Discussion in 'Star Trek - Original Series' started by Maurice, Feb 15, 2014.
I think that both "Spectre of the Gun" and "West of Mars" episodes would have been improved by simply having a real world setting outside of the sound stage. Had they both been filmed outside on a backlot western street they would have been much more entertaining to watch.
Would they really? Or would they have just looked like the countless other '60s TV episodes shot on the same Western backlots that viewing audiences saw every week? Would something so commonplace-looking have really been more entertaining to audiences at the time?
Speaking of surreal, Will and Dr. Smith getting away by riding the "animals" seen in the first picture is something to see.
If you get back to the root, the surrealism movement, at least in visual arts, frequently featured the irrational juxtaposition of images, which I daresay the LIS version (wheeled taxidermed animals in front sketchy buildings and other oddities) is much closer to surreal than Trek's limbo sets, which are more "incomplete" than surreal.
To me it's like people using "art deco" as a catchall describe anything from art nouveux to googie, when deco is actually something pretty specific.
Okay, so my ex is an artist and an art history major, so I've had this discussion 100 times before.
I think what we're forgetting here is that these shows were produced coming out of the pop art movement, so I think some of this minimalism has roots in that in addition to being cheap to execute.
^I think the red alien sky over "Tombstone" -- and the shadows cast on the "sky" by the flashes of lightning -- would qualify as irrational juxtapositions.
Possibly, but as many images of the the west portray red skies at sunset, one could argue that it was part of the "image" of the old west. Hey Harvey, any memos on this?
The shadows would only count if they were intentional and not a production mistake. I'm not sure which they are.
I think they would have because in that same Western backlot they would see something radically different juxtapositioned. "Spectre of the Gun" Kirk & crew in starfleet uniforms and "West of Mars" Smith & Will riding the fake "animals".
At sunset, yes, but 24 hours a day? And previous Trek episodes had already established red skies as a signifier for alien settings -- see "The Apple," for example.
Of course they were intentional. Despite the changes in the writing staff, the episode's director, director of photography, and lighting supervisor were all veterans of the show and had plenty of experience at disguising the soundstage wall as an alien sky. And the shots in question were set up so as to make the shadows a central part of the composition, e.g. in the shots where the Earps are striding side-by-side toward the corral. They would've had to position the lights and branches purposefully to cast those very prominent shadows on the wall behind the actors.
We saw Starfleet uniforms against a familiar backlot environment in "Miri" and it wasn't that striking.
I believe that Maurice's point was pretty obviously that aliens incapable of knowing how to complete buildings can't be expected to know how to extrapolate the sky to all times of day.
It would be to a non-Star Trek viewer with a color television set back then turning the channel dial and seeing the western setting with those colorful Starfleet uniforms. If their TV Guide magazine was not in reach, then I bet you they would watch to see what is this "western".
I don't have anything, I'm afraid. Since it's a third season episode, I'd be surprised if the paperwork on it at UCLA was that significant. For anyone who has a copy, what does the script say?
The April 19, 1968 story outline indicates "a hot blue desert sky, a hot yellow desert sun..." But that version doesn't suggest any of the surrealist/minimalist elements of the finished episode (in it, even the landing party's outfits are changed to match the old West).
From what I gather, the typical practice in screenwriting is that in your first draft, you throw in every idea you'd want to do if money were no object, and then in revisions you pare it down to what you're able to do. That way, you don't leave out something that you thought was too expensive but actually proves doable.
The full-on realistic Western approach would've had its merits -- notably, it would've made the crew's concerns about whether they could alter history more plausible, since it wouldn't have been so obviously artificial. It's something they definitely would've done if the episode had been done in season 1 or 2, and would've fit right into season 2 along with the gangster planet and the Roman planet and the Nazi planet. And it's something we finally got to see on Enterprise in "North Star." (And in a different way in TNG: "A Fistful of Datas.")
But I like the approach they ended up taking. The theatrical quality works because the whole thing is essentially a play staged by the Melkotians.
I always took it as the Melkotians provided only the scenery that was necessary for their pattern of death to play out. That the sky was red only adds to the surrealistic setting.
I have to say that I never noticed the shadows on the studio walls before looking at the stills. That's an eerie effect, and well played.
Again, the drama isn't in whether they can change history, but in whether they are going to get shot and killed. They changed history, but Chekov was still apparently shot and apparently killed. Anything that enhances the reality of the guns enhances the sense danger that they are in, and therefore the drama. By that theory, a realistic setting should have been more dramatic. Of course other factors were at play, and a lot would have depended upon the tone and execution.
Setting nearly fifty years after the fact, in retrospect I can suggest that the missed opportunity was in not making this the "Wagon Train" episode analogous to "Far Beyond the Stars". Take Spock out of makeup, and drop Chekov's accent. Let them keep their memories, and let Spock keep his mind-melding ability, which is necessary for the resolution, in convincing them that nothing is real, but put them in period clothes so that everything outward makes it seem as if they might be in an alternate reality. Take out the forcefield device that keeps them from simply walking out of town and replace it with gunmen waiting to shoot them down. YMMV, of course, but that idea seems more dramatic to me.
I'm not sure it was Coon throwing in everything but the kitchen sink as much as it was Coon writing an outline that was within the show's reach during seasons 1 and 2 -- but beyond its grasp in season 3.
Yup, you can see it all over the Fox shows, particularly the Irwin Allen series. Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea used the blackout infinity sets a lot as well. It worked well enough on LiS due to the alien planets, but in the "real world" on Earth, Voyage just came off looking a little cheaper (and I'm being kind because I love that damned series). The Time Tunnel used it as well.
I preferred the incomplete sets to going on location for the same reason episodes like Miri and City on the Edge of Forever distract me; "look, it's Mayberry!" This time it would have been "look, it's Dodge City!"
As for why they didn't just use a standing location, I assume the budget didn't support outdoor shooting, which is a whole other animal than a controlled environment of an indoor set. The bulk of the episode would have been outdoors. Not to mention they would have been shooting while these same westerns were starting up as well.
The stylized sets and lighting elevated this episode from run of the mill to something memorable. It's a fun episode and a much better premiere for the third season than the one NBC aired.
Except for Morgan Woodward doing a pretty nice turn as Captain Tracy. Makes the episode worth watching, for me.
Yeah, I find "Omega" to be much more re-watchable than "Miri" too. I didn't mean to suggest that they were equally bad.
As a kid I thought the partial sets made it more eerie and mysterious. I still love that ep for that reason. Somebody earlier mentioned the availability of full outdoor sets. That would have been true, especially in the 60's. I actually wrote a little book about ghost towns that includes a chapter on how ghost towns influenced Hollywood's perception of the old west. Many westerns were filmed in actual ghost towns, and there were a ton of them standing and available right into the 80's. Many were owned or leased by the studios, in fact. So to the question of whether a real, or at least more full ghost town set was available, the answer would be most definitely yes. And probably at no cost. Extra cost would have come in with the transportation of the filming operation, and any extra technical equipment would need to be acquired. They would also have to consider lighting. Maybe that's where the cost/benefit ratio went askew.
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