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Posts Tagged ‘Star Trek: TNG’

Shore Leave is coming up again!

Hey, everyone. Once again, I haven’t been keeping up with blogging… Other matters have been preoccupying me, including a side job I just finished for a little extra income, transcribing a book-length SF-fanzine memoir from the ’40s into a Word document for a colleague, which was rather time-consuming.

Anyway, I needed the extra funds because it’s getting close to that time of year again. The Shore Leave convention will be held in about 4 weeks, from July 7-9, 2017, at the usual venue of the Hunt Valley Inn in Hunt Valley, MD. This year’s guests include Marina Sirtis and Michael Dorn! As usual, I’ll be on a few panels about various things, though the schedule isn’t finalized, and of course I’ll be at the Friday night Meet the Pros signing event and spend some time signing at the book vendor’s table. Whether I’ll have any new writing projects to talk about at the con remains to be seen; I’m hopeful something will break in the next few weeks, but there’s no way to be sure. At least my new DTI novella, Shield of the Gods, will be out by then. (Oddly, Amazon’s best-seller category trackers have it doing well under “Religion and Spirituality,” subsection “Personal Growth,” subsections “Men’s Personal Growth” and “Philosophy.” I guess they’re getting that from an overly literal interpretation of the title, and there is a reference in the blurb to the characters facing a personal challenge, so I guess this is the result of some kind of computer algorithm; but where do they get the “Men’s” part from?)

So that means there are things I need to take care of over the next few weeks. I need to get my car checked out to make sure it’s safe for the long drive. And I need to replace my laptop hard drive. See, when I got this refurbished laptop, the hard drive was making an intermittent clicking noise and sometimes wouldn’t start up, and I was told it might be damaged and unstable, so I contacted the refurbishers and they sent me a replacement. That replacement worked okay until a couple of months ago when it crashed, so I went back to the original, iffy drive until they could send me another replacement. I got that one weeks ago, but I’ve been putting off the switch because the iffy drive has been mostly working okay, and because I’ve had work I wanted to get done first. Mainly just because I hate going through the rigmarole of setting up a new hard drive, reinstalling and reauthorizing everything, etc., having to spend most of a day getting it all done. But on the other hand, the risk that the current drive might crash is a more long-term source of worry, so I should probably just get it over with. And I definitely should do it before Shore Leave, so I don’t have to worry about my hard drive crashing on me while I’m on my trip. (Assuming the second replacement actually works, which I shouldn’t take as a given considering how the first two turned out. If I could afford it, I’d just buy a whole new computer rather than gambling with this one.)

Star Trek trivia: The evolution of “mind meld”

A while back, I noticed something interesting about the history of Star Trek terminology. We’ve all come to think of “mind meld” as the standard term for the telepathic contact used by the Vulcans, and it’s been used consistently and near-exclusively in most Trek productions over the decades. But in fact, it was never used in the original series until the third season, and then only twice. TOS was quite inconsistent in its terminology — as with so many things, they made it up as they went and it took time for the concept to settle down. Here’s a list of the terms they used, and how they were depicted (originally posted in a thread on Tor.com, and put together with the help of the Star Trek Script Search app):

  • Dagger of the Mind: “an ancient Vulcan technique to probe into Van Gelder’s tortured mind” — The template for the mind meld as we know it.
  • Devil in the Dark: “the Vulcan technique of the joining of two minds” — Also a very deep fusion and blending of identities.
  • The Changeling: “mind probe” — Ditto.
  • By Any Other Name: “mind probe” and “mind touch” to refer to the telepathic suggestion used with the Eminian guard and Kelinda, much less of a connection than we’ve seen before.
  • Patterns of Force: “mind probe” to refer to Spock reaching Gill’s mind, but we didn’t see how deep it went.
  • Spectre of the Gun: Debut of the term “mind meld,” to refer to what was basically hypnotic suggestion.
  • Elaan of Troyius: “mind meld” suggested but not used as an interrogation technique.
  • The Paradise Syndrome: “mind fusion” used for a full “our minds are one” joining.
  • Is There in Truth No Beauty?: “mind link” to refer to the full union of two minds.
  • One of Our Planets is Missing: “mind touch” for Spock allowing the cloud creature to see and speak through him, much like his “link” with Kollos.
  • The Infinite Vulcan: “mind touch” to refer to a full transfer of mind/memory from giant Spock to original Spock.

So that’s “Vulcan technique” in season 1; “mind probe” and “mind touch” in season 2; “mind meld,” “mind link,” and “mind fusion” in season 3; and “mind touch exclusively in the animated series. The usage was all over the place, and “mind meld” was the third-most common term after “mind touch” and “mind probe.” And the writers’ bible for TOS refers only to Spock’s “strange Vulcan ‘ESP’ ability to merge his mind with another intelligence.” In the first major Trek reference book, The Star Trek Concordance by Bjo Trimble, the version that gets the longest lexicon entry (29 lines) is “Vulcan mind touch,” with “mind link” (non-Vulcan) getting six lines, “Vulcan mind fusion” five lines, and “Vulcan mind meld” only four, the shortest entry (though no “mind probe” anywhere in sight). I always used to have the sense that “mind touch” referred to a shallower, more basic telepathic communication while the “meld” or “fusion” was a deeper, more complete blending, but as you can see above, the terms were used more interchangeably than that.

And yet the 1977 writers’ bible for Phase II, the TV revival project that later turned into Star Trek: The Motion Picture, did use the term “mind-meld” for Vulcan mental abilities. The term was then used in onscreen dialogue in TMP itself, for the contact between Spock and V’Ger’s memory crystal. It was also used in The Search for Spock (referring retroactively to Spock’s katra transfer to McCoy in TWOK) and The Voyage Home (for Spock’s mental communication with the whales). And it’s been the exclusive term in every subsequent Star Trek production. (“Mind probe” was used twice, in The Next Generation‘s “Menage a Troi” and Deep Space Nine‘s “Extreme Measures,” to refer to mind-scanning technologies akin to the Klingon mind sifter, but never for Vulcan telepathy.) So sometime between TAS and the movies, the term became standardized.

It also occurred to me to check into the tie-in fiction that came out between TOS and TMP. 1970’s Spock Must Die! by James Blish used yet another unique term, “mind-lock.” But the next original Bantam publication, the 1976 anthology Star Trek: The New Voyages (which was mostly reprinting earlier fanfiction stories, though newly revised for the anthology), uses “mind-meld” consistently in multiple stories. As far as I can tell, it was pretty standard in Bantam’s books from then on (though I don’t have them all in my possession). So in both screen and prose Trek, the term “mind meld” somehow became the default by the late 1970s — but how? Why that term, when it was so infrequently used in TOS and never in TAS?

When I checked my nonfiction text sources, I found that The Making of Star Trek, written by Stephen Edward Poe (as Stephen E. Whitfield) and Gene Roddenberry during season 2 of TOS and released shortly before the premiere of season 3, refers to Spock’s ability as “mind-melding” — making it the earliest public use of the term. It’s possible Poe/Whitfield got it from the scripts to “Spock’s Brain” and “Elaan of Troyius,” though, depending on how early they were written. Or maybe it’s just the term Roddenberry had decided on, and so it got around behind the scenes.

People today often don’t realize it, but TMoST was the definitive ST reference book in its day, the source of a number of things that became conventional fan wisdom even though they were never stated onscreen, such as Kirk being the youngest starship captain, McCoy’s divorce backstory (proposed by DeForest Kelley for the second-season writers’ bible but first publicized by TMoST), and the Romulan-Klingon alliance (from development notes for “The Enterprise Incident” to explain the Romulan use of Klingon ships, which seems to confirm that Poe had access to early third-season scripts). Not to mention technical details that weren’t canonized until later, like the idea of the forward parabolic dish being a navigational deflector. TMoST was also the second work to establish a 23rd-century setting for TOS, preceded by James Blish’s “Space Seed” adaptation in the collection Star Trek 2 seven months earlier.

So if all these things became conventional wisdom because they were in The Making of Star Trek, it follows that TMoST’s use of the term “mind-melding” is the reason that term became standardized later on. And it does seem that it used the term because it was written around the same time as the two TOS episodes that did use it. If it had been written a few months earlier, we might’ve ended up talking about “Vulcan mind probes” for all these years.

Latest thoughts on fall SFTV

November 7, 2015 3 comments

Continuing my irregular series…

Updates:

Doctor Who has gotten stronger since the first couple of episodes this season. The stories have gone to interesting places and handled them well. The Zygon 2-parter currently underway has done a remarkable job bringing depth and complexity to a race I always saw as rather goofy before.

Minority Report has also gotten stronger as it’s moved beyond case-of-the-week stuff and delved more into the past and present of the three Precogs. The worldbuilding is still a mixed bag, though — sometimes there are some nice bits of plausible prediction (sea level rise, vat-grown meats), but sometimes the world is too similar to the present (e.g. no improvements in firearm safety in households with children). There are only a few episodes left now; FOX has already decided to end the show at episode 10, which was already planned as a midseason finale of sorts. I hope it isn’t too much of a cliffhanger.

Sleepy Hollow has been pretty solid — not as good as season 1, but not as frustrating or uneven as season 2. However, the constant shoehorning in of Betsy Ross, Colonial Superspy is irritating and the actress hasn’t gotten any better.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been puttering along just fine, with one exceptional showing in “4,722 Hours.” It’s a reminder that, for all that we celebrate serialization these days, the standalone stories are often the most memorable ones.

I’m still watching Blindspot, but I’m not quite sure why. I don’t really care about any of the cast other than Jaimie Alexander and Ashley Johnson. And it’s way too gunplay-driven for my tastes. But I am still vaguely curious about the mystery. Some viewers, myself included, are starting to suspect that this is a stealth time-travel show, since that seems the only way to explain the foreknowledge of whoever’s behind Jane’s tattoos.

The Flash and Arrow have been solidly fun so far, even though they’ve mostly been busy setting up the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow spinoff. But The Flash has introduced the multiverse and Jay Garrick, which certainly opens a lot of possibilities. And last week’s Arrow did something rather marvelous, which was to bring back the star of last season’s cancelled NBC series Constantine (based on a DC/Vertigo comic) and retroactively fold his show into the Arrowverse, as well as leaving the door open for his return in the future. The last time anything like that was done, I think, was when Homicide‘s Detective Munch was added to the cast of Law & Order: SVU. There was also that episode of Diagnosis: Murder in the ’80s (or early ’90s?) that was a sequel to an episode of Mannix from the ’70s. Not quite the same thing there, though.

But the big premiere from DC and Greg Berlanti is CBS’s Supergirl, which I am absolutely loving. Melissa Benoist is marvelously charming and likeable, and she brings enormous warmth and credibility to the character of Kara/Supergirl. She has a personality that reminds me of Lindsay Wagner from The Bionic Woman, along with a gushing charm and ready smile that are evocative of Lynda Carter in Wonder Woman. I’m glad we’re past the point where a female heroine has to be all tough and cold and aggressive to be seen as strong. Supergirl is unapologetically girlish and adorable, but the fights she gets into are intense and no-holds-barred, and the show is perfectly matter-of-fact about both, recognizing that there need be no contradiction there.

As for the rest of the cast, Mehcad Brooks is pretty good as James Olsen — not what you expect from Jimmy Olsen, but that’s the point, since he’s grown out of the cub-reporter years and is a grown man now. The rest of the cast is mostly okay, but I feel that David Harewood’s performance suffers a bit from being saddled with an American accent, and Chyler Leigh is a bit bland as Alex.

I like it that the show makes no apologies about being feminist. That’s not a dirty word, and it’s good that the show embraces it. At least, I hope it gets to continue to embrace it. I remember the ’70s Wonder Woman pilot having a front-and-center feminist message that got totally quashed after just a few episodes. Hopefully we’ve gained some ground since then. I hear a lot of fanboy whining about how they changed Jimmy Olsen or whatever, but I also hear a lot of people saying how excited they are to have a superhero show they can watch with their daughters, and that is so much more important.

I also love it that Kara is spending more time in Supergirl attire than in street clothes, something I don’t think we’ve seen in a live-action superhero show since Adam West hung up his cowl (except maybe for some Power Rangers episodes). I’m also really impressed with the Supergirl costume. People like to make fun of superhero capes and tights and trunks, but I just can’t see it. To me, it’s not silly-looking at all, because it’s Superman’s costume, and that makes it a cultural icon, a symbol of truth, justice, and the neverending battle against corruption and prejudice. Granted, some attempts to realize it in live action have been better than others. But when they get it right, it looks to me like something that should be worn with pride. And Colleen Atwood’s version of the Supergirl costume gets it right. I think Benoist looks very classy in it.

I also love how much time Supergirl spends in the air. This is like the anti-Smallville. That show promised “No flights, no tights,” because those things were seen at the time as goofy and embarrassing. But these days, the culture has embraced superheroes, so this show gives us flights and tights all the time, and it’s wonderful.

(One thing bugs me, though. Supergirl has earrings. Not clip-ons, but studs. How the heck did Kara pierce her ears? Heat vision? For that matter, why don’t the piercings instantly heal up after being made? Although I gather there are such things as adhesive or magnetic earrings.)

It’s interesting that this shares something in common with the ’84 Supergirl movie, aside from Helen Slater’s presence. Both stories are about Kara becoming Supergirl in order to fix a problem that she herself inadvertently caused — sending the Omegahedron to Earth in the movie, bringing Fort Rozz to Earth here. (Although I suspect that there’s a deeper story behind just how the fort got out of the Phantom Zone.)

I like it that there’s a clearly defined melodic theme, though episode 2 seemed to use a different one (or a different part of the same one?) than the pilot. It’s not one of the best Super-person themes in the history of the franchise — it doesn’t hold a candle to the Goldsmith Supergirl theme from the movie — but it’s appropriate for a superhero, especially a Super-hero, to have a clear fanfare like this. Most Superman-related shows have had strong themes for the hero, though this is something Smallville totally dropped the ball on until late in its run, because it went with Mark Snow’s atmospheric droning instead of something with actual melody, and then it just copied John Williams’s Superman theme, which just didn’t fit with the rest of the music. (Although later composer Louis Febre did finally concoct a decent heroic theme for Clark in the last couple of seasons.)

One last side note: People may notice that I haven’t said anything yet about the news that CBS is producing a new Star Trek series. This is because we hardly know anything about it yet, so the sensible thing is to wait and see. It’s not necessary to fill the voids in our knowledge with rampant speculation just so we have something to base an opinion on. There’s nothing wrong with having no opinion at all.

Well, I will say that every single time a new Star Trek project has been announced, it’s immediately provoked doom-and-gloom reactions from fandom. And here’s an item from Starlog #117 in which the TOS cast responds to the news that TNG is being made:

https://archive.org/stream/starlog_m…ge/n8/mode/1up

Shatner and Nimoy were skeptical, Kelley didn’t understand the idea, and Doohan pretty much called it a fraud. Nichols and Koenig sounded open-minded… and Takei was pitching a Captain Sulu series even then.  But of course, we all know how TNG turned out. So any opinions or assumptions at this point are hardly worth the effort.

Books by the Banks report

Well, as I hoped, Books by the Banks did cheer me up after my recent computer woes. The reception on Friday night was at the Mercantile Library downtown, a pretty classy place. It was heavily attended, making it an unusually noisy gathering for a library, but they had a free buffet which constituted my dinner and included some nice strawberries and cheese among other things. My nametag got me recognized by author Jeff Suess, who had a story in one of the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds volumes, and we talked Trek for a while. I later chatted with a few other authors I met for the first time. And I briefly touched base with noted children’s book author Sharon Draper, who won one of the awards given out at the reception, and who was my 8th-grade English teacher back at Walnut Hills High School decades ago. I was rather surprised that she remembered me, and she had some nice things to say about me. Honestly I don’t remember 8th grade all that well myself. It was a pretty rough time in my life, and I was kind of an emotional wreck and an underachiever. It’s reassuring that one of my teachers from that time came away with positive memories of me.

Anyway, I couldn’t resist staying up until midnight on Friday to watch the series finale of Continuum on Syfy (a bit rushed, but effective), and I woke up too early the next morning. Generally when I do that, I get up for a bit to let the sheets cool down, go back to bed, then eventually drift off and sleep fairly late. But this time, I had to force myself to get up early enough to get to the convention center by 10, and my morning coffee barely left me functional enough to drive. I practically sleepwalked into the convention center, or so it felt to me, but I bought another cup of coffee and it did the trick — or at least helped me kick into my convention/interview mode where I’m more outgoing and talkative than I usually am with strangers.

The energy of the crowd may have helped too. It was unusually lively and well-attended this year, and people weren’t afraid to spend money on books. The main book I was there to sell this year was Rise of the Federation: Uncertain Logic, but they had a few copies of ROTF: Tower of Babel as well, plus about five print-on-demand trade-paperback editions each of Only Superhuman and TNG: Greater Than the Sum, neither of which I’ve seen in TPB before. It wasn’t a very Trek-oriented crowd overall, and I didn’t make much of a dent in the big pile of Uncertain Logic copies, but I sold out of both Only Superhuman and Tower of Babel and was down to two copies of GTTS by the end of the day (even though the TPB edition of it was the most expensive item on my table). And since I earned out my advance on Only Superhuman earlier this year, that means I made myself a few more bucks in royalties yesterday, although I won’t see them for another 6 or 7 months.

I also got to see a couple more acquaintances, including Mark Perzel of Cincinnati Public Radio (who interviewed me about Only Superhuman a few years back), local author Dan Andriacco (whom I’ve met at the library’s Ohioana reception and last year’s BbtB), and R. S. Belcher, another Strange New Worlds author whom I’ve met at Shore Leave, as well as a fellow Tor author whose novels include The Six-Gun Tarot and The Shotgun Arcana. So I got to have some nice conversations with them and with other authors and readers over the course of the day. All in all, it was a successful event and I had a good time. Though I was really worn out once I got home. Hopefully I finally caught up on my sleep last night, though I think maybe I’m still a little out of it.

But I’m definitely glad I bought a new winter coat the week before last, after my old one’s zipper broke. The weather was still warm when I bought it, but temperatures have plunged over the past few days, so my timing was pretty good.

My day at CLCC ’15

The Cincinnati Library Comic Con was today. I don’t have a picture of myself from there this time, and maybe that’s just as well, because I was kind of frazzled. The day didn’t start out well. First, I lost track of time and had to rush through lunch and hurry out to my car. Then I found that my car wouldn’t start — the battery must’ve died. The one other person in the lot didn’t know anything about jumpstarting cars, and in retrospect, that was just as well, since even if I’d made it downtown, I would’ve probably needed another jumpstart to get back home again. Anyway, I hurried down to the bus stop, lugging my bag of books to sell, and just barely made it in time to catch the bus. I made it in time — early, in fact — but it wasn’t an auspicious beginning.

For a while, too, it seemed like I wasn’t going to sell many books. As I said in my earlier post, I decided to focus on my superhero stuff this year based on what sold last year, bringing mainly copies of Only Superhuman and my last few leftover copies of my two Marvel novels, and as an afterthought I brought a few Trek novels: a couple of copies each of Ex Machina, The Buried Age, and Greater Than the Sum. But somehow, for the first hour or so, it was only the Trek novels that people were interested in buying. Perhaps it’s because I brought TOS and TNG books this time instead of the more unfamiliar stuff like DTI and Rise of the Federation. Anyway, after a while, I was afraid I wouldn’t move any of the OS hardcovers and would end up making substantially less money than I did last year. Fortunately, things picked up right near the end and I finally sold a couple of the OS hardcovers, as well as four of the five Marvel books. I made nearly as much as I did last year — though that new car battery is probably going to eat up all of it and then some.

Still, I wonder why I had more trouble getting people interested in OS this year. I suspect it’s because I wasn’t pitching it as well. The problems with my car and racing for the bus threw me off and tired me out, and I didn’t do that great a job talking it up. So even though I managed to come out of the day okay, I feel I could’ve done better.

Also, when one person asked me to write down my website address for them, I wasn’t thinking clearly and I put an “@” before “wordpress.com” instead of a period. I hope they figure out what it’s supposed to be.

The weirdest question I got from a convention guest today was when someone asked me if The Hunger Games had anything to do with Star Trek. I have no idea what led to that question. (The only connection I’ve been able to find is that Robert Knepper is in Mockingjay and was also in TNG: “Haven” and VGR: “Dragon’s Teeth.” Although you could get a degrees-of-separation thing with Jennifer Lawrence and Sir Patrick Stewart both being in X-Men: Days of Future Past, or Philip Seymour Hoffman and Simon Pegg both being in Mission: Impossible III.) I did have a couple of more constructive conversations with people interested in writing and wanting to learn about the process. Hopefully I was coherent enough to be helpful.

Thanks to LeeAnn and the library staff for their invitation to the event and their support while I was there!

“The Caress of a Butterfly’s Wing” now available on Buzzy Mag! (Updated)

I’m happy to report that my new novelette “The Caress of a Butterfly’s Wing” has now gone live on Buzzy Mag‘s site, a day ahead of schedule. Here’s the link:

http://buzzymag.com/caress-butterflys-wing-christopher-l-bennett/

And here’s their description:

A tale of love and transhumanism in a remote and dangerous star system. There has been a division in humanity due to a horrendous accident, followed by an even more divisive war. The chasm between those two halves seem unbridgeable. Suddenly due to unforeseen circumstance, the chance to reconnect becomes a real possibility.

And they’ve been kind enough to post ordering links to Only Superhuman and The Buried Age at the bottom of the story. I appreciate that, since sales of OS have pretty much stalled; in fact, the mass-market paperback is out of print, although there is a print-on-demand trade paperback edition available as well as the e-book edition. Buzzy’s link is to the TPB ordering page, which hopefully would raise its profile a little. Which would be good, since it looks like TPB and e-book sales are the only prospects I have for earning future royalties on the book.

My home page has been updated (belatedly) with background info on the story, and I’ll try to get annotations done before too long. UPDATE: The annotations are now online. I don’t like to link directly to spoiler notes, so click the background info link, and you’ll find the annotations link there.

Please spread the word about the story on the social media outlets of your choice!

Thoughts on GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (Spoilers)

Yup, for once I get a review out in a movie’s first week of release. I figured I should see it before I got spoiled any further by the Internet.

So, yeah, it’s a pretty good movie for what it is, an effective space-opera action comedy with some heartfelt character stuff. I did like the story of the rogues and scoundrels and loners discovering what they could gain from one another as friends and choosing to embrace a nobler, more selfless purpose. This is the second team-oriented movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but in some ways it uses the team idea better than The Avengers. The Avengers may have had personality conflicts they had to overcome to work together, but they’d all more or less chosen already to adopt heroic roles. Here, it’s only as a team that these guys are able to amount to anything at all, and that’s driven home explicitly in the climax, when their combined strength lets them survive the effects of the Infinity Stone when none of them could alone.

And the cast was pretty good. I found Chris Pratt rather annoying in the trailers, just something about his snarky attitude seeming obnoxious to me, but he was definitely more sympathetic here. The rest of the cast did okay, though there were no real standouts for me — except for Karen Gillan, who did a terrific job with the limited amount she was given, and whose makeup design was striking and weirdly beautiful. It’s a great-looking film; the Xandarian capital city looks like a place I’d like to live, very Federationy (in fact, it does a much better job of feeling like Star Trek‘s Federation than the Bad Robot version of San Francisco has done). And while the other locations weren’t as liveable, they were well-designed. (I should note that a lot of the design work was done by Stephan Martiniere, who did the cover to my novel The Buried Age, as well as the ST:TNG anthology The Sky’s the Limit, which includes a story of mine.) The exceptions were the Kree ships and interiors, which didn’t work that well for me.

But it wasn’t perfect by a long shot. Although I enjoyed the story of redemption, I started to realize after a while that I could see the writers at work, the almost mechanical way in which every Guardian was given some personal limitation that he or she later grew beyond to demonstrate their growth under their friends’ influence — e.g. Drax couldn’t use metaphors and then he did, Groot only knew three words until the climactic moment, etc. It worked, but it was a bit calculated and not very deep. Really, the movie was just so cluttered with characters and ideas that it was hard to develop any part of it with any real depth. The moment when I started to realize it had too much going on was when we suddenly got this whole new subplot with the Collector’s assistant (Carina, apparently) coming out of nowhere. This is the problem with basing movies on long-running comics continuities. There’s a lot of material to draw on, sure, but there’s a risk of trying to cram in too many characters and references and plot threads. Green Lantern had that problem and it collapsed under the weight of all the continuity porn. This film has somehow managed to avoid that, perhaps because it has a stronger core story, but it could’ve been better if it hadn’t had quite so many characters and subplots.

In particular, the villains are practically non-entities. Ronan the Accuser is, I gather, a fairly complex and ambiguous figure in the comics, but this version of Ronan has got to be the most superficial, zero-dimensional villain in any MCU film to date. Who was this guy? What were his motives? What was his point of view? Where were his nuances? All we learned about him was that he was a fanatic who hated Xandarians, but we don’t know why. And Thanos was equally one-note, just some big guy who wants to destroy stuff for no clear reason. Yes, comics fans know the reason, I know the reason, but movies need to be able to stand on their own and be comprehensible to the majority of viewers who aren’t familiar with the source. Within this movie itself, we don’t know what Thanos wants or why he loaned his daughters to Ronan or why he even has (adopted?) daughters. And I’m sorry, Marvel fans, but translating the visual of Thanos literally to (simulated) live action, complete with the exaggerated body proportions and the rocket throne thingy, just looked silly. Too much fidelity to the source is often a bad thing.

In fact, I’m not crazy about the CGI character work overall here. Groot was fine, but Rocket looked like a computer-animated character, not nearly as convincing as the ultra-lifelike apes in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. And spoiler alert: That was a totally hideous, crude bit of CG animation on a certain duck in the post-credits scene. Not to mention how pointless the post-credits scene was overall. For once, I was in a theater where the majority of the audience knew they should stick around to the end of the credits, but this time they weren’t given anything that was worth their patience.

Indeed, this film was startlingly devoid of references to the rest of the MCU, compared to its predecessors. Understandable given its cosmic setting, but there really was very little. Sure, the Collector showed up at the end of Thor: The Dark World, but that was that movie making a reference to this one, not the other way around. And this film’s exposition of the Infinity Stones didn’t reference the prior ones much, although we did see an image of the Tesseract in the Collector’s light show. I guess the main thing is the return appearance of Alexis Denisof as Thanos’s lieutenant, The Other — but we’ve obviously seen the last of him.

Oh, that reminds me — one of my other problems with the script was the overabundance of exposition. So many characters just spouted big chunks of exposition at the drop of a hat. The Collector had no good reason to give Quill and the others this big expository multimedia show about the Infinity Stones, except that it was necessary to fill things in for the audience. Similarly, Rocket was far more garrulous about his past and his origins than seemed reasonable for a character as bitter and closed-off as he is. It’s another artifact of cramming so much into the story — not only was there too much that needed to be explained, but there was too little time to get to the exposition subtly or organically, so characters just had to spout whatever information the audience needed as soon as they arrived.

It bugs me a bit that the Xandarians and so many other aliens were so much like 21st-century American humans in their appearance, speech, culture, and the like. The slang and profanity in particular were the hardest to buy — usually there’s at least a token effort to have English-speaking, human-appearing aliens have their own distinct idioms, or at least speak more formally. Here, Drax was like that, but every other alien in the galaxy seemed totally conversant with 21st-century American slang and cussing. (Or could that be because we’re hearing it interpreted through Quill’s translator implant, as mentioned in the graphics in his “lineup” scene? Of course, a lot of it was in scenes where he wasn’t present.) These days there seems to be a perception that space operas have to be populated with characters who are as ordinary and familiar to contemporary audiences as possible, for fear that those audiences won’t identify with anyone more exotic. But I like exotic. That’s what draws me to science fiction, the chance to see things — and people — that are new and alien and unfamiliar. As pleasant a place as Xandar Prime appeared to be, it still felt too much like an idealized Earth setting.

One thing I loved, though: The movie had an actual main titles sequence! Credits at the start of the film instead of the end! I love that! Of course, it was probably part of the whole Raiders of the Lost Ark homage they were going for in that opening sequence. (Edited to add: By the way, the other day I said that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was probably the first film that billed its unseen performance-capture actors equally with the on-camera actors. Well, this film does something similar, because Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper were billed right up there as the fourth and fifth names in the opening credits. Except that those two weren’t the main performance-capture artists; the director’s brother Sean Gunn was “On Set Rocket” and Krystian Godlewski was “On Set Groot.” But both those actors are listed pretty high in the supporting cast credits. So there’s definitely a move toward more egalitarian billing between seen and unseen actors.)

So, all in all, a fun adventure movie, but too cluttered and needing better-drawn villains. Hopefully, now that the huge torrent of exposition is out of the way, the sequel will have more room to breathe and develop things.