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“Star Trek Beyond”fueled with action despite some technical flaws

startrekbeyondposterThis crop of summer blockbusters has been played out almost like a baseball game. One movie after another has stood up to the plate and rarely make a home run. The only exceptions have been Disney and “The Secret Life of Pets.” Others have been either less successful or barley made a big splash. Let me tell you, this has been a very dull summer with the choices we have been given. But with “Star Trek Beyond” up at bat, is it good enough to get itself a home run? No, but I’d say good enough to third base.

Justin Lin takes the director’s chair while Simon Pegg and Doug Jung helm the script. The tones tend to clash from time to time as one can tell when one style is being injected. Pegg places the usual Trek banter of different worlds and character development when needed. Lin, on the other hand, fuzzes his style more prominently during the action scenes. While these two are obvious to point out, it doesn’t deviate from each other delivering a good entry.

The only downfall is that you got to sit through a lot of mediocre stuff in order to see the best parts. Highlights include an opening meant to be humorous where Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) offers peace to a race of tiny creatures to an explanation over old Spock’s departure from the franchise. The opening scene alone is a good example of how hit and miss the comedy is. Sometimes, it can be good when characters like Spock and McCoy banter while certain corny lines border on eye roll-worthy.

Once you get through the slush, “Beyond” kicks into gear when the Enterprise crew is sent out to save a crew wrecked on a desolate planet. However, the affair turns out to be an ambush as the ship gets attacked by an alien race that acts like a hive of bees. The scene where the Enterprise ship itself getting bombarded is surprisingly well-done. While its not effective like the crash scene in “Star Trek: Generations,” it still packs plenty of punch and intensity as the ships latch on and swarm around the doomed vessel.

Idris Elba plays the new alien villain named Krall who plans to fire back at the Federation with a device that eats away living matter. I admit, I felt practically bored at times seeing how good of an actor Elba is. I was fooled at first thinking this baddie had a one track motivation. But the third act gives us an interesting reveal that immediately has us realize why Krall would want to go after the Federation. It becomes something much deeper matching the villainous Khan, but I do wonder what it would have been like if this reveal came earlier in the film. On the plus side, it’s a great twist that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

However, midway the story sort of meanders. The crew is split up a bit as Spock and McCoy try to survive, Kirk and Chekov wander around for answers and Scotty is teamed with a cool alien inhabitant. While these plot threads don’t stray too much and serve purpose, it makes me wonder if these were developed better to hold more interest. I felt like it was used at times to show off how unique the planet looks and it does look good. But then, we have to cut from “Group Kirk” to “Group McCoy” and remember which party is doing what.

On the bright side, Scotty makes a new friend in the form of Jaylah, a bright white alien played by Sofia Boutella. I loved the personality of this character as she adds on something new to the franchise. The make-up alone is a step above those seen at Comic Con conventions and I like the idea that she has been stuck on this planet long enough to know its dangers very well. Somehow, I’m a sucker for characters like that who are stranded on a desolate place but know how to make it their home. Sort of like Swiss Family Robinson but with lasers. There’s just a cool sense to this character that never outstays her welcome.

While “Star Trek Beyond” seeks to be respectful to the original source, there are a couple of things that sort of bugged me. Like I said, the whole movie builds to a grand finale, but in order to get there, you have to sit through some weak comedy and sluggish pacing in spots. The action scenes, for the most part, do get better as we go along. And yet, I wish the whole “handycam” feel was ditched. This is a cliche that has been kept on for too long as during a big fist fight, we get tons of close-ups and shaky frame movements. Its distracting and takes away from the tension. And as stated earlier, the departure of Leonard Nemoy’s Spock could have been handled better. To the movie’s credit, we do get a nice tribute near the end, but I feel it would have been stronger if the explanation for his absence was either cut out or just handled better.

Never the less, I dug the creature designs, the sets and a spaceship base that has cities on the rims to make it look like a unique utopia. I felt it was nice to see the new Star Trek crew back together and create a fun experience. The first third can be easily forgiven by how better the last two thirds get. As the action scenes keep coming, they get better and better trumping one after another. While “Star Trek Beyond” is not the strongest entry of the batch, its a welcome one that is worth recommending to see in theaters.

Rental Corner: “Star Trek VI” great finale to a grand journey

Is the best saved for last?

Is the best saved for last?

For the longest time, I never understood why “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” never got the talk it deserved. It was a hit at the box-office and paved the way for the Next Generation films while showing the Star Trek franchise still had legs. Fans tend to look at films Khan, Spock and Voyage Home as a defining trilogy and I can see why. My argument is why not end it all with “Undiscovered Country?” It ends a lot of character arcs with Captain Kirk, takes a lot of dark risks and even explorers more boundaries with the characters we know and love. Well, after watching it a few times, I sort of understand why some would tend to overlook it but I still see no excuse to skip it.

When a Klingon moon explodes, its revealed that a good bulk of the ozone layer on the Klingon’s homeworld is depleted and a lack of energy throws them into turmoil to the point they can’t control themselves. The solution; seek peace with the Federation who happen to be a long time enemy. How they choose to talk about their terms however is where it gets interesting. They decide to have an ambassador sent and let an escort accompany them to Earth. This of course has Kirk in the mix when him and his crew are chosen to be the escort despite the captain’s anger for the alien race after killing his son. But problems arise when when the Chancelor is assassinated under the Enterprise’s watch and leaves Kirk for the blame to the point him and McCoy get sent to court for their crimes while Spock and the crew try to piece together this intense mystery.

David Warner as the Chancellor Gorkon who gets a second chance after movie V

David Warner as the Chancellor Gorkon who gets a second chance after movie V

What works the most about “Undiscovered Country” is how it keeps your guessing. There’s so many open possibilities and it takes advantage of every single one. The idea that anyone on the crew is a suspect, Kirk trying to learn to deal with his bigotry and even the material with the Klingons hold up well too. They are alien beings that are trapped between making peace with a long time enemy or creating a new war. They play off of it so much it makes you wonder just how many are willing to put down their weapons and just get along. Even the Federation is unsure yet willing to try out making negotiations hoping this will lead to a positive outcome.

While that is a strength of a movie, it also comes as a weakness. A lot of Klingon elements are used as a tour de force metaphor for the Cold War when America and Russia went head to head in the nuclear arms race. Unlike most movies like Superman IV or Red Dawn where they use the time period as a plot device, Star Trek VI serves as more of an afterthought which is not a bad idea but the symbolism and metaphors come off as obvious and might date this entry a little. Crew members resort to racist Klingon slang as even talks of advanced weaponry get tossed in the mix. They even go as far to have Kirk and McCoy imprisoned on a snowy planet that looks remonstrant of a Gulag. On first watch, its kind cool seeing all the different alien species mining for minerals and mingling but in hindsight, it pushes the Russian connections a bit too much.

 

Christopher Plummer as a Klingon...nuff said

Christopher Plummer as a Klingon…nuff said

What that said, I feel the rest of the movie holds up enough on its own. Its nice to see the original cast back together one last time, the action scenes are intense while providing plenty of flare and the performances are good too. Highlights include David Warner getting a small but big role as the Klingon Chancellor and Christopher Plummer as the Klingon General Chang really soaks in his role of war crazed persona. Its funny how these two contrast from each other as Warner goes for a softer approach while Plummer really goes all out. Its fun seeing him watch in delight as he tries to outwit Captain Kirk and see that his motives succeed. The action scenes are well done and very intense for a Star Trek movie. The Klingon assassination scene is a huge highlight with Dutch angles and tight close-ups used to a good degree. The special effects hold up well enough but again there is that looming Cold War metaphor as starships move about like war submarines when in confrontation. On the other hand, its nice to see some model work before the switch over to CGI.

An added scene from the Director's Cut where Colonel West proposes a rescue mission.

An added scene from the Director’s Cut where Colonel West proposes a rescue mission.

Fans might also be curious to check out the Director’s Cut which you can find on certain DVD releases and VHS tapes. The one that seems to be more recommendable and available is the Special Collector’s Edition cut. Much like with “Wrath of Khan,” (ironic as Nicholas Meyer returns to direct), the additions are small and subtle but enhance the narrative without grand damage. There’s only a couple of shots changed around like when Scotty examines some blueprints of the Enterprise but then there’s whole sequences that are restored like a group proposing to save Kirk and McCoy and Spock inspecting the torpedoes while the Scotsman alludes to his Klingon bigotry. But then, there’s some that sort of work like this extra twist to an assassination near the end when the assassin turns out to be someone else. Without spoiling anything, its a neat idea but lacks the proper build up.

Overall, “Undiscovered Country” is a fitting end to such an amazing franchise. Sure the original Star Trek movies had some bumps along the way, but this entry really ties the knot together. I’m pleased to see they decided they stopped here and didn’t continue as clearly the cast was already aging. In a way, this acts like a reunion film and its nice to see the old crew back together one last time. In today’s cinema, this considered a taboo move as films like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull feel pointless knowing the original franchise was fine without a new entry. This sequel doesn’t fall into that trap but nearly does considering the cast is well aware there’s no point for a six one but at least have fun with it. By the time the end credits came and showed the signatures of everyone from William Shatner to Leonard Nemoy, I couldn’t help but feel a sign of accomplishment. These people went to explore the most amazing parts of the galaxy and truly went where no one had gone before. This was this curtain call and it was a nice end to their experience to such a well remembered franchise.

Rental Corner: The egotistical and skippable “Star Trek V”

Answer: Because this movie is a messy, bumpy ride to endure

There’s more than one reason why “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” doesn’t work. If I was a fan of Star Trek, chances are I would be highly disappointed and find myself yelling many Klingon obscenities at the tv screen. As a typical moviegoer, I really don’t know how to put this. In a way, I heard this one was the worst of the batch and sort of expected what was coming. I didn’t come off feeling angry but what I can say is that I wasn’t amused either. Most bad movies like “Masters of the Universe” and “Howard the Duck” at least had some form of effort and left me with something to enjoy. “Final Frontier” is a strange case where it does start with an interesting idea but then explodes like the first bite of a sloppy joe. The meat sinks from the sandwich buns and seeps onto your plate to the point you find yourself eating it with a spoon in understanding the confusion.

To understand why this is considered the worst in the original film series, let’s examine the faults one step at a time. The previous Star Trek films had a director that at least had an understanding of the franchise. Robert Wise took “The Motion Picture” on the show’s themes of technology’s  vast expansion while Nicholas Meyer examined the human element more in “The Wrath of Khan” making for a successful entry. The late Leonard Nimoy wasn’t a bad director as clearly he can mange making a movie but some of the ideas felt very far fetched from whales communicating with aliens to rebirth. While “Search for Spock” and “Voyage Home” made up for it some great writing and humor, the themes and ideas felt too vague and incoherent but still had some supporting legs for its existence in the story.

Instead, directing duty went to William Shatner who I will admit had an interesting idea but somehow got lost within the production problems and weird choices. There’s no such thing as a bad director until you see the movie but unfortunately this movie is proof Shatner is not good at directing movies. There appears to be some oddly shot scenes to cover up cheap special effects and even the editing is by far the most unforgivable raging from the infamous “Hover Shoes Elevator” scene which could have been easily edited to even obvious wires and ships that fly around like they are from a Looney Tunes. From what I understand, there was a much bigger story in the works that got whittled down thanks to studio interference and criticisms from the cast. Thus a parable about religion got lost in the mix of goofy yet forced humor and again some production troubles ranging from special effects made someone lesser than ILM to even a production story where Shatner nearly died when filming the desert scenes. Credit to ambition but the bigger faults lie within the story.

The Enterprise trio with Sybok who hijacks the ship along with the sanity of this movie

The Enterprise trio with Sybok who hijacks the ship along with the sanity of this movie

Laurence Luckinbill plays a Vulcan named Sybok who turns out to be Spock’s half-brother. He goes around curing people of their pain by removing it and plans to meet up with an entity he believes is God. And that’s just the surface. This doesn’t come into play till the second half and already there are some problems. We never get to learn where Sybok got these powers or even understand his motives that well. He cures McCoy and Spock of their painful memories later on but it doesn’t prove much. Does he have connections with this big God anomaly? We never really understand in the end.

In fact, more time is devoted to Kirk and his pals vacationing at Yosemite and forced comedy aboard the Enterprise that is not functioning fully. What made the previous installments work was the compensation between political views and actual character development. Even if they did channel the campier side of the original show, they did it in a mature manner as if it was a B-movie with brain. “The Final Frontier” uses this campy factor to full power complete with one-liners, surreal moments like Uhura’s infamous fan dance and some very forced comedy. Highlights include Scotty having trouble getting the Enterprise fixed together, a bunch of Klingons trying to chase after Kirk that look like space hillbillies and Kirk trying to help Spock understand the concept of a night with a campfire. This can work but its execution is so forced in it feels desperate for a laugh.

"Are you a God?"

“Are you a God?”

“Voyage Home” worked because we were fascinated by the idea of the future seeing the past and making a unique commentary about how “advanced” we were at the time. The chemistry came from the Enterprise crew interacting with 1986 computer devices and mingling with people that are far off from the 23rd Century. Aside from whales and time travel, that was the glue that held it together. “Final Frontier” has a ridiculous concept but there is nothing to connect to as the story goes from a campfire to a hostage rescue to a mutiny lead by Sybok to the climatic meet-up with the God entity. There’s clearly too much going on here and without a clear connection, we get no support as we feel like we are watching three Star Trek movies crammed into one. Even most of the focus is on Kirk, Spock and McCoy as the supporting cast are used for one-note jokes or just used little at all. The previous movies gave small roles a sense of importance and character. Not shove them aside for a Stooge trio making the film more “Kirk” centered than the others.

However, the character of Sybok does try to be some form of connection in these string of plots but his actions don’t make any sense. He wants to get a starship to meet up with the God entity but stages a ransom to hijack one. He doesn’t want people to die and tries to act innocent, but his villainous actions contradict the character’s good will. Would it kill to send out a distress signal or at least some kind of contact to get a ride? All this trouble just to get to a creature that claims to be God but isn’t feels like a waste of time not just for Kirk and the crew to go through but even our own.

Test footage from the deleted "Rock Monster" who was deemed not good enough. In hindsight, this actually would have been better than a giant blob of light claiming to be God

Test footage from the deleted “Rock Monster” who was deemed not good enough. In hindsight, this actually would have been better than a giant blob of light claiming to be God

Bottom line, “Final Frontier” is easily the most skippable entry. Its one you can live without seeing. I can’t say its 100% terrible as there can be a nice scene once in a while with some character development and there was at least some promise. William Shatner said the idea for this one came from watching televangelists and noticing how they were strangely horrifying yet fascinating to watch. Sybok almost has this feeling with promises of something greater and healing powers. If this character was developed further and maybe given a stronger motive, perhaps there would be a stronger conflict at play. But alas, nothing comes together. I didn’t even talk about the pointless David Warner cameo, the triple-breasted feline bar dancer or even the fact that almost every scene has someone drinking alcohol. Maybe the original script was a better movie at the start with cut material ranging from Kirk going against the Devil to a rock-monster that got replaced with a giant blob of light. Even when the Star Trek movies where being released on 2-disc DVDs, Shatner asked Paramount Pictures to do a recut of the film with added footage and new effects to improve it. As you would expect, Paramount decided to not to support this idea and didn’t attempt it. That’s well enough proof for you. A Star Trek sequel so infamously bad that even its own studio doesn’t want to fix it up.

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…