Sunday, December 26, 2010

Star Trek For Beginners: The Movies

I'm currently on vacation, but just in case anyone wants to be distracted from their kin by a Star Trek movie, here's a quick guide:

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So last time I broke down the six Star Trek episodes, and this week I'm going to give you my opinionated recap of the eleven Star Trek movies.

Yes. Eleven. ELEVEN! Eleven Star Trek movies. Astounding, isn't it?

Star Trek: The Motion Picture. 1979.

Plot synopsis: An alien entity/ship/cloud-thingy called V'ger is moving toward Earth, and Captain Kirk and his crew take a recently upgraded Enterprise to intercept it before it enters the Sol system.

The first Star Trek movie was produced ten years after the cancellation of the original series. The script was originally written as the pilot for a new Star Trek television series -- to be called Phase II -- that was scrapped for a variety of logistic and financial reasons. The cancellation only occurred after the sets were built, scripts were written and the actors were under contract, so Paramount decided to recoup some of the costs.

It's not a great movie. It's 132 minutes and a lot of time is spent like this:

Cut to wide screen shot of V'ger.
Cut to closeup shot of Kirk reacting.
Cut to shot of V'ger.
Cut to closeup shot of Spock raising an eyebrow as reaction to Kirk reacting to V'ger.
Cut to shot of V'ger.
Cut to closeup shot of McCoy reacting to Spock raising eyebrow as reaction to Kirk reacting to V'ger.
Cut to shot of Uhura reacting, saying "I'm getting a message now, Captain."
Cut to shot of V'ger.
Lather, rinse, repeat.

The show is mostly watchable because of the novelty of seeing the crew reunited after a 10 year absence. But that's it.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. 1982.

While Star Trek: The Motion Picture wasn't a critical success, it was profitable. That was enough motivation for Paramount to green light a sequel.

Space Seed was an episode from 1967 featuring Ricardo Montalbán as Khan Noonien Singh the leader of a group of genetically engineered human/madmen with psychopathic tendencies who attempts to take over the Enterprise. Kirk regains control of the ship and Khan agrees to be marooned on a planet rather than go to jail.

This movie starts when Singh (and his followers) escape from the planet and attempt to take revenge on Kirk by taking control of a super weapon called the Genesis device.

Wrath of Khan is truly excellent. It's lasting legacy is that I'm still PETRIFIED of having a bug crawl in my ear.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. 1984.

Here's the first thing you need to know about Star Trek: no one ever dies once. Yea. It's like a soap opera that way.

The reason I mention this is because The Wrath of Khan ends with the death of Spock. Search For Spock movie is all about Kirk and McCoy et al. setting off to find the body of Spock (there's a lot of mumbo jumbo about Spock's essence being placed in McCoy and it can only be extracted if the Vulcan voodoo priests have his body as well, but the body's been shot out into space and it lands on a planet...and well, it doesn't really matter).

Also a very good film. Not as great as Wrath of Khan, but this movie does feature Klingons.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. 1986.

Just now as I was writing this I remembered that my dad took me to see this movie in a theater. My dad was not a Star Trek fan, so it's kinda sweet that he took me to this movie. Eh. Who am I kidding, he probably fell asleep 3 minutes into it.


The crew of the Enterprise (including Spock, because SURPRISE! He isn't dead anymore) travel back to earth in the late 1980s to capture some humpback whales, transport them back to earth, and save humanity.

I know the plot synopsis sounds ridiculous, but this movie is a lot of fun. It's intense. It's funny. It's full of hope. It's rife with timely -- but now dated -- references to life in 1986. It's a little bit sexy. It's got WHALES!

I like whales, okay.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier: 1989.

This one sucks.

Turns out Spock's got a half-brother no one has ever heard of before. He takes over the Enterprise, flies the ship to the center of the galaxy to meet...God. Yup. GOD. But it turns out not be be god-GOD, but a vengeful, violent alien.

The low points of this movie (or perhaps the whole series) is when Nichelle Nichols -- age 57 -- performs a naked fan dance. Admittedly the fans are big, but still: ew.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. 1991.

The Enterprise hosts a peace conference with the Klingons. A murder happens, Kirk and McCoy are accused, Spock must vindicate them.

It's okay. Better than The Final Frontier. Which isn't saying much. The highlight is Christopher Plummer as a Shakespeare-quoting Klingon.

Star Trek VII: Generations. 1994.

Remember earlier when I mentioned that when people die in Star Trek, they seldom stay dead? Keep that in mind when you watch the beginning of the movie. Because Kirk dies. He's on the Enterprise and this big intergalactic energy ribbon, called the Nexus hits the ship and he dies saving the ship and her crew. Or rather: he "dies" saving the ship and her crew.

The narrative then jumps forward to the time of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Again the Nexus appears, Picard is sucked inside and experiences his version of heaven. While there he encounters Kirk, they escape together, and battle the evil genius who is attempting to control the Nexus. In the climatic battle Kirk is killed.

Or is he?

Generations was meant to be the transition with the movie franchise now focusing on the cast of the Next Generation which had ceased broadcasting new episodes in 1994. This movie had the pacing, the special effects, and the tone of a two-part episode of the Next Generation. It was cool that Kirk came back, but otherwise it was pretty bland.

Star Trek IIX: First Contact. 1996.

First Contact is an all-Next Generation movie. It even featured the Next Generation's biggest enemy the Borg.

The Borg travel back in time to alter Earth's history in order to ensure they would conquer Earth in the, you know what I mean. I hope.

Star Trek IX: Insurrection. 1998.

Celluloid crap-fest. Two enemy races never before mentioned are at odds. The Enterprise gets involved. Picard falls in love. The Enterprise crew is victorious.

Star Trek X: Nemesis. 2002.

Guess who co-wrote this movie? GUESS? Brett Spiner. Data's actor. Which explains why his face is on the poster for this movie.

The Romulan Empire (heretofore neglected by the movie franchise) is in political turmoil when a new leader comes to power in a violent coup. The Enterprise travels to Romulus to begin diplomatic talks with the new leader Shinzon. Shinzon is a clone of Picard, created years earlier as part of a now-defunct plan to replace key members of Starfleet with clones who were sympathetic to the Romulan Empire. Shinzon needs an infusion of Picard's DNA (hehehehe) or he will die. Picard is a bit reluctant to oblige. Battling ensues.

In the epic battle that concludes the movie, guess who dies? Guess who dies in an unnecessarily dramatic fashion? Data. Yes. I guess that's one of the benefits of writing a movie script. But fear not. This is Star Trek after all. There just happens to be an exact replica of Data (who is an android) sitting around with absolutely NOTHING to do.

Nemesis was -- mercifully -- the last of the Next Generation movies. I loved that series, but felt that the movies were just an unnecessary, blatant money grab by Paramount. It would have been better for the franchise -- in the long run -- to have shelved the movies in the early 90s.

Alas they didn't and it took 7 years -- and an entirely new cast -- to overcome the damage done by the Trek market saturation of the 90s.

Star Trek XI: Star Trek (reboot). 2009.

I love, love, love this movie.

I may not have mentioned this, but I am a little bit fond of this movie. Just a smidge.

The movie returns the franchise to the core group of Kirk, Spock and McCoy fresh out of Starfleet Academy. There's this whole time travel component that I can not explain, but which -- TRUST ME -- makes sense when you are watching it. It's just all around super. But that might just the young-Kirk inspired-lust talking:

Oh. Yea.

1 comment:

  1. ELEVEN. It is a bit overwhelming. We saw the '09 version and reallly, really liked it. J shut his laptop to watch it with me about 20 minutes in, which is a big compliment. I had to keep rehashing plot stuff out loud to try and get it straight. Deep stuff. :0)