TRIUMPH OF THE BILL
Kirk & Company save us from the Nazis and proves we can all get along
Santayana once said “those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it,” but in the case of John Gill, he didn’t forget, he just made a really, really bad call. It was a bad call, John, a bad call. Thus goes “Patterns of Force,” in which a Federation historian (this time not an unhinged captain, commodore or woman who wants to change bodies with Kirk for a change showing that even academics can get into the act of nearly destroying, not only one planet, but possibly two) uses Nazi German as the template for a brave new Ayran world. It’s such a great idea that the neo-cons watching this episode as kids probably thought what a great idea this would be oneday…but I digress.
Back in the days when I was editing an acerbic, snarky little sci-fi magazine called “Sci-Fi Universe,” I had an assistant who used to hold up “Patterns of Force” as everything that was wrong with Classic Trek. She was a card-carrying Next Generation acolyte (not that there’s anything wrong with it) and so when we’d all be talking around the office about how much better Original Trek was than Next Gen, she’d silence us with two words: “Nazi Planet.” I’m not sure she really knew what this meant, but had a sneaking idea there had been an episode of the original Star Trek in which Kirk and Spock had to dress up as Nazi’s and foil the malevolent plans of a sinister nasty whose planet was about the eliminate the surrogate Jews, in this case, the Ekotians. But this wasn’t a simple case of Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planetary Evolution, a neat conceit Gene Coon came up with to explain why every alien planet looked like the Paramount backlot, but rather the work of a Federation Historian who actively attempted to do some 23rd century nation building by using the Nazi’s as his blueprint.
Good thinking, John
The irony is that as silly as “Patterns of Force” sounds on paper, it’s actually quite an enjoyable little episode with one of those pesky morals that the rest of the Trek series seemed to dispense with. Unlike “Piece of the Action” that boasts a somewhat similar premise, that was played for laughs, “Patterns” plays it straight. Which isn’t to say there isn’t some great banter (much of the best of it, excised by the syndication editors who managed to cut the great scene where McCoy wonders why he has to beam down in Nazi regalia and Kirk orders him down naked, if need be) between our characters. There’s even a slight visual effects enhancement in the scene where Spock climbs on Kirk’s back to break out of the cell their incarcerated in with is laugh-out-loud funny even the 45th time you’re watching it. And while the espionage plot isn’t quite “Army of Shadows,” there’s a nice little twist when the Ekotians utilize an old Resistance trick to find out if Kirk is actually in league with the Nazis. Yes, there are a few uncomfortable moments when Kirk and Spock admire each other in their respective Nazi regalia (perhaps the birth of K/SS fiction?), but damned if those Nazis don’t have some bitchin’ plasma screens around the capital.
Jim there is something I have always wanted to say
I know what you’re thinking; but what about the new visual effects? Isn’t that what, theoretically, you’re supposed to be writing about, stupid. I guess, but the new enhancements are almost besides the point in this case. The new transfer is gorgeous as is par for the course and there’s nothing particularly wrong with the new visual effects: the standard planetary orbit moments are fine. There’s also a new shot of the nuclear missile on course for the Enterprise which I wasn’t thrilled with the execution of if only because it replaced my favorite shot of the Enterprise firing phasers in which the camera tilts up on the Enterprise from beneath the primary hull and the phasers bathe the ship in a radiant blue glow (how’s that for festishizing a ship. Hey, at least, it’s not a fucking B-Wing). Instead, that shot is now from behind the primary hull looking out at whatever the Enterprise is blowing up. It’s an angle the producers of the new visual effects seem to like so much which I just can’t stand. It’s not a flattering angle for Matt Jeffries’ design and isn’t nearly as cool – and they’ve come to rely on it almost as much as the original SFX guys relied on stock footage.
Why replace one over used shot with another overused less flattering one?
I actually did like one of the shots of the Enterprise in orbit quite a bit and realized that what’s not working about some of the new visual effects are the inconsistent lighting (when the ship is lit correctly,it looks quite good; when not, not) as well as the way the Enterprise moves as it bounces around in and out of orbit. The Enterprise always was a majestic looking vessel, that moved elegantly through the cosmos.A lot of that was because they couldn’t really do much more with it because of the constraints of working with the miniature and optical printing, but I think it’s important to retain that sense of movement in the CGI – even if in space the ship really could ping-pong a lot more. To me it’s like the old point the fanboys love to point out about sound in space. Sure, if you’re Kubrick, you don’t have sound in space.But in a show in which every alien race speaks English and an entire world is patterned around the Nazi’s, I think taking the dramatic liberty of having sound in space isn’t such a bad thing after all.
TOS-R seeing the light
And even if you hate this episode for all the reasons my old minx of an assistant, Amanda, did (but what did she know, she dated cast members from Voyager), you have to love the shot of Melakon’s reaction when he gets shot. It’s almost as classic as Scotty feigning fainting in “Spock’s Brain.”
And at the end of the day, “Patterns” for all it’s goofiness, has some real dramatic fireworks between a remorseful John Gill and Kirk as well as a sweet message that buttons the episode in which everyone agrees to give peace a chance. You gotta love the 60’s….and the 23rd Century.
MARK A. ALTMAN is a co-writer/producer of FREE ENTERPRISE. His latest film, DOA: DEAD OR ALIVE, opens June 15th from Dimension Films starring Devon Aoki, Jaime Pressey, Holly Valance and Sarah Carter. He is also co-publisher of GEEK MONTHLY