Going Boldly Pt 12 (Star Trek Into Darkness, 2013)

ST_Into_Darkness_PosterAfter a pretty successful first outing, the whole team came back. So, my hopes were riding high for another exciting Star Trek film.

But early on I saw a danger sign. They were basically doing a Man of Steel. It was clear that they were going to use Khan.  The film makers denied this aggressively, especially after Benicio Del Toro left and was replaced by Benedict Cumberbatch.

When the film begins, it starts out okay, I guess…I mean, they still have not started their five year mission yet, and I have no idea why this could not have been set within that…but Kirk and crew save a primitive civilization from extinction and this gets Kirk demoted. But when a terrorist named John Harrison attacks Star Fleet headquarters killing Captain Pike, the Enterprise crew is sent to kill Harrison on the command of Admiral Marcus.

When they find Harrison, Kirk gives into his conscience and takes Harrison Prisoner.  As they speak with him, they discover is is actually leader of a genetic super community.  His advanced intellect is being used by dark areas of the Federation called Section 31…this knowledge puts the Enterprise in danger and they must work with Khan.

Clearly, Abrams, Orci and Kurtzman thought using Khan would excite fans, after all, we all loved Wrath of Khan, right?

Except, Khan and his vengeance had tremendous weight because Kirk and Khan had a history dating back to the original series.  This creates a tension that this film cannot recreate, quite simply because they do not know who Khan is. In fact, they have to reach out to Old Spock to have him give the rundown, because Khan is not even famous historically here.

They also try and flip the Wrath of Khan’s ending by having Kirk Sacrifice himself and send Spock to capture Khan.  Except, when Spock gave his life in the Wrath of Khan, it hit the viewer. We were losing a friend for the good of the many. And here? Kirk is barely dead two minutes and we find out they can resurrect him…and they do…we never get to feel worry or loss for Kirk…he was never in danger.

This film is just lacking the emotional resonance that it is attempting to duplicate. It is an empty and uninspired adventure.

Boldly Going Pt 11 (Star Trek, 2009)

ST_Kelvin_2009_PosterIt is often not really a great sign when a franchise seems to go dormant. After the struggle at the box office with Nemesis and a large amount of negative fan reaction, Paramount’s Star Trek team started trying to figure out new ideas, most which put the Next Generation Crew out to pasture.

Eventually, they opted to focus more on the Television side while they tried to crack a new approach.  And then they reached out to J.J. Abrams. He and his team came up with an idea… what if we went back to the beginning? What if we go back and meet the Enterprise crew all over again? Captain Kirk? Mr. Spock?

This seemed like a risky proposition…the original cast was tied to those characters and the idea of bringing new actors in to give the crew new life and adventures had a huge chance of going wrong.

Abrams chose to go back to the start of the series…but with a twist.  On the day James T Kirk is born, his father sacrifices himself as a Romulan ship appears from a black hole. In the original series, Kirk grew up with his father…and with this change Kirk grows into a rebellious and responsibility avoiding lout. But one night in a bar, he meets Cadet Urhura- and ends up in a fight with several of her fellow cadets. The fight is ended by Captain Christopher Pike who convinces Kirk to apply to Starfleet.

Kirk’s recklessness in the academy puts him at odds with the Vulcan Spock.  But when the Romulan ship reappears 25 years leader, Bones helps get Kirk on the  Enterprise and the crew must face the mad Romulan and also deal with interpersonal conflicts.

The casting of the film is interesting, as only Zachary Quinto bears any likeness too Nimoy. Yet, give Karl Urban the right haircut and let him channel DeForrest Kelley and he is uncanny in his likeness.  Really, the entire cast does so well, that I quickly found myself not paying attention to the details that said it is not the same person. This cast is… well, a lot of fun to watch. They have a real chemistry and work very well together.

I confess, I am one of those people who kind of gets annoyed when Trek has a prequel series with better tech than the original series.  I get this is mostly due to budget changes and better tech for film and television. But it always bugs me a bit to see a setting from before the original series with sleeker tri-corders. However, here? I find it pretty easy to excuse this world on the simple “history has changed” rationale.

The Enterprise here is bright and vibrant and feels wide open in a way prior television and film never really managed.

The film took some heat for being a little more Star Wars than Star Trek, and Abrams has openly stated he was always more of a Star Wars guy.  This is true of me as well.  I like Trek, but Wars was always a bit more my jam. And so, I do not really dispute the criticism, but for me it is a bit of a bonus.

The villain Nero is kind of lackluster…Eric Bana is not really given room to flap his wings. He almost feels like an afterthought.  While I enjoy seeing Nimoy return to the role of Spock, I also feel like he is being used in the film to shortcut mountains… specifically the relationship of Kirk and Spock.  Theirs is a friendship that feels deep and real because we got to spend decades with it. Here, Old Spock has to give pushes to Kirk and his younger self in the right direction. It feels a bit like a cheat.

Oh…and all the damn lens flares…

But those points aside, this was an incredibly fun new approach to characters we know and love and begin to get to know again.  It is a blast and a new start that had me very excited for the next film.

Oh foolish youth.

Boldly Going Pt 10 (Star Trek: Nemesis, 2002)

ST_Nemesis_PosterSo, after the disappointing returns the studio brought in the director of Executive Decision, Stuart Baird, and John Logan, the screen writer of the Time Machine.

The Romulans are in turmoil and during a high level meeting of their government, there is an assassination of the council.  Shinzon is installed as their leader.

Picard and the Enterprise are lured to a remote planet by a unique signal that is emitted by androids like Data.  They discover the pieces of an Android named B-4. Once assembled they try and determine how he got to the planet and his purpose.  It turns out that he has a connection to Shinzon.

When he meets with Picard, it is revealed that he is actually a clone of Picard from an abandoned secret  Romulan project. Shinzon is deteriorating and needs the genetics of Picard to stop it.

To be honest?  This is the film that nearly killed the franchise.  It is a dreary and dark mess.  The characters do not feel like themselves and the attempts at epic game changers just do not feel like they were at all committed. Data’s self sacrifice would probably feel more heavy hearted if there was not already an onscreen replacement. When Troi is literally mind raped, she requests to step down and Picard refuses to allow it, asking her to endure more.

Even scenes that feel like they should be exciting adventures are just lifeless.

Nemesis is a disappointing slog.  True story, I tried to watch this film five different times in the years since it came out and fell asleep until the fifth time.  I recently watched it again. I did manage to stay awake, but boy was it not a good time.

Boldly Going Pt 9 (Star Trek: Insurrection, 1998)

ST_Insurrection_PosterAfter a rousing success with First Contact, Jonathan Frakes returned to the directors chair with Insurrection.

When Data goes haywire as part of an undercover science team observing a small community on a remote planet, the Enterprise is called to investigate.

When they arrive, the peaceful Ba’ku are discovered to be aging very slowly. As they dig deeper, they realize there is a dark conspiracy at play to remove the Ba’Ku so the planet’s unique radiation can be harvested.

Picard and his crew, of course, side with the Ba’ku and work to stop the attempt to forcefully re-home them.

This film seems to be a less popular entry…but honestly? I do not think this is the film is “bad”.

Largely, Star Trek films lean towards a larger and more “epic” adventure. Stories bigger than the TV series would have allowed.  But Insurrection is a pretty small scale story.  And it feels like it easily could have been at home as another episode of the Next Generation.  But this is not a bad thing.

Insurrection is an action film with small level ethical questions.  And it is a lot of fun.  They lean into jokes where the crew all start to feel re-invigorated by the planet…and even find sone ways to make it a bit meaningful (as Geordie’s eyes heal and he is able to watch a sunrise in a way he never has been able to in his life).

There is some nice twists with the villains and F. Murray Abraham rages like a master.

Is this up there with the best of film Trek? No, but it is a solid Star Trek tale that is a lot of fun.

Boldly Going Pt 8 (Star Trek: First Contact, 1996)

ST_First_Contact_PosterFor the Sophomore voyage of the Next Generation crew, they pulled a Wrath of Khan and a Voyage Home.  They reached back to a central villain from the the series, the Borg, and added time travel.

Picard is still haunted by a voice from his time in the Borg Collective. When he senses the Borg are mounting an attack on the Earth, he is surprised to learn that the Federation feels there is too much risk for him to be there and command that the Enterprise patrol the neutral zone.

Picard and the crew decide they cannot sit things out. They arrive to find that the Borg are on the verge of victory, but Picard gives the fleet the orders to hit the right coordinates to destroy the Borg ship.  A small escape ship trails out and the Enterprise follows it, only for it to open a rift in tine and space, they realize as they follow, time is changing around them, the Borg have gone to the past to assimilate a defenseless pre-Federation Earth.

The Borg manage to damage a small community that happens to be the base of operations of the first man to achieve Warp Speed just days before his flight. After the Borg ship is destroyed, the Enterprise crew sets about making sure the flight happens.

But while Riker and his team work to correct history, the Borg managed to get to the Enterprise before their ship was destroyed and Picard must lead the charge against the attempts by the Borg to take over the Enterprise and its crew.

First Contact is highly regarded, and not unjustly.  It is easily one of the best of the entire film series.  The Borg provide a new perspective on Picard and pairing him with Alfre Woodard’s 21st Century Lily (who ends up trapped on the Enterprise) is a perfect choice as she is able to see past his authority and is not afraid to call Picard out in a moment of machismo.

The film mines a lot of humor from Zefram Cochran’s unwillingness to embrace the hero Geordi and Riker expect him to be.

There is a lot going on with themes of heroism, revenge, blinded by one’s perceived righteous anger and fear of the demands others place on you.

The performances, from the regular cast to Alice Krige as the Borg Queen, James Cromwell as Zefram Cochran and the previously mentioned Alfre Woodard are some of the best of the franchise.

The film holds up as a true high water mark for what the Star trek Franchise can be and is easily rewarding for multiple visits.

 

Boldly Going Pt 7 (Star Trek: Generations, 1994)

ST_Generations_PosterComing only a few months after the Next Generation series came to a close, Generations was to be the film to bridge the original series and the Next Generation.

And there was a hope that it might bring together both crews in an exciting meeting of titans so to speak.

Opening in 2093, the new ship the Excelsior is making it’s maiden flight.  Kirk, Scotty and Chekov are part of the celebration when the ship encounters a distress signal. They beam the inhabitants to their ship, but in an accident, it appears Kirk was killed.

The film jumps to the present (I mean, for the Next Generation Crew) where they are having a celebration. They answer a distress call from a science vessel. There they discover a scientist who claims they were attacked by Romulans.

The scientist wants to get back to his experiment, to the point of attacking the crew.  Picard learns that he is part of the same long lived race as Guinan and he is trying to get to another dimension known as the Nexus. But doing so could be highly destructive. Add to the mix Klingon mercenary sisters who are working with the scientist and things look bad for the Enterprise Crew.

Picard ultimately finds himself alone with the mad scientist on a planet where he must try and stop him…but he finds an ally in a man thought long dead.

To be honest, for a long time I just did not like this film.  I came to realize that this was mainly due to the fact that it was not what I wanted it to be.  Only Picard and Kirk meet. And upon revisiting the film recently, I think I hold this one up a bit higher than in the past.  There are some things I really enjoy.

Everyone is great, but I confess I find Stewart and Spiner to be the MVPs here. Stewart gives real heart to Picard who is suddenly facing a sense that maybe he made the wrong choice in never having a family.

Meanwhile, Data opts to install and activate his emotion chip.  At first, this is mined for humor, with Data recalling jokes from early in the television series and discovering-with joy- that he hates a particular drink. However, he starts to become overwhelmed by his emotions, ultimately becoming paralyzed with fear, leaving Geordi to be taken captive.

They try and up the stakes with the destruction of the Enterprise, which is a pretty exciting crash sequence.

Is Generations the movie a younger me wanted?  No. Is it a better film for not being what the younger me wanted?  Yes.

Boldly Going Pt 6 (Star Trek VI: the Undiscovered Country, 1991)

ST_The_Undiscovered_Country_PosterStar Trek: the Next Generation was a good half way through its run when the work began on the final voyage of the original crew. Plans were already underway to transition the theatrical films to bring on the Next Generation crew. To try and set up a solid sendoff for Kirk and his crew, they brought back the director of the Wrath of Khan, Nicholas Meyer. The film revolves around plans for the Federation and the Klingon Empire to make peace and join together.

Kirk is not thrilled to be assigned to this, and aside from Spock, the crew begrudgingly following their orders. After a tense dinner with the Klingon Chancellor and his team the Chancellor is murdered and Kirk and McCoy framed and sent to a Klingon Prison Moon.

This forces the rest of the crew to solve the conspiracy and save Kirk and McCoy.

Does the Undiscovered Country work and achieve its goals? I would say that it does succeed. The Conspiracy is not overly complicated and the goals make sense. This allows the tight time frame the characters are working in to not work things out blindly.

It also closes things out feeling like while the crew’s futures are open, we the audience have a real sense of closure. There are some nice little touches like Michael Dorn appearing as Worf’s Grandfather as the Defense for Kirk and McCoy in their trial.

It also has some really good performances (Plummer really chews the scenery with grand pomposity) and great action sequences. It is interesting to see the role “government politics” tend to play in this film, as it often is not something the films really have had a lot of interest in. It was more of an aspect that grew within the later television shows.

While no Wrath of Khan or First Contact, this is a really enjoyable entry within the Star Trek Canon.

Boldly Going Pt 5 (Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, 1989)

ST_the_Final_Frontier_PosterAfter the success Leonard Nimoy had with the Voyage Home, William Shatner had the desire to try his hand at directing a feature film (he had directed some episodes of the show T.J. Hooker a few years prior).

Opening with a stranger approaching a drifter on the plains of a remote planet Nimbus III, the stranger talks to the drifter of pain and releasing the pain. We then visit Kirk, Spock and McCoy on a camping trip where they enjoy roasting marshmallows and trying to get Spock to enjoy singing “Row Your Boat”.

The three are called to a newly built (and glitchy Enterprise) to face a new crisis occurring at Nimbus III. There they  run into the mysterious Stranger, revealed to be the Vulcan Sybock. Sybock has cast away the Vulcan adherence to logic and embraced his emotions. He also seems to be able to convert people to his message quickly. They arrest Sybok, not realizing that this is what he wants. Once on board, he manages a mutiny by converting the crew, leaving Kirk, Spock and Bones on the run within the enterprise.

The Final Frontier is often ridiculed as terrible.  Instead of a threat like a mysterious probe or a revenge seeker from the past, the movie pontificates on the nature of pain and whether God needs a starship.

But you know…this time around? I had some fun.  This is a flawed film, but honestly, Sybok is an interesting character. And there is some fun moments throughout.  There is a solid moment where Sybok is facing “God”…and he realizes the being simply took advantage of Sybok’s ego to find importance that is a real terrific performance moment by Laurence Luckenbill.

The film makes it it pretty clear that this is a trapped alien intelligence, not “God” and the resolution feels pretty uninspired. Really, this plot almost feels like it would have been more at home as an episode of the Original Series. And considering that by this time, the Q Continuum had been introduced, the idea almost feels repetitive.  And since the Next Generation explored Q better, there is nothing that feels…meaty here.  But I have to say, I don’t think the Final Frontier is so much outright bad as it just lacks any real impact for the characters, the franchise or the audience.

Boldly Going Pt 4 (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, 1986)

ST_the_Voyage_Home_PosterPicking up right after the Search for Spock,, the Voyage Home has the crew preparing to return home and face their punishment for  the actions they took to save Spock. But  as they near Earth, they find a strange ship has arrived at the the planet. Causing devastation across the planet from the attempts to communicate, the Enterprise Crew discovers the only way to solve the problem is to locate hump backed whales.  However, the whales went extinct.  This forces the crew to attempt to go back to the 1980’s.

They discover that there is a pair of whales in captivity.  Kirk sets about having the group split up to prepare the spaceship to transport whales back to the future.

Star Trek the Voyage Home is interesting.  On the one hand, it ties back to a popular trope of the series, with time travel. It also returns to the idea of a mysterious and destructive probe threatening the earth. But it has a rather large tonal shift. There are no space battles and the film largely plays out as a fish out of water comedy.

This causes the film to rely heavily on character moments.  We see this mainly in Kirk’s attempts to convince a young scientist to help him with the whales. The Voyage Home really mines a lot of humor from the whole “out of their time” bit. Really, this is such a warm hearted romp, and is sort of outside of any of the other Trek films.  I love how the film never really explains the mysterious probe. It fits in with a point that Spock makes early in the film. It is arrogance to assume that an alien presence seeking to communicate with intelligent life would automatically be trying to communicate with humans. Keeping that a mystery for the audience just as much as the characters in the movie is a stroke of perfection.

As I noted, this is a really unique film in the Star Trek film franchise.  It is a lot of fun, and is a well loved entry in the franchise for good reason.

Boldly Going Pt III (Star Trek III: the Search for Spock, 1984)

ST_the_Search_For_Spock_PosterSo, as Leonard Nimoy grew older, he had a desire to direct.  He set forth to get the option to direct the third film, and bring Spock back to the family.

Now, the Wrath of Khan ended with Spock sacrificing himself to save the crew of the Enterprise. They shot his casket to a nearby lifeless planet with the Genesis project.

Back on Earth, they discover that McCoy is… not himself.  It is discovered that Spock actually transferred his soul into the body of Bones.  The crew of the Enterprise steal their ship to head to the Genesis Planet and see what became of Spock’s body.

Meanwhile, Klingon Commander Kruge is convinced that Project Genesis was a federation weapon with the aims of destroying the Klingon Empire and he is determined to get ahold of the weapon.

Mr. Saavik and David are exploring the planet surface, noticing many anomalies. But then they discover a Vulcan child. They realize this is the body of Spock…and he is aging rapidly.  The source of this is that he is connected to the planet itself, and the planet is coming apart at the seams.

It is interesting that while Klingon’s were always a threat, other than their brief appearance in the motion picture, this film is the one that sets them up as a bigger focus of hate for Kirk. Christopher Lloyd is great as our main villain, Commander Kruge.  I am always amused that when they got movie budgets, the franchise remade the Klingon race.  This has lead to all sorts of retcons (the most fun being the Deep Space 9 Tribble episode where Worf basically tells Sisko that the Klingon’s do not talk about it).

This one aims to be a bit smaller in scale, but it is exciting and a solid feature film debut for Nimoy as a director. DeForest Kelley is really entertaining as Bones, who is struggling with the second person occupying his body.

I feel bad for Nichelle Nichols, because at first she has a decent sized presence, but then she disappears after they take the Enterprise and shows up “at the rendezvous point” on Vulcan at the end.

I always remembered the Search for Spock as being a bit weaker than it actually is. And it certainly got treated as such with the old adage that the even numbered films are “the good ones”.  But this is entertaining, and has some neat moments. And also begins the Star Trek trope of “We gotta blow up or crash the Enterprise!” But I like this entry.