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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!