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).

Flashback: ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’

The original Star Trek cast bow out as they face a battle for peace… 

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‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’: a satisfying conclusion to the voyages of the original crew.

Year:  1991

Starring:  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Christopher Plummer, David Warner, Kim Cattrall

Directed by:  Nicholas Meyer / Written by:  Nicholas Meyer & Denny Martin Flinn (Story by Leonard Nimoy, Lawrence Konner & Mark Rosenthal)

What’s it about?

When the Klingon Chancellor is assassinated enroute to peace talks on Earth, Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy are accused of the crime leaving Spock and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise to uncover the true culprits…

Retrospective

With the lukewarm reception of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (read the retrospective here), Star Trek’s future on the big screen seemed to be in doubt.  Yet, with the franchise’s 25th anniversary approaching, Paramount Pictures decided that the original cast deserved one more adventure before relinquishing the silver screen to their younger (and by this point, less costly) successors on the increasingly popular spin-off series Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Determined to deliver a classic and rewarding finale for the original crew (albeit William Shatner, James Doohan and Walter Koenig would cameo in Star Trek Generations) and one that would be equally redeeming for the audience, Paramount enlisted Leonard Nimoy and Nicholas Meyer to help shape Star Trek VI, both having been involved in the more successful and more popular entries in the series – Nimoy as director of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Meyer as director (and uncredited writer) of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and co-writer of The Voyage Home.  With Harve Bennett feeling jaded by the troubled production of Star Trek V and disagreements with Paramount over the direction of Star Trek VI (the concept for a prequel featuring a new cast as younger versions of Kirk, Spock, McCoy et al being rejected by the studio) he would decide to depart the franchise leaving Ralph Winter in place as the film’s head producer.

The creative matchup of Nimoy (receiving executive producer and story credits) and Meyer would prove to be a strong and vital component to Star Trek VI, both looking to do what they felt the franchise did best – tell a compelling story that explores the human condition and discusses the issues of the day in an entertaining and engaging manner.  With the social and political climate of the 1990s being shaped by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the climax of the Cold War, Nimoy felt that this would make for a suitable and relevant topic of discussion for a good Star Trek story, one that would once again feature the original crew’s greatest adversaries: the Klingons.  Given that the Klingons were conceived by Star Trek writer/producer Gene L. Coon as a stand-in for the Russians and to provide conflict allegorical of Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, their role in the story would be a natural and logical fit.  From this central concept, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (a title lifted from Shakespeare’s Hamlet) was born.  Working from Nimoy’s premise, Meyer would craft the film’s screenplay with co-writer Denny Martin Flinn, providing a dark, yet ultimately optimistic tale infused with all the fun, humour and excitement audiences had come to expect from a Star Trek film.

Star Trek VI opens with the destruction of the Klingon moon Praxis, the Klingon Empire’s key source of energy (an event likened by Nimoy as a galactic version of the Chernobyl incident), leading to a call for peace with the United Federation of Planets.  Three months from retirement, Kirk and his crew are ordered to rendezvous with the Klingon Chancellor’s delegation and escort them to Earth to open negotiations, but when the Chancellor is assassinated, Kirk and McCoy are put on trial for plotting Gorkon’s murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.  What follows is a thrilling ‘whodunit’ which sees Spock and the crew of the Enterprise in a race against time to uncover the perpetrators and rescue their comrades before peace talks falter and all-out war becomes certain.

Heading up the guest cast are David Warner (who had appeared as St. John Talbot in The Final Frontier and as a time-travelling Jack the Ripper in Nicholas Meyer’s directorial debut, Time After Time) as the “Lincoln-esque” Klingon Chancellor, Gorkon, Christopher Plummer as his villainous chief of staff, the Shakespeare-spouting General Chang, Rosana Desoto as Gorkon’s daughter (and successor) Azetbur and a post-Mannequin, pre-Sex in the City Kim Catrall as the Enterprise’s new Vulcan helmsman, Valeris.  Reprising their roles from The Voyage Home are Brock Peters as Admiral Cartwright, John Schuck as the Klingon Ambassador and Mark Lenard as Vulcan Ambassador and Spock’s father, Sarek.

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Christopher Plummer as General Chang.

With a screenplay laced with strong dialogue and characterisation, Nicholas Meyer draws out fine performances from the principal and guest actors alike ensuring that each of the core Star Trek characters get their moment in the spotlight, especially George Takei who relishes the advancement of the loyal Mr. Sulu to Captain of the U.S.S. Excelsior.  Christopher Plummer makes for a great villain, excessive and passionate quotations of Shakespeare only adding to his increasing malevolence.  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley are once again on top form with Shatner and Kelley in particular sharing some memorable scenes together during their trial and subsequent sentence to the penal mining asteroid, Rura Penthe.

It’s reported that Gene Roddenberry (whose health was in serious decline) had concerns about The Undiscovered Country, specifically the prejudice and bigotry displayed by the Enterprise crew and the more militaristic approach to Starfleet, conflicting with the more altruistic vision he had for Star Trek and its characters.  These are certainly valid points but can largely be forgiven when taken in the context of the film’s story and the history of the conflict between the Federation and the Klingon Empire and those aforementioned parallels to America and Russia.

Climaxing with a tense and exciting finale featuring an explosive space battle between the Enterprise, Excelsior and a prototype Klingon vessel and a desperate race to prevent the assassination of the Federation President (played by Robocop’s Kurtwood Smith), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is a fitting conclusion to the original cast’s tenure and a satisfying celebration of the franchise that remains one of its most enjoyable big screen instalments.

Geek fact!

Star Trek VI includes a cameo from one of Hollywood’s hottest rising stars of the 1990s – and Star Trek fan – Christian Slater.

What are your memories of Star Trek VI? Share your thoughts below!

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Once more unto the breach: the original cast of ‘Star Trek’ assembled for their final adventure…

‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Enters Production!

The world’s most popular SF franchise is all set for it’s return to the small screen…

After months of speculation and behind the scenes delays, CBS has announced that production has commenced on Star Trek: Discovery with a painfully brief but non-the-less tantalising video giving short glimpses of some of the series’ production design (including the currently vacant Captain’s chair):

Video linked from YouTube via the JoBlo TV Show Trailers channel.

The sixth live-action Star Trek television series, Discovery was originally set to debut this May but with the departure of showrunner Bryan Fuller and casting announcements to be completed, CBS has wisely postponed the launch date indefinitely until all the pieces are fully in place and to ensure the series can ultimately live up to both its potential and the anticipation of millions of devoted fans the world over.

At this point little is known about the overall concept of Star Trek: Discovery bar that it will take place in the ‘Prime’ Star Trek universe (and therefore not connected to the current big screen alt-universe established by J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek) around ten years prior to the original Star Trek television series and will focus on the crew of the U.S.S. Discovery, principally the as-yet-unnamed Lieutenant-Commander to be played by The Walking Dead’s Sonequa Martin-Green .  Joining Martin-Green are Doug Jones (Hellboy, Falling Skies) as Science Office Lieutenant Saru – a member of an alien race that will be new to the franchise – along with Anthony Rapp as Lt. Stamets, the first openly gay regular character for a Star Trek series and Gotham’s James Frain as Sarek, the very same Vulcan ambassador and father of Spock played in the original Star Trek series and films by Mark Lenard.  Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) will also feature as Captain Georgiou who will command another Starfleet vessel, the Shenzhou together with three Klingon characters to be played by Mary Chieffo, Shazad Latif and Chris Obi.

Despite his departure from the series, Bryan Fuller (who has history with the franchise, having launched his career on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine before serving as a writer/producer on Star Trek: Voyager) had already mapped out the serialised storyline of the show’s first thirteen-episode season as well as having written the opening two-parter and will retain a credit as executive producer.  Showrunner duties will now be handled by Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts with Eugene Roddenberry (son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry) on board as an executive producer and Nicholas Meyer, director of feature films Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (also serving as co-writer on the latter as well as on Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home) in place as a writer and consulting producer.

Co-created with Alex Kurtzman, co-producer/co-writer of the J.J. Abrams directed Star Trek and its sequel Star Trek Into Darkness, Star Trek: Discovery will launch in the U.S. later this year via streaming service CBS All Access (with the premiere episode airing on network television) and will be available worldwide via Netflix.

CBS prepare to launch 'Star Trek: Discovery', the first 'Star Trek' television series since the end of 'Star Trek: Enterprise' in 2005.

CBS prepare to launch ‘Star Trek: Discovery’, the first ‘Star Trek’ television series since the end of ‘Star Trek: Enterprise’ in 2005.

Are you excited about Star Trek’s return to television?  Share your thoughts below!

R.I.P. Harve Bennett

This week sadly saw the loss of another member of the Star Trek family, this time producer/writer Harve Bennett who began his association with the franchise as a Producer on Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Already a veteran television producer with credits including Mod Squad, The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, Bennett was brought into the Star Trek fold by Paramount Pictures, unimpressed with Gene Rodenberry’s troubled production of the over-budget (yet financially successful) Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  Unfamiliar with Star Trek at this point, Bennett viewed all 79 episodes of the original series and it was “Space Seed” that he singled out as a springboard for the next Star Trek feature film.

With Director Nicholas Meyer, Bennett sought a fresh approach to the world of Star Trek that would reinvigorate the franchise yet oddly bring it closer to the spirit of the original series.  Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan would be a resounding success and Bennett would go on to produce sequels Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (which he also wrote), the massively successful Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (co-writing the screenplay with Nicholas Meyer) and the William Shatner helmed Star Trek V: The Final Frontier – where he made an onscreen cameo as a Starfleet Admiral.

Whilst some elements of Bennett’s reinterpretation of Star Trek are still divisive (the more militaristic depiction of Starfleet for example), he brought the heart and soul of the series to the fore and much like J.J. Abrams some years later realised that it was the characters that were much beloved and drove the stories.  It’s also ironic that Bennett had originally pitched an idea for Star Trek VI which would have featured a new cast portraying the younger Kirk, Spock, McCoy et al at Starfleet Academy.

Harve Bennett’s contribution to the Star Trek franchise was more than significant and ensured its longevity both on the big screen and on television (Star Trek: The Next Generation would not have been possible without the success of The Voyage Home) where it has evolved and reinvented itself for almost fifty years and will continue to do so for decades to come.

Harve Bennett died 4th March 2015 aged 84.

You can read the GBUK Classics review of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan here.

Producer Harve Bennett oversaw the production of four of the original 'Star Trek' feature films including 'Star Trek III: The Search for Spock' which saw the directorial debut of Leonard Nimoy.

Producer Harve Bennett oversaw the production of four of the original ‘Star Trek’ feature films including ‘Star Trek III: The Search for Spock’ which saw the directorial debut of Leonard Nimoy.

R.I.P. Leonard Nimoy

Words truly escaped me when the news broke yesterday of the death of Leonard Nimoy, best known for his portrayal of the iconic character of Mr. Spock in the equally iconic science fiction television series, Star Trek.

Having been a Star Trek fan for the majority of my geeky existence (so far) I cannot express how saddened I felt upon hearing the news, it felt like losing a friend – not someone I knew personally or had even met, yet, someone who was always strangely part of my life.  Nimoy’s contribution to Star Trek (and film and television in general) cannot be understated, his nuanced and introspective portrayal of Spock always captivating and effective in conveying the character’s struggles to reconcile the emotional and logical parts of his half human/half Vulcan heritage.  Nimoy shared great onscreen chemistry with co-star William Shatner’s Captain Kirk, a friendship that would filter into their personal lives with the two becoming close friends during and beyond their Star Trek years.

Aside from his role as Spock in the original Star Trek series (as well as guest starring in the Star Trek: The Next Generation two-parter “Unification”), Nimoy would go on to direct big screen voyages Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home as well as serve as an executive producer on Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country where he also worked with director Nicholas Meyer on the film’s story.

Outside of Star Trek, Nimoy appeared in numerous other films and television series including a two year stint as ‘Paris’, the enigmatic master of disguise and deception on Mission: Impossible, a memorable guest role as a murderous surgeon in Columbo, both the 1960s and 1990s versions of The Outer Limits and even parodied himself in The Simpsons.  He would also go on to direct the smash hit 1980s comedy Three Men and a Baby.  He was also a writer having penned memoirs I Am Not Spock and I Am Spock and a talented photographer – there was even a singing career, perhaps not his finest hour, yet he managed to release seven albums!  Nimoy’s final onscreen appearances as an actor were guest roles in Fringe and the 2009 big screen Star Trek reboot and its 2013 sequel Star Trek Into Darkness.

Although Star Trek brought Nimoy fame and fortune it did lead to some personal troubles with the actor enduring a struggle with alcohol which he sought as a release, allowing him to ‘break away’ from the often cold and emotionless Mr. Spock.  He also smoked heavily and despite quitting over twenty years ago Nimoy was last year diagnosed with obstructive pulmonary disease, a condition related to smoking and which ultimately lead to his death.

Leonard Nimoy died on Friday 27th February 2015, aged 83.  Those closing scenes of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan have become all the more poignant and emotional and made a legendary screen actor truly unforgettable…

Leonard Nimoy found fame in the iconic role of Mr. Spock in 'Star Trek' - a character loved by millions all over the globe.

Leonard Nimoy found fame in the iconic role of Mr. Spock in ‘Star Trek’ – a character loved by millions all over the globe.

Five worthy ‘threequels’

The third entry in any film series is by large considered a disappointment and whilst in some cases this is certainly true (“hello” to Superman III and Jurassic Park III), there are some ‘threequels’ that threaten to stand toe to toe with numbers one and two.

With the recent Blu-ray release of Iron Man Three, I thought I’d look at a selection of five other noteworthy threequels that are far from disappointing…

ONE:  ALIEN 3 (1991)

Follows:  Aliens (1986)

Lt. Ellen Ripley crash lands on the Weyland Yutani prison colony “Fury” 161.  Although her companions are killed in the crash, Ripley is not the only survivor…

Aliens would always have been a tough act to follow but Alien 3 was definitely a step in the right direction, not bigger in an attempt to outdo James Cameron’s blockbuster, but much smaller and more claustrophobic and visceral in the same vein as the franchise’s 1979 progenitor (Ridley Scott’s Alien of course).  Directed with a smattering of art house flair by the then 20-something David Fincher, the Alien 3 that audiences eventually saw had risen from the ashes of a troubled production but stands as an underrated piece of cinematic SF horror that’s oozing with atmospheric chills and should really have been a conclusion to the Alien film series.

Charles S. Dutton’s Dillon aside, Sigourney Weaver is supported by a wealth of British acting talent – Brian Glover, Charles Dance, Ralph Brown, Danny Webb and Paul McGann.  Coupled with Fincher’s youthfully artistic direction Alien 3 has its own distinct flavour.

What came next:  Alien Resurrection (1997) – a sequel too far?  Whilst Alien 3 was ‘arty’ in the best possible sense, Resurrection overstepped the mark and resulted in a poorly conceived and over ambitious mess that lead to the guilty pleasures of two Alien vs. Predator films.

Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) faces her worst nightmare - again - in 'Alien 3', directed by future Oscar nominee David Fincher.

Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) faces her worst nightmare – again – in ‘Alien 3’, directed by future Oscar nominee David Fincher.

TWO:  STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK (1984)

Follows:  Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

The crew of the Enterprise are mourning the loss of their shipmate, Captain Spock but when Doctor McCoy begins exhibiting strange behaviour, Admiral Kirk is compelled to defy orders and return to the Genesis Planet…

As established Star Trek fans will know, the most recent J.J. Abrams film is not the first time the franchise ventured “into darkness”.  Both Star Trek II and Star Trek III dealt with some dark yet mature themes including regret and loss, whilst still retaining the core ideals of hope and humanity that Gene Rodenberry had envisioned.  It made sense that the franchise grew with its audience and had relevance in the often dark 1980s.  The Search for Spock – despite relatively little screen-time for Leonard Nimoy’s Spock (he was busy behind the camera this time out) – showed us that Star Trek had matured without forgetting those afore-mentioned ideals that made it so appealing.  A large part of what makes it work so well is that you cared about those original characters and rooted for them as they banded together at the risk of losing everything for the sake of their friend and comrade.

The Search for Spock also features a (just) pre-Back to the Future Christopher Lloyd as the enjoyably maniacal Klingon Commander, Kruge.

What came next:  Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) – “the one with the whales” ranks as one of the most commercially and critically successful of all the Star Trek feature films (and the second to be directed by Leonard Nimoy), it brought levity in spades and upheld the key elements of Gene Rodenberry’s vision whilst paving the way for the franchise’s return to the small screen with the immensely successful Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Kirk (William Shatner) together with his shipmates steal the Enterprise, risking all for the needs of the one...

Kirk (William Shatner) together with his shipmates steal the Enterprise, risking all for the needs of the one…

THREE:  THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012)

Follows:  The Dark Knight (2008)

Bruce Wayne must once again don the cape and cowl to prevent the terrorist Bane from fulfilling the League of Shadow’s plan to destroy Gotham City…

Whilst many will argue that The Dark Knight is the best of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises was the perfect conclusion and brought the focus back to Bruce Wayne’s story (despite less actual screen time for the Batman himself), bringing everything neatly full circle.

The film features arguably the strongest cast performances of the trilogy and a villain that literally stood toe to toe with Gotham’s Dark Knight and high stakes throughout to the spectacular and gripping finale.

For more on the Dark Knight Rises, check out the GBUK retrospective here.

What came next:  Man of Steel (2013) – although Christopher Nolan’s Batman saga concluded with The Dark Knight Rises his creative presence is felt in the recent Superman reboot, having served as producer and sharing a ‘story by’ credit with screenwriter David S. Goyer.

Another superbly cast ensemble  for the conclusion to Christopher Nolan's well crafted Batman film trilogy.

Another superbly cast ensemble for the conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s well crafted Batman film trilogy.

FOUR:  GOLDFINGER (1964)

Follows:  From Russia With Love (1963)

007 must foil gold magnate Auric Goldfinger’s plot to irradiate Fort Knox’s gold reserve…

Goldfinger is generally regarded as the finest of all Bond films (for me it’s in contention with From Russia With Love) and identified as the point where Bond-mania truly exploded.  It established the template from which (for better or worse) all future Bond films would follow:  the pre-credits mission, a grand and operatic theme song, the gadgets, a compelling villain and an action packed climax as 007 leads a final assault to thwart the plans of said villain.

Gert Frobe (despite being dubbed due to his lack of coherent English) brought true presence and gravitas to the role of Goldfinger, a master villain able to match Bond whit for whit.  Sean Connery excels as the iconic super spy, his performance confidently infused with charm and vigour – leaving you in no doubt that (as good as Daniel Craig is) he was and likely always will be the best screen 007.

And of course who can forget that legendary Austin Martin…ejector seat and all.

What came next:  Thunderball (1965) – considered by some to be the downward turn in Sean Connery’s tenure it’s still a top spy adventure bolstered by Academy Award winning effects, another magnificent score from John Barry and yet another sexy Bond girl – this time Claudine Auger’s ‘Domino’.

Expected to die...James Bond (Sean Connery) faces the challenge of one of his greatest foes - Aric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe).

Expected to die…James Bond (Sean Connery) is challenged by one of his greatest foes – Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe).

FIVE:  ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES (1971)

Follows:  Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

Escape from the Planet of the Apes is a surprising entry in the original Planet of the Apes film series not only in that it’s superior to first sequel Beneath the Planet of the Apes but also for the fact that it’s a film of two very different halves.  The first ‘half’ is fairly light (even frivolous) as the evolved apes Cornelius (Roddie McDowall) and Zira (Kim Hunter) are welcomed with open arms by the media and general public, being treated like celebrities before the sinister workings behind the scenes of the U.S. government lead to a much darker second half as Cornelius and Zira (the latter having just given birth) must run for their lives as they are hunted down.  At this point it’s a film that can be taken much more seriously and throws an uncomfortable spotlight on the uglier, inhumane aspects of human nature.

What came next:  Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) – arguably the best of the Apes sequels it continues the darker tone of the latter parts of Escape as humanity’s subjugation and mistreatment of apes (a comment on slavery, a subject directly referenced in dialogue by one of the film’s African American characters) leads to a violent revolt by Caesar (another wonderful simian performance from McDowall), the son of Cornelius and Zira.

'Escape from the Planet of the Apes' starts out fun before exploring darker territory as the film progresses to it's tense and shocking climax...

‘Escape from the Planet of the Apes’ starts out fun before exploring darker territory as the film progresses to it’s tense and shocking climax…

Do you have a favourite threequel?  Share your thoughts below!

Also on Geek Blogger UK:

Blu-ray review: ‘Iron Man Three’

Blu-ray review: ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’

GBUK film classics: ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’

GBUK film classics: ‘From Russia With Love’

 

Blu-ray review: ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’

This review contains SPOILERS

 

please don’t read on if you haven’t yet seen Star Trek Into Darkness

 

A bold new future for the beloved and enduring science fiction franchise…

 

Starring:  Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alice Eve, Peter Weller

Directed by:  J.J. Abrams / Written by:  Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman & Damon Lindelof / 132 minutes

What’s Star Trek Into Darkness about?

Captain James T. Kirk takes the U.S.S. Enterprise into Klingon space in pursuit of rogue Starfleet Officer John Harrison…

Film review

Into Darkness is the long awaited sequel to producer/director J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek (2009).  Since its theatrical release earlier this year it has gone on to become the most financially successful of all of the franchise’s big screen adventures and despite overall critical acclaim has proven divisive among the fans (but isn’t this always the case?).

As a life-long Star Trek fan (since the early eighties) I can safely say that although it may not quite have the impact of the 2009 prequel/reboot, Into Darkness is one hell of a ride that acknowledges the hallmarks of Gene Rodenberry’s vision whilst providing plenty of the rollercoaster excitement that modern summer blockbuster audiences expect.

Into Darkness continues to further explore the characters of the original Star Trek series and films with a well-chosen cast who, beyond merely channelling the performances of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy (who appears in a short cameo) et al give fresh, yet familiar interpretations of those iconic characters.

Although each of the characters is given their moment in the spotlight (Scotty resigns, Chekov reluctantly dons a red shirt, Sulu takes command and Uhura tries to reason with Klingons), the film’s focus is really, rightfully, on the burgeoning friendship between Kirk and Spock with Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto both proving their worth as successors to Messrs’ Shatner and Nimoy.  Sadly Karl Urban’s McCoy is a little side-lined as a result but hopefully future sequels will explore and develop the infamous Kirk/Spock/McCoy troika.

The Enterprise crew face a more complex villain this time out in Benedict Cumberbatch’s enigmatic John Harrison (more on him shortly) as well as Starfleet Admiral Alexander Marcus (the ever superb Peter Weller) and are joined by Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) – a character that fans will of course be aware of.

Just as the original Star Trek television series provided commentary on issues and concerns of the 1960s (such as the Vietnam War and Civil Rights), Into Darkness addresses topics relating to terrorism through Harrison’s vendetta against Starfleet and Marcus’ push for militarisation in the wake of Vulcan’s destruction.

Gladly the screenwriters understand the characters and core concepts of Gene Rodenberry’s vision for Star Trek.  Following atrocities committed by Harrison (including the death of Admiral Pike) we see Kirk set out on a mission of vengeance, a basic human reaction, tempered by Spock’s sense of logic and morality.  With the Enterprise carrying a complement of long range torpedoes (Scotty all too aptly reminding Kirk that their mission is that of peaceful exploration), which mirrors the real world drone strikes carried out in the Middle East.  It’s all played out as Gene Rodenberry would have intended, presenting our heroes with ethical dilemmas that they must face and overcome to do what is morally right.

One of the most divisive points of Star Trek Into Darkness is the true identity of Benedict Cumberbatch’s villain.  I’m still surprised that Khan was chosen (even with all the prior speculation) and despite my initial trepidations I feel it worked out well, Cumberbatch is a powerful presence and although physically dissimilar from Ricardo Montalban makes the character his own.  Another bone of contention for some of the fans is the homages to Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan.  They do work – the reversal of the Kirk/Spock roles from the finale of Wrath of Khan being a key example.  It’s relevant to the story and character arcs of the film, bolstered by heart-wrenching performances (complemented by another great score from Michael Giacchino) by Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto.  I’d say it’s permitted this time around so long as future films don’t make a habit of it.

The screenplay holds together rather well although it’s a shame that Khan’s back story wasn’t fleshed out a little more, perhaps via a short series of simple flashbacks.  It wouldn’t have bloated the run time or slowed down the pace yet would have added more weight to the villain’s motives (I look forward to IDW Publishing’s forthcoming comic book mini-series then).

Aside from being a Star Trek film, this is also a popcorn summer blockbuster and the action is riveting and epic with many standout moments, from the Enterprise emerging from the bottom of an alien ocean (during the film’s Indiana Jones-esque opening) and Khan’s attack on Starfleet Headquarters to a tense encounter with the Klingons, the Enterprise’s plummet Earthward and Spock’s climactic edge of the seat chase of Khan through (and above) the streets of San Francisco.  It’s also not as dark as the title suggests with some welcome levity via McCoy’s persistent metaphors and Scotty…well Scotty in general!

J.J. Abrams directs proceedings with reliable aplomb, the more intimate dialogue heavy character scenes flow at an appropriate pace, balanced with the large scale effects-laden action sequences.

By the end of the film there’s a true sense that the Enterprise crew have become a family, Kirk has grown and earned his command and the respect and trust of his crew, ready to set forth and seek out new life forms and new civilizations.

Standout moment

A crippled Enterprise plummets to Earth, with the crew literally hanging for life – their only hope for salvation is the re-initialisation of the ship’s warp core.  Despite Scotty’s protests Kirk decides to sacrifice himself for the needs of the many…

The Blu-ray

Star Trek Into Darkness is presented in its entirety in 2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen meaning that unfortunately Paramount have opted not to preserve the IMAX scenes.  This aside the transfer is as flawless as you would expect from a modern production.

Extras are light with only a series of interesting, albeit short, production featurettes included (there’s no commentary).  By comparison the 2009 Star Trek release came with a separate Blu-ray disc full of extras.  It’s a massive shame and sadly a continuing trend with Paramount Home Entertainment releases.

The bottom line:  Star Trek Into Darkness is a solid second entry in the new cinematic Star Trek universe with moral issues balanced with good characterisation, strong cast performances and breath-taking action and excitement.

Star Trek Into Darkness is out now on Blu-ray (2D and 3D editions) from Paramount Home Entertainment (also available on DVD and digital download).

Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) confront the captured John Harrison (the superb Benedict Cumberbatch).

Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) confront the captured John Harrison (the superb Benedict Cumberbatch).

Film Classics: ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’

Looking at some all-time favourites…

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“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…”

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Kirk (William Shatner) and Spock (Leonard Nimoy) in ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’ (image credit: Paramount Pictures).

Year: 1982

Starring:  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, Kirstie Alley, Bibi Besch, Meritt Butrick, Paul Winfield, Ricardo Montalban

Directed by:  Nicholas Meyer / written by:  Jack B. Sowards (uncredited: Nicholas Meyer)

What’s it about?

Whilst Admiral Kirk oversees a training cruise aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, Commander Chekov, serving as first officer of the U.S.S. Reliant discovers Khan – the genetically engineered tyrant who once tried to kill Kirk and now seeks revenge against the former starship captain for ‘marooning’ Khan and his people on a now desolate planet…

In review: why it’s a classic

Surely the best of all the Star Trek films to date, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan restored much of the spirit of the original Star Trek television series that was felt to be absent from the more effects and concept-driven (but highly imaginative) Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  Despite his diminished involvement, The Wrath of Khan is true to creator Gene Rodenberry’s intention that Star Trek be a way of telling entertaining and thought -provoking science fiction tales whilst also acting as a vehicle for stories exploring the human condition.

Directed by Nicholas Meyer (Time After Time), who, uncredited, also extensively rewrote the film’s screenplay, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is the first of the classic Trek films to be produced by Harve Bennet after Paramount Pictures’ reduction of Gene Rodenberry’s role to that of ‘Executive Consultant,’ following their dissatisfaction with The Motion Picture.  The result is a film that takes a slightly more risky approach to the world of Star Trek and its characters without betraying the core tenets of the series or going against what fans would know or expect from Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the rest of the Enterprise crew.

A sequel to the classic Star Trek episode “Space Seed”, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan sees the return of genetically engineered antagonist Khan (Ricardo Montalben), bitter after being left on Ceti Alpha V to establish a new home with his people, subsequently decimated when the neighbouring planet exploded and laying waste to the ecology of their world – with no contact from Kirk to check on the progress of Khan and his brethren.  Stumbled upon by the U.S.S. Reliant’s captain (played by The Terminator’s Paul Winfield) and first officer, former Enterprise crewman Commander Chekov (Walter Koenig), whilst they search for a test site for ‘Project Genesis’ – a scientific breakthrough in terraforming – Khan seizes the Reliant and sets out on a relentless quest for vengeance against Kirk.  With the Enterprise on a cadet training cruise under Admiral Kirk’s supervision, a distress signal from the Regula I space laboratory instigates an emergency – placing Kirk in command and drawing him into confrontation with the enraged Khan who now not only seeks retribution against Kirk but plans to obtain the Genesis device for himself.

With a story that, like all good science fiction, taps into human concerns as it explores themes such as heroism and loss, The Wrath of Khan is made even greater by featuring a formidable and intelligent adversary who, like all good antagonists doesn’t see himself as the ‘villain’.  The late Ricardo Montalben was a memorable guest star in “Space Seed” and with his reprisal of Khan he effortlessly takes things to the next level with a scintillating and intense portrayal of the character.  The threat of Khan is enhanced with a touch of horror in the form of the mind influencing Ceti eels which he uses to bend Chekov and his captain to his will – the unnerving scenes of the creatures slithering into their ear holes providing the most unsettling moment in any Star Trek film.

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Khan (Ricardo Montalben) embarks on a relentless quest for vengeance (image credit: Paramount Pictures).

The Wrath of Khan is infused with literary reverence – Khan’s obsessive pursuit of revenge not unlike that of Moby Dick’s Captain Ahab (accentuated by quotes from Herman Melville’s novel) – as well as morals and ethics as it deals with Project Genesis, a powerful form of technology that could prove to be destructive in the wrong hands.  It also boasts some strong characterisation, from Kirk’s crisis as he regrets accepting promotion out of the captain’s chair whilst pondering a life that could have been as a father and husband (his son David and former partner Carol, played by Merrit Butrick and Bibi Besch respectively, the creators of Genesis), to Spock’s (spoiler!) sacrifice for “the needs of the many” and Khan’s anguish at the loss of his wife and the plight of his people adding to the drama.  Nicholas Meyer, though unfamiliar with Star Trek, brings all the creative elements suitably into play and encourages terrific performances from the cast, especially William Shatner (as Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (as Spock) – who share several wonderful scenes which highlight the unwavering bond of friendship between their respective characters – and, again, the superb Ricardo Montalban –as well as maintaining the tension and excitement during the film’s space battle sequences.  It’s also worth noting the increased role afforded to Walter Koenig in comparison to The Motion Picture and Kirstie Alley (future star of classic sitcom Cheers) makes her big screen debut in a fan favourite turn as Spock’s young Vulcan protégé, the equally logical and analytical Lieutenant Saavik.

Meyer also brings his love of all thing nautical to the fore (the Naval-esque orientated depiction of Starfleet, whilst more militaristic, provides an identifiable portrayal of the organisation) with the climactic nebula-bound battle between the Enterprise and the Reliant a fitting homage to tense World War II submarine thrillers such as Robert Wise’s Run Silent, Run Deep.  James Horner’s rousing, exciting and emotional music score is the icing on the cake that together with all of the other elements not only make Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan a fine piece of science fiction film entertainment that resonates on a human level but represents the franchise at its cinematic best.

Standout moment

The Enterprise crippled by Khan’s surprise attack, Kirk uses his experience and ingenuity to gain the upper hand, utilising the Reliant’s command code sequence to lower its defences…

Geek fact!

Amongst the crew of the Reliant is Commander Kyle, a popular supporting character from the original series, with John Winston reprising the role.

If you like this then watch…

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country : Nicholas Meyer returns to co-write and direct the original crew’s final outing in a gripping “whodunit?” that utilises the science fiction backdrop to comment on issues of the time – namely the collapse of the Berlin wall and with it, the Cold War.

Star Trek Into Darkness : though divisive, J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek sequel revisits The Wrath of Khan as Kirk (Chris Pine) and the crew of the Enterprise face high stakes against a new iteration of Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch).  Amongst all the contemporary blockbuster excitement are faithful homages to the franchise’s roots and commentary on issues such as terrorism and military intervention.

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