“Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear…"
Visiting the planet Talos IV is the only death sentence crime in the Federation. You land there, they’ll execute you. They just won’t tell anyone why. This raises some ugly questions about the Federation’s system of justice, but there’s no time for that now because Spock has stolen the Enterprise in order to return Fleet Captain Christopher Pike to Talos IV. Unable to control the ship, Kirk and Commodore Mendez spend the trip alternately watching a replay of the events of Pike’s first visit to Talos and court martialing Spock. The replay of events is the more interesting by far, particularly because some of Pike’s fantasies have been spruced up for the new "Star Trek Remastered" by the folks at CBS Digital.
In Part I, Pike was kidnapped by the Talosians. Like Chance the gardener and the Tralfamadorians, they like to watch. These masters of illusion make Pike relive a series of events from his past life and his imagination. They want him to mate with another prisoner, Vina, and seem to think that he’ll find her more arousing when painted green than he does when she’s sitting on his bed in a short shiny number doing something like an impersonation of Britney Spears getting out of a limo. Go figure.
Frustrated by Pike’s disinterest, the little Buttheads snatch a couple of his crewwomen. Confronted with the prospect of spending the rest of his life on an exotic planet mating with three nubile women (blonde, brunette and redhead), Pike agrees with Number One Majel Barrett that he’d rather be dead. And we’re left to doubt the accuracy of the claim that there’s never been a gay character on “Star Trek.”
Back in the present, Starfleet decides that they’d just as soon forget the whole death sentence thing because Pike is Too Cool. This establishes a legal precedent that Kirk’s attorneys later will successfully invoke at the denouement of "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home."
no no you can’t make me
That might well be one theme of this episode, not only for Fleet Captain Pike but for "Star Trek" as a whole. Among the many changes that were made in the process of putting "Star Trek" into production, the one that’s most striking in watching "The Menagerie" now is that the attempt at a colorblind portrayal of Earth’s future came late to the producers (sorry, kids, Spock don’t count). Pike’s crew is white as the population of Dodge City or the Ponderosa – minus the Chinese cooks and laborers. There’s not even a faux Scottish burr in the gang.
They’re an intriguing bunch, though, played by as good a group of actors as made up the regular cast of any later "Star Trek" series. I can never watch "The Cage" or "The Menagerie" without wondering what Colt and Tyler and "Bones" Boyce and the gang would have been like. Certainly Susan Oliver is outstanding as a guest star and leading lady for Jeffrey Hunter. There wouldn’t be many among Kirk’s seemingly endless love interests nearly as classy as Vina.
Pike’s Crew…any color you want as long as it’s white
New effects: a subtle few
So far, the remastered "Space Seed" remains the apex of CBS Digital’s temptation to strut. Impressive and admirable as that work was, with "The Menagerie" they’ve returned for the moment to the original mission statement of sticking close to the original effects work while enhancing it. Once again, their enhancements are wholly successful.
The traveling shots of the U.S.S. Enterprise this week appear to all be reuses of shots rendered for previous episodes, and they’re all good. Likewise the globe of Talos IV. CBS Digital has added a good recreation of the "heat shimmer" effect that signaled transition to and from Talosian illusions to two shots that previously were missing it, that of the Keeper’s "Hulk-out" when Pike throttles him and the disappearance of the illusory Mendez from the Enterprise briefing room.
CBS Digital’s treatments of a couple of Trek’s characteristic soundstage “exteriors” take center stage in this episode.
During the fantasy sequence in “Mojave” the cyclorama backdrop of the distant city has been replaced. The contrast between the original and the new shots here highlights a key difference in the natures of the old and new tools of the trade: while details in a hand-painting cyclorama or matte could be suggested by a few brush strokes of light or dark paint, CG models are concrete and specific. In this case that means the new backdrop holds up better under close examination in a long or still shot. Additionally, the once-sharp demarcation between the end of the stage floor and the base of the backdrop has been done away with. The green fields now appear to flow continuously off toward the distant cityscape.
There’s a camera move and zoom on this shot, which doubtless makes the rotoscoping of the original cyclorama behind the tiny branches and leaves of several trees a particularly demanding and painstaking operation. The artists have done it flawlessly.
"The Cage" featured one of the most evocatively beautiful matte shots of an alien planet ever to appear on the original "Star Trek" television series: the fortress on Rigel. Overhead, a violet sky dominated by one of Trek’s Impossibly Huge Moons; in the distance, a fortress topped by golden domes and spires, into which the live action in the foreground is seamlessly matted.
This shot appears to have been tweaked with great restraint by the CBS artists. The rocky outcroppings and Rigellian vegetation in the foreground seem to have been touched up. I use "appear" and "seems" because whatever work has been done is so subtle that despite comparing frames from the original and the enhanced versions I’m only about eighty percent sure that I’m not just seeing the difference between the excellent new color-corrected transfers of the original footage and what’s been heretofore available on DVD.
from obvious backdrop to believable
What’s left alone?
Well, the laser cannon that Starfleet borrowed from United Planets Cruiser 57-D for one thing. But mainly the closing credits, dagnabit. I’m a broken record (an ancient apparatus for reproducing recorded sound, dating way back to the 20th century), I know. Still, what’s the deal with not crediting the CBS Digital folks? Talk to us, somebody.