September 6, 2009

TV Review | Star Trek: The Original Series (Remastered) 0.1: “The Cage”

The main draw of SPACE’s Star Trek Labour Day marathon is the debut of remastered Star Trek: The Original Series episodes.  This includes the Canadian television premiere of the remastered Star Trek: TOS pilot, “The Cage” (SPACE: September 7, 10:00 PM ET), which recently entered syndication after forty-four years.

It took me a few minutes to get used to the remastered Star Trek.  I do like the old, primitive Trek effects, but “The Cage” does look good in its tampered form.

There are a few effects that ring false, such as the opening transition from the ship to the bridge.  The effect is too modern for a forty-four-year-old pilot, but its inclusion amounts to a few seconds of television time.  Overall, the CGI is subtle enough that it doesn’t detract from the pilot.

Vina (Susan Oliver) is the only survivor of a scientific expedition that crash-landed on Talos IV.  The native Talosians engineer events that force USS Enterprise Captain Christopher Pike (Jeffrey Hunter) into a holding cell with Vina.

The Talosians have developed great illusory powers, using them to tempt Pike into mating with Vina.  The Talosians, underground survivors of a nuclear holocaust, are breeding a slave race to repopulate their planet.

“The Cage” is a very good unsold pilot – a bit portentous, as Star Trek episodes of the 1960s are.  ”The Cage” contains most of the classic Star Trek elements – disguised social issues of the 1960s, good character interaction, a bit of sex appeal, and at least one over-choreographed battle.

The predictable plot – Captain Pike fights a race of highly evolved, emotionally detached aliens – is overshadowed by Pike’s guilt over a failed mission on Rigel VII.  ”The Cage” is standard sci-fi improved by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s concise dialogue.  Alexander Courage’s music score is excellent, making “The Cage” more exciting than it really should be.

It’s easy to see why “The Cage” didn’t sell NBC on Star Trek.  Leonard Nimoy’s Mr. Spock is a bit excitable, which doesn’t play to Nimoy’s strengths.  As much as I like Majel Barrett-Roddenberry’s Number One, she’s superfluous to the action, as is most of the crew.  ”The Cage” is all about Captain Pike, from his desire to become a slave-dealer to his imprisonment on Talos IV.

John Hoyt is excellent as Chief Medical Officer Phillip Boyce.  He should have been retained for Star Trek: TOS‘ second pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”  Jeffrey Hunter’s histrionics as Captain Pike are a bit hard to take, not that Star Trek ever mastered understatement.

I’m not surprised Star Trek was almost completely recast.  ”The Cage” possesses little talent depth beyond Hunter, Nimoy, Hoyt and Barrett-Roddenberry.  As wooden as William Shatner is as an actor, the man can connect to audiences in the way Hunter can’t.  Folding Number One into Spock was the best thing to happen to Leonard Nimoy, as it defined Spock’s character and gave Captain James T. Kirk a dramatic opposite.

“The Cage” isn’t on the level of the best Treks.  There’s a bit too much talk, the pilot relying far too much on Hunter’s talents.  All the same, “The Cage” is good television.  You can’t say that about Star Trek: TOS episodes like “The Way to Eden” or “And the Children Shall Lead.”

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