Thursday, December 11, 2008
Star Trek- The Original Series: Season Three Remastered DVD Edition
Reviewed by- Jennifer Smith & Rob Klein
Star Trek Season Three Remastered Edition is “sauce for the goose, Mr. Saavik.”
Star Trek’s season three looks very different than the previous two seasons, and it wasn’t just because the Starfleet uniform’s fabric was switched from fuzzy velour to “Brady Bunch”-ish polyester. Star Trek suffered from a severely cut budget, due to the shows’ near cancellation at the end of season two. NBC had no faith in the program, and due to the historic letter-writing campaign spearheaded by loyal first generation Trek fans, Star Trek was awarded a third season. Star Trek was not given a fair chance, as its third season time slot of Friday at 10:00 PM was known as the network “dead-zone.” This was the time when the loyal fans that had supported the shows for two years were out of the house being teenagers, and the younger Trek fans were asleep, as 10:00 PM was still past their bedtime, even for a weekend. Additionally, the departure of Gene Roddenberry as the show’s writer/producer due to political posturing over contract disputes also affected the style and feel of the third season. Though the new producers did a great job with what they had to work with, Star Trek’s third season too often gets dismissed as throwaway when compared to the first two seasons. It may not be the strongest of the three, but with episodes like “Spectre of the Gun”, “The Enterprise Incident’, “All Our Yesterdays” and the “The Savage Curtain”, we should thank God for Star Trek’s third season, and this new DVD set celebrates it with style.
In season three, “all bets are off”. There are many far-out premised episodes that affirmed that the show was strong enough to carry controversial stories concerning race and war; subject matter that other shows of the time dared not tackle. Star Trek had the guts of storytelling that would pique the interest of the hardest of Klingons, and it took 60’s television boldly where no other shows had gone before. An excellent example of this is “All Our Yesterdays”, a tour-de-force of acting by Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock and DeForest Kelley as Dr. “Bones” McCoy. Sent back in time to a frozen wasteland by mistake, Spock and McCoy encounter the beautiful Zarabeth, marooned there by an evil dictator. McCoy finds a way to return through the time portal, but cannot jump through without Spock. Spock sacrifices his future with Zarabeth for McCoy’s return to the Enterprise, leaving Zarabeth alone in the past. Almost 20 years after the Trek episode was filmed, a brilliant book was released called “Yesterday’s Son,” by A.C. Crispin. In it, Spock realizes that he fathered a son by Zarabeth, and travels back in time to rescue him. How many other television shows have spawned episodes being embellished upon 15 years after the episode premiered? Another example is obvious; the first season episode “Space Seed” that originally starred Ricardo Montalban as “Khan” became the vehicle that generated the best Trek feature film: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
Star Trek- The Original Series: Season Three Remastered DVD Edition looks great in spite of the controversial addition of enhanced effects. Though we will always be purists and want to see the original cuts and effects live on forever in reruns, I must admit that it’s fun seeing these new digital effects pop-up from time to time in an episode, especially when you forget you are watching an enhanced version. There is a certain thrill at seeing an episode that you’ve watched dozens of times, and being “wowed” or at least caught off-guard by how cool The CG “U.S.S. Enterprise” looks in orbit.
Sometimes DVD releases get everything right (in this case, except for the absence of a “play all episodes” function). The set is incased in a clear plastic covering which hinges open to reveal a CD-sized clear box, housing the DVDs with a colorful slipcover and neat-o data cards printed on clear red plastic featuring the set’s program. Continuing the typical third season tradition, the episode “The Cage” is included, which was the pilot before William Shatner was the Captain of “The Enterprise”. Some of the extras in the set have been regurgitated from the 2004 Trek DVD release, while a few are recent. “To Boldly Go… Season Three” is a short featurette that covers the highlights of season three. “Star Trek: A Collector’s Dream” explains the re-production of Star Trek props like phasers and communicators. It also coins the hysterical phrase “crapezoid” to refer to Trek’s non-working background phasers. Other mini-documentaries include “Life Beyond Trek: Walter Koenig”, “Chief Engineer’s Log” and “Captain’s Log with Bob Justman,” about the man who took up producing responsibilities when Gene Roddenberry left. On a lighter note, a little feature called “Collectible Trek” is just about as uncomfortable to watch as the film Trekkies. To those of you who have not seen Trekkies, it may be the best Star Trek film after Star Trek- The Wrath of Khan. On a more serious note, a very moving and informative look into the life of George Takei is shown in “Memoir from Mr. Sulu”, where he poignantly discusses his years in a Japanese Internment camp as a boy during World War WII.
As with the DVD Enhanced releases of seasons one and two, season three comes with the best Trek news of the decade: “Billy Blackburn’s Treasure Chest.” This is home video gold. Blackburn was on the Trek set five days a week. He provided production support, which is, to say the least, a Trekkie’s dream job. He was a stand-in for DeForest Kelley, stuntman, assistant to Fred Phillips (Star Trek’s resident make-up wizard with prosthetic effects), in addition to helping Bill Thiess with wardrobe. Blackburn took home movies while on the Trek set or while on location, and each Enhanced DVD Trek release reveals new Blackburn home movies never before seen or heard of until now. Part 3 features perhaps the only behind the scenes footage from Star Trek season three in existence (other than the elusive “season three blooper reel”).
The greatest moment of these season three home movies is seeing Spock, McCoy and Kirk on location for the episode “The Paradise Syndrome” hanging out around the giant Indian pylon featured in the story. Fantastic footage of the giant set piece under construction is awesome. Due to the slashed budget for season 3, not many episodes were filmed on location. However, “The Paradise Syndrome” was one of the few that let the crew out of the confines of the small Desilu studios in Hollywood to enjoy the outdoors and green pine trees surrounding the Hollywood Reservoir. The treat of leaving the studio’s gates is perhaps is why Blackburn documented so much material from this particular episode. These moments captured are priceless, and to reveal original series footage this long after everyone thought that the Trek well had run dry is a one in a million opportunity for fans.
The Blackburn footage is truly amazing, though short. Hopefully these sets will sell well, and their success will be attributed to the inclusion of “Bill Blackburn’s Home Movies”, not just to the enhanced effects. Blackburn must truly be commended and compensated for his foresight in capturing these precious moments in television history. His footage may be all that exists…but then again it may not be. Let’s hope that the success of these current DVD sets will spawn the future producers of Trek videos to suss out the “other” forgotten footage that still awaits discovery in the garages of Trek production personnel. The archeology of Star Trek still awaits, ready to be discovered.
Monday, December 1, 2008
Walt Disney’s True-Life Adventures Volume 4
If you enjoyed Walt Disney’s True life Adventures Volumes 1, 2 and 3, then you will probable enjoy Walt Disney’s True-Life adventure Vol. 4, the last volume in the series.
This set may not seem to have as much material as the previous volumes, but it does have rarer films, not often mentioned as The Living Desert or The Vanishing Prarie. The programs running times on vol. 4 are a bit longer than some of the other True-Life Adventure short films. This is the set I would imagine may be the future collectible volume, as I have not seen this set in stores, as often as I have run across volumes 1 and 2 of the True-Life sets.
This set contains the only Disney “True-life Fantasy” called Perri about the adventures of a young female squirrel. Unlike the other Disney nature films, this piece had a predetermined story line, written by Felix Salten who wrote the Disney feature animated masterpiece Bambi (1942). While filming Perri the Disney photographers were witness to a forest fire, and helped douse the flames. Footage of this event was presented on an episode of the Disneyland TV series. Which is presented on this DVD set. Any Disney home video release containing any Disneyland episode excerpts immediately finds a place in my video library.
Secrets of Life, is featured on this set, and contains some of the first stop motion photography of plants growing. Shot using macro photography on insects such as ants, the film is truly quiet remarkable when paired with the incomparable Disney story telling.
All the True-Life Adventures were shot with 16mm cameras, there-fore the prints tend to be scratchy, especially if you viewed one of these films for the first time at school in the 60s or 70s, as so many of us were exposed to the True-Life Adventures in that way. Fortunately, through modern technology these films have been restored and are crisp and clear, looking better than ever.
Disc two continues the tradition of the exceptional bonus features, which have been an essential addition to these True-Life Adventures DVD sets. Included are several enjoyable films: Searching for Nature’s Mysteries, Adventure in Wild Wood Heart and another Academy Award Winning film in 1951 for best short subject: Nature’s Half Acre. The section of the film documenting the habits of bees took over three years to photograph. Which is understandable, as bees probable don’t take direction very well.
Continuing the tradition originating on this series is the “Filmmaker’s Journal”, a look at the making the films featured on this volume and “Collector’s Corner”. In addition to yet another segment of “Backstage with Roy Disney” at Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park, learning about butterflies.
A very special bonus feature is a tribute to Winston Hibler who was the narrorator for all the True-Life Adventures. Mr. Hibler’s voice is that of legend. The volume of work this artist produced while at Disney is truly impressive. This short documentary features his grandsons, Chris Hibler and Winston Murray Hunt Hibler the second, examining their grandfather’s Oscars, archived at the Disney Studios, for the first time. Winston Hibler was a writer, producer and director at Disney. His contributions are vast, and it is surprising he has not been mentioned more as he was a contributor to so many Disney masterpieces. Winston Hibler has story credits on Sleeping Beauty and Peter Pan. He wrote Sleepy Hollow, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, Johnny Appleseed and Walt’s opening dedication at Disneyland, to name but a few of his contributions. He is perhaps best known for his voice over narration, a fact his family members feel sells him short. He never took any payment for his voice over work. He is a true renaissance artist and was honored as a Disney legend in 1993, though he passed in 1976. It is documentaries such as this, featuring the artists who made up the Disney empire that make these DVDs worth their weight in gold.
Roy Disney appears again throughout this set. He is a welcomed addition as some of his first production experiences were on True-Life Adventure productions. I wouldn’t mind at all if he got more involved with the company these days and became the official company spokes-person. Heck any member of the Disney family is better than some outsider, he was there in person when some amazing events in the companies hstory went down. He is a fascinating individual, as he is a true adventurer himself. The resemblance he has to his uncle doesn’t hurt either. Perhaps now with changes made with-in the Disney Company, we will see more of Roy Disney Jr. I had the pleasure of meeting him while I was documenting a lecture he was giving about his interests in sailing. The vibe he puts out is exciting as he was a part of the era of Disney history that is truly worth studying.
The Traveling Wilburys Collection
-------Rob “Doofus Wilbury” Klein says: “What Happened to Wilburys Vol. 2?”
The Traveling Wilburys made rock n’ roll history immediately upon their debut LP offering, The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1. The group consisted of Beatle George Harrison, Jeff (ELO) Lynne, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison: a superstar line-up if there ever was one. The Wilburys came together as if by fate; George Harrison was recording a B-side for a single for his critically acclaimed 1987 offering “Cloud Nine” which was produced by Jeff Lynne. The B-Side, “Handle With Care”, was to be included on the LP’s first single “Got My Mind Set on You”. When the record company heard “Handle with Care” they immediately broadcasted their thoughts that this song was “too good” to be a B-side, and suggested another entire album upon hearing it. The company’s positive outlook for the single was not lost on Harrison, who ultimately produced more work than he had in twenty years. The last three years of the 1980’s were a career renaissance for all of the future members of The Traveling Wilburys. The connections between the artists can be explained by a game of “six degrees of separation” from Jeff Lynne, who would produce everyone’s solo LP’s: George Harrison’s Cloud Nine, Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever and Roy Orbison’s Mystery Girl.
Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne met during Petty’s outing one summer afternoon in the Valley, while he was going out to purchase a baseball glove. Petty pulled up next to Jeff Lynne’s car and introduced himself; an instant friendship was formed. Petty then met George Harrison through Lynne. Petty mentioned in a later interview that George Harrison met Petty at his Encino home, then spontaneously stayed for several days after as an unexpected house guest. Petty, Lynne and Harrison began to pal around together, and decided that it would be a good idea to record together. They headed down to Anaheim, California by limo to the Celebrity Theater and asked Roy Orbison to join the mix, to which he answered: “it sounds like great fun.” This led to recording Harrison’s B-side, “Handle with Care”.
The last Wilbury recruited by Tom Petty was Bob Dylan. Petty had a relationship with Dylan through a previous Tom Petty and Heartbreakers Tour, where they had been Dylan’s support band (after the Dylan set Petty performed with the Heartbreakers). Even George Harrison with his legendary Beatle status was giddy with excitement at the idea of Dylan joining the band; he would later secretly from the upstairs at Petty’s Encino house video-tape Dylan playing the piano.
Each band member assumed a Wilbury alias; comically they were all supposed to be half-brothers: Lucky-Boo (Dylan), Otis-Clayton (Lynne), Charlie T. Jr./Muddy (Petty), Nelson-Spike (Harrison), and Lefty (Orbison), even though these names changed on their second Wilburys release, “Vol. 3”. It has been said that those lucky enough to run across Harrison during his Wilbury days would receive a signature as his Wilbury character, “Nelson Wilbury”, a valuable and valid variation of the Harrison autograph. (Though many at the time were confused and pleaded for him to sign his real name).
This new CD / DVD is the first release of any Wilburys work since the initial release of the first and only two albums. (Not including endless UK 12” maxi-singles and 45’s, the most sought-after being a 12” single for “End of the Line”, which included Wilbury stickers). The Traveling Wilburys Collection includes just about every track recorded by the group, and offers both albums: “Vol. 1” and “Vol. 3”. (The group’s second LP was in fact entitled “Vol. 3”, a title cooked up by the group to confound future music historians who would no doubt would pull their hair out trying to find the non –existent “Vol. 2”.)
The third disc in the collection is the debut release of the band’s videos: “Handle with Care”, “End of the Line”, “She’s my Baby”, “Inside Out”, and “Wilbury Twist”. These videos are magical, especially “Handle with Care”, which is the only video featuring all five members. It was during this particular video’s shoot where Bob Dylan walked off the set, for reasons unknown. Another unpublished anecdote concerning the “Handle with Care” video debuting in this very article: The Wilburys used a privately owned Hollywood costume facility to outfit their wardrobe for the video. The entire band was let loose inside the wardrobe house with racks upon racks of Western garments that had been worn by Western legends like John Wayne, Michael Landon and Clint Eastwood. George Harrison picked out the duster that he is seen wearing in the video, and demanded to keep it upon the video’s completion, which did not go over well with the owners of the costume house, who were avid Western collectors themselves. The end result of this story I cannot recall, but had the owners been Beatles fans before Western fans, things may have gone more smoothly.
Vol. 1 and 3 are here in their entirety, and include the elusive bonus tracks, which were the “missing” Wilbury tunes that were virtually unavailable until this release. The highlight of the collection is the cover of Del Shannon’s “Runaway”, sung by Jeff Lynne. This track was only available as a bonus track on a very rare import CD single of “She’s My Baby”.
The coolest thing on this release is the DVD disc, which features all of the Wilbury videos. The “Handle with Care” video is enough to bring any Beatle fan to tears; it is so poignant to see how vital and hip these legends were in the late 80’s, especially Harrison, whose singing brings the Beatle film Help to mind. Now we have lost two of them, Harrison and Orbison. The videos for the Wilburys’ songs make one wish that Ringo Starr had been included in their little musical endeavor; the historical value of the footage would have been incredible. (With no disrespect to the incredible Jim Keltner who played drums on the Wilburys records, and to which Harrison, Petty and Lynne were all members of his fan club!) As the sales for CDs decline, it is very good that record companies are realizing that a DVD will add interest to any music release. Since videos were made to sell albums, why not use them for the purpose that they were created for?
This will be the definitive Wilburys release for both video and audio. Any fan of these legends must own this collection, whether it is the first time that you discover the Wilburys, or are revisiting a seldom talked-about era of the late 1980’s, where the epilogue to the historic 1960’s musical era was written.
Pop Historian and Wilbury Authority - Author of the forth-coming Wilbury Biography:
“Popsicles, Beer, and Ukuleles”
North Hollywood, California