Sunday, July 31, 2011

With Two Rikers, Everyone Gets "Second Chances"

The Good: Well-executed, Good character development, Nice acting
The Bad: Thinly conceived
The Basics: When a transporter duplicate of Commander Riker is found on a distant planet, Riker finds himself in an awkward position in "Second Chances."

Occasionally, there comes an episode in a television series that wants to do something outlandish or metaphorical and as a result, the plot is contrived to fit the moral. In Star Trek The Next Generation, one episode that did that was "Second Chances." Levar Burton's directoral premiere is an attempt to make a commentary on Commander Riker's character and it does so in one of the most weakly conceived ways. It's astonishing how good this episode is considering how weak the motivation for it is. And yet . . . it remains as one of the better episodes of the series.

When the Enterprise visits a barren planet, it is a strange homecoming for Commander Riker; he visited it several years prior and barely made it off the surface alive. There was a problem with the transporter and he returns to find the difficulty was more intense than first realized; a duplicate Riker was beamed back to the planet as he was beamed up to his ship. The ragged William Riker on the planet attempts to integrate into the Enterprise crew under his middle name, Thomas. But he finds being around Counselor Troi and working with others is quite difficult for him now and he eventually transfers to another ship.

Essentially, "Second Chances" takes its time differentiating between William and Thomas Riker and in the process, Counselor Troi discovers a man who did not give up on their relationship. It's a clever piece in that way because essentially what the episode is saying is that the fundamentals of a person do not change. So even after being stranded alone for several years, Thomas Riker - while asocial - is still ambitious.

Despite a desperately thin plot, "Second Chances" works fairly well as a character study because of the quality of the acting and directing. Levar Burton's first directoral outing is an impressive piece. He manages to have a distinctive visual style to the episode and there are several moments that Burton does an excellent job of lining up eye lines and such that are essential when one of the characters is bluescreened in.

Much of the episode involves Jonathan Frakes being bluescreened into scenes opposite himself. Frakes does an excellent job acting against himself and that's not an easy task. Given that William and Thomas are in so many scenes together, Frakes has a singularly difficult task in creating two different characters.

Frakes succeeds at doing more than just lining his eyelines up appropriately. In creating Thomas Riker, Frakes changes his posture and his facial control in a way that encourages his eyes to be more pronounced and expressive. Add in the changes in voice tones and speech patterns and Frakes makes a distinctive individual.

And what if the plot is contrived? The message is universally accessible, making "Second Chances" a pretty easy viewing for anyone, not just those who are fans of Star Trek The Next Generation. Indeed, "Second Chances" is a well-directed tale that will appeal to anyone who enjoys psychology because the dual Rikers, especially how they interact with Troi, create a definitive exploration of one person and the repercussions of his choices.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Sixth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the penultimate season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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It Doesn't Matter Who Shoots First, The "Showdown At The Cantina" 2011 Hallmark Ornament Is Cool!

The Good: Great sculpt, Wonderful sound effect, Decent balance, Generally good coloring.
The Bad: PRICE, Could use a little more color detail on Han.
The Basics: Ridiculously expensive for its size, the 2011 "Showdown At The Cantina" Hallmark ornament is still so well-made, I have to recommend it!

There are few debates in Geekdom quite like the one among Star Wars fans over who shot first: Greedo or Han Solo. The debate comes up because in the original release of Star Wars: A New Hope (reviewed here!), when Greedo, a bounty hunter sent by Jabba The Hutt, points a blaster at Han Solo and tells him he's going to kill him, Han discreetly removes his blaster from its holster and shoots, killing Greedo and saving his own life. For the sanitized late-90's "Special Edition" of A New Hope, George Lucas apparently gave in to pressure from whiny parents who thought it was ignoble that Han shot Greedo and he digitally added a laser bolt which missed Han, so when Han shot Greedo, it was in self-defense (which, arguably, makes even less sense because if Greedo couldn't hit Han from across the table, couldn't Han Solo have just run away - odds are Greedo wouldn't have hit him then!) in response not just to provocation, but (snicker) an imminent threat. For the DVD release of A New Hope, Lucas caved to his fans who thought this wussified (yes, that's a professional term) Han Solo's character and re-edited A New Hope so that both character shoot simultaneously and only Han hits his target.

I mention this at the outset of my review of the 2011 Hallmark "Showdown At The Cantina" ornament because there seems like there might be a population that will only consider buying the ornament if the shootout happens in a certain order. To either of those camps, the "Showdown At The Cantina" takes a neutral stance. Instead, this has only a sound effect; there are no lights to indicate who is shooting at any given time. Apparently, Hallmark didn't want the trouble any more than George Lucas wanted to make a concrete answer. Either way, nothing screams "Christmas!" like two people pointing laser pistols at one another and the sound effects of Greedo threatening Han and getting shot for it.


The "Showdown At The Cantina" is a diorama -style ornament from Hallmark, which recreates scenes from Star Wars both with a molded scene and special effects. Unlike the prior two years' ornaments, "His Master's Bidding" (reviewed here!) and "A Deadly Duel" (reviewed here!), "Showdown At The Cantina" features a sound effect, but no light effect. Also unlike the two prior works, the "Showdown At The Cantina" is actually worth picking up because it does what it sets out to do well. Unfortunately, collectors and fans will have to pay for that quality. Hallmark's initial price for the ornament was $32.95, which was the most expensive (initial price) Star Wars ornament for the year and it was priced comparably with the Star Trek Romulan Bird Of Prey ornament (reviewed here!) which was also dramatically overpriced when compared to comparable ornaments.

The 2011 "Showdown At The Cantina" is made of durable plastic and includes a sound function emitted through a tiny speaker in the ornament. The 3 1/4" wide by 2 3/4" tall by 1 1/2" deep ornament faithfully recreates Han Solo slouching back in his booth, pointing a laser blaster at Greedo, the green-skinned Rodian. Greedo is sitting in the opposite booth with his blaster pointed squarely at Han. In between the two is a round table with a glass on it. The piece is held together with a section of the back wall of the Cantina, molded in beautiful, sandy-looking plastic. There is even a window hole behind the table and it gives the ornament a real sense of space.

Hallmark has a lot to be proud of and sculptor Katrina Bricker ought to take a bow for her work creating the "Showdown At The Cantina" ornament. The background looks just like the Cantina alcove where Han Solo and Greedo squared off and the molded details are exceptional. Greedo looks like Greedo, Han Solo looks just like Harrison Ford did in the movie with his chiseled jaw and lean physique. Bricker captured great molded details, like Han's vest, the padded sides of Greedo's flight suit and the veining on the round table. Moreover, Bricker did not skimp on the details for things like Han Solo's blaster (which is a distinctive and recognizable one in the Star Wars universe), the holster on Han's leg or the antennae on Greedo's head. The ornament captures the proportions of each element perfectly, getting even the tiny sucker tips on most of Greedo's fingers! The sculpt is absolutely perfect.

The coloring detailing is almost perfect. With a work this size, it is absolutely astonishing what color details are present. The Cantina wall and floor have realistic coloring to them, looking anything but monotonal as a sandy-hut should. Greedo's coloring is wonderful with distinctive green, yellow and orange for the costume elements and his big black eyes are glossy in contrast to the matte finish for the "skin" (Greedo was a latex suit character in A New Hope). Han Solo features shiny black boots, the red racing stripe up the side of his pants and even brown eyebrows painted painstakingly over his eyes. Unfortunately, the skin tones on Han are monotonal, both on the face and hands. This does not drag the ornament down much, but it is worth noting.


As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, the "Showdown At The Cantina" ornament features a sound effect, but not a light effect. Powered by batteries that are housed in the ornament (and come with it), the "Showdown At The Cantina" has three phrases. When the button on the ornament is pushed, Han and Greedo exchange dialogue (Greedo's is gibberish) and for the third clip, there is the sound of blaster fire and Greedo's body hitting the table. It's not exactly the most Christmas-themed ornament, but it captures perfectly the moment it represents and the volume was loud enough that I could hear all of the effects clearly, even during a noisy Preview Weekend with lots of people clamoring about me.


As an ornament, the "Showdown At The Cantina" is intended to be hung on a Christmas tree and for that purpose, the ornament is great. The "Showdown At The Cantina" features a brass loop protruding from the top of the dome that frames the alcove Han is sitting and Greedo is dying in. From that point, the ornament hangs remarkably stable. It does not tip in any direction, though it will twist if the tree or ornament is bumped.


2011 will be known, at least by anyone who follows such things and actually listens to me, as the year Star Wars outstripped Star Trek as the franchise to exploit, at least as far as Hallmark ornaments go. In 2011, there were only 3 Star Trek ornaments, which would cost buyers $77.85. By comparison, Star Wars fans were hit with six ornament sets (six boxes, seven ornaments), Slave I, Jedi Master Yoda, Showdown At The Cantina, the Limited Edition Bossk, the San Diego Comic Con exclusive Dengar and IG-88 set, and the forthcoming LEGO Darth Vader. For fans lucky enough to get the Comic Con exclusives at cost, the six ornaments would still run $130.67! And for those of us not able to get to Comic Con, good luck! The Dengar and IG-88 ornaments have already exploded in the secondary market to an average selling price of $75!

The "Showdown At The Cantina" ornament was issued at $32.95, which is ridiculously expensive, despite the quality of the ornament. At that price, it is not terribly collectible and it is unlikely its value will appreciate significantly. For the last three weeks since they have been on the market, the "Showdown At The Cantina" ornament has sold slowly, though all five of the local Hallmark stores near me have sold at least one each. This does not look to be a sellout ornament or a great investment piece for investors.


The 2011 "Showdown At The Cantina" Hallmark ornament looks good, is balanced well and its minor coloring abnormalities could be overlooked were it not for the sticker shock consumers will get when they go to purchase it. A pleasant addition to a fan's collection, but hardly an essential holiday ornament, the "Showdown At The Cantina" is still easy to recommend.

For other 2011 genre ornaments, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Fleeing The Fiendfyre Harry Potter ornament
Captain Jack Sparrow
Legends Of Star Trek Spock ornament


For other ornament reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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The Trauma Of Horrible Music: Bush's Sixteen Stone

The Good: The occasional musical hook, in truth NONE!
The Bad: Infantile lyrics, Incoherent music, Horrible vocals, Auditory garbage
The Basics: If you've ever wondered how bad pop-rock music could get, pick Sixteen Stone up and listen to it. Otherwise, don't bother!

This beef has been a long time in the coming. Bush's album Sixteen Stone was the album my roommate was listening to in our dorm room the first time we met. The relationship never got better. Just like my roommate for that first awful year of college back in the day, Bush represents pretty much everything that is horrible in an experience, in this case a "musical" one.

The popularity of the band Bush is arguably defined by the good looks of the lead singer, Gavin Rosdale. As soon as those supposedly good looks fade or the audience grows up, Bush will cease to exist as a band. Proof to this effect is in the fact that the band has never had as much success as it did with Sixteen Stone; all of the college age-crush buying people with money have all graduated to a budget since.

The plus sides of Sixteen Stone? I'll give them this: their vocabulary is better than 95% of the musical artists out there. Obviously someone in this band knows more than the 500 average words used in music today. The one star that this album gets is for that alone. (Would that I could give this album zero stars! Perhaps even the vocabulary would not save it that fate.)

Now to the negatives. First, like the deplorable novel The Book of Margery Kempe, this album is predictable and droll in style. That's not to say that some of the sounds of the album aren't catchy. Even after years of trying to repress them, I can still remember how "Comedown" and "Glycerine" sound. Actually, that's not terribly difficult; they sound alike. But the sound is not developed or interesting; it grates on the ears and any insinuation of the music into the listener bears only the most unpleasant memories of the songs.

My biggest beef is the lyrics. It's not often that I try to say something with the most simple, basic term, but here it fully applies with all its nuance; The lyrics are stupid. The level of vocabulary, gold star, what they say, black hole of dumbness. The lyricist for Bush, I suspect, opened a dictionary, flipped through and picked words at random for all most of these songs say. The angst is unenduring, the rhymes are silly and so contrived, the music is unimaginative. You end up with nonsensical garbage like "We live in a wheel / where everyone steals" and they rhyme that with "strawberry fields." Curse them for even alluding to The Beatles!

Despite my early trauma with this album, I picked up a copy to listen to it. Why? My thought was "It couldn't be as bad as I remembered it." From the first strains of the awful "Everything Zen" (which sounds like it was recorded after Gavin had had sandpaper line his vocal chords) to the final noises of the last unspeakably bad track, it WAS as bad as I remembered it.

The guitars screech and make noise far more often than anything even remotely passable as music and the drums are loud as opposed to rhythmic. This band lacks any instrumental maturity.

The vocals are all scratchy and supporting vocals add nothing but similar screeching to the voice of Rosdale. This harms the lyrics only by making us have to work to hear how inane they are.

If you have absolutely no taste for intelligent lyrics, coherent thought, and well expressed emotions that go deeper than the surface, then Sixteen Stone might very well be for you. If you're tired of the faux anger of rich young people with greasy hair and perfect teeth, put on anything but this album.

For other rock albums, please check out my reviews of:
Heathen Chemistry - Oasis
Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell - Meat Loaf
Greatest Hits - Red Hot Chili Peppers


For other music reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Throw “Sunkist” On It, Add Some Vitamin C, It's Still A (Sunkist) Tangerine Jelly Belly!

Sunkist Tangerine Jelly Belly Jelly Beans - 10 lbs bulk
Click to buy directly from Jelly Belly!

The Good: Sweet and taste like tangerines, Environmentally responsible bulk, Presence of vitamin C
The Bad: Taste fades quickly
The Basics: Tasting good, but underwhelming – despite the presence of Vitamin C – the Sunkist Tangerine Jelly Bellys skate by with a bare “recommend” from this beaneater!

Call me jaded, and some will, but I think maybe Jelly Belly has sold out with its Citrus line of jelly beans. The reason for my thinking this way is quite simple: some of the flavors appear to be virtually identical to the standard Jelly Belly flavor they are supposed to emulate, save that they have been infused with Vitamin C and bear the Sunkist name. I am sure Sunkist paid a lot for that advertising and while usually this would not be enough to make me change my thoughts about a product, the infusion of Vitamin C into the Jelly Bellys makes it just enough for me to recommend the Sunkist Tangerine Jelly Belly jelly beans. Yes, the mild nutritional benefit makes these otherwise slightly-weak jelly beans worth buying and stocking up on. In a blind taste test my partner and I performed, we could not find any differences in taste or color between the Tangerine Jelly Belly jelly beans (reviewed here!) and the Sunkist Tangerine Jelly Belly jelly beans. For all we know, Sunkist and Jelly Belly could be pulling a fast one on us, though they claim the Sunkist Tangerine do have actual tangerine juice they are made with. Otherwise, they appear identical in every way.

For those who might never have had Jelly Belly jelly beans, these are easily the best jelly beans on the planet, packing a lot of flavor into a very small size. Unlike most jelly beans which are only vaguely flavored and are more based on colors, Jelly Belly jelly beans have a wide variety of actual flavors, like Bubble Gum, Sunkist Orange, Strawberry Jam or their signature flavor Buttered Popcorn.

Who needs ten pounds of Sunkist Tangerine flavored Jelly Bellys? I suppose they are ideal for the people who would eat ten pounds of actual tangerines, but would rather not have all that vitamin C (whatwith vitamin C being an international conspiracy to get us all to eat more oranges). Anyone who might like Sunkist Tangerine Jelly Belly jelly beans will likely find that this is the best way to get them in bulk in an environmentally responsible way for the least amount of money.


Sunkist Tangerine is a flavor of Jelly Belly jelly beans. Jelly Belly jelly beans are approximately one half inch long by one quarter inch wide and they are roughly bean-shaped. These little candies are marketed to taste precisely like tangerine and they live up to that well, though it is a pretty subtle taste difference between tangerines and orange.

Sunkist Tangerine flavored Jelly Bellys are available in a wide array of quantities, but the largest quantity available is the ten pound bulk case. This is a decent-sized box with a plastic lining and while some might wonder why anyone would need a ten pound box, I declare, "It's the only way to fight the conspiracy!" (I also use them as part of favors for parties involving local sports teams, a few teams called the Orangemen) I suspect that for most people, a ten pound case is a year's supply of these jelly beans.

Sunkist Tangerine flavored Jelly Bellys are easy to recognize . . . except in the assortments they are put in by Jelly Belly. In the Sunkist Citrus Assortment, they are virtually indistinguishable from the Sunkist Orange as they are both translucent orange jelly beans. The orange is just a little more pale than the darker Sunkist Orange. When placed beside the regular assortment, it is very hard to tell the difference between Sunkist Tangerine and Orange Juice and Tangerine. These Jelly Bellys are light, translucent orange, much like actual oranges. Of course, on their own in the ten pound box, there is nothing to confuse them with.

Ease Of Preparation

These are jelly beans, not taking on the Vitamin C Conspiracy alone, without proof or, truly, a clue as to who the players are (just think of well rested, generally healthy politicians and officers . . .); preparing them is as easy as opening the box and popping one (or a handful) into your mouth. In the case of the ten pound box, one might want to put them in a candy dish of some form as opposed to always going into the box. Then again, you are free to enjoy them any way you wish! Don't let anyone tell you differently!


Sunkist Tangerine is a good Jelly Belly jelly bean. The beans do not have any sort of strong bouquet, so much of their taste comes from the actual taste, not the scent. They taste, as one might expect, just like tangerines. There is the sweet, vaguely citrus taste that spreads over the tongue and rewards the person eating them with the solid, fruit taste of tangerines. They lack the tang of pure tangerines in their unadulterated form, but they also lack the rinds, so it's a good tradeoff as far as I am concerned!

The drawback to Sunkist Tangerine Jelly Bellys, in addition to being a more subtle flavor than a straight out orange might have been, is that the taste of these jelly beans fades quickly. After eating a handful, these beans begin to taste generically sugary and vaguely fruity as opposed to precisely like tangerine.

Sunkist Tangerine Jelly Bellys, I have discovered might well be best in mixes of Jelly Bellys. They are a pleasant surprise and they taste good and mix well with other Jelly Bellys. But on their own, the taste does fade quickly and it is easy to tire of them.


Again, these are jelly beans, but the Sunkist Tangerine comes with 25% of one's RDA of Vitamin C and is made with real fruit juice in the recipe. Outside that, it behooves one to realized that jelly beans, even Jelly Belly jelly beans, are not a legitimate source of nutrition. These are a snack food, a dessert, and are in no way an adequate substitute for a real meal. A serving is listed at thirty-five beans, with each Jelly Belly jelly bean having approximately four calories. This means that in a single serving, there are 140 calories, which is 12% of your daily recommended intake.

The thing is, Jelly Belly jelly beans are not as bad as they could be in the nutrition area. They have no fat and no protein, but for those who have ever dated a Vegan, these are Vegan compliant because they contain no gelatin! They have only one percent of the daily sodium with 15 mg and they are gluten free! The main ingredients are sugar, corn syrup and modified food starch, so it's not like this is an all-natural food, but they could be far, far worse.


Jelly Belly jelly beans have a shelf life of approximately one year and I have yet to run across a stale Jelly Belly (though that could have something to do with a package never surviving a year around me . . .). They remain freshest when they are kept in an airtight container (the bag in the bulk box is sufficient if it is kept closed) and they ought to be kept in a lukewarm environment. Storing them in hot places is likely to make the beans stick together and be gross. Kept in a cool, dry place, the beans retain their flavor perfectly.

As for cleanup, unless one allows the Jelly Belly to get hot to the point that the waxy coating on the bean melts, the dyes on these do not bleed or denature, so there is usually no cleanup necessary, not even washing one's hands after eating them (always wash your hands before eating Jelly Bellys, these aren't sticky, but you should wash your hands anyway!). I've never had Sunkist Tangerine Jelly Bellys stain anything.


Sunkist Tangerine Jelly Belly jelly beans are a good flavor that appears to be entirely identical to the Tangerine Jelly Bellys, save these have slightly more nutritional benefit. That makes these average jelly beans worth recommending.

For other Jelly Belly flavors reviewed by me, please check out:
Sour Apple
Strawberry Jam
Red Apple


For other food or drink reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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The Unbelievably Bad Supposed "Legend" That Is Quatermass!

The Good: Not a bad concept
The Bad: Terrible characters (especially the women), Poor acting, Bad execution of plot, Terrible effects
The Basics: Professor Bernard Quatermass must save the Earth from alien beams that are killing our youth at places like Stonehenge. Why didn't Mystery Science Theater 3000 cover this one?

Whoever the spin doctors were who convinced A&E to release Quatermass on DVD with the subtitle "The Legendary '70s Sci-Fi Classic" ought to go into politics. They could probably get a sock puppet elected to Prime Minister. Quatermass is about as legendary as my right foot. Have you ever heard of the Legend of W.L.'s Right Foot? No. Why? It's not legendary!

Quatermass encompasses four episodes of a television mini-series that follows Britain at the turn of the millennium. All is in chaos; gangs rule the street, television is virtually unwatched in the UK, but for some reason the Americans tune in despite urban decay. The Russians and the Americans have launched a joint space station operation that suddenly goes awry. Meanwhile, around the world, sites of circular rock formations (like Stonehenge) are suddenly blasted from outer space while they are visited by thousands of young people.

The Planet People roam the British countryside chanting like a cult and seeking The Planet that they apparently believe will be better than Earth. As Professor Bernard Quatermass and his new friend Joe Kapp soon realize, the youth of the world are pawns in an extraterrestrial invasion or harvesting that . . .

. . . oh, who the hell cares? This is terrible.

I mean it, there aren't orders of magnitude to describe how bad this program is. And I refuse to dismiss this sow simply because of its campy 70s production values. No, I was willing and eager to give it a fair shake from frame one, even knowing the effects would likely be lousy. Much of the production design, etc. is dated, but it's the execution of the story that is just plain terrible.

Fans of Star Trek might recall an episode entitled "The Way To Eden" (reviewed here!) casual viewers of the series might recall it as the "space hippie" episode. In the majority of polls, "The Way To Eden" ranks as the worst episode of Star Trek ever (though I've not seen any polls since Enterprise aired that encompass the entire franchise). The Planet People in Quatermass are like the space hippies in "The Way To Eden." Unlike the Star Trek episode, though, we are plagued with Planet People for four episodes as opposed to one. I suppose that makes Quatermass four times more repugnant than the worst episode of Star Trek.

The DVD set includes the four episodes produced by Thames (on disc 1) and "The Quatermass Conclusion," a feature-length project that edits the four episodes into one movie by editing out some of the extraneous moments and ideas. No amount of editing can make this hokey series into an even palatable film.

No, what is truly wrong with this series starts at the script level. Written by Nigel Kneale, Quatermass asks the viewer to buy into a world that makes absolutely no sense. Quatermass, for example, arrives in London at a television studio from a relatively secluded villa in Wales. He is shocked by the violence and terror the streets of London have become at night. But even this begs some serious questions, like what kind of television studio invites old men as guests on their programs at night without warning them they are essentially entering a war zone? And even more basic, what is the point of a taxi cab that doesn't charge money? Quatermass arrives near the television studio in a cab that refuses to take money, which seems just the opposite of reason to me. Were I the driver, I'd charge extra to drive through gangland violence, not give it away for free!

But the script continues to bugger reason in the characters. Quatermass is a befuddled old man who is not written in a way that makes the viewer believe he was ever a rocket scientist. Joe Kapp's wife, Clare, is Jewish and that's added (apparently) to give her some character. But when she celebrates the Sabbath, she doesn't even do the prayers over the candles, wine or bread (maybe speaking Hebrew on the BBC is some kind of faux pas I don't know about).

In short, the characters are terrible. All of the youth are mindless zombies, all of the women are weak and frightened (until, literally, the last minute of the program when one overcomes all that for an instant) and they seem utterly incapable of keeping it together to be useful to society or even Quatermass. It's insulting. And while the youth are portrayed as mindless, the elderly are treated with a similar lack of respect. One of the most terrible lines in the show is an old man saying, "Not us! Old people smell terrible."

I wish I were joking about that.

But even the plot is too convoluted to be sensible. The youth, we are told, are victims of an alien conspiracy to harvest them. They wander around chanting and following the leaders of the Planet People until they reach their armageddon points. Okay, I can live with that as a premise. The problem is as the movie progresses, everyone seems to be joining the Planet People. In one scene, gangs gun down a whole bunch of Planet People (I cheered) and then moments later when more youth arrive, they drop their guns and join them. And the gangs aren't exactly young, they are middle aged people. So, ultimately, the whole premise buggers itself, probably for the practical reason that if so many youth were killed in the first few attacks, the UK would have run out of young people and thus the attacks would stop on their own.

The DVD states that Quatermass inspired such conspiracy shows as The X-Files but I think that's just awesome salesmanship on the part of the people producing this set. Quatermass is no Mulder. Or Scully. Or even Flukeman.

Even the History Channel special on Stonehenge cannot save this piece of crap. Don't believe me? PLEASE, buy my copy off me. I don't want it crapping up the quality DVDs I have on the shelf. And I am convinced, based on how very very bad this show is, it has the power to mess up awesome works of cinematic greatness just by being in proximity to them.

For other science fiction television series reviews, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
Star Trek The Next Generation


For other television series reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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My MasterMechanic Drill Bits (#51) That I Keep Going Through!

The Good: While it works, it bores small holes very well!
The Bad: Shafts break very easily! Relatively expensive (when quality issue is factored in).
The Basics: Projects take on an additional expense when the fine drill bits, like the #51 MasterMechanic Wire Gauge Drill Bit continue to break on them!

I have recently taken up bookbinding and laughing in the face of teachers who say such things cannot be done, I have discovered that carefully drilling holes along a binding and handstitching the binding makes for great, strong, well-reinforced bindings. In order to do that, I have found myself using MasterMechanic #51 Wire Gauge Drill Bits.

The MasterMechanic #51 is a two-inch long drill bit that is only .0670" in diameter. This is a very small drill bit and one that creates a very small hole. I have found this hole size is ideal for holes one is sewing that require reinforced threads to go through twice (up and down the binding). The hole made by this bit would also be appropriate for tiny gauges of wire and my local Do It Best has these bits at $2.15/ea.

That price might not seem all that expensive, save that these bits have terrible durability. One of the selling points of the MasterMechanic #51 bit is the black oxide finish. This is supposed to keep the bit cool when one is drilling a lot with it and that is supposed to help the bit last longer. Keeping in mind that all I have been drilling with these bits is paper - tightly packed and less than an inch thick! - it is deplorable that one bit lasts me only an average of fifty to one hundred holes before the shaft snaps.

I use a Craftsman drill and know the proper technique for drilling (in this case straight down through premade holes in a cardboard guide) so there is not a sufficiently good reason that these bits would not be able to handle more than a hundred holes without breaking. The holes the bits make are precise, straight and even in diameter (as much as I can tell when sewing through them), but considering the average book has only twenty-five to thirty holes and I take over ten minutes to reload guides between each drilling session, this is a poor bit that breaks far too easily; one may only imagine how quickly they would give out on harder substances like wood.

The MasterMechanic #51 Drill Bit does come with a satisfaction guarantee, but my local hardware store will not honor that; I have sent one (of many) broken bits back to MasterMechanic and I am awaiting a replacement. Still, the inability of this bit to hold together over a relatively easy drilling function - and I have been through eight of these bits now! - is frustrating.

As soon as I find another brand producing drill bits in the #51 size, which is an admittedly fine and hard to find size, I will likely be replacing my MasterMechanic bits with theirs!

For other tools, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Gator Grips Universal Socket
9" Caulking Gun
Stanley 6 5/8 60-003 Screwdriver


For other tool reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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The Unhidden Greatness Of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

The Good: Visually stunning, Good story, Lack of predictability, Good character, Good acting
The Bad: The Lo Digression
The Basics: Finally, a beautifully shot martial arts film that doesn't cover up lacks with flash, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is all around wonderful!

Every now and then we encounter things that affect us and we want to write about them, despite the fact that is is reviewed to death. I had been hearing overwhelming praise for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for years and I have been waiting to see it. So many things I've seen lately have failed to live up to the hype. In fact, the only film that has surprised me in the last month has been Pay It Forward (reviewed here!). Well, until now, that is. The hype for The Phantom Menace killed the hype for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Pleasantly, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon lived up to my expectations.

What I had expected from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a visually amazing, character-driven magical realism film. It was all of those things.

Master Li Mu Bai has decided to hang up his sword and retire from the free-lance law enforcement job in Western China. He is accompanied to Peking by his long-time companion, Yu Shu Lien. It's obvious from the beginning that they're both repressing their romantic feelings for each other. So, Shu Lien hands Li Mu Bai's sword over to Sir Te. Then the Green Destiny (the sword) is stolen and Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien go on the case to find the thief.

What happens next begins like a pretty standard police investigation. But, instead of shoot outs, there are protracted hand to hand combat battles and they are magnificent to watch! The moment the sword is found and the thief revealed, Li Mu Bai's archenemy reappears and Li Mu Bai goes on a quest to avenge the murder of his master.

I've never been fond of martial arts films; usually, they resort to fighting to cover up defects in character development. There's usually little acting, but amazing choreography of fight scenes. As a genre, it's weakened by a habit of replacing substance with style and most people reading my reviews know style doesn't rate anywhere near as high with me as substance.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon redefines the genre. It's a compelling story; all of the characters have reasons for being where they are, doing what they do and we, the viewers, get to know them. That works wonderfully and the characters move the film. Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien are well defined, but so too are their nemesis' the Jade Fox and . . . well, I'm not going to reveal the other one, because that's a surprise. Okay, it's a predictable one if you're awake for the first few minutes of the film.

The only con I could come up with was a ten minute digression where a past romance is thoroughly explored. It's important and it develops character, but it's out of place and too long for the flashback sequence. But the thing is, Star Wars is a good analogy to this film and while the podrace scene in The Phantom Menace is ten minutes of my life I'll never be able to get back, the ten minute romance episode here accomplishes something and it builds character which is far more important than the special effects extravaganza in The Phantom Menace.

In fact, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is the solution to all the faults of The Phantom Menace. It has a mentor and protege where the mentor actually helps the protege and the mentor's motivations make sense and are explored. It has politics and romance and they work.


For other film reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2001 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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With Living In The Wakes W.L. Swarts Takes A Good Idea And Moves It In An Intriguing Direction.

The Good: Interesting characters, Great idea, Some interesting stories, Good interweaving
The Bad: Complicated, Formulaic for much of the book.
The Basics: Sixteen friends and acquaintances get together ever six months to commemorate their lives, which results in dramatic changes for all of them in Living In The Wakes.

[Yes, I am the author. No one else has reviewed the book, so . . .]

Sometimes, there is a novel where the idea is so very simple, one has to ask "How did no one come up with this one before?!" For me, whenever I encounter a novel that has a very simple idea and I see a thick book with a simple premise, I wonder how much that idea is padded out. Living In The Wakes, the second novel by W.L. Swarts has a ridiculously simple premise elaborated in the prologue: in American culture there is no socially acceptable way for friends to express the true depth of the importance of the people in their lives while they are still alive. Instead, we most commonly express ourselves at a wake and by that point, it is too late. So, one of the characters in Living In The Wakes decides to throw a mock-wake for himself and after the success of that wake, his friends congregate every six months to throw a mock-wake for another member of the group.

In stark contrast to Swarts' first novel, Within These Walls (reviewed here!), which lacked a concrete sense of time and place, existing instead in a weird modern time and future that seemed about the same as the past, Living In The Wakes has a very precise sense of time and place. Starting with a very grounded 1997, the world begins to diverge for eight and a half years as the characters change the world. According to the novel's foreword, Swarts finished the book in 1998, so the events alluded to outside the circle of friends were created from the author's imagination. Ironically, Swarts features a background terrorist act around the turn of the millennium and in the notes included in the book, Swarts promises that future books will make the differences between the timeline in this novel and reality will be explained. Either way, Living In The Wakes features background cataclysms which have very real impacts on the characters in the book.

Living In The Wakes starts as ridiculously formulaic. Friends and acquaintances of Lee Willnaught arrive at his mentor's home every six months and tell stories about whomever the wake of the night is for. The wakes begin with everyone knowing Lee, but not all of the characters knowing one another. As the novel progresses, characters come together, arguably because some were forced together by the wakes. But, by the time each person's wake comes up, the characters have something to day about the person being paid tribute to.

Swarts escapes the formula by tying characters together outside the wakes. For example, Reeta becomes romantically involved with the son of Lee's mentor, Edward. That connection leads the book to one of its two significant subplots. Edward, we learn through intimation and discussions at the wakes, but outside the tributes, worked at a clandestine scientific community in Montana in the early 1980s. There, his son Ham, was part of an unspecified experiment which left him unable to have children. Yet, Ham mysteriously gets a woman pregnant and that sends Reeta and Edward on a mission (which is only detailed through its effects) to Montana to stop the company. This lends a science fiction undertone to the novel which is unexpected, but is presented in such a straightforward way that the reader is able to accept it as reality. Swarts forces readers to read between the lines and that makes the very simple idea complex enough to carry through a five hundred page book.

The second subplot requires more of a leap of faith for readers. In spite of one of the main characters being a Protestant minister (the denomination is never specified), two of the characters, Sarah and Ann, dabble in witchcraft. That dabbling becomes an extreme leap when the two characters develop actual magical powers. Again, Swarts tries to keep the book more on the realist fiction side by focusing not on the possible magic the characters do and instead on the effect of that magic. Ann becomes more and more consumed by the desire for power and that forces Sarah to stop her, at great personal peril. That act actually leads to a pretty incredible resolution in the final chapter - which is not at all formulaic compared to the rest of the novel.

In other words, one of the strengths of Living In The Wakes is there is actual character development. But to better understand the book, it helps to know who the characters are. The people who participate in the wakes are:

Lee Willnaught - A young man who has a profound love for his friends, but wants desperately a way to show them how he feels. He is a poet with an on-again, off-again relationship with Alexandra. Mentored by Edward, he used to take care of Ham,

Alexandra - A woman Lee met in college, she is a translator at the United Nations. She has a lot of affection for Lee and tries to bring him out of his shell,

Reeta - A friend of Lee's from high school, she has gone off and become a very successful research scientist. Through the wakes, she becomes closer to Ham and Edward. Edward brings her into the fold at Meta Technologies and when her relationship with Ham falls apart, she gets seduced by the shady scientific corporation,

Ham - A young man who loves music, he lacks the confidence to sell his works until Reeta shows and interest in him,

Ann - Lee's "sister," she is a dancer who becomes intrigued by magic and develops the ability to read minds,

Anna - A Southern belle and teacher friend of Lee. She falls for Edward's friend Dougan, which complicates things when they have a falling out,

Sarah - A shy friend of Lee's from college, she befriends Michelle much the way Lee befriended Edward. She has a quietly tragic arc as she searches for love outside and ends up hurt a lot,

Garret - A sarcastic young man who no one seems to like. He is an architect who pisses off most everyone,

Earl - Lee's "brother," he bounces from job to job, all the while trying to find a relationship that works as well as steady employment,

Fox - a young woman Lee met in college, she has a strong relationship to land and begins to buy up land which she returns to nature,

Parker - Dougan and Edward's boss at TechNow, he is gay and has spent decades mourning the loss of his true love,

Arnold - An older friend of Lee's who works in Hollywood, he connects with Parker and offers him a way to move forward,

Father Ted - An alcoholic minister, he is sobered up and comes to understand the nature of Meta Technologies. He tries to convert some of the companions, with limited results,

Dougan - An older man whose youth passed him by until Anna walked in the door,

Michelle - Ham's mother, she is an able psychologist. Smart and compassionate, she loves Edward and accepts the sacrifices he made to keep Ham alive. She begins to mentor Sarah after one of her patients kills himself, with questionable results,

and Edward - An engineer who has always wanted to have his own business, he finds that before he can move ahead, he has to clean up from his very messy past.

Living In The Wakes is most often about consequences. Almost all of the characters tell stories that tell how others changed their life, but the stories about what is going on in their lives outside the wakes tend to be about confronting the consequences of prior actions. That makes the book more universally accessible than some of the stories within the story and makes for a book that urges readers to actually live and share with those they love. That is a universal sentiment and Swarts manages to express it well.

Despite the frequently formulaic nature of Living In The Wakes, there is something for everyone within the pages and it has broader themes that are explored in a compelling fashion.

For other books about how people relate, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
A Long Day's Journey Into Night - Eugene O'Neill
Keep The Aspidistra's Flying - George Orwell


For other book reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Return Of The Long-Dead Emperor, The "Rightful Heir?"

The Good: Interesting plot, Good acting, Great character development for Worf
The Bad: Somewhat simple resolution for a complex problem
The Basics: When the long-dead Klingon Emperor miraculously returns, Worf finds himself experiencing many layers of a crisis of faith in "Rightful Heir."

In the Star Trek universe, no alien species becomes so well defined as the Klingons. On Star Trek The Next Generation, the character Worf provided the opportunity for many lessons on Klingon society. Still, even with all of the time and attention that the writers and producers spent on the Klingons, there were discrepancies. The most notable was that of Kahless, the first Emperor, the Klingon who united the factions and did all sorts of mythical acts. Kahless is something like a god to the Klingons, but when he actually existed in the Star Trek cannon seems blurry.

Worf visits the Klingon Monastery on Borath for a spiritual retreat when he finds himself feeling out of sorts following the events in "Birthright, Part II" (reviewed here!). There, he finds himself immersed in meditation to no avail, until Kahless, the founder of the Klingon Empire and culture appears to him. As Worf soon discovers, Kahless is very real and his appearance causes the clerics and congregants on Borath to unify into something of a cult. Worf, however, is skeptical. As "Rightful Heir" progresses, Worf and Kahless journey to the Enterprise where Gowron arrives to dispatch with Kahless. Despite all indications that Kahless is actually Kahless, Worf uses all of the resources at his disposal to learn the truth.

The truth is something I won't entirely ruin for those who have not seen the episode, because the truth is that "Rightful Heir" is a clever episode and it works quite well. The nature of Kahless is an intriguing one and one only needs to appreciate the power of a cultural icon returning to a later time to appreciate the complex conflict of "Rightful Heir." Imagine FDR, JFK, Henry V or - on a negative twist - Adolf Hitler suddenly appeared in our current time period. While the rush to authenticate that person's identity would be extreme, some would choose to believe no matter what.

The episode is moved forward by Worf's character and he has a wonderful character arc here. Worf moves from disillusioned to guardedly impassioned to zealous and back to disillusioned, though in a different way. His movement through "Rightful Heir" is one that will affect the character from this point on. Worf's zeal for Klingon culture and his desire to be apart of it will factor into many other episodes. And it does endure, even into Star Trek Deep Space Nine (right away I can recall how this zeal plays into "Rules Of Engagement").

While the bulk of the acting falls to Michael Dorn, who delivers a consistently high-quality performance as Worf, Kevin Conway has to have equal presence to pull off the idea of his character of Kahless. Conway manages to have that presence by using his body language, especially a strut that keeps him on par with Dorn's performance. It's a shame that Conway never returns to the Trek universe after such a forceful, distinct portrayal of the Klingon Emperor.

Robert O'Reilly returns as Gowron and he and Dorn play off one another quite well as they usually do. O'Reilly has more lines than any of his previous Star Trek The Next Generation outings and it is reassuring to see him live up to them; he was not just hired for his ability to bulge out his eyes. Yet, that type of distinctive facial acting is evidence of his quality.

"Rightful Heir" is an interesting sociological piece set in a science fiction setting. The return of Kahless does force the viewer to consider the question of "What is the price of a culture's heritage?" To protect a culture, what actions are justifiable? Worf makes decisions that are essential to answering this question in one way and it is a way that is very appropriate for the Klingon culture.

"Rightful Heir" is accessible to anyone, though it is easier to relate to and understand if the viewer is a fan of the Star Trek universe. It's easier to relate if one does not have to use their imagination to consider what the return of Kahless means in human, actual terms, than an outsider to the series who has to distance themselves mentally to reason things out. Still, the acting and clear transitions of the characters make it an essential human piece.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Sixth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the penultimate season by clicking here!


Want to see how this episode stacks up against other Star Trek movies, episodes and DVD sets? Click here to see the current rankings of the episodes and find more Star Trek episode reviews!

© 2011, 2008, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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How Many Times Can You Celebrate An Anniversary?! Star Trek: The Original Series 40th Anniversary Series 2

The Good: Interesting chase cards
The Bad: Pathetic common set, Difficult odds on chase sets, Virtually worthless autographs
The Basics: Rittenhouse Archives appears to have run out of ideas for milking the original Star Trek for trading cards, creating instead a set that pays homage to earlier, better sets.

Star Trek trading card collecting has become terminally un-fun for completists. Yes, those of us who collect things because we want it all (in whatever collection we choose to collect) have rapidly come to discover that trading card collecting has become so difficult as to be unenjoyable. Take, for example, Star Trek: The Original Series 40th Anniversary Series 1 trading cards (reviewed here!); that card set virtually destroyed the Star Trek trading card collecting market by creating a card that would only satisfy twenty-five collectors worldwide. The Gene Roddenberry cut signature card in that set was limited to twenty-five and its rarity destroyed the collections of many a collector who up until that point had been able to collect one of everything.

Enter Star Trek: The Original Series 40th Anniversary Series 2, an equally bad set further hobbled by fewer packs per box. Sure, there are no cards limited to only twenty-five, but it is still a lousy set. Moreover, the existence of the set makes many of us collectors shake our heads and wonder how long Rittenhouse Archives is going to keep milking the original Star Trek. I've been a Trekker since I was in sixth grade and I'm to the point of saying "enough is enough!" with the trading cards of the original Star Trek. As important, the "Series 2" set seems devoted to paying homage to trading card sets released long before this one, making it seem like it's a poor series, paying respect to the bygone days . . . when trading cards were good.

Basics/Set Composition

The Star Trek The Original Series 40th Anniversary Series 2 set was a set of trading cards produced by Rittenhouse Archives to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the second season of the original Star Trek. It was a pretty shaky idea to begin with, whatwith the previous year having a set that commemorated both the entire franchise and the first season of the television show. Boxes of the "Series 2" cards contained only twenty-four packs with seven cards per pack. One does not get a lot per box and the only guarantees are one common set and three autographs per box. Still, with the sheer number of autograph cards in this set, three per box is not a whole lot.

The "Series 2" set is weird in that it continues the haphazard set established in Series 1. By that, I mean that the common set is all about the second season of Star Trek. The chase cards, however, range from expensive sets focused on the first season to autograph cards featuring characters and actors from all three seasons of the show. In other words, this set feels remarkably sloppy the way it is put together.

The "Series 2" set consists of 242 cards. The 242 card set consists of 110 common cards and one hundred thirty-two chase cards, eight of which cannot even be found in the packs.

Common Cards

The 110 card common set of "Series 2" cards continues the style of the "Series 1" set. The front of each card is modeled after the old Topps 1976 Star Trek trading card set and the card stock is a very primitive-appearing cardboard type. The backs are rough and unlike virtually every other set produced by Rittenhouse Archives and other current trading card companies, "Series 2" does not have a glossy UV-resistant coating on its surface.

Instead, the front of each card features an image of a person, character, situation or artifact from the second season of Star Trek along with a caption describing exactly what the front is. The back of each card is a puzzle piece for a mural. Murals include larger shots of images from second season episodes. For example, there is a mural of Spock with a goatee from "Mirror, Mirror." Every nine cards forms a mural on the back and the last two cards are checklist cards for the series.

I actually applaud Rittenhouse Archives for not wasting the backs of each card with yet-another plot rehashing of each episode or scenario from the second season of Star Trek. After all, people who collect the trading cards by now know the episodes depicted. Moreover, when SkyBox - while being run by Steven Cherendoff, founder of Rittenhouse Archives - did their "Episode Collection" sets of Star Trek trading cards, most fans got all they could handle of the individual episodes of the three seasons of Star Trek.

This, of course, makes collectors like me wonder what the point of this set was. The original Star Trek has the least source material and the greatest number of trading card sets in the Star Trek franchise. Speaking for collectors everywhere: we're sick of it! Star Trek has been mined to death and there are very few images in the "Series 2" set that look original or different, that is to say that have not been plastered on every 8x10, t-shirt or trading card for the last forty years.

As an additional liability with the common set, the cards seem more easily damaged than most cards produced these days.

Chase Cards

The "Series 2" set has one hundred thirty-two chase cards, of which one hundred twenty-four are available in the right packs! Given that there were only twenty-four packs per box of trading cards with the "Series 2" release, this is an astonishingly difficult set to complete.

One in every eight packs has a Portrait card. Like the "Series 1" set, the Portrait cards are full-bleed black-and-white images of significant characters. The back of each card has the character's name and the actor who portrayed them. This set includes all of the main cast from the second season of Star Trek and in order to squeeze in another notable guest star, Rittenhouse Archives surrendered its usual obsessive devotion to Nurse Chapel with this set. As a result, there are all of the main crew, plus the mirror Spock and Sulu, and notable extra characters like Sarek, Amanda, T'Pring, Gary Seven and Eleen. This is an annoying set because there is no reason for the cards to be black and white as the series was shot and aired in color! Retro for the sake of retro does not impress me. Moreover, the change in odds (these were one per box in the "Series 1" set) makes for a weird collecting experience. There are twenty-seven portrait cards, beginning with PT19, continuing the numbering from the first set of portraits.

One in every twelve packs is one of eighteen different 1967 Expansion set cards. This set focuses on the first season episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before" and I'm absolutely baffled as to why. This set continues to reproduce the form and style of the 1967 Leaf trading cards and the only reason these make sense to be in black and white is that the original trading cards were. However, it is ridiculous that these focus on a first season episode like "Where No Man Has Gone Before" as opposed to continuing that set into the second season, which is what this series is supposed to be commemorating.

Also at one in every twelve packs of "Series 2" cards is a sticker in the form and style of the 1976 Topps trading card set. This set of stickers follows the same look and dippy captions of the mid-1970s set. It's nice as far as consistency goes in that regard. However, these eighteen sticker cards are a mix of the main crew from the first and second season and then aliens from the first season like the Talosian, Vina, the Salt Creature, Edith Keeler and Khan. Again, this rather ridiculously defies the concept of paying tribute to the 40th Anniversary of the second season of Star Trek.

At one per twenty-four packs (one per box) are the Revised "Charlie X" cards. When the "Season 1" set was produced by Fleer/SkyBox, Robert Walker Jr. who played Charlie in that episode had not signed away his likeness rights. As a result, the cards for that episode were notably lacking images of Charlie Evans! Rittenhouse Archives rectifies that terrible circumstance by reproducing the nine cards from the "Season One" set with images that have Charlie on them. This is a real clever idea, but at only one per box, it is cost-prohibitive for all of us who collected the old set to try to collect these revised cards to update our sets.

The grail of this set in the packs are the autograph cards. The autograph cards are found one in every eight packs, which are good odds, but there are fifty-two autograph cards. First off, these cards do continue the style of autograph card begun in the Star Trek episode collection set, continued in "Quotable 'Star Trek'" and then continued in "Series 1." The style and numbering are the same and that is decent. However, at this point, Rittenhouse Archives is milking a rather tapped out base of actors. From the main cast, only William Shatner, Majel Barrett and Grace Lee Whitney signed for this series and the cards make little or no sense in this context. Shatner's autograph is of Kirk as a Romulan from the third season episode "The Enterprise Incident!" While Barrett's Computer Voice autograph is fine for this set, an autograph card of her as Chapel from the series finale is as ridiculous as any card signed by Grace Lee Whitney (who was only in the first few episodes of the first season). That all of these are classified as Very Limited (meaning the signers signed between 250 and 300 of each card) is ridiculous. This unnaturally presses up the price of a Grace Lee Whitney autograph, when she is one of the most readily available autograph signers and she has signed a ton of cards in prior Star Trek trading card releases. My point with this is completists are likely to be sore having to shell out that kind of dough for the autograph of someone who is not terribly popular or (usually) scarce.

The other autographs range from the ridiculous - several actors have signed autographs in this style for the same characters before, like Yvonne Craig as Marta - to the pointless. By pointless, I mean that we are down to roles like A185 Jerry Ayres as Ensign O'Herily from "Arena." To the best of my knowledge, this was a non-speaking redshirt who died in the first act! At this point, all of the most coveted signers have signed and Rittenhouse Archives is having a difficult time padding out the common autographs with people to keep collectors interested. (How many BarBara Luna autographs do they truly think we need?!) At least, outside the three main crew and Yvonne Craig, all of the autographs are common enough (though Craig Huxley signed two cards that are limited to about 500 of each card). Sadly, it's hard to care about most of the signers on the cards.

Non-Box/Pack Cards

There are eight cards that cannot be found no matter how many packs one opens. These include the regular P1 promotional card, which is easily available in the secondary market, as well as the P3 promotional card and A187 Ralph Maurer autograph card which were exclusive to the Rittenhouse-produced binder.

The P2 card follows the same pattern as the other promotional cards and it was exclusive to Non-Sports Update magazine. That is easily available as the magazine has affordable back issues available for a relatively inexpensive price. The P4 is a little more difficult to find as it was given out exclusively at Star Trek conventions in 2008. Still, it can be found usually for under $20.00.

The big cards not available in the packs or boxes were the incentive cards. In every case, there was an A136 Joanne Linville autograph card. Linville played the Romulan Commander in the third season episode "The Enterprise Incident" so this, like many of Rittenhouse's choices in this set, is rather baffling. It's a nice card, though.

For every three cases (thirty-six boxes) purchased, Rittenhouse Archives gave dealers an autographed costume card of George Takei as Lt. Sulu. Takei tends to be a good sport about signing, so it seems like a weird stunt that Rittenhouse would make his autographed costume card one in every three cases as opposed to two. I guess they're just trying to sell more.

The supposed grail, then, is the cut signature card of James Doohan. Doohan signed a slew of trading cards for Rittenhouse Archives and SkyBox, so the cut signature is more of a novelty, a "final hurrah" for Doohan than something that is truly worth treasuring. After all, Doohan was one of the most accessible celebrities of the past thirty-plus years from when Star Trek ended its run until he died. In other words, the value in this is certainly more for the card and the novelty than the actual autograph.


"Series 2" is a somewhat sloppy set in terms of its composition. The topic is uninspired and haphazard as it is not a true celebration of what it claims to be, which is the second season of Star Trek. It sets up for a disappointing "Series 3" and collectors and fans find themselves begging Rittenhouse to claim that this will be the final original Star Trek set of trading cards, at least until the 50th Anniversary!

This set culls images from Star Trek, reviewed here!
It focuses especially on the second season, reviewed here!

For other original Star Trek trading card sets reviewed by me, please check out:
Star Trek - Season 1 Episode Collection trading cards
Star Trek - Season 2 Episode Collection trading cards
Star Trek - Season 3 Episode Collection trading cards
Star Trek (2009 movie) cards

These cards are sold in my online store. For a current inventory, please be sure to click here!


For other trading card reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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Another Uninspired Britney Spears Single: "Overprotected" Is Unremarkable And A Waste!

The Good: Multiple versions and the music video
The Bad: Song is unimpressive, Remixes are unimpressive, Short, Lackluster music video, Poor use of medium.
The Basics: Another blase single from Britney Spears, "Overprotected" underwhelms listeners with its remarkably similar remixes and a fair music video.

Britney Spears may be prolific in albums and singles, but I'm already sick of listening to the scraps I've managed to get in, the latest of which is the three-track single for "Overprotected."

"Overprotected" was Spears' third (or second, depending upon where in the world one lived) single from her third album "Britney." "Overprotected" was one of her first commercial flops in the U.S. and the irony is that most people never even heard the original version. When Spears released the track to radio, the "Darkchild Radio Remix" (one of the three tracks on the c.d. single) was the one that was picked up. As a result, the album version and the original "Darkchild Remix" (both of which are on the c.d. single) were less heard on the radio than the other mix.

With only three tracks occupying under ten minutes, "Overprotected" is a dismally repetitive c.d. single. The album contains the album version of the song, along with two remixes, one of which is barely different from the other. In fact, the Darkchilde mixes are not substantively different from the pop-dance original version of "Overprotected." None of the versions were written by Spears, nor does she provide instrumental accompaniment on any of them. The result is a very lackluster single which is generic pop with overproduced Britney Spears vocals on it.

"Overprotected" is another Britney Spears song about celebrity and the effects it was having on Spears around the time the third album was released. Spears presents all of the lead vocals and the vocals are not as annoyingly overproduces as her later works, though her voice still is tinny and includes reverb at several points. In fact, on the Darkchild remix, the vocals have more elements added to them to beef them up against the pounding drum sounds and the synths.

"Overprotected" follows in Spears's tradition of creating dance-pop songs, though this is one of her outings that is far less memorable than most of her early (or early from an album) releases. The song has a very typical bassline designed to get the listener up and moving, but does not have a memorable tune. This is arguably the start of Spears' obsession with the club scene sound (less catchy hooks, more "move your body" feel) and is the transition between her earlier "play innocent" persona and her later, well, skanky persona.

Lyrically, "Overprotected" is nothing extraordinary. With lines like "Say hello to the girl that I am! / You're gonna have to see through my perspective / I need to make mistakes just to learn who I am / And I don't wanna be so damn protected / There must be another way / ‘Cause I believe in taking chances / But who am I to say / What a girl is to do / God, I need some answers / What am I to do with my life / (You will find it out don't worry) / How Am I supposed to know what's right? / (You just got to do it your way) / I can't help the way I feel / But my life has been so overprotected" this is one of Spears' more introverted songs and it lacks the more universal emotionalism she arrived in the marketplace with. Unlike Eminem who can sing about being Eminem and make a million-selling single, "Overprotected" seemed to prove that Britney Spears fans actually wanted their bubblegum pop to be about emotions rather than just self-promotion.

The three-track single also comes with the U.S. version of the music video in Quicktime format on the disc. The video is a musical storysong about Spears and her friend slipping away from her bodyguards and trying to have a fun, girlish day out in the world. It is mildly interesting and fits the song well.

Ultimately, though, "Overprotected" is not an essential single even for fans of Britney Spears to pick up. With the boxed set of "The Singles Collection," the original "Darkchild Remix" is paired with the album version, so all this single truly offers fans is the music video (which is available on Britney DVDs) and the twelve second shorter "Darkchild Radio Remix." This is not enough to justify the expense or effort of hunting this disc down.

For other reviews of Britney Spears music, please check out my reviews of:
. . . Baby One More Time (single)
From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart (single)
Stronger (single)
Don't Let Me Be The Last To Know (single)
I'm A Slave 4 U (single)
Me Against The Music (single with Madonna)
Toxic (single)
The Singles Collection
The Singles Collection (2-disc CD/DVD with videos)


For other music reviews, please click here to visit my index page for an organized listing of all the c.d.s and singles I have reviewed!

© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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