Sunday, December 4, 2011

Star Trek: The Enemy Within

This article was first posted on August 9, 2010. It is presented in its entirety with some minor changes.

Science fiction tends to reflect the times in which it was written; since science fiction is the exploration of the human condition in the face of advances in science and since the technological bogeyman that is foremost in everyone's minds changes from era to era, this is not surprising.

However, science fiction is still fiction and like all fiction, it will reflect the mores that were current in the era in which it was written.

A case in point is The Enemy Within.

In my discussion of The Naked Time, I mentioned that Kirk, while suffering from an affliction that brought deep-seated emotions and desires to the surface, revealed his frustrated desire for Yeoman Janice Rand. In The Enemy Within, this desire explodes to the surface in the form of Kirk's evil half, which is separated from his good half by a transporter malfunction.

Being evil, Kirk's evil half raids Dr.McCoy's liquor cabinet, swaggers through the Enterprise's corridors while drinking Saurian brandy straight from the bottle and overacting shamelessly and then winds up in Janice Rand's quarters where he attempts to force himself on her.

Kirk's evil half gets liquored up after helping himself to McCoy's booze stash

Later, Yeoman Rand gives a tearful account of the evil Kirk's assault on her virtue to the good Kirk, Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy; as an aside, she mentions she had not wanted to say anything about the attack since she had not wanted to get Kirk into any trouble.

Obviously, society's attitude toward sexual assault have changed considerably since the late 60's.

This point is hammered home by Mr.Spock's rather insensitive comment to Yeoman Rand at the episode's conclusion in which he states that she no doubt found that the evil Kirk had some interesting qualities.

His comment (delivered with a facial expression that can only be described as a leering smirk) almost makes his earlier statement to Kirk, "If I seem insensitive to what you're going through Captain, understand it's the way I am", seem almost prescient.

As in many of the earlier Star Trek: The Original Series episodes, characters not of the Kirk-Spock-McCoy Triumvirate seem to get quite a bit of screen time. Yeoman Rand plays a key role in this episode. Lieutenant Sulu also figures prominently in this episode. As leader of the landing party that is stranded on Alpha 177 by the transporter malfunction, Mr. Sulu manages to maintain his composure and sense of humor despite temperatures (and the landing party's chances of survival) dropping with each passing second.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Castiglione Discusses Immortals

I hadn't planned on watching Immortals. I'd seen the trailer and thought the film looked goofy. But a spur of the moment decision to go to the movies late at night resulted in having to make the decision to see either Jack and Jill or Immortals and I wasn't in the mood to see a film where the humor appeared to revolve around how ridiculous Adam Sandler looks dressed as a woman.

Unfortunately, Immortals was as goofy as presaged by its trailer. Fortunately, much of its goofiness began to surface in the latter half of the film so I was, at least, initially entertained. Unfortunately, the goofiness, when it began to appear, was so goofy that it probably disproportionately affected my opinion of the film.

Immortals recounts the story of Theseus (Henry Cavill), as he attempts to prevent Hyperion (Mickey Rourke), the Heraklion King of Crete, from freeing the Titans, who are imprisoned in Mount Tartarus, and using them to destroy the gods. In order to accomplish his apocalyptic mission, Hyperion needs the Epirius Bow, a magical weapon that allows its wielder to do things which are normally only possible when playing a video game on cheat mode.

Theseus is aided by the beautiful virgin oracle Phaedra (Freida Pinto) who really doesn't do a whole lot in the film except drop some misleading hints as to what will ultimately happen, save Theseus's life by going mother bird on him and regurgitating water into his parched mouth and get naked (courtesy of a body double).

Phaedra before she gets (sort of) naked

Theseus's battle with the Minotaur doesn't really play a prominent role in Immortals, which is strange considering that this battle is what Theseus is famous for. Frankly, I was just glad that it was included at all. However, it was only a fairly abbreviated action sequence and the labyrinth in which it took place wasn't really labyrinthy enough, being easily navigable by Theseus via the simple expedient of cutting himself and leaving a trail of his own blood. To make matters worse, Theseus's discovery of the Epirius Bow, the weapon crucial to Hyperion's plan to unleash the Titans, just before he was ambushed by the Minotaur, overshadowed the following battle and its resolution. I did, however, like that the Minotaur was only referred to as "The Beast" in Immortals although I'm at a loss to articulate why.

Theseus battles the Minotaur in the Labyrinth. In Immortals, the Minotaur is just some dude in a funky hat that a dom might wear

The Greek gods are portrayed as being very young and good looking while the Titans are portrayed as a bunch of hyperactive savages with really bad skin. Hephaestus, blacksmith of the gods, is nowhere to be seen. I suppose the presence of a god who was crippled and considered grotesque would have been inconsistent with Immortals's portrayal of the Greek dieties as a bunch of teenaged Aryans.

Hera, wife of Zeus (Luke Evans), is also notably absent in Immortals. I guess it would have been awkward having to explain that she was not only Zeus's wife, but also his sister. The family connection between the gods and the Titans (Zeus and Hera were the children of the Titans Cronus and Rhea) isn't even mentioned, thus saving the audience from whatever convoluted explanation that the screenwriters would have had to come up with to explain why the gods and the Titans don't seem to share any sort of family resemblance at all.

The Titans, progenitors of the gods. The family resemblance is very well concealed

Frankly, I'm not sure if the portrayal of the gods as a bunch of beautiful young people worked. They just seemed to lack the gravitas that I would associate with gods and this contributed to the film's goofiness whenever they appeared. Their costumes only exacerbated this problem. In her short, gold skirt, Athena (Isabel Lucas) looked more like a cheerleader than the goddess of wisdom and war. Athena is also the virgin patron of Athens. Frankly, in Immortals, she didn't look very virginal at all. If anything, she looked deliciously unvirginal.

Athena, goddess of war and wisdom and virgin patron of Athens

And whoever thought Ares (DanielSharman), the god of war, would look totally bad ass in what can only be described as a sword hat or Stegosaurus helmet was, to put it mildly, sadly mistaken.

Ares, god of war, sporting the sword hat

The mighty Stegosaurus, possible inspiration of Ares's choice of headwear

In addition to the goofiness of Immortals's portrayal of the Greek gods, what began to grate on me was just the fact that the film required you to turn your brain off in order to take it seriously.

Zeus's explanation for why the gods must not take an active role in the battle between Hyperion and Theseus (Man has faith in us so we must have faith in man) is one of those phrases that sounds pithy and erudite at first but upon deeper reflection is revealed to have as much depth as something you'd find in a fortune cookie.

Zeus's insistence on the gods following a sort of Olympian Prime Directive in regards to the affairs of man seems all the more strange given that one of these men (Hyperion) is trying to kill the gods. It's also a little bit ironic that had the gods answered Hyperion's prayers to save his family, he wouldn't have developed a total hard-on for them, and the whole crisis depicted in Immortals would've been averted.

There's also the question of why Zeus didn't immediately use the anti-Titan self-destruct device in Mount Tartarus to kill the Titans after they were freed. I had assumed that triggering the device would've killed the gods who were present in the mountain but when Zeus finally activated it, he was able to ascend to Mount Olympus, leaving the Titans to die and leaving me wondering why he couldn't have activated it immediately after the Titans were freed and, thus, prevent the bloody slaughter of half the gods of the Greek pantheon. Of course, that would've meant that we, the audience, wouldn't have gotten to see the kick-ass slow-motion battle scene depicting said bloody slaughter.

Speaking of battle scenes, one of the biggest head-scratchers in the movie was just what Hyperion was trying to accomplish having his numerically superior Cretan army attack the numerically inferior Athenian army through a little hole that he had blown in the wall separating them using the Epirius Bow. Why not make more holes or make a really big hole instead of having your forces attack through a narrow passageway that could be blocked and defended by a few dozen men?

Way to use your numerical superiority to maximum advantage, Hyperion!

Just how did this guy get to be king, anyway?

Frankly, watching the seemingly endless hordes of the CGI animated Cretan army go pouring into this tiny hole and realizing that this was probably intended to be epic made me titter.

And the scene where Theseus exhorts the Athenian army to find its courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds (the Athenians would have probably not needed the pep talk had they known that Hyperion would've been so sporting as to attack them through a narrow bottleneck of his own making), which looked painfully goofy in the trailer, was even more goofy in the film, since only an abbreviated version of Theseus channeling Henry V was shown in the previews.

To top it all off, in addition to being a goofy, albeit good-looking, movie, Immortals has the dubious distinction of being possibly the most sadistic, non-torture porn movie to have been released in quite some time. There's enough torture in Immortals to give a neo-con a boner (and possibly some ideas on what to add to the list of allowable enhanced interrogationtechniques) and a lot of people seem to get speared through the head in the film's battle scenes.

This seems to happen a lot in Immortals