Weekly Trek – December 12-18, 2016

As this 50th anniversary year winds down, I am spending these last several posts talking about the way the various Star Trek series, both on television and in the movies, ended.  This week we are have reached the final film featuring the Star Trek: The Next Generation cast, 2002’s Star Trek Nemesis which…

“I don’t want to watch Nemesis again.”

Do you mind? I’m trying to do the intro here.

“You’re introducing Nemesis, which means we’re going to watch Nemesis.  I don’t want to watch Nemesis.  Please don’t make me.”

Come on.  The Voyager finale was a lot better than we remembered.  I’m sure it will be fine.

“We’re going to regret this.”



So perhaps my inner voice had a point.  Before I go into specifics, let me preface this by saying I love Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG).  While I still think Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9) is the better series overall, I am more attached to TNG and its characters.  If you asked me what sci-fi universe I wanted to live it, my answer is the Enterprise-D in TNG’s 24th Century. 

As I covered a few weeks ago, the final episode of TNG, “All Good Things…,” is beautifully done and leaves our characters heading off to new adventures on the big screen.  The first two films, Star Trek Generations and Star Trek: First Contact did well, but the third, 1998’s Star Trek: Insurrection, was a critical financial disappointment.  In the ensuing years, DS9 and Star Trek: Voyager wrapped up their television runs (Voyager’s Kathryn Janeway, played by Kate Mulgrew, is actually in the film briefly.), and a prequel series, Star Trek: Enterprise, premiered but was not generally well received.

Nemesis was put into development during was could be considered a troubled time for the franchise, and overall Star Trek head Rick Berman went in a different direction for this film.  Instead of using writers and directors with past Trek experience, he turned to screenwriter John Logan for the script and Stuart Baird to direct.  Logan, who wrote Gladiator, was a Star Trek fan and also a good friend of Brent Spiner, who plays Data.  Baird was best known as an editor, but he had moved into directing action films, such as US Marshalls

The resulting film was released in December 2002.  The best comparison of what this move was like is perhaps the release of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, which came out in the summer of 1989 against films like Batman, Ghostbusters II, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  In the face of that kind of competition, Star Trek V got crushed.  Nemesis was released in the same general time frame as Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Die Another Day, and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.  But none of those powerhouses were direct competition the weekend Nemesis was released.  That particular weekend, Nemesis was up against the Jennifer Lopez vehicle Maid in ManhattanNemesis lost that head-to-head battle as well.

When it was all over, Nemesis made only $43 million domestically, the lowest amount of any Star Trek film, and $67 million worldwide against a $60 million budget.  The general rule of thumb is that a film needs to make back three times its budget to be successful, so…ouch.  The critical response wasn’t any better with the film ranking just 37% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Only the aforementioned Star Trek V is worse. 

But is the movie actually that bad?  I didn’t like it the first time, and, after watching it again with some distance, I can say yes, it really is.  If you were to go into Nemesis without any Star Trek knowledge, much of it would seem silly; however, the spaceship battle in the end might come across as kind of cool.  If you are a TNG fan, though, large chunks of Nemesis are just plain painful.

I took a bunch of notes about the things that bothered me as I was watching the movie this time, but I don’t know that it’s fair of me to inflict the whole thing upon you.  Let me just cover a few main issues I had. 

  • Picard is once again put in action hero mode, careening across a desert in a dune buggy chase and single-handedly taking on multitudes of alien warriors.  But in other scenes, he just stands there when he really needs to DO SOMETHING!  This is particularly egregious at the end of the film when he stands around at the climax and basically has to wait for Data to show up to save the day.
  • Since he presumably had a lot of input into the script, Spiner is able to give into make of his worst comedic impulses as the Data prototype, B-4, a truly annoying character who exists somewhere between Data and the country bumpkin Bob that Spiner used to play on Night Court
  • The rest of the main cast is treated shabbily by the film when they aren’t being ignored.  I get that the TNG movies became the Picard and Data show, but LaForge is reduced to spouting clunky exposition, Troi is abused, Riker ends up in a ridiculous fight scene, and Worf is used for a couple of bad jokes and then ignored (Also no explanation is given for why Worf is there given his character’s development on DS9.  Michael Dorn, who is now the actor with the most hours of Star Trek under his belt by far, deserved better.).  Only Dr. Crusher escapes relatively unscathed but is absent for most of the last half of the film.
  • Tom Hardy, who plays the villain Shinzon, seems to be in a completely different movie, a campy one where he gets to have much more fun chewing scenery and generally hamming it up.  In fairness, our beloved site mistress much prefers this movie.  She’s edited Nemesis in her mind down to just his scenes.  As a side note, that outfit must have been impossible to move it.  He’s encased in rubber for most of the film, and I swear as I could hear it squeaking as he moved.

There’s more, but I’ll stop.  The point is that the TNG characters that I love are really done a disservice by this movie.  According to Rick Berman, there are about 50 minutes of character scenes that were edited out of the film.  Some of them have been included on the home video releases, but it’s not enough to salvage Nemesis as a whole.

That said the movie does have a few bright spots.  The ship combat is some of the best we’ve seen in Star Trek, and I enjoyed much of the wedding and bridge banter that takes place at the start of the film.  I also quite like the final scene of Picard walking through the Enterprise’s corridors.  It ends the film on an optimistic note that is fitting for Star Trek.  Overall, though, it is not a great film and is my least favorite of the TNG movies.

Nemesis was advertised with the line “A Generation’s Final Journey Begins,” but it was not intended to be the final film.  Nemesis screenwriter John Logan was developing a second movie to wrap up TNG.  Nemesis’ poor performance ended that idea in a hurry, though.  The movie also marked the end of filmed Star Trek taking place in the 24th century setting originally established in TNG and continued in DS9 and Voyager

For the next seven years, Star Trek would be absent from theaters, and on television it was only represented by Star Trek: Enterprise.  The embattled prequel series didn’t have that much longer to live, and in a very odd decision, TNG would play a big part in its ending.   

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

Weekly Trek – November 14-20, 2016

As this 50th anniversary year winds down, I am spending these last several posts talking about the way the various Star Trek series, both on television and in the movies, ended.  Last week, I discussed “Turnabout Intruder,” the final episode of the original Star Trek television series.  After that episode, Star Trek may have no longer been producing new episodes, but it was not off the air.  Thanks to syndication, the series found new legions of fans, leading to the animated series, which ran for two seasons, and then plans to revive the live-action show on a new Paramount television network.

The new network never happened, but thanks to the success of Star Wars, the executives at Paramount decided to relaunch Star Trek as a film.  The result, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, isn’t exactly beloved by fans, but it was a huge hit at the time, which meant sequel!  That film, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was a success in both story and financial terms, and so, in true Hollywood fashion, the sequels just kept coming.

In the summer of 1989, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier arrived in theaters with big expectations.  The previous film, Star Trek IV: The Voyages Home had been a massive hit and, thanks to its modern setting and comedic sensibility, had drawn in more mainstream audiences.  Also, in 1987 Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered, putting Trek back on TV on a weekly basis.  Everything seemed to be in place for Star Trek V to be the biggest Trek film ever.

That…did not happen. 

Even if you don’t remember the summer of 1989, a few films came out in those months that you may have heard of.  BatmanGhostbusters II.  Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  It was a great summer to be a movie fan.  I saw Batman in the theater seven times! 

Star Trek V could not compete with that, primarily because it is just not a good movie.  It has some moments I love.  I still think Kirk’s “I need my pain” speech is one of his best.  But the movie overall is pretty terrible.  To give you some idea, it’s sitting at a lowly 21% on Rotten Tomatoes, while its predecessor, Star Trek VI, is at 85%.  The box office bore this out with Star Trek V only making $63 million worldwide against a $33 million budget.  By comparison, Star Trek IV cost $21 million and grossed $133 million.

The relative failure of Star Trek V scared Paramount and put plans for a sequel in doubt.  However, the 25th anniversary of the franchise was just two years away in 1991, and Paramount wanted to do something to capitalize on the event.  Harve Bennett, who had produced the Star Trek films starting with Star Trek II, pitched the idea of doing a prequel set during Kirk and Spock’s days at Starfleet Academy and showing how they and the other members of the Enterprise crew met.  Tossing the original cast aside met with resistance, though, and Bennett left the project.

Paramount, at the urging of Leonard Nimoy, turned to Nicholas Meyer, who had written and directed Star Trek II and also worked on the script to Star Trek IV.  Together they developed an idea based around current events: specifically the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.  Meyer went on to write the screenplay with his friend Denny Martin Flinn and also directed the movie.

The resulting film, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, was released in December 1991 shortly after the death of Star Trek’s creator Gene Roddenberry at the age of 70.   It had the biggest opening weekend of any Star Trek movie up until that time and went on to earn close to $100 million worldwide against a $27 million budget.  It currently has an 83% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. 

Star Trek VI does indeed closely mirror real-world events from the time of its release.  It begins with an explosion on the Klingon moon of Praxis, which is the Klingon’s main source of power (Think Chernobyl).  With their empire crippled by this event, the Klingons, under their Chancellor Gorkon (Think Gorbachev) open peace negotiations with the Federation via the Federation’s envoy, Captain Spock.  Spock then volunteers Captain James T. Kirk and the USS Enterprise to escort Gorkon to a meeting on Earth.  The trip does not exactly go as planned.

Along with the Cold War themes, the film tackles racism and resistance to a changing world, ideas that are just a relevant today as they were with the movie was released 25 years ago.  Kirk has a very hard time accepting that Klingons, a species he has viewed as the enemy for his entire career, could be serious about wanting peace with the Federation.  And he’s not alone.  As Gorkon says to him, “If there is to be a brave new world, our generation is going to have the hardest time living in it.” 

The movie also acknowledges the ages of the characters and the fact that they are nearing the end of their Starfleet careers.  As the film begins, the crew is due to stand down in three months.  Later in the story Kirk and Spock have a wonderful discussion about whether or not they have outlived their usefulness. 

Star Trek VI is an all-around good movie with an exciting story, relevant themes, and a fantastic soundtrack.  The cast outside of the main crew, including Christopher Plummer, David Warner, and Kim Cattrall, is top notch. 

More importantly, the movie serves the main characters well and works as a last hurrah for the entire crew as they literally sign off.  William Shatner has become almost a joke over the years for his portrayal of Kirk, but he is particularly good in this film.  Watch his facial expressions when the Klingons visit the Enterprise and during his fight with the large alien on Rura Penthe, particularly when he gets back into a corner.  He doesn’t make a big deal about it, but he is always in the moment.

The film was the final time the entire original crew was on screen together, including the final time that Kirk, Spock, and McCoy shared the screen.  In reality, though, it was actually the last appearance in the Star Trek universe only of DeForest Kelley’s Dr. Leonard McCoy (Chronologically he shows up again in the first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but that was filmed in 1987).  Kelley died in 1999 at the age of 79.

Jimmy Doohan reprised his role as Montgomery Scott in an episode of TNG in 1992 and also in the next film, Star Trek: Generations, which was a handoff from the original cast to the TNG cast.  He died in 2005 at the age of 85.

Walter Koenig also appeared as Pavel Chekov in Generations as did William Shatner, putting an end to his time on screen as James T. Kirk.  George Takei would show up as Sulu in a 1996 episode of Star Trek: Voyager.  And, while they are unofficial, Takei, Koenig, and Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) have all appeared as their characters in Star Trek fan films.

Leonard Nimoy appeared in two episodes of TNG around the release of Star Trek VI to help promote the film, but then he was absent from Star Trek for the next 18 years until his appearance in JJ Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek film.  He also had a brief role in 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness, his final appearance as Spock before his death in 2015 at the age of 83.

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

Weekly Trek – September 12-18, 2016

While the original Star Trek series (TOS) reached a level that could without much hyperbole be considered iconic, the series that followed actually didn’t lean too heavily on what came before.  With a few exceptions, the later shows struck out in new directions, but for the next few weeks, I will be talking about those times that the later shows did make a direct callback to the original Star Trek.

As the first Star Trek series to introduce a new set of characters, Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) had a lot to live up to.  Fans of TOS were skeptical, and I can only imagine the outcry would have been like online if the Internet had existed in its present form back then.  TNG’s pilot episode, “Encounter at Farpoint,” spent most of its time introducing the new ship and crew, as you would expect.  Their adventure with Q and at Farpoint Station had nothing to do with anything the USS Enterprise under Captain James T. Kirk had dealt with (Although, there was a great deal of fan speculation that Q was from the same species as Trelane from the TOS episode “The Squire of Gothos,” an idea that Peter David followed up on in his 1994 novel Q-Squared.).  “Encounter at Farpoint” did contain a nice hand-off moment, though, as Lieutenant Commander Data escorts a quite elderly Admiral Leonard McCoy, played by DeForest Kelley, on a tour of the Galaxy-class USS Enterprise-D.  McCoy’s appearance is little more than a cameo, but he did leave Data with these wise words about the USS Enterprise, “You treat her like a lady, and she’ll always bring you home.”

TNG’s second episode, “The Naked Now,” was a sequel to the TOS episode, “The Naked Time.”  In both stories, the crew is infected with a virus that causes personality changes.  The original contains the famous scene of a shirtless Sulu in full-on swashbuckler mode brandishing a sword around the ship.  In the TNG episode, many of the crew, including the android Data, suffer symptoms similar to drunkenness.  This episode’s most famous scene is probably Lieutenant Yar’s seduction of Data.  It’s not a terrible episode, but it should not have been the series’ second outing.  It’s hard to appreciate the crew’s altered personalities, when we’ve barely gotten to know their regular ones.

TNG avoided much in the way of TOS references from there until the third season when Spock’s father, Ambassador Sarek, played by Mark Lenard, came aboard for a diplomatic conference in the appropriately titled episode, “Sarek.”  This story revealed that the aged Vulcan was suffering from a neurological disease called Bendii Syndrome that was causing him to lose control of his emotions.  Captain Picard offers to mind meld with Sarek, giving the Vulcan control back long enough to get through the conference.

Sarek appears again at the beginning of the two-part “Unification” story in Season Five in scenes showing the death of the character, but that major event is overshadowed by the episode’s main guest star, Spock himself as played by Leonard Nimoy.  “Unification,” which involves Ambassador Spock’s efforts to unify the Vulcan and Romulan peoples, aired a few weeks before the release of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, which marked the final film appearance of the entire original crew of the Enterprise, and the storyline makes reference to the events of the film.  Nimoy’s appearance on TNG was big news and brought in great ratings, but the crossover went both ways withT NG actor Michael Dorn playing his character’s grandfather, Colonel Worf, in Star Trek VI.

My favorite of the TOS-inspired episodes of TNG is “Relics” from Season Six.  In the episode, the crew of the Enterprise-D finds a ship crashed on the surface of a Dyson Sphere.  They discover that the ship’s transporter buffer is still running and contains two patterns, one of which is retrievable.  They rematerialize the buffer occupant and find that it is none other than Montgomery “Scotty” Scott.  What follows is a touching episode about a man out of time dealing with a galaxy that has passed him by.  At one point, Scotty visits the bridge of the original Constitution-class USS Enterprise in a beautiful scene that likely hit more that one TOS fan right in the feels (I count myself among that number.).  In the end, Scotty’s knowledge is able to help in a crisis situation, and he sets out in a shuttle given to him by the Enterprise-D crew to learn about the 24th century.  Jimmy Doohan puts in a wonderful performance as the time-displaced Scotty, which I would rank among his best work ever for Star Trek.

The big crossover event between the two series, though, didn’t take place on TV screens.  Instead, it was in the first film to feature the TNG crew, Star Trek: Generations.  But even this is not a complete crossover, since many of the TOS actors opted not to appear.  Parts that were originally written for Spock and McCoy ended up going to Scotty and Chekov.  Really the only TOS character with any meat to his appearance, though, was William Shatner’s Captain James T. Kirk and really the film was advertised around the meeting of Kirk and TNG’s Captain Picard.  While I find the film itself wildly uneven (and it forces the TNG crew to be idiots in order for one major plot point to occur), Shatner’s performance is great.  I don’t know if it was because he wasn’t the lead, but he seems relaxed and to be having a great time in what is Captain Kirk’s final adventure.

While that was it for TOS’s influence of TNG, its effects would reach to the later series, as I will discuss in the weeks to come. 

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

Weekly Trek - August 1-7, 2016

Have we all seen Star Trek Beyond now?  I hope so.  If not, be warned that I’m pretty much going to spoil the entire film over the course of this post.  I’ll put a little buffer text in below to give you a chance to warp away.






This is not going to be a traditional movie review.  I don’t know how to review a Star Trek film that way.  I can’t.  I’ve got too much emotionally invested in this franchise, and there are over 600 hours of previous Trek floating around in my brain.

So let’s start with the basics.  Did I like the movie? 

Yes.  Absolutely yes.  That doesn’t mean that I didn’t have some issues with it, which I will get to later, but considering how…not thrilled I was with the first couple of trailers for the film (Which I explained HERE and HERE.), I am positively ecstatic about the end result.

The overall storyline is fine.  It’s nothing particularly amazing, but, as many reviews have pointed out, it’s the closest these new films have come to feeling like an episode of the original series.  The ship visits a strange new world, stuff happens, and then on to the next adventure.  Granted, it’s not quite that simple in Beyond, but we are finally in the midst of the five-year mission, which it seemed like we were starting at the end of 2009’s Star Trek but that actually started at the end of 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness

I also appreciated the attempt to make the USS Enterprise feel more like the crew’s home in the first few minutes of the film.  As I said in THIS POST about the two JJ Abrams Star Trek films, “What [Star Trek: The Motion Picture director Robert] Wise and other directors (including Leonard Nimoy) understood and Abrams did not is that the Enterprise is more than a space ship, more than a way to get from here to there, and even more than a home.  The Enterprise is practically a character herself.”  Star Trek Beyond and its director, Justin Lin, can’t overcome two movies of neglect in the opening of this latest film, but I did feel like that they tried.

And while the first trailer in particular made Beyond look like a generic action-fest that happened to have some Star Trek elements, the final film instead gives us time with the characters that we loved since the original Star Trek television series.  There’s plenty of action as well, but the main cast all get their storylines and moments (McCoy and Scotty were the standouts for me).  There’s also a very well done acknowledgement of Leonard Nimoy’s passing as well as the history of these characters. Unfortunately, this will be Anton Yelchin’s final appearance as Chekov, and he probably is the least served by the script.  He has plenty to do as he runs around with Kirk, but I can’t say that much of it deepened his character.  Mostly he’s there to give Kirk someone to talk to and to spout technobabble.

The main villain, Krall, is a bit underdeveloped (Which seems to be the norm for the newer films), but I was impressed and more than a little surprised at how deep Simon Pegg and his cowriter Doug Jung went into Star Trek lore for his background and motivations.  Krall’s past as a MACO as well as the technology mentioned for the USS Franklin (Polarized hull plating and such) comes straight out of the last and possibly least regarded Star Trek television series, Star Trek: Enterprise, which ran from 2001 to 2005 on the now-defunct United Paramount Network.  I think of Enterprise as being recent, but it went off the air over 10 years ago.  For people in their 20s now, that might be the Trek that they grew up with and remember most fondly. 

The movie is also very funny.  That’s not to say that it’s a comedy in the vein of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (which actually had world-ending stakes), but the film finds moments of levity between the characters, just as the original series always did.  The conversation surrounding Spock’s gift of a necklace to Uhura is hilarious while also perfectly fitting the characters.

What didn’t I like? 

As I mentioned above, Krall is underdeveloped, and I wonder if there are several scenes left on the cutting room floor explaining his development a bit more.  For example, why did he change his name to Krall anyway? 

Really, though, just about everything involved with Krall, the planet, and his plan are underdeveloped.  Jaylah, the alien Scotty meets who ends up being a huge help to the crew, talks about Krall’s assistant like we should know who he is.  At no point prior to this, though, is he given a name or really made to stand out from the others helping Krall.  And what about the goons that threaten her and Scotty?  Do they work for Krall?  Are they just wandering the planet as well?  If there are roving gangs of other aliens that crashed on the planet, why didn’t anyone else run into them? 

Just how many of those drones does Krall have anyway?  How long has he been able to leave the planet?  If he could leave as soon as he found those drone ships, which he talks about in his log entry from soon after he ended up on the planet, why did he stick around for over 100 years?  Obviously he left at some point, so he could hack the Federation and probably to gather the other pieces of the bioweapon.  Considering how many of the drone ships he has, why does he even need to bother with the cosmic scavenger hunt for his bioweapon?  He could have taken out Yorktown station at any point.  This is a belabored way of saying that his plan just doesn’t make sense once you think about it.  This isn’t uncommon for action movies, though.

What also isn’t uncommon is the final action sequence, which basically boils down to stopping a MacGuffin at the top of a tall building (See The Avengers as another good example of this).  The fun with different gravity aspect gave the thing a different spin, but in the end it was Kirk and Krall punching each other.  As I said, this isn’t uncommon for action movies, but do we really need to end all Star Trek movies this way.  The last four films going back to Star Trek: Nemesis have all ended with a race to stop some kind of super-weapon.  There are other ways to make a successful Star Trek film.  Star Trek IV, which I mentioned earlier, is one of the most financially successful of the series, and the only time a weapon is fired in the movie, it is to melt a door lock.  There isn’t even a villain as such.  I don’t know if a studio in this day and age would approve a film like that, particularly since the newer Trek films are competing as massively budgeted blockbusters.  Star Trek IV cost $21 million, which even with inflation is only about $45 million today.  Beyond, meanwhile, was budgeted at $185 million.  Don’t get me wrong.  Action is fine.  And I actually really liked the final ship battle sequence, Beastie Boys and all.  Star Trek can be more, though.  I suppose I will have the new series to give me other types of stories because the movies are likely to remain in the action mold.

As a side note, since I’m talking about the action, the entire sequence inside the saucer of the crashed Enterprise was almost impossible to follow.  Maybe it was just the theater where I saw it, but the sequence was too dark to see what was actually happening.

And since I brought that up, my final issue is that THEY DESTROYED THE ENTERPRISE!!!

Ahem.  Sorry.  I know I’ve been complaining about the possibility of this ever since the first trailer was released, but I really did not want that to happen.  I wanted to get to know the ship in this film.  Not watch it get wiped out!  That said, this sequence is handled very well and hurts even if we don’t know this Enterprise as well as we should.  I tried to imagine what it would have been like seeing this happen to the original series Enterprise, and that pain is more than I really want to contemplate. 

What really bothered me more than the ship’s destruction, though, is how meaningless it all ends up being by the end of the film when the crew is given an identical ship that they just slapped an “A” on.  “But that’s what happened in the original films!” I hear you cry.  At a very basic level, sure.  But, as with most things, it’s all about execution.  In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the Enterprise suffers a great deal of battle damage, and, at the beginning of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Kirk and crew learn that the ship is going to be decommissioned.  After that, the Enterprise officers steal the ship in order to rescue Spock for the Genesis planet, which leads to a run-in with a Klingon Bird of Prey.  Kirk is forced to self-destruct the ship in a sequence that it still rough for me to watch.  The officers end up stealing the Bird of Prey and using it for the rest of Star Trek III and almost all of Star Trek IV.  They get a new Enterprise at the end of that film, which does indeed look just like the last one with an “A” slapped onto it.  However, before that there’s uncertainty about what kind of ship they will get, or if they will get one at all, since they are on trial for stealing the previous Enterprise.  There’s a journey to get to the new ship.  In Beyond, it’s more like “You lost your last ship?  No big deal.  Here’s another one.” 

All of these quibbles are relatively minor, though.  As I said at the outset of this, I enjoyed the film quite a bit.  I would happily see it again and will definitely be buying it when it is released on blu ray.  I also recommend Star Trek Beyond without reservations.  It’s a fun two hours at the movies and nice celebration of these characters for the 50th anniversary of Star Trek

Go see it!!!

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter