Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Star Trek: Charlie X

This article was first posted on August 7, 2010. It is presented in its entirety with some minor changes.

The Kirk-Spock-McCoy triumvirate begins to take shape in Charlie X, the second episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, and we see the seed of the bickering that will characterize the relationship between the coldly logical Spock and the emotional humanist McCoy. We see more of Uhura and Yeoman Rand, who also had quite a bit of screen time in The Man Trap. I get the impression that in these early episodes, the writers were experimenting with what to do with the characters so a lot of the people who were relegated to the background in later episodes seem to get quite a bit of screen time while others, who later became emblematic of Star Trek: The Original Series, are scarcely to be seen; for example, Lieutenant Commander Montgomery "Scotty"Scott is noticeably absent in both Charlie X and The Man Trap.

Once again, I get the impression that Uhura is flirting with Mr. Spock, or at least teasing him flirtatiously, in this episode, as she accompanies him in song as he plays his harp. Speaking of Mr. Spock, again he shows emotion in this episode, smiling rather pleasantly as he strums along to Uhura's vocals.

Mr. Spock with a very noticeable smile on his face as he jams with Uhura – and no, he isn't possessed by anything in this episode, except maybe by a muse

There are some aspects of this episode that made me chuckle: When Charlie Evans is handed off to the Enterprise's crew, he is informed by the Antares's captain that the Enterprise is like a city in space, with a crew of almost 400. Apparently, cities in the 23rd century are a lot smaller than the ones we have now. And when teaching Charlie Judo, Kirk, for some odd reason (well, maybe not so odd, given Kirk's predilection for showing off his pecs at the least provocation), decides to go shirtless, while Charlie wears a gi jacket; anyone who's done Judo will tell you that there's a world of difference between throwing a person who's wearing a gi jacket and someone who's not; the latter task is significantly harder! Captain Kirk cheats at Judo!

Kirk teaches Charlie Evans Judo...and feels compelled to show a lot of skin while doing so

Unfortunately, the story of Charlie X is rather uninspired; it's almost the same story as Where No Man Has Gone Before but instead of a fully grown man gaining god-like powers and getting drunk on his new-found abilities, we have a teenager, insecure and bewildered in his new environment on board the Enterprise after ostensibly spending the first 17 years of his life alone, running amuck with god-like powers that were gifted to him by the race of beings native to the planet on which he had been marooned. His only kryptonite seems to be someone (like, say, Kirk) giving him a stern talking to in a command voice but eventually, he learns to shrug off the effects of this devastating weapon. How will the Enterprise's crew deal with this diabolical adversary (for what could be more dangerous than a desperately horny teenager with god-like powers)? Kirk ended Gary Mitchell's rampage (with a little bit of Dr. Dehner's help in the form of lightning bolts) in Where No Man Has Gone Before by blasting a rock with a phaser rifle, causing the rock to fall and crush his deranged friend. How will he deal with Charlie X?

The episode's conclusion is unsatisfying; the race of beings who had given Charlie his powers come to the rescue of the Enterprise's crew and take him off their hands and reverse the effects of his rampage save for the destruction of the Antares and its crew.

Even in the 23rd century, deus ex machina is a cop out.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Apollo 18 (or in Space No One Can Hear You Snore)

Apollo 18 isn't quite as bad as the title of this article makes it out to be and that's part of its problem; it's not good enough to be good and it's not bad enough to be unintentionally good so it ends up being somewhat meh.

Before I go on, I feel obligated to warn readers that my discussion of Apollo 18 will contain spoilers.

So consider yourself warned.

Apollo 18 is a film in the mockumentary found footage style made famous by The Blair Witch Project and this results in a major inconsistency given that the premise of the film is that it purportedly documents the last manned mission to the moon and that no one survived this last mission; this begs the question as to how the footage being shown in Apollo 18 was exactly found since at the film's conclusion said footage is either in the abandoned Apollo lunar module on the moon's surface or mixed up somewhere in the tangled wreckage of the Apollo command/service module and the Soviet LK lander in orbit around the moon.

The Apollo command/service module in lunar orbit

Aside from the contradiction borne of its premise, Director Gonzalo L√≥pez-Gallego's Apollo 18 suffers from the fact that screen-writer Brian Miller shows his hand wayyy too early, revealing to the audience almost immediately after the crew of the lunar module (“Nate” Walker and “Ben” Anderson, played by Lloyd Owen and Warren Christie, respectively) lands on the moon that the cause of all the mysterious happenings in the film are due to spider-like aliens disguised as moon rocks. In doing so, he missed a great opportunity to throw a couple of red herrings at the audience in the form of the cold war paranoia that was ostensibly the raison d'etre behind the mission of the Apollo 18. After all, shortly after their arrival on the moon and during the course of their top secret Department of Defense mission to deploy detectors designed to provide early warning of Soviet ICBM launches, Walker and Anderson stumble upon tracks which lead them to a Soviet lunar module.

The Soviet LK (Lunny Korabl - “lunar ship”) lander

The strange goings-on which follow, which include the US flag planted at their own landing site being tampered with and their lunar module being sabotaged, could have been attributed to a Soviet cosmonaut acting either on his own initiative or with official sanction, especially considering that the Soviet LK lander portrayed in the film, instead of being the cramped one-man spacecraft that it was in reality, looks big enough to accommodate at least two cosmonauts, something which Walker and Anderson fret about briefly after they discover the body of one cosmonaut before being assured by Houston that the Soviets sent only one man.

Schematic of the Soviet LK lander – you don't have to know how to read Cyrillic to see that this was strictly a spacecraft meant for one and noticeably less roomy than the Soviet lander portrayed in Apollo 18

Instead, we're shown “found footage” fairly early in the film which shows a moon rock moving around in the background and the only mystery in the film is what these moon rock spiders have against national flags since, during the course of the film, they not only mess with the US flag but there's evidence to suggest that they did some violence to the Soviet flag that was planted by the crewman of the LK lander. In addition to abusing flags regardless of the political systems they represent, these moon rock spiders also have the endearing habit of burrowing into human beings and turning them into batshit crazy pod people before ultimately killing them.

As you can probably tell, I was pretty disappointed by Apollo 18, especially since I really wanted to like this film. When I was a kid, I was very much into the US space program, and I'm probably dating myself by mentioning this, but when I was in this phase, the Space Shuttle had not yet made it into orbit, so for me, the US space program meant the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacecraft and Skylab, so when I found out about Apollo 18, I was pretty psyched.

The Apollo lunar module – one of the spacecraft that epitomized the US space program for me when I was growing up

My disappointment was rendered more acute because the film's shortcomings could have easily been remedied with some minor script doctoring. Given the credible performances of Lloyd Owen and Warren Christie (Ryan Robbins doesn't get to do much as command module pilot John Grey but he certainly acquits himself well given what he had to work with) and its great special effects, Apollo 18 could have been a good movie if only more attention had been paid to the script.

But I guess you could say that about every film cursed with mediocrity.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Where I Discuss Star Trek: The Man Trap

This article was first posted on August 6, 2010. It is presented in its entirety with some minor changes.

The Man Trap is a typical "space monster" episode with a twist; the "monster" in question can assume any form it wishes, usually conforming to the semblance of someone from its intended victim's past, and along with the salt it requires for its nourishment, it also needs love.

Space monsters need love, too

I have mixed feelings about this episode. The creature's need for love and the fact that it's the last of its kind makes it something more than just a two-dimensional threat to the crew and also gives its death some poignancy. Professor Crater's pathetic love for the creature even though it killed his beloved wife and then took on her form (with his knowledge) also gives this episode a touch of pathos. However, the way this episode was structured felt "wrong" to me; the fact that there is something odd about "Nancy Crater" is immediately revealed to the audience and Professor Crater's clumsy and brusque attempts to get the Enterprise crew to leave posthaste (albeit after leaving behind a sizable ration of salt tablets) and leave him to his own private fantasy clues the viewer in on the fact that:
  1. "Nancy Crater" is not who she seems to be, and
  2. Professor Crater is in on "her" subterfuge.
This, in my opinion, robs the episode of much potential suspense and mystery. What's the point of having a homicidal shape-shifting creature on the loose if you don't, at least, make an attempt to pull one over on the viewing audience? Isn't that the obvious thing to do? Or am I speaking with the benefit of more than forty years of evolution in the art of story-telling via the media of television and film behind me?

The Man Trap marks the first appearances of Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy and Lieutenant Nyota Uhura. Dr. McCoy, as played by DeForest Kelley, certainly has more screen presence that Dr. Piper from Where No Man Has Gone Before but in The Man Trap his role as an emotional foil to the coldly logical Mr. Spock is yet to be established.

This episode's portrayal of Lieutenant Uhura is particularly interesting in light of Nichelle Nichols's reported dissatisfaction with her role in the original series due to its lack of "significance" and Uhura's (as played by Zoe Saldana) romantic relationship with Mr. Spock in the 2009 reboot of the Star Trek franchise. For one thing, in the first scene in which Uhura is present, she's not at her usual post at the Enterprise's communications console; she's actually at the navigator's station! In this one episode, Uhura demonstrates more breadth in her abilities as a Starfleet officer than she did in the first six Star Trek movies! Uhura then jokes to Mr. Spock about being bored with her duties as the Enterprise's communications officer, and then, if I'm not mistaken, proceeds to shamelessly flirt with the dispassionate Vulcan! Speaking of dispassionate Vulcans, although much less emotional than he was in Where No Man Has Gone Before, Mr. Spock barely seems to be able to control his emotions when he is notified of a crewman's death and then is subsequently confronted by Uhura for what she believes to be (if only she knew!) his cold-blooded reaction (or non-reaction) to the tragic news. The Kirk-Spock-McCoy triumvirate is obviously to take a while to gel into the form that Star Trek: The Original Series fans are familiar with.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9/11/2001

I still remember where I was on September 11, 2001 when I found out about the attacks. Before going to work, I had checked in on a gaming related discussion forum that I used to frequent and saw some thread titles referring to the attacks in the off-topic section but I assumed the discussion was about some new game. Something, however, made me check Yahoo! News before finally heading out the door and I saw that whatever was being discussed in the forum wasn't a game at all.

Most of my day at work was spent glued to a television set in one of the company conference rooms feeling sick to my stomach as the death toll mounted while my mind reeled as I tried to make sense of something which really made no sense at all. After all, what sane human being decides to just go murder a whole bunch of innocent people just to make a point?

How do you wrap your head around that?

The sick feeling I experienced when I thought about how many people had perished in the attacks slowly developed into something akin to depression when I realized that the course of history down which the USA and the rest of the world had been meandering had basically taken a big detour down crazy street and there was going to be a shitstorm the likes of which people of my generation had never seen and a lot more innocent people were probably going to die or at least have their lives turned completely upside down as a consequence of these attacks.

Those innocents are as much victims of the 9/11 attacks as those who died on that day, the course of their lives, like ours, forever changed by that detour taken by history.

There will certainly be more anniversaries of the 9/11 attacks in the future but they probably won't carry as much weight as this one.

More time will have passed so memories of that day won't be as vivid.

And other events claiming priority in our memories will probably come to pass.

Those of us who are young enough to have been shaped by the attacks and their aftershocks will eventually grow old and die.

But history will go on in the way it does.

That is, until another such event makes it take yet another detour down crazy street.

I guess what ultimately matters is that we don't crash during these detours and that we get back on track as soon as possible.