Monday, April 21, 2014


CLASSIC FILM REVIEW:  Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) **½

"Star Trek" went off the air after a fan-letter inspired third season ended in 1969. There was a brief animated show featuring the voices of original cast members in 1973-74. In the following years, the series grew a loyal fanbase, prompting discussion of a new television series, to be called "Star Trek: Phase II." Due to the success of the films "Star Wars" and "Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind" the project was shifted to become a feature film. The end result of a long process of luring back Leonard Nimoy to return as Spock, and endless script treatments, is this Robert Wise ("The Day the Earth Stood Still")-directed epic.

Visually stunning, with eye-popping special effects and art direction, the film offers little else. Its story centers on a mysterious mass of energy that is on a collision course with Earth. While the Enterprise tries to make contact with the alien entity, an energy source creates a probe that takes over a crew member to study the ship. After endless discussion and philosophical debating, Spock eventually decides to connect with this entity, now known to be a living machine, through the Vulcan mind-meld technique. These efforts lead to the final confrontation and resolution of the story.

Much of the fun of the original series was lost in the execution of this film, which deals with its philosophical issues of the meaning of existence and the creation of a life force with utter solemnity. It is not a bad film, but it does not really feel like a Star Trek film. Luckily, the financial success of "Star Trek-The Motion Picture" led the way for a long-running franchise that is still being produced to this day.

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW:  Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn (1982) ***½

Due to the financial success of "The Motion Picture," Paramount Studios was interested in releasing another film. However, the overall feeling was that the first story lacked real tension and pace. So there was some shifting of the power-players, resulting in creator Gene Roddenberry being replaced as a direct producer with Harve Bennett. Bennett viewed all original series episodes as research and came up with the idea to use an episode entitled "The Space Seed" as inspiration for a second installment.

In that show, a super-human being named Khan threatened the Enterprise and was banished to a deserted planet. For the new film, this character (played with relish by Ricardo Montalban) returns to seek revenge on Kirk (William Shatner) when he seizes a ship landed by unsuspecting crew members and escapes his prison.
 Much of the film's drama depends on the tension between these two characters, while a subplot involving Kirk's years-earlier romance and discovery of a son bring added emotional resonance.

In bringing this sequel to the screen, the film makers sought to improve the audiences participation by allowing the characters to acknowledge the passage of time. Kirk and his crew now openly grapple with their advancing age, leading to some nice exchanges between them. Also, there is more emphasis on battle scenes. By making these changes, and not dwelling too much on philosophical questions, the new film moves at a brisker pace. The success of "Star Trek II," though, lies in the superb portrayal of its villain. Khan is a character of great pride and a lust for revenge that Montalban makes memorable in his performance. In the course of battle with the Enterprise, this dynamic causes one major crew member to make a great sacrifice to save the ship. This will lead to the third entry in the series.

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW:  Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) ***

Continuing where the "Wrath of Khan" left off, the title says it all. The crew of the Enterprise, led by Captain Kirk, attempt to retrieve Spock from where he was buried when it is discovered that he may be revived with a risky ancient Vulcan ritual. The crew runs into trouble when a cruel Klingon adversary named Kruge (a pre-"Back to the Future" Christopher Lloyd) shows up to find out about the project GENESIS, which was revealed in the previous film as a device that can change the make-up of any planet or moon. Used in the wrong hands, it can become a powerful weapon, so naturally enemies of the Federation would be eager to possess it. This conflict poses serious complications in the mission to recover Spock.

For this third entry in the series, Leonard Nimoy insisted on being hired as a director in return for reprising his role as Spock. While both then-studio chief Michael Eisner and creator Gene Roddenberry expressed doubts initially, the decision turned out to be a good one. Nimoy handled his duties well and the film is a worthy follow-up to "The Wrath of Khan." The tone of the story is mostly straight-forward, with few moments of humor, but that would be rectified in the next adventure.

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