A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 327 – Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country – January 21st, 2011

After last night’s farce, it’s good to be back on track with a decent movie with a decent plot and decent writing and no fan dance. Oh, it’s got a moment or two that I quibble with, but I’ll get there. For the most part this is a nicely solid movie that slots in well with the timeline and continuity from the rest of the movies. Kirk’s antipathy towards Klingons is explored in depth, as is his reputation among them. The Excelsior shows up, there are familiar faces in Starfleet and in general it’s moving the whole wider universe along. It lays ground for a few things and explains other things and contains some nice moments for some of the crew (though I feel that, as usual, Chekhov is underused). Oh, and it’s got Kim Catrall and Iman in it, along with some familiar-to-Star Trek faces such as David Warner, Rene Auberjonois and Michael Dorn.

Let me get my quibbles out of the way first. There’s a scene where the Enterprise is en route to Rura Penthe and they have to communicate with some Klingons. On board the Enterprise the crew is frantically scrambling for paper copies of Klingon dictionaries so they can figure out what’s being said and respond correctly. It’s got some humorously mangled Klingon and forced laughter and helpless shrugging and it’s cute and all, but. In the movie’s trivia there’s a note that Nichelle Nichols protested this scene, saying that it would make more sense that Uhura would either speak the language or have the technology to look things up without resorting to hardcopy dictionaries. She was overruled, but I agree with her. I mean, hell, if I want to translate something into Klingon I’m sure there are computer programs out there and I sure as hell am not in the 23rd century. It’s a comedic anachronism and it serves that purpose well, but it sticks out like a Horta at a dinner party. My other quibble is with the Klingons’ response to Kirk holding a grudge after the death of his son. Granted, a lot of development has been done with the Klingons as a civilization since this movie was released, but the Klingons I know about would totally get someone wanting revenge or at least being irrevocably pissed off after someone murdered a family member. But I suppose that’s pretty geeky, even for me.

Quibbles aside (and no, I won’t go complaining about the purple blood), it really is a solid movie. Maybe not the best of the first six, but certainly a tighter story than the fifth movie. And it’s not just that I’m comparing it to the weakest of the bunch. It really does hold together well. With the explosion of their primary source of power, the Klingons are in a weakened position and unable to sustain a prolonged military opposition to the Federation. Talks are planned so as to reach some sort of peace accord between the two groups, but while accompanying the Klingon ambassador to Earth someone on the Enterprise shoots up the Klingon ship, killing the ambassador and some of the crew and framing Kirk and McCoy for it. They’re put on trial and sent to Rura Penthe, a prison planet, and the rest of the Enterprise crew has to figure out who the traitors in their midst are before Kirk and McCoy get themselves killed and the peace talks are completely ruined by more assassinations. It’s a sci-fi murder mystery with some big political concepts providing backdrop. Overall, while I think Star Trek has done philosophy fairly well at times, it does much better with politics.

And really, the political meanings here aren’t precisely difficult to grasp. After all, the whole thing was made not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall and it was released right at the end of the Cold War. The Klingon ambassador’s name (Chancellor Gorkon) is supposedly a portmanteau of Gorbachev and Lincoln. So really, we’re dealing with some political meanings that were, at the time, striking very close to home. And Star Trek does have a history of touching on political and social issues. There are nods to bigotry and fear of change, uncertainty over old enemies suddenly no longer being okay to hate. It doesn’t go too far in depth there. Not for many more than Kirk and Bones, who get a good deal of screen time, but it is touched on. And I like that the effort was made. One of the things I love best about Star Trek is its portrayal of the future as being one to hope for. I noted to Andy the other day that the casting for the movies was very nice indeed, putting both men and women as well as members of several different ethnicities on the bridges of starships in roles of command. The characters we see on screen are ones who acknowledge their own prejudices and face them, regretting that it took them so long to recognize them. Of course it could be handled better at times, but in this movie, as with the Trek universe as a whole, there’s true effort being put in and I like that.

I’m not usually a suspense or mystery fan, but there’s something about a sci-fi mystery that I enjoy. And in this movie there are so many great little exchanges and winks for fans to notice (like Sarek’s portrait in the dining room on the Enterprise and Bones saying ‘fascinating’ to Spock). It makes it all the more fun to watch to have it follow something dreadful, but even if it had followed The Voyage Home directly it still would have been just as good.

January 21, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 3 Comments

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

January 21, 2011

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

I’m really enjoying watching this movie again. It’s a great movie. Not just in contrast of the train wreck that was yesterday’s movie. This movie is everything that is great about Star Trek: cool aliens, space battles, galactic conflict, barely disguised political allegory. It also has a cool murder mystery, which is something we haven’t seen before out of a Star Trek movie and effects miles beyond those in any of the movies so far.

The leap in the effects is surely a result of advances in affordable visual magic made to produce the Next Generation. By the time this came out I believe TNG was into season four or five, with an average budget of about 1.5 million dollars per episode, so they had a lot of experience making thrilling space adventures on what would be a shoestring in action movie terms. That’s not the only influence that TNG had on this movie either. The plot of this movie centers on the creation of peace between Humans and Klingons, something that was established to be history by the very presence of Lieutenant Worf on the Enterprise D. (A nod to which is the presence of Michael Dorn playing one of Worf’s ancestors in this movie.) There was even a kind of tie-in to the television show. Leonard Nimoy appeared as Ambassador Spock in a two part episode aired at the time of opening weekend for this movie – an episode revolving around a possible peace accord with the Romulans during which there was reference made to the events at Khitomer. The mystery of course was “what exactly happened at Khitomer?” and there were all kinds of hints that Kirk had died there (including a shot of him being disintegrated in the trailer for the movie.) Naturally the only way to find out the answer was to go to the theater and watch the movie.

The answers didn’t quite live up to the hype for me, but they were worth a trip to the theater nonetheless. As indicated this is the story of how peace with the Klingons first came about. It starts with the meltdown at Chernobyl. Which in this particular analogy would be the destruction of one of the moons of the Klingon home world. The Federation of Planets sets about the humanitarian task of evacuating the Klingons from their dying planet, and Kirk gets roped into a diplomatic mission to escort the Klingon supreme chancellor to Earth for peace talks. But Kirk harbours no love for the Klingons – particularly since one of them was responsible for the death of his son. Indeed prejudice and resentment run deep throughout both sides of the long running cold war. Then things go wrong for the peace process. Photon torpedoes, apparently fired from the Enterprise, disable the Klingon ship they are escorting, and two crewmen beam over and assassinate the supreme chancellor.

So the movie becomes a mystery. Who is responsible for the attack on the Klingons and why? Clearly Kirk never gave the order to fire, but all appearances seem to indicate that it was the Enterprise that committed this unprovoked attack during an escort mission. Spock must act as a detective to unravel just what’s going on while Kirk and McCoy attempt to escape from the Klingon penal camp they’ve been exiled to as punishment for their supposed complicity. It’s a fun plot full of tension, red herrings, humor and action. Everything that is good about the franchise.

In many ways this was clearly an intentional swan song for the old Enterprise crew. The closing narration acts as a heavy handed passing of the torch to the next generation. The closing credits, with the well practiced signatures of all the lead actors, are like a kindly farewell to the fans. Every cast member gets some great time on screen one last time performing these beloved characters. Tomorrow is the first movie involving a new Enterprise and a new crew (who were all quite familiar after seven years on television.) Tonight we bid a fond adieu to the crew of the NCC-1701 (no bloody A, B, C or D)

January 21, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 326 – Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier – January 20th, 2011

Why yes, we do indeed own the fifth movie. Oh, we didn’t before this project, but then there were quite a few odd holes in our collection before the project started. There still are, though we’re filling them in as we go. This, however, was an intentional hole. We knew damn well that this would be painful to watch and so we’d never bought it. We never meant to put it in our collection. We never meant to intentionally own or watch it. And yet here we are, with the passionate Vulcan and the three-breasted cat woman and the fan dance and the Row Row Row Your Boat oh my god stop singing. We decided that if we were going to watch all of the others, original series and next generation, documentaries and reboot, then, well. We had to buy it.

Around when they started singing I knew this was going to be a trial. It’s been ages since I last saw this movie and as with the second Star Wars prequel, I’ve blocked out a lot. For instance, I’d blocked out that the singing actually bookended the movie. That’s a tidbit that one might think would stay with me, but no. And so when Andy said “well, at least it’s over” at the beginning I believed him. And oh, oh was I sad when he was wrong. I get that it’s meant to be a sweet little moment between the super close trio of Kirk, Spock and McCoy, and I get that it’s supposed to make us feel like even though they’re all futuristic they can still do the things we do or something like that. It’s supposed to speak to connections, both between the characters and the audience. And it doesn’t. It doesn’t at all. It misses the mark by miles. And indeed this is the way it goes for much of the movie.

I keep trying to find something salvageable in this movie and failing to find anything aside from DeForest Kelley’s scene where he’s imagining the death of his father. The plot is nothing super special at its core. Dude shows up with a bunch of fanatical followers and takes over the Enterprise, using her to go somewhere he otherwise wouldn’t be able to go. But in this case the dude is Spock’s half brother, Sybok (and oh, I will get to him in a moment) and the somewhere he’s going is the center of the universe where he believes God is hanging out past a “barrier” that seems pretty weak when all’s said and done. And he doesn’t take over the ship with force so much as he converts everyone on it into his little cult. It’s creepy, to be honest, and I think that was the point? I think. I’m not sure. But if it was the point, well, that’s one thing it did right.

Sybok, as a character, bugs me. He’s this utterly ridiculous figure. He’s Spock’s half-brother, son of Sarek and a Vulcan princess. He’s rejected the logic and repression of his people and embraced emotion, becoming passionate and totally un-Vulcan (soooo, Romulan?) and somehow he’s also got this super special magical cult leader power. He can see the ‘pain’ others are carrying, which seems to mean emotional baggage of some sort, and somehow bring it to the fore, cleansing them and allowing them freedom. And that’s just grand, isn’t it! Watching him with Bones all I could think of was faith healers. But I think that’s how he’s supposed to come off. The thing is, he just doesn’t fit. Maybe if he wasn’t Spock’s half-brother or Vulcan I’d find it easier to accept him. How about a rogue Betazoid? Then the powers would make sense and we’ve met slimy Betazoids in TNG, so it’s certainly possible for them to use their extra senses for less than honorable purposes. But no. He’s this super unique Vulcan, son of a princess. He’s a Gary Stu, only in bad guy form. Sort of. And I say sort of because he’s not shown as evil. Utterly single-minded and determined, yes. Totally short-sighted and naive about the reactions of the people he’s dealing with, yes. But not evil. Misguided, more. So we spend the movie with a bad guy who’s not so much bad as overzealous.

It’s just so messy. Really, really messy. Nimbus III, with its Human, Klingon and Romulan consulates? Sybok’s utter ignorance about things like the Federation’s reaction to taking hostages? Really? Did he truly think he could claim to have hostages and the Klingons wouldn’t show up shooting? Did he really think no one would try and get the hostages out? He seems completely shocked when weapons get fired, and shocked again when Kirk points out that they can’t get the shuttlecraft back onto the Enterprise while the shields are up. He’s kind of not bright and it makes his whole plan seem ill-thought out. Sort of like this movie. I mean, look at some of the things in it. Uhura’s fan dance? According to the trivia, this was written in as a joke! And they kept it! I feel so bad for Nichelle Nichols. She’s better than that. And don’t even get me started on the evil not!God. Apparently there was supposed to be a pit full of the ten levels of Hell and rock monsters that I can only assume were maybe a step up from Hercules Against the Moon Men. So. It could have been worse? I think I’m going to stop now and just let it go. Move on to the next one and hope this one recedes back into the dim corners of my mind.

January 20, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

January 20, 2011

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Oh, but this is painful. Amanda and I did not own Star Trek V before we set out on our movie-a-day project. We agonised about whether or not we should buy this simply for the sake of being complete. We knew we were going to review every other Star Trek movie, but did that mean that we should add this one to our collection and review it as well? We didn’t particularly want to see this movie again, but it seemed silly to have all the other Star Trek movies but not this one. Ultimately we decided that it simply made sense to own this movie as well. As I’m watching it now, however, I’m beginning to regret that decision.

As I said yesterday I haven’t watched this entire movie since opening night. I went to see it with my high school AV crew , as we did for many an opening night movie experience. There’s a great feeling to an opening night crowd – the anticipation and wonder. But even that could not disguise the fact that this movie is not only the worst Star Trek movie – it is a strong contender for worst overall movie. I’d argue it’s in the same league with Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones and Battlefield Earth. Indeed it may be worse than those.

Plotwise the movie combines a couple of less than wonderful episodes of the classic show. As in The Way to Eden a group of religious zealots capture the Enterprise in an attempt to fly to Eden. Then the end of the movie takes a page from Who Mourns for Adonis. In tone and level however it reminds me most of Spock’s Brain, the most universally derided of Star Trek episodes. It is filled with wince inducing attempts at humor. The plot is uninspired and sad. There are a couple climactic moments where nothing happens. And most damning of all the usually captivating dynamic between Shatner, Nimoy and Kelly which has been the heart of the series since the very beginning feels forced and strained.

I know that a lot of people level the blame on William Shatner because he acted as director on this project, but I don’t think that’s the real problem. Or maybe I just don’t want to believe that it is. There just seems to be more concentrated suck here than one man, no matter how egotistical and ill suited for the director’s chair, could be responsible for. The script was apparently hampered by the ongoing writer’s strike from that time, for example. And the special effects budget seems to have been mightily curtailed from the days of Star Trek II through IV. In short – Shatner didn’t have the resources at his command that Nimoy had with the previous two films. Or so it seems.

After not having seen the movie in a couple decades I had forgotten just how awful some parts of it are. I remembered, of course, Uhura’s infamous fan dance, but I had blocked out how embarrassing and dreadful it was. How did they convince Nichelle Nichols to do that to her iconic character? It’s demeaning just to watch it. Then there’s the scene with Bones and Kirk trying to get Spock to sing around the camp fire. Which is not only almost unbearably painful to watch but is also reprised at the end of the movie! There’s a climactic scene where the Enterprise has to fly through an impenetrable barrier at the heart of the galaxy which is the very definition of anticlimax. They reach the barrier, talk a whole lot about how deadly it is and how no probe or ship has ever returned from attempting to cross it, then just… fly right through it completely unharmed and unscathed. I’m left wondering if there was supposed to be a sequence there that got cut out for budgetary reasons or if the writers just kind of decided not to write a conclusion for that particular plot point. Really it’s indicative of the whole film. Nothing happens and it takes an awful lot of time for it to do so. And people keep making “jokes” which fall completely flat. Even the Enterprise itself is a cobbled together and laughable piece of junk in this movie – reflecting the state of the film itself.

There are a few things I actually found interesting buried in all this garbage. There are heavy handed hints at a relationship between Scotty and Uhura, which intrigues me. The notion of a peaceful cohabitation between Klingons, Romulans and Humans on a planet in the neutral zone is actually something I would have liked to see expanded upon. (Except that it’s realized in the film as a sort of combination of The Hills have Eyes and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome – but on a smaller budget.) The notion of a Vulcan exiled for giving in to his emotional side is pretty cool as well. Hell, if handled right (read: without singing) there’s potential in seeing what the crew do with themselves when given shore leave.

On the plus side this movie is a stand-alone work that is not really connected in any way with the continuity of the film series. Whereas Khan leads directly into Search for Spock and Voyage Home picks up with the crew still on Vulcan with their stolen ship this movie seems to have almost nothing to do with those. The only connection is an establishing shot of the Enterprise lifted from the fourth movie. So now that we have watched and reviewed this we can put it aside never to be watched again. Except perhaps with the help of the riff-track. Tomorrow’s movie uses footage from Search for Spock to make it part of the series, so we can in future skip this movie and pretend it doesn’t exist – like the non-existent movie between Highlander and Highlander III.

January 20, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 1 Comment

Movie 325 – Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home – January 19th, 2011

This movie has the distinction of being the Star Trek movie I have seen the most times. It’s not that it’s my very favorite, though I do enjoy it, it’s that it seems to show up on television when I’m flipping through channels. I don’t know why that is. Why this one and not Wrath of Khan or one of the TNG movies? I have no idea. I just know that I’ve seen that ending scene with everyone in the water more times than pretty much everything else we’re watching in these two weeks. Good thing I like it, cause if it was the Chekhov earwig scene from Wrath of Khan I kept happening across I think I’d be less amused (love the second movie but that scene gives me the willies).

For some reason I also suspect that this is the first Star Trek movie I saw all the way through. I mentioned that my parents are big Trek fans, but they were never all that into the movies. They could quote the show all night long, but the movies just never seemed to click for them I guess. And oh, my mother was merciless about this one, with its time travel plot and saving the whales. She’s all for saving the whales, but it’s such a cheesy movie and the concept is so very anvilicious. You can’t turn around in this movie without getting smacked in the face with a message about how in our time we’re doing foolish and illogical things that are just going to get us killed by giant alien probes in the future. Won’t somebody please think of the alien probes! And oh, our medical practices are barbaric! We still use money! And thank goodness we did have that brief dalliance with nuclear fusion, toxic side effects be damned, or the crew might never have gotten their ship back to the future (maybe they should have contacted Marty McFly and seen if he could tinker with the Bird of Prey?) and wow, aren’t we so backwards here in the present day.

Of course, by present day I mean the 1980s. When else would you get a science fiction movie with a moral like this? Indeed, the vast majority of the movie takes place in San Francisco, present day (1986). After the crew are ordered back to Earth to stand trial for their escapades in The Search for Spock a mysterious probe shows up, sending out a message no one seems to think to poke at enough to figure out, and disrupting power sources and whatnot everywhere it goes. The crew are all still in their stolen Bird of Prey and after Uhura uses her awesome communications skills to figure out what the message sounds like underwater the crew use the ship to travel back in time to grab some whales. Cause dude, we killed all the whales! Human bastards! Killed the whales!

Anyhow, that bit doesn’t last long and the rest of the movie shows our favorite characters as they try to cope with the late 20th century in California. They have to find some radioactive material to get the ship going again, leading to the oft-quoted “nuclear wessels” bit from Chekhov. They have to build a tank that can hold the whales in the ship for the trip back. And they have to procure whales. Preferably a mating pair. And what do you know! The Cetacean Institute (filmed at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is a very nice aquarium, by the way) has two whales! And one’s pregnant! Imagine that. Kirk tries his best to romance the whale biologist into letting them somehow take the whales but she’s cannier than most of the gals he tries to chat up and only ends up saying yes out of desperation. And then she totally blows him off at the end. Of course it all works out in the end, but in between there’s plenty of silliness with a race through a nuclear submarine, McCoy curing a woman’s kidney failure, Sulu stealing a helicopter and Scotty showing a present day plexiglas manufacturer how to make ‘transparent aluminum’ so they can get the materials they need for the tank. It’s ridiculous. It’s cheesy, as I said. It’s still a ton of fun.

Despite the preachiness and the dated 80s references and hair, and despite the variable mass of whales and the double dumbass and everything silly about this movie, I still love it. Maybe it’s nostalgia talking, or maybe it’s that regardless of it all, the movie still has some great moments between Kirk and Spock, and Scotty and McCoy. It’s got some fun stuff for Chekhov and Uhura and Sulu and it’s got a redemption for the crew at the end. After all, they do get the Enterprise back when all’s said and done, putting them right back on board the ship they belong on. Which is what I personally believe the title refers to. It’s not about ‘home’ being the 20th century or Earth or whatever. It’s the Enterprise and all the bizarre things they have to do to get back to her.

January 19, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

January 19, 2011

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

This movie is cheesy, silly, and ludicrous. And I can’t help loving it. At the start of the movie we are told not just that it was directed by Leonard Nimoy, but that this is a Leonard Nimoy Production. It would appear that unlike the character he is best known for portraying Lenny does actually have a sense of humor. This film is loaded with cute and classic moments, even if its “modern day” setting seems somewhat dated today.

The action in this movie picks up shortly after that in the third film with Kirk and his crew still on Vulcan preparing for their return journey in their hijacked bird of prey while on Earth the Galactic Council is preparing to court martial Kirk and all for their theft of the Enterprise. Very soon, however a mysterious alien probe with unimaginable power appears and makes a beeline directly towards Earth, disabling every ship in its path with some mysterious and powerful energy signal. Who can possibly save the planet? (Again?)

The Enterprise crew (well the Bounty crew since they’re not on the Enterprise any more) figure out that the massive alien signal (which is ionising the Earth’s atmosphere and boiling its oceans) is whalesong – specifically the song of the humpback whale. Unfortunately the humpback whale was hunted to extinction in the twenty-first century, so naturally the only solution is for the Bounty to fly into the past – going back to the nineteen eighties to find and recover some whales and bring them back to the future.

The notion of time travel is nothing new to the Star Trek universe (I could remember two episodes of the original series that involved it and a little research reveals a third) but what’s fun about this movie is that the time travel is not so much a serious plot device as it is a set up for a series of gags about how out of place the folks from the future are when in San Francisco in the Eighties. It’s fertile ground and they mine it well. As we watched tonight I found myself chortling with glee and quoting many of the great lines in anticipation. “A double dumbass on you!” “He might have done a little too much LDS.” and of course “We are looking for the nuclear wessels.” This movie may not be serious science fiction or even great drama like Khan was, but it is pure unadulterated fun.

This movie is filled with joy. Even Leonard Rosenman’s score is playful, bouncy and upbeat. It’s always fun when Star Trek explores it’s lighter side, and as a result this is among my favorite Star Trek films. Tomorrow: the nadir of the movie series and a movie I have not seen all the way through since I first saw it on opening night in the theaters. With good reason.

January 19, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Movie 324 – Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock – January 18th, 2011

So, we’re three nights into our Star Trek mini-project and I’ve got to say, it’s interesting watching these one after another, as if I’m watching nightly episodes. Indeed, at least last night’s and tonight’s feel like they’re directly following one another, complete with a “previously, on Star Trek…” section. And so if these are just feature length episodes, how does this one stack up? Well, according to Trek lore, this is supposed to be a “crappy” movie, owing to being an odd number. But I wouldn’t say that. I’d say it’s certainly not as tight as the second movie and not as epic as the first, but it’s okay. Uneven, but okay.

The trouble, I think, stems from having what are essentially two plots. On one hand there’s the action plot with the Klingons trying to get their hands on the Genesis Project information and on the other hand there’s the titular search for Spock, which isn’t much of a search since he’s right there on the planet in body and right there in McCoy’s head in spirit. And the movie has to try and balance out those two plots and meld them somehow into a single cohesive plot. After all, the title of the movie says it’s about Spock, and certainly getting his body back from the planet Genesis was used on is the impetus for Kirk and the rest of the crew to head back out there. But then the Klingons show up and repeat Khan’s whole deal, facing off with Kirk and demanding the information and threatening people Kirk cares about. It serves to make things feel sloppy.

Personally, much as I love the Klingons and all, I think the movie could have been a lot tighter and cleaner had they managed to make the retrieval of Spock’s body fraught with danger without an additional enemy. After all, they were already on the run from Starfleet, having swiped the Enterprise and disabled the Excelsior in direct violation of orders. If they were going to have an enemy show up, have the Enterprise out there legitimately, but without contact or something. Don’t split it up like this. Because despite ostensibly being a single plot, where the Klingons are a mere inconvenience in the true plot of getting Spock back, it feels divided. And while I’m complaining, if a Vulcan ambassador shows up demanding his son’s body in order to perform cultural funerary rites, dismissing it with “I’ve never understood Vulcan spirituality” seems a little off for Starfleet. Locking McCoy up even when the Vulcans have an explanation for what’s happening to him? Come on. It feels like a set-up. It doesn’t feel genuine. And that’s the problem. It needed so much tension added in that none of it feels right.

All that being said, there’s still a lot to enjoy in this movie. After all, it’s Star Trek, and it features the famous line(s) “Klingon bastard, you killed my son!” There are some truly nice performances from DeForest Kelley and, I’ve got to say it, William Shatner. Okay, in Shatner’s case it’s nice because he’s snappy and smug and having fun being an outlaw in his own fleet, but I still say that counts. I do like Christopher Lloyd as the Klingon leader. Overall I like the Klingons, even if I don’t necessarily like their role in the movie (seriously, Khan rehash). I think Nimoy did a good job directing his fellow castmates, even with the plot being somewhat messy. The funny thing is, while the plot is messy, there’s some good writing in individual scenes, so it’s possible to give and get good performances even with things being such as they are.

What it boils down to is that it feels uneven and rough, especially when set so closely after the second movie, which was nice and tight. Perhaps if it hadn’t been following on the heels of the second movie, using plot points and secondary characters. Perhaps if it didn’t feel like the second part of a two-parter season ending cliffhanger. But it was and it does, so. Yeah. On its own it’s a perfectly decent piece, but as a sequel to Wrath of Khan it just isn’t quite the same.

January 18, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

January 18, 2011

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

This is an odd-numbered Star Trek movie which means that in accordance with the supposed curse of the Star Trek films it is regarded as lackluster. I think that’s a little unfair, though. It doesn’t live up to the high standard set by Wrath of Khan, but how could it? This movie’s biggest failing, really, is part of its very fabric. The whole purpose of this movie is to undo one of the most impact full dramatic moments in the history of Star Trek. From the moment you see the title of the film, though, you know how it inevitably has to end, so there’s not much suspense involved in the narrative.

What I do like about this movie is how well integrated it is with the second Star Trek movie. Right from the start this movie feels more like a continuation of Wrath of Khan than a stand-alone film. It starts out with footage of Spock’s death and funeral and proceeds directly into the new movie with the badly damaged Enterprise limping home to stardock above Earth. Kirk has a great log entry about how the death of Spock is like an open wound, and there’s a very defeated and melancholy tone to the start of the movie. I also enjoy some of the spooky touches that hint about what has happened to McCoy after his final mind meld with Spock in the climax of the second film. DeForest Kelley does a great impersonation of Leonard Nimoy as Spock a couple times, even doing the trademark raised eyebrow.

So most of the plot of the movie involves the crew trying to recover Spock’s body from the unstable Genesis planet and return it to Vulcan. Starfleet are suddenly complete obstructionist dufuses about returning to Genesis so Kirk and his crew have to dress up in leather jackets and hijack their own ship to do it. (I’m not sure why the leather jackets are obligatory – they soon abandon them in favor of starfleet uniforms) Then they have to deal with an annoying but bumbling Klingon captain (played by Christopher Lloyd) who wants the secret to Genesis for use as the ultimate planet-destroying weapon.

You know – I just watched this movie all the way through and I can honestly say that it feels like not much happens. Maybe it’s the lack of tension. Kirk easily outwits everybody who stands in his way. He kills off practically the entire Klingon crew without having to fire a shot. Sure, his son dies an ignoble death as a hostage in the Klingon’s hands, but aside from that and the destruction of the Enterprise it feels like nothing really goes wrong in this movie. Like I said before, we all know how it has to end, right? Even the preposterous fistfight between the Klingon and Kirk feels almost laughable. (Amanda and I sang the Star Trek fistfight music over it, which seemed to help. “Buh ba BAH ba BAH ba BAH ba ba bah bum!”)

On a more personal note: it did me good to see the fountain from the center of my old college campus which is featured as part of the scenery on Vulcan. It brought back all kinds of old memories – some of which I will probably talk about when we review Real Genius, which was also filmed on the Oxy campus.

Tomorrow we get to watch another even Star Trek film – the more humorous and light-hearted Voyage Home – also directed as this movie was by Leonard Nimoy. I’m looking forward to that.

January 18, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | 4 Comments

Movie 323 – Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – January 17th, 2011

Our Star Trek project continues tonight with what it widely regarded as the best Star Trek movie, featuring the well-known and oft-referenced KHAAAAAAAAAAN! Okay, it’s Khan Noonien Singh, from an episode of the original series, but it’s kind of impossible not to quote Kirk at least once. It’s a memorable movie, with plenty of great moments and action and lines and it was a lot of fun to watch tonight. So much fun that we immediately went and found the reboot and put it in. Not to review, but just because. Ahh, Trek, I love it so.

Where the first movie had the distinct feel of a somewhat bloated episode, this movie flows so much quicker. It’s an episode too, and a rather obvious one, being a follow-up to The Space Seed, where Kirk left Khan and his fellow genetically engineered supermen stranded on a deserted planet. Khan returns here, quickly grabbing hold of the opportunity to take revenge on Kirk and obtain a powerful piece of leverage/weaponry in the process. Of course, it’s a wildly overpowered Macguffin, but that doesn’t matter. It has to be overpowered in order to be an object of desire and it ends up destroyed anyhow. Regardless, it’s a good plot, with some real tension and drama.

We start out with yet another “getting the band back together” type situation, with Kirk no longer the captain of the Enterprise and all. Chekhov has his own command, Spock is running a shakedown flight on the Enterprise with a whole bunch of untried ensigns, and Kirk is running the Kobayashi Maru test. The thing is, while this movie has to get everyone back on the Enterprise, it doesn’t take an hour to do it. It just does it. They need to be on there, and so they are. And I like that. I like how tight the movie is. We get the introduction of the bad guys, we get a quick overview of why Khan’s so pissed and what his background is with Kirk. We meet some secondary characters who have the Genesis project, the Macguffin I mentioned, and then off we go on our rollicking adventure.

One thing I think really distinguishes this movie from the first one is that the enemy is so personal. He’s one man, and he’s a man with an agenda. Yes, V’Ger from the first movie is vast and menacing and overwhelming, but there’s no passion there. It’s almost too alien, despite its eventually revealed origins. Khan, on the other hand, is and always has been a foil for Kirk. He’s brilliant, strong, passionate and sociopathic. And soon enough, he has not only a ship but control over a key crew member. He’s an enemy on Kirk’s level, and that feels more immediately dangerous. Of course, that does mean that it feels less cinematic and more episodic, as I mentioned, but I think it moves better than the first movie did. I’m willing to sacrifice the huge grand scale of the first movie for the more intimate feel of the second if it means such an improvement in pace. And too, they fixed the uniforms, giving everyone a nice rich burgundy. Lovely.

Overall, I think this movie deserves its reputation, fake Ricardo Montalban chest and all. It introduces some good material, follows up on a rich character from the series, has some nice moments for the key cast and also one of the best and most emotional endings I can think of. Spock’s sacrifice and Kirk, McCoy and Scotty’s reactions to it are amazingly well written and well acted and definitely shift the movie from episode to film status. Not to mention that it neatly sets up a pointer to the future. I like how this movie plays with relationships and I like how it takes the best stuff from the series and spins it out. I only wish I’d seen it on the big screen. Still, even on the small screen it’s got a good impact, which is really all I could ask.

January 17, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 2 Comments

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

January 17, 2010

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

The first motion picture proved that Star Trek was a viable commercial vehicle for the big-screen, but it was this movie that proved that a Star Trek movie could be dramatic, action filled and exciting. This movie has great character arcs, emotional moments, some fun action and one of the best bad guys in Trek history.

This is widely regarded as the best Star Trek movie and with good reason – it is simply superb. The first foe that Kirk must face as this movie begins is, amusingly, his birthday. I like that the film makers chose to acknowledge the aging of their cast (Shatner would have been 49 when this movie was made) and it seems appropriate for the characters. Kirk is depressed at the start of this movie because he is an admiral now and not charged with flying a starship. He knows that gallivanting around the universe is a job for the young, but doesn’t know how to live his life on land. (How many science fiction films, much less big franchise tent poles like this, start out with a midlife crisis?)

Soon enough Kirk and his friends find themselves pulled as usual into a conflict that has the potential to imperil the entire galaxy. One of the coolest things about this movies is that it turns out to be a direct sequel to one of the classic television episodes. The bad guy bent on destroying Kirk and all he holds dear is from the original Star Trek Space Seed, where Kirk defeats an attempt to hijack his ship by the 20th century evil mastermind Khan Noonien Sing, whom Kirk himself had rescued from exile in the depths of space. In that episode Kirk left Khan marooned with his followers on an uninhabited planet. In this movie we rediscover Khan on Ceti Alpha V, where a natural disaster has rendered the planet virtually lifeless. Khan takes over the starship Reliant and sets a trap for Kirk with the intention of exacting his revenge. Mixed up in all this is a top secret project called “Genesis” which can create life on a lifeless planet, run by an old ex-girlfriend of Kirk’s – and by his illegitimate son. (I kind of assume that Kirk has many such illegitimate children throughout the galaxy so I found it cool that the film makers found a way to introduce us to one.)

The one possible complaint I could level at this movie is that it is less of an ensemble piece than most Star Trek films. It is a rivalry between two titans – Kirk and Khan, and all the rest of the Star Trek cast take supporting roles. Even the infamous and emotionally devastating character death near the end of the film feels like more a part of Kirk’s story arc than anything else. I don’t suppose it’s a spoiler for anybody any more that Spock selflessly sacrifices his life to save the Enterprise. It’s a brilliant and powerful move that raises a good film to greatness. It also results in a performance from Shatner which is, of all those he has ever delivered, his most… human.

Perhaps it is this very focused attitude that makes the film so great. The space action is placid by today’s standards (and even by the standards of 1982 – which is when Empire Strikes Back came out I believe.) The special effects are miles ahead of those in the first movie, but still aren’t up to the level of later episodes or even to some of the television episodes of the later shows. But the emotional heft of the movie brings it to a higher level.

Tomorrow we embark on the inevitable sequel to this one. For tonight though I’d like to close on a high note. Say it with me now, everyone – “Khaaaaan!”

January 17, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment