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Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 & 1978) – Review

17 Dec

Science fiction is one of my absolute favorite genres because of how it can take problems of today and morph it into something that seems very unbelievable but also shockingly familiar. This is something that is explored to the fullest in the classic 1956 sci fi shocker, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Released as a double bill with The Atomic ManInvasion of the Body Snatchers turned into something so much more than a well received B-movie. It’s become a classic film that’s regarded as one of the best of the genre. Not only that, but it’s remake from 1978 comes close to matching its greatness while also being considered one of the best remakes ever to be produced. You can’t go wrong with that, so I’m thrilled to finally get to talk about these classic films.

Let’s start with the 1956 original.

After being called back to town from a health conference, Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) is surprised to see a mental health problem affecting many people in the neighborhood. Multiple people seem to believe that their loved ones aren’t really who they say they are and, while they look exactly as they should, are actually imposters. While investigating this strange phenomena, Miles gets back together with an old girlfriend, Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter), whose own cousin is suffering from one of these “delusions.” When Miles’ friends Jack (King Donovan) and Theodora (Carolyn Jones) Belicec find a body in their house that looks just like Jack, it occurs to everyone that these accusations about imposters may not be so far fetched after all. With more and more people becoming closed off in the town, and with the FBI being completely unreachable, Jack and Dana have to pull together to get out of the town safely and warn the rest of the world about the “pod people.” But with imposters surrounding them, who can they really trust?

I first watched this movie back in college when I took a whole class on the Horror genre. Invasion of the Body Snatchers has been lauded as a masterpiece of science fiction, but also horror. I personally lean towards the side of horror because there’s something very unsettling about this film, and that has to be at least partially why this movie has stood the test of time. Sure, it is tame compared to sci fi horrors that come out today, but the black and white cinematography make the darkness feel extra dark and the soulless way the pod people move in complete unison at times is creepier than some of the more graphic scares of modern genre examples. This original movie also has one of the most exciting climaxes in this sci fi/horror genre which involves Miles running down a highway, desperate for people to heed his warning. Don Siegel’s exciting direction and Jack McCarthy’s terrified expressions make this whole segment a classic.

When this movie first came out, tensions were high and the Cold War was raging. People who worked on the movie have said that it was never their intention to write a movie that had any sort of political or societal message to it. That’s absolutely ridiculous to say. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a brilliant look at not only tensions between the Soviet Union and America, but also the plague of McCarthyism that was tearing America apart and also the soul crushing drabness of suburbia. This is an intelligent examination of the whole state of affairs in mid-1950s America, so I can’t believe anyone would say that this is just an alien invasion movie and that’s that. If that’s what you believe, I feel like you’re missing out on a lot of what makes Invasion of the Body Snatchers such a classic.

What more can I say about this movie? Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a masterpiece of science fiction and horror. It’s a slow burn of a movie that doesn’t have any over the top scares, but there’s a looming sense of dread, despair, and hopelessness that clouds the entire movie and makes the suspense feel all the more urgent. This is a really fun example of a B-movie that was released on a double bill that was destined to be so much more. I absolutely love this movie.

Final Grade: A

Normally remakes are a touchy subject and I’ll be the first to admit that. In this case, however, the remake is well worth the time and can be considered a timely classic all its own. How often can you really say that?

After discovering a rare form of plant species, Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams), who works for the San Francisco Health Department decides to investigate further. While her research leads her to a dead end, her suspicions are still aroused after her husband begins behaving like a mindless drone that barely even recognizes her. She voices her fears to her coworker Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland), who is at first unsure, but begins believing her when strange things begin happening all over the city that sound directly related to her predicament. Bennell brings Elizabeth to his friend and pop psychiatrist, Dr. Kibner (Leonard Nimoy), who assuredly tells her that everything is ok. Things quickly go south when their other friends, Jack (Jeff Goldblum) and Nancy (Veronica Cartwright) Bellicic find a body in their massage parlor that looks exactly like Jack. As their investigation continues, it turns out no one can be trusted and extra terrestrial forces are closing in to take over their lives and eradicate the entire human race.

Take everything that’s super cool about the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers and expand on it to make it even cooler. That pretty much sums up the 1978 remake. More thought is put into explaining where the seeds that create the pods come from and the transformation of the regular humans into pod people is graphically shown. Philip Kaufman and his team clearly took the time and effort to create special effects that worked great for the time, without ever really overdoing it, and also using the camera and location to help tell the story better. One scene in particular has the camera dizzyingly following Donal Sutherland’s character threw the crowded streets of San Francisco. This clearly illustrates how alone, scared, and paranoid the character is without ever putting it into words. Not to mention, this movie has one of the most startling, bone chilling endings ever put to celluloid. That all being said, there are some flaws with this movie that don’t quite appear in the original.

In the original film, the relationship between Bennell and Driscoll is very natural and is a very believable and entertaining part of the story. It brings romance into the story, but it feels like a proper fit. In the remake, however, this romance is shoehorned into the plot and feels like a total afterthought. It’s one of those things where it really isn’t a huge problem, but it seemed so out of place that it took me out of the movie, and that’s the last thing you really want to have happen when you’re so sucked into it. This movie is also a lot longer than the original, which also isn’t a terrible thing. It just didn’t feel quite as tight, but the fact that the plot took its time also helps build the characters, lore, and suspense. The strongest part of this movie, and something that makes these tiny flaws feel super insignificant, is how the dread and suspicion and paranoia is turned up to 11. The late 1970s was a very different time than the mid 1950s, but that doesn’t mean people still weren’t afraid. The time of peace and love was coming to an end and the era of Watergate was upon them. It doesn’t quite have the same punch as the 1956 version, but the societal jabs are still there.

If you were to ask me if I’d rather watch the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers or the remake, I’d really have to think about it. The 1978 version ramps up the horror and special effects while also making the invading spores something much more physical and explained. There are a few storytelling hinderances that I can’t ignore, but this truly is one of the greatest remakes ever to be made. It’s smart, well acted, impeccably shot, and still provides all the scares that a fan of the genre can hope for. I’d say it’s just as good as the original, and if not that it’s pretty darn close.

Final Grade: A-

So there’s the first two films of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Both are excellent movies with their own strengths and weaknesses, but sci fi/horror really doesn’t get too much better than this. I’ll also be reviewing a few other remakes, Abel Ferrara’s 1993 film Body Snatchers and Oliver Hirschbiegel’s 2007 film, The Invasion.

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Star Trek Beyond – Review

26 Jul

Let me just say this right off the bat. I love Star Trek, and by “love it,” I mean to say it’s one of my favorite things in the entire United Federation of Planets. That being said, I’m completely fine with admitting that it is certainly not a perfect franchise. A perfect case and point would be the 1989 stinker, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. But that was a long time ago, and now we have movies in this continuing series made with a much bigger budget and newer, younger actors playing the iconic roles. The reboot of Star Trek was pretty good and Star Trek Into Darkness was great. So where does that leave Star Trek Beyond? To put it simply, this is not a perfect movie, but it’s a more than adequate summer blockbuster and a nice fit with the previous lore that was established in the original series.

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After passing the two and a half year mark of their five year mission, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is starting to lose sight of this mission’s purpose. While the USS Enterprise is docked at the Federation’s most technologically advanced starbase, Yorktown, a distress transmission and escape pod is received which prompts Kirk, Spock (Zacahry Quinto), McCoy (Karl Urban) and the rest of the team to travel to the source of the distress call. While en route, the Enterprise is attacked and destroyed by Krall (Idris Elba), a vengeful being looking for something of high importance on board Kirk’s ship. Now stranded on the planet’s surface and on the run from Krall and his army, the crew of the now destroyed Enterprise must band back together after being separated and stop Krall from unleashing his master plan upon the Federation.

The first thing I noticed after the movie was over and I began thinking about it was that it felt like a really long Star Trek episode, and isn’t that really what it’s all about? If the formula of something is so good and malleable that it has lasted 50 years, why change it now? There have been countless episodes with people stuck on a planet with some sort of antagonist, and it usually ends up with their clashing and Kirk’s shirt ripping. This takes that premise and ups the ante by a lot. The budget for Star Trek Beyond was obviously huge and it shows in some of the more impressive action set pieces. One scene in particular involving a Beastie Boys song on full blast kind of stole the show for me. This is a very exciting movie, and might be the most action packed of the rebooted movies thus far. That being said, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of Star Trek Into Darkness because of some key reasons that bothered me a little.

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Right from the trailer, I knew that most of this movie would not take place on the Enterprise, and it turns out that I was correct. This is a little disappointing for me because a lot of the joy I get from Star Trek is watching these incredibly skilled characters work and operate as a team on their starship. The team work is still there in this movie, of course, but most of it happens on the planet’s surface instead of on the bridge of a ship. This is quickly rectified in the last third of the movie, which is stunning to say the least, but I would’ve like to see more on the Enterprise. Also, I feel like some of the characters were underutilized. Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Sulu (John Cho) are pretty much held hostage for a large chunk of the movie while McCoy and Spock are just walking around trying to find people. The characters that get to see most of the action are Kirk and Chekov (Anton Yelchin), who really seem to be at the center of the action for most of the film, and Scotty (Simon Pegg) who meets a really cool character named Jayla (Sofia Boutella) and helps her repair her ship. Krall doesn’t even have much to do until the very end, but like I said, that third act is a real wild ride.

It’s surprising that it wasn’t very widespread that year marks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and that this film was pushed back so it could be kind of a celebration for the franchise. Star Trek Beyond, and really all of the movies in the rebooted series, pay a lot of respect to the original television show and movies. For one thing, Leonard Nimoy has been in them, and even is given plenty of recognition in this film, which was great to see since Nimoy passed away early last year. I already mentioned that this film felt like a long episode of the original series, and in a way that’s the perfect homage to a show that changed t.v. and get people talking. There’s one scene in particular near the end that recognizes the original show and pays tribute so well, it plastered a great big smile on my face.

Despite some mild disappointment with certain aspects of the story and characters, it’s impossible for me to say that Star Trek Beyond was a bad movie. In fact, it was a very good movie, and I liked it way more than I thought I would. All of the actors really know who their characters are and play them really well, while also interacting with each other very well. The passing of both Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin does add some sadness to the experience, but nothing is lost because of it. Star Trek Beyond provides fans and newcomers alike with some great action, entertainment, and drama while the franchise keeps succeeding at its mission of boldly taking audiences where no one has gone before.

Star Trek (1979-1991) Review – Part 2

17 Jul

In my previous review, I took a look at the first three Star Trek films which spanned from 1979 to 1984. I still have three movies to get through, however, and this time we start in the year 1986. The Search for Spock proved to be, for many, an acceptable entry into the series but lacking whatever it was that made The Wrath of Khan so good. I personally really enjoyed the third film, but I’ve already discussed that. With The Voyage Home, writer/director/vulcan Leonard Nimoy wraps up the trilogy that consists of the second, third, and fourth film and also brings the crew into a time that may seem much more familiar.

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James Kirk (William Shatner), the reborn Spock (Leonard Nimoy, McCoy (DeForest Kelley) and the rest of the Enterprise crew are on Vulcan with their damaged Bird-of-Prey ship ready to head back to Earth to stand on trial for the events of the third film. As they are heading back, they receive a distress message from Starfleet saying that a mysterious probe is scanning the Earth and sending a secret message while completely ripping apart the planet’s atmosphere at the same time. Spock, in one of his most brilliant and convoluted deductions to date realizes that it is the song of humpback whales, which have been extinct for over a hundred years. The crew then sling shot back in time to 1986 where they find two humpback whales in captivity and cared for by Dr. Gillian Taylor (Catherine Hicks). Along with the doctor, Kirk and his team assemble everything they need to get home and also plan on a way to bring the whales back to the future to answer the probe’s call and save the Earth.

Wow, right? As absolutely ridiculous this whole plot sounds, this is actually one of, if not the best, movie of the entire series. To people who haven’t seen it, that might sound very farfetched, but to those who have seen it, you know exactly why. After the dark tone of the third film, The Voyage Home is a wonderfully lighthearted film but never pushes the boundaries into excessive glee. It’s just so much fun watching this technologically advanced group of people that we love so much trying to navigate the foreign world of 1986. This provides a lot of comedy and funny situations for the crew to get in, and there’s even a good ecological message about saving the whales thrown in. That whole message probably sounds beaten to death, but it works for this movie very well.

While The Voyage Home is definitely the most light hearted in the entire series, it holds up just as well as one of the best of the bunch. Knowing the characters helps a lot and seeing them try to live in this kind of environment is good for a lot of laughs and a fair share of excitement. The plot is ridiculous, yes, but the writing, characters, and effects are all top notch and loads of fun.

Then…

Oh, then it happened…

The year was 1989. The story arc of the previous three movies had ended and Leonard Nimoy is no longer interested in sitting in the director’s chair, but there was still a demand from Star Trek fans. Who would want the adventures of Kirk and Spock and all the rest to end? Well, that still doesn’t excuse the abomination…the catastrophe…that is The Final Frontier.

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Finally earning some down time after the unbelievable work that they are faced with time and again, the crew of the newly commissioned Enterprise are on Earth and enjoying themselves. Of course, this doesn’t last too long when human, Romulan, and Klingon ambassadors are taken hostage on the planet Nimbus III by a renegade Vulcan, Sybock (Laurence Luckinbill). The Enterprise is then forced to end their shore leave and go to Nimbus III to stop Sybock and his followers. Things begin getting strange aboard the Enterprise after Sybock is taken aboard, however, when it appears that members of the crew begin looking at him as some sort of spiritual guide. Not everything is at it seems and all are stunned when Sybock’s true mission is revealed and just how close his relation to Spock apparently is.

I think I might’ve given this movie a hard time in my little introduction I wrote for it. Then again, maybe not. I’m not quite sure. All I’m sure of is that this movie is a complete joke when it comes to the lore of Star Trek. Kirk, McCoy, and Spock sing in the woods, Scotty bangs his head on rafters, and Uhura does a sexy dance to distract guards. What the hell is going on? This is a weird movie, to put it nicely. It’s like that really bad episode of Star Trek that’s so bad it can’t even be enjoyed that much. Think of it as season 3 episode 1, Spock’s Brain. It’s stupid on every level and the cheesiness can’t even save it.

While The Final Frontier may be considered the bottom of the barrel when it comes to this series, it did have some humor in it that made me chuckle and it was nice to see the characters in another adventure. Truth be told it did feel more like Star Trek than the first film, and that’s saying something. If I had a choice to watch the 1979 film or this one, I’d probably choose this one because at least I wasn’t bored. Still, it is a pretty awful movie with very little redeeming qualities at all. If you thought whales were a crazy plot device, this one will blow your mind. It’s a completely shallow entry… Did I mention it was directed by William Shatner?

Well, the end of the series finally came in 1991 with the sixth entry, The Undiscovered Country.

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When the Klingon moon of Praxis explodes, their home world’s ozone layer begins to waste away giving them just 50 years of survival left. In order to save the Klingon race, Star Fleet decides to hold a peace talk in order to do away with the Klingon Neutral Zone and all of the hostilities between the two factions. Without any permission to do so and much to Kirk’s frustration, Spock volunteers the Enterprise to transport the Klingon ambassador Gorkon (David Warner) to Earth for the council. Gorkon is soon assassinated with the blame place on Kirk and McCoy by the Klingon Chang (Christopher Plummer), Gorkon’s chief of staff. Now begins a race against time for Kirk to get out of the screwy Klingon justice and lead the Enterprise to the new secret location of the peace talks to prevent another possible assassination attempt, this time on the president.

In terms of a send off for the original Star Trek crew, this couldn’t have been a better movie. After the wreck that was The Final Frontier, it was nice to see a more than decent entry in the series. This one almost plays out like a spy thriller, and definitely has Cold War undertones concerning miscommunication, deception, paranoia, and finger pointing which leads to violence. It’s a smartly written movie that has plenty of action, adventure, humor, and politics that I’ve come to expect from Star Trek as a whole. This movie also gets pretty violent at times, even though the outcome looks pretty fake by today’s standards. Other than some wonky special effects in the beginning, this is actually one of the better looking movies in the entire series.

The Undiscovered Country may not be on the same level as The Wrath of KhanThe Search for Spock, or The Voyage Home but it still is a really good movie. The ending itself is bittersweet because we know this is the last adventure we are going to have with this crew, but we also think back to the many episodes and movies that we had to see where they would take us. Sure this is me getting sentimental, but I love Star Trek and this movie is a great reminder as to why it’s so easy to fall in love with a franchise like this.

Well, that’s it. That’s all the original Star Trek movies. Overall, there’s more good than there is bad which isn’t too surprising. From the sorrow of Spock’s death in The Wrath of Khan to the joy that is felt when Chekov has the worst time trying to get people’s attention on the modern streets of San Francisco, the Star Trek movies are science fiction adventure at some of its very best. They may not reach the artistic designs of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but they do have characters and stories that are timeless.

Star Trek (1979-1991) – Review Part I

8 Jul

Star Trek is one of those shows that changed the way people watched television and is definitely a prime example of something that was way ahead of its time. From philosophical question to sociological arguments to the first interracial kiss ever broadcast, this show changed things for the better. Other than that, it also provided some excellent science fiction adventure with a group of characters that have only become more beloved as time went on. It’s surprising that the original series only lasted 3 seasons. What isn’t surprising is that that wasn’t the end. After the third series ended, Star Trek: The Animated Series finished off the final two of their five year mission, but the films are what people seem to remember the most. From 1979 to 1991, six films were released, some of which define cinematic excellence and some that make me think if the film makers ever watched Star Trek.

The first of the films to be released is the appropriately named Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

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Some years after being head of the U.S.S. Enterprise, Admiral James Kirk (William Shatner) now holds a high ranking position in Starfleet, but longs for the days in which he was traveling the unknown reaches of space. He soon gets his chance to step back into the captain’s chair when an enormous space cloud is seen destroying Klingon war ships (woo!) but also heading straight for Earth (boo!). It’s up to Kirk and his trusty crew including Spock (Leonard Nimoy), McCoy (Deforest Kelley), Scotty (James Doohan), and Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) to pilot the Enterprise onto the course of the cloud and learn how to stop whatever it is controlling it. What the crew learns about the cloud is shocking to say the least, and relates back to Earth in a much more direct way than they could have possibly imagined.

At the start of this movie, it really feels like you’re back into Star Trek. Klingons, murderous space clouds, and Earth in peril are all ingredients to make this a successful movie. Well, too bad director Robert Wise was more interested in making a rip off of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Don’t be fooled by the name Star Trek. This is nothing like it, and what’s worse it is unbelievably boring! For example, the first time we see the Enterprise with Kirk is supposed to be a special moments since he hasn’t seen it, and at the time neither had audiences, for quite a while. Instead of making it a nice moment, the scene goes on and on and on with shots of Kirk looking at the ship, Kirk looking at Scotty, space, and random bullshit. I swear it goes on for at least ten minutes. There are many scenes like that and a really random, trippy sequence that also seems to go on forever.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture has all the right parts to make it a cool science fiction movie and an acceptable entry to the Star Trek franchise. All of the plot elements are in place, and towards the end it starts getting really cool, but unfortunately that doesn’t completely save the movie. This is the longest of the original Star Trek movies and it really doesn’t need to be considering the narrative material. Overlong scenes of just space and environments might have worked in Kubrick’s space ballet that is 2001, but it obviously is the completely wrong way to go about doing a Star Trek film.

The series really needed help to get it out of the mire. Enter a new director, new writers, and a story that wraps up a season 1 episode and we have the miracle that is Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

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On a routine mission for Starfleet, Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig) is sent to investigate a planet that just so happens to be where Kirk banished an old enemy, Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Monalbán) a genetically enhanced dictator from 20th century Earth. Khan has vengeance in his soul for Admiral Kirk, who is back at Starfleet headquarters working with Spock to train the new cadets, one being an overachieving Vulcan, Saavik (Kirstie Alley). The training mission on the Enterprise soon gets out of hand when it is revealed that Khan is planning on stealing the Genesis device, a machine that has the capability to create life, but also destroy it when used improperly. When the two finally meet, the most important battle the Enterprise has ever faced begins.

The Wrath of Khan is an excellent example for the phrase “back to formula.” Wouldn’t Norman Osbourne be proud? After the monstrosity that was the first film, this second entry is more than just a breath of fresh air. It’s everything a Star Trek film should be, and maybe ever a little more. The fact that the writer went back to a little season 1 episode called Space Seed is just the first reason why this movie is such a success. Obviously the writers and the director have seen the show and knew exactly how the movie should feel. There’s lots of excitement, humor, outrageous science, and dialogue that push “hamming it up” to the extreme. What’s not to love here?

Any fan of Star Trek will be quick to say that The Wrath of Khan is the best film in the series and maybe even in the entire franchise. The action is stunning and the story is really cool, but hasn’t Star Trek always been about the characters? The answer is yes. Yes it has, and they’re finally back like themselves again. Just to be clear, even though the story is fun doesn’t mean it’s stupid. This is a well written, well executed film that puts the pseudo philosophical bullshit of the first film to shame. This is Star Trek at its finest, and quite possibly cheesiest.

The Wrath of Khan was actually the beginning of what is know as the Star Trek Trilogy because the next two films would also follow the same story arc presented in the second film. Following up The Wrath of Khan is an entry that I believe can be held in just as much regard as it’s predecessor. This movie is Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

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Right after the events of The Wrath of Khan, the Enterprise is on its way back to Earth while Spock’s body has landed on the planet created by the explosion of the Genesis device in the nebula. Back on Earth, things are pretty weird. Kirk is depressed after the news of the Enterprise being decommissioned and McCoy is acting like he’s losing his mind. Kirk soon gets a visit from Spock’s father, Sarek (Mark Lenard), who informs Kirk that Spock’s being was transferred to before he died and needed his body in order for his being to be returned. It turns out Spock transferred his being into McCoy. Meanwhile, on the Genesis planet, Saavik (Robin Curtis) and Kirk’s son David (Merritt Butrick) find Spock reborn as a child with no mind and must protect him from the planet that’s tearing itself apart. Soon, Kirk and his crew arrive and find a Klingon Bird-of-Prey sitting in wait led by the sadistic Kruge (Christopher Lloyd), who wants the secrets to the Genesis device.

Just as I was writing this, I realized just how stuffed and preposterous the whole movie is.This doesn’t change the fact that I love it. If The Wrath of Khan can be compared to that episode that everyone likes and considered to be a classic, The Search for Spock is that crazy season 3 episode that is surprisingly effective and entertaining. This film is a lot darker than its predecessor, but I feel like the entertainment value is just as high. Christopher Lloyd goes absolutely crazy as Kruge even though he’s the last actor I ever would have though would make a great Klingon. It’s also cool seeing the story carry over from The Wrath of Khan. Plus that fight scene in the end is enough to make any fan of the original series remember all of the brawls that Kirk was constantly getting himself into.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock is a great entry into the series. The movie does have some shortcomings and weaknesses, but nothing that really hurts the movie at all. I’m just curious as to why they decided to bring Spock back, especially after Nimoy was only interested in coming back for The Wrath of Khan only if Spock dies. Well, I’m fine with whatever the reason and it was cool seeing Leonard Nimoy have a chance as director as well. Any fan of Star Trek should appreciate this entry, even if it shouldn’t be considered as perfect.

Well, that wraps up the first part of the original Star Trek movies. We still have three movies to go, so keep an eye out for part 2!