Musings & Thoughts for Wednesday, September 29, 2021, or: To Sleep, Perchance to Dream….

Photo by stein egil liland on Pexels.com

Hi, there, Dear Reader. It’s late morning here in my corner of west-central Florida on Wednesday, September 29, 2021. It is a warm autumn day here in the Sunshine State; the temperature is 78˚F (25˚C) under sunny skies. With the wind blowing at 3 MPH (5 KM/H) from the east-northeast and humidity at 48%, the feels-like temperature is 76˚F (25˚C). Today’s forecast calls for partly sunny skies and a high of 87˚F (31˚C). Tonight, we can expect partly cloudy skies and a low of 69˚F (20˚C). The Air Quality Index (AQI) is 56 or Lightly Polluted.

Photo by Sebastian Voortman on Pexels.com

I’m tired and more than a little irritable today. I had another (!) bout of insomnia last night. I tried to relax and lie still in darkness, not use any screens (TV or computer monitor), and not think too much, but it was no use. I ended up watching a World War II documentary on Netflix until I finally felt drowsy after 2 AM. Thankfully, I slept for an uninterrupted five hours before waking up around 7:30 AM. Five hours (and “spare change”) is better than having a sleepless night, but still…I am getting too old for this shit.

I always suffer from melancholia as October – the month in which both of my parents were born – draws near. We never celebrated my dad’s birthday on the fourth because he died a few weeks before my second birthday, but October 17 – Mom’s birthday – was a day in which my tiny family (Mom, my older half-sister Vicky, and Yours Truly) would get together and try to celebrate with a modicum of amity and cheer. When my mom was still in good health, we had more success at that. It was only in her last decade (2005 to 2014) that our October 17 get-togethers matched Khan Noonian Singh’s quote from the Star Trek episode Space Seed: “It has been said that social occasions are only warfare concealed. Many prefer it more honest – more open.”

Frankly, I don’t miss those stressful, obligatory, and full-of-artifice family get-togethers at what was once our house. By the time our mother became gravely ill in 2010 shortly before my 47th birthday, the coming estrangement between Vicky and me was already casting a giant shadow over everything. She had a tough time pretending that she liked me, and I was tired of trying to be the better person and not playing the game on her terms. Dealing with sociopaths/narcissists is a soul-crushing and mentally exhausting experience, especially when it’s a relative who you can’t X out of your life easily.

I do miss my mom, though. I have dreams about her every so often, you know. Sometimes the dreams are bad – nightmarish flashbacks of the last week of her life. Especially vivid are the sights, sounds, and even smells of her last day on Earth – July 18/19, 2015. Her delirious predawn cries for her brother Octavio echo in my brain still, and I still feel pangs of guilt about wishing for those cries to stop so I could get just a few hours of sleep….

Caregiving for a dying parent leaves scars, you see. In my case, the scars are not physical; Mom only tried to strike at me once during one of her dreaded “Sundown Syndrome” episodes, but I was able to defend myself without either of us being physically hurt. No, my friend, my scars are invisible because they are emotional ones. Mostly a sense of deep loss since Mom was the Sun which I orbited for 52 of my 58 years of existence. But there are also scars that are labeled “Regret,” “Self-Reproach,” “Anger,” and “Resentment.”

I wish my dreams about my mother were of happier, more carefree times. You know, like when Mom and I went to see the Disney animated film The Lion King by ourselves; we knew that Vicky wanted to see it, too, but we hated going to the movies with my older half-sister because she loves to yawp constantly in the theater, not caring that she disturbs the other patrons who are trying to watch a movie. As I recall, Vicky invited us to see The Lion King, but Mom and I feigned disinterest and said we didn’t want to go. Then, on a day when she worked the 7 AM-7 PM shift at Pan American Hospital, we went to the nearest theater where it was running and saw it without Ms. Motormouth.

Another dream I’d love to have: a flashback to my homecoming from Spain in December of 1988. I had spent 88 days in Seville as a participant in the Semester in Spain study abroad program, and although I had had a blissful experience there, I had not been away from home for such a long time before.

Mom and I had exchanged letters and talked on the phone once a week during my 12-week stint in Spain, but she missed me, and I missed her. So, when I got to my house in my friend David Dines’ car (a group of my friends picked me up at Miami International Airport on December 18, 1988), it was like we were celebrating my mother’s birthday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas simultaneously.

Who knows when I’ll have dreams like that again?

Movie Review: ‘Star Trek’ (2009)

(C) 2009 Paramount Pictures and CBS Studios.

Star Trek (2009)

Written by: Alex Kurtzman (credited), Roberto Orci (credited), Damon Lindelof (uncredited), and J.J. Abrams (uncredited)

Directed by: J.J. Abrams

Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Eric Bana, Winona Ryder, Ben Cross, Chris Hemsworth, Jennifer Morrison, Bruce Greenwood, Leonard Nimoy

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Chris Pine as Captain James T. Kirk (as seen in 2016’s Star Trek Beyond) Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures/Bad Robot Productions

James T. Kirk: [upon taking command of the Enterprise] Attention crew of the Enterprise, this is James Kirk. Mr. Spock has resigned commission and advanced me to acting captain. I know you are all expecting to regroup with the fleet, but I’m ordering a pursuit course of the enemy ship to Earth. I want all departments at battle stations and ready in ten minutes. Either we’re going down… or they are. Kirk out.

On May 8, 2009, Paramount Pictures released Star Trek, an action-packed science-fiction film written by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci and directed by J.J. Abrams. Set in a mid-23rd Century which has been altered by an incursion of a vengeful time-traveling Romulan, Nero (Eric Bana), from the late 24th Century, Star Trek serves as both a reboot and prequel to Gene Roddenberry’s 1966-1969 Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS).  

This contrivance – which is made possible by time travel and a connection to a story arc from Star Trek: The Next Generation involving Star Trek icon Leonard Nimoy’s Ambassador Spock – was an ingenious way to reset the floundering Paramount/CBS Studios franchise after the box office failure of 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis and the 2005 cancellation of the Star Trek: Enterprise TV series. It was a clever move, I say, because creating an alternate timeline made it possible to cast young actors to play younger versions of the legendary crew of the original Star Trek series without erasing Star Trek: The Original Series and its six theatrical film adventures.

“You’re Captain now, Mr. Kirk….”

Communication Operator: U.S.S. Kelvin, go for Starfleet Base.

Kelvin Crew Member: Starfleet Base, we’ve sent you a transmission. Did you receive?

Starfleet Base: Kelvin, have you double-checked those readings?

Kelvin Crew Member: Our gravitational sensors are going crazy here. You should see this. It looks like a lightning storm.

Starfleet Base: What you’ve sent us doesn’t seem possible.

Kelvin Crew Member: Yes ma’am. I understand. That’s why we sent it.

Star Trek starts with a prologue set in the year 2233 as the starship USS Kelvin encounters a bizarre “lightning storm” near the United Federation of Planets’ border with the Klingon Empire. As the crew reports the mysterious – and lethal-looking – phenomenon, a massive monster of a ship emerges. It is the Narada, an intrusive Romulan ship from the future. Without warning, the huge vessel unleashes a volley of deadly missiles that all but cripples the Kelvin.

[Aboard the USS Kelvin, Robau requests George Kirk (James’ father) to follow him to the shuttlebay for his final orders]

Robau: If I don’t report in 15 minutes, evacuate the crew.

George Samuel Kirk: Sir, we can’t just-

Robau: There is no help for us out here. Use the auto-pilot and get off this ship.

Kirk: Aye, Captain.

Robau: [grimly] You’re Captain now, Mr. Kirk.

The Romulans offer the wounded Starfleet ship a cease-fire, but with one condition: Captain Robau (Faran Tahir) must take a shuttle and parley with Nero aboard the Narada. With the badly-damaged Kelvin dead in space and in the gunsights of the Romulans, Robau agrees and leaves his young executive officer, George Samuel Kirk (Chris Hemsworth) in command as acting captain.

(C) 2009 Paramount Pictures

Alas, Nero kills Robau in a fit of rage when the Starfleet officer truthfully reveals that the current stardate is 2233.04 and that he has no idea where “Ambassador Spock” is. Knowing that the Kelvin can’t escape – her warp drive is knocked out – or prevail in a ship-to-ship battle, George Kirk orders his crew – including his pregnant wife Winona (Jennifer Morris) – to abandon ship in the Kelvin’s remaining shuttles. A malfunction with the Kelvin’s autopilot prevents George from leaving the ship, so when Winona gives birth to a baby boy in the midst of the battle, he only has enough time to choose his newborn son’s first name – Jim – before his ship crashes into the Narada. He dies, but his sacrifice allows Winona, their son James Tiberius, and 800 crewmembers to escape the wrath of Nero and live another day.

Christopher Pike: You know, I couldn’t believe it when the bartender told me who you are.

James T. Kirk: Who am I, Captain Pike?

Christopher Pike: Your father’s son.

James T. Kirk: [Turns toward the bar] Can I get another one?

Christopher Pike: For my dissertation, I was assigned the U.S.S. Kelvin. Something I admired about your Dad: he didn’t believe in no-win scenarios

James T. Kirk: Sure learned his lesson!

Christopher Pike: Well, it depends on how you define winning. You’re here, aren’t you?

James T. Kirk: [as beer is brought to him] Thanks.

Christopher Pike: You know that instinct to leap without looking, that was his nature too. And in my opinion it’s something Starfleet’s lost.

James T. Kirk: [laughing] Why are you talkin’ to me, man?

Christopher Pike: ‘Cause I looked up your file while you were drooling on the floor. Your aptitude tests are off the charts, so what is it? You like being the only genius level repeat offender in the Midwest?

James T. Kirk: Maybe I love it.

Christopher Pike: Look, so your Dad dies. You can settle for a less than ordinary life, or do you feel like you were meant for something better? Something special? Enlist in Starfleet.

James T. Kirk: [scoffs] Enlist!

James T. Kirk: [laughs] You guys must be way down on your recruiting quota for the month!

Christopher Pike: If you’re half the man your father was, Jim, Starfleet could use you. You could be an officer in four years. You could have your own ship in eight. You understand what the Federation is, don’t you? It’s important. It’s a peacekeeping and humanitarian armada…

James T. Kirk: Are we done?

Christopher Pike: I’m done.

Christopher Pike: [Gets up] Riverside Shipyard. Shuttle for new recruits leaves tomorrow morning, 0800.

Christopher Pike: [pause] Now, your father was captain of a Starship for 12 minutes. He saved 800 lives, including your mother’s and yours. I dare you to do better.

Star Trek segues into a few short vignettes in which we see pre-teen versions of Spock (Jacob Kogan) and Kirk (Jimmy Bennett). On Vulcan, Spock confronts three older Vulcan boys who constantly harass him because he is half-human. On Earth, Iowa farmboy Jim rebels against his overbearing and alcoholic stepfather (voice of Greg Grunberg) and steals his beloved antique Corvette – which ends up at the bottom of a canyon-like quarry.

Vulcan Council President: You have surpassed the expectations of your instructors. Your final record is flawless, with one exception: I see that you have applied to Starfleet as well.

Spock: It was logical to cultivate multiple options.

Vulcan Council President: Logical, but unnecessary. You are hereby accepted to the Vulcan Science Academy. It is truly remarkable, Spock, that you have achieved so much despite your disadvantage. All rise.

[the Vulcan Council stands in honor of Spock, who now looks slightly pissed]

Spock: If you would clarify, Minister: to what disadvantage are you referring?

Vulcan Council President: Your human mother.

Spock: Council… Ministers, I must decline.

Vulcan Council President: No Vulcan has ever declined admission to this academy!

Spock: Then, as I am half-human, your record remains untarnished.

Sarek: Spock, you have made a commitment to honor the Vulcan way.

Vulcan Council President: Why did you come before this council today? Was it to satisfy your emotional need to rebel?

Spock: The only emotion I wish to convey is gratitude. Thank you, Ministers, for your consideration.

[In a tone reserved for telling someone to ‘Go to Hell’]

Spock: Live long and prosper.

There are a few more time jumps in the first act of Star Trek that set Kirk and Spock (now played by Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto) on their paths to Starfleet Academy. Spock’s decision to join Starfleet is, for him, an act of rebellion, while Kirk’s is more of a response to a dare from Starfleet Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood).

“All I got left is my bones.”

Star Trek flashes forward to Kirk’s third year at Starfleet Academy in San Francisco and his unique solution to Starfleet’s dreaded “no win” scenario – the Kobayashi Maru test. Cadet Kirk has taken – and failed – the test two times, so ever the one to buck the rules, he reprograms the simulation so he can destroy the simulated Klingon warships and rescue the Kobayashi Maru without losing his ship in the process.

The powers-that-be at Starfleet don’t like Kirk’s solution in this timeline, and instead of giving Kirk a commendation for original thinking, Admiral Barnett (Tyler Perry) convenes a court martial and puts the senior cadet on academic suspension.

Kirk’s career in Starfleet seems as good as dead before it begins – until Fate, in the shape of the vengeful Romulan Nero, intervenes. The Narada emerges over Spock’s home world Vulcan, prompting Starfleet to send a squadron of Starfleet vessels that includes a brand new starship, the USS Enterprise, commanded by Kirk’s Academy sponsor, Captain Pike.

Here is where the adventures of the young Kirk, Spock, Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban) and the rest of the familiar Enterprise crew begin. And in a dizzying set of events that involves a fateful cataclysm, a conflict between future BFFs Kirk and Spock, and the appearance of Spock Prime (Leonard Nimoy) as a unifying thread between Star Trek’s Prime Timeline and the new Kelvin Timeline, Star Trek sets abut its mission to show how these very young versions of the legendary Enterprise crew gel into a team reminiscent of the one from Star Trek: The Original Series.

My Take

(C) 2020 Paramount Home Media Distribution. STAR TREK is a trademark of CBS Studios.

Of the three Kelvin Timeline films that make up the 21st Century Star Trek Trilogy, 2009’s Star Trek is the only one I managed to see in theaters since it was the last movie I saw in theaters before my mother’s health declined and I became her primary caregiver.

It’s also the best one, even though Star Trek’s story crams too many plot points into its 127-minute runtime and makes the overall story arc seem unnecessarily rushed and full of implausible developments.

Because Star Trek films long ago stopped being about science fiction and exploring ideas and cultural values like Star Trek: TOS and its TV spinoffs, I can’t knock Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and J.J. Abrams for continuing to portray the voyages of the Starship Enterprise as space opera instead of true science fiction. SF will probably attract diehard Trekkies, but it’s high-octane (or, in this case, high-dilithium) action adventure that will get a wider audience to park their butts in a theater and watch Star Trek movies. It’s sad, I know, but it’s reality.

Thus, instead of heading off on a five-year mission to “explore strange new world and seek out new life and civilization,” Star Trek is a fast-paced actioner that blends the “how Kirk and Spock become Kirk and Spock” backstory with set-piece cliffhangers – Look, there’s Kirk being marooned by Spock on Delta Vega! Look, there’s the USS Enterprise, Pequod-like, chasing after the Narada, which is intent on destroying Earth! – and dizzying battles involving photon torpedoes, deadly Romulan missiles from the 24th Century, and a mysterious blobby substance known as “Red Matter.”

As one of the film’s taglines puts it: This is not your father’s Star Trek.

That having been said, if you can overlook hard-to-believe plot points that take Chris Pine’s Kirk from a Starfleet cadet on academic suspension to the center chair of the Enterprise in the span of one movie, Star Trek is a fun, entertaining thrill ride of a movie.

For one thing, the movie’s mix of veteran actors like Leonard Nimoy, Ben Cross (Sarek), Winona Ryder (Amanda, Spock’s human mother), Bruce Greenwood, Simon Pegg, and Eric Bana with the younger Pine, Quinto, Urban, John Cho, Zoe Saldana, and Anton Yelchin works well. The synergy between the actors and their choices in characterization – each of the actors who stepped into the roles played by William Shatner, Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, and Walter Koenig elected to avoid imitation and just take certain traits from the TOS characters – lifts Star Trek to the firmament and sends us to adventure at Warp 10.

Kirk: [highly agitated and suffering side effects from McCoy hypospray] Uhura! Uhura!

Lt. Nyota Uhura: Kirk? What are you doing here?

Kirk: The transmission from the Klingon prison planet. What exactly…

Lt. Nyota Uhura: Oh, my God, what’s wrong with your hands?

Kirk: [waves off the question with his bloated hands] I-i-it’s… Look, who is responsible for the attack…

Lt. Nyota Uhura: What?

Kirk: …and was the ship walullaa?

Lt. Nyota Uhura: And was the ship… WHAT?

Kirk: [to McCoy] Whass happening to my mouth?

Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy: You got numb-tongue?

Kirk: NUM-TUNG?

Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy: I can fix that!

[hurries off to find another hypospray]

Lt. Nyota Uhura: Was the ship what?

Kirk: Womulan!

Lt. Nyota Uhura: What? I…

Kirk: WOMULAN!

Lt. Nyota Uhura: Romulan?

Kirk: Yeah!

Lt. Nyota Uhura: Yes!

Kirk: Yes?

[Bones injects him with another hypospray]

Kirk: ACK! ACK!

[trying to say ‘stop it’]

Kirk: STAHHMIT!

In addition, except for the grotesquely oversized USS Enterprise, Star Trek is an audio-visual treat for viewers who love movies that take place in futuristic space-bound settings. In contrast to The Original Series of which it is an alternate timeline depiction, the aesthetic is futuristic yet essentially true to the Starfleet aesthetic from the 1966-1969 show and its feature film follow-ups. Put simply, it can be described as “Matt Jeffries meets the Apple Store-chic.”

Michael Giaccihno’s score is also an amazingly beautiful enhancement. It’s remarkably original – it does not borrow any of the themes written by previous Star Trek composers, especially the late Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner. We don’t even hear the fanfare of Alexander Courage’s theme for the original series until late in the movie -the rationale being that by the end of Act Three of Star Trek, the viewer is at a point in the experience that the inclusion of Courage’s music feels earned.

As a Trekkie who grew up watching Gene Roddenberry’s original 1966-1969 TV show when it was in reruns in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, I will always like the films with the cast from what we now call the Prime timeline more than I do the 2009-2016 Kelvin Timeline. After watching those 79 episodes of Star Trek: TOS and the six movies with the original cast for over 40 years, that’s just the way it is for me and many fans of my generation.

Yet, I can’t deny that I enjoy the 2009 version of Star Trek. It has quite a few flaws and strange twists that I – a purist when it comes to canon – would not have written had I been hired to write the script. Nevertheless, once I accepted that Star Trek is a product of its time and must appeal to modern audiences, I went along for the ride – and enjoyed myself in the process.

4K UHD Blu-ray Box Set Review: ‘Star Trek Trilogy: The Kelvin Timeline’ (2020)

(C) 2020 Paramount Home Media Distribution

On Tuesday, May 12, 2020, Paramount Home Media Distribution released Star Trek Trilogy: The Kelvin Timeline, a six-disc (three 4K UHD, three 2K Blu-ray discs) box set which rounds up the three Star Trek films set in a version of Star Trek: The Original Series’ universe in which the 23rd timeline in which James T. Kirk, Spock, Leonard “Bones” McCoy, Montgomery Scott, Nyota Uhura, Hikaru Sulu, and Pavel Chekov exist is altered by an encounter between the USS Kelvin and a deadly foe from an unexpected origin – the 24th Century.

When the U.S.S. Kelvin is wrapped up in a temporal anomaly, the path of Starfleet and the future of the universe as we know it takes off in a new direction: the Kelvin Timeline. Up against the Romulans, the superhuman Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch), and the alien warlord Krall (Idris Elba), it’s all hands on deck for the U.S.S. Enterprise crew, led by the young and headstrong Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), McCoy (Karl Urban), and Scotty (Simon Pegg). J.J. Abrams’s reboot of the classic franchise has received dozens of accolades, including an Academy Award. For devoted fans of the beloved benchmark sci-fi series, all three films now come together in the Kelvin Timeline Trilogy – a bold, new beginning and a must-have in anyone’s Star Trek collection. – Back cover blurb, Star Trek Trilogy: The Kelvin Timeline.

Star Trek Trilogy: The Kelvin Timeline consists of:

  • Star Trek (2009), written by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, directed by J.J. Abrams
  • Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), written by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, directed by J.J. Abrams
  • Star Trek Beyond (2016), written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, directed by Justin Ling

Although actors Chris Pine (Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Karl Urban (McCoy) Zoe Saldana (Uhura), Simon Pegg (Scotty), John Cho (Sulu), and the late Anton Yelchin (Chekov) step into the roles played by William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, George Takei, and Walter Koenig, the Kelvin Timeline films do not erase The Original Series’ canon because they exist in a separate timeline triggered by an intrusion of the Narada, a 24th Century Romulan vessel, into the 2240s.

The resulting Kelvin Incident – in which the USS Kelvin’s destruction changes the destinies of James Tiberius Kirk , Spock, and the rest of what will become the crew of the USS Enterprise – transforms the Federation and Starfleet and takes both of these iconic organizations down a darker path than the one seen in the 1966-1969 television series and the six theatrical spinoff films Paramount released between 1979 and 1991. As a result of these changes, the 23rd Century in which the crew of the Enterprise boldly goes where no one has gone before seems more dystopian – at least on the surface – than Gene Roddenberry’s original vision for Star Trek.

The Box Set

(C) 2020 Paramount Home Media Distribution. STAR TREK is a trademark of CBS Studios.

Paramount Home Media Distribution bundled the individual 4K UHD Blu-ray discs that had originally been released in 2016 (Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness in June, and Star Trek Beyond in November) along with the original 2009, 2013, and 2016 BD-50 Blu-ray discs (BDs). Unlike Paramount’s recent Star TreK: The Original 4-Movie Collection, this Is not a box set with a pressed slipcover and separate multi-disc cases for the 4K and 2K discs.

Instead, Star Trek Trilogy: The Kelvin Timeline packages its six discs in the industry’s standard black-for-4K multiple disc jewel cases, with the three 4K discs in the first three disc-holders, and the 2K BDs in the other three.

The 4K UHD discs have stark white-on-black disc labels with each film’s title, Motion Picture Association (MPA) rating, and other indicia but no cool art. The 2K Blu-rays come either in silver on gray (Star Trek) or silver on gray (Star Trek Into Darkness and Star Trek Beyond). Like the 4K discs, the Blu-ray editions bear the movies’ stylized logos, MPA ratings, and other indicia with no other graphics.

For those of you who understand audio-visual technical specifications, here you go:

Video

  • Codec: HEVC / H.265
  • Resolution: 4K (2160p)
  • Aspect ratio: 2.40:1, 2.39:1, 1.78:1
  • Original aspect ratio: 2.39:1

Audio

Star Trek 4K

  • English: Dolby Atmos
  • English: Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit)
  • French (Canada): Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1

Star Trek Into Darkness 4K

  • English: Dolby Atmos
  • English: Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit)
  • French (Canada): Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1 (640 kbps)
  • Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1 (640 kbps)

Star Trek Beyond 4K

  • English: Dolby Atmos
  • English: Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit)
  • French (Canada): Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles

  • English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish

Discs

  • 4K Ultra HD
  • Blu-ray Disc
  • Six-disc set (3 BD-66, 3 BD-50)
  • Digital
  • Digital 4K
  • Digital copy included

Playback

  • 4K Blu-ray: Region free
  • 2K Blu-ray: Region A

My Take

As I mentioned earlier, Paramount Home Media Distribution released Star Trek Trilogy: Kelvin Timeline in Spring 2020 as a more economical bundle reissue of the 2016 4K UHD sets. The three films – 2009’s Star Trek, 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness, and 2016’s Star Trek Beyond – have not been remastered either on the 4K BD-66 discs or their older BD-50 counterparts.

I already owned two versions of Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness – in the individual releases and the 2014 Star Trek Compendium – and the 2016 Star Trek Beyond in 2K Blu-ray, but I wanted the Kelvin Timeline films on 4K. Because box sets are often less expensive than getting each individual title separately (At a retail price of $50.99 – $31.99 at Amazon – consumers save $16.01.), I opted for the Star Trek Trilogy: The Kelvin Timeline bundle.

Video Quality

Visually, the three Kelvin Timeline Star Trek reboots have never looked better on home video. Even accounting for J.J. Abrams’ stylistic idiosyncrasies – he loves to use lens flares in most of his films – Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Star Trek Beyond look absolutely stunning even on a modest-sized 4K UHD TV set like mine. In fact, Star Trek (2009) was Paramount’s first 4K UHD release, which explains why the studio made sure the quality of the the UHD transfer surpassed that of the older 1080p Blu-ray’s.

Per Blu-ray.com’s Martin Liebman’s 2016 review of Star Trek:

The UHD release retains a gorgeous cinematic texturing, boasting a refined and complimentary grain structure that accentuates every detail and visual effect. The image is otherwise clean and sharp, beyond a few soft shots that remain (Spock at film’s end being the most obvious example). Skin textures are remarkable. Close-ups are so intimately complex as to astound; whether Romulan tattoos or fine pores and facial hair, any viewer would be hard-pressed to find a home video image — 1080p or 2160p — that can match this one’s level of revealing intimacy.   

Audio Quality

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you probably know that my 4K UHD TV is not – and probably never will be – connected to my ONN soundbar; I can’t do it myself, and I can’t really count on anyone here to do it for me. So I can’t vouch for how good the Dolby Atmos sound mix is in this 4K bundle.

All I can say is that audio performance will vary depending on how good your home theater setup is. If you have a high-end sound system with a 5-speaker layout, I’m sure that this set’s Dolby Atmos audio mix will be, ahem, out of this world. On my TV…well, it sounds okay, but that’s because I must rely only on my set’s speaker.

Extra Features

(C) 2009 Paramount Pictures/Paramount Home Media Distribution

As is often the case in these multiformat bundles, the extra features are unevenly divided between the 4K UHD discs and the 2K BDs. The 4K UHDs for Star Trek Trilogy: The Kelvin Timeline don’t have much beyond the audio commentary by J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto OrcI. The high-definition 2K Blu-ray is almost identical to its 2009 forerunner, except that it doesn’t have the featurette on Star Trek’s genesis as a soft-reboot.

The other two films follow the same pattern, although in the case of the 2K releases, the mix of extras is better. The 4K disc has an audio commentary by J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci. This was included with the Star Trek Compendium reissue of Star Trek Into Darkness but omitted from the original 2013 Blu-ray release, which is the BD included in this bundle.

On the other hand, at least that Blu-ray has some cool if perhaps perfunctory behind-the-scenes bonus features.

(C) 2013 Paramount Home Media Distribution

Here, for instance, is what you’ll get in Star Trek Into Darkness’ extra features:

  • Creating The Red Planet
  • Attack on Starfleet
  • The Klingon Home World
  • The Enemy of My Enemy
  • Ship to Ship
  • Brawl by the Bay
  • Continuing the Mission
  • The Mission Continues
(C) 2016 Paramount Home Media Distribution

Perhaps because Star Trek Beyond underperformed at the box office in 2016 – when Paramount released it theatrically as part of Star Trek’s 50th Anniversary, the 4K UHD has no extras at all, not even an audio commentary track.

The 2K Blu-ray from 2016 – which is identical to the disc in this Kelvin Timeline bundle – at least comes with a set of bonus features. Like those for Star Trek Into Darkness, the ones on this disc are skimpy but still of interest for fans.

Here’s what you get in Star Trek Beyond supplements section

  • Deleted Scenes & Gag Reel
  • Beyond the Darkness
  • Enterprise Takedown
  • Divided and Conquered
  • A Warped Sense of Revenge
  • Trekking in the Desert
  • Exploring Strange New Worlds
  • New Life, New Civilizations
  • To Live Long and Prosper
  • For Leonard and Anton

It would have been nice if Paramount Home Media Distribution had invested a bit more in additional material; I would have loved to hear Justin Lin’s insights about stepping into J.J. Abrams’ role as director (Abrams had been hired to direct Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the hiatus between Into Darkness and Beyond.), but I suppose the studio didn’t feel it was necessary to throw more money at a film that did not become a huge box office success.

(C) 2020 Paramount Home Media Distribution. STAR TREK is a trademark of CBS Studios.

Nevertheless, for fans who did not own the individual 4K releases of the Star Trek Trilogy: The Kelvin Timeline movies, this 2020 bundle is a good bargain. I still like most of the films with the original cast more than I do the reboots, but the “Kelvin” films are part of the canon, and they have their own charms as movies. I recommend this set with a bit of muted enthusiasm due to its unimpressive mix of bonus features, but it’s still a nice one to get.

Source: Martin Liebman, Star Trek (2009) 4K UHD Blu-ray Review, June 10, 2016, Blu-ray.com

A Writer’s Tale: Of Names and Songs

(C) 2018 Alex Diaz-Granados

Many years ago, when I still lived in Miami, Florida, I wrote a short story which was both a coming-of-age tale and also a look at an older man who must re-examine his youthful choices after a tragic incident kills his high school “crush.”

As Reunion’s summary reads on the back cover and on its Amazon Kindle Product Description page:

It is June 1983.


Jim Garraty is a senior at South Miami Senior High. He’s a staff writer for the school paper, a college-bound scholar who plans to become a historian and author of books on military history. He’s well-liked by his peers and teachers, and his future looks bright.

But as commencement draws near for the Class of 1983, Jim must deal with unfinished business. The girl he loves from afar is also graduating, and rumor has it that she is going away for the summer before starting college in the fall. Worse still, Marty doesn’t know how deeply Jim’s feelings for her are – unless he tells her. But when an opportunity arises on the last day of classes at South Miami High, Jim hesitates…and the window of opportunity closes.

Now, 15 years later, James Garraty is an up-and-coming history professor whose literary career is on the rise. Respected by his fellow faculty professors and recipient of popular and critical acclaim, Jim seems to have it all.

Except for one thing. True love.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Although the current version of Reunion was written in 1998 – I wrote it sometime after South Miami High’s Class of 1983 held its 15year reunion, a shindig I did not attend for assorted reasons that I have chronicled elsewhere – I started it 12 years earlier as a class assignment for my creative writing class (CRW 2001) at Miami-Dade Community College – South Campus.

Now, that story told a radically different story – the main character was named Jim Garraty, and it was set in South Miami High in both versions, but it did not have a “frame story” set in Present Day because what I had was merely a scene that focused on atmosphere and concrete detail, and its plot was tightly contained to my characters’ experiences on the last day of their senior year before commencement.

(It was also my first attempt to write a story in which sex and other adult themes were part of the plot. The whole story centered on the main character’s steamy dream about a young, attractive teacher he had a crush on. It wasn’t pornographic, and I decided to interrupt it with the sound of an “end-of-period” bell ringing before “it got good,” but it did involve fantasy nudity, so….)

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Today I want to explain a little bit more about the writing process behind Reunion and some of the non-literary elements that went into the making of the short story.

Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

Q.: How – or why – did you choose your characters’ names? Did you go through a phone book and choose names at random, or did you name Jim, Marty, and Mark after people you know?

A.: Jim Garraty – or as Stephen King would put it, my I-guy – was, in every iteration of the story (from a CRW-2001 assignment to finished product), Jim Garraty. I’m not sure why I chose James/Jim/Jimmy as his first name; I just knew that I didn’t want to name the character after myself. I didn’t want anyone to think that the story was a roman à clef, which is a French term for a novel based on real people and real situations, with only the names changed to protect the identities of the people described in it. (Roman à clef, literally translated, means “novel with a key.”)

I think – I’m not sure – that I chose “Jim” for my I-guy because I’m a Star Trek fan. James T. Kirk (or simply “Jim”) is my favorite Captain of the franchise, so that’s why I chose that name for the story’s protagonist. 

As for his last name…Years ago, I bought and read The Bachman Books, an anthology of novels written by Stephen King using the pen name “Richard Bachman.”  It contains The Long Walk, a dystopian story set in a fascist dictatorship set up in a near-future America.

King/Bachman gave the protagonist the name “Garraty,” and even though The Long Walk is not one of my favorite reads, I liked the character’s last name. So, I pinched that from the Master of Horror himself. 

As for Mark Prieto…I named Jim’s best friend and confidante after my own best friend of my “tweens.” We became friends in 1975 and hung out regularly for about two years till Mom got the notion – ill-conceived, I think – to sell our home in Westchester and buy a townhouse in the Fontainebleau area in the summer of 1977. After that, we talked on the phone or he would ride out to visit me on his bike until he, too, moved away from the old neighborhood.

Photo by Anon on Pexels.com

His divorced mother remarried, so she sold her house – which had been two houses away from our former residence – and moved to New England with her new hubby, Mark, and her younger daughter Leslie. Mark later moved back to Miami to be with his dad for a while, attended Coral Park Senior High for a year, then relocated once again to Michigan, where his mom, stepdad, and sister now lived.  We exchanged a couple of letters during the 1981-82 school year, but for some reason, he stopped writing. I have not seen or heard any news from him since.   

If this model had slightly darker hair, she would resemble Marty as I imagined her. Image by 504497 from Pixabay 

Martina Elizabeth Reynaud (“Marty”) – I wanted to give my female lead a unique name and identity, so I named her after a famous tennis player, Martina Navratilova. “Elizabeth” I cribbed from my friend Betsy, whose formal name is…well, Elizabeth. The last name, “Reynaud,” I plucked out of thin air, although World War II buffs will say I was inspired by a certain French prime minister, who, per Wikipedia, “was Prime Minister during the German defeat of France in May and June 1940; he persistently refused to support an armistice with Germany and resigned on 16 June.”  That’s an interesting theory, but it just isn’t so. I could have given Marty one of those stuffy-sounding compound names that some British families use, something like “Martina Stafford-Mills,” but I thought that was too stereotypical, so I went for a more exotic Anglo-French vibe instead. 

Image by elizabethaferry from Pixabay 

Q.: You already told us how and why Billy Joel’s Scenes from an Italian Restaurant influenced Reunion: A Story‘s structure and emotional undertones. Was music always an integral part of the story, both within the characters’ world and your writing environment? 

A.: I no longer have my original CRW-2001 “dream sequence,” so I can’t honestly say that music was always part of the story from the start. But as far as the present version of Reunion, music is almost like a fourth main character as well as the wellspring for creative inspiration. 

For instance, when I came up with the idea of the dream sequence in which Jim and Marty dance together, I wanted to quote a few lines from the song the band (which I suppose could have been the Four Tops or even The Platters) plays in the imaginary ballroom. 

In my original draft, the song I chose was another Billy Joel song, This Night, which was from an album that came out around the time in which Reunion is set: An Innocent Man. 

Now, I’ve always thought that This Night is perfect as the song to accompany Jim and Marty as they dance in that magical ballroom of the imagination. It fits the theme of the story…and I listened to it on my stereo as I wrote that part of Reunion. 

Unfortunately, I was told that if I ever wanted to publish the story in any format or venue – even as a free read on a website – I’d have to get permission from Billy’s music publishing company and pay for the rights to use several stanzas from This Night.

If I had had the means – then or even now – I would have gone that route. But…alas, I didn’t and still don’t. So I reluctantly went back to my original Word file and changed the song to something I made up while I listened to this:

So, for legal reasons, I had to draft a poem that sort of fits the Michel Legrand melody. The resulting “song” is not the best bit of writing I’ve ever done, and it mars the dream sequence for me, personally. In my imagination, Jim and Marty will forever be dancing to This Night.  But sometimes you just must work with what you have, and that’s what I did. 

I also like to listen to music when I write. Quite often, I tend to think of my stories in cinematic terms, so I often try to imagine what the score would sound like if they would ever be adapted into feature films. I did this when I wrote a 40-page “novel” for my ninth-grade English class back in 1980; I did it again when I worked on Reunion in the summer of 1998. 

When I wrote the passages describing Jim’s “reunion” in Miami as an adult and his journey through the halls of South Miami High on that last day of school, I listened to two then-current soundtracks as my “temp track” for the “score.” One was James Horner’s Titanic, and the other was John Williams’ Saving Private Ryan.

Specifically, I listened to two basic themes. 

When I was crafting the 1998-set frame story, I mostly listened to this:

And when I wrote the passages in which Jim wanders around the halls in the 1983 main story, I listened to this: 


Finally, when I was making some last-minute edits to the CreateSpace and Kindle versions for publication, I again turned to Maestro Williams’ music for inspiration. 

A Writer’s Tale: A Brief Discussion of Characters in ‘Reunion’

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In the summer of 1998, I wrote a short story about a man, his best friend, and a woman who died.

Because I wrote the story around the same time that South Miami High’s Class of 1983 held its 15th reunion – an affair that I did not attend because I could not afford the $300 that it cost – I gave the story the title Reunion. It was supposed to be a working title until I came up with a better title. I tried different ideas; at one point I used Love Unspoken, Love Unbroken (a tip of the hat to Franz Lehár’s operetta The Merry Widow), but when I self-published the story in July of 2018, I reverted to the original title – Reunion.

(C) 2018 Alex Diaz-Granados

Since its publication on Amazon’s CreateSpace Independent Publishing platform, a few readers have asked me if Reunion is a true story wrapped up as fiction (a roman a clef)  or if it is a made-up story. Was Marty – the woman who died – a real person? If not, who was she based on?

Up in that room I decided that I would write one story about each thing that I knew about. – Ernest Hemingway

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

The Premise:  It is February 1998. 33-year-old Jim Garraty is a respected history professor and bestselling author who lives in New York City. Popular with both students and readers, Jim seems to have it all. Fame, a nice apartment in Manhattan, and a reputation as one of the best World War II historians in the U.S. But when he gets a cryptic email from his best friend from high school, Jim is forced to relive his past – and a trip to his hometown of Miami reopens old wounds he thought had healed long ago. 

Q.: Is Reunion: A Story based on real people and situations or is it just something from your imagination?

A.: It’s a combination of both. When I started the long process of writing this story in the mid-1980s, the setting for the central story was always South Miami Senior High, my alma mater in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Even when Reunion was just a three-page scene written as an assignment for a college creative writing class, South Miami High was the proscenium stage for my protagonist, Jim Garraty. So the story is set in a real-life location that was – and still is – important to me for many reasons.

Photo by David Skyrius on Pexels.com



The other locations in the story are based on real places located in New York City and South Florida,  as well. 

The characters in Reunion are, by design and storytelling necessities, imaginary but based on real people that I knew either at South Miami High or at other times in my pre-college days. Let’s talk about the story’s Big Three – Jim Garraty, Mark Prieto, and Martina (Marty) Reynaud.

1. Jim Garraty was, from the first version of the story to the final published work, my literary alter ego. Like most first-time creative writers, I put a lot of myself in Reunion’s protagonist, even though Jim is an idealized, non-disabled, and far more accomplished version of Alex Diaz-Granados. We both attended South Miami High from August 1980 to June of 1983; we both sang in the school chorus, we both had bad breakups in our early teens, we both had unrequited crushes on girls on campus; and we both have a love for military history and the written word. I also like to think that we share the same sense of humor and intelligence. 

That said, Jim doesn’t have cerebral palsy like I do, and he is a far more successful man in the fictional version of 1998 than I was when I wrote the current version of Reunion. I didn’t earn my associate in arts degree at Miami-Dade Community College because I couldn’t complete the math requirement for graduation. To compensate for that, I made Jim a whiz-kid at SMSH who is accepted at Harvard University and goes on to become a younger version of the late historian and author, Stephen E. Ambrose.   


2.  Mark Prieto: Mark is the only character in the story whose name and personality traits are borrowed from someone I knew in real life. Mark was my best friend from my old neighborhood in Westchester (a Miami suburb). I met him in 1975 when he moved, along with his recently-divorced mother and younger sister, into a house not too far from mine.

At the time, Mark was 10 and I was 12, but we had more or less the same tastes as far as movies and TV shows went, and our personalities complemented each other. I was the introverted nerd; Mark was the comical extrovert. We hung out together on a regular basis until the fall of 1977; that’s when my mother decided to sell our home and buy a newly-built townhouse in the Fountainbleau Park area. 

Now, Mark had a bike and was brave enough to visit me at the new place a few times; back then there wasn’t a bridge that allowed north-south traffic to cross the Tamiami Canal at SW Eighth Street (Calle Ocho) and 97th Avenue.

 So to get to my house, Mark either had to ask his mom for a ride or make the dangerous bike trip from SW 102 to mine – which entailed a longer and more dangerous trip from SW 10th Street and 102nd Avenue to Calle Ocho, then a 10-block-long westward leg to 107th Avenue, then crossing West Flagler Street before turning east and riding 10 blocks down to 97th Avenue, then a five block northward leg until he reached my house.

This was dangerous even back in 1978, and Mark only attempted it three or four times before he, too, left Miami with his newly-remarried mom and his sister Leslie to Huntington Woods, Michigan.     

I missed him a lot then, and I still miss him now. So when my alter ego Jim needed a best friend in Reunion, I gave him my best friend from real life. Didn’t bother to change the name, either. 

(C) 2018 Alex Diaz-Granados



3. Martina (Marty) Reynaud: In contrast to Mark, Marty is a figment of my imagination, albeit a figment who has a wide array of physical traits from several young women I knew both in high school and college. There was no shortage of attractive young ladies at South Miami High, and I liked several of them.

 In most cases, though, I kept my feelings to myself; the one time that I did tell a girl that I had “more than just friends” feelings for her, she gently but firmly gave me the I Like You But Only As a Friend speech that most people hate to hear. Marty is, in literary terms, a combination of all the girls I liked during my three years at South Miami High…but was afraid to say anything to beyond “Hi, how are you doing today?” in the halls. 

And, to drive this point home, I gave Marty certain unique traits, like making her a girl from England (with what I assume is a “posh” British accent), rather than portraying her as a Latina, Anglo, Vietnamese, or African-American girl, since those ethnic groups – and more – really were part of our student body.

Thus, any resemblance between Marty and any of the Class of ’83’s Cobra ladies is purely coincidental,  

A Writer’s Tale: Birth of a Short Story

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

 

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been a tad over three years since I self-published my short story Reunion via Amazon’s CreateSpace  Independent Publishing Platform. Originally written in 1998 at a time when I was feeling nostalgic about my teenage years and, among many things, prompted by the recent death of one of my high school classmates, Reunion was my first serious attempt at writing a work of fiction.

The cover art for the print copy of Reunion: A Story. (C) 2018 Alex Diaz-Granados and CreateSpace Independent Publishing

The story of Jim Garraty, Martina “Marty” Reynaud, and Mark Prieto began as a writing exercise for a creative writing course I took in 1986 at what was then called Miami-Dade Community College. It wasn’t a short story then; it was just a sequence in which my “I-Guy” – Jim Garraty – fantasizes about a teacher he has a crush on. As I recall – I no longer have the original exercise – it was my first attempt to write a story with, ahem, adult content. (Nothing too graphic, since it was for a class assignment, but still spicy. It earned a B+ from Prof. David Schroeder, my creative writing instructor.)

As I recall, I wanted to author a story about a man in his mid-thirties who looks back at his past – especially the path not taken – when he gets news about one of his classmates from high school. Not long before, I had read in the Miami Herald about the death of Jennifer Houghton, a woman who had sung in one of South Miami High’s choral groups while I did. She had moved out of state and was living in North Carolina when she died in a car accident. She was 33 then, I think, and even though I didn’t know her well, her death made a strong impression.

To this day, I don’t know why Jennifer’s death inspired me to write Reunion. I think that the fact that I had known her – if only tangentially – when we were kids in high school got me to think about some of the girls that I had liked from afar but never asked out for fear of rejection. What if, I mused, somebody told me that the one girl I ever had a candlelight dinner with when I was at South Miami had died in a car crash? How would I react?  

It is February 1998. 33-year-old Jim Garraty is a respected history professor and bestselling author who lives in New York City. Popular with both students and readers, Jim seems to have it all. Fame, a nice apartment in Manhattan, and a reputation as one of the best World War II historians in the U.S. But when he gets a cryptic email from his best friend from high school, Jim is forced to relive his past – and a trip to his home town of Miami reopens old wounds he thought had healed long ago.

Reunion summary on Amazon

Another source of inspiration was the fact that 1998 marked the 15th anniversary of the Class of 1983 graduation. I had not gone to the 10-year reunion in ’93 because it was a pricey affair, and also due to embarrassment; I had not earned my AA degree in journalism and mass communications from Miami-Dade, and though I was working at the time, it was mostly every-once-in-a-while freelance consulting and business writing gigs, and not a steady, well-paying career job. 

Back cover of Reunions paperback edition


I really wanted to go to the 15-year class reunion, but when I saw that the price for attending the three-day get-together was close to $300, I thought, Would have liked to go, but can’t afford it. 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 At first, I had no idea what kind of story I wanted to write. I knew I had to choose something that would not require a lot of research or time-consuming prep work; this ruled out anything in the science fiction or military fiction genres. I also don’t do horror stories well; I have read a lot of Stephen King novels and stories, but it’s not a genre that I think I could write comfortably in. I’d come across as a second-rate King imitator. And because a lot of Gaude’s stories were sappy “happily ever after” romances with lots of magic and supernatural beings, I did not want to write a “chick lit” story, either.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In desperation, I went through my college notebooks and folders to see if there was anything from either my college course on satire or CRW-2001 that I could use as a foundation for a short story. Luckily, I did…the strange “dream sequence” that had earned a B+ from Prof. Schroeder 12 years earlier.

Of course, I only kept the atmospheric “Back at South Miami High” stuff and changed the “sexy” material into a less steamy and more bittersweet scenario. However, having the detailed descriptions of classrooms, hallways, and the cafeteria that I’d written in 1986 saved me time and energy when I authored the story of Jim, Marty, and Mark.

I enjoyed the book very much. The author has written a coming-of-age story about older teens and the regrets some may have because of missed opportunities. Even though it is a short story, the characters come alive on the page, and you find yourself caring about them and identifying with their feelings. A collection of short stories by Alex Diaz-Granados would be a treasure.

CSB, Amazon Customer, in his five-star review

 A huge creative influence – in terms of structure, characters, and themes – was Billy Joel’s Scenes from an Italian Restaurant. I liked the way that the song is essentially “The Ballad of Brenda and Eddie” – which Joel wrote first – with a melodically different “frame story” added on later so that the song would have a proper beginning and end. 



Now, the stories in Reunion and Scenes from an Italian Restaurant are different, but I deliberately followed the structure and narrative technique of Joel’s song when I finally sat down to draft my story. 

There’s more to this, of course, but that’s the basic story of Reunion’s genesis. 

What Readers Say: Reviews

(C) 2018 Alex Diaz-Granados

Here are some of the reviews by Amazon customers who bought and read Reunion:

Betsy M writes:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Reunion: A Story is a sweet, sometimes bittersweet story of days gone by. It takes the reader back to the last day of high school and tells the tale of teen love and missed opportunities. Several years pass and success and time don’t always dull those feelings you had as a teen. Mr. Diaz-Granados captures the awkwardness of young love and how it can influence the rest of your life.

Meg Learner writes (all the way from across the Pond):

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A lovely lyrical book and excellently written. It makes use of flashbacks, yet these are expertly woven into the story so that you always know where you are and how they contribute to the tale. This is quite a short read (I downloaded it to my Kindle and read it on my train journey) but it certainly packs a lot into the story and the idea is fresh and novel. I have not read a story like this before. It’s not my normal type of reading material, as most of my reading these days is factual or business-related but I really enjoyed it and was sorry when it was finished.

The book basically makes the point that it is better to be sorry for sins of commission, rather than regret sins of omission, yet it also shows how the angst of high school and teen fears get in the way of true love. One point I would make – I would LOVE to see a sequel to this, written from Marty’s point of view. PLEASE?

CSB writes:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I enjoyed the book very much. The author has written a coming-of-age story about older teens and the regrets some may have because of missed opportunities. Even though it is a short story, the characters come alive on the page and you find yourself caring about them and identifying with their feelings. A collection of short stories by Alex Diaz-Granados would be a treasure.

And finally, Thomas Wikman writes:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This relatively short story underscores how different a teenager and an adult view life and themselves, leading to the many “what if” scenarios in life. It is a sad love story about regret and loss as well as friendship. The author describes the feelings and thoughts of the characters in a manner that is realistic and easy to relate to. The story has something to tell us, especially young people.

I was planning to read it over a couple of days, but after I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down, so I read it all at once. It is very well written, emotional but not too sentimental. It is easy and quick reading and one of the best short stories I’ve ever read.

Old Gamers Never Die: A Discussion on ‘Stalking the Red Bear’ in the ‘Cold Waters’ Submarine Sim

A striking screenshot from Stalking the Red Bear in Cold Waters. This is not a promotional image; it’s a screengrab from one of my first sessions of Mission #10. Here, the Typhoon has been forced to the surface by a torpedo hit and is trying to make a run for it. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

Background

Tom Clancy would have loved to see the visuals in Cold Waters. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

Cold Waters, the submarine warfare simulation released a few years ago by Killerfish Games, is one of my favorite computer games of all time.

Aside from the coolness of its state of the art graphics, sound design, and exciting gameplay, I like Cold Waters because it has what I call a “Tom Clancy technothriller vibe.”

This is one of my favorite books by the late Tom Clancy. (C) 1984 Naval Institute Press

Part of this, of course, is that the designers and programmers at Adelaide (Australia) based Killerfish Games are fans of Red Storm Rising, a late 1980s sub simulator published by MicroProse Software. Designed by MicroProse’s co-founder Sid Meier and programmed by a team that included Meier, Richard Orban, and Silas Warner, Red Storm Rising is based on one of the plots in the eponymous 1986 co-authored by Tom Clancy and Larry Bond. The team led by Killerfish Games’ Dr. Paul Sincock and Nils Ducker set Cold Waters in an altered version of 1984, the same year that Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October was published and created a Campaign that bears many visual similarities to MicroProse’s take on Red Storm Rising.

(C) 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises Ltd.
(C) 2017 Killerfish Games

Though all of the engagements in Cold Waters have that “Tom Clancy vibe,”[1] especially in the Campaign game, there is one Single Mission that has it in spades.

That mission, my friend, is Stalking the Red Bear.

Stalking the Red Bear is the tenth Single Mission in Cold Waters. It is set in April of 1984 and features the U.S. and Soviet submarine classes that are available in the North Atlantic 1984 Campaign but is a stand-alone mission. It puts you in command of a U.S. nuclear-powered fast-attack submarine (SSN) patrolling near the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, in the Arctic Ocean.

The pre-battle setup screen from Stalking the Red Bear. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

Your assignment? Seek – and destroy – a Soviet ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) or, in Navy parlance, a “boomer.” A Typhoon-class boomer, to be precise.

If you’ve read Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October or watched director John McTiernan’s 1990 film adaptation, you know that the Typhoon class sub was the basis for Clancy’s Red October. Known by the Russians as the Akula (Shark) class, this is the largest submarine ever built, displacing 48,000 tons and measures 175 m (574 ft 2 in) in length, a width (beam) of 23 m (75 ft 6 in), and a draught of 12 m (39 ft 4 in).

Armed with 20 nuclear-tipped submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), torpedoes, and cruise missiles, six Typhoons were built and a seventh canceled before the Cold War ended in 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union. Of the six, only one –  Dmitriy Donskoi – is in service with the Russian Navy.

In Cold Waters’ alternate reality of 1984, the Cold War turned hot, and Commander, Submarine Force, Atlantic (COMSUBLANT) has assigned you and your boat to stalk and destroy a strategic asset of the Soviet Red Banner Northern Fleet – a Typhoon.

Basics of ‘Stalking the Red Bear’

Stalking the Red Bear is challenging for two reasons.

First, it is strictly a submarine vs. submarine scenario. There are no surface warships or aircraft (fixed wing or rotary wing) present. It’s just you, the Typhoon…and at least two capable Red Fleet (REDFLT) SSNs to provide escort.

Second, it is set in the Arctic Ocean. Here, the water depth isn’t as deep as in other parts of the North Atlantic scenarios. It’s not as shallow as, say, the South China Sea in the Junks on Parade mission, but it’s not so deep that you can trade space for time whilst evading Soviet homing torpedoes. Also, there are ice floes that can interfere with your sonar and weapons’ performance, as well as posing a navigational hazard to your boat.

A 688-class boat cruises in the Arctic Ocean. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

As if that wasn’t plenty to worry about already, this area is the natural habitat for “biologicals” – usually blue whales. So if your sonar operator calls out “Conn, Sonar: New contact bearing 0-2-0, designated Sierra One,” make sure you use your sonar classification feature and match the contact’s signature with those in the sonar signature database. Not only do you not want to waste a torpedo that can be better used against the enemy, but you do not want to kill a poor, innocent whale!

Greenpeace won’t like it if you kill this blue whale. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games
A shark-motif gives this Sierra-class SSN a menacing look. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

Though Stalking the Red Bear is not as difficult to complete as Single Mission #7: The Bastion Gambit, you must use your best judgment as to how to close in on the enemy, get off the first shot at the Typhoon, destroy the escorts, and finish the mission with as little damage to your boat as possible.

Tip #1. Stealth and Patience are Your Friends

We survived this mission…but not unscathed. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

In real life, submarine vs. submarine engagements tend to be long and tedious affairs. The process of finding and pursuing a sub that does not want to be found is hard enough. Doing chasing a heavily armed ballistic missile sub and her capable guardians is much harder, especially in a war situation where torpedoes and anti-sub missiles are “weapons-free.”

Cold Waters eliminates much of the time-consuming preliminaries and starts each engagement in what storytellers call en media res. Here, you are entering the battle at the point of first definite contact with the enemy and your sonar operator already has one or more Sierra (meaning sonar) contacts on tap.

A first-time player might succumb to temptation and hit the F2 (Look at Target) key to see what the current contact looks like. If Sierra One is the Typhoon, the rookie gamer might even get an itchy trigger finger and let loose with a Mk.48 ADCAP wire-guided torpedo even if the firing solution is less than 30%.

We call that a Typhoon-class “boomer.” The Soviets called it Akula (Shark). (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

Here’s my bit of Cold Waters veteran’s advice:

Do NOT do that.

By all means, if you want to get cinematic and hit the F2 key to see what your current target looks like, go ahead. The striking visuals of Cold Waters are part of why it’s one of my all-time favorites and makes me wish someone (Ubisoft, I’m looking at you!) would upgrade a licensed-by-the-Clancy estate upgrade of Red Storm Rising. It is not a realistic way to play the game – if you want to play Cold Waters as though you were a real submariner, you’d stick to your tactical display screen and the various mini-displays for acoustic conditions, sonar signatures, weapons loadout, and damage control.

That having been said, even if you see a Typhoon as that first contact and it the mini-map on the left-hand side tells you it is within spitting distance – even though that firing solution reads 36% – do not fire that torpedo.

See, though your contact seems as though that Typhoon is, say, 4,000 yards away, your boat’s sophisticated sonar-based targeting computer only has a 36% firing solution. That means there’s a 64% chance that the target is farther away than it looks. Or It could be closer. Either way, a 36% firing solution is not good enough to firing that expensive Mk.48 torpedo prematurely. All you’ll do in this case is to give away your general position – Soviet subs have sonar, too, though not as good as yours – and announce your presence to the Typhoon and her SSN guardians.

On the lower left-hand corner, do you see a target data mini-window? That tells you a contact (S1 or Sierra One) is detected by your sonar crew. We know it’s at Bearing 224, but we don’t have information on its course (CSE) or speed (SPD). And it looks as though it’s 13,500 yards (RNG 13.5 KYD), but the firing solution is only 26%. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

So…when you hear your sonar guy call out “Conn, Sonar: New contact. Designating Sierra One (or Two, or Three)…” Chill out.

Don’t shoot. Listen. (And by ‘listen” I mean hit Shift-S for “Rig the ship for ultraquiet,” then hit F6 for Sonar Signatures and cycle through the database. Depending on your difficulty settings, your “Sonar Guy” will identify the contact if you wait a while. But you can identify the target yourself and designate it manually by cycling through the database of signatures – the ” key – and hitting Enter when you get a visual match. )

Once you classify your target(s), choose one – usually the Typhoon – and wait until your sub’s systems have a better firing solution. The higher the percentage on the firing solution, the more accurate the tracking data on your screen is. Eventually, you will know the target’s direction – course heading – and how far away it is from your boat. Once you have a firing solution of 80% or better (95% is the highest percentage Cold Waters gives players), fire one “fish” at the target.

An Mk.48 Advanced Capability (ADCAP) torpedo streaks toward its target. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

 Tip #2: Fire & Evade

First, a word about which U.S. boat to choose in Stalking the Red Bear:

All the U.S. submarines in the 1984 scenarios have four torpedo tubes and 16 torpedoes, but not all of them can fire four wire-guided torpedoes at once. The older Skipjack and Permit classes have only one wire, while the Sturgeon and Los Angeles classes have two or four wires, respectively. So, if you are new to the game and want to survive and thrive in Stalking the Red Bear, choose the Los Angeles class boat until you are an ace in that mission.

If you’re playing Stalking the Red Bear for the first time, choose this class of SSN as your command. Once you have successfully completed the mission a few times, try older classes, like the Sturgeon or Permit, (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

Moving on….

Before you let loose with your first torpedo, make sure you have a mobile submarine simulator (MOSS) MK70 loaded in one of your tubes. A MOSS is basically a small torpedo-like device that plays a sound that closely matches your boat’s acoustic signature. Yes, it means you can only fire three torpedoes at the enemy, but you’ll need that MOSS to (hopefully) decoy the enemy torpedoes that the Russians will fire at you once they hear that first “transient”- mechanical noise heard underwater – from your sub.

Game Reference Guide entry for the Mk.70 MOSS. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

If it looks as though the enemy sub is firing blind and from too far away to get a workable solution on you, aim your MOSS at a point halfway between the enemy fish (it’ll show up on your tactical display as green if inactive and yellow if active) and fire it. You’ll see a yellow blip heading out from your boat and toward the point you selected.

At the same time, set a course away from the enemy launch point and do what the Silent Service calls “Clear your datum.”  In other words, the enemy has a fix on your launch transient even if he does not have a good firing solution on your boat. By moving away from your launch point – ideally at a slow speed and even more ideally with that MOSS already cruising along making the noise of a Los Angeles-class (or, if you prefer, a 688-class) boat – you are making it hard for Ivan to get a good firing solution – and thus denying him the chance to kill you before you destroy the Typhoon.

Like the instructions on the average shampoo say, “Rinse and repeat.”

Or in this case, follow the same basic principle of firing and evading when firing at the enemy subs.

Important Fact: You only have three MOSS decoys. If you deploy them properly – like, not too close to your boat and if the enemy is far, far away[2] – they might work as advertised. Like my dear mother used to say, “A MOSS a day helps keep Russkie torpedoes away…” [3]

Typhoon-class subs are large, have double hulls, and are hard to kill. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

Tip #3: Priorities and Strategies

Your first priority in Stalking the Red Bear is to bag that Typhoon. Hopefully not at the expense of your boat or – natch – your life.

Your second priority is to destroy Ivan’s escorting attack subs. Blowing them into next week improves your chances of getting home alive.

It takes two Mk.48 ADCAP torpedoes to sink large targets like the Kirov battlecruiser or the Typhoon boomer, but I usually fire just one torpedo at a behemoth like a Typhoon SSBN and two (one each) at the escorts. One fish won’t kill a 48,000 monster like the Typhoon, but it will cause damage. Depending on where the Mk.48 hits the boat, the boomer might suffer enough flooding for it to surface, or it will lose the ability to sprint at flank speed, or it will be unable to fire torpedoes from damaged tubes.

Russian SSNs usually only require one torpedo hit to be killed, at least in Cold Waters, so a good rule of thumb is to damage the Typhoon and kill its SSN friends first, then finish the wounded boomer off with a second Mk.48 shot.

That Typhoon won’t be heading back to its base in the USSR. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

Remember. The Typhoon is the Soviet Union’s most expensive SSBN and represents a sizable portion of its strategic nuclear deterrent. It isn’t as maneuverable or fast as your 688-class boat, nor is it equipped with a Tom Clancy-style silent propulsion system, so it will be escorted by nimble and well-armed attack subs. So once you fire that first fish, you need to focus on three things:

  • Know where the enemy SSNs are and fire torpedoes at them ASAP. Even if you don’t kill them right away, the Soviet subs will be too busy evading your torpedoes to get a good solution and fire more torpedoes.
  • Avoid being hit by Soviet torpedoes, even if you must maneuver at flank speed and risk breaking the wires to your torpedoes. Hopefully your “fish” will go active and home in on the enemy boats and distract them so their own torpedoes will miss you
  • Don’t get “target fixation” and focus only on the Typhoon. Yes, firing two torpedoes at the primary target would kill it if you made a good TMA and the torps were fired exactly right, but if you leave the enemy SSNs for “dessert,” your next of kin will be visited by a Casualty Notification Team. And that would ruin your whole day

Also, if you are new to Cold Waters and have not tried Stalking the Red Bear, watch the video by YouTube creator Kasey Chang to see how challenging – and entertaining – the mission is.

Well, that’s about all the advice I can give you without doing a step-by-step “cheat guide.” So, my friend, good luck, and good hunting.

Dosvidanyia, Rodina! A shark-mouthed Soviet SSN sinks and we see an after action report from USS Cincinnati on the end-of-mission screen. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

[1] After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Clancy’s novels went on to pit Jack Ryan – in various government posts – and the U.S. against various adversaries. At least two of Clancy’s novels (The Bear and the Dragon and Threat Vector) feature U.S.-China confrontations. And, more relevant to this blog post, Clancy wrote a tie-in novel based on a Simon & Schuster Interactive video game titled Tom Clancy’s SSN.

[2] But not in another galaxy…..

[3] Actually, Mom never said this.

On Movie Collections: My Top 10 Favorite Box Sets (4K UHD and 2K Blu-ray Disc Sets)

This 2011 set is #10 on my list, but it is one of the cornerstones of my Blu-ray box set collection. (C) 2011 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm Ltd.

I’ve collected disc-based home media releases of my favorite movies and television series for 23 years. I started in the summer of 1998 with DVDs, which I started buying even before I acquired my first DVD player and a fully compatible Samsung TV in early 2000. [1] Previously I had bought VHS videocassettes for 14 years, and by then I had roughly 90 or so titles in my video library – mostly theatrically-released films, although I had two episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series as well.

I used to go to the mall and hang around stores that looked a lot like this. Photo by Mick Haupt on Pexels.com

When I began buying DVDs, I started – naturally – with individual releases of theatrical films. And just as I do with 4K UHD discs now, I tried to alternate between buying titles I owned in one format and ones that were new to me. (For example, in 1999 I owned 1997’s Titanic in a two-tape set, but I did not have a VHS release of Saving Private Ryan. Those were the first major movies I bought on DVD.) Later, though, as multi-disc box sets dropped in price, I started to get season sets – I think 24 was the first TV show I bought season sets of – in 2002 and branched out into movie franchises with Paramount Home Media’s 4-disc The Adventures of Indiana Jones: The Complete DVD Collection in 2003.

In 2009 I gradually shifted my focus from acquiring DVDs to buying Blu-ray discs (BDs). Again, I started with individual titles, then added box sets – either of entire TV series along the lines of Star Trek: Enterprise or multi-movie sets from franchises such as Jurassic Park, The Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones, Star Trek, or Star Wars.

(C) 2014 Universal Pictures Home Entertainment & Amblin Entertainment

Yesterday, in my post On Movie Collections: In Praise of Box Sets, I told you why I love box sets and why I buy them.

Today, I’m going to share a list of my Top 10 box sets in Blu-ray (in both 2K and 4K UHD).

  1. Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga (2020): A 27-disc (9 4K UHD, 18 2K BDs) limited edition Best Buy exclusive, this is the crown jewel of my Blu-ray collection. It’s – as of this writing – the largest box set I own, and at nearly $250, the most expensive one
  2. Band of Brothers (2008): This six-BD presentation of HBO’s 2001 10-part adaptation of Stephen Ambrose’s 1992 book about the WWII exploits of a company of 101st Airborne paratroopers is a magnificent upgrade of a box set I have on DVD. The DVD set was good for its time, but it lacked English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired. The Blu-ray has SDH subtitles (among a host of other cool features) and better sound and picture quality
  3. The Civil War: A Film by Ken Burns – 25th Anniversary Edition (2015): This was the last box set I bought when I still lived in Miami. It’s an upgrade of a PBS Distribution DVD set I bought in 2009 and it has been restored and color-corrected for high-definition TV for the 1990 documentary miniseries’ Silver Anniversary
  4. The Pacific (2010): Released in tandem with the DVD version, this 6-BD box set comes in a tin box just like its counterpart, Band of Brothers. This is another WWII-set miniseries based on a project that the late Stephen Ambrose began before his death in 2002 and was completed by his son Hugh (who died of cancer in 2015). It has many features found on the DVD box set (which I bought first), but has other extras (such as picture-in-picture commentaries) that are exclusive to Blu-ray
  5. Indiana Jones: The 4-Movie Collection (2021): Though Paramount Home Media Distribution’s rollout of the 40th Anniversary 4K UHD set was marred by logjams in the logistics industry thanks to COVID-19, the adventures of the archeologist/soldier of fortune have never looked better than in this remastered edition of the first four Indiana Jones films
  6. Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns (2021): Purists will probably quibble about the wisdom of changing the aspect ratio of the classic 1994 documentary about America’s national sport from its original 4:3 ratio (for the 1994 nine-inning part) to 16:1 widescreen. I’m not thrilled about it; The Civil War had no such tweak when it was remastered six years ago. But streaming services and younger audiences love the widescreen format, so Burns and PBS obliged them in the same manner as Sir Jeremy Isaacs and Fremantle Media did when they remastered the 1970s-era The World at War for high definition reissues. Most of the footage actually looks better in this version, but interviewees who were filmed in “talking head” interviews sometimes lose parts of their heads (usually at the top or the chin) due to the cropping necessary
  7. Steven Spielberg: Director’s Collection (2014): This set was released by Universal Pictures Home Entertainment in conjunction with Steven Spielberg’s production company Amblin Entertainment. Naturally, it features eight titles Spielberg directed for Universal over a 26-year period, starting with the 1971 TV movie Duel and going on to the first two films in the Jurassic Park franchise (1993’s Jurassic Park and 1997’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park). I already had six of the titles in this set – The Sugarland Express, Jaws, 1941, E.T., Jurassic Park, and The Lost World ­– in individual BD releases, so the only new-to-me selections were Duel and 1989’s Always
  8. Jurassic World: 5- Movie Collection (2018): I must be either a big believer in redundancy or a completist (some might even label me a “complete idiot”), but I have three different Jurassic Park/Jurassic World box sets. I bought Universal’s Jurassic Park: Ultimate Trilogy Gift Set a decade ago – when I was still living in Miami and caring for my sick mom – during the Christmas holiday buying rush. Last year I bought the Silver Anniversary Jurassic Park four-film collection with the original Jurassic Park trilogy  and Jurassic World on both 4K UHD and 2K BDs. I should have left things alone, but earlier this year I splurged on this 2019 follow-up, which now bears the Jurassic World brand and includes Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
  9. The Vietnam War:  A Film by Ken Burns & Lynn Novick (2017): PBS Distribution released this 10-disc set in September of 2017, almost as soon as PBS started airing this 10-part documentary about a war that dominated most of my childhood and aggravated the rift between liberals and conservatives in the U.S. and led to the current state of our country and its divided populace
  10. Star Wars: The Complete Saga (2011): This was the first box set that collected all six of the Star Wars films directly overseen by the saga’s creator George Lucas and the last compilation released by Lucasfilm Ltd. as an independent production company. Distributed by the now-vanished 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, this 9-disc set consists of the first two Skywalker Saga Episodes and three bonus discs full of nifty extra features. Supplanted – of course – last year by the 27- and 18-disc Skywalker Saga box sets, I still consider Star Wars: The Complete Saga as one of my all-time favorite sets, even though I have to fight the urge to “correct” its title by altering it to Star Wars: The Incomplete Saga

[1] Before I bought my first DVD, I asked one of my former East Wind Lake Village neighbors, Andreu Richardson, to build me a personal computer with a then-new DVD-ROM drive and the necessary drivers and software. Because I was on a tight budget and Andreu used inexpensive components for the PC, the playback performance was spotty. As I recall, it played cheap first-generation DVDs well enough, but it had…issues playing more “high-end” titles such as Saving Private Ryan and Titanic, which are the two oldest DVDs in my collection. It wouldn’t even play 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment’s The Longest Day, although – perversely – it did better with MGM Home Entertainment’s double-sided disc of A Bridge Too Far. Something to do with the encoding of the disc, I think it was.

I didn’t buy a DVD player in 1998 or 1999 because at the time, a good one cost, on average, between $300 to $250, not including Florida sales tax. I worked then for a lady who was trying to break into the children’s book business even though she had no talent for it, so I made enough money to afford the occasional “splurge.” Even so, I waited until DVD player prices dropped below $200. My first one (I owned two between 2000 and 2015) was a cheap (in the worst sense of the word) DVD player made by KLH Audio that I bought for $99.99.  My friend Rogers Perez, who took me to the big box store to get it, saw a Panasonic player that was selling for $150 and said, “Alex, you should get that player instead.” I insisted on buying the KLH Audio player because I didn’t want to have a huge credit card bill; Rogers just shook his head sadly and said, “Okay, if that’s what you want.”

At the time, I was unschooled in the ways of DVD players, audio-video input/output cables and jacks, so I thought that the player would work with any of the TVs we had in the townhouse I shared with my mom. I still had the input/output cable from my now-dead VCR, so I thought I could use that to connect the KLH Audio DVD player to one of the three TVs in the house, all of which were of 1980s vintage.

I was wrong. There wasn’t a workaround – at least none that Rogers and I could see – so after consulting with my mom (who, after all, was the head of the household), we headed back to the big box store – Circuit City, I believe it was – and bought a 26” Samsung TV which had the A/V jacks for the I/O cables that came with the DVD player. So instead of spending $100 (plus sales tax) that day, I ended up running up a credit card bill of $400.

At first, I was happy with the KLH player: I only had a few DVD titles and most of them played well. The only one that gave me issues was Saving Private Ryan; it would freeze or have problems with pixelation. As I acquired more DVDs that were manufactured after 2000, the playback problems worsened. I asked my techie friend Raci De Armas about it sometime in 2002 after the player refused to play one of Paramount’s Collector’s Edition Star Trek DVDs. He told me that KLH Audio – owned by Japan-based Kyocera at the time – used inexpensive components that were fine for early batches of DVDs but could not handle the newer DVDs with more complex menus and other features that required better electronic components. So in 2002 I bought a Samsung 5-disc player and gave Raci the KLH Audio player so his young daughter could have her own DVD player in her room.

On Movie Collections: In Praise of Box Sets

Photo by the author.

On Movie Collections: In Praise of Box Sets

Promotional photo of the Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga box set. (C) 2020 Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm Ltd.

I have a confession to make, Dear Reader. I love box sets.

I have been collecting home media editions of movies and (a few) TV shows for nearly 38 years, ever since I bought a video store’s used rental copy of Star Wars at the tail end of 1983.[1] I’ve owned tons of content in most of the major home video formats, starting with VHS videotape all the way to 4K UHD, except for laserdiscs, video compact discs (VCDs), and the short-lived competitor to Blu-ray discs (BD), high definition DVDs (HD-DVDs).

Although box sets existed as long ago as the late 1980s and early ‘90s, I didn’t own a lot of them when my video library consisted only of VHS tapes. I only bought a few, and they just happened to be the ones released by CBS/FOX (aka Fox Video) whenever Lucasfilm released reissues of the original trilogy, starting with the 15th Anniversary set of 1992 and continuing to the 2001 set released a year before Star Wars’ 25th Anniversary. Mainly, though, I avoided buying VHS box sets along the lines of HBO’s From the Earth to the Moon or PBS’ The Civil War: A Ken Burns Film because they were expensive, bulky, and fragile.

That changed once I started transitioning from VHS to DVD in the 1990s and early 2000s. I was an early adopter of DVDs – I bought my first discs a year or two before I bought my first DVD player late in 1999, – and it is still a decent format, even though it’s been supplanted by two newer disc formats over the past 13 years. Along with durability – provided users handled the discs properly – and better audio/visual quality, DVDs had an advantage over VHS tapes in that their smaller size allowed for less bulky packaging. I could place two or three DVDs on the same amount of shelf space that held one properly stored VHS tape.

(C) 2021 Paramount Home Media Distribution

Although most of my DVD – and later, Blu-ray and 4K UHD Blu-ray – collection consists of individual titles, I own a nice stash of box sets. Most of my DVD box sets are of entire television series or miniseries, e.g., the three separate season sets of Star Trek: The Original Series or the 24: The Complete Series omnibus set, although I also have box sets for the first six Star Wars films and the three pre-2008 Indiana Jones films. I also have quite a few Ken Burns documentary series on DVD, including Jazz, the last DVD release of Baseball, The West (which was directed by Stephen Ives but produced by Burns), and The War: A Film by Ken Burns.

Initially, box sets were expensive, at least for those of us in a fixed income. The most I ever paid for a DVD box set was $200, and that was in 2011 when I got the eight-season set of 24: The Complete Series – a rare occurrence of a super-expensive box set. For the most part, though, most of my multi-disc box sets got less expensive as the format matured – especially in the late 2000s – prices came down a bit and I was able to get From the Earth to the Moon, The Pacific, The World at War, Victory at Sea, and Vietnam: A Television History for less than $80 each.

The DVD set of Ken Burns’ Baseball. (C) 2011 PBS Home Video

My Blu-ray collection is larger than my DVD one (428 to 239) in no small part because I invest in more box sets in both 2K and 4K UHD BDs. In some cases, such as the Star Trek, Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and Peter Jackson’s two Middle-earth trilogies, I have multiple box sets. And for the most part, it’s because more often than not, box sets are less expensive than trying to round up individual films when you are buying titles from a franchise.

(C) 2020 Buena Vista Home Entertainment & Lucasfilm Ltd. via Best Buy

The priciest box set I own currently is Buena Vista Home Entertainment/Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, which holds 27 discs (9 with the feature films on 4K UHD, 9 with remastered 2K BDs of the feature films, and 9 bonus features 2K BDs). I bought two of those – at the Caregiver’s suggestion – last year for $259.99 plus local and state sales taxes.

(C) 2021 Paramount Home Media Distribution & Lucasfilm Ltd.
(C) 2016 MGM Home Entertainment/20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

I also have a James Bond box set with the currently existing 24 Eon-produced James Bond films (from Dr. No all the way to Spectre.) That one was released in 2016 by MGM Home Entertainment for $114.99 (not a bad price for 24 feature films), but since I waited till 2019 to buy it, I only paid $75.99 for a set – it was a Black Friday/Black Monday thing, if I recall. It can be bought on Amazon for $89.96 or even less now – which is a still a sweet deal, considering that it contains two dozen feature films!

If I didn’t invest in box sets as much as I do, I wouldn’t have classics such as The Maltese Falcon, The African Queen, or Treasure of the Sierra Madre; these come with The Best of Bogart Collection. I also wouldn’t have the original version of The Thomas Crown Affair or The Sand Pebbles; those movies are found in The Steve McQueen Collection. And though I owned Spaceballs and Young Frankenstein on DVD, I now have them on Blu-ray, too, along with seven other Mel Brooks films in the 9-disc The Mel Brooks Collection box set.

The latest additions to my collection – Star Trek: The Original 4-Movie Collection and Zack Snyder’s Justice League Trilogy – were box sets. They weren’t cheap, but they were a convenient and less-pricey way of growing my 4K UHD collection. In both cases, the sets include 2K editions (all remastered for their 2021 box sets), so I can play the new discs either on my 4K player or out in the common room on the 2K Blu-ray player.

(C) 2021 Warner Bros. Home Media

So, yeah. I admit it. I absolutely love box sets.   


[1] I didn’t even own a videocassette recorder when I acquired my first three videocassette copies of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. I was saving my pennies for a VCR, which in 1984 was a $400 investment if you wanted a good one. But my friend Betsy Matteis did, so I left my tapes in her house until I finally bought my own VCR in the early summer of 1984. That’s how I watched my first movies on home media – as a guest in a friend’s house!

‘Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss’ Inspires a Twitter Poet!

Juan Carlos Hernandez (who also directed and edited the movie) is Guillermo Ronderos

Hi again, Dear Reader.

As you know, actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez, his wife Adria, their son Anthony, and Yours Truly collaborated on a short film – “about today,” Juan likes to say – titled Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss.  The Hernandez family did most of the heavy lifting (acting, revising, editing, mixing the sound, producing, and directing), so by no means is Ronnie just my movie. It’s a team effort, as are all of our collaborations.

Ronnie is a project that is close to our hearts. I call the movie “my baby” – even though the finished product is the fruit of everyone’s work – because I conceived the characters and situations and wrote the first draft of the screenplay solo. So I find it rewarding when I see that the movie, for all its brevity, touches viewers (hopefully in a positive way).

We haven’t gotten many reviews; so far, only a few viewers have written their opinions about it. But I do know that it has elicited its fair share of laughs and overall positive reactions. (On YouTube, we have gotten two dislikes, but considering the story and setting, I consider that a positive development.)

Imagine my surprise when one of my writer friends from Twitter, @TheLadyMagic, asked if she could link Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss to a poem she wrote. I, of course, said, “Sure.”

Here’s @TheLadyMagic’s poem in its entirety:



The main title screen for Ronnie.

LadyMagic @TheLadyMagic

Sep 18

Family gatherings

can quickly change-

happy to angry

 Glib and sarcastic

Comments

 leading to fights

Adria K. Woomer-Hernandez plays Ronnie. (She also did the audio mix and produced the movie!)

Good intentions fly

out the window:

falling disagreements- splat

Hopefully

Reconciliations

 alight from this

Maybe

with humor

leading to bliss

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