Begun, For The Third Time, The Clone War Has

Well, fall is in the air, after about ten hours (none of them consecutive) of summer in this part of the world, and this means a crappier streak of films will begin to trickle in and out of theatres. Which is why I'll skip thru the crisp fall air to see Vicky Christina Barcelona today and call the summer season over and done with.
I don't imagine Woody Allen's latest will reek of the August Release, however, as much as Star Wars: The Clone Wars did, which I lollygagged into last night. I'm sure it's not news to anyone that this isn't exactly a masterpiece; what bemuses me are all the reviews which seemed to expect it to be a quality release from Lucasfilm rather than three episodes of a cartoon series cobbled together in order to promote its fall premiere.
I expected as much, and sat through this with the same half-engaged attention span that I had for the old
Droids Saturday morning cartoon (not for me was Ewoks, its companion series). It ain't your father's Star Wars, as a guy in front of me felt compelled to explain to his utterly confounded girlfriend during the closing credits. Sure, I recognized all the characters and tweaked-out robots and technology from the prequel trilogy, but was also resigned to the fact that this is what Star Wars has become for kids today. I must say that when I was a kid, I did wonder exactly where the 'wars' were... I guess my answer lies here, as roughly 60% of this consisted of hundreds of little raindrop laser beams being deflected by two lightsabers as battle droids advanced methodically through a variety of landscapes. I would imagine the 'plot' of this film demonstrates a rough formula for the series to follow- Some Jedi get a standing order to do something or other in Palpatine's office, they go do it, then stand in a victorious line, and then we swipe to credits. But I'll only have to guess- I won't be watching. I'll only be recalling how the Ziro the Hutt character sounded and kind of looked just like Eric Cartman and going "oh, right- I'm thirty-four years old- maybe I'll watch South Park this week instead so I actually have something to talk about with my Media Professor Friends."


On A Different Subject...

What to write about? I've been on vacation, writing a lot of introspective and indulgent stuff that would bore the pants off of anyone but me. So in keeping with the cinematic theme I racked my brain thinking of upcoming films of interest- Quantum of Solace? I could write up all the Bond films, but that would take forever, and my personal experience with them only begins at the lamentable entry Moonraker. Star Trek? That's more do-able- I'm pretty keen on seeing the upcoming megaproduction, and every film since Wrath of Khan has been kind of a family event (Dad would take me to the Bonds; Mom to the Treks. And then I'd drag girlfriends to the more recent ones).
I've continued to watch these movies over the years, returning to them like security blankets. Star Trek has been in my life since the get-go, with a Sunday-morning-over-cereal tradition lasting my entire prepubescence. I was hardwired into Star Trek the way some kids are brainwashed into church. So don't call me a Trekkie. Everybody and their dog has watched this stuff, and that very word is the laziest fuckin' description outside of 'geek' in the English language- "What did you do today?" "Oh, I watched some Star Trek over dinner, did some writing, and whatnot." "HA, HA- TREKKIE." Come onnnnn.
So anyway I wrote these out longhand while killing time after chauffering my Mom to see some relatives in the province next door. If you wanna put yourself through a truly low-energy endurance test, see if you can make it through all ten of these before Star Trek comes out next summer.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture
(Robert Wise, 1979)

To audiences today, this film must spool along like a video game that no one is playing. It could be, along with a couple of Warhol films, the most motionless picture ever produced. The characters aren't there- Spock has just undergone an emotion-purging process that leaves him an automaton, Kirk is a pent-up asshole throughout, and the rest of the characters are cyphers.
Yet- I love this thing! Getting blasted and watching the Enterprise drift toward a potentially malevolent space cloud is a close as one can get to a Zen exercise outside of a monastery. And there's something tremendously appealing to me about the sensibility old Gene Roddenberry was approaching here (a sensibility, I've recently noticed while visiting Rerun Land, revisited in the first season of The Next Generation): everyone in this film is just about a goddamned hippie, and, this being the 1970s, the natural assumption would have been that, had things continued on their free love/free thought tacks, the future would certainly be filled with excellent dudes and chicks wearing low-cut pyjamas and checking out funky space clouds that looked like Yes album cover art.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(Nicholas Meyer, 1982)

This may be the first reboot in the history of franchise cinema (outside of some old Sherlock Holmes serials, probably). Gone is everything hippy and trippy. Yet one hallmark of the 1970s remains, here at the beginning of the 1980s- the kind of rich, interesting script that nearly every studio film of that decade showcased, and surely half of the reason this is the de facto nominee for best Star Trek film. The other half consists of three elements: one, the return of the characterizations from the tv program; two, Ricardo Montelban (whom I still insist, without irony, should have at least been nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar- come on now, there have been worse winners), and three, this right here:
If you don't know what he's saying- brush up on yr. pop culture touchstones, yo.

A side note: If anyone spots myself or fellow actor Jim Fowler in the shit-sandwich of a Russian submarine film K-19: The Widowmaker, you can be assured that we are parroting Pavel Chekov's dialogue from this film.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
(Leonard Nimoy, 1984)

After Spock died so very gracefully at the end of Wrath of Khan, he was shot via torpedo tube onto the surface of a rapidly evolving proto-planet which in some science-fictiony way resurrected him. Kirk is solemnly informed of this by Spock's dad and steals the Enterprise in order to get him back, blowing the ship up in the process. This event provides one of several 'operatic' moments in the film (I really can't tell you how much I'd kill to see this and Khan done as lavish, tongue-in-cheek operas), other Space Opera moments being when Kirk's latently gay son is stabbed to death by Klingons and Kirk calls them bastards, and when he & Bones are watching the tanked Enterprise burn up in the atmosphere. Try your best Shatner & Kelley voices:
"My God, Bones, what have I done?"
"You did what you had to do; what you always do- you turned death into a fighting chance to live."

Side note: if Edward James Olmos, originally cast, had played the Klingon badguy in this instead of Christopher "Let's Call Him When We Can't Get Anyone" Lloyd, the movie might have kicked asses it didn't even know it could.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
(Leonard Nimoy, 1986)

Here's the finishing touch to a pretty great movie trilogy. Eddie Murphy was almost in this, which would have had the opposite effect of Edward James Olmos being in Spock. This was the one with the whales. You probably saw it on cable or VHS when you were a kid over at your friend Shawn's sleepover or birthday party or whatever.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
(William Shatner, 1989)

Or, I don't know, maybe you saw it in the theatre like I did. The Voyage Home made the most money of all of these. Mainstream audiences were totally game to go to another sequel. And if they did, they were met with one of cinema's great disasters, overseen and since apologized for profusely by none other than the handsome and talented James T. Kirk himself. This movie now seems like a b-grade offshoot full of Vaudevillian humor that was put together for a two-week run in a Las Vegas Theme Theatre. They go looking for God, because Spock's half-brother, who is different from Spock because he laughs, wants to. And they find God, and God is a big blue face with a curly beard. For reals.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
(Nicholas Meyer, 1991)

So they had to make up for that, obviously. But Undiscovered Country suffers from what killed the Star Trek Franchise in the end, and that is that it is about very little other than Star Trek. It basically serves to send off the famous crew with a bit more dignity than was afforded them in the previous film, and to set up the more peaceful Klingon/Federation relationship seen in Star Trek: The Next Generation. It was apparently a Glasnost allegory at the time, but who the fuck cares what that all meant anymore. For the purposes of this 'getting to know your enemy' plot, the whole crew (sans the logical Spock, that is) (but especially Kirk) are given lines and traits that are stone-cold racist. Evidently Nichelle Nichols, the sole African-American in the principal cast, flat out refused to say a couple of them.
Side note: I once saw a young boy ask Christopher Plummer, who played the villain in this, what 'Captain Kirk' was like. Plummer leaned in and said, "Let me tell you about Bill Shatner. Bill Shatner is a bum."
"Hey Spock- look at the pointy-headed little girl."

Star Trek Generations
(David Carson, 1994)

I was super-excited when this came out. And I saw it maybe five or six times in the theatre. Which is weird, 'cause according to the laws of Blockbuster Filmmaking it's kind of a turd. Like The Motion Picture, The Next Generation's characters come off as alienating and devoid of the traits that made them work in the first place. The grand first meeting of Captains Kirk and Picard takes place in... an imaginary kitchen. While Kirk makes breakfast for a woman we never see, and Picard burns his fingers on toast. This kind of nonevent would not be tolerated by today's cinema-goers (see The X-Files: I Want to Believe), yet it's in the way this movie takes its time and doesn't try to dazzle the shit right out of you that makes it kind of charmingly appealing. This, and every following Next Generation movie, have always stood out for me among pop films- they try, even if they couch things in pseudo-philosophy and aphorisms, to say something. In this case, it's about mortality and truly appreciating your constantly passing life.

Breakfast of Champions

Star Trek: First Contact
(Jonathan Frakes, 1996)

Actually, no such philosophy in this one, come to think of it. This is lean and trim and to my mind one of the most successful action/adventure films ever made. If there's a companion piece to Wrath of Khan in the film pantheon, it's this one, which at the time seemed to be fast-tracking the Next Generation crew into cinema history, morphing them from austere explorers to balls-out action heroes. This is the one with the Borg.
Star Trek: Insurrection
(Jonathan Frakes, 1996)

This one splits the difference on the philosopher/action hero tip, and actually evidences the mindset that made The Next Generation so popular better than any other entry. Yet audiences, and even some of the actors, had bones to pick with the script. Well, I've got a bone to pick with that. The plot is driven by the Federation's decision, in cahoots with some aliens (led by F. Murray Abraham in makeup identical to his Old Salieri getup in Amadeus), to, as Picard puts it, 'relocate a small group of people in order to benefit a large one'. In this case it's a bunch of wise old hippies whose planetary conditions prevent them from aging or becoming ill. Cast and critics alike called the script 'one big plot hole', and said 'why the fuck not relocate them?'.
Well, I ask you, actors, audience, did not nine years of watching and performing in Star Trek clue you in to the fact that humanity, as portrayed therein, is a little bit more on the ball than here in the 21st century? This is the only movie in which the plot hinges on Star Trek humanity's 'advanced sensibility'. Picard's having none of that relocation shit, and he sticks to his motherfuckin' guns.
Picard resigns

Star Trek Nemesis
(Stuart Baird, 2002)

When I heard that screenwriter John Logan was applying his Gladiator/Intrigue-in-Rome skills to the I, Claudius-in-space vibe that The Next Generation sometimes demonstrated, I went and read a bit of this leaked script online. It was pretty good. Then for some barmy reason they went and hired Stuart Baird to direct, a dick of a Brit who is primarily an okay action editor (Casino Royale), yet has been behind the camera for some of the worst efforts in the history of cinema (Executive Decision, U.S. Marshals). I can tell you from experience that the Hollywood adage is true- an unhappy set equals and unhappy movie. Everyone looks miserable and annoyed in this. Baird went out of his way to learn exactly nothing about the rich American Myth he was contributing to, resulting in preposterous retcon debacles like this photo of Picard at Starfleet Academy:
Here's what young Picard looked like on the show:
The reason he's a fuckin' bald teenager in the film is that we're supposed to believe this guy
is his clone at a younger age and not Wesley Crusher in a Doctor Evil costume.
The whole affair would have come off better if capably directed- I could never figure out why such a 'valuable property' as Star Trek was given miniscule budgets for its film franchise. But, it looks like someone has come to their senses. If J.J. Abrams can make Star Trek as cool as Lost, things might be looking up for them.
Editor's Note: Sorry about the formatting problems. I can't be bothered to tweak this thing any more than I already have.