Optical illusion

This is going to be really, really nerdy, so apologies in advance.

I’m watching “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” on IFC; I haven’t watched it in ages. They just showed the scene where the alien entity comes on board the bridge of the Enterprise, represented as about an 8-inch-wide vertical column of light, moving around and attempting to tap into the ship’s computers before it eventually abducts Ilia (Persis Khambatta).

Here’s what always annoys me in that scene. Apparently the base footage upon which they built the effect involved some film crew member wandering around the set holding a light of some sort. But even if he was normal size, he was no doubt quite a bit wider than the column of light in the final effect. And so, somehow, that part of the picture was cut out.

In any shot that pans (moves horizontally) across the set, you can see things in the background disappear behind the column of light and then reappear from the other side an inordinately long time later, revealing the fact that something’s been cut out. This is especially obvious with a sort of bulbous ceiling fixture – I’m not sure what it’s supposed to be, but it’s huge, and it pretty much vanishes behind the very narrow column of light before eventually popping out the other side. Obviously, a lot of people wouldn’t notice this, but once you notice it it’s all you can look at.

NCC-1701-Five-O

I just got though watching an episode of the occasional PBS documentary series “Pioneers of Television,” this one focusing on science fiction. The first part contrasted Gene Roddenberry’s social parables on “Star Trek” with the action-oriented, and later campy, approach of Irwin Allen on “Lost In Space.” The last portion of the show was about Rod Serling and “The Twilight Zone.”

Anyway, I learned a bit of Trek trivia tonight I’d never heard before.

Most “Star Trek” fans, and even many casual viewers, know that the show had two pilot episodes. The first pilot episode starred Jeffrey Hunter as Capt. Christopher Pike, with Majel Barrett (who would later marry Gene Roddenberry) as his first officer. Leonard Nimoy’s Spock was a minor crew member. NBC didn’t like the first pilot, finding it too cerebral, but saw enough potential to commission a second pilot, a somewhat unusual step. By this time, Jeffrey Hunter was unavailable, and so William Shatner was cast as James T. Kirk. Footage from the unaired Hunter pilot was later recycled as flashback sequences in an episode of “Star Trek,” establishing that Pike had been the ship’s captain before Kirk.

That Pike-to-Kirk succession was also utilized by the producers of the 2009 reboot.

Anyway, I knew all of that. What I didn’t know  until tonight was that Shatner was not Roddenberry’s first choice for the second pilot. Roddenberry wanted a different actor, but they couldn’t come to contract terms, and so Roddenberry went with Shatner as his second choice.

Captain James T. Kirk was almost played by … Jack Lord, Steve McGarrett from the original “Hawaii Five-O.”

I can’t even imagine that.

And Martin Landau was the original choice for Spock!

He’s a doctor, not a cowboy. Oh, wait; he IS a cowboy

I got home and turned on TCM, and they were running “Warlock,” a 1959 western with Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda and Anthony Quinn.

All of a sudden, DeForest Kelley turned up in a small role. Kelley, who died in 1999, did a number of westerns, including multiple appearances on “Bonanza,” but it’s still jarring for me to see good ol’ Dr. McCoy turn up in a non-“Star Trek” role. I’ve seen Shatner and Nimoy in many other projects, of course. The second-tier cast isn’t quite as iconic. Somehow, it’s the strangest for me to see Kelley out of context.

Most of the cast members in the terrific 2009 “Star Trek” movie wisely avoided doing too-close impersonations of their TV prototypes, but Karl Urban – just as wisely – channeled Kelley, and it was wonderful.

By the way, I played the Dr. McCoy role in a Star Trek parody back in college which Famous Televangelist University’s TV production class did as a class project. I was OK, not great. There was one scene where I got to say “He’s dead, Jim. …. No, wait, he’s alive, but his brain is gone!” I kept cracking up, and even in the take they used you can see me just beginning to smile at the end of the line.

I wish that were on YouTube somewhere so that I could link to it. I have a tape of it around here somewhere, which I need to burn to DVD.

Wait, wait — it’s Dick Van Dyke!

NPR may be having a bad week, but my favorite NPR program had a very, very good week. The “Not My Job” guest on “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” is the legendary Dick Van Dyke — a man who has done so much for entertainment that host Peter Sagal joked that the DVD was named after him.

The very clever “Not My Job” quiz they concoted for him included a question about “Dick” Nixon, a question about a new Chrysler van, and a question about the world’s largest dike.

But the highlight comes at the very end of the segment. As Peter is wrapping things up, Mo Rocca begins cheerily humming the “Dick Van Dyke Show” theme song, which leads Dick to reveal that it has lyrics — and then, he offers to sing them.

Listen to the whole show at the NPR web site or your local station, or listen to just the Dick Van Dyke segment here:

By the way, I think I’ve passed along this story here before, but the “Star Trek” theme also has lyrics — but for a mercenary reason. When creator Gene Roddenberry hired Alexander Courage to write the theme, the contract reserved the right for Roddenberry to write lyrics for it later. Once the show had become a modest success, Roddenberry exercised that right — not so that the lyrics could be used on the show, or even used at all, but because writing the lyrics made Roddenberry the co-writer of the song and entitled him to half of the royalties! Courage resented this maneuver and, reportedly, refused to write any incidental music for the show after that.

To boldly go

In case you’ve missed the news reports, Walmart has been in an online price war of sorts with Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It started with books: Walmart began offering deep, deep discounts on pre-orders for several highly-anticipated books, and Amazon and B&N had little choice but to try to match them. Earlier this month, that extended to DVDs as well.
I need to be worried about holiday gifts, but I allowed myself one indulgence, assuming that it’s something I would end up buying anyway and that it was silly not to do so at bargain-basement prices. My purchase was “Star Trek,” the combination prequel and reboot which hit theaters on my birthday this year. I loved “Star Trek” in the theater, and got to watch parts of it again on one of my Kenya trip flights.
Walmart is offering the movie on pre-order for $9.98, a price that will presumably disappear on Tuesday when the movie is actually released. Amazingly, the $9.98 price includes shipping (but not sales tax, which Walmart has to add because it also has brick-and-mortar locations in my state).
I’ve already gotten the shipping notice e-mail from Walmart, with the movie projected to arrive at the end of next week.
I was extremely pleased with “Star Trek.” As so many others have stated, it paid due reverence to the originals but had a plot device which allows the new movie and its sequels to diverge from the old continuity going forward. The cast was great, the special effects tremendous and the action sequences thrilling.
Karl Urban as McCoy probably came closest to doing an actual impersonation of the original series cast member, to hilarious effect. Simon Pegg wasn’t much like James Doohan’s Scotty, but that was OK because Simon Pegg is so darn funny.
Zoe Saldana’s Uhura has been reimagined somewhat and has a much more forceful and pivotal role; she’s no longer a glorified secretary, relaying messages.
The rest of the cast, led by Chris Pine as Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock, manage to capture the spirit of their original characters without doing out-and-out impersonations of the actors.
Pegg, as Scotty, and Anton Yelchin, as Chekov, have the advantage of actually having been born in Scotland and Russia, respectively, and their accents sound more authentic than James Doohan or Walter Koenig.
Bruce Greenwood, by the way, is wonderful as Christopher Pike, the captain of the Enterprise at the time the movie’s main action begins. His speech challenging the juvenile delinquent Kirk to enlist in Starfleet could have come off as hokey, but he delivers it so sincerely that it works pretty well.
If you’re not a Star Trek fan, I feel compelled to impart a little history. Gene Roddenberry’s original pilot for “Star Trek” starred Jeffrey Hunter as Capt. Christopher Pike. NBC did not like that first pilot for several reasons, but took the somewhat unusual step of commissioning a second pilot episode. Hunter was unavailable by that point and so William Shatner starred in the second pilot, which used a new name for the central character: James Kirk.
As the first season of “Star Trek” progressed, the show was behind schedule and over budget. So Roddenberry found a way to save time and money by recycling much of the footage from that never-aired first pilot as flashback sequences in a two-part episode. That episode set up the timeline that Chris Pike was the captain of the Enterprise before James Kirk. The newly-shot footage for that episode sets up the idea of Pike being confined to a wheelchair, which is referenced at the very end of the new movie.
I’ll probably also buy the DVD of “Up” at some point, but since that’s already out I’ve missed my chance to get the deep, deep discount.

Yada yada yada

Tonight, I watched a special on NBC about the funniest TV catch phrases. It was fun — but, as with any such program, I have some nits to pick.

  • I considered myself a fan of “Arrested Development,” and I never realized the phrase “I’ve made a huge mistake” was supposed to be a repeated catch phrase. Maybe that’s just my inattentiveness — but if it were really one of the top 50 catch phrases of all time, shouldn’t I have remembered it?
  • Jim Carrey’s “Fire Marshal Bill” on “In Living Color” was a very funny and memorable character, an all-time great sketch comedy character. But I don’t really think the phrase “Let me show you something” was the reason, and I don’t think it was important enough to the humor of the skit to make it part of this list.
  • They took great pains to explain that the phrase “Lucy, you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do” never actually appeared in “I Love Lucy.” But they included it anyway, at a fairly high place on the list, and the only two or three clips they could find where Ricky used the word “‘splain” or “‘splainin'” make it clear that the phrase is just a false pop culture memory, a product of impressionists, like Cary Grant saying “Judy, Judy, Judy.” I think this makes the phrase a novelty, not a part of the list.
  • They included “Scotty, beam us up” in a little sidebar list of famous science fiction catch phrases. This is almost the same situation, and yet they made no effort to ‘splain it as they had done for the Lucy-and-Ricky clip. The phrase as it has entered pop culture was “Beam me up, Scotty,” which was never actually said on the TV show. “Scotty, beam us up” has no resonance at all, isn’t a pop culture moment, and had no place on the show. Thus I have spoken.
  • They included “Oh my God, they killed Kenny!” in the list — which I certainly can’t fault — but failed to do their research. Kenny was killed in almost every episode of the first five seasons of “South Park,” then he went away and wasn’t on the show for a while, and now since he’s been back they only kill him occasionally. That’s five seasons out of 13, so you can’t say Kenny is killed “in almost every episode.” Nevertheless, they said it anyway. If you’re producing a special about popular culture, make some effort to know what you’re talking about.
  • I loved the fact that the writers of “Maude” put the phrase “God’ll get you for that” into the script after hearing Bea Arthur use it in actual conversation.
  • I want “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” DVDs. Someday I will actually purchase some.
  • SPOILER: I’m not sure I would have put “Yada yada yada” as number one, but that’s half the fun of this type of list — arguing over what was included and where.

No spoilers, I promise

Birthday celebration

Oh, my goodness.
Today is my 47th birthday — about which I’ve been a little melancholy this week — but my parents took me to dinner and a movie tonight. The movie? If you knew me, or more importantly if you knew my father, you would not have to ask.

Oh, my goodness.
“Star Trek” is great. I was riveted from start to finish. There’s plenty of stuff there for the fans, but I’m guessing it will work just as well as an action movie for people who aren’t fans.
Go see it.

Two themes that taste great together

One of my brothers just sent me this. Alexander Courage, meet Danny Elfman.

By the way, do you know there are lyrics to the theme from “Star Trek”? When Gene Roddenberry signed Alexander Courage to write the “Star Trek” theme, he reserved the right to write lyrics for it — and after the show made it to air, he did just that. He knew the words would never be used, and didn’t really care — the point is that writing lyrics made him the song’s co-writer and entitled him to half the royalties. Although this was perfectly legal, Courage considered it unethical and stopped writing any more music for the series.

I remember seeing the lyrics in a “Making of Star Trek” book published in the 1970s, but that was an authorized book, and didn’t get into the reasons for why the lyrics were written and what happened as a result.

Here’s one place you can find the story, not to mention the actual lyrics.