Saturday, November 13, 2010

For Action-Adventure Fans Only: Repetitive Plotline Theatre Presents: Star Trek: The Motion Pictures!

The Good: Some truly wonderful films, Some good DVD bonuses, Nothing exclusive to this set
The Bad: Some truly terrible films, Uninspired lack of reworking as set goes on, Is technically obsolete
The Basics: Despite repetitive plots, the Star Trek film library is worth owning and this bundle pack gives fans the two-disc versions of all ten films!

Star Trek, which had been off the air for about a decade when it made the leap to the big screen with the first of the ten cinematic adventures of the various starships Enterprise, did what Star Trek too frequently did on television when it made the transition. As I've been rewatching the entire Star Trek series and reviewing them and it was in doing that that I noticed that for an episodic show, Star Trek was remarkably repetitive. After all, how many episodes were there that involved technology (specifically computers or mobile computers - androids) taking complete control of a society? How many episodes involved Kirk bluffing his way out or picking the Enterprise over the woman of the week? And how many insufferable episodes broke Spock's logical veneer instead of maintained it?

Star Trek was surprisingly repetitive. Star Trek: The Next Generation was a bit better, after it escaped its derivative origins and struck out on its own. After the second film in the Star Trek movie series, only one cinematic adventure - both Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation - did not become a simple "kill-the-villain" film. That means that in the Star Trek: The Motion Pictures DVD collection, a ten-film, twenty-disc bundle pack that will be outdated by 2010 when one presumes there will be a new boxed set with the (then) two additional films included, there are essentially three films and seven rewrites of arguably the best one (though I would say Star Trek II and III ought to always be viewed together as one film). If you haven't seen the Star Trek films, it is not as bad as I am making it out to be. Here's what happens:

The U.S.S. Enterprise, refit, returns to action under the guidance of Admiral James T. Kirk, a man whose having some difficulties with accepting his promotion to a desk job. When Earth is menaced by a killer cloud, Kirk takes charge of the situation - and the Enterprise - and reassembles his crew to discover what is invading our solar system and what can be done about that.

Years later, Kirk - still irritable about his desk job and his aging - supervises Captain Spock and his old crew taking the Enterprise out as part of a cadet training mission, a mission that is soon ended by the appearance of an old adversary, Khan. After a deadly cat-and-mouse game involving Khan, a stolen Federation starship and a device designed to make habitable planets that has been twisted by Khan into an incredible weapon, Kirk and his crew return to Earth to find that much of what they have gone through is having terrible political ramifications. Stealing the Enterprise and a mentally incapacitated Dr. McCoy, Kirk's crew returns to the Genesis Planet where they encounter a ruthless Klingon intent on discovering the secrets of the planet, a quest that costs Kirk the life of his newly-discovered son.

In the wake of going rogue, Kirk's crew attempts to return to Earth, but finds it under attack by a massive alien probe that seems to want to communicate with humpback whales, which prompts Kirk and his crew to go to the only place humpback whales exist; Earth's past! Saving the world again allows the Federation Council to grant Kirk's crew clemency and him a demotion to captain where he deals with breaking in a new Enterprise. Unfortunately for Kirk, his first mission with the new Enterprise involves the ship being hijacked by a religious zealot who happens to be Spock's brother who takes them all on a search for god, much to the ire of the local Klingons. The Enterprise crew finally breaks up with a historic mission to make peace with the Klingons following an environmental disaster that leaves the Klingon Empire on the verge of extinction.

Following the loss of retired Captain James T. Kirk during the inaugural voyage of the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-B, Captain Jean-Luc Picard and his crew are soaring through the galaxy when they receive a distress call from a nearby stellar observatory. While Data incapacitates himself by installing Dr. Soong's emotion chip, the local star is destroyed and Geordi is taken hostage by the Duras Sisters. That destruction of the star is the work of a disgruntled El-Aurian looking for a way to get back to a mystical place called the Nexus and his ride there - an energy ribbon - is in the neighborhood, which pits Picard vs. Dr. Soran.

Shortly thereafter, the newly christened U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-E is finishing its shakedown cruise when Earth is attacked by the Borg. Arriving at Earth in time to rescue Worf, the Borg ship is destroyed but not before a smaller Borg ship leaves the main one and goes back in time to assimilate Earth before it could resist. Following them back, the Enterprise crew finds themselves fighting the Borg and its villainous Queen while trying not to alter history, which happens to be in the making as the first contact between humans and an alien race is about to occur!

After returning to the present, the Enterprise crew finds itself harried by the events of the Dominion War and dealing with worlds that are becoming protectorates of the Federation to keep them from falling to the Dominion advance. When Data malfunctions on an away mission for StarFleet, Picard and the Enterprise rush to rescue him. They journey to a secluded planet where they discover essentially the key to immortality, which is being menaced by Ru'afo, a sickly psychopath who is prepared to kill everyone on the planet so he and his people can take the life-giving powers that exist there.

Following the Federation victory in the Dominion War, Riker and Troi marry and prepare to take a new assignment, joining Captain Picard for one last mission. Unfortunately, that mission involves finding another Soong-type android like Data and takes the Enterprise to the very heart of the Romulan Empire to confront an adversary that has an intimate connection with Captain Picard and an agenda that is deadly!

So, basically, the plots go from boring exploration film to the excitement of Kirk Vs. Khan, Kirk Vs. Kruge, a time-travel interlude that returns to the static formula that becomes Kirk Vs. God, Kirk Vs. Chang, Picard Vs. Soran, Picard Vs. The Borg Queen, Picard Vs. Ru'afo, and finally Picard Vs. Shinzon. We get it; heroes fight villains. What more do you have? The Star Trek cinematic adventures, which seem far more preoccupied with appealing to a wide audience than to Star Trek fans - see the massive cuts from Star Trek: Nemesis, if you don't believe me! The result is a collection that had wide mainstream ability to entertain, but less that is truly enduring in cinema after Star Trek IV. Indeed, it is unfortunate to consider that the Star Trek: The Next Generation film adventures did not even attempt to break the mold.

What the films have is decent primary acting. The main cast of Star Trek tends to perform remarkably well in their expanded cinematic roles and they live up to the status of movie stars with flawless performances in Star Trek II and III. They have the chance to expand their range in Star Trek IV and V and they give a good showing of good-bye with Star Trek VI. Leonard Nimoy gives a wonderful development of Spock from his state near pure-emotionlessness to one where he finally accepts his biracial heritage.

Similarly, William Shatner gives a truly stellar performance throughout the cinematic adventures as he explores Admiral and Captain Kirk aging. With actual complexity of emotion, Shatner presents an evolution of a character coming to terms with no longer being the spry young man who used to run around and have sex with a different woman each week while captaining the Enterprise! Shatner has a physical stature in the films that helps him to create a character who is at times more cerebral than physical and the transformation works beautifully for him!

Patrick Stewart is an amazing actor and despite the character problems with Picard, First Contact remains one of his darkest and most compelling performances to date. He illustrates his range wonderfully by progressing from the hatred in the second film to the budding love in the third! Stewart has an amazing ability to traverse the whole range of human experiences and make them believable and he does that well in the three films in this set.

Similarly, Brent Spiner performs for the first time with his true sense of comic timing and genius as the emotional Data in the three films. Unlike the series where he was forced to be stuffy and emotionless, here Spiner is able to let loose and it's a huge change from how fans have seen him before. His acting challenge is to make it all believable and seem like it is within character for Data and he does that quite well.

The rest of the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation shows up and shines . . . on the brief occasions they are able to. Poor LeVar Burton, who shot some compelling and difficult scenes for Generations that were cut from the film! Indeed, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, and Jonathan Frakes are each given about a scene per film to shine in and that's it. Like much of the latter portion of Star Trek: The Next Generation, this is truly the story of Picard and Data . . . with nuggets of Worf! It is only in Star Trek: Nemesis that Riker finally outshines Worf as the second supporting character storyline.

What these films have is an incredible ability to attract great guest stars. In addition to cameos from various Star Trek: The Next Generation alums in the later films, Star Trek: The Motion Picture starred Stephen Collins, Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan returned Ricardo Montalban to film and introduced the world to Kirstie Ally (who would go on to Cheers), Star Trek III: The Search For Spock utilized Christopher Lloyd (Taxi and Back To The Future) and John Laroquette (Night Court), and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country courted Christopher Plummer (12 Monkeys and The Sound Of Music), David Warner (Titanic) and Kim Catrall (Sex & The City) and the films nab such talents as Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange), James Cromwell (Babe, Six Feet Under), Alice Krige (Sleepwalkers, Silent Hill), Alfrie Woodard (Desperate Housewives), Donna Murphy, F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus), Ron Perleman (Hellboy), and Tom Hardy (Black Hawk Down)! They attract some powerhouses and regardless of how well they are used, the performers come in and give the best they can to the one-episode characters. This does raise the caliber of film somewhat.

On DVD as two-disc collectors sets, each of the Star Trek movies looks great. The problem - outside Repetitive Plot Syndrome - is that the first two discs spoil the later eight. Star Trek: The Motion Picture is featured as a Director's Cut reworked and involving completely remade special effects shots to bring the film up to a different standard than it had. Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan reintegrates scenes back into the film in its Director's Cut to truly enhance the movie even beyond its original greatness. But beginning with Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, the DVDs include Deleted Scenes instead of true Director's Cuts. Fans who would have gotten a kick out of seeing footage back where it belonged are treated instead to a retread DVD release where there is little that is "special" about the "special collectors editions" other than that they have two discs.

The discs, to be fair, ARE packed with bonus featurettes and all ten films have at least one commentary track each. The commentaries usually involve the film's director and some of them - like the one for Star Trek V - are remarkably candid and interesting. Both fans of the series and cinephiles will find much to love in the bonus features. It is worthwhile to note that this is a simple bundle pack (though it does look better than most in its extra big slipcase!); there are NO DVD bonus features or collectible items included in this set that one would not have gotten by purchasing the discs individually. This set simply puts together all ten two-disc DVD versions of the Star Trek films in order to offer them as one package (depending on where it is purchased from, the component films are sometimes less expensive than this bundle pack!).

Ultimately, though, this is a wonderful collection for action adventure movie fans and while some of the weaker films would be weeded out if one were purchasing the DVDs individually, there is some value to seeing all ten films. Of course, this set is obsolete now that J.J. Abrams has rebooted the film franchise!

For more information on the specific films bundled together in this collection, please check out my reviews of the component films at:
Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan
Star Trek III: The Search For Spock
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Star Trek: Generations
Star Trek: First Contact
Star Trek: Insurrection
Star Trek: Nemesis


For other film reviews, please be sure to check out my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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