Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 1 Episode 5 – The Enemy Within

As I delve deeper and deeper into Season One, I find myself amazed at just how much awful acting there is.  Whereas in most Star Trek episodes just one Jim Kirk is enough to satisfy anyone’s appetite for bad acting but in “The Enemy Within” we get two!  A malfunction of the transporter causes anything sent through to be divided into polar opposites.  A dog with a horn on his head and a really fake looking fur coat is split into a calm docile version and a rabid psycho version.  And when Kirk goes through the machine, he becomes polar opposite twins too.

And this pair of Kirks is very special indeed.  One of them is Castrated Kirk.  The transporter has neutered him.  He is indecisive, confused and unmanned.  He is constantly reminded by Spock that his Evil side is responsible for his ability to command the ship and therefore Good Kirk while intelligent and principled is unfit to run the ship, a capon and a big loser.  Spock really rubs it in.  It seems like he’s angling for the job.

The other Kirk is Satyr Kirk.  He attempts to rape Yeoman Rand.  I suspect given time he might have humped the entire female crew.  He berates Bones and orders him to hand over the Saurian Brandy which he wanders around swigging from the bottle.  And he beats up various members of the crew whenever the chance offers itself.  Later on, when he takes the Helm, he orders the crew to abandon Sulu and the landing party to their frozen deaths.  This did actually endear him to me.  I think they should have given him a chance.  I liked his instincts.

Watching Shatner portray the complementary fragments of Kirk is a thing of grotesque beauty.  The feral lascivious leer of Evil Kirk is wonderfully overdone.  The fretful womanish whining of Good Kirk is annoying and pathetic.

As a secondary pleasure in the episode, due to the malfunctioning transporter, the landing party is trapped on the planet as the temperature heads down into negative triple digits so we get to watch Sulu slowly freezing to death.  Very satisfying.

The climactic scene for each of our demi-heroes comes when Good and Evil Kirk have their showdown on the Bridge.  When Evil Kirk submits to Good Kirk’s leadership he cries out in a panicked voice, “I want to liiiive, I want to liiive!”  Pure schmaltz, marvelous.  Then as both Kirks are standing on the transporter plate waiting to see if the transporter can meld them back into a composite of bad acting, Good Kirk is supporting unconscious Evil Kirk and just before the mechanism is activated Good Kirk hugs his Evil half in a loving embrace.  It’s quite nauseating.  Truly wonderful.

Obviously, this is a Star Trek must-see episode.  Seeing the two polar opposite Kirks you realize that up until this episode, Shatner has been restraining his acting style.  We get to see Shatner unbound and it’s not pretty.  But it’s important for us to know his true range.  It’s good to know that there is more Shatner in there if it’s needed.  Well done Bill, well done.

 

 

Guest Contributor – The Fat Man – Science Fiction and Fantasy Movie Review – The Terminator and Terminator Dark Fate

It is interesting to me to consider the new movie as part of two bookends to James Cameron’s strange career, while providing some comment on the evolving image that Linda Hamilton has presented in media and the almost unchanging one of Arnold.

When he made The Terminator, James Cameron had not done any of the films that built the industry position he holds today. He was a special effects guy that wrote a typical sci-fi screenplay about a murderous robot. But “The Terminator” somehow had a strangely enduring effect on American culture. The screenplay had all the stock components, with a few slight twists that would become Cameron trademarks like transforming female characters into alternate heroes. Otherwise it included the typical murderous, apocalyptic future so common, perhaps even central, to all science fiction, the obligatory arrested love interest, and a commendable combination of live action and classic stop motion animation right out of Jason and the Argonauts.

But this movie resonated with all kinds of segments, many without much taste for either conventional action or science fiction. And Cameron made both Schwarzenegger and Hamilton actual cultural icons. It’s easy to argue that neither of them surpassed their roles in the film, with Arnold literally milking it for billions in ticket sales and a governorship and Hamilton clearly chewed up by hers. How do we account for this? Can we see something in the two stars’ comparative destinies and did Dark Fate provide any clues?

The character of Sarah and the actress Linda Hamilton were perfectly matched to project the most innocuous presence, never rising above cute, until the cyborg is blasting a shotgun at her. We meet Linda working an adolescent fast food job and then going to a movie. In parallel a housewife mistaken for her is executed in her home and her roommate and boyfriend, beaten to death in her apartment. This balancing of extremes continues as her protector, Reese, and the cyborg finally meet shooting at each other in a bar over Linda’ head. The scene in a new wave disco called New Noir is one of the few that warrants the otherwise overused slow motion. While the “new wave” music plays and the young yuppies sway, the cyberpunk uncoils again from behind the bar, laser and machine guns in hand. Thus, begins the carnage. We see Sarah innocently look blandly at the camera with a red laser site on her head, about to be terminated when Reese uncorks his own assault, ending the scene by blasting the cyborg through a plate glass window.

When he rises, Michael Myers-like, Reese and Sarah alternately flee and shoot at the bot in every possible venue until Sarah/Linda is told that she is the mother of the future resistance, a legendary warrior whose son will defeat the future. She cries out for us all, “What”? The chase scene ends when the terminator drives straight into a brick wall with the cops chasing both of them.  Suddenly, Linda finally becoming partially aware of her surroundings and knows to grab Reese as he reaches for his shotgun to confront the cops. She yells, “No Reese, No, they’ll kill you”, in a voice we don’t hear again until she is does some terminating of her own.

Arnold gets the opposite treatment. We meet him emerging in a spherical electric storm naked in a crouch and watch him straighten up into the Hulk. He then walks through the park to murder and kill some punk rockers for their clothes, thus, cyberpunk. He is a comic figure We see his ass; he reads visual algorithms to select pre-coded responses like, “Fuck You, Asshole” in what became America’s definition of a slightly fascistic cyber/Germanic voice. His hair gets cropped and he wears cool ray bands to hide the eyeball he plucks out. He looks like Brando on his bike. Best of all, because he is a robot, he is not morally responsible for any of this, so we can enjoy his antics. This is no trivial accomplishment; Cameron creates a character Arnold will play for the next three or four decades. Remorseless, brutally violent, but cool and funny.

So, by the movie’s end, when Sarah punches the steel press on his steel skull, and he takes a last look straight into the camera, as if winking, with his laser red eye shining as the press crushes it dark, Sarah has gone from cute to terminator, and Arnold, the reverse.  Society, however, won’t let Linda be a terminator, but Arnold can be anything. He’s a protector, then he’s Danny DeVito’s genetically perfect twin, JL Curtis’ lucky husband, Sharon Stone’s even luckier boyfriend, a predator’s predator, a Kennedy, a Governor, even an expendable, and finally a terminator husband/father in Dark Fate. In the subsequent films, she will become a Rambet, permanently.

But a Rambet is denied even the righteous orgies of violence Stallone formulated for John Rambo. Sarah must become the separatist feminist, gaunt, cut, unsmiling, long suffering, ideologically pure. Most importantly, she is always angry. She invented the Hollywood version of the resting bitch face. She’s pissed about the apocalypse and having to bear the messiah and she’s going to do something about it. This may make for good doctrine, but it’s a bad career choice. It’s a classic Hollywood scam, make a “feminist” sci-fi cyberpunk movie that destroys the female lead’s career. Message, stick to cute.

That’s why The Terminator was so memorable and the rest, I don’t remember. Because at the end of the film with Linda Hamilton driving off into the stormy Mexican desert with her revolver, dog and headband, Sarah is still cute. There was still a Soviet Union. The apocalypse was coming, as it really is for all of us, but she came through the realization, as we all can. Later all this is revised as her ideology requires. We can’t be left with our faith, only her ideology. And therein lies the rub for Linda and even Arnold when it comes to the rest of their lives till Dark Fate.

I read that James Cameron, after years without contact, reached out to Linda Hamilton, his former wife, to ask her to make a new sequel. She claims that it took her years away from the industry living in Louisiana to finally build a stable life in a community away from Hollywood with real connections. But, for some reason, could it be money, she agreed to play Sarah again. The results are exactly as you would expect; it’s a disaster. Arnold’s body is gone, and his face looks like a parkinsonian mask. Linda’s voice sounds like she speaking through a tracheotomy. Now, with the right screenplay and if there had been no other sequels, these physical transformations could have made for interesting material. But given their respective ideological “careers” there was no way out. They went through the joyless, soulless motions until time, thankfully, ran out and Arnold was dead and burned next to the latest, multicultural terminator.

We had to suffer it all in Dark Fate. A tanned wrinkled, aging second wave feminist Sarah croaking out lines like “they want your womb”. A dumpy, younger, millennial feminist protector constantly signaling her sacrificial virtue. A Mexican virgin 2.0 screaming about her right to choose. Finally, a constantly transitioning multicultural killer cyborg. An identity maelstrom. I came to the conclusion that both Arnold and Linda got screwed by their roles, although Arnold a little more lucratively. They are left having lived out the superficial script written for them by Cameron. His hollow successes after The Terminator, with the exception of Aliens, have condemned him to the same lucrative irrelevance. It’s fitting that the Avengers franchise, sourced from dime store children’s comic books, is eclipsing his pretentious achievements, Titanic and Avatar. Stan Lee must be rolling in his grave.

So, looking at two films separated by 35 years, and two actors with seemingly opposite careers that ended in the same place, and the director responsible for the whole mess, what can we say about any of this. Only that the tenuous string that used to barely connect what passes as popular culture to at least a modicum of genuine craft has, over the course of one director’s career, entirely disappeared, leaving in its wake a trail of cultural victim/collaborators in various states of wealth and debasement. And nothing whatsoever for us.

 

 

Guest Contributor – The Fat Man – Movie Review – The Irishman

The Fat Man is a learned critic of cinema.  I welcome his contributions and hope to see him on a regular basis.

 

There are many ways to consider The Irishman, Scorsese’s’ latest, and hopefully last, gangster pic. We can try to at least mention them all but it may be best to see it as another allegorical mock epic. Almost the entirety of post-war US history not only acts as a backdrop to the film, but the movie suggests its main characters were central players in such events as the Kennedy assassination, the Bay of Pigs, Cuban missile crises, perhaps even Watergate. The baby boomers can’t get over their all but irrelevant history of air conditioned atavism and faux passivism. They have no epic story to tell, so they are continually painting up their cowardice in the face of a minor war or their alternating deification and denunciation of their fallen non-hero, JFK.

It is no shame that Scorsese reveals himself as sentimental and self-deluding in The Irishman. Many great films begin with cherished delusions, like the tradition of the Ronin or the hooker-with- a-heart-of-gold. Marty and Paul Schrader did wonders with that last fantasy in Taxi Driver, with the whore/Madonna duo played by Cybil Shepard and Jodie Foster. The fact that poor Jodie was still prepubescent was just a cute detail, like attending college to avoid the draft and then going on to graduate studies to learn to justify it to the memory of the poor guys that got killed. But at least Taxi was, in its dysfunctional characters and their infantile motivations, funny. “He’s not a murderer, he’s a Sagittarius” (or was it an Aquarius), protests Jodie Foster’s character, Iris, to Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle for criticizing her pimp, Sport. That may be the funniest line to come out of Hollywood in the 1970’s.

 

I guess it’s time to address the details of The Irishman and justify all this scorn I’m heaping. Let’s start with funny. It’s not. The cheap laughs squeezed out by mocking the blue-collar naivety of the regular-guy-come-psychopath, Frank Sheeran, the movies protagonist played by De Niro, are so hackneyed they will make you squirm. The rest is humorless. How Scorsese managed to get one of the most naturally funny actors of the 1970’s and 80’s, Joe Pesci, to turn in a joyless performance will remain a mystery.

But, you may ask, why is funny so important. This is big stuff, Pacino, De Niro, Pesci, Keitel, the all-stars, it’s an epic, remember?

It’s true Scorsese swung for the fences on this one, as he did with The Aviator, The Age of Innocence and The Gangs of New York. You’d think he’d learn. Not satisfied with his one true contribution to American cinema, Raging Bull, a small movie perfectly drawn, he continues to balk at the big canvas. He can’t do it. All of his attempts, whether he juices them with amazing sets as in Gangs, or beautiful costumes like in Age, or a remarkable profile like Howard Hughes, fail for the same reason. He can’t tell that story. He can scare us and make us laugh, but he can’t move us. His work can be natural or abstract but never profound. He knows it, as all directors do that pile on the violence. They’re impotent so they pour on the blood.

And Scorsese, as usual, does pour on the blood. We make our way through Frank’s mournful decent from hard working family man to prolific serial killer. We are told the war was to blame where he was asked to unofficially execute German prisoners. His wonders why these prisoners were so compliant in digging their own graves. He asks himself maybe they thought they would get a break if they did a good job? It never occurs to him they were just taking more orders, the same process that dehumanized them in the camps and him.

The Irishman is quiet for a Scorsese movie, without any of the Eric Clapton that accompanied the mayhem in Goodfellars. A number of times, in the background score and in shots of empty rooms through partially open doors we see references to that most quiet of directors, Yasujiro Ozu. Ozu, who directed Tokyo Story, is of course admired by Scorsese but unlike the Italian neo realists that he loves, Ozu and his peaceful style is wholly unsuited to a gangster movie. It’s a clue of what Scorsese is trying to do. Make peace. It explains the unfunny Pesci performance and the banality of De Niro’s narration. Scorsese never had the hand to paint the kind of movie that his contemporaries Roman Polanski and Francis Ford Coppola did. He could never shoot a scene like Brando in his office listening to the undertaker or like John Huston and Jack Nicholson discussing broiled fish. So he made up for it with rotating camera’s in the ring and forensic dialog ripped from FBI files.

But in The Irishman he tries Ozu and we get a whispering Joe Pesci saying “I chose us” to De Niro at the movies end to explain Hoffa’s betrayal. And Hoffa was betrayed, by Scorsese, by Pacino, by everyone who might be interested in what he did build into his union. It must be a curse to try to do a film about the union boss. Nicholson’s Hoffa was terrible, but at least he wasn’t transformed by an aging Italian actor and his friend’s pathetic confession into a one-dimensional stooge. Nothing is examined, nothing explained, just gossip.

And that is the reason the Irishman is a terrible movie. You can’t attempt to depict the sweep of a generation without saying something about why it matters. But because his generation still lies about the meaning of Kennedys and Castro and war, Scorsese has to lie as well. And so he does for the three hours of The Irishman.

 

 

 

Star Trek: The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 1 Episode 4 – The Naked Time

This episode leaves me very conflicted.  Because of the enormous amount of awful acting by a plethora of characters this should be and is a highly rated episode on the mockery index.  But having to sit through it is challenging.  There really is a limit to how much insipid tv you can watch before your skin starts to crawl.

Let’s dispose of the plot, such as it is, first and then look over this train wreck.  The Enterprise has been sent to Psi 2000, a planet whose star has “gone dark” and is now apparently collapsing in on itself from the cold.  They are tasked with rescuing a crew of four scientists that, for some inexplicable reason, were left in a highly dangerous and unstable environment and after the rescue they are to observe the collapse of the planet at extremely close range in a highly unstable and dangerous orbit.  Sure.

Spock and Lt. Joe Tormolen (hint, hint, dead man walking) beam down to the surface in isolation suits and find that the scientists seem to have died violently from the effects of insanity.  Tormolen’s nose is itchy so of course he takes off his glove and immediately becomes infected with what ever strange infection killed off the scientists.  Tormolen spreads the infection to the ship and for the rest of the episode the whole cast except McCoy engage in random acts of imbecility that somewhat mimic drunkenness.  Of course, the ship ends up in great danger of crashing into the unstable planet and a last minute “Hail Mary” by Spock and Scotty saves the ship but hurls the ship three days back into the past and then the show ends.  That’s not much of a plot.

Okay, so this is kind of a stupid plot but what is truly notable is how many creepy behaviors are on view by the crew.  Sulu takes off his shirt and swash buckles around the ship menacing the crew with a fencing sword.  Nurse Chapel starts whining at Spock declaring her empathy and love for his poor neglected emotional life as a half-Vulcan.  She even starts pawing at him and infects him whereupon he also starts blubbering and whining about how sad he was as a child.  Spock infects Kirk during a fist fight and then Kirk starts describing his unrequited love for the Enterprise.  All in all, it’s a nauseating spectacle but Spock and Nurse Chapel crying together and then Spock crying by himself in his cabin has got to be the low point.  It has to be seen to be believed.

There is an important scientific moment.  When the shut down engines won’t be available soon enough to save the ship if a normal start up is used, Kirk orders Scotty to engage in a full power restart, to which Scotty exclaims apoplectically, “ye canna mix matter and anti-matter cold!”  I fully expected him to preface it with an exclamation like, “Are ye daft man?”

Majel Barrett, who played Nurse Chapel was Gene Roddenberry’s main squeeze and soon to be wife.  But she is just such an annoying character that she comes close to making the episode unwatchable.  The hair style or wig she has in this episode is weird and off-putting.  The hair on the back of her head is dark and the front is grey and the whole thing is sort of swirled around.  It looks like something went terribly wrong during the hair and make-up prep.

So, my verdict is this is a must see because of just how heinous the acting is.  But at the same time make sure you aren’t in a weakened state during the viewing.  It will lower your vitality and it’s entirely possible you will break out in hives.  And it is completely out of the question for the mentally unstable.

 

Star Trek: The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 1 Episode 3 – Where No Man Has Gone Before

“Where No Man Has Gone Before” is that rarest of Star Trek episodes, a good science fiction short story.  And interestingly, it has only a few moments of Shatner awful acting.

The Enterprise is cruising close to the edge of the galaxy.  A damaged ship’s recorder from a star ship, the Valiant, that disappeared two hundred years earlier is recovered and it is determined that traveling through the negative energy barrier at the edge of the galaxy had something to do with it.  They determine that the Captain of the old ship had self-destructed the ship because of some threat that had to do with a survivor of the negative energy effect.

So, of course, Kirk decides to bring his ship through the barrier.  Several crew members are killed but two of those affected but not killed, Lt. Commander Gary Mitchell and psychiatrist Dr. Elizabeth Dehner are changed by the experience.  Mitchell now has silvery eyes that glow and appears to have inexplicable mental powers.  A careful analysis of the Valiant’s recordings shows that the captain was interested in information about extra sensory perception (ESP).  Comparing health records of the crew members killed and Mitchell and Dehner shows that they all had high rating for ESP with Mitchell being exceedingly high.

Now Mitchell begins to exhibit alarming abilities.  He can control parts of the ship remotely using only his thoughts.  He also starts to talk about himself as being almost a god.  At this point, Spock concludes that the Valiant was destroyed because one of its crew must have developed powers in the same way as Mitchell and self-destructing the ship was the only way to prevent him from taking it over and going back to conquer the human race.  Spock recommends that Kirk kill Gary Mitchell before he becomes too powerful to stop.  Kirk rejects this but after proof of Mitchell’s power and hostility toward humanity, he decides to maroon Mitchell on a refueling planet that they are headed for.

Mitchell reads their thoughts and strikes out at them.  By luck they manage to knock him out with a tranquilizer and bring him down to the planet.  But eventually Mitchell’s increasing powers allow him to break loose and kill one of the Enterprise crew before escaping with Dehner into the desert.  At this juncture Dehner also has silver eyes and is talking about godhood.

Kirk sends the rest of the crew back to the ship and goes after Mitchell and Dehner with a phaser rifle.  Mitchell knows he’s coming and sends Dehner to talk to Kirk.  Kirk tries to reason with her and tells her to use her training as a psychiatrist to diagnose Mitchell as a psychotic.  Mitchell is easily able to capture Kirk and attempts to get Kirk to pray to him like a god for a merciful death.  Kirk refuses and uses the situation to convince Dehner that Mitchell is completely mad.

Dehner is convinced and before Mitchell has a chance to kill Kirk she attacks Mitchell with her energy weapon.  They battle back and forth.  Dehner is mortally wounded but Mitchell at least temporarily is weakened which is signified by his eyes returning to normal.  Dehner warns Kirk that his chance is brief.  Kirk attacks Mitchell and they have a fist fight.  But pretty soon Mitchell begins to recover his powers and pummels Kirk.  In a last desperate attempt Kirk knocks Mitchell into the grave meant for Kirk and recovering his phaser rifle he blasts a boulder that then falls and crushes Mitchell to death.  Kirk returns to Dehner in time to see her die.

This is a fun episode.  Gary Lockwood who plays Gary Mitchell does an outstanding job of showcasing the transformation from Jim Kirk’s best friend to megalomaniacal monster.  Sally Kellerman as Dr. Dehner is good and even William Shatner portrays the part as conflicted friend and foe of the monster with more range than he usually musters.  In fact the only mockable scene is when Mitchell is forcing Kirk into an involuntary kneeling posture with his hands joined in prayer.  He uses his usual spastic facial expressions to indicate his battle against the alien will.  It’s awful but it’s only a brief moment.

Some notable casting details.  In this pilot episode McCoy isn’t the Medical Officer but Scotty is the Engineer.  Sulu is still a “physicist.”  And interestingly we have a different cute blonde as Kirk’s yeoman instead of Janice Rand.  Andrea Dromm plays this Yeoman Smith.

So, here I am in an odd position.  I have to give this episode the highest marks for dramatic and storytelling qualities and lowest marks for Shatner mockability.  If you haven’t seen this episode I highly recommend seeing it.  If most of the episodes were close to this quality this would have been a great science fiction series.

 

 

Galaxy’s Edge – Tyrus Rechs – Contracts and Terminations – Book 1- Requiem for Medusa

By the title you can see that the Galaxy’s Edge franchise has branched out.  This book is the first installment of a spin off series that follow the adventures of quasi-immortal bounty hunter, Tyrus Rechs.  Tyrus was a component in Book 2 -Galactic Outlaws of the main sequence of the Galaxy’s Edge series.  This series is a prequel to that time line and gives us the back story for Rechs and several other important components of the ancient history of the Galaxy’s Edge universe.

Requiem for Medusa is a standalone story.  It’s a revenge story that involves Tyrus tracking down the murderers of the only woman that still had any connection to his weary soul.  The story reads like a noir but ends up as a military assault against desperate odds to take down the criminal gangs and the corrupt security apparatus that flourishes in the lawless depths of the Reach, the section of the Edge that had been abandoned for centuries to outlaw operations that even the Republic’s Legion left alone.

For the faithful readers of the Galaxy’s Edge series, this is not required reading.  This is a personal story of Tyrus Rechs and although it will answer some questions about Rechs, it won’t matter if you skip it from the point of view of the main narrative.  And this story differs from the other stories in that it contains a love interest component.  Whether this would distract the reader from the story is of course a personal preference.  But it should be mentioned in my opinion.

Now my opinion.  This is a separate story from the Galaxy’s Edge narrative but the characters are interesting and the character development for Tyrus Rechs doesn’t hurt him at all.  He performs his murderous rampage without any loss of skill due to the emotional component of his motivation.  There is a very clever plot device called the nano-plague that is probably linked to some of the other important ancient history for the Galaxy’s Edge universe but in this story, it is used to advance a plot element in the revenge story.

All in all, I liked this story and recommend it.  As with all the Galaxy’s Edge books it is well written, holds your interest and contains exciting combat action.  However, if you do not want to explore the periphery of the Galaxy’s Edge fictional universe it can easily be omitted without sacrificing your knowledge of the series.  Highly recommended.

 

 

Star Trek: The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 1 Episode 2 – Charlie X

This is a relatively straight forward plot.  The Enterprise meets a ship, the Antares, that has rescued the survivor of a spaceship wreck.  Seventeen-year-old Charlie Evans survived for fourteen years on the planet Thasus alone.  The Antares crew is anxious to leave and Captain Kirk takes the boy under his wing and tries to introduce him to how people live.

Soon we find out that the boy has extreme psychic powers that allow him to dematerialize members of the crew and destroy items across stellar distances.  Apparently, he was raised by the legendary Thasians who gave him these extraordinary powers.  Unfortunately, teen aged Charlie isn’t able to control his emotional insecurity and so his powers become a threat to the Enterprise and all aboard, especially Yeoman Janice Rand whom he immediately falls in love with.  When the crew of the Antares attempt to warn Kirk of Charlie’s powers he destroys the distant ship using only his thoughts.  When things start spinning out of control Kirk uses his dominant personality to try and rein the boy in but in the climactic battle for control of the ship Charlie rebels against his father figure, Kirk, and comes close to killing him.  Luckily at the appropriate moment the Thasians show up and take Charlie back to Thasus where they will take care of him and he will be prevented from destroying humanity.

This episode is a gold mine of goofiness.  We are regaled by Spock playing some kind of Vulcan lyre-like stringed instrument accompanied by Uhura singing extempore lyrics about Spock’s appearance and alleged romantic proclivities.  It must be seen and heard to be believed.

Later on, Kirk takes Charlie to the gym to teach him to fight.  Now we have our first viewing of Kirk without a shirt.  It’s not pretty.  He really needed to lose about twenty pounds.  And he demonstrates for Charlie his patented shoulder roll move.  Very athletic.  He also demonstrates his ability fall backward onto a mat.  Apparently, this is a skill that needs to be learned.  Well, it looked so awkward and unathletic that I judge it to be the highlight of the episode.

Here are other scenes that deserve mention.

Charlie sees one of the crewmen slapping his friend on the back after some work accomplishment.  When Charlie is walking away from Yeoman Rand, he says goodbye by slapping her on the butt.  She tries to control her outrage and tells Charlie to ask Captain Kirk why he shouldn’t have slapped her like that.  Kirk sputters and equivocates and dodges out.

Later on, Charlie goes to see Rand in her cabin.  She’s wearing some kind of one shoulder strapped dress that accentuates her figure.  Charlie pours out his adolescent hunger for her in incoherent monosyllables and when she rejects him, he dematerializes her.  This definitely reduced the interest I had in the rest of the show.

In this episode we see more of Mr. Spock’s stoic Vulcan personality and see kirk interact with him on a personal level while they play a game of three-dimensional chess.

The Charlie character was purposefully neurotic but I still found him very annoying.  This episode may have been the inspiration for a later episode called the Squire of Gothos which has a similar character who has superhuman powers but a very immature nature.  But in that episode the characterization is much more entertaining.

But as mentioned the highlight of the episode is Bill Shatner rolling around on the floor of the gym.  His embarrassing and awkward athletics are marvelous.  Putting aside the uninspiring plot the other aspects mentioned rate this episode very high in the pantheon of bad Star Trek specialness.  Highly recommended for connoisseurs of awful Shatner athletics.  Special mention for Yeoman Rand getting smacked on the butt.

Star Trek: The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 1 Episode 1 – The Man Trap

The episode opens up with Kirk dictating a “Captain’s Log” stating that Spock is in temporary command of the Enterprise while Kirk, McCoy and a crewman are beaming down to the surface of some planet to perform routine physical examinations on a scientist, Professor Robert Crater and his wife, Nancy.  The only unusual circumstance is that Nancy is McCoy’s old girlfriend.  Alright, let’s stop right there.  The commanding officer of a large, powerful, highly strategic military vessel is leaving his ship to keep his chief medical officer company while he gives routine physical exams to apparent nobodies in the middle of nowhere?  Who runs Star Fleet anyway, the Keystone Cops?  Alright, onward.

In the next scene, back on the Enterprise, we are forced to witness an exchange between Communications Officer Uhura and First Officer Spock.  Uhura is bantering with Spock trying to get him to engage in small talk.  He vulcans out and Uhura asks him if he can complement her on her beauty or tell her about how beautiful the moon is on Vulcan.  When Spock tells her that Vulcan has no moon, she replies that she is not surprised at all.  Gack!

While walking toward the Craters’ home, Bones and Kirk trade banter about the awkwardness of Bones meeting up with his former lover in the presence of her husband.  The exchange is truly awful and appears to have been written by a fifteen-year-old at best.  I was waiting for one of them to say, “I know you are but what am I?”

When we meet Nancy, she appears to McCoy to be in her twenties as he remembers her.  To Kirk she appears to be a middle-aged woman.  To the crewman she appears to be a very attractive and flirtatious girl who lures him into a secluded location away from the others.  Suddenly the three men hear Nancy’s screams and run to find out the emergency.  They find her with the body of the crewman dead on the ground.  He has a fragment of a poison fruit in his mouth.  He also has strange round blotches on his face.  The woman claims that the crewman ate the fruit before she could warn him of its deadly character.  The captain reprimands the doctor for being more concerned with the woman’s emotional state than with ascertaining the cause of death of the crewman.  The two live and one dead crewman are beamed back aboard the Enterprise.

Back on the ship Bones completes a medical examination of the dead crewman and discovers that he did not eat the poison fruit.  After further testing he discovers that the dead man’s body has somehow been drained of all sodium chloride, salt.  The captain remembers that Crater had stated that they needed their stock of salt replenished.  Sensing that something was wrong, the captain and doctor return to the planet with an escort of two crewman to help investigate the strange death.  Kirk tells Crater that something on the planet is killing humans and that the Enterprise will evacuate the Craters until the danger is past.  Crater becomes angry and runs away.  While searching for him both crewmen are killed by Nancy but we see her turn into one of the crewmen and return to the ship with the rest of the landing party.  Okay, let’s stop here.  “Nancy” has now killed three crewmen without breaking a sweat and Kirk is still aimlessly beaming up and down from the planet and seems almost nonchalant about it.  Resume.

Fake crewman now stalks victims on the Enterprise.  His first target is Yeoman Janice Rand, a hot blonde babe who is carrying a tray of food to Lieutenant Sulu, but she also has a salt shaker on the tray and the creature wants to take it.  But she escapes into a crowd.  Finally, something to praise in this episode, a pretty girl in a tight-fitting dress.

The creature kills a few more crewmen on the ship so Kirk and Spock go down to the planet to capture Crater.  Crater stands them off with a phaser and Kirk and Spock decide to split up to encircle him.  And here we get the first example of William Shatner displaying his physical prowess.  While sneaking up behind Crater, Kirk dives into a pile of sand.  Instead of a special forces warrior he looked more like an otter.  It isn’t pretty.

Kirk and Spock capture Crater and he confesses that Nancy is not really his wife but a shape-shifting creature that needs salt to live.  The creature killed the real Nancy more than a year ago but he had spared it because it was the last of its kind like the American bison.

Kirk and Spock head back to the ship and now the search is on for the creature.  It has assumed the shape of Dr. McCoy and when it gets the chance it kills Crater and attempts to kill Spock but his Vulcan blood apparently doesn’t taste good to the creature.

In the finale the creature turns back into Nancy and goes to Dr. McCoy for protection.  Kirk comes to them with a phaser in one hand and salt tablets in the other to lure the creature into revealing itself to McCoy as a monster and not his old love.  But McCoy disarms the Captain and won’t shoot her even when she begins desalinating Kirk.  Now Shatner really gets to show his stuff.  The creature places it’s suction cup fingers on his face and Kirk emotes the crap out of his pain.  He gives of his best.

Luckily for Kirk, Spock shows up and proves to McCoy that the creature isn’t Nancy.  He interlaces his fingers and hammers Nancy in the face several times.  But instead of having her skull fractured by this Vulcan knuckle sandwich she grabs Spock and throws him across the room like a rag doll.  This finally registers with McCoy and he shoots the creature.  She then pretends to be Nancy again and McCoy after begging heaven’s forgiveness terminates the creature with a lethal phaser shot.  Once dead she resumes her actual shape, a sort of short, stocky, hairy creature with a sucker shaped mouth and suction cups for fingertips.

“The Man Trap” wouldn’t have been my choice as the introductory Star Trek episode.  It’s kind of odd.  But it’s interesting to see that certain roles and behaviors that we come to expect are already in place.  After the first crewman is killed Bones gets to make the inaugural, the primordial, “He’s dead Jim!”  Equally important, Uhura demonstrated just how annoying she can be.  We saw the importance of short tight dresses on Yeoman Janice Rand to add some interest for the adult male portion of the audience.  And finally, we got to see several of Jim Kirk’s signature moves.  His obliviousness in the face of obvious threats all around him.  His delight in rolling and frisking around in sand.  His embarrassing facial expressions when emoting pain or fear.  His jackassery when taunting his friends among the crew.

Even though this is the very first episode aired it actually is a fairly average example.  It is not particularly awful nor is it so bad that it comes off as hilarious, it’s just average.  I still haven’t figured out the details of my scoring for the various components of a Star Trek episode but this one will cleave pretty close to the middle.  I’ll add those in later but for now call it average.

 

Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Introduction

Coming hard on the heels of the conclusion of my marathon review of all one hundred fifty-six episodes of the Twilight Zone series I’ve decided to handle the Star Trek series in a decidedly different manner.  Instead of providing mostly a plot synopsis followed by a short critique of the show I’ll instead tackle each episode as it relates to the series as a whole.  For instance, Star Trek consists of the personalities of the main characters interacting in whatever plot is provided that week.  And those plots have components that can include action, drama, melodrama, romance and even comedy.  And over time the characters develop predictable behaviors.  What I intend to do is compare the characteristics of a particular episode with the typical or average portrayal of these characteristics in the series.

What I think this will allow is the maximum opportunity for mockery.  And let me be clear.  I am doing this to take potshots and make fun of the awful acting and bad scripts that makes up the bulk of Star Trek.  I watched Star Trek as a child and at the time I thought it was fantastic.  I have a permanent warm spot in my heart for the show but I also recognize how extremely awful a lot of it is.  And right at the center of this awfulness is William Shatner.  His patented brand of overacting is by turns hilariously bad and embarrassingly painful to watch.  I will rate the levels of bad and may have to invent a Shatner Scale to accomplish this.

But I want to acknowledge that Shatner is also very good at certain types of humor.  There are scenes in Star Trek where he is as amusing as anything that was on television at the time.  These are relatively brief and somewhat infrequent.  But when something is done well, I’ll celebrate it.  And there are other outbursts of good acting that occasionally intrude on the dreck.  I will definitely note those too.

So that’s fair warning for really devoted fans of the show.  I have no reverence for this show but I am fond of it.  I will mock it viciously but I will also point out the good stuff that also exists in it.  I will talk about how the show uses or abuses various science fiction tropes of the time.  I will rate the plots and discuss inconsistencies that annoy the nerd in me.  I will talk about the character development (such as it is) of the lead actors and of course I will delve into the strange and frightening study of William Shatner’s acting technique.  I intend to do one episode a week.  That will give enough time to lavish all the loving attention each episode deserves.

I know that I will learn a lot about bad television and I hope I provide a faithful portrait of one of the most influential and durable science fiction franchises around.  So, I watched the first episode and was surprised to learn that “The Man Trap” was the first televised episode.  I had assumed that “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” which I had understood was the second pilot, had aired first.  So here I’m learning new things about Star Trek right from the git go.

Now, I will boldly go where no sensible blogger has gone before.  Dun ta dun ta dun dun dun dun …. da dunnnn!

 

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 5 Episode 36 – The Bewitchin’ Pool

Sport and Jeb are the young children of Gil and Gloria Sharewood.  They live on a beautiful estate with a big house and a large in ground swimming pool.  But their prosperous parents dislike each other intensely and bicker constantly.  One day while their parents are fighting the children see a little boy with a Huckleberry Finn straw hat on his head appear in the swimming pool and tells them to follow him.

They swim down into the pool and end up somehow coming out into a swimming hole where they see a country cottage surrounded by a swarm of children playing happily together.  The boy they followed Whitt introduces them to Aunt T, an old lady who takes care of the children.  She gives them chores and acts as a loving grandmother to them.  She gets Sport and Jeb to frost a cake she’s making for the children and they are really happy to be in a happy love-filled environment.  But then Sport hears her mother worriedly calling to them and she tells Aunt T they have to back to their home because they and their parents love each other.  Aunt T agrees that a loving home is the best place for children.  They swim back into the pool and their parents are very angry with them for disappearing and punish them by sending them to bed without supper.

The next morning Sport is painting outside when her mother wants her to get her brother who has disappeared.  She says she has a big announcement and there won’t be any more fighting in the house.  Sport goes into the pool and finds her way back to Aunt T’s house where Jeb is happily helping out.  Sport tells Jeb that they have to go back and that things were going to be better without any more fighting.

When Jeb and Sport get back their parents tell them they’re getting divorced and the kids will have to pick who they want to live with.  Jeb and sport run back to the pool and their parents chase them and tell them to get out of the pool.  When they don’t resurface their father jumps in.  When he comes back up, he tells his wife that they aren’t in the pool.  She becomes hysterical crying for them to come back.

Jeb and Sport are happily frosting cakes with Aunt T when suddenly Sport hears her mother’s voice calling for them.  But she ignores it and they go back to their happy life at Aunt T’s.

This was the last episode to be televised in the Twilight Zone series.  Because of this, some technical problems they had with sound on the outdoors segments of the show caused major issues.  The actress who played Sport was not available to re-dub the sound and so a voice actress, June Foray had to be used to voice over Sport’s lines.  Foray was the voice of Rocket J. Squirrel in the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon series and her voice is noticeably different from the actress who played Sport.  This change is actually quite jarring for the listener.

Another incidental note for this episode has to do with the actress who played Sport (Mary Badham).  In this episode the sister and brother are named Sport and Jeb.  In a well-known movie that Mary had recently been in (To Kill a Mockingbird) the character she played was a sister named Scout with a brother named Jem.  A coincidence?  I think not!

This fantasy episode is addressing the topical problem of an increased divorce rate in America at the time.  Of course, compared to today it was an idyllic era for family life but modernity was already taking its toll on the sanctity of marriage and the family.  I see what Serling was saying in this episode and it is admirable.  Dramatically the story is simple but effective.  Even counting in the technical problems with the voice over I’ll call this a B+.