Monday, October 18, 2010

A Cooler Star Trek Concept Presented When Captain Kirk Falls Victim To Vampiric "Obsession!"

The Good: Great character, Interesting plot, Good special effects, Pacing, Tone, Generally good acting
The Bad: Some moments of overacting, Preview ruins it
The Basics: Intense and dramatic, "Obsession" delivers a tight, character-driven story of one man's quest to destroy a vampire cloud creature before it can kill more people.

The very worst previews and trailers are the ones where the whole television show or movie is shown in the film. I recall sitting with my dad watching one of the sequels to The Matrix when the trailer for Return Of The King showed. After the previews, while the "go buy some sugar" ads were playing, he turned to me and smiled and said, "The only movie I care about is the only one they didn't show everything from in the trailer!" There was boyish glee in his eyes and it was one of those moments when one connects with a parent that one remembers. Whoever made the preview for the Star Trek episode "Obsession" ought to be shot. I mean that. Every moment of menace, including some of the last shots of the episode are included in the preview trailer. So, if you're reading this review thinking about buying one of the DVD versions of this episode that has the preview trailers, don't bother watching the trailer until afterward.

Or don't bother watching the episode; it's gutted by watching the preview.

The USS Enterprise is exploring a planet with a rare mineral that it believes might be useful. When a sample is cut, Captain Kirk smells a familiar smell and orders the crew to fan out. Within moments, two security officers are dead, their bodies completely exsanguinated. Kirk orders the landing party back to the Enterprise and soon members of the crew are dying from exsanguination, the victim of a vampiric cloud that Kirk encountered once before . . . In the prior encounter, Kirk was a junior officer and the crew he served on was decimated by the cloud creature and killed, including the captain. As it happens, the late Captain Garrovick has a son aboard, who - like Kirk - would like to see the creature killed.

"Obsession" is one of those episodes of Star Trek that exemplifies the stereotype of not being a red shirted officer. There are a lot of casualties in this episode, almost exclusively red-shirted security officers. For those worried about gore, fear not; there is no blood, just lots of dead bodies.

One of the few things that does not work about "Obsession" is the plot mirrors an episode that is proximate to it (actually, the following episode "The Immunity Syndrome"). Fortunately, "Obsession" precedes the more generally average episode anyway. Like the next episode, "Obsession" keeps the tension high by making the threat one that is immediate (there's a vampiric cloud killing people now) and recurring (the beast is about to reproduce and kill lots more with its little cloudlings). When watching a lot of Star Trek episodes in a row, it's hard not to sit and watch some of these episodes and say "Didn't they just do that?!"

Absent that, the only substantive problem is that the acting becomes melodramatic at moments. I know, that's a bit of a risky diagnosis for a show focusing heavily on William Shatner. Shatner can act, "Obsession" proves it, but he also sometimes exaggerates body language and pauses that make him seem more spasmodic than emotive. "Obsession" has that quality to it at moments.

But that's nothing compared to the positive aspects of "Obsession." First, the plot is pretty cool. This is a thriller, Star Trek style and it keeps the viewer on edge the entire fifty-one minutes. It's a tight episode and it keeps the tension up. Seriously, Hitchcock has nothing on "Obsession." This is a legitimately scary episode in terms of the villain and the pacing that tells its story. It's honestly rare that I watch something where the adversary measures up and is truly menacing and consistently frightening.

Which brings me to the actual creature. The creature is a cloud that moves on its own volition, changes density - so it cannot be shot -, feeds on blood and energy, can travel through space and only warns its victims by . . . you know, appearing and draining their blood. It's only tell is a scent that the victim might smell a moment before it dies. This has a nightmarish simplicity and horror to the creature that makes it genuinely scary. How do you fight this sort of thing? How can one not freeze up upon something so awesomely simple, yet gruesome as to do all that? It's a tough call and it makes for an intriguing enemy.

But more than an "alien of the week" horror episode of Star Trek, "Obsession" is a character study. James T. Kirk is obsessed with finding and destroying the creature. His reasons are intriguing; he has guilt where he is convinced as an ensign he could have killed the monster had he shot the ship's phasers when he froze up instead. His past failures motivate him and the strength of that prior mistake is well-illustrated in this hour show.

Spock and McCoy work together in "Obsession" to balance Kirk and it's refreshing to see them look like professionals here. They are working together quite well and the sense of community between these characters - who are usually foils - works nicely. The addition of Ensign Garrovick to layer the conflict and themes some works nicely as well.

This episode would utterly fail if William Shatner were not the professional he is. Despite moments of hammy overacting, Shatner delivers as Kirk. He makes us believe the simple special effects are menacing. He convinces the viewer he is smelling something familiar with a look a jerk of his body. He's great and in this Moby Dick-like tale, he delivers more than he makes it campy.

This is a very accessible episode and a must see for any fan of science fiction or horror. The character aspects will be appreciated by anyone who has an imagination and likes compelling drama. With its overall impressive use of the three stars of the series, an engaging plot and the focus of the show on the character struggle, "Obsession" is one of the episodes that makes Star Trek legendary.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek - The Complete Second Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the second season by clicking here!

For other works involving vampires, please check out my reviews of:
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
Let The Right One In


For other Star Trek reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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