Star Trek Movie Retrospective–Star Trek Generations

Captain James T. Kirk: “I take it the odds are against us and the situation is grim.”

Captain Jean-Luc Picard: “You could say that.”

Captain James T. Kirk: “Sounds like fun.”

Casual conversation between two starship captains on horseback

“It was…fun. Oh my…”

Captain James T. Kirk’s last words

generations poster 2The Star Trek franchise was at its high peak in 1994. Later that year came Star Trek Generations, which was supposed to be the start of a new film era starring the characters from Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), but instead signaled the long, slow decline of the franchise.

Let’s get to the point and have it known that the only great thing about the seventh Star Trek film was Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner). By himself he nearly saved the film. That is because Star Trek Generations only seemed to come to life whenever he appeared, which was to bookend the film.

It begins with the christening of a new Federation starship: the Enterprise-B. Joining the celebration are former crewmembers of the Enterprise-A, Kirk, Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scottie” Scott (James Doohan) and Commander Chekov (Walter Koenig).

Kirk is clearly uncomfortable being at this Enterprise, since he isn’t in command and is reminded of how empty his life has become. These are magnificent scenes with superb acting by William Shatner. He doesn’t have many lines but you could see on his face that longing to sit in the captain’s chair again. Clearly, retirement doesn’t suit him well. The captain of the vessel is John Harriman (Alan Ruck), who seems a bit like a dweeb. He isn’t a bad person, just too cautious and inexperienced. How did he get this prestigious assignment? Perhaps he’s related to someone important.

The Enterprise-B is officially launched from Earth orbit for a quick tour of the solar system and back. But the ship receives a distress call from ships with El-Aurian refugees. Harriman is hesitant to commit the ship, but as with your typical Star Trek plot inconvenience, even though they’re in Earth’s solar system, there aren’t any nearby ships that can help. Reluctantly, Harriman orders the ship to warp over to the refugees’ location.

enterprise b at nexusUpon arrival, they find two ships caught in the gravity field of the nexus ribbon. It’s a swirling, flaming band of energy that oscillates and spews out tendrils of energy, which destroys one transport ship. Harriman is clearly out of his depth and asks Kirk for help. Kirk, Scotty and Chekov spring into action. Scotty manages to beam aboard some refugees before the last ship explodes. Chekov assembles a makeshift medic crew to help the survivors. One of them is a hysterical mad man (Malcolm McDowell) who is begging to go back to the nexus. Chekov helps another refugee who turns out to be Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg), the ancient bartender seen on TNG.

The Enterprise-B becomes trapped in the same gravity field. The only means of escape is to fire an energy pulse from its deflector array located in the engineering hull. Harriman volunteers to kirk harrimanmodify the array but Kirk realizes that the Enterprise-B isn’t his ship. He tells Harriman to remain on the bridge and leaves to work on the array. Kirk makes the modifications and the ship pulls free, but not before an energy tendril strikes the engineering hull, which causes a hull breach.

Once it’s realized that Kirk was in the area of the breach, Scotty, Harriman and Chekov rush down to the engineering section and can only stare horrifically at the remains of the area Kirk was on. Only outer space held back by a force field greets them as they grasp that Starfleet’s greatest legend is gone…

old shipThe film jumps ahead 78 years later from outer space to tranquil ocean waters and a quaint sailing ship named Enterprise commandeered by officers in old-fashioned naval uniforms. The entire thing is a simulation on the Enterprise-D’s holodeck. The senior Enterprise-D crew members including Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), First Officer William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and the android Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner) are celebrating the promotion of their Klingon crewmate Worf (Michael Dorn), who is dunked into the water. Data is perplexed by the humor of the situation especially after his attempt at humor fails to produce laughs.

old uniforms

Captain Picard then receives a personal message from Earth and becomes gloomy for most of the film. Moments later, the ship gets a distress call from the Armagosa Observatory. The Enterprise-D heads to the Armagosa system and the floating observatory, which was attacked. The crew find a survivor in the observatory, a scientist, Dr. Tolian Soran, who happens to be the same lunatic rescued on the Enterprise-B.

Meanwhile, Data tells his friend Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge (Levar Burton) that he feels stunted regarding his attempt to grow as a sentient being. He wants to experience emotions and has Geordi implant an emotion chip into his brain. Later at the Ten Forward lounge, Data begins to experience emotions after sampling a drink offered by Guinan. Data then acts like a buffoon for most of the film.

data clown

Investigations uncover that the Romulans attacked the observatory because they were looking for trilithium. It’s an unstable compound developed by them that can stop nuclear fusion in a star. It’s revealed that Soran is building solar probes with the compound to collapse stars because he wants the shockwaves to alter the course of the nexus towards a planetary body.

After failing to convince Picard to let him return to the observatory, Soran goes anyway there and kidnaps Geordi, who was there to investigate the attack. Data was with Geordi but is so overcome with his new emotions that he can only cower in fear when confronted by Soran. The scientist then launches a solar probe with the trilithium at the Armagosa star.

enterprise d

In his quarters, Picard tells Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) why he is so morose. His brother and nephew died on Earth and he is despondent over that and the realization that he is without any family. Before the scene can devolve into an intergalactic episode of Dr. Phil, they witness the collapse of the Armagosa star. The Enterprise-D crew manages to rescue Data  and leave the system, but Geordi and Soran are beamed aboard a Klingon bird-of-prey ship.

Soran is working with the commanders of the ship, the ugly and annoying Duras sisters Lursa (Barbara March) and B’Etor (Gwynyth Walsh) who appeared on TNG. They stole the trilithium from the Romulans and gave it to Soran to develop a weapon for them. The Klingon ship leaves for the Veridian system, where Soran can continue his work.

cartographyBack on the Enterprise-D, Picard learns about Soran and his plan for the nexus. It’s made of temporal energy (don’t ask) and is actually an interdimensional realm where time has no meaning and you can live out your fantasies. Soran was briefly there before his rescue by the Enterprise-B and desperately wants to return. Picard and Data deduce that with the nexus will now travel to the Veridian system. If that star is collapsed, the shockwave will push the nexus towards a nearby planet Veridian III. Picard orders the ship to head to that planet.

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Star Trek Movie Retrospective–Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

“‘Second star to the right, and straight on ’til morning'”

Captain James T. Kirk’s final course heading for the U.S.S. Enterprise-A

trek 6 poster 2The final Star Trek film to feature the entire original cast from the Star Trek TV show has many distinguished qualities such as a thrilling story, craftsman-like direction, solid acting and yes great special effects. But Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country will always be known for its parallels to the end of the Cold War and more importantly as the last hurrah for the original Enterprise crew.

When the film was released, the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union had ended bringing on a new uncertain era with ramifications still affecting us today. In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the long-running feud between the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire comes to a peaceful end with adversaries on cast VIboth sides struggling to accept the new normal. This was done bravely with the main character Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) who expressed an unpleasant side with his unhidden bigotry towards the Klingons.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country literally begins with a bang. A giant shockwave from an exploding moon reaches across space and slams into the Federation starship Excelsior. Commanded by Captain Hikaru Sulu (George Takei), the Excelsior rides out the shockwave’s destructive path. Sulu and his crew learn that the explosion came from the Klingon moon Praxis, which was overused as mining facility in an analogue to Chernobyl.

Months later, Captain Kirk and his senior Enterprise-A crew are summoned to a meeting at Starfleet Headquarters. To their surprise, their colleague Captain Spock (Leonard Nimoy) presents at the meeting not only the finding that the Klingons are dying out but that peace negotiations have begun between the two powers. Kirk is ordered by the Chief in Command (Leon Rossum) to have the Enterprise-A escort the Klingon leader Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner) to Earth for continued negotiations.

Kirk is angered that his friend Spock vouched for him to carry out this mission but Spock did so because Kirk’s reputation and antagonistic history with the Klingons will serve as an effective olive branch if he peacefully escorts Gorkon to Earth.

The Enterprise-A crew leaves Spacedock for its mission, but not before Kirk meets Spock’s protégé Lt. Valeris (Kim Cattrall), the ship’s helmsman. We later learn that Spock thinks highly of her and intends for her to succeed him as first officer of the ship.

enterprise and klingon

The Federation starship makes its rendezvous with Gorkon’s Klingon battle cruiser Kronos One and Kirk invites the chancellor over for dinner. Gorkon beams over with his entourage, which includes his daughter Azetbur (Rosana DeSoto) and General Chang (Christopher Plummer), a bald, crusty Klingon with an eye patch and an obvious dislike towards Kirk. He is practically chomping at the bit for the chance to engage the famous starship captain in combat and is clearly disheartened that he won’t get the chance.

chang and troop

The dinner held in the officer’s mess goes poorly. There is an uncomfortable tension as both Kirk and his senior officers and Gorkon and his entourage trade charged barbs at each other. The Starfleet officers, except Spock, can barely hide their contempt toward the Klingons. It was a bit jarring to see our heroes in a negative light, but it was very bold and dimensional because we see some flaws with our heroes. final dinnerThe only other person who tried to be polite and engaging was Gorkon. He is a clear reference for the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and exhibited a mature, open and statesman-like demeanor. David Warner was very memorable in this too brief but important role and made the leader seem sympathetic and noble.

After the uneasy dinner, the Klingons return to their ship while Kirk retires for the night nursing a hangover from drinking illegal Romulan ale during dinner. He has no time to rest when he is called to the bridge. These scenes were quite revealing; Kirk seems weary and ready to retire. But he is still the captain and acts as one when he instantly stops slouching after the turbo lift doors open to the bridge.

As he enters the bridge, the Klingons are attacked by an unknown source. The attack damages Kronos One’s gravity field, leaving the Klingons afloat and defenseless. Two men garbed in white Starfleet suits, garbed helmets and gravity boots beam aboard the Klingon ship and fatally shoot Gorkon.

Their work done, the assassins beam back out moments before the Klingons restore power. After answering the Enterprise-A’s hail, a furious Chang accuses Kirk of an unprovoked attack and begins a counterattack. Kirk, horrified and realizing the severity of what is unfolding, orders the Enterprise-A to surrender before an intergalactic war can begin.

Wanting to help, he and Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley) beam aboard Kronos One. They find Gorkon and McCoy desperately tries to save the chancellor’s life, but he is unsuccessful. Gorkon’s last words are to Kirk, a plea “Don’t let it end like this.”

gorkon

The two Starfleet officers are arrested on the spot by the Klingons. Spock assumes command of the Enterprise-A and begins investigating what happened. According to their computer,  their ship did fire on Kronos One, but Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scottie” Scott’s (James Doohan) inventory reveals that all of the ship’s photon torpedoes are accounted for. Spock orders Valeris to continue investigating, convinced that the assassins are still onboard the starship.

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The Desolate Beauty Of Oblivion

oblvion poster 3Oblivion is the latest thought-provoking sci-fi epic directed by Joseph Kosinski. It stars Tom Cruise in the pivotal role of Jack Harper, a drone technician several decades from now.

Jack Harper explains in a monologue in Oblivion’s beginning that Earth was invaded years ago by an alien race known as Scavengers who destroyed Earth’s moon. This caused overwhelming environmental catastrophes such as tsunamis that wrecked the planet. But humanity was able to fight back and repel the invading force, but the damage was done. Most survivors have been evacuated to Saturn’s moon Titan that is being terraformed, while a massive space station called the Tet orbits Earth. The Tet’s workers are implementing a process of draining the Earth’s resources, including oceans using these gigantic hydro-rigs that are manned and protected by drones. These deadly machines also roam the landscape and kill remaining Scavengers, who look like a cross between the tusken raiders in Star Wars and the Predator aliens.

more ruinsEveryday, Jack Harper heads out in his bubbleship flying craft and checks on the drones. His job is to maintain and repair them. Aiding him is his lover and communications officer Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), who has an aversion to exploring Earth and can’t wait to join the rest of humanity on Titan. Jack is the opposite, he is drawn to the Earth despite its ruinous state. He is obsessed with exploring the ruins, which are quite amazing with the way the Earth has reclaimed most of the cityscapes. Vast, barren wastelands cover most of the planet while occasional rusting remnants of structures like the Empire State Building stick out conspicuously from the grounds and crevasses.

ruins

Part of the reason for his obsession are these recurring dreams he has about living on Earth before it got ruined. One constant dream involves him visiting the Empire State Building with a mysterious woman (Olga Kurylenko). The thing is these memories occur about sixty years in the planet’s past, which only confuses Jack.

It turns out that the Earth isn’t quite so barren after all, Jack happens to commute from time to time at a secret valley retreat filled with flowering life: towering trees, verdant fields, clear lakes and a small cabin he built that is full of ancient mementos like books and vinyl records. He clearly doesn’t want to leave the Earth, but he and Victoria are slated to leave the planet in a couple of weeks when their mission concludes.

One day, he spots a spaceship crashing to Earth. At the crash site, he finds humans inside these high-tech coffin-like containers. They’re alive but in hibernation. Before he could investigate further, several drones fly in and destroy all but one of the containers. harper and wifeThat one has the same woman from his dreams and she recognizes him. Before long, everything that Jack knew has been turned upside down as he learns that among other things that the woman he rescued, Julia, is actually his wife and the truth of what is going on with Earth isn’t what he believed it to be.

Oblivion is downright entertaining with many mysteries and questions that keep you guessing. Some of them can be figured out but are well done. Along the way, valid points about the nature of identity and the soul are brought up without being heavy handed or preachy. Director Joseph Kosinski once again presents a rich, well-realized sci-fi world that is a memorable followup to his previous film Tron: Legacy. He presents the Earth in a new way bubbleship dockedthat is barren and desolate yet somehow beautiful to behold at times. Equally as stunning are the production design and future tech, which looks ergonomic and aesthetically pleasing. This was best seen with Jack and Victoria’s living quarters, a delicate looking, ethereal habitat on top of a tower above the clouds. Thanks to the rich cinematography, their home looks like some kind of futuristic heaven complete with floor-to-ceiling window panes that offer panoramic views of the world below.

harper and morgan freemanMorgan Freeman turns in his usual spot-on performance as a sympathetic resistance leader of a downtrodden, hidden group of human survivors. The acting by Tom Cruise and the others is also quite good and balanced. Needless to say, the special effects were spectacular, at times the bubbleship visuals were very realistic and fooled the eye into thinking that such aircraft does exist. Joseph Kosinski demonstrates that he is a genre director to watch and celebrate. His directing style is confident and allowed for an evenly paced film that gives moments to pause and reflect rather than some mindless action romp. The world he created in Oblivion is simply a breathtaking marvel.

Lewis T. Grove

Star Trek Movie Retrospective–Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

“What does God need with a starship?”

Captain James T. Kirk questioning “God” on the planet Sha Ka Ree

trek V posterAfter the triumph of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, anticipation and demand was high for another Star Trek film. What audiences received was William Shatner’s directorial effort Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

The fifth Star Trek film is an undeniable disappointment and it has many things going against it. Ranked by many as the worst Star Trek film, it’s hands down the weakest one to feature the original cast from the TV show. Let’s face it, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was a difficult act to follow. It would’ve taken a master director and writer to deliver a worthwhile followup. But Paramount Studios wanted to placate William Shatner, who wanted his shot at the directing chair because his buddy Leonard Nimoy got to direct two Star Trek films. So in addition to paying him and Nimoy a high salary, they allowed him to direct the fifth Star Trek film.

trek 5 cast 2

Now it’s easy to lay all the blame on Shatner but there are others to blame for this film. Notably Paramount Studios itself, who should shoulder the majority of the blame. In a foolish move, the studio severely slashed the budget, which resulted in the amateurish looking special effects that were horrendously bad and added to the film’s drawbacks. They also wanted a lighthearted romp similar to Star Trek IV because the studio felt that the comedy in that film made it such a success and wanted to repeat the formula. Instead of gentle comedy, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier came off as goofy and too heavy handed in the laugh-o-meter with our heroes behaving at times out of character. There were laughs alright, just unintentional ones. Who can forget the immortal line, “Spock, it’s me. It’s Sybok!” The Writer’s Strike in 1988 curtailed the film’s pre-production and didn’t allow time for a polished script. When you boil it down what the film needed most was a decent script doctor.

The film starts in a desert planet, Nimbus III, which has the so-called Paradise City colony set up by Klingons, Romulans and the Federation as a means of promoting peaceful coexistence. But the place is run down and practically forgotten. Out of the horizon, a mysterious stranger riding on a blue horse-like animal appears and promises to heal people of their painful memories through his empathic powers and in return asks for followers on a religious crusade. This person is a bearded Vulcan called Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill) and he needs a starship.

el capitan 2The film then switches over to Earth, where James T. Kirk (William Shatner), recently demoted from admiral to a captain, is spending shore leave mountain climbing on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. After being saved from falling by his best friend Spock (Leonard Nimoy), he and Spock settle down for the night at a campfire with their other close friend Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley) and shoot the breeze. The genial banter between the three was the best thing about the film. It was genuine and funny without going overboard. Shatner conveyed a sense that the trio were close friends with a deep bond.

At this time on Nimbus III, Paradise City welcomes the newest Romulan ambassador (Cynthia Gouw), who is all full of energy and optimism. She is greeted instead by two surly and cynical ambassadors (David Warner and Charles Cooper), a human and Klingon respectively. Oddly enough, she and the Klingon are the only members of their race seen in the city, everyone else is either human or some kind of alien. These scenes with the ambassadors were interesting since the actors were good in their roles. The film presented a seedier side to life in the 23rd century, which was an interesting contrast to earlier films’ depictions of near-nirvana.  sybok and gangWe see drunkards (principally with Cooper playing the bitter and washed up Klingon general), cheap salesmen (watch the video monitors in Paradise City’s bar) wearing ugly plaid jackets and alien strippers. The latter being a feline-based alien with three breasts that predated the famous hooker seen in the original Total Recall. It was a refreshing change from the ethereal utopias from earlier films. Soon after, the colony is invaded and conquered by a literal rag-tag army from the desert led by Sybok, who promises to heal everyone of their spiritual pain.

Back on Earth, our heroes’ shore leave is interrupted by an urgent call from Starfleet. They rush back to their ship the Enterprise-A, a replacement of the ship lost in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, to learn about their next mission. They are ordered to go to Nimbus III and save the hostages in Paradise City. But there’s a problem with the Enterprise-A. The new ship is a go climb a rocklemon. Why would Starfleet reward Kirk and company with a broken down ship after they saved the Earth is beyond me. Except maybe to provide a moronic venue for cheap laughs, such as Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott’s (James Doohan) tirades about needed repairs and sight gags such as malfunctioning turbo lifts. The plot point of a broken ship that in the end pulls through would’ve been an interesting story. But that gets lost in this film. As for the film’s desperate earning of laughs at this point, the funniest gag on the ship is Kirk’s reaction when he’s told by an admiral (producer Harve Bennett in a cameo) via viewscreen that Starfleet needs him. He turns away from his superior and makes an exasperated face. It’s a good way of acknowledging this common plot thread of the Enterprise crew being the only capable personnel in Starfleet. Seriously, why send the Enterprise-A? It’s undergoing repairs on Earth so why have it travel all the way to this distant planet? There aren’t any ships closer to the planet? Doesn’t Starfleet have its own version of SEAL Team Six for these kind of situations?

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Bioshock: Infinite Soars To New Territory

bioschockBioshock: Infinite is the latest first-person shooter game in the famed series that now has the action set in the city of Columbia, which is quite literally a floating city in the clouds a la Bespin from The Empire Strikes Back. This game continues the Bioshock tradition of a thought provoking plot where you as Pinkerton agent Booker Dewitt, in the year 1912, takes on a demagogic figure known as Compton and his would-be utopia. Columbia’s society is patterned on extreme nationalism and racial prejudice circa early 20th century America. The game also features interesting sci-fi concepts of alternate dimensions and time travel and the consequences of such activities. This is accomplished via the other main character in Bioshock: Infinite Elizabeth, a girl Dewitt is sent to rescue, who you travel with and protect during the majority of the game. She is capable of creating rifts in space time that can be used by your character to travel to slightly altered realities or get useful items to fight Compton’s forces. The combat in the game is also similar to other Bioshock games where you can use superhuman powers via drinks called vitals that allow you to do various things like shoot fire from your hands or create tornados. 

bioshco columbia

From the first moment you arrive at a lighthouse and are whisked away to the city of Columbia, you know you are in a Bioshock game with the same sense of wonder that the first game had when you arrived at the underwater city of Rapture. In comparing Bioshock: Infinite with the other Bioshocks, I think it is somewhat better than the second gamebioshock dewitt Bioshock 2, but does not quite reach the level of the original. This is due to the fact that the game play in the first one was deeper with such options as improving your weaponry and hacking vending machines and security cameras  using a neat puzzle game to get an advantage over your foes. In Bioshock: infinite, activities like picking locks to gain access to new areas are done by Elizabeth and you just watch her do her work.

Another slight difference is in the tone of the games. The first two Bioshocks take place in a city that has fallen apart and is abandoned except for demented people known as splicers, which gives the games an almost survival/horror feel to them. Columbia, on the other hand, is populated with many people and is full of life–at least, at first. This is not necessarily a bad thing since it means that Bioshock: Infinite is not a retread, but it’s something to take note of.

bioshock fight

Overall, Bioshock: Infinite is another excellent piece of interactive entertainment that I think compares with any sci-fi/horror movie in terms of storytelling, fun, and having something to say.

C.S. Link