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July 31, 2009

TOS Rewind #30: Sci Fi in Movies DorkCast

Eric, Rob, Lee, and myself recently had a fun chat where we talked (at length!) about the science fiction genre in movies and some television. We had a lively discussion and listening to it would be a true test of your dorktastic geekiness! Sure, it isn't strictly about Trek, but if the shoe fits...

The file is in MPEG4/AAC format (it's a long one so I wanted to keep the file size down and still have it not sound crappy) which hopefully no one will have problems with.

Download/listen to it.

July 28, 2009

"We could all be chasing our tails over some half-assed planetarium show."

Another week of new releases is upon us. click here for the lot of them.


The 10th Victim (1965)

The Astonishing Work of Tezuka Osamu (1962)

Battlestar Galactica: Season 4.5 Also on BD. The complete series is also being released this week. I really like this show, but $200 (Amazon) for the BD is too steep for me. The DVD isn't that much cheaper at $170. Part of the problem is that the series set comes in this giant box with a toy Cylon dude. Of course, this is the only way to get the show in HD on disc. I figure if I wait long enough, they'll release the show on BD sans the junk.

Charles in Charge: Season 5 Wow...

Dollhouse: Season 1 Also on BD.

The Donna Reed Show: Season 2

Fast and Furious Next time they'll just shorten it to "FF." Also on BD.

Green Lantern: First Flight (2009) Also on BD.

Knight Rider: Season 1 (2008)

Life on Mars: Series 1 (UK)

Miss March (2009) Also on BD.

Repulsion (1965) Also on BD.

Torchwood: Children of the Earth (2009) Also on BD.

July 26, 2009

TOS Rewind #29: "Who Mourns for Adonais" and "The Changeling"

Wow, aren't we the efficient bunch: two episodes in one post!

We did a double-header podcast for this one as well. To listen to it, Click Here. Of course you can subscribe to our podcasts by using this link: http://blog.lib.umn.edu/knowl014/bitterdregs/index.xml in iTunes or your software of choice.

Our episodes this time are Who Mourns for Adonais (09/22/1967) and The Changeling (09/29/1967)


Eric will be starting us out:

"Who Mourns for Adonais" is another episode that was good, but not great. There were some good points, but there were glaring flaws too. John, Rob, and I covered it pretty thoroughly in our podcat, so I'll just recap. Rob pointed out, quite correctly, that this episode has a strong anti-feminist vibe. In fact, it strongly resembles "Space Seed" (from the first season) in this respect. Lt. Carolyn Palamas is overwhelmed by Apollo and rushes headlong into a romance much like Lt. Marla McGivers and Khan in "Space Seed." And in another parallel to that episode, Lt. Palamas betrays her new found love in order to save the crew. To my mind, this redeems her to a certain degree and also mitigates the anti-feminism, but it's still certainly there. Of course, as we note in the podcast, we have to remember that this episode was written and produced in 1967 and naturally reflects the attitudes toward women at that time.

Another aspect of this episode I don't like is that Scotty is portrayed as a hot-headed, testosterone-charged dolt intent on getting himself killed. I mean seriously, Apollo demonstrates quite clearly (early on) that he controls considerable power and Scotty is an expert engineer and a grown man. Regardless of his outrage, he has to know that attacking Apollo with a piece of statuary is ridiculous, pointless, and highly dangerous. Scotty is a great character and deserves better treatment.

What I like about this episode is the speculation that the ancient Greek gods were actually humanoid aliens who settled on Earth and influenced the flourishing of the Bronze Age Greek civilization. It's a well-used (perhaps hackneyed) theme in SF these days, but it was still relatively fresh in 1967. I also like the fact that Chekov gets some development, but what I enjoy most is the poignancy of Apollo's remorse that he (and gods in general) are no longer needed by humanity. This, however, brings up a contradiction. At one point, Kirk says: "Mankind has no need for gods. We find the one quite adequate." This is, in itself, a contradiction--either humanity needs gods (or one god, as the case may be) or we don't. Which is it? The line is all the more peculiar given that Gene Roddenberry was a staunch secular humanist. And with one notable exception, references to god(s) and religion were either vague and equivocal or nonexistent in the rest of the series. If I were a betting man (and actually, I am), I'd wager that "We find the one quite adequate" was inserted at the insistence of the network censors.

Another interesting deletion that was apparently made due to the censors, was a closing scene aboard the Enterprise where McCoy informs Kirk that Lt. Palamas is pregnant by Apollo. It makes me wonder how different (controversial?) original Trek would've been if Roddenberry hadn't been hobbled by network censors...

---

Rob, who sadly doesn't join the written part of the blog, made the quip, "it's Misogynist Week" on the blog/podcast. This episode surely qualifies, though there are examples sprinkled throughout the series. This, admittedly normal for the time, attitude is established right off the bat where Kirk and McCoy are commenting on women Starfleet officers leaving the service upon meeting the right men. This is of course being aimed at the Lt. Palamas character, who Eric skewered, who is being lusted after by Scotty. Like Eric, I was annoyed at the way Scotty was written in this episode; he really comes off poorly.

So yes, the lovely and (perhaps) talented Palamas (OK, that was bad!) finally sees that shagging Apollo long-term might not be the best thing for the rest of the Enterprise crew. Of course she has to be lectured by Kirk before considering this. The idea that Palamas was pregnant at the end of the episode is pretty interesting, but I really can't imagine the network censors touching that one. Trek was an envelope-pusher, but 1967 NBC was not ready for something like this. The other characters also have their moments. Spock, who after being dissed by Apollo for looking like Pan, stays behind on board to find a way out of Apollo's giant energy hand (aka Bigby's Groping Fist). Spock really seems more at ease being in command, much more so than he was in "The Galileo Seven." He even gives Uhura some positive reinforcement. The landing party seems to spend a lot of time sitting around on the temple set, waiting for their next confrontation with Apollo. This waiting time is obviously needed so big A has time to put the moves on Palamas, complete with stock "paradise" footage. Ooo la la! The guy playing Apollo does have the chops to out-scenery-chew Shatner (WELCOME TO OLYMPUS, CAPTAIN KIRK!!!). Shatner seems to play this episode with a clear sense of Kirk's machismo being eclipsed: he looks really annoyed!

I'm also in agreement with Eric about the good aspect of this episode: the concept of advance alien visitors being worshipped as gods in ancient Greece. Cliched, yes, but still a good topic for Trek at that time.

I was mixed on this one, growing up. It had some cool phaser fire and Scotty being struck by lightning bolts, but had sections that were a bit of a bore.

On the enhanced version I watched, the new effects did improve one part. When the hand comes out to grab the Enterprise, it reaches out from the planet they're orbiting. The old effect, IIRC just appears in space. So, some upgrade on this part.

Now, Eric takes a look at "The Changeling."

---
I've always liked "The Changeling." It's an imaginative, interesting story and a well-done episode. (There is vigorous disagreement about this in our podcast, but I'll let that speak for itself.) There are numerous elements of this episode that are recycled in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, most notably, the idea of a probe from 20th century Earth meeting and merging with a much more advanced alien probe. But an in-depth discussion of this will have to wait until we get to reviewing the Star Trek movies.

In "the Changeling" I like that we get to see Spock use the mind meld again, particularly because this is the only time he does so with an artificial intelligence. It should be noted that Nomad is an extremely sophisticated artificial intelligence, which is why Spock is able to form the mind meld. This brings up a subtle and interesting point about artificial intelligence: when does it become so sophisticated that it can be considered to have a mind? And when this happens, does it become a life form?

Anyway, another aspect of this episode that I enjoy is the way Nomad is portrayed. It's voice and appearance, combined with the way it is shot, gives a convincing air of menace. What I like most, however, is the idea of a primitive probe from Earth coming into contact with an alien probe somewhere in deep space and combining. It makes me wonder if the alien probe it met could've been a Borg probe. Given the immense power Nomad demonstrates, it's at least possible. It also makes sense given the Borg directive to assimilate other entities.

And while it has much to be commended, this episode certainly has its share of flaws. As with "Who Mourns for Adonais," I really object to portraying Scotty as a stupidly impulsive hothead who feels the need to physically attack beings or machines that have clearly demonstrated their ability and willingness to kill humans. But the worst flaw is the idea that Nomad could wipe Uhura's memory, or some selected portion of it, and that McCoy and his staff could "re-educate" her in a matter of days so that it was as if nothing at all had happened. Ridiculous.

But we take the good with the bad. I still enjoy this episode every time I watch it. And next time we get to review one of the best original Trek episodes!

---

Here we are with what turned out to be almost a prototype for The Motion Picture (I am looking forward to discussing that one of these days). Eric summed up the concept very well and I am totally on the same page, as far as that goes.

The scene where Spock mind melds with Nomad. I am mixed on that one. On one hand, the idea that Nomad is an artificial form of intelligence that Spock can connect with is interesting and thought-provoking. On the other hand, the scene borders on silliness with Nimoy's robotic "Coneheads" voice. He sounds even more robotic than the actual robot!

Security nitpick. I understand that Red Shirts are there to be vaporized, but it gets absurd when a second set of guards fires on Nomad minutes after another set were fried after doing the same thing. Plus, after knowing that Nomad has extinguished entire civilizations, why would a simple force field contain it? Points for effort I suppose.

Kirk is fun to watch in this episode as he learns to deal with this mechanical menace he's brought aboard his ship. The fact that he seems to wait until the last possible moment to beam Nomad into space seems silly, but is certainly dramatic. I love Spock's line after Kirk has successfully talked Nomad into its own destruction: "Your logic was impeccable, Captain - we are in grave danger." Nomad itself was actually well done for the capabilities of the time. The camera angles and other effects gave the relatively simple robot model a certain amount of life as well as adequate menace.

Of course the thing we all agreed on was how stupid the "Uhura re-education" bit was. Of course the choice line about Uhura (after she'd had her brain wiped) was:

Nomad: "That unit is defective. Its thinking is chaotic. Absorbing it unsettled me."
Spock: "That 'unit' is a woman."
Nomad: "A mass of conflicting impulses."

Wow. But not to worry, she'll be back on the job in a week (complete with her memories?)! I realize that this was done to portray how Nomad had no experience with things like music and singing, but they really should have found a less laughable way to get it across. And what the hell is up with Scotty? Two in a row where he physically challenges powerful alien things and gets zapped.

Growing up, I liked this one about as much as I do today. The idea seemed cool and there was a fun space fight at the beginning. And hey, four Red Shirts get offed!

The remastered version had slick energy weapon effects during the opening scenes, but otherwise didn't really add much. After all, the main action happens on the ship.

One thing that bothered me that I don't remember focusing on before. At the end of the show, after Nomad has dispatched itself, there's this jokey scene on the bridge between Kirk and Spock. "It's not easy to lose a bright and promising son." This seems like an odd place for a "going out of orbit joke." After all, Nomad had killed billions of people and could very well have made it to Earth.

But, all in all this one was pretty good.

So the next episode we cover will be what I am sure are personal favorites for all of us: "Mirror Mirror." It may not be the absolute best of the series, but is certainly one of the most fun. Beards Ahoy!

July 21, 2009

"I don't mind being the smartest man in the world, I just wish it wasn't this one."

Caught two movies over the weekend.

First, The Tale of Despereaux (2008) on BD.

Caught two movies over the weekend.

First, The Tale of Despereaux (2008) on BD. I thought it was actually OK. Not great, but entertaining with some really nice stylized CG animation. I don't know the children's book it was based on so I can't comment on that aspect (some fans of the book really didn't like the film--shocking I know), but it was worth a rent. As expected, the HD image looked flawless.

And in a similar vein, we saw the latest Harry Potter film at the theater the other night. Sure, there were some obvious things missing such as the battle at Hogwart's, but I liked it overall. The book was always a bit of a placeholder by necessity for the big finish, but the climax of this installment didn't disappoint in spite of that. I'm looking forward to seeing the last book spread over two films.

Many of you know that I still buy physical media: CDs, BD/DVDs, etc instead of digital downloads. The revelation that Amazon remotely wiped all copies of 1984 reinforces my belief that if there's a piece of art I value greatly, I will obtain it in physical form as long as I am able. It's worth it to me to put up with storing discs, books, and other stuff not to have to worry about Apple/Amazon et al. remotely deleting my favorite recording of Beethoven's 5th because the record label decided they didn't want it in circulation. Slate's Farhad Manjoo has a piece about it here. Get off my digital lawn!

One more: I recently picked up the BD of An American in Paris (1951) I somehow never got this one on DVD, I still have the old laserdisc. Well, this version really knocked me out. It's a full 4k restoration and it looks amazing. Robert Harris has a few words about it and its technical details here. A really nice presentation that's well worth an HD upgrade.

OK, let's get on with this week.


2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (1967)

Charlie's Angels: Season 4

Coraline (2008) Also on BD.

Echelon Conspiracy (2009) Also on BD.

The Great Buck Howard (2008) Also on BD.

The Lucy Show: Season 1 IIRC, this is the first time this has been issued on DVD in its complete form.

Monk: Season 7

Pushing Daisies: Season 2 Also on BD.

This American Life: Season 2

Watchmen (2009) Also on BD.

Finally, they've announced a BD for North By Northwest (a personal fave) on 11/3. The cover art amuses me:

northbynorthwest50thbrd.jpg

July 14, 2009

"Did you just kill a guy with an appetizer?"

I got around to watching the BD of Goldfinger the other night. Without going into it very much, I'll just say that this is one of my favorite Bond films. It maintains its solid footing in the cold war genre, but adds a villain who doesn't disappoint. It also goes in for the gadgets and fantastic sets without going completely overboard. The only other Bond film that is its equal may be From Russia With Love The BD looked really good, the best I've ever seen it. The image quality is a clear improvement over the old DVDs. The restoration worked wonders on the image quality without mucking about too much; it still looks like a 1960s film. The sound was decent, though there's only so much you'd want to do with a track like this. I haven't sampled the bonuses yet, but there are a great deal of them. So, yes it's annoying to re-buy movies like this, but the upgrade in quality makes this a no-brainer for a film I'm going to watch over again. The $15 I paid for it was well spent.

On to this week's new releases.


12 (2007)

American Gladiators: The Original Series: Season 1 (1989) Ow...

Beach Kings

Bewitched: Season 8

The Edge of Love (2008) Also on BD.

ER: Season 11

For All Mankind Also on BD...with score by Brian Eno.

Grey Gardens

The Haunting in Connecticut (2009) Also on BD.

The Horsemen (2008)

Leverage: Season 1

Mad Men: Season 2 Also on BD.

Wild Pacific (2009) Also on BD.

July 6, 2009

"Hey, watch your mouth you dumb friggin' Swede."

Ah, that's better.

We just got back from SD last night so I'm trying to get everything back in action. We had a nice visit with my ever-expanding family, though poor Lando was a stress-basket much of the time; he's scared to death of fireworks. Poor pup. Being around some of my nieces/nephews also wore him out!

I haven't watched all that much lately, but did manage to watch Valkyrie (2008) on BD last week. OK, so this isn't a really good movie but I was curious enough to check it out as a rental and it was worth one of my Netflix slots at least. It's really pretty well put together with the supporting cast outdoing Tom Cruise much of the time. Tom can, in the right role, pull off good performances but I just didn't really buy this one. It's not that he is bad or overdoes his performance; I just didn't get a good sense of the character.

The motivations in general seem a bit suspect to me. The film implies that von Stauffenberg and the others were motivated partly by the human rights violations being perpetrated by Hitler and co. These people were, at least the way I understand it, driven to this very risky act by the belief that Hitler was destroying their Germany with his failing military maneuvers, to the point where they felt the nation and their places in its aristocracy were directly threatened.

However, the story is told with a minimum of unneeded flourish or gratuitous action sequences. The period costumes and props seemed right, plus the film shot much of the footage on the actual locations. So, it might be worth a rent if you're interested in this sort of thing. As I expect, the BD image/sound was great. I didn't look at the bonuses.

On to this week's new stuff:


Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1944)

The Deep (1977) New to BD.

Grumpy Old Men New to BD, and unless you want to watch it on Laserdisc, the only way to catch it in widescreen.

John Barrymore Collection

Knowing (2008) Also on BD.

Lonely are the Brave (1962)

Mystery Science Theater 3000: XV

Night Train (2009) Also on BD.

Peanuts: 1960s Collection

Push (2009) Also on BD

Reno 911: Season 6

The Unborn (2009) Also on BD.