Star Trek Belongs On TV

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After the release of Star Trek Into Darkness in 2013, the state of the Star Trek franchise had once again been called into question. No doubt, the film was a success at the box office and initially received high critical acclaim. But vocal critics of the film and director J.J. Abrams’ handling of the revered franchise soon drowned out any good will. Many of them decried how dumbed down Star Trek had become, how it just pandered to the action crowd at the cost of Star Trek’s loftiness.

Abrams’s films should be lauded for resurrecting Star Trek. Before he came along, the franchise was considered dead; the last film Star Trek: Nemesis was a box office flop and the last show Star Trek: Enterprise was cancelled for poor ratings. Star Trek felt tired and used up, which necessitated the reboot. And frankly, the reboot did the job of bringing back Star Trek as a flashy, exciting and invigorating property, but many felt alienated.

Fluctuating Reboot

enterprise crashingThese critics saw a ray of hope when J.J. Abrams jumped ship to direct Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which precluded him from directing the next Star Trek film. That hope turned into disbelief and exasperation when screenwriter and producer Roberto Orci was hired by Paramount Pictures to direct the upcoming film. Even though he is a professed Star Trek fan, Orci didn’t have any directing experience and such a decision to entrust the franchise on a novice was troubling. But once again, the director’s chair went empty when Paramount announced this past November that Orci would no longer direct the film.

For a brief moment, hopeful fans opined on who should direct the film. The rumor that Abrams’ production company Bad Robot was trying to woo Edgar Wright was heartening. Some fans even started a campaign to get veteran actor/director Jonathan Frakes to return for a third turn as director. Then Paramount released a short list that precluded Frakes and Wright. Soon after, they announced that Justin Lin, the director of many Fast and Furious films would take the helm.

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That announcement was applauded by some, but it confirmed the suspicion that Paramount is only interested in making more shallow, action-packed fare. Many feel that reducing the Star Trek films into pyrotechnics-laden, empty adrenaline fests besmirches the property’s name. Most of the films and TV shows were lauded for offering something more. They had themes, messages, and commentaries of current topics. In Star Trek Into Darkness’ defense, that film did explore issues about terrorism, security and the need for Starfleet to get back into exploring, but those messages got lost in the lens flares, high-octane thrills, and sloppy plotting.

Enduring Aspects

True, many fans have a romanticized view of Star Trek. The old shows and films weren’t strictly intellectual fare, they did have their fair share of action episodes and flashy special effects. It’s part of Star Trek’s legacy. Think of how often fans would hum the pulsing action music from episodes like “Space Seed” while acting out Kirk’s famous drop kicks and fisticuffs. But Star Trek struck a proper balance between action, storytelling and food for thought.

One of the many reasons why all captainsStar Trek and its spinoffs have endured in popularity has been due to provocative episodes like “City on the Edge of Forever”, “The Visitor”, “The Inner Light”, and “The Naked Time”. These shows didn’t rely on action scenes and stunts, though they were welcomed when they did occur. Instead their selling points were character development and morality plays. That is why Star Trek continues to resonate. The action scenes and spaceship battles were just icing on the cake. This reverence also extends to many of the films. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek: First Contact are universally beloved for exploring many themes and character development. This especially applies to Star Trek II which was an action film, but presented memorable themes about revenge, growing old and renewal. Meanwhile, Abrams’ two Star Trek films were initially well received, but later derided by many for pandering to adrenaline junkies and betraying the spirit of Star Trek.

That is why there has been a call for Star Trek to return to its roots and have stories about exploration and so on, and the best way to achieve this is by returning to television. Continue reading

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The Star Trek Movies Ranked, Part I

Star Trek movies have been with us since the late ’70s and have received very mixed reactions. Some are revered as the very best of sci-fi films, while others received vicious barbs from fans and critics alike. Now that there is an even dozen films, it’s time to rank them in order.

The way my rankings work are basically four tiers. The first tier includes genuine classics that still hold up today and are iconic; the second tier features films that are undeniably enjoyable and worth watching, though they have their faults; the third tier is filled with flawed but noteworthy movies that have some good qualities and are sometimes underrated; the fourth tier, naturally is littered with the bottom-dwelling movies that are just terrible with little to recommend about them.

Tier One

1. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986): I know this may shock most fans who expected Star Trek II to be the number pick. Choosing the trek 4 sfvery best Star Trek film was quite difficult and honestly, it’s more of a tie between the two films. To those that would argue that Star Trek II is the best one, you won’t get an argument from me, but time and time again I keep going to the fourth film in the franchise.

Why? To me this one showed the original cast and filmmakers at the top of their game. Everything was top notch with this film: production values, special effects, acting, and the story. The movie which was about the original Enterprise crew time traveling to San Francisco in the late 20th century to find whales was a great example of a fish-out-of-water yarn. We got to see the crew out of their element, yet persevering in the strange environment of the past. The movie presented a lighter, more comedic side but it was still exciting and engaging. It also showed that a Star Trek film didn’t need a scene-chewing villain to carry a film.

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Finally, this film allowed all of the cast members to have their moment in the sun. They contributed to the story and had many outstanding scenes. Still, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley were the highlights, especially Shatner. His James T. Kirk wasn’t morose as in previous films, he was more confident, surprisingly funny and showed off his famous romantic, charming demeanor. By the film’s end, you feel completely satisfied. The crew had a new ship, Kirk was doing what he was meant to do and there was the promise of new beginnings as the Enterprise-A headed out to the unknown.

2. Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1982): On a different day I might’ve ranked this as so many do, as the best Star Trek film ever made. trek 2This is still the most important film in the franchise because it’s the one that saved it in its infancy. After the wooden and pedestrian debut film, there was doubt another expensive Star Trek film would ever be made. The filmmakers’ challenge was to put out an exciting, edge-of-your-seat thriller that would leave people talking about it for a long time to come. And they succeeded.

One of Kirk’s enemies from the original show, Khan (Ricardo Montalban), commandeers a Starfleet ship and goes on a warpath against Kirk. He blames our hero for marooning him on a desolate planet and wants Kirk to suffer as he did. And boy khandoes he give it to Kirk. The battle of wits between the two adversaries became famous thanks in part to the performances from both actors. This is Shatner’s best performance as a Kirk, who finally faces middle age, while Montalban clearly relishes his role as the battered but regal Khan. His character is undeniably one of the best movie villains of all time.

Even though the special effects and Nicholas Meyer’s direction are exemplary, what makes the film endure is its focus on the characters and its themes about dealing with your past, the destructiveness of vengeance and facing the future with dignity. So why isn’t this my favorite Star Trek film? Well, it nearly is and on some days I’ll admit it. But the film feels a bit ponderous and pompous at times. The script tends to go overboard with its constant quoting from classic literature. Then there’s Spock’s (Nimoy) death, while it’s eloquent and heartfelt, given that the character returns in later films, the death feels a bit empty. Those are just minor quibbles though and this movie is a must-see classic for everyone.

picard borg queen3. Star Trek: First Contact (1996): It’s not only the best Star Trek film that features The Next Generation cast but one of the franchise’s very best efforts. Director Jonathan Frakes (who also plays Riker) and the production team hit all the right marks in this great Star Trek film. Its success started with this well-written time travel/alien invasion saga.

Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and his Enterprise-E crew time travel to Earth’s mid-21st century to prevent the evil cybernetic Borg from conquering the planet. Successfully incorporating action and horror elements, Star Trek: First Contact was both exciting and suspenseful with a morality tale about obsession and dealing with destiny. This film is full of so many cool moments. One of the best was when the experimental warp ship the Phoenix launches from a missile silo as its pilot, Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell) blasts Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride”. Another was Picard’s histrionic ranting about the Borg, which forced him to look within himself. The Borg themselves are presented as the fearful, unrelenting force they were meant to be. The movie’s main villain, the Borg Queen (Alice Krige), is one of the more interesting and unique foes. She isn’t some revenge-minded madwoman but is cold, calculating, and with a strange allure.

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As with the better films, this one showcased many of the supporting characters and featured smile-inducing nods and cameos from the other Star Trek shows. The best one had to be the cameo of Star Trek: Voyager’s EMH (Robert Picardo) who appears as the Enterprise-E’s own EMH. One of his lines is also a nice tribute to Dr. McCoy. After falling short with the previous entry Star Trek Generations, the filmmakers had to get the franchise back on track and succeeded with this one. Everyone involved is to be lauded, from the actors, to the composer, to the production team and, of course, the director, who like Nimoy understood Star Trek. Continue reading

Star Trek Into Darkness Continues J.J. Abrams’ Vision

trek 12 posterA valid criticism about the last Star Trek film was that it was too much like Star Wars with its emphasis on flashy special effects and high-octane action. This same critique is applicable to Star Trek Into Darkness, the latest entry in the long-running film series. But at least more of an attempt is made to make this film seem more like Star Trek.

How so? Concern is brought up on more than one occasion that Starfleet is becoming too militarized and that they should be explorers. By the end of the film, the main characters wholeheartedly embrace that concept based on their experiences throughout the film. In some ways, Star Trek Into Darkness is a battle for the soul of Star Trek and to try to go back to its roots. The film doesn’t always succeed in getting that point across, since it wants to revel in the big-action scenes that define the J.J. Abrams era of Star Trek. In fact, it’s best to think of this film as Abrams’ audition tape for directing the next Star Wars film.

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Star Trek Into Darkness opens on an alien planet where angry, primitive natives are chasing Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban) after Kirk insulted them.

As the two men flee to their hidden starship, the Enterprise, the ship’s Vulcan first officer, Spock (Zachary Quinto) is trapped in an active volcano. He was trying to keep it from erupting using a cold fusion process. Once Kirk and McCoy make it back to their ship, Kirk orders a rescue of Spock. The ship is able to rescue the Vulcan but violates the Prime Directive when the natives see the advanced starship rise out of its hiding spot in the ocean.

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When the Enterprise crew returns to Earth, Kirk is called to Starfleet’s headquarters by Admiral Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood). Expecting a lucrative assignment, instead, Kirk is berated for being too reckless and thinking rules don’t apply to him. Kirk is stunned to find out that his command is taken away for violating the Prime Directive and for not being ready to be a starship captain. This was based on Spock’s accurate report about the incident on the planet.

Kirk is justifiably incensed at his friend and starts berating Spock later before they attend a high-level meeting with Starfleet brass. This meeting is to discuss a recent terrorist bombing in London by a Starfleet operative named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), who has gone rogue.

The meeting is interrupted when Harrison shows up outside the building where the meeting is held in a fighter craft and fires weapons at the attendees. Kirk is able to stop the attack but Harrison beams away and one of the casualties is Pike. Investigations reveals Harrison’s current location: Kronos, the Klingon homeworld.

An enraged Kirk asks Admiral Alexander Marcus (Peter Weller) to be reinstated as captain of the Enterprise so he can pursue the terrorist. Marcus agrees and tells Kirk to go to the border of Klingon space and launch several long-range, prototype photon torpedoes at Harrison’s location to kill him.

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Later, the Enterprise has to drop out of warp space near their destination due to a malfunction. Kirk then takes a shuttle to Kronos with Spock and other crewmembers and are saved from Klingons by Harrison himself, who quickly surrenders to him.

Now a prisoner onboard the Enterprise, Harrison reveals to Kirk that his name is really Khan and that he is a genetic superman who was in cryo sleep for three hundred years in kahnsleeper ship along with 72 other superhumans. Starfleet discovered their sleeper ship and only Khan was revived. Marcus, anticipating an all-out war with the Klingons, wanted to utilize Khan’s superior intellect to develop advanced weapons and is holding hostage the other superhumans as leverage. Furthermore, Marcus wants to use the Enterprise and Harrison to instigate a war with the Klingons.

Kirk’s suspicions about Marcus are soon confirmed when a massive starship arrives armed to the teeth. It’s commanded by Marcus, who demands that Khan be turned over to him.

Star Trek Into Darkness is one of the most exciting films in the series thanks to J.J. Abrams’ directing. Like its main character, the film is brash, bold and in your face with wild and intense action scenes. Highlights include a thrilling chase of Khan in San Francisco by Spock that culminates in a heart-pounding fight, where Spock nearly loses his control. Another is when a crippled Enterprise falls towards Earth, the special effects of those scenes are just brilliant and dazzling. Expect an Oscar nomination for special effects.

Continue reading

Ten Films To Look For In 2013

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Last year saw a batch of some truly great films and…some major disappointments. But we fans always look ahead to what’s coming out next year. This year isn’t an exception, however, there will be less genre offerings especially when compared to some stellar and exciting films due in 2014 and 2015. This means there are few guaranteed, must-see event films like The Avengers for this year. Still there are some potential nuggets that look or sound promising and who knows? One of them or something else may pleasantly surprise us.

10. Evil Dead

We’ve been burned by some recent, unnecessary remakes but this one is produced by Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, the director and the star respectively of the original films. The recent trailer promises the same outrageous thrills, scares and gore that made the originals (in)famous. Only this time the production look more professional and therefore more cringe inducing. (Release Date: April 12)

9. Warm Bodies

This zombie movie seems to be in the same humorous vein as Shaun Of The Dead and Zombieland. Warm Bodies is told from the POV of young male zombie who slowly starts to become human again after meeting a potential meal and falling in love with her (!). Warm Bodies looks very promising and unique, which should help it stand out from the crowded field of zombie movies. (Release Date: February 1)

8. Oz, The Great And Powerful

ozDirector Sam Raimi attempts to put behind his Spider-Man films with this prequel of sorts to The Wizard Of Oz. The film focuses on the man who became the sought after wizard of that mythical land. The casting of James Franco as the future Wizard seems like a good choice and the magical landscape and characters shown in the trailers are very stunning and colorful. Can’t wait for the revelation of the Wicked Witch of the East! (Release Date: March 8)

7. Pacific Rim

Fan favorite Guillermo Del Toro returns to the directing chair (his last film was in 2008) in this ode to kaiju (giant monsters) films. Pacific Rim concerns itself with a world being decimated by giant monsters and humanity fighting back by constructing giant robots that are operated by humans inside. Truthfully, Pacific Rim seems like a mix of Transformers and Cloverfield but in a good way. (Release Date: July 12)

6. Oblivion

This Tom Cruise vehicle is directed by Joseph Kosinsky, whose last work was the unexpectedly good Tron: Legacy. Cruise plays a lone repairman working in the ruins of an abandoned Earth, and is fixated on the oblivion 2planet and its lost wonders. One day he stumbles upon a mystery when he encounters a beautiful stranger. Sure, based on that premise and what’s shown on the trailer it may seem a lot like WALL-E except it’s with a human instead of a robot, but Oblivion also hints at deeper mysteries such as is Earth really abandoned by humanity? (Release Date: April 12)

5. Thor: The Dark World

Thor surprised many viewers with its refreshing take on superheroes being that it combined superheroics with ancient gods/alien Shakespearean drama and a decent fish-out-of-water element. Even though this sequel isn’t directed by Kenneth Branagh, who did such a great job with the first Thor, what has been revealed, namely Chris Hemsworth reprising his role as the God of Thunder and dark elves as the villains (the head villain is played by former Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston), promises to be a worthy followup. (Release Date: November 8)

4. The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug

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The middle part of The Hobbit trilogy comes out at the end of the year and should amp up the adventure quota now that the dwarves’ introduction and exposition about reclaiming their lost kingdom from the dragon Smaug was covered in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. However, that film turned off some fans due to its slow pace and 48 fps ratio that was unsettling for some viewers. Yet it pleased many and is a big hit worldwide. Director Peter Jackson should hope that this middle film in The Hobbit trilogy will be better received than his last middle film in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. (Release Date: December 13)

3. Gravity

This film about astronauts (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney) stranded on a decaying space station was held over from last year. Officially the reason had to do with upgrading the special effects and a 3D post-conversion. Rumor had it that the preview results were sharply mixed but after some more tweaking, the latest word of mouth is it that Gravity is a stunning piece of filmmaking. Alonso Cuarón, who directed the best sci-fi movie of the last decade (Children Of Men) and one of the better Harry Potter films (Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban) directs this suspenseful thriller. (Release Date: October 18)

2. Elysium

Neill Blomkamp, who directed one of the past decades very best science fiction films (District 9), returns to the big screen with damonhis next sci-fi epic. This one stars Matt Damon, Jodie Foster and District 9 vet Sharlto Copley and takes place in 2159. By this time, Earth is overpopulated and dying. While most of the population eke out a miserable existence on the planet, the elite live in a luxurious space station who will stop at nothing to keep the riff raff out of their artificial paradise. Damon plays an ex-con whose mission might upset the unequal balance in society. Based on Blomkamp’s last film and its high caliber of quality, Elysium would’ve rated higher on this list but to date no real details have been released, not even a teaser trailer, so it’s difficult to ascertain how promising Elysium looks. In this film’s defense, at least a couple of photos have been released, which isn’t the case with Gravity. (Release Date: August 9)

1. Star Trek Into Darkness

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J.J. Abrams directs his second Star Trek film, as fans know his first Trek film rebooted the long-running franchise. Many have mixed feelings about Abrams’ efforts, the man has admitted he isn’t a Star Trek fan and there are complaints that his previous Trek film seemed more like a Star Wars film. That is because it emphasized action and explosions over ideas and exploration. But Star Trek was an entertaining and rousing success. With Star Trek Into Darkness very little has been revealed about its mysterious plot and villain. What has been revealed is that Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) gets taken down a few pegs and loses command of the Enterprise. But the biggest buzz online has to do with the villain (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), an alleged former Starfleet officer turned terrorist. There are the speculations that he may be a genetic superman like Khan. So far, the lack of information from Abrams and company is helping to fuel interest for Star Trek Into Darkness. (Release Date: May 17)

Keep in mind, these release dates will change and may even be pushed back a year. Other films to keep an eye out for include World War Z (some may have noticed that this film was listed in the top 12 in last year’s list of anticipated films, but news of the troubled production kept it out of the list this time, though the trailer looks interesting), Iron Man 3 (will the franchise revive itself after the listless Iron Man 2? The back to basics approach shown in the trailer seems like a step in the right direction), The Hunger Games: Catching Fire wolverine(the first sequel to Suzanne Collins’ popular book series and movie about a tough girl surviving a futuristic blood sport), The Wolverine (Marvel’s most popular mutant has an adventure in Japan in his second solo film), Monsters University (Pixar’s newest animated release is a prequel to the hit Monsters, Inc.), After Earth (director M. Night Shyamalan attempts another comeback with this futuristic tale about a father and son stranded on an abandoned, hostile Earth), Area 51 (Paranormal Activity director Oren Peli’s delayed found-footage movie about aliens), I, Frankenstein (Aaron Eckhart plays the title character in modern times who fights to save humanity from immortal forces), The Colony (Bill Paxton and Laurence Fishburne are among dwindling human survivors in a futuristic ice age who must contend with a terrifying threat), Kick-Ass 2 (hopefully it won’t be as graphically gruesome as the comic book mini-series it’s based on), Ender’s Game (an adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s book about a gifted child trained to fight aliens in the future), and Last Days Of Mars (a group of imperiled astronauts on the red planet ).

José Soto

It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year…For Trailers!

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A fairly recent trend with movie studios these days during the holiday season is to build up excitement for their upcoming releases. This is being done with long-awaited trailers, in this year’s case, trailers for upcoming 2013 movies. It seems that sandwiched in between the big summer conventions with their super-exclusive trailers and clips and the Super Bowl, the best time for fans to first watch trailers is during the holiday season.

In rapid fire, studios are ramping up expectations and satisfying all those who couldn’t make it to the conventions and had to resort to watching bootleg copies filmed on someone’s phone. Forget the Super Bowl, who wants to sit through hours of sports and inane non-genre commercials just to glimpse a brief look at a summer film? It seems as if the holiday season has become the best time to whet fans’ appetites. During summer conventions, the films are far from finished and all that is available are teasers, but by the time the holidays are around, special effects shots are done and if there is something that may not set the world on fire based on reactions, there is still time to tweak the film or the marketing. Sure it’s nothing but Advertising 101 but it works.

To date, this season has seen newly minted trailers for summer 2013 movies like After Earth, Man Of Steel, Pacific Rim, and Star Trek Into Darkness. One genre film that is coming out instead in the spring is the Tom Cruise vehicle Oblivion and that is one of the most interesting trailers. Evoking a ruined Earth motif and a lonely observer ala WALL-E, the images of nature reclaiming man-made structures are very arresting.

man of steelThe Man Of Steel trailer was a mixed bag, however. Like the teaser released in the summer, it comes off as very pretentious like a Terrence Malick movie but midway through it, the tempo picked up with exciting action shots of Superman. Still many are feeling skeptical being that its directed by Zack Snyder, who has a hit or miss track record. Ditto with After Earth, which stars Will Smith and is directed by M. Night Shyamalan. The director has hit a rough patch with his recent films and is in dire need of a comeback. Will After Earth do it for him? Or will it be The Happening of 2013?

Of course all this oohing and ahhing over trailers doesn’t mean the film will be great. Many of us are still smarting over being let down after all the excitement from seeing the Prometheus trailer that came out last year. At the same time, the trailer released last year around this time for The Avengers was just an average trailer. It wasn’t until spring that the definitive exciting trailer came out that set off a storm of anticipation for The Avengers.

So which trailers are the favorites? That is hard to say, but the spots for Pacific Rim and Star Trek Into Darkness caught my attention. Pacific Rim had those cool giant robots and the entire thing seemed like a mashup of Cloverfield meeting the Transformers. But being that Michael Bay isn’t directing Pacific Rim adds many points to it. It turned out that the recent trailer for Star Trek Into Darkness wasn’t the teaser but the announcement for the teaser which came out today. The trailer was chock full of cool f/x shots, explosions and screaming, the kind of thing Star Trek is famous for, well not really. While Star Trek Into Darkness seems more like an action movie than one about exploration and not about the original spirit of Star Trek, the trailer does make it look exciting.

Now if only the movie studios would only give us a peek at The Wolverine, Kick-Ass 2 and Elysium.

Waldermann Rivera