Thursday, June 13, 2013


Last night I watched "The Slaver Weapon", an episode of the 1973-74 Star Trek animated series. Having not seen this installment since way back, possibly four decades ago, allowed me to approach the material with a more-or-less open mind -- the only contaminating factor would be the name of the show. Last Friday I wrote a prep piece on this episode and my anticipated viewing, here.

There  is no need for me to recount the moments or plotting of the show since that is readily available to the reader by using a few clicks of the mouse, and a little keyboard action. (I did some work for the reader: energize.) This posting is more about my impressions on the episode after seeing almost nothing of the program in years. (It's like having been in a Slaver Stasis Box... maybe.)

I enjoyed "The Slaver Weapon" and, as part of the fallout, I gained a renewed respect for the animated Trek. Science fiction writer Larry Niven wrote the script by adapting his 1967 short story "The Soft Weapon". The advantage in adapting a literary piece for your television series is that you are getting the pick-of-the-litter. In the case of this episode, the jump in quality is unmistakable.

Although, needless to say, the animation by Filmation is very limited the series' ideas still come through, and do so with some style. The original actors do the voices for the beloved characters, which helps the rather static and inanimate faces get the points across without the viewer having to do too much "in-betweening". The backgrounds are at times rich and lovely, a benefit of being able to illustrate anything you want in the inexpensive medium of paint-on-acetate. Due to the very limited budget of a Saturday Morning Cartoon, tricks are used to save on expensive man-hours: in order to conserve on actual animation the producers could let a character's voice-over run the show as the camera slowly panned on a background; and the characters remained still as they talk away.

"The Slaver Weapon" has a few good lines; humour successfully made the leap over from the original series. As any casual fan or viewer could tell you, witty lines are but one of the many hallmarks of Star Trek (the original, not that anyone would think otherwise). In this one, Uhura has a great quip about a particular Kzinti crew-member.

One thing that struck me now that I'm a more-or-less fully-functioning adult person is how adult this episode is in its ideas and richness of story-detail (certainly for a 25 minute episode). The interplay between the arrested starship crew and the renegade Kzinti contains the expected battle-of-wits, and although trapped by the limiting formats of episode length and basic animation, the scenes have some snap. Mr. Spock, Sulu, and Uhura swap technical info and barbs amongst one another, sans subtle facial reactions, but somehow it all works. There is an inherent dryness brought on by the need to tell a fair bit of story in a short time frame, but things move at a clip -- this may be one of the more kiddie-friendly aspects of the animated Star Trek.

All in all, it is weighty and challenging stuff for Saturday-morning-kids. I'm assuming, of course, that "The Slaver Weapon" is representative of the series' qualities as a whole; considering its own uniqueness' -- such as featuring just three members of the Enterprise crew and a lack of Starship Enterprise.

Now that I've had my special little screening, I want to see more of the animated Star Trek series.

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