Friday, July 22, 2016

… and the rest of the 'Star Trek' franchise

Inspired by "Star Trek Beyond" coming out today, the Trekkie fandemonium of my "Star Trek" retor-review series continues and concludes here at Cary's Comics Craze.

Thanks to the last two posts, you know where I stand on what I consider the greatest “Star Trek” films. (The CCC best-of series was broken into the movies featuring the original U.S.S. Enterprise crew and the second part covered "Star Trek: First Contact" and the two films directed by J.J. Abrams.)

So what about the rest of the franchise? …

Simply forgettable — “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (1979), “Star Trek: Insurrection” (1998)

What were these about again? Seriously.

"The Motion Picture" made nearly $12 million on its opening weekend mostly due to the fact that Trekkies were eager to finally see their heroes reunited and better yet, on the big screen. Unfortunately, the creative team focused all of its energy on wowing the audience with special effects instead of focusing on a tight storyline and character moments.

 There is simply no evidence of the chemistry among Kirk, Spock and McCoy from the TV series. And that's one of the most important parts of "Trek" — the great interplay, one-line zingers and chemistry among William Shatner, Leonard Nimony and DeForest Kelley! Sad, really.

The "TMP" screenwriters also got sucked into what other 1970s films had been doing: Including scenes with lots of talking, going dark and forgetting to include some humor (the last of which thankfully got rectified in subsequent “Trek” films). The "TMP" plot just plods along. None of that works in "Star Trek."

And what were the costume designers thinking when they created the uniforms?! I'll give it to them for creativity and boldly being different than the TV outfits, but these do nothing for anybody's figure and the colors have no zing. Much too 70s-ish, if you catch my drift.

On the plus side, the poster for "The Motion Picture" is an attention-grabber. Well done!

Luckily, subsequent installments — not to mention most of the other "Star Trek" TV series — proved it’s possible to have impressive FX, compelling stories and geeky-great ensemble moments without breaking the budget.

Visually, the first "Star Trek" film is stunning, but without a doubt it's the biggest snooze-fest of the lot.

Grade: D

"Star Trek: Insurrection" (1998)

As far as “Insurrection” goes, I remember having a good time because I went to the theater with a couple buddies from seminary, but that’s it. I honestly can't remember much of anything else about it -- that is, except being disappointed.

Being forgettable is an unforgiveable storyteller's sin for me. What's the point of telling a story if it's not presented well enough to be memorable?

Unlike "The Motion Picture" and "Star Trek Generations," I’ve never felt compelled to re-watch "Insurrection." (I regretted it later with "TMP" — Again enduring the first "Trek" movie just confirmed my opinion when I came out of the theater in 1979: Bore-ing!) I'm sure "Insurrection" isn't as bad as I remember. But then again ...!

Producers were just marking time with this third “Star Trek: The Next Generation” film — and it shows. The smarter move would have been not to rush out another "TNG" feature but wait for a truly great story — you know, one that fans actually would remember.

Grade: C-

"Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" (1989)

I wish we could forget about “The Final Frontier.”

This is what happens when egos run amuck: The U.S.S. Enterprise meets “God.” (Shatner wanted to prove Nimoy wasn’t the only cast member who could direct; well, we know who won that one! And Bill, you came up with meeting God?! Yeeesh…) 

This movie almost literally spelled the final mission for the U.S.S. Enterprise; thank goodness for redemption in the form of “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.”

On the plus side, I have to say I enjoy the campfire scene with Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Even as cheesy as it is, the scene encapsulates what's great about the original "Trek" series and films — the Big Three's friendship and the great memories they create.

Stay in the captain’s chair, Bill.

Grade: F

Almost, but not quite: The first and last "Next Generation" films had so much potential for greatness — but something about them don’t quite let it happen. "Generations" and "Nemesis" miss that Certain Something …

“Star Trek Generations” (1994)

Jean-Luc Picard and Kirk together is good stuff.

And Kirk’s (final) death scene is Shatner at his overacting best. But would we expect any less? … Absolutely not!

I wish we’d had more of Whoopi Goldberg’s Guinan in the other "TNG" films, but I bet that was cost prohibitive.

But let’s face it: Everybody — fans included — got gypped in "Generations." There just wasn’t enough of anything.

We only got Kirk, Scotty and Chekov in the opening sequence (mostly due to contract negotiations and/or outrageous demands from the rest of the originals). There wasn’t quite enough of the "TNG" crew, much less Picard and Kirk’s collaboration.

It's always challenging for a writer and/or director to give each character and/or actor enough to do and ample screen time and I think that's what happened here. "Generations" teases us with what's possible in bringing both crews together, but never quite gets there.

Honestly, it's not a bad film; it's just that "Generations" had so much to accomplish (make a transition between the classic crew and "The Next Generation," time travel, send off Kirk appropriately, pass the baton to the new crew, deliver a villain worthy of facing both Kirk and Picard, etc.), it's almost impossible for all of that to happen and still have a reasonable length movie. The writers valiantly tried to deliver everything that was asked of them, but that balancing act is just too tough.

And what’s with the Picard dream/flashback sequence? Weird.

All that being said, there are many things I enjoy about "Generations."

As I mentioned, it's a delight seeing Picard and Kirk onscreen together; my only wish is I wanted more — so much more of that! Did you catch the subtlety of Kirk riding his horse around Picard's, as if he were orbiting his successor? (Actor Patrick Stewart once said that was just Shatner showing off his equestrian skills!)

I'm sure I'm not the only Trekkie who wanted to experience more of the two characters' chemistry. It's no wonder there were a few novels published after the "Generations" film which provided an excuse for more Kirk-Picard, time-travel team-ups.

The movie poster is spectacularly crafted and the tagline is "Star Trek" perfection: "Two captains. One destiny." Malcolm McDowell is a brilliant casting decision; Soron is a badass up for taking on two badass Starfleet captains.

Potentially tasty overall, "Generations" is not enough to get one’s fill of the “Trek generations.” Even if it had been much better, it could have been a disappointment.

Like the original crew, the "TNG" gang kicked it up several notches after their premiere movie appearance with the kick-ass second feature, "Star Trek: First Contact."

Grade: B 

“Star Trek: Nemesis” (2002)

After this made a measly $43.3 million in the U.S., I was downright scared at what I’d find when I bought the DVD at a bargain price. It’s much better than expected.

Picard’s “clone” is a worthy adversary, even though Shinzon's back story is weak and his motive is extremely underdeveloped, to say the least. Basically, I don't buy the entire clone storyline, so when I watch "Nemesis" I have to just kick back and enjoy what I can.

Tom Hardy (who certainly is one of my least favorite actors) looks enough like Stewart with a shaved head to get away with it — but let's be honest, the resemblance is a stretch.

As was the case in previous ”TNG” films, the focus here is more on Picard and Data than giving the entire main crew its just dessert. Even for an open-minded Trekkie like me, the large part of "Nemesis" comes off as a Stewart (Picard)-Brent Spiner (Data) ego piece.

The most effective "Next Generation" stories are better off when the ensemble gets individual times to shine. And there's very little for Riker, Worf and the rest to do but be a bit more than window dressing.

(But how about Troi getting to pilot the Enterprise for a bit near the end of the movie?)

Regardless, Data’s death scene is touching — what better way to have him fulfill his desire to be human than sacrifice himself for his crew? I was pleased to see the writers eliminated the use of Data's emotion chip (as seen in "First Contact"); he's much more effective and amusing when Spiner delivers Data's lines straight and somewhat matter-of-factly.

Having Data's ”clone”/android “brother” around in the closing minutes to set up replacing Data truly cheapens his sacrificial death. B-4's name isn't as creative or ironic as the writers may have expected; it's just silly and cringe-inducing. (Before Data, get it?!) On the other hand, it's fun to see a talented actor like Spiner pull double-duty.

Sadly, that leaves a bad taste of Spiner’s ego running amuck. (After all, he co-wrote the story. I have a feeling the Data-centric storylines didn’t come from co-writer and longtime "Trek" fan John Logan — despite what is said in one of the making-of featurettes.)

Didn't Spiner learn anything from Shatner and his "Final Frontier" fiasco? Actors need to recognize when they need to keep their egos in check.

The collision between the Enterprise and Shinzon's ship is one of the most exciting sequences in the franchise. Picard's determination to pull out a victory — despite the dire circumstances and his ship being effectively dead in space is inspired. Ramming into his enemy is brilliant. Kirk would be proud!

"Nemesis" gets more than a bit of a bad rap from fans; it's actually an enjoyable movie.

At its worst, the film feels like an extended "TNG" episode that didn't need to be that long. The story does its best to wrap up the "Next Generation" storylines even though most of the cast don't have a lot to show for it. This finale is a solid outing, but the crew deserved such a stronger and much more compelling story for their film farewell.

Grade: B- 

Now that I’ve reviewed the entire “Trek” franchise, I have one question left. One that still bothers me, and if answered, could have resulted in redeeming the mostly mediocre "TNG" films.

The following would have been the “Undiscovered Country” for “The Next Generation” and left Trekkies feeling good about the "TNG" film legacy: Why in the world didn’t Q get any Hollywood love? That, my friends, is just wrong.

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