The Frontier Pushes Back

Story: Star Trek Beyond
Written By: Simon Pegg & Doug Jung
Series: Alternate Reality Films
Year: 2016

So after the mess that was "Into Darkness," a film that was a financial success but becomes increasingly dumber the more you think about it (and after my first rewatch I knew it was utter crap about 10 minutes in and wondered what I initially enjoyed!) the behind the scenes of Paramount's next installment of the franchise became a bit of a mess too.  The director of the first two films, JJ Abrams, got a call from Disney to helm the next Star Wars film...and since he pretty much always wanted to and even kinda turned Star Trek into Star Wars in that 2009 film, he took the job.  This left this film with no director.  So Paramount initially promoted the hack writer of those first two films, Roberto Orci, to the director's chair.  He was gonna co-write as well, but not with his long time partner but two newcomers (JD Payne and Patrick McCay).  But he must've really screwed the pooch quickly...because early on in pre-production he ended up getting kicked off (I'm sorry, he decided to leave the director's chair, and just be a Producer). And the first script was completely discarded.  Then they hired Simon Pegg (who has played Scotty since 2009) to pen the script with Doug Jung.  And "Fast & Furious" director Justin Lin was brought on to direct. 
So things were messy early on, and they did seem like they were starting to get their crap together quickly...but there was this thought that persisted with many a Trek fan while this was in production...would all that behind the scenes drama and main production team players being replaced...would this film somehow come together? Was it even possible?  

So it's finally here! The brand new big Star Trek spectacle movie that is supposed to represent the franchise in it's 50th Anniversary.  Is it actually any good? In is the best the franchise has been in years!  It is the best of the reboot films in my opinion, as it brought back the fun and modern fresh feeling of 2009 that had gone stale early in "Into Darkness," and it evoked the original series far better. It felt very much like a middle season episode of the classic show (with that modern twist), told with a more expensive flair and a few modern flourishes.  
The cast was great, everyone gets a moment to shine and they all felt more developed and like real people than they had in either of the previous movies. I really enjoyed the 2009 movie as a fun ride, but it was filled with convoluted plots and character arcs that always kept the movie from being exactly what I want from a Trek adventure.  I equate it more to "Galaxy Quest" than "Star Trek."  This had a better plot, it may still have a villainy villain...but he at least had some nice character twists in the end...and he didn't seem so much out for "Revenge" as he seemed to have a total mental breakdown and belief system that didn't quite gel with the Federation way of life.  We'll get into that in a bit.  

Visually, this is the best looking of the three reboot films for me.  Justin Lin took the Abrams style, and mixed in his own look and styles...and I think the way the ship looks at warp is pretty cool compared to the last two flicks.  While the lens flares didn't bother me as much as they did others in the first movie (I'll admit they really began to get obnoxious in the second), there were times in both films where I just wanted to see the movie and not lights being flashed in my eyes.  This film drops the flares, and it leads to a cleaner look...a look I think lends itself better to this film.  It's a great looking movie all around. 

Spoilers may be ahead, so proceed with warning!

The plot involves the Enterprise, a few years into the five year mission, with the crew feeling a bit fatigued by the routine they've settled into.  Kirk is beginning to question his decisions in life, as this Kirk joined starfleet on a dare, and is now wondering whether he really wants to be a Captain, or whether he is doing it just to live up to his father.  They stop off at a (fantastically designed) Starbase called the Yorktown, in which the crew gets a little bit of rest, but they are quickly sent back out to investigate a downed ship on a planet in an uncharted region of space.  Once there, they are attacked by swarm ships lead by a crazed alien named Krall, who is searching for some artifact the Enterprise happens to have which he can use for his nefarious purposes. The swarm ships totally destroy the Enterprise, and without a ship on an unknown world, Kirk and crew must take down Krall and his people and stop him from getting the artifact and destroying the Yorktown, and possibly other Federation planets.

It turns out though, that Krall isn't just some crazed alien...he is a former captain of a downed Federation ship, who discovered the alien tech on the planet...and used to prolong his life (which altered his appearance over the years), and attack others in search of this doomsday weapon.  I didn't see the reveal coming, which was great!  I also loved that Krall wasn't just out for generic revenge, he seemed to have this crazy ideology...he was a soldier who didn't belong in the Captain's chair...he lamented that position in life...and when he ended up stranded on a planet and prolonged his life...he slowly began to believe more and more that he was better off as a soldier fighting in wars...and then that that was a better way to live. Peace, he began to believe, was bad...and strife and pain was better suited for all.

As a 50th anniversary movie, it really works...because the ideas of the Federation and unity and peace were the tenants of Trek, and this movie really does question those ideals and then hold them up to scrutiny...and in the end it shows that those ideas really are the better path.  Only through seeing this whole crew work together do we get the successful result.  Everybody plays their part, and the day is one.  It is done very organically and not in a ham-fisted preachy way...and that makes all the differences.  Also for little 50th anniversary touches, the death of Nimoy is handled quite nicely with the death of Spock Prime, and it actually plays into the new Spock's motivations and character development through out the film.  Also the line in Kirk's Captain's Log in which he feels his adventures are becoming "episodic" was a fun touch!

This was one of the finer Trek movie efforts. Probably the first time this reboot series has felt like genuine Star Trek to me...moreso than the enjoyable 2009 effort!  If this film series continues on this path?  I will be far more interested in seeing one every few years.  I know the fourth movie is apparently already in the works.  Let's hope they can pull Justin Lin into the director's chair again...because I think he seemed to really get what this movie needed to be.  Kudos to Pegg and Jung for their script that really came together and worked out very well!  Nicely done everyone involved!
NEXT TIME: Finally...A New Series!

Earth Will Fall

Story: Star Trek Into Darkness
Written By: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, & Damon Lindelof
Series: Alternate Reality Films
Year: 2013

"Star Trek Into Darkness" is a strange film....when I initially saw it, I thought it was, for the most part, an improvement on the previous film.  But upon rewatch, I've discovered that this film not only doesn't hold up well...but it also is filled with nonsense and plot holes that you just miss as the film whizzes by.  For the record, I am not in the business of holding back spoilers here (I am really writing this with the assumption you have seen it), so if you care to not know anything of the plot, characters, or ending...then move on.
So let's get started:  This film has this weak script that holds itself together because the film is flashy, moves fast and has an initially likable cast. In seeing the film a second time things really started to bug me, and I realized how many things this film got wrong, not only in a Trekkie continuity problem kind of way, but also as it's own film.  The writers aren't terribly smart...they specialize in big dumb blockbuster summer movies...and as a result their script is essentially just a list of things they think would look cool...and everything in between those scenes is just connect the dots to get from one set piece to the next.

So let's talk Khan.  The original character of Khan was a genetically engineered human from Earth's past, who was took a group of followers and left Earth after his defeat seemed imminent. In the original episode he tries to use his superior intellect to take over the Enterprise, and almost succeeds, but his new girlfriend on the ship gets cold feet, saves Kirk, and Kirk is then able to hit Khan really hard with a pipe. That Khan was genetically enhanced with a vast intellect and seemed to be in peak physical condition for a human.  That means he isn't a super soldier like from the X-Files...he is just in perfect physical condition for a human being.  The idea that Khan was this super fast and a strong Superman was created entirely for this film.  This new Khan wouldn't have lost from being beaten pretty hard by a pipe.

Now this film had to really work hard to make the idea of Khan wanting some kind of vengeance make sense.  The original episode Khan just has a big ego and believes he should have the Enterprise.  But when he was brought back in "Wrath of Khan" (his more famous appearance, thus what the majority of the viewing public remembers Khan from) he had been fueled by revenge against Kirk for leaving him on a planet that didn't sustain life long after they were dropped off.  So because in his more famous appearance all Khan wants is revenge, they have to make Khan want revenge!  But it doesn't necessarily make sense for him to want revenge if they just wake him up, so this elaborate back story is invented in which he was awoken by Marcus and then he used Khan to create a super weapon and held Khan's people it makes sense for him to babble about revenge and we can get non-fans to think "yep it's Khan alright!".  
So for whatever reason, Khan is not only a Superman who can get punched a lot and can beat up several Klingons at once, but he also has magic blood that cures everything.  Now why Khan is suddenly filled with magic cure blood... I can only assume it is because the lazy writers wanted to rehash the famous ending of Wrath of Khan, but realizing how lazy it was decided to swap Kirk and Spock's doing so they wouldn't have the advantage of Vulcan mysticism to resurrect they needed the easiest, laziest plot device they could come up with...and so it was decided to give Khan magic blood.  Cause fuck it you know?

So instead of a genetically superior human being from the past, Khan is now a Superman with magic blood. He is also a pale Englishman as opposed to a tan Indian with a flamboyant Hispanic accent.  So since Khan is a completely different character to his original counterpart...why the hell do we need him to be Khan at all?  Because Khan has name recognition to non-fans that this production team are aiming at.  Some one with only a passing interest in Star Trek would watch this and go "oh yeah I've heard of Khan".  That is literally the only reason.

See when I first saw the film I was kind of into the John Harrision idea. He was this rogue Section 31 agent who for some reason is attacking Starfleet buildings and personnel. So you make the story be that he was this experimental super soldier created by Marcus and his cohorts for this Klingon War he fears.  Harrison goes rogue because he doesn't like what has been done to him and he disagrees with Marcus plan to create a super weapon or super ships. Then Kirk can capture Harrison, we can avoid the whole nonsense scene where Khan tells Kirk who he is like it is a big fucking deal but it isn't because Kirk has never seen Star Trek before, and the rest of the movie can be about these guys teaming up to take on Marcus.  You could even have Kirk give his life to save the ship, and be resurrected by Harrison's super blood, because whatever he can have some kind of magic blood...because he isn't Khan and there are no rules for what this character can be and do yet. 

But we don't get that, he reveals he is Khan and for some reason Bones takes a blood sample from Khan for reasons that never really add up beyond the fact they decide McCoy needs a sample of his blood.  Then Bones injects the blood into a tribble as an experiment, which in my initial viewing I brushed off, but upon my rewatch I suddenly realized what weird behavior this is.  "I think I'll take a sample of this strangers blood and then start injecting it into dead animals".  That is the behavior of a psychopath. Obviously the point was so McCoy could see the tribble alive and realize he could bring Kirk back to life, but when your major plot points require such leaps of logic, maybe it's time for a rewrite.

When I saw this in the theater, I was having a decent time.  Like the 2009 film, I was enjoying the ride despite the convoluted script. Where this film lost me completely was the end.  I stuck with it despite my disappointment that they felt the need to rehash Khan, because put a spin on things by having Khan and Kirk work together.  But then they stun Khan and he has to take over the role of main villain from Marcus to get his REVENGE! on Kirk and Earth (because nobody will watch a movie set in space if Earth isn't in lazy hack writers).

Once Khan was demanding revenge, I was starting to lose interest, but Spock had a neat plan of sending his dumb torpedoes to Khan and blowing him up. Then there was an exciting Enterprise crash sequence with Kirk fighting to kick the Warp Core back into alignment to save the ship. I liked this sequence right up until it became just a lazy rewrite of the "Wrath of Khan" ending.  The original scene was meaningful because the two characters were old friends and it was played perfectly by the actors who had genuinely known each other for years.  In this the only reason Kirk and Spock are even friends is because that is what Kirk and Spock are supposed to be.  There is nothing in the first film that shows that they are good is heavily hinted that they will become best friends, but they are most certainly not best friends at the end of that picture.  This film squandered the opportunity to actually show the audience what good friends they've become by making them seem at odds for the bulk of the movie, only to force us into thinking they've been friends all along during Kirk's death scene, which loses a lot of emotional impact by just rehashing the scene and lines liberally from "Star Trek II".  It feels like they hit copy and paste from the original film and just rearranged a few things, added in a couple of lines here and there to make it seem more relevant to the film they had actually made.  It is terrible lazy writing that is meant to evoke an emotional response based on nostalgia alone.

Then Kirk dies, Spock yells "Khaaan!" which has awful delivery and feels shoehorned in because it is a famous moment, and then Spock chases Khan, who apparently is still alive and well and ready to crash his ship that should've exploded into Earth...and Spock chases him in a boring fast paced chase scene that just made me want to go home the first time I saw this.  It literally just bogs the movie down with a long pointless chase and fight scene.  It would've been vastly more effective to have Khan dead when the torpedo thing happened and not drag the movie out further because why not.

Spock, for the record, isn't even really Spock in this movie.  It was successful with audiences that Quinto played Spock as this seeming emotional Vulcan with all these emotions and passions ready to bubble up to the surface.  I can only assume it was popular because teen angst is popular.  I was only lukewarm about the whole thing.  In this movie he is rarely the logical Spock I actually enjoy, but this asshole who lets his emotions control him when it is convenient, then acts like an emotionless and unfeeling jerk when it suits him to ignore others feelings.  Also was it really necessary for Nimoy to Skype in a scene in which he reminds audiences that Khan is a bad guy?  It is really difficult to let this new cast come into their own if we keep reminding everyone about the old cast that was superior in most ways!

Now let's talk about Uhura and sexism!  So Uhura isn't a professional who can stand her own with the boys in this movie, no she is instead been relegated to girlfriend of one of the leads, who will interrupt a dangerous mission to argue with her boyfriend about feelings and their relationship...oh women, won't they ever learn?  This is so offensive to me. Why must she even be dating Spock?  Clearly she only banged Spock in the first movie to get the job she wanted (equally sexist portrayal by the way), and now she can't even focus on her job as a professional without getting into a tiff with her boyfriend?  Then there is Carol Marcus who for no reason in the middle of a mission or something she just takes off her clothes for one shot of her in underwear. Abrams and Co. probably don't even realize how sexist their film is, but it is a real slap in the face to women, who at this point in history should be portrayed with a little more depth, let alone woman living in the 23rd Century. Boy I miss the days of Kira and Dax!

Ultimately this film is enjoyable if you shut your brain off and don't watch it again...unfortunately if you watch Star Trek for intelligent entertainment, you will be disappointed.  It certainly does not hold up to rewatches. It has been argued that they would never make a film in the vein of old Star Trek again, because it doesn't appeal to the masses to make a more serious science fiction story in an adventure that I say they should look at the box office draw both "Inception" and "Gravity" had in recent years.  Exciting sci-fi/fantasy films with enough action to draw in viewers, but plenty of moments that slow down and smell the roses.  If "Gravity" can be a huge success and have a similar level of scientific accuracy as classic Trek (as both had some accuracies and inaccuracies as well as a few leaps of logic)....I see no reason why Trek couldn't someday return to it's roots. 


The Future Begins

Story: Star Trek
Written By: Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman
Series: Alternate Reality Films
Year: 2009

When I first heard about this new film, a prequel seemed a little aggravating to me, especially when the previous attempt at one (Enterprise) was so mind numbingly dull. I'd like to say that JJ Abrams involvement lifted my fears a bit, but I can't...I tried watching Lost, and it didn't appeal to me. So I'm no Abrams enthusiast, I barely knew his body of work. All of this mixed with my reservations of having anyone but Shatner or Nimoy in those roles, as well as my brutal disappointment in Indiana Jones the previous summer...I was not going to get excited for this.
But it worked. Action packed? Yes. Sure the plot that doesn't entirely make sense, but the tri-colored uniforms? YES. Space battles? YES. Decent villain? Sorta! It is a big dumb summer blockbuster with lots of effects. But good effects, and practical ones, and real sets, and with characters based on characters I grew up loving…with tons of callbacks that work (and plenty that don’t), and most importantly it is tons of fun.

Most of the cast is good. Spock is portrayed slightly unevenly, but convincing enough, Kirk is good but different, McCoy is McCoy, Chekov you will either love or hate...or a little of both, Uhura has a relationship with Spock...a little weird, Sulu is much like Takei...kinda just there but he gets a nice action scene, Pegg is perfect for Scotty. Old Spock by Nimoy is a Spock we all know and love, but he’s so old and wrinkled that now its a little embarrassing seeing him put on the ears.
A major failure of this film might be that it felt like trying to fit it into the Trek continuity to appease Trek fans, which I feel is a bit of a mistake, this movie should've have been a reboot in its own sense, DISREGARD the continuity and start anew. This movie's plot felt like it was trying a little to hard at times to force itself into saying "its an alternate reality, so its OK!" Another problem is that it tries to use the popularity of Wrath of Khan to appeal to the Trek fan. The Kobyashi Maru, the No-Win situation…these were huge themes in Khan, but in this film they are just thrown around with no real pay off. Those issues aside, I enjoyed it. It is no "Khan" but it was fun enough.

NEXT TIME: John Harrison

Star Trek: Enterprise – The Whole Series Recap

Enterprise had potential. A lot of potential. Each Trek show since TNG has tried to bring us new alien races to learn a lot about. They kept adding new races so much, that some from the original series fell through the cracks and never got fully developed.

Each series has had its “in” with an alien race. With TOS, Spock gave us most of the Vulcan mythology, on TNG it was Worf for the Klingons, with DS9 we had Quark for the Ferengi/Dax for the Trill/Kira for Bajorans/Odo for the Changelings. Hell even Dukat or Garak for the Cardassians on that one.

Voyager gave us some Maquis members, but they were mostly overlooked, especially after Seven of Nine joined up, and we began to learn more about the Borg. I guess you could sort of count Kes and Neelix for Ocampa and Talaxian...but you barely learned anything about them.

So Enterprise comes along and all these races have been explored…where do you go? Backwards of course. I actually mean that, the writers just misinterpreted the idea. In the back catalogue of races that have been virtually unexplored in the universe, that WOULD NOT cause any continuity issues with TOS we have Andorians, Tellarites, Orions, and early conflict with both Romulans and Klingons. That is five potential alien races we could either meet or battle with…not to mention that there is more than two arcs, easily, in each of those races. But no…we spend most of the time dealing with prickish-out-of-character Vulcans before finally trying to do anything resembling this.

They could have had first contact with ALL of these races. Not to mention the formation of enemies in both Romulans and Klingons, maybe even a potential alliances between those two races, and the forming of the Federation arc.

That’s still ripe with possibilities. Troubled relationships between the Andorians, Tellarites, Vulcans and Humans…and shaky relationships that slowly grow and strengthen due to the strong enemy threat looming in Klingons and Romulans.

See how FUCKING EASY THIS SHOW WAS TOO WRITE? I mean GOD. It is so annoying when I can easily spout off 5 or 6 (sometimes I’ve gotten it up to 10) potential storylines this show could have taken to be both unique, interesting, and totally fanwanky at the same time…and yet the writers for this show just rehashed old Voyager scripts for two years, and then farted around with the half thought-out and mostly going nowhere Xindi arc before FINALLY starting to even fathom the shit I just pulled out of my ass in 20 seconds.

Berman and Braga were NOT the guys to head this show. They stuck around because it was easy, not because they loved Trek or still cared a lot about the franchise, but because UPN would pay them for one more show. Their interest was clearly NOT in the mind of Trek, or they could have easily made this show great…but they just sat around pissing about and half writing episodes, and then throwing in generic plot devices until the 45 minute quota was met.

Enterprise could have killed the franchise, and when it ended I thought Trek was over. It may be over for a good long time on television still. It was amazing that it was able to bounce back after 11 shitty years (that’s Voyager and Enterprise I am pointing out, DS9 is exempt) of television and the mediocre TNG films.


Star Trek: Enterprise - Season 4 Recap

The fourth season is most obviously the best of the series. Is it great Star Trek? No…it is decent or maybe even good Star Trek, but not great. I enjoyed this season for being exactly what they claimed the show would be when it was just starting…good ol’ TOS-inspired Star Trek.

Finally the show starts to tap into arcs and storylines handed to them on a golden platter…things like the formation of the Federation, Romulan threat, Andorians/Vulcans/Tellarites, Orion slave girls…

Enterprise was given these plots as potential story ideas long before the show began, not intentionally of course, but these untapped sources for stories, which do NOT disrupt continuity, were ready for the taking. The producers and writers squandered those opportunities for three years, only hinting at them but never fully exploring those possibilities, then they only half achieved them here throughout this season.

Unfortunately the sad conclusion I must come to is this: if this had been the first season of Enterprise, it might have had many great years to improve upon itself. In reality, it feels like the rocky first season of the other Trek spin-offs, but it’s the FOURTH. While the whole season is filled with these 2 and 3 part mini-arcs, most of them fall flat in their last episode…leaving lame or unsatisfactory conclusions to most of the plots. I do think this was the perfect format for the series, they just struggled to find good conclusions.

Had this been the first season, they could have found their feet and maybe gone onto to be one of the best Trek series. But Berman and Braga dragged their feet for three years, losing viewers and fans slowly but steadily…and by the time they began to take a backseat to Manny Coto, there was hardly a show left to save, or an audience left to watch it.

NEXT TIME: Whole Series Recap

End of the Berman Era

Story: These Are the Voyages…
Written By: Rick Berman and Brannon Braga
Series: Star Trek: Enterprise
Year: 2005

Terrible finale to an already lukewarm show. I know what Berman and Braga were going for in this one, but it fails to do so until the final few moments. The plot takes place 10 years after “Broken Bow”, so about 6 years after the rest of this season. You wouldn’t know it though. Where did our character go in the next six years? Nowhere. Hey just like the show!
Everyone is exactly in the position they were when the show began. Nobody has advanced in rank, no one has changed their position on the ship…No one has done anything with their careers…and when you look at this series on a whole…it ain’t that surprising. Sort of the same way you can look at this show, see things like “but Picard first encountered the Borg!” or “TNG made first contact with the Ferengi!” Or “Why doesn’t Starfleet know about the Klingon ridge killing disease?” Because these people are probably so incompetent they took absolutely no notes on their dumb mission…and they couldn’t advance in rank.

The big problem is that it doesn’t serve as a finale for Enterprise, but tries to serve as a finale to all of televised Trek. So we are looking at this Episode through the eyes of Riker and Troi. As this is the last episode of TV Trek to air after 18 long years, it almost makes sense to have it from the perspective of the show that began that journey 18 years prior. But it is sloppy, they stop the action in the holodeck and it literally STOPS THE ACTION of the show.

Essentially we are on the holodeck, so we get a distant view of our main cast, they are pushed to the sideline for a guy who doesn’t quite fit into his costume anymore. And they kill off the only guy who was consistently interesting in the regular cast in a death almost as senseless as Tasha Yar.

The only thing they did get right was the final moment of the show. Ending Trek on TV after 18 years, the lines “Computer, End Program” seem both sentimental and well thought out, and having Picard, Kirk, and Archer reciting the famous opening lines of TOS and TNG. It is a nice little touch; too bad they waited until the last moments to realize they were writing a finale.

NEXT TIME: Enterprise Season 4 Recap

Earth First

Story: Terra Prime
Written By: Judith Reeves-Stevens & Garfield Reeves-Stevens and Manny Coto
Series: Star Trek: Enterprise
Year: 2005

Both parts of the Paxton story are fairly solid. I wouldn’t say either blows me away, but I enjoyed them, and found Weller to be quite good. They aren’t big action heavy episodes, but they are well written allegorical tales, in classic Trek fashion...and the backdrop for these allegories are stories about the founding of the Federation...this is really what Enterprise was meant to be from the get-go.
I think this episode does it’s best to tie up as many loose ends as it can, it closes up this particular story, and wraps up some other loose ends. The stories may feel rather bland at times, but at least it feels like Trek.

It is a shame that this is the last true episode of Enterprise, as the next episode is a poor finale for this particular series or cast. But at least they did their best to right the wrongs of previous seasons this final year.

NEXT TIME: Valentine to the Fans