Star Trek Beyond

Star Trek Beyond poster

With “Star Trek Beyond,” the rebooted franchise now follows the Enterprise crew on its five-year mission to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations and to boldly go where no one has gone before. What results is a mixed bag of a movie that gets a little too bombastic for its own good at times, but which still entertains better than many of the other summer blockbusters released in 2016. More importantly, this movie remembers what makes “Star Trek” so memorable: the relationships these characters have with one another.

We meet up with James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew in the third of their five-year mission. Kirk finds his duties as captain growing monotonous and becomes increasingly interested in accepting a promotion to Vice Admiral. Spock (Zachary Quinto) is reeling from his breakup with Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and the death of Spock Prime (the late Leonard Nimoy) to where he is considering leaving Starfleet to help New Vulcan. Scotty (Simon Pegg) still loves his warp engines, Sulu (John Cho) and Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin) are still at the helm, and McCoy (Karl Urban) is still eager to remind everyone that he is a doctor and nothing other than that.

The Enterprise’s latest assignment has them traveling through an unstable nebula on a rescue mission, but it turns out to be a trap that destroys the Enterprise and leaves its crew stranded on an alien planet whose inhabitants are quick to enslave them. An alien commander named Krall (Idris Elba) seeks to destroy the Federation of Planets for reasons which eventually become clear as the movie goes on.

As the trailers for “Star Trek Beyond” have long since revealed, the Enterprise is destroyed early on. This isn’t the first time we have seen this famous starship destroyed. We watched helplessly as it self-destructed in “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” and we its lower half explode and its saucer section make a spectacular crash landing in “Star Trek: Generations.” But what’s significant about this movie’s Enterprise is that it is destroyed very early on as opposed to the halfway point. This is a bold move as these films thrive on the presence of the Enterprise for the most part, but here we see it destroyed from the get go to where you wonder how the crew can do their jobs without it. As a result, things in “Star Trek Beyond” feel more unpredictable than usual as everyone is separated from one another and trying to figure out what to do without easy access to the Federation of Planets.

J.J. Abrams stepped away from the director’s chair as he was busy directing “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” In his place is Justin Lin who is best known for his numerous contributions to “The Fast & The Furious” franchise, but I also like to remind people of his 2002 film “Better Luck Tomorrow” which I felt made him a good choice to helm this “Star Trek” movie. Thanks to a script by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, he takes the time to focus on the characters and their evolving relationships with one another. I especially loved the scenes between Spock and McCoy as these two can’t stand one another but still need to rely on each other when danger looms over them. Spock may find the fear of death of illogical, but McCoy rightly points out that it is what keeps us alive. This is reminds me of a pivotal moment from the original “Star Trek” television series when McCoy said, “Do you know why you’re not afraid to die Spock? You’re more afraid of living.”

Having said that, Lin does make the action scenes in “Star Trek Beyond” feel, and I have to say it, a little too fast and furious. It gets to where we threaten to lose sight of the movie’s plot and what its main antagonist is aiming for. I imagine that when I see this “Star Trek” movie again, and seeing any “Star Trek” movie just once is not enough, I will better understand all that is going on, but the fact that I wasn’t able to follow every little detail here did take away from my enjoyment. I liked “Star Trek Beyond,” but I came out of it feeling like I could have liked it a lot more.

Speaking of the main antagonist, he is Krall and is portrayed by Idris Elba, an excellent choice as he is the kind of actor who can elicit fear with just a look of his eyes. Like Oscar Isaac in “X-Men: Apocalypse,” he is covered up with way too much makeup which threatens to take away from his natural charisma, but he still gives us a villain that is in no way, shape or form a one-dimensional character. As “Star Trek Beyond” goes on, we learn that he is a victim of circumstances beyond his control, but while that doesn’t justify his actions, it certainly explains why he does what he does. Elba is one of the best actors out there today, and his performance here is further proof of that.

It’s great to see how these actors have grown into the roles they were first cast in seven years ago. Pine shows how the years of space travel have worn down Kirk’s soul but not his spirit. Quinto continues to do excellent work as Spock, having made this character his own a long time ago. Urban remains a pitch perfect McCoy, and his delivery of that character’s classic catchphrases is worth the price of admission. Saldana continues to give us a kick-ass Uhura who isn’t about to take shit from anyone, and I mean anyone. With this “Star Trek” movie, Pegg gets to make Scott more than a comic foil as he works to get the support of a particular alien who can help him and the crew defeat Krall. And there’s Yelchin who finally gets to do much more as Chekov here than in the previous films. He’s terrific here, and it makes his recent death all the more tragic as he was a major talent whose life was cut much too short.

Special mention also goes to Sofia Boutella who gives a genuinely strong alien warrior character in Jaylah. This is the same actress who made an undeniably memorable impression as the henchwomen whose prosthetic legs were designed to leave some serious damage. Boutella steals every scene she has here as Jaylah looks to defend herself against those who destroyed her family, and I can’t wait to see what role she will take on next.

While part of me wishes “Star Trek Beyond” was a better movie than it is, it still proves to be better than many of the other summer blockbusters released so far in 2016. Many believe that this franchise is still be converted into one resembling “Star Wars,” but I don’t believe that as the filmmakers involved are fully aware that the characters are far more important in this one than the special effects. It also makes me smile that this franchise continues to live on to further generations no matter what. While some look at Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a hopeful future as nothing but hooey, others see it as one that nobody should stop believing in, and I am one of those people. Here’s to this franchise continuing to live long and prosper no matter what.

* * * out of * * * *

Copyright Ben Kenber 2016.

Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness movie poster

J.J. Abrams has done it again; he’s made another incredibly entertaining “Star Trek” movie. “Star Trek Into Darkness” proves to be just as much fun as the reboot he helmed in 2009, and I found myself with a big grin on my face as the end credits came up on the silver screen. In a summer season that has gotten off to a somewhat tepid start, Abrams manages to thrill us with a combination of spectacular action pieces and characters we come to care deeply about. He also takes this movie to where no “Star Trek” movie has ever gone before: a place where roman numerals and colons are not needed in the title.

One year has passed since the events of the last movie, and this one starts off with the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise accidentally catching the attention of a primitive civilization that is not yet ready to discover the existence of things like starships. This leads the crew, and James T. Kirk in particular, to violate the Prime Directive which dictates that there will be no interference in the development of an alien civilization, to attempt to save one of their fellow crew members from certain death. Back on Earth, none of this sits well with Admiral Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) who berates Kirk (Chris Pine) for acting as if the rules don’t apply to him.

But things change quickly when a vicious domestic terrorist named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) lays waste to certain parts of Earth, and Kirk becomes consumed with vengeance and determined to bring him down at any cost. But in their pursuit of Harrison, the crew of the Enterprise find themselves in conflict as to what course of action is the best one to pursue. While Kirk feels justified in killing Harrison, this action could lead to an all-out war that the Federation of Planets cannot afford.

Now some complain that ever since Abrams became part of the “Star Trek” franchise that the movies have become more about action than ideas, but that’s pretty much been the case since “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” What Abrams gets right though is his attention to the characters, and in the end this franchise is really more about the characters than special effects. While we love the action with all those starships firing their torpedoes at one another, it’s the characters and what they go through which keeps us endlessly riveted.

I love the complicated relationships these people have with one another. Admiral Pike continues to be the father figure Kirk needs in his life, and Greenwood is perfect in the role as he dishes out some hard love to the strong but arrogant captain of the Enterprise. You never really catch Greenwood acting in the role, and his moments opposite Pine are filled with a lot of genuine emotion that never feels faked.

But the key relationship in this particular “Star Trek” movie is the one between Kirk and Spock which remains as complicated as ever. While Kirk is willing to fudge the facts in order to justify his course of action, Spock has no choice to be 100% honest about everything because he’s a Vulcan, and Vulcans don’t lie (but they do exaggerate). You wonder how these two can stand to be on a starship together for even a brief period of time, but the fact is that these two need one another in order to survive from one galaxy to the next. This becomes all the more apparent as “Star Trek Into Darkness” reaches its relentless conclusion.

Pine gives another excellent performance here as the iconic character James T. Kirk, and it’s fun to watch him take Kirk from being a cocky individual to one who ends up making selfless decisions in order to save the only family he has left: his crew. Quinto remains riveting as ever as Spock as we watch his half-human and half-Vulcan sides battling with one another for supremacy. Spock has always been a very complex character, and there are many reasons why he was the only one to survive the pilot episode of the original “Star Trek” television series.

Zoe Saldana really gets to kick ass as Uhura, and there’s something thrilling about her not just being relegated to her communications station on the bridge. Simon Pegg remains a delight as Scotty who finds out more about starships than he’s supposed to in this one. John Cho really does get his moment in the sun as Sulu when he is required to take the Captain’s chair and makes it clear he is not to be messed with. And then there’s Karl Urban who remain as pitch perfect as ever as Dr. McCoy, and he delivers some of the character’s most iconic lines with a freshness which reminds us how much we loved this character in the first place.

As for Anton Yelchin, his character of Pavel Chekov is kind of underused in this “Star Trek” movie. Yelchin gives a good performance, but Chekov is relegated to engineering a little too much this time around, and he comes off looking like he’s not a necessary part of the Enterprise crew.

There are also some new additions to “Star Trek” family in this sequel that prove to be very welcome. Peter Weller, the original “Robocop,” co-stars as Starfleet Admiral Marcus, and he brings to his role the same relentless hard ass intensity he brought to the fifth season of “24.” Alice Eve portrays the very alluring Science Officer Carol Wallace who knows more about weapons than anyone is comfortable with, and she hides secrets which may jeopardize her relationship with the crew.

But the one actor everyone will be paying the most attention to is Benedict Cumberbatch. Long before this sequel was released, it was believed that he would give us one of the most unforgettable villains of the summer 2013 movie season, and he doesn’t disappoint. John Harrison is not your typical one-dimensional bad guy, and that makes Cumberbatch’s portrayal of him all the more mesmerizing to watch. He also gives the role a strong depth you don’t expect it to have as we discover his true nature and why he is wreaking all this havoc.

To say anything more would risk spoiling the movie for you, and I am not about to do that. Abrams makes a very welcome return to the director’s chair for this “Star Trek” adventure, and his success here bodes well for that “Star Wars” movie we are waiting for him to make. While some directors get caught up in visuals, battles and explosions, Abrams is one of the few who gives an equal amount of attention to the actors and the characters they play. That makes his films all the more thrilling and emotionally involving to witness.

 

It’s hard to say where “Star Trek Into Darkness” ranks among the other movies in this franchise that continues to live long and prosper, but it’s safe to say that it won’t be sharing company with “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” anytime soon. This film entertained me from beginning to end and it never sacrificed character for the sake of action. It has me looking forward to the next film which should have the Enterprise crew finally starting their five-year mission to explore strange new worlds. Whether or not Abrams will be in the director’s chair, it’s bound to be a very entertaining journey.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Copyright Ben Kenber 2013.

Mad Monster Celebrates The 25th Anniversary of ‘Star Trek VI’ in Hollywood

 

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it has now been 25 years since “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” arrived in movie theaters. I still remember watching it with my parents at Blackhawk Cinemas like it was yesterday, thrilled that the original crew of the starship Enterprise managed to get one last adventure in space. For a time, it looked like that would not happen as “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” almost killed the franchise, but thanks to Leonard Nimoy taking on executive producing duties and Nicholas Meyer returning to the director’s chair, Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the rest of the crew got a wonderful sendoff as they struggled to bring about a truce with their longtime enemies, the Klingons.

On July 13, 2016, Mad Monster hosted an anniversary screening of “Star Trek VI” at the TCL Chinese Theatres in Hollywood. It was the perfect place for this screening as “Star Trek VI” had made its debut at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre next door, and the cast got to write their names in the cement outside of it. Appearing for this screening were producer Steven-Charles Jaffe, composer Cliff Eidelman, and Nichelle Nichols whom we all know and love for playing Lieutenant Uhura.

Star Trek VI Nichelle Nichols

Nichols was asked how she first got cast as Uhura on the original “Star Trek” television series, and she said that she didn’t remember as that this character has been with her for so long and that she likes “the gal” and described her as “nice company.” When it came to getting cast in this iconic role, she replied that she was “just lucky I guess.”

Steven Charles Jaffe

Jaffe pointed out that he previously produced “Ghost” and that Whoopi Goldberg told him if it weren’t for Nichols, she never would have become an actress. Goldberg had watched the original series and felt Nichols was such an inspiration to her and many generations of young actors as her role really represented racial diversity. Jaffe was also eager to add the following:

“The last week of shooting this movie, I was on the bridge of the Enterprise and we were setting up a shot and I was looking at the original cast, including Nichelle, and I had this very interesting flashback of being a little boy in Stanford, Connecticut in my pajamas watching ‘Star Trek’ on television with these same people, and here I am producing this movie and thinking what a lucky guy I am. I don’t know how this happened, but how special was that?”

To this Nichols added, “I was the lucky one.”

Cliff Eidelman

Eidelman’s score to “Star Trek VI” remains one of the most haunting of the franchise and helped propel the composer to new cinematic heights. But it turns out that Meyer wanted Eidelman to adapt Gustav Holst’s orchestral suite “The Planets” as opposed to creating an original score. Eidelman said he had studied that piece “a little” in college but lied to Meyer and said he studied it a lot. However, Eidelman had something else in mind.

“The truth is I didn’t want to adapt ‘The Planets,’” Eidelman said. “As a young composer I wanted to write an original score that would be original for this project, but I didn’t say that to Nick and I kind of played along. Not long after we started talking about it I started writing original themes, and at some point I think the people at Paramount started to inquire about the cost of licensing ‘The Planets’ from the Holst kids. I think the cost was apparently very expensive. But anyway, you (pointing to Jaffe) came by my apartment along with some people from Paramount and Nick, and I started to play these themes of mine on my old upright piano, and I was humming what the strings would do and what the brass would do. And at some point I think Ralph Winter or somebody turned and said, ‘Well why are we licensing ‘The Planets’ when we’ve got this theme?’ So that was the end of ‘The Planets’ and I was able to go off and write my own score.”

maf7117booklet.indd

Nichols spoke at length about Gene Roddenberry, the man who created “Star Trek” and set the whole franchise in motion.

“I knew Gene before I went on the show, and he told me what he was planning and what it was going to be and that it would be on television,” Nichols said. “He wanted me to be a part of it, and I got nervous (laughs) because I loved working for him and he is very particular. But I think that was why I liked working for him because you didn’t have to guess what was going on and you didn’t have to guess what you were going to do. If you had something that you wanted to give beyond what you thought he was talking about, he was very open to listen to it and say yes or no just like that. Fortunately, he said yes more than he said no to me.”

In addition to producing “Star Trek VI,” Jaffe was also the movie’s second unit director. He said he has directed second unit on every movie he ever produced and that this started on Meyer’s first movie, “Time After Time.” The first thing Meyer had Jaffe shoot on “Star Trek VI” was the ice planet in Alaska, and in the process he said he experienced “premature global warming.”

“I went up to Alaska on this glacier three weeks before we started filming,” Jaffe said. “I storyboarded everything, I had every shot, every location I thought locked down, and three weeks later I came back with a full crew and several helicopters and everything was gone. They said, ‘Well, glaciers do move.’ And I said, ‘They don’t move that quickly.’”

“My job was to not stand out,” Jaffe continued. “It was weird because I had never shot second unit before the movie began, and I was very nervous because the studio would see my dailies before anybody’s. I figured somebody is probably doing this to get me fired off this movie really quick. Fortunately, Leonard (Nimoy) who was one of the producers and the studio liked what I did, and that was that.”

Jaffe also talked about how he and Meyer had finished making a movie in Germany before “Star Trek VI” (“Company Business”) when the Berlin Wall came down. Unfortunately, the studio they did it for was having a hard time and the movie got a horrible release. The two of them were hanging out at Meyer’s house in London when Nimoy called and told Meyer, “I got a new idea for ‘Star Trek;’ the wall falls down in outer space!” Jaffe said Meyer hung up on Nimoy and that they were both very drunk at the time, and Jaffe encouraged Meyer to call Nimoy back.

“Wait a minute, you don’t get this opportunity too many times,” Jaffe remembered telling Meyer. “It isn’t the same movie, but it’s the same theme as the film we just made. ‘Star Trek’ will get a release. We’re crazy not to do this.”

Before the Q&A ended and the movie began, Nichols had the last word of the evening as she talked about her most important addition to the character of Uhura before the cameras were rolling on the original “Star Trek” show.

“They hadn’t named her yet and I said, ‘What about Uhuru?’ And they looked at me funny and I said, ‘It means freedom.’ They said, ‘Well it’s kind of harsh.’ And I said, ‘Well, make it Uhura.’ And he (Roddenberry) says, ‘I like that.’ And I said, ‘I do too!’ And I became then and there for the rest of my life Uhura, and I’m glad to be here with you.”

Nichelle Nichols orginal Star Trek

Technically, the 25th anniversary of “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” doesn’t occur until December 5, 2016, but it’s never too early to celebrate. This “Star Trek” movie succeeded in rejuvenating the movie franchise and helped give the original Enterprise crew the sendoff they richly deserved. After all these years it remains one of the best in the series as its themes of war, peace and change still resonate deeply in our everyday affairs. With “Star Trek Beyond” coming soon to theaters and a new “Star Trek” television series on the way, there is no doubt that this franchise will continue to live long and prosper from one generation to the next.

Star Trek Chinese Theatre

Star Trek VI last show of the crew

Star Trek VI poster