Friday, April 21, 2006

Star Trek is Back!

Oh thou Star Trek feature film, how I have missed thee. For many year thou provided us with solid sci-fi action adventure films that were at best entertaining and exciting, and at worst…., well sort of boring.

After the last ST film outing, Star Trek: Nemesis, I doubted if the film franchise would ever be resurrected. However, this morning, I read that Star Trek films will be making a comeback , this time helmed by J.J. Abrams, of Alias and Lost fame. The new film will apparently take place when the Kirk generation was in Starfleet academy, and will not use any of the cast members from the various TV series. This will be a first for Star Trek, which has always taken the crew members right off the bridges of their shows, and used them as the primary cast for the films. I have seen every Star Trek film, and frighteningly enough, most of them in the theatre. Shall we take a quick stroll down memory lane?

1) Star Trek: The Motion Picture 1979
I was an infant when this was released, but when I finally did see it, I almost fell asleep like a baby. It’s a classic in its own right, but it’s also kind of boring. I feel obliged to like this film more than anything else, simply because it was the first Star Trek film. I only have a vague working knowledge of the plot. Seems Kirk and the crew go on a very long, slow voyage to find some sort of destructive alien force. Doesn’t it turn out to be a satellite or something? Who knows.

2) Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn 1982
Considered to be the strongest film in the Star Trek franchise, this film uses a plot line and character from an Original Series episode. Kahn, an evil, crazy warlord who was banished to planet LB4-26 by Kirk years ago, resurfaces and takes revenge on Kirk and the enterprise for the suffering he endured during his exile. This film has many unforgettable moments, including, the worm burrowing it’s way through Chekov’s ear, Kirk yelling “KAHN!” at the top of his lungs, and the somber moment when Spock sacrifices himself for the ship saying “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Wrath of Kahn is probably as good as it will ever get in the world of the ST movies.

3) Star Trek III: The Search for Spock 1984
I remember seeing this in the theatre and being thoroughly confused about how Spock, who I thought had died, was suddenly up and walking around as a teenager. All suspect plotting aside, while this movie is an odd numbered one, I think it is one of the most lambasted without reason. I actually have a huge soft spot for this movie, because I like that Kirk and his crew become outlaws and literally “steal the enterprise” to go find Spock on genesis. I like that McCoy is half in the bag for the whole movie, and Christopher Lloyd is awesome as the Klingon commander. “Get out!!!! Get out of there!!!!”

4) Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home 1986
I remember lining up outside the theatre to see this on a Friday night with my Dad. Voyage Home is one of the most random and arbitrary entries in the franchise. It picks up right where the third film left off, where Kirk and crew are stuck in a Kingon Bird of Prey and trying to get back to earth. However, when they do, a giant probe begins to attack the planet. The Enterprise crew discover that the probe is sending signals to earth that are actually akin to those made by Humpback whales which have been extinct for years. The crew goes back in time to San Francisco in the 80’s to take two humpback whales back to the future so they can save the world! It’s absolutely insane, but the filmmakers pull it off because of how silly and lighthearted everything is throughout. It’s a comedy and a pretty enjoyable one at that.

5) Star Trek V: The Final Frontier 1989
I remember the day I saw this, I did a double feature, and saw it back to back with Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. This is probably my least favorite of all the ST films. They tried to retain some of the comedy of the fourth film, but it felt forced. I wasn’t buying into the whole Uhura and Scotty romance, and the general point of the film escaped me. They found God, only to have him die?

6) Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country 1991
Yup, I saw this one in the theatre too. This is another one of those ST films which is oft forgetten, but is one of the more solid of the bunch. This film has the feel of a political thriller, which I like. Kirk and company must try to stop a conspiracy that will hinder a treaty between the Klingons and the Federation. I thought Iman was a nice addition to the cast as an alien love interest to Kirk, and the finale at the Federation is well done too.

7) Star Trek VII: Generations 1994
This was one of the hugest releases in Star Trek motion picture history. I remember being incredibly excited about Generations, because I was such a huge fan of The Next Generation, and I was thrilled they were entering the movie franchise. In many ways this was a movie for the ultimate Star Trek nerd. It doesn’t get much bigger than Jean Luc Picard meeting up with James Tiberius Kirk. But as momentous as it was for the two men to chop wood together, and for Kirk to die, I still wasn’t sold on the movie. The concept of the Nexus “energy ribbon” was interesting, but not executed that well, and Malcom McDowell as the villain, chewed the furniture, but not in a good way.

8) Star trek VIII First Contact 1996
I actually missed this one in the theatre, not sure why –possible I was in my teenage nerd denial phase. At any rate, I have since seen it in a theatre, and it is fantastic. Picard and his crew are attacked by the Borg and discover that they intend to go back in time to stop an important historic event. It is the moment that a man named Cochran invents warp drive, and through his accomplishment leads to the first extra terrestrial contact between man and another race, in this case the Vulcans. The story is a clever fusion of a time travel caper, and a Borg take over plot, and the Queen Borg was a terrific villain. It is by far the best Star Trek movie done with the TNG crew.

9) Star Trek IX Insurrection 1998
I was back in the cushy theatre seats for this one, but unfortunately over much ado about nothing. This film marked the final downturn of the Star Trek franchise as far as I’m concerned. While it was fun to see the TNG folks back in uniform and running around again, I wasn’t particularly interested in the plot. Insurrection was about a utopian society under threat by members of the Federation who were on the verge of violating the prime directive by interefering with the society’s culture. Picard is outraged and stages a rebellion to help them with his crew. While I though F. Murray Abraham put in a good performance (one that was slightly reminiscent of Llyod’s Klingon Commander), it was not enough to bouy this feature out of the “extended episode” syndrome that weighed it down.

10) Star Trek X Nemesis 2002
Neutral zones, and Romulans and clones, oh my! I saw this one opening night at the Chinese theatre, which was fun because of the people watching, but this film was the death knell of the Trek movies. It wasn’t that it was so bad, it was more so that it felt uninspired, and no one, particularly Picard and crew seemed excited about being there. If they can’t get excited, how can I?

I don’t think that the Star Trek saying “The odd numbered films are bad, the even numbered films are good” has much validity anymore. So I’m not too concerned about the fact that this next film is #11. I like that JJ Abrams is bringing fresh ideas and thought into the franchise, but like any protective mother, I have my fair share of concerns. Pumping new life into the Star Trek mythology will be a good thing, I just hope he doesn’t try to make it too “cool” or “hip”. I think that part of what has made Star Trek work over the years was that it was not self conscious about the fact that it had goofy looking aliens or pseudo-scientific terminology. The creators knew it was geeky, but embraced that element about itself. I think that when Star Trek has tried to “modernize” and “mainstream” itself, as with the last TV incarnation Enterprise, it looses its originality, and just becomes like any other bland space adventure. But at this point, I don’t think the Star Trek franchise has anything else to loose. Good luck J.J.


Blogger DoorFrame said...

I want an entire new series focused entirely within a Borg ship. Just what they do in their day to day life. You know, assimilate this, destroy that. It would be interesting. You could explore all their interpersonal problems.

"That's MY feeding tube."

"The collective wants ME to sacrifice myself."

"Hey Hugh, what's up?"

Actually, it would be interesting to do an entire series based on a ship that wasn't human. Could we watch a Klingon ship for very long? Maybe, maybe not. I could probably watch a Cardassian ship though, they're pretty interesting. Ferengui would be tough. Vulcan would be dull. Romulan maybe? I suppose a Domion ship would be really dull...

I don't know, I like the idea. I would give a non-human ship a shot, it'd be interesting and you could address issues that haven't already been addressed a million times on human ships. Also you could play a lot with the murkiness of situations that seemed so clean when we watched them from the human point of view. Do it during Picard's era and explain why he wasn't always right. Or do it during Deep Space 9 and show why the Domion were actually the good guys and that damned Sisko was always causing trouble.

I'd definitely be interested.

10:06 PM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

I like that idea of the "spinoff" alien star trek movie. You do bring up an interesting point though --not every race would be able to carry a film for two hours, I don't think. I think Klingons in particular would get particularly grating, because of all their grunting and yelling. My brother and I were just talking about the Dominion the other day though --they were sort of interesting.

10:06 AM  

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