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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.

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Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)

05/13/2011 2 comments

In many long-running franchises, there is often a movie that the filmmakers intend as the “end” of the franchise, only to have it be so successful that a sequel (or multiple sequels) is made. Saw III. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. Some of these are obvious – others less so. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was intended to be the last of the Star Trek movies, ending as it did with the heroic sacrifice and funeral of Spock. As expected, it was so popular that the studio wanted to make a sequel. How well did they do? Let’s find out.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock is the third movie in the Star Trek film franchise, based on the original Star Trek television series, and serves as a direct sequel to Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. It was directed by Leonard Nimoy (his condition for returning to the franchise), and it stars William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, and Nichelle Nichols.

When we last left our intrepid heroes, the Enterprise had just had its ass kicked across half a solar system by Khan Noonien Singh, a genetically engineered superhuman tyrant who hated Admiral Kirk with the intensity of a thousand desert suns for a bunch of stuff Kirk indirectly caused. The casualties of this battle included half of Captain Spock’s fledgling crew, and Spock himself, who sacrificed himself to allow the Enterprise to escape Khan’s impending detonation of the Genesis device in a final last-ditch attempt to reduce Kirk to atoms. Khan’s plan failed, but the Genesis device appeared to work as designed, causing a nearby lifeless planet to burst into life, the same planet around which Spock’s funeral torpedo was placed into orbit. Now for the problems: Dr. McCoy has started acting a bit loopy, and is detained for observation. Starfleet Admiral Murrow orders the Enterprise to be decommissioned, and its crew are not to speak of the results of the Genesis detonation due to political concerns. Kirk’s son David and the Vulcan Saavik investigate the blooming Genesis planet, and find an inexpected life-form: a Vulcan child, minus his mental operating system. Finally, Sarek, Spock’s father, confronts Kirk about Spock’s death, and the two managed to piece together the reason behind McCoy’s erratic behavior: McCoy is carrying Spock’s katra, which Spock transferred over to him just before his sacrifice. Spock’s katra and body must be reunited in order to properly lay Spock to rest on the planet Vulcan, before the strain kills McCoy. Kirk has explicit orders not to go near the Genesis planet, where he suspects Spock’s body to be (and where it technically is), and his ship has been decommissioned. Will this stop him? Hell no – he’s Admiral Goddamned Kirk! Naturally, Klingons ensue.

I hadn’t seen this movie in a while, and all I really remembered about it was Kirk and Kluge battling on the crumbling Genesis planet. However, when I watched it recently, I was quite pleased by how well it followed up on the tragic events at the end of Khan and led nicely into The Voyage Home (mainly by explaining why Spock was so loopy during most of the latter). Did the Federation really think that Kirk would do something as silly as follow orders when to do so would put several of his close comrades at serious risk? Hell no! And the events on and around the Genesis Planet went a long way towards establishing the Klingons as a race, and offers the first glimpses into the Klingon language, since developed fully by Marc Okrand. We also get a look at Vulcan spiritualism and culture, and how it ties into the race’s natural processes. The ritual of Pon Farr is glimpsed when Saavik finds herself helping adolescent Spock through a rather violent puberty, and expanded materials have implied that she conceived a child by him offscreen. In all, the cultural development of the Vulcans and Klingons is excellent, and would play a significant role in later movies.

There were a few surprises in the casting here. Saavik, previously played by Kirstie Alley in The Wrath of Khan, is played here by Robin Hooks, who fared decently well in the role. Also, I recall staring at Kluge for about half the movie, thinking, “I know that guy, I know that guy, I know that guy”, before it hit me – that was Christopher Lloyd under all that makeup! It especially comes out when Kluge starts getting upset, but he did very well outside his usual spectrum. The crew of the Enterprise remains tightly knit by years of mutual experience (in-universe and out), even considering the conspicious lack of Spock through much of the film, and it was fun seeing McCoy getting in disputes with his unwanted katra passenger, considering how much the two had bickered when Spock was alive and in one piece.

Star Trek: The Search for Spock followed well in the footsteps left behind by Wrath of Khan, and easily continues the story of the crew of the Enterprise, as well as developing two of the major alien races of that universe. I recommend this to all Trek fans and everyone who enjoyed Khan.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)


No one fights like that Khan
Douses lights like that Khan
In a wrestling match nobody bites like that Khan
For there’s no one as burly and brawny
And you can see he’s got biceps to spare
Not a bit of him’s scraggly or scrawny,
And ev’ry last inch of him’s covered in hair!

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is a science fiction film directed by Nicholas Meyer based on the television series Star Trek and serving as a sequel to both Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the Star Trek episode “Space Seed”. It stars William Shatner, Richardo Montalban, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, and Walter Koenig.

As Admiral James Kirk oversees the training of Captain Spock’s hopeful future crew through the Kobayashi Maru simulation, the U.S.S. Reliant searches for a lifeless planet on which to test out the Genesis Device, a torpedo that can terraform planets for human colonization but can also destroy planets. When Commander Pavel Chekhov and Captain Clark Terrell beam down to a likely candidate, Ceti Alpha VI, they instead find a genetically engineered tyrant, Khan Noonian Singh, whose band of supermen were exiled there during the events of “Space Seed”. It appears that since that time, a lot of bad shit has gone down for Khan et all, including the death of Khan’s wife, and he swears revenge. He implants Chekhov and Terrell with mind-controlling alien larvae to compel them to help him take over the Reliant, and from there hatches a plan to ensnare Kirk and destroy him once and for all. Kirk, meanwhile, is on a training mission with Spock’s new crew when they receive a distress call from Regula I, the space station developing the Genesis device. Kirk being Kirk, he comes to the rescue, setting off a deadly game of cat and mouse between old enemies, amid revelations between old friends…

Wrath of Khan is considered by most to be vastly superior to The Motion Picture, and it’s easy to see why. Building on a sequel hook set at the end of “Space Seed”, Khan weaves a tale of tragedy and revenge that pretty much blows the first movie out of the water. Much of Kirk’s old crew is moving on to newer things, but they quickly band together against a common threat, mainly because they’re familiar with each other and simply work well together. Everyone is forced to think on their feet in a deep-space game of speed chess that could potentially cost the lives of Spock’s entire crew. Kirk has clashed with Khan before, and he knows the tyrant’s weaknesses, but the reverse is also true, making the conflict seem very real as the stakes are raised again and again.

The cast is still tight here, having learned how to adapt from TV to film through the previous film. Kirk remains a badass, even as he witnesses the extent to which this madman will go to get his revenge, threatening an adult son Kirk has only just met. Khan is also a badass, albeit one with a laser sight trained on Kirk and everything he holds dear (and incidentally, that was Ricardo Montalban’s real chest exposed by his costume, rumors of prostheses aside). Chekhov barely escapes being shoved into the comic relief corner here, as he serves as a plot device to hook in his old Captain; fortunately his loyalty to Kirk is such that Khan is ultimately unable to use him as an assassin. The subplot involving Carol Marcus and the son she bore with Kirk seems like a natural extension of Kirk’s notorious womanizing rather than just another plot device, and to Kirk’s credit he does adapt to fatherhood reasonably well under the circumstances.

In all, Wrath of Khan easily outshines The Motion Picture both in terms of plot and characterization, and is a worthy addition to the Star Trek franchise. Absolutely see this one.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)


Star Trekkin’
Across the universe
On the starship Enterprise
Under Captain Kirk
Star Trekkin’
Across the Universe
Boldly going forward
Coz we can’t find reverse!

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a science fiction film based on the original Star Trek television series. It was directed by Robert Wise and stars the core cast of that series: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, and George Takei.

In deep space, a Starfleet monitoring station detects an alien force hidden in a cloud of energy, headed for Earth. As Space Anomaly #237 continues on this route, it eats three Klingon ships and the monitoring station in question, prompting Starfleet to recommission Admiral James T. Kirk, currently languishing as a desk jockey in San Francisco as Chief of Starfleet Operations. While the Enterprise is undergoing a refit under the supervision of a new commander, Captain Decker, Kirk’s superior experience with Hinky Shit in Space makes him a superior choice of captain in this case, and Decker is unhappily kicked downstairs while Kirk’s old crew is hunted down and reassembled for the mission, including Spock, who was undergoing a Vulcan ritual to purge all emotion from him when he felt a consciousness that he believes emanates from the cloud. A new addition to the crew is the navigator, Ilia, a member of an alien race that pumps out mad pheromones but, per regulations, she has taken a vow of celibacy so she doesn’t disrupt the crew. When the Enterprise intercepts the cloud, it probes the enterprise and abducts Ilia, replacing her with a robotic double with a single mission: to gather information. All the while, though, the cloud continues barreling for Earth, hell-bent on completing a mission started over 300 years ago, and it is a race against time for the Enterprise to find out what this mission was, and how to help the alien entity fulfill it before it destroys the planet Earth.

When Star Trek was cancelled in 1969, Gene Roddenberry recognized the potential that the franchise still held and lobbied Paramount to continue the series through feature-length films. Based on the continued success of Star Trek in syndication, the studio started bashing away at a Star Trek film in 1975, but the project hung in limbo until 1978, after the success of Close Encounters of the Third Kind convinced them once and for all that sci fi films other than Star Wars could be successful. Consequently, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (expanding a plot intended for the pilot episode of Star Trek: Phase II, a show that ultimately never materialized) became a Proof of Concept that Trek could work in the film medium. As far as that went, ST: TMP fared well. It opened the door to more impressive films like Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan and a multi-film story arc involving the heroic sacrifice and subsequent resurrection of Spock.

That said, it’s not a perfect film. The special effects were decent for 1979, especially considering that CGI wouldn’t even be a twinkle in Hollywood’s eye for two more years, but the Chromakey effects seem dated by today’s standards. The acting is pretty good, though, and the story keeps you engaged throughout without lagging or padding. I suspected right off that Ilia and Decker were going to be one-off Red Shirts for the movie, but the way they executed their final fates was imaginative and ingenius. The ultimate identity of the being V’Ger came as a nice surprise, too, and helped to link the Trek Verse with the “Real World”, albeit centuries in the future. There were a few points I didn’t immediately understand, having only seen a handful of episodes from the original series, but my roommate, a huge Trek fan, was able to help me fill in the gaps.

While it is not necessary to watch this film to understand the later entries in the Star Trek film series, I would recommend this to Trek fans as a glimpse into the beginnings of the Star Trek film franchise. While many points may go over the heads of non-Trekkies, it fares well as a stand-alone science fiction story, and I think most fans of the genre will enjoy it.

Blogger’s note: “Star Trekkin'” is owned by The Firm, copyright 1987. I am using it here without permission. All rights reserved, live long and prosper.

Miss Congeniality (2000)


There are times when an undercover operation requires only the best individual for the role – someone with the training and expertise to not only solve the case but also successfully masquerade as a given role, leaving no hint in the minds of others that they are the real deal. Occasionally this work is glamorous. Frequently it’s not. And sometimes you just have to go with whatever you have at hand. Meet Gracie Hart. She’s so going to kick your ass when she’s done being a beauty queen.

Miss Congeniality is a police comedy film directed by Donald Petrie and starring Sandra Bullock, Benjamin Bratt, Michael Caine, Candance Bergen, and William Shatner.

Gracie Hart is a rough and tumble tomboy who grew up depending on her fists rather than her looks and charm to negotiate diplomatic situations. Currently, she is the FBI’s leading undercover agent, though most of her roles tend towards being that random woman in the corner that nobody pays attention to. However, when a terroriss known only as the Citizen threatens the 75th annual Miss United States Pageant, the FBI needs to send somebody undercover as one of the pageant contestants – and to everyone’s surprise, Gracie appears to be the perfect candidate… except for the minor problems of her being about as feminine as Dolph Lundgren. The task of girlifying her falls to the long-suffering coach Victor Melling, who has to teach her how to look, walk, dress, and act like a beauty contestant in an insanely short period of time, while Gracie is tasked with making friends amongst her fellow contestants and figuring out who might want to blow up a beauty pageant and why. Naturally, hilarity ensues on all sides.

On the surface, this movie is a fun little action comedy starring Sandra Bullock as a frazzled brunette, Benjamin “Law and Order” Bratt as her love interest, Candace Bergen as an arrogant bitch pageant coordinator, and Michael Caine as an ambiguously gay beauty pageant coach. This is the closest thing to a chick flick I own, and the makeover story is a hilarious comedy of errors as Gracie tries like hell to “get it”. (Incidentally, I can relate – that shit is complicated) Then I did some digging and found that the movie actually works on two levels. The title is a snarky commentary on the tomboyish, argumentative, rough-and-tumble protagonist, which most people probably get right away. However, I looked into what the Miss Congeniality award actually meant, and discovered something kind of interesting. Gracie Hart hits every single point during the movie. Miss Congeniality is not expected to be a strong contestant, he is expected to make friends and help out her fellow contestants, paying more attention to others than to herself, and to help other contestants avoid disaster. Nice genius bonus, movie.

Miss Congenality‘s cast works well together, their respective personalities bounding off each other in natural and hilarious ways, mainly in the scenes with Gracie socializing with her fellow contestants and trying to overcome her natural FBI instincts and learn what the hell being a girl is all about. The romantic sideplot with Eric is understated and probably mainly due to Bullock and Bratt dating at the time (IIRC), but her rebelling against Victor’s lessons ultimately allows her to adopt her own take on beauty queen-ness without sacrificing her personality and becoming a Barbie Doll. In all, funny moments interspersed with the terrorist subplot made this an effective action-comedy without sacrificing either the action or the comedy.

If you like tight action-comedies built around personality clashes and potential disasters (both of the blowing up kind and the wardrobe malfunction kind), check out Miss Congeniality. It’s a surprisingly clever little comedy about finding a balance between who you are and who you need to be.