Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

TV aspect ratio

Tuesday, 27 March, 2012

I see that the TV stations here have all given up the ghost on 4:3 aspect ratio. They used to frame things like news and sports broadcasts so that there was no vital information outside the 4:3 framing, so it wouldn’t be cropped off on old TV sets. But now I’ve noticed all of that info has expanded, presumably to fill the full width of the 16:9 aspect ratio, meaning bits of it are now cropped on my TV. Also they’re now framing humans so they’re frequently chopped in half on my screen.

I guess it’s time to bite the bullet and buy a new TV soon.

Venice snapshots

Monday, 20 February, 2012

I’m reading Venice: Pure City by Peter Ackroyd and enjoying it a lot. I visited Venice briefly back in 2001, and my wife and I are heading there again for a longer stay later this year. I wanted to get some of the city’s history under my belt before seeing it again, and I’m really glad I found this book. Here are some snippets I couldn’t help reproducing (from different chapters):

The concept of the maze or labyrinth is an ancient one. It is a component of earth magic that, according to some authorities, is designed to baffle evil spirits. The Chinese believed that demons could only ever travel in straight lines. It has also been said that the dead were deposited at the centre of mazes. That is why they retain their power over the human imagination. The labyrinth of classical myth is that place where the young and the innocent may be trapped or killed. But the true secret of the Venetian maze is that you can never observe or understand it in its totality. You have to be within its borders to realise its power. You cannot see it properly from the outside. You have to be closed within its alleyways and canals to recognise its identity.

The scheme of house numbers is difficult to understand; in each sestiere they begin at number one and then snake through every street until they finish. They reach into the thousands without the benefit of any reference to street or square. The names affixed to the streets seem in any case to be different to the names printed in the maps of the city. In fact the reality of Venice bears no relation to any of the published guides and maps. The shortest distance between two points is never a straight line. So the network of Venice induces mystery. It can arouse infantile feelings of play and game, wonder and terror. It is easy to believe that you are being followed. Your footstep echo down the stone labyrinth. The sudden vista of an alley or a courtyard takes you by surprise; you may glimpse a shadow or a silhouette, or see someone standing in a doorway. Walking in Venice often seems as unreal as a dream or, rather, the reality is of a different order. There are times when the life of the past seems very close – almost as if it might be around the next corner. The closeness of the past is embodied in the closeness of the walls and ways all around you. Here you can sense the organic growth of the city, stone by stone. You can sense the historical process of the city unfolding before you. There is a phrase, in T. S. Eliot’s Gerontion, to the effect that history has many cunning passageways. These are the passages of Venice.

Anyone who has tried navigating the calle of Venice will understand what Ackroyd is saying there. I found this such a compelling passage that I just had to savour it, keep it, and share it.

And then today I ran across this:

There is no scene in Venice that has not already been painted. There is no church, or house, or canal, that has not become the subject of an artist’s brush or pencil. Even the fruit in the market looks as if it has been stolen from a still life. Everything has been “seen” before. The traveller seems to be walking through oils and watercolours, wandering across paper and canvas.

How wonderful is that? Every chapter is filled with marvellous writing and imagery like this. It’s really getting me in the mood for our trip.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Thursday, 16 February, 2012

Star Trek IV, 1Like the movie before it, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is a direct continuation of the previous instalment in the series. It opens with a recap of the previous two films, followed by an upbeat musical theme over the main titles. This music has distinctive glockenspiel notes in it, twinkling in the manner of stars in space – a nice effect.

The opening scenes show a mysterious black cylinder moving through space past the USS Saratoga, which reports it’s headed straight for Earth, in an eerie mirror of V-ger in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Then we cut to Starfleet headquarters on Earth, where the Klingon ambassador is calling for Kirk to be extradited and tried for destroying a Klingon vessel and crew (in the previous film). During this accusal we are treated yet again to the Genesis computer graphics created for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and repeated in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, since in 1986 they still looked impressive. Sarek argues in Kirk’s defence.

On Vulcan, Kirk and his crew are banging the captured Klingon bird-of-prey from the last movie into shape for the trip back to Earth to face the consequences of stealing the Enterprise in the previous movie. They lampshade the rather silly predicament that Starfleet hasn’t bothered to send a better ship to pick them up and take them back to Earth for court martial. Spock is still rebuilding his intellect after his brush with death and we see him studying with some computers asking him tricky questions, when one asks, “How do you feel?” Spock is stumped, and his mother appears and reveals she programmed the computers to ask him this, to remind him of his human heritage. Spock takes his leave without answering her and elects to return to Earth to face trial with his colleagues.

Back at Earth, the mysterious probe arrives and starts vapourising the oceans. Things rapidly deteriorate, to the point where the President of the Federation issues a distress call, stating that the probe has “almost totally ionised the atmosphere“! (While this is possible, everything on Earth would be dead already.) When our heroes arrive, they cleverly figure out that the probe is transmitting sound into the Earth’s oceans. Modifying the sound to what it would sound like underwater, Spock recognises it as whale song. They quickly realise that the probe must have come to investigate why the sounds of whales ceased coming from Earth a couple of hundred years ago – when they died out. To respond and stop the probe, they need whales. Thus is hatched a hare-brained scheme to travel back in time to before they became extinct and pick some up!

Star Trek IV, 2We are treated to some trippy mind-screw hallucinatory images as the Klingon ship slingshots around the sun and is flung back to… 1986! Uhura reports that she is “receiving whalesong!” One wonders how the whales are transmitting it into space – presumably through the same means they use to communicate with the mysterious probe’s civilisation. They land in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, with the ship cloaked – thus explaining why they had to retain the Klingon ship, since Federation vessels don’t have cloaking technology. Interestingly, in the previous movie, the cloaking device on this same ship produced a rippling effect against the background stars in space that allowed Sulu to see the ship anyway, but now it produces complete and utterly flawless invisibility. Presumably Scotty did some of his magical engineering tweaks on it to improve it.

In town, this being San Francisco, nobody comments on their weird 23rd century clothing, especially Spock’s nightrobe-like Vulcan garb. Kirk is shocked to learn the natives are “still using money”. He sells the antique pair of glasses McCoy gave him at the beginning of Star Trek II. When Spock protests that they were a gift from McCoy, Kirk says, “That’s the beauty of it, they will be again,” implying the glasses enter a stable time loop. The group splits up, Kirk and Spock to look for whales, Scotty and McCoy to find some materials to build a whale tank inside the ship, Sulu to arrange transport for the materials, and Uhura and Chekov to locate a nuclear reactor so they can scavenge some high energy photons to recharge the ship’s warp engines. Scotty also generates a time loop when he teaches a materials scientist how to make transparent aluminium in exchange for some plexiglass. When McCoy protests that he could be messing with history, Scotty rather flippantly dismisses him with, “How do we know he didn’t invent it?” This is dealt with better in the novelisation, in which Scotty recognises the man as the guy who actually did invent transparent aluminium, thus reducing the flippant disregard for creating a time paradox.

Kirk and Spock find some whales at a fictional Cetacean Institute in Sausolito, as well as their carer Gillian. Kirk woos Gillian and eventually tells her they are from the future and need the whales. She rejects him, but comes back to find him when her boss releases the whales into the open sea, where they will be hunted and killed by whalers. Meanwhile, Uhura and Chekov locate a reactor, on board the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise(!), and beam in, getting into trouble when Chekov, a Russian, is caught inside an American naval vessel, at the height of the Cold War. He tries to escape but is injured and rushed to hospital, where the others stage a rescue mission. Then they fly out with Gillian on board to locate the whales’ tracking devices. They find them just before they are about to be harpooned by some evil Scandinavians, beam them aboard into the tank, and fly home to the future.

Star Trek IV, 3There they release the whales into San Francisco Bay to repopulate the species, the probe is happy and departs, and the Earth is saved! At the court martial, all charges are dropped due to extenuating circumstances, except the charge against Kirk of disobeying orders, for which he is demoted from Admiral to Captain, and therefore given command of a ship. The Klingon ambassador is outraged and Sarek is smug. Spock tells Sarek to tell his mother, “I feel fine.” The crew head to their new ship… which is revealed to be a brand new Enterprise. Awwww.

This is a very different Trek movie, which played more heavily with humour and light-hearted action than drama. And it worked, it really did. Some of the comedy moments with Kirk and Spock in the 20th century are truly hilarious, pushing but never quite falling into slapstick and ridiculousness. It’s an incredibly fun story, which is ultimately uplifting and hopeful – just what we needed in the dark and pessimistic times of the mid 1980s. Star Trek as it was truly meant to be. Wrath of Khan is a more edgy, dramatic, tense, and probably better movie, but this one is way more fun, and easily my second favourite of the entire series.

Tropes: Big Dumb Object, Ass in Ambassador, Lampshade Hanging, Artistic Licence – Physics, Crazy Enough to Work, Space Whale, Space Whale Aesop, Changed My Jumper, Stable Time Loop, Time Travel Romance, Mistaken for Spies, Time Travellers Are Spies, Adam and Eve Plot, Green Aesop, Unishment, Fish Out of Temporal Water, Everybody Lives.
Body count: None!

The Intern Menace

Thursday, 19 January, 2012

Spent a fun lunchtime today with our group of a dozen or so summer interns at work, helping Andrew S. show them how to swede a movie. We’re running a short film competition for the interns, with fabulous prizes for the best film. The idea is to get them to use cool Canon equipment and have some fun.

So today we gave them a lesson in how to make a short film. And to do so, we recreated Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. From the collective memory of the interns (without help from Andrew and me, and without any reference to a script or other material). And we shot the whole thing in one lunchtime.

We did a total of 16 scenes. Jar Jar died in the third scene. Palpatine became President of the Galaxy by winning a “Ben Hur” race, when Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan’s ship crashed into R2-D2 just before the finish line. But the people weren’t happy and attacked Palpatine in a mass fight scene. And in the final scene, Jar Jar came back to life, but Qui-Gon and Mace Windu killed him again.

We filmed it on the lawn in front of our building. Several onlookers were eating lunch nearby – I hope we kept them entertained!

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

Sunday, 15 January, 2012

Star Trek 3, 1Star Trek III: The Search for Spock picks up where Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan left off, after the defeat of Khan and the creation of the Genesis planet. In fact, the film opens by repeating the death of Spock scene. It also recycles the Genesis effect computer graphics from the previous film, mostly because in 1984 this was still an amazing piece of graphics.

The movie proper opens with the Enterprise limping back to Earth after the events of the previous film. On the way, McCoy is caught breaking into Spock’s quarters and acting bizarrely. We cut to a space rendezvous between a merchant ship and a Klingon Bird-of-Prey warship. Valkris, a Klingon woman aboard the merchant ship, transmits data on Genesis to Kruge, the captain of the Bird-of-Prey, who then promptly blows the other ship out of the sky, with a bittersweet adieu to Valkris for her spy work. Kruge decides to go to Genesis to learn the secret of this planet-destroying weapon. Kruge is played by Christopher “one point twenty-one jiggawatts” Lloyd, which adds touches of both coolness and oddity to the character.

On Earth, McCoy continues acting weird, making out-of-context references to Vulcan and collapsing. Spock’s father Sarek visits Kirk and engages in a cross-purposes berating of Kirk for failing Spock. The confusion is only cleared up when Sarek mind melds with Kirk, then explains that Spock would have tried to meld with someone before he died, to transfer his consciousness, or katra, to them so it could live on in their body. Kirk points out Spock was isolated in the radiation chamber, then reviews log tapes of the incident, spotting Spock touching McCoy and whispering the word, “Remember.” Sarek tells Kirk they have to get McCoy and Spock’s body to Vulcan as fast as possible or he will die.

Star Trek 3, 2And here’s the plot hole in the film. Kirk appeals to Admiral Morrow to get back Enterprise, but Morrow refuses because Genesis is a “political hot potato”. It looks like Kirk never explained that McCoy’s life was in danger, and there was no diplomatic word from Sarek to assist in the request. And the USS Grissom is out there surveying Genesis anyway, what’s one more ship going to do?! On board the Grissom are Saavik and David. Saavik is very disappointingly not played by Kirstie Alley, but by wooden newcomer Robin Curtis. Kruge appears and unceremoniously blows the Grissom out of the sky, with only Saavik and David surviving, doing a survey on the planet and its incredibly fake cacti and snow. They find it’s unstable, because David cut corners in the research (remind anyone of his father and the Kobayashi Maru?). They also find Spock’s torpedo tube, distressingly empty except for some giant mutated rubber worm things, which David says must have been mutated by the Genesis effect.

Back on Earth, Kirk decides to screw the rules and do what’s right, arranging with Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, and Scotty to steal the Enterprise and take McCoy to Genesis then Vulcan. This is a cool sequence in which they sneak around and outsmart an unlikeable smug captain in charge of the new, faster Excelsior by having Scotty steal the space-spark-plugs. At Genesis, David and Saavik have found Spock’s body, regenerated by the Genesis effect into a mind-blanked young boy, who ages rapidly. He goes thorough pon-farr and Saavik tries to ease this by stroking his fingers in the same way that Sarek and Amanda did to demonstrate their love back in “Journey To Babel”. Hmmm. A Klingon landing party soon find them and take them prisoner.

The Enterprise arrives and there is a brief space battle in which both ships are damaged. Kruge demands Kirk surrender and hand over the Genesis device, or he will kill prisoners. Kirk tries to delay, but Kruge has one of this flunkies kill a prisoner. David interferes and gets the knife himself, sending Kirk into a rage. He says he’s surrendering, sets the Enterprise to self-destruct, and beams down to Genesis. The Klingon boarding party are blown up as the Enterprise destructs. I always figured the Enterprise would self-destruct by breaching the antimatter containment thingy, resulting in an enormous explosion that vapourises the entire ship instantly. But no, the front half of the saucer sort of blows up, leaving the rest of the ship – including the engines and the engineering section – intact. (Supposedly canon says there are two different self-destruct modes: this one, and the full-on antimatter explosion. Kirk happened to choose the milder version, so as not to destroy the Klingon ship and their only potential means of escape.) It then forms a fireball as it falls from orbit, watched by the stunned crew. It’s an emotional moment, and I vividly recall watching this scene in horror in the cinema when the film was first released.

Star Trek 3, 3They find the Klingons and Saavik and Spock. Kruge beams down to engage Kirk in a clifftop fistfight, in which Kirk kicks Kruge off the cliff and he falls into lava as the planet breaks up. Kirk tricks the last Klingon crew member into beaming him up and takes control of the Klingon ship. They fly it to Vulcan, where a ceremony restores Spock’s consciousness from McCoy into the regenerated body of Spock. Spock is naturally a bit shaken by being split in half, killed, regenerated, and recombined, but the film ends in a feel-good scene when he recognises his friends. And the adventure continues…

EDIT: Oh, I suppose I should add my opinions on this film. Well, it’s not terrible, but it’s not great either. The biggest emotional impact comes from the destruction of the Enterprise (by which time it’s pretty clear that Spock would be coming back to life). Lloyd as Kruge is good. The sets and props are not great, particularly the fake looking scenery on the Genesis planet and the rubber worms which Kruge strangles. Curtis as Saavik is disappointing and stiff. The stealing of the Enterprise sequence is very cool. Overall… eh… middling.

Tropes: Face Death With Dignity, Our Souls Are Different, Sharing A Body, Obstructive Bureaucrat, The Other Darrin, Screw the Rules, I’m Doing What’s Right, Smug Snake, Vehicular Sabotage, Stolen MacGufin Reveal, Back From The Dead, Rapid Aging, Heroic Sacrifice, Self-Destruct Mechanism, Disney Villain Death, Lethal Lava Land, And The Adventure Continues.
Body count: Valkris and all on board merchant ship (destroyed by Klingon Bird-of-Prey), All hands on board USS Grissom, Klingon gunner (shot by Kruge), David (stabbed by a Klingon), various Klingon crew (blown up on board Enterprise), Klingon crewman (shot by Kirk), Kruge (falls off cliff), USS Enterprise (self destruct).

Cricket commentary du jour

Wednesday, 4 January, 2012

From today’s radio commentary of the Second Test, Australia v India, from the Sydney Cricket Ground. Guest commentators Harsha Bhogle (from India) and Danny Morrison (from New Zealand, specifically Wellington) were sharing the microphone.

Danny: And back home everyone talks about my hobbit feet.
Harsha: Hobbit feet? That’s a curious expression. What do you mean?
Danny: You know, hobbit feet. Big and hairy.
Harsha: The only hobbit I know is this book I studied back when I was in school… Bilbo Baggins, was that him?
Danny: Yeah, that’s the one.
Harsha: And there were dwarves… Ori, Dori, Nori… Oin, Gloin… and some others I can’t remember.
Danny: Yeah yeah, that’s it!
Harsha: So… hobbit feet??
Danny: Feet like a hobbit. All big and hairy.
Harsha: I remember that book because we had to study it for months.
Danny: They’re making the film of it. In Wellington.
Harsha: Really?! I must keep an eye out for that.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Tuesday, 3 January, 2012

Star Trek II, 1Ah, now here we have something. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is what really drove me to continue this series of reviews into the films. It is widely regarded as the best of the original cast Star Trek films. Watching it again, I am reminded forcefully why this is the case.

Although, the music over the credits is nowhere near as memorable as the music from the first movie. Perhaps just because that music was later used for The Next Generation, whereas this one still sounds unfamiliar (despite me having seen the movie multiple times). The opening scene makes up for it though, with the new character Saavik apparently in command of the Enterprise, in the now-famous Kobayashi Maru simulation. The impressive 1980s computer graphics are no match for the young Kirstie Alley, who bravely orders the ship into the Klingon Neutral Zone (the lesser known cousin of the more famous Romulan Neutral Zone, which is probably why we haven’t ever heard of it before now). In the simulated attack, Spock “dies”, prompting Kirk’s witty, “Aren’t you dead?” line a bit later when they meet. That’s an interesting bit of foreshadowing I hadn’t really noticed before.

We then get to see Kirk’s apartment, with a gorgeous view overlooking San Francisco Bay. The crew arrive to celebrate his birthday, and we learn that Kirk apparently has a fondness for antiques – something that somehow eluded our perception in three years of episodes. McCoy gives him a pair of eyeglasses, which Kirk has to amusingly ask what they are. Spock gives Kirk an antique edition of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, from which Kirk reads the opening lines.

Meanwhile, Chekov is on the USS Reliant, surveying planets to find a dead world for testing of the mysterious Genesis project. He and Captain Terrell check out Ceti Alpha VI, beaming down to check out some weird sensor readings. They find a shipwreck, sending Chekov into a panic when he discovers the nameplate Botany Bay. But it’s too late to escape, as one of the most awesome dramatic reveals in cinema history occurs. The cloth-swathed figure who captures them is slowly revealed (to the best music of the movie) to be none other than Khan, last seen in the episode “Space Seed“, in which Kirk stranded the genetic superman and his followers on Ceti Alpha V. It turns out there was a planetary catastrophe soon afterwards, disrupting the orbits and rendering Ceti Alpha V almost uninhabitable (and now apparently the 6th planet out). Khan’s wife died, and now he wants nothing but revenge on Kirk.

Khan sticks nasty parasites into Chekov and Terrell’s ears; the parasites’ mental influence gives him command over them. He uses this to capture the Reliant, go to and destroy the Genesis research base, and then ambush Kirk when he arrives to investigate what’s going on. Kirk is led there by a call from Genesis lead scientist (and old flame) Carol Marcus, when Khan makes her believe that Kirk ordered the civilian project turned over to Starfleet. To explain Genesis to Spock, McCoy, and the audience, Kirk plays a classified recording or Carol presenting the research proposal. We are treated to stunningly impressive computer graphics for 1982 (they look dated now, but it was genuinely mind-blowing then), showing the “Genesis effect” transforming a dead rocky planet at the molecular level into one primed to support life. As McCoy points out, it could also be used to wipe out an entire populated planet.

Star Trek II, 2When Kirk arrives at the research station, Khan is ready, and cripples the Enterprise with a pre-emptive attack. Kirk pulls a trick to deactivate Reliant‘s shields and get a shot in, and the two ships withdraw. Kirk, McCoy, and Saavik check the research station and find dead scientists, barely alive Chekov and Terrell, and a transporter recently set to beam inside the nearby asteroid. Spock on board the Enterprise reports the transporters have died and Kirk asks how long until they are repaired. In a transparent piece of codespeak, Spock tells Kirk “hours would seem like days” and that they will be ready in two days. It’s kind of clever, since they know Khan will be listening in, but it’s a bit of a plothole that Khan (a genius, remember) can’t decipher the real meaning of this message.

In the meantime, the landing party beams down inside the asteroid, finding a hollowed chamber. Carol’s son David attacks Kirk, thinking he’s behind the attack, but she calls him off. Chekov and Terrell reveal they are still under Khan’s mental command, and contact Khan, who beams up the Genesis device. Terrell kills a redshirt scientist who tries to jump him, then fights off the parasite’s influence and turns the phaser on himself. Chekov collapses and McCoy tends to him. Carol explains to Kirk that David is his son, and then they reveal an enormous cave in the asteroid, terraformed by Genesis. On cue, two hours later, Spock beams them aboard and the final showdown with Khan commences.

The Enterprise limps to the Mutara Nebula, which clouds ship’s sensors and gives them an even chance against the less damaged Reliant. Khan again plays against his alleged genius intellect by famously thinking “two dimensionally” as Spock points out. Kirk commands the recovered Chekov to pilot the Enterprise down, and they manage to get behind Khan this way and deliver a killing blow. Khan decides to take Kirk with him, activating the Genesis device in a ploy to convert the entire nebula and everything within it into a new planet. The Enterprise can’t get out without warp drive, and the engines can’t be fixed because of radiation flooding the engine chamber.

Unknown to Kirk, Spock races down the engineering. McCoy tries to stop him entering the chamber, but Spock nerve pinches him, then in an odd move grips the unconscious McCoy in the Vulcan mind meld grip and whispers, “Remember.” Spock then enters the chamber and performs the necessary repairs, allowing the ship to escape in the nick of time as the nebula implodes. Kirk breathes a sigh of relief, interrupted as he notices Spock is not on the bridge and by McCoy calling from engineering and saying to get down there. Kirk arrives in time for poignant last words as Spock dies on the other side of the clear radiation screen. After a moving funeral, they shoot his body into space in a torpedo casing over the new Genesis planet, presumably to burn up in re-entry.

Star Trek II, 3In the denouement, David and Kirk come to terms with their relationship. Then on the bridge, Kirk quotes the ending lines of A Tale of Two Cities, bookending this literary reference to Spock’s sacrifice to save his friends. The final shot is of the Genesis planet, on which we see Spock’s torpedo tube, apparently soft-landed. The famous “Space, the final frontier” speech is then delivered for the first time in the franchise by Leonard Nimoy.

The revenge theme is what drives this film. And despite the more obvious use of A Tale of Two Cities, it is another book that forms the core of the film. As Chekov and Terrell are surveying the wreck of the Botany bay, we see a copy of Moby-Dick on a shelf. Khan is Captain Ahab, and Kirk is his white whale. The parallels are deliberately played up, including the final showdown game of cat and mouse in the Mutara Nebula between the Enterprise and Khan’s captured Reliant that echoes battle on the high seas. Khan’s last words are even a direct quote of Ahab’s. And in a piece of coincidence that couldn’t have been better if it was engineered, Ceti Alpha is the brightest star in the constellation of Cetus – the whale.

This film is so much better than Star Trek: The Motion Picture, in so many ways. The villain is more accessible, more real, more threatening, more of an actual villain. There’s real conflict. There’s more emotionally involving backstory, as Kirk faces up to old age, and to his past. There’s a young Kirstie Alley. There’s more quotable dialogue. There’s more intense drama and tension. There’s Starfleet uniforms that actually look good. I’ve seen some reports floating around the net that this used to be generally considered the best original cast Star Trek film, but that nowadays many people prefer VI: The Undiscovered Country. I went into this viewing open-minded, knowing I’d be reviewing both films eventually. But watching it again just makes me more certain that this one is the best. By far.

Tropes: Naive Newcomer, Unwinnable Training Simulation, Sealed Evil In A Can, Bus Crash, Best Served Cold, Orifice Invasion, Puppeteer Parasite, Technology Porn, Genesis Effect, Creating Life, Doomsday Device, Cryptic Conversation, Luke, You Are My Father, Ham To Ham Combat, Space Clouds, 2-D Space, Taking You With Me, Heroic Sacrifice, Outrun The Fireball, Anyone Can Die, Whole Plot Reference, Space Is An Ocean.
Body count: Peter Preston (killed in initial attack on Enterprise), 5+ scientists (killed by Khan’s mob), 1 scientist (phasered by Captain Terrell), Captain Terrell (phasers self), Joachim (victim of Kirk’s attack on Reliant), Khan (Genesis explosion), all Khan’s followers (Genesis explosion or final attack), Spock (selfless sacrifice).

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Monday, 12 December, 2011

Enterprise approaches VgerWell that break didn’t last long. I found myself pondering what to watch on a spare Friday evening and my hand drifted to Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the first movie entry in the series and the first new Star Trek since the TV series ended in 1969, ten years earlier. I remember this movie with some fondness, because it was the first Star Trek I got to see in first release, and on the big screen to boot. I remember being immersed in the wonder of spaceships and the pretty visuals. Being only a kid at the time I think the story was mostly lost on me.

And that’s kind of how it appears in the canon now, in the ripeness of time. It’s a luscious visual feast and a nostalgic return to something already loved, but not a strong piece of film in its own right. It plods along and is cerebral rather than exciting. I have the Director’s Edition DVD (one of several recuts of the film to make it work better), which runs to 141 minutes on PAL (it’d be a solid 2 and a half hours on NTSC). The first 2 minutes and 50 seconds of that is an orchestral overture accompanied by a receding starfield image and nothing else. It feels like attending a concert. And I remember being grossly disappointed by that music when I first heard it in the cinema. I was hoping for a rendition of the theme from the TV series, but instead I got this… foreign, unfamiliar music. But that theme is now intimately familiar, as it was used as the theme music for Star Trek The Next Generation. And watching the movie again, I have to say that Jerry Goldsmith’s music is one of the highlights of the film. It’s given prominence by the many scenes in which nothing happens but panning and sweeping shots of space exteriors to the accompaniment of the music. You could almost close your eyes watching this film and enjoy it as much.

The overture eventually ends and we are treated to and opening scene of three Klingon vessels attacking a mysterious space cloud thing. Klingons!! Awesome, I remember, when I was that excited kid in the cinema seeing this for the first time. The movie was going to be a huge space shoot-out between Klingons and Captain Kirk on the Enterprise! What’s not to love?! (I was prejudiced somewhat by the recently released Star Wars, 2 years earlier.) Except it didn’t turn out that way. The Klingons are merely there to show how impossibly powerful and impervious this cloud thing is, as it destroys them each without lifting a cloudy muscle. The Klingons, by the way, are the first appearance of the modern brow-ridged variety, and look much cooler than the Klingons ever looked in the TV series.

There’s a scene of Spock on Vulcan, apparently failing some sort of ceremonial logic thingy. We switch to Starfleet Headquarters, which apparently has taken over the Presidio in San Francisco, where Kirk is revealed to be an Admiral, but is heading up to the newly refitted Enterprise to take command, as the hostile cloud thingy is headed straight for Earth. Kirk beams up to an orbital station – the transporters have been upgraded with late-1970s special effects and now take twice as long to do their job. We are treated to a full four and a half minutes of orchestral starship strip-tease as Scotty takes Kirk over to the Enterprise in a shuttlecraft, flying lovingly around the Enterprise in a sensual manner.

Kirk relieves Captain Decker of his command, setting up the only real tension in the movie. The crew are rushing to get the ship ready for departure, and not all the systems are working yet. This is demonstrated when Starfleet tries to beam science officer Sonak and another crew member directly on board, only for them to get mangled. In a welcome return, Janice Rand is now the transporter chief. When she gets the contraption working properly, the last crew member to beam aboard is a bearded and reluctant McCoy, who complains about having been drafted back into service. With his beard and giant gold pendant around his neck, he looks more like a Bee Gee than a doctor, dammit! Another crew member is the exotic Deltan navigator Ilia, who makes a bizarre comment about having an oath of celibacy on record with Starfleet. This makes sense when you know the back-story given in the novelisation (which I had and read, though it took me some years to figure out what “celibacy” meant) about Deltans producing human-affecting pheromones and being so sexually advanced that any human having sex with a Deltan would be consumed by addictive lust – but none of that is ever mentioned in the film, making it weird and inexplicable.

34 and a half minutes into the film, the Enterprise finally gets underway, with another 2 minutes of visual starship porn. A very cool feature of this Enterprise is that it is not lit by some mysterious ambient lighting that pervades space and conveniently illuminates space ships. It’s dark, and lit only by an appropriately directional light from the sun and exterior running lights. The ship looks fantastic. It heads out at Warp 0.5, passing Jupiter in 1.8 hours (which implies Warp 0.5 is about a quarter the speed of light). The problem is when they try the warp engines, which haven’t been tested since the refit. They produce a wormhole and the ship is in danger of being destroyed by an asteroid. Kirk tries to fire phasers, but Decker overrules him and uses a torpedo to destroy the asteroid, explaining later that the phasers now go through the warp drive, so wouldn’t have worked. 1-1 Kirk-Decker. McCoy is straight into his most important role – not doctor, but advisor to Kirk, telling not to push people so hard. It’s now that you become acutely aware that something is missing from the old team: Spock.

Cue the appearance of a mysterious long-range shuttle, which deposits Spock, fresh from Vulcan. He fixes the engines, then explains how he felt a “mind” calling to him from the mystery cloud. As they approach the cloud, Spock becomes more contemplative. The cloud fires at the Enterprise, injuring nobody but Chekov as his panel explodes. Another shot will destroy them, but Spock notices the cloud is using frequencies of “a million megahertz” (i.e. terahertz radiation), and broadcasts friendship messages at that frequency, which halts the attack. They spend another half an hour of screen time flying into the depths of the cloud, past lots of cool scenery. Eventually the cloud gets bored and probes the Enterprise, disintegrating Ilia. She reappears as a robotic reconstruction, assigned to investigate the “carbon units” (i.e. life forms) on board Enterprise. Decker draws the short straw of showing robo-Ilia around.

Going to talk with VgerSpock leaves the ship in a space suit to try to meld with the cloud’s mind, and comes back half dead, but with a story about it being perfectly logical, but with no sense of who it is. The cloud is curious and naive. Robo-Ilia says the cloud is named V’ger, and V’ger demands information about its creator, which for some reason it thinks is on Earth. If its creator does not respond, it will destroy all the carbon units on Earth. In typical style, Kirk bluffs, saying he needs to talk to V’ger personally to explain why the creator hasn’t responded. Robo-Ilia takes him, McCoy, Spock, and Decker out of the ship, across a Giant’s Causeway of hexagonal blocks, to a dilapidated but eerily familiar looking space probe. Kirk reads the name plate: “V—GER”, and brushes off the dirt to reveal “VOYAGER 6”, an Earth probe launched in the 20th century and lost into “what they used to call a black hole”. Apparently its programming was corrupted and it returned to Earth to seek what it thought was its creator and destroy everything else. Shades of Nomad, from the TV episode “The Changeling“, anyone? Anyway, they try transmitting the download code to V’ger, but it burns its own wiring out, forcing the creator to physically reconnect it and join with V’ger. Decker volunteers and melds with Robo-Ilia in a symbolic rebirth thing, leaving just the Enterprise and a saved Earth to fade into the end credits.

It’s not a bad story. It’s just… watching it is a very… leisurely experience. There are several nice scenes. The music is good and the special effects are very nice for the 1970s. The story makes more sense in the novelisation, where it actually has some exposition. There are themes that could have been explored here – the relations between the power trio of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy in particular – that aren’t developed until the following films. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great. About the same as a mid-range TV episode – about the same as “The Changeling”, in fact.

Tropes: Kicked Upstairs, Leave The Camera Running, Teleporter Accident, Mandatory Unretirement, Our Wormholes Are Different, Putting The Band Back Together, Russian Guy Suffers Most, Robot Girl, Machine Monotone, Recycled Script, Ascend To A Higher Plane Of Existence.
Body count: Crew of three Klingon battle cruisers, entire personnel of Epsilon IX station (all vapourised by V’ger), Commander Sonak, unnamed female crew member (both mutated in transporter accident), Lieutenant Ilia (zapped by V’ger), Commander Decker (officially listed as “missing”).

Star Trek 3.24: Turnabout Intruder

Thursday, 1 December, 2011

Turnabout Intruder“Turnabout Intruder” is the last episode of Star Trek, and what a dismal ending.

Kirk meets yet another old flame from his academy days, Dr Janice Lester, part of an archaeological expedition on some planet that sends a distress call. Lester is ill, but as soon as she and Kirk are alone she activates an alien device that swaps her mind with that of Kirk’s. It turns out she is insane with envy of Kirk’s starship captain position, and resentment of the fact that (in her mind) it was because she is a woman that she could not succeed as well as Kirk.

The rest of the episode is spent with William Shatner hamming it up as the mind of an insane woman in Kirk’s body. “Kirk” uses his authority to have “Lester” (with Kirk’s mind) safely sedated in sick bay, but “Lester” manages to talk to Spock and convinces him that it’s Kirk’s mind inside. Spock can’t convince anyone else though, and “Kirk” organises a court martial for mutiny. McCoy and Scotty don’t know what to make of the situation, though the fact that “Kirk” is suddenly clearly bug-nuts insane in between filing his nails should ring some bells. And all the time there’s this rippling 1960s-style sexist undercurrent that Lester lost it because she could never be as powerful as a man, and couldn’t accept that like other women. It seems like in the Star Trek universe women can have positions of power, but Lester seems to blame her own incompetence on the “fact” that they can’t – so it’s a rather mixed message here.

There could have been a dramatic ending, but it’s deus ex machinaed away by the expedient of Lester going even more insane and losing her grip on Kirk’s body, so the mind swap simply wears off. It’s a lame ending to an uncomfortable story, about the only redeeming feature of which (by which I mean so-bad-it’s-funny) is Shatner’s positively loopy over-acting.

Well, it’s been a long ride through all the episodes, and what a downer to end on, but there were definite highlights along the way. I’m not sure if I’ll continue with any more of these sort of reviews. I might have a few months off and then see what I feel like watching.

Tropes: Grand Theft Me, Driven By Envy, I Just Want To Be You, Female Misogynist, Large Ham, Evil Is Hammy, Kangaroo Court, Anti-Mutiny, Axe Crazy, Different For Girls, Values Dissonance, Stay In The Kitchen, Deus Ex Machina, Reset Button Ending.
Body count: None!

Star Trek 3.23: All Our Yesterdays

Tuesday, 29 November, 2011

All Our YesterdaysAll Our Yesterdays” is an episode I remember well because I had the Fotonovel version of it when I was a kid. Watching it again was actually pleasant, because of the feeling of nostalgia, and the fact that I think this is a decent episode.

It starts with Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beaming down to a planet that is about to get destroyed by its sun going nova in a few hours (timed to the minute by the Enterprise, apparently). There’s supposed to be a large native population without spaceflight technology, but they seem to have all vanished. In a library, they find only one old man, Atoz, and a couple of his clones, who keep talking cryptically about hurrying up and getting to safety. Kirk never sits the guy down and asks him a straight question to find out what happened to everyone, so this part is a bit farcical, but it does build the mystery.

The library is full of memory discs, which show images of the planet’s history. While viewing one, Kirk hears a woman calling for help from through an archway, and of course races off to investigate. Spock and McCoy follow hot on his heels. Kirk appears in a street populated by people out of witch hunt Salem, and fights off some ruffians who are harassing a woman. Spock and McCoy appear in a snowy wilderness. They can talk to each other, but can’t get back to the library. Kirk gets into a sword fight, and is captured and thrown into a cell, where a prosecutor comes to accuse him of witchcraft. Meanwhile, McCoy starts freezing to death (despite Spock being the one from a hot planet and unused to the cold) and he and Spock trudge through the snow until they meet a mysterious figure clad in furs. It turns out to be a beautiful woman named Zarabeth, who Spock starts falling in love with when she strips down to a few strategically placed scraps of leather.

The story makes little sense to this point, but suddenly the pieces start falling into place. Kirk mentions to the prosecutor that he came from the library, and the prosecutor lets slip that he knows about it. He explains that everyone fled the nova through a time portal, so they could live out their lives in their own planet’s history. Spock and McCoy must have gone to a different time period because they were looking at a different memory disc. The prosecutor explains Kirk can never go back because his molecular structure has been changed by a machine in the library to suit the new time he is in, but when Kirk says he underwent no such process, the prosecutor tells him he must hurry back or die. He takes Kirk to the portal and Kirk finds his way back, where Atoz is most upset and tries to keep pushing him back through.

Kirk orders Atoz to locate the ice age disc so he can get Spock and McCoy back. But in the ice age, the normally vegetarian Spock is eating meat and kissing Zarabeth and getting mad at McCoy, who keeps insisting they try to get back. Zarabeth says they can’t go back, and Spock meekly agrees. McCoy argues that Spock is losing his logical mind because they’re 5000 years in the past, when Vulcans were still savages. This is a cool bit of storytelling logic, but it would have made more sense if Spock’s molecular structure had been altered to match 5000 years ago. Anyway, McCoy convinces Spock to look for the portal, conveniently just as Kirk locates the right disc, and they return to the present after a sad farewell to Zarabeth. Atoz dashes into the portal, and the crew beam back and warp out just before the sun explodes.

There are some plot holes, including the fact that Atoz keeps trying to push Kirk through the portal without adjusting his molecular structure, and the whole miscommunication thing with him. But those aside, I really like this episode. It has mystery, drama, conflict, a cool use of time travel, and it kinda makes sense. I call this one a winner from season 3.

Tropes: Literary Allusion Title, Ancient Keeper, Cloning Blues, Portal Door, Flynning, Changed My Jumper, Burn The Witch, Girl Of The Week, Fur Bikini, Cool Gate, Trapped In The Past, Temporal Sickness, Get Back To The Future, Veganopia, Meat Versus Veggies.
Body count: None!