movement and you feel kinda like you’re actually dancing to either the lyrics or the beat, but without being so intense that every single blip, noise, and syllable needs to be its own 1/64th beat step.

Of course, I’m not really playing DDR proper. While I’m glad to see Konami is still producing new versions from time to time, I’m too much of a curmudgeon for most of the new music. I mean, look how they massacred my boy. (For some context, this is the original, and seems to widely be considered far superior.) Once PCs became powerful enough to deal with running it, Stepmania became the client of choice. While Project Outfox appears to be the functional successor, it seems to hate my cruddy soft USB pads (that are holding up unusually well) so I’m still comfortably using Stepmania 5. The real beauty of Stepmania is being able to create a whole new simfile (a file containing the step order and timing for a stage) from scratch, or to tweak/fix other files where something wasn’t set quite right. This has let me put some unexpected tracks in the list to entice my kids to give it a go, the oldest of whom only just last week finally passed his first song on Beginner.

The real trouble with gathering the exact tracks you want is, when there’s a version of something floating around the terrifying aether of the Internet, it might be A) not very well constructed or B) haphazardly chopped down to half-duration because of the old quarter-munching philosophy of making short tracks so players get through them faster. Personally if it’s a song I like I’d much rather the whole track be there, so for some songs you’ve got to take the steps already produced and figure out where to move them around and/or copy them to make the whole track work once you’ve replaced the media files. Another fun bit is needing to download a gigabyte or more to get a song pack that might only have a single song you’re looking for. This is less of an issue with modern bandwidth, but still feels a bit silly. Sometimes this is nice, however, as frequently this results in some additional inclusions for songs I wouldn’t have looked for otherwise. Indeed, the list below has quite a few tracks I probably wouldn’t bother with if I were just wanting something to listen to, but if the steps feel good for the beat then in the list it goes.

It’s also worth mentioning that most of the search engines for simfiles are sort of terrible, so I tend to find out about newer files via YouTube videos of people who record themselves playing the game at three angles for ones of viewers. Maybe there’s Discord channels out there that are better for this or something, but I haven’t stumbled onto them yet.

Once I get a few more things tweaked I’ll likely zip this up to share on Zenius as I can’t be the only 40-ish player who just wants to find a poppy list with some old intense staples mixed in to hop to until my fitness tracker tells me I’ve exhausted an appropriate amount of estimated calories for the day. For the most part it’s a collection of tracks converted from older DDR console games, plus a bunch of things from Ben Speirs, who appears to be a simfile-crafting savant.

In the event you care to peruse, here’s the list at the moment, which has gotten me nine lbs down from my post-vacation weight:

Addicted To You (UP-IN-HEAVEN MIX)Utada HikaruThe Utada Hikaru Project
Afronova Primeval8 bitDDR
Against All Odds (Definitive MIX)DEJA VU ft. TASMINDDR
B4U Glorious StyleNAOKIDDR
Bad HabitsEd SheeranGG Basics
Bad RomanceLady GagaDDR
BangarangSkrillexSPEIRMIX 2
Better Off AloneAlice DeejayZ-I-v Summer Contest 2015
BillsLunchmoney LewisSPEIRMIX GALAXY
Blame It On The PopDJ EarwormGTKashi
Break FreeArianna Grande ft. ZeddSPEIRMIX GALAXY
Break My HeartDua LipaGG Basics
Call Me MaybeCarly Rae JepsenSPEIRMIX GALAXY
Can’t Feel My FaceThe WeekndSPEIRMIX GALAXY
Can’t Hold Us (ft. Ray Dalton)Macklemore & Ryan LewisZ-I-v Summer Contest 2015
Can’t Stop The Feeling!Justing TimberlakeSPEIRMIX GALAXY
CANDY♥Kosaka YuriDDR
Cheap Thrills (ft. Sean Paul)SiaSPEIRMIX GALAXY
ClassicMKTO500’s Simfiles
Cold HeartElton John & Dua LipaFloor Filler
Counting StarsOne RepublicSPEIRMIX GALAXY
Days Go By (Solstice Remix)Dirty VegasDDRei-TournaMix-04
DIVE (more deep & deeper style)Be For UDDR
DROP THE BOMB (System S.F. Mix)Scotty D.DDR
Get LuckyDaft Punk ft. Pharrell WilliamsSPEIRMIX GALAXY
Good FeelingFlo RidaSPEIRMIX 2
Goot TimeOwl City ft. Carly Rae JepsenSPEIRMIX GALAXY
Goodbye HappinessUtada HikaruThe Utaka Hikaru Project/GTKashi Fix
HappyPharrell WilliamsSPEIRMIX GALAXY
Hold My HandJess GlynneZ-I-v Summer Contest 2015
I CryFlo Rida500’s Simfiles
ImmortalsFall Out BoySPEIRMIX GALAXY
LevitatingDua LipaGG Basics
Look To The Sky (True Color Mix)System SF ft. AnnaDDR
Makes Me WonderMaroon 5500’s Simfiles
Max 300ΩDDR
Movin’ on without youUtada HikaruThe Utada Hikaru Project
PARTY 4U -holy nite mix-CRANKYDDRei-TournaMix-05/GTKashi Fix
Rather BeClean Bandit ft. Jess GlynneSPEIRMIX GALAXY
Run Away With MeCarly Rae JepsenSPEIRMIX GALAXY
Safe and SoundCapital CitiesSPEIRMIX GALAXY
Shut Up and DanceWalk The MoonSPEIRMIX GALAXY
Something Just Like ThisThe Chainsmokers & ColdplaySPEIRMIX GALAXY
Stars in the SkyKid CudiGTKashi
Stomp to my beatJS16DDR
Stonger (What Doesn’t Kill You)Kelly ClarksonSPEIRMIX GALAXY
The GreatestSia ft. Kendrik LamarSPEIRMIX GALAXY
travelingUtada HikaruThe Utada Hikaru Project
Uptown Funk!Mark Ronson ft. Bruno MarsSPEIRMIX GALAXY
Wait & See -Risk-Utada HikaruThe Utada Hikaru Project/GTKashi Fix

Frivolous Comforts in the Crises

This is a reworked draft from July, which is a rather long time to finish a blog post. Things have been fortunately, though frustratingly, busy. Juggling work and trying to keep Arthur focused on digital kindergarten classes has destroyed any defined sense of “work day.” That I still have a work day to worry about I am quite thankful for, all things considered. The curious series of events that has made up the last few decades for me seems determined to keep its course. I’ve even managed to lose some weight, bucking the trend among what I assume to be similarly overly-fortunate people who would bother to take part in the sort of survey required to get this data during all this madness. I can only hope, whoever might be reading this, that things have treated you equally as well.

In writing about 2020 it is difficult to resist the urge to make some reference to hindsight or to quote the generically-fitting 90’s alt-rock wisdom that there’s “reason to believe that maybe this year will be better than the last” which has perhaps never been truer in my lifetime. Of course, just typing this I have already failed to cave in to that base desire to fill my ramblings with aging cultural references. Buy hey, when pizza’s on a bagel, you can eat pizza anytime.

I’m not going to waste time summarizing the year 2020. There’s essentially a room with infinite journalists and infinite keyboards trying to do that as I type this, and two or three of them are bound to do a pretty good job of it, so I’ll leave it to that engine of eager editors to do its work. I’ll note, however, that the sense of each year getting longer and longer has been going on for awhile now, and this is just the latest and longest. The common wisdom has always been that time was to become faster as I aged. I was meant to hit middle-age with a dreadful sense of wondering where all the time went, but such was the wisdom from before the dark times. Before the Facebook. A relentless news cycle and a need to feel pretty much constantly outraged at something (there are so many valid things to be outraged about) packs one’s mind to the brim. It’s exactly that fatigue that’s made it curiously more difficult to finish write-ups like this.

What I will waste time summarizing are the trivial pursuits of distraction in the midst of it all: An pandemic-triggered, early-onset middle-age crisis fueled campaign to finish off (or start in the first place) some collections of things vaguely remembered from my teenage years. If you’re not into that sort of thing, but are still reading to this point, this is a good off-ramp.

Cheers to a new year with a very low bar to meet some hopeful expectations! (And あけましておめでとう for those still on that end of the Pacific.)

On-Ramp to Inconsequence

Still with me? I’ve not fully documented all of the things how I’d like to present them, so here’s a little preview of the nonsense that’s kept me busy in the moments I’ve been able to tear myself away from whatever other chaos gripped my attention.

Who could have guessed my middle age crisis would mostly consist of defunct 1990’s card games? Cloistered in my closet, where I’ve put together my perma-work-from-home setup, I began to eye my little dead card game display. Over the months there grew a bizarre desire. I had always wanted to finally finish collecting Ani-Mayhem, being the finite card set it is, and having once before been within 10 cards of the full set. In my digging around the Internet for modern sources of the cards, other old cardboard memories were brought back to mind: Middle Earth and Star Trek. After some Googling I discovered that one of them was already retooled into a single-player experience, and the other could certainly be molded into one, and so the “I wish I was a game designer” gears in my head began to turn.

Trivial Pursuits

I set off to do three needless, nostalgic things in the last year. I wound up doing four.

1) Finish my Ani-Mayhem collection. A lofty goal that I didn’t actually think would happen. In the process, I wanted to create a game format that used as many of the cards from the game as possible, which meant a huge world map and a number of new features to make it work. The end result is a huge board game that requires a ton of space, but I’m happy with the result.

2) Put together an Arda deck for Middle Earth. Arda is a format that supports one or more players, with some tweaking for single player, and essentially turns it into a board game, something I was already trying to do with Ani-Mayhem (and found, in the process, that the rules I had come up with were in some ways quite similar to Arda).

3) Gather up enough of the Star Trek CCG (1st edition. 2nd edition just looks… off to me.) and mold it into a one or two player game. The original rules for this game are a bizarre sort of slog, but with a little tweaking it can work out pretty well.

4) Finish Apocalypse (not a purposeful 2020 reference). Often I am called back by an inexplicable desire to play one of the worst MMOs ever created: Final Fantasy XI, a bit of nostalgia that, unlike the top three, is neither cardboard nor a relic of the 90’s. This is a relic of the 00’s. Since its awful inception a lot has gone wrong and right with it, and while the miserable guts of it are still there, it’s a much more accessible garbage fire than it used to be. Apocalypse, the original, neigh-unobtainable weapon that turned Dark Knights into a hasty, self-sufficient machine, was one of those glimmers in the eye of any level 75 DRK, so in spite of it being much easier than before it was still quite satisfying getting hold of it. To what end? No idea!

I may actually try and force myself to document these more thoroughly, if the energy sapping properties of just existing in 2020 are arbitrarily alleviated by ticking over to 2021.

Picard Episode 2: Traps and Dead Ends

Episode 2 is called “Maps and Legends.” Taking notes as I watch this one.

Oh no, this episode is rated TV-MA instead of TV-13. Guess we’re back to shoving useless profanity into the script like Discovery.

Humans wouldn’t have allowed themselves to work with androids that behave like this in 2019, let alone the 24th century.

Oh look, useless profanity. How did I guess? Even apart from that, I don’t care if it’s the future, I can’t believe people would speak this way.

We’ve already been told you can clone an android and I assume all of its memories from a single positron, so what’s the point of an android shooting itself in the head while it’s standing on a planet about to be set on fire FOREVER? Did it logically conclude that setting the whole planet on fire might not quite get it done?

Not a great plan to visually remind us that Picard really should have died in that explosion.

Exposition dump. Let’s make up a bunch of stuff about Romulans. Also hand-wave a bunch of rando computer magic because it’s hard to make a mystery work with future technology. Also cut the scenes together out of sequence so it seems equal parts legit explanation and more mysterious. Romulans hate robots I guess. Sure.

Why do the characters and the music in this show think it’s so amazing and shocking that someone might not be on Earth? Did they know the show is called Star Trek? That implies there might be some trekking to or from some number of stars.

A probably magic-android talking about how imperfections are beautiful, loudly whispered into our ears. I hate this.

Creepy McEvilguy is EVIL! Did you notice how he’s evil?

Picard’s talk with his doctor had a lot of oddly delivered lines from both actors. Like they’re having a hard time remembering their lines or they’re saying the words for the first time ever.

We’re 2/2 on episodes reminding us about how much we liked the Galaxy class star ship, and also reminding us that we’re not doing that anymore.

“Welcome to Costc- I mean, Starfleet. I love you.”

Admiral Clancy drops the f-bomb like she was trying to remember not to forget to. It’s like the word itself knows it really wasn’t supposed to be there.

14 species wanted Starfleet to screw over the Romulans, so they did, but “thousands” of species rely on the Federation? What? Was the whole Alpha Quadrant being evacuated at the same time or something? Do the writers even know there’s an Alpha Quadrant?

Yelling expository dialog at each other is drama!

“I never really cared for science fiction. I guess I just didn’t get it.”
The writers sneaking their own internal thoughts into the script. Picard saying this is doomed to get edited into videos hating on this episode.

I think they’re trying to tell us that Bruce Maddox was in love with Data.

Picard’s whole role in this show seems to be to drink tea and have people talk at him. That seems like a pretty sweet gig.

“Going on and on.” Lady, Picard was talking to you for maybe 30 seconds until you got all “I AM THE LAW” on him.

I feel like we should have spent more time on the vineyard with Picard and his Romulan friends. Did he meet them specifically when the whole supernova thing went down? Their history seems like it should have mattered.

Don’t name all these characters I’d rather see show up than whatever is about to happen.

There’s a stunning lack of surveillance in this new version of future Earth. I don’t even trust my cell phone to not record me when I don’t ask it to. Are we supposed to believe that, when everyone’s walking around with communicators and sensors are 24/7 recording everything (as evidenced by the ability to recreate events seen multiple times in TNG episodes that these writers have never seen) that all these secret whispers are so easily hidden?

We learn nothing in the scene with Raffi, but she’s the first new character who seemed like a likeable character for the eventual ensemble cast. If we get Space Pirate Picard out of all this it might even be worth it.

Hey, except for the android in the cold open, no one shot or stabbed anyone else this episode!

Episode is titled “Maps and Legends.” I assume they titled it before they finished writing it, because they forgot to put any maps in it, and I fully believe they would forget something about their own episode title.

Boldly Groaning

Some months ago I had the pleasure of getting to sit in on a brief interview with Patrick Stewart and Alex Kurtzman, with Jeff Bezos asking the questions. I’m not sure if he was involved in some of the funding for Star Trek Picard, but he’s clearly a fan of sci-fi (as evidenced with him taking on The Expanse from season 4). After the event and everyone filed out, as I was making my way down the street some minutes later, I walked right past Kurtzman going in the other direction, and part of my mind wanted to stop and ask him what the hell the deal was with the direction Star Trek has gone, but a general desire to not be a creeper naturally prevented me from acting on that impulse.

Kurtzman is part of a troop of writers that have been all over TV and movies since the early 2000s. I can’t speak much to the television writing, but the movies generally lean towards being pretty dumb. I don’t know for sure how much of this is Kurtzman, as he’s nearly always a co-writer, but with his name on such enlightening and impactful stories as Transformers, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Star Trek 2009, Star Trek Into Darkness, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, he’s a common thread through a lot of really dumb movies. Dumb movies can be fine, and it’s fine to make them and for them to exist, but I take some offense to it when we get into something like Star Trek.

Star Trek is campy, but not all the time. It’s also scientifically accurate, but not all the time. Part of good science fiction writing is having some idea how things are supposed to work, and then maybe pushing that knowledge past what the scientific community knows. You’re allowed to make up your own answers to yet unanswered questions, especially if it’s in service to your story. What we see in Star Trek since 2009 has been something far different. Ignoring known science for the sake of pacing and excitement that makes things fun in the moment, but horribly stupid in retrospect.

Star Trek Picard carried with it, at least until the first episode was released, a bit of hope that things could return to form. My guess, though, was that Star Trek Picard compared to Star Trek Discovery would have the same terrible scripts, but will better handle the nostalgia aspect. Patrick Stewart adds a level of class that will make the show seem better than it really is, and the less critically-minded will watch it feeling like old Trek is finally back, even though it’s nowhere close. That’d be a nice thing to be able to feel, though.

Let’s Get Into It

TL;DR: Based on the first episode, Star Trek Picard is not the return to form I was hoping. The action isn’t yet completely excessive, though a scene midway-through the episode goes on needlessly forever, eventually flying off the rails and killing itself off. In the same way it would be difficult to reckon TNG TV Picard and TNG Movie Picard, the production seems torn between wanting to tone things down a bit to make it seem more like old Trek and wanting to make a mindless action show with ninjas and galaxy-destroying super weapons.

By this point I’m sure the Collective has already complained extensively about all these things, but here’s my general irks and grumbles:

Next time on…: It wasn’t until the little trailer for the rest of the season played that it really hit me how dumb everything was. Creepy McEvilguy! Romulans are building a Borg cube? Punching and shooting and sword-fighting elves, oh my! This made it seem clear that the rest of the show is going to be a long-form version of a TNG movie, but with the additional burden of needing to introduce the next-next generation. This is definitely “could be worse” as while none of the TNG movies were particularly good, they probably would have seemed better if they were in an episodic form, even if the stories were just as dumb.

An odd lack of de-aging: I’m not sure why they went this way, but it seems particularly odd to me that Picard remembers Data as though he had kept on aging along with him. He should really remember him as he was in Nemesis. And of all characters, Data being an android is probably one of the easiest sorts of characters you can get away with it without worrying so much about the uncanny valley.

Assuming Dahj has borrowed memories from Data or something, why does she visualize the current-aged Picard? Maybe her third eye got the latest photo off of space-Google or something.

Skipping the Good Stuff: What struck me the most is that they hand-waved over things that I think would have been more interesting stories. This show seems to be keeping the continuity of the TNG movies, and nods to the supernova that causes the 2009 movie to happen, but I think I’d have preferred things to start there. Shoving it 10 years in the past and then just trying to make the audience accept that a bunch of junk went down makes the setup for who Picard is now and what the Federation has become seem rushed and flimsy, especially regarding the bizarre logical leap to it all leading to a ban on androids. Picard seems to be equally revered and detested because all of the social progress that Star Trek had been a beacon of has been utterly trashed.

The explosion that destroys Romulus is supposed to have threatened the entire galaxy. That’s the sort of cosmic event that I want to see get dealt with in science fiction, but unfortunately it’s already been hastily covered in Star Trek 2009, and one of the main figures in that was Leonard Nimoy, who has since passed on. That doesn’t mean you couldn’t do a story about Picard’s part in it. Mention that Spock is out Spocking it up, but show us what’s happening on the administrative side.

Show us his role, the logistical nightmare of getting the fleet together to try an evacuate an entire planet’s worth of a mature world that should have billions of people on it. Give us some rousing speeches of an older Admiral Picard making his case to the rest of Starfleet that they must do whatever they can to help the Romulans. Take some time and explain why they can’t help themselves, as advanced as they are, or where they come up short. Maybe there’s a sect of Romulans trying to screw things up on purpose.

Oh, wait, they covered all of this in the 2009 Countdown comic books. Oh no, they did it again for Into Darkness. Oh no! They’re doing it again with Picard (what the hell is with that cover art?), retelling the latest version of the 2009 Countdown. What the damn it? Stop taking the interesting parts and shoving them in comic book in service of awful action schlock moving pictures.

There’s a whole first season of this show it feels like we’ve skipped. Show us the Federation using the disaster as an opportunity to bring Romulans into the Federation, or other galactic empires trying to muck with the gears of this to their own ends. Talk about the cosmic event itself and flesh it out some to justify what’s happening. Then at the end of that first season have something go terribly wrong that causes Picard to fall out with the Federation if you want. Give yourself time to justify why the hell suddenly everything is the androids’ fault and then you can take it from there and write your story about how an android is Jesus and is the only thing that can stop the Borg from taking over the galaxy again. Again.

As it is, if feels like the viewer is asked to just accept a bunch of junk because reasons, and that feels pretty bad.

Boldly Groaning Where No One Has Groaned Before

“Ugh, really” is not the feeling I wanted to have, but I expected at least some of it. The chief culprits:

FOX News in space!: “FNN” (presumably “Federation New Network”) and some xenophobic interviewer trying to make connections with current events. I don’t remember anyone even watching TV in Star Trek, and I assumed everyone just read things very quickly in some non-video format. New Star Trek viewers apparently aren’t ready for such a hopeful vision of the future, though, so I guess the 24th century is back to getting their news from talking heads and AM radio.

The Federation: Apparently the Federation, made up of dozens of different species, decides that androids blowing their ship manufacturing plant (and somehow setting a planet of fire permanently) means that they should specifically hate Romulans for their sun (???) exploding.

The Romulan Sun Exploding: What? Is this supposed to be the thing that leads to Star Trek 2009 happening? It’s the same writers. Did they forget that it wasn’t the same star? Probably. I mean, it was pretty dumb before, but there wasn’t really a particular reason to change it for this show that I can see. I’m sure they just forgot.

Assassin Girl is Probably the Key to Everything: Is Dahj or her arbitrary twin the key to the universe? Probably. The direction of everything reeks of this, and if that’s not what happens I guess I should be glad that my expectations will be subverted, but I’d prefer to not have that expectation in the first place. Also taking a female character and giving her a coat of “awesome ninja assassin” paint is done to death.

I laughed out loud in disbelief when she jumped up two flights of stairs during the excessively long rooftop fight scene (thankfully one of only two of these spectacles in the episode).

Yeah Okay

Picard Cares Excessively About Data: This seems fine. Picard is older, and clearly nostalgic for old times, just like the audience. The curious bit is the omission of the rest of the crew, but this is in service of some nonsense plot where I’m sure something involving Data will be the most important thing in the galaxy, so while the reality would probably be that Picard misses everyone, the story needs him to specifically care about Data, so that’s all we get.

Assassins Using Really Dumb Methods: It’s hard to imagine there not being surveillance on suddenly teleporting into someone’s apartment in the first place with your little gang of assassins, but I’m guessing even if you can bypass that junk, firing phasers on any setting, even in a residential area, is going to set of some alarms you’d rather not deal with if you’re the kidnapper/assassin sort of person in the 24th century, so I’ll give the “let’s just put a bag on her head and knock her out” and “throw a knife at that guy” stuff a pass.

Get Off My Lawn

Star Trek for me is at its best when it’s a diverse group of people joining together to deal with some sort of cosmic anomaly. Life vs. the universe that gave it to us. Perseverance, ingenuity, and collaboration in the face of the horrible power of nature to show us what we can be when we’re at our very best.

Star Trek Picard looks like it’s going to make a very quick turn down the lesser path: Action! With lasers!

I’ll probably still watch the rest of it, remaining morbidly curious and always very slightly hopeful.

Prime Day

It’s my birthday, and the first of my incoming birthday greetings made a point to reference that 37 is a prime number, and that it should bear some sort of significance, and coming from the source I know they think that’s about as absurd as I do. That’s a nice feeling, somehow. I’m unsure if it was meant as a reference to my work at Amazon, in which case the comment was worth a joke and a half.

2019 was a tremendously long year, bucking the apparent stereotype of time moving faster as we get older. Maybe I just haven’t found the other end of that bell curve yet. This is first post here for 2020, and first in over half a year, though there have been a few attempts in that time that I lost steam on. I’ve been a poor user of social media for that time, outside of a stint at trying to keep up with Inktober, which was fun, but my surroundings at the time did not lend a great amount of free time to do so.

While I was in Japan, Facebook seemed to have a higher purpose. It was the easiest way to tell everyone what was happening. That didn’t really change after I changed continents, but somehow my return to America made it seem to gradually lose purpose, though the need of those things may not have actually faded.

I find myself reeling each time I look at Twitter or Facebook (and Instagram, for that matter). The swirling horror of politics hovers over every brief session, and I don’t mean just the political posts, but the drama surrounding the very social networks themselves. Am I supposed to delete all the accounts as some gesture of fighting the man, as at least one of my friends has done, or do I try force my eyes out of focus to ignore all of that and throw things on there in an effort to keep up with old friends because these places happen to be the places most people wound up doing that sort of thing?

Does posting pictures of my own kids being goofy somehow violate their rights to privacy? Should I be actively reacting to other peoples’ political posts? Should I be spamming my own memes in a desperate attempt to push the needle back towards sanity, no doubt uncovering opinions of friends and distant family that I might not be happy I learn about? This blog was intended as a sort of solution to this, keeping the bulk of the personal in my own little corner of the Internet, but these sorts of thoughts fill my mind every time I think about trying to get involved in social media again and it’s strangely exhausting, which has generally kept me from posting much of anything.

You know what? Even this is exhausting. I’m going to talk about Star Trek, now. It’s my birthday. I’ll do what I want.

The List Persists

Image unrelated.

I’ve proven fairly poor at keeping the blog flowing, though I feel oddly fine with it. The last 12 months have been all sorts of strange, and The List proved more of a constant focus. While I finished very little, I made progress on quite a lot.

45,000 words I’ve managed to write, which is only half way there. More importantly, it’s half way there. With how things were going last year, I didn’t imagine I’d get that far. It’s been a few hundred words here an there, usually on the bus back and forth. The important thing is just to keep going and not to worry whether or not it’s trash. Trash can be fixed. Blank pages can be fixed, too, and usually by writing trash. It seems to be a pretty simple two-step process (after the various steps leading up to getting myself to start in the first place.) I feel pretty good about getting the first draft out this year, and having some time to take care of the last mile on a number of other things.

As noted above, I’ve obviously failed at the whole “post a bunch of stuff on the Internet” thing. The next blogs-per-month data set for 2019 is going to have a big hole in the summer. Life happens, and it keeps on happening. It doesn’t help that at any given moment I feel obligated to dislike doing anything on Facebook or Twitter. It’s part of why I ended up going the blog route at all. Searches for “Why you should hate Twitter” and “Why you should hate Facebook” result in piles of rants, which may all be justified. “Why you should hate WordPress” results in mostly unrelated things, and one post telling me I’m supposed to think WordPress is confusing, but I should use it anyway. They’d done a better job of one of the following: 1) not being evil, 2) not looking like they’re evil, 3) somehow controlling all Internet opinions of them. I’m guessing it’s one of the first two.

Something I have certainly learned, and it explains a lot of what feels like the procedural generated Internet of today: quantity > quality until people actually start looking. I have no idea how many people have read this vs. how many have “read” it (picking up key words and randomly subscribing automatically because someone decided they should code a robot to do that.) If I were interested in aggressively amassing followers I’d probably be better off setting up something to scrape reddit for that auto-summarizing bot and just copy/past them. I’m not really into that, though, so I’ll just keep posting when I post. Perhaps this year the mood will strike more frequently. Perhaps more now that I’ve started getting Chase to record his complaining about things with me. Why keep all that to ourselves when we could have randos consume it and share in the whatever that is. The important thing is it’s a good time, and there’s plenty of creative commons music to slap on it to give it that extra bit of pizazz.