by Jeff Bond
“Elaan of Troyius” manages to recapture a little bit of the fun of second season Trek in the middle of the otherwise grim third season. While it’s clearly modeled on Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew,” the tale of Helen of Troy, and Dorothy Fontana’s “Journey to Babel” (both “Babel” and “Elaan” feature high-conflict diplomatic missions onboard the Enterprise, the starship being stalked by a mysterious enemy vessel and a climactic space battle in which the Enterprise is initially helpless before turning the very appearance of helplessness to its advantage), “Elaan” has enough original elements to keep from appearing as a mere retread.
Casting is a key to the episode’s strengths. First there’s Jay Robinson as green-skinned Troyan ambassador Petri. Robinson is the kind of flamboyant actor classic Trek thrived on—he was well-known for his edge-of-hysteria performance as the mad Roman Emperor Caligula in the biblical epics The Robe and Demetrius and the Gladiators, and was probably better-known to younger viewers as the title character in Sid and Marty Krofft’s Saturday morning TV show Dr. Shrinker. Working in green makeup and a pointy-headed wig, Robinson is elegant, emphatic and funny as Petri and he creates quite a sympathetic character. What’s perhaps more impressive is that the exotic France Nuyen manages to make the monstrous Elaan sympathetic, even after she shockingly stabs Petri in the back and leaves him for dead on the floor of her quarters.
Elaan is an intriguing character—arrogant and insulting, secretly vulnerable, yet even in the throes of a hopeless romance with Kirk she manages to suggest that they join forces to wipe out the Troyans (“What kind of mind could think of a plan like that?” Kirk asks her). Elaan is a product of her warrior culture and just as Robinson brings real wit to his performance as Petri, Nuyen gets off some nice blasé moments of sardonic humor—check out her shrugging response to Kirk’s Roddenberrian plea: “In my experience the differences between people disappear once they get to know each other.”—Elaan: “That’s not my experience.”
There are two unsung heroes in the mix: writer/producer/director John Meredith Lucas is one—this is the only example I can think of of a Trek writer directing his own script, and Lucas shows real potential behind the camera. I like Kirk’s run down the corridor while a security guard trots beside him giving him a report—this redshirt seems like a real guy and a convincing military man. Equally good is the moment when Sulu is THIS CLOSE to pressing a fatal button on his helm board when Kirk, framed right behind him, manages to stop him from executing the command in time. Lucas gets good performances out of his guest stars and Shatner gives one of his most focused third season performances with none of the twitchy hamminess that would mark other third year outings—he clearly relishes his early, fiery scenes with Nuyen and cannily underplays his reactions to her bluster and outrage—his slow burn reaction to Elaan throwing a knife at him and sly rejoinder (“Our next lesson will be in courtesy…”) are great Kirk moments. Lucas also adds nice moments for Scotty (his flash of rage when Elaan refers to engineers as “menials”) and Uhura (who takes umbrage after sacrificing her quarters to Elaan only to have the Dolman find them “unsatisfactory”).
The other hero is composer Fred Steiner, whose score here is his best work for the season, with a haunting melody for Elaan that Steiner ingeniously adapts as martial space battle music—and his scoring of the unveiling of the Klingon ship is spectacular. Alexander Courage may have written the Star Trek theme and scored its pilot episodes but Steiner was really most responsible for the musical style of the series.
I’m not sure why “Elaan of Troyius” hasn’t been more highly anticipated by Trek Remastered watchers—in all of the original series run this is the only sustained battle between the Enterprise and a Klingon battle cruiser. The orignal episode could do little more than deliver shots of the Klingon ship model moving towards and away from the camera and with the high warp tactics at use here the potential for this episode was enormous. Up until now we’ve only gotten fleeting glimpses of CGI Klingon vessels, but especially in “Day of the Dove,” the rendering of the Klingon ship has been underwhelming. For “Elaan,” the CG Klingon ship gets its first real exposure and the results are very mixed.
Most Remastered viewers have disliked the long-distance space battle shots done for the series but especially for this episode, they help open up the action and give an impression of a battle raging over miles of space instead of a few hundred yards. This approach is used in some nice shots in “Elaan” showing the Klingon ship wheeling and rushing in for attacks like a banking falcon correcting its trajectory. It’s the close up shots that often don’t work and there’s a graphic demonstration of the difference in the middle of one shot—as we watch the Klingon ship rush in on its first major feint in a view looking backward between the Enterprise’s warp engines, the ship seems threatening indeed as it rushes toward the Enterprise at break-neck speed. But the second it becomes large in the frame and breaks off its run at the last minute the illusion of mass and speed vanishes—here again the original grainy model shots work better from a simple dramatic standpoint because the ship continues its plunge past the camera. The scale of this shot is also off—if you watch the last few frames with the Klingon ship ostensibly still behind the Enterprise warp nacelles the ship is much too large in the frame to be behind the Enterprise.
The rendering and lighting of the Klingon ship never reaches the level of realism that the Enterprise shots at their best do. The CG model offers obvious advantages over the small physical model used on the original series—the CG model can boast internal lighting and details like impulse engines that were beyond the capacity to engineer into the original model, and in close up shots its clear that the CG model is carefully weathered with some additional levels of panel detail also not seen on the original miniature. Add the virtual camera that can skim the surface of the model from a few scale feet to miles away and you have something that should blow the original miniature out of the water.
Despite this, the illusion of a real three-dimensional object is rarely obtained by the close up shots of the battle cruiser; it frequently boasts a definite Video Toaster look. Even if you don’t like the Romulan Bird of Prey shots in Remastered’s “Balance of Terror,” the specular paneling on that CG model does give the illusion of a solid object. The Klingon ship is clearly the second most important spacecraft seen in the entire Star Trek series, and the CBS-Digital crew didn’t drag their feet and wait to put together a Klingon ship until these final episodes—they took care to insert the ship into first and second season episodes and have had the time necessary to refine this model so that it should be able to match the Enterprise in screen realism. Now with only “The Enterprise Incident” left in terms of full-scale space action, it seems like a missed opportunity. In some respects the CG model is actually less-detailed than the physical model—check out the rectangular shapes that flank the shuttlebay structure at the top rear of the model, which are softer, thinner and lacking the slat detail on the miniature. And close shots of the bridge and other rounded shapes clearly show a kind of fractal structure that gives this CG model the look of something that was designed to be seen from a distance, not in close-up.
Some of the shots are successful—the first image of the Klingon ship tailing the Enterprise clearly represents what the original show’s effects team would have done if they could have: where the original shots simply switch from a shot of the Enterprise flying past the camera to a matching shot of the Klingon ship on the same trajectory, the new shot subtly pans with the starfield in motion after the Enterprise passes to catch the Klingon ship pacing it. At least one late-in-the-game shot has the camera scraping the Klingon ship’s hull as it heads for the Enterprise and some added high-relief shadows make the ship look a bit more convincing than it does overall. And the shot of the Klingon ship finally getting hit by Enterprise torpedoes is a definite improvement on the original—weaponry hits and explosions are well done here and show some improvement over the awkward exploding Klingon ship in “Day of the Dove.” And apart from the space battles there’s an interesting shot of the Enterprise streaking into the orbit of Troyius near the end of the episode.
This still has to rank as a disappointment—you’d think coming up with a perfectly lit and rendered Klingon ship would have been one of the first priorities of this project. Let’s see if “The Enterprise Incident” sends the Klingon ships (if not the Klingons themselves) out on a note of glory.
by Matt Wright