Monday, April 9, 2018

Worst To Best: Star Trek Movies

Trekkies are a contentious lot.  I should know; I am one of them, and I'm so contentious on the subject at times that I disagree with myself.  I've been saying things about the franchise online for nearly a decade; not as frequently as I'd like, but more frequently than it might seem (if you take into account comments I've made at places like Dog Star Omnibus [which is going to get mentioned frequently in this post]).  And every so often I see something I've said, either here or elsewhere, and I just stop and think, did you really mean that?!?
  
For example, I recently found evidence that at one point in time I said Chris Pine was a better James T. Kirk than William Shatner ever thought about being.
  
Pine is fine, but ... no.  Opinions like that, Bryant, are what we refer to as "disqualifying hogwash."  I can only assume that when I wrote that, I must have been bashed in the head (Batman-style), knocked unconscious, and somehow failed to notice it happen.  So I came to, groggily typed a few sentences, and then fucked off for a while.
  
No other explanation is acceptable.
  
The bottom line is that it's an incredibly inconsistent franchise, in terms of its philosophies and its ethical beliefs and practices (which are not necessarily one and the same).  It's a HUGE topic, and a blogger is a fool if he believes that he can encompass such topics as a tourist; nope, in order to do that properly, one must be a resident.
  
Does that make me sound like a would-be gatekeeper?  If so, and that offends you, here's your trigger warning: there's going to be a LOT of gatekeeping in this post.  Or maybe it's not actually gatekeeping; I like to think that behind every opinion piece I write is the implication that I understand that you understand that what I'm writing is just an opinion, and not one designed to strip you of your own.

One way or the other, gatekeeping (alleged or otherwise) is difficult for Trekkies sometimes, because of the aforementioned inconsistencies.  It's likely that if you get two Trekkies in a room together, they will disagree on what the definition of "Star Trek" is.

Mine goes something like this:

Star Trek is a storytelling vehicle set in the future, primarily away from Earth, involving the systematic exploration of the galaxy by Starfleet, a quasi-military service of the United Federation of Planets.  Starfleet carries out numerous functions of the Federation, ranging from scientific research to law enforcement to cargo transportation to diplomatic negotiation.  The underlying philosophy of Star Trek in its many forms is that humanity has united as one people and, in so doing, has begun to realize its considerable potential.  This philosophy is often -- though not exclusively -- expressed via morality plays designed to present moral and ethical dilemmas which are resolved (or sometimes not resolved) through the lens of the characters with whom the audience is familiar.  These characters are largely sketched in one of two different ways: (1) as aspirational humans to whom the audience can look up to; or (2) as aliens or humanoids whose differences -- and sometimes their surprising similarities -- to humanity are designed to spark reflection as to the nature of what "humanity" means.

I'm sure that's a faulty definition in any number of ways, but it's what I came up with on the spur of the moment.  Against that definition, I feel like I could make a yes/no judgment of whether a specific episode or movie or novel or plot point achieved what I personally think of as "Star Trek."  It might work less well for you.

I mention all that so as to be better able to mention this: the very list that you have come here to read is my attempt at sorting the Trek movies by the degree to which they work for me AS Star Trek films.  You may be horrified by some of the results; two of them in particular may well cause you to rescind my invitation to speak to you on the subject of Star Trek.

But maybe not!  Let's be optimistic.

After all, this is a Star Trek post...


#13 -- Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)


 
  
One thing I may as well mention now: I'm going to be linking to Dog Star Omnibus for every single one of these movies (minus one).  McMolo never disappoints on the subject of Trek, and I consider his posts about the movies to be essential.  He's also been king enough to allow me to leave copious comments on many of them, and to be frank, I think I probably did a better job in those comments than I am apt to do here.
 
Dog Star Omnibus on Star Trek: Nemesis

I'll be completely honest with you: I really wanted to put a different movie in the bottom spot.  And if I'm being honest, I don't have the distaste for Nemesis that I have for that film.  But we'll get to that one; for now, let's stick with this one, and THIS one is a pile of hemorrhoids.


Paramount's handling of the Next Generation films series was woeful.  And we'll cover that here, of course.  Nemesis was -- allegedly -- intended to be a return to form after the perceived disappointment of Insurrection.  It was felt that that movie had been a failure and had halted the seemingly-strong public interest in the movies.  Thing is, Insurrection actually did alright at the box office; not a huge hit, but a hit.  This despite the fact that it didn't exactly light anybody's fire.  Clearly, the thing to do from there was come up with a really great high-concept flick that could regain whatever goodwill had been squandered by Insurrection.  I don't think there was that much of it.  I didn't like it all that much myself, at the time, but would I have gotten excited about a properly kick-ass sequel?  You bet.

So instead, Paramount waited four years -- by which time the franchise was hanging on by a thread even on television -- and made a movie using a writer and (especially) a director who clearly had no business being let near a Star Trek film.  A great high-concept film it was not; a properly kick-ass sequel it was not.

There are at least moderate efforts to have the movie be About Something in the grand Trek tradition.  The conceit here is a nature-versus-nurture exploration of what would happen if a clone of Jean-Luc Picard were raised by Romulans.  Okay, well, that's not a terrible idea.  And if Patrick Stewart had been allowed to play both sides of the coin, perhaps that could have given the film enough emotional resonance to get it over the hump.  But Stewart's age didn't permit for that, and so what you've got is a movie with two Picards in which one of the Picards really doesn't register as a Picard.  Even if you've got the best actor in the world playing opposite Stewart, that's a crippling failure of concept.

And they did have Tom Hardy in one of his first major roles, so they did alright.  Didn't help the film much, alas.  It also didn't help that the guiding principle for the film seems to have been to make it an edgy sci-fi action film.  Trek is not incapable of accommodating action scenes; but action in Trek works best when it comes in small doses, and I think about half of this movie is an action scene of some sort.  Maybe not.  I'm not sure I can say for sure, because I'm really bad at paying attention to this movie.  I've seen it three times (I think), and on all three occasions, I fell asleep for significant portions.  The third act remains something of a mystery to me.  I've read summaries of it; I know what happens.  And it amounts to very little.

Things I like in this movie:

  • Most of the cast.
  • The moment in which Shinzon tells Picard it is too late for him to change, and Picard responds by exhorting him thus: "Never!  Never!"  It's a wonderful moment from Stewart, and a wonderfully Trekian moment.  
  • The music by Jerry Goldsmith is okay; but it's easily his least-engaging Trek score.
  • The Admiral Janeway cameo.  
  • Uh...is that it?

Things I dislike in this movie:

  • Space dune-buggies are stupid.
  • Shinzon's plot.  Why would this bald cretin care about Earth?  Why would he care about the Federation?  He's been raised within the Romulan/Reman strife, and since the movie comes down on the side of nurture winning out over nature, I don't know that it makes a lick of sense for Shinzon to care about much beyond advancing his cause within that conflict.  And in theory, that's plenty!  There's just no need whatsoever to add in a threat to Earth.
  • Brent Spiner.  He's mostly fine as Data (though I'll be perfectly fine if I never hear Data sing again in my entire life), but he's kind of dreadful as B4.
  • B4 in general.  This is about as dumb an idea as ideas get.  So Spiner decided he was getting too old to play Data and asked to be killed off.  Terrible idea.  But to then kill Data and immediately replace him with another android played by the same actor is a terrible idea among terrible ideas.
  • Ron Perlman being hidden beneath makeup is a thing I understand; he's been hidden beneath makeup in several of his finest roles.  Why you would then also add distortion effects to his voice is a complete mystery to me.  You could have hired anybody if you were going to do both of those things; why waste a perfectly good Ron Perlman?

The movie feels like what it probably was: a last-ditch cash-grab effort, engineered by people who were only minimally committed to what they were doing.


#12 -- Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)


 

Dog Star Omnibus on Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Well, here we are: the first of (at least) two entries on this list that may make you think I've taken leave of my senses.  I freely admit that in many circles -- both Trekkie-staffed and otherwise -- The Undiscovered Country is held in high regard.  By general acclaim, it is reckoned to be both well made and a fitting adios to the original-series crew/cast.  It is both, at least on the surface.  But dig a little deeper, and you'll find a lot to dislike.

For me, it comes to this: it's a Star Trek movie that does not really believe in Star Trek.  It was perhaps not the first, but I do find it to be the worst offender.  Like, I really want to list this as THE worst movie in the series.  I can't quite do it; Nemesis is guilty of at least some of the things this film is, and on top of that it's also a cornucopia of nonsense.  If one accepts The Undiscovered Country's transgressions (or is perhaps not all that cognizant of the ways in which they are transgressions to begin with), then I can absolutely see how it might result in one having a great time at the movies.

So I've reluctantly put it into the nearly-last spot.

Have no confusion about it, though: in my heart, this one comes last.

The reason for that is the "racism is bad, mm-kay?" plotline that turns Kirk and nearly his entire crew into rampaging bigots.  Arguably worse than that: the fact that a genocidal plot aimed at bringing the Klingon people to their knees is launched by Starfleet.  Yeah, yeah, I know; it's by a rogue faction of Starfleet.  And yeah, I also know that as the movie develops, Kirk and his crew race against time to put an end to it.  But I'm sorry, I just don't buy it.

Nor do I accept it.  James T. Kirk is a role model.  He inspired me as a child, and he inspires me still today.  Is that silly?  Maybe so.  But I'm a white guy who grew up in Alabama during the seventies, eighties, and nineties; and I figure that Star Trek is about thirty percent of the reason I'm not a racist scumbag.  So when you ask me to accept the fact that in this movie, Kirk is even momentarily tempted to allow the Klingons, as a people, to sink into ruin and decay...?  You need to get out of my face before I remove you.

Other crew members fare nearly as bad or worse, with the worst moment perhaps coming when somebody complains about how the Klingons smell.  The implication is clear: pretty much everyone on board the Enterprise -- Spock is an exception, mercifully -- wants these filthy savages to stay away.

You don't get to the place where humanity is in Star Trek if that many people are still holding sentiments like that close to their hearts.  That's twentieth-century thinking.  Realistic?  Absolutely it is.

But if you're not willing to commit to thinking better within the bound of fiction that is designed to represent a better way of thinking, then you're failing.

The Undiscovered Country is an abysmal failure with a few nice grace notes appended to it.  Those are like air freshener in a frequently-used public restroom: insufficient to the task.

So maybe you think I'm nuts saying this movie belongs this low on the list.  All I will say else in my defense is that for what Star Trek means to me, this movie borders on sacrilege.


#11 -- Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)


 
 
Dog Star Omnibus on Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
 
Many Trekkies would likely want me to know that I should be sentenced to an unofficial penal colony in the Ceti Alpha system for saying that The Final Frontier is a better movie than The Undiscovered Country.  And they are well within their rights to do so, because this really is a dreadful movie in many ways.  Perhaps in most ways.  In terms of sheer tackiness, there is nothing in either The Undiscovered Country or even Nemesis to compete with the scene here in which Nichelle Nichols is asked -- allowed? -- to stand on a hill with the moon behind her, dancing "seductively."  That is a nadir no matter how you slice it.
 
And numerous other moments fall flat on a more minor scale.  Could we list them?  We could.  And someday, we shall, whenever we get there.
 
But there is also a decent amount of stuff that works well, and whatever one feels about the movie in the negative sense, I think one has to admit that if nothing else it has a fundamentally Trekian story, tone, and philosophy.  This gives it at least two legs up on The Undiscovered Country, by my reckoning.  The excellent Jerry Goldsmith score gives it a third.
 
 
#10 -- Star Trek Generations (1994)
 
 
 
 
Dog Star Omnibus on Star Trek Generations
 
This is a movie I loved at one point in time, but I have really soured on it over the years and now have no choice but to rank it near the bottom of the pile.  There is still plenty to recommend: good performances from the entire TNG crew (who transition onto the big screen effortlessly), great cinematography, a good score by series veteran Dennis McCarthy, and a fun end for the Duras sisters, who are maligned in some quarters but much admired here.
 
But then there are the negatives, key among them the incredible extent to which the big TOS/TNG crossover is squandered.  Picard and Kirk have very little meaningful time together, and during that time, Kirk does almost nothing to remind you of why he is such a beloved character.  Shatner's age is part of the problem, but only part of it; the screenplay is the real villain of this production.  How you fail to capitalize on Kirk meeting Picard to the degree this screenplay fails is a mystery to me.
 
And Kirk's death is simply lame.
 
So, I'm sad to report, is the movie as a whole, despite its individual virtues.
 
 
#9 -- Star Trek Beyond (2016)
 
 
 
 
I enjoyed Beyond when it came out a couple of years ago, but I only saw it once; so when it came time to ranking the films for this post, I thought I'd best give it a second look.  Its placement here tells you how that re-evaluation went.
 
The temptation is strong for me to spend the next two hours attacking this disappointing third entry in the Kelvinverse series, but I'm also tempted to spend my off day watching some Twilight Zone, reading some P.G. Wodehouse, eating some tacos, and, you know, maybe actually finishing this post.  Or if not finishing it, then getting about half of it finished.  Spending that much time grousing about Star Trek Beyond is antithetical to all of those goals, so I'm thinking it needs to be a scaled-down grouse.
 
It does not need, for example, to encompass the degree to which Paramount -- and CBS -- bungled the franchise's 50th anniversary, during which year (2016) Beyond was released.  MGM was able to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first James Bond film by having Daniel Craig appear in a short film with the actual Queen of England.  I'd say that compared to that, Paramount's efforts on behalf of Trek were underwhelming, but the fact is that even if you don't compare them to that, they were underwhelming.  But I'm refusing to take two hours to explore the topic beyond that, so let's move on.
 
The movie itself?  Also underwhelming. 
 
Here's a partial list of the things in it that I enjoy:
 
  • The main cast remains good.   We'll save a full discussion of that for later on in the list, but I think everyone in the crew does good work here.  NOT, I would argue, great; but good.
  • Sofia Boutella as Jaylah.  Her makeup is instantly iconic, from a design standpoint, and the character herself is interesting.  Jaylah has lived on an abandoned Starfleet vessel for years, and has taught herself to speak English by playing various bits of recordings in the Franklin's computer banks.  "I like the beats and shouting," she deadpans about a song by Public Enemy.  She has amusing verbal gaffes, she is tough and resilient, and there is an undercurrent of loneliness that makes her interesting above and beyond the humorous aspects and the martial-arts/action elements.  Problem is, she's a great idea for an ongoing character, preferable on a television series; she's in the movie a good amount, but not enough to salvage it in and of herself.  But Boutella does well, and I hope she returns for the sequels, if and when sequels are made.
  • Yorktown.  An enormous (that's an understatement) space station that seems to be the size of a small moon, it's seemingly the pinnacle of Federation technology.  It's a (so to speak) living embodiment of the idea that unified people are capable of damn near anything.  It's impractical as hell, and probably 100% unrealistic, but so what?  If you love sci-fi, you must love this sort of thing; if you don't, I don't know what's wrong with you.  And it's nice to see Trek swinging for the fences in this regard.
  • Michael Giacchino's gorgeous theme music for Yorktown.
  • Shohreh Aghdashloo as Commodore Paris.  Nowadays, I know and love her from The Expanse, but I've enjoyed her work going back to 24, so I'm glad to see her here.  I'd watch THE FUCK out of a weekly series in which Commodore Paris was the lead character and Yorktown was the setting.  Such a series could never be afforded, but I'd do my part to help it thrive.
  • A general respect continues to be shown toward Enterprise, the final television series of the middle era of Trek teevee.
  • The design aesthetic of the movie is not 100% successful, but I do like a lot of it.  The dayglo rock quarry set is cool in a way that makes me think of the Gold Key comics.
  • *sigh*  Can we talk about diversity for half a second?  I know it's a tiresome subject for many people in 2018; and for others, it's the only subject.  I try my best to stand someplace in the middle of that divide.  With that in mind, let me salute the fact that this film was directed by an Asian-American man and co-written by another Asian-American man.  People of Asian heritage are grossly underrepresented in Hollywood, and it's nice to see that a significant chunk of the primary filmmakers for Beyond are of Asian descent.  I wish I had nicer things to say about the actual movie they made ... but the production schedule on the movie was so accelerated that I'm not sure anyone could have done a whole heck of a lot better.
  • Big green space hand.
  • There are a LOT of great alien designs; the makeup and prosthetics work is exceptional.
 
Here's a partial list of my complaints:
 
  • Krall.  The villain in this film is just awful.  One of the worst in the series of the films.  You get Idris Elba, and THIS is the best you can do with him?!?  Lordy, what a waste.  Spoiler alert: it turns out he is actually a former Mako soldier (see Enterprise) whose crew crash-landed on a planet called Altamid.
  • "Altamid"?  Is this SUPPOSED to sound like "Ultimate"?  Because it does when many of the characters say it.  So unless there's a pun of some sort at work there that reinforces some aspect of the movie, that's a poor name for a fake planet.
  • Remember earlier, when I said the makeup is exceptional?  It is, except in a couple of cases with the humans.  Both Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto look ... weird.  Pine in particular; he has an off-putting sheen of some sort that makes him look as if he is partially CGI or something.  You've got to work to make Chris Pine look anything other than handsome, and by golly, this makeup crew seems to have worked.  As for Quinto, the Spock haircut here is just dreadful.  Quinto appears perhaps to have put on a few pounds in the face, as well, which doesn't help.  I apologize for being lookist like this, and to be clear, both Pine and Quinto still look about ten times better than Greg Grunberg, who has a small role as a prominent member of the Yorktown ops team; Grunberg has, to be blunt, turned into a fatass.  And Grunberg looks about fifty times better than I myself look, so who am I to criticize?  Nobody, that's who.  And yet, I do, so I'll mention that both Simon Pegg and John Cho look a wee bit haggard, as well.
  • The "Kirk is bored and tired of being in space" subplot.  What?!?  Maybe that's a valid subplot for a Star Trek of some sort.  Not for one involving James T. Kirk.  I get it.  The idea is to use Beyond as a means of (probably in celebration of the 50th anniversary) reaffirming what Star Trek is all about.  I'm not much of a believer in the notion that in order to reaffirm a thing, you must tear it down first so you can rebuild it.  That sort of thing can work sometimes; sometimes ain't always, though, and it doesn't work here.  Speaking of which...
  • The villain's plot is all about tearing down the Federation because he thinks its ideals are hogwash.  Why?  It's never explained, or at least, it's underexplained.  I think it's because his ship crash-lands on Altamid and he is able to survive only by finding a piece of alien technology that grants he and his crew long life, with the caveat that it also alters their DNA and turns them into aliens.  Or something like that.  It's pretty vague.  Perhaps somebody more on the ball than I am could make a persuasive argument about how the movie's message -- "Xenophobia is bad, mm-kay?" -- was/is a compelling one for a movie that came out during the year a cornhole in a red hat won the Presidency.  If so, I'm open to changing my mind about this movie at some point down the line.  But as is, for now?  I'm not saying the message isn't sound, but I am saying that it's put to boring, uninspiring use in this movie.  I'm just happy it didn't turn out that the whole thing was a plot enacted by some rogue faction within Starfleet.  Except wait, I guess it kind of was, wasn't it?  Ugh.
  • The score by Michael Giacchino is, apart from the new Yorktown theme, kind of on the paint-by-numbers side.  It's better than the almost-entirely paint-by-numbers score for Into Darkness, but despite that it is a disappointment.
  • Lord have mercy, can we put a moratorium on destroying the Enterprise?  This is a thing that needs never to happen in another Star Trek movie.  It probably shouldn't have happened a second time (in Generations); for it to happen a third was just begging me not to care.  You needn't have begged; I was primed and ready to deliver in that regard.
  • Similarly, I'm over the ironic use of hip-hop and rap-infused rock in Star Trek.  I'm kind of over the use of period music of any kind.  I didn't need Gilbert & Sullivan or Irving Berlin from the Next Gen folks, and I don't need Beastie Boys and Public Enemy from the Kelvinverse.  It's just not that funny a joke; and while the "Fight the Power" joke works here, the "Sabotage" one does not.  Want proof?  Witness the reaction of the world to it being used in the first trailer.  The world said, "Nope," and remained steadfastly uninterested in the movie ever since.
 
There's probably more to be said, both good and bad, but the bottom line for me is that there's just no inspiration in this film.  This doesn't feel like a thing somebody had to say because not saying it would have driven them crazy; this feels like product.  This is IP.  And in theory, that's acceptable; but if it's going to be that, it needs to be operating at a higher level than this.  Beyond isn't bad; it's just that "not bad" isn't quite good enough.
 
 
#8 -- Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
 
 
 
 
Dog Star Omnibus on Star Trek: Insurrection
 
I've never been a huge fan of this movie and probably never will be, but I'll say without a doubt that it deserves a better reputation than the one it has.  If I might beat a drum you've heard me beat before, it's operating at a vastly more acceptable and interesting level than, oh, I dunno, let's say Star Trek: Discovery.
 
My primary complaint about Insurrection has always been that's it's not exceptional in any way, not even in intent.  I remember walking out of seeing it and saying to the people I'd seen it with, "Well, that was fine, but it was basically just a two-part episode of the series."
 
YEAH?!?  AND...?!?  That's what 2018 Bryant says to 1998 Bryant.  So what, 1998 Bryant?  So the fuck what?  See, what he didn't know was that twenty years later, it'd be damn near impossible for televised Star Trek to actually be much like Star Trek.  Count them blessings, friend; they may not be as permanent as you think.
 
Anyways, there's a lot of quality in this film.  It doesn't 100% work, but it's a solid base-hit of a movie that uses its cast well, shoehorns in yet another rogue-faction-of-Starfleet plotline in relatively graceful style, and has some really gross and upsetting villains.  Plus, great score by Jerry Goldsmith; that's always a thing worth celebrating.
 
By the way, here's a freebie for you, Paramount: an awesome idea for a fifth and final Next Generation movie that will earn you rave reviews and about $300 million worth of domestic box office if executed capably.  It begins in a manner somewhat similar to "All Good Things..." but does not include Picard being mentally infirm; instead, he is hale and hell and hearty as fuck, enjoying retirement, but missing his friends.  They're off doing whatever they all do now, and, just like in "All Good Things...," he stumbles upon some reason to round them all up again.  Some sort of mystery needs solving, or some sort of crisis needs averting; I dunno.  Hire somebody to figure that part of it out.
 
What's important is that -- once again -- this will all turn to be a big shenanigan put together by ol' Q himself.  See, it's indefensible that there has not yet been a Q movie.  I aim to fix that.  Anyways, you don't find out about this right off the bat; it will take probably twenty minutes or so to get the crew assembled again, and once they are, they will suddenly, without warning, find themselves onboard the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise.  And it'll be the Enterprise-D!  They'll be in those hideous old uniforms again, and about this time Picard will be on the verge of figuring it all out.  but right before he does, Q appears, so that Picard can say "Q!" in an accusatory tone of voice.  Q will quip about how poorly everyone's uniforms seem to be fitting, and he'll task them with some sort of an adventure.  What that is, I have no idea.  Hire a screenwriter, pay 'em to figure it out.  Something of a Voyage Home style romp, is my feeling; not time-travel, necessarily (it's been done too much), but something without an oppressive sense of mortal peril.  Stakes, though; stakes, for sure.  Everyone in the cast has a meaty role; maybe you can even squeeze Wesley and Guinan in there someplace, although that is not essential.
 
The point is, it will be a lot of fun.  And in the end, what we will discover is that Q is dying.  He's on the verge of sliding into whatever waits beyond the infinite, and in his final days -- "days" being a highly relative concept for a quasi-immortal being like a Q -- he has grown wistful for the good old days.  He was never more fulfilled than when he was tormenting Picard and his crew, and he wanted to be with them all one last time before the end.  Picard gets all choked up about it, and Q makes fun of him, and leaves them all with one final gift: they can keep the Enterprise.  Oh, and there's a really interesting thing about to happen in some star system someplace; Q points them toward it, tells them they are bound to screw it up, and then literally winks out of existence.
 
And so the crew of the NCC-1701-D sails off, back in the adventure business, headed for some place where no one has gone before.
 
Yeah, it's derivative.  So what?  This crew deserved a proper sendoff, and never got one.  It's not too late to fix that, and there's a bajillion people who'd be all about seeing it, mark my words.
 
 
#7 -- Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984)
 
 
 
 
Once again, I'm going to say that what you really ought to do now is just go to Dog Star Omnibus and read McMolo's thoughts on The Search For Spock.  You don't need to hear anything I've got to say, not in comparison to what you'll find there.
 
But for my own sake, I guess I'll go ahead and say a little.  Uncharacteristically, I failed to carpet-bomb the comments section at DSO for this one, so I guess I ought to make up for that a bit.
 
I don't think it's a particularly well-made movie, in some respects.  Nimoy was clearly still figuring out how to be a director, and there are some sequences that just don't work especially well.  Some of that is endemic to the screenplay, which feels a need that many other Trek screenplays have felt before it and after it: to more or less insist that the entirety of Starfleet is staffed by incompetent, stuffed-shirt buffoons, and it's only our beloved crew that keeps the whole endeavor from having its pants fall down around its knees.
 
It's a problem I wish somebody associated with Trek could truly crack, once and for all.  That's quite possibly a fool's dream, but it's a dream of mine, and if I'm foolish for it, then so be it.
 
The plus side of the approach is that it can -- and, here, does -- allow the core cast of characters to shine.  As an ensemble, the TOS cast was only put to better use than this perhaps once (in a film we'll get to a few spots up on this list), and arguably never.  It's hard to grouse too much about a Star Trek movie that has that as one of its virtues.
 
And by no means is that the only virtue.  The core concept is strong.  Heck, even the opposition from Starfleet helps make the stakes feel heftier.  This was important, because the film was a sequel to the much-beloved Wrath of Khan, and that film's instantly-iconic status was achieved (as much as by any other method) by virtue of how much it counted.  That movie has genuine stakes; so much so that Spock himself dies, a thing that could very well have spelled the end for the franchise.  If trivialized or executed poorly, you can count on it: Star Trek would have been just as dead as Spock was.
 
But neither of those things was the case, and so The Wrath of Khan had an explosively resonant impact on Trek fandom.
 
It was, therefore, crucial for The Search For Spock not to muck that up.  And whatever flaws and imperfections the film has, it got that right; it did NOT muck up the impact of The Wrath of Khan.  If anything, it deepened it by bringing Sarek back, and by sending the crew off on an adventure designed to prove how very much they all loved their dearly-departed friend.  So great is that love that they willingly sacrifice the Enterprise herself.
 
As McMolo relates, this was a controversial decision in some quarters.  It always worked for me, because -- again -- the stakes were genuine.  That wasn't the case when the Enterprise-D was destroyed in Generations, and it certainly wasn't the case when the Kelvinverse Enterprise was shredded like wet paper in Beyond.  Those were just action scenes; in The Search For Spock, that's a tragic death scene.  That's a hero-dying-upon-a-bloody-field scene, and it works for me totally.
 
I'm of a more split mind about the ignominious death of David Marcus.  This is, arguably, more of a distraction than it is anything else; and while the scene itself is one of the most memorably-filmed in the movie, and leads to some fine Shatner moments, I think it's maybe a bit too much.  Plus, it opened the door for The Undiscovered Country, which I'd prefer have remain shut.  Still, too much of it works for me to write it off fully; but wouldn't it have been nice for David to remain alive?
 
In retrospect, killing Saavik might have been preferable.  The role had to be recast, and bless her heart, Robin Curtis simply wasn't up to the challenge of filling Kirstie Alley's ears.  We'll never know what a reprise of the role by Alley might have meant for this film; and that's a real shame.
 
Final (for now) thoughts: The Search For Spock is a mixed bag, but a lot of it works like a charm, and if nothing else that final scene is one of the greats in the series.
 
 
#6 -- Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
 
 
 
 
Dog Star Omnibus on Star Trek Into Darkness
 
Confession time: I probably should have watched this movie again before ranking it for this post.  I had a very strong reaction to it -- and a positive one, might I add? -- when it was released five years ago.  The common-consensus reaction to it, then and ever since, has been mostly negative, though, and it's entirely possible that my relatively low ranking here is an outcome of having been unduly influenced by those years of negativity. 
 
Conversely, I might well have been guilty of new-movie recency bias in loving it as much as I did back then.  It might be that I watched it again today, I'd see it in a more negative light.
 
My placement here, then, reflects an attempt to take both possibilities into account.  I am content, for now, to go with that.
 
The movie has problems, no doubt about it.  The evocations of The Wrath of Khan are, to be blunt, a cup of chicken jizz.  I have no idea if chickens ejaculate or not (and under no circumstances will I Google such a thing), but if they do or if they don't, that's what that subplot is like: the spunk of poultry. 
 
So is the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch.  Dude is a great actor, and he's got some great moments here in a performance that is never less than good and occasionally quite a bit better.  (In my original review for the film, I said he was worthy of being considered one of the great Trek villains.  I also said Chris Pine was a better Captain Kirk than William Shatner.  Yeesh!)  But casting a white guy as Khan in 2013 was and is indefensible.  (And yes, I know: white guys could grow up in India.  Or white guys the world 'round could theoretically be named Khan Singh.  These things are not lost upon me.)  I'll grant you that as brown people go, Ricardo Montalban was not particularly brown as the original Khan.  But that was the sixties/eighties, when such things happened routinely.  I think the production was obliged to cast somebody at least as brown as Montalban, and somebody even browner would have been preferable.  Sometimes, after all, these things do matter; and this was one of those times, at least in my opinion.
 
There's also yet another rogue-faction-of-Starfleet plotline.  Guys, seriously; this is not a thing we need.  I know, I know, there are some good episodes of pretty much all of the series in which this is a thing; but those were admirably-executed bad ideas, or so I'd argue.  So is this one; I mean, Peter freakin' Weller, you know?  But still, can we give this a permanent rest and just let Starfleet be the beacon of human aspiration that Gene Roddenberry (inconsistently [it must be admitted]) wanted it to be?  Can we try that for a while and see if we can make it stick?
 
That said, there's a lot of good stuff in this movie.  J.J. Abrams is a good director, and there are some excellent setpieces, including the Bond-style prologue scene.
 
 
#5 -- Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
 
 
 
 
Dog Star Omnibus on Star Trek: First Contact
 
Nobody cares about this, but I'm going to now tell you the story of the circumstances under which I saw this movie for the first time.
 
Opening day, November 22, 1996.
 
I was still in college, and I worked throughout my six-year (I know, right?!?) collegiate career in the athletic department of the university from which I graduated.  (Which one?  I'm going to be obstinate and refuse to tell you.)  I worked in the office that served as the liaison between the teams and the press, and one of my jobs was to travel with the ladies' volleyball team and send out press reports about the matches.  We played in the conference championship that year, which was in Columbia, South Carolina.  As I recall, we got eliminated in the first round, which I believe was Friday morning.  Either way, we were still in town on that Friday night.
 
Alright, so first thing about that.
 
Not being an especially sharp young man, by which I mean I was something less than a Don Draper / James Bond type, I was unable to enjoy this in the manner than many young men might.  I mean, look ... I was with an entire collegiate volleyball team.  Do I even need to tell you how hot they all were?  Saying they were out of my league would be a gross understatement.  To my discredit, I didn't even really have it on my mind to try fixing that.  Because really, done correctly, traveling with a ladies' volleyball team might have been a rather effective fix to not being Don Draper. 
 
But, like I said, it was such an impossibility that I basically didn't even think about trying.  I did, on the other hand, find it to be within the scope of my powers to at least try to find a way to go see Star Trek: First Contact on opening night.  So I hired taxi, left the hotel where all the fine-ass volleyball players were staying, and paid some dude to drive me twenty miles or so to a movie theatre that was showing it.  Naturally, during the drive, the cab driver -- who was also evidently a pimp -- offered to take me someplace where a young man on the town "could get his dick sucked real good for about fifty dollars." 
 
"Haha, no thanks," I replied, "I got me a Star Trek to go see."  In my memory, what happened then was that a couple of eyes in the rearview mirror gave me a good looking over for a few seconds and found me lacking.
 
If there is a better summary of my life than that cab ride, I am currently at a loss to think of it.
 
The apt metaphors continued somewhat as the night progressed.  The first evening show was already sold out when I got there (despite my having gotten there way early), so I bought a ticket for the later show, and then went to a nearby Toys "R" Us, where I swear to God, I think I bought a Morn action figure.  Might have been some Star Wars toys in that sack when I left, too; but I can't say for sure.  I do know I had a sack of nerd evidence.
 
Anyways, I went back to the theatre with tons of time still to kill, so I bought a ticket and went to see Jingle All the Way, which, yeesh.  That finished, it was time to get in line for First Contact, which I did.  I got involved in a conversation with some other nerds while there, and we talked about Deep Space Nine and whether we liked it or not.  Some other nerd chimed in that Babylon 5 was the best show on television at the time, and that's where my interest in B5 was reawakened.  I'd watched the pilot movie, and the first few episodes of the first season, but had given up before long; the guy said yeah, I hear you, but trust me, it's WAY better now.  It was in its third season and was kicking ass, or so the dude told me.  It'd be the next summer before I'd get caught up, thanks to -- I think? -- TNT airing reruns; when I did catch up, I'd have to see I agreed wholeheartedly with the random South Carolinian.
 
So anyways, we all watched the movie, and it kicked ass and everyone in the big old sold-out theatre loved it, and the movie went on to be a nationwide hit that proved the Next Gen crew belonged on the big screen as much as their ancestors, the TOS crew, had.  Afterward, I called another cab, and went back to the hotel.  Naturally, in the lobby of the floor I was staying on, a little group of my team's players were sitting around shooting the shit.  They asked where I'd been and I told them, doing my best to hide the bag of lameness I'd brought back with me.  Did they pityingly shake their heads at me the way they might have done if a dog from the pound had just yarked up all over the carpet?  I can't swear to it, but I think it was implied.  That's how my day went on November 22, 1996; it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
 
Anyway, we delivered the bomb.
 
 
#4 -- Star Trek (2009)
 
 
 
 
Dog Star Omnibus on Star Trek
 
As a franchise, Star Trek was a dead, dead duck from about 2005 (when Enterprise was canceled) to 2007 (when the reboot movie was announced).  That might seem like a brief amount of time, and indeed it was something less than a full two years.
 
But look at it from a different angle.
 
I was born in 1974, so my consciousness was kicking in for real around the turn of the decade.  There were Star Trek movies coming out every few years once I reached that point of development, and then in 1987 a new television series began, and before that was even off the air there was another, and then another, and then another.
 
And then, one day in 2005, they were all gone.
 
I'd been gone for years.  I am sad to say that I'd stopped paying much attention to Star Trek in any of its forms sometime before the year 2002 ended.  I'd never finished watching Deep Space Nine; I'd never seen Voyager at all; and Enterprise struck me (in a flawed bit of thinking that embarrasses me to this day) as being unworthy of my time.  So I gave up on it early in the second season, and never saw another episode until it was long off the air.  I went to see Nemesis when it came out, and that was effectively the end of my association with Trek, except when an occasional memory of the good old days floated to the surface of my mind.
 
Still, it bothered me that there was no more Trek.  This was, for all practical purposes, the first time in my life that there had been no new Trek on the horizon.  Had I checked out of the hotel?  Sure had.  But that doesn't mean I wanted the hotel to be torn down.  In the back of my mind, I was always hopeful that someday, there might be a good reason for me to check into that hotel again.
 
It bothered me to live in a world without new Star Trek, and that bother wouldn't leave my mind.  Eventually, it morphed into a desire to watch the original series again, and around about the time I was doing that, the announcement came through that J.J. Abrams was going to do a movie reboot with the original-series characters.
 
It's always struck me as interesting that my own experience of those fallow years seems to have paralleled that of the industry itself.  There I was, in a passive sort of funk, feeling that it was a downright shame that Star Trek was a thing of the past; so I eventually decided to bring it back, if only for myself, and what I found was that there was a lot more gold in them thar hills than I even remembered.  Not only did the series hold up, it seemed better than ever in some ways.
 
Meanwhile, behind the scenes in Hollywood, there were clearly influential people going through a differently-expressed version of the same thing: can we live in a world without Star Trek? they thought, and answered in the negative.  And what they decided was that they needed to return to the original series, the origin point for the entire thing.
 
What resulted, of course, was Star Trek '09, and while there are still plenty people who aren't enamored with the movie, I think it's beyond questioning that it saved the franchise.  True, there hasn't been a HUGE amount of activity since then: two good-to-mediocre sequels and (for my money) a really terrible streaming series.
 
But the movie itself was a big hit, and people immediately began talking about the original series again.  This led, of course, to people discovering all the later series, as well; even Enterprise, which had received a prominent and loving shoutout of sorts in the '09 reboot.  And, yes, the viability of the franchise as a whole eventually got Discovery greenlit, returning Trek to television, which is where it belongs most comfortably.  For me, it's been a washout so far, but evidently the numbers have been strong for CBS All Access; and I can always hope that either Discovery will get better or that whatever Trek comes after it will be an improvement.
 
That hope would likely not be there if not for the first Abrams movie.
 
And while that's reason enough to be glad for its existence, the truth is that it's a solid movie in its own right.  I don't know that it's really a Star Trek movie, in the strict sense of the definition I supplied above.  But if you make something as entertaining and as emotionally satisfying as Star Trek '09, I'm inclined to not stand there waving my definition in your face.  (A fact I'd point out to anyone who accuses me of being too hard on Discovery, that...)
 
The cast is good, top to bottom.  I'd argue that the best of them is Bruce Greenwood, playing Captain Pike; you immediately want to just see an entire series in which he's the lead, flying around the galaxy doing what Starfleet captains do. 
 
I'd argue that the worst is Zachary Quinto, playing Spock.  I'd immediately add to that this: he's fine.  It's a good performance.  But he's just not Leonard Nimoy.  Fuck, who is?  Almost nobody.  You're talking about one of the most felicitous marriages of actor with character (and actor/character with production, on top of that) in the history of Hollywood.  That's not hyperbole; I mean that.  Some roles can be recast effectively, some cannot.  This is one of the cannots.  So Quinto gives it his all, and does a credible job, but is simply not able to be Leonard Nimoy.
 
To some degree, Chris Pine has the same issue playing Kirk.  Following in the footsteps of William Shatner is no cakewalk, either.  Luckily, the role of Kirk permits for more individual expression; the role of Spock requires one to operate within a fairly narrow corridor of opportunity.  Nimoy was a genius at doing so.  Kirk is a different thing altogether, so Pine simply brings his own personality to the role; there's no need to try to evoke Shatner.  So he doesn't try, apart from a few small (and very effective) moments.  The problem with that, if problem is the word I want, is this: the character kind of doesn't feel like Captain Kirk.  Whatever it feels like is pretty cool; but it's not really James T. Kirk we're seeing on the screen there, is it?  Not really.
 
This sort of thing pervades the film.  The Enterprise is cool, but it isn't really the Enterprise.  That engine room...?  Ay yi yi.  And why does it only take about three minutes to get (seemingly) anyplace?  Warp speed ain't hyperspace, boy.  Did we really need to see the entire planet Vulcan swallowed up in a localized black hole?  Is that really what Star Trek is all about?
 
There are complaints to be made; this is true, and I kinda make them myself, and I kinda agree with others when they make them, but I also kinda don't care, because of the following:
 
  • That birth-of-Kirk sequence.  Seriously, now.  If the plot of the rest of the film involved the crew going into another dimension (and back in time) so they could all take turns pissing on Gene Roddenberry's grave, I'd probably still salute this movie.  You give me a sequence like that, you've bought some patience and some forgiveness from me.
  • The score by Michael Giacchino is one of the very best scores of the entire century thus far.  And it's a standout Trek-movie score, which is an achievement; of the thirteen extant scores to Trek movies, I'd give an A+ grade to three of them (this one included), and an A or A- to an additional five of them.  Of the remaining five, I'd say none goes lower than a B.  It's a strong collection of film scores, and this one ranks highly even among such vaunted company.
  • The movie just looks fantastic.  Top to bottom, cinematography to effects to costumes to makeup; it's a beautiful film, and a return (more or less) to the original-series uniforms, which earns bonus points.
  • Thor plays Kirk's father.  I mean, who else?
  • The parallel-universe conceit is a brilliant means of having this movie be both a sequel AND a reboot.  The guys who thought of that earned their paychecks manyfold.
  • Every scene between Kirk and Pike is gold.  The one in the bar is among the finest Trek scenes of all.
 
So for me, this one is one of the best films in the series.
 
But we now arrive at my top three, which is the holy trinity of Trek films, and is likely to remain so for the rest of my life.  Boy, I'd love for 'em to be toppled!  It seems unlikely, but that'd suit me just fine.
 
 
#3 -- Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
 
 
  
 
Will I live to see another Star Trek movie as good as The Voyage Home?  I honestly doubt it.  I wouldn't go so far as to say that I despair of it.  But do I doubt it?  Sure do, with a cherry on top.
 
Before we process, may I direct you to Dog Star Omnibus for the next-to-next-to-last time this post?  You won't regret it.
 
Piggybacking on something I was talking about earlier in relation to The Search For Spock, I would say that it was important for this film -- which was released during the 20th-anniversary year of the original series and which formed the third and final part of an informal trilogy (begun by The Wrath of Khan) -- to really stick the landing that had been brewing.  The Wrath of Khan had successfully brought the story of the series to a sort of an end; The Search For Spock had reopened the book so as to continue it, and managed to do so in a fairly graceful way that deepened and elaborated upon the essential seriousness of Khan.  It promised a reunion, gave the audience one, and then in turn also promised a sort of resumption.  The arc of the trilogy turned out to be this: tragic loss of status quo, mythical journey into a sort of underworld in a defying-the-gods attempt to return to the status quo, and finally a true resumption of that status quo.
 
If The Search For Spock went so far as to prove that the love shared between these characters was so profound that it would be worth sacrificing the very vessel that, for years, had enabled them to be the band of siblings that they effectively were, then isn't it kind of compelling that one of the tasks of The Voyage Home became to prove that the selfsame band could have a quintessentially Stark Trekian adventure even without that vessel?  That they could, in fact, accomplish that goal while using a commandeered vessel of their enemies?
 
I don't know about you, but I rarely find myself thinking about the fact that the U.S.S. Enterprise is, for all intents and purposes, not in this movie.  I think about a lot of things, but that almost never floats to mind.  Fascinating!
 
A few little moments here and there excepted, this is a movie that works for me on a near-total basis.  The cast has rarely been better, if ever; the sheer interpersonal chemistry on display here is incredible.  The cast of the Kelvinverse films, talented though they may be, does not even approach what is on display here; and to be clear, it's an unfair expectation that they do so.  Frankly, the Next Generation cast probably never quite got there, either, even on television.  It's not a knock against anyone; it is, instead, a tremendous compliment toward the original-series cast.
 
And let's think about something else.
 
Let's take a little stroll through the previous films on this very list, and think about them from a specific angle:
 
#13, Nemesis -- Numerous scenes of violent battle, resulting in a great many fatalities.
#12, The Undiscovered Country -- An entire moon destroyed, with the very existence of an entire people at risk.  Numerous straight-up murders.
#11, The Final Frontier -- Not a huge amount of death and destruction, actually.
#10, Generations -- An entire star system is vaporized so a guy can jump into an energy ribbon.  And then another one is, too, although that is undone by means of time travel.  It is unclear how many actual fatalities result from this, but the potential is really rather monstrous.
#9, Beyond -- A starship is destroyed, resulting in many members of its crew being sucked into the vacuum of space.  Other members of the crew are killed by vampires.  (Not really, except kind of.)
#8, Insurrection -- I don't know that the actual body count is all that high, but there are definitely some battle scenes.
#7, The Search For Spock -- Numerous straight-up murders.
#6, Into Darkness -- I can't remember what the body count is in this one, but it's definitely got violent moments, and implies that government-sanctioned black-ops violence is still a thing in the future.
#5, First Contact -- Numerous starships are destroyed (I think) toward the beginning, and then there's also a lot of quasi-zombie action resulting in crew fatalities aboard the Enterprise.
#4, Star Trek -- An entire planet is destroyed.
 
My point is, these are, in terms of their in-story events, incredibly blood-soaked films.  I'm not holding that against them, either; I'm merely pointing it out, lest we forget what we are actually talking about.  It's allegedly an idealistic and pacifistic future, but god damn do a lot of people still get killed just about every time.  The movies learned that from the series (plural), too, so you can't even blame this entirely on the demands of big-screen audience harvesting.
 
Like I say, I don't really hold it against anyone.  But I do think it is eminently worth congratulating the series (plural) and movies on the relatively rare occasions when they manage to step beyond the need for violent conflict.
 
The Voyage Home was one such occasion.  And I suppose I should admit that if you look at it from the point of view of the whales, that's less true; in the future, they have ended up extinct.  But that's not a consequence of the story of this film, per se; it's an extrapolation of the consequences brought about by the actions of the film's true villains, modern-day humanity.  Yes, this is a Star Trek movie in which the bad guys are us; not the us we wish to be, but the us that we are.  But even so, Captain Kirk and his band of siblings don't find themselves in a position to have to fight us; they have to defeat us, yes, but not via violence. 
 
There are few Star Trek stories more fundamentally Trekian than this.  It's an obvious message, I guess, but ... I mean, so THE FUCK what?  An obvious message compellingly delivered is a beautiful thing, and this is certainly that.  The film is funny as hell, suspenseful, inspiring, and even moving (witness the completion of Spock's arc toward being comfortable with his humanity, especially the scene with Sarek).
 
I prefer the next two films on the list, but only by a bit.  All in all, you can't really ask for more from a Star Trek film than you are given by this one.  And by golly, doesn't it seem like a shame that The Final Frontier couldn't have successfully emulated its model?  It did try, but it wasn't able to, and so the films never really got away from the action-film format they adopted as a result.  It's a pity.
 
I'll tell you what else is a pity: that the scene I am about to describe to you never happened.
 
We're in the Next Generation era.  Picard is at Starfleet headquarters for some reason and is standing there looking out into the bay.  A whale surfaces for an instant, and whoever Picard is with -- I'm thinking Riker, or maybe Beverly, or maybe it's the whole damn crew because hey why not, but whoever it is -- says, "Magnificent!  I'd never actually seen one, and they're even more magnificent than I hoped they would be!"  And Picard agrees, and then gets a confidential, hushed tone of voice on. 
 
"You know," he says, "when I was in Starfleet Academy, a man named Boothby told me an incredible story about humpback whales."  Patrick Stewart plays this for all it's worth.  "He told me that once upon a time, they went extinct."  Data butts in to say that this is inaccurate, that human records show that the species was once thought to be extinct, but that their numbers began to flourish again unexpectedly during the late 23rd century.  Picard tells Data that this may be so, but that Boothby told him a story about how the species HAD been extinct, and had come back only because James T. Kirk and his crew traveled back in time to the twentieth century to bring a couple of prime specimens back with him!
 
"Captain," says Geordi or whoever, "you didn't believe that, did you?"  He sounds almost disappointed.  Picard says that he's not entirely sure, but that he wouldn't be at all surprised, given some of the rumors he has heard about Kirk through the years.  Everyone laughs; end scene.
 
Or maybe not that, but something like it.  There's really no excuse for the whales' resurgence not to have been mentioned somewhere in Trek canon in the thirty-two years since this excellent film made (if only for a short while) Star Trek fans out of great swathes of America.
 
 
#2 -- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
 
 
  
  
  
A mere #2?!?, you accuse, indignantly.  I shall answer this charge, mon ami, but not quite yet.
  
I admit that by just about any objective standard, The Wrath of Khan has been and (probably) shall always be the gold standard of Trek on film.  But see, here's the thing: I have no interest in being objective.  And being subjective in no way renders me incapable of expressing undying love for The Wrath of Khan, so subjectivity it is; and I'll let you in on a little secret, that's what these lists always are, anyways.
  
However you want to look it, it's a great film.  It's a great Star Trek film, for sure, even using the definition I supplied above.  Yeah, sure, this is a story that comes at it from a slightly more (quasi-)militaristic standpoint than has sometimes been the case.  It was apparently a bit too far in that direction for Gene Roddenberry, too, but I think it's on solid enough ground; if nothing else, there's nothing here that invalidates any aspect of what Trek is and does.  It's not like Starfleet is suddenly staffed at the upper levels by conspirators who wish to take advantage of a disaster to destabilize a government, for example.  No, what we've got here is a Starfleet that is organized, trained, and operated in a military style; that's in no way indicative of Starfleet having military objectives.
  
The movie itself plays out sort of as an action film, but even that emerges directly from character.  This movie is all about Kirk, who is getting older and who finds out that mistakes he made as a younger man have a way of coming back to haunt him.  Some of these can turn out to be potentially good things (his discovery that he has a son, and the possible reunion with an old flame, Carol Marcus); some of these can turn out to be very, very bad things (a genetically-engineered quasi-superman whom he stranded on an alien planet years ago manages finally to get himself a spaceship, and immediately begins a life of vengeance-seeking).  It's the best of times, it's the worst of times.
  
Pretty much everything here works.  Shatner?  Never better; and not just that, he's actively inspired.  He is GREAT in this movie.  Nimoy?  Never better, and boy howdy is that saying a mouthful.  Ricardo Montalban?  Awesome, almost beyond belief.  Khan is hands down the best Trek villain of them all; and it's not a remotely close contest.  The musical score by James Horner?  One of the best scores of the eighties, and given that the eighties were the decade of John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith and Alan Silvestri and Basil Poledouris and Danny Elfman, that's saying quite a lot.
  
Kirstie Alley makes a terrific impression as Saavik, also, and both Bibi Besch and Merritt Butrick do good work as forgotten figures from Kirk's past.  Kelley, Doohan, Takei, Nichols, and Koenig?  Some used more effectively than others, but all very good.  The dialogue is great, the visuals are wonderful, the new costumes are iconic.  It's funny, it's scary, it's exciting, it's tear-inducing, it's got a freaking short film by Pixar in the middle of it, and frankly, if you don't love it then your opinions on film are of limited use to me, at best.
  
But is it my pick for all-time greatest Star Trek film?
  
Nope.  That distinction goes to:
  
  
#1 -- Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
  
  
  
  
As I've been hinting off and on during this post, I'm well aware that taking this stance may mean that for some of you, I am now a beached whale.  I'm worse than dead to you; I'm an enormous, stinking thing polluting an otherwise lovely bit of shoreline.
  
Hey, so be it.  All I can do is plead my case, and if you aren't interested in hearing it, well baby, I am zen as fuck with that.
  
This movie is the first Star Trek I can remember ever seeing.  I probably had seen episodes of the series; it seems likely, I just can't swear to it.  What I actually remember is having a couple of Gold Key comics and a few Power Records sets, and my father having a copy of Star Trek 2 by James Blish.  I find it hard to imagine that I didn't see episodes on television here and there; I'm sure I did, I'm just not certain of it, ya kennit?
  
But I can remember seeing The Motion Picture.  It was on HBO, I think; or possibly on one of the networks.  I feel as if this would have been circa 1981, or perhaps early 1982; I remember going to my grandparents' house to stay with them fairly frequently, and often this was because some movie I wanted to see was coming on HBO during the weekend.  I can remember seeing Star Wars this way -- I can recall watching it three times in a single day, with viewings of both Flash Gordon and Any Which Way You Can sandwiched between them.  I also remember seeing Superman II this way, and think this is how I first consumed The Motion Picture.
  
Whatever the case, I was enraptured by it.  
  
And it was all about V'Ger for me.  That colossal ship was unlike anything my child-sized mind had ever encountered.  In retrospect, it was a feeling of fundamental awe that I was experiencing.  This was not the only movie that I got feelings like that from.  Star Wars in general (and the Death Star in particular) gave me an excited sort of awe, but that was a different sort of thing; Close Encounters of the Third Kind was an even better example of what The Motion Picture was doing, which was making me feel as if I were in contact with the essentially mysterious and unknown.  I'd get other versions of the same feeling from other movies during the next few years, with things like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, Starman, Cocoon, Explorers, and so forth.  Some of those hold up better than others, but all replicated the feeling for me in some way.  It even still happens today, from time to time; Contact knocked my socks off, and so did Interstellar, and Blade Runner 2049 kind of did, too.
  
Anyways.  The point is, that little Bryant, sitting on the floor looking at that tiny television, was in pure awe of V'Ger.  And I'm convinced that it was right then and there that (A) I feel permanently in love with Star Trek and (B) my mental makeup was rewritten so as to render me the cosmologically awestruck person I have been ever since.  I believe in the stars, and what lies among them; I crave the knowledge of them.  I do not personally have the drive or the intelligence to work toward making that an actual reality, so I primarily explore it in the best way I can, via science fiction.  On occasion, I try to pass that drive on to others.
  
And that, in the end, is what Star Trek -- and Star Trek -- means to me.  It is the dream of actually exploring the cosmos someday.  It is the dream of being able to do so, and willing to do so; and worthy of doing so.
  
Consider the events of The Motion Picture.  An unimaginably vast vessel appears within Federation territory, having passed through Klingon territory (and who knows what other unknown territories) to get there.  It is not only unimaginably vast, it is also unimaginably powerful, and is conceivably a civilization-ending power which seemingly cannot even be contacted, much less reasoned with, begged, or (laughable!) defeated.
  
Does this deter James T. Kirk and the crew of the starship Enterprise?  It does not.  They fly directly into harm's way, secure in the knowledge that if they have chance to do so, they can understand and reason with this thing.
  
Consider it.  The plot is not for them to sneakily infiltrate V'Ger and plant a bunch of bombs and destroy it in the nick of time.  The plot is not for them to get onboard the vessel and kill the aliens who inhabit it, so that the ship can be stopped.
  
Nope.  Defeating V'Ger is scarcely even brought up.  The mission is to understand V'Ger, and the assumption behind that mission is that by understanding it, an effort can be made to impart to V'Ger an understanding of Earth and its inhabitants.  This is literally the mission statement of Starfleet: to seek out new life.  Well, granted, in this case new life has sought out Starfleet; but still.  The credo implies an ongoing willingness -- in fact, a drive -- to be open to new experience, to be open to new understanding.
  
Every major character in the film reflects this drive.  Kirk displays it in both positive and negative ways; distraught over the mistake he has made to give up a captaincy for an Earthbound admiral's position, he uses the V'Ger crisis as an opportunity to get back in the saddle.  In order to do so, he arguably does a rather un-Starfleet like thing and cheats Will Decker out of his own captaincy.  Decker, of course, will eventually find resolution to this dilemma by being given an opportunity to literally merge with the amazing new life-form that is V'Ger.
  
Meanwhile, Spock has, between the end of the series and the beginning of this movie, apparently been seeking a new understanding of his own: via the Kolinahr ritual by which his people purge themselves of all remaining emotion.  This is a mirror for the experience of V'Ger itself, which is a coldly logical lifeform -- artificial in its origins, but no less genuine a lifeform in the end for that -- which is incapable of understanding its own naked need for greater fulfillment.  "It knows only that it needs," says Spock, who may as well be talking about himself.  "This simple feeling," he says, grasping Kirk's hand in a incredibly beautiful display of restrained emotion, "is beyond V'Ger's comprehension."  And it was almost beyond mine, too, he may as well say.
  
In the end, Spock will find what Kirk finds: that the true path to understanding is among the stars, constantly engaged in the search for the unknown.  Or perhaps we should remember what Kirk said way back in "The Corbomite Maneuver" in 1966: that "there is no such thing as the unknown"; there is only that which is "temporarily not understood."
  
Heck, even McCoy reflects this theme.  He, after the disbanding of the crew, has apparently left Starfleet and gone back to nature in some way.  He's sporting a big beard and an equally big medallion that seems to hint at some sort of attempt at new-agey spirituality; he's clearly seeking his own sort of new understanding.  The movie doesn't do much with this idea, but by the end of the film, the implication is clear: he's more than happy to back onboard this ship, with these people.  His purpose, too, has been rediscovered.
  
Now, maybe you don't buy into any of that.  I don't know; I certainly don't want to assume that you do.  And if you don't (or possibly even if you do!), you may well be apt to point out that the production itself is too shabby to bear the weight of all these things.
  
I don't agree.  Yeah, okay, maybe a few individual moments don't land as well as they should.  But I think they are few and far between, and among the film's MANY virtues, I would list these:
  
  • The musical score by Jerry Goldsmith is one of the best film scores ever written, in any decade, in any genre.  At least among Hollywood films; I'd not want to speak for the entire world.  But if this isn't in the top ten of all time among Hollywood films, I'll go eat an entire whale.  Alive.  From top to bottom, it is genius.  The Klingon battle with V'Ger; the flyby of the Enterprise; the initial entry into V'Ger; Spock's spacewalk; the Decker/Ilia-probe meld.  And pretty much everything else, too.
  • The effects are still great.  It's possible that those folks raised entirely within the CGI era would disagree, but a well-executed model effect is substantial in a way that computer effects are rarely able to achieve.  The design of all aspects of V'Ger -- from the cloud that hides it to the ship itself to the interior chambers that we glimpse -- is terrific, and the execution of the effects is almost entirely successful, often at an inspired level.  An early-'00s special edition added some computer effects that are kind of okay, too; they are relatively minimal, and not entirely necessary, but they don't hurt anything.
  • Robert Wise directed this.  That guy directed The Sound of Music and West Side Story, among other movies; he's no chump, and he brings an element of depth to the performances of both Shatner and Nimoy that arguably resulted in what was their best-ever work at that time.  DeForest Kelley is also marvelous.
  • I'm not saying it's a great (or even a good) performance, but boy is Persis Khambatta visually striking as Ilia.  I have always wanted the Deltan race to come back.  I kid you not, I could (and would, given the opportunity) get a perfectly solid Trek series going that just followed up on never-followed-up-on aspects of the episodes and movies, just like this one.
 
I could probably continue rhapsodizing about this movie for another few thousand words, and one of these days, whenever my deep-dives into Trek reaches the first movie, I will do exactly that.  I'll probably go scene by scene; we'll be there for 20,000 words, I bet.
 
I look forward to it.
 
Hopefully, you do, too.
 
In the meantime, I send you toward Dog Star Omnibus for a final (for this post) time.  As always, it'll be very much worth your visit.

19 comments:

  1. Nice list! I really got a good sense of the reasons that you ranked the movies the way that you did. One of the best things about Star Trek is the different things that each person takes away from it. Also, immersing ourselves in somebody else's viewpoint is something that I think we should all try to do more of.

    I actually agree with much of the list. In listening to Mission Log I've rewatched all the TOS and TNG movies and your rankings really don't feel too much out of line with my own. I think I enjoyed Star Trek VI more than you did but that's about it.

    As far as the reboot movies go, they kind of left me cold. I remember coming away being impressed by the"spectacle" of them. There is no doubt that JJ Abrams knows how to make a visually striking movie. But none of the three reboots left much of a lasting impression on me, except perhaps Kirk's birth scene. So I would probably rate all the Abrams movies 7 or lower, but hey that's just me.

    Really enjoyable read, thanks!

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    1. "Also, immersing ourselves in somebody else's viewpoint is something that I think we should all try to do more of." -- I totally agree, although I'm not all that great at doing it myself.

      You make good points about the J.J. movies. I'm not sure they are aging well, but I'll give them credit for at least providing a shot in the arm to the franchise. In the long-run, that's probably not enough.

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  2. (1) Well hey now, that's me! Thanks for the kind words. I have Trek Tourette's pretty much. I apologize to anyone who clicks on those links in advance.

    (2) Hear hear on every last one of your "Nemesis" and "Undiscovered Country" remarks.

    (2.5) I thank you for all of this by the way; I love an annotated list from a trusted source more than just about most things on the internet!

    (3) I think you've got the right order for Generations and STV. Even though I'd much rather watch STV than Generations. Which is weird. Because, like, when do you ever want to watch STV? But somehow, I know that's my preference.

    (4) It's tough for me to evaluate the new Treks intermingled with the new. But you know me - I can't even put fiction and nonfiction on the same list. It's silly, though. I shouldn't. That said, this review of Beyond makes me want to further compartmentalize. I just don't think these things are in the same universe as the other wheelhouse that ended with NEMESIS and ENTERPRISE. Good, bad, or ugly - just a different list for me. The light of the original franchise is, ultimately, going to eradicate every frame like vampires at dawn.

    (5) That's a fantastic idea for a movie, there, in your INSURRECTION write-up. I wish I could hit the lottery and (ahem) make it so. (I'm very sorry.)

    (6) Another aspect of blowing up the Enterprise in TSFS is that it was set up nicely in the script: I mean, it was going to be scrapped or used for target practice, so Kirk's send-off was the equivalent of letting it turn the tide at D-Day, so to speak, vs. the fate the geniuses at Starfleet had in store for it. I can see that having some resonance with the baby boomer generation, or any generation, really: anything one gets attached to or has served us well we'd rather see die for a noble purpose rather than just shuffled out to pasture. A Captain Obvious thing to say, but an enduring, recurring theme.

    (7) Agreed totally on Marcus and Saavik, though.

    (8) I can't believe you rate INTO DARKNESS over TSFS, you savage!

    (9) I don't know what kind of prize or award you earned with this FIRST CONTACT reverie, but you earned one, that was great.

    (10) And a second one for this idea of Picard sharing the Boothby story about whales. I love it!

    (11) I think your top 3 is pretty solid, here, actually. I, too, remember how TMP seemed universally reviled at one point. And I remember a young me totally enraptured and overwhelmed by V'ger as well. Hear, hear on all these remarks! The spark of TMP caught fire. Thank you for all the shouts to my own Trek meanderings.

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    1. (1) I think you need only apologize for depriving the world of episode-by-episode eviscerations of "Discovery." It's never too late. (But I recommend not putting yourself through it.)

      (2) I got kinda worked up over "The Undiscovered Country." I usually do when the subject comes up.

      (2.5) Done well, they are a thing of beauty; I think this one might be a bit too scattershot to count as "done well," but hopefully there's enough passion in it to make up for that a bit. Either way, thanks!

      (3) I think I'd rather watch V, too. It's got those great central performances and lovely Goldsmith music, so whatever else it has for problems, you can't take that away from it. But I still treasure seeing the TNG folks on the big screen for the first time, too, so that one has a bit of sentiment for me that V doesn't. Close call.

      (4) The more time passes, the closer I am to being on your side of this equation. "Discovery" certainly did nothing to pull me back in the other direction; neither did a rewatch of "Beyond," I am sad to say.

      I hope you are right with that prediction. I worry, though. Yes I do.

      (5) Freakin' Paramount...

      (6) This is a terrific point (several of them, actually), and something I did not remember. And that's why this movie's destruction of the ship works whereas it doesn't in the other two movies where it happens: here, it's a destruction, but it's also an incredibly heroic sacrifice. In those other two, it's that the ship got defeated. The Enterprise should NEVER get defeated. EVER.

      (7) I guess the idea was that Saavik was going to be pregnant by Spock by the end of the movie and that would go someplace, but somebody wisely decided to not to. (Although technically, the claim could be made -- a son-of-Spock ripoff could theoretically still be trotted out in some future incarnation, I suppose.)

      (8) You have, between this and your best-of-Shatner posts, convinced me: I can't believe I ranked TSFS that low, either! I'll revise it one of these days.

      (9) I wonder if I ought not to have ranked TSFS ahead of this one, as well? I dunno. First Contact IS a lot of fun, and despite being an action/adventure movie, it's got Trek ideals leaking from its ears.

      As for the reverie, I regret having lived it, but wouldn't trade it for anything.

      (10) I was so happy with that idea when I came up with it that I thought I might shit my pants a little.

      (11) More than welcome! However many eyes those have had on 'em, it ain't enough, so hopefully I'll send a few more your way.

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  3. For the record, I want to say I don't think "casting a white guy as Khan is indefensible."

    I think that's a very nowadays mindset. I don't fault you for it, but I do kind of roll my eyes. We're too encouraged to see anything along this axis. ("Deprive a non-white of a role!" "Walk into a room and count the white people and (gasp) come to the same tired conclusion on skin quotas." etc. I don't mean you, but the royal/all-of-us you.

    I fear we're getting so goddamn literal about make believe that we're going to need actual aliens, soon, just to make a Trek. (And make sure someone who IS NOT A WHITE MALE is directing.) People are passionate about this, but I sometimes wonder - is the only love story worth celebrating the love story of two same-sex non-whites? People sure act like it sometimes. The tail is wagging the dog on this one, even if the intentions are good; it still turns the complainer into someone just complaining because someone is white. Uhhm. That's not what antiracism is. I can see someone saying "hey why didn't they get (insert any number of Bollywood folks who could do the job)" sure. And more power to that. But this constant running-everything-by-a-race-committee-comprised-of-bimbos-and-assholes-throughout-the-media-academe endless catechism/ self-loathing masquerading as "woke" is not just tiresome, it's terribly dangerous and awful. It just normalizes a different sort of superficial race profiling. People aren't that complex, and this is what leads to atrocities. I'm serious about this! It starts with being a good liberal and always running one's thoughts by the Race Narrative Committee and calibrating one's ideas along lines they establish. Not sure this is how I want to live my life, or that these actions lead towards the promised conclusion.

    Anyway! The second I hear these sorts of objections these days, this is the sort of thing I think about: saying things like "casting a white is indefensible" is just wrong, and the reason I think these things is because Trek - along with other things - taught me how NOT to be racist. It's easy to find the "APPLAUSE NOW" opinions and signal one's virtue; it's another thing to actually stand up against racist thinking. I see a lot of the same control mechanisms in place (as far as controlling "the mob/ rabble," which is the end game in any political realpolitik) in "woke" thinking that I do "in cornpone in red hat" thinking.

    My two cents!

    Anyway: make better movies, better dedicated to the ideals of Trek, not more-aligned-to-Samantha-Bee's-and-Kamala-Harris's-approval casting. One path leads to diminished versions of STAR TREK BEYOND and race-stunt-casting apartheid; the other leads back to Trek. My two cents/ a better future.

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    1. And just to 100% reiterate - my thoughts here are not directed to you personally (i.e. I accuse you of none of this sort of thing/ don't see it here in the blog) it's just that one line got me thinking of it. I think everyday we have choices we can make. do they re-enforce a sort of race narrative narcissism? If so, it's a dangerous road that can turn ugly. If we don't, we're probably making the kind of choices a truly pluralistic society needs to make if we're going to realize our potential in a True sort of Trek way.

      It's easier, tho, like I say, to just look for that 'APPLAUSE NOW' sign and train one's self to anticipate and react to it.

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    2. p.s. were editing possible, I'd edit "It starts with being a good liberal..." I meant that only as related to the term in 2018. Not that the first step towards becoming / enabling Hitler is being a good liberal! Important distinction to make.

      I shan't stink up the joint with any more philosophizing - not trying to start anything. Just sheesh. I'd rather have Ricardo Montalban or Sean Connery or Al Pacino in some roles than someone who's got the right pigmentation/ ethnic pedigree. This IS make believe, after all.

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    3. p.p.s. I bristle on this point, specifically, not only because of real world considerations with my particular family situation, but because it was the wall of "said the white guy" reactions to that one time I objected to the AV Club characterizing Tuvok as "half-black, half-Vulcan" (I said this was not only ridiculous but a very racist projection; they said this was because I wasn't woke enough about the "half-black" part) that was a pivotal moment for me in defining how I feel about this. Suddenly my fellow Trek fans (as I saw it) were on the other side of the racism line; and they were pretending they were there because of antiracist reasons! They just overruled the producer, the actor, and the franchise, to project this understanding, yet I was being treated like I was the wrong one for objecting to it! It was an eye-opener. This is the end/ongoing result of being indoctrinated to see "black" as meaning one thing, ("virtuous, oppressed, only caretakers of what racism is, outside of the superwoke white committees who police the door") and "white" as another; the same way the dictionary-scene in MALCOLM X played out (in the prison) but with different players/ aims. (Same BS, different vocab.)

      In short (yeah right! 5 comments later) if you truly want to live an antiracist lifestyle these days, you have to specifically oppose these specific asshats.

      So, part of my objection to the "casting a white as Khan is indefensible" is my objection to this very specific thing.

      Thank you for reading all this.

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    4. "I think that's a very nowadays mindset. I don't fault you for it, but I do kind of roll my eyes. We're too encouraged to see anything along this axis." -- It's true. We're also too encouraged to be hyperbolic, which pretty much any use of the word "indefensible" is. For my part, though, I do think it was the wrong move to cast a white dude as Khan; it would have been equally the wrong move to cast, say, Denzel Washington in the role. He'd have been interesting, but that's just not Khan, to me. This would matter to me not at all in a true reboot, but in these movies, which are ostensibly using parallel-universe versions of the characters who are physically identical to those from the original series, it's more of a problem, I'd argue. By the same standard, Uhura should not have been played by Emma Stone, McCoy should not have been played by Ken Watanabe, etc.

      Of course, I'm sure there are plots of people who'd say I am a racist/etc. for even putting THOSE restrictions in place. And hey, maybe I am! Doesn't feel like it, but the definitions of these things change, I guess.

      "I fear we're getting so goddamn literal about make believe that we're going to need actual aliens, soon, just to make a Trek." -- It's possible they were satirical, but I've seen comments on more than one occasion complaining about how Discovery doesn't adequately represent aliens due to the fact that there seems to be no chance of Saru becoming the captain. And just no. Stop it.

      "The tail is wagging the dog on this one, even if the intentions are good; it still turns the complainer into someone just complaining because someone is white." -- I've encountered numerous real-life iterations of this. I approach it by reasoning that it's coming from a place of genuine anger and hurt which has been built up over time (in most cases predating the individual delivering it, and in most of those cases predating their parents, too). There's just no getting around it: making the omelets that are a workable version of the future is going to require a great many broken eggs. I'm not keen to volunteer to get my shell cracked, but if that's what it takes, I'd like to think I'd step up.

      "It just normalizes a different sort of superficial race profiling." -- Hard to argue with that.

      "I think everyday we have choices we can make. do they re-enforce a sort of race narrative narcissism? If so, it's a dangerous road that can turn ugly." -- Always worth reminding.

      "I'd rather have Ricardo Montalban or Sean Connery or Al Pacino in some roles than someone who's got the right pigmentation/ ethnic pedigree. This IS make believe, after all." -- True and good points. I mostly agree, although this impulse is sometimes overpowered by my need for good maintenance of canon.

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    5. "I bristle on this point, specifically, not only because of real world considerations with my particular family situation, but because it was the wall of "said the white guy" reactions to that one time I objected to the AV Club characterizing Tuvok as "half-black, half-Vulcan" (I said this was not only ridiculous but a very racist projection; they said this was because I wasn't woke enough about the "half-black" part) that was a pivotal moment for me in defining how I feel about this." -- Wait, what? Tuvok is all black AND all Vulcan! Unless I misremember something, he is. I almost hate to ask for more info on that, but did they just think that all Vulcans in the main casts of Trek shows are half-something on account of Spock being that? Like, Starfleet only lets in mixed-birth aliens? Baffling.

      "Suddenly my fellow Trek fans (as I saw it) were on the other side of the racism line; and they were pretending they were there because of antiracist reasons!" -- Some of them might HAVE been, in theory; but I'd guess most of them have only been Trek fans for a few months. Whoops, I think I just assigned myself the role of gatekeeper, which is a big no-no with these folks. Ah, well. Gate ain't gonna keep itself.

      "indoctrinated to see "black" as meaning one thing, ("virtuous, oppressed, only caretakers of what racism is, outside of the superwoke white committees who police the door") and "white" as another" -- Binary thinking of pretty much any type is often a mistake, I'd think. As you say, it doesn't permit for complexity, and human life is VERY complex. So it seems, at least; we've got little to compare it to.

      "Thank you for reading all this." -- My pleasure! Valuable perspective has been provided.

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    6. "Wait, what? Tuvok is all black AND all Vulcan! Unless I misremember something, he is. I almost hate to ask for more info on that, but did they just think that all Vulcans in the main casts of Trek shows are half-something on account of Spock being that? Like, Starfleet only lets in mixed-birth aliens? Baffling."

      I don't think the reaction was that Tuvok was literally half anything - I think it's that the show wasn't "woke" enough so Tim Russ was either an Uncle Tom or just exploited by the staff for his "blackness."

      It becomes an obsession. Anyway, it's rare to find pop cultural criticism these days that has not replaced the "worker" "proletariat" stuff from old Marxism into neomarxism re: race narrative. So, something like VOY must be seen through that lens, and things must conform, etc. and if you think differently, you're either ignored or targeted as a "said the white guy" bigot/ un-sophisticate.

      Or, in other words, if the show dares to treat Tuvok as a Vulcan first and as a black man 2nd (or not at all), then it is complicit in white supremacy/ privilege, etc.

      It's really sad to see this sort of cancerous thinking spread (again) the way it has. It becomes impossible to see anything through any other lens.

      Ah well. You said it all, pretty much, up there in UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY. It's just a question of what Trek is and how it should be approached/ how it's successful vs. an approach that reduces everything (history, now, context, whatever) to race, racism, and have-you-stopped-beating-your-wife-yet? The latter doesn't care for characterization or even logic; it just has a destination to get to, and it gets there, whomever's in the way be damned.

      So it seems to me!

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    7. Christ, no wonder you got so worked up about all of that. The implication that a black guy couldn't play a Vulcan because the Vulcans are not inherently black enough is a horrific suggestion -- it hadn't even crossed my mind (I am pleased to say!) that THAT might be what you meant they were saying.

      Well, I'm just not going to go any farther into that line of inquiry. It's been a long day and it's too annoying a subject.

      Fuck those guys!

      (I'm quite enjoying Tuvok on the rewatch I'm doing right now, by the way. Anyone who would deprive Tim Russ of that opportunity because the character wasn't "black enough" needs to be spoken to sternly.)

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    8. I can't tell you how relieved I am to hear you say that. It seems like such an obvious objection to me, yet I was COMPLETELY on the wrong side of the mob in that comments section. I can't imagine thinking it's NOT INCREDIBLY RACIST to tell Tim Russ he isn't playing Tuvok "black enough" but then to pile on the guy who points it out as "said the white guy" - and think you're being antiracist! It just blew my mind/ angered me so much. WTF ARE these people? How do they get so much mob-action power? Why don't people care?

      Meh.

      But thank you - ever since, even approaching the topic makes me nervous, and every time I've hit "publish" here I worry about coming across as some kind of LAST MAN STANDING dude. When what I THINK I'm doing is actually standing up for Tim Russ/ VOY and to a crowd of narrow-minded, bigoted jerks who somehow think they're virtuous.

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    9. That whole thing sounds insane to me. Literally insane.

      I've been trying to think back to what my reaction was to seeing a black man playing a Vulcan, back in the day. I wasn't able to watch the show for a looooong time, so I can't remember much. I *think* it kind of threw me for a loop, though, just because it was visually incongruous with what I'd always thought of "Vulcans" as. So maybe I shouldn't be so quick to judge these AV Club types you mention.

      It won't keep me from doing it, though. If that WAS my reaction -- and I'm not certain it was; I'm basing this on exceptionally vague memories -- then it was the wrong reaction for me to have. But even so, I accepted Tim Russ in the role when I finally started watching the series for real. Like, immediately.

      And, again, that's why this sort of thing matters. I still find myself resisting the recasting of certain roles -- Roland Deschain, (potentially) James Bond, etc. -- along racial or other lines. I should confess to that. But that (in my mind) is because there ARE times when a character's racial/sexual/etc. profile matters; if only because it mattered to the character's creator.

      Other times, not so much. Granted, nobody elected me to be the arbiter of such things, but still: if a person can't see how wrongheaded it is to insist that black men can only play roles if the roles are written in such a way as to reinforce stereotypes of what "black man" means, then that's not a good reflection on that person. I mean, what did they want? For Tuvok to play basketball in the holodeck in his free time? Go fuck yourself, AV Club commenters.

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    10. Oh!

      And this:

      Do they have similar objections to Michael Dorn playing Worf? If not, WHY not? That'd be an interesting question to ask.

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  4. Now that I've gotten my "here's why I worry we're training our fellow citizens to kill my children" out of the way...

    (2) I'm glad someone is! The movie is long overdue for a downgrade. It'll never get one because of original cast love, and maybe that's fine. But sheesh. Awful movie, awful trek, with some nice moments here and there.

    (7) I wonder why that son-of-Spock thing never returned. It could have, easily, in TNG or elsewhere. I'm sure it has to do with rights-issues/ royalties, but it's too bad. I liked the two Yesterday's-Son books from the old Pocket Books-verse.

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    1. (2) It's fine in a way, I guess. But it rankles that this is how they got sent out; sure, the thing with the signatures is nice and all, but what about the reprehensible racism? Less nice.

      (7) A.C. Crispin! I used to love those, too. I'm rereading "Gerald's Game" right now, and at one point it is mentioned that Gerald reads and discards Star Trek novels. I was like, hey, me too! And then thought maybe I ought not be identifying with Gerald Burlingame that much.

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  5. “I have always wanted the Deltan race to come back”

    http://www.startrekuncharted.com/

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    1. I will try to find time to check that out.

      Although I have to say, I fundamentally disagree with the premise that modern audiences wouldn't support the "old-fashioned" episodic approach. I think they would if the characters and stories were good; ongoing elements could then be grafted onto those episodes. Lots of shows do that; I see no reason a new Trek couldn't be one of them.

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