GETTING INTO THE ACTION
Whether you’re a die-hard fan of the original series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine or Voyager (and, god help you, if you are), it’s hard to argue that there’s only one series which did comedy well and that was Classic Trek. Unlike Next Generation (which tried to be funny, painfully in episodes like "Manhunt" and the somewhat wittier "Captains Holiday" in which Picard vacations on a pleasure planet with the story eventually degenerating into mindless technobabble) and Voyager, Classic Trek and Deep Space Nine were the only series for which humor was an essential ingredient.
And I’m not just talking about standing around the bridge, guffawing and chortling as the Enterprise leaves orbit, that seemed to button every episode. No, I’m talking about moments like in “Bread & Circuses” when Spock and McCoy ask what happened to the captain and Kirk deadpans, “They few me a few curves,” after spending the night with the slave girl, Drusilla. Deep Space Nine could also mine humor from its characters whether it be obvious, as in the case of Quark and the Ferengi (which made it no less funny – except in the episodes which only dealt with the Ferengi), or more subtle as with the sparring between Sisko and Gul Dukat or Andy Robinson’s wonderfully wry tinker, tailor, soldier, spy Garak.
But when it came to full-out, screwball comedy there was only one series that could sustain a full episode of wit and that was Classic Trek. Three episodes comprise the brilliant comedy Trek troika: “The Trouble With Tribbles,” “I, Mudd” and, I would argue possibly the funniest (albeit silliest) of the three, “A Piece of the Action.”
Set in a world corrupted by exposure to a book on Chicago Gangsters of the 1920’s, it’s a chance for Kirk, Spock and McCoy to be thrust into the world of a Warner Bros. gangster film with a rogue’s gallery right out of Little Caesar. The premise is outrageous, but, hell that’s what made the original Trek such a great show; it gambled on the big ideas. Sometimes, like in “Piece of the Action,” “it’s a planet of gangsters,” they worked. In episodes like “Patterns of Force,” in which a former professor of Kirk’s, John Gill, uses Nazi Germany as the template for an alien society that generates into national socialism, it kinda still worked (even though Judgment At Nuremberg, it sure ain’t) and yet others like “Spock’s Brain,” not so much. But “Piece” works, most of all because it’s downright hysterical and the humor largely comes from the fact that the writers, and, by extension the audience, knows our characters so well. This was the middle of second season when the show was firing on all cylinders and Gene Coon was firmly at the helm writing and re-writing some of Trek’s absolutely finest episodes. It’s the best year of Star Trek produced…ever…by far…and it has all the essential ingredients; Kirk large and in charge, Spock befuddled by human idiosyncrasies and McCoy put-upon and curmudgeonly, particularly when it comes to Spock. By the time, Kirk and Spock are imitating Jimmy Cagney and Edward G. Robinson with the gangsters of Sigma Iotia and trading barbs over Kirk “being an excellent starship captain, but as a taxi driver…” “Piece” never falters in being consistently a hoot.
Can’t beat Classic Trek for the laughs
There’s not much for CBS Digital to work their mojo on this time out as the episode is light on special effects which is probably for the best. I’ve been open the idea of embracing the new visual effects to give the episodes a 21st century spit and polish, but it’s been a mixed bag for me thus far. The Enterprise still looks something out of a cartoon and I have a feeling if they were going to redo the animated series as CGI, I’d be a lot more impressed with the aesthetic they’ve created. That said, they have done a few things extremely well: the reworked matte paintings, for one, have been exquisite. In episodes like “Devil In the Dark,” “The Menagerie” and “Wink of Eye,” they’ve done some superb work. And despite being underwhelmed by “The Doomsday Machine” and, particularly, “The Tholian Web” which was a profound disappointment, they did yeoman’s work on “The Immunity Syndrome” which was their most impressive work to date. It seems that their strengths (not to mention schedules) lend themselves a lot better to space anomalies than spaceships (the Tholian ships were abysmal as was the scale in relation to the Enterprise), further evidenced by last week’s “All Our Yesterdays” in which the Enterprise looked like it was drawn by crayon (or an Amiga like those early Babylon 5 ships), but the supernova which ends the episode is rather spectacular.
So how does the remastered “Piece” fare? Not bad. There’s not a lot of work that needed to be done and the new phaserfire that stuns a block of gangsters into submission looks solid, an improvement over the animated phaser bursts from 1967. All the new Enterprise in orbit shots though have the same problem endemic to the shots in previous shows, it just looks like computer animation and, as I’ve said before, not nearly as effective or striking as the actual miniatures. While CGI is great for creating environments, it’s less effective for creating vehicles (particularly when they’re not lit propertly), which is probably why the best melding of traditional miniature work with CGI was in Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers where the space combat was shot by miniatures, but the bugs and much of the planetary environments were all realized through computer animation.
CGI works for the phasers, but still doesn’t look like a real model
However, when it comes to Trek remastered, evaluating the CGI is almost besides the point. The real triumph with this undertaking are the stunning new transfers of the episodes which positively glow in their resplendence. And “Piece” is no exception, the colors are gorgeous, the background details are more sharp than ever and few episodes are more radiant than “Piece” with its fedoras, three piece suits, Paramount backlot exteriors and, of course, day-glo velour uniforms. If there’s one quibble, it’s a familiar one. The editors who cut the episode for syndication did a particularly lousy job cutting out some of the best jokes like when Spock attempts to hail the Enterprise via radio and positively evicerated the fizzbin game, cutting some of the best jokes in the process. There even seemingly indefensible momentary excises including Vic Tayback’s Jojo Krako’s crack, “Who’s your friend with the ears, Kirk?” Syndication cuts are necessary for a late-night timeslot, but some care needs to be exercised. I remember growing up and watching Trek in syndication on WPIX in New York and it seemed like the editors always knew what to cut for time (e.g. the ridiculous scene where the bum phasers himself in “City,” the musings of a lovestruck Stratos city dweller in “Cloud Minders”) which rarely impaired the narrative. Now it’s like Edward Scissorhands without a thought as to how the cuts effect the episode (just look at “Balance of Terror” or “Mirror, Mirror” if you don’t know what I’m talking about ). This isn’t Paramount or CBS’ fault, the blame can be clearly laid at the feet of the local affiliates, but it’s a reason why the DVDs and digital downloads can’t come fast enough and remain the only way to really appreciate Star Trek in all…its unedited…glory. Bring ‘em on….that’s some action we can agree we all want a piece of.
looking sharper then ever
MARK A. ALTMAN is the writer/producer of Free Enterprise, starring William Shatner and Eric McCormack, and co-publisher of Geek Monthly. His new film, The Thirst; comes out from Starz Home Video next week.
I love this episode!
Aha First! For the first time!
I have to disagree. Voyager has one of the best comedy episodes of the entire Trek legacy, the classic 6th season “Doctor Daydreams” episode “Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy.” I also enjoyed DS9’s Ferengi episodes and “Fascination.”
The remastered version of TOS’s “A Piece of the Action” was good. The new effects were nice, and the CGI Enterprise just keeps getting better. Fun episode, too.
I’m not sure I agree with the cross-the-boards condemnation of CGI ships. I liked the treatment of the Romulan Bird of Prey in ‘Terror.’ I like a lot of the recent Enterprise shots. I do NOT like all of them, since many feel rushed or rubber stamped and not thought out. (They keep leaving the tail lights off when the shuttle’s comin’ home, Ma.)
Still, you highlight one of my favorite points about remastering… it makes the print look SOOOO good. It’s like washing a VW and finding a Porsche underneath all that skank.
Yes, this is Trek humor at its most unhinged. But, I also think the other series have had their moments, even their episodes. “Qpid” is funny, as is “Fistful of Datas” and “The Magnificent Ferengis.”
I think another important point is the condemnation of the syndicators who cut these episodes. There needs to be a law (hush, I’m serious) that the owners of the properties get first right to make any cuts for time. Ron Howard had to make deep cuts in Apollo 13 for IMAX release. But HE did it, not some hack with one eye on the ticket counter.
Anthony, if there is any forum for expressing our concerns/frustrations let us know. Maybe some politician will garner votes by doing SOMETHING.
I agree on the bad editing. You see it in a lot of shows and movies aired on television these days. In the classic 70s WPIX edits I recall, it was usally some large scene excised to make room for extra commercials. Growing up, there were several chunks of Trek I had never seen on tv, such as the aforementioned bum-phaser, the classic “Who threw the first punch?” and even the laser barrage on the Talosian compound in the Menagerie.
Now, however, they seem to prefer a multitude of small edits, so that rather than feeling the pain once, we have to endure several missing lines of dialogue, most of which are great comedic moments or particularly telling of the characters.
I believe this is where they came up with the term “death of a thousand cuts”, but I could be wrong.
Very Nice Review. I’m always glad to see the late, great Gene Coon getting more attention for his contributions to Trek.
Nothing has changed in regard to the New CGI effects overall – – they can be a mixed bag. In need of more time and money it would seem. It would be great if this remastering project, including the contributions from the Community on this site, were all part of an ongoing progress – – working out the “bugs” before the Official and Final DVD releases. Sadly I fear that this will not prove to be the case. Paramount remains Paramount no matter who owns them – – a long-lived “love – hate” relationship . . . speaking for myself.
endemic, not indemic
The editing is, indeed, exceptionally painful. The cuts we had to “Balance of Terror” here in Twincitytania were just appalling, as they eviscerated the emotional heart of the show for no particular reason.
As for the review, I agree with the positive things said about this episode. As I recall, Mr. Altman drew a great deal of fire in his last review (for “The Doomsday Machine”) for the broad, sweeping, unsupported claims he makes about just about everything else, whether it be the rest of Trek, other eps of TOS-R, or the Star Wars trilogy. The claims he makes here (VOY never funny, TOS S2 best ever… “by far” no less!, random discourse on CGI and its limitations, some off-topic snipes at the remastered Enterprise) are no better made than they were last time out. And, once again, he writes as if he assumes that we agree with him, that his points are not only obvious premises but are indeed self-evident and inarguable. Now, I doubt that’s what Mr. Altman really thinks, but it sure does come across that way, and it sure is irritating.
However, I’ll gladly agree that “A Piece of the Action” is a comedic tour-de-force. Great ep, middling-at-best review.
I agree with Mark about the CGI ships being hit-or-miss affairs. Sometimes the Enterprise looks fantastic, and at other times something you might see on a video game console. The quality there is very uneven. I also agree with the superb job they’ve done on that matte paintings and the remastering of the prints….beautifully done. I highly doubt these effects will be revisited again for their HD release, which is a shame. Paramount/CBS should be lauded for putting together this project, but it always seems like they can never get it quite right(the ST:TMP Directors Edition is a good example).
BTW Mark, what’s happening with Free Enterprise 2?
This is still one of my favorites and always will be. I think CBS-D’s work is getting better, and, I just don’t get that crack about the ship looking like it was drawn with a crayon. Oh well, great review overall.
“MARK A. ALTMAN is the writer/producer of Free Enterprise”
Which wasn’t funny, and wouldn’t be worth watching at all if it weren’t for Shatner. Even then it’s one of his more forgettable cameo roles in a film.
“While CGI is great for creating environments, it’s less effective for creating vehicles”
It’s the other way round dude.
I miss the old space shots less and less, frankly. At this point the CG may be less convincing and “real looking” than what ILM once did with models, but it’s reached the point of usually looking more persuasive than what was done on a weekly basis for TOS.
I’m in the midst of watching the first and second years of BSG on DVD. The work that ZOIC did on that series was more “effective for creating vehicles” than any model work I’ve ever seen for television. Of course, it’s also a good deal more sophisticated than what’s being done for the Remastered episodes.
Sean-1701, I’m a big fan of the Ferengi episodes of DS9 myself.
I thought Free Enterprise was hilarious. Have it on DVD.
BUT…I SWEAR…if I read one more post or article from some clown saying the Enterprise looks like a cartoon I am going to go postal.
It does NOT! Bugs Bunny is a CARTOON! Scooby Doo is a CARTOON! Brach’s peppermint nacelle caps look cartoonish! Star Trek Remastered does NOT look like a FREAKIN CARTOON!!
I think Mark Altman was drawn with a crayon.
Yea, nuBSG showed Zo!C, late of Firefly, as the new thing in realism in outer space CGI artistry. They raised the bar more than anything since … goddess knows, the last decade sucks really, it’s all like video games and were far too showy, etc. Anyho…
“They few me a few curves,” TYPO!
Kirk said, after spending an evening with a willing slave girl (You’re a Roman Kirk, or should have been!) said; “They threw me a few curves.”
Sorry… spelling nazi. :D
I suppose the refined and rarified atmosphere breathed by the upper echelons of professional fans causes them to sniff up their noses at what wows the rest of us blue-color slobs in the mines down below.
We’un jes’ don’t know better than ta likes it.
Well, my Trek-credentials are as good as Altman’s. So what if I haven’t made a film?
Anyway, I LIKES IT TOO!!! It’s ain’t cartoony to me.
“I thought Free Enterprise was hilarious. Have it on DVD.”
Come to think of it, it was worth seeing the Shat rap. Just about saved the film from total oblivion.
If you want to see the Enterprise look like a cartoon, go buy the Star Trek Animated DVD set.
I want to see the crayons that Altman thinks can create an Enterprise that looks as good as CBS Digital’s work. (It may not be perfect, but it’s pretty damned good.)
By the way, I LOVED “Free Enterprise,” even though I thought that the CGI “Logan’s Run” city in the remastered edition doesn’t look quite real.
Not a bad review, but I think you overreach on several points. For example, I beg to differ that the scene in “City on the Edge of Forever” in which “a bum phasers himself” is “ridiculous.” Is it part of the central narrative? No. Must it be in order to add value? No. There are many scenes in ST that rarely made it into syndication that, to varying degrees, added texture to their story. IMO, I thought that scene served well as a visual, tangible example to the audience of the consequences of time travel, underscoring the more esoteric discussion that takes place between Kirk and Spock regarding the “what ifs” surrounding Edith Keeler. Within the context of that story, I thought it was a nice touch.
I would reserve the term “ridiculous” for scripts such as “Spock’s Brain” and ST:V.
#20. Re: The Logan’s Run scene…yeah, clearly composited against a backdrop on that one.
Mark Altman raped my childhood.
Iffy cartoonish effects aside, I think it’s interesting to see how they try to remaster the effects. Some work, some don’t. it’s fun to watch.
The cuts for syndication are awful. They started doing the cuts around the late 80’s as I far as I noticed. I saw the shows in their full length for years in the 70’s and most all the scenes added something to the story. There are exceptions of course.
The phaser scene in “City” with the poor bum was great. It sets the scene of ignorance and a primitive time for the time traveling McCoy, Kirk, and Spcok. I remember being a little bummed out when the Bum ( sorry, unintentional pun) overloaded the phaser and wiped himself out.
The cuts ruin the show–can’t argue with that.
I think we should all chip in and buy Mr. Altman a television manufactured in the twenty-first century so he can witness the awesome splendor of the CGI U.S.S. Enterprise.
Rabbit ears are so passe’.
All I know is this.
SOMEONE is in a serious state of denial here. How can the quality of work go from ass-kickin’ one week, to atrocious the next. The parameters and spectrum of perception cannot possibly be that extensive, and the quality of CBS Digitals work can’t possibly fluctuate to that degree.
So someone then is living a fantasy , a self imposed fantasy ; whether advocates of this CBS Digital effort, or opponents, I don’t know, but something can’t possibly be both awesome and atrocious simultaneously. The spectrum of consistency within CBS Digitals work simply doesn’t permit it.
Maybe half of us need our eyes checked?
yes the cbs digital enterprise shots look like sh*t sorry but i agree with the reviewer! the eneterprise is way too dark and does have a cartoonish sheen. sorry but true! if you wanna see cgi perfected look at daren dochtermans work! that looks like modls he is a master and he make those hacks at cbs digital look like the clown they are..the entire remastred project has been a weekly disapointment.. sorry i just dont buy the akudias act they are truly hacks! they dont get it..daren is the the sh*t t..the tholian web was a cartoon..come on this is film cbs digitals stuff looks like a computer video game they know ! and you will all feel the same way when the dvd\’s are released!
I rest my case.
For everyone saying the Enterprise looks like a video game, I want a screen shot posted of what video game you are specifically reffering to, because it sure as hell isn’t any video game I’ve ever played on any platform INCLUDING Legacy on X-Box 360 so, what exactly is this phantom video game people refer to and where can I buy it?
I detect the presence and malodorous stench of Bullshit.
The remastered Enterprise pales in comparison to the original model. Mark Altman is right on the money.
I have to say although I love the remastered episodes (some of the effects and angles are wonderful, and it does update the show quite a bit), the Enterprise still looks CGI. Sometimes less so, sometimes more so. But I had thought CGI had progressed further than that, and from what people write, it has progressed further, it’s just that we are getting CGI on the cheap. Daren Dochterman’s Enterprise is A LOT better- check out his doomsday machine episode. But the overall effects in his “Doomsday” are inferior.
I do wish the E looked less CGI, but I am still quite happy they remastered ST.
No offense, but since Jock Ewing died before Dallas was even half done with it’s run…I don’t trust them boots! LOL Yeeehaw for crayon Enterprises! I like them because I must not know anything about Star Trek. I’ve only watched it since 1969! I wish I were a real fan, like all of these nitpickers who complain about everything, but seem to miss all the flaws of the originals. Oh, wait…those flaws are what make the show “endearing”, I forgot! Right? Check!
#29. Amen, JOSH!!! I’ve never seen a computer game that had visuals as good as CBS’ either. Maybe Altman and others are playing their games on a supercomputer or something. LOL
Oh..and that Logan’s Run scene in Free Enterprise looked CARTOON to me! LMAO!!!! Way cartoon! LOL!!!! Looked like someone drew that City of Domes background with Crayolas. ;-)
#30. Yeah, CBS’ work pales in comparison to those disappearing nacelles and horrible tearing mattes…right? And those matte paintings (which looked like THEY were drawn with Crayons) were so much better than the three dimensional appearing digital mattes that CBS did, right
You people. Why don’t you say this shit at the conventions? I’d pummel the first person who stood up and said this kind of crap live. I swear. I’d jump over rows of seated fans and just…just go…apeshit and pummel the person with the mic who dared say these new FX are bad.
And Dave Rossi and the Okudas would probably take me to dinner afterwards. LMAO!!!! It’d be cool.
I’m just apeshit crazy enough to do it too! LOL Can’t you just see me leaping over rows of seated fans on my way to kick some ass at a con? HAHAHAHAAHA!!! Priceless. But it’s way past due. Too bad there’s no way to kick ass on a message board.
I was going to say the same thing about the “endearingly bad” original FX. Endearing ain’t realistic, peeps! Tearing mattes isn’t endearing to me…it’s just bad. Old, dated matte paintings are endearing to me either. Al Whitlock or not!
Anyway, again…nobody is stopping you cretins from watching these dated FX on DVD until your eyeballs pop outta your noggins. Why don’t you do that instead of leaving insipid pseudo-reviews that just serve as a way to vent your nitpicky frustrations…kind of like they way my bitchfest about you losers is a way to vent my frustrations….;-)
Isn’t it ironic…doncha think?
#3 is right that episode of Voyager about the Doctor having daydream is up there with this episode. When it comes to comedy episodes Voyager did the best with it but this episode is really good. I know some people might respond and saw Voyager was a joke or some crap like that but the truth is the the funniest episodes came from Voyager.
That episode of Deep Space nine when they went back to time during Kirk era was another classic funny episode.
“I’m in the midst of watching the first and second years of BSG on DVD. The work that ZOIC did on that series was more “effective for creating vehicles” than any model work I’ve ever seen for television.”
Good God, Dennis, yes. Whether you agree with his assesment of the CGI Enterprise or not (and I definitely don’t, at least when CBS-D is on its game), Altman’s blanket statement about “CGI vehicles” is just absurd on its face. Compare Zoic’s work and the John Dykstra shots from 1978 side by side and try to tell me that the old FX are more convincing.
Once upon a time, Mark Altman did a fine job covering the world of Trek for Cinefantastique, and I would look forward to each issue that featured his work whether I agreed with his opnions about the shows or not. But his statements as a reviewer have been suspect for years now. Yes, the second season produced a fair number of classic shows, and solidified the notion of the Enterprise crew as a surrogate family–but was it really the best season ever, by far?. Not in my judgement, or in the judgement of most who watched and loved the show at the time.
DS9 was probably the second-best Trek for comedy, such episodes as the Worf/Jadzia marriage “You Are Cordially Invited” and “The Magnificent Ferengi” are a real hoot.
I get it now, the U.S.S. Enterprise CGI version appears like a video game,
to those messaging us from the future with their render farm video game consoles like the X-Box Quantum, Nintendo 2037, and PS XXXVI.
Now it makes sense that the CGI Enterprise looks like a video game.
“They few me a few curves” ????
What the hell does that mean???
Damn good game graphics!!!
33. Sure, the tearing mattes are bad. But the model ITSELF is more realistic than the CGI update. Hey, I can jump over chairs at conventions and outrun you. :)
There’s a “rule of thumb” in comedy; when you try too hard, it’s NOT funny. This episode tries too hard!
I would agree roughly with Mister Altman’s Review and assessment on some points.
I would agree they have had their hits and misses. Staying up three in the morning for deadlines is just plain silly in some of these cases .Yes it shows commitment by the CBS-D team but it seems at times (not all the time) they need more CGI artist to meet demands for those special shots. I’m sure their would be a lot of interns or volunteers would be happy to help them in that regard. I would never consider the shots a cartoon at all.Roughly some not all have been a little raw and needed some more work to it. Most of the effects are actually enjoyable and its not a major factor. The story roughly is more important than the effects.
I still didn’t care what they did for this episode generally because this lacked much effects work done.
I really like Mark Altman his articles and reviews in CFQ were always top notch and he edited the best sci fi mag of all time Sci Fi Universe!
I think the early Trek remastered episodes had some “cartoonish” Enterprise effects, but since they’ve been using the new CGI model and tweaked the lighting and stuff, it looks great. I REALLY hope they redo the early CGI effects for the DVD release……
All I have to say is, are you sure you’re watching the remastered Treak and not TAS? Because the remastered Eneterprise does NOT look cartoonish. I think it’s looking better each time. The “real” model never looked “right” to me. Half the time it looked white, other times it was light blue… no detail in the model.. very inconsistant. I like what CBS D is doing.
as a side note… I agree with what someone said… if Shatner wasn’t in Free Enterprise, it would have been unbearable to watch. The writing was all over the place and not very funny… and Eric’s acting was very wooden.
Why didn’t this guy menterion Enterprise? He lists off all the Trek shows except my favorite, sheesh.
Remember: there are FIVE trek shows.
#46. VERY true about the original model. The lighting was inconsistent throughout the series. The best it ever looked was late second season the new third season shots. IMHO, of course…;-) And, only the shots wear there was no matte tearing on the nacelle pylons.
On Free Enterprise…you wouldn’t have had a movie without Shatner. But, I didn’t find the movie unbearable at all. In fact, I found it quite hilarious if only because those guys reminded me so much of me and my friends.
Yes, we went around making references to scenes in Trek and other sci-fi films like that….we were the original geeks. And damn proud of it too!
Did I ever tell you about the time at a convention in Houston me and a friend ran around the hotel like Taun-Tauns making that Taun-Taun sound and suddenly an elevator opened up and lo and behold….Grace Lee Whitney comes walking out? She gave us this priceless look.
I told you I am apeshit crazy. Now do you believe me? LOL
LMAO!!!! True fact….and HILARIOUS!!! Now, keep in mind we were early teens back then…but still…quite funny.
Anyway, I loved Free Enterprise. OH…and I used to make action figure runs to various stores just like those guys! Ahhhhh…that movie was hilarious.
re review & post 12 & 46:
Yo Montreal Paul, we have to agree to disagree…, I think CBS-D Enterprise looks flat and animated most of the time.
I agree with just about everything in this review. Regarding the produc tion of effects, I think he was saying that CGI ships can be hard to produce effectively in terms of conveying mass, scale and depth, especially when not lit properly. I don’t think he is flat out denouncing CGI as a means of producing model effects, and to Dennis Bailey’s point…I definitely agree that BSG is the new standard to shoot for…
This thread seems to be a bit more critical regarding the effects than previous threads. I personally remain relatively unimpressed, and am glad to see similar reasonable reflections in this review.
While (obviously) there is a huge difference in style, there is no reason why the quality of effects shouldn’t be every bit as good as they are in BSG. They simply aren’t.