27 June 2011

Trek Review: Amok Time & Who Mourns for Adonais?

The second season of Star Trek begins! I didn't expect 'Amok Time' to be the first episode we'd come across but here we are...

Amok Time

Amok TimeThis is the first episode of the second season, it's the episode we learn more about Vulcans and their way of life, how they chose a mate and the ceremonies involved around that. It's the first time we get to see Chekov and it's the first episode to feature that iconic 'fight music'!

Spock begins behaving differently, borderline violently and pleads with Kirk to let him go back to Vulcan. The Enterprise is already engaged in a diplomatic mission to Altair VI which makes granting Spock's request difficult.

Nevertheless, Kirk opts to help out his friend and McCoy finds that if Spock doesn't return to Vulcan, he will die. Spock reveals he is to marry T'Pring upon arrival at Vulcan, but she has other ideas. Setting up a challenge between Spock and Kirk and putting their lives on the line...

A great episode where we learn much more and see so much more of Vulcan, particularly in the remaster. Some of the new scenes inserted were fantastic. I appreciated the new shots of the Enterprise but the new Vulcan landscape scenes were amazingly well done as well.

The friendship between Kirk, Spock and McCoy has settled by this episode and we get our first sighting of Chekov who will become a regular part of the crew (I imagine) from here. Hopefully his wig doesn't hang around with him though!

While Eleonor didn't like 'angry Spock' so much, it was still quite funny to see him bash his computer monitor in!

Spock rage

Overall Rating: 8/10

Who Mourns for Adonais?

Who Mourns for AdonaisI looked at this episode as one that I wouldn't enjoy. It would be a throwaway, from the moment a giant hand is coming at the Enterprise from a planet and holding it in place to seeing a guy in robes claiming to be Apollo I'd already made my mind up about this episode.

But, it did manage to surprise me, if only a little bit.

So, Apollo's been waiting on this planet while his companions like Aphrodite, Hermes etc have all gone beyond. He knew his 'children' would find him and now he wants to enslave, I mean, have them live on this planet with him. He'll have them dismantle the Enterprise so they can live in paradise and worship him. He even takes a liking to Lt. Carolyn Palamas, much to Scotty's annoyance. In the end, Palamas is crucial in weakening Apollo and allowing Kirk and the landing party to work with Spock and Sulu on the Enterprise to get everyone free.

There are several different stories taking place at the same time. Aboard the Enterprise, Spock, Sulu and the crew are attempting to break free of the giant hand holding them in place and to get in contact with Kirk and the landing party. On the planet surface, Kirk and the landing party are confronted with Apollo and attempting to figure out his power source while trying to communicate with the Enterprise. The key is Lt Palamas who Apollo falls in love with and promises to make her his queen. Kirk is able to remind Palamas of her duty to Starfleet and to her credit she does that job well, saving the crew.

In this episode we see Scotty lose his temper on more than one occasion, Chekov's wig returns and the Enterprise has phaser power reserves that would make most 24th century Starfleet vessels envious in the attack on Apollo's power source!

Overall Rating: 6/10



22 June 2011

Trek Review: Star Trek The Original Series, Season 1

I figured I'd wrap up Season One with an overall review. The first season of any show is usually a difficult one to rate as it usually involves character development and stories to give some background to the people we're following around. The Original Series is no different and is more affected by the out-of-ordering of the episodes early on.

Where No Man Has Gone Before

As I mentioned in the review for the episode, Where No Man Has Gone Before has always been regarded by me as the pilot episode, but with the remastered blu-ray collection we started with The Man Trap instead. The former still makes the better pilot in my opinion, a shame they decided to use production sequencing in this set and Where No Man Has Gone Before actually becomes the third episode of the series/season.

Episodes I have fond memories of, including Where No Man Has Gone Before, The Corbomite Maneuver, Tomorrow is Yesterday, Balance of Terror and Space Seed all had high expectations for the re-run in blu-ray, but most of them ultimately played out differently or not as good as I remembered for one reason or another. The Corbomite Maneuver and Balance of Terror played out closely enough to my recollection while Space Seed seemed disappointing considering the importance this episode has for the future of Star Trek. Tomorrow is Yesterday played out differently, but was still a good episode, thanks in part to the updated effects.

Khan

So, with these recent reviews and from the ratings I've applied to each episode, those that scored highest were in fact The City on the Edge of Forever, scoring 9 out of 10, followed by three episodes with a rating of 8; The Enemy Within, Tomorrow is Yesterday and Court Martial.

The episodes I rated least were What Are Little Girls Made Of?, Miri, Dagger of the Mind, Return of the Archons and The Alternative Factor, all scoring 5 out of 10.

From Eleonor's own comments, I think the episodes that stood out to her the most included Where No Man Has Gone Before, for the story and some of the set designs, This Side of Paradise, for the 'emotional and playful' Spock and The City on the Edge of Forever for its storyline.

The Guardian of Forever

The blu-ray set itself is worth full marks. The transfer is great with both picture and sound of excellent quality. The remastered scenes are all flawless and hardly detract from the episodes themselves. There is the option to playback the original episodes with the original effects but we never used this option, instead choosing to run in fully remastered mode :)

Scattered throughout the discs are a number of special featurettes ranging from interviews with cast members about key Star Trek issues and stories to William Shatners love of horses and even some 'easter eggs'.

We're now looking forward to continuing the mission and viewing Season Two - I'll keep my expectations at more reasonable levels as iconic and memorable episodes such as Mirror Mirror, The Doomsday Machine and The Ultimate Computer lie ahead...


18 June 2011

Trek Review: The City on the Edge of Forever & Operation -- Annihilate!

In about 6 months we've come to the end of the first season of the Original Series and arrived at probably the most popular episode in all of Star Trek...

The City on the Edge of Forever

The City on the Edge of ForeverThe most popular, favourite and remembered episode of The Original Series. The Enterprise is monitoring some violent distortions in orbit of an uncharted planet. Sulu becomes injured and treated by McCoy, who becomes accidentally injected with an overdose of the medication used on Sulu. This sends him mad and he beams down to the planet below.

Searching for him, Kirk and Spock find the Guardian of Forever, a portal to any point in history. McCoy dives through the portal and soon enough the landing party find out that history has been altered as the Enterprise has disappeared from orbit.

Kirk and Spock step through in an attempt to find McCoy and correct history. They meet Edith Keeler, a social worker in Earth's 1930's. Spock discovers that she is the focal point of the distortion in the timeline and realise that she must die for their future to remain intact. They are ultimately successful and even save the Doctor, but not before Kirk falls in love with Edith.

I watched this episode with lower expectations than previous episodes I'd had fond memories of. The episode still delivered. The story is simple, there's no major conflicts, space battles or villains but it is well told. A time travel story where our heroes must save their future, a love story between Kirk and Keeler and a story of sacrifice.

The Guardian was rarely seen again through Star Trek history, even though the Guardian it(him?)self suggested that many more trips were possible. It's not clear if the planet was quarantined or what action would be taken after its discovery, considering the dangers involved in travelling through time.

As is a common theme now, the remastered blu-ray of this episode was exceptional!

Overall Rating: 9/10

Operation -- Annihilate!

Operation -- AnnihilateThe Enterprise is investigating a pattern of mass-insanity spreading through their part of the galaxy and are approaching the planet Deneva. A small ship leaving the planet heads directly for the Sun and breaks up, killing the occupant.

On the planet surface, the crew comes across a group of men displaying aggressive tendencies but calling out that they do not want to hurt them. The landing party also discover Kirk's brother, Sam, dead, his wife and his son are beamed to the ship.

The Denevan population has become infected by a single-celled organism, or a neural paraside that is causing the colonists insanity. Spock is attacked by one and attempts to take control of the Enterprise after being beamed to Sickbay. Spock retrieves a parasite for study from the planet's surface in the hopes they can find a way to stop their spread. Eventually it is found that a certain spectrum of light will kill the parasites and leave the million inhabitants of Deneva unharmed.

This episode is one of the few I have not seen before. Not that it mattered with many 'familiar' episodes of this season being more unfamiliar to me than I thought. Here we learn of Jim's brother, Sam, although we never really see or interact with him as he is dead on arrival. The neural parasites, while crude and simple in their design are well animated to show they are living creatures. This probably was quite a scary episode at the time of its release.

The remastered version of this episode shows the Enterprise deploying a network of satellites from a cargo area at the bottom of the engineering hull. The scene was an added feature for the remaster that wasn't seen in the original.

I think there was a scene in this episode that showed Kirk issue an order to Sulu, and in a quick scene change to the helm panel, the officer sitting in Sulu's position was wearing a red shirt. I also thought it interesting that each time Kirk consulted Scotty on the bridge, Scotty was standing at the back near the turbolift door, would look forward (not really at anything in particular) and then provide a report - he didn't even touch or do anything?! :)

Overall Rating: 7/10

Of course this was also the final episode of the first season. By this point, the crew have come together as a family and everyone (except the notably absent Chekov) has taken to their positions. Season Two awaits, with more adventures and more of the galaxy to explore...


11 June 2011

Trek Review: Errand of Mercy & The Alternative Factor

I'll start with a quick divergence from the Trek Reviews. I know that some people think I'm a pretty hardcore Trekker and I'd probably agree, but even I have my limits in Trekkiness. On Twitter, there's a great many different people you can follow that either emulate a character from Trek or provide info, whatever. One such is @TrekTrivia, it doesn't take much to work out what this one is all about.

Twice a week they run Trek related Trivia for Twitter followers to partake in. There's no prizes, but it's kinda fun. Until someone takes it a bit too seriously, which has happened to me on two occasions now from the same follower. I dunno, just feels like we're back in primary school when a user is tweeting that the only reason I won a round was because no one else was playing. All I can really say to them is 'boohoo', for the most-part TrekTrivia is run to cater for the European/North American timezones, so the fact I get to join in at all is already worth noting and there's nothing up for grabs, so does it matter who wins or not? I always figured it was just about participating and having fun. Meh...

Errand of Mercy

Errand of MercyThe Enterprise is sent to Organia to prepare it's people for a likely Klingon invasion. Oh, I should rejoice, KLINGONS!!! Kirk's greatest adversary finally make it onscreen in this episode!

Negotiations between the Klingons and the Federation haven't gone well and it becomes important to secure Organia for the conflict ahead. An attack by a Klingon ship on the Enterprise followed by an alert from Starfleet confirms that the two parties are now at war.

The Organians refuse help, saying it's not needed. Kirk and Spock are confused and end up stuck on the planet as a Klingon fleet arrives and occupational forces beam down. The Enterprise flees to round up Federation forces on Kirk's orders.

Kirk and Spock work to sabotage the Klingons but are captured (after being turned in by Ayelbourne, the head of the Organian council). He eventually frees them from their cell, and Kor, leading the Klingon forces has 200 Organian's killed and promises 200 more if Kirk and Spock aren't returned.

Eventually we find that the Organian's are in fact beings of a much higher evolution and that no one was hurt, they were projections. The Organian's ultimately intervene and stop both the Federation and Klingon forces from coming together in battle and neither side is able to take claim to the planet.

My observations would mostly relate to the Klingons in this episode. Obviously they don't look anything like what we'll come to expect from TNG, DS9, VOY & ENT but this is how they looked. They also behave slightly differently, not much about honour and battle in how they present themselves, obviously this must be worked into their culture as time goes on.

This episode does show their militaristic nature though and beaming down to a planet and taking control with little initial resistance proves easy, but with one hiccup (Kirk and Spock escaping), Kor shows how ruthless the Klingons can be by executing 200 people on a whim.

It will be interesting to observe the Klingons in future episodes and see how they develop into Kirk's number one enemy and possibly more into the warrior race that are so renowned by the 24th century.

One thing of note though is that Ayelbourne foretells that both the Federation and the Klingons will one day become friends and work together and how much truth there is in those words!

Overall Rating: 7/10

The Alternative Factor

About to complete a survey of an uncharted planet, the Enterprise and her crew experience a 'blink' where the universe is on the verge of non-existence. A man appears on the planet below where before there was no life.

The landing party find Lazarus, who claims he is pursuing a 'thing', a monster who destroyed his civilisation. There is no other life on the planet, so Lazarus is accused of lying.

In the meantime, more 'blinking' occurs and it soon becomes apparent that Lazarus is involved in some ways and McCoy finds it hard to explain how at one moment he can have a bandage on his head and the next, it's no longer there.

It turns out that there are two Lazarus', one from our universe and another from a parallel universe. In the 'blinking', the two meet in a type of corridor that connects the two universes. Kirk learns the truth when he accidentally transports into the parallel universe instead of Lazarus, who has gone insane. Kirk meets the parallel Lazarus, who is prepared to seal himself and his counterpart in the corridor forever to save both universes from destruction.

The episode is okay, but gets a bit confusing and repetitive with the 'swirling' effect used to show Lazarus entering the corridor and fighting with his counterpart. It's only towards the end of the episode that it truly starts to make sense and we can understand what is happening in these scenes. The idea of the episode is an interesting one though and parallel universes are visited again and again throughout the rest of Star Trek - just executed a little differently each time.

Overall Rating: 5/10

Only two more episodes await for the first season - coming soon!

06 June 2011

Trek Review: This Side of Paradise & The Devil in the Dark

This Side of Paradise

The Enterprise arrives at Omicron Ceti III to survey the planet's destruction under a bombardment of deadly berthold rays. Beaming down, they find colonists unexpectedly alive and well.

The crew begin acting strangely and it's found that some plants are responsible. They travelled through space until the reached the planet and found the colonists. Depositing their spores into a human host, they provide the hosts with perfect health with no wants or needs.

Kirk finds out that through anger, a host can break free of the spores and works on getting his crew back.

This is a unique episode in that we get to see Spock free of his controlled Vulcan logic. He meets with an old friend, Leila and once infected by the spores they spend time together with Spock sharing some fun and out of character moments.

Kirk is the last of the crew to be affected and the first to figure out how to break the spores' hold on their hosts. The episode works well in that the situation becomes more and more hopeless as it progresses, to the point where Kirk is infected as well. But a solution is found and things are returned to normal in the end.

Overall Rating: 6/10


The Devil in the Dark

A mysterious creature has been killing miners on the planet Janus VI. The Enterprise and her crew arrive to investigate.

They find a creature unlike anything they've previously encountered which was let loose once the miners drilled deeper into the planet for more resources. Kirk and Spock are able to come to an understanding with the creature and its species in the process.

One of few recent episodes that I remember, I thought it came much earlier in the series. This episode introduces the Horta, basically a rug, but supposed to be a silicon based lifeform capable of moving through rocks as we move through air. I think this was one of the first times we see the Vulcan mind-meld (the joining of two minds) where Spock is able to understand the Horta.

This is quite a simple episode but it's one that really embodies the idea of Star Trek and the mission of the Enterprise and her crew. The Horta is definitely a 'strange, new life form' and a mutual agreement with the miners and the Horta reached at the end shows the Federation idea of living and working together for a common goal.

There were a number of new special effects shots in this episode and they worked really well, from the new scene of the Horta tunneling through a wall to some of the new passes by the Enterprise it was all seamlessly delivered.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10

05 June 2011

Sci-Fi Review: Thunderbirds (2004)

After watching through the Thunderbirds series on blu-ray, we are left with three movies to finish up the saga completely. Two of them are the familiar marionette versions and the most recent is a live action version that was released in 2004.

I had seen the live action movie once before and because of the negative review I posted back then, I thought it might be a good idea to watch it first out of the three remaining features so we can end on a high note. Yet still, I thought perhaps my initial review might turn out to be a bit harsh and much like some of the episodes of Star Trek The Original Series, maybe a re-watch could change that opinion.

I was wrong...

I think it might be best to start with what they did right with this movie as it will take less time!

Tracy Island and the Thunderbird machines are modernised and a decent enough representation from the original series. Thunderbirds 1 and 3 have the most common resemblance to their 1960's counterparts, with TB1 featuring adjustable jet nozzles (like a Harrier jumpjet) for it's vertical take-off and landing purposes.

Thunderbird 2 resembles the original enough, but has a different, much wider, frog-like shape, more streamlined engine 'pods' down the side but still features the pod carrying abilities, twin-boom tail and forward swept wings. My nitpick would be that it uses a 'crawler' to head out to its launch runway instead of its own wheels and the wings look way too short and therefore, way more unable to actually keep the machine in the air!

Thunderbird 4 is much smaller, for two people only who lie down to control it, while Thunderbird 5 looks more like a space satellite, but retains its circular appearance.

Ben Kingsley plays a decent 'Hood' in that he looks the part, but that's about it. Casting for Lady Penelope and Parker isn't bad and I dare say I could have warmed up to the other casting choices if it weren't for how horrible this story played out in the end.

Ben Kingsley plays a more sinister Hood
Ben Kingsley plays a more sinister Hood.

So... the rest.

Thunderbirds was never really about one person in particular, it was always about the team, yet the movie has decided to focus on Alan Tracy - who isn't even the astronaut of Thunderbird 3. He's going through school with Fermat. Who's Fermat? We find out he's Brains' son. Yes, Brains has a son. Alan's having trouble in school and at the end of term gets picked up by Lady Penelope (often referred to as Lady P in the movie) for a lift home. Parker and Penelope offering a taxi service? Very nice of them.

The pink 6-wheeler of choice isn't a Rolls Royce but in fact a hideously madeover Ford Thunderbird. I'm not kidding or being harsh here, it's a horrible looking car and I'm a Ford fan. Based on their concept car from the time, they added the extra axle, tapered off the rear and placed a glass bubble on top. The producers couldn't come to an agreement with BMW (owners of Rolls Royce) to provide a car for the movie, so Ford came to the rescue and I guess a Thunderbird is a fitting replacement... or is it?


See? I wasn't kidding!

But there's more, FAB1 can FLY. A point they keep showing throughout and later on we see it has hydrofoil capabilities as well - we kinda knew that from the series... but I just don't like this FAB1 at all... lets move along...

Parker, Lady Penelope and her pink Thunderbird FAB1
Parker & Lady Penelope with the Ford FAB1

The Hood stages a fake emergency on an oil platform that Thunderbird 1 and 2 are able to tend to. On their return journey, one of the rescued workers fires a tracking 'goo' onto TB1 which allows the Hood to trace them back to Tracy Island. He launches an attack by firing a missile at Thunderbird 5... how he knew TB5's location I'm not sure.

TB5 sends a distress call to Tracy Island and Jeff, Scott, Virgil and Gordon all head off in TB3 to assist John in the space station... yep, all of them. Jeff never went on a mission in the series, he always coordinated things from the island while the boys took care of things, but he leaves the island in the hands of Brains, Kyrano, the maid, Alan, Fermat and Tin-Tin.

Alan, Fermat and Tin-Tin work to save everyone, outwitting the Hood and his goons and saving TB5 but not before the Hood takes TB2 and the Mole to London to drill into and rob the Bank of England.

Alan, Fermat & Tin-Tin saving the day
Tin-Tin, Alan & Fermat work to send a signal to Thunderbird 5.

All the Thunderbirds descend on London to stop the Hood's plans but first they have to rescue some passengers on a CGI monorail that was conveniently placed across the River Thames for the purpose of this movie. There's a final showdown in a bank vault before everything's hunky dory once more.

Thunderbird 2 arrives at London
The Hood takes Thunderbird 2 through Tower Bridge approaching London

So, after all that you might be wondering what I didn't like about the film?

Throughout the film everyone, including the Tracy's themselves refer to them as 'The Thunderbirds'. All through the series, they were always International Rescue, with the 5 machines used in missions referred to as Thunderbirds. It almost seemed pointless to have International Rescue and IR badges in the movie because the term was never used. Oh, and W.T.F. is "Thunderize"?! Alan Tracy says this just as he hits a button to open a hole in Thunderbird 1's silo, it sounds lame. I wanted to find a video clip of that moment but it seems no one on YouTube wanted to torture us with it either.

Alan, Fermat and Tin-Tin save the day. Ultimately, the producers made this a childrens movie (inspired by Spy Kids?) instead of one that would and could be appreciated by long time fans of the original. The machines look great on the outside but inside they look like something from a kids after school game show, everything has a plastic look about it and are way too colourful to be taken seriously.

Jeff and umm... those two in Thunderbird 3's plastic cockpit
Jeff and whoever those two are getting comfortable in TB3's plastic cockpit.

Adding to this, there are some fight scenes in the film, but all of these are trivialised by poor choreography of Lady Penelope doing cartwheels all over the place, the Goons falling over each other more times than we can count and horrid sound effects to emphasise things like 'The Parker Haymaker'.

The Tracy's themselves are trivialised with the constant focus on Alan, Fermat and Tin-Tin. I couldn't point out Scott, John, Virgil or Gordon in the movie because they're sent off to pretty much die in TB5 for most of the film. Bill Paxton might've made a decent Jeff Tracy, but he does come across a little differently from the character established in the series.

The Tracy Bros, The Thunderbirds
The Tracy's about to launch.

Character traits aren't always spot-on, but most notably, Brains and Fermat both share their stuttering speech impediment, to the point of annoyance. In the series, it was kinda cute and almost unnoticeable, in the movie, it's just annoying. The producers also decided to give Brains a last name, Hackenbacker. Sure, this is from the series, but it was only ever used as an alias.

Brains
Brains has an over-exaggerated stutter and a last name.

Oh, and product placement! I mentioned before that I'm a fan of Ford, don't get me wrong, but when every car featured in the film is a Ford and proudly displaying the blue oval, it gets a bit much. We know FAB1 was a Ford Thunderbird, but we find out Lady Penelope has a collection of at least three pink Ford's at her manor, then the Goons use an ATV which is a Ford and in one of the last scenes where the crooks are apprehended, there are at least three Ford Police cars on the scene!

Lady Penelope's Pink Fords
Lady Penelope has a collection of pink Fords.

What could have saved this film? A little bit of seriousness might have been a good start. I'm not sure if they just had a horrid script to start with or if Jonathan Frakes might be to blame as director of the project. But Frakes can direct, after successful outings in the Star Trek franchise with First Contact (1996) and Insurrection (1998) what went wrong?

Gerry Anderson has distanced himself from the film as much as possible, partly by his own doing, but he was eventually dropped from the consultation team when this movie was being put together as the studio figured they had enough people working on it. In a radio podcast I remember Gerry Anderson being asked if he was 'consulted' about the movie, Gerry's answer was 'was I insulted?' with a laugh of agreement.

In review of the film, Anderson said "It was disgraceful that such a huge amount of money was spent with people who had no idea what Thunderbirds was about and what made it tick." and added that it was "the biggest load of crap I have ever seen in my entire life.

Thunderbird 5 takes a hit
Thunderbird 5 takes a missile hit. Someone should have done the same to this movie.

I'd have to agree with him. It wasn't the fact that it wasn't shot with marionettes (which Team America would do later in the same year) but that the story was just awful and didn't grasp anything from the original series except the characters and the machines.

A remake of one of the iconic episodes from the series would have been a better way to start out but this is what we got.

Overall Rating: 0.5 stars.

My original stance remains unchanged. I give the film 0.5 of a star for the effects and save the remaining 4.5 stars for when a decent remake is put together.

There's good news on the horizon with Gerry Anderson reportedly working on a new Thunderbirds series... While it's not a new feature film, we can hope this will be something to be appreciated by all generations of fans and bring in new ones as well!

Some information provided in this entry has been taken from the Thunderbirds 2004 movie Wikipedia entry.