Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Toronto Blue Jays: So Far So Good...

Now, I know that this is a post that will likely be somewhat divisive. On one side of the family there are New York Yankee fans, and on the other side of the family there are Toronto Blue Jays fans. Let me just say right now, if you don't already know, I'm a Toronto Blue Jays fan! I have been all my life.

Coming up on Memorial Day weekend and so far so good for the Blue Jays. You may have noticed I added the baseball standings as one of my little sidebar gadgets. Right up front at 27-14 and 3.5 games ahead of the Boston Red Sox are the Toronto Blue Jays! And, I must add, they have one of the best records in all of Major League Baseball at the moment, second only to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Now it's still very early in the season and the Blue Jays have been known to falter near the middle of the season, while teams like the Red Sox and the Yankees are well known for their second-half turnarounds that result in post-season births. No offense to offense to my Yankee fan family members, but I hope that this season isn't one of them. The Red Sox and Yankees have dominated the American League East for far too long, and just like last year was the year for the Tampa Bay Rays to get their shot, it's time for the Blue Jays to get their first shot at the post-season since their World Series victory in 1993. That's a very long time, if you ask me.

Will history repeat itself and the Blue Jays falter and finish in 3rd yet again, with the Red Sox and Yankees charging forward and battling it out for 1st place? Or will the Blue Jays' strong start hold through the season and we see them head into the playoffs?

Let's sit back and watch!

Monday, May 18, 2009

My Take on Jon & Kate + 8

Over the last year or so, Maggie and I have closely followed the life of Jon and Kate Gosselin and their family of 8 children. For those of you who are not familiar with the Gosselin bunch, they are a family of twins and sextuplets whose lives are filmed frequently and air weekly on TLC in half hour episodes. Each episode varies from trips to Disney World, to the bakery, and to life around the house. By the way, each of these trips to Disney World and any other special resort are all paid for by the resort, essentially giving this family of ten a free ride to a place they otherwise could not afford.

Without going into too much of a history, the show is about to enter its fifth season, with the twin girls around age nine and the sextuplets (three boys and three girls) having recently turned five. The show has seen the family launch to stardom, with the mother, Kate, having written two books (that I'm aware of) and frequently traveling around the country to do book signings and lectures on parenting.

Since Maggie and I first started watching, we have seen a dramatic change in this family. And I'm not talking about the kids growing up. While, yes, the kids have grown up and appear to be wonderful kids, we have also seen the toll that it has taken on the marriage of Jon and Kate. Kate's appearance has drastically changed over the last few years since the start of the show, and recently I discovered that she has her own bodyguard (more on that in a minute), which I find somewhat ridiculous. While I don't know what kind of reception that Kate receives when she is on her tours around the country, I personally find it hard to believe that she would be welcomed by hoards of screaming fans who merit the protection of a bodyguard. But, who knows? There are times where it feels like Kate has allowed this "celebrity" status to go to her head, and even carries herself as though she is a full-blown Hollywood celebrity instead of an average parent.

One of the other changes we've noticed is in the interaction between Jon and Kate. Even at the beginning, I've never seen much chemistry between them. There are times where I've found myself wondering if they are even in love. There are times where it's seemed more like a partnership then anything else. Maggie and I have also been shocked at the way Kate treats her husband. She frequently cuts him off in their interview segments, demeans him and insults him, and even mocks him. There was one interview where she even said:
"Stop breathing so loud, I can't hear myself talk."
There is frequent arguing and bickering during filming. While this is natural in any marriage, the amount that they do is somewhat disturbing, especially when it takes place in public. I have even fallen under the impression that Jon does not like her. Kate frequently does what she can to be the center of the attention, even appearing uninterested in anything that does not involve or is not instigated by her.

Near the end of this past season, it was openly stated that Jon does not like the show, does not want to continue the show, and wants to be able to live his life normally. He is not able to do this with cameras frequently around, and wants to be able to go to the store and not worry about people recognizing him. Kate, on the other hand, wants to continue the show, feeling that it is great for her family and that it has no impact on the children or their marriage.

I disagree. Especially when, this past week, Jon and Kate have been the cover story of every major magazine. The topic; their marriage troubles. With rumors and gossip circling that Jon has cheated on Kate and Kate has cheated on Jon with her bodyguard, it definitely appears that their is trouble in paradise. Despite what Kate is saying, the show about their lives appears to be taking its toll on their marriage, and will most likely devastate their children, because if their marriage falls apart, it will be done on television, documented for their children to watch for the rest of their lives.

Yet, Kate does not want to end the show. In fact, there are rumors that if they were to separate or divorce, the show would continue as simply Kate + 8, documenting how this single mom is raising 8 children all by herself. Honestly, I would not watch anymore. I feel that this is bordering on exploitation of the children, if it has not already. This family has made millions off of this show and all the book deals and tours that they have secured. And yet, their family is falling apart because they have allowed the entire world into their lives to witness their day-to-day lives.

The upcoming fifth season will no likely be a ratings bonanza for TLC. But it will also come under serious scrutiny. Will we witness the fall of Jon and Kate's marriage? Or will it be glossed over, ignored and treated as though it is not taking place? If their marriage troubles are ignored, then the show loses its credibility as accurately depicting their lives openly and honestly. If it depicts the collapse of their marriage, there will be calls for the show to end so that this family can pull themselves together.

I feel the show should end now. This show has taken its toll on this family, and these children will be scarred for the rest of their lives, especially if they are able to pop in a DVD and watch their parents' marriage fall apart. This family needs to given room to fix their marriage, if it is at all fixable. And if it cannot be fixed, they need to be allowed the privacy they deserve, and spared the humiliation of going through divorce on national television. As it is, that probably will not happen anyway, with or without the show.

Very few families can survive the rigors of having their lives broadcast openly on national television, and the Gosselin family is another one of those families who cannot escape that fate. I wish them all the best and hope that they can resolve their differences, but I cannot see that happening as long as their house is filled with cameras.

I implore Jon and Kate to ditch this show and to focus not on the celebrity that they have acquired, but to focus on their kids. They've already gone through abnormal lives, and it's time that they be allowed to grow up like normal kids. They need to save their family and tough it out like any normal family would.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Soundtrack Review: Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Jerry Goldsmith)

Despite the film itself being a disappointment, Jerry Goldsmith's score is not, going on to become known as the definitive Star Trek movie score. Goldsmith's score is completely memorable, establishing timeless themes, including a main theme that would not only represent the Enterprise, but also be later used a the theme for Star Trek: The Next Generation, cementing its place as the definitive Star Trek theme.

Goldsmith's score is very diverse and innovative, as it is heard in many different forms from majestic and stately (Track 2 - Main Title & Track 4 - Total Logic) to romantic (Track 6 - The Enterprise). In addition to a main theme, he always created two other very memorable leitmotifs for the film. The first we are introduced to is the theme to represent the Deltan navigator Ilia and her romance with Will Decker (Track 1 - Ilia's Theme). The theme remains Star Trek's only love theme. Goldsmith spreads it throughout his score, particularly at the film's climax (Track 15 - Vejur Speaks & Track 16 - The Meld). It remains a highlight of the score.

The second theme is the Klingon theme (Track 3 - Klingon Battle). The theme perfectly represents Star Trek's most popular alien villains, and would later be used to represent the herocis of Lt. Worf in Goldsmith's TNG scores. While composers for both later movies and later series would try to create a theme of their own for the Klingons, no theme remains as successful or popular as the theme originally crafted by Goldsmith.

Goldsmith's score for the longer, effects-driven sections of the movie are some of his finest writing, mixing the right amount of suspense, mystery and drama that was otherwise lacking in the movie itself. Goldsmith's innovation of what would become known as the "Blaster Beam" (heard at the beginning of Track 3 - Klingon Battle and most of "the Cloud" portions of the score) is a trademark of Goldsmith's ability to come up with new and different sounds to enhance the universes he has been assigned to musically represent.

Goldsmith's theme is a classic, and while it was nominated for an Academy Award in 1979, it's a shame that it did not receive the Oscar itself as it truly deserved. Jerry Goldsmith set a very high standard that would not be easy to live up to. This is truly a great, epic score that unfortunately was far superior to the movie it represented. Whether it's fair or not, every Star Trek score to-date is compared to this Goldsmith gem.

(of 5)

Track Listing
1. Ilia's Theme (3:03)
2. Main Title (1:24)
3. Klingon Battle (5:28)
4. Total Logic (3:44)
5. Floating Office (1:04)
6. The Enterprise (6:00)
7. Leaving Drydock (3:31)
8. Spock's Arrival (2:01)
9. The Cloud (5:00)
10. Vejur Flyover (4:59)
11. The Force Field (5:04)
12. Games (3:42)
13. Spock Walk (4:21)
14. Inner Workings (3:03)
15. Vejur Speaks (3:51)
16. The Meld (3:10)
17. A Good Start (2:27)
18. End Title (3:16)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

$80 Million and Counting

Star Trek's finally been released. And not only do I find it be an absolutely spectacular movie, apparently so do a lot of other people. As of this morning, Star Trek's rating on RottenTomatoes was at 95%, with 226 positive reviews, and only 11 negative reviews. This makes it probably one of the most well reviewed movies I've ever seen on the website. While Metacritic.com lists it at 83% based on 37 reviews, that's still considered "Universal Acclaim" by that website.

So it's been well reviewed, and I wouldn't be surprised to see some technical acknowledgment by the Academy Awards next year, but does that translate to financial success? The answer is yes!

As of Monday night, from pre-midnight screenings on Thursday night through the end of the weekend, Star Trek has brought in $79.2 million! This is extraordinary for a Star Trek movie, considering the most successful opening weekend any Trek movie has had was First Contact's $30.7 million in 1996. Star Trek smashed that, and in its first weekend has already grossed more then Nemesis ($43.4mil), The Final Frontier ($52.2mil), Insurrection ($70.2mil), The Undiscovered Country ($74.9mil), Generations ($75.7mil), The Search for Spock ($76.5mil), and The Wrath of Khan ($78.9mil). It will more then likely become the biggest success of any Star Trek movie, considering the highest grossing film was The Voyage Home, at $109.7 million.

I encourage everyone to not only see it, but feel free to share your thoughts and feelings by commenting under my review of the film, and vote on my poll on what you feel is your favorite Star Trek movie! I have to be honest, I haven't yet voted because I'm waiting to take Maggie to see it so that I can get a better feel of how well it holds up on second viewing before I decide on what I feel my favorite film is. But I encourage you to vote on it! And if you can, see it in IMAX! Josh and I saw it in IMAX and it was quite an experience! That is the only way to see a movie! The picture was perfect and the sound was crystal clear! It was awesome!

All I can say is bring on the sequel!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Review: Star Trek

Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Produced by: J.J. Abrams & Damon Lindelof
Written by: Robert Orci & Alex Kurtzman
Executive Producers: Bryan Burk, Jeffre Chernov, Alex Kurtzman & Robert Orci
Cinematography by: Daniel Mindel
Edited by: Maryann Brandon & Mary Jo Markey
Production Designed by: Scott Chambliss
Costumes by: Michael Kaplan
Music by: Michhael Giacchino

Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Ben Cross, Bruce Greenwood, Winona Ryder, Eric Bana, Leonard Nimoy

2009 / 126min / Rated PG-13 (for sci-fi action and violence, and brief sexual content)

Young James T. Kirk and Spock must overcome their own personal differences to battle a vengeful Romulan from the future who is bent on the destruction of the Federation.

If you want to make a prequel that not only successfully reboots a classic franchise but also honors that same franchise, this is the movie to look at. JJ Abrams' vision for the 23rd century changes everything we know about the universe of Star Trek (yet stays the same) and manages to tell a thrilling, epic adventure story.

As a long-time Trek fan, I had my reservations about this movie and what it was setting out to do. It's hard to craft a prequel where you feel suspense because you know how things will turn out in the end. That's not the case here, as writers Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman deliver a story with enough twists and turns that you quickly realize that this Star Trek universe is different from the one we've known for the last 43 years. With the shocks that take place here, you know that anything can happen. There are some real gutsy changes made to the Star Trek universe, but that's okay, because they're told with so much confidence and conviction that you believe in them and want to know where they're taking them.

There is so much to praise about this movie that it's hard to find a place to begin. Might as well start with the script. Orci and Kurtzman's script is smart. It's one of the first movies in a long time where I can remember not feeling like a scene or a line was wasted. Everything that takes place on screen is relevant. Nothing is filler, it all matters and plays a part in the bigger picture. The dialog is fresh and witty, yet familiar. Orci and Kurtzman brilliantly found the voices for each of these characters, as though they were involved in the original series themselves. At the same time, they manage to weave in trademark phrases from the series that would normally be eye-rolling, yet in the context in which they're used, they work. A fun little bit is the nice homage that is paid to the series red shirts with this movie's own red shirt character (you'll know him when you see him), and his outcome is quite fitting and somewhat amusing.

Their screenplay has all the perfect elements that make a great Star Trek movie. A great villain, plenty of action and adventure, thrills and excitement, an unexpected romance, and plenty of humor. In fact, this is easily the funniest Star Trek movie I've ever seen, even funnier then, yes, The Voyage Home.

My one issue with the script is how neatly everyone falls into place by the end of the movie. While it strains credibility, the nature of the movie and just how fun a ride it is makes it easy to forgive this minor nitpick.

The special effects are amazing. From the get go, this movie's visual design is amazing. These are the bests effects I've seen in a long time. The look and sound of this new universe is absolutely incredible and it sweeps you up in the atmosphere that is trying to be established. I was sold on the look of the Enterprise. This ship looks beautiful and its glory shots are quite a sight to behold. And the interiors of the ship are magnificent, from the bridge to the transporter room, corridors, sickbay. Even the inner workings of the ship in the engineering section, while different, were quite good and fit in. This is a grittier, more worn-looking universe, much along the lines of Star Wars, but it's a welcome change.

Michael Giacchino's score is top notch, with a brilliant theme that is so flexible it can be used in many different ways, from romantic, suspenseful to heroic. His score for the action is some of the most pulse-pounding action music I've heard in a while. His score is never distracting or overpowering. It completely enhances the film.

The pace never lets up. JJ Abrams' direction grabs you from the very beginning and never lets go until the very end. The pace is so good, the story so engaging, that the two hour running time flew by. I didn't want this adventure to end, I wanted more! Abrams knows how to grab an audience's attention, and he does with one of the most engaging sequences I've seen in any Star Trek movie. The first ten minutes are so thrilling, powerful and poignant that I had a lump in my throat by the time the main titles appeared onscreen.

One of my biggest worries was in the casting of this movie. For anyone else who is worried, worry no more. They could not have casted this movie any better. All the supporting players from Zoe Saldana as Uhura, Simon Pegg as Scotty, John Cho as Sulu, and Anton Yelchin as Chekov have completely embodied these characters. The make you forget that there was someone else in these roles before them. Saldana really standsout as her take on Uhura is greatly improved over Nichelle Nichols', having been given a more significant role. Simon Pegg is hilarious as Scotty.

Karl Urban holds very true to DeForest Kelley's interpretation of Dr. McCoy, but he nevers veers into parody. Urban is hilarious and while he didn't get as much screen time as I would have liked, he makes the most of the time that he has and becomes this classic character.

Eric Bana does not have a lot of screen time as villain Nero, but he is absolutely brilliant. Filled with menace and power, Bana pulls you right in. He might not be Star Trek's best villain, or even the most dangerous, but he is the perfect villain to test out this freshman crew. Bana does a magnificent job.

Bruce Greenwood brings a sense of credibility to the movie. Greenwood's Christopher Pike is strong and very fatherly, and Greenwood's performance in his limited screen time is quite good.

It's great to see Leonard Nimoy back as Spock in an extended cameo. I must say that his performance is quite good. I had forgotten that Nimoy was in the movie until he first appears on screen, mainly because the movie was so good and so engaging that I thought of nothing else. So when Nimoy first appears on screen, it's quite a thrill and helps to tie this new Trek into old Trek.

Now on to the two standouts; Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto. This is their movie, and their performances would make it or break it. They make it. Quinto is very true to Nimoy's performance as Spock, and it must have been quite intimidating to share the scene with the originator of the role, but Quinto nails it. He not only manages to hold true to the original Nimoy performance, but he is able to bring something new to the table that adds a great depth and humanity to the character.

Chris Pine will probably rise to stardom from this role. He is James T. Kirk, to the point that you forget completely about William Shatner. Pine could easily have fallen into an impersonation William Shatner that would've made this seem like an SNL sketch, but he doesn't. Pine embodies Kirk, nailing the arrogant swagger, the cockiness and confidence, while giving him a lot of depth that not even Shatner could give until the movies. I totally bought Chris Pine as James T. Kirk, and when he finally appears as the captain of the Enterprise, you can't help but smile because you know you're watching an old childhood hero take to his rightful place.

Despite what the previews may say, Star Trek is not filled with as much action as you would think. Yes, the action is plenty, but this isn't an action flick. It's a buddy movie, with the attention always on the relationship between Kirk and Spock. Star Trek is a movie not driven by plot or action. It's driven by the characters, and that's incredibly important. The characters make the decisions on where this story goes. Much credit must be given to JJ Abrams would could easily have focused entirely on the spectacle, but he keeps the focus very personal. Watching the relationship between Kirk and Spock grow from disdain and anger is quite a lot of fun to watch, and you see the beginnings of what would become one of television's most endearing friendships.

The foundations for these characters is perfectly laid out without missing a beat. They are established as the movie flies on by without slowing it down. That's great character development; when the development takes place without interrupting the story. These characters grow from the events of the story, while at the same time driving it forward. The writing is brilliant, and JJ Abrams' direction is perfect. I look forward to their plans for these characters in the future. The groundwork has been done, now its time for JJ Abrams and company to play. George Lucas needs to take notes; this is what the Star Wars prequels should have been like.

I mentioned earlier there are big changes made. It's easy to see how many Star Trek fans are going to have problems with this movie because of these changes. But the thing they need to realize that this is a new Star Trek for a new time, and it needs to be different. One of the problems Star Trek suffered from in the past was that it was constrained by the universe it had created. The filmmakers made a wise decision in wiping the slate clean to explore new realms of story telling, but they did it in such a way that while they have created an alternate Star Trek universe, it is built from the universe that was already established. It's too bad many Star Trek fans are going to ignore this attempt, because it's one of the ways that JJ Abrams and company really tried to honor what has come before.

Star Trek is filled with spectacular special effects, breathtaking special effects, a beautiful musical score, perfect casting, and lots of thrills, chills and emotion that one can't help but be found breathless and smiling with glee when it's all over. This is both the most energetic Star Trek movie I've ever seen, as well as one of the most energetic and fun movies I've ever seen period. It's quite a ride! The characters are always the focus, and it makes for a wonderfully delightful movie experience that I can't wait to experience again and again. This could easily be one of the best Star Trek movies, if not the best. Only time will tell. In the meantime, it's a new Star Trek for a new age, and I've been beamed aboard this adventure.

Star Trek is back!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Review: Star Trek: Nemesis

Directed by: Stuart Baird
Produced by: Rick Berman
Screenplay by: John Logan
Story by: John Logan, Rick Berman & Brent Spiner
Executive Producer: Martin Hornstein
Cinematography by: Jeffrey L. Kimball, A.S.C.
Production Designed by: Herman Zimmerman
Edited by: Dallas Puett, A.C.E.
Costumes by: Bob Ringwood
Co-Producer: Peter Lauritson
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith

Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marinia Sirtis, Tom Hardy, Ron Perlman, Dina Meyer, Jude Ciccolella, Shannon Cochran, Michael Owen, Kate Mulgrew

2002 / 116min / Rated PG-13 (Sci-Fi Action Violence and Peril and a Scene of Sexual Content)

When a coup d'etat on Romulus overturns the established government, the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, on their final voyage together, are sent to meet with the new praetor, Shinzon. But Captain Picard discovers a surprising connection to Shinzon, in that Shinzon is a younger clone of himself.

Nemesis is not a bad movie, it's only a decent movie. There I said it. Despite it being one of the most hated film by all of fandom (in some circles of fandom, the most), it's biggest faults probably lie in it being the wrong Star Trek movie at the wrong time, which probably is why it is so hated.

Nemesis has plenty of good ideas and has the right goals, but it lacks the heart and soul needed to make it a big success. The plot is filled with holes, but even a plot that is thin or filled with holes can be forgiven if it's got plenty of heart and soul. Look at The Voyage Home; thin on plot, but filled with heart, and one of Trek's best. It also suffers from a story that borrows too many elements from previous Trek entries.

From the beginning, writer John Logan and producer Rick Berman said their example for making Nemesis was The Wrath of Khan. Reasonable, considering The Wrath of Khan is widely considered the definitive Star Trek movie. Unfortunately, instead of using it as an example of how to make Trek movie, Logan and Berman used it as their template. Borrowing peace elements from The Undiscovered Country, an evil twin from TNG itself, a super weapon right out of The Wrath of Khan, a big space battle and the death of a beloved character at the end are all elements that have been used in previous Star Trek entries. Unfortunately, they were done better. Nemesis feels too derivative.

The great thing about the Genesis device in The Wrath of Khan was that it was a means to a better future that could easily be manipulated into a deadly weapon. That's not so in Nemesis. A deadly weapon is used as a deadly weapon. For The Wrath of Khan, producer Harve Bennett wanted something that stayed true to the principals of Star Trek, hence the Genesis device's terraforming properties. In Nemesis, thaleron radiation is a made-up biological weapon that does not try to improve anything, only destroy.

The big battle at the end may be impressive in terms of technical and visual wizardry, but in terms of suspense it doesn't match the duke-out at the end of The Wrath of Khan. Khan's brilliance was in that it was two ships that were blinded trying to battle on another and the outcome was determined by strategy. In Nemesis, there is no strategy; merely whoever scores the most hits wins. It's neither compelling nor inventive, and while it is impressive, it's lacking in creativity and enthusiasm. We've seen plenty of battles in Star Trek, and many have been done better then this.

Some of the lack of heart is a result of very little characterization for the cast of The Next Generation. This is meant to be their final voyage, with several key members of the crew heading off for new careers. It takes risks in its marriage of Riker and Troi, and Riker's promotion and reassignment to captain of another starship. Unfortunately, the attempt at giving a family theme fails because most of the characterization is rumored to have been left on the cutting room floor. Nemesis' first cut was rumored at being 160 minutes, with the theatrical release clocking in at 116 minutes. That's a lot of material that is cut out, and most of it is rumored to be character moments. It's greatly missed. Whether it would've improved the quality of the movie depends on whether it was solid material, but one can only wonder. As it is, Nemesis lacks the heart that should be present for TNG's swan song.

Unfortunately, while it is meant to be TNG's final journey, including the death of Data, there are elements that are present to suggest that they were ready for another film. It almost cheats the audience, especially when concerning the death of Data. It makes Data's death almost meaningless, when really it should be as meaningful and significant as Spock's death in The Wrath of Khan.

The villain is found in Shinzon, a clone of Picard depicted by Tom Hardy. Shinzon is a mixed bag as a character. Hardy delivers a strong performance, but the writing for Shinzon is all over the map. His motives are never really clear, nor is his reasoning to destroy Earth. It's just not clear why he has this obsession with destroying Earth. This makes it all the more frustrating when Earth never really seems in danger. It's mentioned, but we never actually do see Earth in jeopardy. The threat isn't very real to us.

The supporting cast of Ron Pearlman and Dina Meyer are wasted in their respective roles. Pearlman's only purpose seems to give Riker something to do during the big battle at the end, while Meyer could easily have been left out entirely.

The pace is very slow. There's never a sense of urgency, and the first hour drags on. The car chase in the beginning is pointless and could have been left out in favor of character development. Even the climactic battle at the end, which goes on for almost half an hour, moves slowly and never really feels suspenseful. It seems more like an exercise in pyrotechnic and space battle effects then anything else. The ideas for something great are there, but they're never given the chance they needed to reach their potential.

Stuart Baird's direction is very bland, adding to the problems in pace. His lack of knowledge with Star Trek adds to the lack of heart. Someone more familiar with the franchise at the helm could possibly have resulted in a better film.

Performances are mixed. While Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner are strong, with Spiner doubling as the B4 android, the rest of the TNG cast is only going through the motions. Perhaps they've grown a little too comfortable in these roles that they are just coasting through them because of a lack of material.

The special effects are some of the best seen in a Star Trek movie. The production values are top notch, but the material that it's used for just doesn't match. Jeffrey L. Kimball's cinematography covers the sets with shadows, giving Nemesis the look and feel of Star Trek's darkest film outing.

Jerry Goldsmith's score is also rather mixed. His material during the second half with all the action is strong, if uninspired, but it's very weak during the first half. A lack of a standout theme adds to it. It's unfortunately Goldsmith's weakest Trek entry.

This isn't to say Nemesis is entirely bad. There is some good stuff in here, and the attempts to draw parallels between the Picard/Shinzon and Data/B4 plotlines is intriguing, as is the exploration of what makes us who we are. This very inner exploration is what is at the heart of Star Trek. The attempt to move the characters forward with their lives is a bold risk, departing what has been done previously. These characters are given a new direction, and it's definitely more then previous entires attempted, which were too happy in keeping everyone where they were at, just like a weekly episode. It's too bad not enough time was spent on the family and characterizations, because this could've greatly improved Nemesis. The ideas are present, but they're not given the time they need to develop. Nemesis could've used another rewrite or two to favor the characterization instead of the action.

Nemesis had plenty of potential and plenty of good ideas, but it's held back by weak execution and a sense that we've been here before, and have been there better. The results are a film that came at a time when Star Trek needed a big success, but got something weak, almost bringing down the franchise. The worst part about it is that this is the final film for the crew of The Next Generation. Not only is it a disappointing movie, it's an even big disappointment as a swan song. for the beloved crew of TNG. Their final journey should have been much, much more. Just Is it bad? No, not really. It's just not great. It's watchable, but it's lack of heart prevents it from being more, and sees The Next Generation crew retire with a whimper.

1/2 (of 4)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Review: Star Trek: Insurrection

Directed by: Jonathan Frakes
Produced by: Rick Berman
Screenplay by: Michael Piller
Story by: Rick Berman & Michael Piller
Executive Producer: Martin Hornstein
Cinematography by: Matthew F. Leonetti, A.S.C.
Production Designed by: Herman Zimmerman
Edited by: Peter E. Berger, A.C.E.
Costumes by: Sanja Milkovic Hays
Associate Producer: Patrick Stewart
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith

Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Donna Murphy, F. Murray Abraham, Anthony Zerbe, Gregg Henry, Daniel Hugh Kelly, Michael Welch, Mark Deakins, Breon Gorman, Stephanie Niznik, Michael Horton, Peggy Miley

1998 / 103min / Rated PG (for sci-fi action violence, mild language and sensuality)

A planet inhabited by the peaceful Ba'Ku turns out to be a veritable Fountain of Youth. When the Son'a and the war-torn Federation seek to exploit the planet in order to rejuvenate themselves, Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise rebel against their own people in order to defend the Ba'Ku.

Following on the heels of Star Trek: First Contact is no easy task. And Insurrection had the unfortunate position of being the follow up to one of Star Trek's best films. Insurrection isn't a bad film per say. It's entertaining and lightweight, but maybe a little too lightweight and too thin on plot and story. Not only does it play things too safe, there's never any feeling that this was a story that needed to be told, at least as a movie, as it feels like an extended episode of the series.

There are things that work about Insurrection, which I must add, is a very overstated title for what takes place here, as there is no real insurrection to be found in the story. Perhaps "rebellion" would have been a more fitting title. There are good ideas that could've been exploited to make a very dramatic film, especially the possibility of a "fountain of youth" that is discovered on the planet of the Ba'Ku, but the drama is played down in favor of lightweight comedy. Unfortunately, comedy was something the crew of The Next Generation wasn't good at.

There are too many attempts to force comedy instead of allowing it to flow naturally from the story. This is TNG's attempt to make their own verision of The Voyage Home, but what made TVH work was it was a fish-out-of-water story (pardon the pun) in which the crew was in an unfamiliar situation. The humor tries to come from the crew being rejuvenated by the fountain of youth, resulting in youthful tendencies. But when Picard, Data and Worf break out into song, Worf developes Klingon acne, Picard breaks out into dance, and Beverly and Deanna discuss the firmness of their boobs much to the puzzlement of Data, it all falls flat.

The performances from the Next Generation crew are fine. They're definitely having fun with what they're being given, and Jonathan Frakes always seems to know how to get the best out of his shipmates. It's the additional cast that is lacking. Patrick Stewart's love interest is found in Donna Murphy's Anij, but Murphy is bland, wooden and seems uninterested. And Anthony Zerbe's Admiral Dougherty is so naive, you can't help but wonder how he reached such a high rank.

F. Murray Abraham delivers a performance that is so over-the-top as the film's villain of Ru'afo that it's too comic book-like. There isn't much depth or dimension to this character. He has motivation, but that motivation is never explored until the closing act, but even then it's touched upon so briefly that it's almost as though it's an after-thought. Ru'afo turns out to be one of Star Trek's weakest villains.

There are worthy attempts at doing things with the crew that weren't done previously, but the attempts are a mixed bag. The Picard-Anij romance is never given room to bloom. It would've been interesting to see Picard with a deeper romance, but that never goes anywhere. The Riker-Troi romance is revisited from the series. I'm a big fan of the Riker-Troi romance, with Imzadi being one of my favorite novels. Unfortunately, it's not given much time here and feels like it's coming out of the blue. If these were another entry into a weekly series, it would be fine. But this is a film where we only see the crew every couple of years. There's not enough revealed here to make it substantial enough to hold any water.

Data's exploration of what it's like to be a child feels too much like we've been there before. Unfortunately, it also ignores the progress Data has made over the last two movies. It's almost as though the filmmakers needed to give Data something to do and couldn't come up with anything else. His story is probably the weakest of all the character threads. And unfortunately, Worf, Geordi, and Beverly are once again very little to do. Worf is used as awkward comic relief, bumping his head and breaking out with zits, while Beverly is almost ignored. Geordi develops natural sight for the first time in his life, but other then dumping the warp core, he's not given anything to do.

There is plenty of action for the mainstream appeal, although seeing Picard, Data, Worf, Troi and Crusher battle robotic drones isn't very interesting, although is technically done well. The best action is the space battles between the Enterprise and the Son'a ships in the midst of the Briar Patch nebula. The battle is fresh and new, departing from the normal TNG battle formula. The ejection of the Enterprise's warp core is fun, and seeing attitude from Riker is a real joy. The Son'a step on his feet, and he's ticked off about it. It's real fun!

For the most part, though, while the special effects aren't bad, they are too cartoony for a Science Fiction film franchise like Star Trek. The best effects are in space, but when placed against the natural vistas, they don't work as well. The climax is real pleasure to watch, though, as the Enterprise races across the exploding hull of the Son'a collector. The effects aren't the strongest in the franchise's history, but they work.

The ever-reliable Jerry Goldsmith delivers another very strong score, with a light, innocent theme for the Ba'Ku, and some of the series' best action music.

Michael Piller's script is a mixed bag. It feels as though there are ideas there, but they are never given time to be explored. Insurrection could've been ripe with deep, heavy drama but too much time is spent trying to make it funny that the movie nevers reaches its full potential. Jonathan Frakes proved himself a strong director in First Contact, and he does well here once again, especially with the action, but the material he has to work with is weaker then he previously got to work with. It's still solid direction, but it fails to rise far above the source material.

Insurrection isn't bad, it's just very mixed. It's entertaining, but it's thin. It has the potential for a great Star Trek movie, with plenty of heart and stays very true to the principals of Star Trek, but too much forced comedy, a weak villain and the story never opening beyond the feeling of an extended TV episode leads this to be not only one of Trek's weakest adventures, but TNG's weakest.

1/2 (of 4)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Review: Star Trek: First Contact

Directed by: Jonathan Frakes
Produced by: Rick Berman
Screenplay by: Brannon Braga & Ronald D. Moore
Story by: Rick Berman, Brannon Braga & Ronald D. Moore
Executive Producer: Martin Hornstein
Cinematography by: Matthew F. Leonetti, A.S.C.
Production Designed by: Herman Zimmerman
Edited by: John W. Wheeler, A.C.E.
Costumes by: Deborah Everton
Co-Producer: Peter Lauritson
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith

Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marinia Sirtis, Alfre Woodard, James Cromwell, Alice Krige, Neal McDonough, Michael Horton

1996 / 113min / Rated PG-13 (for some sci-fi adventure violence)

When their attempt to assimilate Earth fails, the Borg travel back in time to prevent Earth's first contact by stopping its first warp drive flight. Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the new Starship Enterprise-E set out to prevent the Borg from succeeding, while simultaneously trying to keep them from assimilate the Enterprise itself.

Following the crossover venture of Star Trek: Generations, it was time for the crew of The Next Generation to make their first solo big screen event. Many questions arose as to whether or not Captain Picard and his crew could hold their own movie without the presence of William Shatner or anyone of the rest of the original cast. Did they succeed? A very resounding yes! Not only does the cast and crew of TNG deliver a solid movie that would become their strongest outing, First Contact would also be viewed as one of Star Trek's best movies period.

After studio interference helped to sink Generations, much more freedom was given to producer Rick Berman and writers Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga. From the beginning, the best decisions they made were to not only use time travel (something they were not allowed to use in Generations), but to also employ one of Star Trek's deadliest villains; the Borg. While the Borg would go on to become overused and "defanged" in Star Trek: Voyager, here the Borg were still frightening and menacing, adding to their great success here.

The story is fresh and near flawless. The writing by Moore and Braga is very tight, and is only heightened by the directing of freshman movie director Jonathan Frakes (doubling onscreen as Will Riker). The plotting is masterful, with a slick pace that barely lets up to breathe. The main plot aboard the Enterprise, following the action of Picard, Data and Worf battling the Borg, is contrasted with the more comical plot of Riker, Geordi and Troi trying to help Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell) repair his ship for the first warp flight. The writing, editing and directing is very tight and never lets up. Nothing is visited more then it needs to be, and everything is given enough room to be explored.

The action is the most intense and most violent that has been seen in any Trek production. It's well choreographed and you really feel the intensity of every moment. The action is enhanced by the great score of Jerry Goldsmith, who is assisted by son Joel Goldsmith. Goldsmith's main theme that centers on the first contact at the end of the picture is one of Trek's most rousing and poignant themes, and a personal favorite.

Production design is top-notch. The new Enterprise-E is quite a sight, both in and out, and the cinematography is very appropriate, giving the right amount of shadows and lighting to give a creepy feeling as we wonder what lurks around the next corner. The makeup of the Borg is greatly enhanced from where it was at on the series. They are now even scarier then they ever were on the show. Also very creepy is the montage of the Enterprise being overrun and crew assimilated by the Borg. The special effects are very strong, especially during the battle at the beginning as multiple starships fight the lone Borg cube. It's too bad they didn't have this kind of technology during the series to fight the Borg, because it's truly breathtaking. One of my only complaints is that the battle lasts only a couple minutes before we move on to the rest of the movie.

My other complaint is that while it's an improvement over Generations, the screen time for some of the characters is still rather limited. While everyone is given more to do, the focus is still rather obviously on Picard and Data. Troi and Crusher still aren't given much to do. Even though Troi is given a good scene in which she gets drunk with Zefram Cochrane (Marinia Sirtis' performance is priceless), there's not much else she adds to the plot. And once again, while Gates McFadden's screen time is increased, her contribution to the overall plot is limited. While an improvement over Generations, this is an area in which the TNG films needed improving.

The performances are excellent. The cast of TNG is at their best, particularly Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner. Spiner is given much better material then he was in Generations to fully develop and explore Data's emotions. This is the Data we should have seen in the previous movie. Stewart's Picard is vengeful, but not so much so that we catch on right away. It isn't until he is called out by Michael Dorn's Worf that we realize how angry and bitter Picard is towards the Borg, and it's wonderfully realized by Patrick Stewart. The movie's best scene takes place in the observation lounge between Picard and outsider Lilly (played by Alfre Woodard). It's incredibly powerful, with great writing, acting, direction and music. Everything comes together perfectly to make it one of Star Trek's best scenes.

Praise must also be given to James Cromwell as Zefram Cochrane. Cromwell is able to be funny and serious at the same time. His performance is truly exceptional. His scenes with Jonathan Frakes are also well done, particularly their scene together in which Cochrane expresses his fear and selfishness to Riker. It's well-written and depicts Cochrane as someone who never set out to achieve great things, but ended up accomplishing them anyway. He's the reluctant hero, and Cromwell nails the character.

Alice Krige is frightening as the Borg Queen. While the character turns everything we know about the Borg on its head, here the character works well, especially against Brent Spiner. Their scenes together are electrifying and creepy. Krige is seductive, yet very dangerous and frightening, and her scenes with Brent Spiner's Data are quite enticing, filled with energy and suspense. How she pulls it off is amazing.

First Contact is one of Trek's best outings, especially for the crew of The Next Generation. When the big moment at the finale ends with the highly anticipated first contact, the payoff is earned and powerful. Goldsmith's score shines as the alien ship lands and Cochrane steps forward to meet his destiny. It's easily one of Star Trek's finest moments, which this movie is filled with.

Star Trek: First Contact is the perfect blend of elements that make Star Trek such a success; humor, action, drama, in addition to wonderful characters and great insight into the human condition. It also shows that hope for the future that Gene Roddenberry set out to depict. Every moment is near perfect and is tough competition for The Wrath of Khan. This is a monumental achievement for the Star Trek franchise, and one of its best movies to-date.

(of 4)

Monday, May 4, 2009

Review: Star Trek: Generations

Directed by: David Carson
Produced by: Rick Berman
Screenplay by: Ronald D. Moore & Brannon Braga
Story by: Rick Berman, Ronald D. Moore & Brannon Braga
Executive Producer: Bernie Williams
Cinematography by: John A. Alonzo, A.S.C.
Production Designed by: Herman Zimmerman
Edited by: Peter E. Berger, A.C.E.
Costumes by: Robert Blackman
Co-Producer: Peter Lauritson
Music by: Dennis McCarthy

Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, William Shatner, Malcolm McDowell, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Whoopi Goldberg, Alan Ruck, Jacqueline Kim, Barbara March, Gwenyth Walsh

1994 / 117min / Rated PG (for sci-fi action and some mild language)

Seventy-eight years after the apparent death of James T. Kirk during the maiden voyage of the Starship Enterprise-B, Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D must stop an El Aurian scientist named Soran from destroying an entire solar system in his quest to enter the paradise known as the Nexus.

Having just ended a 7 season run of 178 episodes, it was only natural that the cast and crew of the hit series Star Trek: The Next Generation would make the transition onto the big screen. As well as a critically-acclaimed series finale that had viewership of around 20 million, The Next Generation remains to this day the only Star Trek series to be nominated for an Emmy for Best Dramatic Series. TNG's first trip to the big screen would also feature the first meeting between Captain Kirk and Captain Picard. Star Trek was at the height of its popularity, and Star Trek: Generations was the most anticipated Trek film to-date, with so much hype surrounding it that Patrick Stewart and William Shatner both donned the cover of TIME magazine. The question was, would Generations live up to that hype?

Unforunately, it would not. Instead of being a movie that would've cemented Star Trek's popularity, Generations was a mixed bag that did only moderately well at the box office and is rather controversial amongst fans. A lot of that is probably due not only to the inexperienced of move writing by TNG writers Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga, but also due to the studio's laundry list of things that needed to be done in such a short period of time. Considering the list of things that Moore and Braga had to accomplish in their script, it's rather impressive that Generations made as much sense as it did.

Generations has great ideas and attempts big ideas. The filmmakers try to take the series and make a big transition to the big screen. There's everything present that there should be for a TV show-turned-movie. An intergalactic energy ribbon, Klingons, Worf being promoted, Data getting emotions, planets exploding, starships exploding and crashing. There's some great ideas present in this script. It's the execution that holds the movie back.

One of Generations' problems is one that became inherent in modern day-Trek; technobabble dialog and solutions. It takes place from the very beginning as we witness the christening and maiden voyage of the Enterprise-B, at which Kirk, Scotty and Chekov are honorary guests. Not only are the characters spatting out "shields at xx percent", they are also using made-up technical jargon which was never used in any incarnation of the original series. Hearing James Doohan as Scotty use this dialog is awkward, since he's never done that before, even when referring to any of the original Enterprise's technical terms, because all those were fairly easy to follow. Not here. Modern day Trek had a way of getting caught up in its own tech and made-up dialog, and with its presence within the opening minutes of Generations, it's obvious that this is a TNG production.

The humor in the opening sequence also falls flat. Something about the humor of the opening sequence feels forced. While the original crew always seemed to have a natural knack for humor, modern Trek always seemed to struggle, including TNG. Something about the attempted humor feels forced and unnatural.

The final solution to defeating the Duras sisters and their bird-of-prey is a miracle tech solution. The crew of the Enterprise-D is only able to win because of made-up technical jargon. While it is really cool to see Jonathan Frakes as Commander Riker given the order to "fire" (Mr. Frakes always had a cool way of giving orders, especially barking out "Rrred alert!"), you can't help but feel cheated as a viewer because the writers cheated in their solution to given the Enterprise ultimate victory.

Generations also suffers from a not-too-great villain. As great an actor as Malcolm McDowell is, his character of Dr. Soran is under-developed. He's not a bad villain, but he's nowhere near being a great villain. Soran is obsessed with reaching the Nexus to rejoin his family. It's as simple as that. In addition to Soran, we find villains in the former of TNG villains Lursa and B'Etor, the Duras sisters, played quite nastily by Barbara March and Gwenyth Walsh. Unfortunately, something that always kept Lursa and B'Etor from becoming great and memorable villains in TNG was that they weren't very developed. That same flaw is found here, and they don't feel very menacing. It's too bad, then, that they are the ones who use a twenty-year-old Klingon bird-of-prey to accomplish what the Borg and multiple Romulan warbirds could not do; destroy the great Enterprise-D.

One of the drawbacks to having a large cast is that there isn't enough time to give everyone something to do. Even though this is a TNG's move, some of the TNG characters not given much to do. Most of the focus is placed on the storylines of Picard and Data, while Riker, Worf and Geordi are given very secondary roles, although they are still given their moment to shine. The TNG characters who suffer the most in screen time and rather insignificant roles are Troi and Crusher. While Troi is given a nice scene with Picard, Crusher is given barely any screen time. It's sad to say, but the movie would not be any different if Troi and Crusher were cut out of it entirely. TNG was always an ensemble series, so the shift to only a couple key characters is startling and rather disappointing.

The movie's best scene is between Picard and Data in Stellar Cartography. The scene perfectly mixes together plot and characterization. It's also probably the only scene where an emotional Data works, as the rest of the movie tries to use Data as comic relief, but he only becomes annoying. But here, the characterization is perfect, and the explanation of how the plot works is spot-on. If every scene were as good as this one, this could easily have been one of Trek's best outings. It's a short but simple scene, and it's incredibly effective in accomplishing its goals.

The visceral highpoint of the movie, comes in the form of the evacuation of the Enterprise, the destruction of the stardrive section in a warp core explosion, and ending in the saucer section crashing on the planet below. From the moment Geordi pronounces the Enterprise's fate, the movie is fast and pulse-pounding and doesn't let up until the saucer comes to a halt. The effects are excellent and the destruction of the Enterprise is painful to watch, yet so thrilling you want it to go on. If you wanted to instruct anyone on how to crash a starship, this is where to look to. It's loud, it's exciting, and it's incredible!

It's downhill from there, unfortunately. This is what happens when you reach the peak of excitement with half an hour to go in the movie. The plot starts to lose credibility once we enter the Nexus, which is supposed to be so incredible that Picard should never want to leave. But he comes to the realization that he needs to head back too easily, and the Nexus turns out to be a disappointment. Also, the Nexus creates a big plot hole. Picard could leave the Nexus to go anywhere at anytime. If he can do this, why not go back to when Dr. Soran was on the Enterprise and just throw him in the brig?

The big first encounter between William Shatner and Patrick Stewart is also very disappointing. What should've been exciting and incredible to watch is dull and boring. While the acting is good from both, William Shatner carries much more charisma then Stewart and is a lot more fun to watch. Unfortunately, their great first meeting is very underwhelming.

The big finale is also underwhelming. The film ultimately boils down to three men fighting on a mountain. And Kirk's ultimate death is rather disappointing, although not as bad as many fans make it out to be. While I feel Kirk deserved a better death, at least he went down saving millions of faceless lives.

Generations is visually a success. The visual effects are top-notch. The sets of the Enterprise-D are updated to fit the scope of the big screen, the lighting darkened, and the bridge has never looked better. This is also probably the most colorful of any Trek film. The production is top-notch. This is the way to update a TV show for a movie.

Generations isn't a bad movie, it's just not an overly good one. All the right ideas are there, it's in the execution that the movie falls short. There are some really good things present, and had the filmmakers been allowed more time and more freedom, it's possible that Generations could've been the grand event it was meant to be. As is, though, Generations is rather lackluster.

1/2 (of 4)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Review: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Directed by: Nicholas Meyer
Produced by: Steven-Charles Jaffe & Ralph Winter
Screenplay by: Nicholas Meyer & Denny Martin Flinn
Story by: Leonard Nimoy, Lawrence Konner & Mark Rosenthal
Executive Producer: Leonard Nimoy
Cinematography by: Hiro Narita
Production Designed by: Herman Zimmerman
Edited by: Ronald Roose
Associate Producer: Brooke Brenton
Co-Producer: Marty Hornstein
Music by: Cliff Eidelman

Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Christopher Plummer, Kim Cattral, Rosanna DeSoto, Kurtwood Smith, Brock Peters, Rene Auberjoinois, Leon Russom, Iman, Michael Dorn, John Schuck, Darryl Henriques, Mark Lenard, Grace Lee Whitney, Jeremy Roberts, Paul Rossilli

1991 / 113min/ Rated PG

When a key Klingon energy production facility explodes, leaving the Empire with only 50 years of life, the Klingons pursuit peace negotiations with the Federation. The U.S.S. Enterprise and crew, only three months from retirement, are grudgingly assigned to escort the Klingon Chancellor to Earth for the negotiations. But when the Klingon flagship is attacked and the chancellor assassinated, Kirk and McCoy are arrested as the only two suspects, leaving Spock and the Enterprise crew to prove their innocence while discovering who is behind the plot to begin an interstellar war.

Serving as a swan song for the original cast as well as a 25th anniversary celebration, The Undiscovered Country hits all the right notes for both occasions. It successfully celebrates Star Trek's 25th anniversary with the beginnings of peace with the Klingons and simultaneously provides a very fitting end for the original cast and characters.

The story is not only very appropriate for the anniversary but also for its era. Star Trek VI essentially predicts the fall of the Soviet Union. Quite fitting, considering that the Klingons were Star Trek's Soviet Union in the 60s.

Cliff Eidelman's ominously dark score sets the tone perfectly during the credits, and as the music crescendos and climaxes, the film starts off with a bang. Literally. In just a matter of seconds, the Star Trek universe as we know it is changed forever. Within a matter of minutes, we've learned that the Klingon Empire is dying, that they are seeking peace with the Federation, and that there are many hard feelings on both sides. After all, this is a cold war that has been going on for many, many years. For these characters, especially Kirk and crew, they've only known the Klingons as their enemy. And letting go of that viewpoint is not going to be easy.

From the outset, director Nicholas Meyer (the genius behind the success of The Wrath of Khan) establishes a much darker tone. This is a different kind of Star Trek movie. A lot is at stake here, and Meyer makes it well known right away. At the same time, Meyer skillfully juggles the darker tone with lighthearted zest and tongue-in-cheek dialog that helps to offset the political drama going on. Meyer doesn't miss an opportunity to give the viewer a moment to relax before immediately kicking up the suspense again. While depicting insightful character analysis of Captain Kirk and his feelings about Klingons and the peace, Meyer never takes his eye off the big picture. This is some very skillful direction.

The final act, as the Enterprise races to stop another assassination, is incredibly suspenseful. Aided by Cliff Eidelman's score (inspired by the The Planets symphony) the suspense keeps you on the edge-of-your seat, with excellent editing as we jump back and forth between Chang gleefully shooting up the Enterprise, Spock and McCoy performing "surgery" on a torpedo, and an assassin prepare to take his shot, it's a quite thrilling finale.

While there are some small plot holes, with some answers falling into place a little too neatly, these things are easily overlooked and don't detract from the experience. There's zest and energy here and the performances are wonderful from top to bottom. William Shatner is great, with Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley both able to move back and forth between drama and small comedy. Christopher Plummer is delightful as Klingon General Chang, the villain of the film. He's so over-the-top as he recites Shakespeare while blowing holes in the Enterprise, and yet you believe it all the way because he is such a brilliant actor. Plummer's eyepiece-wearing Chang is easily one of Trek's top villains.

The performances of the main cast are spot on. You know they're having a good time as they deliver tongue-in-cheek dialog, yet we are caught up entirely in their performances. These are very fitting final performances for this cast.

The cinematography is dark and moody, adding to the suspense. Shots during Kirk and McCoy's escape from Rura Penthe are some of the most beautiful scenic images in all of Star Trek. This movie is incredibly well put together.

Cliff Eidelman's score is top notch. It is very different from any previous Trek score, yet remains true to its origins and maintains the suspense throughout.

I normally don't do this, but I can't go without mentioning the poster. It is probably one of the coolest Star Trek posters out there, and I'm waiting for the day when this poster is topped.

Star Trek VI came at the right time, repairing the damage that The Final Frontier did to the franchise's future. It is a fitting 25th anniversary celebration, while serving as a touching and wonderful send-off for the original crew. As William Shatner delivers his final captain's log featuring the Star Trek monologue while we look at these characters, we know that it is for the last time. The applause at the end is well earned, including the Starship Enterprise's final exit as she sails into the sunset.

1/2 (of 4)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Review: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Directed by: William Shatner
Produced by: Harve Bennett
Screenplay by: David Loughery
Story by: William Shatner, Harve Bennett & David Loghery
Executive Producer: Ralph Winter
Cinematography by: Andrew Laszlo, A.S.C.
Production Designed by: Herman Zimmerman
Edited by: Peter E. Berger, A.C.E.
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Costumes by: Nilo Rodis-Jamero

Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Lawrence Luckinbill, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, David Warner, Charles Cooper, Cynthia Gouw, Todd Bryant, Spice Williams, George Murdock

1989 / 107min / Rated PG

The Enterprise is dispatched to Nimbus III, "the planet of Galactic Peace", where a radical group has taken hostage the representatives of the Federation, Klingon and Romulan Empires. But the hostages are only bait, and the Enterprise is captured by its leader, Sybok, who turns out to not only be Spock's brother, but is on a quest to the center of the galaxy where he hopes to find the planet Sha Ka Ree and God.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is probably the weakest of the Star Trek films, so much so that its events are not only not acknowledged by any other Star Trek production, but nearly sunk the franchise. The only reason a sixth film was approved was because of Star Trek's 25th anniversary two years later. If it's any indication of my opinion, it is the only Star Trek movie that is not part of my DVD collection.

The Final Frontier is, quite frankly, a mess. Its tone is all over the place. There are plenty of attempts to replicate the humor that made The Voyage Home such a success, but whereas that humor flowed naturally from the story, this humor did not and was at the expense of the characters. The characters hardest hit are Scotty and Uhura. The worst example is when Scotty hits his head on a beam after stating he "knows this ship like the back of his hand". Attempts at depicting the new Enterprise's malfunctions fall rather flat.

The less said about the camp fire scene the better.

The first hour of the film meanders, doing nothing but setup for what is to come next. It is essentially an extended first act, establishing the characters, bringing them together, and moving onto the main journey. All this setup is rather misleading, as the viewer is led to believe that this moving is about the hostages. But the hostages are merely a plot device, a means for the central antagonist to get his hands on the Enterprise before moving on to the real story.

While the prospect of Sybok, a Vulcan who has chosen to shed logic in favor of emotion, is rather interesting, and he is performed adeptly by Lawrence Luckinbill, the character is never given any room to grow or develop. He's determined to reach his destination and will go through any means to obtain that goal. Sybok also has the unique ability to help people "release their pain", a concept that is never explained. Once a person's pain is released, they simply fall in line behind Sybok, performing his every deed without question. This includes most of the crew of the Enterprise, who follow Sybok like mindless robots. The crew is not at their finest here.

There is also the threat of a Klingon captain who is determined to battle a Federation starship for glory and honor, and when he learns that it is Kirk and the Enterprise, he is willing to follow Kirk to the center of the galaxy to defeat him. Not only are the Klingons rather dull and uninteresting, they add nothing to the story.

Time is spent trying to build up the threat of the Great Barrier at the center of the galaxy. No ship or probe is said to have ever returned. And yet when we reach the barrier (funny how it takes the Enterprise only a matter of hours to reach the center of the galaxy) not only does the Enterprise easily pass through the barrier, but so does the Klingon ship.

The special effects are also rather bad. The ship effects are rather unconvincing, and the barrier itself looks like a pool of writers ink that was spilled on the film.

Performances are rather bland, particularly from the Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley. It's as though they both knew this was not a good script that would not make a good movie, and were merely going through the actions. Although, to his credit, DeForest Kelley gives an excellent performance during his "pain" scene in which he euthanizes his father. Kelley's performance is great here, but in the rest of the movie he seems rather uninterested.

William Shatner tries to compensate by infusing more energy, but unfortunately with him at the helm this time, there is no one to pull Shatner in. Shatner is uninhibited, giving a hammy and over-the-top performance that, while charismatic, is not very good.

To its credit, The Final Frontier has a rather ambitious goal; the discovery of God. It's so ambitious that the filmmakers walk themselves into an impossible corner. Either this "God" is a fake and some dangerous alien, or it is the real God. If they indeed decide to make this the real God, then the filmmakers have truly discovered the final frontier and the mission is over. Once you've discovered God, what else can you discover and being anywhere near as interesting?

Obviously, the filmmakers have to go with the dangerous alien. The fake god turns out to be rather dangerous, wanting the Enterprise so that he can leave his planet where he's been trapped for a long time. It's never explained when the alien says that Sybok created the planet and pictured this alien "god" in Sybok's own image, it's never fully explained and sounds like the writers don't know what to do with this situation.

Probably the film's one positive is Jerry Goldsmith's score. Back is Goldsmith's Enterprise theme first introduced in The Motion Picture, as well as his fun and very fitting theme for the Klingons, which is given much more time due to the Klingons presence throughout the movie. Goldsmith's secondary themes for the mountain climbing sequence as well as the trek to meet God are powerful. Goldsmith is probably best known for his action music, and his score for the action infuses suspense and thrills that are otherwise missing from the action itself.

While The Final Frontier tries to do more with the core characters then any other film, the attempts fall flat. An attempted romance between Scotty and Uhura comes out of no where, and not enough is done to explore the possibility of a Chekov and Sulu friendship. The best relationship, as always, is that of Kirk, Spock and McCoy who stick together from beginning to end. Their friendship is rather touching and poignant.

Despite a bungled attempt to pose questions on religion and faith, The Final Frontier is the least satisfying Star Trek film, and hopefully will stay that way, because anything worse would surely end the franchise for sure. I rarely watch The Final Frontier and avoid watching it as much as I can, and I would not recommend this movie if you're trying to introduce someone to the franchise. In fact, avoid it altogether.

1/2 (of 4)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Review: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Directed by: Leonard Nimoy
Produced by: Harve Bennett
Screenplay by: Steve Meerson, Peter Krikes, Harve Bennett & Nicholas Meyer
Story by: Leonard Nimoy & Harve Bennett
Executive Producer: Ralph Winter
Cinematography by: Don Peterman, A.S.C.
Edited by: Peter E. Berger
Music by: Leonard Rosenman

Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Catherine Hicks, Mark Lenard, Jane Wyatt, Brock Peters, Robert Ellenstein, John Schuck, Scott DeVenney, Majel Barrett, Robin Curtis

1986 / 119min / Rated PG

The crew of the Enterprise make their way home in their captured Klingon ship to face the consequences of their actions in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. But when an alien probe sends destructive signals to Earth, causing critical damage to the planet, Admiral Kirk, Spock and crew discover that the only way to save Earth is to travel back in time to acquire a pair of humpback whales to bring them back to the 23rd century to communicate with the probe.

Just reading the brief synopsis would make you wonder that, besides being Star Trek, how this movie ever got made. But the results are marvelously fun and hilarious, turning Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home into the franchise's most financial successful and mainstream film.

A lot of that success is that this is a fish-out-of-water story, pardon the pun. The crew of the Enterprise is thrown into situations where they are in way over the heads as they travel the streets of San Francisco, trying to find directions to a naval base, obtain transparent aluminum that hasn't been invented yet, and woo a marine biologist into providing information on the humpback whales under her care.

The crew breaks into groups to find the various materials needed to return to the future successfully. The best of these groups is, quite naturally, Kirk and Spock as they encounter Dr. Gillian Taylor (Catherine Hicks) and two humpback whales, George and Gracie. Shatner and Nimoy are great in their respective roles as Kirk and Spock, with Nimoy able to infuse Spock with more humor than we have previously seen.

Most importantly, however, is the arc Spock has throughout the film. At the film's outset, Spock fails to comprehend why his friends sacrificed everything to save him. He views it as illogical, and the only reason he is traveling to Earth with them is because they are his shipmates and to offer testimony at their court martial. But at film's end, Spock stands beside them because they are his friends and it is the human thing to do. It's the most growth any character has had in any of the Star Trek films to-date. The results are Nimoy's finest performance as Spock, who tries to deal not only with the rebuilding of his mind, trying to find the balance between being Vulcan and human, but also, amusingly, how to handle cursing.

The performances from the entire cast are wonderful, particularly the main cast as they fumble from one awkward moment to another as they try to make by in 1986 San Francisco. It's obvious that these people are having a lot of fun, and it makes for very enjoyable performances.

There is no villain, only an object that serves as a plot device that leads to the characters traveling back in time to solve the problem. There really isn't much in the way of plot, but that's insignificant considering it's the characterizations But the focus isn't on the problem or the solution, it's on the people we have come to know and love over the years.

Leonard Rosenman's score is a mixed bag. While the theme is wonderful, much of his underscore is rather forgettable and does not match previously Trek scores. The highlights of his score are found in both the presentation of the main theme at the beginning and end, but the only cue of note is during the hospital chase scene in the middle of the film. Otherwise, Rosenman's score is rather hard to listen to, despite having been nominated for an Academy Award.

The cinematography, particularly of the whales, is top-notch, and the sequence of the bird-of-prey flying under the Golden Gate bridge and crashing in San Francisco Bay is quite fun to watch.

I can't let the screenplay go without mentioning. The writing is wonderful, and the dialog is fresh and witty. Also of worthy note is Leonard Nimoy's direction. Nimoy's direction of The Search for Spock was strong, but rather uneven at points. By The Voyage Home, it's obvious that Nimoy is very much at home in front of and behind the camera. He infuses the movie with so much fun and energy that it's hard to imagine The Voyage Home being equally good under the helm of someone else.

The Voyage Home might be thin in story, but that doesn't matter. It's the characters who carry this adventure, and the humor and energy that is brought forth is quite remarkable, giving Star Trek it's most light-hearted and fun outing.

1/2 (of 4)