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The SmarK DVD Rant for Star Trek: Captain’s Log
Even though the Star Trek franchise as a whole came to a crashing halt with the double-whammy of Nemesis and the final episode of Enterprise, Paramount is smart enough to keep kicking at the same dead horse until the movie franchise can hopefully revive itself. The planned eleventh movie, by JJ “I produce more shows and movies than Jerry Bruckheimer” Abrams, is a classic case of boldly going where we’ve already gone before, however. ENOUGH with Kirk and Spock. We’ve had 3 seasons of the original series, six movies, dozens of novels, two different DVD releases of the show, autobiographies, action figures, fan fiction, websites and at this point I’d say we know pretty much everything we could possibly want to know about Kirk and Spock for one lifetime. The original point of the show, which Roddenberry got and which Berman & Braga did not, is that it’s about looking FORWARD, not backwards. TNG wouldn’t have worked as well as it did had Kirk and Spock been stopping by every other episode to say “Hi!” The success came from saying “OK, we’ve now jumped 75 years into the future, and here’s what life is like there and here’s a whole new cast of characters to play with in the sandbox.” I want something NEW. I don’t want to know about the Federation’s origins or how they came up with phasers or how they fought the Klingons again for the millionth time and ran around yelling “Shields down to 20%, fire photon torpedoes!” and explained every plot twist with a simple analogy (“Like sticking a potato in the tail pipe!”) Here’s a thought — think up some new characters, with original character traits, and stick them in space to go see places we haven’t seen before and meet people we don’t know. People might watch that. Just a thought.
But I digress.
Sure, these “Fan Collective” sets are a money grab from Paramount, but it’s a pretty neat idea for people like myself who want a sampling of the best episodes of Voyager or Enterprise without having to sink $100 in the season sets. Reasonably priced, lots of content, good deal, right? Well, let’s take a look…
The concept this time is that fans vote on their two favorite episodes featuring the respective captains of each show, I guess highlighting their best moments or whatever. In addition, the actors who portray those captains also pick one show as their personal favorite, giving us 15 episodes total over 5 discs. And really, it’s hard to fault any of the choices.
– Captain’s Pick: “The City On The Edge of Forever.” Well, DUH. Probably the best episode out of the entire Original Trek lineup, this one is a no-brainer for inclusion, even though it was already on the time travel set. This one is always good to keep in mind should you ever come across a time machine and need a lesson about the perils of messing with history. DON’T DO IT. McCoy, for once not being indignant about anything, is instead CRAZY from CRAZY space medicine that was supposed to be curing Sulu. By the way, George Takei’s facial expression upon being revived leaves no doubt how gay he was all along. Anyway, the doctor transports himself down the planet du jour, in this case one that’s inhabited by a sentient (and pretentious) time machine calling itself the Guardian of Forever. He’d probably have a barbed wire tattoo on his bicep, too, if he had arms. So McCoy jumps back to the Great Depression on Earth, and the Guardian informs the rest of the crew that they no longer exist now, really rubbing salt in the wounds and being a total prick about it. Geez, they just got ERASED from history, use a little tact, jerk. So back in time go Spock and Kirk to chase down McCoy, and that gives us some CLASSIC Kirk moments (“My friend here is obviously Chinese.”) as he’s generally a lot smoother than he was in Star Trek IV when faced with the same predicament. And of course, we meet do-gooding soup kitchen owner Edith Keeler, while Spock whines about “endeavoring to make a mnemonic circuit out of stone knives and bearskins.” They might not have emotions on Vulcan, but they sure have scathing sarcasm. And while Spock slaves over a hot vacuum tube all day, Kirk gets the girl. But hey, that’s why he’s the captain. You should of course know where the story goes from here, as Edith either dies in a car accident or lives and brings world peace, and Kirk has to figure out which option will restore the timeline. Spock has another great moment as he silently admonishes Kirk for not letting her fall down the stairs and break her neck, even though he KNOWS that her death is caused by a car accident. There’s preserving the timeline, and there’s being a shithead. Anyway, the message is clear here: Don’t mess with the timeline. Unless you’re JAMES T FUCKING KIRK. In which case, go for it, and screw lots of hot alien chicks while you’re at it.
– Fan Pick: “The Enterprise Incident”. Kirk is bitchy, possibly from a bad wig fitting, and takes the Enterprise into the Neutral Zone, which gives us our first look at the redesigned Klingon versions of the Romulan ships. That’s a very Star Trek thing to do — save money by reusing the old enemy ships, but just say that the new enemy is using them now. Kirk, acting his insane best, heads over to the Romulan ship with Spock and we learn of the Romulan-Vulcan connection for the first time. You can just feel the heat as Spock flirts with the unnamed Romulan commander and they argue the semantics of Vulcans telling lies. You just know he wants to put the Vulcan Boob Pinch on her. Kirk’s insanity puts Spock in the captain’s chair and McCoy Gets Indignant. Spock is forced to viciously “kill” Kirk with the Vulcan Death Grip (aka the Von Erich Iron Claw), although his nostrils flaring on a dramatic closeup of his “corpse” kind of kills the effect. Ah, but it was the 60s, what can ya do? Spock’s version of a pickup line: “There is no doubt, madam, that the cuisine aboard your vessel is far superior to that of the Enterprise.” Them’s panty-peeling words! The real meat of the episode, besides Mack Daddy Spock, is Kirk getting all made up like a Romulan and infiltrating the ship in order to steal…dun dun dun…the CLOAKING DEVICE! Which is exactly what he told the Romulans that he WASN’T doing. Picard would never do that. Just saying. Sadly, Spock’s Vulcan Boob Pinch is countered by the most evil force in the galaxy — a Romulan Cock Block. Scotty install the cloaking device in the Enterprise, and apparently it runs on Windows Vista and needs a driver upgrade before it can work. I think Roddenberry would be happier with Google inevitably taking over the world than he would with Microsoft. I know my days of servitude to our Googly masters would go better knowing that April Fool’s Day will be a national holiday and I’ll have unlimited storage space in my Gmail account in exchange for my loss of freedoms.
– Fan Pick: “Balance of Terror” Man, could they write an episode title in those days or what? An oldie but a goodie, referenced years later with the Borg’s initial attacks on the Federation. There’s outposts vanishing in the Neutral Zone, and people suspect the mysterious Romulans, with whom the Federation had a silent war 100 years before. Spock gives us some REALLY clunky exposition to explain that war, but then it was only the 9th episode anyway. So they head off to the Zone to defend another outpost, and we meet two crew members, one a Romulan-hating navigator who had a relative killed by them, and the other a young and happily engaged crewman who had his wedding interrupted by the attacks. I liked it better when they’d just stick the dead meat in red shirts instead of trying to give them a backstory. The Romulans’ cloaking device is introduced here, although it has huge limitations on it at this point, rather than being the magic invisibility device it became in later shows. And things get more tense as everyone suspects a mole, and the first glimpse of a Romulan shows that he has pointed ears, just like that other guy! You know, Spock. The Romulan commander is played, rather ironically, by Mark Lenard, future portrayer of Spock’s dad Sarek. Tension ramps up and now even Spock wants to attack, and of course McCoy is Indignant. Each attacks and soon it’s the old submarine movie with both moving silently and taking potshots in the dark. The Romulans decide to show mercy, but mercy and kindness never won any battles for James Tiberius Kirk, and the Romulans learn THAT lesson the hard way. And by hard way, I mean “blown up real good” way. And of course the distrusting navigator gets saved by Spock and the bright young ensign gets killed off and yada yada.
Next Generation time, baby.
– Captain’s Pick: “In Theory”. The first ep directed by Patrick Stewart sees Data bringing new meaning to “love machine”, as he gets involved in a relationship with a female crewmember, and once again gets to play it WAY over the top. His pillow talk is something to behold, as is Picard’s skillful avoidance of giving advice to Data. The lame crisis in the background involves a nebula punching holes in the Enterprise, but Data putting the moves on a woman with mechanical precision is worth the price of admission on this one. Sex count: Data presumably makes sweet android love down by the fire, as backed up by his admission in “Star Trek: First Contact” that he had sex 7 years before the movie takes place.
– Fan Pick: “Chain of Command Parts 1 & 2″ Chain of Command, parts 1 and 2. One of my favorite episodes of the season sees Picard and Crusher sent on a clandestine operation to a Cardassian planet, leaving the Enterprise in the hands of a new captain â€” Edward Jellico (later revived by Peter David as an Admiral for New Frontier). Jellico is an asshole, but everything he does is perfectly understandable and within regs. For instance, he insists that Troi wear (GASP) an actual UNIFORM when she’s on the bridge! You mean that jumpsuit ISN’T regulation? Oddly enough, Troi wore a uniform for pretty much the rest of the run of the show. Meanwhile, Picard gets captured by David Warner and tortured, and according to my limited knowledge of the subject from Pop-Up Video, does the right things to stay sane. Sadly, “THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS!” didn’t sweep the nation as a catchphrase on par with “Where’s the Beef?”
– Fan Pick: “Darmok” Hands down one of the best, and most thoughtful, episodes in the entire run of all the Star Trek series, as this episode explores the clichÃ© of aliens always seeming to speak English, and explores what would happen if they not only spoke an alien language, but a language based on metaphors and examples from a mythology that only they are familiar with. Patrick Stewart is his usual amazing self, playing a very confused Picard, as the writers openly swipe the plot of Gilgamesh (even admitting it during the course of the show!) with spectacular results. There is no overriding threat â€” the Enterprise simply meets an alien ship, Picard is beamed down to the planet along with the alien captain, and from there they learn to communicate in order to survive. Truly Star Trek at its finest.
Let’s journey to a little space station called Deep Space Nine…
– Captain’s Pick: “Far Beyond The Stars” Probably one of the most highly-regarded episodes of any of the Trek series, this one has very little to do with space and a lot to do with racism. Sisko, feeling the stress of the war and the job, finds himself hallucinating again, and this time finds himself in 1950s San Francisco, writing pulp sci-fi stories for a cheap magazine. All the major players appear in different roles than usual, and you get to see all the regulars appearing without their usual monster makeup and playing it very light-hearted for the most part. However, when Benny writes a story about a Negro captain of a space station 400 years in the future, things take a decidedly heavier turn, and his life starts going downwards and we learn about how hard it would have been to be a writer and a black man in the age of segregation. Probably notable for being the only time in the history of Star Trek that you’ll hear the word “nigger”. I don’t know if it was quite as poignant and well-acted as “The Inner Light” (especially with Avery Brooks doing the standard over-the-top acting job at the end), but it was in the same vein and stands as one of the best pieces of work ever done by the Star Trek creators. And let’s face it, casting Weyoun and Dukat as corrupt cops was a stroke of genius.
– Fan Pick: “What You Leave Behind” The somewhat disappointing finale of DS9 wraps up the whole war with a bunch of plot threads waiting to be tied up. You’ve got the Ezri-Julian relationship, the Odo-Kira relationship, Garak and Kira stuck on Cardassia, Gul Dukat and Kai Winn messing around with the Prophets on Bajor, and a BIG invasion of Cardassia by the Federation. A very bittersweet end to the Sisko character sees him giving up the mortal coil to go join the Prophets in mysterious fashion, but at least Gul Dukat meets his end in satisfying manner. And of course Julian and O’Brien get to share their last moments on the station, and Odo leaves for the homeworld to rejoin the Great Link, and everyone gets one more cameo before we wrap things up for good. It was always a show of grey rather than black and white, and I guess the finale falls into that category as well, with Sisko’s fate left up in the air and life basically going on as before on the station. I liked it, but didn’t love it.
– Fan Pick: “In The Pale Moonlight” This one shows that Sisko is definitely not the boy scout that Picard or even Kirk were. Ben decides that it’s time to get the Romulans into the war on their side, no matter what. And because the Romulans are all about the cold logic, they’ll need evidence that the Dominion is going to betray them. Well, there is no evidence, so Sisko goes to Garak for the next best thing — faked evidence. Oh my. This leads to a series of very questionable decisions on Sisko’s part, as he constantly uses the “ends justify the means” argument to rationalize the lies he’s telling, but it falls through and the Romulans look to be stronger than ever on the side of the Dominion. Until Garak turns the tables on them in a way that actually caught me off-guard — by killing the diplomatic envoy and framing the Dominion. YIKES. And Sisko’s reaction to it all (as he basically admits that he’s an accessory to murder and then shrugs it off) really made him look like a grade-A asshole too. To repeat: War is HELL. A really good episode, but a really depressing one. And now the Romulans are on the side of good. Notable here because Betazed falls to the Dominion, the first major “real” planet used as a plot device in the war.
Oh, goodie, Voyager.
Now, to me, Voyager was never one of those shows where I HATED it per se, but it just bored the crap out of me. Like, on Next Gen, you’ve got a crew inhabited by an android, a blind guy, a Klingon, a telepath, etc. And everyone’s got these great backstories and personal issues and stuff. Now Voyager is essentially the same story conceit, in that it’s a ship boldly going blah blah blah, but the crew is a bunch of boring humans and a Vulcan, who is essentially a human with pointy ears. The only crew member who shows any kind of creative thinking by the producers is the Doctor, in that he’s not a real person but has to learn to be human. See, THAT’S an interesting character. Sexy Borg Mama walking around being all hot is not. Luckily, the episodes picked are pretty good, if nothing else.
– Captain’s Pick: “Counterpoint”. The ship is subjected to a fascist inspection routine by a telepath-hating race called the Devore, another Trek standard — an “alien” race who basically look human except for a crinkly bit on their forehead. Kashyk, the chief inspector, claims to defect to Voyager, but he might just be using our heroes to expose their efforts to smuggle telepaths out of the system. Janeway and Kashyk bond over calculus and technobabble (of course! Why didn’t I think of using a subspace overlay to predict the position of the wormhole? It’s so OBVIOUS!), which sounds ludicrous even by Trek’s low standards. After some manufactured drama involving an evil probe chasing them, Janeway gives in to her womanly needs, but of course Kashyk SWERVED us all. Well, unless you’ve got an IQ over 20, in which case you probably guessed which side he was really on. Pretty low key stuff, but not bad or anything.
– Fan’s Pick: “The Omega Directive”. Mysteries abound as the ship receives mysterious Omega Directive orders and Janeway acts all mysterious. She can’t tell the crew anything, but big bombs are built, just in case. But then she changes her mind and tells the crew anyway, because otherwise we wouldn’t have a story. Question: Why does a meeting of “senior staff” include ENSIGN Kim? Why not include Neelix while you’re at it? Or the janitor? Anyway, the McGuffin for this story is the Omega molecule, so powerful that it can destroy the universe (much like Brannon Braga’s ego), and yet never mentioned before or after this episode. How about that. It’s the old Faust story again, with scientists on a backwater planet getting over their heads after discovering this all-powerful molecule, and it leads to crew conflict, as Sixty of Nine wants to study the evil concoction and Janeway is under orders to destroy it. And it might be a miracle or something, I dunno. All the symbolism tends to run together after a while.
– Fan’s Pick: “Flashback”. This one finally connects Tuvok’s appearance on the Excelsior during Star Trek VI with his current character. Tuvok has the Vulcan equivalent of an acid trip and starts getting nightmarish repressed memories (why, yes, Brannon Braga DID write this one, why do you ask?). The solution is clear: Mind-meld with Janeway and she can advise him in his memories on how to break through the block. However, instead of landing in his childhood repressed memory, they keep ending up on the bridge of the Excelsior, where Janeway gets to observe Tuvok as an ensign and Sulu’s first crack at being a captain. George Takei is of course totally awesome and over-the-top here, and there’s some nice moments of humor as well with Janeway and Tuvok (“You never bring ME tea!”). So we get a new perspective on the Excelsior’s role in Trek VI, and it turns into an examination of Tuvok’s feelings on duty and following the rules when confronted with the space cowboy mentality of Sulu. This is all really good stuff, but the payoff is horrendously stupid, involving an evil space virus that hides in your brain as repressed memories and jumps from host to host when they die. Really, wasn’t there a better way to get from point A to point B? Still, a good episode regardless.
Enterprise! Explore with us now the adventures of Captain Archer, boldly going where four previous series have already gone, but in a smaller ship. I gave this one two seasons to win me over and then bailed on it, because the show suffered from the same problem as Voyager — vanilla crew members doing the same stuff that all the Trek shows have been doing for 30 years. There was the occasional good idea in there, but let’s face it, it was time for the franchise to go away for a while and this was the wrong show at the wrong time. With the wrong people running it. Not that I have anything against most of the crew. Scott Bakula is one of my favorite actors, Jolene Blalock is great to look at, Connor Trinnear did a good job with the character he was given, and that’s fine. But the stench of Bermaga was all over this show, and even revamping it in the last two years couldn’t save it. They needed to kill it and start something new anyway.
– Captain’s Pick: “Judgment” So Archer is on trial by the Klingons, and you know how THAT goes. It’s one of those “differing perspective” shows, with Duras (who I’m assuming goes on to found the House of Duras that annoys the shit out of us in TNG later on) accusing Archer of harboring fugitives and trying to blow up his ship. Archer’s version is that he saved refugees from an abandoned colony that was “annexed” by the Empire. Nice bit of insight into the Klingon system as Archer chats with his advocate, played by JG “Martok” Hertzler in an excellent bit of acting. They get more time to bond when they’re sentenced to life on Rura Penthe together by the kangaroo court. Luckily, justice is as corrupt as it is swift and brutal in the Klingon system, because T’Pol bribes them out of there after only a couple of days, but Kolos decides to stay and fight for his right to party or something. Kind of a cheap ending to set things normal again, but I’m always a sucker for Klingon episodes.
– Fan Pick: “These Are The Voyages”. Why would fans pick this one? Seriously. Anyway, it’s the last episode of Trek, probably of any kind for a long time, and although Berman and Braga have called it a “valentine to the Trek fans,” it’s more like a bullet to the head of the franchise. The goofy conceit here is that the whole episode is in fact taking place between scenes of an episode of TNG on the holodeck (What’s that, a holodeck episode you say where nothing is as it seems? And who’s writing it? That’s right, Brannon Braga!) as Riker and Troi, looking 85 years old apiece, live out the final voyage of the NX-01. This one takes place 6 years after the next-to-last episode (although really much longer than that into the “real” future in the seventh season of TNG…ugh, never mind, this gives me a headache) and there’s minor changes. One of them is Jolene Blalock playing T’Pol like a stoner chick or something, as she’s just not even TRYING to be Vulcan beyond the ears and hairstyle. I dunno if that’s supposed to be a character development or just an acting choice because she was quite notably pissed off at the producers, but I actually like her better that way. The plot-within-the-plot sees Commander Shran returning from the dead and needing help saving his kidnapped daughter, which gives us one last pointless action sequence (but with great surround effects!) while Riker participates in it all and plays the role of Chef. The kidnappers chase down the ship, however, and Trip blows himself up to save the ship in a totally meaningless and worthless death. Seriously, Worst. Death. Ever. In the end, Tucker is mourned, and Archer signs the Federation treaty, and that’s it for Star Trek. I wasn’t watching at the time, but I would have been pretty disgusted if this had been the finale after twenty-some years of being a Star Trek fan. This episode was a punchline to a bad joke and just another “Oh, I’m so clever” conceit from Berman and Braga, who already ruined the franchise many times over with the same tricks and will hopefully never get the keys to the car back again.
– Fan Pick: “First Flight”. Archer and T’Pol spend some quality time together on a side mission doing whatever, but the actual plot of the story is Archer remembering his recently-deceased comrade AG Robinson, as he flashes back to his competition with him over who would break Warp 2 first. A dramatic act break with AG’s life in peril is f*cking retarded when we already know that he lives until the beginning of this episode. No wonder this show drove intelligent people away in the first three seasons. Anyway, we also get the first meeting of Trip and Archer here, although later on in the finale they say that they’ve known each other for “over 20 years”, but I’ll just attribute that to Braga being a dumbass and move on. Archer & AG blow up the first NX prototype trying to push warp 2.2, but fight to try again, showing a direction for the show that was far more interesting to me than where they actually went in the show was. Star Trek Lite is boring, but arrogant space cowboys fighting their way into the deep black beyond and barfighting over the privilege is something we haven’t seen from the franchise before.
Obviously there’s a great deal of difference from show to show. The original series stuff was recently cleaned up for a new DVD release, so it looks fabulous in its original full-screen format with all the garish colors of the 60s in full display. It’s not the new CGI versions which are reportedly going to be done for HD-DVD, but it’s nice. The TNG episodes are the original masters used for the DVD releases almost 10 years ago now, and they’re showing their age. They didn’t really need dramatic cleanup or anything, but it’s obvious that the Kirk era got more attention than this one did. The DS9 and Voyager episodes are already from the digital era, so they look noticeably better than the TNG ones do, with a minimum of the grain and darkness issues that plague the TNG eps on DVD. And finally, Enterprise is presented in 16:9 anamorphic widescreen instead of full screen, and it looks stunning, being the first Trek to be shot in high definition and all. In fact, much like the remastered TOS episodes, resolution is so stunning that you can easily tell that the actors are wearing makeup and in many cases, see the prosthetics clearly!
Again, much different from show to show. TOS boasts MAD bass, as the show was remastered in full 5.1 rather than the half-assed 5.1 featured on the 90s versions of Trek. When the Romulans bomb the Enterprise, my subwoofer was rumbling. When the ship whizzes past in the credits, it moves into the surrounds. Dialog is clear and crisp in the center channel now. Ditto for Enterprise, which would have been produced and mixed in 5.1 for HD presentation anyway. The laser battle in the finale is a great example of surround usage, with shots whizzing over your head and all around the sound field. The other three shows have pretty much a glorified stereo mix going on, with the occasional drone of the engine mixed into the LFE channel and not much else.
Sadly, no text commentaries from Michael Okuda on these sets, instead you get lots of interviews with each captain. Not surprisingly, Bill Shatner has the longest one at 12 minutes, whereas everyone else runs about a minute and a half. Topics like the shows that are featured, what makes a good captain, their best traits, etc, are covered. No other real features, though. Commentaries would have been nice, especially on the classic episodes. Or by Berman & Braga on the finale, so they could explain what the f*ck they were thinking.
The Show: ****
The Video: ***1/2 (averaged)
The Audio: ***1/2 (averaged)
The Extras: **
This is a pretty good cross-section of episodes from each series, with nothing on here I’d call terrible (outside of the Enterprise finale), and at $30 for 15 episodes it’s pretty much a steal if you don’t have these on DVD already. Great for casual fans or those who don’t want to get the whole series, I’d strongly recommend this set.