Saturday, July 30, 2011


For me, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a major event.  It’s what really sparked my ongoing interest in Star Trek. After my older sister took me to see it during its original theatrical run in late 1979 or early 1980, I started reading all of the Star Trek novels and comic books that I could get my hands on, and began watching the original TV series on a more regular basis.

For my eight-year-old daughter Maddie, I imagine that The Motion Picture was just another installment of the series overall. After all, we weren’t seeing it on the big screen, we were watching it on TV, just as we’d watched everything that came before it. It simply couldn’t have the impact on her that it had on me. But that was okay. Plus, it was something of a turning point for her, because The Motion Picture wasn’t quite what she was used to—after watching all three seasons of the original series (see here, here, and here) and the animated series, Maddie had become very comfortable with the Star Trek universe and the characters inhabiting it. But The Motion Picture featured different uniforms, different theme music, different-looking Klingons, far more elaborate special effects, a totally spruced up U.S.S. Enterprise, and a noticeably older crew. It was fun watching Maddie take in all of the changes, and amusing to see how readily she accepted them—well, most of them.

Just before hitting the “play” button and starting up the DVD, I recreated a little bit of my personal history when I told Maddie the exact same thing my sister told me as we sat down in the theater to watch the movie all those years ago: “It’s a little slow-moving. You might get bored in spots. There may be stuff you don’t understand. But try to patient. Give it a chance, and I’ll answer any questions you may have.” Maddie nodded, just as I did way back when, and we dived in…

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

An enormous energy cloud with great destructive power is headed to Earth, wiping out everything in its path (including three Klingon battle cruisers and a Federation space station). The only Federation starship within interception range is the U.S.S. Enterprise, which is being extensively refitted and is not fully ready for duty. James T. Kirk, now an admiral, uses the crisis to convince Starfleet Command to give him back the Enterprise and let him confront the mysterious threat. But Kirk soon finds that he’s not familiar enough with this new Enterprise and that he’s competing with his own Executive Officer, Will Decker—the man who was supposed to be the ship’s new captain until Kirk snatched it back from him. Along the way, Spock rejoins the crew, after failing to purge himself fully of his human side after several years of intensive effort on Vulcan. Having sensed a powerful consciousness at the heart of the cloud, one possessing totally emotionless, purely logical thought patterns, Spock believes that this entity, whatever it is, can help him finally achieve his goal. The Enterprise enters the cloud, with Kirk and his crew determined to make contact with the mysterious intelligence behind it to and stop it from threatening Earth.

I’ll say right off the bat that I like Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I like it a lot. But even I’ll admit that it’s slow-moving. And I fully acknowledge—and have mentioned in previous installments here—that it’s extremely derivative of past Star Trek adventures, particularly “The Changeling” from the original series and “One Of Our Planets is Missing” and “Beyond the Farthest Star” from the animated series.

Further, it does seem like producer Gene Roddenberry and director Robert Wise were influenced heavily by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. So I totally get why the film’s detractors say that the characters are stiff, that they lack the warmth, the humanity, and the charm that they had in the original television series. Upon first glance, that certainly does seem to be the case.

And it must also be acknowledged that the two major new characters introduced in the film, both of whom end up being crucial to the plot and the final resolution, are woefully underdeveloped and fail to make any real impression. The audience forms no emotional attachment to either of them and, therefore, can’t really feel anything for them when they meet their ultimate fates.

Decker, played by Stephen Collins, is bland, mild-mannered, colorless. The only really interesting thing about him—the fact that he’s the son of Commodore Matt Decker, from the terrific original-series episode “The Doomsday Machine” (in which he was portrayed quite memorably by William Windom)—isn’t even acknowledged in the film. 

As for the bald Lieutenant Ilia of the planet Delta IV, played by the late Persis Khambatta, well, we barely get to know her—and there’s virtually no development of her character—before she gets zapped by the mysterious entity V’ger and replaced by an identical, emotionless mechanism. And as many have argued, Ms. Khambatta’s performance was pretty mechanical before her character got turned into a mechanism.

Decker and Ilia’s romantic history and the present-day tension between them (which would be grafted onto the characters Will Riker and Deanna Troi years later in Star Trek: The Next Generation) just aren’t very interesting. Not enough is done with the set-up. And that’s a problem throughout the movie—not enough is done with the potentially intriguing elements that are set up.

Just from reading the synopsis above, you can see a lot of potential for drama, interpersonal conflicts, and a gripping, exciting showdown with a vastly powerful entity with an unknown agenda. But Star Trek: The Motion Picture shies away from any of that. It suggests all of the above, it flirts with exploring these things, but in nearly every instance, it backs off. The inherent conflict between Kirk and Decker, which should have been a central element of the movie, is never fully developed and eventually, it just disappears and they start getting along just fine. Dr. McCoy suggests early in the film that Kirk is obsessed with being in command of the Enterprise, and that he may be putting his own needs ahead of the mission’s. But this notion is never really explored—in fact, it’s never brought up again. We don’t get to see Kirk doing any real soul searching, questioning his own behavior, realizing the truth of McCoy’s words, and overcoming his obsession. It’s a missed opportunity for some real characterization.

However—I would argue that William Shatner’s performance as Kirk is actually quite nuanced. It’s a more mature, more complex, more controlled portrayal of the character, with a lot of layers—and a lot of humanity. Nowhere is this more evident than in the scene where Kirk gazes upon the newly refitted Enterprise for the first time—the look on his face is the look of a man reunited with his long-lost, greatest love. Later, we see Kirk try desperately to reconnect on some emotional level with the newly returned Spock, and the deep hurt he feels when Spock responds with cold indifference. It’s not Shatner’s best performance as Kirk (that’s still to come), but it’s a compelling one that reveals new facets with each repeated viewing.

And there’s a very good reason why Leonard Nimoy’s performance as Spock throughout most of the film is so stiff, so robotic, so remote—it’s a story point. He’s just spent several years trying to purge himself of his human half, of all traces of emotion. He doesn’t rejoin the Enterprise crew to help them in their mission, or to renew old friendships—he’s there to make contact with the vast intelligence he sensed, V’ger, in the hope that it can help him in his quest. And when Spock mind-melds with this entity, he realizes that despite all of its knowledge and intelligence, despite the pure logic of its thought patterns, V’ger is empty, cold, without hope or meaning. It’s at this moment that Spock realizes that logic and knowledge just aren’t enough to be a complete being. He embraces his human half, he acknowledges his emotions—to the point where he even sheds a tear for V’ger because he’s now found his place in the universe while V’ger remains barren and lost.

In that sense, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is probably the most important Spock story ever told, because it shows the culmination of his lifelong character arc. While the film was largely ignored by all subsequent Star Trek productions, Nimoy’s portrayal of Spock going forward was very much influenced by what the character experienced in it. 

And there are a lot of other elements of that I really love:

The new Enterprise—it’s absolutely gorgeous, and my all-time favorite version of the ship. I’ve never been one to like sudden, drastic change, but this is one that I embraced wholeheartedly right from the start.

The music—Jerry Goldsmith’s score for Star Trek: The Motion Picture is probably the best thing he ever did. Powerful, resonant, stirring, and triumphant. And as a nice tip of the hat to the original TV series, Alexander Courage’s classic theme music shows up several times in a slower, moodier arrangement.

DeForest Kelley is wonderful. He gets all the best lines and gives us a McCoy who’s only gotten more grumpy, more sarcastic, and more anti-authority as he’s grown older. He’s a lot of fun whenever he’s on the screen. It’s not a particularly big part, but he provides some necessary heart, soul, and down-to-earthiness.

The “new” Klingons look great, as do their upgraded battle cruisers. In fact, the opening sequence, in which the Klingon ships confront the energy cloud, is one of the best parts of the film.

I even like the new Starfleet uniforms—though I know I'm in the minority there.

Finally, it’s great to see the cast still looking youthful and vital. Not that they ever looked bad in the later films, but they’re still playing the characters as relatively young in The Motion Picture, and for the most part, they manage to pull it off.

Important note—there are actually three versions of Star Trek: The Motion Picture that have been released (and of course, I’ve seen ‘em all): the original 1979 theatrical version (recently released on Blu-ray), the 1983 Special Longer Version originally aired on ABC (available for years on VHS), and the 2001 Director’s Edition, released exclusively on DVD. The Director’s Edition was overseen by Robert Wise himself and produced to bring the film more in line with his original vision for it. (Long story short—because he was working under a very tight deadline and was wrapping up post-production until the very last minute, Wise never had the opportunity to fine-tune the film, to do a test-screening to determine what worked and what didn’t. He’d always felt like what got released was a rough cut. The Director’s Edition enabled him to finish the film the way he’d always intended.)

In my opinion, the Director’s Edition is the best version of the film. It’s paced better than either of its predecessors, it’s got great character moments missing from the 1979 edition, the editing is tighter and brings out new dimensions in the characters and their relationships (particularly Decker and Ilia, who need all the help they can get) and it’s got some all-new special effects that improve and clarify the storytelling significantly. Naturally, Maddie and I watched the Director’s Edition. Which brings me to…

MADDIE: “I liked it. Sometimes I thought it was a little slow-moving, and I didn’t understand some parts of it.

“I couldn’t believe that Spock would give up his studies on Vulcan to go back to the Enterprise. But then Spock was being very cold and unfriendly to everybody, and I didn’t like that. I knew something was the matter with him when everyone greeted him on the Enterprise and he just walked away. But I liked how Spock finally realized that being totally logical and without feelings was not the right thing for him.

“Dr. McCoy didn’t change one bit! In the original series, he was so funny, and I was glad they didn’t change him.

“I didn’t like Kirk’s new hairdo. It was all up and curly and puffy. I liked his hair on the TV show better. Other than that, I didn’t think Kirk had changed at all.

“I thought Kirk was right to take the Enterprise back from Decker because Kirk had more experience—but he didn’t know the new Enterprise the way that Decker did, so it was good to keep Decker on the ship.

“I didn’t get to really know who Ilia was and I would have liked to know more about her. The same with Decker. But I liked how Kirk and everybody tried to make the Ilia robot remember the real Ilia and how she felt about Decker. And I liked that Decker joined with V’ger—Voyager 6—because it meant that he could be with Ilia again.

“I liked the new music and I enjoyed when they played the music from the TV show whenever Captain Kirk was reading the captain’s log.

“I didn’t really like the new uniforms. I thought it was weird that the ladies had to wear pants—what if they had short hair? Someone could confuse them for men! I liked the uniforms on the TV show better. They had different colors and you could tell which department each person worked in by the color of their shirts.

“I liked the new Enterprise. It was more powerful. But I wish we could have seen the old Enterprise alongside the new one so we could see all the changes. When Kirk was going over to the new Enterprise, it would have been cool to see the old ship in his mind, and then see the new one.

“I liked the new bridge because it was more technical and there were so many new machines there and all the people who work on the bridge now had their own little desks.

“I liked when the Enterprise would go into warp speed, but I thought that the way it looked was kind of stolen from Star Wars.

“I thought this was a good start for the movies, but I hope the second one is faster and has more action, maybe more with the Klingons.”

COMING SOON: Take a wild guess!

© All content copyright Glenn Greenberg, 2011.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011



While it doesn’t quite reach the highwater mark set by 2008’s Iron Man, Marvel’s latest cinematic offering, Captain America: The First Avenger, has just the right amount of action, characterization, romance, and top-notch special effects to ensure two full hours of solid and satisfying entertainment. 
Based on the classic comic-book character created by writer Joe Simon and artist Jack Kirby during the early days of World War II, Captain America: The First Avenger tells the story of Steve Rogers, a kind, decent, good-hearted young man who just wants to serve his country and do whatever he can to help stop the Axis threat. But cursed with a weak, frail, scrawny body, he’s rejected by the military repeatedly… until he’s given the chance to take part in a special top-secret experimental procedure designed to turn him into America’s first super soldier.
For the most part, the film sticks closely to the comic-book lore. And despite having to cover Cap’s origin, his emergence as an important military figure during World War II at home and abroad, his missions with the small band of soldiers known as The Howling Commandos (never referred to as such in the film, but that’s who they are), his burgeoning relationship with a beautiful female British military agent, and his earliest encounters with the Red Skull, the power-hungry Nazi madman who will become his number-one arch-foe, the film never really drags or feels bogged down. The storytelling is straightforward and well paced.
Doing a comic-book-based film set in this time period is nothing new for director Joe Johnston, as he also directed 1991’s The Rocketeer. While not a major hit, The Rocketeer was a lot of fun, thoroughly enjoyable, and I consider it criminally underrated. With Captain America: The First Avenger, Johnston once again shows his fine eye for period detail, transporting his audience to the past and making it look and feel authentic. He directs with flair, never getting too melodramatic or too jokey. Johnston resists poking fun at or demeaning Cap’s image as a square-jawed, purely good, totally moral, even slightly naïve super hero. The easiest, most natural thing in the world, especially during this particularly cynical age we live in, would be to go the campy route, to portray Cap as corny and silly and to treat him with condescension or barely concealed contempt (a la the Adam West Batman TV series). But that’s not the case here. Cap is never shown as anything but brave (even before he gets his super-strength), heroic, and completely likable. He’s treated with the utmost respect and is hands-down the coolest character in the film, as well he should be.
Chris Evans, who as Johnny Storm/the Human Torch was the best thing about the two Fantastic Four movies from several years ago (both of which sucked big time), does a masterful job bringing Steve Rogers to life. He gets considerable help in the first half of the film from some amazing and thoroughly convincing CGI artistry, which is used to make him the short, scrawny, 90-pound weakling version of the character. But the decency, the earnestness, and the determination with which Evans imbues “puny Steve” carries over even after the character is “super-soldierized” and Evans gets to show off his impressive physique. You’re rooting for him right from the start, and when he’s finally fully embraced by the U.S. Army soldiers with whom he’s serving, and who initially regard him with skepticism and even scorn, you can’t help but smile. And I dare anyone to not get just the slightest bit choked up during the film’s dramatic climax.
The rest of the cast is equally good. Hayley Atwell brings a combination of beauty, brains, and (ahem) balls to the role of British agent Peggy Carter, who is definitely no damsel in distress. This lady can take care of herself, and isn’t intimidated by anyone. Atwell has great chemistry with Evans.
Tommy Lee Jones brings plenty of authority and strength to the role of U.S. Army Colonel Chester Phillips—and has some of the best, funniest lines. Dominic Cooper portrays Howard Stark, father of Tony (who’s played, of course, by Robert Downey Jr. in the Iron Man films), and you can definitely see an effort to both connect and contrast the two characters in terms of looks, attitude, and behavior. As a matter of fact, Cooper shows that he could play Tony Stark quite effectively. Sebastian Stan plays Steve Rogers’s best friend, James “Bucky” Buchanan, who emerges as one of the most likable characters in the film.
Speaking of Bucky, some of the biggest deviations from the comic-book lore involve him—specifically, his backstory and the details of his relationship with Cap. Purists may balk at the changes—they didn’t really bother me.
Toby Jones, perhaps best known for his spot-on portrayal of Truman Capote in 2006’s Infamous, is very effective in the role of Dr. Arnim Zola, a Nazi scientist aiding the Red Skull. (There’s a great visual in-joke involving Zola when he first appears that sharp-eyed comic-book fans should get a real kick out of.) As Dr. Abraham Erskine, the genius scientist who comes up with the super-soldier serum, Stanley Tucci displays gentle wisdom, humor, and warmth. And while Neal McDonough doesn’t have a lot of screen time as “Dum Dum” Dugan of the Howling Commandos (an important character in the Marvel Comics canon and a longtime Captain America ally), he looks like he’s having a great time and totally nails the part—bowler hat and all.  
As for Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull… well, the performance is great. Very energetic, very committed, very entertaining. But there was something missing. In fact, for me, the Skull is probably the most disappointing element of the film, and the problem is in the writing. The character is just not developed enough, in my opinion. He’s a bit too one-dimensional—there’s not much depth to him, and therefore, he’s not quite as interesting as he should be. Don’t get me wrong, he’s an okay villain, and I’d certainly like to see him again, but he’s not nearly as complex as, say, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki in the recent Marvel film Thor. I will say that the CGI artists did a great job depicting the Skull’s “true” appearance, which wouldn’t have worked nearly as well if it was Weaving simply wearing a red rubber skull mask. And I thought it was interesting  that the filmmakers portrayed the Red Skull as not totally loyal to Hitler, as he was in the comics. Instead, the Skull is established as having his own little fiefdom within the Nazi regime, an organization called HYDRA, through which he secretly intends to expand his power, supplant the Fuehrer, and conquer the world for himself.
There are lots of subtle—and some not-so-subtle—references and allusions to all of the other Marvel-produced films. Within Captain America: The First Avenger, you’ll see direct links to Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, and Thor. In fact, if you’ve seen Thor—and you stayed to watch that movie’s somewhat ambiguous post-end-credits scene—you’ll see the payoff for it in a big way here. And the end of Captain America serves as a direct lead-in to next year’s The Avengers, in which Evans will return as Cap.
I saw Captain America: The First Avenger in 3D, and I’m afraid I’m going to have to repeat the same thing I wrote in my reviews of Thor and Green Lantern: I found it totally unnecessary. It doesn’t enhance the viewing experience one iota. Once again, I advise you to save yourself a few bucks and see the standard version, if that’s an option. You won’t be missing anything if you see it without the 3D.

The one thing I definitely was missing during the screening I attended was air conditioning. On an evening when it was 92 degrees outside. So shame on the Regal E-Walk, on 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenue in New York City, for making the audience watch the movie in a theater that felt increasingly like a frigging sweat lodge. Fortunately, the movie was enjoyable enough to just about make up for it. But I’d hesitate to see another film there during the summer. New Yorkers, you have been warned!

Monday, July 11, 2011


“But wait, there’s MORE!”

That’s about as appropriate a way as any to describe Star Trek: The Animated Series, particularly when you’ve just gotten through watching Seasons One, Two, and Three of the original TV series. It’s a piece of Star Trek history that’s often forgotten or dismissed, as if there was nothing new going on with the franchise between “Turnabout Intruder,” the last original-series episode, which first aired on June 3, 1969, and the December 7, 1979 premiere of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

In reality, though, the animated series, which ran for 22 episodes from 1973 to 1974, brought Star Trek back to television, albeit in an altered format. (In addition to being animated, its episodes were only a half-hour long.) Overall, it did a fairly good job continuing the adventures of Captain James T. Kirk, Mr. Spock, Doctor McCoy, and the rest of the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, essentially picking up where the original series left off. With Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry on hand as Executive Consultant and approving all of the scripts, original-series story editor/writer D.C. Fontana serving as Associate Producer/Story Editor, scripts written by many of the original show’s writers (including David Gerrold, Stephen Kandel, Samuel A. Peeples, Margaret Armen, Paul Schneider, and Fontana herself), and, perhaps most importantly, voices provided by the entire original cast (with the exception of Walter Koenig as Ensign Pavel Chekov), the animated series had a definite ring of authenticity to it. 

For fans who had watched and loved the original series during its initial broadcast run or its early airings in syndication, the animated series was no doubt the return of a dear old friend—a little different in some aspects, but basically the same, and still lovable.

Just as importantly, it introduced Star Trek to a whole new audience. Aired on Saturday mornings, children who hadn’t seen the original series, or perhaps weren’t even aware of its existence, were now exposed to the characters and the universe in animated form, thus giving the franchise the opportunity to increase its fan base. And it totally worked! The animated series was my first exposure to Star Trek. Several years later, when I started watching the original series with my older siblings, I was familiar with the main characters and had the background knowledge to understand the basics of the show. When it comes to franchise building, that kind of indoctrination is invaluable. (George Lucas clearly understands this, which is why he’s never shied away from extending the Star Wars brand to the world of animation, be it with the Droids and Ewoks shows of the 1980s or the current Clone Wars series.) 

But the animated Star Trek is not without flaws. Produced by Filmation, a production company that, to put it politely, was no Disney, the series was saddled with fairly limited animation. Owing to a modest budget, the same shots of the main characters were used over and over again, as were their motions. This led to a slew of continuity errors. Plus, the same two or three pieces of stock background music played repeatedly in each and every episode, which becomes quite tedious after a while. In some episodes, shots of the Enteprise moving slowly through space linger on and on for no discernible reason, totally killing the pacing—perhaps the episode ran short and the producers were trying to pad it out? And for some reason, the original Star Trek theme music composed by Alexander Courage is absent, replaced by a new piece that tries to capture the feel and mood of Courage’s without duplicating it too closely.

Most significantly, many of the episodes lack an emotional center. This is due, no doubt, to the half-hour format and the Saturday morning time slot. The show simply couldn’t have as much depth and complexity as the original series. The animated episodes are mostly plot-driven, with little exploration or further development of the main characters. (That said, Uhura, Sulu, Scotty, and Nurse Chapel get to do more here than they ever did in the original show—Uhura even gets to command the Enterprise on more than one occasion—and two new alien crew members are introduced: the three-armed Lieutenant Arex, navigator... 

and the feline Lieutenant M’Ress, Relief Communications Officer.)  

Plus, there’s a lot of regurgitation of ideas that had already been explored in the original series. Let me put it this way: if you ever saw “Who Mourns for Adonais?”, the original-series episode in which the crew encounters the alien being who was known on Earth as the Greek god Apollo, you really need never watch the animated episodes “The Magicks of Megas-tu” (featuring the alien who served as the inspiration for Lucifer) and “How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth” (featuring Kukulkan, an alien worshipped on Earth as a god by the ancient Mayan and Aztec peoples).

But I would argue that even at its worst, Star Trek: The Animated Series is more watchable than such original-series turkeys as “The Alternative Factor” and “That Which Survives.” The stories, for the most part, are solid, surprisingly sophisticated, and occasionally very amusing, and they never, ever talk down to the audience. This is most certainly not “Star Trek for kids.” The concepts, the plots, and the dialogue are all in keeping with the original series—in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if kids watched these animated episodes with a dictionary next to them. And you get to see exotic locales and alien life-forms that could never have been attempted in the live-action original.

The one lingering controversy—if that’s the right word—about the animated series is whether it’s part of the official Star Trek canon. Supposedly, in the late 1980s, Roddenberry declared that the animated series was not canonical and should not be referenced in any future Star Trek works. I’ve never been able to find out exactly why. 

Some speculate that it was just a matter of Roddenberry having not liked the series—even though he worked on it, having approved all of the scripts, made suggestions, contributed key story ideas, met with writers, etc. 

Others say the decree really came from Roddenberry’s assistant/“research consultant,” Richard Arnold, who was alleged to have issued many such sweeping—sometimes baffling—edicts affecting Star Trek continuity, all in Roddenberry’s name. Roddenberry’s health was declining at the time and he was becoming less and less involved with the franchise. Supposedly, Arnold, whose main responsibility was to approve all of the licensed Star Trek materials (novels and comic books, for example) on behalf of Roddenberry, let that authority go to his head and was really making all of these decisions. And he was doing it under the guise of it all coming straight from Roddenberry. David Gerrold has said publicly that he believes it was Richard Arnold who deemed the animated series non-canonical, for whatever reason.

Recently, however, I read a pretty convincing theory that it was actually a legal issue that led to the “decanonization” of the animated series. 

Supposedly, when Filmation was shut down in the late 1980s, the legal status of Star Trek: The Animated Series was unclear—no one was sure who owned it. So, until this legal stuff was cleared up, the simplest solution was to declare that elements exclusive to the animated series (Arex and M’Ress, for example, who at the time were appearing regularly in the Star Trek comic-book series published by DC) could no longer be used or even referred to. The theory goes that Richard Arnold—who never liked the animated series anyway—was told to declare it off-limits, but never told exactly why. He happily obliged, assuming that it was because Roddenberry no longer liked the show. Eventually, Paramount ended up owning the series entirely. Roddenberry died in 1991 and Arnold was fired by Paramount immediately thereafter. Under those circumstances, any question about the canonicity of the series would presumably be moot. But for whatever reason, the show was never officially declared canonical again. However, characters, alien races, planets, and background information established in the animated series have long since made their way back into the “official” Star Trek continuity, which suggests that it’s an accepted part of the whole once again.

As far as I’m concerned, the animated series is absolutely part of the official canon.  It doesn’t contradict or conflict with the original series (or Star Trek in general) in any major way. The two major discrepancies—the crew wearing life-support belts instead of spacesuits when visiting inhospitable environments and the original-series Enterprise having a holodeck like the one seen in Star Trek: The Next Generation—can easily be explained away as examples of technology that was in use for a short time but deemed impractical, unreliable, or in need of further refinement.

And if that’s not enough of an argument, this is: The show was produced with the active participation of Gene Roddenberry, with hands-on guidance from D.C. Fontana, and with many of the best writers of the original series contributing scripts. And with the exception of Walter Koenig, the entire original cast was back to do the voices. That makes it Star Trek. Official, canonical Star Trek.

With my eight-year-old daughter Maddie and I having completed our journey through all three seasons of the original series, we immediately plowed through the animated version. Maddie’s knowledge of Star Trek was shaped solely by the original, so I was curious to see how she would react to watching it in animated form. As before, she and I will focus on the most notable installments—15 out of the 22. Episodes that Maddie alone considered worthy of comment are noted with an “MG,” my picks are noted with a “GG,” and ones that we both felt warranted discussion are noted with an “MG/GG.”

“Beyond the Farthest Star” (GG)

In orbit around a dead star, the Enterprise encounters an enormous alien spacecraft at least 300 million years old. The seemingly abandoned vessel turns out to be under the control of an ancient, malevolent energy creature that drove the alien crew to destroy themselves long ago. Escaping to the Enterprise and threatening Kirk’s crew, the entity intends to take over the starship and use it to finally leave the remote area of space in which it has been trapped for so many millennia.   

Written by Samuel A. Peeples, who also wrote the excellent second pilot episode of the original series, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” this is sort of a precursor to Star Trek: The Motion Picture, in that it features the crew encountering a huge alien object of unknown origin. Even some of the imagery in this episode seems to anticipate the first movie. Here’s a shot from the episode, of an Enterprise landing party exploring the alien ship:

And here’s a shot from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, of a landing party heading out to confront the entity known as V’ger:

The scale of the alien vessel and the design work on display in this episode could never have been attempted in the original series, so it gets points for doing something bigger and more visually impressive than had ever really been done before on Star Trek. But the episode overall is a bit slow-moving and talky, and it has an abrupt ending that somewhat undercuts the poignancy it’s aiming for. For that matter, the notion of a deadly alien energy being taking over the ship by embedding itself in the main computer is a bit too reminiscent of the original-series episode “Wolf in the Fold.” But the alien’s final, sad, desperate plea not to be left alone in the dark cold silence of deep space is an undeniably strong moment—something you wouldn’t expect to see in a Saturday morning cartoon show.                  


 “Yesteryear” (MG/GG)

If you’re only going to watch one episode of the animated series, this is the one to watch. Spock returns from a trip to Orion’s distant past through the time portal known as the Guardian of Forever (first seen in the original-series episode “The City on the Edge of Forever”), only to discover that history has somehow been changed and, as a result, he no longer exists in the present. Determining where the change occurred, Spock realizes that he must use the Guardian to travel to his home planet of Vulcan, 30 years in the past, and save the life of his 7-year-old self.    

There’s a lot of great character stuff in this episode. Even a one-shot minor character like Commander Thelin, the Andorian First Officer of the Enterprise in this new timeline, gets to shine—he’s willing to make a great sacrifice for a total stranger, for no other reason than it’s the right thing to do.

There’s also further exploration of Spock’s history, his family, and his homeworld. No surprise there, since this episode was written by D.C. Fontana, who made so many important contributions to Spock’s character and background during the original series. There are numerous references to classic Star Trek episodes, particularly the aforementioned “City on the Edge of Forever” and “Journey to Babel,” which introduced Spock’s parents, Ambassador Sarek of Vulcan and Amanda Grayson of Earth. (We actually learn Amanda’s last name in “Yesteryear.”) As an added treat, Mark Lenard, who played Sarek in “Journey to Babel,” returns to provide the voice of the animated version of the character. 

Alas, Jane Wyatt, who was wonderful as the live-action Amanda, doesn’t join him this time around (no money for it in the budget, presumably), so Majel Barrett (Nurse Chapel) steps in to portray Spock’s mother.

This episode is particularly notable for a logical—though very painful—decision that Young Spock has to make. I won’t give it away, but it definitely wasn’t typical subject matter for early-70s Saturday morning television. Kudos to Fontana, Roddenberry, and the folks at Filmation for sticking to their guns when NBC questioned them on whether to go ahead with it.

I have to wonder, however, if Fontana realized when she was writing this episode that she was establishing retroactively that the Star Trek universe, since Day One, was set in an altered timeline. After all, we learn here that in the original, unaltered history, Spock died when he was a child. It was only thanks to a paradox, one in which the adult Spock traveled back to the days of his youth, pretended to be his own “Cousin Selek,” and saved his younger self’s life, that Spock survived to adulthood. Which begs the question, how exactly was that paradox created in the first place?

MADDIE: “I really liked the idea that Spock could be in two places at the same time, and that nobody remembered him when he came back. And I liked how he went into the big stone doughnut to save himself. I liked Thelin, and how he was willing to sacrifice himself to allow Spock to make things right again. I thought Little Spock made the right decision, even though it was very difficult for him. And what I thought was really funny was that there was a monster in the desert that tried to attack Little Spock, and it had the voice of Godzilla! This episode was good, but I felt like I had already seen it because I had already seen ‘The City on the Edge of Forever.’”


 “One of Our Planets is Missing” (GG)

The Enterprise encounters an enormous energy cloud with great destructive power that is making its way through the galaxy and causing havoc and devastation wherever it goes. Determining that there may be some form of intelligence at the heart of the cloud, Kirk and crew take the ship inside, hoping to communicate with the intelligence and stop it from destroying a populated world nearby.

Sound familiar? It should. Combine this episode with “The Changeling” from the original series and you’ve basically got Star Trek: The Motion Picture
. Not a criticism, just an observation. (If anything, it’s a criticism of Star Trek: The Motion Picture for being so derivative!) One highlight here is the return of Bob Wesley, from the original-series episode “The Ultimate Computer.” Formerly a commodore and the commander of the U.S.S. Lexington, he’s now the governor of Mantilles, the planet threatened by the energy cloud. There’s some real drama and high stakes, with 80 million lives in jeopardy and a desperate attempt to save the children of Mantilles before the energy cloud can consume the planet. This episode was written by Marc Daniels, who directed many installments of the original series and was clearly paying attention.


“The Lorelei Signal” (MG)

While exploring a region of space where starships have disappeared every 27 years, the Enterprise encounters a race of beautiful women living on the planet Taurus II. As a result, all of the male crewmembers aboard the ship begin to act oddly, while the women of Taurus II take Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the rest of an Enterprise landing party prisoner. Kirk and his companions are forced to wear life-draining headbands that cause them to start aging rapidly. It’s up to Uhura to take command and save the day.

I didn’t particularly care for this one, but it was written by Margaret Armen, who wrote “The Paradise Syndrome,” one of my favorite episodes of the original series.

MADDIE: “I liked how the women on the planet were so tough that the men of the Enterprise couldn’t stop them. It was nice to see Uhura take command of the ship when all of the men started daydreaming and acting weird.” 


“More Tribbles, More Troubles” (MG/GG)

Writer David Gerrold returns to Star Trek with a direct sequel to his classic original-series episode “The Trouble With Tribbles.” Shady interstellar businessman Cyrano Jones is at large again, he’s altered his tribbles so that they no longer reproduce when they eat—they just become very big—and he’s gotten his hands on a Klingon-produced, genetically engineered tribble predator called a “glommer.” When the Klingons pursue Jones for his unscrupulous activities on one of their planets, he finds himself rescued by the Enterprise—and under the protection of a very reluctant Captain Kirk.

Presumably, Cyrano Jones’s tinkering with the tribbles to stop them from reproducing is what caused them all to turn pink!

Apparently, this was originally conceived for the third season of the original series, but incoming producer Fred Freiberger told Gerrold that he didn’t like “The Trouble With Tribbles” and that he intended for the show to steer clear of comedy under his watch. This sequel probably would have worked better as a live-action episode—it’s very difficult to do physical humor effectively on an animated show when the animation itself is so limited. Plus, the story is basically a remake of the original tribbles episode, albeit with a couple of plot inversions and minor twists. Still, there’s some good, witty dialogue and it’s nice that Stanley Adams is back to provide the voice of Cyrano Jones. Too bad the producers didn’t get William Campbell, who played Koloth in “The Trouble With Tribbles,” to do the voice for his character, who also reappears here, albeit with James Doohan (Scotty) performing his dialogue. 

It should be noted that William Shatner delivers his very worst, most hammy line-reading of the entire animated series in this episode, when Kirk discovers who he’s just rescued and he blurts out, “Cyrano Jones?!?!?” I sincerely doubt he would have delivered the line that way had this been a live-action episode. It’s as if Shatner suddenly realized he was doing the voice for a Saturday-morning cartoon and, instead of playing Kirk as he had always done, he became self-conscious and altered his performance to make it more goofy and over-the-top because he felt that would be more appropriate for this format. It’s just that one moment, but it sticks out like a sore thumb. Fortunately, he never did it again.

MADDIE: “I really liked this one! The tribbles are back, but they’re worse than before because there are more and more and more of them and now they get all big and fat! There’s a tribble predator now, and you think it’s so tough, but at the end, when there’s a giant tribble in front of it, the predator runs away! I loved seeing the huge tribble in Captain Kirk’s chair. I really liked how they shot the giant tribble and it turned into lots and lots of little tribbles.”


“The Survivor” (MG/GG)

Near the Romulan Neutral Zone, the Enterprise finds a spaceship piloted by widely hailed philanthropist Carter Winston, who has been missing for five years. By coincidence, Winston’s fiancé, Lieutenant Anne Nored, is serving aboard the Enterprise as a security officer and is thrilled to be reunited with him. But it turns out that the real Winston is long dead, and has been replaced by a shape-shifting alien working as a spy for the Romulans. 

This episode has a lot in common with “The Man Trap” and “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” from the original series. Still, the design for the alien’s true form is pretty cool—certainly something that never could have been attempted in live-action. The great Ted Knight provides the voice of Carter Winston, and he delivers his lines like a gloriously over-pompous William Shatner—in fact, for years I thought it was Shatner who had done the voice until I learned the truth not long ago. 

Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) provides the voice of Anne Nored—but succeeds only in sounding like a teenaged, semi-drugged Uhura. And the notion of the alien turning itself into a bed in Sickbay—and McCoy not noticing immediately that he now has an extra bed in the room in which he spends most of his time—is a bit hard to accept.

MADDIE: “This was a very interesting story about a man who reappears after being missing for many years. You don’t know where he had been or what happened to him. He breaks up with his fiancée who had been missing him all that time, and that got me very interested, because why didn’t he want to marry her anymore? You’d think he would want to marry her the minute he saw her again! I liked it because it was a mystery-action story.”


“Mudd’s Passion” (MG/GG)

The Enterprise is assigned to arrest notorious con man Harry Mudd, who resurfaces selling a supposed love potion. Incarcerated aboard the ship, Mudd exploits Nurse Chapel’s longstanding—and unrequited—love for Mr. Spock to convince her to use the potion on the Vulcan first officer. It turns out that the potion actually works, and as it starts to affect the entire crew, Mudd takes advantage of the ensuing chaos to escape from the ship—with Chapel as a hostage. Kirk and a lovesick Spock set out to rescue Chapel and recapture Mudd.     

Appropriately enough, this was written by Stephen Kandel, who wrote “Mudd’s Women” and “I, Mudd” for the original series. And Roger C. Carmel, who portrayed Mudd so effectively in those episodes, returns to provide the character’s voice here. As with “More Tribbles, More Troubles,” this episode shows just how difficult it is to do comedy successfully on a show with limited animation. What made the live-action Mudd episodes work were how the actors played off each other, their reactions, their facial expressions (especially Carmel’s!), the body language, the timing, and the subtleties that you can only get with living, breathing performers. The plot is solid here, and there are some clever lines, but there’s no denying that a lot of Mudd’s manic energy is missing and, as a result, he starts to become a bit tiresome after a while.

Also, I can only imagine that had this been a live-action prime-time episode, it wouldn’t have gotten so cheesy and silly once Spock succumbed to the love potion and fell for Nurse Chapel. Some of his dialogue is truly cringe-worthy, and just not believable, even under the circumstances. (“Dear, lovely Christine… I can’t stand the thought of any danger to her, to the woman I love! … If he’s harmed one hair on her pretty head…! Don’t worry, you’ll be safe, darling!” Yiiiiicch.)

There is, however, a very brief moment that serves as a gift to all of the really
“out there” Star Trek fans—the ones who’ve written hundreds (if not thousands) of pages of fan-fiction since the early 1970s depicting Kirk and Spock as homosexual lovers (no, I’m not making this up—it’s called “K/S” fiction). The moment happens once theyre both under the influence of Mudd’s love potion, and Kirk helps Spock regain his footing after he stumbles on the surface of a rocky planet:

SPOCK (smiling): Thanks Jim. It's good to have a friend like you. 

Strange, that’s the way I feel about you, too. My dear friend, Spock.

Perfectly innocent, I’m sure. But for fans of the “K/S” mindset, this moment was undoubtedly just more evidence of the TRUE relationship between these two fellas.

MADDIE: “It was kind of gross when Spock was so in love with Christine Chapel—I had to cover my eyes! I liked seeing Harry Mudd again and I couldn’t wait to see what trouble he was in now. I thought this was as good as the two Harry Mudd episodes from the original series.”


“The Terratin Incident” (GG)

The Enterprise is lured to a strange planet and hit by an energy beam that damages the ship’s dilithium crystals and causes the crew to start shrinking. Unless a cure is found, everyone on the Enterprise will soon be microscopic size, lost forever on another plane of existence. The solution lies on the planet below, in a mysterious miniature city called Terratin.

Written by Paul Schneider, who also wrote the original-series episodes “Balance of Terror” (which introduced the Romulans—one of my favorites) and “The Squire of Gothos,” this is sort of a cross between The Incredible Shrinking Man and Gulliver’s Travels, with the bottle city of Kandor from classic Superman comic-book lore thrown in for good measure. It’s definitely a gimmicky episode, but I found it to be very entertaining. The animators did an effective job of depicting the crewmembers getting smaller and smaller until they’re totally dwarfed by the ship’s controls. The use of the transporter as a solution to the problem is intriguing and innovative, though it’s also a bit too easy and it basically establishes the device as a potential cure-all. Nevertheless, I would rank this is as one of the smoothest, most memorable episodes of the animated series.


“The Time Trap” (MG/GG)

While investigating the outer-space version of the Bermuda Triangle, a region where many starships from across the galaxy have disappeared over the centuries, the Enterprise and a Klingon battle cruiser commanded by Kor (from the original-series episode “Errand of Mercy”) become trapped within a pocket dimension where time moves at a much slower pace. There, they discover all of the missing ships and their crews, still alive and having learned, out of necessity, to live together in peace and cooperation. Determined to get home, Kirk and Kor acknowledge that they must work together and pool their resources—but Kor fully intends to betray Kirk at the first opportunity.

This is a goodie, one of my favorite animated episodes. I like the concept of a “Bermuda Triangle in outer space” and the depiction of a peaceful, interdependent society made up of so many different alien races, including humans, Klingons, Romulans, Vulcans, Orions, Gorn, Andorians, Tellarites, and even some of the non-humanoid beings introduced in earlier episodes of the animated series. 

It’s great to see Kor again, and he’s just as much of a bastard as before, but it’s unfortunate that his voice is not provided by John Colicos, the actor who portrayed him in “Errand of Mercy.” James Doohan voices the animated Kor, and it’s a completely different interpretation that lacks the wonderful, syrupy, gleeful menace that Colicos brought to the role. Other than that, this is a pretty strong episode with a very nice final moment that put a smile on my face.

MADDIE: “I liked this one because the Klingons are secretly plotting to destroy the Enterprise while they’re working with Kirk and his crew. And Kirk doesn’t know what the Klingons are up to, so how will he and his crew survive? This episode shows just how bad the Klingons can be.”


“The Slaver Weapon” (MG)

This was written by noted science-fiction author Larry Niven and adapted from his short story, “The Soft Weapon.” Spock, Uhura, and Sulu are aboard a long-range shuttlecraft transporting an ancient artifact called a “stasis box” to Starbase 25 when they are lured into a trap by the hostile, feline Kzinti. 

These large catlike beings are intent on finding a stasis box that contains a super-weapon left behind by the Slavers, a now-extinct alien civilization that ruled most of the galaxy a billion years ago. Seizing the stasis box, the Kzinti indeed find the deadly, immensely powerful Slaver weapon they’ve been seeking. Spock, Uhura, and Sulu must outwit their captors and retake the weapon before the Kzinti figure out how to use it. (NOTE: This is the only animated episode in which the Enterprise and Captain Kirk never appear and characters are actually killed onscreen.)

MADDIE: “I liked how the weapon could change itself into different things. That made me wonder what each thing could do. Each thing it turned itself into was very powerful and I thought that was interesting. But it was weird that the Kzinti, these giant cats, were so tough and mean, but their spaceship was pink!”


“The Eye of the Beholder” (GG)

The Enterprise arrives at Lactra VII to search for the crew of a missing Federation science vessel. But a landing party that includes Kirk, Spock, and McCoy is captured by the large, slug-like Lactrans and put on display in an interstellar zoo.

This episode was written by David P. Harmon, who also wrote “The Deadly Years” and co-wrote “A Piece of the Action” for the original series. Plotwise, it owes a lot to the live-action two-parter, “The Menagerie,” in which Kirk’s predecessor, Captain Christopher Pike, is captured and placed in a zoo by the telepathic, illusion-casting Talosians. This is a bit more lighthearted, with some good banter between Spock and McCoy. The Lactrans are another alien race that could never have been attempted on the live-action show. I like their design and how they’re portrayed. A particular highlight of the episode is the budding friendship between Scotty and a baby Lactran that accidentally gets beamed up to the Enterprise.


“The Pirates of Orion” (GG)

Spock contracts a deadly disease and has only days to live. The Enterprise arranges to rendezvous with another ship, the Huron, which is carrying the cure. But Orion pirates hijack the Huron and take the drug. With Spock’s life hanging in the balance, Kirk launches a desperate pursuit of the pirates and engages in a one-on-one confrontation with the Orion captain on an asteroid.

This was the premiere episode for the animated series’s very short second season. Written by Howard Weinstein, who would later write one of my all-time favorite Star Trek novels, The Covenant of the Crown, as well as a whole bunch of Star Trek comics for DC, this episode is sort of a redo of “Amok Time” from the original series. Both feature Spock with a deadly illness, a race against time to get him what he needs to survive, and Kirk abandoning a prestigious mission in which the Enterprise is supposed to represent the Federation at a big-deal ceremony. Weinstein, who was a 19-year-old college student when he wrote this, has a good handle on the characters and does a nice job showing that beneath the surface, McCoy has a lot of affection for Spock. It’s nice to see more being done with the Orions, but for some reason, they have very light blue skin in this episode, even though they had previously been shown as having green skin. Maybe they’re as racially diverse as we Earthlings.


“Bem” (GG)

The Enterprise hosts Commander Ari bn Bem, a representative of the planet Pandro, on a series of exploratory missions. Unbeknownst to the crew, Bem is a colony creature—he can separate his body into smaller parts that function independently. This serves him well when he starts interfering with Kirk and his team, testing them, as a means to determine whether the Federation is ready to open diplomatic relations with his people. But it leads to their capture when, on a newly discovered planet, they encounter primitive human-sized reptilians under the protection of a godlike energy creature.

This was the last episode of a Star Trek television series to bear a writing credit by David Gerrold. There are a number of interesting ideas on display—particularly the notion of a colony creature—but the narrative is a bit muddled and not always easy to follow. Bem himself isn’t quite as interesting as he should be. But despite that, there’s some very good, witty lines of dialogue. Uhura gets to take command of the Enterprise again. And most significantly, this episode is where it was first established that the “T” in James T. Kirk stands for “Tiberius.”  


“Albatross” (MG/GG)

A rare instance in which Dr. McCoy is at the center of the plot. When the Enterprise visits the planet Dramia to deliver medical supplies, planetary authorities arrest McCoy for mass murder. The Dramians blame McCoy for setting off a plague that wiped out much of their population after he supervised an inoculation program on their world 19 years earlier. Kirk launches an investigation to clear the doctor, but along the way, he and the Enterprise crew contract the same deadly disease. Spock must break McCoy out of jail so that the doctor can work on a cure for the crew and prove his innocence.

I honestly have no recollection of ever seeing this episode before 2006, when I bought the animated series on DVD. I mention this because in 1998, in the third issue of Star Trek: Untold Voyages (a comic-book limited series I conceived and wrote for Marvel), I did a story focusing on McCoy in which he’s held responsible for a deadly plague on a planet he visited years before, the population of which he thought he’d saved. My story goes in a very different direction, but still, my jaw dropped a little bit when I first watched this episode on DVD. I immediately wondered if I’d somehow ripped it off, however unintentionally. I ultimately decided, “nah.” It’s just a natural story idea for a character like McCoy. Anyway, this episode presents an intriguing mystery, and the Dramians are a very interesting and cool-looking alien species. The solution is clever (though some will argue that it’s a wee bit too convenient) and Spock’s needling of McCoy is particularly enjoyable. (“You have been derelict in your duties of late… Hippocrates would not have approved of lame excuses, Doctor.”)

By the way, Star Trek Communicator—the magazine of the Official Star Trek Fan Club—ranked my McCoy story as one of the “10 Best Dr. McCoy Stories Ever Written,” so it’s got that going for it.

MADDIE: “I didn’t know how Dr. McCoy would ever get out of jail. It didn’t look like Kirk and Spock would be able to prove him innocent. I was surprised and worried when the Enterprise crew started to come down with the disease. My favorite part is when McCoy says to Kirk at the end, ‘Jim, if I’m ever in jail again, don’t send that Vulcan to release me. Just let me rot!’”


“The Counter-Clock Incident” (MG/GG)

The first captain of the Enterprise, Commodore Robert April, and his wife, Dr. Sarah April, the ship’s first chief medical officer, are guests aboard the vessel when it is pulled into a “negative universe” where time runs in reverse. Everyone aboard the Enterprise starts to age backwards—to such an extent that Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the crew become too young to operate the ship. The 75-year-old April, now restored to youth and vitality, must assume command to get the Enterprise home. This was the final episode of the animated series.

There are some elements of this episode that require you to suspend more disbelief than usual. For one thing, the Enterprise crew encounters a race of beings in the negative universe for whom aging backwards is a natural way of life. Meaning they’re born elderly and die as infants. Not sure I can fully wrap my head around how that would work. And then there’s the fact that as the crewmembers de-age and become smaller, their uniforms never get too big for them! Plus, once again, as in “The Terratin Incident,” the transporter is used to restore the crew to normal. Way too easy a solution!

But all of that is overshadowed by the good stuff. It’s great to meet Robert and Sarah April, who help to expand some of the backstory of the Enterprise beyond Captain Pike and the one pre-Kirk adventure we saw in “The Menagerie.” 

Plus, the “kiddie” versions of the Enterprise crew are actually pretty darned adorable! (Oddly enough, the young Spock in this episode doesn’t look much like the one we saw in “Yesteryear,” even though they’re about the same age.) And I challenge anyone not to be touched when, given the opportunity to remain young, the Aprils decide to return to their proper ages. As Commodore April says, “What a blessing, to be able to live one’s life over again—if the life you’ve led has left you unfulfilled. No, Sarah, I don’t want to live it all over again. I couldn’t improve one bit on what we’ve had together.” Not your typical Saturday-morning cartoon fare, to be sure!

And it’s totally appropriate that Sarah April, in speaking the very last line of dialogue in the episode—and thus the very last line of the entire series—says that they were all given a second life. Because that’s exactly what the animated series did for Star Trek.          

MADDIE: “I thought it was cool to find out who was the first captain of the Enterprise, and how the first chief medical officer was his wife. I would like to see some adventures of Captain April on the Enterprise. I agreed with April’s decision to go back to being old. He and his wife had already lived that part of their lives—why would they want to go back and just relive it all over again? That would be boring, because they’d already done it. When everyone turned into babies, they were all so cute! Especially Kirk! And it was so weird that on the planet inside the negative universe, you’d be born old and die as a baby. It was also weird that when Sarah April became a young woman, she still had the voice of a 70-year-old!”

And so, Maddie and I have now reached the end of another Star Trek voyage. Thanks for joining us!

And coming soon: Star Trek Movies!

© All content copyright Glenn Greenberg, 2011.