Not-So-Classic Review: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Stars:  ** out of Four

Summary:  A stunted, mediocre debacle, with entertaining moments, but without an overall sense of catharsis.

To keep people from leaving?

To keep people from leaving?

Review:  So this is going to be a short review.  It’s not a remarkable movie in either direction, good or bad.  It’s just stunningly mediocre.  It has its fun moments, and its bad moments, and its moments where you just can’t wait for the movie to end.   Despite my terrible comment on the original poster’s tagline — which was created early on in production, when the studio still had high hopes for the movie — it isn’t unwatchable. Unfortunately, it has earned such a bad rap all around that I feel like I have to keep it in the ‘Not-So-Classic’ category.   It’s not a classic.   It’s not an utter failure either.

This was original ‘Trek’ star William Shatner’s only directed entry of the series.  He had a huge scope for the original story, and obviously inspired great confidence in the studio, as is evident by the early marketing campaign.  Judging from some of his novels, including some he had also intended to become ‘Trek’ films, the action-idea was probably too ambitious.  I’m trying to be fair, here, to counterbalance some of the anti-Shatner backlash that the film generated.  I think he, and the rest of the production team, really thought they were going to make a winner.  Unfortunately for Shatner and company, the scope proved to be too much.  The studio couldn’t afford to pay for the special effects needed.  So instead of inspiring ‘Star Wars’-like thrills, it inspired confusion and disappointment in Trekkies everywhere.

The story, though odd, does have a vein of potential.  The idea was to put the Enterprise crew on a spiritual quest, an encounter with God.  In the end, they only found a counterfeit, but I believe the intention — though vaguely captured, at best, in the final film — was to show that the true God was way beyond anything the Enterprise crew could fathom.  This strikes again at the philosophical richness of ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’, which ironically also failed to communicate its original story in a fulfilling way.

The characters and the execution leave a lot to be desired.  The film is far too comedic, going into the realm of slapstick and not showing the restraint of the previous installment.  Things feel disrespected, dishonest, and pretentious.  Some of the moments — such as Uhura stripping naked and dancing to distract a couple bad guys — are completely out of place.  The “villain”, Sybock, is overwrought and unconvincing.  We never get the needed sense of pathos to sell his character right.

A disappointment, really, after an impressive trilogy preceding it.  Shatner feared he had killed the franchise.  In fact, he may have, had it not been for the studio supporting a sixth picture due to the then-upcoming 25th anniversary of ‘Star Trek’.  And that film fixed everything.

Terminator Salvation

Stars: **1/2 out of Four

Summary:  Though it feels like a forced fan production at times, ‘Salvation’ manages to provide solid action sequences and some decent character development.  All in all, a good prequel/sequel, but a bad stand-alone film.

This could either be a really good or a really really bad thing.

This could either be a really good or a really really bad thing.

Review:  It seems like the ‘Terminator’ franchise has taken a huge dive off a cliff.  Going from the visionary James Cameron to whoever-it-was that did ‘T3’ to McG (and no Arnold in the starring role) seems like it should doom the series.

Well, maybe not, because ‘TS’ isn’t half-bad, it’s just a little bit under 3/4 good.  It thrives on familiarity — as with all films made without taking creative risks — but doesn’t let the trappings of the past keep it down too long.  The beginning, meaning, oh, say, Act 1, feels lazy, forced, pedestrian.  Once a critical character — Marcus Wright, this time, holding the titular role — is revealed to have a very fascinating, and, at this point in the franchise, unexplored nature, it starts to pick up.  Christian Bale as John Conner starts emoting, things get more complicated, the action feels fresher, and it finally feels more like The Sequel We’ve All Been Waiting For.  Really, it manages to strike a tone (in the latter half) that feels very, very much like T2, which is commonly hailed as the best movie in the series, so it’s got that goin’ for it.  Oh, and Arnold is actually in this movie, but digitally composited — very, very convincingly I might, and do, add — onto a double’s body.  His brief role as a freshly built (and naked) T-800 seemed to make the more rambunctious folks in the theater sit up and pay attention, and with pretty good reason.  Since he’s digital, he looks very much like the T-800 from the first one, and we get a couple great close-ups of his face in all its stoic awesomeness.  Seeing adult John Conner ambushed by this badass effigy of the past was surreal, though not really the most nostalgic thing I’m seen (the entirety of ‘Star Trek’ takes that cake and bakes it for me).  The biggest weakness McG’s received baton has is a lack of focus and freshness in the writing.  The creators were playing it safe, like an aging football team that doesn’t want to break some bones on the road to victory.  That’s my most, I don’t know, obvious criticism.  I just needed to see ’em break some bones, take some risks, put more heart and emotion into the characters.  I understand, it’s post-apocalyptic, but does everybody need to stay so… flat?  Not everybody is, you understand, and it’s not like there’s no humor, it’s just… especially after seeing ‘Star Trek’, I needed to see more humanity, more dimension.  ‘Star Trek’ made me hopeful, its characters were full of vitality.  I guess it’s unfair to expect the same from ‘TS’, but it would’ve been cool.  The writing in ‘T2’ was much more vibrant.  Maybe the next time around, we’ll see some of that.  Anyway, another thing that would’ve been cool is if, against all studio wishes, it had been rated R.  Warner Brothers was really hesitant to release another R-rated blockbuster after ‘Watchmen’ failed to meet their best hopes, but that film was ridiculous.  And it’s not like R-rated action movies haven’t been successful in the past, heck, Warner’s own ‘300’ proves that!  All the previous ‘Terminator’ turns have been given the ol’ roughsound as well.  ‘Terminator’ isn’t ‘Transformers’, it isn’t fun for all ages, it’s a very adult franchise, gritty sci-fi pulp.  When you establish a tone, you should follow it through with the next installments, to stay true to the spirit of the original idea.  ‘TS’ stayed true, but barely.  There were some very obvious cuts of scenes that would’ve made it more like T2, and it would’ve felt more… hmm, post-apocalyptic.  And there’s this one other scene I heard they cut that…

Well, where were we?  At the end of the movie, the emotions do seem to come through.  Connor’s stoicism is broken by Marcus’ efforts to save him, and Marcus himself becomes a Truly Good Guy.  It ends on a cliffhanger for the next film, which caused me to (mentally) facepalm.  I thought they didn’t want to take risks?  First you keep it from moving creatively into completely unknown territory, next you make it PG-13, and then… your ending banks on a sequel that may never come!?  Whaaaaat!?  Can’t they see IT’S A TRAP!? Ah, hazelnut.  At least they finished Marcus’ character arc — and since this is an, er, interesting prequel, they can just let it end here, I guess.  But we still haven’t seen the full breadth and depth of John Connor’s supposed awesome-coolness of excellence, which we DID! get a glimpse of this time.  You know what my ideal ‘Terminator’ finale would be?  Showing John Connor save the world, by making peace with the machines, which offer to give humanity comfort in the absence of the green, living world they knew… by plugging them into ‘The Matrix’.

Until next week, syanara.  And don’t unbuckle your seat belt just yet, I’m getting ready to introduce y’all to… The Silver Mirror: The Beginning.  (With an all new cast! Well, okay, I’m casting myself and Patrick.  And no one else.  But we’re new at heart.  Yeah!)