Wednesday, June 7, 2017

"The Twilight Zone," Season 1 (1959-1960)

There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man.  It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity.  It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition; and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge.  This is the dimension of imagination.  It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.
Your humble blogger acquired the complete Twilight Zone Blu-ray set for Christmas in 2016, and decided it might be nice to share his journey through Serling's masterpiece as he works his way through it. 
I've seen a handful of episodes over the years, and know some others by reputation; but for all practical purposes, this is new ground for me.  How can a fella be a science fiction fan and not be intimately familiar with The Twilight Zone?!?  A good question, and one I'd like to prevent from hanging over my head any longer.
"Where Is Everybody?"
(season 1, episode 1)
airdate:  October 2, 1959
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by:  Robert Stevens
The place is here; the time is now...

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

His Alien Love Could Victimize: Star Trek episode 7, "Charlie X"

We're seven episodes in, and already Star Trek is beginning to cannibalize itself.  "Charlie X" shares a few things in common with both "The Cage" and (especially) "Where No Man Has Gone Before," and while it aired before either of those episodes did -- it was the second to be broadcast -- it is nevertheless derivative of them in certain ways.
Is this automatically a bad thing?  Nah.  I don't think so.  I think of stuff like this as like unto jazz: you're interested in the changes moreso than in the melody.  And "Charlie X" is plenty different enough from those earlier episodes to keep it from feeling like a mere rehash.
If you disagree -- and you might -- then I honestly don't know you would bear watching the rest of this series, because (spoiler alert!) it won't be the last time this happens.  Not even with this plot!  You WILL get more petulant godlike beings; rest assured.  So if that bothers you, I'd recommend pulling the ripcord now.
I type that as though I'm addressing people watching the series for the first time.  Lol, like anybody is reading this at all, much less some hypothetical bodies who have never seen Star Trek!  Sometimes I just type this shit because that's what is in my head.  Am I doing that now...?
I'd kind of like for this post to be a bit more succinct than the last few have been.  We'll see if that actually happens, but it's the goal.
Don't think that's because I find this to be an inferior episode or anything.  No sir, I love this episode, and if anything I love it more after this deep-dive than I ever have before.

In the spirit of trying to be brief, there are three things I want to discuss regarding this episode.  Let's begin with the perils of adolescence.

Charlie Evans, you may recall, is a teenager who's been living all by his lonesome since (solely) surviving a crash on the planet Thasus when he was a small child.  He's reached adolescence and now, and has been found by a passing Earth ship.  They rescued him and are taking him to an Earth colony to live among his own kind, but the boy has some behavioral issues.  Nothing particularly unusual about having behavioral issues as a teenager (be you boy OR girl).

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

No Beach to Walk On: Star Trek episode 6, "The Naked Time"

"The Naked Time" is the episode that I spent years thinking of as "the one where everyone got drunk and acted crazy."  It's never been a favorite episode for me, but I think that might have changed this go-around. There's a deep lake of melancholy lurking beneath the surface of this episode; it's frozen over and covered by a thick sheet of excitement, and the combination of the two creates a heady mixture at times.



Let's see if we can get to the bottom of that lake.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Last of Its Kind: Star Trek episode 5, "The Man Trap"

One of the most celebrated aspects of Star Trek -- among its fans, certainly -- is the ethical nature of many of the inherent trappings of the show.  Go to a Trek convention, and you won't be able to take a step without tripping over somebody giving the show an attaboy for its diversity, its forward-looking optimism, and so forth.
I'm not always convinced that these sentiments are entirely earned by the series.  As expressed by Trekkies, these sentiments often feel smug and self-congratulatory.  I should know; I've found myself taking pride in them on occasion, too.  Regardless of whether the fandom could be convicted on charges of smugness, the fact is that the bulk of TOS -- and, for the most part, the series which followed it -- do indeed express an inherent sense of optimism and progressivity.  Here in 2017, we're in a weird place where it's somehow verboten to punch a god damned Nazi in his fucking face: an odd, disconcerting turn of events, and one which gives me pause when I'm considering doing things like criticizing Trekkies for being smug.
But I have the thoughts that I have, and the reason why I'm here is to explore them for myself.  And that being the case, I couldn't help but be a wee bit troubled by "The Man Trap," which in some ways is less an example of the optimistic and ethically-advanced Star Trek Trekkies declaim than it is a simpler thing: a monster-movie done for television.
Or is it?
In a way, it makes sense that the first episode of Star Trek to air was one which is not entirely typical of its philosophies.  Something like "The Man Trap" sits somewhat uneasily beside later episodes like "Devil in the Dark" and "Metamorphosis," or even "The Corbomite Maneuver."  But then there are other episodes like "Obsession" and "The Doomsday Machine" that are more akin to this one than to those.
The fact is, Trek has never been quite as consistent in its philosophies as its fans might have you believe.  It's almost as if the show was a raft of optimism that was afloat on a sea of pessimism, one that on occasion got a bit waterlogged and didn't float so much as tread water.  So while we might get something like The Motion Picture or The Voyage Home on occasion, we were just as apt to get something like The Undiscovered Country or "Q Who?"  In the latter, the Federation is confronted by an unstoppable force (The Borg) bent on subjugating and replacing everything in its path.  "The Best of Both Worlds" intensifies that conflict.
But then, lo and behold, the sequel to that episode turns it on its head somewhat, with the unstoppable enemy stopped not by force, but by ingenuity and trickery (Data giving their hive mind an order to go into a looped diagnostic mode, i.e., putting them into a sort of coma).  It's not diplomacy, but neither is it genocide; so that's kind of Trek-ish in its philosophy.
The franchise would not be able to maintain that stance on the Borg, however, and later episodes would revert somewhat.  Eventually they appeared in a movie (First Contact), where they are no more than monsters to be defeated.  Good movie; bad philosophy (at least within a Trek-ian context, or perhaps just within a Roddenberrian context).

Friday, February 3, 2017

Let's Stop Pretending: Star Trek episode 4, "The Enemy Within"

Tonight's episode:

It's a classic installment, one that has a great deal to recommend; but I'd be a liar if I said it's ever been a personal favorite.  In trying to figure out why that is, I've come up against a bit of a wall.  Here's a peek behind the curtain for you: it is currently 3:57 AM.  Earlier tonight -- when it was still yesterday -- I spent several hours laboring over five or six paragraphs for this post.  The intent was to express a simple idea: I've never been a big fan of this episode, even as a child, and _________ is the reason why.

Thing is, I didn't actually know why.  I kind of thought I did, but as I wrote it out, it made less sense to me every sentence further in I got.  Writing these posts is almost always an enjoyable process for me.  Duh!  Why else would I do it?  The latinum?!?  "Fuck" and "no," my friends, "fuck" and "no."  No, it's for the enjoyment of the thing, and that enjoyment is almost always present when I go looking for it.

It was utterly absent earlier tonight while I sat here and agonized over the words I was typing.  I was doing a poor job of convincing myself, and it showed.  I decided to take a break for a while, so I went and did some housework, and came back to it.  The result: delete, delete, delete.  All that shit had to go, and go it went.

When I find myself in a pickle of this nature, what I often do is steer into it.  Driving on an icy road and your car begins to swerve?  Steer into it.  Blogging about a favorite subject and your thesis abandons you?  Steer into it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"Westworld" Before "Westworld"

Since it's been a thing a lot of people have talked about recently, I thought it made sense for me to say a few words about Westworld.
Good show!  I love it and am glad it's doing well and will happily continue watching.
And that's all I have to say about that, at least for now.  If that doesn't look like anything to you, I get it.  So now is when I reveal that what I'm here to actually discuss is the Westworld(s) that existed prior to the HBO series.

It all began with the 1973 Michael Crichton film.  In case you're unfamiliar with Crichton, he is best known as a novelist who wrote the book Jurassic Park.  He started out as a physician, but decided that wasn't for him, and jumped ship all the way from one side of the fence to the other, opting to become a writer.  He was able to begin publishing almost immediately, and one of his early novels, The Andromeda Strain, was a bestseller that was adapted into a hit film by director Robert Wise.

Crichton somehow parlayed this success into a secondary career as a film director, and Westworld was his first movie behind the camera.  It was a hit: MGM's biggest of the year, bringing in nearly ten times its budget at the box office.  Crichton never had another directorial success like that one, although he did go on to direct The Great Train Robbery (starring Sean Connery) and Runaway (starring Tom Selleck and Gene Simmons).  Plus, as a producer, he had a hand in creating a little show called ER.  So he did okay for himself, apart from being a big-deal writer.

I saw the movie once years ago, during a time when I went on a brief Crichton kick that was spurred by Jurassic Park.  I read most of his major science fiction novels, such as The Andromeda Strain, Sphere, and Congo, and that led me to Westworld.  By the time the HBO series began, however, I remembered nothing about the movie apart from the poster; by the time the HBO series ended its first season, I suspected it had forever supplanted the movie as the thing I'd think of when I heard the title Westworld.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

There's Only One Kind of Woman: Star Trek episode 3, "Mudd's Women"

Tonight's episode:
It's by no means one of my favorites.  Don't misunderstand me: if you tell me that you like it, I'm not going to retaliate by coming over and shitting on the hood of your car or anything.  I mean, to each their own and all that: so if you're a fan, I ain't judgin' ya; it's just that I'm not a fan.
That said, I found my analysis for this post made me appreciate the episode more than I did before.  There are things here to enjoy, so let's discuss them for a bit and then get while the gettin's good.