Tag Archives: Reviews

Hercules (1997) Dir. John Musker and Ron Clements

Herc1 It’s been awhile since I revisited the animated Disney film HERCULES, and apart from a schlocky looking CGI Hydra (hey, it was impressive for its time), the movie actually holds up pretty well.  Although I don’t love the film as much or find it nearly as funny as I used to.  It has a couple of good chuckles, and James Woods’ Hades pretty much steals the show.  It’s not as good a film as, say, Musker and Clements’ ALADDIN, and it tries to recapture much of what made that film so popular, only sans Robin Williams, who improvised most of the dialogue for the Genie.  So, Hercules isn’t one of my favorites.  But it’s got some beautiful design work (which must of been a pain in the ass to animate all those sharp angles), and some great layout and background work, thanks to layout supervisor Rasoul Azadani.  HERCULES is a beautiful looking film, and for the most part the story works.  It’s just there’s something about it that keeps me from going gaga in love with it.

One of my favorite characters in the film is Phil, animated by the great supervising animator, Eric Goldberg and his team.  Goldberg has a terrific knack for comic timing in his animation, which worked so well when he animated the Genie in ALADDIN.  Another one of my favorite animators is Nik Ranieri, who supervised the animation on Hades.  Hades isn’t one of my favorite villains ever, but he’s funny and effectively comical here.  There are plenty of great gags I enjoy having to do with his flaming temper, especially when he gets fumed to the point of sucking up his cigar.  Then of course there’s characters like Megara, but to be honest I find her a bit stale.  I give points for trying in making the heroine a bit of a bad girl, but it’s this problem with a lot of women characters in animation, that once they fall in love, they lose their power and independent spirit by settling down.  Whose to say that things will actually work out between Herc and Meg at the end?  What if Herc runs off like her previous boyfriend did.  It’s just one of those stale Disney romances I’m not crazy about.

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As for Herc himself, as a hero, he’s just okay.  I’m not crazy about him as a character, but one of the things I do like is that they made him not too bright.  The songs are also one of the better aspects of the film, being light, upbeat, and catchy.  The gospel flavor to a greek story is kind of an interesting twist.

I think one of the problems with Disney animation is something that’s gone back to Walt Disney’s days:  It’s just not that funny.  It’s enjoyable and charming at times.  I know I’m mentioning ALADDIN quite a bit here, but it was the one time the studio took a risk and actually implemented some Warner Brothers style humor into their animation, and it worked big time.  That film has a special tone and flavor all on its own, and it’s just great fun to watch, as well as having Jafar, an absolute classic storybook villain.  There’s a lot to that film that HERCULES just doesn’t have going for it.  HERCULES doesn’t really take enough risks with it’s humor, relying more on pop culture humor for many of its gags.  It has its moments for sure, and its heart is in the right place, but the jokes are working mainly on the surface level, it doesn’t take it to a much deeper emotional place.  It’s basically your average light-hearted Disney comedy.  It doesn’t really let itself be much more than that or go all the way.

In the end, HERCULES is one of the better films of the late 90’s Disney films.  It’s not perfect mind you, but considering some of the pop culture references, it actually holds up okay.  And like I said, some of the animation and design of the film is absolutely beautiful to look at, thanks to the work of some terrific artists who worked on the film.  There are just some things about it I wish could have been a little better.

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The World’s End (2013) Dir. Edgar Wright

The World's End

And so the Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy continues, first with Edgar Wright’s SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ, and now finally THE WORLDS END.  The story is about 5 men in the town of New Haven, who in their youths went on the Golden Mile:  12 pubs for a pint of beer each in one night, but they never made it to the final pub, The World’s End.  Now 23 years later, Gary King (Simon Pegg) the leader of the group, wants to band his buddies together again to redo their pub excursion and finally make it to THE WORLDS END.  Only once they return they find a lot has changed about New Haven, one of them being an invasion of alien robots that have taken over citizens of the town.

The film is at times hysterically funny, and it’s interesting to watch as these guys aren’t exactly in the prime of their youth anymore.  It becomes more of a quest to succeed for Gary King, as that night 23 years ago was the greatest night of his life, and somehow he doesn’t think his life will ever be complete without being able to relive that night and reach the holy grail of bars.  His friends of course have all grown up, but, as Gary points out, they have become slaves to their adult lives, which is not to dissimilar to the robots that have taken over the town.  One of my favorite scenes in the movie was a fight in a bathroom at one of the pubs between Gary’s friends and 5 robots that looked like teenagers.  In terms of really great storytelling, the scene has a lot to say, considering these men are fighting with versions of themselves, the forms of blank empty teenagers.  Thankfully the sci-fi portion of the story is well woven into the grand scheme of the movie, and the men are forced to continue their journey to not alert any other robots, and pretend to be going about their business.

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My problem with the movie however was that I did find the robot story started to become long and extraneous after awhile, especially in the final moments where there is a tiresome amount of exposition trying to explain the purpose of the robots, why they had come and are doing what they’re doing.  And yet because of that, I felt more and more that I was starting to lose my investment in what started as a great hysterical ride between these five guys on their journey of the Golden Mile.  The robots add a lot of the extra fun to the movie, but the problem too was that once all the explanations started, the film stopped being funny.  It’s a hard thing as well, because my favorite of the three Edgar Wright films, HOT FUZZ, keeps the laughs brilliantly going, and not only is it funny, it gets even funnier and more outrageous as the movie goes along.  There is exposition in that film leading to the next step of what the characters are going to do to solve their problem, but that’s the thing:  it actually goes somewhere that makes the characters active and leads us into the brilliant final act.  THE WORLDS END actually ends the film on exposition, and it sucks the film dry by the time its over.  There’s no final note for it to land on to have everybody cheering.  It’s frustrating because the first and second act work so well, that by the time we get to the end the whole thing just kinda slumps.

That’s not to say THE WORLDS END is a bad movie at all.  Far from it.  It’s funny, and at times charming with its own human touch that made SHAUN and FUZZ work so well, it continues here with END.  It’s a little gutsy for them to do this, but I like the role reversal between Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, making Frost the more serious minded one this time around and Pegg being the total jack-off.  Pegg is quite funny as Gary King, and it’s funny to watch Frost once he starts to lose himself into alcohol, having no choice because of the robot invasion.  For a good portion of the movie, the story holds itself together, with themes about getting older and breaking out of the servitude of society and finding your own freedom as an adult.  It plays on both extremes with Gary King who has no rules, and the rest of the pack who have been bogged down by the rules of society.  That all changes by the films end, and the surviving characters have their slates wiped clean, a new mission in life and a place to start over.  Of course, like I said, the ending would have worked better had the filmmakers continued our investment into the characters and allowed us to watch them find their way instead of having it just be explained to us.  It’s not the greatest way to tell a story.

THE WORLD’S END overall is a good time, and should be seen because it does carry the charm of the previous Edgar Wright films.  For such a crappy 2013 summer, this is one of the better films and a nice way to cap off the summer.

After Earth (2013) Dir. M. Night Shyamalan

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I have a strange soft spot for M. Night Shyamalan’s work.  I don’t know why.  Like most people, I think his best three films are Signs, Unbreakable, and The Sixth Sense, with Signs being my personal favorite.  But maybe it’s just that, through all the disappointments, I feel that he is still an artist with a vision and something to say.  It’s just…something went off in a different direction with his style of filmmaking, and the acting choices he wants from his actors.  Whatever the reason, I still manage to pull something meaningful out of his films, even if they aren’t as great as they once were.  With After Earth, that Shyamalan mediocrity that we’ve had to get used to is unfortunately still there.  But after difficult First Act, I actually found myself warming up to the movie.  Once young Kitai was off on his adventure, there was less talking from him and more action.  Jaden’s Smith’s performance may not have been perfect.  But I did feel something for this kid, who only ever wanted to make his father proud.  Even if the conclusion is inevitable and we know that things are going to turn out okay, I enjoyed the movie.  It had some positive messages about facing fear, knowing that it is an illusion, and how when worse comes to worse, remembering to ground yourself in the present moment.

One of the things I do admire about M. Night’s movies is that you can usually count on the danger being taken seriously, and he does a good job building the rules of the universes his characters inhabit.  The film has a few moments of humor to relieve the tension, but it never got too bogged down into seriousness like some of his other films have.  There was actually a favorite scene I had in the film.  It’s where Kitai gets bitten by a poisonous leech, and in order to stop the poison from spreading, he has to stab a needle in his heart with the antidote medication for it to spread through his system.  The scene had me on edge to watch the poor kid have to stick something in his heart to save himself.  It’s the one scene where I really felt I saw a kid having to overcome his fear to save himself from death.  Strangely with the scene of him jumping off a log to fly, not so much.  I didn’t see the fear in his eyes the way I did in that earlier scene.

Part of the story involves an alien creature known as an Ursa that can “smell fear” through a release of skin pharamones when a person becomes frightened.  Kitai’s father learned a technique, called “ghosting”, which purges fear and makes the creatures unable to sense their victim.  As you can guess, Kitai discovers this technique in himself when he has to face the creature in the climax of the movie.  But personally, the moment didn’t feel earned.  The film in my opinion didn’t build the stakes enough in its danger scenarios for me to believe that this kid found it in himself to conquer his fears.  The problem also lies in the first act of the film, where Kitai comes off as whiny and spoiled.  I couldn’t quite understand how I was supposed to feel the conflict between him and his father, when for the most part, his father is right.  There wasn’t enough of a build up in the conflict between them in those first scenes to relate to Kitai for me to want to side with him.  Kitai seemed more relatable to me once he was away from his father, facing danger, and having to make choices to survive.

When it comes to movies, one of the things I can’t do is judge child actors too harshly, because many times I think some of the criticism is unwarranted when we’re talking about a kid who is trying their best at a performance.  Admittedly, Jaden Smith has some trouble when it comes to his dialogue scenes, and he’s a bit difficult to understand when he voices the opening monologue.  But for a child actor, I found he was very good at being physical, such as with the needle in the chest scene, which I thought he pulled off well.  It might have been more of a challenge if he had to pantomime act through the movie, but the less he talked and the more he did in action scenes, the more I was engaged with him.  It’s more issues with the script than him where the film has its problems.

Overall, I kind of liked After Earth.  It’s not a great movie by any means but it was enjoyable and fun at times.  I think it’s also a decent film for parents looking to take their kids to a movie this summer, one that actually has perilous moments taken seriously that kids can relate to.  It’s certainly better than most of what you’ll seen in the theater right now.  It’s a story that doesn’t need to be too big or too epic to make it’s point.  It’s fast paced, and for the most part it’s an enjoyable ride that I recommend you check out.

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) Dir. J.J. Abrams

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I’m not sure how I would categorize myself when it comes to being a Star Trek fan.  I watched all of the Original Series, and admittedly I’m not as huge a fan of it as I am with Next Generation and DS9.  I can’t recite plots for you, I don’t own any of the books with the schematics for how the Enterprise works.  But I know the basic rules of the series.  I know enough of the important things that hold it together.  Simple rules like the Prime Directive.  Or you can’t beam to the surface when shields are up.  When it comes to the Original Series, most of my knowledge about it comes from the first 6 Star Trek features, but I know the characters well enough to understand who they are and what their history is.  When I first saw the Wrath of Khan in 2004, I hadn’t watched all of the original series at that point, but I understood the meaning behind Spock’s death.  I understood that Kirk, Spock, and McCoy had a history that they shared together, over three seasons of televisions and two feature films.  There was also no guarantee at that point that Spock would ever come back.  Even though I knew there was a movie after The Wrath of Khan called The Search For Spock, I was still emotionally caught up in Spock’s death, and the movie was so well written as to make Kirk finally stare death in the face for the first time.  Even if you had no connection to Star Trek at all, you could understand the story well enough to let Spocks death have some sort of impact on you.  It’s that well written.  Everything about that story had built up to that moment, and it was just as beautiful, wonderful and as sad as any other pinnacle moment in motion picture history.

It seems almost idiotic and unbelievably stupid that anyone would try to redo that famous moment in film, but that’s what Star Into Darkness tries to do.  From the moment John Harrison is revealed to be Khan, I had a feeling the movie was getting itself into serious trouble.  This is like retelling the story of the Wrath of Khan from the perspective of Back To The Future 2, seeing the events unfold from another side.  But instead of being worked into the structure of good storytelling, it’s about nothing more than serving the fans of the original movie.  It takes advantage of the audiences naivety when it comes to storytelling by letting their emotions from another film influence them instead of the story we’re watching being able to hold its own.  The film also couldn’t let go of holding hands with the original series and walk on its own once Leonard Nimoy made a useless cameo appearance.  Elder Spock should have been smarter and not told anything about what happened in his timeline, because all he did was allow young Spocks emotions to get caught up about Kirk in a timeline that has nothing to do with him.  Elder Spock should have known this and not said anything.  But the moment has nothing to do with plot.  It’s all about giving fans another reappearance from Spock.  It just goes to show how unwilling J.J. Abrams is willing to detach himself from the Original series, and from that point on the movie falls into disaster.  The moment I saw that Kirk was going in to save the warp drive of the failing ship, I knew what they were doing and what was coming.  I let out an audible “Jesus Christ” starring in disbelief that the film had completely lost its own sense of meaning and purpose to itself.  It couldn’t allow itself to be it’s own thing.  It had to take the easy path, keeping fans of the show unaware that there was no real story here to begin with..  For one thing, the fact that John Harrison is Khan, to Kirk and crew that doesn’t mean squat.  They don’t know who he is.  There is no relationship between them yet.  As of this moment, there even still isn’t enough of a relationship between Kirk and Spock for Spock to shed any tears over Kirk’s “death”.  On an emotional level, the scene makes absolutely no sense.  The people who are getting caught up in the scene emotionally are getting caught up in their emotions from the Original Series.  J.J. Abrams is letting somebody else’s movie drive his film.  In the two Star Trek films Abrams has directed so far, I don’t see how Kirk and Spock could have established any sort of real relationship to make Spock shed tears over his death.  Spocks emotions are based on what Elder Spock told him about the other timeline.  To follow such emotions from somebody elses timeline is…er…illogical.

In fact, I think the new series has failed to establish the primary relationship that does matter: the trio of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.  It’s these three men who are at the heart of Star Trek.  The new films so far have failed to build up their relationship together.  McCoy is rarely there when the three of them are a group.  As far as the two main characters go, Kirk spends more time cutting off Spock any time he has something important to say.  It made more sense from the first film when the two men were at odds with one another.  I still haven’t seen them go through enough for their relationship to mean anything.

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First, the opening sequence makes no logical sense.  It’s pure action drivel with very little development put on the characters.  It’s not just the fact that Kirk revealed the starship to a race of primitive aliens, the entire mission is a violation of the prime directive.  If the volcano is going to wipe out their civilization, then the Federation can’t interfere with the evolution of the planet or the destruction of a species.  Kirk from the series was known for violating the Prime Directive, but at least his reasons made sense, and he wasn’t about to start impacting an entire ecosystem.  Second…why was the ship underwater again?  I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t keep the ship in space, except for the reason to have a “hey wouldn’t it be cool to see the Enterprise burst out of the ocean” moment.  Third…why could they not beam Spock through water?  In The Wrath of Khan, they could beam through the center of planet.  In Star Trek TNG, there were cities on Earth built underwater where people could be beamed in and out.  If they can beam through rock, why should beaming through water be any different?

The next thing that happened bugged me even more.  The story presents a plot issue that Kirk has his command taken away from him, which we think is going to be a driving story point.  After making a big mistake, Kirk has to prove himself to regain command of the Enterprise.  But all it takes is the death of Captain Pike in the next scene before Kirk is given his ship back.  So any sense of drama that might have related to Kirk losing the captains chair and fighting his way back to it are completely extinguished.  I also can’t relate to Kirk feeling emotionally lost about losing the Captains chair because quite frankly he deserves it.  And he just turns into a whimpering baby over it.  Also, as far as Khan killing Captain Pike goes, I just don’t think there’s enough of relationship between Kirk and Pike to justify Kirk’s need for revenge.  We have to be reminded of Pike giving command to Kirk in the first place from the first film, taking him under his wing and acting like a surrogate father to him.  But it’s not enough to drive an entire emotional arc of a film.  I sometimes think Kirk has the emotional stability of a high school kid, and one would think they would put a person with some ounce of maturity in the Captain’s chair.  It made a little more sense in the first film, which established Kirk as being somewhat of a prodigy, even if he was unruly.  But with his maturity level here, he seems undeserving of command, and I wish the film had spent more time forcing him to see this side of himself instead of instantly giving him back the Enterprise.

And then there’s the completely messed up logic in the build up to Kirk’s death, which is the Wrath of Khan moment in the story.  The Enterprise is falling out of orbit and Kirk has to realign the warp core to power the main thrusters.  Umm…I don’t read Enterprise technical manuals, but I know that’s not how the Enterprise works.  The warp core powers the warp drive.  NOT the Thrusters.  That’s why in any Star Trek series, when the warp core gets knocked offline, the ship can still run on impulse (i.e. THRUSTERS).  It’s one of these imbecilic design flaws where all the ships power is connected to one circuit breaker.   It worked in Wrath of Khan because Spock had to fix the Warp Drive and send the ship into warp to get away from the Genesis explosion.  As far as Spock screaming Khan and turning into the Vulcan terminator, they try to turn Spock into a badass, but without any of the buildup to it.  It made me think like they were trying to do an Iron Giant moment, like when the Giant loses himself and turns into a killing machine.  We don’t see Spock struggling to control his emotions except for getting into whiny high school banter with his girlfriend Uhura.  The fight presumably being that Spock showed no feeling towards Uhura about how she would feel if the Enterprise would have left him to die in the volcano.  Umm…Uhura…that’s part of service in a military operation when it comes to giving your life for service.  If she’s that emotionally impaired, what is she doing in a military operation like Starfleet?  It just tells me even more that this crew is not ready to be piloting starships around the galaxy.

STID2And about Carol Marcus, another layover from Wrath of Khan…she serves absolutely no purpose to the film.  She could be taken out of the film and have almost no effect on the outcome of the story.  She’s that forgettable.  Also, why is her father piloting a starship bigger than the Enterprise?  The Enterprise is supposed to be the most advanced ship in Starfleet.  Why is there a ship out there that looks like a Star Destroyer?

Once again we have another summer film that builds on everything that was familiar and had come before.  This film gives more power to The Wrath of Khan than it does to itself.  I think this is by far the worst Star Trek film ever made, because it never allows itself to be it’s own thing.  It goes against the promise of the first Star Trek that we would see the crew go on new adventures, and I thought the very idea of separating itself by having the characters in a separate timeline was done so it would NOT INSULT the fans of the original series or Star Trek in general.  For people who say they still prefer this film over Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, I say this…as bad as that film was, at least it was an original story and at least it had the guts to be its own thing.  This film never follows through on any of it’s consequences.  Unlike Wrath of Khan, we know Kirk isn’t going to die, and that by the end of the film he’ll be back.  And also, what the hell was that moment where we hear Khan crushing Scotty’s head…and then a few minutes later when they transport back Scotty is fine?  I thought they were implying Khan had killed Scotty.  The rest of the crew as well just doesn’t have any solid, memorable moments like they did in the first film.  There are absolutely no serious stakes or consequences that are followed through.  Khan is nowhere near the murderer he was in Wrath of Khan.  In that film, he killed and slaughtered everyone in the orbiting science station.  Also, the fact that Kirk has a brief alliance with Khan doesn’t do anything to build up the hero/villain relationship.  They are not mortal enemies yet.  They don’t know what either person is capable of.  Everything about this film gives more power to The Wrath of Khan than it does to itself, and it denies us any chance of getting invested in this new crew and their mission.  I don’t think I have any reason to continue watching the next Star Trek.  J.J. Abrams and his team of writers have no understanding or willingness to make their own mark on the Star Trek universe, or allow themselves to take chances and mark their own course in the series.  If he can’t let himself go there with Star Trek, what makes anyone think he’s going to make a difference with Star Wars?

Star Trek (2009) Dir. J.J. Abrams

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Before we reach the main event, Star Trek Into Darkness, we have J.J. Abrams first foray into Star Trek and his reimagining of the Original Series.  I have mixed feelings about this film.  First of all, I do like it.  It’s a fun ride.  It speaks with its own voice and style.  The actors portraying the parts of the younger crew members do an excellent job capturing the spirit of the Original cast members, while doing their best to make those characters into their own.  Obviously the hardest ones to do are Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, since those three have had the most established development.  Oh, and Scotty.  The four of them are icons in their own right.  In this new Trek,  Uhura, Chekov, and Sulu are given a lot more room to develop as characters.  The Original Series rarely ever had episodes devoted to those characters, and even in the feature films, they always served as basic support in the background.  We never really find out much about them.  Here each of the supporting characters is given their due and a moment to shine.  Leonard Nimoy shows up here as Elder Spock to give the new crew their send off.  Star Trek is full of action, and for the most part delivers the goods in its efforts to reinvigorate the franchise.

My problem is I’m not sure if in the back of my mind I accept these reimagined characters as Star Trek.  The idea is to create a younger hipper version of the original series, and the film does that well.  But it’s a different kind of energy than I’m accustomed to.  The Star Trek franchise has always had plenty of action, but it’s pacing is also a signature of every series.  I’m not saying it’s supposed to be slow, but I’m not sure if this new Trek holds true to the vision of Roddenberry.  A lot of Star Trek is about diplomatic relations with other alien civilizations.  This crews mission is a bit of a by the numbers “save the world” scenario.  The aliens we meet are all familiar, with the villains being the Romulans.  From what I see in this film and the next one, Star Trek Into Darkness is keeping things in the familiar zone, with familiar villains, aliens and situations.  Where is the quest to seek out NEW life and NEW civilizations?  This is one of the reasons I have difficulty accepting this new franchise.  The new Trek offers the opportunity for new adventures by having the characters embark on an alternate timeline, which means the opportunity for new stories, not reexamining old ones from a different perspective.

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The other major problem I have with this movie is a lack of a relationship between the hero (Kirk) and the villain (Nero).  This is a problem I have with a lot of movies, where the villains are developed behinds the scenes where only the audience can see them.  But having the hero and villain meet at the climax of the movie gives us no emotional connection between them.  How are we supposed to invest in the battle of two titan characters don’t really know one another.  From Kirk’s perspective, the Romulan ship wiping out planets is a faceless enemy, except with the occasional video message from the villain.  Nero only has a relationship with Spock, who in this case is a secondary player.  If anything, more effort should have probably been put into telling the story from Spock’s perspective.

See, here’s the problem.  This movie doesn’t do enough to show it’s commitment to reinvigorating the franchise.  By that I mean, because of the change in the timeline, they have opened the series up to develop in its own way.  But it doesn’t want to commit to allowing Kirk to grow more as a character (and in his own way).  We see Kirk as the wild stallion he is, refusing to take orders on occasion, being brash and antagonistic towards authority.  At the same time he is restrained from being allowed to grow on his own as a character.  They don’t want to make too much of a departure from the Captain Kirk we all know, which aligns with the series goal (and problem) of always sticking with the familiar.  Kirk doesn’t get to change into a new type of Kirk.  It’s an alternate universe.  It doesn’t make sense to hinder his development and tell a story where life shapes him in a new way.  Being the brash individual that he is, it doesn’t seem like he changes much or learns anything by the end of the film.  He doesn’t have a problem that really haunts him.  Maybe that’s the point, but his overconfidence also never gives us any doubt he will have a problem becoming Captain of the Enterprise.  The only one in his way is Spock, who he makes it a point of not listening to anyway.    If anything he basically learns to be more accepting of Spock.  But the Kobiyashi Maru test never gives him anything to think about accept to focus more of his antagonism on Spock. It is really Spock who is the one going through major development as he begins his quest to understand his human side.  Which is why I felt the film should have made more of an effort to make Spock the hero since this seems more like it’s his story, and he’s the one fighting to come to terms with himself.  He is also the only one who has a relationship to the villain.

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This is also one of the reasons i preferred the supporting characters, Uhura, Chekov, Sulu, as they were all allowed to develop as characters in their own way.  I like that this film seems to show unique interpretations of these characters and each of them never tries to be like their older counterparts.   Uhura especially is unique because she is not like the more seasoned Uhura we know from the Original Series.  We see her struggles as a young communications officer trying to find her place.  Zoe Saldana really owns the character.  The only thing I didn’t care for was her relationship with Spock, which seemed tacked on and underdeveloped.  Their relationship never seems to play any part in the story.  Their relationship seems more like it ties down Uhura, where I would have really liked to see her develop more as a character.  Unfortunately, she sort of fades into the background after having some great development in the beginning. As for Scotty, I wasn’t as impressed with him.  Simon Pegg nails his interpretation of Scotty, but the character is so iconic that it seems like he’s forced to do more of an impression than the new Scotty having a chance to grow in his own way.

The new Star Trek isn’t great, but it’s a fun ride through the galaxy.  One of the other things I like about this new version is the fact that there’s more in the way of traveling (even if it’s to places we already know).  I’m siting this as a comparison to the other feature films, where the action usually centers around one planet or location.  I am looking forward to seeing Star Trek Into Darkness when it hits theaters.  Will it do a better job at allowing the characters to grow on their own?  We shall see.  In the meantime this version of Star Trek is acceptable, and enjoyable.

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Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) Dir. Jonathan Frakes

 

STI1Much like The Search For Spock was to The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek: Insurrection is a tough act to follow after the marvelous First Contact.  I have to say though, I like Insurrection better than Generations, and it’s probably my 2nd favorite of the TNG Trek films.  But it’s not great.  It plays more like an extended episode of the TV show as opposed to owning itself as a feature.  Some interesting ideas play out, and thankfully the storyline of Data’s emotion chip is discontinued in this feature.  But the stakes just aren’t as high as they were in First Contact.

I think part of the problem is that Picard is just plain normal Picard here.  He’s not facing any life altering problems.  The first film he was dealing with the loss of the heir to his family after his young nephew Rene is killed in a fire.  In First Contact he confronts one of the most traumatic events of his life, being assimilated by the Borg and losing his identity.  After that, what’s really left?  I think this film would have been better suited if they took the opportunity to focus on the problems of another character.  Riker is a character that comes to mind.  For so long he’s denied the captains chair, it would be nice to see a film where the cast is supporting him.  It doesn’t have to be Riker though, it could be any one of the Enterprise crew.  The reason it feels like a normal episode of the TV show is that none of the crew members are facing any bigger challenges to themselves.  Even Data is more scaled down.  The film starts off interestingly enough with him sabotaging a covert operation on an alien planet.  Picard and Worf then have to work together to recalibrate his systems, but after that his character just blends in with the rest of the cast.

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I think my other problem with this movie is that it doesn’t feel like they really go anywhere.  The main problem of the movie takes place on a standard Alpha Quadrant planet.  There’s no journey to find this place and no real sense of adventure.  The actual adventuring part takes place on the alien planet below where Picard has to help a race of aliens called the Baku travel safely to hide from So’na who want to conquer their planet for the use of it’s orbiting rings that give eternal youth and longevity to its inhabitants.  But there’s no strange encounters or alien creatures.  They’re just hiding in caves to keep the So’na from transporting them to the bad guys ships.  The story plays out okay, but it’s just not that compelling as we have no deeper connection with the characters, and nobody to root for.  Picard’s love interest, Anij really did nothing for me.  And because this is no longer the TV series, I had no reason to invest in their romance since I knew she wouldn’t be returning after this.  Picard talks about seeing her again, but we’re never going to see that played out again since there’s only one more Star Trek feature after this, and by then she’s out of the picture.  Data’s storyline about learning to play more and be like a child is too much on the cutesy side to be engaging or entertaining.  It’s also a little didactic and not very compelling in its message about seeing the world as children see it.  The only story that seems to be infused with some life is the Riker/ Troi relationship, where after so long the two of them finally rekindle their romance.  But not much time is really spent to engage us more in their relationship.

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The film isn’t bad though, and there’s some decent performances.  F. Murray Abraham is good in just about anything, and he’s somewhat effective as the villain Ru’afo.  There’s a few amusing “lighter” moments, but most of the humor is a little overly silly.  The Riker/Troi flirting scenes are a little obnoxious.  And Klingon zits?  If you say so.  Anything to lower Worfs standards as a warrior.  Though I prefer it when he gets to keep his bad-assary like he did in First Contact.  Thankfully though nobody is made to look to foolish, such as when Data put in his emotion chip in Generations, and he just became grating and unbearable to watch.  Sight gags are all well and good, but humor in service to the story is better than having it arbitrarily placed in there.  It’s forcing something in the story when it may not be needed in certain places.  Some of it is amusing like Data and Picard singing Gilbert and Sullivan, but it plays off as just cute more than an engaging story point.  In other words, its an excuse to have Data, Worf, and Picard sing a silly song. I did however like the Picard/Worf exchange:  Picard:  “Mr. Worf, do you know Gilbert and Sullivan?” Worf: “No sir, I have not yet had a chance to meet the new crew members.”

Like I said, Star Trek: Insurrection is not a great film.  But it’s decent and fairly tolerable.  It lacks focus more than anything, and doesn’t give enough of a reason to make it’s main characters more compelling.  It’s not bad, but it could have definitely been better.

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Star Trek: First Contact (1996) Dir. Jonathan Frakes

STFC1At last we come to my favorite of all the Star Trek films, Star Trek: First Contact.  I think this is an extraordinary movie.  It’s got a great story, great character development (every cast member from the series is given their due), a memorable villain, and something I never expected from a Star Trek movie, moments of tension and horror.  I remember my experience seeing this movie in the theater.  The Borg in this film are truly scary…the stuff of nightmares.  The elements are all interwoven and blended together to create a unique and believable storytelling experience.  From comedy, to drama, suspense, action, and adventure, this movie works on all levels.

STFC3The best element of any movie is when the protagonist has an issue he/she is dealing with and the rest of the movie is there to help support it.  In this case, it’s Jean Luc Picard having to fight with his trauma of being assimilated to the Borg six years prior to the events in the film.  Here, Picard’s trauma reflects the majority of his decisions, including telling his crew men to wipe out any other crew members that have been assimilated by the Borg, saying they will be doing them a favor.  Of course this reflects his true desire, which is to see all of the Borg wiped out, erasing them from his existence like the terminator.  Picard has often been in denial over many things based on his code of Starfleet ethics.  He believes that his sense of humanity has grown past the desire for revenge, but he’s very wrong as pointed out by Lily (Alfre Woodard).  In comparison to Ahab and Moby Dick, his fighting desire to stay and fight off the Borg leads to one of my favorite scenes in the movie, where Picard has the brass to call Worf a coward, and Worf’s retaliation, “If you were any other man I would kill you where you stand!”  You know something is wrong when even Worf knows a mission is suicide, and the Klingon whose blood lives for battle understands when it’s time to walk away.  It’s a great scene.  I even love Picard’s apology scene later.  Picard: “Mr. Worf, I regret some of the things I said to you earlier.”  Worf: (annoyed) SOME.

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Picard’s story about getting through and surviving his trauma is successful for the same reasons that Kirk’s story about his fear of death in Wrath of Khan resonate with us to the day.  We are able to witness in First Contact how the adventure brings out the best (and worst) in Picard and helps him find balance again in his life.  The story never forgets that, and all the other plots of the film come together to support the main arc of Picard’s journey.  This is the first Next Generation film where the cast is finally allowed to come into their own.  Each of them has a memorable moment.  Crusher calling the EMH Doctor to block the door from the Borg.  Troi doing Tequila shots.  Riker and LaForge helping Zephram Cochrine carry out his warp flight.  And my personal favorite is Worf who just kicks ass in this movie.  Data is also much more tolerable in this film, as is his story regarding his emotion chip.  I suppose the only thing I was left wondering by the end is whether or not Data really learned anything about the worthiness of his quest to be more human.  The Borg Queen (while using a manipulation tactic) tries to get him to embrace his machine side by doing the exact opposite…giving him what he wants and making him more human, grafting skin on his body.  While it’s tolorable, it’s still probably the only aspect of the movie I don’t care for because I don’t find anything really interesting about Data’s desire to be human.  I have several problems in this which I talked about in my Star Trek: Generations Review.  The Borg Queen’s tactic is clever, but we know in the end Data isn’t going to force himself to really think about what happened to him, and as a result, nothing really changes about his character by the end of the film.  The android is just too stubborn to really think about what he could be capable of in his machine side.

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One of the lighter comical highlights of the film is James Cromwell’s portrayal of Zephrem Cochrine, the man who invents warp drive.  He’s given a wonderful arc in the story, as a man who doesn’t care about the future or making history, and just wants to find a peaceful place where he can be left alone.  That all changes when the Enterprise crew comes in to convince him to carry out his mission so they can go back to their own future.  One of the sequences that makes me laugh is when Lt. Barclay (Dwight Schultz) can’t contain his fandom at getting to work with their history’s greatest legend.  It’s funny because it makes Cochrine even more resistant to his destiny, when he just wants everyone to leave him alone.

Also shining in this film is Alfre Woodard’s Lilly, who develops a great relationship with Picard.  She is not just the lone outsider, but the one keeping both her men (Picard and Cochrine) grounded.  I have two favorite scenes with her.  The first is when Picard opens the bay door with the view of Earth, showing her that she’s “not in Kansas anymore”.  The second is when she fights with Picard to blow up the ship, telling him he’s become Captain Ahab on a quest to destroy the whale.  The most endearing part of the scene is near the end when Picard quotes Moby Dick.  “Actually”, she says, “I never read it.”

I do have to say that out of all the Star Trek films, Wrath of Khan is the best story.  But this film will always be my personal favorite.  It’s just a wonderful, exciting, and action packed adventure.  I’ve always been more partial to TNG because it’s what I grew up with.  But this is the only feature they made where everyone really gets to shine.  It’s a good, well told story, and it’s too bad that we never got another film like it after this.  STFC4