Looper

Looper Science fiction movies like this don’t come along very often.  Though Looper has all the hallmarks of the genre, such as time travel, futuristic weapons, and head-scratching plot twists, it offers something rather unique among its peers of late: a unique and compelling story with enough grounding in a familiar reality to keep even casual moviegoers interested.  This smartly directed actioner-slash-head-scratcher does not dwell on the ins and outs of its central conceit too long, and instead focuses on keeping the pace solid and the action tight.  Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) works as a Looper, whose job it is to dispose of the scum of the earth…from the future.  30 years from now, when targets are captured by criminal organizations they aren’t just offed and dumped in a river like in The Godfather.  Instead they are sent back in time where Loopers blow ’em away and burn the bodies.  No fuss, no muss.  What could possibly go wrong?

All is well and dandy for a while, and Joe goes on living his shallow life of partying, doping, and hooking up with women at the local strip joint until he finds himself staring down the barrel of his blunderbuss at a particularly troublesome target: himself.  This, in Looper parlance, is known as “closing the loop.”  It’s the point at which a looper paradoxically ends his own life, thus resigning himself to three decades to live, until he is captured by the criminal organization in the future which sends him back in time to the present, at which point he shoots himself in the chest.

Confused?  Try this trick: just don’t think about it.  This sentiment, trite as it may be, is actually recommended to us by Joe as he converses with his future self in a diner.  Older Joe (Bruce Willis) urges his younger self to not dwell on the whole past/present/future thing too long, and soon afterwards the two of them are firing weapons, breaking windows, and dodging bullets like one would expect in any action movie.

Instead of dwelling on the nuts and bolts of temporal displacement and other quantum conundra, it’s best to just enjoy Looper for what it is: a smart, well-paced above-average popcorn flick with a healthy dollop of cerebral icing on the cake.  Think of it as this summer’s version of Inception, but a bit more dark and a lot more violent.

Following Joe’s failure to close his loop, he finds himself on the run from his boss Abe (Jeff Daniels, chewing through scenery worse than Willem Dafoe in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. But gosh, it sure is good to see him in a grumpy-old-man role like this.) who simply will not tolerate this sort of failure from anyone in his organization.  Joe escapes to a remote farmhouse where he encounters someone who may, or may not, hold the answers to some of the questions that have plagued his future self for years.  The resulting shootouts and climax are taut and emotional, with a particularly poignant performance from child actor Pierce Gagnon that is certain to have some parents in the audience squirming in their seats.  Topping things off is Gordon-Levitt’s pitch-perfect imitation of Bruce Willis, which is so nuanced it ought to earn him an Academy Award for Impersonating a Co-star.

Looper doesn’t have the weight-of-the-world heaviness of Terminator 2, the flat-out action of Aliens, or the suspense of Predator.  But its tight narrative and thought-provoking questions almost earn it a presence among its cinematic counterparts.

Rating:

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Have you seen this movie? Rate it!
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
LEAVE A COMMENT

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Close Encounters of the Third KindAs we head into another summer movie season full of action, dudes built like mack trucks, and explosions galore, I thought it would be fitting to take a step back to an earlier time before films were all about spectacle and marketing tie-ins.  Close Encounters of the Third Kind is, in many ways, the best kind of science fiction even though there are virtually no explosions and we only get glimpses of aliens or spaceships until the very end.  Directed by Steven Spielberg, one of the masters of the genre, it follows the story of average dude Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss, fresh on the heels of another little movie he did with Spielberg) who gets a tad too close to an alien spaceship one strange night while out in his pickup truck investigating a widespread power outage.  Over the next few days he starts having visions of an object that he feels compelled to re-create in paintings, clay, and mashed potatoes at the dinner table.  Meanwhile, other people around the country are having similar visions and experiencing otherworldly phenomena, most notably Barry Guiler, a kid with a curious bent who wanders a bit too far from his mom one night only to get picked up by the invaders. Throughout all this we never actually see the aliens–only the effect they are having on the people who claim to have experienced these encounters.

While North America is being sent into a tizzy trying to deal with the strange phenomenae, entire squadrons of missing World War II aircraft are discovered in the desert in mint condition.  It’s these strange events that cause French scientist Claude Lancombe to investigate the matter further, leading to the eventual discovery of a probably location for an alien landing site along with five distinct musical tones that might possibly lead to a method of communicating with the extra terrestrials.  Keep in mind there’s no gunfights, and no national monuments are singled out for destruction.  In many ways, Close Encounters of the Third Kind more accurately resembles a cerebral thriller or mystery like Inception or Vertigo rather than a traditional science fiction movie, but it’s these qualities that make it anything but traditional.  And yet, Spielberg keeps things engaging and interesting throughout, while building up to a climax that is as massive in scope as anything we might see in a multiplex today.

Close Encounters: Roy Neary

Roy Neary, searching for meaning in a pile of clay.

Just as E.T. was first and foremost a story about divorce that also happened to involve aliens from another planet, Close Encounters is a story about family that is struggling to stay together despite the father’s descent into madness.  Roy Neary is a good guy who is overcome with strange visions, and pushes his family away while they struggle to deal with changes they cannot hope to understand.  The focus is kept squarely on Neary’s quest for understanding, Jillian Guiler’s search for her son, and their refusal to accept anything other than concrete answers.  Strangely, there is little to be found in the way of redemption, as Neary makes some very unexpected choices near the end–choices that Spielberg himself has since admitted he would change if he were to make the movie today.  But these unconventional choices made by Neary lend an authentic quality to the movie that is fairly unique in modern cinema, and coupled with the stunningly realistic special effects that can easily hold their own against anything Hollywood has to offer today, catapult Close Encounters to the upper echelon of cinematic science fiction. This one is not to be missed by anyone who is a fan of the genre, or anyone who just likes good movies.

Rating:

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Have you seen this movie? Rate it!
Rating: 5.0/5 (1 vote cast)
LEAVE A COMMENT

Battlestar Galactica: Season 2.5

Battlestar Galactica Season 2.5One of the challenges when doing serial television is that the plot always has to move forward.  It’s sometimes difficult to put things on hold and explore characters or issues in isolation from the main story arc, especially when the entire premise for a show is based on an overarching plotline.  Of course the main draw of serial television is that it always gives viewers something new to look forward to: how will this get resolved? What will happen next? Will they make it out alive? Or, in the case of shows like Lost, there’s always the hope of finding out answers to deep-seeded questions.  Battlestar Galactica straddles the line between episodic and standalone, with the constant threat of the Cylons looming like a shadow over the remnants of humanity while single episodes are also devoted to tangents that go deeper into the character side of things.  Season 2.5 continues all the threads set forth in Season 2, though in a bit of a departure there are also a couple of episodes that could feasibly stand entirely on their own and have virtually nothing at all to do with the Cylons.  It culminates in a two-part finale that throws caution to the wind and takes the series in an entirely new direction altogether, setting up some major changes in the plot for both humans and cylons.  In short, Season 2.5 in many ways lives up to the promise of the show when it first started.

In typical Battlestar Galactica fasion, things start to go bad pretty quickly after the reunion of the Pegasus and the rest of the fleet at the end of Season 2.0.  Power struggles, military coups, and strained relationships are the name of the game as the fleet struggles to deal with a change of leadership and shifting political alliances among the various fleet ships.  This kind of political intrigue is actually one of the best things about the show, as a constant theme of fallibility is reiterated throughout several episodes.  Leaders, even the venerable Commander Adama, make mistakes even when they think they are doing the right thing, and it often costs valuable resources or even human lives.  This sets Battlestar Galactica apart from other science fiction shows in that actions have very real and lasting consequences, not neat little bows that are perfectly tied up at the end of each episode.  A couple of prominent characters meet their end in Season 2.5, and their loss does not come across as a cheap ploy to up the dramatic tension but seems like the natural result in a series of tough choices made by them or others around them.

Battlestar Galactica: Starbuck

Starbuck, fighting cylons and taking names.

One of my earlier criticisms of the show was that it often focused more on shock-and-awe rather than exploring characters and human issues, and a great many strides are taken to rectify this in Season 2.5. One particular episode, Black Market, explores some particularly heavy issues for Apollo as he comes to realize some harsh truths about the unvarnished side of humanity that flourishes even in the ragtag collection of spaceships and traders all struggling to survive.  Echoes of desegregation struggles and present-day cultural tensions are brought to light as well through the fleet’s struggle to accept Sharon, a cylon who becomes increasingly integral to the human remnant. There’s even an episode titled Scar that sheds an entirely new light on the cylons when we discover that even though they are essentially programmed computers, they have personalities and even the flying ship drones might be far more human-like than was previously thought.  Of course there are still what seem like requisite soap opera storylines with various characters hooking up, getting jealous, and retaliating, but thankfully these are severely toned down.

The series culminates in what is easily the most dramatic departure for the show yet, and the final two-part episode brings some incredible changes to the Battlestar Galactica we have grown to know so well. And it’s a good thing too, since the cylons-hunting-humans storyline begins to wear a little thin.  As I mentioned earlier, this is one of the problems with this kind of premise since things continually point to a culmination or climax, but should that point ever be reached the show itself might cease to have a reason for existing.  And the drastic change of events at the end of season 2.5 is somewhat of a bellwether for the show as a whole, keeping enough of the former storyline intact while allowing for sweeping changes in order to keep things fresh and new at the same time.

Rating:

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Have you seen this movie? Rate it!
Rating: 3.7/5 (3 votes cast)
LEAVE A COMMENT

Mars Attacks!

Mars Attacks!Tim Burton practically defines the word eccentric. His movies run the gamut from goofy (Ed Wood) to contemplative (Big Fish) to freaky (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) to downright odd and well-nigh unclassifiable (Edward Scissorhands). Mars Attacks falls more in the latter category, even though it is first and foremost a pretty spot-on good-old-fashioned parody. The subject of Burton’s lens in this film is 1950’s sci-fi, with its themes of paranoia, alien invasions, American superiority, and national wonder at what awaits us in the great unknown of outer space. Mars Attacks! begins with several vignettes introducing a wide swath of caricatures characters ranging from the President of the United States to a self-absorbed TV fashion reporter to a washed-up prizefighter waiting tables in Vegas. But before you can say “baby needs a new pair of space boots,” giant flying saucers from Mars have landed on the planet with aliens who have seemingly come in peace. As you might expect, though, things are not what they seem and pretty soon the aliens are blasting everyone in sight with their ray guns that turn people into red and green skeletons. No explanation is given, nor is one really needed, and for the next hour and a half it’s basically humans vs. aliens in an all-out global battle for survival.

Every character is an overwrought cartoon, which is part of the fun, and anyone who tries to take this movie seriously is missing the point.  The idea of a martian invasion is just a canvas for Burton to weave some seriously weird yet downright heartwarming tales of idealism, heroism, and big-headed aliens with ray guns that turn people into green skeletons.  Mars Attacks! has all the subtlety of a cinder block, and flaunts it proudly:  Martians land on earth in giant flying saucers and start shooting ray guns at everyone.  The military wants to nuke ’em.  The academic elite wants to study them. The hippies want to make peace with them. And the reporters want to interview them.  Characters are as dispensable as their accents, and the special effects would be laughably cheesy if that wasn’t how they were supposed to be.

Professor Donald Kessler

Pierce Brosnan playing (what else?) a brilliant British scientist.

Perhaps it’s a coincidence that this movie was released in 1996, the same year as another alien invasion movie you might have heard of called Independence Day.  But where Emmerich’s bombastic blockbuster was about two sizes too big for its britches, and took itself a little too seriously, Mars Attacks! gets everything just about right. Even the aliens, with gigantic heads and a language that consists solely of barking out the words “Ack! Ack!” are a pitch-perfect sendup of the oh so realistic extra terrestrial creatures in Independence Day, Close Encounters, E.T., and so many other science fiction films.  Of course the best reason to see Mars Attacks! is Jack Nicholson as the President (as well as a seedy Las Vegas businessman) and easily one of the funniest roles of his career.  Hamming it up at every turn, chewing the scenery like it was freeze-dried ice cream, and flashing his signature condescending grin every chance he gets, it’s a role only he could have pulled off with such overwrought tongue-in-cheek delivery.  It’s a sight to behold.

Mars Attacks! is blisteringly funny and bitingly sarcastic, but it does have its share of flaws too.  The lack of any coherent storyline is a bit of a drag, and it is somewhat frustrating that we never really find out why the martians have attacked in the first place.  But any movie in which Sarah Jessica Parker’s head is glued to a chihuahua is OK by me.

Rating:

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Have you seen this movie? Rate it!
Rating: 4.0/5 (1 vote cast)
LEAVE A COMMENT

Battlestar Galactica: Season 2

Battlestar Galactica Season 2.0A few weeks ago I reviewed Season 1 of Syfy network’s re-imagining of the 1970’s cult TV show Battlestar Galactica, and came to the conclusion that the show had a great deal of promise but was weighed down with a bit too much style instead of substance.  Thankfully Season 2.0 improves on many of the first season’s shortcomings, and while it still seems like a guest at Thanksgiving dinner relegated to the kid’s table, while desperately wanting a seat with the grownups, it is showing definite signs of maturity. Battlestar Galactica is built on the premise of eschewing convention and devying expectation. Many science fiction tropes are turned on their heads (doctors are no more able to cure diseases or repair limbs than their 20th century counterparts, communication happens via analog telephone, and people cannot be magically whisked from one location to another via magical teleportation beams), and difficult situations are not given easy answers followed by pithy platitudes in the closing minutes of an episode.  Characters make tough choices, and often not the ones we might expect.  Season 2.0 continues this tone admirably, but injects some much-needed characterization and humanity into things as well. It’s not perfect, but it’s a well done and very respectable sophomore effort.

My biggest criticism of Season 1 was that the show was light on characterization but heavy on explosions, and from the first episode of Season 2 this problem is addressed, though not exactly how I would have liked.  Commander Adama, arguably the best character on the show, is effectively out of commission for the first four episodes, which leaves the slightly-more-than-somewhat incompetent Saul Tigh in command of the entire fleet.  I appreciate the shift in focus here, as it allows viewers to get to know Tigh in a more meaningful and personal way and also see how difficult the responsibilities of commanding a ship can be.  Tigh is put into some really tough scrapes and has to make some difficult choices, and it is somewhat refreshing watching a less-than-stellar individual take command for a while.  There is also a healthy dose of politics injected into the series too, as the fleet begins to splinter with some ships following President Roslin on her quest to find Earth and the rest sticking with the military.

Battlestar Galactica Chief Tyrol

Chief Tyrol, who could give MacGyver a run for his money any day of the week.

The absence of Adama’s leadership is painfully felt in these early episodes, it speaks to the quality of the writing that the frustrations felt by the crew at Tigh’s lack of leadership are keenly felt by the viewers too.  The theme of Season 2.0 is that of divergence, as the fleet is split physically and ideologically, Starbuck goes back to Caprica to retrieve a talisman which is supposed to guide the fleet to Earth, and the crew of the Galactica struggles to adapt to changing leadership.  Lee Adama is forced to choose alliances that damage his relationship with his father, and I’m eager for the day when he will finally be given the chance to stretch his wings and take command.  It’s more about politics and relationships in Season 2.0, and thankfully, less about shocking viewers with gratuitous violence and sexuality.  Though these elements do show up from time to time, they are less overt and slightly more warranted in terms of the storyline.  There is also more in terms of creativity, like the episode Final Cut which strikes a markedly different tone from the rest of the series as it essentially follows a TV reporter who is given total access to the Galactica for one day. It’s an interesting concept and I appreciate the show’s willingness to take a risk with it.

Battlestar Galactica remains, if nothing else, a refreshing change of pace from the usual TV fare, though it’s still obviously trying to find its footing while stretching its legs creatively at the same time.  The characters are given more time to just be themselves in Season 2.0, such as the episode in which Chief Tyrol takes it upon himself to construct a stealth ship just to keep himself and his crew busy. Edward James Olmos remains a force to be reckoned with, while Starbuck continues to be the one we are supposed to like but doesn’t quite cut it.  Even though the Cylons are basically on coffee break for much of Season 2.0, the fear of their attacks is enough to keep things moving at a brisk enough pace overall.  And so while there is still room for improvement, Season 2.0 is an impressive sophomore effort and one that should be near the top of the list for any fan of science fiction.

Rating:

 

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Have you seen this movie? Rate it!
Rating: 3.7/5 (3 votes cast)
2 COMMENTS

Battlestar Galactica: Season 1

Battlestar GalacticaI used to wonder why there were no toilets in Star Trek. The crew of the Enterprise did many things, from negotiating alien diplomatic treaties to discovering new life forms to working out their own personal issues, but going to the bathroom never seemed to be something that concerned Captain Picard and his intrepid crew.  Or Kirk, Sisko, Janeway, and for the most part, Archer.  Instead the ships and vehicles of Star Trek were sterile, functional, and polished to a high-gloss shine, and never bothered with the more base human elements like waste excretion.  By contrast, Battlestar Galactica, and the starship central to the show that bears the same name, is full of bathrooms.  And that’s only the beginning.

It’s hard to review Battlestar Galactica without comparing it to other science fiction shows, since science fiction, like most forms of creativity, is inherently derivative.  Without Star Trek: The Next Generation there would be no Battlestar Galactica.  Without Star Wars to inject new life into the genre there would likely be no Next Generation. Without 2001: A Space Odyssey there would be no Star Wars or Alien. And so it goes, back to the original Battlestar Galactica from the 1970s, the original Dr. Who, the original Star Trek, Flash Gordon, Metropolis, and far back still to the ancient roots of storytelling when men first looked up at the sky and wondered what else could be out there.  But like all good science fiction, Battlestar Galactica injects its own life and creative spin on a tried and true scenario, and though the results so far are somewhat middling, the show does have promise and I am eager to see where it goes in Season 2.

Battlestar Galactica Adama

Commander Adama, showing off his cheerful side.

The basic gist of the storyline, as outlined in the title sequence of every episode, goes like this:  The Cylons were created by man. They evolved. They rebelled. There are many copies. And they have a plan. When the show begins, the Cylons initiate said plan by laying waste to Caprica, the human homeworld, and the 12 planets that were colonized by humans.  Now the remnants of our race are left to struggle and survive in the midst of the vastness of space, a ragtag group of roughly 50,000 individuals spread out among several dozen spaceships.  The Cylons were designed to be artificial life forms, subservient to humans and useful for taking care of many aspects of life.  But in the decades since the Cylons broke away from humanity they have evolved and now appear to be some type of genetically engineered human/robot hybrids, many of whom look just like humans and who may or may not have infiltrated the surviving band of humans.  It’s an interesting scenario, though the are-you-human-or-are-you-Cylon concept wears thin fairly quickly. Fortunately healthy diversity of both characters and conflicts keeps things moving along at a brisk enough pace, even though the show often devolves into more of an explosion-filled daytime soap opera than I would prefer.

Battlestar Galactica, despite reportedly being made on the cheap, is an absolutely stunning realization of futuristic space life.  Everything has an incredible sense of palpable authenticity, from the small fighter craft to the massive lumbering cargo ships, and the set design looks concrete and functional.  The Millenium Falcon from Star Wars was famously described by Luke Skywalker as “a piece of junk,” but it was a spaceship with character and life.  Similarly, every inch of the Battlestar Galactica sets strive for that same level of realism, and when you see greasy mechanics struggling to overhaul a spaceship engine, a dirty mess hall with games of space poker going late at night, or a devastated planet with bombed-out buildings and hovels, it feels almost documentarian.  Space dogfights are exceptionally well done, and it’s a testament to how far CGI has come to be able to whip out scenes with dozens of ships blasting away at each other for a weekly serial show like this.

Battlestar Galactica Grace Park

Lt. Sharon "Boomer" Valerii, ready to kick some Cylon tail.

But for all the pomp and imagery of Battlestar Galactica, things are somewhat lacking in the character department, which sadly is where the real connection of a show like this has to be made with the audience. There are a handful of individuals we are supposed to care about, like plucky young fighter pilot Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff), tough-as-nails Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos, standing and delivering like it’s going out of style) and his alcoholic sidekick Saul (Michael Hogan), empathetic but hard-nosed president Roslin (Mary McDonnell, using the same character notes Roland Emmerich gave her for Independence Day), Doc Baltar (James Callis), resident space hussy Number Six (Tricia Helfer), and a handful of others along for the ride too. But aside from a smattering of true character moments, most of the people here are window dressing who exist simply to ratchet up the dramatic tension.  Gruff old Commander Adama always does what has to be done…but what if thousands of lives hang in the balance?  What then? President Roslin has to maintain order, but what if people high up in the military might be (gasp!) Cylons!  What then? And Doc Baltar, an unstable man plagued by constant hallucinations of a Cylon temptress, almost becomes an exercise in self-parody by the end of the season when he is promoted to the role of vice president.  It’s as if no one around him has any idea he is not only wholly ineffective at his job, but entirely unstable and unreliable as a man.  And yet we are asked to believe his character trajectory in the same way that the action/drama show 24 asks us to believe that a president’s daughter can go from flunkie to Chief of Staff of the White House in the matter of a couple hours.

Battlestar Galactica Fleet

The visuals are amazing, particularly considering the tight constraints of a TV production schedule.

As I mentioned earlier, though, there are some genuine moments of engaging character struggles, such as when Starbuck is stranded on a planet and Adama wrestles with the question of whether saving one life is worth putting many other lives in danger.  But science fiction is best when it examines human issues or gives us a lens through which we may view the human condition. Spaceships, lasers, aliens, hyperdrives…it only works if we are invested in the characters and they are examining issues that speak to us in the here and now. And when characters are tackling issues in bathroom stalls, hallucinating every time they appear on screen, and sleeping with each other as often and as casually as they might play a game of cards it’s hard to identify with them and, by extension, the show itself. To be sure, Battlestar Galactica is visually arresting and a lot of fun to watch, especially the fast-paced space dogfights and nail-biting chases through the streets of Caprica. But I can’t help but get the feeling the show is also a vehicle simply for generating Nielsen ratings, with an onslaught of sleazy how-much-can-we-gat-away-with-on-TV sex scenes, constant faux-swearing (the word “frak,” a facepalm-inducing substitute for another four-letter word, is peppered liberally throughout each episode so much that it’s actually comical), and episodes that seem to be more about pushing the envelope of televised violence and CGI wizardry than actually giving me a real, substantive reason to watch.

There’s a reason Star Trek has no toilets: they did not serve the story. Sure it would have been kind of funny or realistic to see Riker walk out of the men’s room from time to time, but Gene Roddenberry and his cohorts never let those moments happen at the expense of the story.  Battlestar Galactica, with its constant effort to portray realistic outer space life, sacrifices characters on the altar of spectacle.  Not all the time, mind you, but often enough.  I am hopeful for Season 2, however, and I also have to consider that many shows spend the first season struggling to find their footing. The overall plot is fairly interesting, with the idea of humanity struggling against absolutely overpowering odds and a relentless enemy, but so far the show reminds me of a fireworks display on the 4th of July: an impressive cacophony of light and sound, but ultimately somewhat hollow.

Rating:

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Have you seen this movie? Rate it!
Rating: 4.2/5 (5 votes cast)
2 COMMENTS

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Star Trek VIThe first episode of the venerable Star Trek sci-fi series was aired on September 22, 1966, and spawned an entertainment tour de force that, despite some rocky times in syndication and various states of cancellation, continues to chug along even today more than 30 years later.  But with the passing of time, the weathering of the starship Enterprise, and the graying of its crew, the original series that started as a gleam in Gene Roddenberry’s eye graced the silver screen for the last time 25 years after it began.  Even though Undiscovered Country is the sixth movie in the sci-fi franchise, it stands tall as one of the best and still holds its own against its spry, modern, younger successors.

In a bit of a twist from previous films, Sulu is never seen together with the rest of the Enterprise crew.  Instead, from the outset of the film, he is in command of his own ship The Excelsior (Note to William Riker: this is called career advancement).  Off exploring space as usual, his ship encounters a gigantic energy surge resulting from an energy explosion on the Klingon moon Praxis which was, as near as I can tell, basically a gigantic Klingon Power Plant.  In a brilliant twist on typical Star Trek lore, the mighty Klingon race is forced to come to the Federation for aid lest they go extinct as a species in less than five decades.  Kirk is then put in the awkward position of playing would-be ambassador to the Klingon high council, an incredibly uncomfortable diplomatic role considering that his son was murdered at the hands of Klingons.  It’s this type of juxtaposition that is the hallmark of Star Trek and all good science fiction, and further propels Undiscovered Country into the upper echelons of Star Trek movies.

Star Trek VI Cast

The gang's all here

The phrase “Action-Packed” has never been apt for Star Trek, save for the notable exception of First Contact, but it wouldn’t be far off the mark here.  After the abysmal Final Frontier, and knowing that this film would be the series’ swan song, director Nicholas Meyer (who also helmed the brilliant Wrath of Khan) ratchets up the intensity on all fronts.  From the uncomfortable dinner scene aboard the Enterprise, where the Klingons and Enterprise crewmen can barely contain their disdain for each other while General Chang (Christopher Plummer) and Kirk try to out-Shakespeare-quote each other, to the amazing courtroom scene (“Don’t wait for the translation!”) to the final showdown between the Enteprise and a Klingon bird of prey, Undiscovered Country is about as intense as they come.  There’s also a bit of mystery, treachery, backstabbing, and old-fashioned fisticuffs thrown in for good measure.  It all comes together quite well, despite a few missteps here and there such as the over-the-top climax which is far too abrupt and logic-defying to go over with much satisfaction.  Believe it or not, even the visual effects are far from terrible, though still mired in typical Star Trek cheese.  Couldn’t they find decent model builders by now?

Star Trek VI Courtroom

The Klingon judicial system: a model of legal efficiency.

Unfortunately what gets sacrificed here, as with some of the other movies, are the characters.  Most of Kirk’s intrepid crew is reduced to goggle-eyed stares at the viewscreen or groan-worthy one-liners.  The story here is about Kirk, and to a lesser degree, Bones and Spock, and unlike Voyage Home no one else is given any significant contributions to the story.  It’s an unfitting sendoff for Sulu, Uhura, and of course Scotty, but given the high quality of the movie as a whole these character missteps are somewhat forgivable.

Few movie series ever make it to their sixth iteration, and those that do are mostly content to cash in on trends, following the same regurgitated storylines all the way to the bank. But rather than churn out a halfway decent film destined for the VHS bargain bin, Meyer and his crew gave Undiscovered Country all they had and put effort into crafting a work that respects the source material while offering an incredibly pleasing finale to the journey begun by Gene Roddenberry more than three decades earlier.

Rating:

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Have you seen this movie? Rate it!
Rating: 3.7/5 (3 votes cast)
LEAVE A COMMENT

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Star Trek V: The Final FrontierThe Star Trek movie franchise is one of the most inconsistent string of films in existence. While some franchises are either mostly good or mostly terrible, the Star Trek movies swing like a pendulum from amazing to awful.  Conventional wisdom among Trekkies states that every other film is good, and my experience pretty much verifies this.  The first one in the franchise spends well over two hours chasing Kubrick’s coattails and ends up being a mess of heavyhanded philosophizing, but its sequel, Wrath of Khan, is considered one of the greatest science fiction movies of all time.  And so the pendulum swing begins, with Search for Spock floundering while Voyage Home soars.  The pattern being established, then, things don’t look good for Final Frontier from the get-go, even though it’s directed by William Shatner.  If anyone can do justice to a Star Trek film, it’s Captain Kirk, right?  Unfortunately, the pattern holds true: Final Frontier is a poorly written, haphazardly directed, logic-defying science fiction disaster.

Things begin with a bit of promise, as all the trappings of classic science fiction are present and accounted for:  Mysterious Distant Planet? Check. Strange aliens? Check. Hints at a violent struggle–a system to be overthrown–and an allegorical savior figure, check.  We then meet our intrepid Captain James Kirk (affably played, as always, by the great William Shatner), free-climbing mountains in Yosemite with all the fervor a post-middle-aged guy can muster, and soon find and his pal Bones (DeForest Kelley) him teaching Spock (Leonard Nimoy) how to sing Row, Row, Row Your Boat around a campfire.  It’s a tad endearing, and all in all not a bad start for the film.

Star Trek V: Go Climb a Rock

Good advice, Shatner...

It’s not long before things spiral hopelessly out of control, with Starfleet sending Kirk and his aging crew off to the aforementioned Distant Planet to figure out what is going on with Sybok, the man who has taken over the only settlement on the planet.  Why Starfleet would send Kirk on a dangerous mission with a brand new Enterprise that is clearly not ready for a trip around the block, much less across the galaxy, is the first of many such asteroid-sized plot holes in the movie that is just too big to overlook.  Sybok, no doubt cribbing from a few self-help books, persuades all of Kirk’s loyal companions to follow him and turn against their fearless captain.  With the flip of a couple switches, the Enterprise gallivants off to the mythical Great Barrier at the center of the galaxy all because Sybok thinks he will get to have tea with the Almighty. Turns out the mythical Great Barrier is a) about five minutes away, and b) about as impenetrable as a kleenex, meaning Sybok and company sail right through as easily as if they were heading off to Risa for a cup of earl gray.

The final showdown with God has all the drama of a middle school play, but it does give Shatner a chance to ask one of the great questions that has plagued mankind since the dawn of time:

Meantime, those darn Klingons keep causing trouble (wouldn’t you if Kirk had blown up your starship two movies earlier?), and the fabled Enterprise crew is reduced to uttering one-line expositions while staring blankly at the bridge viewscreen.  The movie is an exercise in futility, and the special effects are as cheesy as a jar of Velveeta (though to be fair, this wasn’t entirely Shatner’s fault).  Even though a few lighthearted and genuinely entertaining bits are scattered here and there, it’s like having to sidestep piles of horse manure to pick up some candy at a parade.  As Kirk and his bros enter into a reprise “Row Row Row Your Boat” to close out the film, the best we can do is wish that the film would have also been left ‘but a dream.

Rating:

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Have you seen this movie? Rate it!
Rating: 2.3/5 (4 votes cast)
1 COMMENT