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September 28, 2009

"I'm not a quack. I'm a mad scientist. There's a difference."

The weather is taking a turn for the cooler around here and hey, it's about time I suppose. I did pick up the BD of Star Trek: The Original Series, Season 2 last week and so far, I'm really liking it. The fact that these new sets have full HD versions of both original and remastered/new CG effects is great. Of course, the original effects shots don't look very good blown up to a large/high resolution screen, but it's still good to have them. The picture quality is certainly the best I've ever seen and may indeed be the best this show is ever going to look, period. You can make out the grain in the original 35mm footage, but the images are quite clean without being overly scrubbed. The new effects shots, as you'd expect, look great in HD. The set offers new re-mixed DTS audio as well as the original mono tracks. I really appreciate having both. Most of the time, I do prefer the new track except for the opening title where they re-recorded the music. The balance of the instruments is different and, well, it doesn't seem right to me.

There are a lot of bonus material on these sets, some of it carried over from the previous season DVD sets. A lot of it is fluff, but one of the features I have enjoyed the most is the "Billy Blackurn's Treasure Chest: Rare Home Movies and Special Moments" segments. There's one installment in each season of the show and it has interview snippets with Billy, who was in a lot of the episodes with non-speaking parts. The on-set film footage is fun to see, too bad there isn't more of it. Heck, he was sitting in Chekov's chair for the episode I watched the other night ("The Doomsday Machine," up next on the review schedule). So, a nice upgrade over the old DVDs. Sure, sometimes watching the show in HD gives you more detail than you might want: flaws in the costumes and sets are very apparent. One thing I didn't like so much was the BD "interactivity." I've harped on this before, but waiting for Java apps to load every time you play the disc gets old fast. Plus, there doesn't seem to be a way to resume playback if you stop the player. Plain 'ol DVD was able to do that for crying out loud! Please fix this, people. Also, if you're going to spend all this effort developing online content for these discs, how about something worthwhile? I really like the A/V quality on BD, but we have definitely taken a step backwards in usability.

Okay, so let's see what we've got going this week:


Away We Go (2009) Also on BD.

CSI: NY: Season 5

The Girlfriend Experience (2009) Also on BD.

The Guild: Seasons 1 & 2 This web comedy is hilarious. The DVDs let you see the episodes with better quality and there are some bonuses.

How I Met Your Mother: Season 4

Life on Mars: The Complete Series The aborted US version.

Monsters vs. Aliens (2009) Also on BD.

Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa (2008)

The Patty Duke Show: Season 1

The Unit: Season 4

The Wizard of Oz (70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition) Yes, another chance to re-purchase this classic. The word is, that this latest version on BD is stunning, possibly better than audiences in 1939 saw it (it was hi-res scanned from the camera negatives). As is typical these days, if you want the movie on BD, they only have it available in a mega-uber box set with a bunch of stuff you'll probably never look at...at a much higher price (the DVD version can be bought with or without the box). Except, that this time Target has the BD by itself sans box. All other retailers just get the BD box set. This kind of exclusive retailer crap really gets old...it has inspired me to wait on this one. Besides, I can always go and look at the junk in the *last* "Oz" DVD box set I bought.

September 22, 2009

"Easter egg hunts that turn into knife fights."

Wow, it's Fall already. It doesn't really feel like it around here, but we'll get the cool weather soon enough. In the meantime, let's see what the video overlords have for us this week:


30 Rock: Season 3

Adam Resurrected (2008) Also on BD.

Battle for Terra (2007) Also on BD.

Book of Blood (2008) Also on BD.

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2008) Also on BD.

Star Trek: The Original Series: Season 2 The BD version comes out today. Similar features to the Season 1 set including HD versions of both the original and remastered episodes. I'm picking this one up today as it coincides with my Trek blogging.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Motion Picture Collection BD debut for the rest of the Trek films, aside from the new one. They're selling "First Contact" separately.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Season 2 Also on BD.

September 21, 2009

TOS Rewind #32: "The Apple"

Up now is The Apple (10/13/1967)

Eric, Rob, and I did a podcast. As Kirk might say in this episode, "Podcasts...IN PARADISE!"

Download or listen to it here.

Eric gets the first shot:

This apple has a worm in it. Where the previous episode, "Mirror Mirror," is a great example of Star Trek at its best, "The Apple" is a great example of the dregs of the series. It's odd, actually, because the next episode, "The Doomsday Machine," is another classic. I guess the producers, and/or network, decided a sub-par episode might not be noticeable if it aired between two that are superb.

I'm not going to spend a great deal of time repeating the critique we did in our podcast, however. (Go listen to it!) By way of a quick recap, this episode fails in pretty much every category: the acting is wooden, the special effects (especially the paper mache model that was used for Vaal) are pathetic, and worst of all, the story is derivative and devoid of anything resembling a compelling plot. On the plus side (very narrow), there are some good character moments, particularly for Scotty. And the idea underlying the story isn't bad, the problem is that it's an underdeveloped rehash of "The Return of the Archons" from the first season. If the writer and producers has bothered to explain, or at least hint at, how and why Vaal came to be, the episode might have been okay. But they didn't...

All this being said, as I pointed out in the 'cast, original Trek was produced at a breakneck pace on a frayed shoestring budget, so it's amazing a much higher percentage of episodes weren't of the low caliber of "The Apple." And as I mentioned earlier, the next episode is a classic!

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This episode is a bit of a stinker. I don't think it's one of the worst, but it really stands out within the second season as the rest of the episodes are generally quite good. The ideas expressed here might be more interesting if we hadn't seen them before in the far-superior "Archons." Landru, the society-guiding cyber intelligence of "Archons" at least had a back story and was a much more interesting adversary to the crude and poorly defined Vaal in this episode. Of course, having a planet with a stagnant computer-managed human society where Kirk has to decide whether or not to violate the Prime Directive is a good idea for an episode. Unfortunately, very little time is devoted to it. Much of the running time of the episode is spent killing off Red Shirts (this episode really establishes the tradition with four of them getting knocked off), Kirk repeatedly throwing paradise-lost-themed lines out, and bad "love" scenes between Chekov and Yeoman Landon. In its defense, the Red Shirt sequences are actually pretty funny and can be fully appreciated in the episode's trailer: it stitches together many of the bad/funny scenes in this episode.

Without the subplot of the Enterprise being attacked, perhaps there would have been time to actually explore the implications of Kirk interfering with the society, something that's only really given lip service here. Like the spore-shooting plants and exploding rocks ("Garden of Eden, with land mines." tee hee), the action in orbit is just there to juice up the tension. Of course one could argue that plenty of Next Generation episodes went in the other direction: all character/ideas with too little action. In the end, for this episode, it all comes off as silly and we find it hard to take any of the ideas seriously.

As Rob pointed out in the podcast, Shatner seemed to have dramatic difficulty doing tense scenes without a real villain to play of off. His performance if definitely off. Nimoy goes between overreaction and blandness much of the time here. Not that there aren't points of fun with the characters. I've always liked the back/forth between Kirk and Scotty in this episode and Spock/McCoy get some of their usual sparring in. There's also a very amusing scene between Spock and Chekov where they create a distraction.

As Eric pointed out, the facade of Vaal looks pretty shabby, though I remember it being somewhat more impressive when I saw it growing up. Another victim of large, high resolution screens. The planet sets look like rejects from Gilligan's Island, pretty sad. It's a good thing that the next episode brings the level back up...

Next time: "The Doomsday Machine"

September 14, 2009

"You're English dear, fake it."

OK, let's dive right into this week's list of new releases:


The Big Bang Theory: Season 2

CSI: Miami: Season 7

Crash: Season 1

Easy Virtue (2008) Also on BD.

Gervaise (1956)

Grey's Anatomy: Season 5

The IT Crowd: Series 3 Hmm, two geek sitcoms in the same week...

Meyerling (1936)

My Name Is Earl: Season 4

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2008) Also on BD.

Varsity Blues (1999) Also on BD.


September 8, 2009

"Go get yourself a monkey kidney."

The Fall Semester has hit, here at the U and we're running around like...well, like something!

I'm thinking about writing a hopefully not-too-long account of my home viewing situation sans cable/satellite. Sure, it's old hat to some of you and it may not be at all interesting, but it goes with the shallow topic I like to talk about here, so write I shall. One comment I'll make about it is concerning using iTunes to watch TV shows. We're using iTunes to keep up with Top Chef these days. This is one of those shows that I like, but don't think it'll be something worth buying on disc down the road. So, I bought a season pass for ca. $25. Sure, it isn't cheap (a lot cheaper than a month's worth of cable/satellite though), but it downloads right to my Mac in the bedroom, has good standard def quality, and no ads/screen logo crap. Sounds great, right? I'm doing the right thing and paying for this show, but the episode doesn't show up for download until a day after it airs, sometimes longer. Last week, it'd been longer than usual, so I checked Hulu.com just for the hell of it and I found the episode there, ready to watch for free (with a few ads). Now, the episode appeared on iTunes not too long after that, but the point is, the freebie site got it first. Of course I don't want to screw over Hulu users, I use the service myself. I know the networks don't want people like me ditching their cable subs and doing this, but at the price I spent, they have to be doing OK with me not watching the ads on Bravo. You'd think that they would make the Hulu users wait, not the ones paying per show. I also have to point out that the episode was more than likely available on a torrent site within a few hours of the airing of the show, and with no ads and as good quality. It shouldn't be that hard to at least match the convenience and quality of the illegal version, should it?

Enough of that for now, on to this week's new stuff:


Crank 2: High Voltage (2009) Also on BD.

Criminal Minds: Season 4

Fringe: Season 1

Homicide (1991)

The Human Condition (1959)

The Office: Season 5 Also on BD.

Parks and Recreation: Season 1

That Hamilton Woman (1941)

September 1, 2009

TOS Rewind #31: "Mirror, Mirror"

Up this time: Mirror, Mirror (10/06/1967).

We recorded a podcast with Eric, Rob, Lee, and myself.

Click here to listen to or download it.

Eric starts us out:


"Mirror Mirror" is generally regarded as one of the very best classic Star Trek episodes; it is certainly in my top 10. The story is great SF--it's certainly not hard science fiction (i.e. SF that actually respects and does justice to science), but I can't think of any science fiction TV shows that are (or have been) hard SF. That said, Mirror Mirror is a great example of the kind of wildly imaginative science fiction that you find in the short stories and novels from the 50s through the 70s. It's pure geeky fun.

One of the best aspects of this episode is that there are great parts for all of the characters, not just Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. This is the only episode in which Scotty calls Kirk by his first name, and he's got several good pieces sprinkled throughout. Uhura is at her best--she gets to show her claws, which is always fun. Mirror Sulu is a delightfully malicious and lecherous diversion from his clean-cut counterpart in our universe, and who would've thought sweet little Chekov could be such a conniving, murderous shit? The version of these characters we're used to are shining examples of exceptional human beings, very upstanding and moral and proper, so it's delicious to see them stripped of their veneer of civilization.

Speaking of which, I really would've liked to see more of mirror Kirk, McCoy, Uhura, and Scotty. They are in the brig on "our" Enterprise for the whole episode, but if this had been a two-parter, it would've been great to see them attempt a breakout and takeover. The best mirror character, however, is Spock. He's essentially the Spock we know, but there's a hard edge there that makes him extremely cool. And what's fascinating is that Spock seems to be the constant in both universes. Despite being rather brutal and ruthless in the mirror universe, he's still intelligent, decent, and ethical, and it's this consistency that allows our Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura to return to our universe. It's also the factor that promises a heap o' trouble for mirror Kirk when he gets back to his Enterprise.

I'll leave my review there. There's much more that can be said about this episode (and we cover much of it in our podcast--go give it a listen). Mirror Mirror is classic Star Trek at it's best!


---

I believe we were all in agreement: this is top-drawer Trek. This episode isn't just thought-provoking, it's also a lot of fun. I have always loved this episode. The charge of seeing Spock with facial hair was something else. It isn't really that big of a deal, but when I was a kid, it certainly seemed like it. The idea of our familiar Enterprise being run by a group of futuristic thugs who happened to look like our heroes was irresistible.

It's easy to poke holes in the concept and science on display here, but the good/evil character ideas are still compelling. It's interesting to contemplate how this mirror universe actually operates. The episode doesn't give us a lot to work with, but we know there is central authority crossed with a gangster/pirate element (example: the hired goons used by the officers). As Lee pointed out in the podcast, this system probably wouldn't get very far in real life, but they manage to pack some interesting ideas into a very limited frame.

The character elements, as Eric pointed out, are the real draw here. Kirk and the landing party adapt to the new situation well. Uhura really does a 180 from being scared, clinging to Kirk, to taking on evil Sulu (complete with facial scar!). Sulu and Chekov are appropriately slimy. Hell, even the uniforms are different. Nimoy really does a great performance as the alternate Spock. His mannerisms are slightly different and he never overdoes it. "Mirror" Spock has this command authority we seldom see from the "good" version. Of course, we all think the Mirror Spock is WAY cooler than the regular one. His costume is cooler, and he's even more of a badass. Some things in the alternate universe aren't so different, like Kirk's relationships with women. This exchange between Kirk and Marlena (evil Kirk's, um, girlfriend?) got a chuckle out of me:

Marlena: "I've been a captain's woman, and I like it. I'll be one again, if I have to go through every officer in the fleet."

Kirk: "You could... I simply meant that you could be anything you wanted to be."

Wow...

Another thing I really like about this episode is how they created the atmosphere of the mirror universe with relatively few changes to the sets and costumes. They obviously couldn't change things too much, but it's enough to get the point across. Besides, the characters are what really convince us that Kirk and co. aren't in Kansas anymore.

Like Eric, I think it would have been fun to have seen more of the evil Kirk/landing party in our universe. The one scene we see has Kirk acting like a bombastic gangster trying to bribe Spock to get out of the brig. This particular plot was mined in other Trek shows to good effect. We would have enjoyed seeing the aftermath with bearded Spock after the evil Kirk returned.

The remastered version had a few enhancements. The Agony Booth got some effects, so we don't just see Chekov sweating in that plexiglass tube. There are a few zapping effects when Spock hits Mr Kyle with the agonizer hoopajoop.

So there you have it. Definitely an episode I always like to watch and one that really makes the most of its limited time/budget. "Captain Kirk, I shall consider it!"

Next time: "The Apple"

"Someone get that dirty old man out of this operating theater."

Another slow week of new releases. click here for the complete list with prices.


Braveheart (1995) First time on BD.

CSI: Season 9

Desperate Housewives: Season 5

Doctor Who: Deadly Assassin

Doctor Who: Image/Fendahl

Doctor Who: Delta/Bannermen

Gladiator (2000) New to BD. "Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?"

Heroes: Season 3 Also on BD.

MASH (1970) New to BD.

Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares (U.K.): Series 2

State of Play (2009) Also on BD.

Sugar (2009) Also on BD.

Supernatural: Season 4 Also on BD.

Two and a Half Men: Season 6