Sunday, January 21, 2018

'Star Trek: The Original Series' episode review: 'The Deadly Years'


The Deadly Years 
Stardate 3478.2 (Earth Calendar Date 2267) 
Episode Production Number: 60340 
Episode Number (Aired): 40 
Original Air Date: 12/8/67 
Writer: David P. Harmon 
Director: Joseph Pevney 
  
"Captain's log, stardate 3478.2. On a routine mission to resupply the experimental colony at Gamma Hydra IV, we discovered a most unusual phenomenon. Of the six members of the colony, none of whom were over thirty, we found four had died and two were dying ... of old age.


During the third year of her five-year deep space mission, the Starship Enterprise,  Capt. James T. Kirk  (William Shatner) commanding, arrives at the experimental colony on Gamma Hydra IV.  Her assignment, to resupply the team of six Federation scientists – none of whom are over the age of 30 – who are assigned  there. 

Capt. Kirk, First Officer Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley),  Ens. Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig) and Lt. Galway (Beverly Washburn) beam down to the colony. To their surprise, however, the colonists are nowhere to be seen. 

While exploring a darkened building, Chekov activates the lights…and is shocked to find the corpse of an old man lying in one of the corridors. Frightened out of his wits, Chekov forgets his Starfleet training and flees. Chekov’s strong reaction naturally prompts the rest of the landing party to investigate; after examining the body, Dr. McCoy determines that the man died of natural causes consistent with extreme old age.  

Spock, who had studied the colonists’ records while the Enterprise was en route to Gamma Hydra IV, is surprised by McCoy’s finding. According to the files, the scientists were young  - not one of them older than 30.
 
Nevertheless, McCoy’s diagnosis is proven right when two other elderly persons – a man and a woman, stagger in: Robert Johnson (Felix Locher), who claims to be 29, and his wife Elaine (Laura Wood), age 27. 

Kirk attempts to question Robert Johnson, but the man’s mind is so fogged by old age that he isn’t able to provide any information.  The captain then briefs a trio of VIP passengers – Starfleet Commodore Stocker (Charles Drake), Yeoman Doris Atkins (Carolyn Nelson) and Dr. Janet Wallace (Sarah Marshall) – informing them that the Enterprise will stay in orbit while the investigation is underway. 

Stocker tells Kirk that he needs to get to Starbase 10 quickly, and the captain promises to do everything he can to make that possible. When Stocker takes his leave, Dr. Wallace – one of Kirk’s former lovers – reminisces with the captain about their relationship and why it ended. 

Back on the bridge, Kirk orders helmsman Sulu (George Takei) to maintain standard orbit around Gamma Hydra IV.  Spock informs the captain that a comet had recently transited the system, adding that he hasn’t yet ascertained if that has any relevance to the mystery of why the colonists died.  

As Kirk is trying to digest his science officer’s report, Stocker enters the bridge and insists that the Enterprise must head to Starbase 10, but the captain reiterates his decision to stay in orbit until the investigation is over.  He then leaves the bridge and uncharacteristically repeats his “maintain orbit” order to Mr. Sulu. 
  
Captain James T. Kirk: Maintain standard orbit, Mr. Sulu. 
Sulu: You already gave that order, sir. 
Captain James T. Kirk: Oh? Well... FOLLOW it. 
  
To Kirk’s chagrin, this little “slip of memory” isn’t simply a rare case of forgetfulness brought on by the stresses of command.  In a matter of hours, almost every member of the landing party begins to age rapidly.
With the clock clearly not on their side, Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the Enterprise crew must discover what killed the colonists on Gamma Hydra IV before it’s too late. 

My Take:   Written by prolific scriptwriter David P. Harmon (The Brady Bunch, Star Trek: The Animated Series, and Rescue from Gilligan’s Island) and directed by Joseph Pevney (Tammy and the Bachelor, Torpedo Run), The Deadly Years is a solid Star Trek episode that explores societal attitudes about aging, the pressures of command and the differences between officers who are still “on the field” and those who are now deskbound paper-pushers. 

Because Star Trek: The Original Series only aired one multipart episode (The Menagerie, Parts One and Two), savvy viewers back in 1967 probably knew that, unless NBC suddenly canceled the show, the jeopardy faced by Capt. Kirk and his crew in this story is only temporary.  
The teleplay follows the format set by series  Gene Roddenberry: it poses the Enterprise crew with a tough situation – all of its senior officers actually become “senior citizens” and the Kirk-Spock-McCoy trio must find a solution before the end of Act Five. 

Here, the situation is quite tricky, and not just from the technical challenges of aging actors then in their 30s and 40s so that they look ancient.  Apparently, series lead William Shatner disliked the idea of growing old so much that he balked at the notion of being made up to look old for the episode. 

As Mike and Denise Okuda wryly note in The Star Trek Encyclopedia: A Reference Guide to the Future, “William Shatner reportedly threatened producer Bob Justman with bodily harm after enduring many torturous hours during the old-age makeup process.  'Who’s afraid of such a wrinkled, feeble old coot?' scoffed Justman, derisively.  Nevertheless, Bob locked his office door and hid under his desk until the episode finished shooting.” 

Obviously, Shatner was partly peeved about the drawn out makeup process, but he is also famous for his vanity.  Shatner has admitted in interviews that he doesn’t like looking at his own photos from the past because he knows he no longer looks young. 

Nevertheless, makeup expert Fred Phillips and hair stylist Pat Westmore – of the famous Wesrtmore family of makeup experts – do a terrific job of artificially aging Shatner, Nimoy, Kelley and the other actors who required the “elderly effects” look.  

Costume designer William Ware Theiss also gets kudos for his ingenuity in creating oversized Starfleet uniforms to make the wearers look as though the aging process had shrunk their bodies. 

As I said earlier, the episode makes a social comment about our cultural obsession with youth and good looks. It also looks at the difference between military officers who are in command grades (such as skippers of warships) and flag officers who have to think in terms of strategy, diplomacy and The Big Picture. 

As The Deadly Years and other Star Trek stories state it, there’s an inevitable tension between men and women who are “the tip of the spear” of any military (or semi-military) organization and those who now have tours of duty in senior command HQ.  Kirk, who in today’s U.S. Navy would be a “four striper,” is at the zenith of his field command career.  

Only 36 in 2267, James Tiberius Kirk is fulfilling his “first, best destiny” as captain of a starship; operating far from, the reach of Starfleet Command, Kirk is a 23rd  Century Horatio Hornblower.  Part explorer, part diplomat and part soldier, the captain of the Starship Enterprise is essentially an independent representative of the Federation. 

In contrast, Commodore Stocker is a good example of a deskbound flag officer. Only one rank level above Kirk, Stocker has either always been a bureaucratic-minded desk jockey. if Stocker was a starship captain in the past, he has now become ensnared in the rules-bound mentality of senior flag officers.  

This is evident when Stocker, realizing that the entire command hierarchy of the Enterprise is suffering from the aging disease, takes charge of the ship during a tense situation which may end up starting an interstellar war with a Federation adversary.  As familiar as Stocker is with Starfleet regulations, he turns out to be inexperienced as a tactical officer in a potential combat situation. 

Though this is somewhat of a cliché in many movies or TV shows that are even faintly related to military, police or government agencies, the tension between the series regulars and guest actor Charles Drake’s character is nicely handled.  

All in all, The Deadly Years is a good Star Trek episode which blends action-adventure storytelling with social commentary neatly “disguised” by its science  fiction setting.  Yes, it has a few clichés – Kirk’s quite busy  love life comes back to haunt him again, and viewers will probably recognize the tension between battlefield commanders and rear area desk weenies – but Star Trek’s 40th aired show is entertaining and fun to watch anyway.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Movie Review: 'It: Chapter One'

It (2017)

AKA It: Chapter One

Directed by: Andy Muschetti

Screenplay by: Chase Palmer & Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman

Starring: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgard, Wyatt Oleff, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jack Dylan Grazer, Chosen Jacobs, Nicholas Hamilton, Jackson Robert Scott


From Page to Screen


On September 15, 1986, Viking Press, a division of Penguin Random House, published It, a 1,138 horror novel by Stephen King set in the fictional town of Derry, Maine. In It, seven pre-adolescent children band together as the "Losers' Club" and confront It, an evil entity that exploits their innermost fears and takes many forms, including that of Pennywise the Dancing Clown. The novel depicts the Losers' Club's efforts to defeat It in two time periods - the late 1950s and 1985 - and often alternates between the two eras.


Dust jacket of the original 1986 hardcover edition. Art by Bob Giusti. Lettering by Amy Hill. (C) 1986 Viking Press/Penguin Random House
Despite its length (1,138 pages) and size (at 3.4 lbs., even its author refers to it as a "doorstop of a novel"), It was the No. 1 bestselling novel in 1986, and the novel became a fan favorite, ranking as one of King's best works since The Stand and 'Salem's Lot. And over 30 years later, It still resonates with readers because it introduces themes that King would revisit in later works, including the darkness that often lies beneath the façade of "good neighborliness" and quaint charm of American small towns, the power of friendship, and the persistence of memory. 


Promotional poster for the ABC Television miniseries. (C) 1990 Lorimar Television and ABC 

It was originally adapted by writer/director Tommy Lee Wallace and co-writer Lawrence D. Cohen (Carrie) as a two-part miniseries that aired on ABC on November 18 and 20, 1990. Though the Cohen-Wallace teleplay discarded many subplots from King's novel due to airtime and network TV censorship constraints, the miniseries captured the essence of It and did not alter the timeline much. (The events that take place in 1957-1958 now occur in 1960; the 1985 events are moved slightly to "present day" 1990.) It was a top-rated project for the network, and critics and fans alike generally give the TV adaptation high marks, especially for Tim Curry's portrayal of Pennywise/It. 


Still, despite critical acclaim and high ratings, It (the miniseries) lost much of its punch in the transition from the printed page to the TV screen. Part of it, of course, is due to the necessary excision of several subplots that not only would have added an extra night's of broadcast time, but they could not have been depicted on over-the-air television anyway. In addition, the climactic confrontation between the Losers Club and It in Part Two is well-written and well-acted, but the special effects (created in part by what passed for state-of-the-art computer graphics imagery at the time) were somewhat...disappointing. 


As a result, there was talk about a remake of It for many years after the miniseries' original broadcast. Some fans said that a more faithful adaptation of King's novel simply could not be done. The book is too huge, too complex for a straight-on adaptation, they said. It's too scary for broadcast television; maybe HBO can adapt it, they said. And how on Earth are they going to depict THAT scene in the book...you know, the one with Beverly Marsh and the boys from the Losers Club? 


(Fans of the original novel will know what happens in that scene I'm talking about. If you haven't read It, I am not going to give any spoilers. Suffice it to say, however, that it's not in the 2017 film, either.)


Eventually, after a long and protracted period in which It was in what Hollywood calls "development hell," someone got around to making another adaptation of King's novel. This time, however, it would not be a TV miniseries a la 11.22.63 or the 2004 remake of 'Salem's Lot. That someone ended up being New Line Cinema, and this iteration of It would be an R-rated movie.

New Line Cinema's Comic-Con teaser poster for It. (C) 2017 New Line Cinema/Warner Bros.



It (Chapter One)


Written by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman, It (or It: Chapter One) is the first film in director Andy Muschetti's duology based on Stephen King's novel. It is set in Derry, just as in the book and the 1990 miniseries, and the characters and situations are essentially the same as in previous versions of It. 

However, the filmmakers made two important narrative choices to give the 2017 version of It its own voice. The most obvious was the decision to not attempt to condense the novel into a single film. Muschetti and his writing team wisely split the novel into two distinct halves: Chapter One delves into the Losers Club's first confrontation with It and its iconic avatar Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgard) as kids, while the 2019 sequel, It (Chapter Two) will pick up the plot 27 years later. 

In addition, the new version of It is set in a time period closer to our own. Instead of taking place in the late 1950s (the novel's setting) or 1960 (as in the 1990 miniseries), It (Chapter One) begins in October 1988 and its events occur over the late spring and summer of 1989.

 Aside from these cosmetic touchups to the narrative, Muschetti's It begins in a similar fashion as the novel, with the fateful meeting of six-year-old Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott) and Pennywise.

It's a rainy day in October 1988, and Georgie is eager to play outside with the paper sailboat that his older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) just made for him. Bill is sick and can't go out on this cold, damp day, but Georgie wants to try out his new boat in the runoff along the side of the street.


 Bill is Georgie's hero, and the innocent, trusting little lad treasures that paper sailboat because his big brother made it just for him. It's this emotional attachment that leads to Georgie's tragic end, for the boat ends up inside one of Derry's storm drain...and in the hands of Pennywise:




Pennywise: Hi Georgie!


[pause]


Pennywise: What a nice boat. Do you want it back?


Georgie: Um... Yes, please.


Pennywise: You look like a nice boy, I bet you have a lot of friends.


Georgie: Three... but my brother is my best's best.


Pennywise: Where is he?


Georgie: In bed. Sick.


Pennywise: I bet I can cheer him up! I'll give him a balloon. Do you want a balloon too, Georgie?


Georgie: I'm not supposed to take stuff from strangers.


Pennywise: Oh! Well, I'm Pennywise, the dancing clown. "Pennywise?". "Yes?", "Meet Georgie". "Georgie, meet Pennywise".


[Georgie laughs]


Pennywise: Now we aren't strangers. Are we?


Georgie: What are you doing in the sewer?


Pennywise: A storm blew me away. Blew the whole circus away.


[laughs]


Pennywise: Can you smell the circus, Georgie? There's peanuts... cotton candy... hot dogs... and...


Georgie: Popcorn?


Pennywise: POPCORN! Is that your favorite?


Georgie: Uh-huh.


Pennywise: Mine too!


[laughs]


Pennywise: Because they pop! Pop, pop! Pop, pop! Pop, pop, pop!


[both laugh]


Pennywise: [pause]


Georgie: Um... I should get going, now.


Pennywise: Oh! Without your boat? You don't wanna lose it Georgie. Bill's gonna kill you! Here. Take it.


[pause]


Pennywise: Take it, Georgie.
The "reveal" scene when Georgie realizes - too late - that the friendly Pennywise is no clown is horrifying, and not just because It bites one of the boy's arms off, either. Yes, the bit about a shapeshifting creature killing a cherubic tyke is frightening. But what's really unnerving is how Muschetti shows the ugly side of Derry through the reaction - or rather, lack thereof - of an older woman who witnesses the boy's grisly end.

During Pennywise's conversation with his unsuspecting victim
, we see that the woman's cat is looking at the tableau of Georgie leaning closer to the storm drain grate. And what does it do? Does it hiss warningly and arch its back in fear like most felines do in horror movies? 


No. It just sits at the screen door and watches the goings on with a quiet, unconcerned air. 


And the cat's owner? Does she pick up the phone and call 911 to tell them that she saw a boy being dragged into the sewer? 


No. She just gives one single gasp of horror and turns away. 


That, dear reader, is creepy. 


The rest of It is a coming-of-age buddy movie with elements of mystery (why are so many kids disappearing in Derry, and why aren't the adults more concerned?), horror (an evil and ancient entity lurks underneath the small Maine town), and pre-teen angst (the seven kids that eventually join to form the "Losers Club" must deal with their own family dysfunctions, the first stirrings of young love, a group of bullies led by an older boy named Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton), who is, by the way, emotionally abused by his father, Officer Bowers (Stuart Hughes) of the Derry Police Department. 


Though Muschetti and editor Jason Ballantine could have trimmed some of the film to make the third act a bit tighter and less draggy, It is perhaps one of the best adaptations of a Stephen King novel for the silver screen since Rob Reiner's Misery or Frank Darabont's The Shawshank Redemption. It has the same sensibility as Reiner's other King-derived work, Stand By Me, while at the same time it is scarier than Darabont's take on The Mist. 

What makes It: Chapter One work so well? I think it is a combination of things:

  • The casting, especially the choice of young actors to play The Losers Club and their Bowers Gang nemeses, is spot-on. Jaeden Lieberher, Wyatt Oleff, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jack Dylan Grazer, and  Chosen Jacobs are outstanding as the pre-teens that piece together the mystery behind all the missing kids and dare to face It, even as that evil being preys on their innermost fears in order to defeat them. And if young Ms, Lillis' performance is any indication of her acting abilities, viewers are seeing the beginning of a successful career
  • Muschetti gets the beats of the period right. The decision to split the film into two distinct eras and not switch back and forth between them as the book and miniseries did was a sound one, and it plays well, considering that "nostalgia" for older eras comes in 20 year cycles. If you look closely at the movie marquees and the T-shirts the kids wear, you'll feel like you're back in 1989. (If you were born in the 1990s and early 2000s, It is a time capsule to a time when your parents were either just out of high school or in college.)  
  • The cinematography by Chung-Hoon Chung and the stylistic choices by Andy Muschetti are, for the most part, brilliant. Yes, there are a few places close to the end where things are dark and you have to focus hard on the action because...darn it, it's hard to see what's going on. But the film's opening scene and that first view of Bill Skarsgard's blue eyes (yes, those are his real blue eyes...no special effects, no blue contacts) in that storm drain, man...they creeped me out.
  • And speaking of Skarsgard, his Pennywise is scarier than Tim Curry's from the 1990 TV miniseries. I didn't hate Curry's take on the character; clowns are supposed to be over-the-top anyway, but the miniseries' Pennywise is overly exaggerated and not very scary.  Skarsgard (who was born in 1990, incidentally) studied Curry's performance and decided to be a bit more restrained in his portrayal. As a result, Skarsgard gives viewers a scarier viewing experience.

(C) 2018 Warner Bros. Entertainment


Warner Bros. Entertainment released It on Blu-ray and DVD on January 9, so if you missed seeing this excellent adaptation of Stephen King's spine chilling novel in theaters last fall, do yourself a favor and get a copy. With a running time of two hours and 15 minutes, It: Chapter One is longer than the average horror film, It does get a bit slow near the climax, but the synergy between the young cast members and the fine balance between Stephen King scares and Spielberg-like cinematic touches make up for that minor flaw.   
 
Blu-ray Specifications

Video
  • Codec: MPEG-4 AVC (23.90 Mbps)
  • Resolution: 1080p
  • Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
  • Original aspect ratio: 2.39:1
 Audio
  • English: Dolby Atmos
  • English: Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit)
  • English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 16-bit)
  • French (Canada): Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1 (448 kbps)
  • Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 (448 kbps)
  • Note: English DD=narrative descriptive

Subtitles
  • English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish

Discs
  • Blu-ray Disc
  • Two-disc set (1 BD-50, 1 DVD)
  • UV digital copy
  • Digital copy
  • Movies Anywhere
  • DVD copy

Packaging
  • Slipcover in original pressing

Playback
  • Region A