Wednesday, October 19, 2011

If You Must Watch Star Trek: The Animated Series, Vol. 2 Might Be Your Best Bet!

The Good: Two episodes with remotely interesting plots and character development
The Bad: Terrible animation, Vocal presentations are mediocre, Stories are a bit dumbed down
The Basics: When Spock returns to his past and Kirk must save the Enterprise from a malevolent organism, Star Trek: The Animated Series makes a passable video.

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 2," the episodes are possibly the best the series ever produced and as a result, "Beyond The Farthest Star" and "Yesteryear" represent the best value in Star Trek: The Animated Series.

For those unfamiliar with Star Trek: The Animated Series, the two seasons aired in the early-1970s before Star Trek was reborn on the big screen with 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.

"Beyond The Farthest Star" opens the series with the Enterprise exploring deep space only to find an ancient ship on the order of 300 million years old. After encountering an alien radio signal and the ship accelerating out of control in the direction of a dead star, the Enterprise finds a massive ship, derelict, trapped in orbit around the star. Trapped as well, Kirk and an away team beam over to learn about the alien vessel. There they discover that the crew sacrificed itself so it would not carry a malevolent energy being to other planets. Unfortunately for Kirk and his crew, the entity is still alive and Kirk and Spock must figure out a way to escape the pull of the dead star and get rid of the invader without destroying the Enterprise!

"Yesteryear" is the high point of the Star Trek: The Animated Series and it finds Spock using the Guardian of Forever to find out how he was erased from the timestream. Spock returns to the present after using the Guardian Of Forever to discover that no one recalls who he is and the Enterprise's first officer is Commander Thelin, an Andorian. With a little research, Spock discovers that as a child, during the Vulcan Kahs-wan ordeal, he was killed. Determined to prevent this and restore the normal movements of time, Spock returns to the past and Vulcan using the Guardian Of Forever, where he assumes a new identity and becomes a mentor to his younger self. Interacting with his father and the young Spock, the elder Spock trains Spock to survive the wilderness survival rite of passage and restore the normal workings of time and space.

The essential problem with "Beyond The Farthest Star" is that it is derivative of Star Trek's "Day Of The Dove" (reviewed here!) or any number of hostile energy being episodes. It is a simple redress of an episode Star Trek has already done a few times and in this incarnation, there is nothing truly new or interesting to it to set it apart and make fans of Star Trek engaged. As for children, this might entertain them and the concepts explained in it are explained well enough that a child could understand it.

Similarly, fans of Star Trek will recognize the allusions to "The City On The Edge Of Forever" (reviewed here!) and "Journey To Babel" (reviewed here!). In addition to finally seeing Spock's childhood pet Selhat, which was mentioned in the latter of those episodes, it is refreshing to see Spock's father, Sarek, voiced by Mark Lenard, again.

Sort of. 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 "Yesteryear" and the space shots of the pod ship in "Beyond The Farthest Star" have a terrible two-dimensional quality to them. But specifically, the problem is that characters are hardly distinct in the animation style of the series and in "Yesteryear," this is a bit of a problem. Sarek and the elder Spock look virtually identical, save their outfits!

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 Uhura'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.

Both "Beyond The Farthest Star" and "Yesteryear" make use out of the benefit of animated creatures. In the first episode, an insectoid race is utilized and in "Yesteryear" there are a couple of Vulcan animals that would have been difficult to create plausibly on the live-action Star Trek. Here they are at least consistent with the rest of the animated Star Trek universe.

"Beyond The Farthest Star" involves almost no character development. Captain Kirk must heroically save the galaxy and prevent the spread of an evil that has endured for millions of years but that is pretty familiar. Indeed, if anything, "Beyond The Farthest Star" serves to simply reintroduce the essential Star Trek characters before degenerating into a very plot-heavy episode.

"Yesteryear," on the other hand excels in character and plot, except for the setup. How the past actually became altered the first time is never truly explored and as a result, the episode seems quite contrived. Once one overlooks that, though, the episode is fine as it works to explore the relationship between the young Spock and his peers and his father. Moreover, it is more or less in character and it tells a good story wherein the characters grow and develop.

"Yesteryear" involves fine voice acting and Leonard Nimoy and Mark Lenard give fine, expressive performances that clearly establish their characters and do it well and within the confines of their characters. Far more problematic acting occurs in "Beyond The Farthest Star." William Shatner as Captain Kirk is often melodramatic and presents many of his lines in a way that is over the top and does not match the intensity of the animation. The result is somewhat disturbing.

Others 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. The standout on these episodes is James Doohan who performs Scotty as well as various alien voices throughout and he does a good job at making enough of a different accent for each role such that viewers are not sitting and watching the episodes being distracted at Doohan talking to himself.

The pilot feels like a pilot, but "Yesteryear" goes a long way toward illustrating the potentials of the Star Trek: The Animated Series and despite what came after, the episode written by Star Trek alum D.C. Fontana strives for a consistency of character that is unrivaled in the series. These have minimal dumbing down of language to make it enjoyable and comprehensible for children.

[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!

"Beyond The Farthest Star" - 2/10
"Yesteryear" - 7.5/10
VHS - 4.5/10

For other Star Trek episode, movie or DVD reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

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

| | |

No comments:

Post a Comment