Monday, September 10, 2007

TOS Rewind #10: "The Corbomite Maneuver"

I took my end-of-Summer hiatus and now we're back with The Corbomite Maneuver (11/10/1966).  The drink:  Johnnie Walker Green Label.

Eric gets to go first this time:

Tonight’s episode, “The Corbomite Maneuver",  is the first production episode (after the two pilots), and it remains one of the better original Trek episodes. The character interaction is well done, Kirk
is in fine form as a tactician, the underlying theme is meaningful, and the story is good, imaginative science fiction.

I may have mentioned this in an earlier review, but McCoy, Spock, and Kirk have often been referred to as the heart, mind, and soul of Star Trek (with McCoy being the heart, Spock the mind, and Kirk the soul). This may sound a bit trite, but after watching Trek for as long as I can remember, I find it accurate, and this episode brings out these qualities quite nicely—Spock provides Kirk with the intellectual analysis he needs, and McCoy is the advocate for the human side of the equation (which is exemplified by the way he stands up for Lt. Bailey). Kirk, of course, personifies Star Trek’s spirit of exploration and adventure, and he eloquently sums this up when he addresses the crew after Balok’s threat of destruction. (Two notes: Balok was played by a young Clint Howard, the younger brother of actor/director Ron Howard; and Kirk’s address strongly reminded me of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address when he said “…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself").

Another aspect of this episode I find very appealing is Captain Kirk’s inspired improvisational tactics (i.e. his use of the mythical “corbomite"). Again, I probably mentioned this in an earlier review, but Roddenberry modeled Kirk after C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower, the brilliant fictional commander in the British navy during the Napoleonic wars. Hornblower is portrayed as a superbly
creative, if unorthodox, tactician who always finds a way to overcome his adversaries. Sound familiar? But this is at the core of Kirk’s character, and it’s one thing that makes him so admirable. To
paraphrase McCoy (in Star Trek III): Kirk always takes a deadly situation and turns it into a fighting chance to live.

So enough about the characters, the theme of this episode is that we shouldn’t fear the unknown. And we see this fear personified in Lieutenant Bailey. He is frightened of Balok’s warning buoy and wants
to destroy it immediately. And later, when faced with the much greater threat of Balok and the Fesarius, he loses it (at least for a while). Then we discover that Balok is not only harmless, he’s
actually friendly. So all is well with the Enterprise and her crew. But you don’t have to dig very far to find a subtle message to the Vietnam era audience that once you get to know them, there’s really
no reason to be afraid of, and hate, all those strange Asian people with their strange Asian cultures.

Finally, the basic story in “The Corbomite Maneuver" is good science fiction. Granted, an encounter with a strange alien life form is hardly a unique basis for an SF story, but it’s the imaginative
approach I find so captivating. What is the First Federation? Are there other ships like the Fesarius? Does Balok have compatriots, and if so, where are they? What’s all that space in Fesarius used for? In
short, this story did a good job of evoking a sense of wonder. And to me, that’s what science fiction is all about.


Eric really nailed it on the head with the great characters and classic Trek ideas.  Shatner plays Kirk just right in this one with the correct mix of military macho and contemplation.  Nimoy does Spock a bit on the aggressive side, but seeing as this was one of the first episodes produced after the pilots, this is totally understandable.  The one character I get a bit tired of is Lt. Bailey.  I appreciate the reason for his character as the part of the inexperienced crew.  A bit of Bailey is actually standing in for the audience, in a way, those of us who would be scared shitless at a giant alien ship with a disembodied head (a simple effect that always creeped me out growing up) and impressive voice counting down the minutes to our annihilation.  My only problem with him is that he comes off a bit too whinny.  No big deal.  The suspense is built very nicely as Kirk struggles to come up with a tactic to save the ship.  You just can't beat the whole Trekian ideal of friendly aliens who are just messing with us humans for, well, interstellar peace!

Besides the alien head effects, there's the huge lightbulb-filled alien ship, which looks very cool when it approaches and dwarfs the Enterprise.  Some very efficient use (including camera angles and lighting) of limited effects.  The suspense is build very nicely as Kirk struggles to come up with a tactic to save the ship.

That's about all I have to add to Eric's excellent review.  Besides, I want to get to the next episode, "The Menagerie."