Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Monday, September 26, 2016

The WSW Trek 25: #12-9


Previously: #25-21 #20-17 #16-13

So it's gonna be nothing but TNG and DS9 from here on out. Sorry to fans of the other shows, but those are my two favorites.


Sunday, September 25, 2016

The WSW Trek 25: #16-13


Previously: #25-21 #20-17

The countdown continues with a trio of very familiar TOS episodes and one powerhouse Voyager ep.


Saturday, September 24, 2016

The WSW Trek 25: #20-17


Previously: #25-21

This list took months to prepare, and to be honest, I'm still not completely certain about its order, but there comes a time when you have to dance with the girl ya brung. I'm sure this list will change in ten years (with or without the addition of any Discovery episodes), but this will do for now.


Friday, September 23, 2016

The WSW Trek 25: #25-21


Spoiler alert: "City on the Edge of Forever" is not my number one choice; in fact, it's not even in my top ten. But it is on this list. "Best of Both Worlds" is not my number one; in fact, it's not even in my top five. But it, too, is on this list.

We'll all get along fine over the next week as long as you remember one thing: this is MY top-25 list, not THE top-25 list. As Fritzi explained so well recently, there's a difference! I don't want any Herberts complaining that this list sucks because "Cost of Living" or "Threshold" or "Profit and Lace" didn't make the cut. This is only one fan's opinion.

Sorry, Voyager fans, there are only two episodes represented here. Sorry, Enterprise fans, you're shut out completely. These are my biases, for better or worse. Get it? Good. And speaking of Voyager, here's the first of the two to kick things off...

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A word about the animated Star Trek

I was never a big fan of Filmation cartoons, even though I watched them as a kid: Fat Albert, Tarzan and the Super 7, He-Man. I might have dug their live-action material slightly more: Shazam!, The Secrets of Isis, Jason of Star Command. I'd have to look at them again to see if they hold up at all. They probably don't.

The animated Star Trek aired when I was a baby - the early 70s - and I don't remember seeing it in repeats, so I never had an affinity for the show. At some point later on in my life, I must have sat down with it, but it never made much of an impression if I did. For this post, I watched clips from the show on YouTube to reacquaint myself.

It doesn't come across like a kiddie show, that's for sure. In terms of story and dialogue, it feels not unlike what the fourth season of the live-action series might have been like, with a bigger budget. No attempt is made to dumb it down. Amidst a landscape of Scooby-Doo, Space Ghost and Looney Tunes, this show must have stood out, even if it only lasted two seasons.

Still, the stories are undone by the pedestrian animation style. If you've seen enough Filmation cartoons, you know exactly what I'm talking about: the big-head close-ups, the dutch angles, the stock footage repeated over and over, the inability of the characters to emote further than blinking and moving their eyebrows. I realize American animation in the 70s wasn't anything special, and as kids, we certainly weren't picky, but this is ridiculous.

Having the original actors voice their own characters makes the show feel authentic - and kudos to Leonard for fighting to get George and Nichelle included as well. In places, it seemed as if the animators couldn't quite keep up with the actors' recitation of their lines. I didn't see much of the three-armed guy and the cat lady. I suspect they were there just to have some really alien-looking aliens.

I dunno. I appreciate what they tried to do with this show, and it must have been catnip to Trekkies who missed the live-action show, but honestly, I can do without it. I know the novels refer to events in the show every once in a blue moon, but I don't feel like I'm missing much.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Joseph Pevney

Trekkies know Joseph Pevney as the director of some of the all-time great Original Series episodes: "City on the Edge of Forever," "Amok Time," "The Trouble with Tribbles," "Journey to Babel," and more. Film historians know him as an actor turned director, with an impressive resume of films and TV shows over a 40-year-plus career.

Pevney's acting career in Hollywood was relatively brief, appearing in assorted noir films in the late 40s, including Thieves' Highway and the boxing flick Body and Soul. As a director, he worked with Frank Sinatra in Meet Danny Wilson, Joan Crawford in Female on the Beach, James Cagney in the Lon Chaney biopic Man of a Thousand Faces, and Debbie Reynolds in Tammy and the Bachelor, among others. 

He also made a film in 1959 called Destination Space, which was actually a TV pilot that never got anywhere. It's closer to The Right Stuff than to Forbidden Planet, perhaps, but according to this review, it's still derivative of other genre material floating around at the time.

"Arena" is a good example of the quality of Trek episodes Pevney helmed. Memorable for the fight between Kirk and the reptilian alien Gorn, it was shot on location at Vasquez Rocks, a park in northern Los Angeles. While other films and TV shows have been shot there (including Star Trek V), its association with Trek is what has made it famous. The triangle-shaped rock formation is known as "Kirk's Rock."

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Previously:
DC Fontana
Gene Coon
Matt Jefferies
William Ware Theiss
Alexander Courage

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Alexander Courage

A   D   G
F#   D   B   E  A
A   C#

Okay, I don't know how to write it out on sheet music and have it appear on this blog, but if you're at all musically inclined, you'll recognize those notes as the familiar riff from one of the great theme songs in television history. It's part of the TNG theme, it's part of just about all of the Trek movie scores, and when you hear it, you can practically hear the whoosh of the Enterprise as it zooms by the screen.

Alexander Courage composed that theme, Loulie Jean Norman (there's the answer to a trivia question for you) sang that ethereal, lilting soprano vox that accompanies the theme, and Gene Roddenberry wrote those stirring lyrics. What? You've never heard the lyrics? Well, consider yourself lucky; they suck. Gene only wrote them so he could collect half of the royalties.

To quote Courage himself, from Solow & Justman's book Inside Star Trek:

...Roddenberry's lyrics totally lacked musical practicality. He made two very serious errors in writing the lyrics: One, he changed the shape of the melody by adding extra beats, and two, he used a closed vowel with a z-z-z-z-z sound on the highest notes, something that gives great problems to singers.

The irony is that Courage was willing to cooperate with Gene if it meant getting someone to sing the lyrics and make the song more valuable. In the end, he left the show after the first season.

Still, Courage didn't exactly lose sleep over the incident. It was but one part of a long and grand career in Hollywood dating back to the 40s, composing or orchestrating or both. He was a two-time Oscar nominee and he won the Emmy in 1988 for a Julie Andrews Christmas special.


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Previously:
DC Fontana
Gene Coon
Matt Jefferies
William Ware Theiss

Monday, September 19, 2016

William Ware Theiss

I'm very grateful that the JJ Abrams Star Trek movies have not (so far) made dramatic changes to the Starfleet uniforms. It has always bugged me, the number of times the uniforms have altered over the years, as if the quartermaster's office at Starfleet Command could never make their minds up as to what defines haute couture fashion out on the final frontier.

The TOS designs are simple and have translated well to the big screen. Of course, we've also been provided with a bunch of variations: dress wear, rugged terrain wear, etc. Still, they have always returned to the basic look in the end - the one established by William Ware Theiss.

Yes, it's because of Theiss that you got to see Nichelle Nichols' legs every week! As the TOS costumer, Theiss had his (non-union) seamstresses operate out of a secret apartment near the studio where they toiled throughout the night to make the clothes. It goes without saying that he had a mandate from Gene Roddenberry to make all the women as sexy as possible, especially the guest stars.

Did you know Theiss was a three-time Oscar nominee? He worked on, among other films, Harold and Maude and Bound for Glory, plus uncredited work on Spartacus. He would go on to win an Emmy in 1988 for Outstanding Costume Design for a Series for - you guessed it - TNG.

The 25 most out-of-this-world TOS costumes

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Previously:
DC Fontana
Gene Coon
Matt Jefferies

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Matt Jefferies

To a generation accustomed to images of Sputnik and the Apollo lunar rockets, not to mention countless "flying saucer" images of UFOs, as representative of space travel, the sight of the original Enterprise must have challenged the imagination. It has a kind of saucer at the front, but then it extends downward to a shape similar to a rocket with the nose cut off, and then there are those two big tubes sticking out of the back.

It was an original and highly distinctive look for a spaceship. Looking at it after a moment, it starts to suggest the idea of flight, with those tubes flaring out like wings, and the saucer up front reminding the viewer of a UFO. The disc-like shape below is evocative of the headlight of a car, or even a figurehead, like on a sailing ship. Do you see the recurring theme? Objects designed to put people in motion, to suggest transportation, while being something entirely new.

If you like the look of the Enterprise, you have Matt Jefferies to thank. He served as art designer/production designer for TOS. He designed the ship, as well as the bridge, the ship's interiors, alien planet landscapes, and more. When you hear someone on the show refer to a ship's "Jefferies tubes," they're named for him.

What you have to remember when looking at TOS is, they had to maximize every dollar of the limited budget with which they worked. Often, that meant using and reusing sets, redressing them for alternate scenes, scavenging the studio lot for discarded items that could be used on a set. Jefferies made it work just enough to sustain the illusion of life on a starship or an alien world. Imagination did the rest.

Producer Robert Justman, in the book he co-authored with executive producer Herb Solow, Inside Star Trek, described Jefferies thus:
...Matt Jefferies was the most decent and devoted human being on the production team. He never lost his cool, never lost his temper. His eyes got watery and he would find it difficult to speak when an over-budget show forced me to take away half his construction money. And I'd demand the impossible, that he still provide us with believable sets for less money than it should cost. He'd gulp a bit and finally say, in a very throaty voice, "Well... let me see what I can do. I'll give it a try." So Matt would try harder, and he always came through for us.
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Previously:
DC Fontana
Gene Coon