Monday, April 07, 2008

DVD Review: Star Trek Fan Collective: Captain's Log

My DVD player broke a couple weeks ago, so I finally decided to buy a new one and, since I was in the neighborhood, some new DVDs; in this case, a Star Trek episode collection. A few years ago, Paramount got the bright idea to let the fans of Star Trek pick their favorite episodes of this or that sort ("pick your favorite time travel episodes...your favorite Klingon episodes...your favorite Borg episodes...etc.). The latest one out of the gate, so far as I can tell, is called Captain's Log, and it provided a new twist, by allowing "the captains" to pick their favorite episodes and the fans to do the same.

So what we're treated to here is a set of episodes from each of the franchises--the Original Series, Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise--as picked by the lead actors and their fans, as well as some bonus material in the form of interviews with the actors. So are they any good?

Well, you either like Trek or you don't. And even once you accept that you do, some episodes are better than others. Shatner's favorite--The City on the Edge of Forever--is one of the few Trek episodes to win the Hugo. It is a classic of the genre, and deserves to be on anybody's "best of" list. The other two episodes from the Original Series, "Balance of Terror" and "The Enterprise Incident," might best be described as "Romulan episodes," as they deal with that alien race. I have the feeling that the fans' choices were limited to prevent too much overlaps with the other "Fan Collectives." The episodes are good enough, though, to warrant attention. "Enterprise Incident" features a classic bit of overacting, while "Balance of Terror" is a fine example of submarine warfare in space.

The bonus material for the Original Series disk--and I confess, as of now I've only watched the material for TOS and Enterprise--is about as expected. Shat spends some time answering questions like "What makes a good captain?" and "What is the function of the captain's log?" Complete drivel, of course, though Shat plays along as well as he can. At one point, the producers brought on Joan Collins to chat with Shat about "City on the Edge of Forever," and I had to fast forward to the show.

You don't realize how dim actors can be until you hear them talk about something intellectual like science fiction. I've met actors and actresses of various sorts and levels of fame, and on the whole they're nice, sensitive people. They are able to conjure up whole personalities based on mimicry, study, and "method," those mysterious activities that make up the actor's craft. But in the end, most of them are performing something that someone else--a writer--created. I won't begrudge actors their creative facility. It's a different kind of creativity from what writers do, but in the end, if they're not inventing the whole script, they are operating at second-hand.

Having said my piece, I'll move on briefly to the other shows' captains. Of all the series, Deep Space Nine has the best episodes picked, including the final episode, "What You Leave Behind," "In the Pale Moonlight," and "Far Beyond the Stars," which might be the only episode where Avery Brooks doesn't play a stoic hardass.

Next Generation's Patrick Stewart picked the first episode he directed, "In Theory," which has a middlin' science story and a clunker of a human interest story, as Data takes a shot at dating. "Darmok" and "Chain of Command" feature better stories and better acting all around. "Darmok" won a Newberry Award for its portrayal of alien communication while "Chain of Command" was a two-parter that featured Picard getting captured and tortured while a micromanaging hardass takes over the Enterprise.

The episodes picked for Voyager and Enterprise are lackluster--"The Omega Directive" and "First Flight" are the better ones--but you get the feeling that most of the best episodes have already been taken up by other Fan Collectives. For instance, I found it surprising that the last episode of Enterprise, "These Are The Voyages...", made the list, given all the griping I heard and read from fans. That episode had several things working against it: it was the last episode of a show that was cut off three seasons early due to lack of interest; it was a "dream" or "holodeck" episode, spun into the middle of an old Next Generation episode, "The Pegasus" rather than standing on the show's own merits; and finally, the two TNG guest stars, Jonathan Frakes (Riker) and Marina Sirtis (Troi) looked just awful and too old to be reprising their roles from 20 years earlier.

The bonus interviews with Scott Bakula didn't offer much illumination, though I found the man pleasant enough. I just got the feeling, as I have with several SF actors, that despite being immersed in technobabble for a few years, he just didn't get it and would prefer to talk about the characters than any philosophical implications of his work. And that's why, after viewing this DVD collection, I highly recommend the move Galaxy Quest, which, as a fellow space geek reminded me, might be the best Star Trek movie to come along in years.

Galaxy Quest features a troupe of aging sci-fi actors who are getting burned out by the whole fan convention thing when they suddenly find themselves dragged into a real space adventure. The movie points out one of the fundamental truths of SF movie/show fandom: in the end, they're just a job for the actors and just stories for the rest of the world. The importance of the actors or the stories they're helping to tell depends on how much energy you invest in them.

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