Screen gems...with M.V. Moorhead

Star Trek 

The original Star Trek series, which turned 38 years old this year, has never been easily collectible. The syndicated reruns are almost always brutally cut. The show was available an episode at a time on VHS, and on DVD it has been available at a rate of two episodes per disc—too expensive, and too shelf-consumptive for any but the most hardcore fanatic to acquire.

I’ve never even tried, though I've loved the show since I was a kid. If space is truly the Final Frontier, then I'm afraid my DVD and video collection is already in danger of conquering it.

This has changed, however. The complete first season of Star Trek—The Original Series has at last become available in a compact 8-disc box set, available for around a hundred bucks. Season Two is out this past week, and Season Three follows next month.

Eventually, I'd like to own the entire run, but if I had to choose only one season of Star Trek to own, Season One would likely be my choice.

Season Two has its classics, like "Amok Time," "The Doomsday Machine," "Mirror, Mirror," "Who Mourns For Adonais?" and "The Trouble With Tribbles," and even the much-maligned Season Three has a few silly gems.

But probably about half of the show's really good episodes come from Season One—many, indeed, from the first half of Season One.

Moreover, Star Trek had a moodier atmosphere in its premiere year—it was darker, more eerie, less politically correct. In the initial episodes—mostly, no doubt, because of the show's budgetary limitations—space really looked like a frontier, a place of few amenities and dangerous strangers, far from help.

In the later seasons, the Enterprise seemed to be dropping in on a series of B-movie sets (gangster picture, western, Nazi planet, etc.), and while these episodes have their entertainment value too, it was the initial, more sober Star Trek that allowed us to indulge this later corniness.

Highlights of the Season One include:

Harlan Ellison's famous "City on the Edge of Forever," with Joan Collins as Kirk's most tragic love;

"Balance of Terror," in which Kirk and a Romulan commander play cat-and-mouse in the manner of a submarine picture;

"Errand of Mercy," in which the Federation and the Klingons are humbled while trying to win the hearts and minds of a seemingly backward planet;

"The Devil in the Dark," in which a mining colony is stalked by a burrowing monster;

"The Enemy Within" (directed by Leo Penn, Sean's father), in which Kirk is split into two men, one murderous id, the other decent but passive ego;

"The Conscience of the King," in which a dark secret is discovered at the heart of a traveling company of outer-space Shakespeareans; and

"Arena," in which Kirk is forced to fight a hulking reptilian Gorn in single combat to decide the outcome of a war.

We get "Where No Man Has Gone Before," the pilot episode in which Kirk was introduced as the hero, and "The Menagerie," Parts One and Two, a reworked version of the show's first pilot episode.

There are memorable guest performances, like that of William Campbell as Squire Trelane, the omniscient fop of Gothos, Ted Cassidy as the menacing robot Ruk, Elisha Cook Jr. as impassioned lawyer Samuel Cogley, and Ricardo Montalban as Khan, the Nietzschian Superman who would be back, even more memorably, in the best of the Star Trek movies.

The DVD: The bells-and-whistles are fairly modest. There are a half-dozen documentaries, ranging from relevant ones about the show’s origins to a fluffy one about William Shatner’s equestrian enthusiasms. There are enjoyable “pop-up” commentaries on a few episodes (no voice commentaries here). And each episode comes with its own vintage trailer.

The set comes packaged in a bright yellow plastic container that splits down the middle to open. It would have seemed highly futuristic back in 1966.

The Stepford Wives

Ira Levin's brief novel, about a Connecticut village in which the husbands conspired to replace their better halves with pliant, unthreatening, traditionally feminine robots, was first filmed in 1975, as a low-key scare film. As in Levin's other well-known work, Rosemary's Baby, the tale's horror arose less from its abstract premise than from its exploitation of the queasy fear of being conspired against by those closest to us. It wasn't a very good movie, but there was something to it that ran deeper than its simplistic pretensions to feminism--it made the word “Stepford” a commonplace for a creepy level of superficial perfection.

The current remake, directed by Frank Oz from a screenplay by Paul Rudnick, reworks the material as facetious, campy comedy. It isn't a very good movie, either—indeed, by any rigorous standards it's a cheesy mess, an overbearing musical comedy without the songs. It starts with

dumb jokes about reality TV, and ends with a painfully obligatory Larry King cameo, and in between there are plenty of wince-inducing gags.

Just the same, the movie made me laugh out loud quite a few times. I'm not sure if I was laughing with it or at it, but I wasn't bored. The cast—Nicole Kidman as the high-strung heroine, Matthew Broderick as her seething, ineffectual weakling of a husband, Bette Midler as her

slovenly friend, Christopher Walken and Glenn Close as Stepford's leading power couple, Roger Bart as a gay "wife" in the same peril as the women, Jon Lovitz as Midler's husband and Faith Hill as the perkiest of the robots—generates an energetic ensemble buzz. Midler gets the best of Rudnick's lines, for whatever they may be worth, and she nails them effortlessly. Oz keeps the pace moving, and there's a fine, ironically lush score by David Arnold.

Toward the end, Rudnick and Oz take the plot in a new, softened-up direction which seems, at first, an unforgivable violation of the original story's grimly heartless irony. But then there's a final twist, in which we realize that Rudnick, inelegant and obvious jokesmith though he may be, has thought through the implications of the idea more carefully than Levin himself did. The Stepford Wives is a travesty, but a small and good-humored one, and it's wiser than its source about who it is that truly turns women into robots.

The DVD—The special features include the usual batch of fluffy production documentaries and rightly deleted scenes. There’s also audio commentary by director Oz, in which he reveals that the funniest line in the film was a throwaway ad lib by Jon Lovitz.

The Stepford Wives is rated PG-13 for mild adult themes and language. on the whole, it isn’t too inappropriate for children, but it isn’t likely to appeal to them very much, either.