“Good For Its Time”

I overheard a guy in a store once laugh out loud as he read the back of a Full Metal Jacket Blu-ray.

“Why did they even put this on Blu-Ray with that bad film quality they had back in the day?

I wanted to slap him.

It really annoys me when someone says something was “good for its time.” No. There is no such thing. If something is good, it is good, period. If something seems less good in retrospect, you are the one who initially enjoyed it. You changed.

It’s insulting, this idea that newness equals superiority.

I’ll take a “good for its time” episode of The Outer Limits over a Michael Bay blow ’em up lens flare CGI car-bot tornado clusterfuck extravaganza any day of the week. Good is good, whether it’s new or old.

There’s no more annoying use of this phrase than when applied to Star Trek, though. The show may have debuted 11 years before I was born, but I’m old enough to remember when that’s all there was. A show, some movies and a ’70s animated series that I watched on Nickelodeon sometimes.

TOS(the original series)is often derided for its signature look. It’s very 1960s retrofuturistic by today’s standards, but why this is perceived as cringeworthy to some, I’ll never understand. To me it’s one of the show’s many strengths. It’s got a lovely aesthetic. Just look at these beautiful shots from underrated third season episode “The Cloud Minders.”

They made limited resources into works of art. The design work is phenomenal–elegant and functional, and there’s a certain cohesive flow between the color scheme, the lighting, the set and prop designs, and the musical cues. It was designed to really pop on color TV sets.

The stories were there… The actors, the dialogue, and the effects helped tell them; my imagination filled out the rest.

For me, the Gorn Captain from “Arena” isn’t a guy in a rubber suit. He’s a deadly, cold-blooded reptilian being who is trying to kill Captain Kirk. The tension is real for me.

When I see a shot of one of the oft-reused, absolutely beautiful matte painting backdrops, I feel like I’m getting a glimpse into an alien world.

My mind wonders what lies beyond the borders of those paintings, what the inhabitants of those worlds are doing as they go about their daily routines.

Millions of worlds to be explored, millions of strange aliens to encounter, so much potential for adventure.

Where you see paper mache rocks and fake plants, I again see an alien world . Full of mystery, a tangible sense of danger…

While I’m watching Star Trek I believe that the Enterprise is traveling through space, manned and maintained by a well-trained crew, who I know are offscreen doing their space jobs even when I don’t see them.

I accept that the events depicted on screen are happening. I’m able to suspend disbelief and become immersed in a universe that’s not at all presented in a realistic, scientifically accurate manner.

The show is a spark that ignites the flame of the imagination, whereas nowadays viewers require their shows to be the flame for them. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because it will lead to the boundaries of imagination being further expanded, having that level of realism as an inspirational starting point and going from there, but to lack the ability to view and appreciate masterpieces of the past simply because “the graphics isn’t good?” I feel sorry for people like that.

Yeah, there’s plenty of stuff about TOS to chuckle about, a few missteps and a lot of funny costumes, but that is the stuff I forgive (and enjoy anyway on some level). Not the sets or the effects or the acting. Shatner gets a lot of shit for his acting, but guess what, you’ve been impersonating his best-known character for 50 years, so maybe he’s not such a “bad” actor after all, eh?

Ok. Shatner’s acting is funny. But it’s good, because he wouldn’t be Captain Kirk without it. and I can believe there’s a man called Kirk out there in the cosmos, and that risk is his business.

For an hour.

8 thoughts on ““Good For Its Time”

  1. I feel similarly about old doctor who. New fans can’t even stand to watch it because of the primitive effects, but I watch it and see creativity stretched to its limit with no time or budget. It gives you a basic sketch and your imagination makes it real.

  2. Exactly. I feel like nowadays people have no imagination, no ability (or desire?) to stretch beyond what is set before them. Mindlessly devouring drivel and calling it the end-all, be-all to art.

  3. A beautiful post man. I’m younger than you (born in ‘81), but my uncle who was born in ‘64 used to watch these with my brother and me when we were young, and they totally transported us to other worlds. We’d later catch TOS on TV late at night, and then on DVD sets, and then on Netflix . . . and they never get old.

    Something about the aesthetic WAS the magic, along with the writing and acting. I LOVED how every actor took the material seriously! They didn’t camp it up or act “ironic.” They bought into the show 100 percent, and as a result, so did the viewers. These old shows are utterly captivating. My mother, who cares not a whit for sci-fi, even says that if TOS is on she can’t not watch.

    “Good for its time” is shorthand for “I’m a dummy.” It’s the people who can’t appreciate Chuck Berry, or a Stan Lee/Steve Ditko issue of Spider-Man, or the original Legend of Zelda, or going back further, Conan Doyle or Jane Austen. I pity these people.

  4. It’s not really a new mentality, either. Even by the late 80s kids at school were calling the effects on Star Wars “good for their time.” And here I was, like 11 years old going “Are you kidding? What’s been released that’s even comparable to the asteroid chase in empire????”
    Or some kids I knew couldn’t stand watching something in black and white. Meanwhile I would soak up old people’s stories about the past, watch old movies and study/admire people’s antiques as well as collecting my own(still have quite a vintage coin collection, much of it just from putting out the word I was into coins, and older people will mercury dimes and whatnot stashed away in drawers would give them to me), and I was just really fascinated by what had come before—I read every Elvis biography the library had and visited Graceland—but I was also firmly rooted in 80s kid culture. So I looked at all things on their own merits, regardless of age. I used to listen to tapes of 1940s radio programs for crying out loud. Now I have a hard drive full of them. So I continue to use new technology to delve further into the past. That’s why I bristle when people make a face and go “That’s OLD.” Lol

  5. Agreed! You sound like my brother and sister and I. I dunno how we avoided that trap, but we enjoyed all stuff, old or new. The age of it didn’t matter. All that mattered was whether it was good and we liked it.

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