Archive for June 20, 2017

Ranking Star Trek Movies I-X   2 comments

Above:  A Scene from Star Trek VI:  The Undiscovered Country (1991)

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Preliminary Statements

  1. This post flows from my brief reviews of movies I-VI and VII-X.  I refer you, O reader, to those posts, in which I have ranked I-VI in context of each other and VII-X in context of each other.
  2. As I have written in those posts, my most basic standard regarding any of the Star Trek movies is whether I want to place the disc in my Blu-ray player, press the “play” button on the remote control, and watch the movie from beginning to end without skipping any scenes.

Rankings

  1. Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan (1982)
  2. Star Trek VI:  The Undiscovered Country (1991)
  3. Star Trek IV:  The Voyage Home (1986)
  4. Star Trek III:  The Search for Spock (1984)
  5. Star Trek:  Insurrection (1998)
  6. Star Trek:  First Contact (1996)
  7. Star Trek:  Generations (1994)
  8. Star Trek:  The Motion Picture (1979)
  9. Star Trek V:  The Final Frontier (1989)
  10. Star Trek:  Nemesis (2002)

Analysis

  1. My five favorite Star Trek movies are those I want to watch without skipping any scenes.
  2. The top three films are those with which Nicholas Meyer was involved.
  3. My least favorite Star Trek movies are those that were nearly franchise killers.
  4. Original series movies are generally better than Next Generation movies.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 20, 2017 COMMON ERA

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Brief Reviews: Star Trek Movies VII-X   2 comments

Above:  The U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701-E, from Star Trek:  First Contact (1996)

A Screen Capture

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Preliminary Statements

A few preliminary statements will prove helpful before I get into the meat of this post:

  1. I have been a fan of Star Trek for a long time.  I used to watch the original series in reruns–sometimes on weekends and, when possible, weekdays–and record episodes.  I remember stumbling upon an occasional episode of the animated series (1973-1975) on cable television in the early 1990s.  I recall when I could count the number of movies on one hand and have fingers left over.  I remember watching The Next Generation (1987-1994) in first run.  I have watched every Star Trek movie and most episodes.  I watched every episode all the way through Voyager (1995-2001).  I abandoned Star Trek:  Enterprise (2001-2005) early in the third season, for I was tired of subjecting myself to that series after two years.
  2. Certain Star Trek fans are fanatical to the point of leaving vicious comments online.  I have no use for such behavior.  This is entertainment, not a matter of life and death.  William Shatner’s “Get a life” sketch from Saturday Night Live (1986) rings true for many people.
  3. One can find many podcasts and videos regarding Star Trek episodes and movies.  Unfortunately, many of the creators of these media (A) swear enough to embarrass even the most profane sailors, (B) are hyper-critical, to the point of pettiness, and/or (C) speak out of their ignorance.  All of this irritates me.  I respond by ceasing to watch such videos and listen to such podcasts.
  4. On the other hand, many reviewers, working in written, audio, and audio-visual media, do speak and write out of their knowledge.  I am especially fond of the reviews at tor.com, for example.
  5. My intention in this post is neither to write all that I know regarding four Star Trek:  The Next Generation movies nor to replicate the work of others.  (I know far more about these movies than I have written here.)  No, I plan to be concise and to contextualize these films according to each other.  My most basic standard regarding any of the Star Trek movies is whether I want to place the disc in my Blu-ray player, press the “play” button on the remote control, and watch the movie from beginning to end without skipping any scenes.
  6. No work of human beings is perfect, of course, but it can be enjoyable and well-crafted.  I seek to find the good and praise it, imperfect as it might be.

Star Trek:  Generations (1994)

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I recall reading Federation (1994), a novel by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, in which two Enterprises–those of Kirk and Picard–encounter each other.  I acknowledge that this was years ago, so my memories of the plot are sketchy, but I assert without a shadow of a doubt that a movie closer to that novel would have been superior to Star Trek:  Generations.

Next Generation writers Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga wrote the screenplay for Generations over a period of a year and a half.  Toward the end of that time they also wrote All Good Things… (1994), the series finale of The Next Generation, in a handful of weeks.  The latter work, they have admitted on their commentary track for Generations, was superior to the former.  Moore and Braga had a difficult assignment, one which came with a studio-issued list of plot elements to include.  Paramount Pictures contributed to the lackluster nature of this movie.  The Nexus, for example, never worked well.  Neither did the death of Captain Kirk.  Furthermore, Kirk and Picard scrambling eggs was an anticlimax.

My main complaint, however, pertains to the destruction of the U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701-D, a capital ship.  The Enterprise-D being vulnerable to an antiquated Klingon Bird of Prey is beyond ridiculous.  But at least we have the scene in which Data, with his emotion chip installed, swears once as the saucer section falls toward Veridian III.  That is entertaining, but the previous scene in which he sings a ditty about scanning for lifeforms is better.

In Dr. Soran we have a villain whose plans do not make sense.  What is to stop him from flying a ship into the Nexus?  Instead he destroys stars and, by extension, solar systems, to alter the course of the Nexus.  I do not emphasize the irrationality of Dr. Soran too much, for I know from history and current events that people are frequently irrational.  I know what has happened, but cannot make logical sense of those events because they are illogical.

All things considered, I have no desire to watch this movie from beginning to end, without skipping scenes.

Star Trek:  First Contact (1996)

A screen capture

Star Trek:  First Contact, the best of the Next Generation movies, according to conventional wisdom, is a film I have difficulty watching.  The movie is too intense for my comfort, due to the Borg, in their silver screen budget incarnation.  They creep me out.  I tend to skip scenes in First Contact, therefore.

First Contact does have its great merits, however.  The black-and-gray uniforms are superior to the immediately preceding uniforms.  Also, the Sovereign Class Enterprise-E is gorgeous.  The characters are in fine form, with Picard having his Captain Ahab phase and Worf being a full Klingon, as when he tells Picard,

If you were any other man, I would kill you where you stand.

I do, however, have a quibble regarding the Borg Queen.  She exists because of a directive from someone at Paramount Pictures.  The Borg are better without a queen, for putting a face on the Collective raises certain difficult questions in universe.  Does she follow the will of the Collective or does she direct it?  And how is it possible that she was on the Borg cube that blew up in The Best of Both Worlds, Part II?

Star Trek:  Insurrection (1998)

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I have listened to podcasts and watched video reviews about Star Trek:  Insurrection.  The creators of some of these media have erupted in frustration and frequent profanity.  These have been overreactions.  I have never objected to the fact that some people do not like the film, but I have always insisted that one should express oneself in the style of an adult whose vocabulary is considerably larger than a collection of curse words.

This is my favorite Next Generation movie.  Yes, it feels like a two-parter from the Next Generation series, but it feels like a good two-parter, specifically what Journey’s End (1994), in which Picard presides over the forced relocation of Native Americans, should have been.  In Insurrection Picard occupies what screen writer Michael Piller called “the moral center of the universe.”  Besides, why is the Federation in league with the Son’a, allies of the Dominion (which is trying to conquer the Federation) in the Dominion War?  The answer comes from an earlier draft of the script:  Admiral Dougherty is affiliated with Section 31.

Of all the Next Generation movies, this is the only one I choose to watch from beginning to end, without skipping scenes.

Star Trek:  Nemesis (2002)

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Star Trek:  Nemesis, to quote Marina Sirtis, “sucks.”  The best Star Trek stories are character-focused.  In this movie, however, the best character moments are absent from the theatrical cut and are available in the deleted scenes section of the second disc of the set.  Those facts contribute to the poor critical reception of the movie at the time and the disappointing box office results.  This is the movie that, along with Star Trek:  Enterprise, killed the prime universe of Star Trek on screen.

Above:  The Enterprise-E and the Scimitar, after the Enterprise-E rammed the Scimitar

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This was, according to the trailer, the final voyage of the Next Generation crew.  Data died, Riker and Troi married and transferred to the U.S.S. Titan, and Crusher left to lead Starfleet Medical.  However, the downloaded memories of Data began to surface in the primitive android B-4 by the end of the movie.  According to Countdown, the comic book prequel to Star Trek (2009), B-4 became Data (Mark II) and the Captain of the Enterprise-E in time.  There might have been subsequent prime universe movies with characters from various series (The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager), but the failure of Nemesis prevented that.

The plot of the movie depends too much on coincidence.  What is the probability that Romulan agents would plot to clone Picard?  What are the odds that the Enterprise-E would detect the disassembled B-4?  And what is the likelihood that Starfleet would send the Enterprise-E to Romulus?

The script of Nemesis, like that of Generations, tackles ponderous themes ambitiously and fails.  The fault does not reside in the purview of the main Next Generation cast.  Patrick Stewart, for example, is so great an actor that he elevates subpar material.  The fault falls upon the writer, John Logan, whose script does not give the characters a proper send off.  Maybe he should take lessons from Nicholas Meyer, co-author of The Undiscovered Country (1991).

I choose not to dwell too much on the illogical plans of Shinzon, the clone of Picard.  Shinzon, for a man who is dying, wastes plenty of time.  Furthermore, why would the destruction of Earth cripple the Federation?  For an explanation of why I am not making more of the irrationality of Shinzon, consult my remarks about Dr. Soran in Generations.

Above:  The Enterprise-E, Undergoing Repairs

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Nemesis gives me no satisfaction; I watch only parts of the movie.

Rankings

Ranking these four movies is relatively easy for me:

  1. Star Trek:  Insurrection
  2. Star Trek:  First Contact
  3. Star Trek:  Generations
  4. Star Trek:  Nemesis

The original series movies, taken together, are superior to the Next Generation movies, taken together.

My overall rankings of movies I-X are here.

Special Note:  Abramsverse Movies and Contemporary Star Trek 

Nevertheless, the Next Generation movies, taken together, are superior to the Abramsverse reboot movies #1-3, taken together.  (Movie #4 is in development as I write this.)  Of the three Abramsverse films so far, Star Trek Beyond (2016) is the best and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) is the worst.

Furthermore, the U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701-A, from the end of Star Trek Beyond, is ugly.  I like the Constitution Class refit from the first six Star Trek movies.

I agree with Simon Pegg that prime Spock and Nero entered the past of another parallel universe, not that of the prime universe.  This is obvious to me due to the technology and uniforms.  Besides, the existence of a multiverse in Star Trek has been part of canon since Mirror, Mirror, in the original series.  One might even argue convincingly that Star Trek:  Enterprise occurs in a parallel universe.

Regardless of what CBS/Paramount says, the trailer for Star Trek:  Discovery (2017-) makes the setting of that series look like the Abramsverse.  As Doug Drexler, who knows more about Star Trek than most people, says, Star Trek is a period drama.  A particular era of Star Trek has a certain look.  Why not, therefore, just state plainly that this is an Abramsverse series?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 20, 2017 COMMON ERA