Thursday, May 21, 2009

It’s Time for an Epic Star Trek Movie Round-up


…or something. Also, beware, here there be spoilers.

Over the last two weeks I’ve made a point of re-watching all the original Star Trek films that featured the original cast. No, Generations does not count. I also managed to catch an IMAX showing of the new Star Trek film (OMG! IMAX is teh shizzle!). I’ve included that flick in this list, which is ordered from worst to best.

In the midst of this, incidentally, my video projector’s dilithium-based drive system (a.k.a. a DLP color wheel) decided to fail causing a massive rip in the time-space continuum (i.e. – this is where Todd goes berserk), so I had to resort to watching the sixth movie on my 30” tube TV like some kind of hobo. (Yes, I’m being ironical with that statement.) But seriously, 94” diagonal down to 30”? That sucks.

Anyway, grab a chair and some coffee (and possibly a vomit bag and a gun loaded with a single bullet pending how you feel about these dissections of mine)…

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Really, was there any doubt as to the all-time worst Star Trek movie? Even if you throw in the ones with the cast of The Next Generation this would still be worse than the abominations that were Nemesis or Insurrection. I still remember, as a kid,  opening the paper the night my dad was taking me to see the movie and seeing the headline for its review: “Fool’s Frontier.” I scoffed.

I was wrong. That title about sums it up.

Upon this re-viewing I initially had hope that the passage of time would reveal a passable movie. It didn’t. The opening scene in which we are introduced to Spock’s brother (whose name escapes me) is, sadly, probably the best part of the film. It introduces an interesting character with an interesting twist (an emotional Vulcan with empathetic super powers) and said character has a master plan of dubious intent. Rock on. Then we move to a scene in which Kirk is climbing a ridiculously high and steep rock wall with no safety gear of any kind and he, of course, falls and must be rescued by Spock, who is wearing what are surely Syndrome-designed rocket boots. Kirk’s explanation for this idiocy? “Even as I fell I knew I wouldn’t die. I’ve always known I would die alone.” This is the film attempting to be deep. It failed. Follow that up a minute later with Kirk, Spock and McCoy singing Row, Row, Row Your Boat around a campfire and you know a mere 10 minutes into the film that it’s time to head for the exits. What follows is just pure, liquid misery that is so bad that I simply should not go on… but I will.

The pacing is terrible, the dialog (especially for the Klingon villain) is the worst kind of cliche tripe and the notion that Starfleet officers will mutiny to follow a deranged emotional Vulcan to the center of the galaxy (the Great Barrier? Really? Jesus.) just because he “took my pain away,” is a concept so laughably bad that I’m honestly amazed it –even by Hollywood’s standards- was ever greenlit in the first place. And don’t even get me started on what they do with the starship Enterprise itself. If you haven’t seen this movie, consider yourself lucky.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Two movies into this list and we have what will surely be the first controversial placement. Yes, I know a lot of people love this movie. I am not one of them. This is another one that, upon rewatching, I expected to end up thinking better of. Not so much. Now, hear me out. I do think there is some good stuff in this film. The concept is great. The themes of overcoming past prejudices is fertile ground for a Star Trek film to explore. I love the scene in the council room at the beginning between Kirk and Spock. I get that stuff and I like that stuff. But the rest of the film is just awful. First of all, I hate, hate, hate Kim Cattrall’s performance as a Vulcan turncoat. I am told that in the original draft the character was supposed to be Lt. Saavik, but that Cattrall didn’t want to be the third actress cast in the part. The character, and the movie, would’ve been far more interesting had it been Saavik, but ultimately she was just a horrible casting choice no matter what her character’s name is.

Beyond that, the characterizations for the rest of the cast is too frequently miserable to give this movie any kind of fair shake. Seriously, at what point did we decide Scotty was only good for comic relief? Ha, ha! He has a funny accent, let’s make him hopelessly dim and klutzy. Fuck that.

All those amateur detective shenanigans onboard the Enterprise after Kirk is arrested by the Klingons would’ve been cool if the dialog hadn’t been so god-awful throughout. Also there’s serious timeline issues that just bug me. Kirk and McCoy are arrested, put on trial, sentenced and transported to a prison world in what? Does even 48 hours elapse?

Finally, there’s the whole ship that can fire while cloaked. Bugger that. Spock and McCoy’s half-assed “surgery” on a magic torpedo just made me want to cry as did the torp’s meandering flight to its target. Could we please just have an honest to goodness space battle between big ships? Also, if I ever have to hear a Klingon quoting Shakespeare again I may just drop into instant convulsions.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Alright, I know that there is stuff in this movie that is every bit as bad as the worst of Undiscovered Country. And, to be honest, I used to hate this movie. I thought it was bar none the second worst Trek film (behind the fifth one). This one, in my eyes, time has saved. It’s flawed, but I can’t help but like it.

To be sure, there’s a lot of really hinky science with the Genesis planet and its affect on Spock’s shell that is best just not thought about. Kirk’s lamentations about his son while on the bridge of the Enterprise is also cringe worthy. (“Klingon bastard!”) I don’t care.

The whole first 45 minutes of the film is a worthy continuation of Star Trek II. Enterprise plodding its way home. Kirk’s scene with Sarek. McCoy’s bar scene is hilarious, as is the scene in which he’s sprung form a Federation holding cell. (The sound effects on the sabotaged Excelsior, however, are a nightmare.) The battle scene between Enterprise and bird of prey is too low budget to be visually memorable, but it’s a great back and forth and shows two competent starship captains matching wits, which is more than can be said for the final battle in The Undiscovered Country.

I like this movie.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. I used to have a lot of love for this film. I still do. But there’s no denying that I didn’t enjoy it this time around nearly as much as I expected to. It gets the nod ahead of Search for Spock mostly because that movie still has too much awful in it and this one is just so damned funny. (“Spock, where the hell is the power you promised? / One damn minute, Admiral.”) The problems are two-fold. One, the whole save the whales premise is just not something I think belongs tied to a Star Trek film. It’s a fun effort, but no. Just no. Two, as great as it is at points, they went overboard with the comedy. Trek can and should be fun and lighthearted, but there’s a line between humor and just silly silliness and this film crosses it a few times, especially where some of Chekov’s scenes are concerned. This is underscored by the inane soundtrack that would’ve been much more at home in an actual comedy, like “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” (Awesome sound editing, that.)

Still, Spock mind-melding with a whale? Kirk’s “pocket pager?” “I think he did a little too much LDS.” “Double dumbass on you!” “Dialysis? What is this the dark ages?” I may want to mock these things, but they end up putting a smile on my face every time. Plus, at the end, Kirk gets busted back down to Captain and there’s a nice scene between Spock and Sarek. This remains an enjoyable, fun movie that made the most of what was clearly a limited budget.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I know. It’s boring. It really is. I can’t deny that. Doesn’t matter. This is what Star Trek on the big screen should look like (only with the crimson uniforms from the rest of the movies). It’s a movie that takes its time, explores its characters and lets them breath a little, has at least a casual nod to hard science behind it, and has no real villain. Spock and Kirk undergo personal journeys. McCoy is exactly the kind of foil he should be. Scotty isn’t a dumbass. And even if they spent way too much time showing us their jaw-dropping (for the time) special effects, VGER is just an awesome “character.” It’s not a movie that can be watched over and over again, but it’s a good film that deserves more respect than it gets. 

Star Trek: The New Hotness. (Sorry, it needs a subtitle.) I reserve the right, upon subsequent viewings, to move this one down the list, but right now, it edges into place as #2. Don’t mistake this as an endorsement from me that this was remotely a perfect film. It’s not. The science in it, in particular, is as much a paper thin disaster as the behavior of the Genesis planet in The Search for Spock. Seriously, just don’t think about it. It will only end in tears.

There’s a scene on an ice planet that is pointless and just not well thought out at all and there are various other issues that strain credibility, like how the cast ends up getting into their respective positions on the Enterprise by film’s end. (Admittedly, a tough feat to convincingly pull off.) Also, the movie just moves too damned quick. I know we’ll never get anything as plodding as The Motion Picture again, nor would I want that, but there’s a happy medium out there that isn’t consistently struck here. Case in point, the final scene between old and young Spock begs for the camera and the actors to just take their time. Instead it’s a lot of hard cuts after each hastily delivered line of dialog and it robs the moment of some of the real impact it could’ve had.

There is a lot to which you must turn a blind eye. But unlike, say, The Undiscovered Country, this was a film for which I was happy to turn the other cheek.  The simple fact of the matter is that this film is fun. It got my first smile just a few minutes in and I’ll be damned if my goofy grin didn’t hang in there through most of the rest of the film.

Not everyone will like the notion of Jim Kirk as egotistical douchebag, but I thought Chris Pine’s Kirk was great. He’s the smartest fucking guy in the room and he knows it. You don’t have to like his attitude to follow him, you just have to know that he’s twelve steps ahead of you and that he’s here to help. Not everyone will like Spock as emotional roller coaster, but I think that’s exactly what you need from a half-human young Spock put in the situations he’s placed. He’s far more interesting this way. Karl Urban as McCoy is McCoy. All the hype is 100% dead-on balls accurate. He’s simply perfect. Simon Pegg’s Scotty is still there too much for comic relief, but at least this Scotty is once again frigg’n brilliant. I’m calling that a win. I like the actress for Uhura (name?) and I’m glad her character finally got some legitimate screen time, but I would’ve preferred that more of that time went to showing her as exemplary officer instead of being the supportive girlfriend to one of the other characters. The villain, Nero, as seen in the film, is a bit weak. But, if you read the comic book prequel, Countdown, you’ll get much more background on him that makes him, his crew and his ship much more satisfying.

Then, there’s Leonard Nimoy’s role. He’s just great. This guy has always deserved a better rep as a great actor. (One of the things that has stuck out to me while re-watching the movies.) And he brings this wonderful chemistry to the screen with Pine’s Kirk and Quinto’s Spock. It’s just plane fun to watch. And, really, there seems like there’s great chemistry between everyone in the cast. The notion that we could get to see a new telling of the forging of the bond of friendship between this Kirk and this Spock is really enthralling. It was, in a way, not unlike watching Heath Ledger’s Joker, I simply could not get enough of those two being on-screen together.

I do love that they’re taking advantage of this reboot to really muck with the status quo. I’ll avoid further spoilers here, but they do something to the galaxy in this movie that is truly status quo changing, and no, I’m not talking about the fate of Kirk’s daddy. There’s lots of questions being asked about where it goes from here. Do they, for example, bring back the Kahn storyline? I think that would be a catastrophic mistake. You’ve got a fresh start here and an opportunity for a younger generation to have “their” version of these beloved characters. Unlike some, I don’t have any problem with that. The original Trek is still out there (on Blu-ray, no less!). It’s not going to disappear. I don’t see the harm in embracing a new take, so long as they continue down new paths, as they’ve done here. There are implications to the events that occur in this film that need to be explored. Doing so would make for a much more interesting sequel than retreading old ground with new actors. Paramount, Abrams and company must not waste this new beginning.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn. Was there any doubt as to this film’s status as the single greatest Trek story ever told? Every time I watch it I wonder going in if I’m still going to think that it’s as good as what I remember and every time it’s better. Every single time. This is just a perfect Star Trek film. It’s non-stop vintage character moments from beginning to end, it’s got wonderful ship-to-ship combat with starship captains that are genuinely playing a high-stakes game of chess. The stuff in the Genesis cave. Everything from the big death to the scenes that follow it; the scene between Kirk and David, in particular. I really don’t even know what to write about this flick because anything more I could write would just be more gushing. I honestly have no complaints about this film, except, possibly, that it’s not six hours long. So, instead, I’ll just throw some of my favorite moments out there…

“I’m not a drama critic.”

“This is not about age, and you know it. It’s about you flying a goddam computer console when you want to be out there hopping galaxies.”

“You are my superior officer. You are also my friend. I have been, and always shall be yours.”

“According to myth the Earth was created in six days. Now, watch out! Here comes Genesis! We’ll do it for ya in six minutes!”

“I did nothing! Except get caught with my britches down.”

“A rescue may be possible, in two days. By the book, Admiral.”

“Suppose they went nowhere? / Then this will be your big chance to get away from it all.”


“Can I cook, or can’t I?”

“I don’t believe in the no-win scenario.”

“I exaggerated.”

“The energizers are bypassed like a Christmas tree, so don’t give me too many bumps.”

“He’s intelligent, but not experienced. His pattern indicates two-dimensional thinking.”

“Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels… his was the most… human.”

"Also that I’m proud, very proud, to be your son.”

“It’s something Spock was trying to tell me, on my birthday.”

Seriously, I could go on all day with this stuff.