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October 27, 2009

"Questions are a burden to others. Answers are prison for oneself."

We continue to work our way through the newest Ken Burns docu on BD. Same interesting content and gorgeous images. As I mentioned on FB, we watched The Freshman recently and really enjoyed it. It's slightly dated, but it held up pretty well. It's certainly worth watching for Brando's performance alone, probably the last good thing he did. The DVD we watched was so-so in picture quality, but it's a very old transfer and quite frankly doesn't detract from a film like this. Zero bonuses, save for a trailer. If you're inclined towards this film at all, it's certainly worth a rental revisit.

OK, on to this week's list of new stuff:

Angel and the Badman (2009)

The Barbara Stanwyck Show: Vol. 1 (1960) Hmm, Barbara Stanwyck had a TV show...who knew?

Battlestar Galactica: The Plan (2009) From what I can tell, this is an add-on extended episode that expands the events from the first season. Also on BD.

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009) Also on BD. "High jinks and hilarity ensue in this fun family adventure that's packed with celebrity voices." Oh goody...

Il Divo (2008) Also on BD.

Monty Python: Almost the Truth (2009) Also on BD. This is the documentary series that ran on IFC.

The Prisoner: The Complete Series Megaset Released to coincide with the remake mini-series, I assume. I hear that there are new bonuses and improved picture/sound. Here's a review of the new set by DVD Savant can be found here. It looks good, but not enough to make me trade up. Also on BD.

Stan Helsing (2009) Also on BD.

Tales from the Darkside: Season 2

Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure (2009) Also on BD.

Whatever Works (2009) Yes, Woody Allen on BD...scary.

October 19, 2009

"My grandmother lives in a condominium."

Before we start, we recorded another non-Trek podcast last week where we tackled the Battlestar Galactica series finale. Check it out here.

And now here's something we hope you'll really like!

This week's release list:

Black Adder Remastered: The Ultimate Edition One of two BBC classic sitcom re-dos.

Fawlty Towers: The Complete Collection Remastered This is the other...the new set does have some bonuses and A/V quality improvements..

The L Word: Season 6

Monsoon Wedding (2001, Criterion version) Also on BD.

Numb3rs: Season 5

Peanuts: 1970's Collection, Vol. 1

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) Also on BD. I know this one's an easy target, but here's a quote from Roger Ebert's review: "The human actors are in a witless sitcom part of the time, and lot of the rest of their time is spent running in slo-mo away from explosions, although--hello!--you can't outrun an explosion. They also make speeches like this one by John Turturro: 'Oh, no! The machine is buried in the pyramid! If they turn it on, it will destroy the sun! Not on my watch!' The humans, including lots of U.S. troops, shoot at the Transformers a lot, although never in the history of science fiction has an alien been harmed by gunfire." Yeah... It makes Waterworld, coming out on BD this week, seem pretty good.

BG Podcast

We took a week off of Trek to discuss Battlestar Galactica and see where we all stood on the series finale. Sure, it took me some time to finally finish watching the show, but I like to think that it gave us all some extra time to ponder the show at length. Or something like that!

Eric, Rob, and Lee were along for the ride; I think we had a pretty good discussion. We'll be back soon with our next Trek episode (for all the multitudes of listeners out there!), but in the meantime, why not check out the podcast?

Download it here.

October 12, 2009

"I love showtunes, they really tell the story of the human condition."

We've been watching the new Ken Burns The National Parks: America's Best Idea series and so far it's pretty good. As you'd expect, there are many of the usual Burns documentary techniques being used here with lots of actor voice-overs for the quotations. The pacing of the show is a bit on the deliberate side, but the amount of information there is significant and I do feel like I'm getting a really good picture as to how the whole thing came about. Much of the background on the parks and how the park service was put together was unfamiliar to me.

Speaking of pictures, there are some beautiful shots of the outdoor scenes here; they did a great job combining new shots with old footage and still photos. In HD, the images really look nice. Many of the older photos look very sharp, telling me that they had some very good sources to work with. The BD version looks and sounds great, though the HD broadcast version is almost as good. I could see a bit more film grain on the BD version. Burns apparently still shoots using 16mm film. In any case, the series is worth checking out as a rental at least.

So, now that it's November...oh wait, it just seems like it is with all the snow outside.

Of course when the weather stinks, that means there's more time to check out all the lovely releases coming out this week:

Adoration (2007) Also on BD.

American Violet (2008) Also on BD.

Drag Me to Hell (2009) Also on BD.

Land of the Lost (2009) Also on BD. Of course they're also releasing the old TV show seasons this week.

Married... with Children: Season 11 11 years...

The Proposal (2009) Also on BD.

Rick Wakeman: The Six Wives of Henry VIII: Live at Hampton Court Palace (2009) Prog rock blow-out!

October 6, 2009

TOS Rewind #33: "The Doomsday Machine"

And now we get to one of the series true classics: The Doomsday Machine (10/20/1967). The podcast we did for this one can be found here.

This episode has always been a personal favorite and still is today. The episode has a very entertaining action/sci-fi story. Adding to this are some interesting concepts and decent performances from the cast.

Growing up, the whole idea of the wandering planet killer, along with seeing a copy of the familiar Enterprise was just irresistible. Despite the fact that the wrecked Constellation was a cheap toy Enterprise model kit (it was an actual AMT kit) that they altered, it was enough to evoke visions in my imagination of a real wrecked Enterprise sister. Sure, the planet killer looked like a glowing ice cream cone/wind sock dipped in cement (IIRC, that's actually what they used!), but it did the job. Plus, the odd look actually works better than some design with a more conventional look. The weirdness tends to make it more believable as an alien object (at least it always did to me).

Today, the episode still packs a punch and even has some interesting ideas behind it. The scene where Kirk and the landing party encounter Decker aboard the Constellation has a couple of notable points. One, when it's revealed that there is this planet killer/robot out there slicing/dicing planets, Kirk does some thoughtful speculation as to its origin and purpose. That bit of dialogue helps the antagonist rise above the "monster of the week" thing and draws parallels to cold war issues. The planet killer can also be interpreted as an environmental statement (thanks Lee for pointing that out) in that future generations are having to reckon with the destruction wrought by man-made machines. Sure, aliens in another galaxy may have built this thing and could be long-dead, but *someone* has to clean up the mess. This time, it just happened to be our heroes.

The other real point here is the scene where Decker reveals the fate of his crew. Windom, the actor playing Decker, really goes all out in the scene and goes right to the edge of scenery chewing. The performance, in the context of the material is right on. The emotionally-charged lines along with his effectively haggard appearance come across as genuine. Shatner is relatively subdued in this episode, which works well. Nimoy has some very good material to work with. In particular, his confrontations with Decker after he's assumed command of the ship are subtle and still dramatic. The looks on his face really convey the logical realization that Decker's actions will almost certainly assure all their deaths. This realization is even more effective after it's made clear that Spock can't prevent it, at least not yet. There is also a compelling bit of a strategy game going on with Spock and Decker: Spock's strategy will work, but only if he can relieve Decker of command before he kills them all. Decker wants to destroy the thing at all costs. If that means his own death, then so much the better at this point.

McCoy doesn't really get to do much, other than harass Decker. Scotty has some good scenes repairing the wrecked Constellation including some fun interaction with Kirk (Scotty, you've just earned your pay for the week.").

It sounds to me like there were some new musical cues written for this episode. The cues used when the ships are battling the machine sound different and are quite effective in an old-school movie music style: dramatic suspense-building music.

I watched this episode on BD and came away impressed. This is, by far, the best the show has ever looked on video and I liked being able to watch either the original or remastered effects. I've generally been lukewarm on the new effects work, but here it really did make a difference, particularly with the shots of the Constellation. There is real detail to the damaged ship and the debris field around it. They really got this one right. The new planet killer looks more menacing, though they went a bit overboard on the "molten" look of the interior. I know Lee preferred the original 'killer, but I think its modern look was mostly an improvement.

And now, Eric chimes in:

We apparently have gotten to the point in the second season where excellent episodes alternate with execrable ones: "Mirror Mirror" (a superb classic) followed by "The Apple" (see our previous reviews/podcast), and now time we're up to "The Doomsday Machine," one of the best original series episodes. After this is "Catspaw" (not completely fetid, but not great either)--It's starting to feel like a roller coaster...

Anyway, on to "the Doomsday Machine," which is certainly one of my top ten favorite episodes, and may be one of my top five. Once again, I'm not going to rehash our entire podcast, but this episode scores high just about every respect. The director, Marc Daniels (who also directed classic episodes such as "the Menagerie," "Space Seed," and "Mirror Mirror") turns in what may be his best work. The acting is well above par--Shatner is good, Nimoy is excellent, and William Windom, who plays Commodore Decker, is outstanding. His portrayal of Decker's haunted anguish is both wrenchingly believable and moving. And the story, written by SF veteran Norman Spinrad, is both an interesting cold war analogy and a great science fiction yarn. In "The Apple" we weren't given any clues or tantalizing hints about the nature/origin/purpose of Vaal (the malevolent mechanism du jour), which worked to the considerable detriment of the episode. With "The Doomsday Machine," however, these questions are asked and some thought-provoking answers are suggested.

But the story is successful as more than an imaginative SF tale, it is also excellent action/adventure. As such, the special effects are extremely important. This is probably the most effects-laden episode in original Trek, and while the original SFX were good (for the time), this is the one instance when I recommend the remastered version. The new digital effects actually enhance the storytelling. The wrecked USS Constellation has always been an affecting sight and presence, but the version in the remastered episode is even more disturbing--it's like seeing our beloved Enterprise crippled and ruined. And the planet killer, always menacing, looks even more macabre and otherworldly.

A few interesting bits of trivia:

· Commodore Decker is the father of Captain/Commander Will Decker in the "Star Trek: The Motion Picture."

· One of the Star Trek novels proposes that the planet killer was constructed by a race from our galaxy as a weapon to fight the Borg.

· Commodore Decker makes a subsequent appearance (yes, after his apparent death) in a fan-produced episode that takes place in the 20th century.

· At Gene Roddenberry's request, Norman Spinrad came up with a design for the planet killer that portrayed it as a massive battleship, bristling with all sorts of evil-looking weapons. He was reportedly disappointed in the design the ended up being used, saying it looked like a "wind sock dipped in cement." Roddenberry's response was that they ran out of money for the episode and had to make do. I think the design actually is more effective--it's quintessentially alien and ominous.

So this is episode is a real gem: excellent direction, superb acting, and a great story. I just wish I could be as enthusiastic about the following episode...

Next time: "Catspaw"

October 5, 2009

"Does this game go on forever or does it have an end?"

Last night, for some reason, I was thinking about the time when TV Guide was useful. When I was growing up, in the dark ages before the InterTubes, we would often visit my Aunt/Uncle who had a print subscription to TV Guide. Yes, back when it was a real article (they probly still publish it, for all I know) and not just a brand of electronic program guide for DVRs and their ilk. My family never get this at home, so in those days, it was fun to skim through the 'Guide (Yeah, I needed to get out more!) Not only could you see the schedule a couple of weeks in advance, but there was actual detail about the shows! Sure, it wasn't super-accurate, but it was a lot better than what you got in the paper. I always remember the typical TV Guide description for many a Star Trek episode (a show I was always on the lookout for): "Kirk and the landing party beam down to an alien planet where they encounter a strange creature." They used that one a lot. Now there's some real premium content for you!

Enough nostalgia, on to this week's list of new stuff:

Ally McBeal: The Complete Series I guess they sorted out all the music licensing issues...

Bones: Season 4 Also on BD.

The Children (2008) Also on BD.

Contact (1997) New to BD this week. This was one of the first DVDs I bought back in 1998 when the format was new. I may have to re-buy this one.

Dance Flick (2009)

A Hard Day's Night (1964) New to BD...in Canada?

The Mary Tyler Moore Show - The Complete Fifth Season

Mister Ed: Season 1

The National Parks: America's Best Idea Also on BD.

Nip/Tuck: Season 5: Part 2

Red Dwarf: Back to Earth Also on BD.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) First time on BD for this classic and an interesting sales strategy. The BD version has both BD and DVD discs. If you only want the DVD version, you have to wait six weeks (the old DVD is out of print). Interesting...

Trick 'r Treat (2008) Also on BD.

Year One (2009) Also on BD. This one looked really stupid...