June 14, 2017
In this, the officially Most Bananas of all the Star Trek movies, a crazed cult-leader steals the Enterprise and her crew and takes a joyride to the centre of the galaxy to… find… God?
No, really. The central plot of the movie is this:
1. Spock’s long-lost full-Vulcan half-brother, Sybok, lands on the beleaguered Planet of Galactic Peace, aka: Nimbus 3, which as a treaty condition many years ago was declared the shared property of the Klingon and Romulan Empires, and Earth, to be developed jointly (guess how well that went).
2. Sybok uses Vulcan telepathy to brainwash the planet’s wretched hive of scum and villainy and the three ambassadors to his cause, and lure the Enterprise in so he can hijack it.
3. Sybok directs his captives (and followers) to take the Enterprise into the deadly galactic core, where apparently… god… lives.
Except, SURPRISE, it wasn’t really god at all, but a captive super-alien who’s possibly been lying to Sybok for years to trick him into staging a cosmic jailbreak, all to drive home the lesson that so many episodes of Original Series has taught us, namely: Just Steer Clear of Ascended Assholes, They’re Trouble.
This is one of those stories where there’s anywhere between one and five really interesting potential stories that never really got made, because story-wise, this movie is a mess. The underlying mythology Sybok is following suggests that the “god” worshiped on dozens of planets is in fact the same incomprehensibly powerful alien entity, and he just has to meet them. Like, that’s interesting! Especially through the lens of Roddenberry’s die-hard atheism. Of course, in the movie, this turns out to have all been a tragic scam, but it’s also worth noting that Star Trek canon does later firmly establish a creation story for at least half a dozen humanoid races, including humans, Klingons, Romulans, and Cardassians, in the form of a seeded-by-a-dead-race in the vein of Stargate’s Alterrans, in the sixth-season TNG episode The Chase, and IMHO it was a far more interesting take on the whole is-there-a-higher-power question, and a much more Star Trek one.
However, we are willing to forgive almost anything for some high-quality character shenanigans, and this movie has that in spades. The story is totally crazy, but the movie contains a solid half-hour, collectively, of Kirk, Spock, and Bones hanging out during leisure time, camping, and later on, wacky shenanigans and decades-of-friendship banter as the trio lead the cultists on a merry chase through the Enterprise’s back corridors, avoiding capture. There’s also some genuinely affecting bits and pieces where Sybok, flummoxed by the way the unusually strong bond between the trio makes them resistant to his brainwashing, tries to apply his shtick by dragging up everyone’s most painful memories for display to the others and then offering to take the pain away – something that mostly just a) pisses them off and b) makes them more irritatingly loyal to each other. The friendship between Kirk, Spock and Bones is the only consistently structured thing in the movie, and the only one that’s satisfyingly circular. Basically, friendship literally is magic, right up to the front lines defeating a false god.
Star Trek: The Final Frontier. Come for the crazypants religious commentary, but stay for the group hugs.
Next week: the final TOS movie, The Undiscovered Country. After that, we’ll be taking a brief hiatus for the rest of the summer, or until Discovery begins. When will that be? Probably September! But watch this space for updates.
June 7, 2017
Buckle up, nerds, for MY FAVOURITE STAR TREK MOVIE, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, AKA: The One with the Whales.
This movie has it all:
1. Hand-claspingly earnest environmentalist commentary
2. The Office-style Fourth-Wall-poking Hey The Past You’re Doing It Wrong plotline
3. A starship crew visiting the super-gross present and having no idea how anything works
4. EVERYONE LIKING EACH OTHER
In Voyage Home, our intrepid crew, on their way back to earth to face a Court Martial for their actions in the previous two movies, discovers that Earth is under attack from a mysterious probe that is whipping the Terran climate into destructive storms and threatens to destroy all life. It’s also beaming some kind of communication signal towards Earth’s oceans, but nobody can understand it. Our heroes do a bit of quick sound mixing and intuit that the signal is – wait for it – whalesong! The aliens are looking for humpback whales! The only problem? That particular species was driven to extinction by crappy humans over two centuries ago.
What’s a heroic crew of technically-right-now-space-pirates to do? Why, travel back in time to find some whales, of course!
This is a great movie for people who don’t know anything about Star Trek, because it’s just… a delight. You get just enough information about the world to be situated, and the chemistry between the characters is solid and established: these people have known each other a long time, and like each other, and work well together. And the plot is wacky, but not so wacky that it drives you up the wall or feels out of keeping with the universe. This is in fact the second time the Enterprise has used the slingshot-around-the-sun method to time-travel, and as an episode format kicks of a tradition of the same kind of time travel story multiple times in each future franchise. Trek’s blatant social commentary is never so blatant as when the world of the future is juxtaposed against our present, and the environmentalism in this movie is so straightforward that most of the dialogue wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of Captain Planet. It’s also the only Trek movie up to this point with no deaths and little to no physical violence.
Highly recommended, 10/10 (or, well, 3/4, if you’re going by hosts, because Kim has no joy in her heart). A fun, happy story with a happy ending. Watch it and have a good time.
May 31, 2017
So, here’s the thing about the second, third, and fourth Star Trek movies: they’re a trilogy. And Search for Spock plays true to form for most two-of-threes: lots of feelings on display and not a whole lot of plot.
But that’s okay! Search for Spock is one of the reasons I tend to disagree with the odd-versus-even Star Trek Movie Rule, because Star Trek 3, while not a very complicated story, is still pretty emotionally satisfying if you’re invested in the characters, and okay, we definitely are.
Basically, the Enterprise returns to Earth to the news that even on top of Spock’s recent, tragic death, everything is garbage: they’re denied permission to travel to Vulcan to attend Spock’s funeral, and Starfleet is retiring the Enterprise (which at this point is over 20 years old) and replacing it with a hot young thing named the Excelsior, a ship Scotty, who is a starship engineer in the 23rd century, thinks is too fancy and complicated and hates with all his being.
It’s hard to say which of these two things is more upsetting to Kirk: being denied the opportunity to grieve his best friend-slash-life-partner, or losing his best girl to the political machinations of a PR-conscious Starfleet, who would rather the Enterprise crew hang around to do damage control over the Genesis incident.
But no worries: here comes Sarek, Spock’s dad and Vulcan Ambassador to the Federation, to hand Kirk & Co. a new quest like a video game NPC: Spock, though his body died, would have transferred his consciousness to someone else given half the chance. Sarek wants it back, and he’s super-pissed at Kirk for leaving Spock’s body behind on Genesis. Sarek thought Spock would have hitched a ride with Kirk, who even Sarek knows was his son’s best friend in the galaxy, but it turns out that Spock hitched a ride with McCoy instead, leaving our favourite curmudgeon space doctor speaking in tongues and having hallucinations while he tries to deal with his passenger.
Kirk, being Kirk, takes one look at the facts and comes to the only logical conclusion: LET’S STEAL THE ENTERPRISE AND GO ROGUE.
In the end, after some frankly forgettable battles with random Klingons and the (tragic?) death of Kirk’s son David, Spock’s body – regenerated to health by his time on Genesis – and his katra (the Vulcan soul) are reunited, and Spock is saved. The crew is reunited, the day is saved, and all is well. I mean… except for the mutiny charges that are no doubt awaiting them back on Earth.
Next time on NSMTNZ: Star Trek: The Voyage Home, AKA: The One with the Whales, AKA: The Best Star Trek Movie, Bar None. Are you excited?
May 17, 2017
We’re here! We’re finally here! We’re finally at my favourite era of Original Trek: all the movies after The Motion Picture!
In this first good Trek movie, one of Kirk’s most powerful nemeses is back for revenge: Khan Noonien Singh, played by the incomparable Ricardo Montalban, has seized the Federation starship U.S.S. Reliant and a whole space station full of civilian scientists, and he’s holding them hostage until Kirk comes to join the party.
But it’s even worse than that: the scientists, including Kirk’s old flame, Dr. Carol Marcus, were working on something potentially terrible: the Genesis Device, a revolutionary terraforming system that in the wrong hands, could unleash unthinkable destruction upon the galaxy.
Sit back and relax, nerds, as we take you into an era of Trek where actors have, at least substantially and to a degree where it interferes much less with what’s on screen, gotten over themselves; where nearly the whole main cast gets something to do; where the design and effects are there to serve the story. And where, perhaps most importantly, we have on-screen explicit confirmation that our first favourite family of obnoxiously-socialist space nerds have been friends for years and actually like each other.
Basically, if everything that came before Wrath of Khan was the fractious, getting-to-know-you period of a madcap 50s romance, the TOS movies from this moment on are like the comfortably-married years. Yes, the movies themselves may vary in quality, but the messaging is on point, and the ensemble has solidified and only continues to grow stronger until the grand handover to the literal next generation. IMHO, from Wrath of Khan all the way to Undiscovered Country, these films, even the bad ones, still leave you with a warm and fuzzy feeling in your heart. These are people who’ve been through hell together and would defend one another to the death… and even beyond.
That’s worth a lot. Even sitting through Final Frontier.
May 10, 2017
Welcome, nerds, to a new phase in our adventure together: the Original Series Movies!
Star Trek: The Motion Picture cost $35,000,000 USD to make (~125 million in 2017 money), and made (adjusted for ticket price inflation) nearly 290 million dollars, making it the second-highest grossing Star Trek movie of all time, followed only by the first reboot movie in 2009.
Of those two sets of facts, only the second is a minor mystery, because this movie is 2 hours and 12 minutes long and a solid 90 minutes of that is endless panning shots.
Our special guest Elise subtitled this film Star Trek: The Motion Panning, and we can’t really think of a better one. Gene Roddenberry loved him some tiny space robots, to the point where an earlier episode of TOS predicted the interstellar Voyager probes that hadn’t even been launched yet. This movie is semi-loosely based on that episode: tiny space robot sets bravely out into the universe, meets a sentient robot culture, gets a tricked out new ride, budding sentience and an existential crisis, and heads home to seek out its creator.
In both cases, the reveal that filthy ape-descended humans are its creator is something of a disappointment.
There are some positives in this film: a soaring sense of optimism, curiosity and wonder, which of course is Star Trek’s stock in trade. Totally cool-looking (if not well-designed) spaceship interiors. Questions about the nature of sentience and humanity and how we define our own purpose and what value that conversation has for us and for others.
There are also some negatives: landscapes trying harder to out-do Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey than create visuals that supported the story they were trying to tell. There are some catastrophic issues with pacing – actually, catastrophic doesn’t seem strong enough a word: we spend 90 minutes just getting to the conflict, futzing around in space with engine problems and giving endless airing to Kirk’s midlife-crisis-fueled feud with his best girl’s new man, replacement captain of the Enterprise, William Decker.
By the time we actually meet V’Ger, the monster of the piece, and the actual story starts, there are maybe 45 minutes (maybe 30 if you account for the sheer. number. of panning. shots) in which to begin the encounter, suss out the extent of the mystery to be solved, engage with the only other non-crew character in the film, The Probe Formerly Known As Lieutenant Ilia, and solve the mystery. Star Trek stories have a solid, tried and tested structure, and this movie smashes them all to pieces and scatters them into the vacuum of space. It’s like a particularly gruesome transporter accident (which is also given a full ten minutes of screen time), but with plot.
We wanted to spend more time in the story and less time in the show-and-tell of the effects budget, and we wanted more Trek-esque discussion of the nature of humanity and sentience than the maybe 6 minutes we get before – spoiler – Decker gets absorbed by a space robot to join with his true love Ilia in space-robot-afterlife bliss. At least, we’re pretty sure that’s what happened.
The bottom line: this movie would have been 150% more interesting if it had focused 80% more on Ilia and V’Ger and the ethical dilemmas at plan than on The Eternal Pan, but you know what? I still enjoy it. And it’s still not the worst Trek film out there.
That title is reserved for Final Frontier.
We’ll get there.
August 5, 2016
The NSMTNZ crew recently saw the new offering from the Nu!Trek franchise, and wonder of wonders, we enjoyed it! Now if Hollywood can just promise to never let J.J. Abrams touch Star Trek ever ever again, I might one day progress to a place of acceptance where I can physically stop complaining about installments 1 and 2.
Joining us for this recap/reaction is special guest Amy, who has never been on a podcast before! Good times.
Obvious warning: spoilers ahead.