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The Chronicle: News from the Edge (2001-2002): Final Thoughts on the Series   Leave a comment

Above:  Rena Sofer as Grace Hall

A Screen Capture

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The entire series is available here, for free.

My recommended viewing order, hyperlinks to posts about individual episodes, and my notes on the internal chronology of the series are here.

The Chronicle:  News from the Edge (July 14, 2001-March 22, 2002) was one of those series that should have lasted longer than it did.  Its home was the Sci-Fi Channel, before that channel became Syfy.  The Chronicle, alas, did not garner sufficient ratings to get a second season.  The series, therefore, ended on a cliffhanger, as some other science fiction series I watched also did.  Who else remembers Earth 2 (1994-1995) and The Invasion (2005-2006)?  And let us never, ever speak of The Starlost (1973-1974), who probably plunged headlong into that “Class G solar star” because their would-be saviors were idiots.

The Chronicle had potential.  The actors delivered otherwise ridiculous lines well.  Stories were wonderfully unlikely yet, in the universe of the series, true.  The concept of the stories at a tabloid modeled on the Weekly World News being true provided fodder for a series that could have run for seasons.  The major characters fit well in that crazy world.  Jon Polito’s Donald Stern was properly authoritative and mysterious.  Curtis Armstong, as Sal the Pig-Boy, stole most of the scenes he was in.  Reno Wilson, as Wes Freewald, quoted Star Wars movies better than anyone else. Chad Willett, as Tucker Burns, fit into the bizarre universe of the World Chronicle very quickly.  And Rena Sofer was really cute.

At the end of the last episode, A Snitch in Time, our characters were at turning points.  Grace Hall had run off with boyfriend Louis Phillips, in the witness protection program of the twenty-fourth century, to 1945.  Tucker Burns had broken up with Kristen Martin.  Detective Hector Garibaldi had served a warrant on Donald Stern, who he suspected falsely for murders.  What would have happened at the beginning of the second season that never was?

I have a few ideas, all of them rooted in the only season produced.

  1. Donald Stern, the series established, is very well-connected.  All he needs to do to get himself and all others falsely accused out of legal troubles and cause Garibaldi to have many regrets is to place one telephone call.  That plot line would have resolved in the first episode of the second season.  Why not?  The U.S. Marine Corps owes him favors.  Stern taught Pope John Paul II how to ski.  Stern can also intercede with the Supreme Pontiff to get an audience for someone.  And who knows how many U.S. government black operations programs he Stern has been involved in over the decades, perhaps centuries? And he has alien devices and weapons in the basement.
  2. Grace Hall would not have returned.  She had found her soulmate, a time traveler from the twenty-fourth century.  Grace had long feared that no man would accept her after hearing her stories of alien abductions, so she kept ending relationships after three weeks, at most, for years.  Dennis stuck with Grace for the better part of a year before he moved to Canada off-screen.  Grace Hall and Louis Phillips were supposed to be in relationship.
  3. Tucker Burns may have remained apart from Kristen Martin.  His previous girlfriend, Shawna Fuchs, may never have accepted The Chronicle as an accurate publication, but, at worst, she would have blithely tolerated it.  Kristen, however, briefly considered accepting the truth of what she had witnessed before choosing to reject that truth.  That decision helped to set the stage for her cooperation with Detective Garibaldi.  So did her love for Tucker, though.  Tucker should have recognized that, to be fair to Kristen.

I prefer to write about series I like.  Nevertheless, I do not pretend that any series is perfect.  A review of my episode posts reveals some gently critical comments.  I would have preferred to skip some of the episodes produced and seen episodes about stories either mentioned in passing or that constituted subplots.  For example, I wish there had been an episode about the woman who grew horns after contracting Mad Cow Disease.  And an episode devoted to that man who channeled living actors with dead television careers would have a hoot.

C’est la vie.

I will return to The Chronicle one day.  It is a series worthy of repeated viewings.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 10, 2020 COMMON ERA

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The Chronicle: News from the Edge–Episode 20–The King is Undead (2002)   1 comment

Above:  Confirmed Sightings of Elvis Presley, 1977-2001

All images in this post are screen captures.

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The King is Undead

Canadian Television Rating = PG

Hyperlink to Episode

Aired March 8, 2002

Production Number = 5009-01-119

Starring

Chad Willett as Tucker Burns

Jon Polito as Donald Stern

Reno Wilson as Wes Freewald

Rena Sofer as Grace Hall

Curtis Armstrong as Sal the Pig-Boy

Sharon Sachs as Vera

Main Guest Actor

Joey Sagal as Jesse Garon/Elvis Presley

Behind the Camera

Writer = Javier Grillo-Marxuach

Director = Krishna Rao

Above:  Jesse Garon

Brief Summary

Donald Stern is ecstatic.  In 2002, after a quarter of a century of sporadic reported sightings, the ultimate quarry of tabloids seems within his grasp.  There is an elusive, reclusive figure with worshipers and imitators who hold rallies and rituals.  The reclusive figure always appears at the concluding rituals of these gatherings, and always between 11:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m.  Finding him would be, in Stern’s words, “Tet, D-Day, and the invasion of Grenada rolled up into one.”  The elusive quarry is Elvis Presley, who faked his death in 1977.  Tucker Burns and Wes Freewald, undercover as Elvis impersonators, get the assignment of a lifetime.

Meanwhile, Grace Hall is unhappily stuck with a story about another skid row vampire.  He turns out to be an Elvis impersonator, so the A-plot and the B-plot merge.

For once, Wes Freewald is the skeptic among the main characters.  He spends almost all of the episode not believing that Elvis is alive despite many clues to the contrary.  “Jesse Garon” is staying in room 1835 (for January 8, 1935, the birthday of Elvis Presley.)  “Jesse Garon” (the name of Presley’s deceased twin brother) has checked in as “Tennessee C. Beale.”  He is also the right age to be Elvis Presley.  “Jesse Garon” consistently denies being Elvis while fitting the description.  Tucker and Wes unwittingly interfere his plan to spray the nearly 100 vampires in the ballroom with holy water via the sprinkler system, thereby destroying the soulless undead.

On the final night of the Elvisopolis 3000 Elvis Impersonator Competition, the master of ceremonies is King Master Lobo, a vampire.  These are dangerous events that have been occurring for about two decades; there has been at least one vampire-related killing per Elvisopolis, and the undead victim has walked out of the morgue every time.  Before Grace may enter the ballroom, she must dress like Elvis, so she does.  Once there, she realizes that she is surrounded by vampires.

“Jesse Garon” takes great offense to vampires disguised as Elvis impersonators.  He has been hunting and killing them for a quarter of a century, after finding a secret hive of vampires in Las Vegas then deciding to fight back after some of the undead stalked him.  The list of Jesse’s allies grows from Wes, Tucker, and Grace to include Donald Stern and Vera, who come equipped to spray vampires with garlic.  However, the only people the guards will allow into the ballroom are those dressed like Elvis.  Vera and Donald have to wait.  Jesse and our main trio kill all but one of the vampires in the ballroom.  Tucker even shines the ultraviolet flash light onto Wes’s sparkly attire, causing UV light to kill many of the undead.  Tucker and Jesse kill Lobo.

When the police arrive, Donald Q. Stern, Ph.D. in molecular biology, provides a cover story to an officer:  there was a mass hallucination.

“Jesse Garon,” wearing blue suede shoes and still denying being Elvis Presley departs.  Wes Freewald has not taken a photograph of him.

Above:  Elvis Impersonators

Character Beats

Of all the World Chronicle staff members, Grace Hall has the most firsthand experience with vampires.

Tucker Burns has been a fan of Elvis Presley since childhood.  He spent many Saturday afternoons watching Elvis movies the local UHF television station aired.

Wes Freewald’s parents are fans of Elvis Presley.  Wes is not.  In late May 1977, during the week Star Wars Episode IV:  A New Hope debuted, the Freewald family drove four hours one way to attend an Elvis concert.  The parents dressed Wes like Elvis, who gave him a blue scarf.  Nevertheless, Wes cared more about Star Wars.

Vera really needs a boyfriend, husband, whatever.

Donald Q. Stern may hold a Ph.D. in molecular biology.

Above:  Vampire-Elvis Impersonator

Great Lines

Grace Hall, to Donald Stern:  “How many times do I have to tell you I didn’t know he was a vampire until our second-to-last date?”

Tucker Burns, to Wes Freewald:  “Hey, man, not everybody in our generation is a raving scifi geek, all right?  I mean, in a straight fight, I would pick the King of Rock and Roll over Han Solo or Captain Kirk any day.”  Wes Freewald:  “Okay, now this discussion is over.  We’ve got to draw the line somewhere, Tucker.’

Wes Freewald:  “Even though the King never did make a scifi flick, we’ve got to help him.”

Grace Hall, to Wes Freewald:  “Why are you dressed like Little Richard?”

Jesse Garon:  “Teenage girls and scifi geeks say, ‘slayer.’ I’m a vampire hunter.”

Jesse Garon:  “Those sons of bitches have soiled the name of the King of Rock and Roll for the last time.”

Donald Stern:  “You know me–always on the look for a mass vampire movement.”

Above:  Lobo

In-Universe

This episode plays out within a few hours, from late one night to early the next morning.

There is an army of vampires bent of global domination.  See He’s Dead, She’s Dead, the seventh episode produced and the fifth one broadcast.

Above:  Vera with Donald Stern, Spraying Garlic

Comments

The King is Undead is the twentieth episode produced and broadcast.

The King is Undead contains many references to Elvis Presley’s wardrobe, lyrics, and movies in dialogue, as well as visually.  Vince, an alcoholic homeless man, points to a canine and tells Grace, “It’s just a hound dog.”  Grace, speaking on her cellular telephone, says she was “all shook up.”  Sal the Pig-Boy pleads, “Don’t be cruel.”  He also dresses like late Elvis.  Donald Stern tells Tucker and Wes, “It’s now or never.”  A group called the Blue Hawaiians wins the award for best Elvis-inspired barbershop quartet.  The list goes on and on.

An Elvis-inspired barbershop quartet?

This episode is enjoyable.  The concept is properly wacky, and the execution of it excellent.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 8, 2020 COMMON ERA

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The Chronicle: News from the Edge–Episode 17: Hot from the Oven (2001)   4 comments

Above:  HOT FROM THE EVIL OVEN!

All images in this post are screen captures.

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Hot from the Oven

Canadian Television Rating = PG

Hyperlink to Episode

Aired February 15, 2002

Production Number = 5009-01-108

Starring

Chad Willett as Tucker Burns

Jon Polito as Donald Stern

Reno Wilson as Wes Freewald

Rena Sofer as Grace Hall

Curtis Armstrong as Sal the Pig-Boy

Sharon Sachs as Vera

Octavia L. Spencer as Ruby Rydell

Main Guest Cast

Shawn Christian as Dennis

Maurice Godin as Dumont

Jeff Kelly as Kenny

Bob Papenbrook as Cole Nelson

Behind the Camera

Writer = Javier Grillo-Marxuach

Director = Jay Tobias

Consulting Producer = Naren Shankar

Above:  The Evil Oven

Brief Summary

In New York City, on a Sunday in late September 2001, Monsieur Dumont, a graduate of the Cordon Bleu, is making final preparations before opening his very expensive restaurant.  Mr. Fussy’s helper in getting everything ready is Kenny, his long-suffering nephew.  Dumont calls in Cole Nelson, an oven repairman, to get the newly-acquired antique oven working.  Kenny witnesses a light of unknown origin emanate from the oven immediately before the repairman disappears into the oven.  Kenny calls the police, much to his uncle’s chagrin.

Donald Stern pages Tucker Burns, Wes Freewald, and Grace Hall shortly later.  Grace is in the middle of breaking up with her newest boyfriend, Dennis.  He is handsome, police, and kind.  Dennis is also a rocket scientist.  He is confused about why Grace is breaking up with him.  Grace’s problem has nothing to do with Dennis or any other boyfriend.  As those who know her well understand, she has not had a boyfriend for longer than three weeks since high school because she fears rejection once a man learns of her alien abductions.  Grace fears that he will break up with her, so she breaks up with him.

The police are still on the scene when Tucker, Wes, and Grace arrive.  Given the relatively low production number of the episode, Detective Hector Garibaldi is not one of the officers.  (His first episode was Bring Me the Head of Tucker Burns, the twelfth episode produced and the eighth one broadcast.)  The police on the scene are just as clueless and useless as Garibaldi, though; they reject Kenny’s eyewitness testimony and think that Cole Nelson simply walked away.  Kenny points out, however, that Nelson’s tools are still in the kitchen.  Why would a repairman abandon his tools?

Susan Nelson, wife of Cole Nelson, fills in her husband’s background.  Cole used to be a truck driver.  One night years ago, he drove drunk and killed someone.  Cole dried out in prison for a year.  He also learned how to become a repairman.  Cole, released, has married Susan and remained sober.

Donald Stern knows which oven this is, and he has a vendetta against it.  The appliance is rare and occult.  It has consumed gourmands, including one of his friends.  The oven is also a portal to another realm.  One previous victim, Orlando Franchetti, a sous-chef, returned from the oven a few eggs short of a dozen.  The publisher takes great interest in this story.  He brings Ruby Rydell, the staff psychic, along to the kitchen, to detect the presence anyone who has passed through the portal and remains.  She perceives the presence of Cole Nelson.  The oven doors fling open, and a slime-covered shoe emerges.

In the archives, Donald Stern identifies the slime as P.E.S.–Pan-dimensional Emotional Secretion, or the emotionally-sensitive mucus membrane that separates dimensions.  Wes likens it to “a nose blow from another plane existence,” but Grace prefers to compare it to a “supernatural mood ring.”  Donald Stern unveils a vial of super holy water.  Every pope since the Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy has blessed this holy water, so this papal holy water makes ordinary holy water “look like Fruitopia.”  The publisher intends to fire the super holy water, “the ecclesiastical equivalent of Draino,” into the oven, thereby causing the appliance to release anyone there “like a backed-up sewer pipe.”

The attempt to use the super holy water on the oven fails, and the oven claims Wes, Tucker and Grace instead.  There are human skeletons on the other side of the portal.  The only way one can escape is to overcome one’s greatest fear.  Wes overcomes his fear of clowns.  Grace overcomes her fear of rejection.  Tucker overcomes his fear of not being able to save everyone from danger.  Cole Nelson, sadly, never overcomes his greatest fear.  Dumont hires two Italian-American workmen to remove the oven.  Donald Stern buys Tucker, Grace, and Wes time by dissuading the workmen from removing the oven prematurely.  He, speaking Italian, promises to pay their expenses and buy airline tickets for them and their entire families to the Vatican, to meet the Pope.

Wes, Tucker, and Grace, covered in slime, emerge from the oven.  Then Donald Stern has the appliance disconnected and transferred to the archives at the World Chronicle.

Later, at the offices, after everybody has cleaned up, Dennis brings flowers for Grace.  He also accepts the existence of extraterrestrials.  This relationship will last longer than three weeks.

Above:  The Balloongram Clown

Character Beats

Wes Freewald’s greatest fear (until late in this episode) is of clowns.  This fear has its origin in the drunk clown at his sixth birthday party.

Donald Stern’s background becomes more mysterious.  He refers in the present tense to an ally in the Vatican.  Stern and this ally fought in a war not recorded in history books.  The result of this war affected “the Papal Encyclical of ’73.”  Given that Pope Paul VI did not issue an encyclical in 1973, this seems to be a reference to Quartus Supra (1873), from the time of Pius IX.  How old is the publisher of the World Chronicle?  And how old is his ally?

Wes Tucker quotes Star Wars Episode IV:  A New Hope (1977) again.

Donald Stern is fluent in Italian.

Above:  Donald Stern

Great Lines

Headline:  “LOCH NESS MONSTER EATS HOUSE OF PARLIAMENT!”

Headline:  “MUMMY TO FILE CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT ON SEATTLE ROCK BAND FOR INFRINGEMENT.”

Wes Freewald, speaking of a clown delivering a birthday balloongram to the office:  “Tuck, tell this John Wayne Gacy Krishna to get out of my face now!”

Donald Stern:  “What?  Do I look like Betty Crocker to you?”

Donald Stern, threatening Monsieur Dumont with coverage that will attract occultists from all over the world:  “They will stake this place out like a weenie roast at Stonehenge.”

Above:  Grace and Dennis

In-Universe

In the broadcast order of episodes this is the last time we see Ruby Rydell.

We will never see Dennis again.  (See comments for a note about the production order versus the broadcast order.)

Donald Stern taught John Paul II how to ski.

Donald Stern has enough pull with John Paul II to arrange for someone to meet the Supreme Pontiff.

Above:  On the Other Side of the Portal

Comments

Hot from the Oven is the ninth produced and seventeenth broadcast episode.

The events of Hot from the Oven occur in late September 2001, shortly after those of Man and Superman, the fifteenth produced and sixteenth broadcast episode.

Five episodes remain after this one.  The next one is The Stepford Cheerleaders, the fifth episode produced and the eighteenth one broadcast.  The last four episodes broadcast are the last four episode produced.  I am sufficiently observant and close to the end of The Chronicle to write authoritatively about chronological hiccups and discrepancies when some episodes go to broadcast wildly out of production order.  In Touched By an Alien, the fourteenth episode produced and the eleventh one broadcast, Tucker Burns says that the last time Donald Stern became so involved in a story, he (Tucker) spent the night in a man-eating oven.  That description fits this episode.  Noticing such issues is what I get for being observant and taking notes in longhand.  My hypothesis is that, early in production, not everybody working behind the cameras agreed on whether The Chronicle, which debuted in July 2001, was supposed to start (in-universe) in 2000 or 2001.  Eventually, a timeline of June 2000-July 2002 became the internal reality of the series, with a few hiccups and discrepancies.

To my case I add this wrinkle:  In Hot from the Oven, Wes Freewald refers to the previous year’s office Christmas party, at which somebody spiked the punch with truth serum.  Tucker was not there.  Ockham’s Razor, applied to production numbers and circumstantial evidence, points to inconsistency regarding the internal timeline of the series early in production.

Hot from the Oven is an enjoyable episode with some wonderful lines.  It adds to the mystique of the internal universe of the series.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 7, 2020 COMMON ERA

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The Chronicle: News from the Edge–Episode 13: The Cursed Sombrero (2001)   4 comments

Above:  The Cursed Sombrero of Izamal

All images in this post are screen captures.

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The Cursed Sombrero

Canadian Television Rating = PG

Hyperlink to Episode

Aired January 18, 2002

Production Number = 5009-01-115

Starring

Chad Willett as Tucker Burns

Jon Polito as Donald Stern

Reno Wilson as Wes Freewald

Rena Sofer as Grace Hall

Curtis Armstrong as Sal the Pig-Boy

Sharon Sachs as Vera

Octavia L. Spencer as Ruby Rydell

Main Guest Cast

Elaine Hendrix as Kristen Martin

Bonnie Brewster as Nancy Silva

Jordan Liddle as Brad the Frat Boy

Behind the Camera

Writer = Silvio Horta

Director = Sanford Bookstaver

Above:  Kristen Martin

Brief Summary

The Cursed Sombrero of Izamal is on the loose in New York City.

Apparently, the priest-kings of Izamal, a Mayan city on the Yucatan Peninsula, were evil.  According to Sal the Pig-Boy, researcher extraordinaire, they “made Jim Jones and David Koresh look like tour guides at Legoland.”  The evil priest-kings conducted many human sacrifices.  The souls of the evil priest-kings are trapped in colorful stones long buried in a Mayan pyramid yet excavated in the 1880s.  At that point, a peasant worker found the soul-stones, stole them, decorated his sombrero with them, wore the sombrero, and died.  Since that time, the souls of the priest-kings have caused all who have worn the cursed sombrero to die in the most unlikely of ways then harvested their souls.

Wes, Tucker, and Grace have to track down the cursed sombrero on Cinco de Mayo, 2001.  The quest to save lives becomes complicated when irresponsible fraternity boys steal the cursed sombrero and pass it around at a drunken party at a sorority house.  If that were not enough, many people are wearing sombreros at that Cinco de Mayo party, and there is a lookalike sombrero.  A sorority girl places the cursed sombrero on Tucker’s head.  He nearly dies at a restaurant where he and Kristen are dining.  Kristen witnesses the ritual whereby Donald Stern conducts the ritual to lift the curse from Tucker, free the trapped spirits from the stones, and destroy the sombrero and the stones.

In the B-plot, Kristen Martin is experiencing difficulty adjusting to having seen an alien space craft take off and fly away in Take Me Back.  She takes a week off from work, stays home, eats bagels, and watches The View.  Kristen also ponders breaking up with Tucker, despite his offer to help her adjust to the crashing down of her worldview around her.  By the end of the episode, Kristen adjusts somewhat (for a while, at least) and does not break up with Tucker.

The evil spirits escaped into a toilet.

Above:  Sal the Pig-Boy

Character Beats

Wes Freewald despises Jar-Jar Binks and opposes a fan cut of Star Wars Episode I:  The Phantom Menace (1999) that removes the annoying character.

Kristen Martin is proceeding on her character arc for this series.  She also prefers to ignore her problems.

Great Lines

Donald Stern:  “If people want something stale, they can buy a Mariah Carey CD.”

Kristen Martin:  “I’m having a nervous breakdown.  Bagel?”

Wes Freewald:  “Maybe that sombrero’s just misunderstood.”

Donald Stern, at the sorority house:  “It’s a good thing I don’t need the blood of a virgin for this ritual.”

In-Universe

The yard sale at the beginning of the episode is perhaps the most overpriced yard sale ever.  $7 for a glass ashtray?  $50 for a sombrero?

May is usually a slow month for supernatural news.

This episode occurs mostly on May 4 and 5, 2001, two months after the events of Take Me Back.

About eleven months have passed since the events of the pilot episode.

Above:  The Ritual

Comments

Prior to my recent binge-watching sessions of The Chronicle at archive.org, this was one of the few episodes I remembered, if only vaguely.  I remembered the cursed sombrero on Cinco de Mayo, mainly.

Much of the fun in crazy lines is due to the delivery.  The actors make the most of these lines, primarily by underplaying them.  Their characters have seen so much that they can be blasé about a cursed sombrero, for example.

The looks of shock on Elaine Hendrix’s face when she portrays Kristen Martin witnessing bizarre events are such that dialogue is not necessary.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 2, 2020 COMMON ERA

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The Chronicle: News from the Edge–Episode 12: Pig Boy’s Big Adventure (2001)   2 comments

Above:  Monica, Sarcastic Savage Simian

All images in this post are screen captures.

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Pig Boy’s Big Adventure

Canadian Television Rating = PG

Hyperlink to Episode

Aired January 11, 2002

Production Number = 5009-01-116

Starring

Chad Willett as Tucker Burns

Jon Polito as Donald Stern

Reno Wilson as Wes Freewald

Rena Sofer as Grace Hall

Curtis Armstrong as Sal the Pig-Boy

Sharon Sachs as Vera

Octavia L. Spencer as Ruby Rydell

Main Guest Cast

Lizette Carrion as Monica, the “Savage Simian”

Jim Chovick as Dr. Harcourt Fenton

Christopher Hoffman as Dr. Elias Fenton

Behind the Camera

Writer = Javier Grillo-Marxuach

Director = Michael Grossman

Above:  Fiendish Fentons, Dastardly Doctors

Brief Summary

For at least five weeks’ worth of issues, the World Chronicle has been publishing front-page stories about the “Savage Simian.”  Headlines have included, “Savage Simian Spotted in Schenectady,” “Savage Simian Stuns Scientists,” “Savage Simian’s Sinister Spree,” “Savage Simian Startles Schoolyard,” and Simian Sauvage Sieges Sous-Chef.”  Publisher Donald Stern enjoys speaking in alliteration.  He says, “This savage simian is a sensation.”  He informs the staff of his new money-making venture, 1-900-GOT-CHIMP, which collects tips about the Savage Simian while charging callers $4.95 a minute.  He tells the reporters, “I want the Chronicle to be one-stop shopping for Savage Simian scoop, speculation, and scandal.”  His goal is publish a story with the headline, “Savage Simian Speaks.”

Pretenders to the title of that precocious primate populate the area around the reception desk.  Vera the receptionist rebuffs one would-be Savage Simian, who, dejected, departs.

Grace Hall departs for two weeks of vacation in the Mediterranean.  She arrives at the beginning of a revolution.  She calls Donald Stern for help.  He calls in favors, for he has influence at the U.S. Department of State.

Wes and Tucker, investigating the story of the Savage Simian, keep seeing a sinister man, supposedly from Animal Control.

Sal and other hybrids prefer the term “manimal,” a term in use prior to the infamous, short-lived series from 1983Manimal (1983) was “unabsolvably inaccurate,” according to Sal.

Wes and Tucker encounter the Savage Simian and the sinister, sneaky fake Animal Control man at an empty theater.  The intrepid investigative reporters retrieve the Savage Simian’s dog tag and a device the faux-Animal Control agent used to inject the Savage Simian with a tracking microchip.  Wes and Tucker give the dog tag to Donald, who immediately swears them to secrecy.  He has a similar, secret dog tag for Sal.  Now the publisher begins to understand the importance of that object.

Wes and Tucker rescue the Savage Simian from the sinister, sneaky faux-Animal Control man at a park.  They take the sarcastic simian to the archives of the World Chronicle.  Donald Stern is stunned to see the snarky simian, who snaps about the negative press the World Chronicle has created about her.  The Savage Simian’s moniker is Monica, and she bemoans people trying to feed her bananas.

Twenty years prior, one Dr. Harcourt Fenton went to prison for fifteen years.  He had transplanted animal organs into the children of impoverished, desperate parents.  Sal learns that his mother was not a sow, but that he spent time in Dr. Fenton’s laboratory.  Monica, a militant anti-human activist, encourages Sal to leave the World Chronicle.  The two manimals wear fedoras and move about in Manhattan until agents of Dr. Ellis Fenton, Harcourt’s son, capture them and take them to a laboratory at the Elias Center for Advanced Animal Medicine.  Wes and Tucker are already there.

Dr. Harcount Fenton, a sinister surgeon, transplanted a porcine kidney into the young Sal, still dressed in diapers.  This operation caused Sal’s transformation into a manimal.  Furthermore, the fiendish Fenton deceived Sal’s destitute parents by telling them that their son had died.  Sal eventually went to live on a farm, where Donald Stern found and hired him.

Wes and Tucker rescue Sal, in mortal danger from the two fiendish Fentons, and liberate the other manimals from their menageries.  Sal is the sole manimal who does not want to kill the dastardly doctors.  The dastardly doctors die off-screen.  The other manimals manage to flee then to scatter around the world.  Sal returns to the safety of the World Chronicle.  Donald Stern publishes one last alliterative headline about Monica:  “Savage Simian Storms Science Sanctuary.”  Sal wants to find his parents.  Donald Stern states his support.

Marines escort Grace Hall into the offices of the World Chronicle.  She expresses how much she enjoyed their company on the aircraft carrier.  Donald Stern thanks them for returning her safely.  The Marines express their gratitude for what the publisher did for the Marine Corps in Grenada in 1983.  They salute Donald Stern, who returns the salute.

Wes, Grace, Tucker, Donald, and Sal eat out at a Chinese restaurant.  Each of the humans wears a pig snout.  Donald orders vegetarian food, pleasing Sal.

Above:  Simulated Savage Simians Sitting

Character Beats

Sal the Pig-Boy does not eat out (until the end of this episode.)  The mask takes an hour to put on and is uncomfortable to wear.

Wes frequently quotes Star Wars movies.  He quotes Episodes IV and V in this episode.

Dr. Harcourt Fenton’s name is mud.  He seeks to learn from his “mistakes,” who have pulses.

Above:  Manimals Moving About Openly in Manhattan

Great Lines

On a front page of the World Chronicle:  “Woman Gives Birth to Porcelain Geisha Doll.”

On a front page of the World Chronicle:  “Al Sharpton Wins ‘Dartboard of the Decade” Award.”

Vera, to a faux-Savage Simian:  “Get your filthy paws off me, you damn dirty ape.”  (Obviously, this is a reference to Planet of the Apes, 1968.)

Tucker Burns, to Grace Hall:  “I can’t believe it.  We have to go play Marlin Perkins and Jim Fowler with ape monsters, and you get to go on a Mediterranean vacation?”

Later in the episode–Sal, to Wes Freewald and Tucker Burns”  “Didn’t you guys ever watch Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom?”

Wes Freewald, after the fake Animal Control man disappeared the first time:  “Who was that masked man?” (Obviously, this is a reference to the Lone Ranger.)

Monica:  “What good is it being a half-woman, half-animal if you can’t make a joke?”

Tucker Burns, to Wes Freewald:  “You know, one of these days, you’re going to be stuck in a situation without a Star Wars quote.”  Wes Freewald, in reply:  “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

Above:  Simian Sauvage Sieges Sous-Chef

In-Universe

Due to the video quality of the episode posted at archive.org, few dates on front pages of the World Chronicle are clear.  However, the date on the issue with the headline, “Simian Sauvage Sieges Sous-Chef,” is clearly February 6, 2001.  This episode, therefore, occurs after that date.

Donald Stern has a photograph of himself standing beside Pope John Paul II in his office.

What did Donald Stern do at Grenada in 1983 that won him the admiration of the U.S. Marine Corps?

Above:  Sympathetic Sapiens in Snouts

Comments

The passage of time within this episode is problematic.  At the end, Grace proclaims that she spent two weeks on an aircraft carrier.  If we take her word for it, this episode plays out in between two and three weeks.  That is possible, but improbable.

I am gob-smacked.  This great episode is full of geeky goodness.

“Dr. Harcourt Fenton” is, of course, a reference to confidence man Harcourt “Harry” Fenton Mudd, whom Roger C. Carmel played with roguish delight in Mudd’s Women (1966), I, Mudd (1967), and Mudd’s Passion (1973), in the live-action (1966-1969) then the animated (1973-1975) Star Trek series.  I prefer to ignore that bastardization, Star Trek:  Discovery, as much as possible.

Yes, I enjoyed writing this post.  The main alternative was watching the world go to hell in a hand basket.  Escapism has its place, I concluded years ago.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 1, 2020 COMMON ERA

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The Chronicle: News from the Edge–Episode 11: Touched By an Alien (2001)   4 comments

Above:  The Alien Mercenary

All images in this post are screen captures.

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Touched By an Alien

Canadian Television Rating = PG

Hyperlink to Episode

Aired January 4, 2002

Production Number = 5009-01-113

Starring

Chad Willett as Tucker Burns

Jon Polito as Donald Stern

Reno Wilson as Wes Freewald

Rena Sofer as Grace Hall

Curtis Armstrong as Sal the Pig-Boy

Sharon Sachs as Vera

Octavia L. Spencer as Ruby Rydell

Main Guest Cast

Anna Maria Horsford as Jolene Freewald

Tucker Smallwood as Alonso Freewald

Duane Daniels as Smiley

Behind the Camera

Writer = Javier Grillo-Marxuach

Director = Sanford Bookstaver

Above:  Smiley

Brief Summary

One night, Donald Stern meets with Smiley, a mysterious figure wearing a fedora.  The publisher pays Smiley with a Tasmanian Tiger Snake.  Smiley warns Donald that something really bad, that somebody needs to stop, will arrive that night.  Donald knows what the dangerous something–someone, rather, is.  Off-screen, sayonara, snake.

An alien mercenary, or, as Donald describes it, a Sexually-Transmitted Assassin (STA) from the Orion constellation, arrives in a pod disguised as a meteorite that crashes into a strip club, Racks ‘N’ Rears.  Much of the episode consists of Wes, Tucker, and Grace pursuing the parasite assassin, a piece of gelatinous goo that dies when exposed to the atmosphere.  The STA has the ability to arouse anyone.  After the STA has transferred from one host to another, it destroys the body of the former host.

Wes Freewald’s “parental units” (a reference to the Coneheads) visit him in the office.  They are proud of him; they collect all the photographs he takes.  They claim to be in town for a Tom Jones concert.

Jessie Vance, the second host, drives to the offices of the World Chronicle.  He injures Donald Stern outside the building.  The publisher spends much of the rest of the episode recuperating in an alien biomorphic healing sanctuary located in the archives.  He is the target of the alien STA, supposedly because of a three-year-old published article about an alien royal family.  (Yet Donald Stern never published that article.)

Jessie Vance, possessed, drives less than a mile away, to the Grant Hotel, where the eighth floor is the site of the World Swingers Convention.  Most of the swingers are old and unattractive. The STA changes hosts twice, ending up inside Grace.  Grace resists arousal as best she can, but the STA overpowers her will.  Wes discovers, to his horror, that his parents are in town for the World Swingers Convention, not a Tom Jones concert.

Grace, possessed, returns to the archives of the World Chronicle and tries to seduce Sal.  The pig-boy is one of two individuals who can open the alien healing sanctuary; the other is Donald Stern.  The publisher has left the healing sanctuary, however.  He traps Grace in it.  Grace, possessed, attacks Stern by breaking glass and grabbing his throat.  Tucker and Wes arrive in time to rescue their boss.  Then Sal begins the procedure of removing the host from Grace.  The STA dies.  Grace lives.

Wes and his parents reestablish their peace.

Donald meats with Smiley again.  The publisher pays Smiley with a kitten.  Stern also asks that Smiley tell his contacts “that Donald Stern is packing heat” and is “not afraid to use it.”  Smiley agrees.  Smiley tells Donald, “Your’re a wonderful human being.”  The publisher replies, “I’d say the same for you, if you were.”  Off-screen, sayonara, kitty.

Above:  The Arrival of the Alien Pod

Character Beats

Tucker is still dating Kristen Martin.

Grace has not dated for eight weeks.

Sal the Pig-Boy is also desperate.  He reminds Grace that he may be half-pig, but that he is also half-man.  Grace retorts, “That’s about a fourth of what I need.”

In 1980, Wes Freewald’s parents took him to see The Empire Strikes Back nine times.  Grace Hall, hearing of this, asks if they received hazard pay for that.

Perhaps the alien biomorphic healing sanctuary explains why Donald Stern has not aged visibly in two decades.

Wes Freewald took his first photograph (of a Buick hubcap masquerading as a UFO) when he was seven years old.

Tucker’s parents do no know he works for the World Chronicle.  How far away from a grocery store checkout line do they live?

Above:  The Freewalds

Great Lines

Donald Stern:  “This alien has his mojo on so hard he could talk Mother Teresa into a threesome with Mahatma Gandhi.”

Donald Stern:  “Now let’s see where this Jacqueline Suzanne monstrosity is headed.”

Grace Hall, describing the World Swingers Convention:  “This is like the Red Shoes Diaries on Geritol.”

Wes Freewald, encouraging Grace Hall to resist arousal:  “Think of nuns, dead puppies, the dude who played Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazzard.”

Wes Freewald:  “I think I need to wash out my skull with soap.”

Wes Freewald:  “Man, after tonight, I’m going to pay off some shrink’s mortgage.”

Above:  Part of the Front Page

In-Universe

The Chronicle exists in the same universe as another Sci-Fi Channel series, The Invisible Man (2000-2002).  Yet Donald Stern dismisses that proposed story for the World Chronicle as preposterous.  Given what is not preposterous in previous episodes of The Chronicle, this is ironic.

Before Donald Stern reassigned Grace Hall to the STA story, she had been reporting on a man with an exposed brain.  (We will hear of this man again.)

Tucker once spent a night in a man-eating oven.

The Grant Hotel and the offices of the World Chronicle are less than a mile apart.

Donald Stern has an impressive alien arsenal in the archives of the World Chronicle.

Smiley is an extraterrestrial disguised as a human being.

Alonso and Jolene Freewald refer to some events from Here There Be Dragons.

Above:  Sal and Donald at Work

Comments

This episode combines the mysterious, the dangerous, and the funny well.  The soundtrack accents the appropriate mood at any given moment, and what needs to be off-camera is off-camera.  Human imaginations can fill in the other details.

“Racks ‘N’ Rears” is an unambiguous name for a strip club.

Touched By an Alien has more quotable lines than Take Me Back, the previous episode in both broadcast order and production order.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 31, 2020 COMMON ERA

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Science Fiction Puns   3 comments

  1. One must have a warped sense of humor to crack a joke about a starship’s nacelles.
  2. Is a man who brawls while wearing a cravat a tie fighter?  Did I force this pun?
  3. Was Percy Montana predestined to be on the Tulip?
  4. It would behoove you to watch more Doctor Who and therefore be more enterprising.  You might even decide to embark on a great trek.  That would certainly be the logical decision.
  5. A Jedi knight who conducts music is Obi-Wand Kenobi.
  6. Every seven years a Vulcan must travel a great distance to tell double entendres.  This is the pun farr.
  7. Watching old episodes of Doctor Who makes me crave cereals.
  8. Is a picture of Mira Furlan a Mira image?
  9. Is a drink favored by a Ferengi junior officer in Starfleet egg nog?
  10. If H. G. Wells had written a novel about herbs, might he have called it The Thyme Machine?

Against Toxic Fandom   Leave a comment

Social media (properly a plural term, given that “medium” is singular  and “media” is plural) have some useful, positive functions, but are overwhelmingly destructive forces in society.  One can use social media to spread important announcements, family pictures, and cute cat memes.  One can also propagate rumors, hatred, fear, and misinformation.  Social media aid and abet the spread of toxic fandom, too.

I am not so naïve as to imagine that human nature was less coarse prior to the dawn of social media.  I argue, however, that social media provide more outlets for both the dark and light sides of human nature.  Social media, therefore, contribute to the coarsening of cultures and the decline of what passes for discourse.  Human depravity is not an article of faith for me.  No, I have a plethora of evidence for human depravity.  I do not need faith to accept that which I can document objectively.

Much of that depravity manifests itself in toxic fandom.  This is frequently hateful, on the grounds of skin color, gender, or both.  Words matter; they convey ideas.  Based on many of the words many people write or speak via many social media websites, I conclude that a host of people define themselves by what upsets them.  Apparently, egalitarianism and diversity offend them.  Hence we have the term “social justice warrior” (abbreviated “SJW”), intended as an insult.  There are actors of African and Asian descent in Star Wars movies.  Horrors!  If one does not find that casting offensive, is one a social justice warrior?  Jodie Whittaker plays the Doctor in Doctor Who.  If one affirms that she is a fine actress and that her casting does not constitute political correctness, is one a social justice warrior?  And if one is a SJW, is that bad?  No!  And what about the newly-revealed past incarnation of the Doctor, a woman of African descent?  Jo Martin has gravitas; she plays the Doctor well.  I wonder how her incarnation fits into the timeline as I await the inevitable answer.  I also want to see more episodes with her.  If that makes me a SJW, so be it.

I first encountered toxic fandom years ago, at a now-defunct science fiction website.  I read BBS boards, where people asked and answered questions.  I stopped reading those BBS boards because many people were insulting each other and engaging in toxic fandom.  I chose not to consume that content any longer.

Toxic fandom infects many YouTube channels.  By trial and error I learn which channels to avoid for this and other reasons.  We humans need not like everything we hear, see, or watch, but we also need not define ourselves by our bigotry and what we dislike.  I offer some advice to everyone:  If you do not like some form of media, do not consume it.  When you express your displeasure, do so without resorting to bigotry and toxic fandom.  Write and speak mostly about what you like.  I consider Star Trek:  Discovery (properly abbreviated as STD) to be a series that indicates total disregard for Star Trek canon.  I am not shy about making my displeasure known, but I prefer to write about topics about which I hold positive opinions.

Being mostly positive should not be difficult.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 30, 2020 COMMON ERA

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Torment/Torment (Redux)   3 comments

Above:  Serena and Rudolpho DeLuna

A Screen Capture

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SEASON 2, EPISODE 8

MAIN CAST

Tanya Allen as Percy Montana

Clive Robertson as Travis Montana

Dawn Stern as Callista “Callie” Larkadia

Stephen Marcus as Rudolpho DeLuna

Paul Fox as Marcus Fagen

Graham Harley as Caravaggio (the ship’s AI)–in Starhunter 2300

Murray Melvin as Caravaggio (the ship’s AI)–in Starhunter Redux, Season 2

SUPPORTING CAST

Lindy Booth as Serena DeLuna

Von Flores as Darnell

Richard Blackburn as Arthur Santiago

Debra McCabe as Vayla Tambur

Jacqueline Pillon as Gina

BEHIND THE CAMERAS

Director = Colin Bucksey

Writer = Peter I. Horton/Peter Zorich

Composer (Theme–Starhunter 2300) = Peter Gabriel (Darker Star, arranged and mixed by Richard Evans and David Rhodes)

Composers (Episode–Starhunter 2300) = The Insects (Bob Locke and Tim Norfolk)

Composer (Theme–Starhunter Redux, Season 2) = Donald Quan

Composer (Episode–Starhunter Redux) = Donald Quan

Length of original episode = 0:47:54

Length of Redux episode = 0:44:04

GENERAL COMMENTS ABOUT THE EPISODE

Above:  Callie and Percy, Putting on Their Best Faces

A Screen Capture

  1. Callie is my favorite character unique to the second season.  Dawn Stern’s performance is the main reason for my choice.
  2. Lindy Booth, playing the 16-year-old hellion, Serena, was 24 years old at the time of filming.
  3. Von Flores (Darnell, with interesting eye makeup), portrayed agent Ronald Sandoval, one the best-dressed antagonists in science fiction, for all five seasons of Earth:  Final Conflict, a series that diminished with each season.  (Watch the first season and ignore the other four seasons.)
  4. We meet Vayla Tambur, first seen in Biocrime, again.
  5. This story contains comedy gold.  For example, Rudolpho tells Travis, “I bet you made out like a bandit.”  Travis, with a straight face, replies, “I was a bandit.”
  6. Percy on adolescents:  “Teenagers are psycho.”
  7. We open at Syn City, Io.  Darnell contracts Arthur Santiago and demands ransom for Santiago’s parents, abducted from the jungles of North America nearly a half-century ago (from Santiago’s perspective) but about eight months prior (from the parents’ perspective, due to time dilation).   This is the only instance of time dilation in Starhunter Redux.
  8. Santiago hires the crew of the Tulip to rescue his parents, “just kids.”  The crew ultimately succeeds, of course.  The really interesting material pertains to Serena.
  9. Rudolpho is inappropriate.  This is no surprise to anyone who has been watching Starhunter (especially the pre-remastered versions of episodes, still available for purchase on DVDs) from the first episode of the first season.  In this episode we see him watch a NSFW video only he can see while on the bridge of the Tulip.  He may as well be Chewbacca’s father watching Diahann Carroll in the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special (1978).
  10. Back, prior to the first season, Rudolpho met a stripper named Gina.  He married her.  They had a daughter, Serena.  Rudolpho filed for divorce when Serena was two years old.
  11. Gina is one of three ex-wives to whom Rudolpho makes court-ordered payments.
  12. Gina, angry that Rudolpho is delinquent on 50,000 credits of child support, cannot afford to send Serena to correctional camp.  So she sends the “hell cat” (as Rudolpho refers to his daughter) to the Tulip.  Serena drives everybody crazy.  She tries to seduce Marcus.  Callie restrains herself from killing the young woman.  Furthermore, Serena is openly contemptuous of her father for most of the episode.
  13. Serena has worked as a stripper, for the money, needed when Rudolpho did not send child support.
  14. Darnell tries to abduct Serena.
  15. Vayla, an old friend of Marcus, provides Travis with information crucial to rescuing Serena.
  16. Father and daughter reconcile at the end of the episode.

Next:  Painless, about illegal drugs.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 7, 2019 COMMON ERA

Brief Reviews: Star Trek Movies I-VI   3 comments

Above:  The Starship Enterprise, NCC-1701, from Star Trek:  The Motion Picture (1979)

A Screen Capture

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Preliminary Statements

A few preliminary statements will prove helpful before I get into the meat of this post:

  1. I have been a fan of Star Trek for a long time.  I used to watch the original series in reruns–sometimes on weekends and, when possible, weekdays–and record episodes.  I remember stumbling upon an occasional episode of the animated series (1973-1975) on cable television in the early 1990s.  I recall when I could count the number of movies on one hand and have fingers left over.  I remember watching The Next Generation (1987-1994) in first run.  I have watched every Star Trek movie and most episodes.  I watched every episode all the way through Voyager (1995-2001).  I abandoned Star Trek:  Enterprise (2001-2005) early in the third season, for I was tired of subjecting myself to that series after two years.
  2. Certain Star Trek fans are fanatical to the point of leaving vicious comments online.  I have no use for such behavior.  This is entertainment, not a matter of life and death.  William Shatner’s “Get a life” sketch from Saturday Night Live (1986) rings true for many people.
  3. One can find many podcasts and videos regarding Star Trek episodes and movies.  Unfortunately, many of the creators of these media (A) swear enough to embarrass even the most profane sailors, (B) are hyper-critical, to the point of pettiness, and/or (C) speak out of their ignorance.  All of this irritates me.  I respond by ceasing to watch such videos and listen to such podcasts.
  4. On the other hand, many reviewers, working in written, audio, and audio-visual media, do speak and write out of their knowledge.  I am especially fond of the reviews at tor.com, for example.
  5. My intention in this post is neither to write all that I know regarding the first six Star Trek movies nor to replicate the work of others.  (I know far more about these movies than I have written here.)  No, I plan to be concise and to contextualize these films according to each other.  My most basic standard regarding any of the Star Trek movies is whether I want to place the disc in my Blu-ray player, press the “play” button on the remote control, and watch the movie from beginning to end without skipping any scenes.
  6. No work of human beings is perfect, of course, but it can be enjoyable and well-crafted.  I seek to find the good and praise it, imperfect as it might be.

Star Trek:  The Motion Picture (1979)

A Screen Capture

Star Trek:  The Motion Picture exists in various versions, all of which suffer from the same problems, with their origins in the story itself.  The story, such as it is, is an adaptation of a pilot for a television series Paramount never made.  The movie also overextends the plot and focuses more on special effects than on characters.  The best Star Trek stories have to do with characters.  In this movie, however, characters in pastel pajama-like uniforms gaze at special effects for long periods of time.  Speaking of the story, I like the concise version of it–The Changeling, an episode of the original series.

Nevertheless, The Motion Picture does have its virtues.  The overture, Ilia’s Theme, is gorgeous, the soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith is majestic, and the Enterprise receives all the respect due such an august vessel.  I enjoy looking at the Enterprise, so I like the sequence in which Kirk, Scotty, and, by extension, the audience members, look at the refit ship’s exterior for six minutes.  This is a movie for people with long attention spans, not individuals with the attention spans of fleas with ADHD.

I rank The Motion Picture near the bottom of the first six Star Trek movies, for, after the ship leaves the orbit of Earth, I start skipping scenes.  To paraphrase George Lucas from a Star Wars documentary from the 1980s, a special effect without a story is boring.

Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan (1982)

A Screen Capture

I thrill to play this movie from beginning to end, without interruption.

The Wrath of Khan also exists in various editions.  I prefer the director’s cut, for that version includes nice character moments and background information absent from the theatrical edition.

The Wrath of Khan, the first installment in the accidental trilogy, is a movie I have memorized.  I can anticipate every line of dialogue while watching it.  Also, whenever I listen to the soundtrack, I can visualize the germane scene.  This is my favorite Star Trek film.  It is the favorite Star Trek movie of many people.  It is so popular and influential, in fact, that Paramount Pictures has released remakes and bastardizations of it, namely Star Trek:  Nemesis (2002) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), both of which I consider barely watchable.

The stars align in The Wrath of Khan.  Ricardo Montalban is excellent as the poetic and insane Khan, the “majestic maroon” uniforms are wonderful, the theme of aging resonates well, the death of Spock is gut-wrenching, and Admiral Kirk realizes the truth of his statement that

How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life.

I cannot heap enough praise on this film, for its flaws are minor.

Star Trek III:  The Search for Spock (1984)

A screen capture

Leonard Nimoy’s debut as a cinematic director is a wonderful story of self-sacrifice for a friend.  Admiral Kirk and the other heroes from the original series risk their careers and destroy the decommisioned Enterprise to reunite Spock’s body (regenerating on the Genesis Planet) with his katra (resident in Dr. McCoy).

Here is another movie I enjoy watching from beginning to end, without skipping any scenes.  Yes, Star Trek III is not as good as Star Trek II.  Yes, the leisure wear is horrid.  Yes, the chairs on the bridge of the U.S.S. Grissom are pink.  Nevertheless, the Excelsior and Oberth Classes of starships debut in this film.  They, in combination with the Miranda Class (from Star Trek II) add up to three new classes of starships, thereby expanding the Starfleet on-screen.  Furthermore, the enclosed Spacedock makes its first appearance in Star Trek III.

My favorite aspect of Star Trek III is the character work.  Out of friendship Kirk and company make themselves criminals to rescue Spock, who had sacrificed himself to ensure that the Enterprise could escape from the Genesis Wave in Star Trek II.  Star Trek III has plenty of heart.

Star Trek IV:  The Voyage Home (1986)

A screen capture

The Voyage Home, for all of its plot holes and a few pointless scenes, is fun.  I have no difficulty watching it from beginning to end, without skipping scenes.

Much of the appeal of Star Trek IV is the fish-out-of-water plot for our heroes.  Watching Admiral Kirk and company in San Francisco in 1986 is hilarious.  Spock discovers profanity and curses badly, inserting “the hell” awkwardly into sentences.  (“They like you very much, but they are not the hell your whales.”)  Kirk does not know the difference between LSD and LDS.   (“He did too much LDS in the Sixties.”)  Scotty speaks to a computer.  Chekov and Uhura seek “nuclear wessels” during the Cold War.  All of this is fun.

“Home” has a double meaning.  “Home” refers to Earth, which the crew saves from an alien probe with a warped sense of logic.  The probe, having lost contact with humpback whales, proceeds to begin to vaporize oceans.  Huh? (Whales are aquatic lifeforms.) “Home” also refers to the Enterprise-A, presumably the Yorktown (the ship whose chief engineer rigged a solar sail at the beginning of the movie), Kirk’s new command after demotion to the rank of captain.

Kirk’s demotion to Captain makes sense.  In The Motion Picture he seizes command of the newly refit Enterprise awa from Willard Decker, who goes off to merge with V’Ger.  In The Wrath of Khan both Spock and McCoy tell Kirk that he ought to be a starship captain.  Kirk is bored when he is not commanding a starship. His demotion from Admiral to Captain is not a punishment, but a reward.

The Voyage Home‘s financial success is the reason Paramount Pictures greenlit The Next Generation (1987-1994), thereby launching a period of 18 years during which at least one Star Trek series was in production at any given time.  That is a fine legacy.

Star Trek V:  The Final Frontier (1989)

A Screen Capture

I know that The Final Frontier makes plain that the Enterprise-A is a new, poorly constructed ship, but I refuse to consider this movie to be part of Star Trek canon.  The film tramples continuity, makes a mockery of the Enterprise-A (until it ceases to do so, without explanation), and portrays most of our beloved characters in inconsistent and unflattering ways.  How is it that characters who were prepared, in universe, less than a year prior to this movie, to throw away their careers to rescue Spock, betray Kirk so casually in Star Trek V?

This is cinematic excrement with an occasional nice character moment.  But who are these characters?  They are certainly not the Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Sulu, Scotty, and Chekov I have come to know via episodes and movies.

“All I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.”–John Masefield

A screen capture

At least the Enterprise-A, being a refit Constitution Class vessel, has graceful lines.  (The refit Constitution Class is my favorite starship design.)  However, the vessel, according to deck plans, has 21 decks, with the Bridge being on Deck A, at the top of the saucer.  In the movie the ship has at least 84 decks.  That is quite an error in the The Final Frontier.

Furthermore, Kirk and crew have been to the center of galaxy.  In The Majicks of Megus-Tu, an episode of the animated series, the Enterprise journeyed to the center of the galaxy, where Kirk and crew met Satan, who seems to have been a horribly misunderstood character, according to the story.  In this movie they just met a disgruntled and imprisoned spirit vulnerable to Klingon weapons.  Both stories were garbage.

Star Trek VI:  The Undiscovered Country (1991)

A screen capture

Star Trek VI gives our heroes a proper send-off, complete with a warmongering Klingon general who quotes Shakespeare, sometimes in, as Chancellor Gorkon puts it, “in the original Klingon.”  Kirk and crew save the day and the life of the President of the United Federation of Planets, but not before events force them to confront their own prejudices first.  Even the best of us harbor nasty prejudices, after all.  The difference between the best of us and the worst of us is that the best of us acknowledge and resist those prejudices.

Change is frequently difficult, even when the change in question is necessary and proper.  In this case the change is the end the Federation-Klingon Cold War, in parallel to the Cold War of the twentieth century.  When we define ourselves according to who our enemies are, the question of how we will define ourselves when our enemies cease to be our enemies becomes a psychologically difficult one.  Some individuals become so frightened of change in Star Trek VI that they conspire to assassinate.

Above:  The Enterprise-A and the Excelsior

Sulu is wonderful as Captain of the Excelsior, a ship he would have commanded since Star Trek III, except for William Shatner’s behind-the-scenes machinations in the 1980s.  I wonder how different certain preceding movies would have been with Sulu aboard the Excelsior.  I am convinced that the supporting characters, such as Sulu, always deserved more to do in the original series and in the first six Star Trek movies.

I have no difficulty watching Star Trek VI from beginning to end, without skipping scenes.

Rankings

As I have pondered these movies again during the last few days, I have changed my mind several times regarding the relative rankings.  I have arrived at the following rankings, from best to worst:

  1. Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan
  2. Star Trek VI:  The Undiscovered Country
  3. Star Trek IV:  The Voyage Home
  4. Star Trek III:  The Search for Spock
  5. Star Trek:  The Motion Picture
  6. Star Trek V:  The Final Frontier

Nicholas Meyer directed my two favorite Star Trek movies and partially wrote the top three.  He was a great asset to this series of films, after all, so this ranking has not proven to be accidental.

My overall rankings of movies I-X are here.

Looking Ahead

Next I plan to ponder and rank the four Next Generation movies.

I choose make one point of comparison plain here:  The original series movies were, taken together, superior to the Next Generation films, taken together.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 19, 2018 COMMON ERA