Classic Review: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Stars:  *** out of Four

Summary:  The least serious of the series was also the highest grossing until 2009’s reboot, and this one deserves it.

Why, with whales, of course.

Why, with whales, of course.

Review:  ‘The Motion Picture’ had a giant sentient machine, ‘The Wrath of Khan’ had KHAAAAN!, ‘The Search for Spock’ had Doc Brown in Klingon makeup, and ‘The Voyage Home’ has a giant probe that’s looking for whales.

This is why I love ‘Star Trek’.

Captain Kirk and crew are on Vulcan as per the events of ‘Trek III’, and they’re refurbishing a Klingon bird-of-prey (noticeably, its bridge is completely different from the last time we saw it) to head back to Earth.  If you’re wondering why Starfleet won’t just send a ship to pick them up and bring them back to Earth, so was McCoy, and apparently its because they want the Klingon tech.  Well, whatever, Starfleet.  Why not just pick them up and pick up the ship later?  Do you not trust the Vulcans?

So with no Enterprise to take home (Kirk blew it up to defeat the Klingons in ‘III’), and other considerable charges against him, the future does not look bright for everybody’s favorite crew.  They’re going to be sent away to some mining colony, McCoy assumes, but no-one knows what will happen when they reach Earth.

They take off, along with the resurrected Spock, who is regaining his memories.

Meanwhile, Earth is beset by the signals of a huuuuuuuuuuge space probe, which is directing its communications to the Earth’s oceans.  Once Kirk and crew find out, Spock is quick to reveal that the probe is attempting to reach the now-extinct population of humpback whales.  With the Earth doomed to unintentional destruction at the probe’s proverbial hands, Kirk orders a slingshot around the sun, a tried-and-true method of time warp in ‘Trek’, with the hope that they can pick up some whales from Earth of the past.

Hilarity ensues.

This is the most lighthearted entry in the series, as has been said.  It manages to take an environmentally friendly message about saving the whales, along with a fish-out-of-water situation for the time travelers, and builds them into a surprisingly well done movie.  The effects are used sparingly and are of a much higher caliber than ‘The Search for Spock’, the music by a once-off ‘Trek’ composer gives it a sense of identity and wonder, and the cinematography feels much more natural and isn’t as overlit at the previous movie.  Definitely an improvement.

Classic Review: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Stars:  ***1/2 out of Four

Summary:  The first reboot of ‘Star Trek’ completely reinvigorated the franchise, achieving through clever writing what couldn’t be achieved through a higher budget.

Are you getting this?  How can this film not be awesome?  Look at that!

Are you getting this? How can this film not be awesome? Look at that!

Review:  Though highly successful with audiences, the previous ‘Star Trek’ film was critically disliked, provoking Paramount to restrict creator Gene Roddenberry’s access to the development of the inevitable sequel.  And unlike other franchises that have been disconnected from their creators, this one definitely improved.  While still being credited as “Executive Consultant”, Gene’s influence, such as restricting character conflict, was minimized.  The Paramount executives brought in TV legend Harve Bennett to produce the film, using TV sets and a massively restricted budget after the previous film overspent to little effect.  This meant the ridiculous amount of effects footage from the previous film would have to be recycled at certain points.

All this led to what was effectively a franchise reboot, wiping the slate clean.  New uniforms were designed, sets were redressed, a new composer (James Horner) was brought in, and Trek newbie Nicholas Meyer was chosen to direct.  He also helped rewrite the film, making things flow the way he wanted them to, adding more of a naval feel to Starfleet that reverberate throughout each subsequent film and series.

Instead of the philosophical bent of ‘The Motion Picture’, ‘The Wrath of Khan’ became centered around character conflict, with themes such as age, death, revenge, regret, and self-sacrifice.  Instead of the misguided threat of V’Ger from ‘The Motion Picture’, the direct, malevolent threat of Khan was reintroduced, having been set up for a reappearance by an episode of the television show.  Khan never met Kirk face to face during the film’s events, but he managed to have great chemistry with his nemesis anyway.

By far the most controversial decision was to kill off the beloved character of Spock, as the actor wanted to leave ‘Star Trek’ and the filmmakers felt it would add the needed weight to make the film’s themes run full circle.  In short, it worked, and the actor chose to return in the next installment.

With a very direct plot thread and nearly constant suspense, the film succeeded in every way that ‘The Motion Picture’ failed, becoming the first true classic of ‘Star Trek’ and becoming the high mark of the entire franchise, though I personally enjoy Meyer’s second ‘Star Trek’ feature better.

Not just a good ‘Star Trek’ film, but a great film in general.  One hopes that the latest ‘Star Trek’ reboot can live up to the first.

Know1ng

Stars:  **** out of 4

Summary:  A divisive but effective, philosophical thriller.

Review: So I pretty much geeked out over this movie when I first saw it. I’ve mellowed since then, and gotten control of my mind, so perhaps I can reflect more effectively on the ‘Knowing’ experience.  Director Alex Proyas has constructed a very effective philosophical thriller, but you have to be the kind of person (open to the concept of wonder, which is rare these days) that can take it in.

Like his previous films, Proyas gives ‘Knowing’ a really distinct atmosphere that sticks with you.  The man-on-the-ground perspective gives the intense, apocalyptic imagery a poignancy that big, dumb disaster movies can’t touch.  The disaster sequences are elemental, focusing on fire, dust, darkness and light, respectively.  Since it was shot on digital, it has an eerie, documentary feel.  The story is divisive because it doesn’t try to justify its supernatural elements.  They’re simply present, and confusing, and at once terrifying and comforting.  This is much like real world religions.  Every one of them has fear and love mixed together down to the core, and it indeed takes faith to turn confusion into catharsis.  Due to the rise of scientism, faith is considered childish and unevolved, and its hard to apply it even to fiction.  Its a sad thing, because faith is a crucial component of imagination.

The performances at the heart of the film are very strong.  Nicolas Cage is an underrated, oft-derided actor, and he carries the emotional burden of his character very well.  The supporting cast is good, especially the child actors, whose characters seem to be the only ones at relative ease with the impending doom of the world.

‘Knowing’ is proof that Alex Proyas isn’t out of ideas nor has he lost the ability to realize them.  I look forward to his next dream.