Friday, March 30, 2012

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

Star Trek VI: The Franchise Recovery Mission

- After the film farce of 1986 and film flop of 1989, the Star Trek film series returns with a dramatic direction in 1991 with Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country - and what a welcomed return it is. Returning The Wrath of Khan (1982) director, Nicholas Meyer, to the Star Trek director's chair, The Undiscovered Country is a good Sci-Fi film and a great end for the original Enterprise crew.

Since the previous Star Trek film, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989), was a critical and box-office failure, The Undiscovered Country pretends that it never existed, creating a stand-alone story and drawing small references from other films of the series instead. Mirroring the actual 20th Century peace (well.... sort of) between the Western Nations and the former Soviet Union, The Undiscovered Country builds its story around a possible peace between the Federation and Klingon Empire. After an accident on the Klingon moon, Praxis, the Klingon home world becomes affected to perilous levels (Chernobyl, anyone?). Unable to come out of the situation alive without help, the Klingons turn to peace with the Federation. To not appear in a weak position, the Federation sends their best and most feared man, Captain Kirk, to escort the Klingon Ambassador to Earth for the historic peace talks. There is a problem however: Kirk still has a chip on his shoulder because Klingons killed his son and he flat-out does not trust the entire race.

But nothing goes according to plan anyway, as a bunch of Klingons get assassinated before the peace talks can occur. Now the opportunity for peace becomes very thin as Kirk and McCoy are named as the Klingon killers (oh yeah, and then there is the fact that Kirk's and McCoy's lives are at stake). In standard Enterprise fashion, the crew plays games with galactic leaders in their search for the truth and the evidence to save Kirk and McCoy. Unique to the other films of the Star Trek series, a futuristic "whodunit" develops. This detective-like aspect is great and adds mystery and of course entertainment to the film.

The original cast leaves the Star Trek film series in quality and style, giving real good performances all around. Nimoy is at a Spock-best not seen since The Wrath of Khan, DeForest Kelley is great as McCoy with both the dramatic and humorous aspects of the character (as usual), and William Shatner recovers from his Star Trek dry spell of the previous film and delivers a fine leading performance. Walter Koenig is even good! What a surprise! He is actually not annoying at all! Christopher Plummer is also fantastic as Klingon General Chang, giving a performance that ranks among the best of the Star Trek villains. It is now proved that there is no character that Plummer cannot portray. Plummer is a great villain and a great Klingon - he even recites Shakespeare; and, at times, in Klingon no less! Come on!

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country opened in December of 1991, over a month after Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry passed away, and the words "For Gene Roddenberry" appear at the beginning of the film. With all of the good screen writing, performances, and atmosphere, The Undiscovered Country becomes not only a nice addition to the Star Trek film series but a great tribute to Gene Roddenberry as well.

CBC Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

Star Trek V: The Wrath Of Shatner And His Toupee


- Having watched in envy as his Star Trek costar directed the last two Star Trek films, William Shatner finally got a crack at the director's chair and subsequently gave us the worst Star Trek film ever in 1989: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. This film is similar to one of those horrible TV movies that you happen to catch on the Sci-Fi network when you are surfing channels on a Saturday afternoon. You stop and watch it for 20 seconds and then laugh out loud as you change the channel, shaking your head and wondering if the people involved with the "film" have anything resembling dignity. The Final Frontier is poorly written, poorly staged, poorly shot, and poorly acted out. Ouch.

While the Enterprise crew is away on shore leave (or is it planet leave? Whatever....), a hostage situation occurs on the planet of Nimbus III - also called "The Planet of Galactic Peace" - and the crew is wrestled away from their vacations to solve the matter. If you ask me, you are asking to be pushed around if you name your planet "The Planet of Galactic Peace." You do not ever hear about anyone messing with "The Planet of Galactic Badasses" now do you? The laughing Vulcan zealot Sybok is the one responsible for the crime, hoping to steal a ship and fly to the planet that God is supposedly staying at (apparently Heaven was not cozy enough).

Alright, so not every Star Trek plot has been 100% intelligent, but many have been able to be fun while being stupid at the same time. Well, not The Final Frontier. It is amazing how this film tries to be serious in some parts but then in other parts it tries to force farce down your throat. The problem is that neither the serious nor the humorous direction takes and we the audience gag and ultimately heave both the supposed drama" and "humor" back out in the form of eye rolling and sighs. I am sorry, but it is just not funny to see Kirk robed in flannel as he and Dr. McCoy try to teach Spock "Row Row Row Your Boat" on a camping trip. In the same way, it is not funny to see the newly-built Enterprise-A falling apart at supposedly comedic levels (what? even the hand-held gadgets are falling apart?), seeing the Scotty character reduced to a "bumbling fat Scottish dude" role instead of the usual "amusing miracle worker" - walking his big fat Celtic head right into a part of the ship, or any other unsuccessful attempt at humor in the film.

The low quality acting does not help convince the audience that they should go along with the different tones of the film. Shatner had a good run: three good performances in a row since portraying a parody of himself in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). But Shatner is back at it again here in The Final Frontier with plenty of humorous attempts to be serious and failed attempts to be humorous - for the love of all things, beam him out of the film Scotty! Most of the Enterprise cast members do a good job (with a few exceptions) but the rest of the film's supporting cast is beyond awful: specifically, Cynthia Gouw is just terrible in her Romulan role and Charles Cooper and Todd Bryant play two of the worst Klingons ever seen.

And then there is Laurence Luckinbill's character Sybok, the film's primary villain. But "villain" is not all he is: Sybok is also Spock's half brother. Wait, what? Spock has a half brother? His dad was dumb enough to cheat on Winona Ryder (that's a Star Trek (2009) joke)? And when exactly did Spock plan to drop that little tidbit of information to his best of friends of whom he has spent 30-some years of space travel with? Eh, it does not matter - forget Spock's part in all of this, Sybok is simply the pinnacle of Star Trek bad guy lameness. The character is dumb on paper but the ineffectiveness of the character is mostly due to Laurence Luckinbill's terrible performance. As Luckinbill's Sybok makes people "lose their pain" in the film, I was wishing I could release the pain I was feeling on account of his performance.

What a surprise, Shatner and his toupee never sat in the Star Trek director's chair again, though much of the film is not all Shatner's fault. While much of the film is poorly set up and executed by Shatner, the producers apparently whittled away Shatner's ideas, approved a terrible story, hired a handful of bad actors, and signed up a poor special effects team. Unfortunately nothing can change the fact that The Final Frontier still sits in its immortal cinematic state, forever existing to make future audiences cringe - perhaps even into the 23rd Century!

So yes, everything you have heard is true: The Final Frontier is the worst Star Trek film to date. This Star Trek movie is the film equivalent to a fish helplessly flopping around on a dock trying to get back into the water - only it cannot do so, and just flops around until it runs out of energy and dies because it cannot breathe. But hey, let's look on the bright side: at least Jerry Goldsmith came back to score the film!


Yeah, you know, that's really not doing it for me.

CBC Rating: 2/10

Friday, March 23, 2012

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

Star Trek IV: The Damnable Voyage


- Picking up from the last Star Trek film, The Search For Spock (1984), the Enterprise crew go on yet another voyage in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986). Leonard Nimoy directs The Voyage Home (it is a "Leonard Nimoy Film" no less), only this time he is in front of the camera as Spock as well as behind it directing the picture. Unfortunately, this Leonard Nimoy directed Star Trek film does not measure up to his last one, The Search For Spock, or many others in the series. Utterly ridiculous from its send off, The Voyage Home ends up dead in the water.

The Voyage Home is in the same vein of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) in that a big unknown thing is heading for Earth with intentions about as exciting as an Aaron Neville concert and just as bad. The crew, after giving the middle finger to Star Fleet and breaking ranks to save Spock, return to Earth to face their trial. Unknown to them, a dangerous probe that sends out an Earth-ravaging signal in the form of the song of a humpback whale is destroying the planet. Nimoy and company might as well have just come right out and shouted "save the whales pretty pretty please with whipped cream and cherries on top" because according to the film, the humpback whale went extinct in the 21st Century. That is an odd thing to say nowadays as there are more humpback whales now in the 21st Century there were in 1986 - go figure. But theoretically, there are no more humpback whales in the era of the Enterprise - alright, we will go with that. After other successful time travel sci-fi films of the era like The Terminator (1984) and Back To The Future (1985), the Enterprise crew naturally go back in time to go catch 'em some humpback whales! So all this danger and destruction is going on during the film and we as the audience know that humpback whales are the answer - well, that is some exciting stuff right there I tell you what! On with the show!

Here in this film, the Enterprise crew encounter the exciting, um,-1980s! How exotic a time! Here, they run into colorful characters with colorful uses of the English language - something that rubs off on a few members of the crew ("double dumbass on you!"). The crew sure had an exciting vacation when they were supposedly crunched for time: Captain Kirk meets a dame, Scotty looks like an idiot typing away randomly on a computer keyboard to create a wonderful moving 3-D graphic and talking into a computer mouse like it is a communicator, Mr. Chekov is mistaken for a Soviet Spy, and Sulu gets to fly a helicopter. Other supposedly "funny" things occur throughout the film but they are just not funny at all. Here is one of the biggest pitfalls of The Voyage Home: all the humor is so dumb you are either laughing because everything is so stupid or you are frustrated that you are wasting time watching this piffle.

Surprisingly, with such a dumb story and poor attempts at humor, the main cast does a good job. Shatner, Kelley, Nimoy, Doohan, Takei, Koenig, and Nichols all end up performing their roles well for what they have to do. There is one bad member of the cast that sticks out like Calista Flockhart's spinal cord however: Catherine Hicks. As if casting one terrible future 7th Heaven cast member in a Star Trek film was not enough (Stephen Collins in Star Trek: The Motion Picture), the filmmakers cast another one. Hicks plays her Dr. Gillian whale-hugger role to annoyance levels far beyond the readings of mere 21st century technology. Boy, is it ever not fun to watch her flip out.... or do anything, really. The film's soundtrack, composed by the Oscar-winning Leonard Rosenman, is not bad but is ultimately nothing special - though sometimes it actually adds to the cheesy unfunny gags found throughout the film and becomes insult to injury.

What you undoubtedly knew was coming before you even sat down to watch the movie, the crew gets their whales (one packed so full of whale spawn it will be able to repopulate the 23rd Century's whale-less Earth). Of course needing a climatic ending, the crew saves the whales just in time from the whalers! Those pesky whalers are just as numerous in the sea as fishing ships apparently. That's right Kirk my boy, de-cloak the ship and hover over the whalers! That'll show 'em - yeah! After such an exciting conclusion (and not dumb at all), everything else in the film ends the way everyone knew it would: the whales sing, the probe floats away, the Enterprise crew splashes around in celebration, they get off scot-free, and we see a montage of events we just spent two hours already watching. End curtain - thank heavens.

CBC Rating: 4/10

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984)

Star Trek III: The Search For Continued Success

- The Star Trek franchise leaders got their game together following the extremely dull and poorly made Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) and made The Wrath Of Khan (1982), single-handedly saving the franchise. Picking up where The Wrath Of Khan left off, the Enterprise crew goes on a search for Spock in: well, The Search For Spock (1984). With a plot that begins right after The Wrath of Khan ends and revolving around the Genesis device and the story regarding Spock, The Search For Spock tries to cling to the success The Wrath Of Khan in every way it can. As a result, The Search For Spock ends up a little more like "The Wrath Of Khan II" rather than a stand-alone Star Trek film. However, The Search For Spock is a good sci-fi film and a nice piece of the Trek film series.

In this film, the planet that Spock might be alive on, Genesis, is quarantined by the Federation; but the Enterprise crew, desperate to see if Spock is alive after their final run-in with Khan, goes on a search for Spock against Federation orders. Meanwhile, some nasty Klingons are after the deadly Genesis device and will stop at nothing to get it. Will Kirk and friends find Spock and save the universe? Find out in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock!

When Star Trek: The Motion Picture came out in 1979, it had been ten years since the cast members had played their Starfleet characters and most performances came out very rocky - if watchable at all. The cast was considerably better by the next film, The Wrath Of Khan in 1982, with a little help a better script. By The Search For Spock in 1984, the third time was the charm and the entire cast put their characters on like gloves and gave real good performances. The Search For Spock is easily DeForest Kelley's finest big-screen hour as Dr. McCoy and William Shatner manages to give another good performance here as Captain Kirk - helping to make up for his horrible performance in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Kristie Alley must not have wanted her Star Trek career to continue after The Wrath of Khan, as a bigger Lt. Saavik part is played by Robin Curtis, who is a tad too wooden in the role even for a Vulcan. Christopher Lloyd is also great in the film and makes a surprisingly convincing Klingon baddie with great screen presence and a brand of strength that most actors would not have exhibited in the role. Also helping the overall number of good performances is the smaller role of Pavel Chekov in the film - Walter Koenig is not called upon to scream or act scared in The Search For Spock, and it is better that way.

Perhaps one reason the cast gives better performances here in The Search For Spock than in other Star Trek films is the presence of a Star Trek actor behind the camera. Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy, directs the film (no wonder they had to search for him!) and creates a well paced and mostly polished Star Trek film. Nimoy gets real good performances from his actors and also gets rid of that pesky pacing problem the first two Star Trek films had, adding greatly to the overall quality of the film.

Star Trek III: The Search For Spock is not without some drawbacks. While Nimoy does an overall good job putting the film together, The Search For Spock has an odd combination of sci-fi adventure, art house, and cheese. The sci-fi adventure bits work very well, the art house take on a few scenes is a little too weird for its own good (like the unnecessary close ups on Sarek and Kirk during a mind-meld and Spock and Saavik's "connection"), and the cheese comes out of nowhere to almost ruin entire sequences. Also, the quick and anti-climactic ending does not help the film out either. Since there is no build-up to a cinematic climax, the film feels like it's in the middle rather than the end when the final action sequence occurs. Still, the film finally ends without leaving the audience *completely* unsatisfied.

One thing that makes The Search For Spock a little bit more unique than the previous Star Trek films is that it makes the Star Trek universe a little bit bigger with the mention of inter-galactic diplomatic relations and the addition of other races with different languages and crafts. Naturally, there are also great special effects in the film, but what is particularly great about them is that they actually improve upon those seen in The Wrath Of Khan.

So with all the many elements that go into it, Star Trek III: The Search For Spock ends up one of the better films of the Star Trek film series.

CBC Rating: 7/10

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1982)

Star Trek II: The Redo

- The Star Trek filmmakers might not have admitted that Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) was a bad film (well, some of them would) but Paramount studios obviously thought that the Star Trek film series needed to be revamped. By bringing in a new executive producer, director, writer, and new Star Fleet uniforms for Star Trek: The Wrath Of Khan in 1982, they did just that. Far superior to its Star Trek film predecessor, although not a perfect film, The Wrath Of Khan is a fun and exciting sci-fi adventure film.

Tying the film to the original television series, The Wrath Of  Khan stems from the 1967 Star Trek episode "Space Seed" where Kirk defeats the evil doer Khan Noonien Singh and exiles him to the planet Ceti Alpha V. In this film, 15 years later, Khan is discovered and the adventure begins: hell-bent on getting his revenge on Captain Kirk, Khan commandeers a Federation ship and steals Genesis (a life creating piece of technology turned super-weapon) from the Federation research station Regula I (were, coincidentally, Kirk's former girlfriend works). While the film's overall story is indeed entertaining, almost half the film runs just a tad bit too slow with things eventually picking up by the 45-minute mark. Still, once the film gets going, the going is good.

Unfortunately the writers learned little from Star Trek: The Motion Picture and, desperately searching for plot points to try and beef up the film's drama, added in extra story lines to the film that feel forced as all get out. Here in The Wrath Of Khan, just like in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Kirk is again not fit for commanding the Enterprise due to his time spent at his high-profile Star Fleet desk job, opening the door for plenty of "I'm not good enough" moments for Kirk.

But that is not all; the audience discovers that Kirk is a father! Wow. Congratulations Kirk - apparently your boys can swim. This might have been a good storyline, but who really knows for sure - Kirk's family reunion in The Wrath Of Khan is barely touched upon with maybe three minutes of combined screen time dedicated to this part of the story. Other story lines feel more natural and actually add to the film. Kirk kind of struggles with his age, turning 50 years old while surrounded by a young crew, and also struggles with something at the end of The Wrath of Khan that has not been seen before (at least not in the same way) in Star Trek, TV or film - the death of his friend.

The acting is one thing that The Wrath Of Khan does particularly better than Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The Enterprise actors are all back to normal: DeForest Kelley is actually amusing and Leonard Nimoy is back to being cool in this film - even William Shatner does a good job! Unlike the first Star Trek film, Shatner is not playing a cartoon stereotype of himself in The Wrath Of Khan and while there are a few moments where you shake your head at him, he is a good lead with many strong moments. However, I have a hard time taking his famous "KHAN!" scream seriously - all I can think of is George Costanza screaming "KHAN!" in that Seinfeld episode.

The film also "introduces" Kristie Alley as a young wannabe captain Lt. Saavik. Despite being cited as a first-rate Trek babe, Alley does not really lend much to the picture, she is not even one of the better guest actors a part of the Trek films. She has virtually no presence and her attempt to try to show her character struggling with emotion at the film's end is hilarious. The casting director must have been desperate, because most of the film's supporting actors are terrible - you just laugh at anyone who is playing an expendable character (you know, your "Ensign Ricky" or "henchman without a name tag" type characters). It is hilariously lame anytime any of these background characters are dying, in pain, or yelling in surprise or frustration - hilariously. Also, why the Star Trek people did not kill off Pavel Chekov early on in the series is beyond my understanding. Walter Koenig is terrible in these Star Trek movies!

Ricardo Montalban, on the other hand, is awesomely evil and is the film's biggest plus as Khan. Khan is a nasty fellow: he is hopped up on 20th Century genetic-heightening material, has a thirst for power, and will do anything to satisfy his desire for revenge - what a deadly combination. Montalban gives an iconic performance - losing himself completely inside of this crazy character - and he makes the film worthwhile all by himself.

The Wrath Of Khan director Nicholas Meyer was a blessing to the Star Trek films. Meyer was not exactly a Star Trek fan before working on this film and, due to this fact, he brings a non-Trek obsessed component of the film that was desperately needed. Trying first to tell a story, rather than focusing on throwing a message at the viewer, and incorporating visual elements not necessarily associate with Star Trek, Meyers makes The Wrath Of Khan a further reaching and more effective Trek adventure than other Trek films or TV episodes. The film's atmosphere is Meyer's greatest achievement on The Wrath Of Khan. One thing that was missing from Star Trek: The Motion Picture was anything resembling feeling or urgency. The Wrath Of Khan has tension and emotion - and it makes for great entertainment.

The Wrath Of Khan seems to be considered the best Star Trek film in the long-running franchise. While I personally would not go this far, I am quick to say that The Wrath Of Khan is an entertaining film with good action, lead performances, atmosphere, and music.

CBC Rating: 8/10

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

Star Trek I: The Yawn-Packed Sendoff

- Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) does not give the Starship Enterprise's silver-screen debut much of a sendoff. Due to massive amounts of rewrites and change in directions during the pre-production stage of the film, the Star Trek filmmakers were not able to get the proverbial ship off the ground, and as a result, Star Trek is an extremely boring, unfocused and poorly made film.

Now, not every film has to move at a bullet's pace, but it is usually good to have at least some fluidity in your film. Star Trek - moves - so - slowly - that - you - start - to - get - sleepy....

Have trouble sleeping? Forget sleep aides! Pick up a copy of Star Trek: The Motion Picture and you will be out like a light in no time and fully rested in the morning! Seriously, how long can someone watch a camera revolve around a ship?

But the film has far more and worse problems than just poor pacing. One problem is the special effects. The effects in Star Trek: The Motion Picture are simply terrible; how this was managed in the era of Star Wars (A New Hope 1977 and The Empire Strikes Back in 1980) is beyond me. The background scenery can be impressive and would look good on a big screen but most of the effect-created elements, especially things in motion, look frankly unconvincing to the point that the audience is taken out of the film.

Another low point for the film is the script. The story is simple: a deadly giant space-cloud is heading for Earth and the Enterprise is the only ship standing in its way. However, the simple story is filled with an uneventful progression of events and does not offer up much of an ending. Then, for an added "bonus," extra story lines are thrown in for more drama. Unfortunately none of these B-stories work, since the dialogue is written at laughable levels.

The cast sure does not help the film out either as the only watchable actors in the film are James Doohan, George Takei, and Nichelle Nichols - all in supporting roles. Leonard Nimoy comes off clumsy and DeForest Kelley goes way over the top here in Star Trek, which is very disappointing since those two actors usually give some of the better performances out of the original Star Trek cast.

Stephen Collins is a new addition to the Trek cast here in this film as Commander Willard Decker, a character whose main purpose in the film is to create an extra sub-storyline of competition and jealousy with Captain Kirk. Collins' performance is just painful to watch, his screen presence is pathetic and I have no idea know what is up with his right eye but it sure is weird.

As bad as some actors are in this film, the worst performance award for Star Trek: The Motion Picture is awarded to its star: William Shatner. Impossible to take seriously, Shatner is a parody of himself in this film with ridiculous body movements (trying to give his performance more oomph I suppose?) and unintentionally hilarious line deliveries.

There is definitely one aspect of the film that is excellent: Jerry Goldsmith's score. It is big, it is powerful, it is beautiful - it is fantastic. Goldsmith's scoring achievement stands right alongside Gustav Holst's "The Planets" orchestral suite and John William's Star Wars scores as the definitive sounds for outer space. Luckily for the audience, Goldsmith's music is found throughout the entire film, so while something lame and ridiculous is occurring on-screen, at least there is some great music going on at the same time. If only the rest of the film were as good as the score! But nothing was, and we have a poorly made yawn-fest with Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

CBC Rating: 5/10