The Morning After: October 10, 2011

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what I’ve seen over the past week either in film or television. On the film side, if I have written a full length review already, I will post a link to that review. Otherwise, I’ll give a brief snippet of my thoughts on the film with a full review to follow at some point later. For television shows, seasons and what not, I’ll post an individual comments here about each of them as I see fit.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Lonely Are the Brave

Set in an time period not too far removed from the year of the film’s release, 1962, this high plains western plays out exactly like so many classic films of the genre, only burdened by the addition of cars, helicopters and typewriters. Placing a man clearly more attuned to the ways of the long-gone Old West adds an intriguing layer of depth to the film. The closing scene, symbolizing the death of the western as audiences had come to know it, is a rather poignant touch. Kirk Douglas is a solid actor and doesn’t give us any reason to lose faith in him here, though Walter Matthau chews several of his scenes as does George Kennedy. While it’s easy to see how Douglas’ character is lamenting the death of the old west, it had long been dead by the time this film came into being. He hadn’t even been born when the romanticized version of the west was in existence, though he could have weaned himself on old Hollywood’s vision of them. Either way, the film represents the death of a vaunted era of Hollywood history that, while reinvented over the course of the 1960’s, would never be the same again nor hold sway over the mass audiences that once made it prolific.

Community (Season 2, Episodes 7-12)

The consistency with which this series conducts itself is refreshing. Recognizing it’s little more than a semi-superficial, madcap pseudo-sketch comedy series helps keep it chugging along. Few interweaving storylines connect the episodes, but the combination of fun characters and zany antics keep us coming back for more. There are a few good life lessons to be learned at the hearts of each of these episodes, but they are more along the lines of the saccharine sweetness of the After School Special than of something more keenly observed, but in that simplicity lies the show’s strength.

The Dresden Files (Season 1, Episode 12)

The show really had started getting good towards the end of its only season. Although the performances were still not where they needed to be, the show had learned to engage its audience in new and inventive way without trying to show off how clever it was being. A second season would have been interesting, at least to tie up a few loose ends.

Star Trek (The Original Series): The Return of the Archons

Cautioning against the power of a computer without compassion, this episode tries to get under the idea of robotics in an effort to suggest that they are no more powerful than those who program them and only able to carry out the tasks for which they have been programmed. Yet, in the end, they solve the problem by providing reason to the computer. An interesting concept in development, but in execution, one mired in over-simplification and questionable resolution.

Star Trek (The Original Series): Space Seed

The episodic basis for one of the greatest Star Trek films ever made isn’t nearly as great as the film it spawned. There’s a notable lack of action in this episode, which is perfectly fine, but the moral quandaries are also virtually absent. Only the denouement really gives us an idea of the compassion inherent in this futuristic society. Ricardo Montalban does a fine job as Khan and the rest of the cast acquits themselves well, but there is a social comment on the search for perfection that is lacking here and so many opportunities missed to rightfully explore some of the more intriguing details of such a topic. A solid if unexceptional episode.

Star Trek (The Original Series): A Taste of Armageddon

This is one of those great episodes whose concept is so inventive that you can’t help but be impressed. Set on a planet where wars are carried out by computers and casualties give up their lives voluntarily, the episode suggests that war, regardless of execution, is no less barbaric the more humane you make it.

Star Trek (The Original Series): This Side of Paradise

The human condition, while briefly touched upon, is superficially absorbed in this episode. On a planet where strange plant life has the power to heal the body of any and all ailments, and put it into a state of euphoric peacefulness, the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise slowly succumbs to the strange pollen-like pathogen leaving only the resolute Captain Kirk to resist its pull and rescue his first mate and the rest of those who’ve beamed down to the planet. It’s one of those rare instances where Leonard Nimoy has a chance to stretch his acting muscles outside of the strict conformity of Mr. Spock. It’s strange seeing him in an illogical state, but nothing an actor of his caliber couldn’t have carried off in his sleep.

Star Trek (The Original Series): The Devil in the Dark

This was always one of my favorite episodes. A strange creature has been killing miners who are seeking a wealthy deposit of minerals. When Captain Kirk and his crew arrive to investigate, they discover a completely unexpected rationale for its sudden attack on the miners. It’s a compelling examination of how the language barrier cannot easily be overcome and one person’s self-defense is another person’s murder. What the Horta represent is the unpredictable enemy with a culture so foreign to our own that until we can understand it, we cannot begin to live peaceably with it. Exploring our differences and coming to know why one party does what they do and why another does something else allows us to unify behind a common, mutually beneficial cause, but only if we permit ourselves to open our minds and our hearts to those who would otherwise be our enemy.

Star Trek (The Original Series): Errand of Mercy

It’s challenging to equate an episode like this with the best of the series. Innocuous at best, the episode explores some interesting ideas about evolution and the power of beings more superior to us, something we find more of as we explore the vast reaches of space. Examining war as a primal instinct, a protection of peoples and ideas or a conquering of others, is on full display in this episode even if so lightly handled. Sometimes the most complex ideas are the ones most simply expressed.

Star Trek (The Original Series): The Alternative Factor

It wasn’t hard to figure out what was going on in this episode, but the conclusion, explained entirely in expository dialogue, never really gives us the kind of conclusion we want. A man swears vengeance on a beast that destroyed everyone on his planet, but his battle with the beast threatens to rip apart existence. Kirk and company pick up the revenge-seeking marauder and attempt to assist him with his struggle, but when they discover that he doesn’t want their help and merely wants to steal their resources to aid him in his quest, they must find a way to thwart him, but his own intelligence keeps him thinking mostly ahead of them. The episode plays well as a sci-fi version of Multiple Personality Disorder, but devolves into a strange, parallel universe story arc that would be done better later in the series’ run.

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