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Iron Man (2008)

06/09/2011 1 comment

Hello, ladies. Look at Tony Stark. Now look at your man. Now back at Tony Stark. Does your man look like Tony Stark? No. Can he smell like Tony Stark? Well, maybe. Is your man the heir to one of the most lucrative weapons manufacturing industries in the world? Does your man have three summer homes and 26 expensive cars? Look down. Look up. Where are you now? You’re at a party, with the superhero your man could smell like. Anything is possible with Tony Stark.

Iron Man is a superhero film directed by Jon Favreau, based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name created by Stan Lee. It stars Robert Downey, Jr., Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jeff Bridges.

Tony Stark is an engineering genius, rich playboy, and currently the head of Stark Industries, a military contracting company he inherited from his father. While his father’s old partner Obadiah Stane takes care of things stateside, Stark travels to Afghanistan to demonstrate the new Jericho missile, only to have his convoy attacked by terrorists on the way back to base. Stark is injured in the attack and taken hostage by a group called the Ten Rings, where he finds that a fellow hostage, Dr. Yinsen, has installed an electromagnet in his chest to prevent shrapnel from entering his heart and killing him. Raza, the leader of the Ten Rings, tells Stark that he can buy his freedom by building them a Jericho missile. Doubting Raza will keep his word, Stark instead builds a suit of powered armor that runs off an arc reactor he builds to power his electromagnet. During the course of his escape, Stark discovers the Ten Rings has weaponry built by Stark Industries. Shaken, he vows that Stark Industries will no longer manufacture weapons. However, he thinks his suit is neat and just needs refinement, so being a good little nerd he hacks away at the design in his workshop. When he discovers that more Stark Industries weapons have been delivered to Ten Rings, Stark realizes his new calling – to use his suit for good to atone for the destruction that Stark Industries has caused with its weaponry. Little does he suspect that someone close to him has other plans for his powered armor…

I will admit that when I first saw Iron Man, I wasn’t as familiar with this particular Marvel character as I was with, say, Spider-Man or the X-Men, and with most of these established characters there just too much continuity across too many alternate universes to justify trying to dredge up everything with their name on it. Fortunately, the movie offers a crash course in all things Tony Stark, and quickly gets the viewer up to speed, as befits a retelling of his origin story. He is at once arrogant and loveable, a charming rogue who had never needed to take any responsibility save publicity stunts and hobnobbing with the beautiful people. Fortunately, when reality slaps him across the face, he rises to the occasion, proving that under the fun-loving playboy lies a genuinely good heart. While the Ten Rings portion of the plot seemed to be banking on the Afghanistan War, the writing was tight enough that the terrorists never stumbled into Sterotype Land, making them seem like a genuine threat. Back on American soil, it was fun watching Stark’s personality simply bounce off the people around him, particularly in his interactions with his long-suffering assistant Pepper Potts, who acts in turns as a secretary, potential romantic interest, and mother figure to the wayward Tony. Their relationship is deeper than mere professionalism, but while they tease with romance nothing ever seems to come of it.

The story is exciting and action-packed, offering a first look into this budding superhero that never feels forced or artificial. Each event flowed naturally into the next, from the introduction of our disgustingly wealthy hero to his transition into a force for good, without sending him spiralling too far into brooding Batman Land. The plot was a lot of fun to watch, especially as he is tinkering with his original suit, trying to improve it, even as he tests of the various weapons and propulsion systems send him careening into walls. His first flight in the iconic red and gold suit offers shades of Icarus’ first flight; Stark enjoys the hell out of his newfound freedom, even as he learns about the suit’s critical weakness (which, like Icarus, he discovers by trying to fly a high as he can). Stark makes a fun, enjoyable superhero, in stark contrast to his DC counterpart Bruce Wayne. Iron Man fans will also notice a lot of nods to the various comics stories, like the proposed cover story that Iron Man is a bodyguard to Tony Stark, as well as early warning signs of his alcoholism.

Whether you’re a longtime reader of the Iron Man comics or a newcomer who really digs superheroes, I highly recommend Iron Man. Tony Stark offers a fun-loving superhero to the mix that you wouldn’t mind partying with, in between him saving the city.

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Aeon Flux (2005)

06/07/2011 2 comments

In 1991, Korean American animator Peter Chung came up with an avant-garde animated series called Aeon Flux, featuring trippy imagery, surreal anatomy, and a gleeful shredding of many sci fi action conventions. It premiered as six-part short film on MTV’s Liquid Television, and went on to spawn two more seasons, until in 2005 the decision was made to make a live-action movie based on it.

…What.

Aeon Flux is a sci fi action film directed by Karyn Kusama, based on the Aeon Flux animated series. It stars Charlize Theron, Sophie Okonedo, Marton Csokas, Jonny Lee Miller, Frances McDormand, and Amelia Warner.

After a virus in the year 2011 wiped out 99% of the Earth’s population, all the survivors live in the walled city of Bregna, ruled by a congress of scientists headed by one Trevor Goodchild. While Bregna is utopic on its surface, people are disappearing, and everyone is plagued by nightmares. Aeon Flux, a member of an underground rebel group known as the Monicans, returns home from a mission to take out a surveillance station, only to find that her sister Una has been killed, mistaken for a Monican. Aeon is sent on another mission to assassinate Goodchild, but what she discovers will shake her perceptions of Bregna and the world she thought she knew…

I remember watching Aeon Flux on MTV during the 90’s, and while it was often surreal and trippy, it was engaging and easy to follow (even the original series of shorts, which had no dialogue). It quickly established a virus-ridden future with Aeon on one side of the battle and her nemesis Trevor Goodchild on the other. Later series threw some complexity into the mix by making them lovers as well as rivals, but it still worked. How did the movie do? Well… On the bright side, this movie is very nice to look at. Bregna is a beautiful, geometric city-state, the fashions are almost as weird as those in the original cartoons, and the technology is eye-popping and organic. While a live-action movie can’t quite capture the full spectrum of weird anatomy featured in the animation (for obvious reasons), the execution of Silandra’s hand-feet was seamless and well-done. The plot is fairly action-packed, with twists and turns that will keep you guessing even if you’re intimately familiar with the original.

Unfortunately, this last bit is mainly due to the fact that the movie is almost completely divorced from the animated series, plot-wise. If you approach this movie hoping to see Charlize Theron in the bondage gear, thigh-high boots, and ram-horn hair of the original, you are going to be sorely disappointed. The only apparent nods the movie gives the original is the deadly virus and making Aeon and Trevor lovers (from a previous lifetime, but still). Aside from this, the story just makes no damn sense once you start looking at the details. The original was trippy, but at least it didn’t confuse cloning with reincarnation, it made sense within the logic of its setting, and it had the common decency not to be so… generic. In the end, even though this movie bears the title Aeon Flux, I am left wondering if Peter Chung was anywhere near this movie when it was made.

In the end, I am left with the impression that whoever was responsible for this movie owes Peter Chung a sincere apology. They took an innovative, ground-breaking animated series and made a pretty but confusing and overall bland live-action movie out of it. Avoid this one.

Cast Away (2000)


In this day and age, it seems that we have become too connected. We can communicate instantly with people all over the world, and we live and die by the whims of the clock. As a result, we often lose sight of what it is to really live. Chuck Noland is about to rediscover his own humanity, courtesy of Federal Express.

Cast Away is a drama film directed by Robert Zemeckis, starring Tom Hanks, a remote island, a volleyball, and Helen Hunt.

Chuck Noland is a time obsessed systems analyst, in charge of improving the efficiency of Federal Express hubs all over the world. Although he is in a long-term relationship with the love of his life, Kelly Frears, whom he plans to marry, his demanding hours often interfere with his social life. When Christmas with relative is cut short by a Fed Ex emergency in Malaysia, Chuck leaves Kelly with a wrapped ring box, telling her not to open it until he returns on New Year’s Eve. However, it appears fate has other plans for him, when his plane crashes somewhere in the Pacific Ocean while trying to navigate through a violent storm. He is saved by the inflatable raft, but the emergency transmitter breaks off. Clinging to the raft, he floats all night and eventually washes up on the shore of an uninhabited island. Good news: Now Chuck has all the free time he could ever want. Bad news: He has nothing else but the clothes on his back, the contents of a few Fed Ex packages that wash on shore, and whatever else the island has to offer. Chuck must embark on a journey that mirrors the development of the earliest humans in order to survive, and in the process he learns what is truly important in life…

Tom Hanks is a great actor. There are very few people who can carry the bulk of a movie like this essentially on their own, and Hanks nails it. Add to this the directing chops of Robert Zemeckis, and you have the formula of a dramatic example of minimalism done right. The first half hour sets up the character of Chuck Noland, a tightly-wound corporate analyst who hardly has time to breathe, let alone develop a social life. While he lives by the clock and demands nothing short of the best from the employees he oversees, he does lend some sympathy to the character, so that he comes off as efficient and analytical rather than an obnoxious bureaucrat (in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him play an unsympathetic role in his life. Then the plane crash tears away everything he thought was important, and he is forced to learn how to survive with virtually no knowledge. Basically, he’s rediscovering what it is to be human, but at the same time he is determined not to forget what it is to be Chuck Noland.

Of course, the huge chunk of movie that takes place on the island is at once maddeningly quiet and terrifyingly loud. It lacks the usual noises of civilization (and a musical soundtrack), but possesses unexpected noises of virgin wilderness. It is not only the setting for Chuck’s personal journey but also a character in itself. It offers no advice, only the barest essential things he needs. He has no companionship save for a volleyball, with whom he has one-sided conversations to stave off loneliness. The plot is boiled and distilled and concentrated down to one thing – Chuck trying to survive. There is no antagonist except for the trials of scraping out his own existence, and you will either find it engaging or boring as hell, depending on your opinion of Hanks’ skill in this movie. Personally, I am in the former camp, and any actor or director that can make you cry for a volleyball deserves any awards he gets.

If you’re a fan of Tom Hanks and you’re in the mood for a modern-day take on Robinson Crusoe, absolutely check out Cast Away. You will soon find yourself journeying alongside Chuck into the heart of his own humanity, brought to you by Fed Ex.

The A-Team (2010)


“I love it when a plan comes together.”

From 1983 to 1987, The A-Team followed the adventures of a group of Vietnam vets turned mercenaries as they helped the innocent, solved problems, and generally blew shit up. In 2010 they decided to make a movie of it, with none of the original cast and generally kicking the storyline back to its origin. How did they do? Let’s find out.

The A-Team is a 2010 action movie directed by Joe Carnahan, based on the 80’s television series of the same name. It stars Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton Jackson, Sharlto Copley, Jessica Biel, Patrick Wilson, and Brian Bloom.

Right off we get to meet the primary players. John “Hannibal” Smith is being held captive by some corrupt Mexican police working for the renegade General Tuco, who mock him for carrying a gun with no firing pin (discovered when they try to execute him with it. Turns out he does have the firing pin, and it comes in damn handy for picking his cuffs. He’s an Army Ranger. He can do this. He sets out to rescue his partner Templeton “Faceman” Peck, currently held by Tuco’s men, and enlists the aid of a guy whose van he tries to hijack, one Bosco “B. A.” Baracus, who declines to be carjacked but, as a fellow Army Ranger, decides to help. Further hilarity ensues at Tuco’s ranch as they pick up Peck (likewise an Army Ranger) and they set out to make their escape with the help of cracked pilot H. M. Murdock, who they must pick up at an Army hospital. Oh yeah – he’s also an Army Ranger. We don’t know how. He’s also batshit crazy. The rescue consists of driving a truck through the wall (on which Murdock and the other inmates are watching an episode of The A-Team in 3-D) and skedaddling in a medical chopper during a dogfight that leaves Baracus with a fear of flying (not just flying with Murdock, but flying in general) and ends up with Hannibal leading Tuco into American military space, whereupon Tuco gets blown out of the sky.

And… breathe.

Eight years later, the boys are riding high as an elite Special Forces team. While stationed in Iraq, they are unofficially assigned to relieve some Iraqi insurgents of U.S. Treasury plates and about a billion dollars in currency. An old girlfriend of Face warns them away from the mission, but this is the A-Team, dammit, so they go after the plates and succeed in spades, but when they get back to base the plates, cash, and the only one who knows they were authorized to steal them get blown to kingdom come by an opposing private military firm called Black Forest. The A-Team are stripped of their rank, kicked out of the Army, and sentenced to ten years in prison. Now, you know they aren’t just going to let this slide. Fortunately, Hannibal is extremely patient, waiting for just the right moment… and when it comes, over-the-top action-movie physics ensue.

This movie follows in the spiritual footsteps of the series, with the clever chessmaster Hannibal cooking up plans, the handsome Faceman doing the social engineering bits, the aptly named “Howlin’ Mad” Murdock acting as the laser-guided Jack Sparrow of the group, and Barracus being the Big Scary Guy Who Hits Things. The movie serves as an origin story for the team, in much the same way that recent superhero films have covered the origins of familiar faces like Batman, Spider-Man, the Hulk, Daredevil, Ghost Rider, and the Fantastic Four for the benefit of those who might have heard of them but are largely unfamiliar with the mythos, and it offers some nods to the original series as well. Liam Neeson is the most familiar face in the group, and he acts as a cool-headed father figure of sorts to the men, while Sharlto Copely (whom I’ve seen in exactly one other movie besides this one) is a lunatic with a pilot’s license and the origin of Barracus’ fear of flying. (Handy tip: never do a barrel roll in a medical helicopter that has the doors open.) The action is thrilling and gleefully over-the-top, and the moments when the proverbial plan comes together will have you cheering at Hannibal’s sheer ingenuity.

However, there were a few parts were the action was a bit too insane, and pushed me out of my comfortable suspension of disbelief (which must be loosely girded to begin with when watching a movie like this). The most notable scene has the lads escaping in a cargo jet containing a tank. Okay, fine. If it has wings, Murdock can fly it. A few attack drones come by a commence trying to shoot down said cargo jet. Fancy flying and battle damage ensue. Okay, fine. It’s an action movie. The cargo jet finally gets destroyed, and the team escapes in the tank, which is now parachuting down. Okay, fine. There’s really nowhere else for them to go, and the tank is the best alternative they have. The drones come by again and start trying to take out the falling tank, shredding a couple of the parachutes, so that the tank is now in near free-fall. Okay, fine. Of course the drones would still go after their target. Now for the silly part: Hannibal sees a lake below them, a fair stone’s throw that way. He has Face (IIRC) turn the tank’s turret and fire sideways, using Newton’s First and Third Laws to propel them in the opposite so they can splash down in the lake. That’s right. They flew a tank. Unfortunately, the laws of physics don’t work that way, and the Mythbusters already busted their technique of firing into the water to cushion the impact. But hey. This is an action movie. Action movies laugh at our silly preconceived notions of physics.

If you’re a fan of the 80’s series and you don’t mind heroes who essentially hack the physics engine of the real world to pull off hair-raising escapes, you’ll probably find The A-Team to be an enjoyable little romp through Action Movie Land. The spirit is largely the same, and with only a few complaints the action is thrilling and entertaining. Worth a rental.

9 (2009)


It is inevitable that humanity will eventually die out. Depending on your level of optimism, some theories of human extinction may be more inevitable than others. Relatively recently, scientists have started wondering about what legacy humans will leave behind on planet Earth when we, as a species, go to our final reward. What, if anything, will be left behind to carry on our work?

9 is a computer animated science fantasy film directed by Shane Acker, based on Acker’s short film of the same title. It stars the voices of Elijah Wood, John C. Reilly, Jennifer Connelly, Crispin Glover, Martin Landau, and Christopher Plummer.

It is wartime. An unnamed Scientist is charged with building an artificially intelligent device called the Fabrication Machine, which will build other machines to wage war against a dictator’s enemies. Sometime later, we see that this was apparently a spectacularly bad idea, as humanity has subsequently been wiped out, their mighty civilization in ruins. However, life remains… sort of. Nine small homunculus-like ragdolls called Stitchpunks remain in this barren landscape, created for a purpose that they do not yet know. One of these, 9, was the last to be created before the Scientist died, and he finds himself in a terrifying world where remaining war machines hunt the Stitchpunks as the Stitchpunks try to find safety and a purpose. They are inquisitive and industrious, able to improvise any number of weapons and devices from the odds and ends they find around them, but this soon gets 9 in trouble when he accidentally reactivates the Fabrication Machine, which commences hunting the ‘punks in earnest. 9 believes their only hope is to fight back, but the spiritual leader 1 believes that survival will only come by running away and hiding… and 1 is willing to make sacrifices to ensue his ideal society. Before long, they ‘punks start running out of places to hide, and soon they must face this new horror, or risk their own annihilation.

This is a beautifully rendered movie. Due to the relative scale (the Stitchpunks are only about six inches tall), the debris left over by the apocalypse forms a new landscape for them to explore – a sandbox for the little MacGyvers to build what they need out of what is left behind. The nine main characters are surprisingly unique for burlap ragdolls, and I was amazed at how expressive and distinguishable their faces were, considering they were basically a couple of lenses (or, in the case of 5, a single lens) with a slit for a mouth. In addition to distinct appearances, each Stitchpunk also has a unique personality, easily avoiding the pitfall of making them little carbon copies of one another by making them embody aspects of the Scientist who made them. The war machines are also innovative and terrifying, from the Fabrication Machine (which reminded me vaguely of GlaDOS from Portal) to the Seamstress (who looked like Sid from Toy Story had allied with the Other Mother from Coraline to make a Stitchpunk hunting monster). The world inhabited by the stitchpunks is huge and beautiful and frightening, and a delight to watch.

Unfortunately, in actual substance the world of 9 falls short. It is light on explanations and thin on plot, and while an unexplained world like this can make the exploration of its mysteries a delight, here it was a bit frustrating. I didn’t get the feeling that the Stitchpunks learned anything about what happened to the world, and while they made progress against the War Machines and maybe helped nudge the world back to life (if inadvertantly), I had no real feeling of progress. Like little robots, the Stitchpunks are only following their programming, which appears to be compiling information and rebuilding the world any way they can. What plot there is doesn’t seem to quite stretch to cover the 79-minute running time, making the bulk of the film feel like mostly padding.

While 9 is beautifully detailed and demonstrates a Stitchpunk’s-eye view of a post-apocalyptic world, ultimately it falls short in terms of plot and feels like it could have been so much more. Worth a rent for the visuals alone, but other than that don’t look too hard for a complex story.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

05/20/2011 1 comment

What do you get when you cross a Steven Spielberg movie with a Stanley Kubrick movie? What do you get when you update Pinocchio to a futuristic setting? What do you get when you combine all of these together into a single movie? You get this.

A. I. Artificial Intelligence is a sci fi drama film directed, produced, and co-written by Steven Spielberg, based on the short story “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long” by Brian Aldiss. It stars Haley Joel Osment, Frances O’Connor, Jude Law, Sam Robards, and William Hurt, with a brief camero by Robin Williams.

It is the near future. With the melting of the polar ice caps, coastal cities have been flooded, forcing people inland. With the reduction in available resources, a new class of robots is invented, capable of emulating human emotions – but their creator has something more in mind for artificial humans. Professor Hobby has created a prototype child robot that is capable of feeling true love, like that felt by a child for its parent, rather than merely emulating the appropriate behaviors. His company, Cybertronics, tests the child robot, named David, on a pair of their employees, the Swintons, whose biological son Martin is sick with an unidentified disease and currently in cryogenic suspension. Monica Swinton is initially afraid of this robot child, but she soon warms to him after activating the imprinting protocol, causing him to irreversibly feel love for his “mother”. Things get awkward later on, though, when a cure is found for Martin’s illness and he is able to come home. A sibling rivalry erupts as the two vie for Monica’s love, with David not understanding what is upsetting their parents so much. Things come to a head at Martin’s birthday party by the pool, nearly resulting in Martin’s drowning, and the decision is made to send David back to Cybertronics to be destroyed. Monica has grown to love David, though, and can’t bear the thought of him being destroyed like a common robot, so she abandons him in the woods, instructing him to do whatever he can to escape. From here, David teams up with Gigolo Joe, a lover-mecha on the run after being accused of murder, and embarks on a journey to find his place in this world, to explore the meaning of love, and to find a way to finally earn his mother’s love by becoming a real boy.

Spielberg is one of the great geniuses of filmmaking, as was Kubrick before his death. It makes sense that Kubrick would have asked Spielberg to helm this movie, and for the most part the two style combined well. This vision of the future is melancholy, by turns heartwarming and heartbreaking as we see the lengths to which mankind will go to maintain their humanity – on the one hand, they fill out their dwindling population with robots created in their own image to act as everything from executive assistants to prostitutes, but at the same time the humans seem to fear their uncannily-perfect creations, exemplified by the Flesh Fair, a sort of demolition derby involving outdated or castoff mechas, attended by those who fear being replaced by their mechanical counterparts. A common recurring theme throughout the movie is the nature of love, explored from the respective points of view of David, the child mecha, and Gigolo Joe, a prostitute mecha. In Joe’s mind, humans are imperfect, but he is programmed to make them feel beautiful. In David’s mind, he himself is imperfect, programmed to love unconditionally but apparently rejected for being artificial. The robot effects are excellent, nudging you into the uncanny valley from the human side as the mechas look too perfect to be real when intact, and entirely too human when malfunctioning or in pieces. In fact, Kubrick had sat on this project for about twenty years because he felt that CG effects would be needed to bring his childlike hero to life.

Now for the shortcomings. First off, while a child robot that will love you forever seems like a great idea, in fact it’s a terrible idea, because you’re stuck with this little entity that will be ten years old and dependent on you forever. Whether or not David’s mass production (and that off his distaff counterpart Darla) ultimately led to the downfall of civilization is left unclear, which brings me to my next complaint: the ending. The last half hour felt tacked on for the sake of giving David at least half a happy ending, and just dragged on and on and on like an ex that just won’t let things go, and just made the movie too damn long. Many have proposed suitable moments where the movie could have ended, albeit tragically, and given that this was originally a Kubrick film this could have fit just fine. Seriously – the epilogue takes place 2000 years later. And it keeps going. And going. And going… Making the end product feel just too damn long.

If you’re looking for a futuristic Pinocchio tale with all the trappings and you’re feeling patient enough to sit through your happy ending, give A. I. Artificial Intelligence a shot. Spielberg and Kubrick’s diverse styles largely combine well to offer an ultimately tragic glance at a dwindling future, even if it could have used a bit more trimming at the end.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

05/16/2011 1 comment

I’ve noticed an interesting rule of low-budget sci fi franchises set in the future: When time travel to a recognizeable period is involved, the most common temporal setting is modern times. It makes sense from a budgetary point of view: recreating a certain historical period can be expensive, and it’s hard to get all the details exactly right. Naturally, it will transpire that the modern day has the thing or resource needed by our visitors from the future, with no easy way to communicate what it is or why they need it. Here we have this basic plot, only with a Hollywood budget. How well did it do? Let’s find out.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is a sci fi film set in the Star Trek film franchise, the fourth film in the series, a direct sequel to Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and the third movie in the story arc known to fans as the Star Trek trilogy, finishing the storyline started in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It was directed by Leonard Nimoy, and stars Nimoy, William Shatner, Catherine Hicks, Nichelle Nichols, DeForest Kelly, Walter Koenig, and a couple of humpback whales.

It is the year 2286. The crew of the starship Enterprise (destroyed during the events of The Search for Spock), are living in exile on the planet Vulcan while their recently resurrected crewmate Spock is still recovering from his resurrection and having his katra re-integrated. So far, his Vulcan components are repaired and functioning just fine, but he is still having trouble coming to terms with his human half. As they are headed back to planet Earth in their stolen strategically re-purposed Klingon Bird of Prey to face trial for Kirk being a heroic badass and saving the day disobeying orders and stealing the Enterprise, they receive a distress call from Starfleet, telling them of a cylindrical probe approaching Earth (because Earth is the center of the universe), sending out a signal that has toasted the electronics of many crucial systems and has the potential to destroy the planet. One odd detail: the probe is being aimed at the ocean, not at any of the land-based civilizations. Spock determines that the signal is actually the song of humpback whales, a species rendered extinct on Earth 300 years ago. Well, arse. Since there are no whales, there can be no response, means that Earth is screwed – unless Kirk & Co. travel back in time to pick up a whale to talk to the darn thing. They slingshot around the sun to get the speed necessary to travel back in time, and arrive in San Francisco in 1986. Once there they find they’re in luck – two humpback whales are in captivity nearby – but at the same time they have a few more problems to solve before they can bring their aquatic diplomats back to chat with the probe, and of course, hilarity ensues.

This was a fun little movie. While it doesn’t have the intense drama of Khan or the cultural development of Spock, it does have a simple plot made believeably complex by the expected problems of being from 300 years in the future, trying to get what you need to save Earth in your home time, without beating the viewer over the head with the Save the Whales message. Spock’s continued post-resurrection disorientation provides some of the funniest moments int he film, and watching the Enterprise crew running around San Francisco, year 1986, was a riot, even during perilous situations that could have completely jeopardized their mission. Interesting bit of trivia: during pre-production the filmmakers were concerned about filming in San Francisco, thinking the locals would see the actors running around and interfere with filming. As an experiment, they sent some extras touring the city in Starfleet uniforms. Nobody noticed. This is reflected in the film itself when people dismiss Spock as a recovering hippie, and Chekhov and Uhura are largely ignored while trying to get directions to the Alameda Naval Base so they can recharge the Bird of Prey’s dilithium crystals (almost completely out of juice after travelling back 300 years). Incidentally, the woman who ultimately stopped to help was not an extra, and they had to chase her down and have her sign a release so they could use the footage.

It seemed that most of the cast acknowledged the comedic potential in the plot, and they were bang-on in delivering it, staying straight-faced trying to solve their problem while the audience was rolling on the floor laughing. I especially offer mad props to Nimoy, who had to stay absolutely deadpan during some of the funniest scenes in the movie. Scotty’s encounter with a PC that lacked voice recognition capabilities, Kirk and Spock’s encounter with a jackass on the bus with a loud boom-box, and Chekhov’s encounter with Red Scare-era naval officers were just a handful of great scenes sprinkled liberally throughout this movie (though given the political climate I’m left to wonder how much trouble the Russian-born Chekhov could have potentially been in, given that he was caught in the bowels of a nuclear sub). ILM’s animatronic whales were impressive, too – so impressive that the crew got bitched out by conservation and animal rights groups who thought they’d filmed the scenes with real humpback whales. This is why ILM is a god.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home brings a satisfying conclusion to the story arc started in Khan, offering thrills and laughs in equal measures against a backdrop of yet another potential apocalypse. I highly recommend watching this one, but for best results you should only do so after you’ve seen the previous two.