When I was about six my father sat me down to watch a show with a guy in a yellow and black uniform fighting it out in the desert with a big, ugly, green skinned lizard. He told me it was called ‘Star Trek’ and I was hooked. I voraciously devoured every episode and, in through my formative years, the show and its characters became a central part of my worldview. My childhood hero was Captain James T. Kirk, and few episodes of the original series epitomized who and what he was better than my first episode: “Arena,” Now the Remastered version brings back all those memories and created some brand new ones…if you are looking close enough.
This week, the Enterprise is summoned to a remote outpost called Cestus III only to discover that it has been totally destroyed days earlier. They give chase to an alien ship, pursuing it into unexplored territory where both ships are suddenly immobilized by an advanced race of beings who call themselves the Metrons. Apparently they take exception to uninvited guests, especially when they are busy trying to kill each other. They pluck Kirk and the captain of the alien ship off their respective bridges and deposit them on a barren planetoid where they will be forced to fight to the death to settle their dispute. The winner and his ship will be allowed to go free while the loser’s ship will be destroyed. Through ingenuity and resourcefulness, Kirk eventually manages to defeat his opponent, a hissing, slow moving yet tremendously strong reptilian being called a Gorn, but refuses to deliver the killing blow. A Metron appears and congratulates Kirk for unexpectedly choosing mercy over vengeance, and both ships are allowed to go on their way.
On the surface, this appears to be a basic, action/adventure storyline about Kirk locked in mortal combat with a bug-eyed monster-of-the-week. It’s no wonder I loved it so much as a kid, with the two combatants chasing each other through desert cliffs and canyons, dropping boulders on each other and improvising traps like Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner, but in the classic Star Trek style, it also has a lot more sophisticated things to say about the human condition and where we’re headed as a species. It’s a clever analysis of the human tendency to react violently when provoked and a thoughtful commentary on the futility of retribution. Kirk is not really at his best in this episode, jumping to conclusions about the motives of the Gorn, determined to punish them for their aggression, and refusing to even listen to Spock’s attempts at moderation. He’s about as “unevolved” as he ever gets while in full possession of his own faculties, almost to the point where the object lesson he presents becomes a little too obvious. Only after the Gorn captain tells him why they attacked Cestus III, because they viewed it as an invasion of their territory, does he begin to consider the possibility that the Federation might have been in the wrong. As with last week’s episode, “I, Mudd,” I find this one interesting for the fact that humans are portrayed as not too different from the way we are today, still prone to age-old human failings and impulses but also capable of overcoming them. In the Original Series, the stories tended to be about the characters learning these lessons, whereas in TNG and beyond, they were more often about the characters preaching them.
Wile E. Kirkote…Supra Genius
Of Gods and Men
One thing that does bug me about this episode is the apparent hypocrisy of the Metrons who claim to be highly advanced and civilized but whose actions seem to contradict their principles, from the violent, brute force nature of the contest to the penalty of total destruction they plan to inflict on the loser. I suppose one could argue that it was all just an elaborate test to evaluate the worthiness of both species and the Metrons never intended to destroy either of them, but that still makes them little better than all the other arrogant, meddlesome, god-like beings that seem to proliferate throughout the Trek universe. On the one hand, this episode seems to be saying that we should seek understanding and not be so quick to judge and inflict violence, but on the other hand it also seems to be saying that if you’re sufficiently superior to someone else—or think you are—then you can threaten them, manipulate them and pass judgment on them at your leisure, and are even justified in doing so. The Metrons may have taught Kirk a valuable lesson, but they sure didn’t do it by example.
Reality Show Host or Superior Being?
Blink and You’ll Miss It
Probably one of the coolest visual enhancements in this episode is also one of the most subtle. Soon after the Gorn captain makes his first appearance, he does something the original costume designers probably never dreamed was possible, at least not on their budget. He blinks! Both there and at several other points throughout the episode, we see that he actually has eyelids to cover those big, silver sequined eyeballs of his. It’s truly amazing just how much more life-like this makes the Gorn appear. As others have mentioned, CBS Digital has been doing a really bang-up job so far on the live-action stuff, even if their space shots leave a little to be desired, and what they’ve done to the Gorn is no exception.
a simple blink makes the rubber suit come alive
Another notable enhancement is the high-angle wide-shot of the colony on Cestus III, or what’s left of it. In the original version of this shot, there was a big metal girder or piece of wreckage across the top of the frame, probably to hide something in the background like a telephone pole or a parking lot that would have spoiled the illusion of an alien planet in the far reaches of the galaxy. That has been removed and filled in with a vista of rugged hills and blue sky. They have also added a lot of detail beyond the rampart wall of the colony, a whole city of blasted and broken structures stretching far into the distance. Finally, a large, smoking crater has been added in the lower left corner of the frame. The planet itself has gotten a significant makeover as seen from orbit. Originally, it was mostly red while the new version is more of a greenish-orange. Presumably they were trying to be more consistent with the desert and scrub brush appearance of the live action shots. I also notice that the planet is not fully sunlit for a change, but the lighting on the ship doesn’t seem to match it very well.
Now the planets match lanscapes
The space scenes are fairly unremarkable, although they’re using a much darker and more backlit lighting scheme on the Enterprise in many of the shots. This seems to be an improvement in some ways with the effect being more dramatic and less washed out, but the lighting still looks off and in one or two cases is just plain dark. There’s a variety of weapons fire in this episode with the Enterprise unleashing both phasers and, for the first time in the remastered episodes, photon torpedoes. In most of the original episodes, the ship’s phasers were blue and appeared to be emitted from the front of the lower sensor dome on the bottom of the primary hull, but in this episode the phasers were inexplicably red and came from points considerably further forward. For the remastered version, they have chosen to standardize the phaser effect with blue beams and the emitters in their usual locations. The new photon torpedoes look much like the old ones did except they have also changed color from white to red. I’m guessing this is a consistency nod to the red photon torpedoes seen throughout almost all the rest of Star Trek history both on television and in the movies. For both the phasers and photons, a nice ambient glow from the weapons has been added to the underside of the ship’s hull as they fire.
Phasers Blue, Photons Red…got it!
Last but not least, the Gorn ship has apparently been added to the viewscreen image during the pursuit, but it pretty much looked like an indistinct blob of light on my screen at SD resolution over analog cable. If I hadn’t been told otherwise, I would have assumed it was actually the Metron solar system, which makes more sense in context with the dialogue. I also noticed during the scenes prior to them being brought to a screeching halt that the stars were flying past REALLY fast on the viewscreen. We’re talking ludicrous speed here, almost plaid! I know they were supposed to be doing warp eight but yikes! I don’t think I’ve ever seen the stars go by that fast even in the later series when they were using warp scales on a whole higher order of magnitude.
All in all, a classic episode of Star Trek and one that holds a special place in my heart for having addicted me to the show in the first place and having helped in no small way to form my attitudes and opinions about many things in life. I never had one of those “Everything I need to know in life I learned from Star Trek” posters, but I probably should have.
Jason Lee is a lighting designer and computer graphics specialist. Better known by his online moniker, “Vektor,” he owns and operates Vektor Visual, a graphic design and 3D visualization studio, and is working on his own CG update of the special effects from numerous original Star Trek episodes.
I too have very fond memories of Arena as a [7 year old] kid.
Yup good review. This was my first. Love it!
Think I’ll write a script based on this episode just in case STXI doesn’t make it. :D
Review by MY NAME IS EARL?
fucking SWEET dude.
I especially like the part:
–> Hey look a ship…really…trust us
HAHA. That was a good one! I still don’t know what gotten into them to give us such a… you know what.
Please! Give the job to EdenFX! I think they know better what to do.
Norbert…That shot of the Enterprise leaving orbit by Eden FX is mind blowing.Looks like NASA footage from the shuttle.Best shot of miss E. I,ve EVER seen It’s back there somewhere if you can find it.
This is one of Gene Coon’s episodes. Unlike the folks in charge of later Trek series, he liked to show the humans — Kirk in particular — as sometimes blinkered and both in need of having their horizons expanded and capable of accepting the lesson offered.
Another of his excellent first-season scripts, “Errand Of Mercy,” is very similar to “Arena” in this regard — including the god-like aliens. And, of course, in his script for “Devil In The Dark” we see Kirk move from a “shoot to kill” stance on the Horta to a willingness to understand and then to help it.
I’d like to see more of that kind of thing in Trek, again.
You’re completely right about learning vs. preaching. I’d rather watch Kirk learn than Picard preach.
Hmmm, so seeing a leader in his 30’s learning lessons that most 6 year-olds already know is somehow better than seeing a leader who is an adult ACT like an adult? Really, given Kirk’s agressive over-reactions in this episode it’s a wonder how he ever got command of a ship whose mission is one of exploration and seeking new civilizations. You’d think that would be topic #1 during his training. His reaction would be understandable if he had a personal stake in his revenge — if, say, he’d lost a relative or a loved one on Cetis III. Perhaps he was really pissed about missing out on one of the base commander’s infamous dinners! Personally, I prefer my leaders to be competent, responsible and have the good sense to think through a problem before taking action that could get others killed. Any idiot can grab their crotch and yell, “Follow me, boys!”
Both Kirk and Picard portrayed excellent leadership quality’s. They were both right for their time.
In Kirks time the Federation was growing. Races didn’t understand and there were alot of infighting within the Federation. So the strong arm tactics.
Picard on the other hand had at his disposal 24th century technology (like nuclear today) and I’m sure years of training from the Federation archives on how to handle situations.
During Picards time, it was closer to a Utopia (inspite of DS9) and it was probably preferred to scarifies than to incur conflict. Much like losing the base Cestus III for peace.
During Picard’s time it was better to lead by example to new races so they to can gain the utopian culture of the Federation.
There was a personal stake when they lost Cestus III… It is established that Kirk knew Commodore Travers… Plus, we have the direct experience with the wounded officer that is brought aboard the Enterprise. Notwithstanding, Kirk’s “over reaction” helps us see his human qualities… his weakness. This is a quality most of us have… being human… and it’s partly because of this that I don’t relate to the “perfect humans” of TNG. Perfection can be quite dull. Like several other posters on here, I prefer watching real human qualities rather than enlightened beings who have little to no connection with humanity.
Just like when Picard lost control and went off in First Contact, it was a powerful, very real moment. Something that happens to humans when they feel victimized and powerless, it is very natural to have those feelings. And one of the very few very real moments in TNG\’s continuum.
Daren: Agree on your observations regarding TNG. I’ve always thought it ironic that the episode widely hailed as the best for TNG was ‘Yesterday’s Enterprise,’ which showed us an alternative reality of the TNG franchise that was darker, grittier, and far more interesting than the living-room-comfort diplomacy so prevalent in their other episodes. What made TOS and ‘Arena’ so great was tension, a good story — and action!
I agree with Daren but isn’t Roddenberry’s dream is to have a Utopian culture and to set out to unknown frontiers. This is where the excitement began’s. To go alone into space and experience our most inner human nature when we face the unknown. It is a test and challenge to what we believe in. In the end, we learn and better ourselves from the experience.
That is what makes the captain of a starship unique. He must make the decision to represent the Federation.
That to me is why “Balance of Terror” and “Arena” is so powerful. He had to make a decision based on facts he had So we see the human side during these stressful times.
I believe this is where ST needs to start. A strong Captain alone in the bad lands of space upholding the utopian Federation. From there we see how human nature can influence our decision.
This human nature also makes Humans unique among the aliens of space. We look at things differently from the other species. Humans are the driving force to the expansion of the Federation compared to the Vulcans stand back and harshly judge other species.
“Any idiot can grab their crotch and yell, “Follow me, boys!” ”
That’s the quote of the week over at hitchworld! Infact, it’s more a maxim we live by. Look….
Ralph, you other dudes, etc. etc. you guys are all saying stuff like “in picard’s time” and stuff like that like these dudes are real or something. I’m glad you take the Trek seriously, as do I. However, where is the fun in that, really?
Its true. Any idiot can grab their crotch and yell, “Follow me, boys!” In fact, I am doing that right now.
but… will… you… follow?
LOL… Hitch is the unknown frontier! :D Dare we go there?
I totally agree. The new shots of Cestus III were great. The blinking Gorn
was a vast improvement. But he should have blinked more. The shot
of the Gorn vessel was a cheat and should have been much larger.
“Hmmm, so seeing a leader in his 30’s learning lessons that most 6 year-olds already know is somehow better than seeing a leader who is an adult ACT like an adult? ”
If most 6 years olds knew this, the world would not be in a constant state of war and upheaval.
Ralph you make a good point. Perhaps some exposition is required at this point. When you fellas see good old hitch1969© commenting on something at this site, you need to think several things:
First, think of me as the Sybok non-canon Trek that is so ridiculed by the higher falutin bunch of “Roddenberry dreamers of Utopian culture”. Put simply I am the Vulcan who cannot be a Vulcan. A Vulcan who laughs. Not at you, but with you. Look man… the whole Roddenberry dream was all a bunch of BS as far as I am concerned. NOT that the idea wasnt there… but really, think about this. They didn’t swear or have nudity on Star Trek because of network standards and practices and the FCC regulations. It had nothing to do with people treating each other better and humanity in the future. That’s just something that Roddenberry picked up on WAY after the fact in the 80s when Trek was a huge movie machine that had moved on without him. It was something he said in interviews to make himself look greater than he was. In reality he was a writer and a damned good one. So he wrote that line of BS and sold it to just about every basement dweller (myself included) that ever loved his show. I think he crafted the IDIC based on that. He was a brilliant strategist in a marketing kind of sense.
The most honest moment of anyone ever associated with Star Trek is Shatner’s “get a life” skit from SNL of the 80s. However, you WON’T hear him talking that shit now over at Shatner.com. Bill has learned in his later years just where his bread was buttered and he is milking that dollar for dollar just like Roddenberry did these days. And more power to him for it. So anyway, he acts like he follows the little idiosyncracies of the show like we do and tells the cattle what they need to hear over there. I’m down with that. But let’s be real in the knowing that to him, it’s just acting and when its over… hey the man said it himself in one of his books that it was just a job he had as a lark years ago so he could pay his child support.
THAT my friend is the honest, dare I say “grab my crotch and command you to follow” attitude and perspective that I post herewith and hereto. and also heretofore.
Ralph you are a good man and I would ride with you anytime.
Look at the picture of Kirk and the Gorn in close quarters at the top of this page. Caption it:
Kirk: “Sheesh, haven’t you guys ever heard of mouthwash?!”
OK, having whined last week, I’ll give credit where credit is due. The enhancements to the surface of Cestus III were wonderful. The smoking crater in the lower lefthand corner; the misty, burnt out towers over Kirk’s shoulder, all added to the depth and expanse of a destroyed outpost. And the sublte addition of eyelids to the Gorn really did bring him to life. I didn’t really need the little dot of a Gorn spaceship on the viewscreen, but I’m glad they resisted the temptation to create something new and put it up close and personal. The little sparkly things around the Metron were unnecessary, but not particularly bothersome.
But somebody needs to get rid of that CGI imposter and put back the real Enterprise.
As an addendum to the original review, I want to clarify that I don’t think Kirk’s initial actions were totally unjustified. Remember, the Gorn didn’t just destroy the Cestus III colony, they faked two separate transmissions in order to lure the Enterprise there so they could destroy it as well. If, as was stated in the episode, the Enterprise was the primary defense for that whole section of the Federation, Kirk’s conclusion that the Gorn were planning an invasion was not unreasonable. Furthermore, one could argue that what the Gorn did, especially with regard to the Enterprise, went far beyond merely defending their territory. We never got to see what happened between the Federation and the Gorn after this episode; for all we know, Kirk might have been right all along.
So Jason, um, are you the MY NAME IS EARL dude, or what, bro?
It’s ok if you’re not, man. And maybe old hitch1969© is just confused again. And that wouldn’t be too surprising given all the brain cells I’ve fried over the years with both drugs and alcohol. Not to mention my ongoing theme that the girlfriend keeps reminding me of that I don’t live up to my potential and tend to underachieve. Not that I am a slacker, mind you. Oh no sir. I’ve got miles of belligerent enthusiasm. But only for the things that matter to me, which apparently are not the same things that matter to her. Oh her, she’s all into the “taking care of the children” and putting the children first and making sure their needs are met. But what about me and MY needs, Jason Lee? huh?
I never met a child support payment that I liked. But your review on the other hand, was stellar, my e-friend. I liked it. I liked it ALOT. I hope to write a review of one of the episodes for this site someday. Maybe I will ask BIG DAWG A.P. about that now. You have inspired me.
You can’t balme Kirk for reacting like he did. And what about the Gorn!? HELLOOOO a phone call would have been nice before just jacking a whole colony without warning! How about TELLING us we’re in your space? Normally I’m in Spock’s corner, but this time Kirk was justified if maybe a bit vicious. Then again “We humnas have a streak of barbarism in us. Appaling, but there nevertheless!”
As for the episode I thought most of what they did was great! Those phasers were wicked cool! I really wanted to SEE the Gorn ship but maybe there will be a closer shot in the DVD release. I don’t know where they’d put it though. I thought the photons were good. I kinda like the old white ones but the new ones are more like the movies so I’m cool with that.
I’m soooo ready to see this new Enterprise. PLEASE MAKE IT WHITE, NOT BLUE! When I was a kid the model plastic was blue/green and I always repainted it white or like a light gray. Just seems more like a ship to me that way. Blue just seems off.
Keep up the great work Okuda and Rossi and CBS!!
Sorry to disappoint, hitch, but me and Mr. “My Name is Earl” are no relation. I would have happily traded places with him alongside Jennifer Love Hewitt in “Heartbreakers,” though!
What it seems that many later writers lost was the conception of even though in Roddenberry’s future we were better off, it does not mean that every portion of what made us commit atrocities to one another has been vanquished from the species.
I compare it too what Nimoy once said about playing Spock, where he once mentioned that for his character “it is not that he does not feel emotion per say, it is that he simply controls it so that it does not envelope him as would any vulcan.” Nimoy even pointed out how he had seen later actors playing vulcans and doing it completely wrong because they were attempting to play it “emotionless” because they are basing their performance on only what is said about them from other species, not what is actually going on within them.
And just like nearly every actor who has attempted to play a vulcan “emotionless” in error, so has every writer and actor post TNG done Star Trek wrong as well. Just because it is set in a more utopian society, does not mean that humanity for what it is at every level does not exist. Anger is still there, resentment, even minor forms of bigotry. But what Star Trek well in TOS, TOS films, and earlier seasons of TNG was to show how the extent to how humanity allows those issues to control them or be driving issues is much more limited. Even though Kirk does feel bigotry towards klingons in ST VI, he still has a means of being open to seeing his mistake sooner once Gorkon is killed rather than letting it linger. The same is seen here in this episode with his combat with the Gorn captain. Reflection and introspection are much stronger in Star Trek’s future than today as well as the notion of individuality, and that is what makes it interesting to watch and something to aspire to still.
Good review, Jason! I didn’t know that you were doing these reviews.
Personally, I think nature would abhor a pure utopian “state”, for there is always contradictory forces and change… or there is stagnation. I think it’s nice we can analyze the subtle themes of TOS but also recognize that at one level it was an Action/Adventure Show.
Pretty good reveiw, but too lenient..
The Gorn did NOT blink enough~
The Gorn ship was more faithful, I guess, but a cop out nonetheless~
It’s odd that one of the major stars of Star Trek Remastered, the Enterprise, is still in dress rehearsal phase~
You bring the perspective of an over-fed, over-sexed, wholly dominant civilization to the rather pasty and managerial perspective you want from “leaders”.
Have you ever been in a fight? Ever get a broken nose and bloody knuckles? Ever give someone else abloody nose and bloody knuckles?
Resource competition, something the USofA has not had in almost 100 years, has a way of clarifying one’s priorities. Your attitude os more akin to that shown in HG Well’s “The Time Machine” and it will have the same outcome: someone will have you over for dinner. Yum.
Arena was my very first episode too! I watched it when I was around 7 or 8 and immediately fell in love with Captain Kirk :-P
Jason Lee wrote:
> The new photon torpedoes look much like the old ones did except they > have also changed color from white to red.
If you look at the original effects from Arena, the photon torpedoes were colored red.
I actually wish they made the photons a little more similar to the ones seen in the films of the TOS crew myself……….that and i wish they actually showed the classic enterprise shoot into warp like the later incarnations too.
A great site and an illustration of lens flares aside the Metron may be found at:
Olde Timey has a few clips at this site, too :-) One is of the Big E herself!
The Torps we think of as the TOS torps were originally used for the Proximity phasers in “Blance of Terror” then as Torps in “Elaan of Toyus” and maybe like 2 others in season 2. [maybe in the opening of “Errand of Mercy” too, I forget] And in the TOS movies the Torps are blue then orange/red then blue then back again. So you could argue to unify all the TOS torps in the movies and shows’ 4 versions or just the shows’ 2 versions.
I read somewhere that the blue Torpedoes in TMP were an experimental upgrade to the originals, hence their color, and later finalized as the ones seen in STII and beyond. Remember in TMP that the Enterprise was in a state of refit. I’m sure this was just a way to explain away the differences, but it made sense.
Having a different look in TOS doesn’t bother me a bit. As long as they shoot out like torpedoes, I could care less if they’re white or red. Just don’t overdo it with the sunbeam/spike effects like the movies show. Looks great in the movies…just wouldn’t fit for the show.
However, the U.S.S. Defiant in Enterprise’s “In a Mirror, Darkly” has blue photon torpedos.
Chronologically, the next time we see blue torpedoes emminating from the underside of a saucer section is in 2375 when the Enterprise -E launches quantum torpedoes in Star Trek: First Contact.