Star Trek III: The Search for Spock - 1984
All right, look: Star Trek III is a little hard to defend at times, but it is far from the worst the film series has to offer. The second part of what ended up becoming a story trilogy, the movie picks up right where the last one left off. The Enterprise crew is headed home to Spacedock, and on the way they find out that Spock has left an imprint of his mind in Dr. McCoy's brain. Spock's body was left behind on the now forbidden new planet “Genesis”, created by a detonated Genesis Project torpedo in the last movie. They decide to leave Starfleet in the dust, hijack the Enterprise and travel back to planet Genesis to merge Spock's mind (in McCoy's body) and his body in an effort to bring him back in a Vulcan ritual. Along the way, hijinks ensue.
Not exactly the world's greatest plot, but it's not terrible. That's pretty much the tone of this movie: just right. It's not too great, not too crappy, enjoyable enough, but far from mind blowing. It was Leonard Nimoy's (Spock) first film directing gig, and he actually performs well. (and hey, say what you will about 3 Men and a Baby, but he directs that pretty well too). The only things that make the film suffer are some lags in the story. Not a terribly big deal, but they do slow the speed of the film down a bit. It's hard to explain, but some parts of the movie just don't....feel...quite right. Also, it shows a lot of the crew in their casual, non-uniform attire and the movie does that awesome thing where '80s movies tried to predict what fashion would look like in the future, which back then always meant that the future would look like a more endowed 80's. Everything is leather with crazy design, or way shoulder-padded. It just looks funny.
The film has plenty of memorable and way entertaining aspects as well, including Christopher Lloyd's portrayal of the villainous Klingon Commander Kruge. The standout scene to me has always been the point where McCoy, confused by Spock's mind infecting his own to the point where he acts more and more like Spock himself, goes to a Starfleet dive bar full of alien clientèle and tries to hire a ship to take him to Planet Genesis. The resulting conversation he has with the freakish would-be pilot of the forbidden voyage is just fucking hilarious. The film ends on a heartwarming, positive note, but not before it puts you through a share of heartbreak, as a member of the cast is killed by Kruge's men and the original Enterprise is destroyed.
Again, not bad, but far from the best of the series.
Speaking of far from the best:
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home – 1986
So I’m going to come right out and say it, and I realize I’m in the minority on this one, but Star Trek IV is the worst of the first six movies, the ones that feature the original cast. Seriously. Without a doubt, it’s the worst out of them. It’s not unwatchable, and it’s not a too bad a movie, but it is a pretty bad STAR TREK movie. Allow me to explain.
The second Star Trek movie directed by Leonard Nimoy, The Voyage Home is the third and final installment of the Star Trek movie Trilogy that started with the Wrath of Khan, goes through Search for Spock, and ends here. The film picks up where III left off, the Enterprise has been destroyed and Kirk and the crew (including a newly resurrected Spock thanks to Planet Genesis’s life creating formula and a Vulcan ritual) has taken its hijacked Klingon Bird of Prey for a brief sabbatical on planet Vulcan where they decide to return to Earth and face the charges for the crimes they committed in Star Trek III (hijacking the Enterprise). Meanwhile, back at Earth, a way awesome looking and sounding alien probe is communicating a message that no one understands, and as it receives no answer, the probe fucks shit up for everyone on Earth and in space around it. Kirk and the crew intercept the message and realize it's meant for Humpback Whales, a species long extinct on Earth. The crew, with their stolen Klingon vessel, now have to sling shot around the sun (a method used in the original series TV show) to travel back in time to Earth in 1986 to find and bring back Humpback Whales to the future so they can communicate with the probe and it stop it from kicking the shit out of everything.
So there's a very obvious message to the movie about conservation and wild life protection, and I wholeheartedly agree with both and certainly enjoy their inclusion. Where this movie drops the ball, is in the fact that like 20 minutes of it is actual Star Trek-y Sci-fi-ness while the rest of it is like an hour and a half of these out of place characters farting around in 1980's San Fransisco while making dumb “look at how craaaazy the 80's are!” jokes. The dialogue between Kirk and Spock in this movie is ridiculous, and everyone else is made to look like a bumbling goon. I get that they're from the future and they're now in a setting that's way outlandish to them, but seriously? Scotty picking up a mouse on a Macintosh and talking into it makes me roll my eyes every time. This guy reads Technical Journals for fun and is obsessed with tech. You're telling me he doesn't know what a computer from 1986 looks like? It's like saying you love cars but have no idea what a Model T is. Plus it makes him look like a total putz.
This was the most accessible and successful Star Trek film to date, but it barely feels like one. Put simply, it's crummy. It's just a lame, slowly dragging two hour joke about how shitty the 80's are with a message crammed in. Also, there's what I perceive as a glaring error in the film. Star Trek IV starts right after Star Trek III, yet there's not a single mention of the pretty big event of Kirk's son, David, being killed in the previous movie, which to these characters was about 3 hours ago. Not only does Kirk not mention it in the whole movie, but he forgets it enough to crack dumb jokes about the past for two fucking hours and fall in love with a Marine Biologist from the Eighties. Way to honor your freshly dead son. Just seems weird. Kirk either had hardcore denial, or the script writing was a little off.
I don't want to go out on a bad note, as I believe there are no bad movies in the series of the first six, but there are some that are pretty weak and this is one of them. Regardless, there's some high points. The message of it is as important now as it was when the film was made and drives you to take a look at the human abuse of Earth and its fellow inhabitants, so fair enough. You can't say it's without heavy handed sci-fi allegory. Kirk and Spock have a pretty memorable encounter with an excessive representation of a “punk rocker” while riding a bus, in which Kirk can't stand the “damn noise” the guy is blasting out of his boom box. It introduced us to the new Enterprise NCC-1701-A, a new build of the previously destroyed Enterprise that looks just like the old one, but this one has a fancy “A” painted on the hull after the NCC-1701, so you know its new and different. Also, it features that previously mentioned bad ass alien probe which looks and sounds terrifying.
Not a bad flick for the light of heart or the inexperienced Star Trek novice who needs an easily accessible starting point, but it's easily my least favorite of the first six movies.
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier - 1989
So you liked directing two Star trek movies back to back, Leonard Nimoy? Well BOOM, step aside because here comes William Shatner himself to take a crack at the next one!
I'll say it right now: Shatner got a raw deal on this one, and this movie is better than you think it is. You know why it's better than you think it is? Because it is FUCKING IMPOSSIBLE to say you are a fan of the original television series, but not this movie, as this movie takes every single last element it can from the actual TV show. Simply: Star Trek V is the only movie in the whole franchise that actually FEELS like an episode of the original series.
Think about it. Every single aspect of that movie is taken right from episodes of Star Trek. Character driven goofball comedy moments. Small budget visual effects. An intergalactic incident requiring diplomacy. Hijacking attempts on the Enterprise. Crazy aliens. Introspective character moments. Far reaching, desolate locations. A villainous space god. It's all taken right from the show and put together! Seriously, go back and watch an episode of the Original Series, then watch Star trek V, and you'll say “Holy shit, there's almost no difference!”.
Where Shatner gets a raw deal on this one is due to two key points. For one, with the low budget of the last Star Trek movie (because most of it was just set in San Fransico in the 80's and there wasn't a lot of crazy sets or special effects required), Paramount figured they could do the same for the next film. Visual effects suffered because there wasn't enough money to back them up. Secondly, while the script is an awesome tribute to the Original show, the material felt dated and cheesy to most in the late eighties. It's still shot really well, and is really not a bad first attempt at directing at all. There are a few plot points that are a little iffy. I'm not sure I'm into Sarek having another child with another woman before Spock all that much, but overall it's not bad. It's also kind of a good send up of religious Evangelicals.
To summarize: This movie is WAAAAY better than you think it is. Go back and watch it again, and just let yourself be entertained by it. I think you'll find it feels like decent, enjoyable classic Trek.
Part three coming soon!