Kirk and the gang find a planet where an alien odd couple has set up their own private house of horrors complete with spectral witches, a sinister castle, a black cat and zombified landing party members. All of this seems to be an elaborate ruse to discourage uninvited guests and/or evaluate their worthiness as a species, etc, etc. It’s a rare, Halloween themed episode of Star Trek with some fun and memorable moments, but mostly you’ll go home with a bag full of cheese instead of candy. With the new remastered ‘Catspaw’ you get more castle, more cat and no strings attached.
A fans guitly pleasure
From the moment crewman Jackson beams back up from the planet and does a body-flop off the transporter platform, you realize this is no ordinary episode of Star Trek. Face-plants like that are usually only seen on America’s Funniest Home Videos. Then comes the Disembodied Voice of Doom: “Captain Kiiiiiirk! CaptainKiiiiiiirk! Leave this place or you shall surely diiiiiieee…” As much as I love Star Trek and as much as I feel it gets a bum rap for campiness and not enough credit for its depth and substance, episodes like “Catspaw” are an acquired taste
Trek or Treat?
I like the idea of a holiday themed episode and I wish the various Star Trek series had done this type of thing more often, but ‘Catspaw’ probably isn’t the best example of the concept. The episode is thematically uneven at best, never quite managing to be profound or thought-provoking but never fully embracing its playfully scary fun side either. It gets a little more serious after Korob and Sylvia enter the picture, except for Korob mugging and groveling and Sylvia getting alternately turned-on or ticked-off by pretty much anything that moves. It goes from total cheese to mere silliness to dire jeopardy to titillation back to dire jeopardy and ultimately to a grim and humorless end. They tried to base a mostly serious episode on the utterly preposterous premise of Halloween brought to life on an alien planet, but I think it would have been a lot more interesting and fun if they’d just stuck with the preposterous angle and run with it like they did in “A Piece of the Action” or even “The Trouble with Tribbles.”
Hey Spock…he has a screw on top
There are hints of the more humorous approach in the first half of the episode, such as Kirk teasing Spock about being a natural Trick-or-Treater, but the lightheartedness soon fades and we get down to the nitty-gritty of Sylvia and Korob and their nefarious schemes. What they’re actually up to is never fully revealed, but Sylvia is clearly only interested in soaking up the new sensations provided by the human form she has assumed. As usual Kirk is only too happy to provide these sensations, if only to trick her. Kirk didn’t count on a woman who could read his mind and she goes off on a tirade that gives all new meaning to the term, “catty". Things get gravely serious when Korob sacrifices himself to save Kirk and the gang. Kirk evenually solves the dilema by literally ‘breaking’ the spell revealing Sylvia and Korob as they truly are. We are left with pair of tiny little creatures that look to be half squid, half Cookie Monster, who quickly go up in smoke. Just in case anyone is still laughing at this point, the episode ends on a somber note with Kirk reminding them all that not everything was an illusion, Jackson is still dead.
She sees right through him
An alien’s home is his castle
As far as updated visual effects go, the stand-out moment for this episode is definitely the new wide-shot of Sylvia and Korob’s haunted castle. They really put some nice work into this one, expanding on the original shot of the castle’s front door to include the entire structure and its creepy surroundings. My only complaint is that it’s too dark, with the castle itself barely visible as a silhouette. I know from the stills that first appeared right here on TrekMovie.com that there were a lot of cool details in that castle façade, including the suggestion of a face contorted in terror or agony on the left-hand side, but you can barely see any of it in the actual episode. A few other live action scenes have been spruced up as well. The transmuter effect has been subtly enhanced, presumably to better mask the transition when objects appear, disappear or turn into something else, and Sylvia in her cat form has been added to one of the later scenes so her hissing, spitting mouth is visible through the window in the dungeon door just before she knocks it out of its frame and flattens poor Korob.
Beautiful, but a bit dark…even for a spooky castle
Of course, there’s the usual assortment of stock shots showing the Enterprise in orbit and leaving for parts unknown at the end, most of which look pretty good overall. CBS continue to improve on the originals by matching the planets with the ‘beam down’ shots. This time the planet has a nice black and white horror movie effect. Even the heinous nacelle domes look better in this week’s shots, less garish and more internally defined. The lighting is pretty good also, and I notice that they seem to have significantly increased the blue tint on the ship’s hull, which is a surprisingly big improvement. I think it makes the shots more reminiscent of the originals with the added benefit of modern visual quality. If this is the direction they’re headed in terms of the “look” of the effects then I’d say they’re on the right path.
if Vincent Price had a home world…this would be it
Finally, the last scene with Sylvia and Korob in their true forms has been left basically unchanged, but the wires from which the little alien puppets were hung have been digitally removed. Some had speculated that they might be totally replaced with new CG versions. However, as simple as it may sound, doing so convincingly would have probably been more difficult than anything else they have done in the remastered episodes. Although I am generally in favor of more radical changes, I think the minimalist approach was the right one in this case.
no strings attached
Let’s face it, “Catspaw” will never be ranked as one of Star Trek’s most sophisticated episodes, but it does have its fun aspects and the characters of Sylvia and Korob are well played. If you want real thrills and chills or even belly laughs for this Halloween then you might want to go with something more traditional, but we Trek geeks will still have our guilty pleasures.
Related: Catspaw Screenshots
Jason Lee is a lighting designer and computer graphics specialist. Better known by his online moniker, “Vektor,” he owns ando perates Vektor Visual, a graphic design and 3D visualization studio, and is working on his own CG updateof the special effects from numerous original Star Trek episodes.