Leonard Nimoy

Star Trek

Star_Trek_2009_Wallpaper_by_delusionzOFgrandeur

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.

eric-bana-star-trek-still-paramount-2009-26684

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.

Spock

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.

#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 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, right here I could go into a whole 10K word dissertation 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 the two-hour series finale to TOS 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 name and not his rank.

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

 

Atlantis: The Lost Empire

2001

Walt Disney Pictures

Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise
Produced by Don Hahn
Associate Producer: Kendra Holland
Written by Tab Murphy, Gary Trousdale, Joss Whedon, Kirk Wise, Bryce Zabel and Jackie Zabel

I remember reading a bunch of articles in various movie magazines such as Cinescape and Cinefantasque a couple of months before ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE hit movie theatres.  Most of the articles were gushing on and on about the producers hiring the same linguist who created the Klingon language for Star Trek to create an Atlantean language for the movie. Now, you have to wonder why the producers went to all that trouble since the Atlantean language is heard on screen for maybe 30 seconds and written Atlantean is hardly seen.  And in any case, the main character translates it for the rest of the characters (and thereby for us, the audience as well), so what’s the point of going to all the trouble to invent a new language? After seeing ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE, I figured it out: the producers had to do something to justify the incredibly thin and tired story. After spending all that money on a brand new language and the animation, they probably didn’t have much left over to pay one good writer. Which may explain why there are six credited writers: my guess is that they were so bored with trying to write this story that they just passed the script around in a sort of round robin: whenever someone got tired of writing, they just passed it on to the next poor sucker in line.

Milo Thatch is the grandson of the great archeologist Thaddeus Thatch and the old man has passed down his dream of finding Atlantis to Milo. However, Milo is stuck working as a janitor, frustrated beyond words because he can’t get anyone to believe his theory and finance an expedition. Maybe the fact that he has absolutely no evidence that Atlantis exists has something to do with it. And one day, outta nowhere, with no forewarning or setup, this crazy old millionaire shows up and drops into Milo’s lap a book that shows him where Atlantis is and has even built a submarine and hired a crew to help Milo find the Lost Empire. Now there are so many things wrong here that I audibly groaned when I saw this scene. But I digress….let’s just simply go on ahead with the rest of the story, okay?

Milo meets Commander Rourke and his second-in-command, the beautiful and calculating Helga and a colorful assortment of multi-national specialists in various fields (doctor, communications expert, demolitionist, etc) that made me sit up and pay attention for a while since I thought that they were going to be a crew of goofy, eccentric but supremely skilled and capable sidekicks like Doc Savage’s Amazing Five or Buckaroo Banzai’s Hong Kong Cavaliers. No such luck. They’re on board mostly for comic relief, except for the black doctor and Latina teenage mechanic who actually have interesting back-stories.

They get on board this way cool submarine that looks like a 19th Century prototype of The Seaview from Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea and find Atlantis in record time, losing most of the crew and the way cool sub and from there the movie continues on a limp and predictable path as Milo finds that Commander Rourke and his crew are really out to steal the magnificent giant crystal that powers Atlantis. And I’m not giving anything away here because almost right from the first time we meet Rourke he’s whispering in ominous asides to Helga and we’re shown mysterious crates full of oversized guns being loaded on board the sub. And so Milo has to appeal to the better nature of the mercenaries to get them to change sides and help him save Atlantis from Rourke.

The animation is absolutely spectacular, especially the opening sequences where we see Atlantis sink and the ending, which is a terrific action sequence, but that’s all I can recommend in  ATLANTIS:THE LOST EMPIRE. At 95 minutes, it zips by in a bewildering daze. Atlantis is found in the first half-hour of the movie and there is absolutely no time to get to know the secondary characters and/or their motivations. In a desperate attempt to give the characters some dimension, the filmmakers stick in a scene where the characters sit around a campfire and actually tell Milo their back-stories. But by then, it’s too late. I wasn’t interested in what happened to any of these characters and was only in it for the eye candy of the outstanding animation work.

And it’s a shame because the voice work is also quite good. There’s a real problem when the bad guy of a movie is more charismatic and appealing than the good guy, but that’s what happens here. James Garner does such a good job as Rourke that I found myself hoping he’d pitch Milo off a cliff and actually get away with stealing the crystal. Michael J. Fox is his usual energetic self as Milo. Leonard Nimoy voices The Atlantean King and there’s other familiar voices such as Cree Summer, Phil Morris, John Mahoney, Claudia Christian, Jim Varney and Don Novello all of who no doubt jumped at the chance to collect a nice voiceover check while waiting for a live action movie or TV show guest spot.

It’s not that there’s anything really wrong with ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE and I realize that I’m not the target audience for this movie, but I have a hard time believing that even kids would find this material exciting or thrilling.  And let’s face it…you don’t blow up a way cool sub like that in the first 30 minutes of your movie…any kid will tell you that.  And there’s just too much metaphysical New Age mumbo-jumbo involving crystals and mysterious life-force energies and all kinds of mystical double-talk that does nothing but try to make you think that there’s something going on here. ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE could have been a smashing Edgar Rice Burroughs/Jules Verne type of adventure and all the right elements are there. My advice to the producers is: next time, forget about creating new languages and tell a good adventure story.  My advice is to go Netflix George Pal’s “Atlantis: The Lost Continent” if you want to see a really good movie about Atlantis.

95 minutes
Rated PG and that’s a stretch. I’d have given it an outright G.