Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 9  – Metamorphosis

Kirk, Spock and McCoy are in the shuttle craft with Federation Commissioner Nancy Hedford (played by Elinor Donahue of “Father Knows Best” fame) returning from a space treaty negotiation on Epsilon blah blah blah.  Hedford has been infected with a rare but potentially deadly disease and needs treatment on the Enterprise to restore her to health.  But the shuttlecraft is intercepted by an energy entity that tows the vessel to a planetoid that possess an earth-like environment.

Once there they discover that the shuttle engine and communication devices are inactivated and they begin to worry how they will get back to the Enterprise before Commissioner Hedford dies.

A man appears and introduces himself as Mr. Cochrane and explains that the entity rescued him when he was a very old man dying in a space ship that passed by the planetoid.  They discover that Cochrane is the famous Zefram Cochrane, the inventor of the warp drive.  And his appearance convinces them that the 239-year-old Cochrane is being kept young and alive by the entity.

The entity has brought them to the planetoid to keep Cochrane company.  It turns out that the entity is female and loves Cochrane.  But now Hedford is actually dying and Kirk and Spock rig up a translator to allow them to talk to the entity.  They explain that not being a woman she can never love a man but that humans cannot live in captivity and so eventually Cochrane will die of loneliness.  When they tell the entity that Commissioner Hedford is dying the entity leaves them.

Suddenly Hedford shows up apparently healed and explains that she is both the entity and Hedford in the same body.  She saved Hedford’s life by joining her.  Now the shuttle can leave and Cochrane asks if the woman will come with him back to civilization.  But the entity reveals that her life force is fused to the planetoid and if she left, she would die.  Out of gratitude but also love Cochrane decides to stay on the planetoid with the woman.  He asks Kirk not to let the outside know that the famous Zefram Cochrane is living on the planetoid.  As they’re leaving Spock asks how the peace talks can proceed without Hedford and Kirk says, “I’m sure the Federation can find another woman, somewhere, who’ll stop that war.”

The idea of the story is kind of interesting.  A legendary historic figure made immortal by a lovestruck ion cloud.  Combining a career woman who couldn’t find love with an alien that needs a woman’s body to actualize the attraction she feels for a man is clever.

But the action we see is kind of lame.  At one point, Kirk and Spock rig up a device to disrupt the cloud’s electric field and essentially kill it.  But the entity foils their plan and then proceeds to choke them to death somehow.  As Shatner and Nimoy writhe around on the floor clutching their throats, DeForest Kelley growls out in his typical outraged way, “Stop it, your killing them!”  I mean, isn’t it obvious that’s what the entity is trying to do?  Elinor Donahue provides a sufficiently annoying bureaucrat.  All things considered, Cochrane and the entity are the only sympathetic characters in the teleplay.

I’d call this a 6.  The Shatner mockery score is significantly enhanced by the writhing strangling scene so let’s call it a 6 // 7.

Yellowstone – A Television and Country Music Review

Camera Girl is a remarkable human being but she is, foremost, a woman. And any husband worth his salt will tell you that’s not an unalloyed blessing. One of the many things that separate women from rational human beings is their love of soap operas. And this includes that bane of late 20th and early 21st century life, the nighttime soap. Luckily when we were young, we had children so we were too busy in the heyday of nighttime soaps to watch Dallas, Dynasty, Knots Landing, Melrose Place and the rest of that bilge.
But now that we are mostly empty nesters it’s no longer safe. And every once in a while, Camera Girl will reach beyond her annoying predilection for cop shows and look for something truly awful. And so it is that I have been dragged kicking and screaming into the demented saga that is Yellowstone. Kevin Costner and a mostly unknown cast (at least to me) ride horses and shoot guns up in Montana trying to preserve their Ponderosa sized cattle ranch from the real estate speculators, Indian tribes, disloyal cowboys, hedge fund pirates and other assorted lunatics who all seem to need killing. And kill them they do. Their enemies end up shot, stabbed, drowned, blown up, or pushed off cliffs more or less with impunity. And within the family, hatred and dysfunction are on full display. The daughter is a foul-mouthed man-eating lawyer. The lawyer son is her foil that she despises, berates and occasionally assaults. The cowboy brother is the hero, I guess. He’s a decorated war hero and his Indian wife and son have left the reservation and live on the ranch now.
The show truly is a ridiculous nighttime soap with egregious plots and ridiculous dialog. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised when I started hearing some of my favorite country artists on the soundtrack. Colter Wall, Tyler Childers, Chris Stapleton, Ryan Bingham and a bunch of other good to excellent country acts provide at least an interesting aural experience to go along with the annoying goings on at the Dutton family ranch.
One other saving grace that the show possesses are the vistas and landscapes that seem to surround you wherever you look in that magnificent big sky country. The juxtaposition of soaring snowy mountains, cascading rivers, verdant plains and technicolor blue skies can be seen sometimes all in one shot. You often find yourself wanting to yell at the actors to shut up and get out of the camera’s field of view and stop ruining the experience of just seeing and hearing the grandeur on display. But unfortunately, thy will go on yammering about whatever crime or deal they are conniving that week.
So that tells you all you need to know about the show. And honestly there is no way I can say I recommend this train wreck of a television experience. It’s a ghastly offense against story-telling. If you’re an enormous Kevin Costner fan I guess you can justify watching it to see him. He is one of the better parts of the show but even that isn’t saying much. And you can just listen to the soundtrack without watching the show. And I’m sure National Geographic has tons of documentary footage of Montana and Wyoming wilderness to watch anytime you want.
I, on the other hand, have to watch. Camera Girl is a woman and therefore barbarically cruel. I can always hope it will be cancelled soon. Damn you Costner.

Galaxy’s Edge – Takeover – A Science Fiction Book Review

Takeover is listed as the first book of “Galaxy’s Edge Season Two.”  This signifies the end of the first story arc that pitted the corrupt House of Reason against the imperial designs of Goth Sullus with the Legion trapped in the middle.  With the end of that chapter we begin this season in the aftermath of that struggle with the Legion reorganizing the Galactic Republic after the defeat of the Goth Sullus and the dissolution of the House of Reason.

All of this change has left almost everything and everyone throughout the galaxy in flux.  This is the story of one of those places, Kublar, a world with its own indigenous race now heavily controlled by a government installed from outside by the now defunct House of Reason and also heavily colonized by an aggressive and hostile outside race called the zhee.

An outside force arrives in the form of a private army of mercenaries hired by a man called Arkaddy Nilo.  Nilo has a plan to alter the imperial methods of the Galactic Republic and restore freedom to the many worlds that chafe under the rule of the Republic.  Takeover is the story of how that plan is implemented by Nilo and of the two primary weapons that Nilo uses.  One is a former legionnaire named Carter who leads a platoon of combat soldiers that provide the skills needed to aid the koobs (nickname given to the natives of Kublar) in their fight to take back their planet.  The second is a former Republic Navy spy named Bowie who performs clandestine operations for Nilo meant to destabilize the coalition of the House of Reason government, the zhee and a local group of koobs who benefit from selling out the interests of the rest of their people in return for special treatment.

Anyone who has read any of my earlier reviews of the Galaxy’s Edge books knows I’m an enthusiastic fan of the series.  The authors Jason Anspach and Nick Cole have created an exciting and inventive universe full of military science fiction fun.  Takeover continues this legacy with a new cast and fresh storylines that provide a different direction from last season.  The opportunities for expanding the scope of the story are very apparent in Takeover and back story about the nature of the invaders from the “Savage Wars” era is sprinkled in the story line that Bowie inhabits.

The battle scenes are exciting and well-drawn.  The characters are interesting and include good guys to cheer and plenty of bad guys to snuff out.  And as opposed to season one there are plenty of opportunities for the good guys to actually win the day without sacrificing the whole cast.

Okay, so this is a no-brainer.  I highly recommend Anspach and Cole’s Galaxy’s Edge series and I am happy to announce that the first book of Season Two, Takeover, continues the proud tradition of Season One in providing quality military science fiction that you can enjoy.  And you can even applaud as the social justice losers in the government imposed by the House of Reason are thwarted and routed by the good guys.  What could be better than that?

Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 8 – I, Mudd

This episode features the return of Harry Mudd, a character from the first season episode “Mudd’s Women” in which he played a smuggler and con-man that was trafficking in chemically enhanced mail-order brides.  This present episode is decidedly written as a comic story.

A new crewman on the Enterprise named Mr. Norman hijacks the ship by overriding the helm and engine room with a Deadman’s Switch that will explode the ship if it is tampered with.  He sends the Enterprise to a planet that cannot directly sustain human life but requires domed habitats.  When Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura and Chekov beam down to the planet they discover that the planet is inhabited by two hundred thousand androids and one human, Harry Mudd.  When Kirk threatens Mudd if he does not release the Enterprise Mudd laughs at him and explains that Harry will give the orders because he is the ruler of this planet.  His status is that of an absolute king and his title is Mudd the First.  Harry tells Kirk that in escaping from a capitol crime he stole a spaceship and crashed on this planet and the androids took him in.  He has had hundreds of beautiful android women created to serve him and surround him with beauty.  And he has had one other android specially made, one that looks and acts exactly like his shrieking harpy of a wife Stella.  Whenever he approaches her shrine he only has to say, “Stella dear,” and she screams out his name, “Harcourt Fenton Mudd,” and then launches into a tirade of insults and accusations to which Harry only has to shout, “Stella shut up!,” upon which she winds down and goes dormant. Mudd draws great solace from this ritual that allows him to always have the last word.

But Harry also reveals that although he can have whatever he wants he can’t leave.  Because the androids desire to have someone to serve they keep him as a virtual prisoner.  And so, he is desperate to escape.  His plan is to use the Enterprise to sail off to life in the galaxy with some of the androids as his beautiful crew.  In exchange he will leave the Enterprise crew on the planet to give the androids someone to serve.

Kirk and his officers attempt to learn something that will allow them to regain the Enterprise before Mudd leaves.  Spock learns that there are many series of identical androids, the Allices, the Maisies, the Roberts.  But there is only one Norman.  He is the central control for the rest of the androids and he may be the key to escape.  We also learn that the androids were the servants of a race that came from the Andromeda Galaxy but was destroyed by a nova of their star.  Meanwhile the androids inform Harry that they are not going to let him have the Enterprise.  They recognize that Harry is a corrupt individual and should be kept away from civilization.  They instead will take the Enterprise and use it to contact human civilization and both serve and control humanity for its own good.  They intend to become so useful to people that they will leave all action up to the androids.  The androids hope to eliminate war and other illogical activities that humans are prone to.

Kirk and his crew and Harry Mudd devise a plan to overcome the androids.  They exhibit illogical behavior and say nonsensical things and this has the effect of shutting down the individual androids in a sort of overload condition.  Finally, Spock, Kirk and Mudd channel their efforts to overwhelm Norman.  The last step is for Kirk to state to Norman that Harry Mudd is a liar and everything he says is a lie.  Then Harry tells Norman, “I’m lying.”  The paradox of these two statements overloads Norman.  Smoke comes out of his ears and he shuts off.

The final scene has Kirk telling Mudd that the androids have been reprogrammed to terraform the planet.  Mudd will remain there under their surveillance and will only be released when they decide he has been reformed.  Mudd looks at the beautiful androids and decides that he can live with that.  Suddenly the Stella android, no longer in a box, runs up to Harry and starts accusing him of skullduggery.  But when Harry tells her to shut up nothing happens; she continues the diatribe.  Several more Stellas show up and when Harry notices that one of them has the tag number 500 he begs Kirk to save him as the Enterprise crew walks away laughing.

This episode is for laughs and should be evaluated in that light.  The Stella gag is extremely funny and one that can be appreciated by any husband no matter how genial his wife might be, bless your heart, Camera Girl.  And the end gag with the Stellas is even funnier.  The familiarity of Kirk and the other crewman with Harry Mudd’s crimes and foibles is somewhat amusing although at some points taken a little far.  Shatner mockery points are restricted to some overacting when Kirk is belittling Mudd about his crimes and misdemeanors.  But there’s not much there.  All in all, it’s a satisfactory episode.  Call it a 7 // 3.

Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS Lens – Lens Review – Part 1

Back in February I rented this lens for a Connecticut Riverboat ride to photograph bald eagles.  Due to my rank stupidity the shutter speeds were too slow to compensate for the vibration and motion of the boat.  But after the trip I tested out the lens and found it was sharp enough to warrant purchasing one at some point.

Well that point is now.  It arrived yesterday and I took some shots of birds, hummingbirds, a blue jay and a swallow.  What it showed me is that a600mm focal length is very unforgiving of vibration of any sort.  This just a quick tease.  Here are my very unserious first shots and comparison photo to show you the size.  Actually for a 200-600mm zoom it’s pretty compact and not very heavy.  But I ‘ll get into all the specs in the next post here’s just something to get my foot in the door.

 

Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 7 – Catspaw

Robert Bloch, the sf&f writer who also wrote Psycho wrote this episode.  This episode aired on October 27th 1967 and back then tv shows would have a holiday episode for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.  For the most part, these kinds of shows couldn’t be accommodated on a science fiction series like Star Trek but for some reason they went out of their way to make this travesty.

The Enterprise is exploring a lifeless world.  Sulu, Scotty and a red shirt have fallen out of communication on the surface.  The red shirt calls to be beamed up and when he appears on the Enterprise, he drops down dead.  Now a “spooky” voice tells the Enterprise that the planet is cursed.  Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down and find a silly Halloween set.  There is a castle complete with skeleton filled dungeon, black cat, witches and fog.

We meet a wizard, Korob and his familiar, a black cat who is also a “beautiful” woman named Sylvia.  They have captured Sulu and Scotty and zombified them.  Eventually they zombify McCoy.   They can play tricks like taking a little model of the Enterprise and holding it over a candle to make the real ship start to overheat.  We find out the aliens are creatures from another galaxy and of course they don’t have emotions or other fun stuff so Sylvia makes a play for Kirk.  Kirk pretends to like her but she figures out he’s faking and gets angry.  Now Korob frees them from the dungeon and nervously tells them that they must escape because Sylvia has gone nuts and will destroy them all including him.

She turns into a giant black cat and hunts down and kills Korob by smashing him under a dungeon door.  As he’s dying Korob reveals that the source of their power is a magic wand.  At the key moment Kirk smashes the wand and everything returns to reality.  No castle, no fog and Korob and Sylvia are now these little six-inch figures that look like they are made of colored pipe cleaners.  Scotty, Sulu and McCoy are unzombified and unaware of what has gone on.  Then they go back to the ship.

Even back in 1967 when I was ten years old, I knew this episode sucked.  It has nothing.  They couldn’t even give us a really good-looking woman with not much clothing.  It was all bad.  It isn’t even redeemed by Shatner mockery points.  It’s a waste of time except as an anthropological study on early television holiday tie-ins.  I give it a 3 // 1.

Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 6 – The Doomsday Machine

The Enterprise comes upon two adjacent inhabited solar systems that have had their planets reduced to rubble.  Heading into the next solar system they receive a garbled distress signal from the Federation Star Ship Constellation.  When they reach the solar system, they find that all the planets except for the inner two have been destroyed.

As they navigate through the debris field, they discover the badly damaged Constellation drifting in space.  Sensors determine that parts of the ship are still habitable but the warp drive and transporters are destroyed and the bridge has been depressurized.  Kirk, McCoy, Scotty and some red shirts beam aboard and discover that the crew is missing.  While investigating the auxiliary control room they discover the ship’s commander Commodore Decker (played by well known character actor William Windom) slumped over the control console in heavy shock.  McCoy revives him with a medication and Decker relates to them that some device of mammoth proportions, “miles long,” was destroying the fourth planet of the system when they arrived and so the Constellation attacked it with all it’s phaser weaponry but with the machine’s hull made of “pure neutronium” it had not effect.  The Planet Killer counterattacked with a beam of “pure antiprotons” and disabled the Constellation.  To save his crew Decker beamed them down to the third planet and stayed with the ship.  After the Constellation could no longer move the device ignored it and went back to destroying the planets.  Decker’s crew called him and begged him to help them as the machine destroyed the planet, they were on but he had no way to save them and this is what led to his breakdown.  Kirk speculates that the device is a Doomsday Machine unleashed in some long-forgotten war that destroyed both sides, leaving the machine to travel on indefinitely destroying everything in its path and using the debris from the planets it destroys as fuel.

Kirk sends McCoy and Decker back to the Enterprise and stays along with Scotty and the engineering team to reactivate the Constellation.  Scotty is tasked with getting the impulse engines working and the rest of the team attempts to get the main view screen of the auxiliary control room functional.

Meanwhile back at the Enterprise Spock is towing the Constellation along and intends to head away from the subspace interference associated with the Planet Killer and warn Starfleet that the device is headed for the most populous area of the galaxy.  Communication with the Constellation is cut off by interference and when Commodore Decker reaches the bridge, he relieves Spock of command and orders the Enterprise to attack the Planet Killer.  And of course, this goes very badly.  In the course of delivering a series of totally ineffective phaser blasts to the hull of the device the Enterprise is caught by a tractor beam and is slowly pulled toward the maw of the Planet Killer.

At this point Kirk gets visual sensors back on line in time to see the Enterprise heading for annihilation.  Scotty provides Kirk with impulse power and some phaser capability.  Kirk attacks the Planet Killer and this gives the Enterprise the chance to escape.  Kirk contacts Spock and orders him to relieve Decker.  Decker escapes from an escort and steals a shuttle craft and despite pleading by Kirk flies it directly into the maw of the device.  The explosion of the shuttle craft’s small engine damages the Planet Killer by a small but definite amount.  Kirk theorizes that exploding the impulse engines of the Constellation inside the device might destroy the Doomsday Machine.

Scotty rigs a 30 second delay to provide Kirk with time to escape the Constellation before detonation.  As the Constellation comes within a few hundred miles of the device Kirk pushes the timer and calls to be beamed out.  But the transporter was damaged during the battle with the Planet Killer and we get the comical scene of Kirk getting closer and closer to destruction and anxiously reminding Spock he needs to be saved.  Spock provides monotonous reminders to Scotty of the imminent demise of Kirk while the engineer works feverishly to repair the transporter’s something or other.  And of course, Kirk makes it out with nothing to spare and his atoms scrambling in the air as the transporter manages to collect him together out of the hellish nuclear inferno set off inside the Doomsday Machine by the Constellation’s self destruction.  We get some prattle between Kirk and Spock about the Constellation’s detonation which is like a hydrogen bomb, the 20th century’s doomsday device, being used to destroy a different doomsday device.

This is a great episode.  The writer, Norman Spinrad, although not an author I preferred was a competent science fiction writer so he has crafted an interesting science fiction story.  The Decker character is given a good part as the Captain Ahab trying to get his White Whale.  Kirk gets to add a little humor to the situation of his transporter malfunction problem and he actually does this admirably.  He even gets to tell Scotty he earned his pay.  There really isn’t too much Shatner acting to mock but this episode doesn’t need it.  I’ll call it a 10 // 0.   This is as good as it gets for Star Trek.

Ransom – A Movie Review and Comparison – Part 3

Any of you who have followed the guest contributors here may know that The Fatman is a more learned student of the cinema than I am.  When he saw my Ransom reviews, he alerted me to a ransom-type movie by the acclaimed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa called “High and Low”.  Now, Kurosawa is best known to American audiences from his homage to the American Western called “The Seven Samurai.  And the American Western’s homage to him is the movie “The Magnificent Seven.”

So anyway, I decided to give it a spin.  “High and Low” is not a direct retelling of the Ransom story in fact it is based on an American crime novel called “King’s Ransom” written by Evan Hunter under the pen name Ed McBain.  But I think it still fits under the umbrella of the Ransom comparison.

Kingo Gondo (played by Kurosawa regular, Toshiro Mifune) is the CEO of a large shoe manufacturing company with the very original name of National Shoes.  He is extremely wealthy but came up through the ranks from humble beginnings.  He lives in a beautiful home on a prominent hill overlooking the city.  He has a wife, Reiko and young son, Jun and they share the home with his chauffer Yutaka Sada and his son, Shinichi, who is Jun’s friend.

Gondo is being pressured by the Board of Directors to back their play to oust the founder of the company and start making stylish but poorly-made shoes at a high profit.  Gondo disagrees saying the answer is to upgrade the style of the current well-built shoes and thereby maintain the brand and expand the market.  The Board threatens to oust him instead.  In discussions between Gondo and his assistant we learn that Gondo has anticipated this hostile takeover and has collected enough loan money to take over the company himself.  He has a check for fifty million yen that his assistant will deliver by train that night to lock down the stock he needs for the takeover.  The loans will basically mortgage everything he owns but he knows he’ll be able to pay them off once he has control of the company.

During these discussions we see Jun and Shinichi dressed as cowboys chasing each other around with cap guns.  And now that Jun has won the game as sheriff, he trades costumes with Shinichi and assumes the role of outlaw.  Gondo gives the check to the assistant and tells him which train to take.  But before the assistant leaves a call comes in from someone claiming to have kidnapped Jun.  The kidnapper says the ransom will be thirty million yen.  Gondo tells the kidnapper he will pay the ransom.  Now Gondo tells his assistant to cancel his train ride because Gondo will need that money for the ransom.  Almost immediately Jun walks back in the room and Gondo assumes the call was a hoax.  But when Jun asks everyone where Shinichi has gone the adults realize that the kidnapper mistook the boy wearing Jun’s costume for Jun and kidnapped Shinichi by accident.  Sada is now understandably worried about his son but Gondo tells him that the kidnapper will release Shinichi when he realizes the boy is not from a rich family.  But the kidnapper calls back and says he will demand the ransom for Shinichi instead and he will kill the boy if the money is not surrendered.  Gondo refuses and hangs up.  Now the police are called in.

The police show up and go through the same phone tapping routine we’ve seen in the other two movies and analyze the kidnapper’s demands and mindset.  They try to convince Gondo that this particular kidnapper is extremely angry and seems to have a grudge against Gondo or at least against the rich.  They ask him if he will consider paying the ransom but he explains that he must go forward with the takeover or he will be out of a job and ruined financially.  At this point Sada and Reiko separately beg Gondo to relent and pay the ransom.  Gondo refuses.  The police ask that at least he tell the kidnapper that he will pay the money in hopes that they can catch the kidnapper during the ransom exchange.  Gondo agrees to this.  He gets the instructions from the kidnapper and after seeing Sada break down in despair Gondo relents and agrees to pay the ransom.

There is an intricate arrangement with bags of cash that will fit through a narrow bathroom window on the train once Gondo sees Shinichi standing with his captor adjacent to the tracks.  The money is payed and Shinichi is freed.  Gondo loses his house and all his possessions to his creditors.

The rest of the movie is a police procedural about trying to find the kidnappers and get Gondo’s money back.  Small clues gathered from the kidnapper’s phone conversations and the somewhat vague information provided by Shinichi combine to allow the police to hunt down the gang.  The final part of the movie involves some heroin addicts who were part of the gang and we get some scenes of the seedy world that these people inhabit.  Finally, the kidnapper is caught and because of the murder of his accomplices he is given a death sentence.

We see Gondo get his money back but it is too late to restore his old life.  He takes a job with a smaller shoe company and he actually enjoys the work more because of his greater creative control there.

In the last scene the murderer asks Gondo to come to the prison to talk.  He explains why he picked Gondo.  From his tenement below the hill he dwelt on Gondo’s affluence and the anger this engendered drove him to his crimes.  He claims not to be afraid of his death but by the end of the conversation he breaks out in hysterics and is dragged away and the movie ends.

This movie is sort of a hybrid.  The story really is a police procedural.  The crime allows for the police to solve the puzzle of finding the criminal and getting justice for Gondo.  But the predicament of Gondo is a very Japanese story.  The honor and the prestige of the “great man” is a theme that interests Kurosawa and specifically he is examining how the modern capitalist model has removed the human element from the equation.  Gondo was a poor man who became rich and Sada is a poor man who is entirely at Gondo’s mercy for his son’s life.  Basically, we are watching a struggle for Gondo’s soul.

Japanese cinema is in some ways hard for Americans to enter.  In addition to the language barrier and the need to read the subtitles, facial expressions and even mannerisms are decidedly different.  I like the movie and thought it was well done.  Whether anyone who hasn’t seen Japanese films would enjoy it is an open question.  I recommend it.

Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 5 – The Apple

Kirk beams down to Gamma Trianguli VI with Dr. McCoy, Ensign Chekov, Spock, Yeoman Martha Landon (a pretty blonde named Celeste Yarnall) and several expendable red shirts.  We’re really not sure why the hell they’re there but we find out it resembles a tropical paradise that contains plants that shoot poisonous darts and rocks that explode if you step on them.  In fact, three red shirts die in these fashions and one of the plants almost gets Kirk but Spock pushes him aside and gets the darts in himself.  Of course, Spock survives but while attempting to beam back to the ship to help him, we find out that some force on the planet has neutralized the transporter and is also pulling the Enterprise toward the planet with a tractor beam.

We now meet the inhabitants of the planet.  They look like some combination of non-violent sheep with surfer dudes sporting platinum blond hairdos and wearing towels around their waists.  They work for a godlike idol named Vaal that inhabits a rock formation in the shape of a dragon’s head.  It has a force field around it and seems to be the power that is attacking the Enterprise.  Spock states that is some kind of machine.  The People of Vaal feed it the exploding rocks once a day and that seems to be the source of Vaal’s power.  Vaal controls the people and forbids them to procreate but feeds them and controls the environment so that they virtually live forever.  They are childlike and annoying.

When Yeoman Landon finds out that they don’t have sex she wonders how they would replace someone who dies by accident.  And the male members of the landing party look around sheepishly at each other until Spock hems and haws through a statement that Vaal will provide some kind of instructions.  McCoy makes a sarcastic comment to the effect that he’d like to see a machine try to provide those instructions.

While the situation of the Enterprise becomes more critical Kirk and Spock try to figure out a way to neutralize Vaal.  Spock warns that destroying Vaal would violate the prime directive.  Kirk indicates that he’s not concerned about that.  Meanwhile Chekov and Yeoman Landon are observed kissing by a couple of the People of Vaal.  Luckily, it’s 1967 so they are a man and a woman and when they experiment with this new behavior, I don’t have to turn the tv off.  But Vaal is not equally as happy about this behavior as I am and instructs his people to kill all the Enterprise personnel.  When the male People of Vaal attack the crew, they manage to kill one red shirt from behind by bashing his head in with a big stick.  But without the element of surprise these lame losers are quickly pummeled and disarmed by the Enterprise crew.  Even Yeoman Landon is able to kick the butts of these feeble skirt wearing sissies.

Now Kirk comes up with a plan.  He imprisons the People of Vaal thus preventing them from feeding Vaal while simultaneously he instructs Scotty back on the Enterprise to fire its phasers continuously at the force field of Vaal.  Sure enough Vaal quickly runs out of reserve power and is destroyed by the phasers.  Kirk tells the People of Vaal that they will learn to enjoy life without Vaal and will learn to take care of themselves and have their own lives and families as men and women are supposed to.

The final scene on the Enterprise has Spock trying to make the point that destroying Vaal is equivalent to forcing the People of Vaal out of the Garden of Eden.  Kirk counters by saying that essentially Spock is equating Kirk with Satan.  Kirk follows up by asking Spock if anyone on the Enterprise even remotely resembles Satan to which Spock guardedly says there is not.

This is sort of a companion piece to “Who Mourns for Adonais.”  Once again, a godlike creature holds a group of humanoids in thrall to serve it while providing the people with a life of ease.  And in both cases the Enterprise destroys the alien power source with its phasers.  There are definitely more humorous passages in this episode than usual including the first time that Kirk has to “fire” Scotty when he can’t perform the impossible.  And of course, he rehires him when he performs some other technical miracle instead.

There are a few scenes where Kirk displays anxiety over the death of some of the red shirts.  He whines about how he should have seen the dangers coming.  This is the extant of the Shatner mockery points.  Also, he gives Spock some grief for saving his life and there is the Satan shtick at the end.  There is a pretty girl in the episode and Chekov manages to get a few jokes about Russia into the script.  But it’s a relatively silly plot and the People of Vaal are like wimpy pajama boys so it does have a certain annoying quality.

Taken all in all I’ll call it a 7  //  5.

Ransom – A Movie Review and Comparison – Part 2

Ransom – A Movie Review and Comparison – Part 1

In 1996 Ron Howard directed a remake of Ransom.  He cast Mel Gibson and Rene Russo in the leads as Tom and Kate Mullen the parents of a young son Sean.  Tom is the owner of his own airline and a leading member of New York high society.  During an educational event in Central Park at which Kate is a judge Sean is kidnapped while Tom was distracted.

Now we meet the kidnappers.  Maris is a caterer who works for the Mullens.  Brothers Clark and Cubby Barnes and Miles Roberts are small time criminals.  But the mastermind of the gang is Police Detective Jimmy Shaker, played by the great Gary Sinise, who set up the whole crime and uses his knowledge of police procedures to engineer a convoluted ransom transfer.  He has Tom carry the two million dollars to a civic center and jump in a swimming pool to destroy any electronic devices.  Then Tom switches cars and drives to New Jersey while Shaker gives Tom directions over a mobile phone.  During this phone call Shaker answers Tom’s question of why Tom’s family was picked.  Shaker tells him that Tom is a man who buys his way out of trouble.  Tom paid off men to frame a labor leader that was making trouble for Tom’s airline.  From Shaker’s point of view, he sees Tom as a sure thing to pay his son’s ransom.  Then Shaker tells Tom the story of the Eloi and the Morlocks from H. G. Wells’ story “The Time Machine.”  To Shaker the Mullens and the other elites are the Eloi living in the daylight world of wealth and privilege while Shaker and the rest of the Morlocks slave away in the underworld of the poor.  He states that it’s just the nature of things that the cannibalistic Morlocks have to surface from time to time to eat an Eloi.

Tom demands to know how the exchange will lead him to his son to which Shaker replies that when Tom hands the money over to the courier, he’ll be given the address where his son can be found.  But when he arrives at a quarry where the courier takes the money, he is given no address and Tom notices the look of confusion on the courier’s face when the question is asked.  The courier is Cubby Barnes played by Donnie Wahlberg who was the only one of the kidnappers who treated Sean Mullen decently during his captivity.  FBI helicopters chase after Cubby on his ATV and when the agents start rappelling to the ground Cubby fires at them with an automatic weapon.  In answer he is killed by gunfire from the law enforcement agents.

The kidnappers are in disarray after this because Cubby’s identity will make his brother’s identity easy to figure out.  But undaunted, Shaker immediately contacts Tom and begins a second transfer operation.  But Tom has figured out that the kidnappers have no intention of releasing his son.  So instead of proceeding to the drop he tells Shaker to watch Channel 5 on the television for further information.  Tom calls his corporate friends and arranges to be put on the air.  He lays the two million dollars on a table and into the camera he tells the kidnappers and the world that he has no intention of paying the ransom and instead want the two million to be a reward for capturing his son’s abductors.  He gives the kidnappers a way out saying if Sean is returned unharmed, he will withdraw the reward.

Everyone turns against Tom, the FBI agents who have been advising him, his wife Kate and every man on the street who is questioned by the media.  Now Shaker calls him up and threatens to kill Sean if Tom doesn’t pay the ransom.  Tom says he doesn’t believe he’ll return Sean at all.  Now the kidnappers send a note through the housekeeper to Kate to show up late at night in a deserted church to arrange for an exchange.  Kate is attacked by Shaker in disguise who punches her and chokes her before leaving her with Sean’s shirt soaked in blood.

Kate begs Tom to relent but instead Tom goes down to the street and tells the reporters that he is doubling the reward to four million dollars.  Shaker calls up enraged and shouts at Tom that he will kill Sean if Tom doesn’t agree to the ransom immediately.  Tom shouts abuse at Shaker and then he hears a gunshot ring out over the phone.  Kate attacks Tom and slaps him repeatedly and collapses to the floor.  Tom stumbles out onto the penthouse roof and at first seems to be planning to jump but then collapses onto the roof sobbing.  Kate finds her way to the roof and consoles him.

But Shaker fired into the wall.  Sean is alive.  Now Clark Barnes and Miles Roberts are packing their van to leave the scene and Maris is panicked and doesn’t know whether to run or kill herself with a gun she has.  She is romantically involved with Shaker but their bond has been broken by the sordid nature of the crime they are committing.  The only one who isn’t panicking is Shaker.  He’s come up with Plan B.  He calls up the precinct on his radio and tells them that there is a kidnapping at the address they are holding Sean at.  He shoots Clark and Miles as they try to drive off but Maris shoots him in the shoulder.  Shaker returns fire and kills her.  Now Shaker pretends that he discovered the kidnapping and puts himself in line for the four-million-dollar reward.

Sean is returned to his parents traumatized but only slightly injured and the Mullens begin to bring their lives back to normal.  One day Shaker shows up at the Mullens’ home to collect his reward but as Tom is writing out the check, he sees Sean quaking with fear at Shaker’s voice.  Tom realizes what it means but almost immediately afterward Shaker knows that Tom knows.  At this point Shaker’s anger leads him to say he will execute Tom.  But Tom convinces him that they can go to Tom’s bank and have the reward transferred to Shaker’s offshore bank.  Then Tom agrees to fly Shaker to Mexico in his private jet.  While driving to the bank Tom ostensibly calls the airport to set up his flight but actually calls the FBI and tips them off to where he is headed.

Tom and Shaker make the wire transfer at the bank but as they’re leaving some NYPD who have been alerted by the FBI attempt to arrest Shaker.  He shoots two of them and takes off running.  Tom catches him and beats him brutally but Shaker manages to push Tom into traffic where he is shaken up by a passing car.  Now there is a foot race and finally Tom grabs Shaker and throws him through a plate glass window.  Tom retrieves Shaker’s gun and covers him with it.  The NYPD and FBI show up and tell Tom to drop the gun and Shaker to lay on the ground.  Shaker is bleeding profusely from a neck wound from the broken window but he secretly reaches for an ankle holster.  When Tom drops his gun arm to his side Shaker pulls his gun to shoot Tom but is beaten to the draw by Tom and several law-enforcement officers.  Shaker is shot dead and Kate shows up to hug Tom and signal the end of the nightmare.

Wow, that’s a lot of stuff, to stuff into one movie.  And I’ve left out a lot of details.  The FBI Special Agent Lonnie Hawkins played by Delroy Lindo has a role in convincing Kate to stop Tom from offering the reward.  He also is privy to Tom’s perjury in the conviction of the labor leader.  The relationships between the various kidnappers is complicated and volatile.  There are a lot of moving pieces.

It’s a well-crafted movie.  At certain points the various characters border on hysterics but considering the roles and stakes involved the action is reasonable.  None of the characters is blameless but even some of the criminals may make some claims to the viewers sympathy.  I think it’s a good crime drama with a lot of human interest.  I can recommend it as worth seeing.

In the last part of this review I’ll look at the 1956 and the 1996 versions of Ransom to see how they compare and what that comparison might say about the years in which they were made.