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Star Trek's The Menagerie Hits the Big Screen in Unique Event

by Jesse Shanks

In a special sold out event at hundreds of theatres across the US and Canada, the two-part remastered version of The Menagerie, played on the large screen for enthusiastic fans of the Original Series as essentially a feature film (one of the better from Star Trek in a while). dOc attended the showing in Emeryville, California on November 13.

Presented in?the digitally remastered, high-definition format and in Cinema Surround Sound, this event is, in part, to promote the HD-DVD/DVD release Nov. 20 by CBS Home Entertainment and Paramount Home Entertainment.

Beginning with an introduction by son of Star Trek creator, Eugene "Rod" Roddenberry, the screening included a 30-minute in-theatre exclusive featurette?with a behind-the-scenes look at how the episodes were digitally re-mastered from the original negatives, including the digital reinvention of the old special effects and the orchestral re-recording of the series' theme music. These effect "replacements," although somewhat controversial at first, have been well-received and The Menagerie benefits nicely from the subtle visual upgrades; in particular, the shuttlecraft scenes are lovely and the matte shots of the planets visited look great.

? The two-part?episode (original air date: 11.17.1966; Stardate: 3012.4)? features the casts of both the original pilot, The Cage,?and the regular series, with Commander Spock (Leonard Nimoy) the only character to?be retained from the?pilot?into the second episode of the series. The story sees Spock initiating an elaborate plan to return his first commander, Captain Christopher Pike (Jeffrey Hunter)?to the taboo planet Talos IV. Pike had recently been injured in an accident aboard a ship and now resides in a motorized chair, barely able to communicate. Spock risks his career and the career of his current?captain, James Kirk (William Shatner), by hijacking the Enterprise and ultimately faces a court-martial for his actions. During the trial, Spock seizes on a legal opening to begin presenting evidence of "why" he did what he did for Pike. Images are beamed from the forbidden planet that tell the tale of the younger Pike visiting the Talos system while in command of the Enterprise. These scenes come from the original pilot and are ingeniously folded into the overall story.

The visuals are sharper and better contrast provides more depth of vision, allowing the more subtle colors to be seen; unfortunately, some less than great details are also revealed. In addition, watching on the big screen in a darkened theater forces more concentration directly on the action and reveals more details.

Certainly some aspects of the original Star Trek series are a little dated both technically and stylistically. Some of the acting, which seems fine still on the small screen, seem a bit over-wrought when rendered larger than life, and this occasionally elicited a chuckle from the audience, who also responded to some of the other campier aspects in good humor. The butt-headed aliens residing on Talos IV?were one particular instance—the shot of the back of their heads was humorously received. The short-skirted, wet-lipped female StarFleet personnel also received some notice from the now more enlightened viewers.?The huge alien creaure fought by Pike in?an illusion placed in his mind also received a few laughs, as did the scenes in which Scotty (James Doohan) turns on the projector during the court martial—the device he uses got laughs each time he used it from thts cell-phone crowd for its clunky attempt at looking futuristic.

Jeffrey Hunter is a very good actor and brings humanity to Pike and operates well in some of the stranger scenes. Susan Oliver guests as Vina and is very memorable in the role. The scenes of her portraying the green-skinned Orion slave girl in another illusion planted in Pike's mind?went over potently with the audience. The Cage has a weak science fiction quality that is different from what Star Trek ultimate became and this translates into being the "past" as the scenes are used in The Menagerie storyline. But there are some aspects of the plot that could be picked over; the idea that visiting Talos IV was "the only death sentence crime on the books" always seemed a bit lame. Plus, Pike being only able to blink a light on his chair for yes or no to communicate is as clumsy as ever.

Some aspects of the original pilot are intriguing. Majel Barret, who?appears as Pike's first officer in The Cage, is another actor who connects with both the pilot and the regular series. She?ultimately becomes Nurse Chapel later in the series and, due to her relationship with Gene Roddenberry, also becomes a significant figure in the future of the franchise. Her role here as a woman senior officer who is in command while Pike is a prisoner?was a revolutionary at the time, and it is known that network executives were resistant to this and other ground-breaking aspect of the series. There is some surprisingly frank discussion of the sexual drives and mating habits of humans for a mid-1960s prime time show, and the diversity of the Enterprise crew, with several races and nationalities visible among the supporting characters, was equally controversial.

The planned DVD set is to contain the entire first season of Star Trek: The Original Series in a 10-disc boxed set?offering a Standard-Definition picture on one side of each disc?and a High-Definition picture on the other. The earlier release of Star Trek on DVD was important to the success of the medium back in the infancy of the format and no doubt, the powers-that-be are hoping the the massive fervent fanbase will do the same for HD-DVD. The special features include home movies taken by regular extra Billy Blackburn, who played the White Rabbit in Shore Leave and wore the costume of the Gorn in Arena. The latter will be seen to blink, in the new remastered version of the episode. The noting of this drew a cheer from the audience familiar with the blank stare of the lizard-like creature.

There are many theories but few proven explanations for the continuing popularity of the Star Trek franchise. After six television series, ten films, countless books, specials, parodies, fan sites and rip-offs, Roddenberry's creation carries on, including the new "reboot" coming from Lost creator J.J. Abrams. The new film gets daily updates in the news on casting, plot leaks, personality reactions and other activities. Not many television series could sell out hundreds of theaters to show an episode the audience has seen many, many times

The evening ended with a well-received preview of the upcoming release of Season Two of Star Trek: The Original Series with clips of such fan-favorites as The Trouble with Tribbles, Mirror Mirror and The Doomsday Machine, which particularly benefits from the special effects upgrade.