Friday, April 01, 2022

Star Trek -- Season 2 Episode 24 (The Ultimate Computer)

People are prone to mistakes.  Computers, we’re told, aren’t.  People might push the wrong button, but computers will execute instructions perfectly.  That’s where M-5 comes in.  It’s the latest creation of Dr. Richard Daystrom, a genius in artificial intelligence.  The M-5 computer can operate an entire starship with minimal crew, allowing those that would be needed to do less-dangerous work.

Captain Kirk doesn’t like it.  Dr. McCoy doesn’t like it.  Spock at least defends the computer, but is mostly interested in seeing how it performs.  At first, it performs well.  The initial test maneuver seems to go well enough.  It becomes increasingly clear, though, that the machine is a threat.  It even kills an ensign who was ordered to shut it off.  That doesn’t look good for the M-5.

To make matters worse, the Enterprise is set to go up against four other ships in what’s supposed to be a war game.  Those on the other ships think there will be simulated fire, but the M-5 destroys an automated ship that it wasn’t supposed to.  There’s no way to warn those on the other ships, making it look like Kirk is acting out because he might be out of a job.

In the end, M-5 stands down and the day is saved.  Thousands of Starfleet officers won’t be out of a job just yet.  However, one does wonder to what end automation is good for.  Sure, you can send probes and whatnot to chart planets.  However, at some point, you’d think someone would have to beam down to a planet. 

There are some things you can’t automate.  First contact is made by people.  It also doesn’t do a lot of good to discover new planets just to know about them.  Find an interesting planet and someone’s going to want to see it.

Also, as Daystrom found out the hard way, a computer is only as good as its programming.  There still needs to be someone calling the shots.  Machines don’t have the compassion or wisdom of a person.

It does seem odd that they’d use the flagship.  I probably would have used a smaller ship to test and maybe have the Enterprise come to the rescue.  One thing about Star Trek is that machines always fail spectacularly.  (Yes, it makes for good drama, but it does wear thin at times.)

There are those that will resist progress.  Progress doesn’t always mean better, though.  As Spock points out, computers are merely more efficient.  This doesn’t mean that they’re desirable or better.  It’s worth noting that neither Daystrom nor M-5 are villains.  They weren’t acting out of malice.  However, it was right to question them in this context.  Automation isn’t always the way to go.

 

 IMDb page



Thursday, March 31, 2022

Star Trek -- Season 2 Episode 23 (The Omega Glory)

Looking back on the original Star Trek, it’s amazing how many episodes featured races that were portrayed as being rather simple.  On occasion, as with The Omega Glory, the races were called savages outright.  However, it was odd to find a civilization at least on par with 20th-century humans.

In the case of The Omega Glory, The Enterprise is looking for another Federation ship, the Exeter, commanded by Captain Ron Tracey.  They find the ship in orbit of Omega IV only to discover the crew turned to dust.  When Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the obligatory Red Shirt beam down to the planet, they find Captain Tracey, in uniform, interacting with the local population.

There are two warring groups on the planet:  The Yangs and the Kohms.  (The Yangs look European while the Kohms appear more Asian.)  Kirk finds that Tracey has been helping the Kohms, in direct violation of the Prime Directive.  Why?  They can live for more than a thousand years.  Tracey has found the Fountain of Youth.  As long as the landing party stays on the planet, they’re safe.  If they leave, they’ll turn to dust like the Exeter’s crew.

Kirk agrees to stay, if only to find a cure.  It soon becomes clear that something is up.  The Kohms and the Yangs are actually not all that different from the humans of Earth.  In fact, they have a constitution.  Or, should I say, The United States Constitution.  (As much as I hate to give away the big reveal, I do want to mention this later.)

Omega IV saw a nasty war which caused the aforementioned disease.  This apparently has little to do with anything.  Their longevity and immunity to the disease are little more than how their race developed.  Tracey is denied his magic youth serum and the Omegans are given a new understanding of how freedom works.

This brings me to The Constitution.  I find it incredibly odd that a planet would develop, word for word, a document that we also developed.  Star Trek was good at using allegory, even if it was thinly veiled.  However, this comes off as heavy-handed lecturing.  We even get a speech at the end about how freedom is meaningless unless everyone has it.

It’s a shame because it’s a message that is still relevant today.  Had it been done better, maybe with a reworded document, it could have been a decent episode.  I remember first watching the episode and wondering if Omega IV didn’t have founding fathers, exactly like ours, working out the document.  It would imply that both their world and ours had very similar histories.

I think with a little more thought and nuance, this could have even been a great episode.  There are too many negatives for me to get over, such as the delineation between races.  The episode is a little too blunt to be effective.  I’m used to a more subtle approach with my stories.

 

IMDb page

 


Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Star Trek -- Season 2 Episode 22 (By Any Other Name)

I’ve been watching a lot of the original Star Trek episodes so that I might review them for this blog.  It’s amazing how little I seem to have forgotten about the episodes.  Then again, there are a lot of factors that contribute to that.  I’ve seen most of them numerous times.  I had also reviewed a lot of the episodes when I was writing on Epinions.  One might say that the episodes were well-written, but I suspect that it has more to do with how straightforward the writing was.

Take “By Any Other Name”.  The Enterprise responds to a distress call from an uncharted planet, only to discover several humanoid aliens.  The landing party is quickly captured and told that the aliens, who call themselves the Kelvans, require the ship to return to The Andromeda Galaxy.  (Their ship was destroyed by an energy barrier surrounding The Milky Way.)

It will take approximately 300 years to get back to the Kelvans’ home, which will require a generational ship.  It’s discovered that the Kelvans are actually and advanced species with hundreds of tentacles and the ability to control each independently.  They took human form for convenience and have accepted that the return trip will be generational.  Their mission is to find planets suitable for colonization, as the Kelvins need to conquer.

Because of the Kelvan’s technology, the crew of the Enterprise is easily subdued, but Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Scotty are able to turn the tables and incapacitate the Kelvans.  By taking on human form, the Kelvans have also taken on human weaknesses, which the four officers can exploit.

It’s a bit of an odd episode.  I don’t want to say that it’s simplistic, but it had me asking a lot of questions.  First, the 300-year trip means that the Enterprise would get back at least 600 years after the Kelvans first left.  It would take another 300 years for a colonization ship to return to the Milky Way.

Add to this the fact that the Kelvans didn’t really look around much.  Granted, they have Starfleet’s flagship, which would likely contain more than enough information to get the Kelvan government started, but you’d think they’d want to look around first.  At least check to see how accurate the information is.  It took them three centuries to get here.  They could at least spend a few days to check things out and fill in a few gaps.

Also, as humans, there would likely be ten or so generations of humans.  Even if the Kelvans reproduce as humans, their descendants will have no loyalty to the Kelvan government.  What’s to stop the second or third generation down the line from turning the ship around?  The entire plan doesn’t seem to be that robust.

There are some memorable scenes and the acting is good, but it wasn’t one of the better episodes, in my opinion.  It could have done with some more detail.  I get some of the constraints, like making the Kelvans human.  It would have been difficult to present them as hundred-tentacled creatures.  But you’d think they’d be able to build a faster ship.

The biggest shame is that we never find out what happened to The Kelvans.  Those that took human form are left on that original planet.  They present as perfect humans, but it’s still a limited population.  Also, a probe is launched back to Andromeda.  It will take 300 years, presumably, so we’ll never know what becomes of those waiting for the would-be invasion party.  Perhaps with all the new Star Trek series on Paramount+, we’ll get some answers.

 

IMDb page

 

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Star Trek -- Season 2 Episode 21 (Patterns of Force)

The episode begins with The Enterprise visiting the planet Ekos to check in on a former history professor of Kirks, John Gill, only to be greeted by a nuclear weapon.  Neither Ekos nor its neighboring planet, Zeon, should have that level of technology.  The only possible theory is that Gill somehow contaminated the planet’s progression, which is unlikely, given the Prime Directive.  Even as an observer, Gill would have been bound not to interfere with either planet’s development.

When Kirk and Spock beam down, they find Ekosians in full Nazi gear.  You wouldn’t think that fascism would be a good form of government.  Even if you removed any malice or ill intent, that kind of rigidity doesn’t usually end well.  But, there it is.  In fact, there are a lot of uncanny parallels, like Ekos subjugating Zeon as a lesser culture.  They even salute each other and have an eerily familiar flag.

Kirk and Spock eventually find out that Gill is the Führer.  When they do find Gill, they find him in a heavily sedated state; Deputy Führer Melakon is really giving the orders.  Kirk, Spock and McCoy are able to bring down the government and save the day, leaving the planets to rebuild their society.

There is an apparent simplification to the episode.  It’s odd that so much would be similar, even if Gill only borrowed the basic government.  His thinking was that the German Nazi state was the most efficient one Earth ever knew.  And it actually worked until Melakon gained control.  You’d think that Gill wouldn’t have mentioned the flag or the salute, but the Ekosians developed them anyway.

I’d imagine that this was done to leave nothing to the imagination, which is unusual for several reasons.  First, science fiction can usually create effective metaphors for things like this.  It doesn’t have to be Russia versus America.  It could be the Klingons versus The Federation.  To be so direct isn’t necessary.  In fact, it could be problematic, as displaying swastikas in Germany is illegal.  I doubt this episode would have gone over well in the European market.  I would have thought that at least the flag, if not the salute, would have been changed.

I’m not sure what the process was on developing this episode.  Given that the episode aired in 1968, a lot of Americans would probably still remember World War II.  I would think it would be a sensitive subject for people.  Even though it’s direct, I did find it to be an interesting episode on a lot of levels.  In fact, my only real complaint about the episode was that it was too obvious.  It was also a little too long, with Kirk and Spock having to escape from prison several times.

The shame of it is that the episode doesn’t really go into too much detail.  It’s not clear exactly what Gill was thinking.  Yes, it was an efficient state and all forms of government can be corrupted, but why even interfere in the first place?  What did Gill gain from it?  It’s not really explored why fascism would necessarily go downhill so quickly.  True, it only takes the one bad apple, but was Melakon a bad apple to begin with or was he corrupted by power and opportunity?  I feel like a bit of the nuance was lost in this episode, but it’s still a watchable episode.

 

IMDb page

 

Sunday, March 27, 2022

The Twiligh Zone -- Season 2 Episode 17 (Twenty Two)

There were some episodes of The Twilight Zone that seemed to pack a lot in.  They seemed like feature-length movies condensed to fit into a half-hour time slot.  Others seemed to drag on.  It stands to reason that not every episode would be a winner.  There were 156 of them.  Still, it seemed like Twenty Two could have done a little better.

The episode is about a woman named Liz Powell, who is recuperating in a hospital.  She keeps having these weird dreams where she finds herself in the morgue.  The woman there says, “Room for one more, honey.”  She’s not hurt in any of the dreams, nor does she seem to be in any danger.  It still freaks her out.

Her doctor tries to reassure her by introducing Liz to the morgue’s night nurse, who isn’t the same woman as in Liz’s dream.  Liz is still uneasy, but is eventually released.  It’s not until Liz tries to board Flight 22.  When she sees a flight attendant who matches the woman from her dream, Liz runs back to the terminal.  It’s a good thing, too, as the plane explodes.

It’s a rather simple episode by Twilight Zone standards.  Yes, we get the twist ending and all, but there didn’t seem to be as much buildup.  Part of the problem for me is that I’ve seen many of the episodes more than a few times.  Even if I don’t remember the episodes in their entirety, I usually have some sense of what’s going to happen.

Therein lies the problem.  This is one of the episodes that has little replay value.  It’s not particularly entertaining.  It also doesn’t have much of an ironic twist.  It’s more like an urban legend that was acted out.  It’s safe enough in terms of violence and language that it would be safe for most middle-school students.  This is basically going to be one of those free-period things a teacher might have on standby.  Maybe show it to your kid to waste a half an hour.  However, there’s a reason that I don’t normally think of this episode first when it comes to The Twilight Zone.

 

IMDb page

 

Tuesday, February 08, 2022

Lost In Space (2018) (Season 3)

Everything comes to an end.  Even if a show is done well, there’s a time for that show to conclude, preferably on its own terms.  When I started watching Lost in Space, I honestly wondered how many seasons it would have.  You could only keep up the pretense for so long.  You can’t really stay lost in one place forever and hopping around would get tedious.

So, in the third season, the adults at least make it to Alpha Centauri.  However, the children are left to fend for themselves on a strange planet.  Oh, and they’ve still got that robot threat going on.  They want their FTL drive back and they’re not going to stop until they get it.

I’m a little conflicted about this season.  On the one hand, it was nice to have a resolution.  Most of the characters had a happy life ahead of them.  If a main character didn’t end up in a better place, at least you felt confident that they got what they dissevered.

On the other hand, I’ve never really liked a season-long story arc.  Lost in Space usually felt like it was setting up a cliffhanger each episode and the third season was no different.  In fact, some of the children have to climb up a sheer rock face.  And the adults are facing an unstoppable force while having to worry that their kids are ok.

Another problem with the third season is that we don’t get all the answers that we might have hoped for.  The children are on a planet that once had the aliens who built the robots, but not a lot of answers are forthcoming.  In fact, we get very little.  That aspect of the story is focused more on the children needing to get off the planet immediately, or else they’ll be stranded there forever.  So, there’s no real time to study anything.  In fact, it’s not clear why our Robot can’t master English.  (He can talk to other robots in their native language, although I don’t know if it’s their own language or that of their builders.)

A big part of the problem for me was the gap between seasons.  I lost a few of the details, which I had to remember as the third season went along.  It might have helped to watch all 28 episodes at once.  I don’t know.  I probably still would have had a lot of questions.

There is also a sense of disappointment.  We get to see the aliens, but not really.  We get a sense of what the robots were for, but not really.  There’s a sense of suspense, but not really.  It gets to where it’s like a piece of gum that’s stretched too long.  You have some substance  on either end, but it’s a little thin in the middle.

I can see certain things.  It would likely have been too expensive or involved to come up with an alien race, especially if was CGI.  And we don’t really need it for this story arc.  I could see that as a prequel series, though.  Maybe we find out exactly how the robots overthrew their masters.  Maybe we also find out why the robots are so single-minded in getting their tech back.

I really don’t see there being a fourth season of Lost in Space, though.  It would have to be some other project at this point.  That’s not to say that there aren’t other stories.  It’s just that I think this chapter is done.

 

IMDb page

 

 

Sunday, February 06, 2022

Don't Look Up (2021)

There are a lot of conspiracy-minded people.  To be fair, it’s hard to see COVID.  Global warming can come off as an esoteric threat, since we can’t actually touch it, so it’s easier to brush it off.  What would you do, though, if a comet were headed to Earth and was almost certain to wipe out all life on the planet?

That’s the problem that Kate Dibiasky and Dr. Randall Mindy have.  She discovers said comet and he does the math, only to realize that it’s going to hit our planet.  They set off to warn everyone, only to discover that a good chunk of the population doesn’t seem to believe it.  To be fair, not everyone has a giant telescope in their back yards to confirm the observations.  The math is also a little complicated.  There’s also very little the average person could do on their own, anyway.

Enter the politicians and the business giants and the media.  It’s not even a matter of belief at that point.  Those in charge don’t seem to understand or care.  Those in business only see dollar signs.  As for the media, it’s all about fluff and who has the latest hit song.

I’d like to call this satire, but I can’t.  I’m not sure exactly what the movie was going for.  It’s like a bad copy of a mediocre movie.  Instead of nuance, it seemed more like the movie was trying to be obvious about it.  This is why you don’t use the direct path.  You go for allegory.  You go for subtlety.  I feel like I got a lecture.

And yes, it bothers me that this is probably how it would play out, at least in terms of the broad strokes.  Many of the characters are caricatures, but I feel like if a comet could come up and shake our hands before destroying our civilization and we wouldn’t know what was going on.  That’s beside the point.  It seems like the movie was going for something big, but manage to miss the mark.  It felt like I was being talked down to.

The only character I had any feeling for was Dibiasky.  She at least seemed normal and I was saddened to think how much effort she had put into her education.  She would have gotten her doctorate if not for the whole comet thing.  All of that work was now meaningless.

Many of the other characters were unlikeable.  Yes, I realize it’s difficult to parody Trump.  He’s almost his own parody at this point.  But the president here is so indifferent that it detracts from the movie.  The movie also portrays scientists as unable to speak directly to the public.  Those that do speak to the public are too concerned with the next news cycle to really process and get the message out.  Everything is reduced to its simplest form.  It’s the opposite of depth.  By the end, I found myself rooting for the comet.

 

IMDb page

 


Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)

I don’t imagine it’s easy to maintain a franchise that knocks it out of the park every time.  Star Trek and Star Wars each had entries that fans didn’t like.  Of course, both of those span countless entries.  Godzilla vs. Kong is only the fourth entry in Legendary’s MonsterVerse and it already seems like it’s just going through the motions.

The movie picks up five years after the previous entry where Kong is being monitored by Monarch.  He has this massive habitat that looks like his home island, but he knows it’s not real.  Meanwhile, Godzilla attacks an Apex facility for reasons not entirely clear.  And Apex’s CEO gets a former Monarch scientist to lead an expedition into the Hollow Earth.   Add to this podcaster Bernie, who suspects some sort of nefarious plot, which wouldn’t be out of line.

As the title of the movie implies, everything builds up to an epic battle where Godzilla and Kong throw each other around in an attempt to level Hong Kong.  (Seriously, though.  I feel bad for the people who have to come home only to realize that their building was leveled.  Most of the inhabitants of the city seem apathetic to the battle.)

A lot of the movie, you can see coming.  Apex’s representative on the Hollow Earth expedition is after a power source and basically goes the evil-corporate-selfish route at the first opportunity.  Kong and Godzilla seem to do battle in the middle of the movie, mostly as a way to show how clever Kong’s handlers are by having him play dead.

There were a few things I didn’t understand.  First, why did they need Kong to lead them into Hollow Earth?  It seemed more like a way to put everyone in danger by having them transport Kong in the first place.

The movie also has Bernie break into Apex with Madison and Josh.  You may remember Madison from Godzilla: King of the Monsters.  Josh is the annoying friend who seem to exist for the sole purpose of making me want to slap Josh.  They could have left him out and it would have been a much better movie.  Even having Bernie as the conspiracy-spewing inside man was a bit much.  He seemed to be in all the right places to keep the story moving along.

The movie seems like it’s a bridge between the previous movies and another movie, but I’m not sure what another movie would look like.  Would they be introducing new monsters?  Would it be another battle between Godzilla and Kong?  IMDb doesn’t list any future titles, but it could be a possibility.  I will say that the CGI was good, but I don’t hold out much hope for the next installment’s plot.

 

IMDb page