Why ‘Gotham’ Is Awesome


MINOR SPOILER WARNING: This post talks about general character direction, minor plot points, settings, etc. for Fox’s Gotham. If you know Batman lore, then you’re probably safe to read on, otherwise head back to the Batcave.

I consider myself a superhero fan, but not a super-fan. That is to say my love of the genre comes more from movies and TV than it does from knowing every little detail about a particular character’s origin, backstory and development. I haven’t read Batman comics since I was a kid and I don’t play the Batman video games. Perhaps these are some of the reasons why I’m enjoying Fox’s new show – Gotham so much. The show takes place in its name-sake city, just after the brutal murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne and plays out like a gritty crime drama in the biggest, grittiest metropolis of them all, Gotham City.

Like Smallville that tracked the formative years of Clark Kent on his road to becoming Superman, Gotham gives us a sneak peek inside the young mind of Master Bruce Wayne, his guardian Alfred, Detective Jim Gordon and host of future super-villains that will one day make life a living hell for the denizens of Gotham. The comparison to Smallville ends there however. As is true so often, Batman’s story is far more interesting than Superman’s ever hoped to be. I’m a HUGE Superman fan but for some reason I could never could get into Smallville. On the other hand, Gotham has me firmly in its grasp. There are a bunch of reasons for this and I just wanted to outline a few of them here for people who are thinking about watching but who are rightly skeptical. The show just had its mid-season finale which, if you’ve not watched so far, is a great time to dive in and catch up.

Young Bruce Wayne & Alfred

Without Bruce Wayne, there’s no Batman and even though Gotham certainly plays out like a crime drama, full of colorful criminals, crooked cops and political corruption, at its heart the story is about how Bruce eventually becomes the Dark Knight. Perhaps more than any other entry thus far, Gotham gives us a unique insight into the mind of the recently-orphaned Wayne and what makes him tick. From the comics (and countless portrayals in movies & TV) we know Bruce’s parents are killed in front of him in cold blood, but from there we typically jump years ahead, learn how he discovers the Batcave, travels the world training in martial arts and eventually returns to Gotham to don the familiar cape and cowl… and that’s it.

With a weekly TV series like Gotham, writers have a unique opportunity to explore Bruce’s character like never before and show us why he changes from that frightened kid in the alley to the powerful, dark vigilante he’s destined to be. Bruce becomes obsessed with finding the person who not only killed his parents, but also learning about the crime network that made it possible in the first place. He quickly realizes he has the resources to keep tabs on just about everyone, laying the foundation for becoming a master detective in the process. He also begins to test himself, holding his breath in the family pool for as long as possible, balancing precariously on railings and more so he can become stronger both mentally and physically.

Perhaps most importantly, his legal guardian, the loyal Alfred, is there every step of the way to protect him and try and help him make sense of the tragedy that surrounds him. In subtle ways, Alfred unknowingly guides Bruce to become his future Bat-self. When Bruce is bullied at school, Alfred not only teaches him how to physically defend himself, but also makes it directly possible for Bruce to confront his attacker. All of these scenes give depth and meaning to the familiar struggles Alfred endures as Bruce fights for his life as an adult. In the universe of Gotham, Alfred has become the ultimate enabler and in my opinion, it’s the single best reason to watch the show.

The Rogue’s Gallery

Another awesome aspect of Gotham is the entire ensemble cast of characters and getting to explore the intricate web of relationships they have with each other, and ultimately Batman. The show’s primary focus on the fresh, young Detective, Jim Gordon is appropriate and Ben McKenzie does a fine turn as does Donal Logue as Gordon’s partner, Harvey Bullock. Gordon is the one good cop in a bad city which makes the monumental task of cleaning up Gotham seem even more impossible. There are crime bosses like the delightfully villainous Fish Mooney played by Jada Pinkett Smith, and of course Oswald “Penguin” Cobblepot played wonderfully by Robin Lord Taylor who steals more scenes than a pickpocket steals wallets.

There’s a corrupt mayor, police commissioner, hired mercenaries and an odd assortment of crazies that Gotham just seems to breed like some twisted, evil puppy mill. It’s easy to see why the city needs a protector but until Bruce comes of age, Gordon must fill the role for the time being. Sometimes Gotham hits us over the head one too many times with the name of a character just to make sure we “get” who they are, but it’s a concession I’m willing to grant them at this early stage in the game.

Overall, the interplay of the large cast of characters is interesting and contains enough twists and turns to keep us guessing, which I like. I’m also looking forward to Morena Baccarin joining the cast as Dr. Leslie Thompkins after the mid-season break. Dr. Thompkins is an important figure in Gotham lore and should provide some much-needed matriarchal balance in Bruce’s tumultuous life. If there’s one criticism of the cast of characters, it’s that the producers rely a bit too much on the comics. I like meeting characters I’m not familiar with that have been created specifically for the TV show like Fish Mooney. Not every bad (or good) guy has to come from the comics.

Production Design

From the cavernous Gotham PD interior, to the on-location shooting in and around New York City, to the thoughtful costume design and especially the amazing CGI long-shots of the city’s waterfront, the visual design behind the Gotham is inspired. Perhaps more than any other TV show I’ve watched in recent memory, Gotham seems like an actual place. The city feels epic in scope and situated just perfectly between retro and modern styling (there are no smartphones, flat-panel monitors, etc) for today’s television audiences.

Each week, Gotham looks and feels more like a film than a TV show. It also manages to strike a great balance between shots designed specifically for television but inspired by the comics. The city itself feels huge and sprawling and a character in its own right, which was one of the things I loved most about Twin Peaks, and that’s a good thing. I especially love the long, sideways tracking shots that give us glimpses down between the city’s towering buildings. The CGI and lighting in these shots is masterful and totally realistic. Gotham’s top-notch production design sets it far above other superhero TV entries like Lois & Clark, Smallville, and Arrow and makes the stories that much more convincing. In fact, I’d go so far as to say only Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s universe feels as fully realized as Gotham’s.

Conclusion

There are lots of great reasons to watch Gotham, but perhaps the best one is that the show manages to make perfect sense of the fantastical world of Batman. Watching the stories unfold and seeing how the characters evolve from week to week brings info focus the incredible mythos that is the Dark Knight. Bob Kane created a wonderful character in Batman 75 years ago, but in all that time we’ve really only learned a little about what motivates Bruce Wayne to do what he does as well as those who surround him. Fox’s Gotham shines a bright light in that dark corner of the comic book world and the results are fun, unexpected and visually stunning. I only hope the show lasts long enough to watch Bruce grow up into the hero he’s destined to be.

I’ve Got An ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Theory


SPOILER WARNING: This post contains spoilers for ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. If you’ve not watched up through S2, ep 6, back away from the blog post! I’m about to talk about stuff you probably don’t wanna know. You’ve been warned!

This season of ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D has really been firing on all cylinders. After a slow and rocky start, the show started to really come into it’s own after the universe shaking events in Captain America: The Winter Soldier debuted in theaters. Since the fateful emergence of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s nemesis, Hydra and the subsequent dissolution of the agency, the drama has really been amped up for Coulson and his now, tiny, rag-tag team.

One of the best story lines we were introduced to at the start of S2 was Agent Jemma Simmons’ infiltration of Hydra in order to gain critical intelligence on their base of operations. Simmons (played brilliantly by Elizabeth Henstridge) worked as a scientist in one of Hydra’s top labs, flying under the radar of the big bads who, as we learned, have a penchant for brainwashing talented and gifted people to turn them into weapons against S.H.I.E.L.D. Jemma managed to feed intelligence reports to Coulson until she was discovered and rooted out in ep 5 – A Hen in the Wolf House. Thankfully she escaped unharmed and un-brainwashed – or DID she?

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Here’s my theory – Before she escaped with the help of Mockinbird “Bobbi” Morse, I think Jemma was indeed seized and put through Hydra’s brainwashing program and turned into an eventual mole against Colson, May, Skye and even the now-damanged Fitz. There are a bunch of breadcrumb clues that will make this seem obvious later on. Firstly, Ward tells Skye in the brig that Hydra’s brainwashing is only done in special cases, they have to have a certain type of personality for it to take. Jemma has always tried to be a good agent, following orders and making her superiors proud of her, in other worse she’s perfectly suited to obey programmed commands.

Second, when Morse returns Simmons to the team, Simmons thanks Coulson personally for getting her out before she was made to “Happily comply with all their commands”. Unless I missed something, there’s no way Simmons would know about Hydra’s brainwashing program, let alone the key trigger phrase “You will comply”, unless she had actually been through it herself. Trust me, she’s been turned into a sleeper agent behind our backs, and it’s going to be awesome.

The writers of S.H.I.E.L.D. have demonstrated their willingness to pull the rug out from under us as they did with the fantastic realization that Ward was a secret agent of Hydra in season 1. I think they have something similar planned with Simmons in S2. I’m not saying she’ll re-join the ranks of Hydra permanently, but I do think her story line and that of her close friend, Fitz will intersect in a most dramatic way. At some point, Fitz is going to return to his fully-functioning self and wouldn’t it be the biggest kicker if just as that happened, he and the rest of the team was betrayed by the re-programmed Jemma? Fitz would go literally off the deep end, plunging even further than he did in that box at the end of season 1. The kind of dramatic climax that represents would be off the charts and one that would make for some seriously awesome TV. Or perhaps Fitz will realize Jemma has been brainwashed and his need to protect and cure her will finally coax his brain back into working order.

Any way you cut it, this season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is shaping up in fantastic fashion, with tons of action, hidden secrets and wonderful character development. I’ve enjoyed the addition of the new agents, Kyle MacLachian’s turn as Skye’s creepy father and Ward staying a bad guy and not being turned back to the side of right. I can’t wait to see what happens next, but in the meantime, I’ll be keeping one eye squarely focused on Simmons in the weeks ahead and so should you.

Space:1999 + LEGO = WIN!

Builder Joe Klang recently posted images from his LEGO construction book Build Your Own Galaxy in which he features a few builds based on the cult 70′s science fiction TV series Space: 1999 and if you’re a fan of the show like I am, the results will have you beaming. Joe built incredibly detailed models of Eagle One, a large portion of Moonbase Alpha Main Missions and even minifig versions of the command crew itself including Dr. Russell, Commander Koenig and Maya. What I wouldn’t give to have his LEGO Eagle One sitting on my desk, ready for lift off. I’ve been obsessed with Space: 1999 ever since I was a boy and seeing Joe’s creations, crafted out of LEGO’s brought me right back to my youth. Bravo, Joe!

Hat tip to The Brothers Brick for this post.

One Perfect Shot: Star Trek’s ‘The Conscience of the King’

The Enterprise is called to Planet Q by Dr. Thomas Leighton, a research scientist and friend of Captain Kirk. Leighton’s suspects Anton Karidian, the leader of a Shakespearean acting troupe currently on the planet, is, in fact, Kodos “the Executioner”. Kodos was the former governor of the earth colony Tarsus IV, and was responsible for the massacre of over 4000 people—including members of both Kirk’s and Leighton’s families—20 years before. Kirk decides to take the traveling troupe of actors onboard and try and discover if Karidian is truly Kodos.

Our one perfect shot comes as Karidian performs Shakespeare’s Hamlet on board the Enterprise, as he peers out from behind the metaphorical mask he’s been wearing for the past twenty years. ‘Conscience of the King‘ is a wonderful dramatic episode of Star Trek, one cited by writer and BSG creator, Ron Moore as one of his all-time favorites. There’s a great deal of allegory in the writing and its connection to Shakespeare which makes it all the more compelling as a murder mystery.

Our next episode cleverly brings the deep-sea submarine hunts of WWII to outer space in ‘The Balance of Terror’.

How to Get Sh*t-Faced Watching SyFy’s ‘Faceoff’

I admit to loving the SyFy network’s makeup reality show Faceoff. Budding young artists square off against each other each week to try and create the most elaborate, fantastic and convincing characters they can. In the last few seasons however, Faceoff has slipped into a formulaic approach where we repeatedly experience the same tropes over and over again.

It’s gotten so bad I started thinking it might actually make a great drinking game. I’m not a drinking man by nature, but if I was, a Faceoff Drinking Game would get me shit-faced (see what I did there?) super-quick. Next time you host a party and want to get sloshed with your friends, cue up any episode of Faceoff and drink whenever you spy any of the show’s oh-so-familiar trappings. You might even get drunk enough not to care that SyFy cancelled Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge. :-(

• A contestant is “excited” about this week’s Spotlight Challenge

• Two contestants who don’t work well together, naturally get paired up

• One person on a team strongly disagrees with the design direction of the other but is too timid to say anything until it’s too late

• Contestant’s makeup specialty is the very subject of this week’s challenge – zombies, vampires, steampunk, etc. (this person usually ends up being the one to go home)

• A contestant doesn’t have a “clear idea” for the direction of their makeup

• Contestant listens to sage advice from makeup master, Michael Westmore, but decides to ignore it and proceed with their own poorly designed creation

• Contestant uses a material / process they have little or no experience with

• One of the contestant’s molds “gets stuck” (take a bonus shot if said contestant starts crying on camera)

• Stuck mold miraculously freed in the last few minutes of day 2

• One of the models has an allergic reaction to a material used in their makeup

• Contestant leaves painting until Last Looks

Glenn Hetrick’s outfit is especially goth/vampire/over the top

• One of the judges complains about the poor asymmetry of a makeup

• One of the judges points out a contestant’s makeup has little or nothing to do with this week’s challenge

• The rest of the contestants give out a collective sign of “Oh no!” when they find out which one of their talent-less peers is going home this week

Star Trek: Next Gen Wallpapers for iPhone 6

UPDATE: Both the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus versions have been updated to correct some minor alignment issues, took a shot at a version for Windows Phone as well as added a new more “authentic” Next Gen color scheme to choose from.

If you enjoy Star Trek as much as I do then you’ll love these free, Next Generation mobile wallpapers I designed for use with iOS. I’ve updated my original LCARS Star Trek lock screen for the brand new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus so you can be the geeky envy of all your friends. For those of you still running the smaller iPhone 5, don’t worry, there’s even a version here for you!

I’ve been a huge fan of Star Trek Production Designer, Michael Okuda since day one and this project was my way of saying “Thank you!” for the wonderful, futuristic operating system that Next Gen fans know and love as LCARS. With the iPhone 6 Plus approaching the size of actual padds from Next Gen, it only made sense to bring this amazing aesthetic to the palm of our hands.

How to download and apply the wallpapers on iOS 8:

1) Click to view the wallpaper that best fits your device:

• iPhone 5 Series – Original / TNG Colors
• iPhone 6 – Original / TNG Colors
• iPhone 6 Plus – Original / TNG Colors

• Windows Phone – Original / TNG Colors
I don’t own a Windows Phone and make no promises about how this version will work for you. These are provided as is!

2) Tap & hold on the image in mobile Safari & save it to your photo library

3) Open Photos, view the image then tap the Share button in the lower left

4) Scroll to the right in the Share menu and tap Use as Wallpaper

5) Pinch Zoom OUT on the image to size it exactly to the screen

6) Turn Perspective Zoom OFF

7) Tap Set > Set Lock Screen

That’s it! Sleep/lock your iPhone and the next time you activate it, you can pretend you’re Captain Picard himself receiving an important message from Starfeet Command. I hope you enjoy this fun treat & help spread the word via Twitter and Facebook. Engage and enjoy!

Uhura’s Mysterious Armband

You have to understand, I have seen every episode of the original Star Trek series dozens of times so when I spot something I’ve never seen before it’s like receiving a wonderful, geeky present. I recently came across startrekhistory.com, an amazing repository of original Star Trek deleted scenes, unseen photos and production resources. There’s an entire section of the site dedicated to the construction of the original 11-ft model of the Starship Enterprise that no Trek fan should miss. There’s also a section devoted to deleted scenes and visual miscellany, one of which comes from the classic episode The City on the Edge of Forever – Uhura’s mysterious black armband.

I must admit that even after nearly 40 years of watching Star Trek, I had never seen this costume element before. The band is worn on her left arm and is only shown in the opening sequence. What is it? Why is it there for only this one scene? Is it simply a goof or something else that we never got to see? The authors at StarTrekHistory theorize it might have been a velcro strap that Uhura could attach her famous ear piece to when not in use, similar to how the crew wore their phasers and communicators. That theory sounds pretty plausible to me and since it never appears in any other scene in the original series, we’ll probably never know. Tiny details like Uhura’s armband may seem like minutia to the uninitiated, but to life-long Star Trek fans like myself they bring nerdy joy. I LOVE that even after all this time, I’m still discovering things about Star Trek I never knew. Utterly fascinating.

One Perfect Shot: TOS’s ‘The Menagerie Pt. I & II’

There are a few shots from the original series that fans like myself consider highly iconic. Today’s one perfect shot from the two-part episode The Menagerie is one such image. The shot features a medieval-looking castle on the planet of Rigel VII where Captain Pike (in the foreground) is forced to fight a large, hulking Kalar. This wonderful frame features a matte painting by artist Albert Whitlock that was actually improved for the re-mastered version of the original series.

The Menagerie’s skillful use of scenes and elements from the original, un-aired Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was Gene Roddenberry’s way of taking some of the pressure off the show as the schedule of the original series started to slip from week to week. By creating essentially a “flashback story” with a dramatically shorter script (just 64 pages long, shorter than the scripts for most single-part episodes), Roddenberry was able to give the production and writing teams crucial time to get back on schedule with NBC for episodes currently in production.

The castle would again be re-used in season 3′s Requiem for Methuselah as the lavish home of the immortal recluse Mr. Flint. When the re-mastered version of Requiem aired, the original shot from The Cage was replaced by an all-new, CGI version of Flint’s home on Holberg 917G.

Next up, Captain Kirk discovers the play’s the thing wherein he’ll catch The Conscience of the King.

Star Trek: The Next Generation S7 on Blu Ray

All good things must come to an end (see what I did there?) and such is the case with the high-definition conversion of Star Trek: The Next Generation on blu-ray. The final season 7 has just been announced and to geeks like myself, this is positively great news. Not so much for the episodes in S7, but hopefully because this means CBS will be that much closer to starting work on HD versions of my favorite Trek series – Deep Space Nine. All kidding aside, there are some great stories in season 7 including ‘The Pegasus’ ‘Attached’ and of course ‘All Good Things’. This final set also promises to be chock full of cast extras that should be worth the price of admission.

Head over to Amazon to pre-order your copy of Next Generation, season 7 on blu-ray today. Yes, this is an affiliate link and yes, I’d really appreciate it if you pre-ordered from my blog. Thanks for your support! :-)

‘Star Trek’ Actress Arlene Martel Dies at 78

This past week has been tremendously sad as we’ve lost several notable stars of the big and small screen. Arlene Martel, who Star Trek fans will remember for playing Spock’s Vulcan bride, T’Pring in “Amok Time,” died on Tuesday, August 12, 2014. She won’t be recognized by nearly as many people as Robin Williams or Lauren Becall but to Trek fans like myself, she holds a special place in our hearts. I’m not afraid to say I had a huge crush on Martel as T’Pring as a boy and although she appeared in other TV series including Hogan’s Heroes, Bewitched, The Wild, Wild West and Battlestar Galactica (1978), I’ll always remember her as the coldly logical vulcan who managed to outsmart even Spock. Rest in peace, Arlene.

One Perfect Shot: TOS ‘The Corbomite Maneuver’

Back in 2006 CBS Home Video began airing the first episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series in their newly re-mastered format. These episodes featured improved CGI effects, HD picture quality and professional sound mixing and have become my absolute favorite examples of how remastering a classic property such as Star Trek, should be approached. Mike Okuda and the team at CBS focused on creating visuals that enhanced the originals; more realistic planets, more detail on the Enterprise and beautifully rendered alien landscapes. The team produced the kinds of shots the original show creators would have used themselves if possible. The remastered original series is a testament to restraint and good visual design and if you want a great example, look no further than ‘The Corbomite Maneuver’.

Our one perfect shot features the Enterprise dwarfed by the Fesarius, the flagship of the “First Federation”, an immense ship of size and power. Captain Kirk and crew make first contact with Balok, commander of the Fesarius and employ a cunning bluff to avoid certain destruction. As a kid, this shot of the Enterprise and Fesarius always gave me chills and the newly remastered version adds a definite sense of wonder and awe. The detail on the surface of the Fesarius is now geometric in nature and the entire ship seems to pulse with limitless energy. I also love how we can see some of the internal structure of Balok’s craft which takes visual cues from geodesic dome designs like EPCOT’s Spaceship Earth. The re-mastered special effects in The Corbomite Maneuver are impressive, beautiful and purposeful which adds up to the perfect combination for one perfect shot.

Notably, the other shot I considered for this episode depicts one of the most iconic (and low-tech) aliens from the entire series, the puppet of Balok’s alter ego himself. Created by production designer Wah Chang, this supremely alien character could have easily been replaced with a CG version of the primitive puppet, but Okuda and team wisely let him stand in his original form. Chang’s original concept sketch for Balok is wonderful and his depiction on the small screen was often featured in the closing credits of Star Trek episodes each week. I almost chose Balok for this episode’s one perfect shot, but in the end the beauty and attention to detail of the remastered Fesarius won out.

Next up, Spock kidnaps the Enterprise in a bold attempt to help his former Captain in ‘The Menagerie Pt. I & II

Remembering Robin Williams

I and many other people are feeling a deep loss at the sad news that funny man and Oscar-winning dramatic actor, Robin Williams, has died at the age of 63. From my introduction to Robin as Mork from Ork on Happy Days to his break-out stand-up performance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, I followed his career at every step of the way and enjoyed everything he appeared in. Some of my favorite Williams’ performances include Good Morning, Vietnam, his amazing voice over work as the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin, Dead Poet’s Society, Awakenings, Toys and The Birdcage. It pains me to say it but there are many films he’s appeared in that I’ve never seen. With his passing I think I’ll have to correct that oversight and re-discover some of Robin’s incredible work anew.

There are only a few celebrities & personal heroes who, when they pass, I will truly grieve for. Robin Williams is one such person. He brought so much happiness, laughter and light into our lives it’s difficult to imagine a world without him. Personally, I’ll be focusing on all those wonderful moments and characters, all the belly-laughs and chuckles and even the tears he conjured as he entertained and transfixed us. He was a bright star in the lives of those friends and fans who loved him and he will be dearly missed.

In Memory of Babylon 5

For the past week or so I’ve begun re-watching the groundbreaking scifi TV show, Babylon 5 from episode one. A few years back I began watching the series when it was available on Netflix streaming and I managed to get up to season 3 when it was unceremoniously dropped before I could finish. My friend Corey has let me borrow his entire Bab 5 DVD collection and this time I’m going to make it all the way through to the end.

Re-watching the series I’ve begun to remember just how strong the characters and story arc was, especially for 90′s scifi television. My first love will always be Deep Space Nine, but I do understand the fan’s love of Babylon 5, its mythos and definitive beginning, middle and end storytelling structure. It’s also easy to see the appeal of the series thanks to the chemistry between the actors and actresses who played their respective parts to a tee. I’m particularly fond of Claudia Christian as Ivanova and Andreas Katsulas as G’Kar. Sadly Katsulas passed away in 2006, as did the series’ original lead Michael O’Hare in 2012 at the age of 60. In fact, many of the original cast of Babylon 5 is no longer with us which is a sad footnote in Babylon 5′s history.

I recently came across a wonderful memorial video that series’ creator Straczynski put together for the 2013 Phoenix Comicon Convention. I’ll admit it made me quite misty and I just wanted to share. If you love Babylon 5 and the people who helped bring it to life, this short video is a great way to remember them. I’m very much looking forward to seeing the entire series unfold from start to finish and finally learning what becomes of Sheridan, G’Kar, Londo and the rest. Hopefully with the recent announcement of a possible big-screen re-boot of Babylon 5 coming our way, new fans will discover this amazing scifi universe and its characters.

Breaking Bad’s Long, Long Rap Sheet

With AMC’s production of Better Call Saul in full swing, and Breaking Bad nominated for several Emmy awards, it seems like a good time to reflect on the show. Enter this cool infographic that outlines each of the main character’s criminal charges from the series’ run. Walter and his pals sure where busy little criminal bees, that’s for sure. Personally, I can’t wait for Better Call Saul to hit the airwaves, hopefully complete with key cameos from Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul. As I’m sure Walter would say, you can never have enough of a good thing. Click the image to see the entire info graphic.

One Perfect Shot: TOS ‘Dagger of the Mind’

While on a routine cargo drop to the Tantalus Penal Colony, the Enterprise takes on a stowaway, the violently insane Dr. Simon Van Gelder. The episode’s one perfect shot depicts Spock preparing for the series’ very first Vulcan mind-meld while Dr. McCoy looks on. This shot is quintessential original series Trek – the concerned look on McCoy’s face as Spock is hunched over in deep meditation speaks volumes about the two’s relationship with each other. They team up to perform a risky procedure in the hopes of uncovering what’s really happening at Doctor Tristan Adams’ institute of horrors, and manage to save Jim in the process. Dagger of the Mind is one of the very first episodes I remember loving and remains a personal favorite to this day.

Next time Kirk demonstrates to Spock poker’s advantages over chess in ‘The Corbomite Maneuver‘.

One Perfect Shot: Star Trek’s ‘Miri’

In the entire history of Star Trek, episodes that feature stories centered on children are some of the weaker installments, but season one’s ‘Miri‘ is the exception to the rule. After responding to a planetary distress call, the Enterprise landing party contracts a virulent disease that will quickly kill them unless a cure can be found. All of the adults, or “grups” as they are called have died leaving the children or “onlies” behind to fend for themselves. When the children enter puberty and start to become adults, they too contract the disease and eventually die a painful, violent death. The onlies distrust all grups and steal the landing party’s communicators, cutting off contact with the Enterprise along with any hope of finding an antidote. Kirk must convince one of the eldest onlies, a girl named Miri, to help him retrieve their communicators if they are to survive.

The episode’s one perfect shot is of the title character, Miri, as she spies on Kirk, Rand and the rest of the Enterprise grups desperately trying to isolate the disease that wiped out her entire planet. Miri is played wonderfully by actress Kim Darby who went onto star in a number of other TV and movie rolls including the original True Grit with John Wayne, Better Off Dead and Don’t Be Afriad of the Dark. I love this shot of Miri half-hidden behind a doorway as she tries to decide if the adults from another world have come to help or hurt her and her friends.

A sad production note: I learned while researching this episode that after filming was complete, at the friday-night after party for the cast, actress Grace Lee Whitney was sexually assaulted by a member of the show whom she only identifies as “The Executive” in her autobiography The Longest Trek: My Tour of the Galaxy. Horribly, she was fired from Star Trek soon afterwards and didn’t appear in the franchise again until the feature films. I shutter to think which Executive could have done this to her, but no matter who it was, it surely is one of the darkest footnotes in Star Trek’s long history.

Next time Spock prepares a historic first in the series – the Vulcan mind meld in ‘Dagger of the Mind‘!

One Perfect Shot: TOS ‘What Are Little Girls Made Of?’

The crew of the Enterprise goes in search of Roger Korby, a famous scientist missing for over five years and gets much more than they bargained for in season one’s ‘What Are Little Girls Made Of?‘. Korby has chanced upon an extinct civilization that long ago learned how to transfer human consciousness into the body of androids. He intends to bring this technology to the galaxy, by hook or by crook, and tries to convince Captain Kirk and his former fiancée, Nurse Christine Chapel of the importance of his discoveries with a personal demonstration.

Our one perfect shot for ‘Little Girls…” takes place as Korby forcefully straps Kirk into the android duplication machine, a robotic blank on one side, the naked captain on the other. The device spins up to speed and when it winds back down an exact replica of the Captain appears before Christine, one so perfect even she can’t tell them apart! I love how the physical prop of the duplication machine bisects the screen for the camera and creates a mirror image. I’m sure its design made the process of optical composting easier for the special effects team, but beyond that it just looks plain cool. Shatner as Kirk is naked and more vulnerable that we’ve ever seen him in the series which gives the whole scene a tense, Twilight Zonish vibe.

While I was picking the shot for this episode I was once again struck with the amazing use of color from scene to scene. Taking a cue from the fine folks over at Dribbble.com, I’ve created a fun color palette based on the hues from the selected shot. It’s fascinating to see how the individual colors form a harmonious palette that makes up a typical frame from Trek. I won’t be doing this for every post but I think it would be fun to create them for key shots from time to time and get a better sense of the vibrant use of color in the original Star Trek.

Finally, I felt I just had to post at least one of the incredible re-mastered special effects shots from this episode. I’m taking all of my perfect shots from Netflix streaming and this works great because this is the re-mastered HD version of the series that Paramount released on blu ray a few years back. I’ll go into more detail about the fantastic improvements in special effects the team at CBS managed to achieve, but for now, just take a minute and click on this epic shot of the Enterprise. For a Star Trek fan like myself, it’s simply stunning.

Next time we visit another exact duplicate, but this time it’s an entire planet Earth in ‘Miri‘.

One Perfect Shot: TOS ‘Mudd’s Women’

Our one perfect shot for ‘Mudd’s Women‘ introduces us to Eve, Ruth and Magda, Harry Mudd’s traveling companions and “cargo” destined to become the wives of settlers on the planet Ophiuchus III. The bewitching trio are rescued from their damaged freighter and step off the transporter pad quickly ensnaring the male members of the Enterprise crew thanks to something called the Venus drug which creates illusory beauty. The episode is notable mainly for the introduction of the character of Harry Mudd himself who eventually returns to taunt the Enterprise crew in S2, Ep 12 ‘I, Mudd‘.

I have to admit, selecting this one was child’s play. It’s a great example of how the series’ production designers and directors portrayed many of the beautiful women who graced the small screen during the show’s three year run. Be they exotic, alien femme fatales or capable crew members of the Starship Enterprise, women on Star Trek always seemed to have perfect lighting, makeup, hair and framing. They were also typically shot using a soft-focus filter to highlight the femininity of the actresses, a technique often used in 60′s television but rarely seen today.

Tomorrow we find out just What Are Little Girls Made Of? and something tells me it won’t be sugar, spice and everything nice.

One Perfect Shot: TOS ‘The Enemy Within’

The Enemy Within is a dramatic examination of the human psyche and all the good and bad things that go along with it. When Kirk is split into two halves by a freak transporter accident, Jim quickly finds he can’t function as Captain without the aggressive, animalistic nature of his opposite self. The episode is interesting on a number of levels, most especially how the interplay between the “big three” – Kirk, Spock and McCoy changes as Jim’s assertive side wanders the ship in search of Saurian brandy.

As a kid, I always found episodes where the main characters behaved unusually the most difficult to watch and ‘Enemy’ falls squarely into this category. The normal, sure-footed Kirk is given to second-guessing every order as he slowly but surely turns into a mere shadow of his former self. Just as painful is the “evil” Captain who drinks, throws fits of uncontrollable anger and almost manages to rape Yeoman Janice Rand. To his credit, William Shatner does a remarkable job of making the two halves seem like completely different people. One smarmy and creepy, the other gentle and timid. Neither is our Captain however, and the quicker we get them back together, the better.

This episode’s perfect shot comes as Kirk and Spock descend into Engineering to try and safely capture Jim’s ‘dark’ self. I love how this shot is framed with the two characters conversing between the massive engines of the Starship Enterprise. There are many important duo’s in Star Trek, the most beloved of which is Kirk and Spock. Here we see the pair working together yet again to save not only the crew but Captain Kirk’s very existence. Trust me, it won’t be the last time.

Next we find out if beauty does indeed come in a pill, courtesy of Mudd’s Women.

One Perfect Shot: Star Trek’s ‘The Naked Time’

You were expecting Sulu with his rapier perhaps? When fans think of season one’s ‘The Naked Time’, the image that most likely comes to mind is indeed George Takei as Sulu in full Errol Flynn mode. For myself however, the episode is much better represented by the shot above where Spock struggles with his inner self after contracting the Psi 2000 virus. The story gave Leonard Nimoy the first notable opportunity in the series’ run for viewers to get a glimpse of the emotional struggles Spock faces as a half-vulcan, half-human being.

Spock stumbles into the briefing room and futilely attempts to get control of his emotions. Overcome with waves of sadness and anger, he clutches the computer, desperate to hold onto his logical, analytical side, both literally and figuratively. The sickness overcomes Spock until he witnesses how it has effected his friend and Captain, Jim Kirk. The amount of character development that goes on in this short scene is amazing and therefore earns a spot in my One Perfect Shot roster.

Next on the slate, two halves of Captain Kirk don’t necessarily make a whole in ‘The Enemy Within‘.