Flashback: ‘Star Trek: Insurrection’

The Enterprise crew battle to save a cosmic paradise in the ninth ‘Star Trek’ feature film…

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Patrick Stewart and Donna Murphy in ‘Star Trek: Insurrection’ (imaged credit: Paramount Pictures).

Year:  1998

Starring:  Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, F. Murray Abraham, Donna Murphy, Anthony Zerbe

Directed by:  Jonathan Frakes / written by:  Michael Piller (story by Rick Berman & Michael Piller.  Based upon Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry)

What’s it about?

Captain Picard and the loyal crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise disobey Starfleet orders to protect the B’aku, whose homeworld produces rejuvenating effects which a race called the S’ona plan to exploit…

Retrospective/review

The success of Star Trek: First Contact was surely a tough act to follow and although 1998’s Star Trek: Insurrection would not prove to be as good, the result would be an enjoyable, if inferior, big screen instalment of Star Trek.  With Jonathan Frakes back in the director’s chair, the screenplay for Insurrection would be tackled by former Star Trek: The Next Generation head writer (and co-creator of television spin-offs Deep Space Nine and Voyager) Michael Piller, who had helped to guide that series to greater creative success and penned various standout episodes including the beloved two-parter “The Best of Both Worlds”.  From a story by himself and producer Rick Berman, Piller’s script provides a very Star Trek-like narrative that deals with moral themes and ethical quandaries traditional of the franchise and the types of character-driven stories that Piller favoured.  As the title implies, Star Trek: Insurrection see Captain Picard and his crew defy orders to protect the population of the planet Ba’ku, the rings of which produces a rejuvenating radiation (making the world a sort of galactic fountain of youth) which Starfleet and the Federation, in partnership with a race called the Son’a – who are trying to preserve their lives via genetic manipulation and cosmetic surgeries – seek to harvest and share for the benefit of the many.

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F. Murray Abraham as Ru’afo – the main villain of ‘Star Trek: Insurrection’ (Image credit: Paramount Pictures).

Picard learns from his superior, Admiral Dougherty (Licence to Kill’s Anthony Zerbe), that the 600-something population of Ba’ku are not indigenous to the planet – a fact that the Federation cites as justification for its actions, which the Son’a (lead by F. Murray Abraham’s Ru’afo) have manipulated to their advantage – and that the process of collecting the ring’s particles will render the world uninhabitable.  Yet the Ba’ku people are a peaceful group and Picard feels that to forcefully relocate them is a betrayal of everything he believes in and the core values upon which the Federation was founded, for which he is prepared to risk his career…and possibly his life.

Insurrection may seem, for better or worse, more like an extended episode of The Next Generation (albeit on a larger scale and with a much higher budget) and fails to match the overall excellence of First Contact but it’s still an entertaining watch with a good dose of drama, action and humour.  Jonathan Frakes once again directs with skill and a knowledge and appreciation for the history of Star Trek: The Next Generation and its characters.  As Commander Riker, Frakes is afforded a larger and slightly more significant role than in First Contact (notwithstanding him shaving off his beard) – the youthful effect of the Ba’ku radiation leading to a rekindling of romance between Riker and Counsellor Troi (Marina Sirtis) and the plot leading to Riker’s command of the Enterprise in its battle with the Son’a as Picard and his team fight to protect the Ba’ku on the ground.

It goes without saying that Patrick Stewart (who is also credited as ‘Associate Producer’) is great in the film, with another strong portrayal as Picard and Insurrection provides him with a romantic interest in the form of Donna Murphy’s Ba’ku villager, Anij.  Brent Spiner, again, proves solid support as Data and his befriending of one of the young Ba’ku (Artim, played by Michael Welch, who would go on to appear in Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes) is a highlight.  The rest of the TNG cast also get their moments, Michael Dorn’s Worf once more joining his former crewmates for their latest adventure – the B’aku radiation hilariously causing “aggressive tendencies” as it triggers the hormonal effects of Klingon adolescence – and blind Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge (Levar Burton) finds his eyesight temporarily restored.  As Doctor Beverly Crusher, Gates McMadden has less to do but does share some fun and humorous scenes with Patrick Stewart, Marina Sirtis and Brent Spiner.  Leading the threat against the Enterprise crew is Academy Award winner F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus) who is superb as the Son’a leader, Ru’afo, with a hefty and maniacal performance providing a worthy antagonist for Patrick Stewart’s Picard to face.

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The U.S.S. Enterprise plays her part in helping to save paradise (image credit: Paramount Pictures).

The narrative may flow more like an episode of TNG and not necessarily fulfil the grander high-stakes ambitions of a feature film, but at the heart of Insurrection is a Roddenberry-esque morality tale and the script contains a few neat twists and turns, including the true motivations of the Son’a rising from their surprising history with the Ba’ku.  There are also a number of decent action sequences, the standouts including the Son’a attack on the Ba’ku village, the battle in space as Son’a vessels pursue the Enterprise and the climactic confrontation between Picard and Ru’afo aboard the Son’a collector ship.  The film is blessed with Matthew Leoneti’s beautiful cinematography, wonderfully captured from the Californian landscapes doubling for the Ba’ku planet.  Jerry Goldsmith earns kudos for producing another excellent music score that draws on his previous Star Trek themes whilst creating new cues fitting of Insurrection’s story.

So, there are certainly positives in favour of Star Trek: Insurrection and although it doesn’t raise the bar for the Star Trek film series and may seem a little underwhelming when placed alongside First Contact, it still makes for entertaining viewing with solid cast performances, direction and neat action set pieces.

Geek fact! 

Star Trek: Insurrection was the first Star Trek feature to move completely away from model effects work, utilising CGI for all its exterior spaceship sequences.

Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Flashback: ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ – “Caretaker”

Looking back at the premiere of the fourth live action ‘Star Trek’ series…

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The cast of ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ – lead by Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway (image credit: Paramount/CBS Viacom).

Year:  1995

Starring:  Kate Mulgrew, Robert Beltran, Tim Russ, Robert Picardo, Robert Duncan McNeill, Roxann Biggs-Dawson, Ethan Phillips, Jennifer Lien, Basil Langton, Gavan O’Herlihy

Series created by:  Rick Berman, Michael Piller & Jeri Taylor (based upon Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry)

Written by:  Michael Piller & Jeri Taylor (story by Rick Berman, Michael Piller & Jeri Taylor) / directed by:  Winrich Kolbe

What’s it about?

Transported across the galaxy whilst in search of a missing Maquis ship, Captain Kathryn Janeway and the crew of the U.S.S. Voyager encounter a powerful alien being known as the Caretaker…

Retrospective/review

With Star Trek: The Next Generation leaving the air in 1994 and the Paramount television studio wanting another Star Trek series to both accompany Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and launch the new United Paramount Television Network (UPN), January 1995 saw Star Trek: Voyager begin its seven year run with the double-length premiere titled “Caretaker”.  The series itself created by Rick Berman, Michael Piller (co-creators of Deep Space Nine) and Jeri Taylor (a writer and producer on The Next Generation), “Caretaker” is an enjoyable introduction to the third live action Star Trek spin-off.

In “Caretaker”, Starfleet dispatches the U.S.S. Voyager (docked at Deep Space 9, providing a neat crossover with the wider shared Star Trek universe and including a cameo for Armin Shimerman’s Ferengi barkeep, Quark), under the command of Captain Kathryn Janeway (the first female lead for a Star Trek series, played by Kate Mulgrew – rapidly cast to replace French actress Genevieve Bujold, who departed during the first days of filming), to search for a missing vessel belonging to the Maquis (a group of freedom fighters protesting an undesirable treaty with the militaristic Cardassians and considered as outlaws by the Federation – previously established in episodes of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine) which vanished without a trace in a volatile area of space known as the Badlands.  The mission is of importance as Janeway’s Vulcan security and tactical officer, Tuvok (Tim Russ – who had previously appeared in guest roles on TNG, DS9 and the film Star Trek Generations), was placed amongst the Maquis crew to gather intelligence.  To assist, Janeway enlists the help of an observer familiar with the Maquis – disgraced former Starfleet helmsman Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill – Cadet Nick Locarno in the TNG episode “The First Duty“), sentenced to a New Zealand penal colony after being caught during his first Maquis operation.  There’s some ill-feeling towards Paris by members of the Voyager’s crew but he soon finds a friend in the form of the newly assigned academy graduate, Ensign Harry Kim (Garrett Wang).

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The Intrepid-class U.S.S. Voyager (image credit: Paramount/CBS Viacom).

Entering the Badlands, Voyager encounters a strange phenomenon and finds itself engulfed in an energy wave.  The ship damaged and a number of its crew dead, Janeway soon discovers that the vessel has been transported 70,000 light years across the galaxy to a region known as the Delta Quadrant and in the vicinity of the missing Maquis ship and a massive space station belonging to a powerful life-form known as the ‘Caretaker’.  Appearing as an old man, the Caretaker (portrayed by guest star Basil Langton) is dying and has brought Voyager and the Maquis vessel to him in order to find compatible DNA to create a replacement to continue his work as guardian of a race known as the ‘Ocampa’.  As events unfold, the Starfleet and Maquis crews find they must work together in order to locate missing crewmembers (one of whom is Harry Kim) and face-off against the threat of the ‘Kazon’, barbaric factions of Klingon-esque aliens (and recurring baddies throughout the first two seasons of Voyager – lead here by Gavan O’Herlihy’s Maje Jaben) who will stop at nothing to seize technology that will allow them to assert dominance.  It leads to a difficult choice for Janeway, one that will protect the Ocampa but will leave Voyager stranded in the Delta Quadrant.

Through the course of the episode, “Caretaker” puts in place the rest of the varied main characters of Voyager:  Janeway appoints the leader of the Maquis, the tough but reasonable Chakotay (Robert Beltran) – of American Indian descent – as her first officer, Chakotay’s hot-headed half-Klingon/half-human engineer B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Biggs-Dawson) is subsequently assigned as Voyager’s chief engineer, the ship’s holographic Doctor (a wonderfully acerbic Robert Picardo) – the Emergency Medical Holographic programme (or EMH) – is the only choice to replace the deceased chief medical officer and joining the journey back to Federation space is alien guide and cook (later ‘morale officer’), the quirky and resourceful Neelix (Ethan Phillips) and his beloved, Kes (Jennifer Lien).  Tuvok of course returns to his post and Tom Paris is redeemed when Janeway entrusts him as the ship’s new helm officer.  As Janeway, Kate Mulgrew is magnificent – melding her own intellectual and maternal qualities with shades of the no-nonsense leadership of William Shatner’s Kirk and the curiosity and diplomacy of Patrick Stewart’s Picard.

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Gavan O’Herlihy as the Kazon leader, Maje Jaben (image credit: Paramount/CBS Viacom).

“Caretaker” also sets up the general concept for Voyager that’s a sort of inversion of Star Trek: The Next Generation ­ (and, with some inaccuracy, labelling the series as Star Trek’s version of Irwin Allen’s Lost in Space) with the U.S.S. Voyager – revolutionary for its ‘bio-neural’ circuitry and featuring those cool pivoting warp engines – exploring space inward from the outer reaches of the galaxy as it heads along a seventy-plus year course towards Earth.  The integration of Maquis into the Starfleet crew creates an element of tension that’s dealt with during the first season but is, for the most part, quickly abandoned.  On one hand it’s a missed opportunity, possibly a victim of the episodic story of the week style of television at the time which DS9 would increasingly eschew to great creative advantage.  On the flip side, it allows the writers to focus on having the crew establish a familial bond, setting aside their differences and working together as a team in the spirit of the more holistic outlook favoured by original Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry.  It was also likely a response to the at-the-time divisive reception to the darker Deep Space Nine, which, ironically, is now one of the most popular iterations of Star Trek.

Star Trek: Voyager could be a little formulaic, especially in comparison to the more daring storytelling of Deep Space Nine and often seen as an inferior clone of The Next Generation, perhaps making it the weakest of the Rick Berman-produced Star Trek series (opinion amongst fandom of course varies).  Non-the-less there’s still plenty to appreciate with another solid central cast (and an undeniably strong lead in Kate Mulgrew) and numerous standout episodes.  It’s possible that if the series were made today it would have benefited from the more sophisticated and serialised nature of contemporary TV but as it stands, Voyager – boasting a memorable Emmy-award winning main theme from composer Jerry Goldmsith – is certainly an enjoyable if sometimes uninspired series and “Caretaker” is an engaging start to the adventures of the U.S.S. Voyager and her crew.

Geek fact!

Scenes shot for “Caretaker” featuring Genevieve Bujold as Captain Janeway were included amongst the extra features for the Star Trek: Voyager season one DVD set.

Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

It’s a Classic: ‘Star Trek: First Contact’

Looking at some of the best pop culture offerings in film, TV and comics…

“And you people, you’re all astronauts on some kind of star trek”

First Contact - Picard

Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) must face his most lethal enemy in ‘Star Trek: First Contact’ (image credit: Paramount Pictures).

Year:  1996

Starring:  Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, James Cromwell, Alfre Woodard, Alice Krige

Director:  Jonathan Frakes / written by:  Ronald D. Moore & Brannon Braga (story by Rick Berman, Ronald D. Moore & Brannon Braga.  Based upon Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry)

What’s it about?

Captain Picard and his crew pursue the Borg back in time to stop them from changing the future by preventing Earth’s pioneering warp-flight and historic first contact with an alien race…

In review:  why it’s a classic

The finest big screen outing for the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation and one of the overall best Star Trek films, Star Trek: First Contact is an exciting science fiction action adventure that proved a hit with fans and critics as well as general audiences, becoming one of the most financially successful Star Trek features – surpassing previous champion Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

Star Trek: First Contact sees Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-E once again faced with their cybernetic foes, the Borg, who travel back in time to the year 2063 – a decade after Earth’s devastating Third World War – to avert the first flight by warp drive inventor Zefram Cochrane and contact with visitors from Vulcan – an event that unites humanity and sparks a more hopeful future that will lead to the formation of Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets.  Pursuing the Borg back to the 21st Century, the Borg vessel is destroyed by the Enterprise but not before its complement of drones transport into the bowels of Picard’s ship and begin taking control.  As Commander Riker and his away team work to ensure Cochrane’s warp flight occurs as scheduled, Picard must fight to prevent the Borg’s seizure of the Enterprise and their plans to destroy the future.  Star Trek: First Contact ties back to The Next Generation’s classic two-parter “The Best of Both Worlds” (read the review here) in which Picard was abducted and assimilated by the Borg and informs the character’s arc, although it isn’t necessary for casual viewers to have seen it as it’s all explained via Picard’s opening nightmare sequence and some neatly placed exposition.

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James Cromwell as Zefram Cochrane (image credit: Paramount Pictures).

As Picard, Patrick Stewart is as superb as ever in the role and there is a lot of range for the character in First Contact as the usually noble and disciplined Picard grapples with his traumatic history with the Borg and the Ahab-like anger towards his enemy which begins to override his judgement as a Starfleet captain.  Stewart shares great rapport with his co-stars, particularly Brent Spiner’s Data who is also given a great deal of focus, his loyalty to Picard threatened when he is captured by the Borg and manipulated by their Queen.  Played with a sultry and sinister menace by Alice Krige, the Borg Queen expands the mythology of the cyborg race, an individual voice within the singular Borg Collective whose purpose is to bring “order to chaos” within the hive mind.  James Cromwell provides a wonderfully spirited performance as Zefram Cochrane, a man worshipped as a historical figure by the Enterprise crew who they quickly learn is flawed and prone to drinking too much.  Alfre Woodard is equally great as Cochrane’s assistant, Lily, who has numerous standout scenes with Patrick Stewart – particularly her heated exchange with Picard as his fury against the Borg verges on vendetta, snapping him into realisation with a poignant reference to Moby Dick.  Given his duties as director, Jonathan Frakes’ Commander Riker has less onscreen presence in comparison to Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner but still plays an important role.  The rest of the regular TNG cast are all given their moments within the story – Marina Sirtis’ inebriated Deanna Troi serving up a dash of levity – and luckily First Contact allows for Michael Dorn’s Worf (who at this point had joined the cast of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) to rejoin his former crewmates for their adventure.

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Data (Brent Spiner) is manipulated by the Borg Queen (Alice Krige) (image credit: Paramount Pictures).

Star Trek: First Contact thrills with a number of notable action sequences and set-pieces, the highlights including the first act’s space battle against the Borg ship, Picard and his crew’s attempt to halt the Borg’s infiltration and assimilation of the Enterprise and Picard and Worf’s (along with Lt. Hawk, in an early screen appearance by Neal McDonough) excursion onto the ship’s hull to prevent the Borg’s conversion of the main deflector into a means of summoning reinforcements.  The film boasts a great script (from returning Star Trek Generations screenwriters Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga) that has plenty of action, drama, humour and heart and it’s easy to see why it appealed to a wide audience.  It’s a generally pacey adventure that doesn’t sacrifice an enjoyable science fiction story or memorable character moments.  The Borg are a dark threat and the stakes are high yet First Contact maintains the hope and optimism for humanity’s future envisioned by Gene Roddenberry that is the nucleus of any classic Star Trek story.

Having helmed numerous episodes of The Next Generation (as well as Deep Space Nine and Voyager), Jonathan Frakes makes a confident jump to the big screen and keeps First Contact engaging and entertaining.  The production design is excellent and gives it a pleasingly grand, blockbuster feature film look.  The new Enterprise-E is another superb, sleek starship design from illustrator John Eaves that melds the iconic Matt Jeffries concept with that of The Next Generation’s late Enterprise-D.  Likewise, Herman Zimmerman’s interior sets are an appropriate expansion of his previous work.  The new Giger-esque biomechanical look for the Borg courtesy of Michael Westmore makes them an even scarier and formidable enemy and would rightfully earn the film an Oscar nomination.  To top things off, Jerry Goldsmith (with contributions from his son, Joel) provides a classic music score, another career best for the composer that elevates all of the excitement, emotion and atmosphere of the film – the beautifully majestic main theme on par with that of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Star Trek: First Contact is simply a great big screen Star Trek entry that’s not only enjoyable for fans but for casual viewers as well and represents a high point for the franchise as an entertainment enterprise (pun fully intended).

Standout moment

Discovering that the Borg plan to use the Enterprise’s deflector to contact reinforcements, Picard leads a mission on to the starship’s hull in order to stop them…

Geek fact!

An early concept for the film had the Borg travelling back in time even further to the Renaissance period and would see Data become Leonardo DaVinci’s apprentice!

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Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Flashback: ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’

2019 marks four decades since Gene Roddenberry’s ‘Star Trek’ was relaunched on the silver screen…

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Bob Peak’s wonderful poster art for ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ (image credit: Paramount Pictures).

Year:  1979

Starring:  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Majel Barrett, Persis Khambatta, Stephen Collins

Directed by:  Robert Wise / written by:  Harold Livingston (story by Alan Dean Foster)

What’s it about?

As a mysterious and hostile force advances towards Earth, Admiral James T. Kirk is reunited with his former crew as he takes command of the newly refitted U.S.S. Enterprise on a mission to intercept the intruder…

Retrospective/review

Celebrating its fortieth anniversary this December, Star Trek: The Motion Picture may not be as popular as its 1982 sequel – Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – but its place and importance in the history of the franchise shouldn’t be overlooked.  Originally conceived as a pilot for a new Star Trek television series, the production would evolve into a big budget feature film in the wake of the success of Star Wars – although Star Trek: The Motion Picture would take more of a high-concept science fiction approach similar to that of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Produced by Gene Roddenberry (who would write the film’s interesting but slightly bizarre novelisation) and skilfully directed by The Day the Earth Stood Still’s Robert Wise with a story, credited to noted SF author Alan Dean Foster, that echoes elements of classic Star Trek episode “The Changeling”, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is presented on a visual scale that could only have been dreamt of back in the days of the original series.  The film opens as Klingon (the iconic Trek race given a more alien-like makeover for the big screen) warships commence an attack on an approaching force – an expansive and powerful cloud of energy which soon neutralises the aggressors.  As the cloud proceeds on a heading for Earth, an unfulfilled and desk-bound Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) convinces his superiors to place him in command of the newly refitted U.S.S. Enterprise on a desperate mission to intercept and establish contact with the intruder.

Believing the benefit of his experience and leadership will provide the best chance of success, Kirk initially finds himself troubled by an unfamiliarity with the refitted Enterprise and in conflict with her would be captain, Will Decker (Stephen Collins), whose situation is complicated further by the posting of his old flame, Ilia (the late Persis Khambatta, in her introductory film role) as ship’s navigator (Walter Koenig’s Chekov now occupying the post of security chief).

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Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) and the crew of the Enterprise (image credit: Paramount Pictures).

Dealing with engine troubles and a near fatal wormhole encounter before rendezvousing with science officer Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) along the way, the stakes are raised as the Enterprise intercepts the approaching danger – traversing the energy cloud to discover a colossus alien vessel at its centre.  As Ilia is replaced by an android duplicate serving as a representative of the alien ship, Kirk learns that the intruder is ‘V’Ger’, a life-form on a journey to find and ‘join’ with its creator.  It all leads to a startling finale in which (spoilers follow…) Kirk and his crew face V’Ger, which they are astonished to discover is the lost 20th Century NASA probe, Voyager VI – repaired by an unknown machine race and sent on a return voyage to its point of origin where it can complete its programme of “learning all that is learnable” and providing all the information it has amassed to the creator.  Having gained sentience on its journey, V’Ger has reached the limits of its understanding and must evolve by joining with its creator…and one amongst the Enterprise crew volunteers to do so.

The film is commonly criticised for its slow pace (detractors unfairly labelling it as ‘The Slow Motion Picture’) and whilst this may be true, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is best viewed for what it is – a cerebral cinematic experience that reunites an iconic and beloved set of characters, unfolding steadily and subjecting the viewer to some striking visuals as it presents intriguing and intelligent science fiction ideas.  Despite the more conceptual and visually driven story, the cast are all reliably great – especially the central trio: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley, representing, respectively, the celebrated troika of Kirk, Spock and McCoy.  As the main star, Shatner is provided with some decent material as the ever-passionate Kirk wrestles with his regret at accepting promotion and his yearning to return to command of a starship.  Likewise, Nimoy gets to once again grapple with Spock’s conflicted half human/half Vulcan nature, his sensing of V’Ger and an inability to attain ‘Kholinahr’, the Vulcan ritual of complete emotional purging, driving his desire to re-join the Enterprise crew and seek out the mysterious invader.  DeForest Kelley’s Doctor McCoy is once again the cantankerous yet valued conscience and moral centre.

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The glorious refitted U.S.S. Enterprise, designed by Andrew Probert (image credit: Paramount Pictures).

The production design and special effects for Star Trek: The Motion Picture are reasonably impressive considering their age.  The redesigned Enterprise is simply beautiful, brought to life by the superb model work.  The sets are sparse but have an appropriately futuristic feel to them as do the crew uniforms which are a fitting evolution of those in the original series in comparison to the more military-based attire of the sequels.  In terms of the effects, led by 2001’s Douglas Trumbull and Star Wars’ John Dykstra, they remain a key element, the mesmerising sequence of the Enterprise’s penetration of the cloud, the jaw dropping ‘V’Ger flyover’ scenes and Spock’s ‘spacewalk’ being the most obvious highlights – in addition to the wonderfully executed launch of the Enterprise, of course.  Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar nominated score is one of the composer’s best and an inseparable accompaniment to the story and visuals, capturing the romance and majesty of space in the 23rd Century, the grandeur of the Enterprise, the eerie mystery of the enigmatic force that threatens humanity and the wonders of the unknown.

It’s no secret that the production of Star Trek: The Motion Picture was troubled by last minute script re-writes, increasing costs (its budget inflating to a then eye-watering $46 million, making it the most expensive feature film at that time) and a tight schedule to meet its 7th December 1979 release date, leaving director Robert Wise with no time to produce a final cut and unsatisfied with the film in its theatrical form.  Much of this was remedied with the 2001 DVD release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture – The Director’s Edition, a superior edit of the film with Wise reinstating some of the more character-orientated scenes missing from the theatrical version whilst trimming down some of the longer and more superfluous moments, a fresh sound mix and new CGI effects to enhance and embellish the existing visuals.  Unlike the Star Wars Special Editions, the changes made were to benefit what Wise felt was an unfinished film and, largely, choices that would have been made in 1979 had the production been permitted the extra time and resources required.

Despite receiving a critical drubbing Star Trek: The Motion Picture would prove a box office success, paving the way for several sequels and an eventual television rebirth of the franchise.  Whilst Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is considered to be closer to the overall spirit of the original Star Trek series with a deeper focus on the characters and emphasis on morality play elements (whilst injecting a larger measure of action and excitement), Star Trek: The Motion Picture is perhaps more cinematic and – especially in its Director’s Edition form – an enjoyable and underrated first big screen adventure for Kirk, Spock and company that’s deserving of a revisit and perhaps a reappraisal as it reminds us that “The Human Adventure is Just Beginning”…

Read the classics review of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan here

Geek fact!

Mark Lenard, who portrayed Spock’s father in the original Star Trek series appears as a Klingon commander in the epic opening scenes of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

GBUK Film Classics: ‘Planet of the Apes’ (1968)

Looking at some all-time favourites…

“Take your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape!”

Year:  1968

Starring:  Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans

Director:  Franklin J. Schaffner / Written by:  Michael Wilson and Rod Serling

What’s it about?

A team of human astronauts find themselves on a world where intelligent apes are dominant…

In review

Whilst the Planet of the Apes franchise has seen a successful reinvention with 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes and last summer’s smash hit sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, it’s likely that a sizeable section of the audience are unaware that there is indeed a franchise that began life decades earlier.

Based on the novel by French author Pierre Boulle (whose works also include The Bridge over the River Kwai), Planet of the Apes is the science fiction film classic that would spawn an enduring and popular franchise which by the mid 1970’s would include four sequels and two television spin-offs (one live action, one animated) as well as a plethora of merchandise.

Adhering relatively close to the main plot elements of Boulle’s novel, the film adaptation of Planet of the Apes diverges creatively to depict a more primitive ape society as opposed to the technologically advanced one described in the novel (and the initial script by Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, which was subsequently rewritten by Michael Wilson) – primarily due to budgetary concerns and the practical limitations of the times.  This is however all in the film’s favour, giving it a more ‘primal’ feel aided by some basic yet wonderful production design.

Charlton Heston brings star power to Planet of the Apes and is a reliably strong lead as the cynical and misanthropic Taylor who finds himself the subject of controversy and scrutiny as an intelligent and articulate primate, captured and caged like an animal in a world where humans are the mute and lower species.  The real draw however are the ape characters – wise and humble chimpanzees Cornelius (McDowall) and Zira (Hunter) who fall foul of the hateful and cantankerous orangutan Dr. Zaius (Evans) as they befriend Taylor.  Of the ape actors, Roddy McDowall is the standout performer and would continue to delight and further explore the character of an advanced simian in sequels Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and Battle for the Planet of the Apes (he was unavailable for first sequel Beneath the Planet of the Apes) as well as the short-lived live action television series.

Naturally, this brings us to one of the biggest highlights of the entire production – the incredible makeup and prosthetic design of the apes themselves.  Created by John Chambers (responsible for Mr. Spock’s iconic pointed ears in Star Trek) and complemented by Morton Haack’s costume design, the ground-breaking makeup effects still hold up today and would rightfully earn him an honorary Academy Award.

Whilst there are elements of satire and thought provoking exploration of themes such as society, racial prejudice and cautionary tales of the human condition reminiscent of all good science fiction, a large part of the appeal of Planet of the Apes is its pure entertainment value and the depiction of a believable ape society with its hierarchy split across three central ape creeds – the political orangutans, the scientific and academic chimpanzees and the militant gorillas.

Another key component of Planet of the Apes is the inventive and experimental Academy Award nominated music score by Jerry Goldsmith for which he employed the use of unusual instruments and unconventional techniques to help create the eerie and primal feeling of the ape’s world.

Planet of the Apes leaves the viewer with one of film’s greatest and most iconic twist endings, (retained from Rod Serling’s original script) – the revelations of which I shall not divulge here for those who have not seen this classic slice of SF cinema.

Standout moment

Finding themselves in a field where a mute and dumb human society is ‘grazing’, astronauts Taylor, Landon and Dodge are shocked to witness the arrival of clothed, rifle wielding gorillas…on horseback!

Three reasons it’s a classic…

  1. It depicts a believable society of intelligent apes, thanks to a successful blend of production design, incredible makeup effects and the delightfully nuanced performances of actors such as Roddy McDowall.
  1. It features a wonderfully eerie and inventive score by Jerry Goldsmith.
  1. It delivers a shocking and memorable finale which stands as one of the most iconic moments in film history.

Did you know?

Screenwriter Michael Wilson was blacklisted by Hollywood for being a communist during the era of the McCarthy ‘witch hunt’ trials.

If you like this then watch…

Planet of the Apes (2001) : flawed though it may be, Tim Burton’s reimagining is still worth a look and evokes the spirit of the 1968 original by featuring superb makeup design and a mind boggling twist finale that still provokes discussion today.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes : the Apes saga begins anew with this smart reinvention that replaces practical ape makeup effects with remarkable motion capture performances melded with breath-taking CGI.

Taylor (Charlton Heston) befriends chimpanzees Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) in the classic original 'Planet of the Apes'.

Taylor (Charlton Heston) befriends chimpanzees Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) in the classic original ‘Planet of the Apes’.