Saturday, April 13, 2013

Review: Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)

LAST TIME ON STAR TREK: The Crew did some courageous ass shit and Spock died. Some things blew up, a planet was created,  and now the Enterprise heads home, in need of repairs. Yes, it's been like twenty minutes since the last one. Just like Back to the Future II or Quantum of Solace or The Two Towers! ... Uh oh...

Yes, the film you are about to watch is not going to be as good as The Wrath of Khan, the ultimate reason being: even though I have been screaming about "Balance of Terror" and when? this and when? that and whinewhinewhine, and then I was given that thing I so desired and expressed my joy at such a thing, the correct way to think is that they should never listen to me (the audience) and just tell me what to fuckin like. The Search for Spock gives the audience everything it ever asks for... and oh god... OH GOD NO MAKE IT STOP.

Okay so okay, outlying warriors from the Klingon Empire, led by Christopher Lloyd as the dopiest Klingon ever, gather some classified material on the Genesis planet. After killing the only other people who know about it, they make a beeline for the planet where Kirk's son and THEY RECAST SAAVIK?! THE FUCK? are busy encountering mysterious thingies. Meanwhile, the Enterprise crew, each member getting a quick needless close up and a pause for cheers, dock at an orbiting hub to butt heads with petty Starfleet personnel and young cadets who are young and brash and don't know nothin from nothin.

After a large amount of time-wasting exposition, a quick scene ripping off Star Wars, and more cutaways to the peripheral characters, we freewheel our way back onto the Enterprise (which can apparently be run by like 4 people without a problem) for a by-the-numbers showdown with the bad guy and the inevitable return of Leonard Nimoy who has now decided that he wants to be involved in the series, thanks, dick. Forget all that shit in the last film about the joy of youth -- it's great to be old! Forget the nonsense about the needs of the many -- Spock is more important and that makes it okay to break protocol!

After the heights it reached in The Wrath of Khan, it's an incredible letdown to be back in television show territory. It's got a similar spirit to The Motion Picture, but way more bland and time-wasty (yes, that's possible). Go ahead and imagine the first reel of the film burned to about twenty minutes in, and imagine the film entirely from the perspective of Saavik and Kirk's son, exploring the Genesis planet and coming across a newly formed Spock, maybe even battling some fringe Klingons who found out about the planet somehow. Now that's good television! But because it's a movie, you resign yourself to certain compromises. The Enterprise Crew has to be involved with the main line of action, however awkwardly, and we have to either utilize the things we establish or end them in this film.

It is here where you can say that at least The Search for Spock takes risks. We deal directly with the Genesis project instead of pretending it never happened a la "City on the Edge of Forever," but only to close the books on it because now it's unstable technology I guess. Kirk's son gets to have a good ol' time in a second movie, but gets fucking iced. The Enterprise gets blown up for real in a Corbomite bluff... er no, the opposite, it's like an Anti-Corbomite Gambit. Anyhow, all these risks seem pointless in the long run. A lot of attrition loss for something that could have been done a whole lot easier. Don't the transporters have a save state for Spock's body? Put Bones into the damn transporter, convince him somehow, I don't care. And what about the Giant Spock on that one planet? Did we forget about that?

And did we even need Spock's return in the first place? I know, I know, he's awesome and stuff, but he died. He's fucking dead. Deal with it. We had that shot of Spock's space coffin on the Genesis planet and that gave us hope and enough closure to move on. We did not need to bring him back in this nonsensical manner. And there was no explanation as to why Spock's new body wasn't unstable like the planet, right? Or why there wasn't some insane version of Khan running around the planet, fused with the fragments of the Reliant? Okay, that would have been awesome. Is it too late to call somebody?

I mean, look, I will say that the setups regarding a rapidly aging Spock, from child to man, are interesting, especially when viewed from the perspective of Saavik. "He was my superior last I knew him and now I'm going to have to fuck him, aren't I?" There are also some fun moments here and there, we get a larger window into Vulcan biology and we nail down Klingon culture. I don't hate the film... just everything that it stands for!


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

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

They took notes. Boy did they ever.

In some miracle flashbang of neuron fire, the powers that be behind Star Trek decide to try a different approach: instead of bringing the Enterprise crew back for yet more adventures, let's address the fact that their adventuring days are behind them and that their past mistakes might come back to haunt them. Not "let's do the show, but bigger," but "where would our characters be now?" What if Star Trek aged? And let's utilize that 'Space Seed' episode for the dangling participle of a villain we never killed, which is probably a better choice than using 'The Gamesters of Triskellion.' The result?

We are given -- nay, gifted -- a film that is one part treatise on old age, one part awesome fuckin space battle between two captains who have nothing left to offer one another but hardcore murder. It's a great feeling, finally getting what you ask for.

While investigating terraforming possibilities on what turns out to be the wrong damn planet, Terrell and Chekov run afoul of a very pissed off Khan (Chekov wasn't even in 'Space Seed', this is a bullshit thing) who uses mind control bugs to fool a bunch of people into giving him way too many resources for his insanity and thus begins the dangerous precedent of a film entirely about getting revenge on the Enterprise's captain, but fuckit! Suspenseful ass shit occurs in space and in a nebula and... well, that's it. But still!

During their conflict, the screenplay elegantly expands and contracts before us like a wave, keeping our minds busy between the action sequences. Khan is the macrotheme of a past mistake, forgotten and never checked up on, mirrored in the microtheme of Kirk's son. During the battle, many more bodies are added to the trail behind Kirk's forward march, including a relative of Scotty's (micro) and a MAJOR CHARACTER OKAY IT'S SPOCK (macro). We see that Kirk is less of a brilliant tactician but more of a miracle worker, able to utilize sheer velocity and cussedness to escape from an impossible scenario, or by outright cheating as their microtheme the Kobayashi Maru reflects. Mercy is dangerous in the wrong hands, a Starfleet Ship is too, and a device which promises the creation of a planet filled with life and resources. It addresses the price of things! How novel! And in a risky move that ultimately pays off, the screenwriters kill off a beloved character at the climax of their fun space adventure film and still manage a hopeful and uplifting ending.

It's full of miracles like this, really. The powers that be hired a guy who desperately wanted to make a submarine action film and then they stepped back and let him do his job. I'm convinced that Nicholas Meyer is some sort of unsung genius in this regard. He is what Metropolis was all about, the bridge between the head and the hands, bringing tactics to a brutal fistfight (or he could be Star Trek's Martin Campbell... he did do Time After Time). The camera is wonderfully involved in everything, and strikes that crucial balance between staying out of the way of the material and getting us right inside of it. The film moves when it needs to, but isn't afraid to take its time. They even took my suggestions for the last film and sped up a shuttle docking sequence into a much shorter, more powerful moment as the Enterprise lights come on one-by-one with a triumphant score FUCK YES

The Wrath of Khan deserves its status as an oft-mentioned Great Star Trek film, even if saying it's great is equivalent to saying Stairway to Heaven is great -- who's going to argue? NOBODY WORTH THEIR VAMPIRE SALT. I have nothing but good things to say about it... well, okay, maybe "How the hell did Chekov survive, exactly?" And this assertion that Kirk needs to command a ship falls flat in the face of the presence of "You are getting too old to succeed." And I guess the film does advocate tyranny of the majority... but hey, it also advocates execution! So... win/lose?

"There is no correct resolution. It's a test of character." See? Is that so hard to fuckin write, you hack bastards?