Review: Star Trek Generations

Star Trek Generations (1994)
Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Malcolm McDowell, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, William Shatner. Directed by David Carson.

It was a good idea. A bridge between the Star Trek films with the original cast and a new series of films featuring The Next Generation characters should have been great. But instead of a properly nostalgic farewell to the old cast and an anointing of the new, Star Trek Generations almost forgets that it has any characters at all, and focuses instead on a lumbering, cumbersome story that sort of connects the two television series but doesn’t give us much reason to care.

The plot is so uninteresting and so horribly assembled as to defy summary, but the heart of it involves a weird extradimensional energy band—called the Nexus—that gives anyone caught within it his or her heart’s desires, a euphoria so complete that people inside never want to get out, and those who do get out yearn to get back in. One character is so obsessed with returning to the Nexus that he’s willing to destroy stars in order to shift the band’s direction so that he might get caught in it, even if doing so results in the elimination of planets and all their inhabitants.

I admire the attempt at complex story to develop complex themes. Jean-Luc Picard confronts enormous grief and the temptation of having his grief allayed. James Kirk confronts his own feelings about what he sacrificed during his long tenure as captain of the Enterprise. Commander Data is given an emotion chip so that he might be more human-like, but soon discovers that emotions are more of a handicap than a blessing. This much works, at least kind of, but it does so without real interaction among the principal characters, as if each is going through all this internal stuff alone, a construct that defies the best thing about either of these series.

Yet some of the climactic action sequences are uninteresting and too long, and we have to endure them twice for reasons best left to the viewer to discover, although I can’t really say why. Not spoiling this one element of the plot doesn’t make the film any better, but I suppose if the discover is at least somewhat interesting, I’d hate to rob anyone of that one little pleasure. Goodness knows it may be all it has to offer.

The film has one aesthetic worth examining, especially in contrast to the earliest and latest films in the canon. One of my favorite things about the reboot series is how sexy and sleek Enterprise looks. The Enterprise in this film is bulky, boxy, awkward, and graceless, and the crew’s uniforms seem built to match. They are nothing like the almost Steve-Jobs-inspired look of the unis and technology in the 2000s, a difficult thing to get used to even looking back. What a time the Eighties and Nineties were.

Thankfully, the series did not suffer as a whole because of this one subpar film. Many of the TNG films are quite good, and the reboot with the classic characters is excellent, so I’m willing to chalk this one up to a task too difficult to be completely satisfying.

4/10
48/100

Review: Star Trek Beyond

Star Trek Beyond (2016)
Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Karl Urban, Anton Yelchin, Sofia Boutella, Idris Elba. Written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung. Directed by Justin Lin.

beyond1James Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise travel into an unstable nebula to help the captain of a disabled starship recover her crew. Things go horribly wrong, the crew is forced to abandon ship, the officers are separated by circumstances into pairs, a new ally is encountered, new enemies announce themselves, and everyone including thousands of people living on a brand-new space station is threatened by a horrible bio-weapon.

beyond3The Star Trek people are just crushing it with this reboot film series. These new stories, this new cast, and the new look and feel of the Enterprise combine to make some of the best escapist sci-fi I’ve ever seen. The films build upon the good feelings people already have for Captain Kirk and his crew, so that even while we’re watching new actors in old roles, everything feels fresh and familiar, rather than recycled or tired. The characters’ new facets feel exactly right, either because of underexplored elements from earlier work—such as Uhura’s relationship with Spock, slightly teased in the first few episodes of the classic television series—or because of new knowledge about the overall Star Trek universe, as when Sulu’s homosexual relationship pays tribute to original Sulu actor George Takei.

beyond2I’m not even a real Trekker, but my affection for the characters is so strong (and honestly, I don’t know where this came from) that when Kirk addresses his crew at the outset of a journey into uncharted space, he says, “The Enterprise has something no other ship in the fleet has: you,” and it’s a touching and inspiring moment. This dependence on his crew, and its members’ dependence upon one another, is a recurring theme. As the movie progresses, different combinations of crew members drive home the message that they respect, admire, love, and count on each other, and that this is why Enterprise has endured for these many decades. Add the real-life death of actors Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin, whose Checkov will not be recast in future films, and a lovely voiceover on the “Space: the final frontier” intro, and it’s nearly impossible not to feel a warm nostalgia or an almost urgent desire to see more films with this cast.

beyond4The Chris-Pine-Zachary-Quinto partnership is again excellent here, but there are also great scenes with Quinto and Karl Urban, Pine and Yelchin, and Simon Pegg with Sofia Boutella, who plays a crash survivor joining the Enterprise crew against its current enemy. But props to the whole cast, every one of whom (except maybe Idris Elba) does a terrific job. Star Trek movies never get their due during awards season, but I will be royally peeved if there isn’t an ensemble nomination somewhere this time around.

8/10
82/100

Dagger of the Mind

Star Trek Classic, Season 1, Episode 9.

  • Third use of the Vulcan nerve pinch.
  • The interplay between McCoy and Kirk is excellent in early scenes. It’s professional conflict but not personal, and you can tell it by the expressions in the actors’ faces. Nicely done.
  • This episode’s ridiculously pretty guest actress is Marianna Hill as Dr. Helen Noel. Of course, Kirk makes out with her in a pseudo-dream sequence. And briefly later, with Spock looking on rather bemusedly.
    dagger of the minddagger of the mind 2
  • First time Spock has ever used the Vulcan mind meld on a human. And first time used in this series.
  • McCoy: “He’s dead, Captain.”

Shatner does some horrible overacting, but he has some good moments too, especially on the bridge with McCoy and Spock. Kind of an interesting story, and I like the tension between McCoy and Kirk. Bonus points for the Vulcan mind meld.

This one gets a B.

Miri

Star Trek Classic, Season 1, Epsiode 8.

Two quotes worth mentioning:

  • Janice Rand (to Kirk): “Back on the ship, I used to try to get you to look at my legs. Captain. Look at my legs.”
  • McCoy (to Kirk): “He’s dead.”
  • Spock: “Without them, it could be a beaker full of death.”

The use of children as antagonists is supposedly novel here; I can’t comment on that, but I’ll say that the children are ridiculously annoying. Their idiotic chanting and stupid made-up words made me hope the viral disease would take them all before there was some kind of cure. I didn’t care much for Miri either, even though it turns out that Miri was played by Kim Darby, the actress who played the girl in the original True Grit.

I actually appreciated the simple plot with very little philosophizing, even though the philosophizing will eventually become one of this show’s strengths, I imagine. It’s just pleasant to know that the writers didn’t feel they had to get to the meaning of life in every episode.

It was nice to have Kirk, Spock, and Bones get considerable screen time together, but it’s not enough, and the overacting by Shatner is just awful in this.

C-minus.

What are Little Girls Made of?

Star Trek Classic, Season 1, Episode 7.

I’m not sure, but there seems to be a recurring theme in this original series of what makes someone human, and whether or not the things that make us imperfect (love, emotion, bias, that kind of thing) are actually the things that make humans superior to a non-feeling android race.

This episode’s ridiculously pretty guest actress is Sherry Jackson, an actress of some renown before she appeared here. She plays an android programmed to serve and protect Dr. Korby. Kirk makes out with her, of course.

No quotable lines in this episode, but at least one screen-cap-worthy moment:

kirk and stactite

Although this was a fairly entertaining episode, the noticeable absence of any real interaction between Kirk and the other regular cast leaves this one feeling shallow and unsatisfying. I’ll say it again: this show is at its best when its primary characters interact with one another, when conversations and situations develop their characters and their relationships. No way does Star Trek endure beyond a couple of seasons if not for the development of interesting, likable characters and relationships we care about.

I give this one a C.

Mudd’s Women

Star Trek Classic. Season 1, episode 6.

  1. Cool. The opening scene has all the principals at once.
  2. Spock: “I’m happy the affair is over. A most annoying, emotional episode.”

That’s about it as far as memorable moments, but this is the best episode yet, I think. It is unnecessarily heavy-handed, but I think that’s the norm for this program. There’s some nice banter between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy at the very end, the kind of thing I wish there were more of in every episode. Star Trek seems to have taken longer than M*A*S*H (not to mention lots of other enduring series) to understand that it’s the show’s characters and their relationships with one another that makes for memorable, lasting television. I know I should cut it a little bit of slack; this is only the sixth episode, after all, so perhaps I will. Still, I find most of Classic to be kind of a drag to get through.

I’m giving it a low 7/10.

The Enemy Within

Star Trek Classic. Season 1, Episode 5.

  1. Kirk: “At night, it gets down to about 120 degrees below zero.”
    Sulu: “That’s…nippy.”
  2. Yeoman Janice Rand is a painter. Nice touch.
  3. Fake Kirk kisses yeoman Rand.
  4. Spock: “There’s only one logical answer. We have an imposter on board.” I think this is the first time he says “logical.” He says “illogical” in that other episode.
  5. McCoy: “We all have our darker side. We need it. It’s half of what we are. It’s not really ugly; it’s human … A lot of what he is makes you the man you are.”
  6. Second use of the Vulcan Nerve Pinch.
  7. McCoy: “He’s dead, Jim.”
    1. So far this is the best episode. It has the ponderous philosophy stuff that makes this show worth thinking about, and there are some good interactions between Kirk and McCoy, and between Kirk and Spock. There’s even some good Spock-McCoy stuff that’s fun to watch. Sulu continues to camp this show up in a way that’s becoming charming.

      The overacting is doubled in Kirk’s evil half, which I think is symbolic of a few things. As his passive half, Shatner does some good acting. I am beginning to like Spock’s stoic leadership, but his voice is strangely less bassy in this episode.

      I’m giving this a high 6/10.

The Naked Time

Star Trek Classic. Season 1, episode 4.

  1. Funny line: Spock gives Sulu the Vulcan nerve pinch. Kirk says, “I’d like you to teach me that some time.”
  2. Spock: “We can’t afford a safety factor.”
  3. Question: Is this the first incidence of a shirtless Asian man on prime time TV?
  4. Nurse Chapel: “I’m in love with you, Mr. Spock.”
  5. Leonard Nimoy actually does some decent acting among the rest of the cast’s overacting, and that overacting is pretty noticeable in this episode.
  6. Scotty to Kirk: “I can’t change the laws of physics!”
  7. Cool. They go back in time for the first time.
  8. Kirk: “Steady as she goes.”

Okay, this is the best episode so far, and you can sorta see why George Takei says it’s his favorite episode ever. It’s pretty silly, but it’s also pretty interesting, with all the loosening of inhibitions. A strong 6/10.

Where No Man Has Gone Before

Star Trek Classic. Season 1, episode 3.

  1. Wow. Sally Kellerman as a visiting psychiatrist. This is the first sorta crossover between this show and my favorite show, M*A*S*H. Kellermann played Hotlips Houlihan in the Robert Altman film, off which the TV series was spun.
  2. No Uhura or McCoy. First episode with Scotty.
  3. Yeoman Rand isn’t in this one; apparently she replaced Yeoman Smith, who appears here in what chronologically is the first episode.
  4. “You should have killed me while you could, James. Command and compassion is a foolish mixture.”

Not a bad story. I like Sally Kellerman. Not enough informal interaction between the main characters for my taste. Again, the pacing is maddening. There are just far too many weird dramatic pauses. But still the best episode so far. 6/10.

Charlie X

Star Trek classic. Season 1, episode 2.

  • “Captain Kirk is one of a kind, Charlie.” (McCoy)
  • “The job is yours, Bones. Flattery will get you nowhere.” (Kirk)
  • “On Earth today, it’s Thanksgiving. The crew has to eat synthetic meatloaf; I want it to look like turkey.” (Kirk)
  • Spock says, “As you wish.”
  • It’s a lot of overacting in this one.
  • I’m beginning to hate the music. Not the cool opening theme music, but the super-melodramatic (and much too loud) symphonic music that accompanies the action. It’s a soundtrack equivalent of a laugh track. Super irritating.
  • This story was more interesting than the last, but parts of it still dragged. The dramatic pauses are beginning to drive me crazy.
  • Second episode with Yeoman Janice Rand. Not complaining.
  • I like that the ending is neither happy nor sad. It’s a morally ambiguous situation the crew of the starship finds itself in, and this is one of a few possible resolutions. Nobody in the crew seems very pleased with the outcome, but you know (and the crew knows) the alternative might have been worse.
  • No Sulu or Scotty.

I’m giving this one also a 5/10 even though it was better than the last. Strengths are a more compelling plot, a bittersweet end, more interactions between the principal characters, and Kirk showing signs of his maverick tendencies, as when he beats Spock in three-dimensional chess using a move that’s not logical. Weaknesses are dead spots in the story, horrible music, and a resolution that’s too long in coming.