Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Where I Discuss Star Trek: The Galileo Seven

This article was first posted on September 27, 2010. It is presented in its entirety with some minor changes.

The Galileo Seven is an odd episode of Star Trek: The Original Series. It's basically a disaster movie. With Spock in the role of the plucky hero who leads everyone to safety. His turn as leader is hindered by the fact that for some unfathomable reason, he has lost all of the emotional sensitivity that he exhibited in the previous episodes. Not only has he lost his emotional sensitivity, he has turned into a Forrest Gump of emotional sensitivity, unintentionally alienating everyone around him. It doesn't help that everyone around him, with the exception of Scotty, seems to have collectively taken leave of their senses.

For most of The Galileo Seven, we are presented with Spock making what are basically very sound, rational decisions given the situation the eponymous seven Enterprise crewmembers are in, and everyone else, with the exception of Scotty, who spends most of this episode with his head under the hood of the stricken shuttlecraft Galileo, objecting to the choices that he makes, mainly, it seems, out of spite. It's as if being stranded on Taurus II has resulted in everyone binning themselves into one of two categories: Persons principally driven by their id or persons principally driven by their ego...with almost everyone almost gleefully giving themselves over to their id.

Irrationality abounds in this episode. Not only that, but it's trumpeted as something to be proud of, something that makes us human.

Following this strange logic, the residents of the local asylum would be the ideal exemplars of all that is human. I would argue the contrary, that what makes us human is our rationality or at least our capacity for such. In which case Mr. Spock would appear to be the most human of all the characters in this episode. How deliciously ironic that someone who constantly struggles to suppress his humanity turns out to be the most human of them all. A foreshadowing of Kirk's eulogy at the end of The Wrath of Khan?

Or maybe I'm reading too deeply into an episode which is, at the end of the day, basically a disaster movie.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Star Trek: Shore Leave

This article was first posted on September 15, 2010. It is presented in its entirety with some minor changes.

Kirk complains of a sore back and when someone starts giving him an unsolicited back rub, he assumes it's Spock, rather than the scrumptious Yeomen Tonia Barrows, that's giving him relief from his aches and pains.

Kirk confounds Yeomen Barrows's handiwork with Spock's

McCoy sees a giant rabbit, gets "killed" by a medieval knight on horseback and then shows up, alive and well, arm-in-arm with bunnies of a different sort.

McCoy in a heaven of sorts after "dying"

Then there's the sub-plot of how a strange force field emanating from the seemingly idyllic planet that the Enterprise is orbiting is draining its engines; this sub-plot is rather abruptly dropped by episode's end and not satisfactorily concluded.

I'm not saying that Theodore Sturgeon, the writer responsible for Shore Leave, was on drugs when he put pen to paper, but it sure would explain a lot.

And am I the only one who caught on to the fact that every member of the crew that walked on the bridge at the conclusion of the episode got laid? Knowing Kirk, he definitely got it on with the simulacrum of Ruth, the girl from his past. McCoy and Barrows presumably did something to explain the smiles on their faces. And you can't tell me that the swashbuckling Mr. Sulu didn't do anything with the simulacra of the cabaret girls he ended up arm-in-arm with in the final scene on the planet's surface?

Everyone is all smiles after their shore leave

Or am I reading too much in what may be just a bunch of goofy smiles?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Star Trek: Balance of Terror

This article was first posted on September 13, 2010. It is presented in its entirety with some minor changes.

Balance of Terror is like a Chipotle burrito: Sinfully yummy...but so stuffed with ingredients that it's close to bursting open like Kane after his run-in with the facehugger. Not only is Balance of Terror a thinly disguised WWIIU-boat versus destroyer yarn, it's also a cautionary tale about racism. If that weren't enough, there's also a message thrown in about the futility of war: War is bad, mkay?

Romulan Bird-of-Prey, the 23rd century's answer to the U-boat

As in many of the early Star Trek episodes, we're treated to the spectacle of Spock using logic to justify kicking some ass; in this case, he points out that showing weakness in the face of Romulan aggression will only result in interstellar war. Thus, to avoid war, the Enterprise crew must pursue and destroy the Romulan Bird of Prey that has encroached upon Federation space.

Logic dictates, captain, that we open up a can of whoop-ass on the Romulans

After his turn as Mr. Sensitivity in The Conscience of the King, Spock reverts to type as the coldly logical Vulcan, cutting the bigoted Stiles short during his clumsy (and roundabout) attempt at an apology for his earlier racism by pointing out that Spock saving his life was dictated entirely by Stiles's value to the Enterprise's crew as a highly trained navigator. Or maybe Spock being short with Stiles had nothing to do with logic and everything to do with him being peeved by the latter's bigotry.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

My (Random) Thoughts on The Avengers

While waiting for the crowds to die down before going to see The Dark Knight Rises, I thought this would be a good time to discuss this summer's first superhero blockbuster: Joss Whedon's The Avengers.

While I am a fan of Firefly, I am not a fan of Joss Whedon due to what I see as his tendency to try a little bit too hard to make the dialogue he writes witty and amusing. So, despite all the positive press that it has received, it was with some trepidation that I went to see The Avengers.

The Avengers, assembled

I'm glad to say that I was proven wrong; the dialogue in The Avengers was witty and amusing but it didn't come off as being forced. The Avengers had just the right mix of action and humor and every one of the ensemble cast got a chance to shine, even the two relatively normal members of The Avengers, Black Widow and Hawkeye. And in a bit of film-making legerdemain, Joss Whedon managed to use all the resources at his disposal, namely the above mentioned action and humor blended with some good pacing, to distract the audience (or at least this viewer) from the film's 143 minute length and a major plot-hole. At the movie's end, I walked out of the theater surprised at how long it had been and I wasn't even aware of the plot-hole until someone else pointed it out to me.

Hawkeye and Black Widow, normal people with freakish skill sets

The plot-hole in question is the unexplained transition of the Hulk from out-of-control rage monster to in-control rage monster. This is a pretty big plot-hole since out-of-control Hulk ends up being as much a danger to the other Avengers as the film's villain, Loki, and wreaks considerable havoc on board S.H.I.E.L.D.'s flying aircraft carrier halfway through the film while in-control Hulk plays an important role in foiling Loki's attempt at conquering the world. One gets the feeling that a pivotal scene ended up on the cutting room floor, perhaps to prevent the film from being overlong.

Out-of-control Hulk smashes expensive government property

In-control Hulk smashes extraterrestrial invader

The absence of any explanation of this change in the Hulk's character is all the more suprising considering an embarrassingly clumsy and completely unnecessary bit of exposition which occurs early in the film when Loki appears at a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility. Dr. Selvig, the mentor of Thor's love interest in the filmbearing his name, upon seeing Loki, blurts out, "Loki – brother of Thor!", presumably for the benefit of anyone who hasn't seen Kenneth Branagh's contribution to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What's particularly puzzling is that throughout the film, Thor, through his words and actions, repeatedly explains his relationship to Loki, rendering this clunky bit of dialogue moot. It's so bad that I suspect it may have been thrown in there as some kind of joke, especially considering that Joss Whedon is very adept at exposition, the one exception that comes to mind being the first few minutes of Firefly's The Train Job.

Loki, brother of Thor

Plotholes and clumsy exposition aside, my only real quibble about The Avengers is the question it raises of what will the Avengers do next? The villain for the next film to feature this superpowered team was revealed after the credits, so we know who the Avengers will be battling next. However, what villainy will the individual heroes attempt to foil in their own films? After all, Iron Man 3 is currently in production and sequels to Captain America and Thor are reported to be in the works. After having stopped an attempted invasion of Earth by extraterrestrials, battling more "mundane" threats such as Russian arms dealers or other miscreants seeking monetary gain would seem a bit beneath them.

Black Widow, moments away from taking down some Russian arms dealers – it's difficult to imagine her going back to her day job after having helped thwart an extraterrestrial invasion

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Where I Discuss Anna Karenina

This article was first posted on September 12, 2010. It is presented in its entirety with some minor changes.

Somehow, director Clarence Brown managed to stuff the essence of Leo Tolstoy's 900 page novel into this 95 minute movie. What is surprising is that the film doesn't feel rushed at all except during the transition when the eponymous heroine of Anna Karenina suddenly reverses herself and declares her love for Count Vronsky. Had a few more scenes (and minutes) been spent on this transition, the film would have been perfect.

Besides Anna's rather jarring admission to Vronsky, the only other complaint I have about the film is its rather sentimental ending, with the camera lingering on a photograph of the MILFalicious Greta Garbo as Anna Karenina, while Vronsky and Yashvin discuss Anna's death at the business end of a train and how it might have been (or might not have been) averted had Vronsky just been less of a cad.

As I mentioned before, there's a lot in this film. Not only is the basic structure of the story as told in the novel sumptuously brought to the screen, but the hypocrisy inherent in how society judges lapses in morality differently depending on the sex of the offender is given significant screen time; Vronsky, whom the film portrays as being the instigator of his doomed affair with Anna, barely suffers at all as a result of their adulterous liaison; the affair and its consequences end up being nothing more than minor speed bumps in the path his life happens to be taking. Anna, in contrast, has her life irrevocably ruined. I'd like to say that much has changed since the 1870's, when the novel was written, but that'd be naive of me.

Particularly bizarre and almost discomfiting to this viewer were the over-the-top displays of physical love shared by Anna and her adolescent son, Sergei; at the film's conclusion, I half expected Sergei to pluck out his eyes after Anna took her own life. What made these displays even more strange were that Anna seemed to show more passion in the kisses she lavished on her son than to the ones she bestowed upon Vronsky.


Also worthy of mention is BasilRathbone's rather creepy portrayal of Anna's husband, Alexei Karenin; barely showing any emotion and husbanding his movements to the extreme, he reminded this viewer of an ambush predator lying in wait for its prey. This impression was given even more weight due to Basil Rathbone's uncanny resemblance to a praying mantis. However, instead of literally seizing Anna and biting her head off, BasilRathbone's Karenin only bit off her head spiritually.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Castiglione Discusses Star Trek: The Conscience of the King

This article was first posted on September 8, 2010. It is presented in its entirety with some minor changes.

More police procedural than science fiction, The Conscience of the King also presents another side to the brash Captain Kirk, a side which was explored (albeit under extraordinary conditions) in The Enemy Within. Here, we're presented with Captain Kirk as Hamlet, indecisive and hesitant, when confronted with the fact that a mass-murderer from his past is not dead as was thought but alive and on the Enterprise. Maybe the fact that he has developed feelings for the mass-murderer's pretty, young daughter, Lenore, has something to do with his reluctance to act on the evidence that he has gathered? Or maybe the captain realizes that human memory is fallible and if one is to accuse a man of having ordered the executions of over 4,000 men, women and children, one had better be certain that he has the right man.

Eugenics-inspired mass-murderer? Or itinerant stage actor? Or both? After 20 years, it's difficult to be certain...

The Conscience of the King is one of the better of the early episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series, due in no small part to the development of Captain Kirk's character as well as the relationship between Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy. Also of particular interest in this episode are:
  1. Mr. Spock's concern for Lt. Kevin Riley's emotional well-being when the latter is "demoted" back to engineering and
  2. The 33-year old Captain Kirk's obviously carnal interest in the 19-year old Lenore.
The 33-year old James. T. Kirk tongue fences with the 19-year old Lenore

The first point is interesting since the logical Vulcan in Mr. Spock shouldn't even have considered the possibility of Lt. Riley being upset at his transfer as being significant; I guess his human half isn't quite as suppressed as Mr.Spock would like to believe. The second point is interesting because of how it illustrates a point I've brought up before: Science fiction tends to reflect the mores of the era in which it was written. Now, I wasn't alive back in the 60's but I'm guessing a man in his 30's pursuing a 19-year old girl as aggressively as Kirk was pursuing Lenore wasn't considered inappropriate back then; if this episode were written nowadays, I would speculate that the screen-writers would opt to age Lenore a few years in order to minimize the ick factor or have Kirk limit his interactions with her to the occasional avuncular pat on the head followed by a lollipop or an ice-cream cone.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Star Trek: The Menagerie

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

The Menagerie gives us a tantalizing glimpse of what Star Trek might have been, had the first pilot, The Cage, been accepted by NBC; instead of the brash James T. Kirk, the Enterprise is commanded by an intense, almost grim (and definitely humorless) Christopher Pike, the first officer is a woman, Mr. Spock is still the science officer but is embarrassingly (by Vulcan standards) emotional and the ship's doctor is one half country doctor a la Leonard McCoy and one half Mentat. Had The Cage been given the green-light, Star Trek, as we know it, would have been quite different.

Christopher Pike displaying a very un-Kirk-like mien

As a means of showcasing the story of Captain Pike and his crew, The Menagerie adequately performs the task at hand. As an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series in its own right, it doesn't quite gel; most of the dialogue is exposition leading up to yet another segment of the story of Captain Pike's encounter with the Talosians and too much of the story jury-rigged around The Cage doesn't make any sense: Why were the Talosians willing to help Christopher Pike given the outcome of their first encounter with the captain? Why did Mr. Spock have to do what he did when the Talosians, who were evidently able to project their illusions as far as Starbase 11, could have, by their own machinations, brought Christopher Pike to Talos IV? Why did Christopher Pike keep signaling "No" in response to Spock's actions but then reverse himself when the Enterprise finally settled into orbit around Talos IV? All these problems in The Menagerie betray its origins as nothing more than a vehicle for presenting the footage filmed for The Cage.

Who watches the watchers? The crew of the USS Enterprise from The Menagerie watches the crew of the USS Enterprise from The Cage. Meanwhile, the Talosians (off-screen) are watching everyone. And we, the audience, are watching them all

On a positive note, The Menagerie further develops Mr. Spock's character as well as his relationship with Dr. McCoy; we are treated to Mr. Spock braving the death penalty so that his former commander can live out his days unfettered by his broken body and it is Dr. McCoy who vigorously defends Mr. Spock when Captain Kirk voices doubts about his honesty concerning recent events.