Sunday, December 02, 2007

Star Trek: The Original Series - Season One

Written by Musgo Del Jefe

What an intimidating task. Star Trek is the franchise by which all other franchises are measured. Since Star Trek: The Original Series debuted in 1966, there's been five other series and ten movies (with the eleventh in production). That doesn't even take into account the number of books, games, comics, theme park rides, college courses and conventions that this series launched. The Star Trek franchise has always been on the cutting edge of technology - making their product available on VHS, Laserdisc, DVD and now HD-DVD, ahead of other competitors. This new package is impressive but it's expensive too. Does it "boldly go" where no previous release has gone before?

In the interest of full disclosure, I first caught Star Trek during syndication runs of the original series in the ‘70s. It was a Sunday night staple for me on our local CBS station. It laid the groundwork for my future fandom of Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. I've been a casual fan of all the succeeding TV series and the films. But I've always moved forward with the series, rarely taking time to revisit the past. This release let me take a look at the series through eyes that have seen the characters and themes age 40 years.

What strikes me most is how little "sci-fi" that most of the Season One episodes are in this "sci-fi" series. Or should I say, how little "space" is involved in this "space drama." I think that's the core strength of any successful drama - the characters take precedence over the setting. This first season is not merely a "Monster Of The Week" show. That type of show is only as good as the "Monster/Alien" and as this show devolved into that towards the end of Season Three, it lost its heart.

Many of the Season One episodes have the feel of Twilight Zone episodes, a series that ended in 1964. The idea of a Twilight Zone series with a dramatic thread connecting the episodes isn't far from set-up of the series. The series has one static setting, The Enterprise, each week and a fluid setting, whatever planet they are exploring. That consistency of characters interacting with new characters allows a depth that true anthology series can't approach.

In "The Naked Time", we see all the elements come together effectively. The crew is set to pick up scientists from a planet that is about to explode. The exploding planet sets a time constraint on the episode. The scientists are found dead on the planet but crewman Joe carelessly becomes contaminated on the planet with a strange liquid (a plot device that The X-Files would lift directly from this series). Once back aboard the Enterprise, Joe acts irrationally and after infecting Lt. Sulu and other crewmembers, he is relegated to sickbay. One of the infected crewmembers, Lt. Keven Reilly declares himself the Captain and storms the Engineering room, locks everyone else out and starts pushing buttons randomly.

The dramatic line is perfectly paced. As more of the crew is becoming infected and acting irrationally, the deadline before the planet explodes is speeding up. The ship is caught in the gravitational pull of the planet, the planet is going to explode in 15 minutes but the engines have been turned off and need 30 minutes to restart. The infection serves a metaphorical purpose also. It causes the infected person to show their hidden personality and to not be in control of their emotions. For the younger crewmembers, it illustrates the older generations fear of the Baby Boomers generation in the 60s. For our two lead characters, Capt. Kirk and Spock, we see a bittersweet side to them. Spock cries because he cannot tell his mother he loves her. Kirk expresses his sorrow about his love life, exclaiming that the only "female" in his like is the Enterprise.

Dr. McCoy is able to form an antidote to cure everyone but there's still the matter of the exploding planet. The crew attempts an unproven procedure to restart the engine. At the last second, the engine is started and the crew saved. But the result is a time warp taking the crew 71 hours back in time. So, not only has the crew solved the problem of escaping an exploding planet, but this development of time warp opens story possibilities for future episodes.

This is where the series is at its best. In "The Enemy Within", it's a time constraint of escaping a freezing planet and Kirk is the typical Twilight Zone innocent character accused of heinous behavior that he didn't commit. Shatner's narration as Capt. Kirk makes his Captain’s Log entries is a perfect Rod Serling to the show. Much like another Desilu production, The Untouchables, the narration consistently sets us in time/date/location at the beginning of the show and summarizes our situation as a scene break throughout the show.

This new release is a HD DVD Combo Format. This means you get both HD and regular DVD versions of the episodes and some of the extra features are in DVD format. There are special deluxe HD features that delve deeper into 7 of the key episodes and an interactive tour of the Enterprise on HD. The best of the over 80 minutes of featurettes is "The Birth Of A Timeless Legacy" that compares the two pilot episodes (not included here) and the development of the core crew characters.

I must balance all this goodness with just a small wet blanket (at least for some of you). These episodes are remastered and in the vernacular of the day, they are "enhanced". At first glance, these are the best looking Star Trek: TOS episodes I have ever seen. Even in their first runs through syndication, I remember grainy prints with scratches. These feature crisp colors and contrast.

I'm not sure that the other changes stay within the style of the original series. The Enterprise effect shots have been redone along with all space SPFX shots. Planets now look more realistic and phasers have a more powerful looking blast. In "Tomorrow's Yesterday", the slingshot around the Sun is so well done that it looks like an effect from a current film and seems out of place with the acting and scenery in the rest of the show. As does the rerecording of the theme. The other musical cues sound great, but the recreation of the opening theme with a crisp track of Shatner's narration seems awkward at best and doesn't bring me back to those days of staying up to watch it in syndication on Sunday nights.

If the HD-DVD format is around to stay, then this will be a benchmark for everyone's HD-DVD collection. If there's another format after Blu-Ray (still awaiting a Star Trek release) and HD-DVD, you can be sure that Star Trek will be exploring those strange new worlds. I enjoyed revisiting Star Trek's past as much as I know I'll enjoy the next movie. If you haven't had time to enjoy this series lately, you'll find a lot to like about Season One. Brilliant pieces like "Space Seed" and the best episode of the series, "The City On The Edge Of Forever" make this a worthy addition to the Star Trek franchise.

The Wild Wild West: The Third Season

Written by Fantasma el Rey

Guns roaring, fists flying, bombs (large and small) exploding everywhere, this is the far-fetched, sci-fi classic The Wild Wild West: The Third Season. Continuing, and not much has changed, the adventures of U.S. Secret Service agents James West (Robert Conrad) and Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin) who serve under President Grant. As in the previous two seasons every episode is titled “Night Of The…” followed by a hint at what’s to come. As started in season two all 24 “action packed” installments are in glorious color, bringing to bright life Jim West’s beautiful blue suit, which appears to fit a bit more snug this time through.

The plot lines remain much the same from season to season with different villains plugged in. The stories usually go thusly: dashing, dead-shot, brave, courageous and bold Jim and Artie the man of a hundred faces, ride into a new town on a mission or are just passing through when for some reason they become involved in a heap of trouble, mostly involving a madman’s (or evil doctor, greedy businessman, etc., etc) evil plot and must thwart said ne'er-do-well. Jim investigates on his own while Artie goes in disguise to find out more from the dangerous element. They reconvene some time after Artie follows Jim or rescues him, and they head off to foil the mad plot and save the day. Fans may be disappointed that regular nemesis Dr. Miguelito Loveless only appears in one episode “The Night Dr. Loveless Died,” but it’s a good one as we meet his German uncle, Dr. Leibknict.

No matter if they be in Mexico, Canada, or someplace in the American West the song remains the same for our heroes; whether they are pitted against Samurai warriors, Mexican banditos, or anyone else, that’s the way it goes down. To their credit though the show is always action packed, in fact that’s why the show was supposedly ended. Rather than cave to negative pressure and change what was working to tone down the violence, the network simply pulled the plug and WWW went out with a bang and on top of its game.

The violent action, I must say, really plays out like the Batman television series without the ZAP, SOK, BANG, and BAFFO comic-book pop-ups. I will also add here that Robert Conrad is in top physical condition and looks believable in the action sequences. Yes, female fans you get to see Jim sans shirt. That’s right, topless. Hubba, hubba. I’m sure that only led to more outrage from old folk calling for decency on television. Ah, the old days when this show was considered too much.

You can start The Wild Wild West: The Third Season just about anywhere on the set and get a feel for the show. Each episode lives on its own and feels complete. There are no extras on this six-disc set; all the punch so far was packed into the first season. If its interviews and such ye want, ye won’t find ‘em here. I did have fun watching and every title begs me to watch with that “Night Of” business and the chemistry between Conrad and Martin makes the stories a bit better, but I am content to catch it periodically on my local cable station. Die-hard fans will definitely want to own Season Three to see whom Jim and Artie meet and how they defeat all-comers in this third installment of the sci-fi western with a twist that is The Wild Wild West.


Written by Fumo Verde

So I had my two little nephews over for Thanksgiving Weekend and decided to take them to see Bee Movie, figuring it would be funny and I love Jerry Seinfeld, so why not, right? So after dropping a wad of cash to get in and get my boys their snacks, I sat down ready to enjoy a little light comedy. Be-lieve me when I say I should have saved the money and taken the boys to the arcade room. The kids liked the flick; as for me not so much. Don’t get me wrong, I love animated movies, especially now since they’re all done in CGI. It’s just with all the comedy power packed into this film, I was expecting more.

The cast includes Seinfeld who plays Barry B. Benson, a recent graduate who has no intention of doing just one job for the rest of his life. He decides to go outside the hive where he meets Renee Zellweger’s character Vanessa. Bee law prohibits Barry from speaking to humans, but Vanessa saved him so he had to say something. You could say that he and Vanessa start dating.

When she takes him to the supermarket, Barry flips out when he sees honey in jars and on the shelves for humans to buy. He sues the honey manufactures, not for money, but to stop them from making honey. The bees win the lawsuit and get all the supermarket honey turned over to them. With the bees not having to work since they now have so much honey, they don’t pollinate anything anymore, causing the flowers and fruits to fade away. Vanessa, being a florist, has to leave NYC to go to Pasadena to see the last Rose Parade ever. When Barry asks her why, she shows him how the planet is changing without the bees to pollinate the flora. With a little bee ingenuity Barry and his hive save the world and put the bees back to work.

This one’s decent for the kids. It holds their attention and the story is cute but for the adults in the seats next to them, there’s not much entertainment. One of the funniest scenes comes with Chris Rock as a mosquito. Life on the windshield would have been a better one for adults. Other stars include John Goodman, Eddie Izzard, Matthew Broderick, and Oprah Winfrey, who all do a fine job and help the story move along. Seinfeld is fantastic and you can picture him in a bee-suit doing some of this shtick on HBO or something. He had some funny lines.

DreamWorks Animation deserves maximum respect for the magic they pulled off here. I would rent it on DVD before loosening the purse strings, though. The little ones will dig it with all its colors and motion. I asked my nephews if they liked it they said “yes.” I give credit to Jerry Seinfeld for doing this because it did keep the ankle biters occupied and they were excited to see it; I just wish there was a little more adult “funny” in it.