Tuesday, October 12, 2010

If Your God Were A Paper Mache Lizard, You Too Would Avoid "The Apple"

The Good: Not a bad concept/theme
The Bad: Lame acting, Little character development, Overall bland and silly
The Basics: In an all-around disappointing episode, the concept of liberation from god and machines is gutted by terrible acting and cheap plot devices.

When I first reviewed "The Apple" for the site I used to write for, it was when Paramount/CBS was upgrading the original Star Trek with new digital effects. I called the effort to court new viewers desperate, insulting and somewhat stupid. After all, some episodes cannot be made much better just by changing the special effects. "The Apple" is one such episode.

The U.S.S. Enterprise journeys to a planet where the landing party suddenly finds itself besieged by problems. Plants fire poison needles, killing one red shirt, rocks explode when stepped on or thrown killing another red shirt, lightning takes out another red shirt and the Enterprise begins to experience a massive power drain. Captain Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Chekov and Yeoman Landon soon discover the problem. It's the dimwitted Children of Vaal, worshipers of a giant, shielded lizard structure called Vaal. McCoy theorizes that Vaal has protected the tribe and stunted their evolution for quite some time, which is all the information Kirk needs to meddle and set his mind to destroying the structure and the limitations on the culture.

"The Apple" has one truly good idea, which is the idea of a god limiting the development of a people and the need to liberate enslaved individuals from any force - even a quasi-deity - that would keep them stunted. It's a noble idea and Gene Roddenberry and company - in this case writer Max Ehrlich and director Joseph Pevney - try to fill the concept up with all sorts of bells and whistles, but it's just lame. To enhance a story of an overbearing god figure, we have cheesy poison flowers, mediocre lightning and exploding foam rocks. It's just silly.

Moreover, it's established almost immediately that Vaal is not a god, but rather a machine. Sure, the Children of Vaal think it's a god, but they are established pretty early on as being complete morons. Yes, Vaal keeps them ignorant and uncurious, simple and about as dumb as posts. Only their leader, who has radio antennae embedded in his neck, seems to have any potential to be more.

This is one of those episodes of Star Trek that one wishes they could simply write "It's bad, it's real bad" and have people believe them. It's almost too stupid to write about. The good idea is just that, it's poorly executed and worked around in a completely uninspired way. It's like the cast and crew knew it was bad and they limp through the episode.

There is a body count of four red shirts this episode, but it's hard to care about any of them because they do not last long. Moreover, the artificially large landing party at the beginning presages something bad for the red shirts. This is a pretty classic conceit; if you're going to kill off a bunch of people, you need to start with more people. It's just too obvious and disappointing for how it is executed.

Nothing, though, is more insulting than Kirk's treatment of Scotty in "The Apple." Scotty, left in charge of the Enterprise while its power is drained by Vaal seeks several different ways to free the ship from the alien machine's grasp. Scotty tries a number of things and fails. Poor Scotty. The thing is, he tries and tries and tries some more. Kirk's solution? He fires him. I kid you not, at the midpoint of the episode, Kirk says "You're fired." By this point, Star Trek was pretty well established as a socialist-military system. Captain Kirk cannot truly fire Scotty, if for no other reason than it leaves no one clearly in command of the Enterprise. But it's silly and stupid and almost all of the orders Kirk barks at Scotty - which the engineer meekly takes - are poorly written, terribly delivered and make for one of the silliest episodes of all time.

Part of the problem is the acting. The extras who play the Children of Vaal are convincingly dim and that act gets old real quick. They perform their parts - asking the Enterprise crew about sex, kissing and other things Vaal has kept them ignorant of - as if they truly were dim, and that's all that ultimately made me knock this episode up as high as I did.

Conversely, the main crew is simply terrible, as are all of the guest performances from Enterprise red shirts. It's just a series of flat performances, Shatner's hammy overacting while informing the Children of Vaal about the workings of men and women and Nimoy being forced to play Spock as ridiculously bashful. The performances oscillate between bland and silly and completely hammy and over-the-top (like when Shatner as Kirk has the surviving members fall in line to give orders and be authoritarian). There's not a performance any of the main cast ought to be proud of in this outing.

In short, this is the Enterprise crew wasting an hour of your time fighting a giant, paper mache lizard head in the jungle and it's hard to get excited about that, no matter how decent the portrayal of ignorance might be.

[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 Star Trek episode reviews, be sure to visit my index page!

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

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