Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: Blu-ray Review: Star Trek: The Original Series - Season 1 (1966-67)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Blu-ray Review: Star Trek: The Original Series - Season 1 (1966-67)

"Star Trek: The Original Series - Season 1" was released on Blu-ray last week, and it has been wonderful reexamining the science fiction classic in the run up to today's release of J.J. Abrams' new film. What is truly compelling about the first season in particular is how solid it is dramatically, compared to the show's subsequent seasons which arguably slid into more parodic and iconic iterations. Much of this is due to the easy camaraderie between the series regulars, Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), science officer Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and ship's doctor, Leonard "Bones" McCoy (DeForest Kelley). The three of them really sell the strong bond of friendship with great aplomb, giving their interstellar heroes a strong dose of humanity, laidback familiarity, and witty sarcasm, making the space opera believable despite its papier-mâché-and-colored-lights set design. Shatner is at his least hammy early in the first season, not having yet fully developed the much maligned staccato delivery that Kirk would so often give in to later in the series. Utilizing considerable stagecraft, he endows Kirk with the relaxed attitude of a veteran space traveller, giving his character bits of business like munching on the bridge while sharing a conversation with McCoy in "The Man Trap," drinking coffee while searching for missing crewmen in "The Galileo Seven," or casually sitting on the railing in the ship's bridge while rubbing his eyes, contemplating a crisis with Spock in "The Corbomite Maneuver." These moments serve to deflate some of the stiff self-importance space operas like Buck Rogers or Lost in Space shared in common. Shatner's Kirk had not yet devolved into the caricature so often mocked nowadays of the guy who slept with the green alien chick to resolve a crisis. Instead he was quite charming as the leading man, and not just a little mythic as this exchange from "The Conscience of the King" proves:
LENORE: Tell me, Captain Kirk. KIRK: Anything. LENORE: Did you order the soft lights especially for the occasion? KIRK: If I had ordered soft lights, I'd also have arranged for music and flowers. Unfortunately, it isn't so. On the Enterprise, we try to duplicate earth conditions of night and day as closely as possible. LENORE: Star light, star bright. I wish I may, I wish I might. Do you remember that, Captain? KIRK: It's very old. LENORE: Almost as old as the stars themselves. And this ship. All this power, surging and throbbing, yet under control. Are you like that, Captain? All this power at your command, yet the decisions that you have to make... KIRK: ...Come from a very human source. LENORE: Are you, Captain? Human? KIRK: You can count on it. LENORE: Tell me about the women in your world, Captain. KIRK: I'd rather talk about you. You must have wanted to perform since you first saw your father act. When was that? LENORE: In the beginning. KIRK: Tell me about it. LENORE: That's not fair. You haven't answered my question about the women. KIRK: What would you like to know? LENORE: Has the machine changed them? Made them just people instead of women? KIRK: "Worlds may change, galaxies disintegrate, but a woman always remains a woman." LENORE: All this and power too. The Caesar of the stars and the Cleopatra to worship him.
There was nothing mythic about the all too human McCoy, on the other hand. DeForest Kelley invested a great deal of gruff sarcasm and good-natured humor in the good doctor, making him a fan favorite. When one viewed the threesome as a unit, a Freudian might find that if Kirk was the Ego, and Spock the Superego, then McCoy was definitely the Id, the embodiment of Kirk's emotional side. Nowhere was this more aptly demonstrated than in Richard Matheson's "The Enemy Within." In this episode, Kirk's decisiveness eludes him after a transporter accident divides him, creating a "good" Kirk, and an "evil" one. With the good Kirk, more ambivalent than usual, he comes to depend on Spock to give suggestions based on logic, while McCoy couches his advice in emotion.
KIRK: Get the transporter room ready. McCOY: Could be, if, maybe. All guesswork so far. Just theory. Jim, why don't you give me a chance to do an autopsy and let Spock check the transporter circuits again. KIRK: That sounds, sounds reasonable. We should double-check everything. SPOCK: Aren't you forgetting something, Captain? KIRK: No, I don't think I've forg--- SPOCK: Your men on the planet surface. How much time do they have left? KIRK: Yes, that's right. The men. We have to take the chance, Bones. Their lives McCOY: Suppose it wasn't shock, Jim. Suppose death was caused by transporter malfunction. Then you'd die. They'd die, anyway. Jim, you can't risk your life on a theory! SPOCK: Being split in two halves is no theory with me, Doctor. I have a human half, you see, as well as an alien half, submerged, constantly at war with each other. Personal experience, Doctor. I survive it because my intelligence wins over both, makes them live together. Your intelligence would enable you to survive as well. KIRK: Help me. Somebody make the decision. SPOCK: Are you relinquishing your command, Captain? KIRK: No. No, I'm not. McCOY: Well then, we can't help you, Jim. The decision is yours.
It's hard to imagine it now, but Spock proved to be a more difficult proposition for actor Leonard Nimoy. His performance was a work in progress for much of the first season, starting off as highly excitable in the second pilot, "Where No Man Has Gone Before,"* before gradually becoming the stoic icon we know today. Seeing the episodes in their production order (you can find the order anywhere on the internet), rather than the airing order in which they are presented, proves to be the most illuminating in regards to Spock's evolution. The Vulcan is more impish, playing into the devilish appearance of the character, making perverse observations such as this one to Yeoman Rand (Grace Lee Whitney) after the evil Kirk assaulted her
SPOCK: The, er, impostor had some interesting qualities, wouldn't you say, Yeoman?
Nimoy worked hard to invest the character with more dignity, coming up with the Vulcan Neck Pinch to avoid Spock getting into the dirtier hand-to-hand fights that were characteristic of sixties television. And he relished underplaying the inner turmoil of the character who wrestled with emotions and logic under the false impression that his people had purged themselves of all irrationality. Kirk and McCoy would eventually teach him by example that this was not the case, demonstrating that tempering intuition with logic, rather than replacing it, was far more effective in achieving inner peace. Notable guest stars such as Ricardo Montalbán and Joan Collins populate this first season, and the Blu-Ray looks spectacular. The vibrant colors of the series are restored to their beautiful saturated glory. In addition to some wonderful extras ported over from its previous DVD releases, there are some new picture-in-picture commentaries that summarize some of the best behind-the-scenes tales for the fans. The best part is that through the magic of seamless branching, one can see the episodes with their original - some would say "cheesy" - special effects, or the spiffier CGI effects created for its recent rerelease in syndication. "Star Trek: The Original Series - Season 1" is a great reminder that the new film has a strong legacy to live up to. *The first pilot isn't in this collection, but is incorporated into "The Menagerie," which is included, and stars Jeffrey Hunter as the Enterprise's previous captain, Christopher Pike. More Star Trek coverage: First Look: J.J. Abrams' Star Trek J.J. Abrams' Star Trek - Speculation on What to Expect Star Trek Week Begins Movie Review: Star Trek (2009) Star Trek Podcast, Part 1 Star Trek Podcast, Part 2


Stacia said...

Great write up! I'm glad that you point out Shatner's more inappropriate pauses and staccatos were developed during the run of the show. Many (maybe most) people think Shatner's performances were like that from the very beginning of his career.

Tony Dayoub said...

Welcome to the site, Stacia.

Yes, Shatner definitely didn't hone his trademark delivery so precisely until he had the benefit of performing the same part for 3 continuous seasons. But there were signs of it early on.

This delivery is simply his stab at approximating the reality of words coming to his character as he speaks, meaning he is avoiding the appearance of having a fully-formed line of dialogue before he utters it.

Brando experimented with this in a different, some would say lazier, way later in his career. He would refuse to learn his lines and demand cue cards be held up for him, or hide index cards around the set, something which caused Coppola great distress when Brando showed up on the set of APOCALYPSE NOW.

I believe Brando even had an earpiece fashioned for him where someone would feed the line to him as if a thought was forming in his mind. I think I heard Val Kilmer appropriated this method from Brando during their time together in Frankenheimer's version of THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (1996).