Saturday, December 15, 2012

Star Trek: The Cage

As promised, I am starting to review both the episodes and the music of the original Star Trek series in production order beginning with The Cage, the first pilot episode. As an aside, I know that the entire series has been "remastered" with new effects and other visuals - many of those changes have radically altered the look of the show. In the reviews I am writing, I'll be using the DVD release of the series as my reference.
The Cage never aired during the first run of the series, but much of it was incorporated into a two part-episode that appeared later in the series. It really is a great introduction to Trek and a first rate science fiction story in its own right.

The look and feel of the ship, the crew and their gadgets is a bit different from what was to come later in the series, yet the basic elements are there.
That's the Pinwheel Galaxy (M101) on the wall of the transporter room.
 The shot of the transporter room shows the start of the racial harmony for which the show became famous. For me a large part of the appeal of the show was the positive message for the future. (Of course, the flying through space part is also a big draw.) Star Trek shows us that is it possible for humans to work through our problems and grow up. Decades after its inception there are still times when we all need to be reminded that a better future lies ahead.

The story follows the crew of the Enterprise under the command of Christopher Pike as they look for survivors of a spaceship, the S.S. Columbia, which went missing in the Talos Star Group some 18 years prior.
Apparently the Talos Star Group is none other than the Pleiades (also known as the Seven Sisters), a group of stars that is easily visible in the nighttime sky here on Earth. The crew tracks down metal wreckage on the world known as Talos IV, which you aren't supposed to notice is really the Moon.
Talos IV (left), the Moon (right)
Pike and the crew find the survivors - a "collection of aging scientists" and Vina, who was apparently born as they crashed.
Unbeknownst to Pike and the crew, none of this is real. The crash site is a fake and Pike is imprisoned by the Talosians. We learn later that the Talosians live underground because the surface of their world was decimated by war. The Talosians have developed great mental powers and can create realistic illusions.
Pike, always with Vina, is taken through a series of illusions - places and events from his past as the Talosians enjoy the show. As Vina explains "You're better than the theater to them. They create an illusion for you. They watch you react, feel your emotions."

One of the illusions takes Pike back to Rigel VII - a planet where Pike had a "recent death struggle."  Nice view, if you can get it. Seriously, who wouldn't want to live in a castle with that view out the window? Unfortunately this big ugly guy ruins the experience:
Pike defeats him, rescues Vina. They are taken to other fantasies: a nice domestic picnic and the famous palace scene where Pike and others are watching Vina dance in the guise of a green Orion slave girl:

Of course Pike isn't playing along and wants nothing to do with her or any fantasy that the Talosians create for him. Vina later explains the problem with how the Talosians are living:
"Because when dreams become more important than reality, you give up travel, building, creating. You even forget how to repair the machines left behind by your ancestors. You just sit, living and reliving other lives left behind in the thought record."

Ultimately Pike manages to break free and the Talosians are convinced that holding humans captive isn't a good idea because they are "too violent and dangerous a species" for their needs. Pike and two others later brought down are free to go.  But what of Vina?
Vina wasn't really born at the time of the crash. She was a badly injured survivor. The Talosians had no medical guide for putting her back together. Vina chooses to remain with the Talosians as they give her the illusion of health, beauty and even the company of Pike.

And they fly off for another adventure:

All of this works not only because of performances given by the actors and the technical crew, but also because of the masterful musical score written by Alexander Courage. Courage wrote just over 32 minutes of music for the episode. In it he created not only the iconic Star Trek musical theme but also two themes that are used often here - one for the Talosians and one for Vina.

The theme for the Talosians is a played on an electronic guitar giving an undeniably creepy vibe for the aliens. You can hear a sample of it here.

Vina's theme is used in a variety of ways. It is at times haunting and longing. It is also used as the pulsing theme as Vina dances as an Orion slave girl. Play the clip below and you'll hear it used for both the quiet picnic scene and then as she dances.

All-in-all the score works very well. Courage's music for this first episode of Star Trek sets the tone (get it?) for what is to follow in the entire series and it listens well in isolation too.

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