Thursday, April 27, 2006

Re-Energized Part II, The Movies

Star Trek movies have grossed over a BILLION dollars worldwide. That makes the Star Trek juggernaut a force to be reckoned with and something that Paramount Pictures will use to their advantage. Some have lamented the “odd / even” curse; which says in the nutshell that the odd numbered pictures are trash and the even numbered pictures are good. I don’t buy that; as you will see by the overly scrutinized list below. For this fan, the Star Trek movies run the gamut from wonderful entertainments to sentences of punishment in small countries.

“Omar, time and again you have failed to heed the chicken licensing laws of our country. I sentence you to three consecutive viewings of Star Trek Nemesis!”

“AHHHH!” Omar screamed as he was dragged away from the judge’s tent. “Not THAT!”

I’m getting ahead of myself. The following are my opinions of the Star Trek movies in order of their releases. Why? You may ask – because I can and I promised a “part II.” : ) Beware lads and lasses, there be spoilers aplenty below…

Star Trek – The Motion Picture (1979). After seeing how much money a little film called Star Wars had made in 1977, Paramount decided to appease “Trekies” the world over and dust off their own space opera. I am glad that they did. This movie has taken a lot of criticism over the years; yes it reintroduced Kirk, Spock and McCoy (and on the big screen, no less), but it didn’t mesh with much of the public. Robert Wise directed the film. The guy was a genius, however, he had no idea who the characters were. Even so this is closest hard science fiction effort from the Trek franchise ever and one of my favorites. The effects and score are great. I even loved the tagline, “The human adventure is just beginning.”

Star Trek II – The Wrath of Kahn (1982). To date this is the finest Star Trek film ever to grace the big screen. Directed by Nicholas Meyer who turned Starfleet into a tightly run navy (which is how it should be), this film reached back into Trek history and pulled back Khan Noonien Singh, from the Classic episode “Space Seed.” Khan is pissed at Kirk for marooning him and his people on a dieing planet and he wants his pound of flesh. Great character interplay and story this one has drama, death, mid-life crisis and phaser battles between Federation ships; you can’t go wrong. Mr. Spock dies saving the Enterprise. I saw this picture at a matinee and I was able to blame the afternoon sunshine for my watering eyes; only you, gentle reader, know the truth. This one set the bar for excellence in the movies; it also set the dress code as well. The uniforms worn here influenced each and every successive Star Trek effort since.

Star Trek III – The Search for Spock (1984). Directed by Leonard Nimoy (Spock), a man who knows the world of Star Trek. The remaining crew of the Enterprise hijacks the starship to recover Spock’s body from the Genesis planet and cart him off to the planet Vulcan for a re-fusion with his “Kat-Tra,” the Vulcan soul. Sacrifice, destruction and death still haunt them, as do a particularly nasty group of Klingons. There is a somber tone to this one; it is a bridge – this is part two of a trilogy. In the end the crew’s sacrifice pays off and Spock rejoins his shipmates. This was not an easy task to pull off but Nimoy does. How about that, the needs of the one did outweigh the needs of the many; huh, whodathunk?

Star Trek IV – The Voyage Home (1986). Nimoy is at the helm once more. All of the solemn and sober tones are gone in this one as the crew journey back in time to save the Federation and some extinct humpback whales. This is a light movie but it is a lot of fun. Seeing Spock and McCoy at odds with each other again is great. Each of the crew has camera time, as well. Although much of it is played for humor, you can see why each member of the crew is where he or she is in the Star Trek universe – a professional member of the executive staff of a starship; even if that starship was destroyed in the last film. After saving the world once more, Kirk is made a Captain again and the crew is assigned to their new vessel. Starfleet re-commissions another Constitution Class ship and christens it with the name and registration number, “Enterprise NCC-1701-A.” The sight of it gave me geek chills; dare I say, it still does.

Star Trek V, the Final Frontier (1989). William Shatner had a clause in his contract basically saying that whatever Nimoy gets a crack at, so do I. This clause must have been taken out of his contract after the release of ST5. Until the release of Nemesis, ST5 was considered the worst in the whole film series. Instead of a character driven, holistic view of the 23d century we spend most of our time on Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, it’s just that the time that we do spend with them is moronic. The three sit around a campfire singing ‘row your boat,’ roasting ‘marshmellons.’ In a plot-thinning move Spock’s brother (?) hijacks the Enterprise to search for God. Set phasers on disintegrate and pull the trigger.

Star Trek VI, the Undiscovered Country (1991). Nicholas Meyer returns to the director’s chair for this one and delivers. I really enjoyed this film. It would have been a wonderful way to end the series with the original actors. That, however, wasn’t going to be the case. Anyway, over the years the title has confused many, however, ‘the undiscovered country’ (yet another Shakespeare reference), is a reference to peace between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. Kirk and crew become the lynch pin between peace and war in the galaxy. Kirk and McCoy escape a Klingon penal colony, Spock and crew solve a mystery aboard the Enterprise and a reunited crew stops an assassination plot. What else can you expect from the crew of the Enterprise? Good story, well paced and plotted. Themes of hatred, reconciliation and forgiveness are at the heart of this one. Excellent stuff. BTW I heard Nicholas Meyer speak at a screenwriter’s convention a few years ago – very cool guy. Star Trek was never mentioned once.

Star Trek (VII) Generations (1994). Directed by David Carson. Generations has always reminded me of Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront” as he laments to his brother that he “could have been a contender.” This movie could have been something special too. It’s not, but it could have been. Oh don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of things in there to keep a fan interested; Data receiving an emotion chip, a glimpse of Enterprise – B, a crash landing of the saucer section of Enterprise – D, not to mention Kirk and Picard on the screen together saving the day; yeah, a fanboy like myself should have been delighted. Unfortunately, this first venture onto the big screen for the crew of the Enterprise – D, is marred by too many good ideas and not enough time to flesh them out. The whole Nexus Wave phenomenon should have been called the Writer’s Convenience Stream and the death of Captain James T. Kirk should have been handled completely different. It’s Captain Kirk; couldn’t there have been a better summation for the life of a tent pole character than to drop him down a crevasse? By plucking him out of the Nexus Wave at the very end of the movie to help save the day the filmmakers ignored any possible character development between the classic and the next generation crews; too bad. If Kirk had been around for the whole film I might have been able to forgive the whole crevasse death thing. They also recycled an effects shot from an earlier movie, which, for some reason, I find annoying.

Star Trek (VIII) First Contact (1996). This one is directed by Commander Riker himself, Jonathan Frakes; a gentleman who knows the Next Generation. It shows. For my money this is to date, the best Star Trek featuring the Next Generation cast. In this one the Borg go back in time to stop the Earth from ever making first contact with an alien race (Vulcan’s BTW). Anyway, this is a fun offering even though it ignored a lot of what was happening in Star Trek’s own timely continuity; i.e. the Jem-Hedar war happening over at DS-9. Oh well. Geordi’s got eye implants now, which is a good thing. Mr. LaVar Burton is an expressive actor and giving him his full facial features to work with was a good idea. I also liked to see the cameo that Robert Picardo did as the Holo-Doctor on Enterprise – E; well done. It is a good entertainment that gave spotlights to each of the crew; unlike what the weaker films do by highlighting one small group of characters. It takes a crew to run a starship.

Star Trek (IX) Insurrection (1998). Once more directed by Jonathan Frakes. This effort has Captain Picard and Co. protecting the ideals of the “Prime Directive,” Starfleet’s number one rule which boils down to ‘don’t interfere with developing alien cultures.’ Picard finds himself defending this principal against Starfleet itself. You see, there’s this planet that emits a re-generative radiation and makes the population very long lived. Some in Starfleet want to know how at any cost. This is a watchable movie, although it feels like a television episode as opposed to a feature film. As a Star Trek movie; it’s passable. The filmmakers dropped the ball almost completely when it comes to the character development of Mr. Data who completely ignores his emotion chip this time out. Yeah, passable is a good word to sum it up.

Star Trek (X) Nemesis (2002). The tenth installment of the series, directed by Stuart Baird, lackadaisically goes where so many Star Trek films have gone before. The tagline for this the movie is, "One Generation's Final Journey." It's a shame that this final journey is so tragically handled. All of the bridge crew reprise their roles, although they are relegated to cameo appearances. While the Enterprise-E may carry hundreds of Starfleet personnel, "Nemesis," at its core is a Captain Picard and Mr. Data flick played effectively, once again, by Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner. No other characters need apply.

As in Star Treks I through IX, the crew detects a strange sensor signals and go to investigate. They find an interesting piece of technology that is brought back to the Enterprise. This plot device is used back in Star Trek VII. There is an IQ dropping Federation VS Bad Guys planet side, off road chase with Picard at the wheel. – Say, why would the Federation invest in a compliment of Dune Buggies when shuttlecrafts and transporter beams can take you wherever you want to go? Good question. – After the races it’s back to the Enterprise where in a surprise move that hasn't been seen since Star Trek VI, the crew is diverted from their current mission to urgent emergency. During this emergency we meet a very personal enemy, much like the Borg were in Star Trek VIII. After some telepathic mind violation, which hasn't been seen since Star Trek VI and some space battles that have not been glimpsed since Star Treks II-III and V-IX, the captain beams over to face his nemesis one on one. That hasn't been seen since Star Treks VIII & IX. There is also an act of self-sacrifice that we haven't seen since way back in Star Trek II! The only difference is that in Star Trek II the viewer cared. The same plot devices are used over and over again; the characters are not used to a shade of their potential.

This one beats out # 5 (which was pretty bad) as the worst Star Trek movie to date; disappointment aplenty. Levar Burton is horribly underutilized and his character's relationship with Data is never underscored like it should have been. I forget if Gates McFaden (Dr. Crusher) had a speaking roll or not and the Romulans, whose make up looks chunkier than usual, do not act like any member of the Romulan Star Empire that this fan has ever seen. Nothing looks real. This is a serious issue since the job of fiction is to make the unbelievable not only believable, but also accepted in the mind of audience. The Herman Munster makeup that the Romulans were is so distracting that it takes the viewer out of where they are supposed to be (the story) and into the realm of camp. Too bad; when this was made Voyager was the only other alternative. The producers had set the franchise to “auto-destruct.”

The time had come for a rest. Star Trek, the franchise that I loved so, had come to a point of mind numbing repetition. The producers were spent and the ideas looked canned. Yes, time for a rest. It has been a few years since there was no Star Trek to be seen on the television or in the theaters. There have been grumblings on the net; whispers of new Trek carried on the winds. Star Trek is now in the process of re-emerging from its cocoon. Out with the old and in with the new. Paramount is under new management and they remember the day when earning profits soared. They want those days back. Enter Mr. J.J. Abrams; the man who will write and direct Star Trek 11. Rumor on the web says that it will be the adventures of a young Kirk and Spock.

BTW Mr. Abrams, if you need any help with the script I’m available. I’ll bring back Q; Picard would join the Q Continuum and become “P.” I’d bring in the entity that Captain Sisko turned into as well. Maybe I’d have the three of them erase the existence of the television series Voyager. I don’t know what I’d have them do with Star Trek – Enterprise (like I said in Part I of this diatribe, I haven’t seen it yet.) I wish Mr. Abrams the best with this latest ‘Re-Energization.’ I can’t speak for all of geekdom, but I can guarantee that I’ll be in the theater when it opens.

Live long and prosper.

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