Friday, June 21, 2019

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier - Review

Row, row, row your boat out of here.
Spoilers.

Non-sensical and non-descript, just like the movie.

I'll be honest, I was kind of dreading this. Not only is The Final Frontier considered to be among the worst of the Star Trek movies, I also remember really not liking it. Interestingly enough though, having re-watched it now for this review, I found a lot more redeeming factors than I ever thought I would. But maybe me going in with the lowest of expectations really helped things along.

Don't get me wrong, this movie is in fact bad. But the main issue here is the story, which is convoluted, boring and honestly makes no sense at all. However, sandwiched in-between a lot of scenes that have straight up bad writing, is a lot of stuff that actually could make this movie worth watching for a Star Trek fan (at least if you've run out of other TOS content to watch). The jargon and banter between Kirk and Co are some of the best they've ever been and we get to see a lot more character development (by other crew members than Kirk) in this movie than in the first three (TMP, TWOK and TSFP).

But seriously, what is up with the story? The movie starts out with a scene of Kirk free climbing some mountain side while McCoy is on the ground, rightly being worried out of his mind about Kirk falling to his death any second. Spock shows up with his rocket shoes just before Kirk falls (arguably also being the cause of Kirk falling) and saves his life. I find that this initial scene epitomizes basically all the pro's and con's that this movie has. In itself it makes little sense and if it's going for realism (within the boundaries of the Star Trek Universe) it is laughable. I don't actually know what age Kirk is supposed to be but Shatner himself was almost 60 when this scene was shot, and while I'm not saying that no 60 year old ever could free climb that far up a vertical mountain side, to suggest that Kirk could is just not very believable (although still in-character that he'd definitely give it a try). Secondly we have Spocks rocket shoes which defy all physics and logic (pun intended), although I'll throw in a caveat for the possibility that they've invented/discovered some alien technology in the future that could work the way they do in this scene. At face value this scene is poorly thought out and realized.



But then, later on in the movie, we get to see that both these things - the rock climbing and the rocket shoes - come in handy again, so this entire scene was set up as a foreshadowing of sorts. Clumsily made so still far from perfect, but at least it gives the existence of the scene a bit of purpose. Also, within it is some decently written dialogue between the characters, allowing them to banter and bounce comments at each other just like we love to see Kirk, Spock and McCoy in action. So what is the end result of the scene? That this movie is going to be a mixed bag, and you need to go into it hoping for light hearted crew-fun, and not a smartly written, well-paced story.

In many ways this movie superficially resembles The Voyage Home this way, where the story takes incredible short-cuts to be able to tell you about a fun adventure of Kirk and his crew. The big difference is that The Voyage Home has the funny and clever dialogue fit in and lift the story, but in the Final Frontier the story and dialogue seem like they've been written by two very different people with two very different movies in mind (the story was in fact co-written by Shatner, Harve Bennett and David Loughery.

I've been trying to stave it off, but at this point I feel I need to go into the story before we move on;
After the rock climbing scene we are taken to the planet Nimbus III, also known as the Planet of Galactic Peace. Nimbus III is, pardon my French, a sandy s*it-hole, and being stationed here should be and is considered a demotion. In the bar of the "town" called Paradise is a dancing cat lady with three boobs that just feels so extremely 80's. Why a planet that seems to lack any basic infrastructure was chosen as the site to advance peace between the Federation, Klingon Empire and Romulan Empire is anyone's guess (no one had tactical advantage possibly). How they think it's going to happen without actually having any diplomats there to do the talking is also a mystery.

Welcome to nothing.

I'm going to correct myself though, there are in fact three diplomats (one from each) and they get kidnapped by the main villain, of sorts, in this movie - an emotional Vulcan named Sybok, who also turns out to be Spocks half-brother (Spock seems to have mystery siblings all over the galaxy). Kirk and crew get called back from shore leave to take a barely functional Enterprise to rescue these three hostages. Kirk asks if there are no better ships and gets the answer that there are better ships but no better commander. So why not give Kirk one of the better ships? Anyway... they don't do that. On the way to the bridge Kirk comments that he needs a shower and Spock turn to him and says "yes".

Meanwhile, a random Klingon Bird of Prey discovers the Enterprise, their mission and the fact that Kirk is on the ship and decides to pursue them to kill Kirk for glory. It's ok if you completely forget about the Klingons because they barely fill any function in this movie at all.

Since the teleporters aren't working, Kirk and crew need to go down to the surface of Nimbus III in a shuttle to do the rescue and we get to see Uhura dance naked in the desert moonlight and Spock do a neck pinch on a horse. Kirk gets attacked by the cat lady from the bar and she has some absolutely astonishingly bad sound effects.

When Kirk is about to rescue the hostages it turns out the entire thing was just a ruse, the hostages were in on it with Sybok. What did they want? A starship, and the Enterprise will do. What are they going to do with it? Take it to Sha Ka Ree, or as it is called in Terran - Eden. That's right, Sybok is in fact certain he has found the location of Paradise and God itself.

The actor does what he can with a character that needed a lot more work.

On the way back to the Enterprise in the shuttle, the Klingons on the Bird of Prey show up (bet you had forgotten about them already) and threaten to kill them. Kirk outsmarts them and Spock briefly gets a chance to kill Sybok. He chooses not to and when Kirk has an anger fit at him he reveals that Sybok is his brother, but to a Vulcan princess mother. He tells Kirk that Sybok was exiled from Vulcan for his beliefs, but a few scenes later when they talk about Sha Ka Ree he exclaims that trying to find it was the reason Sybok left Vulcan. They get put in the brig but Scotty jail breaks them out of there.

As they try to sneak to regain control of the ship there is a genuinely hilarious scene where Scotty gets captured by knocking himself unconscious on a bulk head - it's so unexpected and silly.


Apparently Eden is located inside something called the Great Barrier from which nothing has ever come out of after entering. Kirk isn't too keen on taking the Enterprise in there, but Sybok has a way of talking people into doing what he wants. He gets all of Kirks crew on his side by allowing them to face their biggest fears and take strength from it. He immediately reminded me of a televangelist in the way he does it, which probably is a good thing since that is where Shatner drew his inspiration. Even though Spock and McCoy go through with Syboks "treatment" they decide to stay with Kirk. Kirk refuses to face his fears and tells Sybok;

"I don't want my pain taken away! I need my pain!"

Which I think really says a lot about Kirk.

The scene where McCoy and Spock get to face their inner fears has potential to be interesting. McCoy feels a lot of pain about letting his ailing father die too soon and Spock feels pain about Sarek thinking he is too human. It's not a scene that makes a lot of sense though, because even though we know Spock struggles a lot with his humanity, even Spock must know that whatever Sarek thinks about humans he still chose to marry and have a child with one. The way the scene plays it out it seems like Sarek really dislikes humans, which clearly isn't the case.

In fact, Sarek and Amanda is one of the better written love stories in Star Trek.

The scene as a whole isn't well designed either, as it's not entirely clear what exactly happens. Are they seeing visions? Can other people see what they see? It is hinted that they can, but how does that work?

When Kirk finds out that Sybok is searching for God he tells him that he is mad. "Am I?" Sybok asks, with a great and telling expression on his face. The actor for Sybok, Laurence Luckinbill, really nails it there.

They go into the Great Barrier without any trouble and find a planet. Sybok hands over the control to Enterprise back to Kirk saying that now that they are here he is convinced that Kirk wants to explore the planet too. He's not wrong. "If we are going to do it, we're doing it by the book" Kirk says, only to say "Ok, we'll play it your way" to Sybok the scene after. The people still on board are watching the people on the planet on the view screen from a camera angle they couldn't possibly achieve.

We never get an explanation to how Sybok figured out God would be at this specific place, but they do find something. At first they think it actually is God, but Kirk (of course) starts to question it and when it responds malevolently they realize it's just some alien creature trying to use them to leave the Great Barrier. Sybok sacrifices himself by throwing himself at the alien, thus saving the others although I have no idea how that works. It also makes you wonder what happened to every other ship that entered this area. What should be the great climax and raison d'être for this movie is over and dealt with in a matter of minutes and it feels absolutely pointless.

A lot of work must've gone into that beard.

But! We mustn't forget about the Klingons! They show up, having pursued the Enterprise all the way into the Great Barrier and...!... Get talked into not attacking by the diplomat Klingon from Nimbus III who is on Enterprise. So... the Klingon presence filled zero real purpose and fizzled out into nothing, just as pretty much everything else in this story line.

The story is incomprehensible and uninteresting, and the story isn't the only problem with this movie. The special effects are among the ugliest I've seen (though not Jaws: The Revenge ugly) and definitely worse than all of the previous movies. There is a scene of the shuttle craft where I genuinely cringed. We are far from the majestic beauty and storytelling from The Motion Picture here.

But if you try to ignore what the movie is trying to tell you, and you really should, there are quite a few really fun and delightful scenes with Kirk and Co just being everything that made TOS so much fun to watch. In many ways it nails some of the same joyfulness of The Voyage Home, but without the interesting and clever framework to hold it together.

And there you have it - overall this movie deserves all the bad reviews it has gotten. But, I'll be honest, even though the story is bad it's still not as boring as The Search For Spock and this movie also has a lot more fun scenes between the crew than that movie has. So in the end I've actually got to say that this isn't the worst Star Trek movie and not even the worst of the first five. I can't say I recommend watching it, but it does have some redeeming factors to it and it ended up being less horrible than I had expected. It's might not be praise but it's something.

Thoughts had when watching this movie;
  • Wait a minute, didn't Sybok have long hair just now? And when they land on the God-planet he suddenly has short hair.

Images from IMDB.com, memory-alpha.fandom.com, tor.com, laymansbible.wordpress.com.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home - Review

Star Date: 1986
Spoilers!

Though it was never meant to be a trilogy, here we are at the end of it, and to me personally this is by far the best of the three that starts with The Wrath of Khan and continues with The Search For Spock. Back when these movies were made they lived on a movie-by-movie basis, meaning they had to re-unite the cast and recreate most of the sets every time. That is how little faith the movie company had in the Star Trek formula that with each and every one they thought and said it was going to be the last.

Not sure who did the art for the poster, but no character looks like themselves.

With the first two it's pretty obvious, since TMP feels completely stand-alone from the rest and they kill off Spock in the second. But four movies down the line you'd be hard pressed to guess that this was the case. Movie 2-4 definitely come off as a fairly well-planned trilogy, and honestly The Search For Spock makes even less sense if the truth is that they didn't even plan to continue to make more movies after it.

With The Voyage Home the creators decided it was time for a more upbeat story after three movies of big threats and violent deaths. They decided to go with a time travel story, which interestingly enough has turned out to be some of the most popular ones within the Star Trek universe, with TOS: The City on the Edge of Forever, First Contact and VOY: Future's End as other notable examples off the top of my head. There is just something about a good time travel story, and maybe something especially appealing about having these people from the future interact with the world that we know of and are part of. In many ways it's like seeing a character from your favorite TV-show leave their sets and come out into the "real" world, and as far as I know Star Trek is the only series that manages to do this while still staying within its own fictional world (although I know Supernatural has dabbled with this concept in different ways as well), correct me if I am wrong!

The Voyage Home is also interesting to re-watch after you've seen the new Star Trek Discovery series and knowing all the flack that series got for getting involved and having a say in what's happening in our politics and society of today. The Voyage Home is literally a homage to Greenpeace's fight against the whaling business in the 70-80's, with scenes that are direct references to work and actions that Greenpeace took against whalers. Star Trek has always been used as a way to comment on current events, there is just no way you can miss that if you've actually followed the series for any length of time.

The commentary doesn't get much more obvious than in episodes like Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.

Even though the movie takes off right after the previous one, with Kirk and friends still on Vulcan waiting for Spock to get himself together after having been resurrected and re-assembled, I'd still say that it's not necessary to watch the previous two to get your full entertainment or understanding from this one. While it uses the previous movies as a starting point, they are otherwise not connected storywise and it would only be the first few minutes that could be a bit confusing. The story quickly takes a completely different turn and leaves the previous two movies in the dust, so if you're worried that you might have to get through those two first to fully enjoy this one - you don't.

While Kirk and friends are on their way back to Earth to be court marshalled, still on the Bird of Prey they took from Kruge, a big and mysterious object suddenly turns up moving towards Earth. It starts making weird noises and when no one knows how to answer it, it responds by boiling away all the water on the planet, which obviously makes everyone panic. Spock, who is on his game again, quickly realizes that the noise is some sort of humpback whale language and presumably the alien object is trying to communicate with the humpback whales on the planet. Too bad they went extinct in the 20th century and there are none left to respond. Since no one knows the humpback whale language, the only solution is of course to go back in time and get some humpback whales to do the talking.

Who's to say they never went into space?

The set up and premise of the story is probably some of the laziest writing you'll see in Star Trek. We never get to know who or what these aliens are or what they want. We never get to know how or when humpback whales made friends in outer space (or went there themselves??), although Spock mentions they had been around millions of years longer than humans so who knows what they got up to back in the day. And travelling back in time is apparently also something you just need to decide to do to make it happen, because not only do Kirk & Crew do it in a run-down Bird of Prey, but they do it with barely any effort. And of course they end up exactly where there just happens to be two humpback whales ready and as it turns out, in need to be rescued into the future.

This far into the movie it would be easy to think that they didn't put any effort into the writing, but you'd be wrong. The Voyage Home is an example of a movie that knows what the fanbase has been waiting for and decided to cut out all the unnecessary cr*p. This movie finally manages to fully capitalize on the relationships we have built up with the characters, and the characters have built up between themselves, after investing ourselves into watching the series for three seasons. You end up forgiving this movie all of the shortcuts it takes, because it takes it to get you into some truly funny and heartwarming stuff. At the end you'll love Kirk and friends even more than you did going in, it'll increase your respect and love for the franchise rather than wear on it.

On Earth Kirk and friends quickly decide to split up to get their business done. Finally Uhura, Chekov, Sulu and Scotty get something worthwhile to do! Flying through time has busted the Bird of Prey even more and Scotty requires nuclear power to get it to work again. Cue some hilarious scenes where they send out Uhura and Chekov, with his Russian accent, starts asking random people in the streets for the location of nuclear naval "wessels". By making the characters question and wonder over how society works, the movie gets a great way to highlight and comment on contemporary issues through the narrative.


Scotty and McCoy meanwhile go to find a suitable tank for some humpback whales. Yet again we get some hilarious scenes when our friends anachronistically are trying to interact with the computers of the 80's and Scotty is trying to get it to work by talking into the mouse. It hits home even more in 2019 I think when we actually see kids doing precisely that today. Star Trek predicted it, yet again. There is also a great scene where McCoy questions the morality of them changing the time continuum, when Scotty teaches some future tech to the technicians in the factory they're at, and Scotty answers by saying "for all we know he's the one who invented it". In a way it is both the best and the worst way to deal with the whole timeline problem that most Star Trek time travel episodes/movies have struggled with - what if whatever they're doing was what was supposed to happen? Let's not get into discussions about time paradoxes, because they will give anyone a headache, but suffice to say that this movie deals with it with the same light hearted style of the rest of the movie.


Sulu gets the mission to find a helicopter with which they can haul the tank once it is finished, and we get to see him show off the fact that he is a very proficient pilot, even with old style flying vehicles. It's easy to forget because it's very rarely show cased in the actual TV-series, with Sulu often acting as a glorified steering wheel to Kirks commands, so it's fun to get to see this kind of character enrichment.

Kirk and Spock set out to actually locate some humpback whales, which as mentioned they are lucky enough to find right where they need them in a water park. The humpback whales are looked after by a Dr Gillian Taylor who immediately recognizes Kirk and Spock for the "weirdos" they are, especially since the first thing Spock does is dive into the pool with the humpback whales (to have a mindmeld with it), only to then tell her what they are thinking and that one of them is pregnant. Rather than getting furious with them and phoning the police, Gillian takes a liking to them and gets more and more involved with them. She eventually requires their help when it turns out that the whale pair are going to be set free, making them possible targets for whalers. She invites them for dinner which results in a classic, entirely improvised, scene.


It doesn't take long before Kirk, being the no-nonsense kind of guy that he is, explains to her exactly what is going on. While Gillian is understandably sceptical at first, she seems to decide that the truth doesn't really matter as long as Kirk actually can help her humpback whales. When the whales get set free ahead of schedule, she's invited onto their Bird of Prey to help locate them. At this point Chekov and Uhura have managed, after some kerfuffle, to gather the nuclear particles they required; Scotty and McCoy have acquired a tank and Sulu has flown it into the spaceship. The crew beam up the whales into the ship in their presumably massive tank and they fly back into the future to save Earth.

It's difficult to describe this movie, because of all the shortcuts, convenient and straight up lazy writing that is tucked in there. But in the end you notice yourself just not caring because it's simply so entertaining. After all, the purpose of a movie is nothing but to provide the viewers with some sort of entertainment, and that is where The Voyage Home hits the nail on the head. Once the movie gets started, which is pretty much as soon as they land on "our time Earth", it's just one great scene after the other where most of the cast end up in situations where their characters get to shine .

It's not perfect though, but you can probably guess what my complaint is going to be - at two hours run time the movie still feels too short. Just like Seven Samurai, this movie just manages to fly past and when the story starts to wrap up you're just sitting there wishing there had been so much more. Though I realize it would've been an even harder sell, I almost wish they would've done off with the setup even faster, giving Kirk and friends more time to "play around" with the well-written dialogue and genuinely funny scenes. Also, I guess a question I can't answer is how funny and interesting this movie is for someone who hasn't spent three seasons with the Enterprise crew before watching it. To me it seems like it's the love for the characters that make the movie truly come to life, thus maybe making it less watchable for someone who has little or no interest in Star Trek (unlike TMP, which I think is enjoyable for any sci-fi fan).

If you, for whatever reason, are having a bad day and need cheering up, or maybe need to remind yourself of why you like Star Trek after having watched Discovery*, The Voyage Home has your back. The Voyage Home is your comfort food, it's the warm bath after a long day, it's the friend who makes you laugh. There are so many reasons why it shouldn't work, but it does, because it hits all the right Star-Trek-Fan-buttons. It knows what you're there for, and by golly does it deliver.

Some thoughts on this movie;
  • The full body shots of the whales in the water are apparently four feet models, they look really good!
  • In the commentary in my version Kirk has a bit of an existential crisis in the middle of the movie. He also comments on the fact that he thought a time travel movie was a really bad idea but that he was happy no one listened to him.
  • According to Nimoy in his commentary in the film, he didn't know Mark Lenard (who plays Spock's father Sarek).

Images from amazon.com, wikipedia.com, memory-alpha.fandom.com.
*Personally I think Discovery is alright, but I can understand some of the negative comments it's gotten.

Monday, June 3, 2019

VGM Highlights - May 2019

Wait what, are we already in June?! Better get started with this thing then.

Let's kick it off with a tune from episode 10 of Singing Mountain called "An 8-bit Halloween", the Lobby Theme from the game Sweet Home. While it's a really nice little tune that perfectly sets the mood for the horror game, I also wanted to mention it because I like to talk about Sweet Home. I am a huge Resident Evil fan and apparently Sweet Home was the original inspiration for that game. If you play Sweet Home it's really not hard to see the resemblances. While Sweet Home uses a party of people, they have different key items (just like Jill and Chris in the original RE), they walk around in a big creepy mansion fighting all sort of monsters and you need to find certain items and solve puzzles to be able to progress.

The game is apparently itself based on a movie, also called Sweet Home, which I have tried to watch but since I am a sissy it was too scary for me. Like most NES games, Sweet Home is difficult, but very intricate and in-depth for a NES game. I think the tune gives a good example of this, what a masterpiece to manage to compose something so atmospheric and full of dread with those technical limitations.



For some reason May has been coincidentally c64 heavy in my VGM podcast feed (and there was some in April too), even though the episodes I listen to come from very varying points in time. The c64 sound is something I must admit I have fake nostalgia for, since I've never owned one or known anyone who owned one but a good c64 track can really "take me back" to something that I've never even experienced.

The title theme from the game Blood Money, played in Episode 15 "Classic c64 With Michael From Forever Sound Version" of the VGMBassy podcast is one of those tracks for sure. Like many good c64 tracks it takes you on a journey with a lot happening and changing throughout its runtime.


Audio Panic Room Episode 35 "Codemasters" also brings a whole lot of juicy c64 tracks, and it was difficult to pick just one here, it's a great selection through and through (it's not just c64 in this episode though, but also Amiga and NES). The c64 can easily sound a bit jarring on the ears, especially if you're listening to it through headphones (which I get the feeling it was never designed to be). But like I mentioned above, there is just something very special about a well crafted c64 track and in many ways I feel like it's the classical music equivalent within the VGM genre. So definitely check out this entire episode if c64 is your kind of thing, and it really should be.

While I really liked Tarzan Goes Ape!, CJ's Elephant Antics and Poltergeist I decided to go with "Main Menu" from Pro Tennis Simulator on the Amiga because it's so lovely upbeat.


And last but definitely not least is a tune from the Battle Bards Episode 141 "Riders of Icarus". This is a really jamming little disco/techno tune from one of the bosses in the game, apparently. I would absolutely love to fight a boss to this tune. Its only issue is that it's too short, but what there is really makes me want to fight and dance at the same time.


Sunday, May 26, 2019

Star Trek III: The Search For Spock - Review

And the Adventure Continues.
With spoilers.

The movie posters are kickass though.

The Search For Spock is a movie entirely about Spock, without any Spock (sort of).
The Search For Spock is a movie entirely about what happens when you paint yourself in a corner, storywise, and have to get yourself out.
The Search For Spock is generally pretty well received, and I'll be honest, I'm not entirely sure why.

This movie piggy-backs in its entirety of off the story from The Wrath of Khan. As such you'd easily get the impression that TSFS was already planned and ready when TWOK was released. Apparently that was not the case though. After boldly killing off the arguably most beloved character of all of TOS, the creators realized that there just was no way to make a Star Trek movie without Spock and started working on making him come alive again. Fortunately they had enough tools from TWOK to make what actually is a half-believable story. It's unfortunate that that story is very predictable and not very interesting, even though the creators tried their hardest to avoid that fate. To me, this movie should be seen as a sort of interlude, a travel time, in-between two much better movies - The Wrath of Khan and The Voyage Home. I modern times I am certain The Search For Spock would've been reduced to a Short Trek equivalent. Even one of the taglines sums it up - And the Adventure Continues. Just continue on here people and we'll get to the good stuff soon.

The movie starts with a flashback to Spock dying from TWOK. Quite necessary since without this information the movie makes little sense or holds little purpose to the viewer. There are a few important scenes from TWOK that we need to remember because the entire plot of TSFS hinges on them. One is that just before Spock goes into the radiation chamber that kills him, he does a mindmeld of sorts with Bones. The second thing is that rather than shooting Spocks coffin randomly into space, they opt to shooting him onto the newly formed Genesis planet.

Then we get to see that the Klingons have found out about the Genesis "weapon" and want it for themselves. It's a bit unclear how much of the Klingon Empire is involved, it's really played out as if only the main antagonist - a Commander Kruge played by Christopher Lloyd - and his crew are part of the scheme. The way the Klingons are portrayed in this movie is frankly a little bit silly, and it's very difficult to see them as a serious threat. Especially after having had A) a much more epic threat in TMP and B) a much better villain in TWOK. I love Christopher Lloyd, but he just has very little to work with here. That the villain doesn't turn in to a complete snooze-fest is all thanks to him. If Kirk could outsmart the super-genius Khan, why would he have any trouble with Kruge who apparently thinks it's a good idea to start wrestling with random worms mid-mission? The Klingons might be aggressive, but they're not supposed to be idiots.

Christopher Lloyd - recognizable under any make up.

Kirk and co get the information that the Enterprise is about to be decommissioned and also Bones is starting to act weirdly. It turns out that Spock transferred his "katra" to Bones before dying and Spocks father Sarek informs Kirk that it and Spocks body needs to be returned to Vulcan or else both Bones and Spock will suffer. Kirk asks for permission from his superiors to go do so but gets turned down, which leads to a hilarious scene;

Sulu: "The word sir?
Kirk: "The word is no. I am therefore going anyway".


Of course he is.

Kirk goes to steal the Enterprise and asks Scotty if they can run it severely undermanned, which leads to another great piece of dialogue;

Scotty: "A chimpanzee and two trainees could run her"
Kirk: "Thank you, I'll try not to take that personally".


Kirks son David and Saavik from TWOK are aboard the Grissom to investigate the development of the Genesis planet created in the previous movie. They find an unexpected lifeform on the planet surface and get permission to beam down to find out what it is. Once down there they find a child Spock and also realize that the planet is quickly destroying itself because of faulty design of the Genesis. Spock is just "an empty vessel" without his "katra" and so can't speak or understand what is being said to him. It seems that the reborn Spock ages with the planet, and so is doomed to die with it in a very near future. Getting Spock off the planet will save him from this fate, for some reason that is never explained, but before they can do so Kruge destroys the Grissom and takes the three of them hostage. Kruge doesn't seem to care one bit when David tells him the Genesis doesn't work, I guess for what he wants to use it for it works just fine.

What had the worm ever done to him?

Enterprise shows up in orbit and has a brief fight with the Klingon Bird of Prey. They end up being evenly matched and Kirk tries to bluff his way out. He yell-asks "who are you?!" and gets the response "who I am is not important!" from Kruge which I am sure no Klingon said ever. The writers just really couldn't be bothered to give this villain an interesting backstory or context. Kruge doesn't buy Kirks bluff but realizes he has the upper hand because he has the hostages on the planet. He swiftly lets one of his underlings kill off David to make Kirk understand he is being serious about wanting the Genesis, and the Enterprise, and Kirk is very upset for a few seconds.

Then Kirk hatches a clever plan, tells Kruge he is giving up the ship but instead sets it on self-destruct and beams his crew down to the planet. The final self-destruct password is Zero Zero Zero Destruct Zero, possibly outshining ABC123 as the worst password ever. Kruge's crew beams over and get blown up with the Enterprise, Enterprise crashes into Genesis (to be reborn again in the next movie… Nah, just kidding). Kirk rescues Spock and Saavik from the two Klingon that are guarding them and lures Kruge down for a one-on-one battle with him, in the hopes of killing him and be able to get to his ship before the planet explodes. All of this of course happens and the movie ends with Spock's body and Spock's "katra" being taken to Vulcan to be reunited. Yay, mission accomplished!

The movie has potential, but almost deliberately avoids to grow into any of it. I really can't find any other way to otherwise explain how it manages to squander all the good ideas that are in here, other than that the creators themselves just wanted this over and done with.

The relationship between Kirk and his son David is revisited again and has the potential to show a completely different side of Kirk. But this is literally killed off when David is murdered before we've ever had a chance to care for him. Neither does Kirk it seems, because he's sad for about thirty movie-seconds.

Hello darkness, my old friend.

The idea of combining the two most different characters of the show - Bones and Spock - who often play on each others different personalities in the TV series, could've been really interesting. But Bones/Spock is basically just Bones who sometimes says a few things that would've ordinarily come out of Spock's mouth. There is no sub-story or even scene that explores how the combination of all-emotion and all-logic could make someone act. The idea is revisited again in the VOY episode "Tuvix" in which Tuvok and Neelix (both as different to each other as Bones and Spock) are combined into a whole new person called Tuvix. It's a great episode that explores the concept much further and I would've loved to see at least some of that in this movie.

Saavik is in this movie again but seems just as pointless as in the previous one. It's as if they're trying to make her an established character by presence alone, without any character building, development or backstory. They could've made her character be anyone else and it wouldn't have changed a thing.

Yet again it's like Enterprise and its crew is completely broken off from the rest of Starfleet. Kirk steals the Enterprise from right under the noses of his superiors, yet for the duration of the movie no one manages to find them? And even if they managed to mask their trail, how long does it take for Starfleet to notice that one of their starships (Grissom) with everyone on board has been completely destroyed?

To me this movie just ends up being pretty boring. There is literally only one thing of interest going on - will they be able to rescue Spock? - and the answer to that is just too obvious. In some movies even when the end result is obvious from the start, they manage to make the journey full of twists and turns enough to keep you guessing. A good writer will make you wonder how they could possibly manage even when you know they will. This just never happens in this movie, and the few mysteries it could linger on (like what is up with Bones? Where did Spock's katra go? What is happening to the Genesis planet? What does Kruge want?) it reveals quickly and without any oomph.

The villains don't stand a chance against the previous two, having neither the depth, epic scope or backstory to fall back on. Not only that, they're being played out as some half-crazy klutzes that don't have any backing from the Klingon Empire, which could've given their actions more weight and thus made them more interesting.

With writing so lacklustre, all the directing power (the movie was directed by Leonard Nimoy himself) and visual effects in the world couldn't save this movie from being more than mid-range interesting. Not that any of those factors are above average either, if you ask me.

Uhura gets a scene that only proves she deserved more screen time.

It has some few redeeming factors, Kirk's crew get slightly more to do and say in this movie and some dialogue is actually really good (like the abovementioned).

Fittingly enough, Spock himself manages to epitomize my feelings towards this movie. It's an empty shell waiting for its katra.

Some random thoughts I had while watching this movie;

  • The Excelsior is set in to stop Kirk from his mission. It is a brand new starship and is said to even have transwarp, something that hilariously fails when it tries to catch the Enterprise. And transwarp turns out to not be a thing in Starfleet for almost another hundred years so it's quite miraculous how wrong the designers of the Excelsior were.
  • The design of the Bird of Prey seems pretty over-elaborate, because unless they often fly around on space bodies they wouldn't need those wings would they? I don't put it past the Klingons to build something entirely based on what looks cool rather than what is practical though.
  • Spock goes through a lot of sh*t throughout his lore in Star Trek. He meets himself from the past/future, he dies and is reborn, he loses his sister to some time travel stuff...
  • Is the Vulcan society patriarchal? It would be interesting to see the logical reasoning behind this if that is the case. When Spock is brought back to Vulcan to perform the uniting of his body and soul through the ceremony of "fal-tor-pan", everyone just speaks about the paternal lineage like no one has had any mothers (which makes it seem mothers don't matter on Vulcan). Spock's mother isn't even present or mentioned in the movie at all? Did I miss that she is dead at this point or something?
  • When Spock is himself again he starts quoting things to Kirk that he said to him while dying. But this was after he mindmelded with Bones, so how would he remember it? The body with those memories died, and Bones was out cold throughout that event.
Images from pinterest.com, scyfilove.com, scifi.stackexchange.com, 3ethos.com, 

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Director's Edition) - Review

KHAAAAAAAN!
Spoilers.


I was pretty sure it was going to happen, but I have changed my mind about this movie. I no longer think it's not that good. In fact, even though I absolutely love the first one and will say that I think it is the better sci-fi movie out of the two, The Wrath of Khan is definitely the better Star Trek movie.

I find it difficult to write a review of this movie without referencing back to the first one, as it seems that the creators, or at least the ones with money, took notes of all the criticism directed at The Motion Picture. Not enough action? Too slow? Not enough Kirk and friends on the screen? Check, check and check - Wrath of Khan fixes all of those issues. Because of that, just as with the first one where I said I could recommend it to any sci-fi fan even if they didn't enjoy Star Trek specifically, your enjoyment of this one really comes down to how much you've been yearning for The Original Series ever since it was cancelled. If The Motion Picture was a disappointment to you mainly because it had so little to do with Uhura, Chekov, Bones and all the others then Wrath of Khan will be your thing.

From the very first couple of scenes we realize that the tone is completely different. Where The Motion Picture starts out with shots of the antagonist, setting the atmosphere of grave danger and threat immediately, The Wrath of Khan starts out with a scene of Starfleet cadets in training, being schooled by Spock. We are some ten minutes into the movie before we get the first idea of what the actual plot will be about. Before then we get reacquainted with Spock, Kirk and Bones and more relation- and character building than in all of The Motion Picture.

The man, the myth

For instance we get to find out that Kirk has a son. They really don't make much out of that revelation in this movie though and frankly it never really becomes anything that seems to matter much to Kirk as a character. They also continue the story thread that Kirk is struggling with being anything but the commander of the Enterprise, that they alluded to in The Motion Picture. Overall the movie suffers from the same problem, or should I say quirk, as the TV-series in this regard - it is very Kirk-heavy. The other characters basically only get attention or screen time because Kirk is involved in it somehow, Spock being a half-exception. It almost gets laughable when Kirk seems to always know what to do better than the presumed expert in the field. "Main power is out!" yells Scotty from the engine room. "Switch to auxiliary!" shouts Kirk, like Scotty couldn't have thought of that himself. But this is simply how the TV-series and subsequently movies based on TOS (The Original Series) were written and not necessarily a flaw (unless you ask the rest of the crew). Kirk, and Shatner as Kirk, is a very good and interesting character. If he's not your thing however, TOS and some of the TOS movies can be difficult to watch. The Motion Picture less so because of what I've already mentioned in my review of that movie, but it becomes full on apparent in The Wrath of Khan.

So to the story then - in essence Khan returns and tries to avenge himself on Kirk for exiling him on what turned out to become a hostile planet. The movie quickly turns into a game of wits, yet again, between the genetically enhanced superhuman Khan and plain old not-genetically-enhanced-but-going-to-win-anyway Kirk.

More elaborately - First Officer Chekov and his new captain on the starship Reliant are on a mission to find a planet completely devoid of life yet in the habitable zone to test out a new invention, the Genesis developed by none other than Kirk's old girlfriend and mother of his son, Carol. The Genesis is a device that pretty much instantly can turn an area without life into a garden of Eden. It has the unfortunate side effect of completely wiping out any life that happens to already be there when it is used. When Chekov and his captain are on a planet for reconnaissance, they stumble upon Khan and his band of not so merry men (and women) who take the opportunity to leave the planet, try to steal the Genesis to use a weapon of mass destruction while also kill Kirk. The Universe sure is a small place sometimes.

The Wrath of Khan is something as interesting then as a direct continuation of one of the TV-series episodes, which at least in my book can be a dream come true. This has the benefit of letting fans, who yet again have been hungering for more Star Trek content for far too long (remember that back in these days you wouldn't have a handy DVD box to refresh your memory with at all times), revisit a fan favorite and see Kirk battle him once again. The Moby Dick and King Lear references in the movie are really completely unnecessary, it is obvious from the get go that this movie borrows heavily from those themes. Khan is totally hell-bent on destroying Kirk for what he has done to him, exiling him on Ceti Alpha V not only killed his wife but most importantly was a mortal blow to his oversized pride and ego. The lunacy of his actions are pointed out to him several times throughout the movie, but Khan can't let it go - he needs his revenge.

From hell's heart I stab at thee...

Ricardo Montalban as Khan is absolutely brilliant, again, and I very much enjoy watching the rest of the crew as well. Poor Uhura and Sulu still don't get much to do, but at least Chekov and Scotty are developed a bit more. As mentioned this is mainly a Kirk-show, but it is fun to see the cat and mouse game between Khan and Kirk unfold yet again and their on screen animosity comes out really well. It is almost a bit frustrating to see how Khan, really against all better judgement and his own superior intellect, makes what are some really bad tactical decisions just because Kirk derides him, but I guess this is why they are playing on the Moby Dick and King Lear references so heavy. Khan has become more mad than smart and his efforts to get revenge bereaves him of everything he has left - even his own life.

Stylistically this movie comes nowhere near the first movie in quality, but it also doesn't need to. It's a completely different kind of story that by necessity is told with different visuals and sound. Rather than long, slow panning and atmosphere building exterior shots (that I love) we get the indoor close up shots that a one-on-one like this requires. While it works well here, it still is far from the same epic feeling that the first movie has (there are some exceptions though, the costumes are way better in this movie and some of the interior sets, like the Enterprise bridge, are better as well). This is a different kind of fan service, maybe even for a different kind of fan. In many ways I'd almost say that this is deliberately designed to feel more like a long, high-budgeted, episode of the TV-series since clearly the style of the first movie didn't fly for enough people.

Finally it looks like they're wearing clothes.

The writing suffers from the same claustrophobic issues as much of TOS in general - you constantly get the impression that the Universe only exists exactly where Kirk and the Enterprise happen to be. In the TV-series it made sense though because they were out on a deep space mission and literally all alone out there (as in, no other Starfleet ships). But just like the first movie, even though they're supposedly not far from Earth, yet again the Enterprise happens to be the only starship close enough to deal with this extremely serious situation for the entire duration of the movie. You begin to wonder if Starfleet even has any other ships or what they're all so busy doing? They even use the words "only ship in the quadrant" which clearly has changed its meaning from here to VOY and DS9.

When I watched this movie for the first time I didn't have the context of when it was released and what it was trying to do. I'm not even sure I had seen the Khan TOS episode before it. Because of this, I must admit my first impression was pretty meh. I've seen it again since then, but the impression lasted with me until this now most recent watching for this review. Watching The Motion Picture and The Wrath of Khan back-to-back and also having seen TOS through several times, has allowed me to value The Wrath of Khan for what it is. It is trying to rectify the mistakes of the first movie and that it does brilliantly. If you're specifically after more of some of the best that TOS had to offer, then this movie is definitely for you.

Some random notes from when watching this movie;
  • Why does Scotty bring his hurt nephew to the bridge rather than immediately to sick bay?
  • How could they not know that Ceti Alpha VI had blown up? Wouldn't there be enough tell tale debris? And how does a planet just spontaneously explode (that would have to be a pretty massive meteor)?
  • The interior shots of the Regula I space station gave me some serious System Shock 2 vibes.
  • There are some really impressive stunts in this movie, there is a scene of a guy literally falling into fire and several scenes where stuntmen look like they're way too close to explosive devices. I hope no one was hurt.
  • Why is the best and most advanced ship in Starfleet being used for training missions? There must really be a lull in space exploration funding.
  • When Regula I seems to be in trouble and the Enterprise is sent in as the only starship close enough to investigate, the Reliant which is in fact working for Regula I is also close enough.
Pictures from amazon.com, IGN.com, treknews.net, startrekpropauthority.com