Saturday, October 22, 2011

All The Weaknesses Of The Worst Star Trek: The Animated Series With "Volume 4:" "One Of Our Planets Is Missing" and "Mudd's Passion!"

The Good: I can't even begin to guess; Kirk and Spock hugging? Miniscule bits of continuity
The Bad: Terrible animation, Vocal presentations are mediocre, Stories are a bit dumbed down, Children's plots
The Basics: When Chapel uses Harry Mudd's love potion on Spock and Kirk must stop an alien cloud, chaos ensues on a terrible set of Star Trek: The Animated Series episodes.

Star Trek: The Animated Series is, for some, the grail of the Star Trek experiences; they covet is as the lost chapters of the U.S.S. Enterprise and they recall with zeal how the series came at a time when Star Trek needed something new. For a while before the advent of DVD, Paramount released episodes of Star Trek: The Animated Series on VHS with two half-hour episodes per tape. Given the expense of the series on DVD, finding the old videos for a song may be a great, inexpensive way to get into the show before committing to the whole set. The problem, of course, with reviewing the two-episode tapes is that often the episodes might be radically different. Fortunately with "Volume 4," the episodes are homogeneously bad and the episodes "One Of Our Planets Is Missing" and "Mudd's Passion" make for an agonizing (almost) hour of television. This is a set where one might think that the half hour format of the episodes works to the benefit of the series. After all, if these plots had been drawn out, they most likely would have been even worse.

For those unfamiliar with Star Trek: The Animated Series, the two seasons aired in the early-1970s and acted as a bridge between Star Trek (reviewed here!) and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (reviewed here!). These episodes aired in 1973 and represented the attempt on the part of Paramount and Filmation to gauge the interest in new Star Trek material while working around the busy schedules of the principle talent from Star Trek. This series continued the five-year mission of the U.S.S. Enterprise under the command of Captain James T. Kirk and featured the voice talents of most of the Star Trek cast as well as writing from some of the better Star Trek writers.

"One Of Our Planets Is Missing" has the Enterprise sent to intercept a massive galactic cloud that is skirting the edge of our galaxy. When the cloud moves toward a heavily populated planet after draining the energy from several smaller worlds, Kirk and Spock determine that it is sentient and they attempt to reason and communicate with it. As it advances on a Federation colony, Kirk takes the Enterprise into the cloud and Spock mindmelds with it in an attempt to convince it that its feeding on the energy of living beings is unethical.

"Mudd's Passion" returns Harry Mudd to the Enterprise. This time, he is peddling a simple love potion and it actually works! As a result, Nurse Chapel's unrequited love for Spock has the chance to become acted upon as she "poisons" Spock. As the crew becomes distracted with the effects of the love potion, Harry Mudd works to worm his way out of the attentions of Kirk and his crew and once more escape the Federation legal system.

"One Of Our Planets Is Missing" is, ironically, the closest thing to Star Trek: The Motion Picture until the film was released. The episode has essentially the same plot and without the spectacle, the simplicity of it is rather lessened. There is a very forced sense of tension that telegraphs the emotions of the episode for children and the emotional resonance of the cloud creature descending on a Federation colony is significantly less than V'Ger approaching Earth in the film.

Similarly, fans of Star Trek might appreciate the return of Harry Mudd, the only recurring villain in Star Trek from the episodes "Mudd's Women" (reviewed here!) and "I, Mudd" (reviewed here!), two of the more comedic episodes of Star Trek. The truth is, I enjoyed both of the Mudd episodes when I first started watching Star Trek, but upon further rewatchings, the pair became weaker and weaker until I positively loathed them. "Mudd's Passion" begins without the initial charm of Harry Mudd; the episode is obvious, simple and presented in a way that truly seems targeted at children. Despite Spock groping Chapel, the episode is, at best, child's play.

The animation in Star Trek: The Animated Series is pretty terrible and on the videos, it is not cleaned up like it was for the DVD versions. Even on DVD, the animation is choppy and rather generic. Backgrounds are looped in both episodes and the space shots of the cloud creature in "One Of Our Planets Is Missing" have a terrible two-dimensional quality to them.

The animation is fair at best by today's standards and the look of the series is a little more blockish than reality. As a result, Kirk has more in common with Captain America in terms of physique than the live-action William Shatner Kirk. Similarly, Spock seems surprisingly ripped (though not in a way that is extreme) and Chapel's uniform actually seems a little longer! All the animation truly allows this incarnation of Star Trek to do that it could not before is make more interesting alien races. Unfortunately, these episodes do not showcase aliens that could not be presented in the original Star Trek.

Harry Mudd looks cartoonish, which is saying something because Roger C. Carmel's performance in the episodes was rather cartoonish. The problem is, it's hard enough to take Mudd seriously in reality, when he is two-dimensional and simplified to his most comic aspects . . .it just feels cheap. In fact, the appearance of Mudd in "Mudd's Passion" is almost a parody of the Harry Mudd character. It's disappointing and the series suffers as a result.

"One Of Our Planets Is Missing" involves almost no character development. Captain Kirk must heroically save the galaxy and prevent the destruction of distant planets but that is pretty familiar. Indeed, if anything, that episode feels like a sad retread of earlier Star Trek episodes and another Star Trek: The Animated Series episode ("Beyond The Farthest Star") that had already aired. In a way, it leads the viewer to feel that the series is attempting to capitalize on the simplicity of children and their willingness to rewatch things over and over again, even when they are remarkably close in content..

Similarly, "Mudd's Passion," has a pretty generic kid's cartoon plot version of the typical "love potion" concept. All of the Star Trek franchises do an episode where characters are drawn to one another and they tend to be amusing the first time around, but hold up less well with rewatching. "Mudd's Passion" seems tired and cartoonish the first time around with its simplified and obvious plot.

Indeed, the only remotely interesting aspect to this set is that the writers seemed attentive to the details, like Nurse Chapel's love of Spock, which was established early on in the series. So while Chapel's character is rather realistic in "Mudd's Passion," unfortunately, none of the rest of the characters are. Notable among these is Spock. Spock is not an emotionless character; he suppresses his emotions. So why the potion effects him needs to be explained; after all, other things that reduce the control Spock has over his emotions do not traditionally work against him, so the episode needed to explain why it would challenge Spock. It does not.

The voice acting in these episodes is homogeneously unremarkable. The actors give performances that sometimes feel like straightforward line readings and it is odd to see the minimally expressive animation with the more expressive vocals when they are. Even Majel Barrett, who voices Nurse Chapel gives a surprisingly inexpressive performance and the result is a bland characterization of what is supposed to be passion. Between the blockish animation, the dull voice-overs, the dismal plots and the disappointing lack of character aspects, these episodes truly are dismal.

Star Trek fans looking for something safe for their children to watch without having to vet it, these episodes would do; but for fans looking for adult entertainment, this is a video truly marked with "avoid it!"

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Animated Series on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the complete collection here!

"One Of Our Planets Is Missing" - 0/10
"Mudd's Passion" - 2.5/10
VHS - 1/10

For other Star Trek reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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