Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Star Trek--"The Devil in the Dark"

As the story goes, stuntman and designer James Prohaska, who had previous appeared in costume as two of the Talosians’ zoo specimens in “The Cage,” crawled into Gene Roddenberry’s office wearing his newly ed Horta costume. Rodenberry was so impressed, he wrote “The Devil in the Dark” in four days in order to utilize it. Thus was born a Trek classic and one of my favorites.

One of the reasons I enjoy it so much is that it has a message of wildlife stewardship without going over the top with animal rights activism. Considering Roddenberry’s zealous idealism and the short time he supposedly wrote the script in, it is a miracle the message is so reasonable. There is hardly a Hollywood writer today who could resist the urge to turn the story into a weepy, guilt ridden diatribe on man’s destruction of the earth.

But see reasonably ‘the Devil in the Dark’ plays out. The Horta are peaceful creatures doing there own thing. They do not mind humans mining their planet up until the miners inadvertently destroy Horta nests full of eggs. The Horta are unable to communicate, so they defend their nests by force. The horta are hunted asdangerousanimals until communication can beestablished, at which point the dispute is cleared up and all parties reach an agreement to cooperate with one another in mining.

One might complain the solution was pat since both sides suffered deaths in the conflict, but I am willing to chalk that up as tragic losses on the rocky road to peace. The solution that the Horta will help the miners by digging tunnels themselves safely around their nests is a much better solution than the defeatist idea of the miners leaving the panet in disgrace as some sort of genocidal savages while the Horta remain behind quivering victims who need to be spared from any further barbarism save for the humans building some memorial to the fallen to perpetuate eternal guilt for their mistake. I can see clearly how that sort of ending could have come about, particularly in this day and age.

To guage how close the story could have come to being over the top, look no further than the mind meld between Spock and the Horta. It is the second most dramatic moment in the series, right behind a distraught Kirk clutching McCoy to keep him from saving Edith Keeler. the sequence could have easily been a corny exercise in maudlin anguish, but it was done perfectly. Consider it a testament to Leonard Nimoy’s strengths as a gifted actor.

I only have one criticism of the episode. Why is the planet called Janus VI? Like Lazarus in “The Alternative Factor,” the name serves as a allusion with no pay off. Lazerus never had anything to do with resurrection in ’The Alternative Factor” and there was no two-faced deceotion in ’The Devil in the Dark.” I do not think was an ignorant man by any means, but dropping these allusions into scripts without a payoff gives the impression he is trying to appear intellectual but revealing he does not know much about their true meaning. More care would have been nice.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

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