It’s been a while since I covered an individual game on Debug Mode.
After playing Marvel’s Spider-man last year, I was struck by how much it felt like the successor to the Batman: Arkham series. I’m surprised it took that long for someone to crib the style and mechanics for another superhero.
I love the Arkham games but it had been years since I played them and I wanted to know how well they held up. I played them all and have been working through doing an analysis of the whole series. I intend to cover all 4 currently released Batman: Arkham games – and maybe I’ll also do that yet-to-be-revealed Batman game eventually…?
People love Arkham Asylum. A lot of fans claim this is the best of the series. I don’t agree with that, but it sure was a landmark game and it much of it does hold up. Do watch the video if you’re interested. I know this game has gotten a lot of coverage, but hopefully I’ve been able to have at least a few unique insights on it. If nothing else, I think my opinions of the rest of the series will be a little more provocative. I’m excited to get to those games.
Star Trek is ostensibly the kind of thing I should be really into. It’s nerdy, detail-driven science fiction more focused on ideas than action. It presents opportunities for a vast array of plots, characters, settings, and themes to be presented and explored. Reportedly, it has done those things and frequently done a good job.
But I can’t get into it. I’ve never been able to.
Every time I’ve tried to watch a Star Trek TV series I’ve come away with no desire to continue after an episode or two. The shows in actuality seem slow, boring, dumb, and inconsistent.
I like three pieces of Star Trek fiction I have seen: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek (2009), and The Next Generation episode “The Best of Both Worlds.” Everything else has bored me or insulted my intelligence.
But Star Trek is such a mainstay of culture and especially nerd culture that I keep coming back to the idea of trying to watch it. And now, with the return of Star Trek to television (sort of), I figure this is as good a time as any to do a little experiment.
I am going to watch the pilot or first episode of each Star Trek series to see if any grab me this time around. Even if the actual episodes are still boring, comparing the different series of this vast and long running franchise should make for an fascinating trip through some television history.
The Original Series
As the oldest Star Trek show, this one has aged the worst in many ways. The style and culture of the 60s are dripping from it. It’s colorful, boisterous, and self-assured. Despite being incredibly progressive with a diverse cast for its time, there’s still a palpable air of 60s misogyny about it.
Looking at Star Trek with entirely modern sensibilities is probably wildly unfair. Clearly the show is special for its lasting impact and for the strides it did make in being more inclusive of minorities and other nationalities which is particularly notable in the midst of the civil rights movement and the Cold War. Its probably fairly sophisticated for 60s TV as well.
A simple Google search of “1960s TV dramas” returns a list of names that are only vaguely recognizable to this millennial. I’ve heard of Perry Mason, The Avengers (a British spy show, not Marvels superhero team), The Wild Wild West, and Adam-12, but haven’t seen so much as a single clip from any of them. Other shows from the time like Mission Impossible, The Twilight Zone, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. have all had recent reincarnations (or lasting influence on other series in the case of Twilight Zone). But none of those have had the staying power of Star Trek. None of them turned into a massive TV and film franchise on that level.
Finding the “first” or “pilot” episode of The Original Series (TOS) is a bit tricky. Technically “The Cage” is the original pilot of Star Trek. It was rejected for being “too cerebral” which makes me kind of curious to watch it. I’m dubious about what “too cerebral” meant back then.
Even so, “The Cage” is listed on Netflix as the first episode of Star Trek which I have to imagine confuses a lot of people looking to experience the earliest adventures of Kirk and Spock. Kirk does not appear in that episode. The original protagonist of Star Trek was Captain Christopher Pike, but after the rejection of this pilot, the actor who played Pike dropped out.
Lucille Ball (of I Love Lucy fame) who ran the studio where Star Trek was produced liked Gene Roddenberry, the show’s creator, and convinced the network to give Trek another chance at life. William Shatner came aboard to play Captain James T. Kirk, the new lead character for the series’ second pilot “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”
I thought about watching that episode instead since it’s the one that got the show greenlit. I actually did watch about 20 minutes before I got sick of the dumb ESP-related plot. Then I decided to view what’s broadly considered to be the “first” episode instead.
“The Man Trap”
“The Man Trap” was the broadcast debut of Star Trek way back in September of ’66. It features much of what’s iconic about the Original Series: the Enterprise, beaming, expendable crewmen (eventually known as “red shirts”), sick bay, strange aliens, and of course its memorable cast of characters (although Scotty and Chekov were still absent and Sulu wasn’t on the bridge just yet.)
This episode strikes me as pretty typical of the Original Series. There’s a strange, alien happening at the beginning of the episode which the characters gradually unravel through the rest of the runtime concluding with a fistfight or speech or both.
One thing that’s extremely out of step with modern television is a lack of setup. “The Man Trap” doesn’t do anything special to introduce us to the characters or the concept of the show. The only explanation we’re given is the famous opening monologue that was present in every episode.
Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.
Though I am no Trekkie, I could have written that from memory. It’s another iconic piece of the show.
In this episode, Kirk, Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, and the obligatory expendable crewman beam down to a planet to conduct a routine medical checkup of researchers Nancy and Robert Crater. Bones has a special interest in this mission as he used to be romantically involved with Nancy.
The mission goes awry when the crewman ends up dead. Kirk, Spock, and Bones launch an investigation. They eventually discover that a shapeshifting alien disguised itself as Nancy and then several Enterprise crew members in a fight for survival. The creature is the last of its kind, but eventually they are forced to kill it after it threatens the lives of several crew members and Kirk himself.
The plot itself is relatively uninteresting. I think it could have been more compelling to watch if the show had been directed differently. The audience knows far more than the characters know. We’re shown early on that the alien presents itself differently to Bones, Kirk, and the doomed crewman so we know something’s up. We aren’t solving a mystery with our characters, we’re waiting for them to catch up to what we already know. The director’s already showed us the answer.
That’s a recipe for suspense rather than mystery, but I don’t think the suspense works for a modern audience. It’s hard to be truly concerned about the fate of any of these characters. We know Kirk, Bones, and Spock are all going to be fine though I supposed the original audience wouldn’t have the same assurance. It’s also become a well-known cliche that Star Trek would kill off otherwise unimportant crew members to heighten the stakes. Knowing this does a lot to dispel the illusion of danger. You can see the scriptwriter pulling the strings all too clearly.
Regardless, the first half of the episode mostly works. It’s a decent setup and there’s ample opportunity for the leads to interact and show off their character traits.
Kirk is a confident, charismatic leader who’s much less brash than pop culture’s collective memory has lead to me believe (granted, this is a tiny sample size). Bones is a soft-hearted, down-to-earth kind of guy. Spock demonstrates his perceptive intelligence and, of course, lack of overt emotion.
The episode falls apart in the second half, however.
There’s a hamfisted “moral” to the story. After being questioned, Robert Crater reveals that he’s known about the alien creature. It killed the real Nancy years ago, but since it was the last of its kind, he spared its life. He was content to let the creature play the part of Nancy as the next best thing. That’s super weird and creepy. Fortunately we aren’t given much time to think about that before Crater draws an absurd parallel between the creature and the buffalo.
This is really funny now. The concept of species extinction must not have been commonly known because the word “extinct” is never used. The show literally has to explain it to the audience and thus to the “enlightened” 23rd century crew. You’d think explorers might understand that already.
It doesn’t work as a parallel either. Buffalo (by which they mean American bison) aren’t extinct although it’s true that they were nearly hunted to extinction. It’s a touchpoint for the show’s audience, not for the show’s characters.
I guess there’s supposed to be a message about conservation or something in there? It feels incredibly tacked on. Still, this was an example of how Star Trek would at least attempt to highlight social, political, and environmental concerns even if it didn’t always work.
It’s also frustrating to watch our lead characters slowly catch on to what we already know. There’s a good scene where the ship’s officers are discussing what to do about the creature onboard and how they can find it. The creature is present at the meeting disguised as Bones. The real McCoy (ha!) was lured to sleep earlier by the alien in disguise as Nancy. I thought Kirk was catching on to fake Dr. McCoy in this scene. They kept cutting to his and Spock’s faces like they might know what’s up and I thought he was baiting the creature into revealing itself which would have been really clever.
Actually, Kirk behaves rather stupidly in the end. Spock is assaulted by the creature. He tells Kirk that the alien was disguised as Bones. Kirk rushes to Dr. McCoy’s quarters knowing that he’s likely to find the creature there. Like a moron, he goes with no backup (not even a red shirt) and he nearly gets killed because of it. He only lives because Spock conveniently shows up at the last second.
There are plenty of other silly details too. While it makes sense for a starship captain to lead the away team on diplomatic missions, it’s pretty silly that Kirk beams down with Bones and the crewman at the beginning for this “routine” medical mission. It would set a precedent for things to come – high-ranking officers regularly getting involved in mundane tasks that would spin out into larger adventures.
Given that this was a TV show, I’m impressed by the effects for the time. Just two years later, 2001: A Space Odyssey would blow away everything that had come before it in terms of convincing space travel special effects. But TV has a much more constrained budget than feature films – especially features by high-profile directors like Stanley Kubrick.
I hesitate to call the acting outright bad. It’s certainly dated. Sure, some of it seems outright poor. But acting sensibilities have changed a lot. Dramatic acting today tends to be a lot more naturalistic and subtle. I don’t think they were going for that back then.
Nevertheless, I like the lead actors in their roles. Nimoy is great and judging by this episode, he was great as Spock from the very start. DeForest Kelley is charming as Dr. McCoy which goes a long way for a character that seemed to provide so much of the show’s soul and humanity.
Whether William Shatner can act is somewhat controversial. I’ll simply say that he seems well cast and comes off as capable, and charismatic apart from the dumb decisions at the end of the episode. I like him in the role.
According to contemporary retrospectives, “The Man Trap” is one of the worst episodes of The Original Series. Dull and pointless as it was, I can still see why Star Trek became beloved. The Kirk/Spock/Bones dynamic really does work and, like I said at the outset, the concept of the show allows for all kinds of plots, characters, and themes to be explored.
If it’s true that most of TOS is better than this, I may give select episodes a watch, but I have no intention of going front-to-back through the show.
Unlike later series, TOS doesn’t have a ton of continuity to keep up with. I think its more episodic approach will allow me to pop in and out of the series at virtually any point and not be lost.
The episodic approach is a double-edged sword. On one hand, shows that don’t leverage continuity can feel weightless without significant consequences from one episode to the next or one season to the next. On the other hand, the serial approach necessitates viewers wade through most, if not all the previous canon, to get the most out of the show. That’s a high barrier to entry. We’ll talk about that next time.
The City of St. Louis is 250 years old today… maybe. Then again, it could have been yesterday.
Our city’s French founder, Auguste Chouteau, wrote the date in his diary, but authorities have gone back and forth about whether he wrote February 14th or 15th. Nobody’s quite sure which is the right date. Yay for bad handwriting!
I’ve lived in St. Louis, Missouri my entire life. Okay, technically I’ve lived in the suburbs of St. Louis and not the city proper, but we claim St. Louis residency and culture just the same.
A new year is upon us and that means it’s time to hand out meaningless accolades to various media properties because making lists is fun!
I am quite intentionally calling these “favorite” lists rather than “best of” lists because there’s a lot of games, movies, and music I didn’t experience in 2013 which no doubt deserve attention and praise, but I can’t consume everything in a year. With that in mind, I am limiting my lists to a Top 3 with possible honorable and dishonorable mentions.
Much has been said about the Star Wars prequels. Most of it negative. The internet loves talking about how awful they are, how much they missed the mark, how the writing’s no good, and what the heck was George Lucas thinking anyway?
Actually, I’m more annoyed with how Lucas has altered the old films than by the prequels themselves. It always seemed apparent to me that he was really trying even if he was also really failing.
Or did he fail after all?
This post looks at Star Wars as visual art. By watching the movies on mute you take away the terrible dialogue and the awkward delivery of said dialogue. Remove the ham-handed scripts and these films become all about the imagery and what that communicates.
Film has so many aspects to it and not all filmmakers are great at wielding every element. For some, their strength lies in writing, plotting, and working with actors. George Lucas is infamously bad at all of those things. But the man has proven himself to be a master of visuals.
We can debate his focus on innovation over proper storytelling, sure. Did he go too far with GCI? Absolutely. Did it make the films terrible? No. It gave them a different aesthetic. We may like it or hate it, but I can’t deny that there’s a certain power in the visuals of Star Wars – even in the prequels.
Like a lot of Millennials, I saw the original trilogy growing up. I watched them on VHS for the first time in the mid 90s and then saw the special edition re-releases in theaters. I was absolutely psyched when Phantom Menace came out.
I was also nine years old so I enjoyed it and thought it was good.
After the prequels ended in 2005 with Revenge of the Sith, I started hearing the negative talk about the movies. As I listened to the criticism and my artistic and critical sensibilities grew and matured, I began to turn on the prequels as well. I saw them as terrible movies made by a man who had lost his way.
But I could never hate them. I could never bring myself to actually dislike watching them. They were still Star Wars to me – even if a sloppy, less-than-perfect Star Wars.
Reading this article reminded me why there’s definitely still some artistic merit to these movies. There are legitimate reasons to not write them off completely and to enjoy them for what they do well.
I’m probably not going to try the exercise of watching Star Wars on mute myself. I don’t really have the time for that. But by reading this post, I have gained a bit more of an appreciation for movies that I dearly wish had turned out better. It even helped me regain some respect for George Lucas. Despite what he’s done to the films in re-releases, the man is still a visionary and he’s gotten an immense amount of hatred for something that doesn’t really make an eternal difference to anyone.
“Romance is a word that if I tried to define concretely wouldn’t mean as much.”
… that’s according to the protagonist of “Parks,” the short film I did for my capstone project last Spring semester. I’m not sure that I agree with him.
As today is Valentine’s Day (or Singles Awareness Day or National Hate Day depending on who you talk to) I thought I’d use the occasion and my film to ramble aimlessly about the subject of romance. I find it a fascinating subject for many reasons.
The whole point of the film was to discuss romance – what it is and how people view it. It’s the story of a guy and girl who fall for each other whilst discussing the topic.
He’s got all sorts of preconceived notions about romance. Who knows where he got them. Movies, music, books, family. Whatever. In his view certain things are just intrinsically romantic. As indicated by the quote above, he’s not particularly interested in defining romance but he does think he can construct a romantic ideal from components he’s deemed “romantic.”
She’s not so sure that romance is definable at all. She finds his romantic notions and fascination with them amusing. This amusement leads to a growing curiosity. Eventually, she comes to buy his sincerity and even his romantic notions and they end up together.
The thing is this relationship is based on almost nothing real. There’s no realistic evidence given in the film that the relationship will last. That’s the impression that I wanted to leave people with but I couldn’t figure out a way to pull it off in time so I left it out altogether. Against my personality and my life circumstances when I made this film, I left it with an optimistic ending. Maybe that’s exactly why – I wanted to believe in something like it. I didn’t want the short film equipment of a sad song. I have enough of those.
Now that the turbulence of my life has settled, I’m looking at things more realistically again… or so I think. I donno. You be the judge of that.
Many, many people have noted the massive gulf between the way romance is portrayed in our media and popular culture and how it plays out in real life.
You know what? I don’t think actually think that’s the case. Romance often comes off as authentic in fiction. I’m not talking about the stories where the couple gets together barely knowing each others names – I’m talking about the ones that take more time; that actually build their relationship on some kind of foundation more than sex appeal.
No, I think the disconnect is how easy the romantic genre makes things look and the expectations it gives people consciously or (more generally) unconsciously.
Our romantic media, including all the stuff sold to us for Valentine’s Day, is a representation of something we very much want even if it is seemingly unachievable in the “real world.”
Perhaps I am merely being pessimistic, but from my vantage point it seems most couples exist in a state of unhappiness for pretty much of the time. Maybe they’re mad at each other, maybe they’re just unsatisfied in the relationship. One thing they aren’t is madly in love.
It is remarkable how many couples go from longing to loathing over the course of years. Familiarity, as they say, breeds contempt. People stop trying to be their best for one another and the romance dies.
In contrast are the few exemplary couples who seem to actually have a romance-movie relationship. Their lives aren’t perfect or conflict-free, but they appear to be, more often than not, better and happier with each other. They make marriage look palatable despite the many mundane and negative examples which are the vast majority.
So what’s the difference? Did the happy couples find their soulmate while everyone else settled for less?
No. The concept of a soulmate as your perfect match is like the Fountain of Youth. It’s a lie we invented because we want it so badly. While some people are more “compatible” with one another naturally, the fact remains that all people are fallen. None of us sinners should expect to have an easy time living with one another.
I find it incredibly sad when I see hollow marriages and dying relationships around me. That’s because I’m a single still in the “longing” stage of life (or “pre-longing,” I suppose, since I’m not longing after anyone in particular.) But I’ve been in relationships enough to see the decaying trajectory of a neglected relationship.
Like my short film character I’m not really interested in nailing down a definition of romance. But I will say this: it’s important. Many well-intentioned people have tried to downplay romance as being shallow or unnecessary.
Certainly there are many other aspects to a relationship that are just as important but to neglect romance is unhealthy. Romance is about feelings and feelings are significant because God created them as part of the human experience. Unquestionably they are part of human relationships.
The critical mistake made by the protagonist of “Parks” was coming up with a list romantic things apart from someone else. Love letters are not love and wedding rings are not marriage. While we might have things we each individually consider “romantic,” true romance is only created in concert with another person.
Romance looks different (on the surface) from couple to couple; culture to culture. But there are universals. The things that are romantic to all times, places, and peoples are acts of selflessness. Is this not the core of romance, of friendship, of love?
Strangely on this Valentine’s Day I am not bitter as I once suspected I might be. I am content where I am and with the potential before me. Whether you are single like me, married, or dating I hope you are similarly contented in the blessings of God.
And if you’re part of a couple then for goodness sake be romantic today, alright?