To boldly go where no man has gone before…
To date, I've reviewed nine volumes of Star Trek on DVD. Of course, that's less than an entire season, the way Paramount has released this important series. Some of you may envy me, others may pity me. Myself, I like that I'm the self-imposed official DVD Verdict Trekkie.
At this stage in Paramount's release schedule, we are drawing to the close of Star Trek's second season in its three-season run. Both episodes follow Gene Roddenberry's vision of science fiction as the delivery agent for social commentary. Here, as in other episodes, the themes are the dangers of technology and the glory of rah-rah American patriotism.
Facts of the Case
In "The Ultimate Computer," 23rd century nerds fight over whether the Enterprise, if the crew were to be replaced by a computer, should be powered by a system based on Windows 2408 or Redhat Linux 9. The fight gets messy when the food replicators refuse to produce any more Mountain Dew.
No, not really. In "The Ultimate Computer," Spock's idol, Dr. Richard Daystrom, wants to field-test his latest invention, the M5. This revolutionary computer is touted as a replacement for an entire starship crew. However, in the line of duty it becomes megamaniacal, kills a random redshirt ensign, and refuses to relinquish control of the Enterprise, placing many lives in danger. Can the threat be stopped? Doesn't "format c:" still work in the 24th century?
In "The Omega Glory," to make a convoluted story short, the Enterprise gang finds a planet where the normal social order has been altered by a rogue Starfleet captain looking to save his own life. Where have we heard that before? Oh, only in a half-dozen episodes from Trek's second season. This time, Communist Chinese aggressors and barbarians that are the descendents of peace-loving American capitalists people the planet. Yeah, go figure. Guess which side wins in the end.
Here's a little piece of trivia for you. Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey opened in theaters just two days before "The Ultimate Computer" aired. I'd like to see a grudge match between the M5 and HAL 9000. On the one hand, the M5 has the Enterprise's phasers at its disposal and a lot of blinky lights, but on the other hand HAL can sing and is very devious and is in a Stanley Kubrick movie, which are really artsy and don't make much sense. Both cannot be destroyed by conventional weapons, though the M5 can be short-circuited by lapses in logic, and HAL can collapse under the weight of his own consciousness. It's a toss-up.
Looking at a television episode from 1968 through 2001 eyes is very difficult, especially when it's one decrying the evils of technology. Thirty-three years later, it's difficult to understand why people thought computers would replace their jobs, or kill people, or develop terrifying personalities (though anyone who remembers Microsoft Bob might argue that last point). Perhaps because I'm around computers every day, vocationally and avocationally, I just don't see what the big deal is. Even 1984's The Terminator, and by extension its 1991 sequel, seem quaint, with their pictures of a computer with its virtual finger on the nuclear button. Same goes for 1999's The Matrix. It's never been proven in the real world that computers can replace humans, and anyway, their developers and programmers would never give them that level of autonomy or control. Human feelings, intuition, and instinct cannot be replicated by a machine, and until they can, we are safe from the evils wrought by our own creations. What films and television should teach us to fear and respect are the caffeine-addled people in front of the monitors who can deal destruction with their technological tools. I'll get off my soapbox now…I need a cup of coffee.
I don't even know where to begin with "The Omega Glory." Again, it's an issue of looking at a product of a certain place and time through the eyes of another era. In 1968 as we all know, the Vietnam War still held its grip on our nation. Those who supported our country's efforts in the war saw it as a battle between the forces of good and the forces of the evil that was Communism. Roddenberry and his staff gave the public something of a patriotic shot in the arm with a tale of downtrodden former Americans besieged by evil, yellow-skinned Commies. The simple barbarians worship the Constitution and the American flag, which apparently developed on their planet as they did on our own. The episode doesn't impress me in the least, though I must admit I'm hardly the patriotic sort. It all strikes me as rather cloying, what with the quaint simplified ideals carried through the barbarian's traditions, and the worshipful shot of the American flag that closes out the episode accompanied by strains of "America the Beautiful."
I'm going to keep my hitting streak alive. All the Star Trek discs have the same technical specifications, and quality-wise are nearly identical. The following paragraph is my standard description of the technical presentation, so if you've read it before, you can skip it.
Each of the Star Trek episodes have been digitally remastered, and they look as good as a television show from the 1960s can hope to look. The image is sharp and detailed with excellent color fidelity and no bleeding. The only problems with the image are inherent to the source material. The picture overall is a little grainy, particularly noticeable in special effect model shots, and can have a few blips caused by dust on the negative. The audio has been remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1. Keeping with its mono roots, sound is mostly restricted to the center channel. Directional effects are used for starship fly-bys during the opening credits, and infrequently throughout the episodes. The purist in me would rather have seen the mono tracks cleaned up and utilized, rather than an unnecessary remix. The only extra is the "preview trailer" for each episode.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Even if the episodes do seem horribly dated now, at least "The Ultimate Computer" makes for an exciting hour of viewing as the crew fights ably against the enemy on their own ship. I can't quite say the same for "The Omega Glory."
It's a mixed bag. "The Ultimate Computer" is a fair to good episode, while "The Omega Glory" is a lame retread of other episodes and a dated piece of propaganda. It's recommended for completists only.
The geeks shall inherit the Earth…case dismissed.
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