Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"Rise:" The Armageddon Craze Leads To A Mostly Bad Star Trek Voyager!

The Good: One conceptual moment, One character moment
The Bad: Virtually everything else.
The Basics: When Neelix and Tuvok are stuck in an elevator into space, they figure out why a planet is being bombarded with asteroids, in an unsatisfying episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

In advance of suspected summer blockbusters, television shows often try to capitalize on excitement over the big film by appealing to the same niche audience. I'll probably never forget how betrayed I felt as a fan of The X-Files when they did an episode with a man who could apparently freeze people with his touch shortly before Batman & Robin was released in theaters to capitalize on some of the excitement built up for Arnold Schwarzennegger playing Mr. Freeze. That gets me irked just thinking about it. Sadly, Star Trek: Voyager leapt onto the hype surrounding Armageddon and in the period before the film was released when asteroid collision stories were still considered fresh and new. And to be fair, with "Rise," there is something that is actually clever about the story, even if it is not enough to save this episode.

While Voyager ambles toward home, it encounters the colony world of the Nezu and responds to the plight of the Nezu colonists with a humanitarian mission. It seems their world is being bombarded with asteroids that are killing people and destroying the environment of the planet. Janeway sends Neelix and Tuvok to help the Nezu. In the process, Neelix and Tuvok's shuttlecraft is destroyed and the pair works to escape the planet in an orbital tether [think really, really, really long elevator . . . seriously].

Aboard the orbital tether, Neelix begins to suspect not all is as it seems and he begins to investigate with Tuvok. This unearths a devious plot designed to kill off the Nezu, a plot perpetrated by one of the people on board the tether . . .

First of all, "Rise" is just full of pretty ridiculous plot conceptions. First and foremost; what was Janeway thinking sending Neelix? Sure, Tuvok makes sense; the planet is essentially under attack, so it makes sense to send the security chief to check things out. And to accompany him . . . Neelix, a character with no genuine use to the ship now that it has passed beyond his range of places he had been (see "Fair Trade," reviewed here!).

Of course, the savvy viewer knows the truth; the writers and producers love pairing Neelix and Tuvok up. Despite what seemed like the ultimate Neelix/Tuvok episode with the second season's "Tuvix" (reviewed here!), the writers and producers seem determined to beat this dead horse. In short, the novelty is gone. Indeed, the most enjoyable aspect of the Neelix/Tuvok pairings that seem to come at least once a season now is not at all evident on the video or DVD; fans of the show who attended Star Trek conventions where Tim Russ (Tuvok) would be asked about the pairing miss his terse replies and his open loathing for being stuck in scenes with Ethan Phillips. Seriously; if Tim Russ has a genuine affection for Phillips that he hides beneath an air of contempt, woah is he the best actor ever! Every convention where fans ask him about working with Phillips, Russ bristles and looks uncomfortable. Ethan Phillips, for the record is a nice guy and I can't see why anyone would not want to work with him. Tim Russ seems otherwise quite nice, despite never - that I've seen or heard - speaking kindly of fellow castmate Phillips.

While this might appear to be a digression, it's not. In "Rise," Tuvok and Neelix are stuck together and this is the episode where Neelix finally gets to tell off Tuvok. Yes, the Vulcan security chief gets his comeuppance. Aboard the orbital tether, Neelix has his chance to finally declare what should have been obvious to Vulcans all along; while they are guided by logic, other beings are not. Neelix makes the decent observation that Tuvok is not unemotive, he is smug and often sarcastic. It's a moment that anyone who has ever gotten sick of famed Vulcan superiority in the Star Trek franchise will sit up and say "Hell Yea!" after. It's a nice moment for Neelix and I've never managed to ask Ethan Phillips how much of the performance was his own anger.

But, of course, the outburst comes aboard the orbital tether, which is the truly ridiculous plot conception of "Rise." Because the episode needed time to expose the cool plot twist and the predictable character element to facilitate it, Neelix and Tuvok cannot simply leave the planet. They need something to give them the appearance of leaving but not fast enough to actually get off the planet. The solution the writers came up with: the orbital tether.

The orbital tether, I wish I were joking about this, is the elevator ride from hell. This little box confines Neelix, Tuvok, and some Nezu colonists and it slowly rises from the planet along a guide wire up into the atmosphere. I suppose "Orbital tether" does sound better than "Atmospheric Elevator," but given that the two are essentially the same thing, this comes across as silly and ridiculous. This is the type of science fiction camp that makes people mock science fiction as a genre.

And honestly, there's not much more to "Rise" other than the pretty neat idea that is revealed to make the whole asteroid tie in justified. I won't ruin the surprise in case someone reading this review actually decides to watch the episode.

The problem is, outside one character outburst and a pretty nifty idea with flying rocks, the episode does not have much going for it. The pacing is way off and the time in the orbital tether feels like forever. The absence of the main crew working to solve the problem is more noticeable than usual. I'll admit, usually I'm the first to complain about an episode that does the tired a-plot, b-plot thing and possessed a boring b-plot that can't sustain itself. But in the case of "Rise," the a-plot is stretched mighty thin and it's a pretty simple idea dragged out far longer than it ought to have been.

Add to that, the episode is not exactly flush with great performances. Tim Russ portrays Tuvok with the same unflappable persona that he always does. There's nothing extraordinary about his playing Tuvok with the same stoic mannerisms as before. And in a similar vein, Ethan Phillips is playing Neelix with the same emotive core as every other episode. Sure, Neelix makes some interesting and valid points while throwing a temper tantrum, but Phillips does not add any genuine zest or nuance to the performance to differentiate it from any other Neelix moment. In short, the actor does not provide a real sense of why this outburst is coming now.

And in the larger scheme of things, any continuing conflict between Neelix and Tuvok seems forced following "Tuvix." In Tuvix, the two men shared a body and mind; when Dr. McCoy and Spock did essentially the same thing in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, the result was a deeper sense of camaraderie and understanding in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (reviewed here!). Why a similar principle isn't at work in this case is not obvious . . . well, unless the answer is the writers of "Rise" are sloppier than the feature film writers for The Voyage Home. Yeah, it may be true, but it's not nice to say aloud.

And yet, that's the likely verdict for those who bother to watch this episode. It's drawn out, it hinges on two moments that pass by ridiculously quickly and it's a shame. For all of the major movie lame tie-ins, this one had potential, if not to be good, at least not to suck as much.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Voyager - The Complete Third Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the entire season here!


For other Star Trek reviews, be sure to visit my Star Trek Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

| | |

No comments:

Post a Comment