Thursday, October 25, 2012

Star Trek: The Motion Pictures Featuring the Original Series Cast: Guide and Ratings

Now that I've covered the entire original series, linked here for Season One, Season Two, Season Three, and even the Animated Series, I will now turn to the first six Star Trek movies, a.k.a. the ones featuring the original series cast of William Shatner as Admiral James T. Kirk, Leonard Nimoy as Captain Spock, DeForest Kelley as Dr. Leonard H. McCoy, James Doohan as Scotty, Nichelle Nichols as Commander Uhura, George Takei as Commander Sulu, and Walter Koenig as Commander Pavol Chekov.  It was with these first six movies where the idea that the best Star Trek movies were the even numbered ones took root, and they are right, though with one obvious exception, they were all pretty good, even the first one (but only the Director's Cut).

Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Grade: B
The Director’s Cut fixes many of the problems that previously plagued this film, but even the original version boasts the first adventure for the Enterprise and its crew on the big screen.  They were dealing with some serious, heady themes, and the special effects had never looked better!  Perhaps that’s why they spent so much screen time languishing over long shots of the ship or the really gigantic, menacing, machine cloud called V’Ger.  Thankfully, the new cut manages to take care of most of the pacing problems without losing the grandeur! 
     The plot has Admiral Kirk taking command of the Enterprise to stop V’Ger from destroying earth, and the way he finagles command away from Captain Matt Decker, drafts a reluctant (and bearded) McCoy back into service and creates an unstable wormhole effect before they even get out of the solar system makes it seem like he should be wearing his “Kirk is a Jerk” shirt.  Spock has been on Vulcan trying to purge his emotions, but telepathic contact with V’Ger has made this impossible for him.
His stoic reunion with an excited crew shows he almost achieved his goal, but he, and Kirk, lighten up a bit before the end, and Spock’s conversion back to normalcy actually holds the key to how they are going to deal with V’Ger.  
     A bald Persis Khambata as navigator Lt. Ilia of the extremely sexual Deltan species, and who shares a past with Decker, joins the other familiar faces:  Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, Chapel, now the ship’s doctor, and even Rand, though two people die while she mans the transporter controls.  The ship flies through V’Ger and the crew marvels at the special effects.  V’Ger eventually sends a light probe that kills Lt. Ilia and creates a robotic version of her so it can communicate with the crew.  Spock attempts to mind meld with V’Ger and nearly dies, but comes to understand what V’Ger is:  An old Earth Voyager probe found by a planet of living machines.  They perfected it and sent it back to Earth to join with its creator so that it may know all that is unknown.  With nothing else to do now, Decker decides to join with V’Ger in a final effects light show, and a new being is born…
     With some new effects shots, this slow and very long film is tightened and pretty much corrected with the much needed Director’s Cut.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Grade: A+
In a word, Brilliant!  This is just about as perfect a Star Trek movie as they can make!  Not only is there a lot of action and great character moments, but the writing shines with a myriad of themes dealing with the old and the young, how we face death, the human condition and the ego, and the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few or the one.
     Not only does intergalactic villain Khan return, in a great performance by Ricardo Montalban reprising his role from the original series episode “Space Seed”, but they introduced Kirstie Alley as a sexy Vulcan trainee Saavik, Kirk’s old girlfriend and his grown son are revealed, Carol and David Marcus, and their fantastic, extremely powerful device called Genesis that can make a living, thriving planet from lifeless rock, Chekov gets a beefed-up role, and it ends on a very emotional note when the crew loses one of its own!
     While working for the Marcus’, Chekov and Captain Terrell happen across the madman Khan, who uses parasites in their ears to control them and gets the upper hand against Kirk in a big space battle that ends in the Mutara Nebula. Finally defeated, Khan starts the Genesis devise, which will kill everything.  To get away, Spock suffers fatal radiation poisoning to get the engines back on line.  The new planet is born, and Spock’s body is laid to rest there.
     From the nasty bug Khan puts in Chekov’s ear, to the heart-to-hearts between Kirk and McCoy about growing old, Scotty’s nephew being killed, Kirk cheating death time and time again, his standoff with the scenery chewing Khan and his difficult relationship with Carol and David, to the almost magical Genesis device and its implications, the cat and mouse game in the Nebula, Spock’s touching death and funeral, and the hope that still exists for the characters as Kirk, who told McCoy and Carol he felt so old, saying that he felt young again in the denouement, almost every aspect of this adventure is perfect. 

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
Grade: B+
A little bit of cheese only slightly mars this very enjoyable, plot-driven outing with a lot of action!  The Enterprise limps home the worse for wear without Spock and with McCoy suffering from Spock’s final Vulcan Mind Meld (“That green blooded son of a bitch; it’s his revenge for all those arguments he lost.”).  After a visit from Spock’s father Sarek, where they determine that he left his Katra, or living soul, inside McCoy, Kirk tries to wrangle use of the Enterprise to return to the Genesis planet and retrieve Spock’s body, but Starfleet won’t budge; the Enterprise is to be decommissioned, and Genesis is a quarantined planet and a forbidden subject.  McCoy tries to charter his own illegal space flight and is arrested, so Kirk accepts help from the rest of his team, including Chekov, Sulu (“Don’t call me tiny”), Uhura (“You want adventure, how’s this?”), and Scotty (“The more they overtake the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain”).  Together, they all break McCoy out of the Federation funny farm and steal the Enterprise. 
     Meanwhile, David and Saavik are part of a scientific expedition exploring the new Genesis planet and happen across Spock, who has been made young again due to the Genesis effect, and Saavik even helps him through the Vulcan mating drive Pon Farr!  Along the way, she learns that David cut corners when developing Genesis, as he used outlawed and very unstable proto-matter to make it work, and now the planet is on the verge of ripping itself apart.  As if all this weren’t enough, a rogue band of Klingons, led by Commander Kruge, want the secret of the Genesis device, destroy the science vessel, and take Saavik, David, and Spock as prisoners.  When the Enterprise arrives, the Klingons kill David as a negotiating ploy, forcing Kirk’s hand, which includes the destruction of the Enterprise!  A final showdown with the Klingon commander is just a bit underwhelming, but leaves Kirk and his crew in possession of the Klingon Bird of Prey, which they use to take back to Vulcan in an effort to reunite Spock’s body and mind.  The ending brings Spock back into the fray, and it is quite a satisfying and emotional ending at that!

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Grade: A+
“There be whales here!”
Another stellar winner, only this time, the crew embark on a fun, adventurous, and comedic time travel romp!  It starts on Vulcan.  Spock is still not quite himself, and while being reeducated in a Vulcan fashion, his mother reminds him he’s half human.  Lt. Saavik is around long enough to tie up a loose end from the last film.
     Back on Earth, the Klingons want revenge, Starfleet wants to file charges, and Spock’s father Sarek offers his advice as the Vulcan Ambassador.  All of this is interrupted, however, when a very large alien probe cuts off all power to space stations and ships as it transmits a message to Earth’s oceans, causing a planetary disaster!  On their way back home in their commandeered Klingon vessel, Kirk and crew deduce the message is meant for humpback whales, now extinct, so, as Dr. McCoy expounds, “You’re proposing we go backwards in time, find humpback whales, then bring them forward in time, drop ‘em off, and hope the hell they tell this probe what to go do with itself!”
     The rest of the movie has the seven person crew engage in all manner of fun and funny adventures trying to do just that!  They “park” their cloaked vessel in the park, and Kirk and Spock locate two whales named George and Gracie at an Oceanic museum, with Kirk really hitting it off with whale expert Gillian Taylor.  Scotty and McCoy find material to build a whale tank (possibly altering the future in the process!), Sulu flies the tank walls in on a “borrowed” helicopter, and Uhura and Chekov collect nuclear energy from a “naval wessel” called “Enterprise”, but Chekov is caught and questioned by the military.  He is severely wounded in an escape attempt, forcing Kirk, McCoy, and Gillian to rescue him before saving the whales, now on the open sea, from a whaling vessel.  Once collected, it’s back to the future, with one more adventure for Kirk to free the trapped whales from the tank when the ship loses power and crashes into San Francisco bay!  The plan works, the probe leaves, the crew receives commendations instead of a court martial, Spock reconnects with his father, and Kirk and crew are given a brand new Enterprise-A!
     This is just about as perfect as Star Trek II, but with a very different tone, and proving that Star Trek can work as light comedic adventure as much as heavy Shakespearian tragedy.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
Grade: C-
Alas, poor Star Trek V
It seems like the actors were just starting to get comfortable again, and to seem like a favorite, worn-out, old recliner!  The adventure starts with a camping trip, with Kirk climbing El Capitan in Yosemite and making the usually cantankerous McCoy completely livid!  After Spock, wearing jet boots, saves the captain from a fall, Kirk and McCoy try to teach Spock to sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” around a campfire!  Meanwhile, Sulu and Chekov are lost, but they don’t want Uhura to know.  They all get their big moments here:  Scotty manages a jailbreak and then knocks himself out, Uhura performs a naked moondance, Sulu executes a difficult manual maneuver in a shuttlecraft, and Chekov carries out a deception, pretending to be the captain during a covert mission.  And if you ever wanted to see Spock fly around in jet boots and give a Vulcan neck pinch to a horse, this is your movie!
     The story concerns Spock’s half-brother Sybok, a galactic Dr. Phil of sorts, who has embraced emotions instead of logic.  He causes people to follow him by revealing and then helping them release their pain.  He takes “hostages,” forcing the Enterprise to investigate, and with Kirk, McCoy and Spock the only hold-outs in his quest to cross an inter-galactic barrier to find God.  One of the better parts of the movie is when he eventually tries to enlist them as well, revealing the death of McCoy’s father and Spock’s birth.  Along the way, some young Klingons, pinning for the glory of action in combat, use this incident as an excuse to battle the famous Starship.  The ending, as they find a creature claiming to be God, was a complete disappointment!  The effects looked quite shoddy, and after it’s all over, the crew has a cocktail party with the Klingons!  Oh, my!
     It’s all just a bit ridiculous, and perhaps too comfortable.  This is the first of the Star Trek movies that could be considered a failure, and wouldn’t have done the business it did if it didn’t already have the name Star Trek stamped upon it.  Shatner in the director’s seat does not impress like Nicolas Meyer or Leonard Nimoy did, or even Robert Wise!  The resulting movie is rather silly, with only brief moments of what fans have come to love about the series.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Grade: A-
Now that’s more like it!  This final, fast-moving adventure with a lot of interesting twists and turns at least allowed the original series cast to go out with a bang instead of a whimper!
     Politics is the name of this game, when the Klingon moon Praxis explodes, throwing the Klingons into turmoil.  Some see this as an opportunity to finally get the upper hand against them, while others, particularly Spock, see this as an occasion for friendship and peace, and Kirk himself is offered up as the host to the peace conference.  Trouble ensues when, after a rather amusing yet disastrous dinner party, it appears that the Enterprise fires on the Klingon ship, disabling gravity control, and then two human assassins beam aboard the Klingon ship wearing magnetic boots and murder Chancellor Gorkon.  Trying to unravel what happened, Kirk and McCoy beam aboard and try to save the Chancellor, but they can’t, and are placed under arrest by the villainous General Chang.  They are quickly run through the Klingon justice system and sentenced to Rura Penthe, a foreboding Klingon gulag on a frozen ice planet.
     While Gorkon’s daughter Azetbur plans to go ahead with the peace conference at a neutral site, Kirk and McCoy plan their escape, with the help of a shape shifter named Martia, played by famed model Iman, and the remaining Enterprise crew tries to uncover the conspiracy behind the assassination.  Spock soon learns that his protégé, Lt. Valeris, is a traitor.  Betrayed, he performs a mind meld on her akin to mental rape in order to extract the names of her co-conspirators.  Sulu, now the Captain of the Excelsior, lends Kirk a hand in the end, as they battle General Chang above Khitomer, the site of the peace conference, and they are able to stop a second assassination attempt and unravel the conspirators’ plan.
     The addition of Christopher Plummer as General Chang, David Warner as Gorkon, and even Kim Cattrall as Spock’s sexy Vulcan protégé Valeris all add much to the proceedings, and the special effects and writing are back on track as well, for the most part.  As with some of their best adventures, the seven main characters are each given lots of great character moments throughout, and there are some great cameos as well, including Star Trek’s own Mark Lenard, Grace Lee Whitney, Brock Peters, Kurtwood Smith, John Schuck, Michael Dorn and Rene Auberjonois, and even Christian Slater!  I found it an exciting and enjoyable way to end the movies featuring the original series cast.  The final shot even shows the Starship Enterprise riding into the sunset!  

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