"Spectre of the Gun" set "West of Mars"?

Discussion in 'Star Trek - The Original & Animated Series' started by Maurice, Feb 15, 2014.

  1. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2005
    Location:
    Walking distance from Starfleet HQ
    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...

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    ...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? ;)
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2014
  2. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2001
    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.
     
  3. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2005
    Location:
    Walking distance from Starfleet HQ
    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.
     
  4. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2001
    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.
     
  5. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2011
    Location:
    Gene's office
    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.
     
  6. plynch

    plynch Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Apr 28, 2007
    Location:
    Outer Graceland
    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.
     
  7. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2001
    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.
     
  8. scotpens

    scotpens Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Nov 29, 2009
    Location:
    Los Angeles, CA
    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.
     
  9. Mr. Adventure

    Mr. Adventure Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Jun 9, 2001
    Location:
    Mr. Adventure
    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: [yt]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6XFhQD2tigo[/yt]
     
  10. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2011
    Location:
    Gene's office
    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.

    That's why I took care to say, "at least potentially", because that was indeed the obvious pitfall.
     
  11. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2001
    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."
     
  12. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2011
    Location:
    Gene's office
    There was no deliberate aesthetic consideration in the case of "Spectre" either. It was budgetary. From Memory Alpha:

     
  13. Harvey

    Harvey Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Oct 8, 2005
    Location:
    Los Angeles, California
    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.
     
  14. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2001
    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.
     
  15. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2011
    Location:
    Gene's office
    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.
     
  16. Harvey

    Harvey Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Oct 8, 2005
    Location:
    Los Angeles, California
    I'd say that the "planet of the hats" syndrome which set in during late season two ("Bread and Circuses," "Patterns of Force," "The Omega Glory," and "A Piece of the Action") was the beginning of a serious decline which the budget cuts of season three only exacerbated, so I'm glad that "Spectre of the Gun" took an alternate approach.
     
  17. SchwEnt

    SchwEnt Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2005
    I don't mind the artistic explanation for Kirk's partial memories of the Western setting. I kinda like it.

    I don't get the reason being a budgetary concern. Standing Western sets (on stage or on location) must have been everywhere in the 60s. Even first season TOS filmed on the street set in Mayberry USA. I'd think getting on any standing Western stage must have been quite easy and cost effective, even over creating something original for ST.

    But I'm not in '60s TV production, so I'm just supposing.
     
  18. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2011
    Location:
    Gene's office
    @Harvey: Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention the Roman episode: cheesy also. I've no problem conceding the point that "Spectre" avoided that sort of Cheez Whiz.

    I'm not sure how I see "The Omega Glory" fitting into the same mold though. Its script (or a version of it) dates back to the time of the second pilot.
     
  19. Harvey

    Harvey Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Oct 8, 2005
    Location:
    Los Angeles, California
    It's definitely less "Planet of the _____" than the other three episodes, I'll grant you that.

    But it's still a thinly justified parallel Earth story.

    That isn't really a complete thought, but, there you go.

    EDIT: I suppose the other three episodes lead with the parallel (hey, look, it's a Planet of gangsters/Romans/Nazis), while "The Omega Glory" makes this revelation the story's twist. Still...I can't stand the episode! :p
     
  20. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2011
    Location:
    Gene's office
    ^ I think "Omega" comes off as a cousin of "Miri".