Monday, December 30, 2013

"Star Trek" revisited

After reading the flawed but highly entertaining and informative "These Are The Voyages" book about the development of the first season of the original "Star Trek" TV series, I was inspired to watch that first season again. I picked up a new release of the original show on Blue-Ray disks, with the option of watching them with the original special effects or new, enhanced effects. I chose the latter.

Of course, I could not just stop at the first season -- I had to watch all three. It took me about three weeks to watch them all, including the special features, and -- for the first time for me -- the original pilot episode "The Cage", parts of which were later edited into the two-part season one episode "The Menagerie".

And it was very interesting. Here, in no particular order, are a few observations:

1.) Casting Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock was either one of the most incredible bits of luck ever, or an act of sheer brilliance, or maybe some of both. Nimoy played the role to the proverbial "t". The closest to this nearly-perfect meshing of actor to role that I can think of right now is a toss-up between Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator and Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man.

Nimoy played Spock with a pitch-perfect blend of gravitas, humor, and passion (those last two qualities extremely difficult to pull off with a character such as the half-Vulcan Spock). It helped that he had excellent foils in William Shatner and DeForest Kelley, but Nimoy's Spock would probably have been intensely watchable had he been the only crew member on the U.S.S. Enterprise. (I am speaking of Spock as he appeared in the body of the series, NOT in the first two pilot episodes -- therein Spock was still very much a work in progress.)

2.) Some of William Shatner's former "Star Trek" castmates have bitterly complained about him stealing lines from them. Watching this series again, I have to say in my opinion that Shatner deserved every line he had, and THEN some. That guy had so much passion for what he was doing -- his performances in that series was the absolute antithesis of "phoning it in".

3.) Fans who have not watched the original series via the Blue-Ray disks, on a high definition TV of a decent size (something forty inches or greater) have not really seen the original series. There is a wealth of heretofore unseen color, detail and texture that comes through in this new presentation. It gave me a much greater appreciation for what the craftspeople who created the show were able to do with their relatively skimpy budgets back in the late 1960's.

4.) Except for a few obviously dated bits of technology (for example, the oft-referred-to computer "tapes") and social and sexual mores, the show feels amazingly fresh and contemporary.

5.) I've read many times about the unusual genesis of the original "Star Trek" series, and how Gene Roddenbery somehow managed the rare feat of getting two pilot episodes made for one series, the first pilot ("The Cage") being rejected by the network allegedly because it was "too cerebral".

I'd never seen that first pilot episode in its entirety, although I had several times watched the two-parter "The Menagerie", which incorporated quite a bit of the footage and story from "The Cage" in a very clever manner. But this Blue-Ray set includes the complete "The Cage", so I decided that I would watch it. I came away with the impression of another, perhaps more important reason the network rejected it: It wasn't very good.

Especially when compared to the other episodes in the first season, "The Cage" just feels old-fashioned and stilted. The lantern-jawed Jeffrey Hunter as captain of the Enterprise doesn't help, having about one-tenth the charisma of Shatner's Captain Kirk. Design elements of parts of the ship's interiors, such as the little gooseneck-mounted gizmos on the bridge, feel like they're from the era in filmed entertainment when spacemen carried "rayguns" and spaceships were powered by rockets. There's a real dullness to the look of the show, exemplified by the boring colors chosen for the Enterprise's interiors.

It's really amazing to see how much had changed and evolved for the better between the time the first pilot had been made and the first series episode was aired. The ship was brighter and more appealing, the technology sleeker and more future-oriented, and the cast much better. My gut feeling is that if the network HAD bought that first pilot and had gone to series with that as the template, with that original cast, we would not be talking about "Star Trek" in 2013. 

5.) The "space hippies" episode ("The Way to Eden") has not aged well, and I suspect it never will.

6.) It's probably a good thing that the use of new character Chekov as comic relief pretty much ended about halfway through the second season.

7.) The characters in this series seemed like real adults doing real adult jobs... which is probably one of the reasons I disliked the two recent "Star Trek" feature films, in which the characters seemed more  like poorly-trained squabbling teenagers trying to fly their parents' starship.

8.) DeForrest Kelley's Dr. McCoy -- referred to as "Bones" through much of the series -- really is one of the coolest characters ever. -- PL


Jeff Jacobson said...

When you watched the Blu-Ray, did you watch the original or remastered versions of the episodes? (Both are on the Blu-Ray.) I still prefer the original versions myself.

Andy said...

I just read that James Cameron did not want Arnold at first. The studio originally wanted O.J. Simpson but Cameron didn't feel like he would be believable as a killer. He reluctantly met Arnold for the role of the protagonist, and then realized he'd be better as the terminator. It kind of reminds me of the happy accidents that got the Turtles to work.

If you were starting out as an artist today with the Ninja Turtles, I'd presume that you'd try to get it out online instead of traditional publishing. Do you think you'd do daily/weekly installments vs issues? How would you attract fans to your work?

PL said...

"When you watched the Blu-Ray, did you watch the original or remastered versions of the episodes?"

I watched the remastered versions with the new special effects. -- PL

PL said...

"If you were starting out as an artist today with the Ninja Turtles, I'd presume that you'd try to get it out online instead of traditional publishing. Do you think you'd do daily/weekly installments vs issues? How would you attract fans to your work?"

It's hard to say whether I would go for online publishing as opposed to traditional printed form, because I grew up and fell in love with comics when the printed form was the ONLY way to experience them. But I think I would have at least tried publishing online, if only for the ease and lack of expense of doing so.

I suspect I would have gone for monthly installments, as I generally enjoy longer works rather than short segments.

As for how I would try to attract fans to the work, I guess I would first try to do the work to the best of my ability, and then use as many ways to promote it as possible, as long as they didn't cost much, including traditional media (through press releases) and events (comic conventions) and the Internet (Facebook, blogs, etc.). -- PL

Dion said...

They really did a wonderful job with the updated special effects, keeping the same tone while increasing the definition/clarity. I watched these about a year ago and enjoyed it immensely. For the most part the look and effects seem to have dated much better that the subsequent Star Trek series