Gene Roddenberry

Star Trek Into Darkness

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2013

Paramount Pictures

Directed by J.J. Abrams

Produced by Bryan Burk, Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci

Written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof

Based on “STAR TREK” created by Gene Roddenberry

It was in the theaters 30 years ago and there have been ten Star Trek movies that came after it but none of them have matched the popularity and success of “The Wrath of Khan.” Ask any Star Trek fan what his favorite Star Trek movie is and 9 out of 10 times you’ll probably get “The Wrath of Khan” as an answer. Which kinda explains why Paramount Pictures has been trying their best to remake that particular Star Trek movie. They tried with “Nemesis” which I consider to be the worst Star Trek movie of all. Yes, even worse than “The Final Frontier” which is at least goofy nonsense that plays like the first cousin of “Spock’s Brain” on steroids. And the last Star Trek TV series to date; “Enterprise” tried to pull a “Wrath of Khan” in a three-part episode that guest-starred Brent Spiner as a Khan Lite bad guy.

Almost from the time when 2009’s “Star Trek” reboot hit theaters, fans have been asking if the new Star Trek team was going to remake “The Wrath of Khan.”  J.J. Abrams, the director of that movie and the sequel, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS continually insisted that they were not going to remake “The Wrath of Khan.” And you know what? He’s right. Oh, there are characters in STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS named Khan and Carol Marcus but they bear only a superficial resemblance to the characters in that earlier film. And yes, that scene is recreated and somebody gets to scream “Khaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnn!” but for me, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS isn’t a remake of “Wrath of Khan” at all. That doesn’t mean I’m as giddy about this movie as I was with the first one but my reasons for that have nothing to do with the nods to “The Wrath of Khan”

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A secret Section 31 installation in London is bombed and the bomber is a rogue Starfleet Intelligence agent named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) Turns out that the bombing was a ruse to get as many starship captains and first officers to attend an emergency meeting at Starfleet HQ so that Harrison can attack them with a gunship and eliminate as many as he can. Admiral Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) the mentor and surrogate father of Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is killed in the attack.

Kirk gets permission from Admiral Alexander Marcus (Peter Weller) to pursue Harrison to his hideout on the Klingon homeworld of Kronos. Armed with 72 prototype photon torpedoes, Kirk gets the band back together; Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) Dr.‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban) Lt. Uhura (Zoe Saldana) Chief Engineer Scotty (Simon Pegg) Lt. Sulu (John Cho) and Ensign Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and takes the starship Enterprise into forbidden Klingon territory to bring Harrison back to Earth to pay for his crimes. The mission is quickly complicated by the revelation that Harrison is actually Khan, a genetically enhanced superhuman who has been in frozen cryosleep for 300 years. The photon torpedoes actually contain cryogenic pods holding more genetic supermen. Turns out that Marcus had been holding them hostage to get Khan to develop advanced weaponry for him. Beats me why Admiral Marcus is so hell-bent on starting a war with The Klingon Empire. Or how he thinks that a 300 year old man could help develop advanced weapons but STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS isn’t the kind of movie that slows down enough to let you engage your brain long enough to ask pesky questions like that.

Marcus has constructed a sort of super-Enterprise, the USS Vengeance and he goes after the Enterprise himself, determined to eliminate Khan once and for all. And if that means destroying Kirk, his loyal crew and the Enterprise as well, so be it.

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Strangely enough for a movie that aims to be as loud and as punchy punchy run run as it possibly can, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS contains plenty of good, solid performances and some really nice scenes between the principal characters. I got a big chuckle out of a moment on the bridge when Sulu is in command and has to run a really big bluff.  Karl Urban and Simon Pegg I enjoyed the most as they do an amazing job of evoking the essence of DeForest Kelley and James Doohan without imitating them. I’m half convinced that Urban must somehow have been related to Kelley.

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Benedict Cumberbatch as John Harrison/Khan makes for a formidable bad guy and maybe I’m a little off in my thinking here but for me, Cumberbatch was much more interesting as John Harrison. Once the big reveal that he’s Khan is made, I was actually disappointed. I wanted to know more about Harrison and his deal and when he proclaims that he’s Khan my first thought was; “That’s the best they could come up with?” But it’s just such a pleasure to listen to Cumberbatch and see what fun he’s having double and triple-crossing everybody in sight.

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Peter Weller follows admirably in the tradition of previous Starfleet Admirals who have gone batshit crazy (seriously, doesn’t Starfleet do annual psych evaluations on these guys?) with gusto and it’s always a pleasure to see him on screen. As Dr. Carol Marcus, Alice Eve appears to be on the ship for two reasons and one of them is her already infamous scene where she strips down to her underwear for no apparent reason at all. It didn’t bother me at all but what does bother me is that guys are complaining about it. Really? Since when do guys complain about gratuitous scenes of hot chicks in their underwear in a movie?

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So should you see STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS? It’s a solid action-adventure space opera, full of explosions, chases, fist fights and yelling; “Fire all phasers!” If you’re a long-time Star Trek fan like myself I think that in order to watch it you have to come to terms that this is a Star Trek that is made for the movie audience of today. It’s the overblown spectacle, shouty rapid-fire dialog and CGI extravaganza audiences demand in their science fiction summer blockbusters. Star Trek TV shows are the way to go for allegorical explorations of contemporary culture and to delve into character.

No, it’s not the Star Trek I grew up with but it’s heart is in the right place and that goes a long way with me. STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS is an acceptable sequel but now that the five-year mission is underway I’m going to be looking for more from the next one than just a Warp Nine thrill ride.

PG-13

132 minutes

Star Trek

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2009

Paramount Pictures

Directed by J.J. Abrams

Produced by J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof

Written Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman

Based on “Star Trek” created by Gene Roddenberry

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been a fan of Star Trek ever since I can remember. It was a nightly ritual for me that I couldn’t go to bed until I had watched Star Trek on WPIX here in New York where they reran it for years at 11:00PM. And I’ve seen all the movies in the theaters the day they opened. I’ve watched every episode of every Star Trek TV series. Even “Voyager” and “Enterprise” I estimate I’ve read somewhere between fifty and seventy Star Trek books.

I relate all this not to impress upon you how much of a Star Trek geek I am but to let you know that I consider myself pretty well versed in things Trek. So when I tell you that the new STAR TREK movie is 80% on point you’ll have some faith that I know what I’m talking about.

The selling points of the movie are twofold: One: it’s directed by J.J. Abrams who has mostly had success in TV with shows such as “Felicity””Alias””Lost” and “Fringe”. But his motion picture track record hasn’t been too bad either what with his work on “Mission Impossible III” and “Cloverfield” Two: STAR TREK is Paramount’s attempt to reboot/relaunch its primary moneymaking franchise with an all new, younger cast playing the beloved characters of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu and Chekov as well as giving the Star Trek universe an updated look and feel.

For a long time I’ve felt that Star Trek needed new blood. “Voyager” and “Enterprise” suffered from creative burnout as the producers of those shows had been with the franchise since “The Next Generation” and it showed. Star Trek badly needed someone new to come aboard and bring freshness to the material.

Thankfully, J.J. Abrams and company have done exactly that. STAR TREK isn’t a perfect movie and there are a couple of things that made me groan but there were also plenty of things that made me grin as well.
star-trek-6The movie tells us the story that The Original Series never did: how did the crew of the starship USS Enterprise first meet each other? Well, first of all, through some imaginative time travel futzing involving Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and his pursuit/being pursued by a revenge crazed Romulan named Nero (Eric Bana) we’re informed fairly early on that this is an alternate reality/timeline where things aren’t exactly the same as us old heads remember. Most notable is that without the guiding influence of his father, this James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine) is a rebellious, risk-taking malcontent. But Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) the current captain of the Enterprise sees something in the young man and challenges him to join Starfleet. Kirk accepts the challenge and signs up, meeting Nyota Uhura (Zoë Saldana) and Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban)

Three years later, the planet Vulcan is attacked by Nero and his ginormous mining ship. Starfleet heads out to stop him but the ships they send are all destroyed. Except the Enterprise, of course, which is left in the command of Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) a Human/Vulcan hybrid of frightening brilliance and severely disciplined logic who immediately clashes with the hot-headed Cadet Kirk as to the best way to deal with Nero. It soon becomes apparent that the two men have to learn to put aside their differences and work together because Nero also has plans to destroy Earth. All while meeting Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg) who along with Uhura and McCoy will become their lifelong companions in adventure and exploration.

Star Trek (2008) Directed by: J.J. Abrams

The plot in STAR TREK really isn’t all that important or even interesting, to be honest. This is either the third or fourth STAR TREK movie that has had some huge cosmic whatchamacallit heading toward Earth to destroy it and the Enterprise is the only ship able to stop it. Makes you wonder why The Federation even bothers maintaining a Starfleet when it’s the Enterprise that’s always the only ship available all the time.

No, the real reason this STAR TREK exists is to introduce us to the new cast, the new Enterprise and set up this alternate universe/timeline so that we can go on to other movies that will hopefully have more engaging stories. The special effects are appropriately dazzling and at times even inspired. I’d have liked to have seen more of the interior of the new Enterprise but what we do see is glitzy to the max.

The acting is better than I thought it would be. The new cast wisely doesn’t try to imitate the mannerisms or speech patterns of the original cast. With the exception of Anton Yelchin who deliberately does the Classic Chekov accent. Instead, they channel the essence of what makes those characters work and they pull it off quite well. Especially Karl Urban as Bones McCoy and Zachary Quinto as Spock. Karl Urban has the added fun of throwing off a few of McCoy’s famous lines and he does them excellently. Zoë Saldana doesn’t have as much to do as her co-stars (and dammit, would it have killed them to have her say “hailing frequencies open, Captain” at least once?) A lot of Classic Star Trek fans were upset and confused by the romantic relationship between Spock and Uhura but it didn’t throw me at all. It certainly makes more sense than the revelation in “The Undiscovered Country” that Scotty and Uhura had been having a secret romance for years. Even in The Original Series there were hints that Spock and Uhura were closer than anybody else knew about. There were several episodes where it was shown that in their off hours Spock and Uhura liked singing together, often entertaining other members of the crew.

Eric Bana is one of my favorite actors and he disappointed me as Nero. In fact, Nero’s a pretty poor villain. There’s a reason we remember Ricardo Montalban as Khan and Christopher Plummer as Chang: they were magnificently realized villains of Shakespearian stature. Nobody’s going to remember Nero. Neither are they going to remember Ben Cross as Sarek, Spock’s father. Cross is so bland and dull it’s downright sad.

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The movie is chock full of Easter eggs and winks to the original series and films. I got a big chuckle out of the nod to “The Wrath of Khan” during the scene where Kirk is taking the Kobayashi Maru test. And there’s even a tribble thrown in. Can’t ever have too many tribbles.

That’s not to say I loved everything about the movie. There are way too many scenes where Kirk is hanging off a cliff or on a ledge and if you took coincidence out of this movie then you just wouldn’t have a movie. Too many characters just happen to be in the right place at the right time and there’s a coincidence involving Kirk and Spock Prime (as Leonard Nimoy is billed) that made me want to throw something at the screen. And I never got the sense that anybody was in any real danger. Even though Spock’s mother (Winona Ryder) is killed in the destruction of Vulcan I really didn’t feel any sense of loss since I never got to know this version of the character at all.

And speaking of Nimoy, he meshes so well with Pine, Quinto and Pegg in the scenes he has with them I wished he had had scenes with the other members of the cast. It’s a nice lump in the throat moment when young Kirk and the aged Spock meet and there’s a wonderful nod to “The Voyage Home” involving Spock and Scotty.

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So should you see STAR TREK? If you’re a fan then you’ve no doubt seen it already and have probably seen it a second or even a third time. But this is a movie that accessible to non-fans who just may want to check it out to see what all the fuss is about or who just want a slam-bang space opera. I know, I know…there’s been a lot of debate and argument that this new incarnation of STAR TREK is way too much punchy punchy run run and not enough of the philosophical core at the heart of STAR TREK. And I can see that. But that was tried once in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and even though I enjoyed it a lot there were Trek fans who didn’t, claiming it was too slow moving. Let’s face it, the STAR TREK movies that have garnered the most box office and the favor of fans and critics have been the more action oriented ones.

Hopefully with the next movie we’ll get more into the exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations that is really the meat of what STAR TREK is about. But as a launching point for a new series of STAR TREK movies, this is terrific stuff.

127 minutes

Rated PG-13

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

1979

Paramount Pictures

Directed by Robert Wise

Produced by Gene Roddenberry

Screenplay by Harold Livingston

Based on STAR TREK by Gene Roddenberry

First of all, let me say five things before I begin this review:

#1: I come by my status as a Trekkie honestly. I remember begging my parents to let me stay up Friday nights to watch Star Trek (to be referred from now on as TOS=The Original Series) during its original run. And yes, I am that old. And like most folks during the 70’s and 80’s I stayed up late weeknights here in New York, as Channel 11 faithfully reran TOS Monday to Friday back to back with Honeymooners reruns. And I did so every night possible.

#2: I have seen every episode of TOS as well as STAR TREK: The Next Generation, STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE, STAR TREK: VOYAGER and  STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE multiple times. Do not even seek to dispute me on this.

#3: My favorite Star Trek is STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE. It’s my favorite because like Sean Connery’s James Bond, TOS is so iconic it should be put on a shelf by itself and not compared with the various series that followed.

#4: At a conservative estimate I would say I’ve read in the neighborhood of a 100 Star Trek novels.

#5: STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE is the last movie I would give to somebody who knows nothing about Star Trek and wants to understand what it is that their Trekkie friends find so fantastic about Star Trek that they just don’t understand.

I know it’s hard for those of you Star Trek fans today to understand now that you have five Star Trek series, eleven movies and Sarek only knows how many comic book series and mini-series and novelizations and original novels and fan fiction, some of which I myself have written. But for us back in 1979 this is all we had. Word. I wouldn’t lie to you. Is STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE the best Star Trek movie? Absolutely not. That title has to go to “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan” which even after 30 years is still the best Star Trek movie made to date. But for those of us who had gone without any new Star Trek on television for 10 years, a feature film version of our beloved TV show was akin to an affirmation that a God did indeed exist. And maybe you don’t think we got the Star Trek movie we deserved back in 1979 but we thought we did and for a lot of us that’s all that matters, even today.

An incredibly powerful alien entity is heading directly toward Earth. It’s already encountered the Klingons and kicked their asses back to Qo’nos without breaking a sweat. The entity calls itself V’ger and says it has one mission: “To learn all that is learnable and transmit that information to The Creator.” V’ger insists that The Creator is on Earth. But nobody on Earth has the intelligence or knowledge to have created something like V’ger. It’s a frighteningly huge bio-organic machine that has actually digitized whole star systems to contain within its cosmic data base to enhance its already universal knowledge. Nobody knows what it’s intentions are once it reaches Earth.

The only starship that can intercept V’ger before it reaches Earth is The Enterprise. Now, I could go into a whole dialog about how Starfleet must be really low on starships since just about every plot of a Star Trek movie hinges on the Enterprise being the only starship within range of whatever threat is going to destroy Earth but I won’t. Just go with it.

Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) does some back door maneuvering to screw his protégé Captain William Deckard (Stephen Collins) out of command of The Enterprise. Kirk claims his expertise in handling alien intelligences during the five-year mission of The Enterprise qualifies him to deal with V’ger. It also helps that most of his former crew such as Chief of Engineering/ Commander Scott (James Doohan)  Commander Uhura ( Nichelle Nichols) Chief of Security/Operations Chevok (Walter Konig) Nurse and now Dr. Chapel (Majel Barrett) as well as Helmsman Sulu (George Takei) are still assigned to The Enterprise. But still Kirk can’t undertake this mission without his conscience Dr. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy (DeForest Kelley) and his spare brain Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) Along the way they all grapple with Existential  Issues such as what is the Nature of Existence? and Is This All That I Am, Is There Nothing More? And yeah, they have to figure out how this all relates to V’ger before it destroys Earth.

The whole movie boils down to a battle not between laser blasts and planet-destroying Death Stars but between Ideas. Ideas such as what it means to transcend the concepts of what we are what we can be. On the other hand, it’s a lot of what we watch the folks on the screen we’re watching telling us what the stuff they’re watching means.

To be bluntly honest, STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE is a two-hour finale to the TOS series that we never got on TV. But I like it a lot. In fact, I love it.  But I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody except long-term Star Trek fans. It is a ponderous movie that needs to have a knowledge of Star Trek history and a reverence for the time honored characters in order to enjoy it. And you’re not going to be able to do that unless you know the characters as well or as better as you know your beloved relatives. If you have any.

When I talk about STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE I tend to talk about moments like when Kirk has to tell Starfleet Command he’s lost two crewmen in a transporter malfunction. Or when Kirk and Scotty share a laugh during the infamous fly-by scene. Or when a crewman slips between a pair of closing doors on his way to do whatever. Or when Dr. McCoy refuses to beam up. Or when after The Enterprise has successfully achieved warp drive Kirk give Chekov a secret wink. Or how amazing Nichelle Nichols looks even that terrible costume. When Dr. McCoy in a crucial moment refers to an Enterprise security officer by his name.

Bottom line: I like STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE. It’s in my Home Movie Library and I watch it regularly. It gave me exactly what I wanted at the time I saw it. Which is to see all these characters I love back again in a brand new adventure in the medium in which I first saw them.

That’s not to say the movie has its flaws. Oh, yeah…it’s slow. It’s slow even by the standards of Star Trek fans. It’s become renowned by its nickname of “Star Trek: The Motionless Picture”

Know what? I don’t care. It’s STAR TREK and that’s good enough for me.

132 minutes

Rated G

 

Spectre

1977

20th Century Fox

Directed by Clive Donner
Produced by Gene Roddenberry, Gordon Scott and Danny Steinmann
Written by Samuel A. Peeples and Gene Roddenberry
Based on a story by Gene Roddenberry

It’s safe to say that Gene Roddenberry needs no introduction. In this Internet day and age is it possible there are those who do not know the name of the man who created what is unarguably one of the best-known and most profitable entertainment franchises of the 20th Century? We’re talking “Star Trek” of course which has lasted now for 45 years, innumerable paperback and hardcover novels, enough comic books to wallpaper a Borg Cube inside and out, eleven theatrical movies, five live television series and one animated. But all that came much later after “Star Trek” lived on in reruns and became first a cult then a mainstream classic. During the 70’s, Roddenberry worked on a number of pilots that never caught on that appeared as Made-For-TV Movies.

There was “Planet Earth” Roddenberry’s riff on Buck Rogers about a 20th Century scientist frozen in suspended animation then thawed out in the 22end Century. Roddenberry liked that idea so much he actually remade “Planet Earth” not once but twice. Roddenberry must have really liked the name Dylan Hunt because it was the hero’s name in all three versions and eventually wound up as the name of the main character in “Andromeda”. In whatever version, it didn’t click with anybody so he presented “The Questor Tapes” about an android in the modern world learning to be human. That also went nowhere although Roddenberry returned to that theme with his character of Data in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and that brings us to the movie we’re talking about now, SPECTRE.

SPECTRE is extremely different from Roddenberry’s other work for a couple of major reasons: One, all of Roddenberry’s other pilots were firmly in science fiction and two, the main characters in the other pilots were square jawed, true-blue heroes with stalwart hearts. SPECTRE is a supernatural thriller whose heroes are deeply flawed men crippled both emotionally and physically but together their respective and diverse skills make them a formidable team.

William Sebastian (Robert Culp) is one of the world’s best criminologists.  If you ask him he’ll tell you he’s is the best.  He summons his old partner Dr. Hamilton (Gig Young) to his side to help him on his latest case. Sebastian has been contacted by Anitra Cyon (Ann Bell).  A member of the immensely wealthy and powerful Cyon family. Anita claims that her older brother Sir Geoffrey Cyon (James Villiers) is possessed by a demon and she wants Sebastian to prove the possession is genuine and destroy the demon.

Why does she call in a criminologist and not an exorcist? It’s explained that William Sebastian, because of his incredible deductive abilities and off-the-chart I.Q. has left the field of conventional criminology out of boredom and now uses those methods to solve mysteries dealing with the supernatural. Dr. Hamilton (we never do find out his first name…Sebastian generally just calls him ‘Ham’) was his partner for many years until they had a falling out but now Sebastian needs Hamilton to keep him alive. Sebastian’s heart is damaged due to witchcraft and the only reason he’s alive is thanks to the spells his secretary/assistant/personal witch Lilith (Majel Barrett) casts to ward off the spells. But her spells can only do so much and Sebastian needs a doctor he trusts  who can deal with his abrasive personality and constantly monitor his condition.

Upon arriving in London where the Cyon family lives, Sebastian and Hamilton meet up with Mitri Cyon (John Hurt) the baby of the family held firmly under the domination of his brother Sir Geoffrey who lives an openly hedonistic lifestyle that would make Hugh Hefner blush. There are attempts on the lives of the various members of the Cyon family by demonic forces and Sebastian deduces that it may not be Sir Geoffrey who is possessed. There’s more than enough evidence that either Mitri or Anita could be under the power of the demon Asmodeus. Sebastian and Hamilton have more than enough on their hands not only trying to uncover who is truly possessed but avoiding getting killed themselves.

I’ll tell you right from the start that SPECTRE isn’t going to scare you at all. It wouldn’t scare any of today’s five-year olds who have been raised on CGI and buckets of gore. But it is a tremendous amount of fun to watch mainly for the performances of the two leading men. Robert Culp and Gig Young play the story absolutely straight, as a modern day Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson investigating the supernatural and it works damn well. This movie has a wonderfully intense performance by Robert Culp and Gig Young is right there backing him up all the way. Ten minutes into the movie you’re totally convinced that these are two old friends who have been through a lot together.

It’s also interesting in that the two main characters aren’t all that heroic. William Sebastian is a towering egomaniac secure in his intellectual arrogance but the man is emotionally dead as a brick. Dr. Hamilton is an alcoholic womanizer and doesn’t give a damn who knows it. Apart they’ve lost their direction in life but together they compliment each other and make one whole person. It’s interesting to watch these two flawed characters as they piece together not only the mystery of Cyon House but their own troubled souls as well. But it’s not all psychological insights…there’s a couple of murders to solve, with the victims being torn apart by demonic claws and there’s a Druid temple under a Stonehenge-like formation of rocks where forbidden orgies and sacrifices are held in the light of flaming pits. And for those of you who need your eye candy, the movie has plenty of beautiful, busty women walking around in those clingy, lacy gowns that women in British horror movies always seem to be wearing.

John Hurt is also very good here and I was amazed to see that even back in 1977 he looked middle-aged. The rest of the British supporting cast is equally capable. Out of all the busted pilots Roddenberry made, I like SPECTRE the best and I’m really surprised that no one ever thought to try and turn this into a series, especially after Roddenberry’s death when apparently his wife (Majel Barrett) was giving TV producers every random idea Roddenberry ever wrote to turn into a series. With today’s CGI and the flawed nature of the lead characters, SPECTRE could be a terrific series. Of course, it would be hard to find actors to match the excellence of Robert Culp and Gig Young. And maybe it shouldn’t even be tried. SPECTRE as it is stands as a wonderful entertainment from Gene Roddenberry and shows he knew his way around a Druid temple as well as he did the bridge of a starship.

98 min.