03 December 2016

We got TV sign! (Review: 'Star Trek' 2.7, "Catspaw")

She's just watched "The Alternative Factor"
 A long while back, I was thinking about an imaginary horror movie in which the heroine is menaced by a giant spider that's realised on screen by use of a real spider blown up in size...

As I have come to realise, however, this is a bad idea, because using green (or blue) screen technology to realise a giant spider tends to look more than a bit awful.

So much so, that it's the sort of thing that gets mocked by the characters of Mystery Science Theater 3000...

I'd imagine that Jonah, Servo and Crow would have a lot of fun with this episode...

****

Scotty and Sulu go missing while on a survey mission, with the other member of their landing party dropping dead on his return to the ship.

Then Kirk hears a mysterious voice telling him to leave as there is a curse on his ship. Of course, Kirk doesn't listen to strange voices in his head.

****
This episode marks Star Trek's only 'holiday special'; it aired during the week of Halloween 1967 and naturally has a bit of spooky film. However, it was actually filmed first in Season 2's production, with the result that Walter Koenig, who had yet to grow out his hair, is wearing a wig worse than the one worn by Megan Boone in the first season of The Blacklist.

And there's no foetid swamp to consign it to... although there are three witches that reminded me of something out of The Muppets (they were intended to be severed heads, but the black turtleneck jumpers show up on screen, something surprisingly not fixed for the remastered version), the use of a considerable amount of dry ice, a big gloomy castle and an scary wizard type with a black cat that seems remarkably well trained. Oh and the black cat can turn into a woman with a big hair do.

The owners of this castle are called Korob and Sylvia. Firstly, who on Earth names an alien 'Sylvia'? Secondly, that is very much a name of its time; you don't exactly get many kids of that name today. Thirdly, you get a couple of scenes where these two basically have a rather overacted argument like they're a married couple. Maybe they are.

Our leads get chained up in a dungeon with a skeleton, resulting in a reasonably good 'Bones' joke. Unfortunately, this dungeon is far too well lit, far too clean and to this Westerner, put him rather in mind of the modern use of a dungeon, if you know what I mean...

Speaking of nudge, nudge, wink, wink... Kirk decides to seduce Sylvia to get more information about their situation and to find a way out. I found myself wondering how people would react if a female character did this to a male one... It is also at this point that things start getting hilarious in the wrong way.

The climax involves the cat getting super-sized; something not too bad when it is done in shadows, but when projected growling through a door, it gets very silly indeed. Just as a fight scene involving a considerable amount of  'Kirk Fu'.

The reveal at the end is good idea, but hilariously bad in concept. As a bonus, however, we are spared the 'comedy scene'. For one thing, there were enough actual laughs in the episode itself.

****

Conclusion

Enjoyable, but not exactly for the right reasons...

7/10

28 November 2016

The Shippy, Shippy Shake (Review: 'Star Trek' 2.6, "The Doomsday Machine")

That's no moon...
I watched this episode on my Samsung tablet and even with the smaller screen size, the high detail of the remastered effects, including the title sequence is clear to see. For this Hugo-nominated episode is entirely space bound and it needed 105 remastered shots as compared to the normal 20 to 30.

****
The Enterprise discovers the wreck of its sister ship, the USS Constellation, victim to a giant robotic vessel that eats entire planets for breakfast. There is only one survivor of the Constellation and he's gone a bit mad, which is going to make dealing with this thing a bit harder.

****
This episode apparently owes a considerable amount to the classic novel Moby Dick, although  having never read it, I didn't spot it. At any rate, dealing with a mass killing entity that can't be reasoned with - although there isn't exactly an attempt to try - is a classic staple of science-fiction and horror. We've even got a blonde lady in a short dress...

The Captain of Constellation (incidentally there was a real US carrier of that name in service at the time - it would remain in commission until 2003, seeing action in the invasion of Iraq that year) is one Commodore Matt Decker, an "all ahead full and [expletive deleted] the torpedoes" officer who is determined to avenge the death of his crew by destroying the Planet Killer, acting rather recklessly indeed. He's clearly someone who is dire need of a sedative and some serious counselling; yet ends up making things worse. William Windom (himself a Second World War veteran) patterned his portrayal on Captain Queeg from The Caine Mutiny and if we're being honest, occasionally overdoes it. In particular, one scene sees facial expressions that remind me of 'gurning' from Doctor Who.

No Uhura or Chekov in this one, but everyone else is great. Spock may take a while to act, but when does he's highly effective. Kirk is willing to sacrifice his life for the greater good and there is a genuinely tense scene near the end when he comes rather close indeed to doing just that. You know he's going to survive, but they really run it close... although there is a rather flexible definition of '30 seconds'.
 
The spaceship action is very intense, with lots of phaser action (no photon torpedoes?) sweeping turns and a considerable amount of the old 'Star Trek shake', with at one point characters jiggling in their chairs to simulate turbulence. This does get a bit silly at some points. It's worth noting this was written as a 'bottle episode' to maximise the use of existing sets to save costs; a common device for TV shows in general, but when done right capable of producing some cracking good stories. This is most certainly done right.

It's worth noting that there are a number of references to the hydrogen bomb (which was possessed by the US, UK, France and China at this point in time) in the context of that being a doomsday device. Certainly the development of a fusion powered nuke was pretty controversial partly due to fears that if you built one large enough or had enough of them you could destroy the world or at least cover it in a globally lethal level of fallout - see Doctor Strangelove for an example. Six years prior to this episode airing, the USSR had tested a 50 megaton bomb that, being the biggest nuke test of all time, had managed to break windows in Norway, however it was far too large to be practical for military use and much of the energy was 'wasted' by going out into open space. Today, no-one really makes the A-Bomb/H-Bomb distinction in popular culture.

Now I've gone on about these a lot, but I really must say that while the final scene was good, it didn't need Kirk cracking a smile at the end of it. That seemed tonally very off.

Conclusion

Occasional overacting aside, this is a rollicking space adventure with times of high tension.

9/10

26 November 2016

Ron Glass 1945-2016

We're losing a lot of famous people this year, but this one is going to be a particular blow.

 

I'm a fan of Firefly and while all the crew were of course great, Book acted as the ship's conscience. Without Glass' performance, he would have been a far weaker character.

 

Rest in Peace.

 

 

23 November 2016

53 years of Doctor Who

Today marks 53 years since the legendary time travel show first aired. While this has been a relatively quiet year due to the lack of a full series, the franchise remains very active indeed especially with the new spinoff.

Long may it continue.

Happy anniversary.

19 November 2016

Show me more of this Earth thing called kissing... (Review: 'Star Trek' 2.5, "The Apple")

 
Spray it with flowers...


Red Dwarf, that superb science fiction comedy show, has naturally had a pop or two at Star Trek over the years.


I can't help wonder if this is one of the episodes that influenced them...


****

While exploring a planet that reminds them of the Garden of Eden, which is just outside Moscow according to Chekov (although I think that's a joke on his part), one of Kirk's crew is killed by a poison thorn shooting flower. Unable to beam back up, they discover this isn't really paradise after all.

****

This is very much a Trek-by-the-numbers episode. Explore unusual planet, meet strange and unusual people who are being subjected by an unusual force, defeat said force, then go home, rinse and repeat. Apart from what seems to me a metaphor about 'rugged individualism' versus state provision - a common theme in American political discourse - there is very little original overall in the plot. It's also got a couple of rather big plot holes - most notably how the Enterprise is able to conduct an orbital phaser bombardment after 'frying nearly all its systems'.

However, what keeps this episode from being dull is the fact that is it very, very camp. Some of the highlights:
  • No less than four redshirts dying, all in different ways - including when one steps on an exploding rock. That appears to have seriously injured the stuntman doing it; this show seems to like abusing its actors.
  • A planet blatantly mocked up in a studio with a red sky... but with stock footage of thunder clouds in a blue sky.
  • A red-skinned alien species who have no idea about physical romance (leading to some awkward questions) and wear what are basically bath towels for clothing. Oh and the blokes wear giant white toupees.
  • A fight scene involving these creatures and a high kicking lady in a red mini-dress that must have required careful editing to avoid showing anyone's 'Florida' (TM Carrie Fisher, discussing that slave-girl outfit from Return of the Jedi). At any rate, it looks ridiculous.
  • Alien food that is essentially spray painted fruit.
  • Chekov deciding to take a break mid-mission to snog his new girlfriend, who we will likely never see again.
  • An alien machine represented by a cave entrance shaped like a dragon head.
We get a very angst-ridden Kirk in this episode who feels guilt over the deaths of his men, some earnest discussions over whether the Prime Directive applies and some great one liners all round.


We even get two 'comedy endings'; although only the second is actually any good.

Conclusion

This is a very kitsch episode of Star Trek and arguably very stereotypical of the show. While flawed in a good number of parts and with particularly dodgy effects, it's still an enjoyable 50 minutes, even if not exactly for the right reasons.


7/10

13 November 2016

US Election: Some final thoughts

While I am still planning to take a break from politics, I feel the need to note down some final thoughts on this very strange week, as well as make some other comments elsewhere:

  • The capacity of experts to engage in group think and collective delusion is amazing. Experts thought Iraq had WMDs, failed to see the collapse of the Soviet Union coming in the way it did and that there was no way the US would elect Donald Trump.
  • There is a considerable nostalgia among 'baby boomers', for the 1950s and 1960s i.e. their childhood. Hence the popularity of shows like Call the Midwife. The same applies for Generation X with shows like Stranger Things and The Americans. Generation Y or the Millennials have yet to develop a nostalgia, but they will do.
  • There exists a considerable disconnect between white rural and suburban people with the democratic system - Trump did best in those areas.
  • There also exists a considerable disconnect between urban African-Americans and the system; there were major turnout drops in those areas. It cost Clinton Michigan, Pennsylvania and made Virginia much closer than it should have been.
  • Clinton was probably the wrong choice for candidate, but Bernie Sanders had other issues. If the Rust Belt isn't going to vote for a white woman from New York, they are sure as eggs is eggs not going to vote for an atheist from Vermont.
  • I personally think that the best candidate for the Democrats in 2020 is going to be a Southern or Mid West Governor or Senator. Every New Englander they've nominated since Kennedy has lost.
  • I am genuinely curious about when Trump supporters think America stopped being great and am going to ask about this.
  • This article is well worth reading.
  • Focus is now going to move onto France and stopping Marine Le Pen from winning there. France uses the 'Second Ballot' system so she will have to win a majority in the second round to get her hands on the French nuclear codes. No fascist even won a majority of votes - even Hitler didn't - but we need to not be complacent.

11 November 2016

A break from politics

This year has been a pretty awful one all round. We have seen votes where you can tell a pack of lies and still win, mass movement of refugees as the Middle East continues to be ravaged by war, a continuing decline in social morals... the list goes on.

I'm planning to take a break from active discussion of politics until at least the start of next year, maybe longer. I don't see any real chance of meaningful positive change for this planet at the moment, not with humanity like it is.

Only God can help us now. I suggest you pray for him to change the hearts of the world's nastiest predators, because that's what we are. Cobras don't use social media to spread hate.

Jesus will come back at some point, but we won't know until it happens and as the Book of Revelation makes clear, there will be more pain first.

Take care of yourself and stay safe. This is going to be a very difficult time in human history.