Saturday, September 09, 2006

SATURDAY MORNING CULT TV BLOGGING: Flash Gordon: "To Save Earth"

This week on the Filmation animated series Flash Gordon, our stalwart hero from Earth has brought together Thun the Lion Man, King Vultan and Prince Barin as "brothers in arms" against the despot, Ming the Merciless. Flash muses that it would be nice to speak with Dr. Zarkov - who is still trapped in Mingo City with Dale - and lo and behold, Zarkov conveniently appears courtesy of a little astral projection. It's just his big floating head, however...

Unfortunately, Ming busts into the transmission to tell Flash he's launching an attack on Arborea with his "aerial navy." No sooner said than done, but Barin's "leaf fighters" repel the assault. From beneath Arborea, Ming then attacks again...dispatching evil mole people and a burrowing device to cut out the roots of the tree-laden metropolis. These Mole Men look suspiciously like evil clones of the McDonald's Grimace; they're porcine and purple. Anyway, they're defeated in short order thanks to a remote control which can activate tree roots (?) and make them attack on command. Then Flash uses the mechanical mole driver to tunnel through the magma beneath Mingo City so he can rescue Dale. He keeps referring to this tunnel as a "new crack" beneath the city, a descriptor which made me laugh. Especially when the mole driver got stuck in the crack...

Anyhoo, Dale is about to marry Ming the Merciless. Oh, and did I mention that the planet Mongo is now rapidly approaching Earth, wreaking havoc on Terra's weather?

Yes, it's a busy week for Flash Gordon. But he gets the girl, unites the planet, and defeats Ming. Only problem: by saving Earth, he's set Mongo on a course for deep space and now he, Dale and Zarkov can never return home. It's a pyrrhic victory.

There's a lot of silly action this week, as you might guess. For instance, Ming apparently has the capability to teleport whenever he wishes, yet he doesn't use this device/power when threatened by Flash; or when Flash follows him into the bowels of the city. In fact, Ming takes the elevator.

Note to self: if I ever get miraculous teleport abilities, I'm not waiting to take no damn elevator...

Friday, September 08, 2006

Happy 40th Birthday Star Trek...


Forty years ago, on September 8, 1966, NBC aired the first episode of a strange and colorful science fiction TV series called Star Trek. That first installment was entitled "The Man Trap" and focused on a starship's encounter with a shape-shifting creature (lovingly known as a Salt Vampire in fandom...) that was the last of its breed.

The ratings were low, and Star Trek clung to the airwaves for just three seasons until canceled in 1969. It wasn't until syndicated reruns in the mid-1970s that the series began to ascend in popularity. Now, of course, it's a phenomenon. It's difficult to imagine American pop culture without Star Trek. Without catchphrases like "beam me up, Scotty"; without devices like the flip-up communicators (the basis for today's cell phones).

Personally, it's Star Trek that has shaped so much of my life and my feelings about science fiction media. I was infatuated with Star Wars when I was in the second grade, but it is Star Trek that I have always returned to; again and again, over the years. The stories and characters are deeper; the universe...more endlessly fascinating; the tapestry - ultimately - wider.

I realize that puts me in the minority opinion. Star Wars features better special effects, a more operatic and concise story through-line, and is generally considered more mainstream and entertaining, I guess.

But me? I'm a Trekker.

And, by a cosmic coincidence, my wife Kathryn and I celebrate the seventeenth anniversary of our first date today, on September 8. On the very day that Star Trek turns forty.

So let's hear it for Star Trek, and the Great Bird of the Galaxy (the late Gene Roddenberry). His original series has probably shaped more lives across the globe than any entertainment in modern history, and that achievement deserves some hosannas.

Live long and prosper, Star Trek.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

A Starship is Almost 40...


On the eve of Star Trek's fortieth birthday (September 8), I thought I would post some pictures here of the lovely lady in her prime.

Wow! Look at her in all her elegant, 1966-1969 glory. She's still the most beautiful starship ever to grace a TV or movie screen. No wonder Kirk loves her so...

This is the starship that traveled beyond the barrier at the edge of the galaxy in "Where No Man Has Gone Before," and the vehicle which challenged the doomsday machine. She's the Constitution Class cruiser that made first contact with the First Federation ("The Corbomite Maneuver") and was overrun by tribbles ("The Trouble with Tribbles"). It was this Enterprise that voyaged to Organia ("Errand of Mercy"), battled Romulans ("Balance of Terror") and first encountered the Metrons "(Arena"). More than any of those things, she was the home to 432 of Starfleet's finest on a five year mission...

And this is the Enterprise that I grew up. She will be getting that CGI face lift soon, so treasure your memories (and photos...) of the lovely lass as she was. Did I mention I'm also getting a face lift at 40?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Star Trek HD and CG

While I toiled on my book last week, some of my buddies e-mailed me links to a news announcements on the net about the return of Star Trek. I'm sure you've read about it by now.

Anyway, the plan is to give Star Trek (The Original Series), which celebrates its 40th birthday in thee days, a dramatic face lift. All 79 hour-long episodes from 1966-1969 will be re-released into syndication in high definition, featuring newly created, state-of-the-art computer-generated effects.

Call it Star Trek: The Special Edition. The first re-crafted show appears on the air the weekend of September 16. The episode? The classic "Balance of Terror," which chronicles the Enterprise's first encounter with the Romulan Star Empire at the border of the Neutral Zone.

Here's a few more details, from Star Trek.com:


The most noticeable change will be redoing many of the special effects, created with 1960s technology, with 21st century computer-generated imagery (CGI). Upgrades include:

Space ship exteriors – The Enterprise, as well as other starships, will be replaced with state of the art CGI-created ships. The new computer-generated Enterprise is based on the exact measurements of the original model, which now rests in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Show opening – The Enterprise and planets seen in the main title sequence will be redone, giving them depth and dimension for the first time.

Galaxy shots – All the graphics of the galaxy, so frequently seen through the viewscreen on the Enterprise's bridge, will be redone.

Exteriors – The battle scenes, planets and ships from other cultures (notably the Romulan Bird of Prey and Klingon Battle Cruisers) will be updated.

Background scenes – Some of the iconic, yet flat, matte paintings used as backdrops for the strange, new worlds explored by the Enterprise crew will get a CGI face-lift, adding atmosphere and lighting.


So, what do you think? Pro or con? (Or would that be, Pro or Khan?)

The cranky old fan in me - the one who's loved Star Trek just the way it is for my whole life - isn't exactly jumping with joy. This is a tough thing to explain in the age of computer-effects, but those resourceful if primitive effects on Star Trek are like old friends. I like how they look; I like how they sound. The retro-sixties feel is part of the fun of watching the show. I enjoy the way Nomad hovers around the bridge in "The Changeling;" the way Ruk disintegrates in What Are Little Girls Made of"; the manner in which the Enterprise plows into a space amoeba in "The Immunity Syndrome"; and how Stratos looks in miniature in "The Cloud Minders." These shots are amazingly cool. My wife and I watched the entire original series on DVD about a year ago, and you know what? It's so damn good (still...) that the aged effects don't detract a bit. In fact, they merely add nostalgia.

So, all right...these effects aren't always great; and they certainly don't always hold up. But they're part of the series' original production design; part and parcel of the Star Trek "look" that has inspired millions (if not billions). I imagine the artists working on the re-do will be mindful of this fact but still, I worry. I hope they also don't plan to re-tool the sound effects, which are so distinctive as to be split-second recognizable.

Yet, on the other hand, the part of me that just adores Star Trek and wants to see the series regain some of its old popularity with youngsters, is thrilled by this development. It'll also be nice to see the Enterprise that I love (no bloody C, no bloody D...) back in action "one more time." Who could resist such a thing? I just hope the spfx guys remember to treat NCC-1701 "like a lady." Because she is a lady, and we all love her...

So, bitch about at as much I probably will, I'm still going to watch. What do you think? Is this craven commercialism at its worst, or will Star Trek: The Real Special Edition simply be the thing to re-ignite and inspire fan devotion?