It’s not exactly true to say that all long running film series are worthy of attention, after all there’s been 18 National Lampoon films, however Star Trek has earned itself a place in popular culture thanks to its endless television syndication run in a way that we might not see again, now that media has spread itself across so many channels and platforms and we’re not all stuck with the same four channels of our youth. Today we’re taking a look at the big screen outings for the original cast.
It took ten years from the demise of the Original Series for the consistently strong syndication results to finally pull the tigger on a revival, eventually settling on a feature presentation, which no doubt came as an unpleasant surprise to those working on the planned Phase II telly show. Some small comfort could perhaps be gleaned from one of the proposed scripts being hastily repurposed, then seemingly re-written daily to meet this strangely gestated production.
The original cast return, who I suppose for the uninitiated we should introduce. William Shatner’s Admiral James T. Kirk, apparently promoted after the conclusion of the series five year mission, is overseeing the refit of the Enterprise, currently undergoing a troubled shakedown. After a transporter accident kills some of the new bridge staff, a suitable replacement science officer is found in the shape of Leonard Nimoy’s Spock, rejoining DeForest Kelley’s Dr. “Bones” McCoy, George Takei’s Helmsman Hikaru Sulu, Walter Koenig’s Tactical Officer Pavel Checkov, Nichelle Nichols’ Communications Officer Nyota Uhura and James Doohan’s shonkily accented Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott.
The classic crew are joined by newcomers Stephen Collins as Captain Decker of the newly refitted Enterprise who is immediately usurped by Kirk, and Persis Khambatta as Ilia, an navigation officer and former lover of Decker who for reasons we’ll get to in a minute doesn’t get to show off her full capabilities. Tensions immediately rise when they’re forced to respond to an urgent situation despite their unreadiness, and Decker must hurriedly countermand an order from Kirk that would have destroyed the ship, due to Kirk’s unfamiliarity with the state of the half-finished vessel.
This prompts some questioning and soul searching from Kirk and his buddies who wonder if Kirk’s as happy working behind a desk as he says he is (spoiler – he is not), but that has to go on the sub-plot back burner as they approach the source of that urgent situation – a strange cloud of energy travelling directly towards Earth destroying everything in its path. Intercepting the phenomena, they find themselves attacked by a strange probe that seems to annihilate Ilia, then promptly returns her. Or, a cloned version of her, anyway, one that’s now acting as a emissary for one “V’Ger”. A distraught Decker attempts to simultaneously get information from whatever Ilya is while trying to reawaken her original self that he desperately hopes is in there somewhere, while the rest of the crew try and figure some kind of way out of here.
After Spock takes a 2001 inspired, trippy spacewalk to the centre of the cloud he discovers that V’Ger is a machine that’s become self-aware and sentient, after inadvisedly mind-melding with it. It was a probe sent by humanity, well, sometime round about now, I’d imagine, to gather information but believed lost. Much later, it drifted by an alien race who massively upgraded it and sent it on its way back home, gathering so much information that it developed sentience, which isn’t quite how artificial intelligence works, otherwise we’d better be worried about these 8TB hard drives.
According to the wikipedia page, which does a far better job of explaining what’s going on than the film itself does, having completed its mission it lacks any sort of focus and is striking out in frustration, having no sense of purpose. The crew converge on the original probe as V’ger demands that its creator appear to receive his transmission of data, which somehow, don’t ask me how, translates into it merging with Decker and zipping off to another dimension, leaving Kirk and co scratching their heads and saying “Well, that was a thing”.
To be polite about it, the entire main story is hot garbage. If that. It might just be cold garbage, redolent with the signs of being stretched unbearably thin over the running time, and basically anything to do with V’Ger is scientifically illiterate and dramatically bereft. The only reason this scrapes by into watchability narrative-wise is the confident, assured performances from a cast who know these characters inside out, and a sub-plot about Kirk’s doubts about his return to Captaining, which is a welcome piece of character development in a movie not otherwise teeming with it.
This doesn’t look like a forty six million dollar be-budgeted film, but that number’s more a consequence of the unusual pre-production gestation period. Which is not to say a great deal of money wasn’t thrown at the film, especially at Doug Trumbull’s special effect house, called in at the last minute to complete the model shots which look great for the time. Just as well, as you’ll be seeing a lot of them, particularly in the first half, with that loving pan around the outside of the Enterprise that lasts a full eighteen hours.
It’s tough to recommend this to modern audiences, or, well, audiences regardless of timeframe. It moves at a snail’s pace though a void of material, and the small touches that can be appreciated are few and very far between. Of the original series of film I like this one the least, which is not to say that it’s necessarily the worst. Others, at least, shoot for something and miss – this largely spends its time not doing much at all, making it boring. And that is something up with which I will not put.
Following on, rather loosely, from the Series episode Space Seed – loosely enough that it’s only barely worth watching as an adjuct to the film, I discovered -this 1982 effort sees Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry punted upstairs after the less than stellar box office reaction to the first film.
Executive producer Harve Bennett developed the original outline, with the script drafted by Jack B. Sowards and polished off by director Nicholas Meyer and it is, famously, Moby Dick in space. well, to a degree. Ricardo Montalban’s Khan Noonien Singh and his squad of fellow genetically enhanced superhumans were banished to the hostile but habitable world of Ceti Alpha V after failing to take over the enterprise, and promptly forgotten about for fifteen years. In the intervening time, neighbouring planet Ceti Alpha VI exploded, the fallout from which renders their new home practically uninhabitable, leading to the death of many of Khan’s people.
Not that Kirk knows it, who’s busy training Starfleet’s next generation of officers. No, not those ones, but Kirstie Alley’s Lieutenant Saavik, first seen commanding a simulated Enterprise in the Kobayashi Maru test, which has itself garnered some pop culture renown. Rehashing a theme from the first film, Kirk doesn’t seem too happy behind a desk, and is advised by his close friends to get back out in command of a ship.
Khan and co are also looking to get out there, and off the rock they’ve been left on, and seize the opportunity when the USS Reliant and Pavel Chekov arrive, looking for barren worlds to test the remarkable new Genesis device on. Beaming to the surface the the Reliant’s captain for an inspection, they’re captured and implanted with a suspiciously narratively convenient mind control worm thing, which is another one of those things that I found terrifying as a child, but find astonishingly naff now.
Now in control of the Reliant, Kahn learns that the Genesis device is of nearly inconceivable power, with the intended function of turning a barren rock into a verdant planet in a matter of moments. Khan realises it could also double as a handy planet-killer weapon, and heads off to the research station building it, the Regula I, where Kirk’s former lover, Dr. Carol Marcus, and their son, David are busy working on it – not that Kirk knows he’s the father.
Kirk and a crew of rookies are out on a training mission when the distress call comes in from Regula I, so he assumes command and heads out being, as usual, the only ship in range to do anything about it, but they are blindsided by the Reliant and severely damaged. While they manage to save the Marcuses and Chekov, and inflict retaliatory damage on the Reliant, Khan gets away with the Genesis device, so Kirk and co must patch up the ship and give chase through a dangerous, but playing-field levelling nebula.
Cue a game of cat and mouse that Kirk ultimately wins, but at a terrible cost, as Spock sacrifices himself to repair a warp core malfunction and dies from radiation exposure in what’s still a remarkably poignant scene, even if we know in retrospect that it’s not a death that’s going to last for very long.
There is, of course, the old canard that only the even numbered instalments in the series are worthy of your attention. In what’s as good a reflection as any of my mellowing from sharp, angular, cynical Gen-Xer to fat, happy auld man, I’ve gone from thinking that Wrath of Khan is the only film worth watching in the series to at least finding something to appreciate in all of them. That said, it’s pretty clear that _Wrath_is the best of them, by a distance.
As mentioned it’s borrowing some of the themes from the first film, such as Kirk’s fear of becoming obsolete and questioning his purpose, but Wrath of Kahn actually pays something more than lip service to them. Dropping a mystery son from nowhere is perhaps a cheap trick to forcibly develop Kirk’s character, but it works, and the camaraderie with the rest of the cast remains believable and enjoyable.
Of course, the main draw of the Wrath of Khan is right there in the title – Khan is a great foil for Kirk, resourceful, capable and driven – indeed if he hadn’t been driven a little too close to the edge of sanity by his ordeals, you’d have to put your money on him beating Kirk and ruling the Galaxy. Crucially, his grudge against Kirk is pretty much entirely justified – perhaps not wholly against Kirk, true, but certainly the Starfleet he represents.
While $11 million isn’t exactly a shoestring, it’s clear that there’s been a concerted effort to drive costs down after the original’s zany budget, and I think for the most part smart decisions have been made. The effects were, I believe, taking some flack back in ’82 for being a touch sub-par, but time’s a great leveller on that score.
The heart of Star Trek was never about the effects work, however. It’s about the humanity, and that’s what shines through in the battle between Kirk and Kahn that’s just as enjoyable watching now for the umpteenth time as it was in the first instance. I approve this message, and if you’re only going to watch one of these films, it should be this one.
Following on near enough directly from the previous film, we join the gang back on Earth still grieving for the loss of Spock, although Lieutenant Saavik (recast as Robin Curtis) and David Marcus have transferred to the science vessel Grissom, named of course after William Petersen’s character in CSI: Las Vegas. They are investigating the planet that was formed after Khan set off the Genesis device in the nebula at the end of the last film, which also marks the final resting place of Spock’s body. Or, well, it should have done, but it appears that the body’s gone walkabouts.
It turns out that this, and the increasing instability of the planet is a side effect of David using the banned substance “protomatter”, renowned for producing the powerful but unpredictable effects that are demanded by the script. Convenient. Saavik and David discover that Spock had been resurrected, sort of, in a rapidly ageing child’s body, but with no memory or the personality of his previous life.
Back home, Kirk and company discover that one of Spock’s last acts was transferring his katra to Dr. McCoy, which is why he’s behaving erratically. For the uninitiated, a katra is a bit like an iCloud backup of your brain, but with a crotchety old geezer as the backup server rather than an Apple facility, making it far more reliable. Unfortunately Starfleet are trying to hush up the Genesis incident, as they don’t want the Klingons playing Sonic the Hedgehog, and are also looking to decommission the aged Enterprise, so bar Kirk from pursuing the matter.
Kirk accepts this with the good grace he’s known for, stealing the Enterprise, sabotaging the new Starship flagship such that it cannot follow and belting off to the Genesis planet. They are met there by a Klingon Bird of Prey, captained by Christopher Lloyd’s Kruge, who has heard communications chatter about the increased colour palette and blast processing of the Genesis device, and is infuriated that the Klingons must continue to play the likes of Alex Kidd in Shinobi World rather than The Revenge of Shinobi. Really, it’s barbaric in comparison.
Kruge rightly recognises the destructive potential of the device and is resolved to move it from Federation to Klingon hands, and, well, the man has a point. It turns out that going up against a wildly understaffed and semi-obsolete Enterprise isn’t too difficult, especially with the element of surprise afforded by a cloaking device, and he cripples the Enterprise. By this point Kruge has already taken Saavik, David and Spock hostage, and as Kirk refuses to co-operate he has David killed, which pretty much seals Kruge’s fate.
Before you know it they’re having a fistfight in the lava fields of the rapidly falling apart planet, Kirk’s tricked most of the Klingons into beaming on board the Enterprise a few seconds before it self destructs and the Enterprise crew has taken over the Klingon vessel and are headed off to Vulcan to spotweld Spock’s soul back to his body, this apparently being a thing that can be done.
Now, perhaps fittingly given the title, this instalment was directed by Leonard Nimoy, from a script finished off by Exec Producer Harve Bennet. And, in a lot of ways, these two must share the blame for The Search for Spock not quite hanging together all that well as a film. I don’t think there’s all that much here that’s outright bad on the atomic level, with the minor exception of Kruge’s ill-considered pet puppet thing, but there’s not a great deal of cohesiveness to the piece.
Chris Lloyd does his best with the material, but the overblown way the character’s written comes across as an attempt to recapture the glory of Khan’s reception, and a more contrasting character might well have been more impactful. That said, the almost operatic way Kruge’s been written is probably an attempt to graft a character on to someone that doesn’t have the screentime to properly develop one, and indeed the entire Klingon contingent feels rather like an afterthought, shoehorned in to give Kirk someone to punch in the final act.
There’s an argument, I think, for excising the external threat entirely – after all, there’s this brand new, rapidly decaying planet that could host all sorts of environmental hazards that might have made for an ultimately more interesting experience, had they fully committed to the “search” element of the title. After all, the film is, rightly, mostly concerned with battering the undo button for Spock’s death, and as such perhaps doesn’t really need to have a sub-plot with Klingons to make things more conventional.
That said, now we’re talking about a film with a larger budget that this, as cinematographer Charles Correll was already concerned that due to budget constraints essentially nothing was shot on location, and, well, he was right, as none of the soundstages look all that convincing. It might just about have passed muster on a TV show fifteen years before this was made, but it looks rather tacky in ’84. Indeed, despite the increased budget over Wrath of Khan, I’d argue this looks the cheapest of the series.
Not to overplay that, as it’s not all that bad, but it doesn’t help believability, given the plot that’s already concerned with bringing a dude back from the dead. You’d have to be a very forgiving viewer indeed to get to the end of the film with you belief still suspended, and I’m sure a lot of people were just wishing that they simply didn’t kill Spock at the end of the last film. It’s also tough to judge the ending in retrospect – the destruction of the iconic Enterprise vessel should have a big impact, but viewed from today it’s almost part of Starfleet’s standard operating procedures.
I think, perhaps, this sounds as if I’m being rather more harsh on The Search for Spock than I intend. While, yes, it’s got problems, they don’t get in the way of enjoying it in quite the same way that they are apparent when discussing it. It’s worth watching once, but I can’t imagine it’s on heavy rotation for even the die-hard Trekkies.
Or, as I think a more appropriate subtitle would be, The One Where They Go Back In Time And That. With Spock more or less returned to his old self, the crew look to head back to Earth in their hijacked, cloak-enabled Klingon Bird of Prey to face the music for that whole hijacking the Enterprise and blowing it up thing, but before they arrive word gets to them of a great danger the Earth faces.
An alien probe of unimaginable power has made a direct course for Earth, broadcasting a powerful signal that’s shutting down all power in the vessels and facilities it comes across. Seeing as no-one in the film comments that this is basically the plot of the first film, maybe we should refrain from mentioning here. Perhaps no one will notice.
A warning from Starfleet to stay away is hardly likely to stop Kirk and Co, so they get close enough to figure out that the signal the probe is broadcasting happens to be a whalesong. Unfortunately humpback whales no longer bestride the plains of FutureEarth, their lithe forms no longer gliding through the air as they do today, vaulting from mountains and burrowing their warrens through the deepest of valleys. I think that’s whales, right? Anyway, point is, they’re dead, and it doesn’t look like the probe is taking that for an answer.
So, the ex-Enterprise crew theorise, what we need to do is find a whale in the past and bring it back to the future, Marty. Where’s Christopher Lloyd when you need him, eh? They drive the wrong way around the sun and somehow fly back in time, this apparently being a thing that can be done, appearing in contemporary San Francisco.
Parking the cloaked vehicle in what one assumes must be the least used park in town, they set about their new objectives. They need nuclear material to refuel their ship, they need a container for a whale and associated water, and they need a whale. Easy. Send the Russian to sneak on board a nuclear powered aircraft carrier, Scotty to get someone to build a giant fishtank out of material that doesn’t yet exist, and Kirk to seduce the nice lady at Seaworld into letting them borrow their humpback.
That’s glossing over it a little, but this isn’t a film where any of the obstacles are being treated for anything other than laughs, especially as soon as they’ve gone back in time and everything is treated more as a fish-out-of-water story about the crew trying to blend in than any remotely serious piece of science fiction.
There’s not a great deal of drama or suspense to be mined in The Voyage Home, as even on the very few occasions it looks like there might be a significant obstacle it’s treated as a way to wring a few more laughs out of the situation. Thankfully most of these attempts land, and makes this an entertaining outing that walks right up to the line of self-parody, waggles a few toes over it and then steps back, ensuring that there was still scope remaining after this to attempt something rather more serious.
It’s a fun film for fans of the series, and the much lighter tone might make this a more palatable entry point for people on the fence about watching any of them, but in many ways it’s the slightest of the original cast’s series of films – I have never found anything new to like on rewatching this, which is not to say that it’s not worth watching once. It is. You should.
I suppose the capsule review of “Bill Shatner meets God and punches him” isn’t enough? Oh well…
William Shatner takes the reins for this outing – the moment we’ve all been waiting for, or at least the moment that he was waiting for, with a script developed from one of his ideas.
The Nimbus III Project was a dream, given form. Its goal: to prevent another war, by creating a place where humans and aliens can work out their differences peacefully. It’s a port of call – home away from home – for diplomats, hustlers, entrepreneurs, and wanderers.
Humans and aliens, wrapped in two million, five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal . . . all alone in the night. Hang on, that’s not right. That’s Babylon 5.
Nimbus III was the same idea, with Klingons, Romulan and human settlers theoretically banding together to build an idyllic new world, but the planet turned out to be a barely inhabitable dustbowl where the prevailing aesthetic is very much Wild West with Touchscreens. Used as a dumping ground for criminals and washed up diplomats, it’s in no condition to defend itself when a small cult-like force ultimately revealed to be under the control of Spock’s half brother Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill) shows up and takes over the joint.
Taking the ambassadors hostage, they demand attention, and it falls to Cap’n Kirk and the Funky bunch to cut short their shore leave, complete with perilous mountain climbing and gravity boot rescuing. On reaching Nimbus III, Sybok reveals his true intentions, wanting to hijack the Enterprise and head off to the centre of the galaxy, passing through a supposedly impenetrable barrier with the intent of finding Sha Ka Ree, the cradle of creation, and along with it, God.
Sybok has rejected the strict compliance with logic and suppression of emotion that the rest of the Vulcans have somehow managed to impose on the entire planet, which saw him exiled from his homeworld and family. He’s now using his mental powers to revisit the defining moments of pain and upset in people’s life and helping them deal with this, which for reasons not entirely explained makes people rather compliant with Sybok’s schemes.
Kirk’s having no part of this procedure, claiming his pain defines him as though he’s a character off Hellraiser or something, but Sybok’s party trick convinces the other key members of the Enterprise to go along with it, apart from Spock – whose essential response of, “Yes, and?” seems to be the only appropriate one for everyone, but hey ho. So, with that pair suitably restrained, off they go to Sha Ka Ree. Unfortunately the effects budget runs out on the way.
They find, at least as far as the script is concerned, a alien that takes on the aspects of divinity to trick them into releasing him, with only Kirk seeing through the ruse with his penetrating question of “What does God need with a starship?” – angering “God”, and showing the others the error of their ways and getting the heck out of there. It’s a horrendously cheap sequence, replete with polystyrene rock monsters and special effects that are basically a floodlight on a stick to represent the supposed creator of all things, and it’s very much an ending where the reach has exceeded its grasp and a pretty amateurish, farcical note to end a film on.
I consider that a bit of a shame, as in the early running there’s evidence that the lessons of the previous films had been learned. The outdoor shots of Yosemite and the Mojave desert location used for Nimbus III look pretty good, and lends some authenticity to a franchise that’s not exactly been teeming with it. Initially, at least, the cast again show the mix of camaraderie and needling, particularly in the Kirk/McCoy/Spock trifecta, that’s difficult not to like.
I have the feeling that Laurence Luckinbill was cast primarily on his physical resemblance to their first choice, Sean Connery, but again in the early running he’s crafting a very different, interesting antagonist. In fact, throughout the piece I’ve no real complaint with his performance, but rather the writing. It’s in no way clear why having some dude essentially say there, there, it’s all right, would make him worthy of becoming instantly convincing as a leader the way this script relies on. It’s daft. Really daft. I might have let that slide were it the daftest thing in the film, but it’s not.
The final act lacks all credibility. From the ten thousand feet view, it makes a sort of sense, but the actuality of it is such a dreadful effects boondoggle that it really kills it. However, the worst of it all is that when you hear Shatner’s vision for it, it wouldn’t really be any better. A shade less embarrassing, perhaps, but the main flaws are structural, not cosmetic.
Science fiction’s taken several cracks at dealing with religion, and I can’t really think of any off hand that’s been particularly successful at it. Of all the vehicles to examine it, though, there’s scarcely a less suitable vessel than Star Trek. It wasn’t until Deep Space Nine that there was any attempt at characterisation of aliens at all apart from the hat their species wears – Klingons are warriors, Romulans are devious, Vulcans are emotionless and logical, Ferengi are obsessed with money, etc, – let alone have characters complex enough to start talking about their foundational beliefs one way or another.
I’ve never held this in as terrible a regard as most other people do, in part because I think the first half of the film’s okay, but mainly because I welcome Shatner’s attempt at tackling something a little more ambitious than the franchise had been shooting for thus far. He’s missed by a mile, obviously, but he deserves a little credit for trying.
That partial defence aside, though – it’s by no means a film I could to recommend a casual observer. It’s not even one I could in all honesty recommend to a Star Trek fan. Hell, I’m not sure I’d recommend it to a fan of this film.
Nicholas Meyer’s back in the director’s chair for the last of the full original cast’s outings. The idea appears to be a take on Perestroika, and while it’s by no means the obvious vehicle for a Cold War analogy, I’ll take what I can get.
When the Klingon’s main energy facility on their homeworld’s moon explodes, taking most of the moon and the homeworld’s ozone layer with it, they reluctantly come to the conclusion that the situation is so precarious that they can monger no further wars, and sue the Federation for peace.
This is a shock to all concerned, and hardliners on both sides urge caution to the other’s motives, with some Federation voices firmly on the side of letting the Klingons die rather than aid them. To no great surprise, given what Christopher Lloyd did to his son, Kirk’s on Team Genocide.
For reasons I either weren’t given or I can’t remember, Kirk and the Enterprise are tasked with escorting Klingon Head Dude Gorkon (David Warner)’s ship to Earth for a pow-wow, going so far as to share a meal with Gorkon and General Chang (Christopher Plummer) which apparently some people found to be amusing, in a awkward way. I do not hold myself amongst them.
At any rate, such frivolity is cut short when it appears that the Enterprise fires a couple of missiles at Gorkon’s ship, and two suited up Enterprise crew members assassinate Gorkon. Kirk and McCoy attempt to stop this, but are unable to save his life, and are arrested for the assassination. Chang puts them on trial and sentences them to life imprisonment at a frozen mining colony. There’s some hijinks before they escape, or more accurately are busted out by Spock and the Enterprise, but then it becomes an investigation to find out who on board the Enterprise sabotaged their mission, leading to a conspiracy at the highest levels of both Governments.
So there’s two threads running through this, the murder-mystery of the assassination and subsequent investigations, and also Kirk’s changing attitude to the Klingons and the possibility of the peace in the future that by this point The Next Generation was already depicting. Confusingly TNG’s Worf (Michael Dorn), or an identical ancestor thereof, shows up as a lawyer, which is another silly little in-joke in a film that for my money lets its desire to be a lighthearted knockabout get in the way of the drama of the piece.
For a film that wants to play at the high stakes table, there’s never any sense of risk or danger, even when Kirk and McCoy are surrounded by a planetful of their most deadly enemies. I’m not quite sure what the creative process was behind having Christopher Plummer belch out Shakespeare quotes almost entirely at random, but if it was an attempt at grafting some more meaning on to this it’s not worked at all.
There’s less to complain about in Undiscovered Country I suppose, certainly compared to Final Frontier. The effects work is rather more reined in, in terms of quantity, which allows them to be increased in quality. Lets face it, it’s not like it could have gotten worse. In general the performances are fine, although I don’t at all like the dialogue Plummer’s been saddled with, which in turn means I don’t at all like Plummer’s character. I’ll leave that as an exercise for the interested to work out where the fault in that lies.
I’ve always been left a little cold by this film – perhaps because it’s talking influences from genres or sub genre’s I’m quite fond of – at points this feels like Len Deighton re-writing The Hunt for Red October – but seems to treat them with no respect whatsoever, as though their silly space nonsense was an inherently more worthy genre, which is a ludicrous inversion of reality.
I feel that I should like this film a great deal more than I do, and by any rational standard it’s a better film than The Motion Picture, The Final Frontier, and The Search For Spock. But, well, I don’t. Which puts it in the same broad “not recommended” bucket as those three, so the odd / even : good / bad thing rather starts breaking down at this point – we’ll deal with those pesky Next Gen outings sometime down the line, but it doesn’t hold true there either.
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