Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Questionable Trek vol. 24

Not everyone can afford the best locations and the best sets like George Lucas can. Sometimes, you just gotta turn that spot behind the dumpster into an exotic world.

Question: "What was Star Trek's cheapest moment?"


Scott's Answer: Given the realities of TV production, it's inevitable that some things will fall through the cracks. The one thing the creators never managed to do well was painted backdrops. You've seen them before: a set can only be so big so they use fake backdrops to fill in the rest. But look at this! I mean, who were they trying to fool? Even Star Trek: Nemesis which, was, in theory, a big budget movie, had the same problem!

Andrew's Answer: Oh, there are so many! So many cheesy sets, so many reused uniforms, so many reused effects, so much cheapness. But the thing which stands out to me the most is actually an entire movie: Star Trek V. The opening scene at Yosemite is great. You've got great scenery, excellent effects and they clearly dropped some coin on getting that done. But then they board the Enterprise and everything changes. It felt like this was the moment they ran out of money, so they created three or four very small, dirt cheap sets and everybody acted like this was a real starship. I think the original Enterprise interiors from the series were more convincing frankly.

55 comments:

Commander Max said...

In the ST world they reused everything. Sets got redressed all of the time.

For STV sorry Andrew, the effects were just as cheap as the rest of the flick. If you want to spend money on EFX, ILM is the way to go. Which they didn't do. Some of the E shots that looked so good, were only a photograph of the E.

The best thing to come out of STV was the phaser. Then reused in ST6(oh the pain).

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"The best thing to come out of STV was the phaser. Then reused in ST6(oh the pain)."

And Kirk refusing to give up his pain. That was one of the best scenes in ST history, IMO. Classic Kirk.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

How about those obvious plastic boulders when Kirk fought the Gorn captain?

shawn said...

I was going to say the Next Gen episode "Shades of Grey", but that was due to a writers' strike, so I would have to go with the destruction of the klingon bird of prey in "Star Trek Generation", which reused fotage from Star Trek 6.

ScottDS said...

shawn -

Good call on the recycled shot in Generations. I didn't even think of that one.

On the DVD commentary, they talk about how, even though this was a big movie, they still had to have meetings where they would cut out individual phaser shots and things like that. The thinking had been, "Hey's it's a movie and now we can go really big" but everything was just multiplied exponentially. So FX shots that would've cost $10,000 on the show now cost $100,000.

Until the reboot, Paramount had always been very, uh, careful with its money on these films.

ScottDS said...

USS Ben -

I agree. I love the "I need my pain!" scene - probably one of the best scenes in any of the films.

As for fake boulders, I can't remember off the top of my head but when I suggested this question to Andrew a couple weeks ago, I probably mentioned that TOS shouldn't count since low-budget fakery was simply part and parcel of that series whereas the movies and spinoffs didn't always have that excuse.

ScottDS said...

Max -

Yeah, the effects were cheap and while ILM may have been too busy or too expensive, I still haven't figured out why the filmmakers didn't go to one of the other big FX facilities in SoCal, like Boss Film Studios or DreamQuest or Apogee (all three closed their doors in the 90s). Instead, they went with a guy who had his own company in Long Island and who was inexperienced with motion control photography, which was pretty much standard procedure for any spaceship movie.

I've always liked the bridge set they built for Star Trek V, though I like it even better in VI. On the other hand, it was pretty cheap of them to reuse the TNG corridors, but with no modifications! I think I read that the movie and the show were shooting at the same time so they couldn't change them.

BIG MO said...

When season 1 of TNG first aired, I couldn't help thinking that they made the planetary sets deliberately cheesy so that they looked like some of the sets from original Trek. The sky looked (and still looks) fake in "Hide and Q," "The Arsenal of Freedom," two otherwise very good season 1 episodes. I'm not being fair, of course, but even the remastered versions still look fake.

darski said...

The one cringe-worthy moment that I remember from the original view was when they *pretended* that a simple microphone was a futuristic tamping/damping device.

Given the nature of TV at that time I was prepared for cheezy effects but that was so obviously ' the prop department is on vacation; what can we use here?'.

Now I'll go and read the other comments...

ScottDS said...

Mo -

I recently watched a bunch of season 1 TNG episodes now that I have the Blu-Ray set and I had forgotten just how cheap those sets were! Ironically, on the new Blu-Ray retrospective documentary, the production designer mentions they were always going overbudget in that season, sometimes by as much as $400,000.

ScottDS said...

darski -

You want to waste an hour or so? Check out this Star Trek fansite: Ex Astris Scientia and scroll down to the "Graphics, Props & Costumes" and "Sets & Planet Mattes" sections.

This website has chronicled the re-use of every single prop, set, and decoration, and has identified many instances where the prop was a real object that they modified.

Mountain Man said...

OT, I know, but I had to mention that I saw "The Doomsday Machine" (episode 35) on TV Sunday night, and I was impressed at the effects. The Enterprise comes out of warp in a debris field and finds the Constellation damaged and adrift. There is a shot of the Constellation where a piece of rock hits the hull, breaks into pieces, and ricochets off into other directions. The effect looked really, really good.

OT again (I'm gonna get banned!). The Fifth Element, at the end when the dying Magalor sets off the bomb in the cruise ship - isn't that a combination lock he uses to activate the bomb?

AndrewPrice said...

Max, To me, they still looked decent except when they to the ship, that's when things fell apart for me.

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, That was one of the best lines every in Star Trek!

I loved the fake boulders. They fit the show perfectly! :)

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, Believe it or not, I never noticed that until I saw the Red Letter Media guys show them side by side. That was pretty funny.

tryanmax said...

Andrew picked a whole movie, but I'm going to trump that and call out the entire Animated Series. Filmation produced the series and, while a competent animation house in terms of quality, they were never known for high production value. Long establishing shots, sliding cells, and static characters are the norm. As for the reuse of animation sequences, if one were to make a drinking game of it, he would be dead of liver failure after one episode.

However, the background scenery is always vibrant, the character renditions are perfectly faithful, and the scripts were such that they garnered a daytime Emmy. The voice work (provided by original cast members) foley are good if unremarkable. Lip sync is one of the hallmarks of this particular animated show.

All told, though, my favorite cheap-out of the series is the not-quite-right version of the theme tune. It's such a close pastiche that I have to assume some rights issue, though I can't find any info about it.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I've heard that a lot as well, but I always found it hard to believe that Paramount wouldn't invest in what was going to be a huge success. But I think the studios have always tended to look down upon science fiction.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I can forgive the original series a lot in terms of effects because it was produced at a time when special effects were still in their infancy and on a dirt cheap budget.

AndrewPrice said...

Big Mo, I wondered about the sets too. They were horrible! They would have been better served just filming them out back of the studio or in a nearby park. Everything about those sets was fake and horrible.

AndrewPrice said...

darski, Do you mean the giant amoeba in space?

AndrewPrice said...

Mountain Man, we don't ban people for going off topic or breaking the rules. To the contrary, that seems to be the Commentarama way around here.

That was another of my favorite episodes. Even though you knew it was all done on the same sets they always use, it still felt like Kirk actually was on a second star ship.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I hate to admit it, but I've only seen the animated series once and that was like 30 years ago, so I can't say I remember much about it except the overall look.

tryanmax said...

LOL! The amoeba in space! The only thing that it had missing was a go-go girl dancing in front of it!

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, You wouldn't laugh at the amoeba if you were on a shipload of Vulcans, aka "The Intrepid."

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

That would suck to be eaten by a giant space amoeba!

"How did thaey die?"

"Space amoeba, sir."

"Well, at least it wasn't space herpes. Try explaining that one."

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, That reminds me of the forgotten gem "Ice Pirates" staring Robert Urich. They end up being infected by space herpes. LOL!

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

LOL! That's where I got the reference. Hilarious film.

Howard The Duck also mentions space herpes but they didn't show one like the Ice Pirates. :^)

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, I'm glad you've seen it! I thought I was the only human alive who had! :)

DUQ said...

This is deep into nerdom my friends! LOL!

DUQ said...

tryanmax, I thought the series was excellent, but it suffers from that mid-1970s minimalist animation style which makes all the shows of that era feel cheap to me.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Andrew, Ice Pirates has got to be one of the most overlooked comedic gems out there!

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, I know. And nobody that I know has even heard of it, much less seen it. It's got an 11% rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Sad.

Here's the veeeeery short wikipedia page: LINK.

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, Nerds are cool.

BIG MO said...

Space herpies! Yes! Some love for "The Ice Pirates," kind of like "The Fifth Element" for the 1980s.

I still can't watch the "eunuch" scenes without both cringing and laughing.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Andrew, from the link:
"The film is somewhat tongue-in-cheek and often compared to Star Wars. Upon its release, the New York Times described it as a "busy, bewildering, exceedingly jokey science-fiction film that looks like a Star Wars spin-off made in an underdeveloped galaxy.""

WTF? "Exceedingly jokey?" "busy?" "bewildering?" "Star Wars spin-off?"
Apparently, they didn't see the same film we saw! Scurvy dogs.

Good to know The Ice Pirates made a profit in spite of the humorless critics.

AndrewPrice said...

Big Mo, Another fan! Awesome! Yeah, the eunuch scene is definitely cringe-worthy. LOL!

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, I read that and it strikes me they just missed the point to the film... it was a comedy!!! It's not Star Wars, it was just meant to be funny.

I'm glad they made a profit too, they deserve it.

BIG MO said...

Wonder if those critics thought "Spaceballs" was a drama...

AndrewPrice said...

That's does make you wonder, doesn't it? How anyone could miss the fact "Ice Pirates" was pure comedy is beyond me. I don't think there's a serious moment to be had throughout the whole film.

Ed said...

"Ice Pirates" you say? I'll have to look for that. I've never heard of it.

rlaWTX said...

Y'all crack me up!

ScottDS said...

I discovered Ice Pirates a couple years ago. A geek friend mentioned it to me and since we were gonna be hanging out, I decided to Netflix it so a few of us could watch it together

I kid you not - as soon as the DVD menu came on, my friend shouted, "Oh my God, what have I done!"

Two friends fell asleep and I stayed awake but I don't remember how the film ended. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott... what are we going to do with you?

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, It's all part of our charm! :)

ScottDS said...

Andrew, that's a pretty ambiguous question considering all I said was I couldn't remember how Ice Pirates ended! :-)

AndrewPrice said...

You may think it's an ambiguous question, but we've already sent the hit squad.... doesn't know how Ice Pirated ended. :(

shawn said...

I'm proud to say that my friends and I saw Ice Pirates in a theater back in the day and it holds a place in my dvd collection. Silly movie.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Just saw this tweet. Hmmm...
This might be worth a look:

Deadline Hollywood‏@NikkiFinke

ABC Greenlights ‘S.H.I.E.L.D’ Marvel Pilot, Joss Whedon To Co-Write & Possibly Direct http://dlvr.it/246VQD

Firefly said...

The Ice Pirates played A LOT on HBO/Showtime after it left the theaters. I am ever thankful to the DVD gods that I found it on Amazon a long while back. It is a CLASSIC. Angelica Huston is such a bad ass in it. But cheese production values in sci-fi? Try Spacehunter in the Forbidden Zone.

AndrewPrice said...

I'm glad we've got so many Ice Pirates fans! It is a silly movie, but it's totally fun.

Firefly, I remember Spacehunter! Good times in that era!

ScottDS said...

I've never seen Spacehunter but I only know about it from the film music boards. It was one of a quintet of sci-fi/fantasy movies Elmer Bernstein scored in the 80s, along with Saturn 3, Heavy Metal, Ghostbusters, and the rarely-seen Slipstream.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Michael Ironside, 3D and a lot of cheese... what's not to like! :)

That was back when 3D glasses were made of cardboard.

rlaWTX said...

[I have never heard of "Ice Pirates".]

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, Most people haven't. :(

It's truly silly, but it's fun. :)

Dave Olson said...

Long time since this was posted but what the hey:

Mountain Man: the episode you saw, "Doomsday Machine", is usually rated as one of the top 10 or even top 5 of TOS. (Sad to say that I missed the passing of William Windom a few months ago.) But what you saw was a digital enhancement. All the FX shots were redone when the show was released on DVD a few years ago. I haven't seen them all, but they did a good job. Very nice but not overdone.

Side note: You can NOT tell me that John Williams didn't filch the music for "Jaws" from this episode.

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