REVIEW: “Amok Time” (“Star Trek: Remastered” edition)

Star Trek (Remastered): “Amok Time”
Remastered Episode #21 (2/17/2007)
Original Episode #34 (9/15/1967 [2nd season premiere])

An old Vulcan axiom goes, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.” The all-too-human James T. Kirk was fond of turning that one around whenever “the needs of the one outweighed the needs of the many,” and one of the best examples of this is “Amok Time.”

Under the effects of Pon farr, Spock must return to Vulcan to consummate his marriage with T’Pring, a wife linked to him in childhood. “The birds and the bees are not Vulcans, Captain,” Spock tells Kirk when explaining that if he doesn’t return to his home planet for the mating ritual, he will die.

Starfleet denies Kirk’s request to divert the Enterprise away from its original mission to Altair. Knowing what his captain might do, McCoy warns Kirk that disobeying orders will result in him losing command.

Kirk will have none of it. “I can’t let Spock die, can I Bones? And he will, if we go to Altair. I owe him my life a dozen times over. Isn’t that worth a career? He’s my friend,” says Kirk. And with that, his mind is made up. William Shatner does a terrific job here and throughout this episode. This is one of my favorite Kirk moments, showing that not even direct Starfleet orders can shake his intense loyalty.

“Amok Time,” of course, is also a standout for Leonard Nimoy as Spock. We feel Spock’s struggle as he attempts to hide the eruption of emotions from Pon farr. While talking to Kirk in one scene, he grips a stylus tightly behind his back, trying to maintain control.

“Amok Time” is not an effects-driven episode, but this Star Trek: Remastered does offer some nice shots of the Enterprise. Her starboard side is shown in extreme close-up at one point, giving an appropriate sense of grandeur to the vessel.

Seen for the first time in this episode (and not again until the animated series), Vulcan has also been spruced up by CBS Digital. The mostly desert planet now sports a massive ice cap, visible as the Enterprise enters orbit.

Spock invites Kirk and McCoy to accompany him to the ceremony, as his friends. McCoy seems momentarily taken aback but responds with, “I shall be honored, sir.” One of those great DeForest Kelley moments.

The trio beam down to Vulcan and we are treated to new matte paintings of a sky bridge leading to the arena and an overhead view of the arena itself.

Suddenly, Vulcan is no longer a sound stage. Vulcan is real. I can’t say enough about the beauty of these new images. Though they only appear on screen for a few seconds, I can only imagine the amount of work that must have went into them.

The time spent was well worth it. The attention to detail here is amazing. The shots fit perfectly with Vulcan as later seen in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. As someone who loves the classic Star Trek films, I really appreciate what they have done here.

After the tiny, computer-generated Kirk, Spock, and McCoy make their way across the bridge, we are back to the familiar arena. The new establishing shots were risky, but make me believe that the soundstage-grounded arena is actually perched high in the air.

The introduction of the new shots marks the first time that Star Trek: Remastered has replaced live-action shots of actors with new imagery. There are a few, corresponding seconds of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy making their way to the arena that are now missing from this episode.

One of the fantastic things about Star Trek: Remastered is the way it can open up the original episodes and make them feel even more real. They made the right creative choice here. I hope they will, with appropriate caution, allow themselves similar freedom in the future. Do we need every single “Sulu reacts to the main viewer” shot, for instance?

Once the ceremony begins, it turns out that T’Pring (Arlene Martel) has other plans for Spock. She invokes her right to name a champion to battle Spock for her. In a moment of pure logic that even impresses Spock, she chooses Kirk.

It’s not that T’Pring wants Kirk, but she wants Stonn (Lawrence Montaigne). In her logical Vulcan way, she knows that no matter who wins the battle between Kirk and Spock, she will still have Stonn.

Thinking that he’ll be able to throw the fight to help his friend, Kirk agrees. Once locked into the combat, he finds out that the fight is to the death.

There is a famous mistake in this episode. While supposedly deep in Plak-tow, Spock can be seen in the background leaning against a wall and looking about quite nonchalantly. Apparently, Nimoy was either unaware that he was visible in the shot or that cameras were rolling. I was glad to see that this little gem remains in the episode for the remastered version.

Star Trek was not perfect, and that was part of its charm. Updating effects and giving the sets more depth are great enhancements, but there is a danger in over-polishing all of the imperfections. This was not meant to be a high-gloss show. The original Star Trek‘s perfection is to be imperfect.

CBS Digital made the right choice by leaving in the moment, just as they did with leaving in the “James R. Kirk” headstone in “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” In both cases, time undoubtedly played a factor as well. Sometimes a tight schedule is a good thing.

The Kirk versus Spock battle is one of the better fight scenes staged on the original series. Michael Okuda notes in text commentary to the original episode on DVD that Shatner and Nimoy did a lot of their own stunts for this sequence. When stunt doubles are used, they are not as painfully obvious as many other episodes.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the debut of the famous Star Trek “fight music” here, which would be reused on several other episodes. And for fellow MSTies out there, it was also a recurring riff on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Gerald Fried’s best musical composition for “Amok Time,” though, is the haunting, string theme for Spock–which may have even inspired James Horner’s theme for the character in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

The Star Trek: Remastered team’s decision to follow up last week’s explosive “Doomsday Machine” with the character-driven “Amok Time” turns out to be a wise one. Another winner proves they are doing a great job minding the store.

Dramatic Content: 10 (out of 10)
Effects Upgrades: 8
Overall Experience: 10
Recommended: Yes