Tag Archives: TNG

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?

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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