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

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Green Christmas part 2

It's not as warm today as when I posted the previous entry, but new snow has not yet fallen. I took a walk around the center of Amherst this afternoon, past the Emily Dickinson house, and stopped on the Amherst College campus to take some photos which I later turned into a panoramic view. This is looking north towards the town green.

I was struck by how much this did NOT look like a scene observed the day before Christmas. It looks much more like a spring day, perhaps sometime in April, right down to the scrubby, stubborn piles of snow -- the ones compressed into hard lumps by snowplows... the last holdouts, grudgingly melting into the warming earth.

I know it's not spring... and we very likely have a whole lot of white stuff left to fall on top of us over the next few months... but I still like this green and pleasant vista. -- PL

Monday, December 23, 2013

Green Christmas

I know the classic "white Christmas" look has its charms -- the land draped in a blanket of glistening white snow, the outlines of fir trees and rocks and cars and houses (everything, really) softened, transformed by their white frosting, and so on.

However, as I approach my seventh decade of life in this corner of the world, winter has lost a significant part of its appeal to me... not that it ever had THAT much appeal, I have to say. It is with a certain sense of dread that I watch those first white flakes falling, usually in late November or early December. I start thinking about shoveling, snowblowing, slipping on ice, worrying about heat, and so on. And having to give up motorcycling and bicycling and eating outside, to name but a few things, for three or four or more months.

That's why I was quite tickled to get out yesterday in the 53 degree weather, drive downtown through thick ground fog coming form the sublimating snow, and actually go for a bicycle ride. It was warm enough that I knew I'd be comfortable, but I wasn't sure if the bike path would be clear of snow. The first section -- the little switchback path access ramp behind Fitzwilly's in Northampton -- was not encouraging, as it was still mostly covered with icy, rutted snow. However, when I walked my bike up to the actual path, I was very pleased to see that it was completely devoid of snow!

I ended up having a lovely ride up to Florence, where I had lunch at the Cup and Top restaurant. I was actually a little too warm during the ride in the winter gear I'd chosen, but I wasn't about to complain.

What a treat, to ride the bike path two days before Christmas! I know this is not the end of the snow -- we'll likely get hit with a bunch more over the next couple of months -- but for this moment, it's sweet. I like looking out from our breakfast table and seeing a wide swath of green instead of white.

With apologies to my dear wife, who mentioned a couple of days ago that she hoped we'd have enough snow to make it a "white Christmas", I wouldn't mind if it stayed this way for a while. -- PL

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A blast from Christmas past

I was looking through my hard drive for something Christmas-appropriate to post here, and came upon this black and white version of the drawing I did for the official 2007 Mirage Studios Christmas card. I don't think I've ever posted it here or on my TMNT blog, so...

The idea here was to create a believable Turtle head-shaped door knocker looking like it was somewhat  crudely cast in brass. (The door knocker idea was probably meant to evoke the one which played an important -- if brief -- part in Charles Dickens' classic "A Christmas Carol".)

I'm not sure if I succeeded if making it look like metal, but I like the overall look of the drawing. One thing I wish I had spent more time on, at least in the design phase, is the part of the bandana which is meant to be the surface upon which the striker of the door knocker hits -- if you glance at the drawing quickly, it kind of looks like a big tongue.

If memory serves, the finished card featured computer colors by me and some added snow effects by Eric Talbot.

Merry Christmas! -- PL

Friday, December 13, 2013

Nice ice

I've never been much of a fan of winter, and the snow and ice and cold it brings, and even less so now that I am approaching the beginning of my sixth decade of existence in this form. 

(Seconds after I typed that last line, I glanced up from my keyboard and saw out of the kitchen windows that new snow is flurrying down.


However, I also admit that winter, brutal and nasty as it can be, also occasionally brings with it some beautiful sights, large and small. Case in point: I was checking on some stuff in my barn, and noticed a lot of ice forming on the evergreen shrubbery next to the barn door, from water dripping off the edge of the barn roof.

I've always liked the look of things encased in ice, especially plant life -- there is something magical about it, as if the ice is some kind of transparent chrysalis for the vegetation, which will somehow be transformed when spring comes and the ice melts away.

Here are a few shots I took with my pocket camera, trying to get in close and at different angles to capture the look of this phenomenon. -- PL

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Floating on a sea of green

As winter arrives in earnest, I thought it might be nice to take a brief -- and somewhat surreal -- look back at this summer. -- PL

Monday, December 9, 2013

Wreath making party!

Once a year, in early December, our house gets very noisy. People talking, walking around, eating cookies and cake and vegetables with various dips, wrestling pine boughs into wire wreath frames, hunting down just the right shiny bits to brighten up their wreaths -- yes, it's Jeannine's annual wreath making party. 

She's been doing this since our daughter was an infant, and although I am not at all what you would call a party person, this is one party I enjoy. It's tiring, but a lot of fun, and the house smells great -- all those pine branches and the delicious cooking aromas. And we get to see people we don't see as often as we'd like.

Plus, we have the opportunity to view all kinds of unique and creative wreaths. Here's a shot of my relatively staid one:

This year, I actually got started on and finished my wreath before guests started to arrive, allowing me more time to walk around and chat with friends and family. I think I'll make that a tradition. -- PL

P.S. Jeannine and Emily did a lot of baking and cooking, but I made one contribution to the food spread -- these fruit plates. Love the little shiny plastic forks!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

What are these?

While walking around the yard yesterday, I noticed these intriguingly-shaped brown objects.

Can anyone identify them for me? -- PL