Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Final Outing Of Star Trek: The Animated Adventures Is Typically Poor With "Volume 11!"

The Good: Use of mythology for one episode
The Bad: Terrible animation, Vocal presentations are mediocre, Lack of scientific basis makes one a children's story!
The Basics: Kirk is abducted by a Mayan/Aztec god and Spock watches as the crew gets significantly younger in this volume of the Animated Series!

I know there are those who might like the Star Trek: The Animated Series. I tend not to be one of them. At times, it is the natural successor to Star Trek, presenting adult storylines as best as can be crammed into half an hour, the remainder of the time, it is the most disappointing of children's programming relying on the silliest standards and obvious plot devices that only a child would find fresh and new. In other words, at times, this series is Star Trek and the rest of the time, it is something far worse. And the result is quite disappointing.

With the "Volume 11" VHS of the Star Trek: The Animated Series, the series concludes and it goes out on a downbeat with "How Sharper Than A Serpent's Tooth" and "The Counter-Clock Incident" the viewer is subjected to one of the most dismal pairings of episodes on the volumes of the series. "How Sharper Than A Serpent's Tooth" is cerebral and a strangely complex remixing of "The Cage" (reviewed here!) and "Who Mourns For Adonais?" (reviewed here!). "The Counter-Clock Incident" finds the crews de-aging in a story that is pure children's fare. The result of watching this final pairing of episodes is a viewing experience that will leave neither children nor adults truly satisfied.

"How Sharper Than A Serpent's Tooth" finds the Enterprise following an alien probe which leads it to an immense alien ship. Trapped by the huge ship, the Enterprise is hailed by a hologram of the Mayan/Aztec god Kukulkan, which suddenly abducts Kirk, McCoy, Scotty and the ethnically convenient Ensign Walking Bear. Trapped in a menagerie of life forms Kukulkan has saved, the quartet struggles to get released, despite the god's benevolent intentions.

"The Counter-Clock Incident" finds the Enterprise transporting Robert April and his wife, two dignitaries headed toward a retirement colony. April, as it turns out, is the first and original captain of the Enterprise, preceding Captain Pike. While aboard, the crew begins to de-age, quickly becoming children. As the crew becomes incapacitated, Robert April becomes the only hope for the ship and its crew!

First the positive: "How Sharper Than A Serpent's Tooth" has a strong sense of mythology and a relatively clever gimmick for presenting the Mayan-Aztec god. The episode is mostly about understanding human heritage and the value of all of the different peoples of the Earth. The episode promotes the lessons of working together and growth through understanding of history. With "The Counter-Clock Incident," children - because the episode is clearly intended for a younger audience - are implored to treat elders with respect and so see the value of the contributions of the elder generation.

Beyond that, though, the episodes fall down. And hard. "How Sharper Than A Serpent's Tooth" is heavily plot-driven and there is no genuine character development in it. Moreover, it seems like a lesson more than an actual episode of the series as there is a great deal of exposition needed to explain the circumstances and backstory.

And far worse than that is "The Counter-Clock Incident." That episode is all about a gimmick, a condition where the crew begins to shrink into children. There is no scientific or pseudo scientific explanation of the phenomenon and as a result, it is wiped away as a children's cartoon conceit. This is much like the fact that the episode should be wiped away from memory!

The problem with "The Counter-Clock Incident" is that it is a kid's cartoons more than they are an animated reimagining of Star Trek. For a series that promised sophisticated stories and character development for adults, Star Trek: The Animated Series here degenerates into pretty standard Saturday morning cartoon fare. That is a huge disappointment, especially in comparison to the educated and vaguely adult "How Sharper Than A Serpent's Tooth;" "The Counter-Clock Incident" seems largely silly and childish.

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. The only genuine benefit of the animation comes in the creature design and ability to do some actual starship maneuvering, which were not possible in Star Trek. "How Sharper Than A Serpent's Tooth" makes use of this with the Enterprise encountering the zooship of Kukulan, though the animation is still pretty primitive looking. In "How Sharper Than A Serpent's Tooth," there are also several creatures visible in the zooship.

The thing is, many of those creatures could have been very easy to pull off in a live-action series, at least as they are imagined and presented in "How Sharper Than A Serpent's Tooth." As well, the de-aged crew of the Enterprise could easily been performed in a live-action episode using the talents of child actors. I suppose the episode was easier in this regard utilizing the animation, despite how silly it looks with the kids with their big black dot eyes.

Neither episode involves genuine character development. The episodes do not enhance or progress Kirk, Spock, McCoy or any of the supplemental characters' character. Indeed, there is never a moment that the viewer doubts Kirk and the others will escape from the alien ship and Robert April becomes the essential character in "The Counter-Clock Incident" In fact, far from developing, Kirk lets another rescue the Enterprise!

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 James Doohan, who voices many of the supporting guest roles, gives a surprisingly inexpressive performance and the result is a bland characterization of the various aliens. Between the blockish animation, the dull voice-overs, the recycled plots and the minimal growth of character, these episodes truly are unremarkable.

[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!

"How Sharper Than A Serpent's Tooth" - 2.5/10
"The Counter-Clock Incident" - .5/10
VHS - 1/10

Check out how these episodes stack up against the others and get direct links to the other episode reviews by visiting the index page here!

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

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