Thursday, September 3, 2009

Star Trek. Greatest Film Franchise Ever? (Part I)

So let's talk “Star Trek” for a little bit.
It's indisputably one of the greatest science Fiction shows in television history, if not the greatest itself (it's certainly my all time favorite). Some people look over it for it's lack of high budget special effects and because one episode featured an admittedly lame looking fight with Kirk and a guy in a big Lizard suit (it's called a Gorn, respect it!), but that show featured some of the greatest science fiction writing of all time. Some episodes are hopeful glimpses into the future, some are terrifying glimpses into the future. Some are morality plays, others are character driven comedic romps. Some are clever, some are silly, but the show was always fun and always high concept. The show actually constructed my moral compass when I was young and showed me what humanity could be like at its greatest.

After the show ran it's original three season course, it blew up in popularity in syndication and in the late seventies, a second series was considered. With the success of Star Wars, a second option was brought to life: to bring Star Trek to the box office. A total of 11 Star Trek movies have been made and I think that most of them live up as not just good Star Trek movies, but great films that can be enjoyable to anyone. What follows is a little breakdown of each and a glimpse of what makes each of these movies great (or in some cases, pretty bad), told in three parts. Most of these movies are over 20 years old, so I feel silly saying there are some plot spoilers, but I might as well since some of you might not have seen these or heard any of the thousands of pop culture references to some of their plot particulars (although, I do leave one out because I think it's such a good plot device, I want you to be surprised by it if you ever see it). Onward to the first blog in the series:

Star Trek: The Motion Picture – 1979

Based off an unused script of the pilot episode for the proposed second Star Trek TV series and obviously inspired by the original Star Trek episode “The Changeling”, the plot for this movie is one of the greatest Science Fiction stories ever told, and yes, I stand strongly by that claim. To boil it down: an immense alien construct is heading towards Earth and the newly refitted U.S.S. Enterprise and its original crew must go on a special effects ridden journey to stop it. Inspired by technology actually sent into space in the early seventies, the twist at the end is pretty fucking surprising when you think about it, and is the very thing that makes it a cerebral sci-fi classic. (I'm not saying shit about it here in case you haven't seen it. If you haven't yet, you really should, I think you'll be impressed by the twist near the end). It's high concept sci-fi at it's finest. It also has what should go down as one of the most terrifying scenes in film history when it shows what can happen when the transporter fucks up while beaming people up. It's also nifty for showing us an updated look for the nefarious alien race, the Klingons, a look which varied greatly from their appearances on the original show and which has been used ever since. (it's also fun for us nerds to imagine and fictionalize how this change took place as it's never officially explained in Star Trek canon, only touched on in expanded universe books and comics.)
All of the cast you know and love from the show are there, including some new characters (as an added bonus: one of these is the son of a character from my all time favorite episode of the original show, “The Doomsday Machine”), and it does a great job of showing what the beloved original crew members have been up to since we last saw them on the television series.
This movie irritatingly gets panned by fans and critics alike as being very weak as the original cut was very long and slow and therefore considered boring. I think a part of this is due to the fact that all of a sudden, Star Trek had a Hollywood budget, and they wanted to show you that by creating loooooooong shots of the U.S.S. Enterprise flying around in a big alien construct in an effort to legitimize themselves for all the stuff they couldn't do with their shoestring budget on the TV show. An effort, in a way, to say: “Hey, check out all this cool shit we couldn't do on the show! Isn't this awesome?”. To me, it adds to the paranoid atmosphere of the film (as most of the film is shot strictly on the command bridge of the the Enterprise as they attempt to explore and explain what is actually around them in space) and shows the scope of the alien entity the crew is encountering, while to others it makes the film long winded and boring. The “Director's Edition” of the film, made for the updated DVD version release, fixes some of these problems by trimming down some shots and using some CG touch ups to make some scenes and effects in the movie look that much better. I suggest this be the version of the film you see if you haven't watched it yet, but the see the movie in any format you can, regardless. It is a highly recommended, and unfairly criticized, sci-fi classic.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – 1982

Boom. You want action? Here you go. Were you bored by the cerebral sci-fi exploration of the first movie? Fine, it's gone. Want a more direct reference to the original television series? There you are. Want to see a bunch of shit explode in space? Here's a fucking fistful of it.

After audiences complained that the first film wasn't action-packed enough, Paramount Studios decided to take one more crack at Star Trek as a film franchise and new director Nicholas Meyer singlehandedly saved it. He made style changes that stuck with the rest of the films featuring the original cast, including updating the crew's uniforms and the ship's interior appearance to feel more militaristic and submarine inspired. With that concept, he delivered the most action packed Star Trek film to date and it is, without any doubt whatsoever, the best of the film series. It's my second favorite movie of all time and was actually my first ever encounter with Star Trek when I was about 6 years old. My dearly departed, and deeply missed, Grandma on my Mom's side had the VHS tape (she actually possessed all of the films on VHS as well as several episodes of the original series) and was a huge fan of the Star Trek franchise. When I was a kid, I thought the box on the tape made the movie look cool so one day when I was visiting, I asked to watch it. She put it in for me, my head exploded over how great it was, and we formed a tight bond as not only family members, but fellow dedicated Star Trek fans, and I will always be grateful to her for that. (She also let me watch Jaws for the first time. Again, my head exploded from an overload of awesome, but that's neither here nor there).
Star Trek II is a direct sequel to a stand out episode of the original television series, “Space Seed”, in which Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise first meet the genetically modified evil genius Khan after they find him in suspended animation on a ship floating in space from the past (which is actually our present). Khan tries to hijack the Enterprise, Kirk bests him, and Khan is left marooned on a planet (Ceti Alpha V) with no chance of escape as punishment. Way awesome episode. Star Trek II picks up with the crew of another ship finding Khan, and Khan hijacking their ship to get his revenge on his now mortal enemy, James Kirk. What proceeds is a two hour fuck fest of some of the most quotable dialogue and astounding space action ever filmed. It even manages to retain good science fiction concept, as well as moral challenge, in the way of “The Genesis Project”, a device that can be used as both a humanitarian means of creating life and habitation prospects on lifeless planets and moons, or a weapon to erase pre-existing life on planets and moons, depending on who is in possession of it. The film climaxes with the death of Spock, the beloved half Human, half Vulcan (alien race, for those not in the know) science officer of the Enterprise who executes his alien race's flawless logic thinking patterns and sacrifices himself for the good of the whole ship. (No complaining, I warned you about this at the beginning. Plus, the title of the third movie fuckin' gives it away anyways.) Admittedly, when I was a kid, I would cry at this scene. It's some really sad shit, don't patronize! For long time fans of the series, you felt as much a friend to Spock as Kirk does when he watched his close friend and companion die in front of him. Pretty powerful scene.
Point being, it's one of the greatest movies ever made, and it saved the franchise leading paramount to go for another movie, and we'll talk more about that soon.

Coming soon: Part II


darkonezero said...

This review is more summary than actual analysis of the movie itself. Truth hurts, but I enjoyed the family bonding bit.

SteveoDestructo said...

too right!