Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Best of the 'Star Trek' films: Classic crew edition

Now that my retro-reviews of the "Star Trek" reboot and its sequel, "Star Trek Into Darkness," have been posted, this is a good time to share what I consider my favorite installments in the film franchise that started 37 years ago.

Asking me which “Trek” movie is my favorite is like asking who’s your favorite kid — it’s just wrong. (That's why I've refused to assign letter grades to any of the following flicks.)

Regardless, here are my reviews of the greatest installments, presented in chronological order — and in two parts. This installment focuses on the original crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise:

“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1982)

What can I say that hasn’t been said before about the best film in the “Star Trek” film library? … Not much, but I’ll do it anyway.

The first brilliant move was to bring a villain back from the TV series set on revenge for being wronged by Captain James T. Kirk.

When you put William Shatner's Kirk and Ricardo Montalban's Khan together, you know they’re going to chew up some scenery. And the actors do so with great glee — and great results.

Add in film-feature newbie Kirstie Alley as Lt. Saavik (a Vulcan officer being trained by Spock), introduce one of Kirk’s old flames and his defiant adult son and mix all that with a very healthy dose of life-threatening situations.

 And viola — an instant sci-fi classic!

There's a reason filmmakers, directors and writers continually say they want to go the “Wrath of Khan” route with their sequel. The 1982 film does what the greatest sequels in any genre accomplish by vastly improving upon the original, complicating the characters' lives and most importably, telling an unforgettable story.

But there's more to “Khan” than simply upping the ante on what's at stake for the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise. The range of emotions we audience members endure in the finale is what makes it such a memorable film. And just like the TV series, this film focuses on the relationship among the Big Three: Kirk, Spock and Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy.

The sacrificial death of Spock, who utters an instantly memorable quote during his death scene, is what seals the deal. "I have been … and always shall be … your friend" doesn't just encapsulate the essence of his relationship with Kirk, it's the ideal foundation of every lasting friendship.

You can't say enough great things about the dignity that the late Leonard Nimoy brought to Spock; he truly brought out the human portion of the half-Vulcan. In sacrificing his life so the Enterprise can be "out of danger," the stubbornly logical science officer reveals the truth behind the Vulcan greeting/farewell: "Live long and prosper."

Spock's death scene with Kirk and Bones gets me choked up each and every time. And when Shatner's voice breaks during his best friend's funeral — intentional or not — it's a well-played moment that resonates with every single Trekkie.

“Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” (1984)

This sequel, deftly directed by Spock himself, Nimoy, has never gotten the respect it deserves. Ever.

Not following up “Khan” with this is like watching “The Empire Strikes Back” without finding out what happens to Han Solo in “Return of the Jedi.”

You can’t go wrong when the Klingons are the baddies and Kirk shows he’s the master of winning the no-win sitation — even if it means blowing up the starship he made legendary. (I dare any Trekkie to not get somewhat emotional seeing the Enterprise go down in flames!)

"The Search for Spock" is a worthy, but extremely underrated, almost forgotten adventure with great character moments.

(Last month, I posted an op-ed with my choices for science fiction and superhero films that demand you watch their sequels. These are movies with gut-wrenching conclusions that simply demands you watch the next one because of what mess and or possibilities the characters face in the closing minutes.)

“Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” (1986)

I grudgingly am including this one, mostly because:
1) I think there’s too much humor,
2) while I’m no purist, having Spock spout “more colorful metaphors” borders on being simply too much,
3) it's the least “Trek”-feeling movie of the entire franchise (but I have a feeling that's why it's so appealing!)
and 4) I think “Trek” writers have gone to the time-travel storytelling fountain too often for story inspirations.

Regardless, “The Voyage Home” succeeds on many levels:
1) The supporting cast (the Enterprise crew not named Kirk and Spock) get to shine more than usual,
2) you can’t argue against the creation/stewardship theme,
3) there are a ton of memorable lines,
4) “The Voyage Home” nicely wraps up the storyline trilogy that started with “Khan,”
and 5) the entire Enterprise crew has significant things to do.

When you take all this into consideration, it all works. “The Voyage Home” is a good time.

“Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” (1991)

Peace with the Klingons? Say it ain’t so.

This murder mystery has it all: a brutal, assassination during peace talks, bad blood between Kirk and the Klingons, memorable lines, a traitor, Kirk and Bones getting framed, potent casting — all with intergalactic peace at stake.

There couldn’t be a better way for the entire, original Enterprise crew to bid farewell in their feature film finale.

You may have thought I missed a few great "Star Trek" films! But Cary's Comics Craze isn't done.

Check back for part 2 of the greatest "Trek" movies, starting with the first flick to fully feature the "Next Generation" cast.

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