Archives For StarTrek

tos binging

February 15, 2016

Decal_29With my knee in its healing phase there’s not a lot for me to do outside of personal rest and home PT. For whatever reason I started to binge watch the original series Star Trek on Netflix, the series I came close to memorizing back in the mid-sixties when I was in the equivalent of middle school in Atlanta, Ga.

As a kid I’d gotten a small reel-to-reel GE tape recorder one Christmas, and I quickly pressed it into use recording the audio from each episode. I eventually had two stacks of tapes, one for season one, and one for season two. I never recorded season three; after spending one evening watching “Spock’s Brain,” I never turned Star Trek back on again because that episode was so bad. I spent the rest of the third season replaying my audio tapes, imagining the visual portion of Star Trek while the audio and music played from my tape player. After the original series was canceled I concentrated on Apollo up through 1972, when I graduated from high school and headed off to college. Those tapes got recycled into other recordings, and eventually into the trash when they were worn out.

Over the years that’ve followed I’ve watched some of the movies (“The Wrath of Kahn”), some episodes from the spin-offs like Next Generation, and even gone back to watch the occasional rerun of the original series. To this day I still can’t watch “Spock’s Brain” or any of the third season episodes.

These past few days were an opportunity to kill some time by binge watching TOS. I’ve had a Netflix account now for years, starting back when you got physical DVDs in the mail. The physical media’s long gone, but I still stream. So I fired up my iPhone 6s+, pulled up the Netflix app, and went slumming through all those old episodes.

The version of TOS that Netflix has are the updated episodes where CBS went back and redid nearly all the old special effects. Planets really look like planets, especially when that planet is Earth (“Tomorrow is Yesterday,” “Assignment: Earth”), the spaceships were cleaned up, as were the movements of ships in space. With all the science fiction that has been produced since TOS first aired, it only made sense to update the effects. And I certainly appreciated those updates.

The only problem is that those cleanups made all the episodes look that much worse for their age. What was entertaining and exciting for a middle-schooler in the 1960s now seems worn, frayed around the edges. The plot holes are too obvious and too numerous to mention, cause and effect too silly. I grew up during the period of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, watching real astronauts fly into space. It was watching real rocketry that made me believe we might have something like Star Trek in the future. When it all got shut down and replaced with the Shuttle, Star Trek became part of the “kid stuff” I left behind. Along with a lot of other silly Hollywood science fiction.

I’m glad I got a chance to skip through all those old episodes. I think I finally got the very last vestiges completely out of my system.

I “created” this graphic back in 2005 using other resources and Photoshop. At that time there was a mashup of Bill Gates smiling face and the Locutus of Borg costume. That graphic seems to have appeared around the 1997/1998 time frame when the DoJ started suing Microsoft for monopoly practices. Keep in mind that the ST:TNG two-part episode “The Best of Both Worlds,” where Locutus appeared the first time, aired in 1990. Anyway…

The underlying Borg cube itself was created by a very talented graphic artist who was either a student or working (or both) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (computer graphics, computer art?). He’d been creating a series of Star Trek models, and then setting them up in a series of beautiful visualizations which he’d posted on the Web. That Borg cube is one of his works. Unfortunately, having grabbed this back around 2005, I no longer have any idea who he is or where he’s currently at. I would very much like to know, if for no other reason than to provide proper attribution.

I found the Microsoft logo on the Microsoft site as one of their official logos in SVG format. It was available for download, so I downloaded that. Using Photoshop and layers, I put the Borg cube in the lowest layer, then put the logo on the next layer. I then adjusted the logo in size and location, adding transparency to the logo, so that it appeared to blend into the side. Export to JPEG, and post. Somewhere in all my stuff I think I still have that Photoshop file, but I can’t find it. It has, after all, been a good 10 years, and once I created this conglomeration I quickly moved on to other things.

I also created this at a time when I was filled with considerably more┬árighteous indignation against all concerned parties. It has tapered off considerable over the last decade. Microsoft has long since ceased being the fearsome monolithic force the Gnu-ists would like to continue to think it is. As history now notes, two years later Apple introduced the first iPhone on 29 June 2007, during which we were entertained by Steve Ballmer’s clueless dismissal of the iPhone. Fast forward to today and Microsoft is little more than an historical footnote in mobile and is boxed into the dwindling PC market, everybody has Android or iOS smartphones, and people are now writing about how Microsoft “is the company to watch in 2016.” How far the once mighty have fallen.

Which is to say that the graphic is irrelevant. It no longer has the visceral punch it might have once had due to both Microsoft’s and the Star Trek franchise’s slide into historical irrelevancy. While Microsoft might have a chance of coming back, I don’t ever see that happening with Star Trek. But that’s another story…

Romulan Weapon of Doom

The Star Trek original series “Balance of Terror” (S1E14) is considered one of that series’ best episodes (the best is always open to debate). The episode’s many strengths lie in its stars and co-stars, such as Mark Leonard who played the Romulan Commander and Paul Comi, who played Lt. Stiles, as well as the multiple plot threads carefully woven into the story, such as the dangers of prejudice (Stiles) and the horrors and fruitlessness of war. And yet, there is this one issue I have with the story; the use of the Romulan plasma weapon.

While I’ve read descriptions of the story that call the device a plasma torpedo, it appears in fact to be a directed energy weapon, a plasma canon that requires nearly all the Romulan ship’s power to fire. It’s an interesting plot twist because it requires the Romulan ship to go from invisibility to visibility before firing the weapon. Both weapons, one defensive, the other offensive, require too much power to operate together. It’s implied several times in the story that the ship and its new weapons are prototypes, with not quite all the kinks worked out. Unfortunately future writers failed to note this important plot detail and made the cloaked-and-invisible-ship-appears-before-firing shtick a boring part of the Star Trek canon.

The problem I have is what happens after the weapon is fired at the Enterprise (see screen shot above). For static, unmoving defenses the plasma weapon is ideal, and it’s used to full and horrifying effect against every asteroid post it goes up against. It works in a strait line, the one that intersects the ship and the stationary target. However, the Enterprise is not a stationary target unless its captain is willing to make it such. The Enterprise is much more nimble than the Romulan ship in a straight-up ship to ship fight. Thus, when the Romulans opened fire with their plasma weapon, all the Enterprise had to do was move out of the way at a sharp angle out of the direction of fire instead of moving in reverse. They’re all in space, and space is three dimensional. The idea of backing up in reverse, under warp, was nothing more than a crude way to build drama in the show. Enterprise was in no real danger from that ball of plasma except from the decision by Kirk to just back up.

The other problem I have with the episode is the Romulan Commander’s decision to leisurely head home after the final attack on Outpost 4. It’s one thing to slowly sneak in under the invisibility cloak, but once all tactical actions had been performed, the captain should have dropped the invisibility cloak and made all possible speed back to the Neutral Zone and Romulan space. They knew that the cloaking device “consumes much fuel.” Perhaps the Romulan commander had such a deep death wish he really did want to die by Federation starship.

No matter the flaws, in the end it doesn’t really matter. It’s just a TV show, written on a tight schedule and budget, at a time when a lot of this was new. Calling out flaws some forty-plus years later is a bit unfair. This is more along the lines of lessons learned; what might I do different if I had the opportunity to redo this particular story.