Location: Flying Spaghetti Western
Re: Roger Ebert is dead...
I think here it's appropriate to post two of my favorite reviews, both of which were Trek films.
Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home
When they finished writing the script for "Star Trek IV," they must have had a lot of silly grins on their faces. This is easily the most absurd of the "Star Trek" stories - and yet, oddly enough, it is also the best, the funniest and the most enjoyable in simple human terms. I'm relieved that nothing like restraint or common sense stood in their way.
The movie opens with some leftover business from the previous movie, including the Klingon ambassador's protests before the Federation Council. These scenes have very little to do with the rest of the movie, and yet they provide a certain reassurance (like James Bond's ritual flirtation with Miss Moneypenny) that the series remembers it has a history.
The crew of the Starship Enterprise is still marooned on a faraway planet with the Klingon starship they commandeered in "Star Trek III." They vote to return home aboard the alien vessel, but on the way they encounter a strange deep-space probe. It is sending out signals in an unknown language which, when deciphered, turns out to be the song of the humpback whale.
It's at about this point that the script conferences must have really taken off. See if you can follow this: The Enterprise crew determines that the probe is zeroing in on Earth, and that if no humpback songs are picked up in response, the planet may well be destroyed. Therefore, the crew's mission becomes clear: Because humpback whales are extinct in the 23rd century, they must journey back through time to the 20th century, obtain some humpback whales, and return with them to the future - thus saving Earth. After they thought up this notion, I hope the writers lit up cigars.
No matter how unlikely the story is, it supplies what is probably the best of the "Star Trek" movies so far, directed with calm professionalism by Leonard Nimoy. What happens is that the Enterprise crew land their Klingon starship in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, surround it with an invisibility shield, and fan out through the Bay area looking for humpback whales and a ready source of cheap nuclear power.
What makes their search entertaining is that we already know the crew members so well. The cast's easy interaction is unique among movies, because it hasn't been learned in a few weeks of rehearsal or shooting; this is the 20th anniversary of "Star Trek," and most of these actors have been working together for most of their professional lives. These characters know one another.
An example: Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and Mr. Spock (Nimoy) visit a Sea World-type operation, where two humpback whales are held in captivity. Catherine Hicks, as the marine biologist in charge, plans to release the whales, and the Enterprise crew need to learn her plans so they can recapture the whales and transport them into the future.
Naturally, this requires the two men to ask Hicks out to dinner.
She asks if they like Italian food, and Kirk and Spock do a delightful little verbal ballet based on the running gag that Spock, as a Vulcan, cannot tell a lie. Find another space opera in which verbal counterpoint creates humor.
The plots of the previous "Star Trek" movies have centered around dramatic villains, such as Khan, the dreaded genius played by Ricardo Montalban in "Star Trek II." This time, the villains are faceless: the international hunters who continue to pursue and massacre whales despite clear indications they will drive these noble mammals from the Earth. "To hunt a race to extinction is not logical," Spock calmly observes, but we see shocking footage of whalers doing just that.
Instead of providing a single human villain as counterpoint, "Star Trek IV" provides a heroine, in Hicks. She obviously is moved by the plight of the whales, and although at first she understandably doubts Kirk's story that he comes from the 23rd century, eventually she enlists in the cause and even insists on returning to the future with them, because of course, without humpback whales, the 23rd century also lacks humpback whale experts.
There are some major action sequences in the movie, but they aren't the high points; the "Star Trek" saga has always depended more on human interaction and thoughtful, cause-oriented plots. What happens in San Francisco is much more interesting than what happens in outer space, and this movie, which might seem to have an unlikely and ungainly plot, is actually the most elegant and satisfying "Star Trek" film so far.
and a companion piece
Star Trek First Contact
``Star Trek: First Contact'' is one of the best of the eight ``Star Trek'' films: Certainly the best in its technical credits, and among the best in the ingenuity of its plot. I would rank it beside ``Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home'' (1986), the one where the fate of Earth depended on the song of the humpback whale. This time, in a screenplay that could have been confusing but moves confidently between different levels of the story, the crew of the Enterprise follows the evil Borgs back in time to the day before mankind made its first flight at warp speed.
That flight, in 2063, was monitored by an alien race, the Vulcans, who took it as evidence that man had developed to the point where it deserved to meet another race. But now the Borgs, starting from the 24th century, want to travel back through a temporal vortex (how I love the ``Star Trek'' jargon!), prevent the flight and rewrite history, this time with Borgs populating the Earth instead of humans.
The latest edition of the starship is the ``Enterprise E'' (and there are plenty of letters left in the alphabet, Capt. Picard notes ominously). It is patrolling deep space when it learns the Borgs are attacking Earth. The Enterprise is ordered to remain where it is--probably, Picard (Patrick Stewart) notes bitterly, because he was a prisoner of the Borgs some six years ago, and ``a man who was captured and assimilated by the Borg is an unstable element.'' These Borgs are an interesting race. They are part flesh, part computer, and they ``assimilate'' all the races they conquer into their collective mind, which organizes their society like a hive. There is even a queen (Alice Krige), although she is not fat and pampered like an ant or a termite, but lean, mean and a student of seduction. One of the movie's intriguing subplots involves Data (Brent Spiner), the Enterprise's android, who is captured and hooked up to a Borg assimilating machine--which fails, because it can't crack his digital defenses. Then the Queen tries some analog methods all her own.
The central plot takes place as the Enterprise follows a Borg ship back through time to Earth, which, the Trekkers are dismayed to learn, is now populated by Borgs. To turn history around again, they need to be sure man's first warp flight succeeds. Earth is recovering from World War III, and a brilliant inventor named Cochrane (James Cromwell, the tall farmer from ``Babe'') has adapted a missile for this historic flight.
He leads a commune that seems to be part hippie, part survivalist, and spends much of his time listing to rock 'n' roll and drinking, to the despair of his associate Lily (Alfre Woodard). These two do not believe the weird story they get from the starship crew, and at one point Lily nearly fries Picard with a stolen gun. (He: ``Maximum setting! If you had fired, you would have vaporized me.'' She: ``It's my first ray gun.'') The plot moves deftly between preparations for the Earth launch, Data's assimilation tortures on the Borg ship, and a fight against a Borg landing party on the Enterprise, which Picard personally directs, overruling doubts expressed by his second-in-command, William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and their own assimilated Klingon, Worf (Michael Dorn).
Some of the earlier ``Star Trek'' movies have been frankly clunky in the special-effects department; the first of the series came out in 1979 and looked pale in comparison to ``Star Wars.'' But this one benefits from the latest advances in f/x artistry, starting with its sensational opening shot, which begins so deep inside Picard's eyeball, it looks like a star-speckled spacescape and then pulling back to encompass an unimaginably vast Borg starship. I also admired the interiors of the Borg probe, and the peculiar makeup work creating the Borg Queen, who looks like no notion of sexy I have ever heard of, but inspires me to keep an open mind.
``Star Trek'' movies are not so much about action and effects as they are about ideas and dialogue. I doubted the original Enterprise crew would ever retire because I didn't think they could stop talking long enough. Here the story gives us yet another intriguing test of the differences among humans, aliens and artificial intelligence. And the paradoxes of time travel are handled less murkily than sometimes in the past. (Although explain to me once again how the Earth could be populated with millions of Borgs who are expected to vanish--or never have been--if the Enterprise succeeds. Isn't there some sort of law of conservation of energy that requires their physical bodies to come from, or be disposed of, somewhere, somehow?) ``STFC'' was directed by Frakes, who did some of the ``ST Next Generation'' shows for television, and here achieves great energy and clarity. In all of the shuffling of timelines and plotlines, I always knew where we were. He also gets some genial humor out of Cromwell, as the inventor who never wanted fame but simply enough money to go off to a ``tropical island with a lot of naked women.'' And there is such intriguing chemistry between Picard and the Woodard character that I hope a way is found to bring her onboard in the next film. ``Star Trek'' movies in the past have occasionally gone where no movie had gone, or wanted to go, before. This one is on the right beam.
"Savor the fruit of life, my young friends. It has a sweet taste when it's fresh from the vine. But don't live too long... The taste turns bitter... after a time."