About Great Books Guy


Star Trek: Season 2, Episode Fifteen “The Trouble With Tribbles”

Stardate: 4523.3 (2268)
Original Air Date: December 29, 1967
Writer: David Gerrold
Director: Joseph Pevney

“Where they’ll be no tribble at all…”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

At last we arrive at this classic fan-favorite, a campy light-hearted romp featuring everyone’s favorite tiny furry alien creatures. The Enterprise is approaching Deep Space Station K-7 (perhaps foreshadowing for DS9) which is located in a disputed quadrant near a planet known as “Sherman’s Planet” which has been claimed by both the Federation and the Klingons since the Battle of Donatu V which took place about 23 solar years prior. Spock notes the Enterprise is within one parsec of the nearest Klingon outpost so this will be a tricky mission. However, the quadrant which includes Deep Space Station K-7 and the nearby Sherman’s Planet is actually protected by writ of neutrality under the Organian Peace Treaty (the treaty was established in the Season 1 episode “Errand of Mercy”). Interestingly enough, the Organians have decreed that whichever side can successfully develop Sherman’s Planet will win the right to claim the planet.

The Enterprise suddenly receives a priority one distress call from Space Station K-7. Suspecting the Klingons, the Enterprise approaches at warp six, fully armed and expecting a conflict, however when they arrive all seems peaceful. Federation Undersecretary of Agricultural Affairs for the quadrant, Nilz Baris (William Schallert), merely requests that the Enterprise guard a large shipment of quadrotriticale, a high-yield wheat-rhye hybrid perennial grain, as it is delivered to Sherman’s Planet. Baris has been tasked with overseeing the development of Sherman’s Planet, a place of great strategic importance to Starfleet. Kirk expresses frustration at Baris, as well as his assistant Arne Davin (Charlie Brill) and station manager, Lurry (Whit Bissell) for issuing such a high priority alarm (priority one is supposed to be used only in cases of “near or total disaster”). Nevertheless, Baris defends his decision. Quadrotriticale is the only wheat-like earth grain that grows on Sherman’s Planet, and it is vital that several tons of it arrive safely. Baris suspects the Klingons may try to sabotage the grain.

Against the backdrop of this confrontation, some of the crew take some time for shore leave on neutral K-7 –a deep space station teaming with all manner of people. Uhura and Chekov beam down for some shopping, but Uhura quickly encounters a deep space trader not unlike Harry Mudd named Cyrano Jones (Stanley Adams). Jones is peddling a toothless squeaking little furry creature known as a tribble. He sells it for six credits to the barkeep, but he freely gifts a tribble to Uhura free of charge. Then the Klingons arrive on K-7 for their own shore leave, led by commander, Koloth (William Campbell –remember him from Season 1 as Trelane?) and his brash second-in-command Korax (Michael Pataki –who looks suspicious similar to Lazarus in Season 1’s “The Alternative Factor”). When Scotty reluctantly joins Chekov at the bar on K-7, a scuffle ensues after the Klingons insult Kirk and the Enterprise. The tension between the Federation and the Klingons leads to a lengthy bar brawl.

Back aboard the Enterprise, Uhura has returned and her new pet tribble fascinates Spock and Bones to no end –Spock notes the tribbles have a “tranquilizing” effect on humans, though as a Vulcan he is immune to their charms (do we believe him?) The tribbles also have a curious affect –they appear to screech at any nearby Klingons. Soon, the tribbles begin rapidly reproducing. Apparently, they are naturally born pregnant and half their metabolism is geared for reproduction. Every hour, many new Tribbles seem to appear on the Enterprise and on K-7, Kirk soon spots them lining the bridge and they quickly infiltrate the air vents (cue the iconic scene of Kirk opening an overhead door only to be covered in an avalanche of tribbles). What is the cure to stopping the exponential breeding of the tribbles? Stop feeding them. When the tribbles find their way into the quadrotriticale shipment, the crew discovers the grain has been poisoned by Baris’s assistant Arne Darvin, who turns out to be a Klingon spy in disguise. The grain was infected with a virus that slowly kills a person as he consumes it. Many Tribbles now lay dying, yet their numbers are still massive aboard the Enterprise. Tribbles offer both a problem and a solution for the Enterprise. The problem is their expanding presence, yet they also help solve the Klingon dilemma with the poisoned grain (and by helping identify Darvin as a Kingon spy with their screeching).

As punishment for the attempted poisoning, Darvin is arrested and Kirk gives Koloth six hours to get his ship out of Federation territory. He then gives Cyrano Jones a choice: twenty years in a rehab colony for transporting a harmful species, or else gather each remaining tribble on the station (Spock calculates it would take 17.9 years to complete the task). Jones chooses the latter. In the end, Scotty says he has scrubbed the Enterprise of remaining tribbles and has beamed them al aboard the Klingon ship inside their engine room “…where they’ll be no tribble at all!”

Klingons, shore leave, campy comedy, inept Starfleet bureaucrats, a traitorous plot, and everyone’s favorite rapidly reproducing furry alien species –what’s not to love in this episode? While the pacing is a bit awkward at times, “The Trouble With Tribbles” is simply too much of a cult classic not to appreciate it. Tribbles have become the stuff of science fiction legend, parodied innumerable times. After all, where would the Ewoks in Star Wars be without Tribbles? Inspired by the rabbits who were brought to Australia and began to exponentially multiply in a habitat with no natural predators, the tribbles

To me, Kirk comes off a bit strong and heavy-handed in this episode. He is more or less insubordinate to Baris, though perhaps some of it is justified as Baris did seem to abuse the priority one alert system. In addition, the Klingons (or “Kling’ns” as they are often called in these early episodes) seem to be more silly than terrifying, a far cry from the “brutal and aggressive” as well as “efficient” warriors we have come to expect. While not my favorite episode, this is still a wonderful installment with great character development for Uhura (in a rare moment off-ship), Chekov (as he continually claims the Russians invented everything), Scotty (who is desperate for some alone time to read his technical manuals), Bones (in his curiosity about this amusing new species), and even Kirk (who is unusually irate in this episode). All in all, this was a terrific adventure in deep space.

This was the first professional script sold by David Gerrold (1944-present), an early fan of the Star Trek, who was encouraged by Gene Roddenberry to submit scripts to the show (he ultimately submitted a total of five scripts). The first script he submitted was entitled “Tomorrow Was Yesterday,” a sixty page script about the Enterprise discovering a ship launched from Earth centuries earlier (it was never made into an episode). Each of his script treatments struck me as equally compelling. He later wrote several Star Trek books –both novels and memoirs. He also wrote for a variety of classic science fiction shows such as Land of the Lost, Babylon 5, Sliders, and The Twilight Zone (the reboot). Gerrold wrote the Hugo and Nebula-award winning novelette “The Martian Child.” His other celebrated science fiction novels include The Man Who Folded Himself (1973), and the Hugo and Nebula-nominated When HARLIE Was One (1972).

“The Trouble With Tribbles” (originally entitled “A Fuzzy Thing Happened to Me…”) was inspired by Australia’s rabbit population. Gerrold may or may not have also been influenced by Robert Heinlein’s 1952 novel The Rolling Stones, which he had read fifteen years prior, and which is based on a 1905 short story “Pigs is Pigs” by Ellis Parker Butler. In fact, the similarities between this episode and Heinlein’s novel led the producers to seek a legal waiver from Heinlein, himself. The episode also received extensive uncredited rewrites by Gene L. Coon.

Director Joseph Pevney (1911-2008) is tied with Marc Daniels for most TOS episodes directed. In a 1985 interview, Pevney named “The Trouble with Tribbles” as the best episode he directed. Co-Producer Bob Justman wrote in his book that he never liked this episode –and he was not alone among the crew. Original series writer Samuel A. Peeples found this episode to be problematic, and Gene Roddenberry also initially disliked “Tribbles” and the comedic episodes under Gene Coon’s tenure (though Roddenberry later changed his tune and praised this episode).

Star Trek Trivia:

  • Tribbles have continued to be iconic throughout the Star Trek franchise –they appeared in a follow-up animated series episode which was also written by David Gerrold, they appear in a celebrated 30th anniversary episode of DS9, and they make minor cameos in other Star Trek iterations, such as in J.J. Abrams’s Kelvin timeline.
  • The episode was adapted for a children’s book entitled Too Many Tribbles!
  • In early 2013, an internet meme parody circulated featuring the face of Paul McCartney superimposed onto the body of Captain Kirk is surrounded by tribbles, accompanied by the quip “Yesterday: All my tribbles seemed so far away…”
  • In this episode, Chekov makes several more claims of things invented in Russia. Chekov claims Sherman’s Planet was first mapped by famous Russian Astronomer Ivan Berghoff almost 200 years prior, Kirk corrects him that it was John Burke, chief astronomer at the Royal Academy in old Britain at the time. Later, Chekov claims quadortriticale is a Russian “Inwention” (invention) and he claims Scotch Whiskey was invented in Russia, too, “by a little old lady from Leningrad.”
  • Interestingly enough, Spock quotes The Lilies of the Field, a 1962 novel by William Edmund Barrett, when describing the tribbles: “They toil not, neither do they spin.”
  • At one point Spock accurately estimates that the tribbles have multiplied such that there are now 1,771,561 tribbles.
  • There is a legendary story about a Spock line in this episode –“he heard you, he simply could not believe his ears.” As the story goes, it was placed in the episode as a tribute to Mad Magazine which had just parodied Star Trek with a joke about Spock’s ears.
  • George Takei does not appear in this episode, as was the case for much of the second season while he was filming The Green Berets. Many of his scenes rewritten for Walter Koenig
  • William Shatner later recalled this episode being a truly wonderful experience.
  • Ed Reimers, who plays Admiral Fitzpatrick in a brief cameo via videchat with Kirk in this episode, was the TV spokesman for Allstate Insurance in the 1960s. In a funny sequence from the blooper reel, he catches a tribble thrown at him from offstage and brandishes it in front of the camera and says, “Oh, and Captain: you’re in good hands with tribbles” (a parody of the Allstate motto, “You’re in good hands with Allstate.”)
  • Wah Chang designed the original tribbles. They have since become sought-after collector’s items, and even during the episode’s production they quickly disappeared from the prop department. According to David Gerrold’s The World of Star Trek, tribbles were misplaced and were being found for several months after the episode’s release. Christopher Doohan, son of James Doohan, had a funny story about being a child on-set playing with the tribbles.
  • This was another TOS episode in which Klingons were pronounced “Kling’ns.”
  • The Klingons chastise Kirk for being “a swaggering, overbearing, tin-plated dictator with delusions of godhood” and “a Denebian slime devil.”
  • Apparently, a live-action sequel to this episode was planned for the third season but abandoned when Gene Roddenberry left the show. David Gerrold wrote a follow-up episode for the animated series six years later (“More Tribbles, More Troubles”). The 30th anniversary DS9 episode “Trials and Tribble-ations” shows the DS9 crew travel back in time to stop a plot to kill Captain Kirk.

Click here to return to my survey of the Star Trek series.

Dune (2021) Review

Dune (2021) Director: Denis Villeneuve

“Dreams Make Good Stories, But Everything Important Happens When We’re Awake.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Based on Frank Herbert’s genre-defining science fiction novel –a book which delivers an ominous warning about the inherent dangers of faith in charismatic messianic leaders and religious fanaticism– Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is a towering epic of modern movie-making. In my view, this version greatly surpasses David Lynch’s 1984 interpretation of the story (Lynch has since mostly disowned his version). Complete with an experimental, yet entrancing score by Hans Zimmer, as well as Villeneuve’s trademark feast of visual grandeur in scene after scene, Dune is a peak science fiction film.

Coming from the director of such modern science fiction classics as Arrival (2016) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017), Denis Villeneuve’s Dune takes us thousands of years in the future to the arid windswept desert planet of Arrakis where the the House of Atreides assumes the planet’s fiefdom (note the “Atreides” allusion which points to Agamemnon and the House of Atreus in Homeric literature). The galaxy is ruled by imperial feudalism, each planet is granted to an aristocratic family. In this case, the House of Atreides is ruled by Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) who is joined on Arrakis by his consort/concubine Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) and their son and heir to the throne, Paul (Timothée Chalamet). The lore is extensive, and so instead of delving too deeply, I will attempt to offer a broad survey along with some of the key themes explored.

Lady Jessica is a Bene Gesserit, a cult-like sisterhood which has attained certain super-human powers, such as clairvoyance and mind control (via “the voice”). They can control their pregnancies, however instead giving birth to a daughter as requested by the Bene Gesserit, Lady Jessica gave birth to a son, Paul Atreides, whom she hope may one day harness great powers, perhaps not unlike Nietzsche’s “overman.” The Bene Gesserit see themselves as guides for the future of humanity as it outgrows and overcomes itself –they have been running a centuries-long breeding program. Paul Atreides has acquired many of these skills, though he is not yet an expert, and he has strange dreams of blue-eyed people –strange glimpses of a possible future. One of the key themes in the movie/book concerns the power and danger of dreams when interpreted as prophecies. Paul is trained by the house weapons master named Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) –they use a fascinating shield technology which allows them to battle without killing one another. In addition, there are other extraordinary forms of technology, like recycled water absorption for this dry, water-barren planet (ecology is a key theme), and thumping machines which are used to lure out the sandworms (apparently, the scenes of the worms beneath the sand dunes were inspired by Jaws).

On Arrakis, there lives a poor blue-eyed desert-dwelling native group known as the Fremen, which were once fed a messianic prophecy by the Bene Gesserit many centuries earlier, a prophecy they still cling to. In the books they are descendants of Sunni Islam. Aside from the Fremen, Arrakis is a mostly dry planet which is often simply called “Dune.” Beneath the rolling sand dunes lurk a species of gargantuan all-consuming sandworms which are responsive to the vibrations of tapping sounds on the surface of the sand. As such, it is extremely dangerous to cross the sand dunes on foot (however, the Fremen have developed a unique sand dance which attempts to avoid such situations). The strategic importance of Arrakis lies in the spice trade. Spice is an hallucinogen as well as a key ingredient for space travel, but it can only be mined on Arrakis. And where there is money, there is also conflict. A rival family, the House of Harkonnen under Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård), enacts a violent coup d’état to reclaim the rule of Arrakis from the House of Atreides. During the overthrow, Paul and his mother barely manage to escape, but they wind up alone in the middle of the desert on the sand dunes. Their only hope is to cross the dune sea in search of the elusive Fremen people. Paul’s father Duke Leto is not so lucky –he dies when captured in an effort to poison everyone in the room. Also Paul’s bodyguard Duncan (Jason Momoa) dies defending Paul. Part I of this duology ends as Paul and his mother narrowly survive crossing the sand dunes and they make connection with Stilgar (Javier Bardem), a tribal chieftain of the Fremen. They also meet Chani (Zendaya), a girl who has frequently been in Paul’s dreams after Paul battles Jamis (Babs Olusanmokun), a Fremen who invokes the “Amtal” code of battle to the death. In a striking close to the film, Paul watches as a Fremen has managed to tame and ride one of the massive sandworms. Rather than fleeing the planet, Paul decides to remain on Arrakis. We are led to believe he will seek a partnership with the Fremen by exploiting their fervent faith and “desert power” in the form of a forthcoming messianic figure who will overthrow the House of Harkonnen. Throughout the film, Paul becomes increasingly cold and Machiavellian as he starts to assume his place, wrestling with the notion that he might incite a fanatical “holy war” in the cause of his family’s political vengeance. Religious fanaticism will always be exploited by people with ulterior motives. The one truth across space and time is politics –the struggle to rule and be ruled. Dune is an immensely complex narrative, and despite being a mounting molasses of expository dread throughout the first half, the second half of the film takes us on a wild ride, setting it up nicely for a sequel currently planned for release in 2023.

Kill Bill Volumes I & II (2003-2004) Review

Kill Bill Volumes I & II (2003-2004) Director: Quentin Tarantino

“Revenge is a dish best served cold – old Klingon proverb”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A study in dramatic irony packed with homages to B-Movies, Blaxploitation, Spaghetti Westerns, Samurai Movies, and others, Kill Bill is an enticing tale of revenge which takes us through some of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite classic films and cinematic tropes. Tarantino offers tons of fun for those who can stomach his typical bloodbath against the backdrop of a depraved, materialistic world. As with his other films, I’m not sure if there is all too much depth here, but Kill Bill is nevertheless a fun ride from one of the world’s great encyclopedic film buffs. As the movie unfolds, we (in the audience) are aware of a dark and vengeful plot as one woman seeks to requite the people who wronged her. Four years ago, a pregnant woman known only as “The Bride” in the first film (Uma Thurman) is jumped during a bloody massacre on her wedding day inside a tiny chapel in El Paso, TX. Everyone inside the chapel is brutally murdered, except the Bride who narrowly survives in a comatose state.

Four years later, she suddenly awakens in a hospital after a mosquito lands upon her. As often is the case in Quentin Tarantino’s films, the world is filled with indulgent, petty, immoral, violent, and hedonistic people. As such, the Bride’s lifeless comatose body has been pimped out for cheap sexual thrills by a male nurse. Naturally, she awakens and slaughters the men before managing to escape. It is now her life’s mission to exact vengeance on the four killers who attacked on her wedding day, members of an assassin group known as the Deadly Vipers which is led by a mysterious man known as Bill. Each assassin represents a unique sub-genre of filmmaking as the Bride mirrors Bruce Lee in a bright yellow tracksuit.

Told out of order, the Bride visits the suburban home of Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) –an intriguing contrast between a safe American middle-class suburb and a violent assault between two female battle-hardened warriors– but their knife fight is interrupted by the arrival of Vernita’s daughter. The contrast between the innocence of children and the viciousness of violent revenge is stark throughout this film. Moments later, Vernita is killed by a throwing knife in her kitchen. The Bride says she wishes her daughter did not have to witness her mother’s death, and that if she ever decides to come after her, the Bride will be waiting. Next, she pays a visit to a sage-like swordsmith name Hattori Hanzō (Sonny Chiba) who breaks his vow not to craft another sword so that she may have one in order to kill Bill.

Next, we see the Bride as she flies to Japan to kill the former Deadly Viper O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) who has since become the head of an elite assassin group under the yakuza. This leads to an extensive scene of stylized violence as the Bride battles hordes of henchmen, including the squad known as the Crazy 88 –limbs are severed, heads are lopped off, eyes are plucked out, assassins are bludgeoned, and blood is spattered everywhere (the scene cuts to black and white which avoided an NC-17 MPAA rating). After she triumphantly defeats all foes, the Bride steps outside. Snow is gently falls in the house’s private garden as the Bride fights O-Ren to the death (O-Ren is eventually scalped). The first film ends with one of Tarantino’s characteristic scenes from inside a car trunk. The Bride has kept alive O-Ren’s assistant whom she mutilates in exchange for information and then sends her to Bill as a warning. There are few things audiences love more than a story of justified vengeance.

In Volume II, we return to a black and white flashback of the day the El Paso massacre took place. We learn of the Bride’s real name: Beatrix Kiddo (a former member of the Deadly Vipers) and that she was once in a relationship with Bill, and that her unborn child was actually Bill’s. Apparently, her child has survived these four years, as well. We are offered flashbacks of her Kung-Fu training under Pai Mei (Gordon Liu, Bruce Lee allusions abound) coupled with her attack on the next Deadly Viper, Budd, the brother of Bill (Michael Madsen) who lives like a trashy hick in a broken-down trailer in the remote desert. When she tries to invade his trailer, Budd shoots her point blank with a shotgun (somehow she does not die) and she is buried alive inside a wooden box. However, remembering her training, the Bride breaks free. At the same time, Elle (Daryl Hannah) the fourth Deadly Viper assassin comes for Budd. She has an eyepatch –she lost her eye years ago when Pai Mei ripped it out during her training so she later poisons and kills him. At any rate, she offers Budd a suitcase of money for the capture of the Bride but inside is a poisonous black mamba snake which kills him. Then the Bride breaks into the trailer for a dramatic sword fight that only concludes when she gouges out Elle’s other eye.

The dramatic finale takes place in Mexico as the Bride tracks down Bill along with her four-year old daughter B.B. She explains that she initially left the Deadly Vipers when she found out she was pregnant with Bill’s child in order to give her daughter a better life. Bill explains that he ordered her death when he found out she was still alive and getting married. They battle until the Bride uses the infamous “Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique” which finally kills Bill. In the end, the Bride walks away with her daughter B.B. to start a new life.

Kill Bill was initially conceived of by Uma Thurman and Tarantino together during production of Pulp Fiction (though production was delayed when she became pregnant). There were apparently some challenges behind the scenes –Tarantino pushed Uma Thurman to complete a car chase stunt she didn’t want to do, and she crashed the car injuring herself. She asked for the footage of the crash but Miramax refused. Years later, she went to the police for the crash footage while Harvey Weinstein was facing his notorious downfall for widespread accusations of sexual abuse.

Since this was initially intended to be released as a single film, but was divided at the recommendation of Harvey Weinstein, I decided to review both parts together. Replete with allusions to all sorts of Samurai-Kung Fu-Grindhouse-Spaghetti Western flicks, many of which I’m sure went over my head, Kill Bill is an impressive tale of revenge, creatively told in episodic non-linear chapters, at one point even switching to an animated narrative (and I even picked up a couple of Star Trek references), made by one of the most celebrated modern directors. Tarantino is an absolutely brilliant and playful director who has made some of the most intriguing films over the past few decades –perfect for the right kind of moviegoer. Sadly, as I’ve gotten older I have been drawn to Tarantino’s movies less and less. It’s a matter of personal preference, though I will admit Kill Bill is a captivating movie that definitely hooked me. All things considered, Tarantino is the master of bloody vengeance. His films often force us to examine what forms of violence we will justify as legitimate –the torture and murder of Nazis in Inglourious Basterds (2009), the bloodbath against slaveholders in Django Unchained (2012), and the revenge of a wrong mother in Kill Bill (2003-2004).

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) Review

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) Director: Marc Webb

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Marc Webb’s sequel to 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man is another mostly forgettable installment in the Spider-Man universe in my view. The tone just seems strange and off-putting. Andrew Garfield returns with his blend of pop-punk/Gap model interpretation of Spider-Man. He ends his relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) over guilt regarding a promise made to her late father, though their relationship remains in limbo throughout most of the film. Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) inherits his father’s company, Osborn Industries, but partly stemming from a disease, he soon transforms himself into the Green Goblin. Meanwhile, a lower-level engineer and outsider/loner named Max (Jaime Foxx) is rescued by Spider-Man. He then falls into a vat of electric eels and he transforms into a blue-hued ball of electricity known as Electro. Naturally, Spider-Man battles both villains, and in the end he also battles the Rhino (Paul Giamatti).

There are plenty of other star cameos here, from Chris Cooper to Felicity Jones, as well as Sally Field. There are also some high-profile deaths in the film, as well, and a series of awkward silly montages, and thankfully any continuation of this Spider-Man series was canceled before it could drag on too much further.