Sotto Voce.

"Qui plume a, guerre a." — Voltaire

Star Trek Films: The Good, The Bad, and The Sublimely Ridiculous

I admit it: I’m a Recovering Trekkie.

Over the years, I’ve kept a running log of comments about the Star Trek movies. I started in college, when I was an active fan, and for the sake of tradition — and as a writing exercise — I have kept it up (more or less) ever since. As part of my recovery process, I’ve decided to put it out on the Internet.

I know what you’re thinking: “just what the world needs, another web page of Star Trek reviews.”

Well, humor me. I like to think that mine is a little different because I require readers to ensure that all tongue is planted firmly in cheek before proceeding.

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Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Star Trek: Generations
Star Trek: First Contact
Star Trek: Insurrection
Star Trek: Nemesis
Just Plain Star Trek
Star Trek Into Darkness

STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE

“The words ‘recreation’ and ‘enjoy’ have no meaning to my programming.”

Plot: A big blue spaceship-eatin’ cloud is heading straight for Earth — and the good ship Enterprise, which is in the process of being rebuilt, is the only ship around. Admiral Kirk reassembles his old crew and climbs aboard to stop the invader. At the heart of the cloud, Kirk finds a very old and lonely Earth space probe named V’Ger, which has come home only to find its home populated by dirty, imperfect carbon-based units. Kirk races against time to find a way to talk the probe out of its desire to do some serious housecleaning.

Observations: This film achieves the nearly impossible: it makes 2001: A Space Odyssey look like an action movie. Most of the problem lies with the heavy-handed, clumsy direction by Robert Wise, who seemed to be more puppeteer than director. This is the director who gave us The Sound of Music and West Side Story? Oh yeah, the same man who gave us The Hindenburg and The Andromeda Strain. Never mind. (Though a hefty share of the blame must also go to the plodding screenplay and an obsession with overly elaborate effects shots).

This is a foreign, alien Star Trek. The opening credits are flashed on and off in stark white lettering, strobe-like, against an unadorned black backdrop. We are introduced to a remote and emotionally detached crew who talk like robots and operate in a cold and sterile environment of antiseptic whites, cool blues, and burnished silvers. And, to add to our general disorientation, we hear the crew speaking a whole new vocabulary: the first officer is now the “exec,” Sulu plots “conic section flight paths,” and Kirk orders up “tacticals.”

For a story that purports to be all about “the human adventure,” there’s actually precious little humanity to be found in it. Oh, the characters in the film constantly talk about what it means to be human, sure. But in the end, the essence of humanity turns out to be a string of numbers that Kirk can simply key into V’Ger’s data banks. Samuel T. Cogley would have gone ballistic.

The warm, human themes that permeate Jerry Goldsmith’s lovely symphonic score (Star Trek’s first but thankfully not last) — heroic exuberance, innocent sensuality, and breathtaking (one might even say vertiginous) wonder — are completely out of place in the brutally, remorselessly rational environment of the film. Random, computer-generated electronic tones (or the score from Forbidden Planet) would have been more appropriate. Thanks for trying, Jerry. I would have loved to see the movie that you scored.

So you’re telling me that, in a straight line between the nasty, mean Klingon Empire and dear old Mother Earth, there is not a single starship to be found? What kind of defense policy is that? Isn’t this the sort of thing that the Chief of Starfleet Operations is supposed to clue in on? I know that Kirk said he felt “a little stale,” but really! Could this be the real reason that Admiral Nogura was only too happy to let Kirk go on a suicide mission?

And while I’m at it, if the inhabitants of the Computer Planet that turned V’Ger into a muscle car were so darned advanced, how come it never occurred to them to buff up the dirty nameplate? Uh oh, this is getting pretty close to nitpicking…

As in every other similar situation, only DeForest Kelley manages to demonstrate that he is the consummate professional actor among all these guys. He somehow manages to subvert the one-dimensional script and sledgehammer direction in order to create the only remotely three-dimensional character in the movie (as he will again manage to do in the later bad movies). What a guy.

Obviously most of the plot was an agglomeration of filler to pad what would otherwise have been a tolerable hour-long story (as apparently was the case). In order to fill time everybody had to have his or her Moment of Big Insight and cogitate aloud and at length about What it Means to Be Human. Nevertheless, for some of us the flyby scene of the Enterprise could have gone on for another hour and we wouldn’t have minded (especially with that inspiring music). I guess I just love that ship…

Okay, let’s face it. The TV Enterprise was the coolest spaceship ever to hit the tube. Ever. The movie Enterprise took all the stuff that made the original so damn cool, and made it even cooler. In terms of sheer kick-ass beauty, nothing else in space has ever come close. Nothing. Let me repeat that. Nothing. And anyone who thinks differently can step outside so we can settle this man-to-man.

I have to admit, when I first saw the film I was in 6th grade and I fell in love with it because it was so beautiful and clean, very much the space-as-techno-Utopia that was so popular back then (remember the grass-roots Space Colony movement and the L-5 Society?). My classmates — for whom the TV series was a moral affront to their right to be stupid — used to tease me for being a Star Trek fan, and then all of a sudden here was this big, beautiful movie. Somebody out there liked the show as much as I did, and that was good enough for me. Only later, when I became a crabby adult, did I start dissecting the film with no mercy.

Let’s see — a lost soul sets out on a long journey in search of emotional maturity and fulfillment… should they have called the movie Now, V’Ger? Groannnnn…

Really Just a Remake of the Episode About: Nomad the space probe. (Whatever fan nicknamed this movie “Where Nomad Has Gone Before” deserves a medal.)

Bridge Lighting: Apparently, just a couple of 60-watt bulbs.

Score Rating: 7/10

Best Line: McCOY: “I know engineers, they love to change things…”; DECKER: “Don’t interfere with it!” CHEKOV: “Abso-lute-ly I will not interfere!”; Honorable mention: McCOY “Why is any object we don’t understand always called a ‘thing’?”

Worst Line: Virtually every other line.

Best (Worst?) Double-Entendre Potential: KIRK: “Dammit, Bones, I need you. Badly.”; KIRK: “We need him. I need him.”; (In the “Images that I just don’t need in my head ” category) KIRK: “I trust you will…nursemaid me through these difficulties, Mister?”; KIRK: [Winks at Chekov]; KIRK: [holds Spock’s hand a little too warmly in sickbay].

Best Scene: The Enterprise flyby.

Worst Scene: The V’Ger flyby . . . and -over, and -under, and -through, and -around, and -again…

Stuff I’ve Never Heard Anyone Else Mention: In a subtle but really thoughtful (I thought) touch, the lightning-bolt probe that V’Ger sends to the bridge exerts what appears to be a gravity-distortion effect that results in light “bending” around it. To see what I mean, watch the bridge consoles in the background as the probe traverses the bridge from left to right. Knowing just a little about film, my guess is that this effect was achieved by removing a narrow vertical strip of the film from top to bottom of the frame, splicing the film’s left and right halves minus the vertical slice (that trick must have involved a lot of careful taping!), and hiding the splice behind the lightning-bolt effect of the probe. (This would explain why you never see the top or bottom of the probe when it’s exerting this effect.)

Goof: When the alien probe starts scanning the display console, the images of the ship’s interior that flash on the screen are taken from the “Franz Josef Design” Star Trek Blueprint set issued by Ballantine, which is of course for the original Enterprise, not the refit. Or perhaps this sequence is a very deliberate tip o’ the old insider’s hat to those most influential of early fan products.

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STAR TREK II – THE WRATH OF KHAN

“Well, I for one am glad to have you at the helm for two weeks. I don’t think these kids can steer.”

Plot: A ghost from the past — Khan Noonian Singh, soooper-geeenius — hunts down his old nemesis Kirk and forces a showdown when Khan tries to steal Project Genesis, a secret planet-making device. In the ensuing battle, Spock sacrifices his life to save the ship.

Observations: It doesn’t get any better than this. This is by far the best film of the original-cast series. A great story, told with a minimum of fluff. I have minor quibbles with some of the editing, but the film has a rollicking pace and high-seas-adventure feel (thanks in large part to James Horner’s ba-rilliant score) that sucks you into the story and makes you want to grab popcorn and soda even when you watch it at home.

The battle sequences are incredibly dynamic for Star Trek, since up until then Trek battles featured bad guy ships obligingly standing still and then disappearing in bright, featureless balls of light after a single phaser hit. And as for Spock dying — well, since he did it so nobly

Nicholas Meyer deserves a lot of credit for his ability to elicit from William Shatner what could well be the finest acting performance of his career (bumping to Very Close Second Place his performance in “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” the Twilight Zone episode — hey, that really was a good performance. I mean it). And besides, how often do you get William Shatner and Ricardo Montalban together? All we needed was a cameo by Charlton Heston as Unhinged Federation Ambassador #27 and I would have been in heaven.

There is another major shift in the Star Trek universe being demonstrated here. For the first time, Starfleet is overtly referred to as “the military,” and shown as maybe not even being all that noble and “science-first”-ish all the time. The severe (and terrific) insignia-encrusted new uniforms bear this out. Starfleet’s guiding principle is no longer one of “hotshot pilots ferrying a bunch of scientists around on an expedition” a la Howard Hawks’ classic The Thing From Another World. These guys are now seriously Naval — we even get to hear, for the first and probably the only time, the ship’s bells. We have seen bits of this kind of thing in the original series — people being piped aboard the ship, orders being acknowledged with “aye,” court-martials (lots of court martials) — but in this film we see it maxed out for the first time.

Some fans have argued that this militarism destroys the heart of Star Trek, which they frequently characterize as an idealistic quest for inner and outer knowledge through science, tolerance, and altruism. My usual response (“THBPBTHBPTHPTH”) can be elaborated thus: Gene Roddenberry said he wanted Star Trek to be “Wagon Train to the Stars” — cowboys and Indians, danger, adventure, and survival against both the elements and the odds. He did not name the show “Siddhartha Trek.” Roddenberry flirted with the Inner Quest thing in his Trek ideas, but he was always first a writer for TV and he knew what made a good story. Only later, freed from the constraints of the 52-minute storyline, did he get all soft and mushy.

Besides, we had Inner Quest out the wazoo in Star Trek – The Motion Picture (overseen closely by Roddenberry in apres-TV mode) and it turned out to be not a source for inspired storytelling. Later, we had it in Season One of NexGen (also closely watched by Roddenberry, along with a cadre of like-minded writers from the original series who had anointed themselves the Keepers of the Lore), with the same tear-jerkingly boring results. The “message” of this movie is simple: if you want to watch pseudo-philosophical scientists and techno-geeks ruminating about the deeper meaning of life, the Universe, and everything, go watch Space:1999 and I hope she enjoys it. If you want to see how exciting space can be when run by boys and their toys, watch Star Trek II. It’s a shame (from a storytelling point of view) that, for the most part, the subsequent movies with the original cast lost sight of this concept.

For a time in post-Apollo 1970s America, and particularly among a certain segment of writers and enthusiasts, “space travel” became synonymous with “solving all our problems.” STII was part of a bumper crop of movies that brought that brief era to an end by reminding us — accurately, I think — that we are just as likely to take all our problems with us whenever we go where no man has gone before. It’s a cautionary lesson: we can try to solve our problems here on Earth just as easily as anywhere, but if we choose to wait until some distant future, we can try to solve them in really awesome spaceships instead.

Bridge Lighting: A single 40-watt bulb on a dimmer switch.

Score Rating: 9.99/10

Best Line: SULU: “So much for the little training cruise…”

Worst Line: KIRK: (apoplectic) “KHAAAAAANNNNNN — NNN — NNN — nnn — nnn!!!”

Best Scene: Oh, that’s not fair.

Worst Scene: Using old stock footage from the first movie (but hey, doesn’t stock Enterprise footage have a long and illustrious history in Trek?).

Goof: In redressing the bridge set to double as the bridge of the Reliant, someone forgot to change the interior-status displays at Chekov’s station; there, for all to see, is a secondary hull, which Reliant most certainly did not have.

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STAR TREK III – THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK

“I’ve come a long way for the power of Genesis, and what do I find? A weakling human, a Vulcan boy, and a woman!”

Plot: Well, turns out that Spock really isn’t dead after all (D’OH!), so Kirk and the senior officers decide to hijack (yes, that’s right, hijack) the Enterprise to go get him. Meanwhile, a Starfleet expedition runs afoul of a Klingon ship sent to steal the secret of the Genesis Project, Spock gets reborn, Kirk’s son dies, the Enterprise gets blown up, yadda yadda yadda, and eventually the credits roll and the lights come up and we get to go home.

Observations: What a dud. Theory: the real reason that only the “regular cast” went to rescue Spock was because these actors each cost so much that the producers couldn’t afford to hire anyone else as crew extras. At least that’s what it looked like to me.

Nobody in the editing room seemed able to decide what the dramatic climax of the film was. Is it finding Spock? Is it killing the Klingon Bastard? Is it David dying? Is it getting Spock to Vulcan? Like a long car trip through relentlessly monotonous Midwestern cornfields in a car with no a/c, after a while most people could care less how it ends just as long as it ends soon.

And gee, didn’t we all get a kick out of the Keystone Klingons. Christopher Lloyd and John Larroquette as fierce space warriors. Yeah, right…

Not to mention the fact that Kirk blows up the beloved Enterprise for the sake of a scene played for laughs. For some, like me, this was an act of unforgivable, profane sacrilege.

On the plus side, McCoy gets some good lines, since it’s really his story at heart, and again DeForest Kelley makes us feel for the man and what he’s going through.

Bridge Lighting: What lighting?

Score Rating:7.5/10

Best Line: SCOTTY: “The more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain.”; Honorable Mention: McCOY: “How can you be deaf with ears like that?”

Worst Lines: KIRK: “You — Klingon bastard…”; KIRK: “My God, Bones, what have I done?”; KIRK: “I — have had — enough of — you!” (a shared sentiment by that point)

Best Scene: McCoy at the bar trying to wangle a ride out of Admiral Ackbar’s third cousin. Honorable Mention: Stealing the Enterprise from a sleepy Spacedock.

Worst Scene: The Enterprise exploding and burning up in front of a Captain who suddenly regrets it and has no clue why he did it in the first place and wishes he hadn’t after all.

Obviously Missing Line: CAPTAIN ESTABAN: “Hey! Wait a minute! I said stand by to beam down!”

Goof: When the intruder alarm flashes at Chekov’s security station, the plan view on the display is very definitely the original Enterprise (Do I detect a pattern here?).

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STAR TREK IV – THE VOYAGE HOME

“No, I’m from Iowa. I only work in outer space.”

Plot: Yet another Hostile Alien Probe (is there another kind?) threatens Earth. This time Kirk & Co. are coming home from exile on Vulcan (after blowing up the Enterprise and seriously annoying the Klingons in the bargain) and decode the probe’s message. It seems that this probe (which looks like a Little Debbie chocolate roll on steroids) has come to make contact with humpback whales, which are by then extinct. In trying to communicate with the whales, the probe wreaks havoc with the Earth’s climate. In order to save the Earth’s landlubbing denizens, the crew must travel back in time to get a couple of whales who can “tell the probe what to go do with itself.”

Observations: Funny. Entertaining. Lively. Well-done all around. Is it Star Trek? No, but, hey, who’s counting?

Some sublime and not-so-sublime humor here. These people are having fun. And it has plenty of reliable elements from Classic Trek: an amnesiac Spock in a dumpy Klingon ship can figure out in ten seconds what all of Earth’s scientists cannot; everybody gets a Hero Moment; McCoy gets to pick on Spock; Scotty gets to grump that “it canna be done.” Plus, you can easily overlook all the implicit eco-moralizing without losing anything (and, arguably, gaining something in exchange). And who didn’t get a little choked up over the new Enterprise? The journey will continue…Bad score, though. But what could Horner have done here, anyway?

George and Gracie weren’t the only whales in this movie, judging by Doohan and Nichols. It’s even scarier when you watch STII, -III, and -IV back-to-back. It looks like they’re inflating.

Bridge Lighting: Apparently, only a single broken 25-klargh bulb.

Score Rating: 9/10

Best Line: KIRK: I love Italian. [Beat] And so do you.”

Worst Line: KIRK: “Well, as they say in your century, I don’t even have your telephone number! (Chuckle)”; KIRK: “Everybody remember where we parked!”

Best Scene: Kirk and Spock hitching a ride in Gillian’s pickup truck.

Worst Scene: Shatner trying to prove it isn’t a toupee by doing the underwater scene.

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STAR TREK V – THE FINAL FRONTIER

“Oh, I am sorry Doctor. Were we having a good time?”

Plot: Was there one? Sorry, I must have dozed off again…Oh, yeah: Spock’s wacky-but-lovable illegitimate half-brother steals — that’s right, steals — the Enterprise and goes off on a religious revival trip to visit God. In the meantime, “the crew,” by which I refer of course to the usual creaky coterie of senior officers who haven’t gotten promotions in twenty years — come to terms with their own mortality for what feels like the umpteenth time.

Observations: Excruciatingly, tearfully, agonizingly painful to watch. Two hijackings of the Enterprise in the span of three movies — doesn’t Starfleet teach people to lock their doors or anything? Where the hell’s Security? Oh, that’s right, they’ve all been assigned to shuttlecraft duty so they can get killed instead of the leads.

Look, just because these guys have only played their one Star Trek character and nothing else for the past twenty years, does not nean they can say “hey, wouldn’t it be funny if…” and get away with it. They (DeForest Kelley excepted, of course) are either deliberately parodying themselves and all of Trek, or else they think it doesn’t matter a good goddamn what they do on the screen, since they’ve already been handsomely paid and they know Trekkies will still shag out the 7 bucks to see it again and then go to the cons and buy the merchandise. Whew…okay, take a deep breath. Welcome to Star Trek Inc.

For the most part, Kelley sits out the goofy stuff like a disinterested observer, saving his acting for the well-done scene where he relives his father’s death. (By this point, in real-time, he’s also the only guy who hasn’t written a tell-all memoir denigrating all the other regulars and vindicating himself, or ghosting a Trek novel about how their character saves the universe, or guesting on the Home Shopping Channel. But that’s not strictly related to the movies themselves, is it?). Kudos for a professional on and off the screen. (Still married to the same woman since before the original series started, too. Is my admiration for this man shameless or what?) (PS — We miss you, Dee!)

The new bridge (with no explanation as to how it suddenly got completely rebuilt between IV and V) looked cheap and cardboardish. Worse, it looked like it was deliberately tipping the hat to the Next Generation television show’s bridge (I am almost positive that’s Picard’s old captain’s chair). This disturbed me in a symbolic way; NexGen owes Classic Trek, not the other way around. By the time this movie was released, themes from the Jerry Goldsmith TMP score in the soundtrack allude more to NexGen than to the first motion picture. Between the music and the hand-me-down props from the NexGen set, this film feels like the symbolic moment that Classic Trek is eclipsed — with nary a bang nor a whimper — by the newer show. From this moment on, the clock was ticking for Classic Trek.

The mix of Classic Trek sound effects in with new ones was probably intended to serve as some sort of nostalgic continuity. All it did for me was make me wonder, “they’ve replaced everything on 1701-A except for the who-jiggy?”

Really Just a Remake of the Episode About: Dr. Sevrin and the space hippies. (“Ya-ay, brother!”)

Bridge Lighting: Where the hell’s that “off” switch?

Score Rating: 2/10

“Best” Line: SPOCK: “Please, sir. Not in front of the Klingons.”

Worst Line: THE GANG: “Row, row, row your boat…” (candidate #1 for Worst Star Trek Scene Ever)

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STAR TREK VI – THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY

“Don’t let it end this way, captain.”

Plot: When the Klingon homeworld’s power source explodes, the Empire is forced to pursue peace talks with the Federation. However, when Kirk and McCoy are accused of murdering the Klingon Chancellor during the talks, the Enterprise must find the real villains before war breaks out.

Observations: I am apparently the only person who saw this film who did not like it. I have never been able to describe to anyone’s satisfaction why I didn’t like it, however. It certainly wasn’t the plot, which was solid and full of potential. It just wasn’t right in so many ways.

Let me try to list some things…First of all, who were these people? They looked like the Original Crew (read potbellied and wrinkled), but they sure didn’t act like any of them. Slack, lazy, sardonic, and immature. And what’s with all the late-20th century lingo they kept spouting? I mean, really, “lock and load”???

Not to mention that it was rather disturbing to see that Kirk has become, in his old age, a brooding, obsessive racist.

It was, however, nice to see that some of these guys were finally old enough to have earned commands of their own — way to go, Sulu!

I spent an inordinate amount of time reading the new bridge’s distractingly busy and text-laden display screens instead of following the story (which was for me, ultimately, a far more interesting pursuit since nothing else on the screen held more than momentary interest). Only in Tom Clancy’s cartoon universe is the technology supposed to have more depth than the people who use it.

I had hoped that the return of Nick Meyer to the director’s chair might bode a return to the mature style of STII. However, it says a lot about the power and influence the cast had come to wield in the ten years since then that even the almighty Meyers had to capitulate to several “wouldn’t it be funny if…” scenes, those banes of my film-going existence.

I did like the stylish new uniform sweaters (despite the fact that they look really awful on sagging 65-year-old torsos), but they seem to me to allude a little too much to NexGen’s uniforms — again, my complaint that the Classic Trek crew appears to be increasingly (and unnecessarily) kowtowing to their successors.

Nevertheless, for better or for worse, when the Enterprise A sailed off for the last time I did get all choked up. You can always forgive those you love their faults — like that stupid signature thing in the end credits — when you know you’re going to miss them.

Bridge Lighting: Finally, somebody found the damn light switch.

Score Rating: eh/10

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STAR TREK: GENERATIONS

“Finding retirement a little lonely, are we?”

Plot: A cosmic string fragment sucks Captain Picard into a netherworld Nexus of peace and oblivious tranquility into which, many years before, Captain Kirk disappeared after being presumed dead. The two captains must escape the Nexus to battle the evil Soran, who is addicted to the Rocky Nexus High and doesn’t care how many stars he has to blow up to get back into it. In the battle with Soran, Kirk dies a heroic death and another Enterprise bites the big one.

Observations: Leave it to the NexGen people to remind us how it’s supposed to be done. A glorified TV two-parter, with a good story and fast pace. Never dull or meandering (except for the Nexus scene, and perhaps also the requisite Data’s-quest-to-be-human stuff), with a minimum of the gee-whiz tech-speak “solutions” that the NexGen crew often preferred to the good old-fashioned fisticuff-based heroism of Kirk & Co.

Shatner’s Kirk is the closest thing to the original since II. In fact, the brief opening scene on the Enterprise B has Kirk, Scotty and Chekov all acting like themselves. It’s a shame the writers didn’t script, and the director didn’t direct, STV and STVI — at least we would have been able to see “the old team” go out in real style.

Over the course of seven years the NexGen crew went from being tedious, touchy-feely Space:1999 clones to a cadre of likable characters and worthy heirs of Kirk & Co. Starfleet is in good hands with these people, and here they continue to prove it.

On the other hand, I’m a little concerned about Data playing his console like a cheap synthesizer during his “Lovely Little Life Forms” number. One can’t help wondering if he vented three cargo bays, shut down power to Engineering, and flooded the holodeck with nerve gas just because those buttons were the right notes . . .

And of course you have to have the obligatory blow-up-the-ship scene. At least this one was done with style (I never did like the D anyway — looked like some kind of flounder with wings).

O Captain My Captain dies with the true heroism and panache that we expect of him — but his last words were ever so disappointing…

And, for better or for worse, Kirk was wrong…he didn’t die alone.

Bridge Lighting: Sometime between the end of the series and this movie, the lights apparently burned out — but no one noticed.

Score Rating: 9/10

Best Line: DATA: “Oh, shit!“; DATA: [Singing] “Life forms…”

Worst Line: (in the “No-Shit-Sherlock” category) PICARD: “Somehow I doubt that this will be the last ship named Enterprise.”; Honorable Mention: KIRK: [Expiring] “Oh, my…”

Best Scene: Everything on Enterprise B. (Well, okay, so I’m a little biased…)

Worst Scene: The Nexus scenes dragged a little, and that’s just about all I can complain about.

Here’s Mr. Plinkett’s take on Generations.

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STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT

“Resistance is futile.”

Plot: That’s right, the flat-out best Trek villains of all time — the Borg — are back. And, man, this time they are really, really serious. Having tried the frontal attack last time, this time they try sneaking in through the back door.

When the new Enterprise E engages a Borg ship heading towards Earth, the Borg sneak aboard and begin ruthlessly assimilating the crew. Meanwhile, a Borg pod time-warps to the 21st Century in an attempt to defeat Earth in a novel way: if they can keep Zefram Cochrane’s pioneering warp-engine test from succeeding, the Earth won’t get noticed by a passing Vulcan ship and, as a result, the Federation will never happen. It’s up to Our Gang to stop the Borg on the Enterprise while also getting Cochrane off the ground in time to rendezvous with Mankind’s future.

Observations: It wouldn’t be NexGen without a) time warps, b) an abortive self-destruct countdown, c) something wrong with the warp core, and d) a trip back to Earth. Despite special guest appearances by these cozily reliable formula elements, this film starts right off without delay and is as exciting as Classic Trek ever was (dare I say it). I feel cheated now, having had the show taken off the air and as a result being treated to this kind of great storytelling only once every two or so years. (For whatever reason, the broadcast version includes a pointless preamble set along the Romulan Neutral Zone which totally kills the story pacing until Picard decides to pack the Enterprise off to Earth to kick Borg ass.)

This film rocks. No preambles, no explanations about the new Enterprise or the new uniforms, no pedantics, they just plop you down in the story and have at it. Heroism. Humor. Action. Suspense. Fast pace. Irredeemable bad guys. Thank you for remembering what a Star Trek film is supposed to be.

Zefram Cochrane isn’t the blue-eyed, dimple-chinned strapping hero we were introduced to in Classic Trek. Maybe we were seeing that first Cochrane through Kirk’s hero-worship-addled eyes, or perhaps the Companion was friends with the Talosians. Speaking of changes, Geordi finally trades in his VISOR, and we’re left wondering whether Data will continue to sport his new way-cool two-tone face. And we now have quantum torpedoes (but aren’t they rather uncertain to aim? Nyuk nyuk).

The new Enterprise looks more like a beefy fleet flagship than did its winged-flounder mincey predecessor. Continuity at work — it looks like a big, bad Voyager. Bless you, Rick Sternbach, worthy heir to Matt Jeffries and Andy Probert! May you likewise be immortalized by having a part of the ship’s innards named after you (I nominate “Sternbach coils”). Yet, this ship’s got more bumps and pipes all over it than the Battlestar Galactica. Give me the smooth aerodynamic contours of the original movie refit any day.

And speaking of continuity (and the Voyager), there’s a brief throwaway line to the effect that in the 21st Century, the Borg are only to be found in the Delta Quadrant. Gee, isn’t there someone else that we know of currently wandering around lost in that neck of the woods? Is this a “stay tuned” warning? I rub my hands in gleeful anticipation. (Postscript: Yes it is/was. But I kept missing the episode in reruns, and still haven’t seen it all these years later!)

Bridge Lighting: I’m surprised that Picard could even see the Borg, let alone shoot at them.

Score Rating: 9.5/10

Best Line: COCHRANE: “And you…you’re like astronauts…on some sort of star trek?”; (In the “Groan ‘n Shrug” Category) LILY: “Borg? Sounds Swedish.” BORG QUEEN: “Was that good for you?”

Worst Line: (In the “Oh-No-Here-We-Go-Again” Category) PICARD: “There are still plenty of letters left in the alphabet.”

Here’s Mr. Plinkett’s take on First Contact.

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STAR TREK: INSURRECTION

“Do you remember when we used to be explorers?”

Plot: Data (who’s got his old face back after all, darn it) apparently malfunctions while on a planetary survey mission away from the Enterprise, and Captain Picard (who’s barely visible) disobeys orders to go and get him. While trying to find out why Data flipped his processors, Picard unearths a nasty scheme involving the unscrupulous (and barely visible) Starfleet admiral Dougherty. Seems he’s in cohoots with the evil (and ugly) (and also barely visible) Son’a people, who want to steal a metaphasic “fountain of youth” from the peaceful (and photogenic) (and therefore highly visible) Ba’ku people. Picard and the (barely visible) Enterprise senior officers decide to risk it all to stop the (increasingly visible) plot from hatching, and they take to the (brightly-lit) hills as renegades against the combined power of the Son’a and the evil Admiral Dougherty (who is still barely visible even while he’s having the Facial of Death). Needless to say, the good guys win.

Observations: Another Enterprise crew takes up arms against Age Angst. Another Enterprise crew gets carried out on their shields, belly up and bleeding. This time, however, they attempt to cope by engaging in zit and boob jokes like a bunch of pre-adolescents. By making this movie PG-13, I think they’re scaring away the intended audience.

We know this crew to be a group of people who have become genuinely comfortable serving with each other. However, this time they come off looking less like a cohesive staff of cool and competent professional officers than like a gang of smart-assed college kids. The curse of “Wouldn’t it be funny if…” rears its ugly head yet again.

What a letdown from the taut First Contact.

Did I mention that 75% of this movie was barely visible?

And who wants to mess with tradition? Renegade admirals and malfunctioning Datas and inconvenient Prime Directives, oh my. Hey, let’s throw in a problem with the warp core while we’re at it! (Who makes those damn things, anyway? General Motors? They probably make all the shuttlecraft too.)

Did I mention that 75% of this movie was barely visible??

Not that this is a “bad” film. It is fun, fast, and well-constructed; its style is in the best tradition of the show and the previous NexGen films. (In fact, the plot is straightforward but intricate and takes a while to unfold.) Plus we get some treats. After years of threatening to eject a warp core, they finally get up the nerve to drop one. And the Enterprise E gets the stuffing knocked out of it and keeps coming back for more. What a trooper! However, the film is mostly about cool special effects, which is not surprising in this post-Independence Day world.

Oh, and by the way, did I mention that 75% of this movie was barely #%*$@&ing visible???

Bridge Lighting: “Mr. Data, stand by to…” THUMP BANG “Oww!” CRASH CLUNK “Argh, that’s my foot!” WHAM THUD BONK “Where’s my friggin’ chair?” WHUMP BASH SPLAT!

Score Rating: 8.7/10

Best Line:

Worst Line: DATA: “Saddle up. Lock and load.” (What is it with that damned phrase?)

Best Scene:

Worst Scene:A British tar is a soaring soul…” (candidate #2 for Worst Star Trek Scene Ever)

Here’s Mr. Plinkett’s take on Insurrection.

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STAR TREK: NEMESIS

“Why am I here? Why have you done this?”

Plot: I dunno, something about the Romulans and then there was this bald guy and finally the Enterprise slams into some ship.

Observations: This is what happens when you give money to fanboys. Feh.

If nothing else, prior to Nemesis the Trek film franchise was a lively, bumptious palimpsest (that sound you hear is fanboys Googling “palimpsest”) where writers and directors explored the show’s many big and little themes (now they’re Googling “themes”) in unique ways — sometimes successfully, sometimes not. The results were sometimes funny, sometimes dramatic, sometimes snarkily self-referential, yet always possessed of a decent chunk of humility and not a little awe.

How many sucky films had this franchise able to absorb while still remaining a lucrative gem for Paramount? ST: TMP didn’t kill the franchise aborning. ST III: TSFS didn’t kill the franchise. Back to back, ST V: TFF and ST VI: TUC didn’t kill the franchise. But Nemesis turned Star Trek into a radioactive leper. Overnight.

Nemesis offers producers a compelling argument to never, ever give fans what they say they want. Because, almost without exception, what fans say they want sucks.

Don’t believe me? Go watch the slow-motion train wreck that was the third and fourth seasons of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica. Or better yet, the straight-to-DVD fanfic of The Plan. Then come back and apologize. It’s okay, I’ll wait.

Bridge Lighting:

Score Rating: /10

Best Line:

Worst Line:

Best Scene:

Worst Scene:

Here’s Mr. Plinkett’s take on Nemesis.

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[JUST PLAIN] STAR TREK

“You know, coming back in time, changing history… that’s cheating.”

Plot: A bald Romulan in a spike-covered ship seeks revenge on . . . wait a minute. [shuffle shuffle]

A different bald Romulan in a bigger spike-covered ship [okay, that’s better] seeks revenge on Spock — that is, old future Spock, not young past, er, I mean present Spock — for blowing up Romulus in the future . . . or rather for someday blowing up Romulus, maybe? . . . by turning Vulcan in the, um, past into a black hole because, see . . .

Oh, #@$& the plot. It’s about how James T. Kirk and the good ship Enterprise save the galaxy. As usual. Or for the first time.

Observations: J.J. Abrams returns Trek to its TV roots: good old-fashioned fisticuff-based action/adventure. The plot makes about as much sense as your average second-season TOS episode, but that actually works in its favor. Here’s what made old-style TV space-opera SF so good: the plot’s just there as an excuse for people to do cool stuff with their gizmos. And that’s what we have here: two hours of people running around kicking space ass.

The other thing that classic Trek was always about was youth — not just age, but wide-eyed wonder and excitement and “gee-whiz.” The reboot was essential because watching a bunch of been-there-done-that old farts hogging the Enterprise for another joyride just wasn’t fun anymore.

Remember “The Cage?” Captain Pike and Number One were like cool mom-and-dad camp counselors taking a class of high school freshmen on a field trip. I mean, jeez, some of those boys looked like their stones hadn’t even dropped yet, but they already knew how to throw down some ray-gun hurt. Watching the original show, you realized that these kids were going to grow up in space; on their five-year missions they would not only lose their virginity and get to experiment with space-pot, but they were also going to face all the experiences that would turn them into Real Men and Real Women (or kill them) in the company of a handful of friends whom they would learn to trust and depend on. For all the kids watching the show who were just embarking on their own personal adventures into the final frontier that is Real Life, how better to capture the mix of eagerness, cockiness, trepidation, and just plain vulnerability you feel standing at the threshold? That, my friends, is the TOS Secret Sauce.

That’s why I especially enjoyed Bruce Greenwood’s steely-eyed-yet-compassionate, experienced-yet-still-young Captain Pike. He’s more like our old Kirk: a loyalty-inspiring leader, a brilliant tactician and improviser, never shirking the call to action, possessed of iron resolve in the face of peril, the first one in and the last one out of a crisis. I bet his five-year mission was just pure awesomeness. Spinoff, anyone?

I only have a couple quibbles. One is with the cinematography. People say it’s “the documentary look.” Okay, couple problems with that. First, a documentary filmmaker with this kind of budget isn’t gonna hire a caffeine addict with ADHD and motor-control issues to shoot his film. Second, he can afford to hire someone who went to film school and was therefore taught not to aim the pointy end of the camera at the big bright lights. Aiming for raw, the cinematography instead bullseyed amateur.

My other beef, unfortunately, is with the score. The usually dependable Michael Giacchino turned out a Superhero Saga soundtrack that becomes more and more hyperventilated with each new Big Climactic Scene. But since this movie is pretty much nothing but two hours’ worth of Big Climactic Scenes strung together, by the time the Enterprise leaves Space Dock and the action really gets going, the music has already been freaking out for 45 minutes. As a result, Giacchino has no choice but to keep dialing it up — by the last Big Climactic Scene it sounds like he’s thrown in a couple cathedrals’ worth of choirs, about eight organs, a fife and drum regiment, and what sounds like several large kitchen appliances and maybe a water buffalo.

Dude. Chill.

There were a few too many cliches thrown in there — the whole “Kirk as the Rebel With a Dessstiny” schtick falls flatter than a damp Marvel comic book. But I find myself not too bothered by those moments because it felt like they were just having fun with those ideas, not ramming them down our throats. After all, the filmmakers know that we know that what we’re watching is Kirk and Co. become what they have already become to us: icons of American pop culture.

And speaking of time warps, the movie goes on for about a half-hour too long, but that’s just because of the whole altered timeline/parallel universe contrivance. It’s there for one reason, and one reason only: so that Trek fundamentalists can rock themselves to sleep at night secure in the belief that their universe — you know, the one where everyone still strictly obeys sharia law canon — is safe from the heretics with their dangerous new ways of thinking. While for most of us the whole twist is a waste of space, for the filmmakers it was an absolute necessity in order to placate the canon partisans. Think I’m exaggerating? Google “star trek canon” and prepare to feel embarrassed for a whole lotta people.

After all that, it might sound like I didn’t like the movie. So, at this point it’s fair to ask whether, all things considered, the reboot “worked” for me. Let me answer this way. A couple times I felt like I was watching a two-part TV episode, and at those moments I would feel tugs of yearning to actually see episodes with this crew and this ship. So, yes, it did work for me, because: I want more.

Bridge Lighting: 11

Score Rating: 9/10

Best Line: SCOTTY: “I like this ship! You know, it’s exciting!”

Worst Line: There really weren’t any real groaners, unless you count the wink-winks (“Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a physicist!” “I’m givin’ it all she’s got, captain!” etc.)

Best Scene: Captain Pike sittin’ in the Big Chair, steerin’ his flagship.

Worst Scene: The whole Kirk-being-born-while-Daddy’s-on-a-suicide-run glurge.

Here’s Mr. Plinkett’s take on Star Trek the . . . Star Trek.

Here’s Honest Trailers’ review of J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars demo reel Star Trek.

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STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS

“Five years in space, God help me.”

Plot: After Kirk disobeys the Prime Directive to rescue Spock from a volcanic eruption on the planet Nibiru KABOOM ROAR loses command of the Enterprise, but when a secret Starfleet installation is KABLAMMM rogue Starfleet officer John Harrison attacks RATATATAT KAPOW AIEEE! ZZAPP ZZAPP KABLAMMO the Klingon homeworld where ZZAPP KABLOOEY ZZAPP RATATATATATAT Carol Marcus ROOAAARRR WHOOSH Khan PUNCH OOOF SMACK AIEEE! USS Vengeance BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM ZZAPP AOOGAH AOOGAH WHAMMM fight scene ZZAPP ZZAPP OOF AIEEE! POW POW POW crashing to Earth RRRROARRRR SPLASH CRASH KABOOM warp core VZZT VZZT CRACKLE CRUNCH “the needs of the many” FZZT CRACK VZZT “Khaaaaaaaan!!” SOB SOB SOB running through corridors STOMP STOMP STOMP SWISH OOF! AIEEE! tribble.

Observations: After just one movie, J.J. Abrams gets bored with Star Trek and decides to throw together a bunch of fan-service crap to rake in some quick bucks until he can finally go play with his shiny new Star Wars toys instead.

Bridge Lighting:

Score Rating: /10

Best Line:

Worst Line:

Best Scene:

Worst Scene:

Here’s Mr. Plinkett’s take on Star Trek Into Reference.

Here’s Honest Trailers’ review of Star Trek Into Darkness (“Seriously, don’t you think there needs to be a colon in there?”)

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5 Comments

  1. […] of tradition I have kept it up ever since. And as part of my recovery process I’ve decided to put it out on the […]

  2. Mrs Sotto Voce says:

    I left this movie flat out angry. When authors must resort to black holes, space time continuum, space eddies, etc, I get plain mad. It is like the non-SF version of “oh it is all a dream.” Neither is a twist it is simply a cheat.

    I did love the humor of the movie and some things worked like Spock and Uhura but not much else except….

    Bruce Greenwood is a captain I would follow anywhere.

  3. […] So for fun back in my college days, I started writing tongue-in-cheek “reviews” of the movies, and I’ve kept it up ever since. When I launched SV, I collected them all on the page Star Trek Films: The Good, The Bad, and The Sublimely Ridiculous. […]

  4. Colm says:

    The alteration of the space-time continuum in Star Trek aka The Beginning is necessary for the reboot of the franchise. We only had 3 seasons of the Kirk era but now the producers can return with no constraints and give us the full treatment. 1701 back on the small screen, Chekov at the helm, McCoy muttering about green-blooded pointy-eared aliens, a captain carrying multiple intergalactic STDs?
    J J Abrams has returned one essential element to ST: enthusiasm. Carry this over into a new series that respects itself but doesn’t take itself too seriously and we are in for years of Trek heaven.

  5. sottovoce says:

    Hmmm. Well, I do agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of the positive effect of JJA on the franchise.

    But you lost me at “The alteration of the space-time continuum … was necessary for the reboot.” [emphasis added]

    Ron D. Moore didn’t make Adama and Co. dance a space-time limbo when he rebooted BSG. The Batman and Spiderman franchises reboot so often, if they were computers you’d throw ’em out. The James Bond franchise went back to Casino Royale without requiring Bond and M to debate dimensional physics over cognac, or having Sean Connery appear from the mists to give Daniel Craig his existential blessing.

    No, it’s peculiar to Star Trek because of Trek fandom’s awkward tolerance of a microscopic yet fanatical sect of fundamentalists who have appointed themselves Canon Police, and who have made such a disproportionately loud clamor on the boards and blogs that people who can otherwise afford to ignore such nuisances felt obligated to placate them.

    JJA could have, and frankly should have, ignored them entirely and would have paid no penalty. Ron Moore did that when he rebooted BSG, and, as we saw, the tiny band of BSG canon purists quickly melted away, allowing the rest of us enjoy the show without their incessant carping.

    Enjoy it, that is, until Moore drove the show off the rails all by himself, but that’s a different argument for a different page.

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