Monday, October 17, 2011

More Of The Same And Child's Play Makes For Another Lame Pair Of Star Trek: The Animated Series Episodes!

The Good: Moments of concept in "The Infinite Vulcan"
The Bad: Terrible animation, Vocal presentations are mediocre, Completely recycled plot of one episode! Lack of character.
The Basics: When the Enterprise is overrun by giant Tribbles and Spock is cloned by a giant clone, adult viewers will be painfully underwhelmed by the presentation.

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 1," the episodes are both pretty bad, mostly because of their orientation toward appealing toward children as opposed to genuinely entertaining adults, making it easy to pass on both "More Troubles, More Tribbles" and "The Infinite Vulcan." One is a pretty straightforward rewrite of a previous Star Trek episode, the other is a rather disappointing outing involving a story very much geared toward children. The result is a pretty dismal pair of Star Trek: The Animated Series outings and one that it is easy to walk away from.

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.

"More Troubles, More Tribbles" finds the Enterprise rescuing a Federation citizen from a Klingon attack and in the process discovering the Klingons now possess a powerful long-range stasis weapon. Escorting robot ships filled with quatrotriticale, the Enterprise, though disabled by the Klingon captain Koloth's attacks, is able to rescue the Federation citizen and free itself from the power draining field. The citizen is Cyrano Jones and he comes aboard the Enterprise with new genetically-engineered Tribbles that do not reproduce en masse like the originals, they simply grow to be massive. The Enterprise soon finds itself overrun with giant Tribbles which allow them to learn of a new conspiracy to take Sherman's Planet.

"The Infinite Vulcan" finds Sulu poisoned while investigating a moving planet on the edge of explored space. He is cured by the plant race known as the Phylosians, who are a dying race. Having been poisoned by humanoids before, they are wary, despite having saved Sulu's life. The pacifistic Phylosians disable the weapons of those on their planet and then abduct Spock and turn him over to . . . a giant human, named Keniclius Five. Keniclius Five clones Spock using a procedure that nearly kills him, with the stated goal being . . . to have Spock Two impose peace on the galaxy,

Yes, it's hard not to shudder through the conceits of either episode in some ways. "More Troubles, More Tribbles" is a straightforward sequel to "The Trouble With Tribbles" (reviewed here!) and it is fairly unsurprising to most that when Star Trek: Deep Space Nine made a sequel to the popular episode with "Trials And Tribble-ations," it was of a generally higher caliber. "The Infinite Vulcan," on the other hand, is a reimagining in some ways of one of the lamer Star Trek episodes, "Spock's Brain" (reviewed here!). "The Infinite Vulcan" is powerfully derivative of "Spock's Brain" and the idea of Spock being abducted to serve a higher purpose pretty much against his will is familiar as a result and it's disappointing that this early in the Star Trek: The Animated Series that the show is already using recycled elements as a crutch. The result is much of both episodes - as a sequel and a rewrite - feels cheap and recycled. The plot is so simple with "The Infinite Vulcan" that it is hard to flesh it out beyond the basics and not give away the ending.

"The Infinite Vulcan" plays on the ignorance of children in order to make any real sense. Keniclius Five is a giant clone and the idea that cloning somehow changes the size of the copy is a concept that only a child would swallow without further explanation. But even more important, "The Infinite Vulcan" does not justify the need for Keniclius Five to be a giant in order to work among the Phylosians. It's just a gimmick because the Star Trek: The Animated Series CAN do it.

In fact the only truly clever or adult aspect of these two episodes comes in the Klingon weapon in "More Troubles, More Tribbles." The idea of a stasis field as a weapon - essentially a power-draining EMP - is a pretty cool concept. That the stasis field weapon is conceived as something that would require a massive amount of power to continually operate illustrates an adult-level of thought going into creating the episode and that is pretty much the exception to the rule in the piece. Because outside that, "More Troubles, More Tribbles" utilizes a pretty banal sense of what the Tribbles are and the animated puff balls are even more ridiculous than the original ones.

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 basic character design of both Cyrano Jones and Koloth, who were established characters from Star Trek adapted to the Star Trek: The Animated Series are disappointing. Jones looks vaguely like he did on "The Trouble With Tribbles," but Koloth does not. To be fair, one of the problems with the original episode was that Koloth was one of the least Klingon looking Klingons and as a result, the new color-corrected version of Koloth is decent. However, it does not lend itself to anything remotely resembling continuity for the franchise.

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. "More Troubles, More Tribbles" has space battles that are slightly more sophisticated than what was presented in Star Trek and are about as dimensional as a puppet show. "The Infinite Vulcan" makes use of creature design with the Phylosians. The plant creatures look like animated Triffids and they are intriguing, but they are pretty . . . cartoonish.

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. The series takes advantage of this with the Phylosians, but the problem in the animation is in the coloring. Everything is bright, 1970s coloring and there is no depth or shading. The Phylosians are bright green and the green is the same all over, with no sense of light and that - I am now realizing - is what pretty much guts any sense of reality to Star Trek: The Animated Series.

"More Troubles, More Tribbles" involves almost no character development. Captain Kirk must heroically save the galaxy and prevent a war but that is pretty familiar. As well, Spock and McCoy are relegated to supporting players and McCoy is quite underutilized. In "The Infinite Vulcan," we have Kirk giving yet another big speech about beliefs and diversity and it's hard not to feel like we've heard it before as he tries to convince Keniclius Five that a clone of Spock cannot impose peace on the galaxy. The only real character development in that episode comes from the guest character of Keniclius Five and his clone of Spock who develops enough to aid the original Spock.

In many ways, "The Infinite Vulcan," which was written by the Star Trek: The Animated Series-neglected Walter Koenig, has a pretty generic kid's cartoon plot version of duplicate a hero. It just seems 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.

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 that will more likely disappoint.

[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!

"More Troubles, More Tribbles" - 3.5/10
"The Infinite Vulcan" - 4/10
VHS - 4/10

For other television reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

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

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