Sunday, 29 September 2013

TOS - 2.20 - Return to Tomorrow

Star Trek - A Return to Tomorrow
I'm doing the Lunar Walk. Don't confuse it
with Moon Walk. I know it looks pretty looney.
"You don't have to be beautiful to turn me on"

Boys and girls, don't do this at home !
When I saw the title, I thought it was going to be an episode about time travel like episode 1.19 "Tomorrow is Yesterday". After all, the synonyms of this title would be "Back to the Future". Well, it's not about time travel.

When I heard the god-like booming voice addressing the whole Enterprise crew at the beginning, I thought this may be one of the episode more like episode 2.2 "Who Mourns for Adonais?", I was on the money.

Let me do a quick recap. Star Trek TOS Season 1 is all about superior god-like aliens calling human a dumb-ass, but Season 2's main thrust is that those superior aliens aren't so great after all. Some are quite silly and misguided as shown in episode  2.2 "Who Mourns for Adonais?", 2.5 "The Apple",  2.7 "Catspaw", and 2.9 "Metamorphosis", and this episode.

All these episodes in Season 2 seems to try to convince us that while these ETs are more highly evolved, more superior than us, and has truly astounding mental capacity, but that's no reasons  to look up to them. In fact, they need us and envy us. Lucky us. There's no better episode than this one to illustrate this idea.

Sargon and the inhabitants on this planet has evolved to a point so high in the evolutionary ladder that they have no physical body. They exist as pure energies of their minds. Any human (that include me, who acknowledged it grudgingly in Season 1, but beginning to warm up to the idea in Season 2) who watches this episode would find this god-like aliens rather sad and pitiful.

It brings up the very interesting philosophy as RenĂ© Descartes put it, "I think, therefore I'm". This may be true. But to make life worth living, I say, "I feel, therefore I'm". To live life devoid of all sensations are no life. This is why these bodiless aliens want our help, to make themselves an androids. Well, an androids are quite pathetic, but what's the alternative?

It would be having the Enterprise do the deeds for them and breed many little Kirks and Spocks, and Nurse Chapels to populate the barren planet. Well, they haven't thought of that. At least, this isn't that episode.

Lenard Nimoy put on one of his rare animated performance. Up until now, there're only 3 episodes where Spock shows his emotion. Episodes 1.4 "The Naked Time" and 1.24 "This Side of Paradise" where Spock's emotion wells up to the surface because he loses his inhibition due to external element. In episode 2.1 "Amok Time", he loses it because of his pon farr or what I would call the Vulcan male menstral period.

In this episode, because he's 'possessed', and he takes on the emotional state of Henoch who occupies his consciousness. And Henoch isn't a nice character, and so you can feast your eyes on some sinister expressions from Spock.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

TOS - 1.23 - A Taste of Armageddon

Star Trek - A Taste of Armageddon
You look tired and tense, having trouble sleeping?
Don't worry, let me give you a Vulcan massage.
It guarantees to put you to sleep soundly
It probably sounds strange, but this is one of the very few episodes in TOS that tackles the issues about the future.

While the setting of Star Trek is futuristic, many TOS episodes in Season 1 preoccupy with the contemporary issues of the Cold War, and the main thrust of TOS Season 2 focuses on our past. This episode is a bit of exception. It deals with the future. A frightening future I should add.

This episode is way ahead of its time. Some critics said the scenario depicted in this episode can't occur in real life. Of course not, but they miss the point. As most, if not all episodes in Star Trek, the stories are allegorical. It shouldn't be taken literally any more than George Orwell's Animal Farm should be taken as it is. No, farm animals can't talk.

Some of the aspects of George Orwell another great work 1984 have come true while others not. Similarly, some aspects of this episode have realised.  I don't know if this episode is the 1st film to deal with the theme of wargames. It may very well be. Star Trek TOS has a habit of coming up with original ideas, especially sci-fi ones. It's certainly one of the 1st, if not the 1st.

Wargames(1983) is movie based on this eponymous theme, and this episode predated it by 13 years. This is big deal because usually TV follows the movies' lead, no thte other way around. Well, Start Trek TOS is very much ahead of its time.

While this is a film based on a fictional world, watching the Gulf War in 1990 on TV unsettled me when I saw a video game mentality in some of US pilots that we're one step closer to the deadly oxymoron of war game. They cheered in glee as they dropped bombs from their planes. And the Wargames(1983) set against the backdrop of Cold War, a war that nobody has dwelt deeper than TOS Season 1. So this episode is a predecessor to Wargames(1983) on 2 counts. However, there's one important topic that's new in Wargames(1983), and it's computer hackers. This is a popular topic in the 1980's as the internet hacking was a hot topic of its days.

The drone warfare brings us one more step closer. As the episode is never meant to be realistic, but an allegory, step by step, we're closer in fulfilling the nightmarish scenario than ever. Since the drone warfare is one sided at the moment, one can argue this is a worse scenario than those depicted in this episode because the side who owns the drones has eliminate casualty on their side, which is the whole point of the frightening message of this episode, which is the dehumanisation of technology in the battlefields.

I'm not taking any side, simply points out our military development seemingly heading towards the fictional scenario in this episode where we're increasingly relying on technology to fight wars, relying on it to make decision for us, even life and death decision as the idea is toyed with in Wargames(1983).

At the onset of industrialisation, there were a explosion of machines to serve us, but gradually the roles of machines have taken on increasingly important roles that we're becoming more of their slaves than their masters in many ways. This is also the theme of this episode, And so a sci-fi sub-genre cyberpunk was born. The Terminator (1984) and  The Matrix (1999) are the most well known examples. They're allegories of human being enslaved by machines, and we try to struggle against it. In short, we rise up to fight the oppression by the machines, figuratively speaking.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Pitching Script for Cast and Crew

We're going to pitch our scripts for cast and crew this Saturday. By We, I mean Marrie and I.

The script I'm pitching is my 2nd script, entitled "Heart Flutters".

Before I talk about this script, let me just do a brief flashback, and talk about my 1st script, entitled "The Gift". I already talked about this in my previous post (by the way, going by pageview count, lots more people read this post than I had anticipated. As I type this, it ranks 9th in the Popular Posts section within a few weeks. So I'm not just talking to myself. Good to know).

But I need to tell you more bumpy road - or using the same metaphor as the previous post - open rough seas that happened to my 1st script.

After I showed Marrie my 1st script the 1st time, she was unimpressed. I went back to do an overhaul (with some help from Kit). I was reasonably happy (not saying it's perfect, just happier). She read it, but no comment. Well, she just tried to spare my feeling. I got the silent message.

Well, on hindsight, I agree with that silent, but loud appraisal. While it's got an entertaining plot, the characters' depth aren't sufficiently fleshed out in my view. O alas, my 1st script, how you have suffered for your artistry. Let me make it up to you.

Even before I've got my silent treatment, I was struck by a flash of inspiration. This spurred me to work on my next script. After many twists and turns, self-doubts, writer's block the size of the Moon, and once again with help from Kit, I finally finished my 2nd script. It got 23 pages, and took me 4 or 6 weeks to get it done. In other words, 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration.

It looks like I will have to put my 1st script on ice, or into the bottom drawer (it's drier and warmer here).

With the experience of the 1st script, my optimism this time is more cautious. Marrie read it, and the reply was, in her exact wording, "Bravo Francis. I like your script...very much". My reply was, "Thanks. I like it too...."

Well, who doesn't like his own script? It's just a matter of degree.

That praise is her greenlight to produce the film from the script.

Ok, end of the flashback.

Marrie Lee pitching her script in Reel Frenz Group
Marrie pitching her script in Talent Cafe
This snapshot shows the diversity of our group members in terms
of age, gender, race, social and professional backgrounds that
united by the shared passion of movie making
I pitched my script in the meeting, and the resounding response from the new (and a few old) attendees was "I love your script". I think I could more confidently remove my previous self-doubts.

Apart from the ego stroking (stroke it away, I don't mind, pat my back if you need to), my pitch turned out to be irrelevant. The question who - among the new attendees - want to be casted in my script, no hands were raised. This is in fact a good thing. Getting cast members are easy, large number of people believe they can act (after all, most of us do this at least some of the time since we were born). There're more than enough old members from our previous project whom could be casted in my script, I suspect. Our ratio of cast to crew size is about 3 to 1.

Getting technical people are more difficult. You really do have to know your stuff. And all the new attendees we have today want to get involved in working behind the camera. This is excellent for the growth of our group.

In general, going from personal experience and gut feeling, the list shows the level of difficulties in recruiting various talents in ascending order, for an amateur film group.

Script writer
Cameraman / DOP
Dance choreographer
Foley artist

It's obvious that actors are easy to find. The belief in their own ability to do it plus the glamour factor making this role with a great pull. Yes, writers are also a dime a dozen. In our group, we have double the number of members who write scripts than the number of DOPs. Because story telling, like acting, is part of our daily life, and it's not technical. Especially writing of short film. So people think they can do it without any formal training unlike the technical expertise such as foley or animation.

The last and most crucial factor for the last few experts in this list so hard to find is that they're people working behind the camera. And so no matter how many tens of thousands of movies you've watched, you can't see how they're being done and learn from it, unlike acting where audience could learn by imitation. This applies to script writing as well. A movie is simply a materialisation of a script.

After the meeting, Marrie asked me if I finished my script.
I said, "What do you mean?"
"Have you done your storyboarding?", she said.
"Not yet", I said.

If you say that it's not a script writer's responsibility to do the storyboarding, you're right. It's the director's responsibility. Well, in big budget movies, they've story illustrators to do this job. In indie/amateur production like ours, we do everything. So big budget productions are made by specialists, and smaller budget productions like ours are made by jacks/jills-of-all-trades.

She suggests that whoever writes the script directs it as well because nobody knows the story better than the script writer. As far as a small budget film is concerned, this is absolutely true. When I wrote the script, I did visualise the script from a director's viewpoint. Being a long-time shutterbug also comes in handy in terms of understanding framing, lighting, colour, etc. Some of the best directors come from a still photographer background. Zhang Yimou, the most well Chinese director, is such an example.

Well, back to the drawing story board.

My first storyboarding
My 1st attempt at storyboarding

Return to My Movie Making Main Page

Thursday, 19 September 2013

TOS - 2.17 - A Piece of the Action

Star Trek - A Piece of the Action
Nimoy:   Didn't you get the memo that we're doing
a  period piece today?                
Kelley:   They say they don't have any in my size.
Nimoy:   So what is your size ?                              
Kelley:   A gentlemen never tells. The main thing
           is that my wife's happy with the size.  
The diversification of genres away from the typical sci-fi themes that I mentioned in the reviews of episode 2.15 "The Trouble with Tribbles" continues. Episode 2.14 "A Wolf in the Fold" is a murder mystery, episode 2.15 "The Trouble with Tribbles" is a comedy, and this episode is a gangster flick.

This episode continues the trend of producing increasingly light hearted TOS series, and the colourful mobster slang just rolls off Captain Kirk's tongue like a rifle's salvo.

Maybe it's just me, but I really enjoy watching the Star Trek crew in other costumes and settings. Anachronism is always an entertaining feature in a movie.

As soon as the Enterprise is beamed down to the planet surface, we immediately reminded of the movie set from The Sting (1973). Perhaps, Bonnie and Clyde (1967) would be closer to home as it was released only a few months earlier. I wouldn't be surprise if this writer was inspired, indeed riding on the success of this very popular - to the point of phenomenal - gangster flick.

The underworld of this world may look like Chicago after the Prohibition in the 1920's, a closer look suggests that it would put the Chicago gangland to shame. I say that because it isn't just the male gangsters who walk around with Tommy guns, but the broads or doll faces - using what I imagine to be Chicago mobster lingo for "women" by imitating Kirk, who imitates the Iotian gangsters - who walk around with handguns in holsters that slung around their waists like some fancy fashionable belts (man, this is one long sentence). These gun-toting mamas is another indication that the writer was influenced by Bonnie and Clyde (1967).

This episode addresses 2 distinct but closely related concepts.

The 1st of the concept is why the Prime Directive is held in such high regard. Once the society is contaminated culturally by external influence, the result could be disastrous as shown in this episode.

The 2nd closely related concept is the cargo cult (I also wrote a review of a Japanese film The Bird People in China (1998) that's based on the cargo cults). While I suggested in my review of episode 2.2 "Who Mourns for Adonais?" that it's sort of about cargo cults. But this episode is more accurately reflected that idea.

With the Horizon crew from the Federation left behind a book, entitled Chicago Mobs of the Twenties, the whole Iotian society is based on it. This book, which the Iotians call "The Book" is the artifact that left behind by the higher civilisation where the more primitive society use it to regulate their society either as a religion or in this case a dogma for the mobsters. Nobody questions The Book, doing so would be sacrilegious.

Once the Feds - as the Iotians call the Federation - have made extensive contact with the local culture and invariably altered it, it leaves the Enterprise little choice but influence the hell out of it further to bring it back to the more civilised path. To fight fire with fire, so to speak. Such is a slippery path. As McCoy suggests that he may have left the communicator down at the planet. Kirk reasons with their talent of imitation and innovation, it wouldn't take long that they could reverse engineer the communicator to duplicate the Enterprise technology. I guess cultural contact could be tricky, and it's a case of damned if you do, and damn if you don't.

The cultural contamination of the Iotians by the Horizon crew in the past needs to be corrected by the Enterprise. This is like saying that the current government of a country needs to clean up the mess left behind by its previous government. This happens a lot in politics.

Since the Federation is really future equivalence of Uncle Sam - especially as depicted in TOS Season 1 when the villains in most of the episodes is future equivalent of USSR - one would naturally question the cultural, military, and political interference or intervention stance that USA took on the world post WW2, for better or worse. I already talked extensively about this topic in the the review of episode 1.21 "The Return of the Archons". So I won't repeat it here.

Friday, 13 September 2013

TOS - 2.15 - The Trouble with Tribbles

Star Trek - The Trouble with Tribbles
Dr. McCoy:  I think this furry frock looks rather      
dashing on you, Jim.
Capt. Kirk:  You don't think it makes me look fat?   
Mr. Spock:  It depends on whom you compare with.
If Jabba the Hutt, then no.
Dr. McCoy:  I think your frock is falling into pieces.
Capt. Kirk:  Please leave my frock alone, you two. 
There's a gradual evolution of TOS in diversifying its episodes from its mainstay of historical, cultural, philosophical, military and such typical sci-fi themes.

In the previous episode 2.14 "Wolf in the Fold", it's a murder mystery. In this episode, it's a comedy.

Actually, episodes in TOS Season 1 are serious, and contain few comic relief. There's a trend of gradually adding more and more light touches since Season 2, especially the last 10 episodes or so where the comic relief at the endings have become a Trek tradition.

This episode is a comedy from start to finish. In fact, almost borderline on farce. This should be obvious from the title.

So it would become fitting to have a full comedy episode like this one. The comedy being introduced seems to coincide with other changes that I indicated in 2.11 "Friday's Child". I think all these developments - more diverse genres, more subtle preaching, more comedy - point to the continuing trend of making TOS more entertaining and taking itself less seriously. They still deliver serious messages, just not with a straight face any more.

So would such a fluffy (no pun intended) light comedy contains any serious message? Actually there're 2.

The 1st one is captured in the following dialogues,

UHURA: But they do give us something, Mister Spock. They give us love. Well, Cyrano Jones says a tribble is the only love that money can buy.
KIRK: Too much of anything, Lieutenant, even love, isn't necessarily a good thing.

Who can argue with that? The same can be said about sunlight, darkness, exercise, rest, honesty, and lies.

The 2nd and more serious and complex message is indicated by the following transcript,

SPOCK: Surely you must have realised what would happen if you removed the tribbles from their predator-filled environment into an environment where their natural multiplicative proclivities would have no restraining factors.
JONES: Of course. What did you say?
SPOCK: By removing the tribbles from their natural habitat, you have, so to speak, removed the cork from the bottle and allowed the genie to escape.

I wouldn't be at all surprise if the writer was inspired by the story of the Queensland cane toads in Australia. In order to control the cane beetles that damaged the sugar canes in Queensland, Australia, the cane toads were introduced to the cane fields.

Just as Spock pointed out,  when the cane toads were allowed to roam free in Queensland, because the environment is free of its predator, the cane toads multiplied without restraint. Only over 100 cane toads were introduced to Queensland in 1939, by the 1960s, the population of cane toads had exploded. Today they numbered over 200 million. The cane toads can easily pose as a serious contender to the tribbles in the multiplication faculty.

While it's a very serious matter, causing serious ecological damages, the Aussies often laugh it off in a resigned manner, just like the tribbles trouble in this episode. At least the tribbles are fluffy and cute while the cane toads are anything but that.

Since cane toads are poisonous and tribbles are poisoned by Klingon spy, does this suggest another evidence that the tribble story may have inspired by the cane toads troubles. One more link between the 2 stories: produce - sugar cane and wheat grain. The poisonous cane toad are used to save the sugar cane, and the tribbles are poisoned by wheat grain that are supposed to be saved.

This episode could easily one of the most expensive TOS episode thus far with some 1500 tribbles being produced, as well as coming up with a model of the Deep Space Station K7.

The Klingons are simply increasingly looking like the Caucasian on earth. The one facial or makeup feature that marks the Klingons - they all have beards. But the wispy long beard that wore by the Chinese characters (in some cases, played by Caucasian) in Genghis Khan (1965) in their 1st appearance in episode 1.26 "Errand of Mercy" had given way to more Caucasian beards. It's all part of the evolution of Star Trek series.

Captain Koloth of the Klingons is played by William Campbell, who played Trelane character brilliantly in episode 1.17 "The Squire of Gothos". There're a few examples of actors playing more than one role in TOS. Mark Lenard who played a Romulan in 1.14 "Balance of Terror", and then ambassador Sarek is another notable example.

There's an interesting trivia associated with this script. The writer who wrote this script used a smaller font to type his script, and ended up with a longer script. He needed to remove 20 pages of the script (which is a lot) to get the script into the right length. Funny that.

I was old enough to apply a job by typing an application letter on a typewriter. No PC existed then. And as far as I knew, there's only one font size on a typewriter. Apparently, it wasn't so. Changing font size these days involving a click of the mouse, but changing font size on a typewriter involving buying a new typewriter. A mistake I imagine wouldn't easily make. The writer obviously used the wrong typewriter.

Monday, 9 September 2013

TOS - 2.11 - Friday's Child

Star Trek - Friday's Child
I think it says "gaga" or is it "papa"?
I dunno. Hell! I'm a doctor, not a Vulcan.
I don't do mindmeld with a pillow that's
pretending to be a pregnancy
This episode continues the tradition that started in TOS Season 2 of portraying an alien race - typically humanoid - who resembles the human in our past. Of course, the humanoid's physical appearance make them resemble our ancestors they portrayed even more, right down to the costumes and make up. The only difference is they're given alien names and titles. For example, the king is called the Teer in this episode.

In fact, with the exception of episodes 2.3 and 2.9, all TOS episodes in Season 2 up until and including this one are built on that theme. These 2 episodes form the exceptions because the alien beings in it aren't humanoid. One is an intelligent probe, and the other is something like a cloud of electrolytes. Both aren't flesh and blood.

Because the alien races are based on our past societies, their behaviour are rather baffling to us modern people. But these are the very behaviour that plagued many of our medieval societies. They're quite universal.

Let me give you an example from this episode. Anyone who touches the Teer's wife would receive a death sentence, even if it's in the act of saving her life, or healing her. This rule, which seems rather ludicrous to modern people, is quite universal to monarchy systems from China in the East, across the Middle East, and to Europe in the West in the Medieval times. Yep, we earthlings are a lot more alike than our appearances.

Another example, the hereditary system means that a baby would be crowned as king after the king's death even if he has no ability to rule. Of course, the kingdom will be ruled by a regent on his behalf until he comes of age. This is another universal rule that we find laughable today.

In other words, the customs and traditions of our ancestors seems alien to us. They're as alien to us as humanoid alien living on another planet - the setting for majority of Star Trek episodes.

This episode obviously criticises another human past failing.

It's true that the Trek writers still put the human race on trial as they did in Season 1. But they did so with 2 significant differences.
1. The human society being judged are disguised as aliens. You could say the old human histories are told in allegory form (like Animal Farm but in space instead of farm setting).
2.  It's the old human societies that being explored/exploited/reflected/introspected/judged, rather than the contemporary world that Season 1 tends to concentrate on.

Gone were the days, or TOS Season 1, where the superior aliens wag their collective fingers at human race, and says, "Earthling, isn't it time for you lots to grow up", and they shake their collective heads in despair.

Well, Trek writers realised they didn't want to alienate (no pun intended) the audience by lecturing them as a primitive and barbaric race all the times, even if it's true. There's only so much truth we earthling can handle. Besides, it can become rather tedious and tiresome. Bear in mind that most of the audience of Star Trek were earthling.

I said most because some of Star Trek fans might be alien as radio signal leaking out from the Blue Planet, radiating outwards in all direction. It's like a "We're here. Invade us" signal, or a cross-hair on a rifle scope. Why search for ET? They already knew where we are as we broadcast the signal into space for more than a century.

Some people suggested that it's a bad idea for us to try to communicate with alien because some of them could be hostile. Well, it's already too late at the very moment we used radio waves. The movie Contact (1997) entertains such an idea. This movie depicts the enteraining side of alien contact. The negative side is that they will invade and destroy us because they don't like how they were portrayed in the Star Trek series. Oh...that ideas already been toyed with in Galaxy Quest (1999)? This film says that some of the Star Trek fans are from outer space. I thought I stumbled on some brilliant idea for a movie. Drat! I'll get a totally original idea one day.

When told in allegory form, it softens the blow. It doesn't sound like a put down. It always more effective in roundabout persuasion than blunt lecturing. And you can certainly watch an allegory without being aware that you're being preached to because the silly characters aren't human, they're aliens. Ok then...

Another note-worthy thing to point out in this episode is the appearance of the Klingon.

As I pointed out that some aliens, whom were originally conceived that based on the Asian people have changed into Caucasian without any explanation.

The previous example include Khan Noonien Singh in TOS episode 1.22 "Space Seed" where he was clearly depicted as Indian Sikh being changed into a Caucasian. Similarly, the 1st appearance of Klingon in episode 1.26 "Errand of Mercy" where they were clearly portrayed as Mongols, who bears a striking resemblance to the unflattering portrayals of Chinese in Genghis Khan (1965) only produced a year earlier.

But in this episode, the Klingon looks more like the Middle Eastern, who portrayed the Mongols in Genghis Khan (1965). Omar Sharif - an Egyptian Arab - was of course played Genghis Khan himself.

The point is, in the early days of Star Trek, things can change rather suddenly and without any explanation. As the audience were as sophisticated today, and so they would be left rather confused and bewildered by all these unexplained mysterious changes.

While the exterior physical features may have changed, but their character remains the same - treacherous, belligerent, and brutal. In short, a race without honour or much redeeming qualities, quite different from the Klingon in subsequent Star Trek spin-off. They weren't so respectable as they do today. This is all part of the evolution of the Trek lore.