Monday, April 21, 2014


FLASHBACK REVIEW:  Star Trek:  Nemesis (2002) **½

Despite the critical failure of "Insurrection," fairly strong box-office allowed for one more attempt at a Next Generation movie. It had been four years since the release of the previous entry, however, and Paramount execs had to have been nervous about what would happen to one of their biggest franchises.

The plot involves a coup in the Romulan hierarchy by a Reman called Shinzon (Tom Hardy), a military slave, who falsely offers peace with the Federation. It is revealed that Shinzon is actually a clone of Captain Picard, abandoned amidst a political shift in the Romulan society. He needs Picard's blood to survive, and will use any means to attain it.

This basic story could have made an interesting movie, I suppose, but the overall feeling is again of an extended TV episode. It lacks the personality and freshness of their triumphant "First Contact" adventure. Perhaps the constraints of the character story arches and the fact that so much was explored on the 7 season run of the crew's TV incarnation combined to make it difficult to expand on its themes for the big screen. In spite of a potentially intriguing villain and a major character's ultimate sacrifice near the end of the film, very little in this entry resonates for the audience. Thus it was the final Next Generation film. Another seven years would pass before the franchise would continue in the movies.

FLASHBACK REVIEW:  Star Trek (2009) ***½

Seven long years of speculation and waiting. Was "Star Trek" a dead franchise? Would the Next Generation crew get a chance to redeem itself? Would a new crew be introduced? Would one of the other numerous TV crews get their shot at the big-screen?

Well, the answer is this reboot by director J. J. Abrams ("Super 8"). The film seems to take us back to the story of the original crew, but we learn that time travel by the film's main villain Nero (Eric Bana) as well Ambassador Spock (once again portrayed by Leonard Nimoy) has created an alternate time-line. So while we see the beginnings of Star Trek unfold, there are fresh and new possibilities to explore. In this way, Abrams and the writers have fashioned a tribute and a reboot that also works on its own. For die-hard fans, this is like revisiting reliable old characters, but for new fans it is a great entry point into the franchise.

Certainly it helps to be familiar with the interactions of the characters in previous incarnations, but the structure of film does not require that a viewer be overly acquainted with them.
The cast is well-placed, and the actors give spot-on interpretations without going into all-out imitation. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban are absolutely Kirk, Spock and McCoy, while Zoe Zaldana, Anton Yelchin and John Cho are superbly cast as Uhura, Chekov and Sulu. Simon Pegg may not look quite like James Doohan, but he is instantly recognizable as everyone's favorite Starfleet engineer Scotty.

Then there is the villain, the Romulan Nero (Eric Bana), who seeks revenge on Spock for his participation in a failed rescue attempt that went haywire. He blames him for the death of his family, and in return wishes to have the Ambassador experience the same. He is a worthwhile bad-guy-with-a-sympathetic motivation for the story.

Another thing that works in this film are the action scenes, which were filmed with relatively little in the way of blue or green screen effects. Abrams insisted on using as many real sets and locations as he could, which adds to the feeling of reality. The music by Michael Giacchino is also well-suited, enhanced by a rousing arrangement of Alexander Courage's original Star Trek theme used during the closing credits. The film's makeup won the first-ever Academy Award for the franchise, while it also received nominations for sound, sound-effects editing and visual effects. Criddic also gave the film a win for makeup, while nominating it for Best Supporting Actor (Quinto), Film Editing, Sound and Visual Effects.  Let's hope this version of the series lives long and prospers.

FLASHBACK REVIEW:  Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) ***

Expectations were high after the wildly entertaining and satisfying 2009 reboot, one of the few Star Trek movies to ever flirt with being nominated for a Best Picture Oscar nomination (and maybe the first to be talked about seriously as a contender). It didn't make it, but it was one of the biggest box-office draws of the year and generally successful among the critics. I liked it a lot, too.

With an established cast and character relationships set-up for a sequel, returning director J. J. Abrams could just dive into the action in a prologue where we encounter Kirk and crew on a primitive planet where a mission sort of goes off script and Kirk violates protocol. Although mostly unrelated to the rest of the film, the scene does create a situation based on the personality differences between Kirk and Spock that informs much of what follows.

A Starfleet member is said to be behind a series of terror attacks and the Enterprise crew is ordered to take him out. Certain events make Kirk suspicious of the motivations behind the ordered mission and it is revealed that things are not quite as they seem.

This sequel is best experienced if you have little to no knowledge of plot details. Admittedly, that is tough to do with so much information out there, but I like to do my best to avoid knowing everything about a movie before I see it. In this case, it adds suspense and interest to several plot twists.

The film is, yes, darker than the first "alternate time-line" crew film. Having solidified character relationships in the first film, it frees the film makers up to take them in intriguing directions. The fact that this is almost as enjoyable as the first leaves me a bit concerned that J. J. Abrams is vacating the director's chair to helm the next "Star Wars" installment. Hopefully, whoever takes over can continue the momentum gained by this revitalized franchise.  "Star Trek Into Darkness" received Academy Award and Criddic nominations for Best Visual Effects.

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