The Good: This time, you've got me.
The Bad: Two VERY lame episodes, Terrible animation, Vocal presentations are mediocre, Children's stories! Lack of character.
The Basics: When Kirk and Spock are put in a zoo and Uhura is captured by robots, viewers just shudder at the Star Trek: The Animated Adventures.
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 8" VHS of the Star Trek: The Animated Series, "The Eye Of The Beholder" and "Once Upon A Planet" subject viewers to some of the worst that the Star Trek: The Animated Series could do, with formulaic children's programming and cheap rewrites. 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 1974 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 Eye Of The Beholder" finds the Enterprise searching for survivors of the U.S.S. Ariel around Lactra VII. Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down to the planet where they encounter the giant slug-like Lactrans, who are telepathic and highly evolved. The Lactrans put the landing party in their zoo, where they find the survivors of the other starship, one of whom is seriously wounded. As they work to escape, Spock comes to realize just how powerful the Lactrans are.
"Once Upon A Planet" has the U.S.S. Enterprise visiting the "Shore Leave" planet where Dr. McCoy and Uhura almost immediately find that things have changed. Uhura is abducted by robots and McCoy barely makes it back to the ship alive when the Queen Of Hearts starts chasing him. Kirk and Spock mount a rescue for Uhura while trying to figure out what has happened on the planet and how to make it safe again for visitors. Unfortunately, they soon make a discovery that reveals how difficult it could be for them to restore the planet to its working order.
First the positive: "Once Upon A Planet" attempts to establish a decent sense of continuity by returning to the planet from "Shore Leave" (reviewed here!). The idea of more continuity in the series is a good thing to me. Moreover, the use of Uhura - even if she is yet again insulted - is always a good thing. The opportunity for Uhura to participate and try to develop her character is a worthwhile endeavor.
Finally, the idea that the Enterprise and its crew might well be outmatched, even by a bunch of twenty-foot slugs, is a good thing. In Star Trek, the Enterprise was more frequently than we'd like to remember outmatched by an adversary. Having that carry over into the Star Trek: The Animated Series works quite well, especially when the more powerful force is not a bland hostile.
Unlike other episodes of Star Trek: The Animated Series, these two episodes are pretty low on moral. Whenever the series does a particularly lame children's programming-type episode, usually it falls into one of the typical "obvious moral" categories. So, for example, the viewer might be plagued with "everybody needs to work together" or "different types of people all have value" stories, which are fine but formulaic. Instead, in this volume, the viewer is subjected to the even lesser plot formula. Like earlier episodes that manage to be the generic "Bermuda Triangle" episode, "Once Upon A Planet" is "robots run amuck!" plot #2.
And that seems cheap for the Star Trek franchise.
"The Eye Of The Beholder" is a little tougher to classify (other than just "boring"), but it essentially is a rewrite of "The Cage" (reviewed here!) without the panache. It is lacking in a strong message or an original plot and the result is twenty-two minutes of "ho-hum" boredom.
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 a "robots run amuck" type episode.
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 in these episodes, there is a decent use of character design in both.
The Lactrans and the robots 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 giant slugs and spindly robots that couldn't have had people in suits 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. Uhura takes the brunt of insults in "Once Upon A Planet" again, but the robots get their comeuppance, so it's not all bad. But the episodes do not enhance or progress Kirk, Spock, McCoy or any of the supplemental characters' character. Indeed, the only notable aspect is that we are treated to Lt. Arex, the three armed, three legged helmsman who takes command of the ship when Kirk is off ship.
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 and Lt. Arex, 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 essentialxly 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!
"Eye Of The Beholder" - 2/10
"Once Upon A Planet" - 3/10
VHS - 2/10
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© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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