Review: Star Trek (dir. J.J. Abrams, 2009)

The trailers say this isn’t your father’s Star Trek, but they could just as easily have said this isn’t your grandfather’s Star Trek. The series really is that old: it has been 45 years since Gene Roddenberry produced the first of two pilot episodes for the original TV show, and as James Bond could tell you, that’s a long time to let a franchise run without taking things back to square one and giving yourself a fresh start. So now, here comes the reboot: directed by J.J. Abrams (producer of Lost and Cloverfield) from a script by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (the Transformers movies), the new Star Trek is a hotter, sexier, flashier, more youth-oriented version of the sci-fi series than we have ever seen before. But it doesn’t completely sever its ties with the original series — indeed, it puts those ties front-and-centre — and the result is a movie that may leave Trek fans feeling deeply ambivalent.

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Star Trek: Generations: the two-disc DVD

I said something earlier about ST5:TFF being a wasted opportunity. Star Trek: Generations (hereafter known as ST:G) was an even bigger opportunity, and thus, as it turned out, may have been an even bigger waste. It has been ten years — an entire decade — since Captain James T. Kirk bit the dust, and until I watched the “collector’s edition” DVD today, I don’t believe I had seen the film at all since the three times I caught it in the theatre back then; indeed, you could say I still haven’t seen it again, since I watched it with both the audio and text commentaries turned on, and thus wasn’t really paying attention to the dialogue, etc. But even with those bonus-feature distractions — and indeed, partly because of them, since the voices on the commentary express many gripes with the finished product! — it is still evident to me that ST:G was a clumsily made film, and a rather pathetic note on which to really, really, really end the original series.

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Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country: the two-disc DVD

Wow, these discs just keep getting cheaper and cheaper. Two years, two months and a few weeks ago, I picked up the then-new two-disc Star Trek: The Motion Picture set for about CDN$32, after tax. Since then, Paramount has been re-issuing the subsequent Star Trek films as two-disc sets packed with extras, at a pace of one every several months, and today, I picked up the two-disc Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country set for about CDN$16.

First, I must gripe about the packaging. All the other films were released in black plastic cases, and indeed, if you get the new six-movie original-cast boxed set, all the discs come in black plastic cases. But if you buy ST6:TUC on its own, it comes in a white plastic case. Huh? Second, there is no booklet, at least not in my copy. Third, they are less than forthright about the fact that this film has been tweaked since the last time it was released.

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Star Trek V: The Final Frontier: the two-disc DVD

Artistically and financially, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (hereafter known as ST5:TFF) has long been widely regarded as the least successful film in the Star Trek franchise, at least until Star Trek: Nemesis came out last year. So of course, I approached the “collector’s edition” two-disc DVD set — which came out yesterday, 14 years and a few months after the film came out in theatres — curious to see whether the film’s low reputation would be acknowledged in the extras. And it is, sorta.

In one featurette, sci-fi author David Brin calls the film an under-rated entry in the series. In another, executive producer Ralph Winter says he and the rest of the production team may have tackled the film with too much exuberance and confidence, without stopping to think about the film the way they should have, following the success of ST4:TVH (which remains, to this day and despite the rise in ticket prices since 1986, the only Star Trek film to break the $100 million barrier at the box office). In another, both Winter and one of the other creative types grumble that the special effects really failed to serve the film (I believe this may be the only Star Trek movie, apart from the very first one, that turned to some company other than George Lucas’s Industrial Light & Magic for its effects, and yeah, the effects here ARE tacky). And William Shatner himself, in the making-of featurette, concludes by saying that he has a tremendous capacity for “denial”, so as far as he’s concerned, he had a great experience directing the film, and that’s what matters to him.

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Star Trek: Nemesis (no spoilers, just a lot of grousing)

Just came home from seeing this one. I don’t have to review this film for any secular media, and I’m afraid there’s no great thematic depth to it that warrants any coverage in the religious media, AFAIAC. So instead of writing a “review”, I’m just going to post a few random thoughts.

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Random Wrath of Khan thought.

I recently made mp3s of a few James Horner tunes so people could compare and contrast his soundtracks to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) and Aliens (1986) — they’re very similar. As a result, I have had the ‘Genesis Countdown’ tune running through my head a fair bit lately, and today, during a moment of boredom, I found myself thinking about the climax to this film, and what makes it so interesting and distinctive.

There is a cliché that runs through many, many, many movies in which the hero defeats the villain, and then, just when you think everything’s safe, the villain rises up again and lunges at the hero, only to be destroyed immediately by the hero or one of the hero’s friends. The first examples of this sort of thing that come to my mind are in Scream, Red Dragon and Fatal Attraction. Even Aliens plugs into this cliché, sort of — instead of an alien lying on the floor, presumably dead, and then suddenly jumping up and lunging at our heroes, the film shows the aliens’ lair being destroyed in a nuclear explosion, and then settles into a lull as our heroes return to their spaceship, safe and sound … and then, suddenly, oh no! the tranquility is shattered when one of them is ripped in two by the Queen Alien, who snuck onto the ship as a stowaway on the heroes’ shuttle! This shocking discovery is then followed by a fairly extensive one-to-one battle between the Queen Alien and Sigourney Weaver. In this regard, Aliens is quite different from the typical film, where the villain is killed as soon as he or she jumps up. But the basic paradigm is still there — the villain is presumed dead, is then shockingly discovered to be alive, and is then really put to death.

ST2:TWOK is quite different. Yes, on one level, it presents a defeated villain who makes one last stab at killing our heroes. But he does this in a rather unique way, and the heroes survive in a rather unique way. Instead of the villain directing all his energy at the hero, and instead of the hero shooting back — that is, instead of a villain and a hero who both seek victory by trying to destroy the otherST2:TWOK presents a hero and a villain who both seek victory by destroying themselves.

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Some things are just wrong / A new Star Trek movie can explain how but doesn’t seem to know why

While the show’s premise is rooted strongly in secular humanism, Star Trek is, at the same time, profoundly concerned with issues of truth and morality. But only to a point.

Star Trek: Insurrection, the latest movie in this TV and film franchise, offers a striking case in point. In it, Captain Jean-Luc Picard (played by Patrick Stewart) discovers that the Federation is secretly planning to relocate an alien race, the Ba’Ku, against its will. This is in violation of the Federation’s Prime Directive, which prohibits interference with alien cultures, but Picard’s superior officer, Admiral Dougherty (Anthony Zerbe), rationalizes that it is a trivial matter: the Federation would be moving only 600 people.

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A fascinating examination of Star Trek’s ‘double vision’

Mike Hertenstein: The Double Vision of Star Trek: Half-Humans, Evil Twins and Science Fiction, Cornerstone, 1998.

FOR A SHOW rooted so strongly in secular humanism, Star Trek has quite the Christian following. Theologian Stan Grenz has lectured on the TV series at Regent College, and Phil Farrand, author of the fannish Nitpicker’s Guide series, openly acknowledges his love for Jesus.

Now that books on the physics, metaphysics, biology and meaning of Star Trek have become a literary genre in their own right, the time is more than ripe for an analysis of this phenomenon from a Christian perspective.

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Gender vortex / Critics of 1950s scifi thought it was sexist. But the new Star Trek movie shows they ain’t seen nothing yet.

In one early scene in Star Trek: First Contact, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart), who has travelled back in time to stop the Borg from conquering the Earth in the 21st century, strokes a nuclear missile from his planet’s past. Data (Brent Spiner), the android, follows suit but says he cannot feel anything, so he tries again. Then Counselor Troi (Deanna Sirtis) walks in, sees them fondle the tall, hard, erect explosive device, and asks, “Would you three like to be left alone?”

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Review: Star Trek: Generations (dir. David Carson, 1994)

My ex-roommates and I used to have a little ritual. Every Sunday night, we would gather around a TV set with as many friends as possible to watch the latest episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation and, time permitting, Deep Space Nine. The liturgy of our humble adoration was punctuated by commercial breaks that enabled us to dissect each act of each teleplay with the loving care that one normally reserves for picking at watermelon seeds. Critical ejaculations — “Book reference!” here, “Run another diagnostic!” there — were permitted like so many amens, so long as these outbursts did not snowball into fully-scripted distractions from the pageantry before us.

But lately there were grumblings. The ritual had grown stale, boring, and the post mortem on each episode seemed to expose a malignant complacency.

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