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December 30, 2008

TOS Rewind #24: "The Devil in the Dark"

Today we have The Devil in the Dark (3-9-1967) This installment is later than I anticipated, but the holiday season will do that. Eric starts us out:

As it turns out, it is perhaps better that I’m so late with this review. “The Devil in the Dark? was the favorite episode of Majel Barrett-Roddenberry (member of the original cast and Gene Roddenberry’s widow) who sadly passed away on December 18th. Now, in a way, this review can be a tribute to her.

I got to meet Ms. Roddenberry and hear her speak in 1992, a few months after Gene died. She impressed me in many ways, perhaps most of all by how upbeat and cheerful she was so soon after losing her husband. I was also impressed by her candor when asked questions by the audience. What was particularly memorable, if you’ll indulge me for a minute, was three of her responses. One was a reply to a question about Gene’s take on equality. She said he belived in equality in all things except his marriage. Another was her answer to a question about whether he truly believed humanity would survive and grow out of its current problems. Her reply was that toward the end of his life, Gene still believed humanity could evolve to fulfill its potential, but he had begun to doubt that it would. (This saddened me and it still does.) And finally, when asked what her favorite episode is, she replied that “The Devil in the Dark? still moved her to tears because at its heart, it’s about mother love.

I agree. In a bizarrre, other-worldly way the theme “The Devil in the Dark? is indeed mother love. And it’s that bizarrre, other-worldly aspect that is one of the most important functions of science fiction as a literary genre—it allows us to look at humanity and the human condition from another, completely different perspective. For much of this episode, we’re certain that the Horta, the silicon-based alien that looks like a cross between a shag carpet and a deep-dish pizza, is a murderous monster that must be killed. The miners on Janus VI and Kirk and the rest of the crew, except for Spock, are similarly convinced. But it turns out that the Horta is quite intelligent and civilized and was just protecting her young against the miners who were indiscriminantly, albeit unknowingly, killing them. So then the problem becomes one of communication and thereby a peaceful resolution. Which is achieved. Mother love is reaffirmed and some of Star Trek’s most common and powerful themes are addressed: that different is not necessarily bad, that we don’t need to fear the unknown, and that violence isn’t the only way to resolve conflicts.

So this is my modest tribute to the First Lady of Star Trek. Thanks for helping to make possible stories like “The Devil in the Dark? that captured my imagination and fueled my sense of wonder so powerfully.


Wow, I am so dense. It didn't even occur to me to mention the passing of Ms. Barrett. Good catch there Eric and a nice tribute.

Speaking of lameness, I believe I wasn't feeling good when I watched this one, so no drinkie. I'll try and correct that in the future!

This episode is very very good. It has some great science fiction ideas and a very positive message. I think in the past that I had a bit of a negative bias towards this one due to the following:

1. The cheesy moving carpet/plastic pizza-looking Horta costume. This is odd in a way since I tend to be pretty forgiving of TOS's limited effects. It didn't seem all that bad this time around, though parts of the creature do have the look of hardened cheese wiz.

2. Nimoy's dramatic mind meld scene. PAIN!!!!! I can almost imagine the director telling Nimoy to put himself in full-on Shatner mode. I really don't have a problem with this scene, but in the past it seemed way over the top. Maybe it still is, but there is such an earnestness about the way Nimoy does it that it still works. You can easily see what he's trying to convey.

Okay, so the objections don't really get in the way of this story. The solution they come up with is very positive and fits in well with the Roddenberry universal view of future goodness. The idea that they're dealing with a being whose race dies off every so often and then reborn is pretty novel. Some real thought was put into the story, no question. Another good, if more conventional, device is the theft of the reactor part that gives the action more urgency and tension.

The character writing is very good here with Spock rightfully getting the bulk of the fun. There is a real sense of conflict between Spock's duty to Starfleet and his personal scientific philosophy about alien life. He, more than anyone, feels regret at the need to kill the Horta. Kirk has some interesting material, especially the scene where he is face-to-face with the Horta and has to decide how it will go. His dealings with the revenge-seeking miners are good too. Speaking of the miners, I got a real blue-collar vibe from these guys, more than usual in Trek. The colony leader seemed like he could have been a union boss of a group of longshoremen or something. The actor they cast definitely had that feel. McCoy has some fun stuff, as usual, with the "I'm a doctor, not a bricklayer" being a highlight.

I watched the remastered/enhanced version for this review. There was the usual ultra-clean HD images and the new CG space/Enterprise shots, plus a re-done effects shot of one of the Horta-burned tunnels. It was better, I suppose, but I never had a problem with the old effect either. My opinion remains unchanged on the remastered versions: interesting to watch, but not really adding much for most of the episodes. The film footage that isn't replaced does look better than the previous DVDs, so I hope the eventual Blu-Ray versions (probably in 2009) include the old versions transferred in HD. I'd totally buy that.

One of the bonuses from the remastered episodes that wasn't included on the old DVD sets is the "Billy Blackburn's Treasure Chest Rare Home Movies And Special Memories" feature. To quote from the Digital Bits review, " Blackburn was an extra and stunt performer on the series, and he appeared in many of its episodes in various roles. While on the set, he often had an old 8mm movie camera at the ready, and we get to see much of that candid, behind-the-scenes footage here, as he reminisces about his experiences. This is one of the best Trek bonus features I've seen so far. The footage is really fun and his little stories are interesting. There is more insight in to the show's production than most of the other crappy bonus material out there. It would be great to see Paramount put more effort into the quality of their Trek supplements and less into the cheesy menu screens. So what, they're not going to listen to me, but what the hell!

Next time: "Errand of Mercy."

December 28, 2008

"But that's 59 in Bunny Years."

Since I was out in SD this past week and the new releases were few, I'm doing a combo post for this week and last. Hope everyone had/is having a good holiday run. Generally, when we're visiting my family, my Mom wants to go out and see a movie on Christmas night. We looked and looked, but couldn't find anything we were really interested enough in to drag our butts out of the house for. There wasn't even a fun/cheesy action/adventure movie (I guess they all come out in the Summer now).

So, if you want to see the list of titles that came out last week, click here. For this week, click here. I'll list a few of the more notable ones below. BTW, DVD Savant has his Most Impressive Discs of 2008 article here.

An American Carol (2008) Also on BD.

The Dutchess Also on BD.

Eagle Eye (2008) Also on BD.

Ghost Town (2008) Also on BD.

Nip/Tuck: Season 5

Roast of Bob Saget: Uncensored Extended

Resident Evil: Degeneration (2008) Also on BD.

See, you really weren't missing much!

December 15, 2008

"Next time we'll have a foolproof coffin."

It's feeling like deepest winter here in MN. Damn it's cold! Good weather to stay indoors and watch movies...so let's take a look at the stuff coming out this week (pretty slow):

Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Vol. 6

Bottle Rocket (1996) Criterion releases their first set of BD releases this week. One nice thing: the prices are the same as the DVD versions.

Burn After Reading Also on BD.

Mamma Mia! Also on BD.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008) Also on BD.

Petticoat Junction - The Official First Season

The Third Man (1949) Another of Criterion's initial BD offerings. It's mostly the same features as the 2006 DVD set. It sounds like they did a great job on this one and since I didn't pick up the 2006 version, I'm very interested in this; one of my favorite films. Check out DVD Savant's review here.

Finally, you film geeks might want to check out this site: http://www.flickr.com/people/nfig/ It's a Flickr group called the Nitrate Film Interest Group. Archives put up scans of film frames that they have not been able to identify and invite people to give them comments as to their origin. Interesting stuff.

December 9, 2008

"Dude, you are a warrior poet."

Hello everyone. Here are a few BDs I've caught lately:

Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut. Go read the linked review if you're curious, but in a nutshell, this is a reworking of the movie using a lot of unused footage. Why did this need to be done? Richard Donner, who did the first Superman movie in 1978, was fired during production and replaced with Richard Lester (who directed A Hard Day's Night). Director's Guild rules said that Lester couldn't take credit unless he shot more than 50% of the movie. By that time, Donner had shot ca. 70% of the film, so they redid a lot of stuff with the cast (the ones who would work with Lester--Gene Hackman, among others, refused) and changed a bunch of things in the film. Let's just say that I don't think either version is all that great, but it's a very interesting look at how a film can be rejiggered with a different director taking over. The two cuts have a number of real differences, including the ending. I suspect that Donner would have done a better film had he been allowed to complete it. I also give him the benefit of the doubt since the first film was good (I've always found it a lot of fun). Besides the different shots/character stuff in the Donner version, we get to see a bunch of Marlon Brando footage. They took all the Brando stuff out of the Lester version so they wouldn't have to pay Brando. The movie is better with him there and introduces a fun father-son dynamic that wasn't there before. Fun stuff.

Wall*E I really enjoyed this one. It may not be the all-out best Pixar, but it's one of my favorites. The BD, as you'd expect is fantastic. The picture is amazing and the soundtrack really has incredible detail. No shock there. One of the BD bonuses I really had fun with was the Geek Talk, Trash Talk & Trivia This is a visual commentary (ala' MST3K) with character team supervisor Bill Wise, co-producer Lindsay Wallace, story artist Derek Thompson and lead animator and story consultant Angus McClain. The track is full of amusing geeky/inside joke stuff that's fun and informal. Needless to say, there are a *lot* of sci fi and pop culture jokes/references in this movie. If you get the chance, check this one out.

The Queen A good movie with very compelling performances, 'nuff said. This BD didn't have anything that interesting feature-wise, but the image has really quite natural and film-like. There was real grain in the image, but it remained sharp and clear. A very "organic" looking video presentation. I like to see this sometimes with HD when they resist the temptation to over-sharpen images to make them look more "eye-popping." This one reminded me of a good film presentation and that's as good in its own way as the CG sharpness of Wall*E.

Okay, on to this week's new stuff

The Dark Knight (2008) Available in 1 or 2 disc DVD and BD.

Deadwood: The Complete Series

Europa (1991)

Gunsmoke: Season 3 Volume 1

Happy Days: Season 4

Horton Hears a Who! (2008) More CG-animated celebrity voice fun! Also on BD.

I Am Legend: Ultimate Collectors Edition Wow, that didn't take long. The deal here is that there's a bonus disc with an alternate version of the film that, if you believe DVD Savant, improves the movie, particularly the last section which is what I had the most trouble with. Check out his review here. Also on BD.

Lost: Season 4 Also on BD.

Man on Wire (2008)

Murnau, Borzage and Fox Box Set Fox releases some of its earlier films, including some new-to-DVD silients.

Rawhide: Season 3: Vol. 2

The Wire: The Complete Series

December 2, 2008

"We could gather nuts!"

Happy December everyone. Hope you all had a nice holiday and stayed safe in the retail jungle, those of you who braved it. I didn't go near any retail on Friday and was just fine with that (Amazon had some good deals and no risk of bodily harm). So, let's see what we have this week:

Casablanca: Ultimate Collectors Edition Yes, another reissue of the 1942 classic. This time they put the previous 2003 set (which is very good) in with a third DVD of extras in a box with lobby cards and other swag. Whatever. The set *is* also available on BD which is very cool. The crummy part is that there is no option to buy the movie on BD by itself; you have to buy the deluxe set to get the movie in HD. No thanks, I'll wait.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008) Also available on BD.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) The good news is that this title is coming out on BD as well (the standard DVD gets some new bonuses as well). The bad news is that it's to promote a remake with Keanu Reeves that will probably stink. Such is the home video biz.

Perry Mason: Season 3: Vol. 2

Saturday Night Live: Season 4

Step Brothers (2008) Also on BD.

Wanted (2008) Also on BD.

White Dog (1982)

The X-Files: I Want to Believe (2008) Also on BD.