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Star Trek - Original Series The one that started it all...

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Old February 15 2014, 01:28 AM   #1
Maurice
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"Spectre of the Gun" set "West of Mars"?

So, people often talk about how inventive Star Trek was with the minimalist western set in "Spectre of the Gun", what with partial walls and vague impressions of buildings instead of having actually built the things.

Example.

So, imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon a clip of a second season Lost In Space episode titled "West of Mars" in which the alien "west" set is...






...a bunch of incomplete walls and a limbo background.

Mind you, this aired on 30 November 1966. "Spectre" aired on October 25, 1968 23 months after "West of Mars".

Coincidence?
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Old February 15 2014, 01:59 AM   #2
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Re: "Spectre of the Gun" set "West of Mars"?

Possibly more a case of convergent evolution. Both shows were working within limited budgets, so it's plausible they would've independently arrived at the same money-saving option. You can see the same kind of minimalist set design throughout the third season of Batman.

But the difference is in how the technique is used, and how skillfully. In "West of Mars," the setting is supposed to be a real settlement, so its bare-bones construction just looks like cheap stagecraft. In "Spectre," it's deliberately used to represent a dream landscape, essentially, and helps create a surreal atmosphere that serves the story.

I mean, really, that's the whole point. The inventiveness that people talk about wasn't the decision to use minimalist sets at all; I think most of us understand that the low budget compelled that choice. The inventiveness is in how the director turned that limitation into an advantage. I don't think the same can be said of "West of Mars," not judging from those screencaps, anyway.
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Old February 15 2014, 02:05 AM   #3
Maurice
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Re: "Spectre of the Gun" set "West of Mars"?

I wasn't seriously suggesting a connection. But I think the fact that both show's production designers came up with similar solutions to a budgetary issue is fascinating, and, I suspect, possibly inspired by such minimalist sets as used on stage.
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Old February 15 2014, 02:14 AM   #4
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Re: "Spectre of the Gun" set "West of Mars"?

Well, what I'm saying is that I don't think it was so much a matter of inspiration as one of having very few options. It's not a coincidence that they both made the choice if it was one of the only choices available. And I'd definitely say ST executed it much better.
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Old February 15 2014, 02:26 AM   #5
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Re: "Spectre of the Gun" set "West of Mars"?

I have never been impressed with Spectre's minimalism. I always thought that it detracted from the story, and I was surprised to find people online who thought it was really well done. Given all the other contemporary westerns, I supposed that finding more realistic sets to use shouldn't have been that much of a problem. And, I thought that making Tombstone realistic could, at least potentially, have made it much more frightening, because instead its surreality telegraphed ahead of time that everything was fake. Despite having dispensed with a major part of the drama up front, in whether the mind-meld would work, the shootout was really well done, as it was.
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Old February 15 2014, 02:45 PM   #6
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Re: "Spectre of the Gun" set "West of Mars"?

First, I love Spectre's minimalism/surrealism. And the acting by the guest players.

2. In music, artists and producers listen to each others' work and production values. What one does influences others. Did producers/designers not do likewise in '60s television? It seems more likely to me this is direct inspiration than happenstance.
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Old February 15 2014, 04:25 PM   #7
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Re: "Spectre of the Gun" set "West of Mars"?

plynch wrote: View Post
It seems more likely to me this is direct inspiration than happenstance.
Possibly, sure. But that would be a more convincing argument if it were a purely aesthetic choice, one unaffected by budgetary considerations. It's equally plausible that both productions independently chose the same approach because it was a logical adaptation to the need to do a sci-fi Western on a soundstage with limited budget and time. Because the underlying circumstances were similar, and thus could've produced similar results by convergent evolution, the similarity in and of itself is insufficient to prove direct inspiration.

Laypeople are always quick to assume that any similarity they see between two works of fiction is evidence of one directly borrowing from the other. But in fact, different creators independently coming up with similar works is something that happens all the time. It's almost impossible to avoid, in fact. The number one reason why script pitches and story submissions get rejected is "We're already doing one like that." Different creators are employing a common set of tools, following a common set of techniques, playing to the same audience, building on the same cultural referents and foundations, participating in the same social zeitgeist. So convergence is unavoidable. It's not "happenstance" if two creators arrive at the same result without any mutual awareness, because they're both shaped by the same environment.

True, there were a lot of minimalist sets in the '60s -- as I mentioned before, Batman did the same thing. So no doubt the directors or art directors of Star Trek, Lost in Space, Batman, and other shows of the period were working from common influences and inspirations. And those influences could have included one another's work, but they could also have been some other, earlier source that they were all independently inspired by, like theatrical set design as someone mentioned above. Batman, which was celebrated at the time for its aesthetic, was highly influenced by the Pop Art movement, the work of artists like Lichtenstein and Warhol. Star Trek's design style was strongly influenced by the futurist architectural style known as "Googie" as well as Minimalism. And so forth.

So both these shows would've been awash in a sea of artistic and cultural influences. It wasn't just these two episodes existing in isolation. So we can't assume the similarity is due to anything as monocausal as one directly borrowing from the other. Really, given how ubiquitous Westerns were in '60s TV and how much minimalist influence there was in '60s genre TV, it's not at all surprising that the two trends would've converged more than once. Direct influence is a possible cause for the similarity, but far from a necessary one.
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Old February 15 2014, 08:29 PM   #8
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Re: "Spectre of the Gun" set "West of Mars"?

CorporalCaptain wrote: View Post
I have never been impressed with Spectre's minimalism. I always thought that it detracted from the story, and I was surprised to find people online who thought it was really well done. Given all the other contemporary westerns, I supposed that finding more realistic sets to use shouldn't have been that much of a problem. And, I thought that making Tombstone realistic could, at least potentially, have made it much more frightening, because instead its surreality telegraphed ahead of time that everything was fake.
I couldn't disagree more. "Spectre of the Gun" has a pretty weak story. We already know from the start that the whole set-up is fake -- that the Melkotians have reached into Kirk's mind and his knowledge of history to create the "pattern" for the crew's deaths. If "Spectre" had used a studio backlot frontier town, it would have come across as just another Earthlike-alien-planet-of-the-week episode. As it is, the surreal, minimalist sets make the episode a triumph of form over content. YMMV.
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Old February 15 2014, 09:09 PM   #9
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Re: "Spectre of the Gun" set "West of Mars"?

The thing is every episode of Lost in Space at that point was just as minimalist, that one just happened to be a Western. The same technique was used in the next episode to represent Hades and a couple of episodes later a mad scientist's lab.

I'd show a couple of screencaps but it's not worth watching the commercials on Hulu to do so and there's a decided lack of LiS screencap sites. Found this which gives an idea:
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Old February 15 2014, 09:34 PM   #10
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Re: "Spectre of the Gun" set "West of Mars"?

Mr. Adventure wrote: View Post
The thing is every episode of Lost in Space at that point was just as minimalist, that one just happened to be a Western. The same technique was used in the next episode to represent Hades and a couple of episodes later a mad scientist's lab.
And, as mentioned, Batman did the same thing. So, what people are regarding as innovative, I found to be simply evocative of those other shows.

scotpens wrote: View Post
If "Spectre" had used a studio backlot frontier town, it would have come across as just another Earthlike-alien-planet-of-the-week episode.
That's why I took care to say, "at least potentially", because that was indeed the obvious pitfall.
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Old February 15 2014, 10:28 PM   #11
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Re: "Spectre of the Gun" set "West of Mars"?

Mr. Adventure wrote: View Post
The thing is every episode of Lost in Space at that point was just as minimalist, that one just happened to be a Western. The same technique was used in the next episode to represent Hades and a couple of episodes later a mad scientist's lab.
I don't think I'd say "minimalist" in LiS's case, since that implies some deliberate aesthetic consideration. It's Irwin Allen. The word is "cheap."
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Old February 15 2014, 10:35 PM   #12
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Re: "Spectre of the Gun" set "West of Mars"?

Christopher wrote: View Post
Mr. Adventure wrote: View Post
The thing is every episode of Lost in Space at that point was just as minimalist, that one just happened to be a Western. The same technique was used in the next episode to represent Hades and a couple of episodes later a mad scientist's lab.
I don't think I'd say "minimalist" in LiS's case, since that implies some deliberate aesthetic consideration. It's Irwin Allen. The word is "cheap."
There was no deliberate aesthetic consideration in the case of "Spectre" either. It was budgetary. From Memory Alpha:

The original script specified filming the episode on location in an outdoor Western town. However, due to budget restrictions, filming was confined to the regular studio stages. To avoid having to build a complete Western town set, the concept of an incomplete town, put together from "bits and pieces" out of Kirk's mind, was developed, thus allowing the episode to be filmed within budget. (The Star Trek Compendium)
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Old February 15 2014, 10:53 PM   #13
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Re: "Spectre of the Gun" set "West of Mars"?

It still seems to me like there was more intention behind Star Trek's choice than Lost in Space's. The former made (in my view, clever) changes to a story to justify a cost-saving measure; the latter made a cost-saving measure with no regard to the story.

But YMMV.
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Old February 15 2014, 11:10 PM   #14
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Re: "Spectre of the Gun" set "West of Mars"?

What Harvey said. Again, the difference is that "Spectre"'s town was supposed to be a nightmarish illusion, while "West"'s was supposed to be a real colony. So the former turned a limitation into an advantage, while the other was just stuck with the limitation.
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Old February 15 2014, 11:12 PM   #15
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Re: "Spectre of the Gun" set "West of Mars"?

Harvey wrote: View Post
It still seems to me like there was more intention behind Star Trek's choice than Lost in Space's. The former made (in my view, clever) changes to a story to justify a cost-saving measure; the latter made a cost-saving measure with no regard to the story.

But YMMV.
I do give Star Trek points for approaching the problem artistically and making the best out of the situation, that, if not a bad situation per se, was certainly not what was originally envisioned. However, even if it represented the best that could have been done, to me it still came off as obviously contrived, as a flimsy conceit to justify what they had to work with.

Was it better than having a true western episode, to go alongside the Nazi and the gangster episodes? Impossible to know, really; the two second season episodes there certainly were cheesy, albeit entertaining in their own ways.

However, with respect to the episode that was delivered, the thinness of the premise was showing, as were the cutbacks. "Spectre" is the first third season episode in production order, and in it the writing is already on the wall that the show was in trouble. It's always been hard for me to get past that.
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