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Rental Corner: “Star Trek IV” whale of a fun tale

Nimoy returns to the director's chair for this good entry

Nimoy returns to the director’s chair for this good entry

I feel there’s something that needs to commented about Leonard Nimoy and his directorial debut with “Star Trek III”. Compared to Nicholas Meyer who directed “Wrath of Khan,” its strange to see someone who had no idea what Star Trek was about make a great sequel. Nimoy’s take is much different retaining the B-movie feel of the original series while feeling contemporary. “Search for Spock” was a good attempt but lacked focus under so many different elements that it came off as a string of ideas than rather a single narrative. While “Search” still had some legs to keep it enjoyable, all that gets fixed in “The Voyage Home.”

William Shatner returns as Captain James T. Kirk as him and his crew try to return to Earth after their last adventure but find out that a giant alien probe that looks like a Cuban cigar with a disco ball attached to is destroying the Earth. Its revealed the probe is trying to make contact with humpback whales but unfortunately the giant mammals have been extinct for years. The logical solution; go back in time to the 21st century, get some whales and head back to the future. Sounds complex and really hair-brained but somehow all that is made “logical.”

Much like “Explorers” and “Real Genius,” it takes what could have been a really ridiculous idea and make it very plausible. Most of the time, we get to see how they are able to figure out a way to transport the marine creatures and doesn’t skip over any scientific beats. They even go as far to explain an extremely durable form of glass that won’t be invented (yet it was in 2009…scary) is the solution to keeping them in the ship. Though if I had to nitpick, I’m still a little concerned about “leg room” for the whales the tank is only big enough to hold them but I can let is slide seeing its a one trip ordeal.

The Enterprise are fish out of water in 1986 San Francisco....make your own joke here

The Enterprise are fish out of water in 1986 San Francisco….make your own joke here

The biggest highlight of “Voyage Home” is seeing the Enterprise crew in modern day 1986. Its the typical fish out of water routine but lives up to potential. Instead of Back to the Future where someone from out current time is looking at the past, we get people from the future seeing our current time (or past in this case) and making commentary cracks about daily life like the usage of money, our limited technology and so forth. This widens the bar for many jokes and scenes that work really well. But in a way, I do feel like there could have been more in like maybe Spock watching “Stand By Me” in a theater and trying to understand the emotion of the film or Sulu exploring Chinatown. There’s open possibilities that get limited because of the story and motivation but at least it knows when to stop and deliver a humorous jab at 1980s society.

If there was one problem I did have with it, or possible a few, its that while the story is plausible yet far fetched, the pacing again is very laid back and lacks a strong conflict. Which is not a bad thing but it makes you wish there was some way this entry was more powerful and had stronger elements. For example, there’s a doctor played by Catherine Hicks that looks after a pair of whales that Kirk and Spock eye at but is too attached to the gentle giants. This could have been a great use of an obstacle but her character feels somewhat interesting. When Kirk explains that he is from the future, we don’t get a strong sense of wither he believes him or not and most of the time Hicks’ character feels confused and annoyed. In fact, a lot of the people they come across in this movie feel a tad cut-out and not so developed. Maybe it has to due with how there’s so much focus on the Enterprise crew and their mission that it makes the 1986 dwellers of San Francisco feel more like plot elements and less like civilians. They only serves as devices to get the crew to obtain things like money or as a gag once in a while.

The "real stars" of the show as I keep questioning how a small tank can hold them

The “real stars” of the show as I keep questioning how a small tank can hold them

On top of that, it really takes the message of endangered species to a conventional level. The idea of saving animals from extinction is something that could have ended up as too preachy but thankfully they don’t go that road. At times, it does a feel like obvious considering they show footage of hunters killing whales and even a short encounter with some at sea. But I wouldn’t say its pushes it too much. It plays out to a point where it fits in with the story without being the focus. Come to think of it, what kind of conversation would an alien want with whales? There are some things about this movie that really boggle the mind. For a set up like that, you think it would become this big moment at the end but without giving too much away, it happens without flare. Even the way they time travel to 1986 is a little questionable. Maybe its because I’m not a big Trekker but there has to be a more reasonable way than warp speeding into the sun. What if they go too far and end up in the 1800s? How else will they know the amount of warp speed to get the date?

Perhaps I’m already thinking too deep but as a whole “Voyage Home” is a good entry. The only reason to see this film is for these fish out of water characters interacting with modern day. Its not a bad movie and its certainly a good entry but there is some room for improvement here in spots. Nothing too bad just a little more expansion with the Enterprise crew in modern times and perhaps some things better explained. On its own, its a rather enjoyable entry with surprisingly good comedy. A good example is when Kirk and Spock try to ask the Hicks character out for dinner and likes Italian. Seeing Vulcans can’t lie, Spock dejects like Kirk tries to help. Moments like that add to the Enterprise characters as genuine people with flaws.

nimoy-director-st4But in hindsight, maybe that’s what Leonard Nimoy was trying to convey here. That we as people have flaws that we make us a part of what we are. There’s a running theme about communication and how it can be misinterpreted or fixed in the long run. From Spock not understanding a question about emotion to Scotty trying to speak to a Mac computer, its all about how we interact with each other and in doing so, understand more of our surroundings and where we are. Perhaps that is the heart to “Voyage Home.” Its not just seeing these familiar characters in the past but more how they interact with it. Truly that makes this one a worthy sequel that is not to be skipped. Live long and prosper…

Rental Corner: “Star Trek III” strangely muddles yet enjoyable

A tough act to follow...but it was still fun

A tough act to follow…but it was still fun

“Wrath of Khan” placed Star Trek back in place among viewers. It reminded us what made the series so good and even offered a then edgier take of the series. While “Khan” retained the B-movie feel, it did so at a mature pace with gritty death scenes and clever writing in dialogue and character development. For a sequel, it was a tough act to follow up with considering the climatic ending and surprise killing off of a beloved character. Well, they tried with “The Search for Spock” but I can’t say its a total failure. To me, its an entry that has some good elements and attempted to continue the story but there are some aspects that could have been easily improved.

As much as I hate to spoil, but “Search” picks up where “Khan” ended with the death of Spock. Yeah, everyone’s favorite half-Vulcan saves everyone’s life and his body is shot out into space where it lands on the renewed planet made by the Genesis project. But here is where things get nutty. Kirk is told from Spock’s father that his friend is not dead but in fact still living. Apparently, Spock’s body is still moving about while his spirit is inhabited in the body of someone else. I won’t give away where Spock’s soul is hiding but really let that sink in. The body of one is still alive but his idenity (or soul) is entrapped in another person. I guess they are going for some form of supernatural route but it doesn’t pay off as much. Instead of said person take on the personality of Spock, it plays itself as vague from time to time without much usage.

The Genesis planet as it rapidly ages from a nice spring to a harsh winter

The Genesis planet as it rapidly ages from a nice spring to a harsh winter

But there’s other things to worry about the Genesis device did more damage than it could. Apparently, the new planet is affected so deeply that it keeps rapidly growing as one side looks like a fall season but the next minute it turns into winter. Not a bad concept but it doesn’t feel full fleshed out. Even stranger is how the device somehow managed to effect Spock’s body as he grows from a young Vulcan and painfully ages as the planet does. I guess its supposed to be a connection between Spock’s rapid recession from youth to age but again, it doesn’t pay off as much. The body of Spock gets older as the planet moves on to the next form. Its such a strange analogy having the aging of a person be connected to the life of a planet. Somewhere there is the idea of an independent movie along the lines of “The Little Prince.” Last I would expect that to appear in is a Star Trek movie.

And of course, we have the last minute villain in the form of a Klingon commander played by Christopher Lloyd of Back to the Future fame. He commands his crew to the refurbished planet upon learning of the Genesis device and wants to learn of its secret to make a weapon out of it. Ok, let’s break this down. The Genesis device was “absorbed” into the planet so there is no way of knowing if any fragment survived, let alone a hint of it existing in the planet. Maybe the device is in the core of the earth which would have lead to something interesting but they don’t go that route. And its more ironic how Lloyd’s character is searching for answers that don’t exist which makes his character more pointless enough. To top it all off, a character in the film dismisses the Genesis project as a failure when they see the planet rapidly grow as opposed to how “successful” it appeared at the end of “Khan.” This kills a lot of positive ambiguity from the hopeful ending to such a good sequel. A recon like that which tears at the beauty of another film’s grand moment really peeves me sometimes.

Before Doc Brown, would you believe that Christopher Lloyd knew some Klingon?

Before Doc Brown, would you believe that Christopher Lloyd knew some Klingon?

On the other hand, seeing Christopher Lloyd as a Klingon is a lot of fun to watch. He tries to carry this menace to his character and sort of be this equal to Kirk. He can be manic while also subtle at times but something feels missing here. Again, they give a motive to the character even if it does feel illogical knowing he won’t succeed even if he did but in the previous entry, Khan left such an impact that it makes me wonder what it would have been like if he was the conflict instead of Lloyd. It would made “Search for Spock” a lot stronger considering the one-on-one fight between him and Kirk near the end but alas, Khan’s story ended so a villain has to be made. I want to say he feels tagged on but it lingers in-between.

So for all of the confusion, it sounds like I’m making this out to be a mediocre entry. But for its faults, I still feel this is satisfactory. While its not the strongest, “Search for Spock” does make up for it with entertainment value. You do get a funny scene once in a while and some of the special effects are good to watch. Set pieces like the destruction of the Genesis planet and the Klingon battles can be fun while other moments like the Enterprise being destroyed are memorable with plenty of proper build up. And much like with “Khan,” the pace of “Search” is very laid back and quiet so I got no complaints. I think it knew there was no way it could match the epic quality of something so grand and instead channeled the campier yet fun feel of the original series. In a way it succeed but it left me feeling what it would have been like if it was more coherent. Maybe with a stronger opponent and a story that had more logic would have made this entry an improvement but as it stands, its worth checking out if you want some classic Trek campy fun.

Rental Corner: “Star Trek II” succeeds where no sequel has gone…

They say its the greatest one of the batch....they are right

They say its the greatest one of the batch….they are right

“Star Trek: The Motion Picture” was the first Star Trek film of the old series I recall seeing as a teenager. Seeing this entry I felt affected my view of the old film series as I felt it was too slow and dialogue heavy. In hindsight, it was attempting to be this space experience like “2001: A Space Odyssey” where the environment moves the story as opposed to characters and a narrative. For these reasons, I shut myself of from other Star Trek entries until now when I finally caved in to watch its sequel “The Wrath of Khan.” I had very low expectations aside from the huge amount of praise it has been receiving while some praise it for being the best in the series. And honestly, it deserves it. Not only is it a great entry, but it makes me think what my teenage self would have thought of it. That is if I did see it at that age and ignore the existence of “The Motion Picture”

The story picks up with William Shatner returning as Captain James T. Kirk who is retired from his Enterprise duties and trying to live a life. In a sense that is almost like what The Muppets did for the Muppets, we see the old Enterprise crew off and in different directions like Spock (Leonard Nemoy) teaching new recruits and Checkov (Walter Koenig) is assisting planet scouting for a test on a new device. Its nice to see the old crew again and get an idea of where they will be after their adventures are over. Even more interesting is Kirk’s apartment where he has tons of artifacts mounted on his wall to the point he almost feels like one. Almost an interesting message about how short our lives can be and how much we forgot what makes us who we are.

Khan returns from the famous episode Space Seed in revenge for Kirk. Beautifully played by Ricardo Montalban

Khan returns from the famous episode Space Seed in revenge for Kirk. Beautifully played by Ricardo Montalban

But all that changes when Checkov accidentally bumps into the revenge hungry Khan played by a menacing Ricardo Montalban who sets his sights on making Kirk’s life a living hell in return for his exile on the desert planet. He plans to steal a powerful device made by scientists called Genesis which is said to breath new life into dead planets. With this device in the wrong hands, there’s no telling what might happen if Khan uses it on a living planet. However, a “Moby Dick” influence feud takes place with Khan trying to remain one step ahead of Kirk and see that his nemesis is not just dead but also in living pain.

The glue that holds this movie together is Kirk’s relationships with his crew and Khan’s connection to Kirk. Kirk is the type of guy that fears the loss of his crew even to the point he admits later he feels he has cheated death once too many and possibly why he risks a quiet life at the start of the movie. Getting old is not just a big factor here but even settling down as we find one of the Genesis scientists had a relationship with him and birthed a son. This raises a lot at stake but it somehow doesn’t feel developed. You think he would be excited or overjoyed at the idea of having a kid but this notion is later addressed at the tail end than keep it as a driving force.

Perhaps that is a good move seeing how much we need to establish his loyalty to his crew. Even important is his friendship with Spock which I felt was far more developed and expanded on. He’s not just a right hand man but the reasoning he looks to in case of doubt. And its not long till an important moment in the climax that shows how important the Vulcan means to him. Even if many know about this due to the Internet, I’m still not going to spoil it. I will say its handled very well and you can feel the raw emotion from the two when Kirk knows what the unfortunate outcome will be.

The Enterprise crew back for another adventure

The Enterprise crew back for another adventure

Ricardo Montalban is also an important factor here with a sinister performance that makes you wish he was a superior Bond villain. He has his sights set on more than just Genesis but leaving his personal enemy in pain by doing damage to a semi-stable galaxy. When these two butt-heads on screen, you can feel the tension between the two as they try to outwit each other and see they meet a painful demise for better or worse. The only nitpick I do have is that they never have a big confrontation between each other and instead opt for a cat and mouse chase inside an electronic storm. The climax itself is hard to say if it needs a re-write but its good on its own. As the two spaceships move like submarines going after each other, we are on the edge of seats wondering who will strike first. You do wish there was a scene where Kirk and Khan fight fist to fist but the conclusion is fine as it is.

There are a few other nitpicks I do have but they don’t dim the enjoyment too much. Kirstie Alley makes her film debut as a Vulcan named Saavik and maybe its because I’m used to seeing her in comedies like Look Who’s Talking, but it feels weird seeing her in a Star Trek movie. The feeling is hard to describe as her acting is good but the notion of a comedian as an alien somehow felt off to me. Another thing too is the small subplot involving Kirk and his son which could have really been expanded on. There is this nice scene they share at the end when they come to accept who there are and its nicely build up but it feels like a lot more could have been done. After all, the heart of this movie is Kirk finding his place in his life and Khan trying to seek revenge so maybe setting his son’s story on the sidelines was a safe choice.

Kirk meets Midshipman Preston in the engine room in a cut scene restored for the Director's Edition. It's here we learn he is Scotty's nephew which plays  a big part later on

Kirk meets Midshipman Preston in the engine room in a cut scene restored for the Director’s Edition. It’s here we learn he is Scotty’s nephew which plays a big part later on

Those who are die hard fans of this movie might also want to search after the “Director’s Cut” which is also on DVD. Unlike most extended versions where drastic changes are made, this one is more subtle with only three minutes of added footage. The theatrical cut is fine on its own but there are some good highlights which make this worth checking out. A big highlight among the added scenes is a little more of Midshipman Preston. A minor character but revealed to be Scotty’s nephew in this version. It comes into play later when something happens to Preston’s character that adds more worry to Kirk’s relationship with his son. A family member so close that one can only fear what would happen if they were lost in battle. While again the changes are subtle and don’t drastically alter the pacing of the film, its still worth checking out if you can find a copy.

“Wrath of Khan” is already a perfect movie on its own no matter what version you watch. If there was a Star Trek movie to start with, I highly recommend starting off with this one. As a film on its own, there’s so much character and story at play to the point you wonder how it meshes perfectly. Its not loud or manic like George Lucas and his Star Wars saga but more quiet and often laid back. It doesn’t need big set pieces or fifth Star Cruisers battling each other. “Khan” is a very soft sequel that knows when to be bold and at some points even darker. I was surprised at the body count and even some of the harsher moments that feel tame by today’s standards. But perhaps that is the best thing about this movie. It knows what to deliver and what steps to bring its viewers a fresh entry no matter what journey it takes us to.