Sunday, October 23, 2011

Two Lame Episodes Of Star Trek: The Animated Series Makes For A Dismal "Vol. 5!"

The Good: Moments of satanic acceptance in "The Magicks Of Megas-Tu," Message of working together
The Bad: Terrible animation, Vocal presentations are mediocre, Children's stories! Lack of character.
The Basics: When the Enterprise encounters a being that vaguely represents their notion of satan and is trapped in an alternate dimension, boredom follows, even for children.

Despite what some say about Star Trek: The Animated Series being the logical qualitative successor to Star Trek, there are times when the series just went in a direction that made it into what many assume an animated show is: kid's programming. With "Volume 5" of Star Trek: The Animated Series, which features "The Magicks Of Megas-Tu" and "The Timetrap," viewers are met with just that. These two episodes gut the series of any genuine connection to Star Trek and present episodes that are reduced in diction and plot to stories that are designed for children and the two episode video is easy to walk away from for adults.

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 Magicks Of Megas-Tu" has the Enterprise visiting the center of the galaxy to explore the nature of the Big Bang. Under the theory that the process by which matter was created in our universe might still be occurring, the Enterprise investigates an energy/matter maelstrom and is sucked into an alternate universe where the oxygen in the ship almost immediately disappears, leaving the crew desperate and near death. Then a creature named Lucien appears and magically makes it all better. Literally. In this universe, it appears, magic works and the Enterprise crew begins using it. This attracts the Megans, who take the form of humans from Salem during the witch trials and try the Enterprise crew and then Lucien for their use of magic.

"Timetrap" puts the Enterprise in the Delta Triangle, a Bermuda Triangle in space wherein the ship is caught alongside a massive collection of ships of various alien races. Led by a Romulan named Xerius who leads the pacifists in the dimension, known as Elysia, Captain Kirk is put on trial for attempting to destroy a Klingon ship that was attacking the Enterprise when they entered the dimension. Spock discovers that the Klingons have a clever new weapon and he and Klingon Captain Kor work together to get the ships free of the dimension while trying to rescue Captain Kirk as well.

First the positive: Lucien is essentially characterized physically as the pan-like representation of Lucifer and after defending the use of magic in the dimension in "The Magicks Of Megas-Tu," Kirk ends up defending Lucien for helping the Enterprise crew become familiar with the magical forces of the alternate universe. So, the open-mindedness toward wiccans and those who worship or respect Satan is a positive thing to come out of "The Magicks Of Megas-Tu." When push comes to shove, Star Trek: The Animated Series preaches tolerance and respect for all. Right on! And in "The Timetrap," the obvious moral is "we all need to work together."

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 "Bermuda triangle" 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 bringing on a representation of people's perception of Lucifer.

"The Timetrap" utilizes Kor, the fearsome Klingon from "Errand Of Mercy" (reviewed here!), who as the military governor of Organia was easily a match for Captain Kirk. Unrestrained by such restrictions in "The Timetrap," Kor ought to have been much more vicious than he is portrayed as. Except that this is children's programming all of a sudden and the Klingons are all snarl and no kill.

The children's programming idea, I suppose, is what allows the series to try to get away with the ridiculous notion of going to the center of the galaxy to watch the continual Big Bang in action. Fans of the Star Trek franchise debate how established Star Trek: The Animated Series is in terms of the cannon of the show and "The Magicks Of Megas-Tu" forces the issue. After all, in this episode, the center of the galaxy is a maelstrom with a matter-energy vortex. In Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (reviewed here!) , it is the prison for a massive malevolent godlike being. And for those who loathed The Final Frontier, "The Magicks Of Megas-Tu" is even worse!

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 and the basic character design of Kor, who was an established character from Star Trek adapted to the Star Trek: The Animated Series is passable, at best.

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. Lucien and the Salemite Megans could have been pulled off with Star Trek on the live action show, as their design is hardly complicated. The starships that appear in "The Timetrap" represent something a little more impressive on the animation front as Elysia supposedly contains 123 different races and a slew of starships trapped to form the community there. But, they're still animated ships and many of them look ridiculous.

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! Sulu, who conjures himself up a woman in "The Magicks Of Megas-Tu" is only a vague representation of the live action George Takei. 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 fails to capitalize on that.

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 believes in tolerance, who would have thunk? Well, anyone who watched most of Star Trek. Spock sees logic in working together with an adversary to get one another out of a mutual jam; I know I am shocked! Captain Kirk must heroically save his crew from death from magical beings and from being trapped in a place where time moves slowly and the ship would soon become uninhabitable. That's all Kirk consistently ever does! He's all about saving his ship, it's his character, there's no actual development here! As well, Spock and McCoy are relegated to supporting players and McCoy is quite underutilized.

Both episodes suffer because this volume has a pretty generic kid's cartoon plot version of the Bermuda Triangle and "generic magic" 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 Magicks Of Megas-Tu" - 3/10
"The Timetrap" - 2/10
VHS - 2.5/10

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

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

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