Archive for the ‘William Shatner’ Category

DVD Review: Shatner’s ‘Kingdom of the Spiders’ exploits, ’70s-style

January 24, 2010

Long before Snakes on a Plane — and just two years before 1979’s first Star Trek movie — William Shatner often went “slumming” as an actor. His TV Trek days were over, and even though its sensational syndication made him a star, he couldn’t get respectable movie roles, so he settled for exploitation flicks such as Kingdom of the Spiders.

Teeming with big, ugly, crawly, hairy tarantulas, the film is a horror flick kick, and it’s good to see Shatner again as a robust young man, even getting to ride horses, as he loves to do offscreen. The film isn’t art, but it gets the job done.

It also now arrives on an excellent DVD bulging with extras. Among them is a new 16-minute interview with Shatner, who agreeably recalls the experience and talks up ecology  (but it would have helped if he weren’t shot with distracting traffic whizzing by outside a window). There’s also a superb 12-minute featurette on the movie’s spider “wrangler,” Jim Brockett, who handled the multi-legged critters back then and, here, proceeds to drop them out of Tupperware containers and prod them gently with a stick.

We (and a brave but skittish interviewer) meet many different types of big spiders, some of whom (the ones used in the film) aren’t really that menacing. Literally thousands of the creatures were used for the movie, BTW.

The disc also has 17 minutes of rare home-movie style footage from behind the scenes on the set — not always that regaling. And there’s an audio commentary by Brockett and the film’s director, producer and cinematographer, as well as a trailer and poster gallery.

You don’t often get so many extras for a film released three-plus decades ago, but this should put fans of the MST-style fright flick in spider heaven.

An interesting note: This movie, while a horror flick, was rated PG. The same was true for another of my exploitation favorites from this era, Tourist Trap. It just goes to show that you don’t have to wallow in explicit gore to give a good scare.

Hey, what’s that crawling on your shoulder?!

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DVD review: ‘Boston Legal’ Season Five arrives with extra half-episode

May 27, 2009

Denny and Alan, how we’ll miss you. But we’ll always have Boston Legal on DVD, where its fifth and final season is now new from Fox.

Unlike previous seasons, this one boasts a number of extras, including fond farewells to the show itself and to the trailblazing “bromance” of stars William Shatner (Denny Crane) and James Spader (Alan Shore). Laced among choice clips are interview sound bites with Shatner, Spader, creator David E. Kelly and others who worked behind the scenes.

Happily, these aren’t the usual fawning gush-fest which mars so many making-of featurettes on movies’ DVDs. Sure, there’s lot of praise, but there are also insights, including an assessment of how Spader’s by-the-book acting approached clashed with Shatner’s improvisational impudence, yet somehow worked.

Along with a segment of deleted scenes, there’s virtually half of a deleted episode, in which Denny’s long-lost daughter whom he’d somehow never met was introduced.

Granted, this is one of TV and movies’ biggest cliches, but the scenes worked well enough for Shatner and Spader. They just didn’t work so well from the standpoint of the daughter, played by Kimberly Williams- Paisley. Her story simply lacked enough depth for such an important character, the creators point out, so the footage was ditched and replaced (with fleshing out the case of a prospective Harvard student who took medication to be alert for a test).

Well, whose fault was that? The problem is, the daughter comes across like so many other women on this show which preached strongly for liberal causes but was itself guilty of retro objectifyng of women dating back to the Stone Age.

Like so many others on this show, she’s gorgeous, confrontational, eager to engage in sexual wordplay, randy and ready to rock — which is a bit unsettling for Denny when she goes out with Alan, who’s naturally attracted to her. But overall it’s still fun footage, and with just 13 episodes in Season Five, it’s nice to get 13 1/2, in effect — make that 14, given the 20 minutes or so of deleted scenes also included.

This season and this set ably bring to a close one of TV’s finest runs of any era, and one I will cherish on DVD for years to come. Thank you David, Bill, James and everyone else who made Boston Legal a true treasure. You went out not with a whimper, but on top of your game.

DVD review: ‘Star Trek: Season 3 Remastered’ shows where ‘Boston Legal’ bent began

November 18, 2008

And so, Paramount’s splendid refitting of Classic Trek comes to a close with this week’s release of Star Trek: The Original Series — Season 3 Remastered from Paramount. Again, the new effects and enhanced picture and sound are a fan’s dream, provided you’re not the kind of purist who balked at similar spiffing up of Star Trek: The Motion Picture or the original Star Wars trilogy.

Me? I love progress, and if you can improve a show without losing its basic integrity, I’m there. Bottom line: If they’d had the resources to produce this level of effects when making this show in the 1960s, they’d have loved to do so. Now Paramount can — and it does a fantastic job. ‘Nuff said.

Sure, Trek‘s third and final original season was nowhere near as good as the first two, but it still had some worthy winners, including the going-native-while-an-asteroid-looms love story of The Paradise Syndrome. (I’m a sucker for idyllic-looking shore leave shows — and that asteroiod gets a great makeover.) The DVD extras here also are welcome, from the original pilot version of The Cage to a tribute to Trek producer Bob Justman, a man I’ve admired dating back to his pre-Trek time on The Outer Limits.

In fact, there are so many elements of The Outer Limits in Star Trek that you almost could argue the first spawned the second, from Trek‘s direct steal of its Arena episode (which makes a cameo in Tropic Thunder, BTW) via OL‘s Fun and Games episode to the fact that some big Trek actors appeared first on the sci-fi anthology show (William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, James Doohan, etc.). And Harlan Ellison, author of Trek‘s beloved City on the Edge of Forever episode, first wrote two of the best Outer Limits episodes in Soldier and Demon With a Glass Hand.

But back to The Paradise Syndrome. In it, as in so many Classic Trek episodes, we see the seeds of Shatner’s late-career renaissance. No, we’re not talking his amusingly in-your-face guy on TV commercials, but Shatner’s Denny Crane on Boston Legal, a role which won him an Emmy, which Kirk never did. In short, in Kirk we see a man who, like Denny Crane these days, can’t keep his hands off women — even when he’s in a mind-zapped daze (The Paradise Syndrome) or suffering from “mad cow” (Boston Legal).

Are James Kirk and Denny Crane truly cut from the same cloth? To answer one rhetorical question with another, in an astronomical context: Is there a constant far side (as opposed to “dark side”) of the moon? Yes and yes, of course.

Each character is an alpha male who’s king of his castle, whether it’s a spaceship or a law firm. Each is drawn to women like a meteoroid pulled into a giant planet’s gravitational hold. And each gives good speeches, whether it’s Kirk’s moralistic rallying-the-troops sermonettes or Crane’s sly, shrewd strategies offered to BFF Alan Shore (James Spader) in their balcony chats.

And there, of course, lies the biggest link between Kirk and Crane: Both celebrate male-bonding to the Nth degree. Kirk had Spock, and to a slightly lesser extent McCoy. And Crane has Shore. And those relationships are the thread, the theme, the backbone and the heart of their respective series.

Classic Trek never would have been classic without the intense brotherhood of Kirk, Spock and McCoy, and Boston Legal is basically a platonic love story about political opposites but similarly rebellious legal eagles who end each episode with a drink, a cigar, a heart-to-heart talk and another declaration of their “bromance” love.

I ask you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury: Kirk and Crane — separated at birth? Again, it’s a rhetorical question.

In fact, I rest my case.

‘Boston Legal: Season Four’ has an episode supreme

September 22, 2008

As Boston Legal fans await tonight’s fifth season premiere, due Tuesday is the DVD box set for Boston Legal: Season Four. And given one episode in particular, it’s not just another season.

Rather, it’s the season with The Court Supreme, an episode in which Alan Shore (James Spader) argues before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of a man in Louisiana who faces the death penalty.

Appearing near the end of the episode, this sustained scene is Spader/Shore at his best. It’s not wholly credible, especially given the fact that Shore tears into the justices while they largely sit in stony silence and allow it. But it is immensely satisfying, and not just for his impassioned defense of his client, but for his tangential attacks on the smug, imperious court’s politicization, its conflicts of interest and its other improprieties which mar the name of a long-revered institution.

The remainder of the season is good, too, but this one show is special. (And we’re still awaiting word on how that high court case turned out.) Again, Alan and Denny Crane’s (William Shatner’s) relationship is at the heart. In effect, it’s their male bonding that propels this series much as the Kirk-Spock-McCoy bonding propelled Shatner’s Star Trek.

As for extras, the DVDs include a featurette on the cast’s newcomers. Only trouble is, it appears to have been produced for the start of the season, to introduce characters, and not as an end-season wrapup. Some characters turn out not to be nearly as integral to the show as the featurette suggests.

But hey, that’s a quibble. The bigger picture is to embrace David E. Kelley’s timely, topical, thoughtful, well acted and, well, sometimes silly series as the grand entertainment it is, especially now that its run is winding down. So savor Boston Legal: Season Four. When this show concludes after its fifth season, we’re unlikely to see another of its caliber.

‘Star Trek: Alternative Realities’ sets the table for 2009 movie

September 11, 2008

Sure, Paramount has milked its Star Trek cash cow to the point where ol’ Bossy must be mooing in protest. But the fact is, the latest recycling gimmick for already-sold TV episodes is right on the money — and right on time.

Star Trek: Alternate Realities Collective is a fitting scene-setter for the 11th Star Trek movie due next May. That film will feature time-tripping — a customary Trek device — which reveals Leonard Nimoy’s Spock at an advanced age, as well as Spock, Kirk and many others from the Enterprise at a much younger age. You might call the film an “alternate reality” all its own.

Meanwhile, this new five-disc box set groups 20 episodes from the five live-action Trek TV series, all geared to the kind of twists that turn good guys into bad guys and spin heads in the process. I must admit, these are some of the best Trek shows ever, as divided into the sub-themes of Mirror Universe, Alternate Lives, Twisted Realities and Parallel Dimensions.

My own personal favorites are Classic Trek’s Mirror Mirror (which provides the set’s box art), in which a warped “dark” Enterprise crew is revealed, complete with sinister goatees and beyond-Klingon ruthlessness; and the same series’ The Enemy Within, in which Kirk (William Shatner) is split into a “good” Kirk and a “bad” Kirk, revealing the innate and necessary duality of human beings. Trek: TNG’s Yesterday’s Enterprise and Voyager’s Before and After also are winners.

Special features include commentaries, and the episodes are remastered. Heck, I even agree with the DVD box hype that this is “the most unusual Star Trek collection ever assembled.” Of course, to be truly complete, it would have to include the animated Trek series’ Yesteryear episode, but I’m only tribbling — er, quibbling.

Enjoy!

‘Doomsday Machine’ steals show for remastered ‘Star Trek’ Second Season DVD

August 1, 2008

Now that the next Star Trek movie is boldly going where no Trek film has gone before — to Kirk and Spock’s youth —  it’s a superb time to revisit “Classic Trek” via Paramount’s interrupted but now ongoing release of the original three seasons in remastered form, with updated visual effects.

Those who have watched such shows in syndication recently know how beautiful they are, even though you’ve probably seen them in truncated form, with five or six minutes trimmed to make room for more ads. No sweat. Due Tuesday, the new Star Trek Season Two Remastered DVD Edition has all 26 episodes in full, including such fan favorites as The Trouble With Tribbles, Amok Time, I, Mudd and The Deadly Years.

Having glommed much of them in advance, I can report that one episode you might not expect to stand out is truly the key — key to the remarkable job Paramount has done in sprucing up this show via enhanced effects. (Even staunch fans must admit, there was ample room for improvement.) And that episode –effects-drenched and driven by a sense of wonder for its spectacular interstellar images — is The Doomsday Machine.

Not only is it a great Star Trek episode, with William Windom playing, in effect, a tortured Captain Ahab seeking his Moby Dick — in this case an enormous trumpetlike machine with a giant maw that’s gulping entire planets — but it’s also a grand showcase for new special effects, with its many exterior shots of hardware, planetary bodies and the big fat bad thing grazing the galaxy.

Some even deemed The Doomsday Machine as a “litmus test” for the remastered and revamped efforts, especially after preview clips of the effects surfaced a year ago.

Indeed, if this doesn’t sell you on Trek’s retooling, nothing will. My only quibble (rhymes with Tribble) is that the huge thing in space now reminds me even more of a snack food called Bugles which, coincidentally, first hit the market just before Trek began airing in the ’60s.

Hmmmm . . . I wonder . . .

Anyway, whether the contraption makes you awed or awfully hungry, it’s the best example yet of how Trek’s once-bold but always cheap SPFX have been supplanted by work which makes Classic Trek look more like the movies which followed. In fact, slow down the footage in one scene and you’ll notice an asteroid field hanging in space outside a window past which Kirk (William Shatner) passes. Nice touch.

The box set itself has some nice extra touches, too, including bonus episodes of animated Trek and Deep Space Nine, each featuring an extension of the Tribbles saga.

For too many years — including the era of Star Trek’s original run — sci fi as a genre got negligible respect, along with horror and fantasy. No more. These classy improvements to a great show are downright reverential.

So beam us up again, Scotty. No matter that HD DVD bit the dust after Season One emerged. DVD is still DVD, and these episodes have never looked better — even including the dates on which they originally aired.