Star-Trek-a-Palooza

How did you spend your New Year's? I spent it watching the set of Star Trek movies, back-to-back. I thought it might be an interesting project and I'd have lots of funny and/or insightful things to say after going through the marathon viewing of ten movies. (I elected to stop right before the reboot, because it would cost me money.)

And after ten movies from four decades, you know what I have to say?

Not much. I'm exhausted. I did sleep in the middle of this set, but even so, I'm just tired with very little coherent to offer you all except for one thing:


Don't try this at home. It isn't worth it.

If you do want to watch these things, I suggest doing it in pairs. The even ones really are better than the odd ones.

I&II (The Motion Picture ('79)/The Wrath of Khan ('82))


You have to watch #1 just so you can appreciate the huge improvement between the first and second installments. The first is much more like a rushed pilot than a good feature, but the second one gets the cadence and writing down. When watching them back-to-back like this, you can almost think the folks learned how to act in the years between. If nothing else, everybody is more comfortable. And Ricardo Montalbán is and always will be the best of all the ST baddies. (Good luck Cumberbatch.)

The first movie is very much a product of the '70s. The Klingon ships seem to have the taillights of a Dodge Duster. Dr. McCoy has a big gold medallion and is showing chest hair. In the second movie, we move from leisure suits to turtle necks, to show we've made it to the '80s. That guy from Square Pegs is rockin' some Greatest American Hero hair and Khan is backed up by the guys from Spinal Tap.

At this point, fandom had not yet created a dictionary for the Klingon language, so the actors are just shouting country names from a Risk board. Irktusk! Kamchatka!

Biggest surprise: The theme music in the first movie isn't the original theme from the television series. I had forgotten this by the time TNG came out and assumed they had written the music for that series.

Best line (#1): "My oath of celibacy is on record, Captain."

Best line (#2): "I'm not a drama critic." (Kirk) Closely followed by, "Aren't you dead?" (Kirk to Spock after the early simulation)

Favorite Tweet: "Golly do they have a word for this slow fly-by caressing shot of the Enterprise in dock? Right, it's called 'porn'."

By the way, 2012 was the year that Voyager 1 actually left our solar system.


III & IV (The Search for Spock ('84)/The Voyage Home ('86))


For some reason, I had to pay for #3. The others came free as part of the Amazon Prime membership. I'd like to say that my resentment affected my viewing, but there is no doubt that the curse of the odd numbers is here. The odd numbered ones seem to be more talky and slow compared to the even ones.

I've seen all the movies before, of course, but I didn't remember anything about #3 at all except for the explosion of the Enterprise. At the time, I thought that was wicked cool awesome. Now...meh. Still, the effects are better than the spacewalking astronauts in #1.

Number 4 was probably the most accessible of the whole series, but I can't understand why it begins with such a Christmas-sounding soundtrack. This is the one in which the crew come back in time to Earth to find some whales. If only they'd had Dory from Finding Nemo, things would have gone more smoothly. I remember watching this as a teenager. I spent the whole movie wondering if the whale researcher was wearing a bra.

Yes, I spent much of this viewing wondering that, too.

I suspect that #4 was the most successful for a few reasons. The actors have stopped taking it all so seriously. The urban setting of '80s San Francisco is so obviously more real than any of the settings of the other movies. And the effects are finally up-to-date. The shot of the Bird of Prey hovering over the (world's tiniest) whaling ship is great.

Best line (#3): "Scotty, have you always multiplied your estimates by a factor of four?"

Best line (#4): "I think he did too much LDS." Those Mormons, man.

Favorite Tweet: "'The needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many.' Is he trying to make Spock's head explode?"

V & VI (The Final Frontier ('89)/The Undiscovered Country ('91))


Anything that starts on the "Planet of Peace" is doomed from the start. Even now, I don't remember much from the fifth movie. I made it through an hour and ten minutes before I had to go to bed and finish it in the morning. I think the movie proves one thing: God is boring.

Look for a cameo from Pioneer about 24 minutes in. It's a good thing the Klingons shoot it; it might have gained intelligence and threatened the Earth later.

Number six starts with a bang and entirely different music. The only reason this movie is any good is because it's being watched right after number five. It is filled with a lot of quotes. Spock seems to imply that he's directly descended from Sherlock Holmes. On the one hand, it's nice to see some literary references; on the other hand, there are so many it just seems like the writers couldn't think of enough to say themselves.

Five and six share a fascination with psychobabble. The prophet in the fifth is really a talking therapist. In six, Kirk gets to fight and kiss himself.

But the sixth is more about the collapse of the Soviet Union. I wondered if the feelings about getting along with the Russians were really as strong as portrayed here. I was also wondering why writers always think that they can make trials interesting. Trials are never interesting. (On the other hand, A Few Good Men does both of these things better.)

Best line (#5): "Please, Captain, not in front of the Klingons."

Best line (#6): "There is an old Vulcan proverb: Only Nixon could go to China."

Favorite Tweet: "If I ever need an eye patch, I want one that bolts to my head."

I admit it: I was a little sad at the final scene.

VII & VIII (Generations ('94)/First Contact ('96))


Here is where we transition from old crew to TNG crew. The folks from TNG take themselves way too seriously. In these two, at least, they really ought to take a step back. It feels like a bunch of rich kids playing at being in Star Trek.

And that's saying something, considering the actors we started with.

On the other hand, LeVar Burton can show an extraordinary range of emotion without even having his eyes available.

And I really, really, really don't want to watch a starship captain cry. But give him credit: there are only 9 years between Shatner and Stewart, but Stewart is FIT.

The eighth one has a couple of mentions of Star Trek canon that I didn't notice at all in the movies leading up to it, which is kind of surprising considering how important they are to the series. I think this is the first movie where the Prime Directive is mentioned. And the holographic doctor has a line that should have been McCoy's: "I'm a doctor not a doorstop."

It is quaint to think that "knowing we're not alone in the universe" is enough to eliminate poverty. We know in the US that there are other humans around but we haven't done a whole lot about poverty.

I didn't write down a best line for #7. I was too busy trying to figure out if that was Ferris Bueller's Peanut Head (it was) and whether the bad guy was really called "Sauron" (not quite).

Best line (#8): "You broke your little ships."

IX & X (Insurrection ('98)/Nemesis ('02))


This is the pair that seems to turn it around. That is, the odd one is better than the even one, but only because the even one is so dang boring. To be fair, I say that after watching hours and hours and hours of this stuff, so maybe I'm just tired. I don't want to see these people flirt with each other. Really.

I think you could call #9 "The Courtship of Eddie's Android."

Best line (#9): "They're blocking the beams with some kind of inhibitor." Yes, that's what 'inhibit' means.

Best line (#10): "I have a purpose."

Favorite Tweet: "If you direct a movie, then you can have a scene where you steer the Enterprise with an Atari 2600 joystick."

I'm going to sleep now. You can thank me tomorrow.









2 thoughtful messages from friendly readers:

rl crabb said...

My favorite was "Generations" for all the reasons you didn't like it. Picard's reaction to the death of his brother and nephew was all too human, and the theme of our mortality was played well (I thought) throughout the movie. And I love those Klingon sisters!

My biggest complaint with the story was why villain Sorin felt he needed to waste a solar system to get back into the nexus. In the beginning sequence he and his shipmates had no problemo flying into it, and were only rescued by the quick action of the Enterprise transporter team.

Best Line: (from #4) "Don't forget where we parked." (Kirk's advice to the crew after they land in Golden Gate Park.)

AbbotOfUnreason said...

OK, I'll give you the Klingon Sisters. "Human woman are so repulsive!"

No doubt, the acting, writing, and effects are all better in Generations than in any of the preceding episodes. I think I just spent so much time with the original cast in the hours leading up to it, that I felt bad for them when we transitioned.

If I were curating this at a theater, I'd put the best of the series between #6 and Generations: That would be Galaxy Quest.

Actually, the reboot might go well here in the middle. It has some of the camp of the original but with better writing and effects.