Harcourt Fenton Mudd appeared in only two Original Series episodes and one episode of the Animated Series, but he is probably one of the best remembered and best loved supporting characters Star Trek has ever had. Harry Mudd was the prototypical rogue and scoundrel, a petty thief, an outrageous liar and a brazen conman with a rap sheet as long as Kirk’s service record. He was a walking, talking, conniving refutation of Roddenberry’s whole concept of “evolved” human beings, and all the more interesting for it, if you ask me.
Harry is back for his second appearance in “I, Mudd,” having escaped from the rehabilitation colony where Kirk left him after the events of “Mudd’s Women,” and he has fallen in with a planet full of androids who are plotting to take over the galaxy. The androids have appointed him as their leader, catering to his every whim and need, a circumstance he obviously relishes except for the fact that they won’t let him leave. He concocts a scheme whereby the androids hijack the Enterprise and its crew to take his place, but the androids have their own plan to make everyone in the galaxy, including Harry Mudd, their pampered but carefully controlled captives. Unfortunately for them, they are no match for Captain James T. Kirk and his intrepid crew who are by now experts at talking megalomaniacal computers and robots into short-circuiting themselves. They join forces with Harry Mudd to bombard the androids with a series of hilariously absurd performances right out of a vaudeville talent show, which eventually leaves the androids twitching and smoking from their inability to make logical sense out of total illogic. These poor guys never even had a chance.
Not Just for Laughs
It’s tempting to simply lump this episode in with other farcical but entertaining installments like “The Trouble with Tribbles” or “A Piece of the Action,” but there is actually more going on here than meets the eye. Aside from the whimsical and lighthearted overtones of this episode, there are two recurring Original Series themes at work in “I, Mudd.” One is a generally distrustful and technophobic view of robots and intelligent computers as dangerous, usually bent on replacing, controlling or outright destroying humans or other living beings in one way or another. The other is a warning about the self-destructive threat to the spirit of mankind posed by total fulfillment and instant gratification through technology. I find both of these rather ironic in light of Trek’s later embrace in the 24th century era of “technology unchained,” including sentient androids like Commander Data. I have often made the argument that the Original Star Trek was very different philosophically from it’s later spin-offs and the underlying themes of this episode are perfect illustrations of why. Despite its optimistic view of humanity’s future, TOS was still very cognizant of real human nature with all its failings and weaknesses, not just in supporting characters like Harry Mudd but often enough in the main characters as well. This gave TOS, for all its low-budget campiness, a quality of plausibility and relatability that the spin-offs lacked, in my opinion. As I re-watched this episode, I found myself thinking ahead to Star Trek XI, which is supposed to revisit the familiar characters and approximate time period of TOS. Not that I expect J.J. Abrams, who is producing the film, to make anything as off-beat as “I, Mudd,” but I’m more excited than ever at the prospect of what someone like Abrams will be able to do with the types of characters and themes I always loved from TOS.
good robot…bad robot
New Voices, Glowing Rings and a Gut Full of Gadgetry
On the technical side, the visual quality is as good as ever with these newly remastered episodes. It will be really interesting when they finally get released on DVD and we can see them in their full high-definition glory, but in the meantime there’s still plenty of standard-definition goodness to enjoy. I continue to notice things I don’t remember seeing before, especially facial expressions and background details, and I have to assume it’s because the overall picture is simply sharper and more detailed than it has ever been. This episode also marks the first airing of a remastered episode with the added vocals to the opening theme song, newly performed by accomplished soprano Elin Carlson. I still notice the difference between the old and new versions, and Carlson’s delivery seems a little smoother to my ear, but none of those are bad things. The new theme song sounds better than it ever has, it just takes a little getting used to.
There are only a handful of effects shots in this mostly planet-based episode, most of them essentially stock footage, but a couple of them really stand out as memorable. The first is when the android named Norman flips open the access panel in his stomach to reveal the electronic innards within. In the original version, the edge of the flesh-toned panel was clearly visible even when closed and the workings behind it were a Heathkit-esque assemblage of wires and circuit boards. In the new version, the panel has been pretty effectively blended into the surrounding “skin” and the workings have been totally replaced by a much more sophisticated looking plastron of blinking lights, circuit traces and little rotating wheels that reminded me either of gears or the old reel-to-reel databanks they used to use before hard drives became ubiquitous. Stylistically, I thought it was maybe a little too sleek and modern looking for the TOS era but definitely an improvement on the original
The second noteworthy shot comes at the very end of the episode as the Enterprise breaks orbit from the android planet. Up until now, all of the planets we’ve seen in the remastered episodes were basically similar to their original versions, but this time the planet is much more vivid and colorful, surrounded by bright yellow rings and set off from the background of starry space like something out of a Chesley Bonestell painting. The ship arcs past and out into space with the camera panning to follow, and again I note that this is a move they could not have done in the 1960s without motion controlled cameras at the very least. The stars, the planet and the ship all could have been filmed separately and composited into a single shot, but they could not have replicated the camera moves by hand from one element to the next. The end result is stunning and beautiful, all except for those horrid nacelle caps which are still too bright, too orange and too washed out.
now that is a strange new world
Still Room for Improvement
The rest of the effects shots are pretty standard and vary from quite good to persistently bad, especially in terms of lighting. Just after the first commercial break, there’s a side view of the Enterprise cruising through space that epitomizes the so-called “plastic look” so often associated with poor CG. Almost no texturing or surface detail is visible at all and the shadows are very flat and artificial looking. In CG, there are several ways, generally known as “global illumination,” to simulate realistic shadows so that they have depth and contrast, none of which seem to have been used in this case. I realize they are producing these effects under some fairly tight budget and time constraints but I really can’t understand why they insist on using such a washed-out lighting scheme.
I am just going to say one word ‘plastics’
As much as I enjoyed this episode, I’m really looking forward to the remastered version of Harry Mudd’s first TOS appearance, “Mudd’s Women,” though I have yet to see an airdate for it. Even though it, too, has its lighthearted aspects, it’s a more serious-minded episode and is pretty heavily loaded with opportunities for updated effects shots, including a chase through an asteroid field and lots of scenes down on the storm-swept planet’s surface. It will be interesting to see just how far the effects team is willing to go in updating those shots.
This episode for me only helps to solidify for me just how good the original cast was as actors. I come from a theater background, and i am not sure if many are aware but the type of almost gameplay that Shatner and the others take on in this episode is very reminiscient of certain theater games an actor takes part in during their training. Now i have been apart of such games and have watched many renditions, and i have to say that the performances here are better than many by far that i have had the…luxury….of sitting through. It is not an easy thing to play such an extreme while at the same time managing to make it seem as if u actually believe in what u are playing. Stewart and Spiner are the only other two that i can say are even in the same ball park of capability.
A good review, Jason. You covered all the points. Thanks
Good review, Jason. I’d add that the soprano is somewhat louder in this version. I’m for the re-recording in 5.1 stereo but without the voice taking the lead. I’m certainly not an expert, but I’d rather it be as it always has been during the opening titles.
Great review and thanks for your insights on the philosophical distinctions between Trek incarnations.
TOS: basic Christian worldview i.e., mankind suffers from Original Sin and is inherently evil. It is only through considerable difficulty that civilization may be preserved. It is a never-ending struggle.
New Trek: basic dogma of scientific Marxism, humanity is essentially good but marred by corrupt institutions (e.g., the Church, marriage, hierarchy, bourgeois morality) which must be smashed to achieve the New Soviet Man — or GR’s “evolved humanity”.
I think, after 50 years of observation, that the judgment has been rendered. The Progressive Way is an abject failure by any measure. We’ll see gross abandonment of anything approaching Progressivism or Roddenberry’s vision in favor of time-tested and proven methods of society.
Paramount, at least as eager to make money from the bourgeoisie as it is to manipulate it, will follow and produce a Trek that accords with the neo-traditionalism.
I think this episode is deceptively good.
Here you have practically zero action, no real tension (you know somehow Kirk is going to stop Mudd, you’re not really worried about Mudd as a villain anyway). The short-sell of “Mudd makes pleasure-bots” also sounds downright silly. And in spite of all of these factors, the episode is charming and does raise interesting issues as Jason mentions. I think the acting here is very strong and the script is pretty tight as well. And, this episode does embody a philosophical position that defines TOS vis a vis the other Trek shows.
Old timey, I am not sure I agree with your description of GR’s TNG philosophy. As I understand it, particularly in retrospect, GR was a secular humanist who rejected traditional institutions, not necessarily embracing Marxism and by extension the New Soviet Man. I don’t think it was that focused a philosophy– in fact I believe GR was kind of a lightwieght in the politics department. Even if he was a socialist, he was a pretty lazy one at that (but then again, “lazy socialist” sounds kind of redundant now that I think of it). I think GR was a little more into the “power of one” New Age, L. Ron Hubbard type of thing. I look at TMP as the purest example of GR’s world-view. Logic, rationale, science, etc. are all limited without the human heart. It’s a nice little notion, but it’s so broad and mushy that it does not make for good drama.
Just my thoughts, I’d be happy to har what you think.
I think changing norman’s innards was unacceptible. It looked completely out of step with the rest of the show. These guys only know new trek, they have no appreciation or even knowledge, it seems, of the pulp sci-fi style TOS was trying for. Norman’s insides looked modern, not retro.
Very thorough review… and I don’t say that just because I agree. lol My own very truncated review is now up on trekenhanced.com… now with improved blog, and unfortunately, temporary lack of movie clips until I can find a better way of presenting them in this new format. End of shameless plug.
Let me take this opportunity to thank you for your excellent work on TMP:DE.
As I understand it, the new FX shots you delivered on that show are not in HD resolution. When Paramount eventually gets to re-releasing TMP:DE in HD disc format, are you going to redo those shots or do you think Paramount will let the shots stand on their own?
Olde Timey fan, save your neo-con right wing BS for talk radio. You projecting your own political biases and narrow-minded assumptions onto Star Trek do not make it so. The “Progressive Way is an abject failure by any measure”, huh? You’re right. Let’s just put them neegroes back in their place, take away those silly “equal rights” from those uppity women and return to the “traditional values” that worked so well for thousands of years. You know, the ones where white men ruled everything? Yeah, who needs the progressive way when we all know some pigs are more equal than others.
Whereas projecting politics onto Star Trek is inappropriate, I find your response far more biggoted.
You are assuming that conservatives are racist, which is an obviously false assumption.
I will let the fact that a former KKK member is a key member of the Democratic Party speak for itself, and remind you that not everyone is whacked or racist.
Get your head out of the 60s, Martin Luther King won that fight already.
Please, please, let’s not bring politics into Star Trek! ;P
I can’t figure out why they did this episode so early! It’s another one where you wonder what’s the point of enhancing what is essentially a kind of one act comic stage play…but having said that, I liked some of what was done. I really didn’t even mind the “course change” shot (at least we don’t have to look at the nacelle domes in that one!) and the last shot IS spectacular. Supposedly at a screening of a couple of these episodes Dave Rossi or someone said that this stuff will continue to be improved up until it winds up on DVD and I hope that’s the case–lighting and texture on the CG Enterprise still has lots of room for improvement. I do agree that Norman’s guts were a little more “new Trek” than old Trek–I don’t know how you solve that, really, but the shot was a nice technical accomplishment. Let’s see what they do to the Gorn next week…
I go away for a little while and everyone gets delusions of grandeur!
These robots are the prelude to the Borg! Norman, after finding humans are not right in the head, went to the Delta quandrant to assimalate humanoids.
So… Dave Rossi says the way the Enterprise is presently rendered is, “too good”— huh??? (Norman, coordinate!) I hope he isn’t referring to the certain physical details of the ship that they got TOTALLY WRONG (which have, obviously, been discussed to death.)
BTW, the color balance of this episode had a magenta/red shift compared to the others so far. Anyone else notice that?
It would have been funny if they replaced Norman’s guts with Robbie the Robot’s, or something really primitive- like a mini reel-to-reel tape drive!
Hmm… I think that Chekov would say the “whussians invewented politics…Kepten”
This rhetoric gives me a headache. Is the next episode so controversial? (I didn’t think this one was… I was sooo blind)
No, what Dave Rossi has said is that the model of the Enterprise they’ve been using is too detailed, apparently requiring them to sacrifice rendering quality in order to complete the shots in time. As I mentioned in my review, effects like global illumination can make an image seem much more realistic, but the more detailed the model is, the longer it takes to render such effects. It sounds like the level of detail on the current model is massive overkill for the types of shots TOS requires so they can probably stand to lose a great deal of it without any noticeable effect on-screen. What surprises me, frankly, is that such a thing wasn’t taken into account from the beginning.
The ringed planet at the end was wonderful; but the Enterprise to me still looked either like a bad Playstation or Xbox video game. Plastic — that one word says it all too me.
I have no idea why the team, knowing Daren Doc, just didn’t bring him in and not “reinvent” the wheel! I’d still love for him to do Doomsday Machine; look at the lighting on his “models” — pretty amazing stuff!
But I agree that a lot of the CGI that is not related to “space” shots are pretty good. What Jason says, not being a CGI person, makes sense: how could they not “know” the rendering time was taking so long? And *what* detail?
Lol! I did not expect the political detourism~
I thought Norman’s innards were both oddly retro and futuristic… specially with the spinning wheel do-hickies. I didn’t notice that shot backside of the Enterprise… but when you say plastic, it does indeed remind me of old model kits! I need to check out Darren’s work apparently. :-D
I thought the remastered shows would be improving each week, but this episode (one of my favs) was a little disappointing.
The shots of the ship were inconsistent and the milky looking Enterprise surface is just so BAD – it does not look solid to me – anyone else?
I actually liked the tummy shot of Norman and found it a nice mix old retro robotica and modern circuits.
However, I’m concerned that they are setting a precedence that now all short shots of technology will be upgraded. Why not upgrade everything – the food processors, the intercoms etc.
Overall, mixed feelings, but still hopeful…
Phillip, I seem to recall reading something about Daren not being involved because CBS simply went with the lowest bid. In fact, I thought I read somewhere that Daren was a little relieved that he didn’t get the project because he was way understaffed to take on that kind of project in the insane time schedule allowed.
If Daren comes across this I’m sure he will set the record straight, but that’s what my less-than-reliable memory seems to recall.
I think it’s more complicated than just going with the “lowest bid”… I think that the studio was so rushed to get _something_ into production that they didn’t give time to actually have a formal bidding process from anyone. It’s my understanding that numbers were just being thrown around… and the studio wanted to keep it “in house” for various reasons.
If I had been brought in from the beginning, I would have had enough staff to do the job. I had several people around town who would have jumped at the chance to work on it. I’m relieved I don’t have the responsibility to live up to the insane schedule for the project… but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have wanted to do it. :) Just saddens me that it all happened so fast, when I had officially presented the idea back in 2001. If it weren’t for Rossi’s class, I wouldn’t have known about it happening at all, but even then, it was by and large too late to do anything about it.
But I still am impressed at what they have been able to do under such circumstances. And if anyone from there is reading this, and is open to it, I’m willing to be of any help I can. I have some used nacelle caps here with their name on it. :)
And a reddish SECONDARY hull ring 4 sale, I’m sure! ;)
lol… no, I don’t wanna part with that. :)
Hello, Daren. I hope my admiration for your work is not too illogical. On the “new” Enterprise thread, you indicated your work is Lightwave, and CBS Digital uses Maya, but it could be converted. I hope the Okudas or Dave (is it Dave) Rossi reads this post.
Thank you for the information. Too bad CBS chose to do “Remastered” at the eleventh hour; humans are illogical!
Perhaps you could get involved with my outrageous idea of an all CGI Planet of the Titans — if the script is good enough; maybe Harlan Ellison would rewrite it! LOL!
I hope Abrams gives you a call or vice versa — your resume is great. I wonder if you could “telecompute” for other productions, from Narnia to Harry Potter?
Live long and prosper.
It goes to show you that you can’t “copy” greatness.