Saturday, August 13, 2016

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Space Stars: Episode 2 (September 19, 1981)

In Hanna Barbera’s Space Stars (1981) episode two, the hour begins with a Space Ghost story called “The Starfly.”

While Space Ghost s combating a star beast who has attacked transport ships Ulysses and Cosmos, Blip encounters a friendly alien star fly on Ghost Planet. The creature is suffering from a “radiation overdose.”

The star fly spins a cocoon and becomes a star beast too, but the monster remembers his friendship with Blip, and remains friendly. Space Ghost is impressed because “no one has ever tamed a star beast before.”

This episode is better than the previous Space Ghost installments since it at least seems to have a point.  A kindness given is not forgotten, even when one “grows up.”

The Teen Force episode “Death Ray,” meanwhile, explores Uglar’s latest attempt to destroy Black Hole X and forever lock his enemies out of our universe.

The second Space Ghost affair, “The Anti-Matter Man” involves a scientist, Dr. Conta, who is transformed into a Mr. Hyde-type anti-matter monster, and must be restored to normal.

Last week’s Herculoids story was about fire, this week it’s about ice. In “The Ice Monster,” a melting iceberg has a deadly secret inside a giant armored robot. This goliath attacks the Herculoids’ camp.

In Astro and the Space Mutts this week, the story is called “Reverso” and it involves a master computer stolen by a villain named Reverso, who can “reverserize” things.

The finale cross over, “Dimension of Doom” sees the return of Uglar. He uses a special weapon to transform Jan, Jace and even Space Ghost into hairy space mutants.  The Teen Force arrives to help, even as Space Ghost fights to control his transformations.

One of the omnibus “black outs” this week, “Space Mystery” involves Space Ace, Cosmo and Digger’s trip fishing when they attempt to resolve the mystery of sea monster whose foot prints have disappeared. 

The answer involves high tide, which washed away evidence of the monster’s presence.

This hour, like the first, is extremely juvenile in story-telling and science fiction. There’s lots of laser beams movement and monsters, but very little in terms of intriguing concepts.

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Shazam: "The Lure of the Lost" (September 28, 1974)

The Filmation live-action series Shazam (1974 – 1977) grows a bit more serious this week with an entry titled “The Lure of the Lost.”  

While most series stories thus far have concerned juvenile or adolescent topics such as peer pressure (“The Joyriders”), being nice to your sibling (“The Brothers), or even caring for a pet (“Thou Shalt Not Kill”), this episode actually involves youngsters becoming involved with drug dealers and illegal drugs. 

As “The Lure of the Lost” commences, Mentor (Les Tremayne) and Billy Batson (Michael Gray) argue over what kind of music to listen to in their “far out” camper.  Mentor prefers Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, but Billy likes “modern pop.”  Before radio privileges can be determined, a call from the Elders comes in.  Billy learns from the Gods about a “girl avoiding responsibility” that he will soon meet.

But in a variation from recent and established series formula, the Elders provide no famous quotation from a literary or historical source to guide Billy on his quest.  Instead, they simply note “the way is yours to choose.”  

Perhaps it was too much trouble to find good quotations once the grind of the series was in full swing, or perhaps the producers were simply attempting to dial back the moralizing. Also by allowing Billy to choose his own course, the writers make room for a little more heroism in the series.  He’s not quite so…programmed.

Anyway, Mentor and Billy soon meet Holly (Christina Hart), a flighty girl who has driven her VW bug into a ditch.  They help free the car, but when Holly leaves behind her purse, Billy finds illegal drugs in it. 

When confronted, Holly claims that they belong to her brother, who has fallen in with a villainous drug dealer.  Captain Marvel saves her brother, Gary, during a car chase, and instructs Holly to bring the drugs to the police.  But instead Holly flushes the drugs down the toilet to spare Gary any jail time, an act certain to have repercussions.

To be continued…

I must confess, I was a little surprised to see the generally benign and child-like Shazam! go into a story involving teens using and selling drugs.  

Even more radically, one of the drug dealers is really destructive, and immune to lessons about moral goodness.  He actually lies and claims that Billy is a drug pusher, which confuses Holly and makes it difficult to achieve her total trust. 

Although this is hardly Batman fighting Bane or Superman fighting a trio of villains from the Phantom Zone, “The Lure of the Lost” possesses a bit more danger and intrigue than some of the other episodes.  

Usually, bad kids completely fold when faced with the upright moral values of Billy or Captain Marvel.  Here, Holly goes against his wishes and destroys the drugs.

Still, as an artifact from the didactic era of kids programming on Saturday mornings, this episode of Shazam feels a lot more like an After School Special than it does a superhero production. I have the feeling that I'm going to be writing that sentiment a lot, as I did deeper into this series..

This story-line concludes in next week’s tale “The Road Back.”

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Films of 1954: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Jules Verne's immortal tale of undersea adventure, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea has been adapted to film on several occasions, but it is likely the Walt Disney effort of 1954 that remains, for many viewers and film aficionados, the definitive or "classic" screen version of the novel.

Helmed by Richard Fleischer, the veteran director behind Fantastic Voyage (1966), Soylent Green (1973), Amityville 3-D (1983) and Conan The Destroyer (1984), 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea stars James Mason as Captain Nemo, Kirk Douglas as harpooner Ned Land, Paul Lukas as Professor Aronnax and Peter Lorre as Conseil.

Oh, and did I mention Esmerelda, Captain Nemo's pet seal?

I make note of the seal (a character not present in the Jules Verne story) simply because the cinematic version of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea takes significant liberties with the cherished source material. That doesn't make it a bad film, but it does make the movie a decidedly...different experience.

First and foremost, Fleischer's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea reflects the Atomic Age of the 1950s and the beginnings of the Cold War epoch. Nemo's magnificent underwater machine, the Nautilis is powered by atomic energy in the movie rather than the electricity of the book. The movie doesn't specifically single out "atomic energy" by name, but Nemo reveals to Aronnax the sub's propulsion unit and and claims that it harnesses "the dynamic power of the universe," which by my reckoning is a euphemism for atomic power. Especially since Nemo profoundly notes that such power could either "revolutionize the world" or "destroy it."

Additionally, one of the film's final and most resonant images is that of the archetypal Cold War nightmare scenario: a mushroom cloud blossoming on the horizon. Nemo single-handedly destroys his high-tech island base, Vulcania (another element not exactly taken from Verne's book...) to prevent it from falling into enemy hands. The result is the mushroom cloud; the tell-tale and ominous indicator of nuclear weapons detonation.

Indeed, much of Verne's novel has been deliberately re-purposed with an eye towards the contemporary (meaning the 1950s context of the film), and specifically the use and mis-use of atomic power. Nemo reveals to Professor Aronnax, for instance, that his wife and child were tortured and then slaughtered when he refused to share the secret of the atom with his captors in the gulag at Rura Penthe ("the white man's grave yard.") Although the death of Nemo's family is clearly inferred in the Verne novel (near the end), the film provides this much-more explicit exposition about the tragedy.

These alterations make the movie's Captain Nemo appear somewhat less misanthropic than his literary counterpart. For instance, in the book, Nemo attempted suicide-by-Nautilus and drove the submarine down into a raging whirlpool, a "maelstrom." He was downcast and sullen over having committed the "murder" of a ship's crew during battle, and desired to end his hopeless, conflicted life. Nemo's last exhortation was a word of surrender: "Enough!"

By contrast, Nemo's demise in the Fleischer film is much more heroic in magnitude and intention. In order to keep the Pandora's Box of Atomic Energy firmly closed, Nemo nobly destroys all of his advanced technology on Vulcania and then even scuttles the beloved Nautilus. This final act is not truly suicide anymore, since Nemo has been fatally shot and would have died shortly anyway. Still, Nemo's death in the film brings forth a humanitarian goal: protecting the species from "tampering in God's domain" before it is wise enough to understand that territory.

The film version of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea culminates with a decidedly uplifting voice-over from the late Captain Nemo, one that suggests (as his conveyance, the Nautilus, sinks below choppy waves...) that the character harbored some inherent optimism about the future. "There is hope for the future. And when the world is ready for a new and better life, all this will someday come to pass. In God's good time," he declares beatifically, elevated to the level of saint, if not savior.

This distinctly out-of-character statement transforms Verne's dedicated man of science and unrepentant misanthrope into a something quite different: a pollyanna, or a humanist! Again, I'm not stating that the film adaptation is of poor quality, only that it is by no means a faithful adaptation of Verne's original literary vision.

In addition to the "comedy" scenes involving Esmerelda -- Nemo's sea pup mascot -- the Fleischer film relies on some unnecessarily broad humor. Kirk Douglas's first appearance as Ned --- with a floozie dangling on each arm -- is a perfect example. In this scene, Ned is comically knocked atop the head by a crutch-wielding charlatan, and then he falls splat in a mud-puddle....after going cross-eyed. Bluntly stated, it's not an auspicious beginning to a remarkable and well-loved film.

Again by contrast, in the book, Ned was a forty-year old of considerable experience, intelligence, and seriousness, and not an all-singing, all-dancing, treasure-greedy buffoon...which is precisely how he comes across in the movie. And don't get me started on his obligatory musical number, "A Whale of a Tale." I accept that films made at this time in Hollywood history felt obligated to feature song interludes to net a wide demographic and entertain the whole family, but once more the movie puts up a set-piece of such jocularity that it feels out-of-step with the serious Verne story.

I've discussed how Fleischer's adaptation veers away from the trajectory of Verne's novel, but I haven't discussed yet the plethora of ways in which this classic, much-loved film succeeds on its own merits.

First and foremost, the visual aspects of Fleischer's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea remain ambitious...glorious, even.

Everything -- from the superb miniature (model) work, to the fantastic set design, to the harrowing action-sequence involving an attack on the Nautilus by a giant squid -- still works. The film's visual effects remain compelling, ingenious, and yes, even fresh. There are some moments at Vulcania and beneath the sea wherein the special effects don't appear to have aged even a day. Which is a pretty amazing feat since this movie was released just about sixty years ago. It's one thing to write convincingly of a hunting expedition at the bottom of the sea; it's quite another to see those images play out before your very eyes, rendered entirely plausible...and wondrous.

Furthermore, while one can (and should) make extensive note of the myriad ways the movie changes some conceits in Verne's book, one might also remember that some clever updating of a nearly century-old book was likely necessary. An electricity-powered submarine just wouldn't seem like a very interesting vehicle of fantasy to audiences in the 1950s, would it? The deliberate infusion of Atomic Age moral questions into 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea grants the film a didactic quality, and more importantly, a relevant one.

Admirably, the Fleischer film also fully preserves the Arronax/Nemo philosophical debates of the original text. We learn in the film -- just as in the book -- of Nemo's ingenuity and invention when it comes to diet ("the sea supplies all my wants"), harnessing resources (we actually get to see his men farming at the bottom of the sea...), and inventing new technology (the amazing Nautilus itself).

We view his commitment to vengeance, and are afforded some dramatic close-ups of an anguished Nemo at the wheel of the Nautilus, on the attack against those who have so egregiously wronged him.

The film also preserves Arronax's first-person narrator role in the form of a voice-over, whether recounting the sinking of the Abraham Lincoln (a vessel not named in the film...) or his first experience with the "twilight world" under the sea.

In the book, Nemo had a manifesto of sorts: the captain's dedicated declaration of independence from nationalism, civilization, and "unjust" wars. That manifesto too survives the translation to Fleischer's film. Mason delivers a calculated, seething, and most importantly, pragmatic monologue about the ways that Man's "evil drowns on the ocean floor," and that -- only beneath the waves -- does there exist true independence; true freedom.  This speech remains one of the film's finest, most transcendent moments.

In fairness, the Captain's darker side isn't totally ignored, either. I appreciate that the movie provides a sense of balance; making more than mere passing notations about the classic anti-hero's darker side.

"The power of can fill the heart as surely as love can," the movie notes of Nemo, and that observation is right on the money. Aronnax likewise ultimately calls Nemo a "murderer" and a "hypocrite," while Ned terms him a "monster." These declarations seem very accurate to the spirit of the book, and I can't really complain that the movie seeks to provide Nemo a more explicit redemption than that found in the text; so that 20th century audiences return to the light of day with a sense of moral uplift.

It's often quite difficult to judge objectively a movie that you grew up with and which you still love so emotionally. Nostalgia inevitably creeps in and colors perception. In terms of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, I can say with some certainty that the film remains a technological marvel; that Mason's Nemo endures as an inscrutable, larger-than-life icon, and that the film overall is fast-paced, exciting, and scary in good measure. I'm quite aware that books can't be movies; and movies can't be books: that the two media boast as many differences as they do similarities.

Yet, here's the crucial difference in intent: Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea concerned a misanthrope who had given up on man entirely; an anti-hero who had cast off the auspices of "modern" civilization for an exile under the sea, taking only man's best "art" with him (music, paintings, books). Nemo was finished with the world above the waves and no longer cared what we did with our domain above the waves.

In the movie, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, Captain Nemo is a great inventor with a tragic past who simply believes man is not ready for his new science, a man who actually protects and preserves the corrupt human race by destroying his miracle technology before it can do harm.

That's a pretty big difference isn't it?

Maybe not 20,000 leagues worth; but certainly enough to drive a submarine through.

Movie Trailer: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Films of 2002: Feardotcom

Feardotcom (2002) looks and sounds like a remake of a Japanese horror film that never was. This 40 million dollar horror film was released to terrible reviews in the dog days of summer 2002, months before the premiere of The Ring (2002), actually, and has never really seen its dreadful reputation rehabilitated.

The William Malone film’s antecedents or inspirations have been rightly tagged by horror scholars as Ringu (1998) -- the source material for The Ring -- and Kairo (2001), which was remade in America in 2006 as Pulse.

Like all these films, and indeed, their remakes, Feardotcom expresses two horror film tropes that were popular circa 1998 – 2008.  

The first involves technology. In many of these films, technology -- VCRs, cell-phones, or even Internet web sites -- house evil supernatural entities. Thus technology itself is a portal or gateway to evil.

Secondly, the horror films of this period eschew the American horror paradigm of the 1980s: vice precedes slice and dice, and propose a replacement aesthetic. 

In American slasher films of the Reagan Era, those who transgress by having pre-marital sex, or smoking weed, die horribly. But in the J-Horror and J-Horror Remake Epoch (again, circa 1998 – 2008), the crime or transgression has been altered drastically. 

The crime now is simply watching. This seems a comment, contextually, about the boom of 24 hour cable news stations in the 1990s, the affordability of camcorders, and the advent of the Internet.  Web sites, CNN, and cheap video cameras enabled audiences to “see” things from across the world, but respond to them as entertainment, not in a more human dimension. These movies all want top punish those who are but passive observers of human suffering.

Feardotcom is very much of this school, although it handles both modern tropes very poorly. The movie’s style is hyper and overwrought, which makes it, at times, actively unpleasant to behold (an unintentional comment, perhaps on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC…). 

But even beyond that deficit, Feardotcom never overcomes several plot holes and questions of motivation.

“Do you like to watch?”

Even as a fiendish serial killer -- a surgeon named Alistair Pratt (Stephen Rea) -- abducts his latest victim and plans to broadcast her torture and murder live on the Internet, metropolitan detective Mike Reilly (Stephen Dorff) investigates the strange death of Dr. Polidori (Udo Kier), author of the monograph, The Secret Soul of the Internet.  

Polidori’s corpse is found in a subway station, with bloody eyes.

Before long, more dead bodies are found, also having bled from the eyes and nose. At first, health inspector Terry Huston (Natascha McElhone) suspects a hemorrhagic fever, like Ebola. But then a strange clue emerges.

All the victims died exactly 48 hours after viewing a specific, and gruesome web site: 

A police investigator, Denise (Amelia Curtis) visits the site, and suffers the same terrible fate. Angry, Mike visits the site too, and appears to go crazy.

Looking deeper into the mystery, Terry views and learns that it is a game site. The goal of the game is to find the site host, a beautiful woman, before 48 hours runs out. 

Terry investigates and finds that the woman on the site is actually long dead. Terry visits her mother and finds out that the girl, a hemophiliac, died at the hands of the serial killer, Pratt, but that her body was never recovered. 

Her name: Jeannine Richardson (Gesine Cukrowski)

Terry seeks out Jeannine's corpse, hoping to grant her spirit rest. 

Unfortunately, that spirit doesn’t want rest. She wants revenge.

“Play the game. Find me.”

Feardotcom makes it plain that those who watch, but do nothing to alter the events of the world are quite culpable for the atrocities of the world. 

When Terry texts with Jeannine, the host of the site -- a ghost or spirit, essentially -- she is told that she is “guilty.”  

Guilty “of what” Terry asks.

Watching,” the spirit replies.

This is the core ethos of the J-Horror film genre, transposed to New technologies, such as the Internet offer not a place of connection or community, but rather voyeurism and sadism. 

For example, Pratt has a web site too, and is planning to kill his latest victim “live” on that murder site. A second season episode of Millennium (1996-1999) called “The Mikado” handled the same concept better in 1998, but it is clear that this concept is something the culture was grappling with at the turn of the century.  

If you give an “evil” web site your hits, or “clicks” are you responsible for that evil site as it grows more popular?  As a voyeur, are you taking part in the atrocities, or just passively “watching?”

I appreciate how Feardotcom explores this notion, and ties the crime of "watching" to a sickness or virus in the human eye. 

All those who visit the web site develop Ebola-like symptoms, bleeding out of their tear ducts for watching the horror and not helping.  

At one point, Terry notes “We’re probably all infected,” meaning that with the ubiquity of 21st century mass media everybody is likely “contaminated" already.  The media is all-too easy to access.

The voyeuristic impulse is explored in the film through the site, which is a “live cam death site,” where one can find about “death…before it’s your turn.” thus promises its users a peek at how they will die, which it delivers. One character, Denise, dies surrounded by bugs, and at one point, the camera captures an insect literally crawling out of a desktop computer. That visual implies, simply and effectively, that the Internet is a place of pestilence and death.

I credit Feardotcom, too, with a sincere attempt to link the beginnings of the horror genre with the 21st century cyber-age. The name Polidori comes from Shelley, obviously, and the entire washed-out color palette of the film suggests German Expressionism to a high degree.

And yet, there is so much visual noise here -- lightning flashes, quick cuts, superimposition, distortion lenses, and cockeyed angles -- that the film grows increasingly unpleasant and jarring to watch. There’s too much of this noise here, and it detracts from the movie’s narrative and message.

Additionally, it seems that the screenplay could have been developed or honed a bit more to reduce implausibility.

For example, the dead girl/spirit, Jeannine -- who seeks revenge for her own murder -- was a hemophiliac. 

Female hemophiliacs are extremely rare, for one thing (uh...menstruation would be a factor right?). But more importantly, no responsible mother of a hemophiliac would permit her adolescent daughter to play in a rusty, broken down steel mill, as Jeannine's mother does. 

That is the location where the Jeannine is abducted by the serial killer, but it doesn’t really make sense that Jeanine would be allowed to go there. Why would the parent of a hemophiliac send a kid out at all, let alone to a pace with rusty metal and jagged corners?

Secondly, the movie goes to some lengths to establish that the web site works in a specific manner. You log into the web-site, you watch, and you have 48 hours to find the body of the dead girl, or you die. That's the pattern.  That's the formula. There should be no deviation.

At the end of the film, the web-site is brought to the evil surgeon, and he watches it, thus becoming exposed. 

But it doesn’t take 48 hours to kill him. Instead, the ghost leaps out of the Internet and kills him then and there.  If this was Jeanine's intent all along, she should have just e-mailed herself as a virus to Pratt, and when he opened that virus up on his computer, she could kill him.  

Perhaps I should be more basic in my criticism. 

How does a spirit create a web site in the first place?

Character motivations in the film are not very sensible, either. It is established, early on, that if you log into the web site and play the game, you will die in exactly 2 days.  So when Denise dies, what does Mike do? 

He immediately logs on, thus marking himself for death.  

And then when Terry learns what Mike has done, what does she do?  

She immediately logs on too, starting the cycle for herself.  

We don’t see the characters hesitate or weigh the options, they just leap into decisive, and indeed, suicidal action.

The performances in are poorly calibrated too. Stephen Rea hams it up as the serial killer Pratt, and the great Natascha McElhone is oddly light and flirty with Mike Reilly right off the bat. This is just one more quirk that makes the film difficult to praise.  Feardotcom takes a good cast and misuses them, attempts a German Expressionist style, and makes your eyes bleed, and is nonsensical in its story of how “watching” makes one culpable.

The great value in is, without a doubt, historical. Here’s the film that beat The Ring to theaters, and tried to tell, essentially, the same story: of a female spirit bent not on resting in peace, but executing revenge from beyond the grave.

But in terms of specific, is not particularly scary, in part because of the lousy, headache inducing editing, and in part because the story and characters never hold our attention, despite the film’s use of a new, 21st century paradigm in horror storytelling.

Movie Trailer: Feardotcom (2002)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Video Game of the Week: The Jetsons (Nintendo Game Boy)

Pop Art: The Jetsons (Gold Key Edition)

Model Kit of the Week: The Jetsons (Polar Lights)

The Jetsons Halloween Costume (Ben Cooper)

The Jetsons GAF Viewmaster

The Jetsons Coloring Book

Board Game of the Week: The Jetsons (Milton Bradley)

The Jetsons Colorforms

Lunch Box of the Week: The Jetsons

Theme Song of the Week: The Jetsons (1962)

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Star Trek 50th Anniversary Blogging: "Amok Time" (September 15, 1967)

Stardate: 3372.7

Aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, Dr. McCoy (De Forest Kelley) urgently confers with Captain Kirk (William Shatner) about some uncharacteristic behavior by Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy). Kirk witnesses some of that behavior, himself, and soon asks Spock what is wrong.

At first, Spock will not explain sufficiently, and simply demands that he be allowed to take shore leave on his home planet, Vulcan. Kirk complies, but new orders from Starfleet promptly assign the Enterprise to a presidential inauguration in the Altair system.

Spock orders the ship to change course for Vulcan, over Kirk’s orders, and Kirk demands that Spock explain the situation.

With great difficulty, Spock reveals information to his captain about the Vulcan condition of “Pon Farr,” wherein Vulcan adults must -- every seven years -- return to their home world…to mate or die.

When McCoy reports that Spock will die in seven days if not returned to Vulcan, Kirk realizes that there is much more at stake than his career. He changes course for Vulcan to save Spock’s life.

Once in orbit around Vulcan, Spock requests the presence of Kirk and Spock at his wedding ceremony to his betrothed, T’Pring (Arlene Martel).  The three men beam down together, and Kirk is surprised to see the respected Vulcan diplomat, T’Pau (Celia Lovsky) in attendance at the ceremony.

During the ceremony, with Spock deep in the “plak tow” -- the blood fever -- T’Pring chooses challenge over marriage. 

And she chooses Captain Kirk as her champion. Afraid to back out, Kirk does not realize that the challenge involves a battle to the death.

“Amok Time” may just be the single greatest episode of Star Trek (1966-1969) produced.

The second season premiere is funny, emotional, exciting and, at times, genuinely shocking. There is also, not surprisingly given the subject matter, some degree of eroticism involved as well. 

Most significantly, however, the episode reveals new, very personal information about Mr. Spock (and Vulcans in general), and showcases, to great effect, the Kirk-Spock friendship. Here, Kirk puts his very career as captain of the Enterprise on the line to save his friend’s life. He does so without looking back, or second-guessing.  Instead, he notes simply, that Spock has saved his life more times than he can count...and that's a debt that means more than a career does.

And the expression of relief and joy Spock’s face when he learns that Kirk is not dead is, surely, one for the ages. 

That coda is one of the most unforgettable and beautiful moments in all of Star Trek.

“Amok Time” also grants audiences their first look at the hot, arid planet Vulcan, as well as the denizens of that planet not named Spock. Depictions of Vulcan in The Motion Picture (1979), The Search for Spock (1984), The Voyage Home (1986), and Star Trek (2009) all owe much to what the production designers created for this episode.

Much more intriguing, however, are the glimpses of Vulcan biology and cultural ceremonies. 

On the former front, “Amok Time” establishes a key piece of Vulcan lore: Pon Farr. 

This is the natural instinct and drive to mate, which Vulcan adults experience every seven years.  

They can engage in sexual intercourse at other times, of course, but they must periodically return home to Vulcan, to “spawn” or “die,” in the episode’s lingo. Spock explains the details of Pon Farr with great discomfort, and Kirk hears those details with an equal level of discomfort.

As a longtime Trek fan, I love watching Shatner and Nimoy perform these uncomfortable scenes together, as Spock tries to provide as little detail as possible, and Kirk attempts -- with that very little bit of detail -- to understand fully what his first officer describes. These two men are friends, but there is still some terrain or distance between them, in terms of personal knowledge.  There are still places that their friendship has not touched. 

Pon Farr has recurred frequently in Trek history, both official and unofficial.  It appears briefly in the third feature, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), and is a key element of such Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001) episodes as “Blood Fever.” It also is a prominent plot element in Enterprise’s (2001-2005) “Bounty.”  Fan fiction, of course, has really run wild with the idea.

In terms of Vulcan culture, “Amok Time” provides some fascinating details. We learn that young Vulcans are betrothed to one another via telepathy, hence their mates are selected for them before they enter puberty. 

Similarly, we learn that Vulcan women often carry tremendous power and authority. Here, T’Pau is revered by Kirk as “all of Vulcan in one package.”  

And T’Pring, though apparently destined to be the “property” of her mate, nonetheless demonstrates cunning and agency in a most effective way during “Amok Time’s” final sequence. T’Pring’s description of her plan, to Spock, is relentlessly logical…if cold.

This episode also introduces the Vulcan greeting/motto “Live Long and Prosper,” which has endured in the franchise right through the 50th anniversary, as well as the split-finger Vulcan salute.  Again, this is veritable trademark of the franchise by this point.

Some great Star Trek wisdom arrives in this episode too, straight from Spock.  "Sometimes having is not so pleasing a thing as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true."

I noted that the episode is erotic, and to back up that claim, one need not only consider Mr. Spock’s physical condition -- desperate to mate -- but also brief scene in which the half-Vulcan begins to approach Christine Chapel (Majel Barrett) in his quarters. 

When Spock realizes there may be no way to reach Vulcan and achieve, he begins to talk to Chapel, rather cryptically, about their natures.  He discusses a dream he had about her.  In short, it’s clear he is planning for her to “step in” for T’Pring, should he be unable to return home. Right as he is about to make his move, he gets news that they are bound for Vulcan.

In some of Star Trek’s best episodes, there’s just so much to talk about, and it’s hard to remember each  and very detail.  Here, I must make note of the wonderful manner in which McCoy is depicted in this episode. Spock asks for him to be a “best man,” in essence, at his wedding. A lesser writer would have had McCoy crack wise, or quip at the request.

Instead, McCoy answers honestly, and with heart-felt emotion. He would be honored to fulfill that role.

And, of course, it is McCoy who -- with T’Pau’s apparent tacit approval -- saves Kirk’s life with his “tri-ox” compound. That’s some real quick thinking McCoy does under that Vulcan heat, and it saves the day.  

Once more, Kirk is lucky that his command crew thinks so inventively, and so rapidly, in such unconventional situations.

I pretty much write a review of Star Trek episodes every week, and I don’t know, this week, that I’ve done “Amok Time” justice. 

I have tallied the concepts it adds to Trek lore -- Pon Farr, the Vulcan salute, “Live Long and Prosper” – but I don’t know that I’ve signaled just how entertaining, or how emotionally-fulfilling the episode is.  

The Kirk-Spock friendship is, often times, what makes Star Trek so memorable, so effective, and finally, immortal.  Here, in “Amok Time,” that friendship is front and center in a most dramatic and memorable way.

I could literally watch "Amok Time" once a week and not get bored by it.

Next week: “Who Mourns for Adonais.”