Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lame Children's Programming: Star Trek: The Animated Series Vol. 7!

The Good: Basic idea of "The Jihad" is not terrible
The Bad: Terrible animation, Vocal presentations are mediocre, Children's stories! Lack of character.
The Basics: When the Enterprise encounters a shrinking ray and Kirk and Spock must join a team to solve a mission, even kids will be bored.

One of the strongest arguments to be made against the Star Trek: The Animated Series is that it is largely children's programming. While some episodes rise above being simplistic and childish recreations of Star Trek, some of them are just children's programming. And those tend to be pretty unremarkable, if not outright terrible kid's programming. With the "Volume 7" VHS of the Star Trek: The Animated Series, "The Jihad" and "The Terratin Incident" expose viewers to some of the most formulaic children's programming made for the series. They are a terrific disappointment and it's hard to see how the argument that this is a worthy continuation of Star Trek could be made with episodes like this.

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.

"The Jihad" finds Spock and Kirk transported to a secret location where they become involved in a meeting with the ancient Vendala. It seems they have lost an artifact of incredible power called the Soul Of Skorr and they are imploring Kirk, Spock and their team of interstellar aliens to find the artifact on a crazy and dangerous planet where the Vendala believe it is. So, Kirk, Spock, a lockpick named Em/3/Green, a hunter named Lara, a reptile creature and the prince of Skorr, Tchar agree to the task and are transported to the mad world where the Soul of Skorr is. There they encounter lava rivers and obstacles and a floating fortress where they must get the Soul of Skorr before it poisons them against one another.

"The Terratin Incident" has the U.S.S. Enterprise visiting a dead star where it received a signal from a nearby planet that is thought to be uninhabited. The Enterprise is hit with a beam like lightening and soon the whole crew begins shrinking. Kirk risks everything to beam down to the planet, where he finds a race of Lilliputians who need his help.

First the positive: "The Jihad" has a very positive message. By working together peoples of different races and affiliations may achieve great things. It's a strong, positive message, even it if it Generic Cartoon Plot #2. Adversaries always have the "team up" episode where they must work together to solve their problems. Star Trek: The Animated Series seems particularly lazy with "The Jihad" as they already did a similar episode, "The Time Trap" (reviewed here!) where they had to work together with the Klingons to overcome a mutual obstacle.

But still, the message resonates and that is a positive thing about this video. Alas, that's pretty much it on the plus side.

The problem with both episodes is that they are 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. Virtually every Saturday morning cartoon does an "everyone has to work together" type episode where the whole point is everyone needs to work together and most of them do some play on religious tolerance as well, though most are not as extreme as using terminology like "jihad!" But hey, children in the 70s needed to know about holy wars, too.

But "The Jihad" otherwise follows a very formulaic plot for children's programming. There are obstacles and everyone gets to participate in reaching the goal and there is a somewhat simplistic resolution after a betrayal. The characters are all new and that makes it a little less interesting to fans of the franchise, because it is less "adversaries working together" and more "everyone has something to contribute." I suppose it was formatted with the various alien races because in the 23rd Century there aren't many lockpickers in StarFleet.

The children's programming idea, I suppose, is what allows the series to try to get away with the ridiculous notion of the other episode's conceit: the shrinking people episode. "The Terratin Incident" is just plain awful. It is amateurish, not at all exciting and it very much plays down to the notion of Star Trek: The Animated Series as a kid's program. In "The Terratin Incident," by the time the Lilliputians are introduced even children will be tuning out, it is such a weak and predictable and silly story.

There is nothing particularly engaging for adults in either of these episodes.

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 battles, which were not possible in Star Trek. While there are no significant starship actions, save the ship being struck by the magic lightning in "The Terratin Incident," "The Jihad" is pretty rich in character design. The alien races that accompany Kirk and Spock are intriguing and include giant bird people and they would have been difficult to pull off with Star Trek on the live action show, as their design is fairly complicated. Now, by "fairly complicated," I mean that they look like birds and reptiles and they have a scale that would have been prohibitive to make for a live-action episode. Sadly, they are still pretty clunky 70's animation.

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 and this set does that, even if they still look somewhat off.

Neither episode involves genuine character development. For sure, there are morals that are obvious pretty much from the first frame of each episode. Wow, Captain Kirk will help out aliens in need. Actually, both episodes in this set deal with that! It's Kirk to the rescue while his crew shrinks and Kirk and Spock working together to help an alien race in need. And the latter is not even a selfless act; Kirk is concerned the loss of the Soul Of Skorr could lead to an interstellar war. So, again, it's not any sort of extreme character growth that Kirk is willing to help out. In fact, structurally, the episode has a lot in common with the live-action episode "The Savage Curtain" (reviewed here!) so it's even less surprising to fans of the franchise. As well, anyone who watched most of Star Trek will know Spock sees logic in working together with an adversary to get one another out of a mutual jam. McCoy is quite underutilized in these episodes, but that's pretty much par for the Animated Series course!

Both episodes suffer because this volume has a pretty generic kid's cartoon plot version of the "everyone work together" and "generic shrinking" story. They just seem to come up a lot in cartoons and this does not actually have any sort of real twist to it.

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!

"The Jihad" - 3/10
"The Terratin Incident" - 0/10
VHS - 1.5/10

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

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

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