My apologies for the lapse in movie reviews over here! I’ve been spending all my watching-things time on an epic Trek trek through 50 years and 5 series of optimistic sci-fi space adventures. It’s been GREAT.
I’ve fallen in love with the sweetly domestic ensemble work in Deep Space Nine, and have developed some form of retro-grade nostalgia over Voyager, but I instantly fell heart over heels for The Original Series, a silly beautiful starry cheese platter that I love tremendously. By this point I have watched 6 movies with the TOS characters, on what was supposed to be a light jaunt into one part of the franchise. My god, Jim. Anyhow, to keep with the film-focused theme of this watch log, here are my collected thoughts on the Star Trek movies I’ve seen. Spoilers for the 1980s.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
“Ah Kirk, my old friend. Do you know the Klingon proverb that tells us, ‘Revenge is a dish that is best served cold’? It is very cold, in spaaace.”
As far as I can figure it, there are two things that make The Wrath of Khan terrific. One is Ricardo Montalbán as Khan, who looks utterly early-80s ~apocalyptic fabulous~ while serving up this richly literary villain, glamming ruthlessly around like Milton’s War King of the Wasteland. He is singularly fixed on destroying Kirk, as if humanity’s attempt to create our next Napoleon produced Ahab instead. That’s kinda brilliant as a commentary on the Genesis project — we never know what playing God might unleash. And keeping it personal is also a perfect plot choice, because the standard blockbuster threatening of the world or the galaxy is always grand beyond our reckoning, and our feelings. What we truly care about is the fate of the characters we love.
Which is the other great thing about The Wrath of Khan: our selfless, brave Mr. Spock. Probably I should have figured out I was going to spend this whole movie emotionally caught off-guard by known facts, when despite, y’know, the title, I literally gasped when we saw “SS BOTANY BAY” stamped on some space hardware. So it didn’t matter that I already knew this was that famous Star Trek story where Spock “dies”, that I even knew that needs to be in quotes because he’ll obviously come back — I lost it. I cried out when Spock put his hand up against the glass, I was choked up beyond all reason during Jim’s eulogy. Then Scotty started playing “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes, and that was it, in TEARS.
Also very affecting: the over-all theme of confronting aging, and what it really means to feel young. It was like I was personally tangled up in it, watching these older versions of characters I’d met when they were decades younger. My heart kept turning over like when I went back to watch the Sirs in the original X-Men movies — old men now, but oh, their spirits are just the same.
Star Trek III: The Search For Spock
“This business with Spock and McCoy….”
– Admiral Morrow
I actually skipped this one initially, which would have been a tragic loss. Things I adore: a haunted starship, spooky telepathy shenanigans, HEISTS, sass & badassery, wildly absurd plots, and the odd tangled intimacy between Bones and Spock. Things this movie had: all of those.
I’d gotten myself all captivated by Spock and McCoy’s relationship while watching TOS. There’s a triangle at the center of the Enterprise, for Bones loves Jim, Spock loves Jim, Jim loves them both, and Bones and Spock do not know what this makes them to each other. Mostly they snip and banter and act like their relationship is just a begrudging tactical alliance, but this breaks down fascinatingly when Jim is taken out of the picture through some plot or other. It’s like without Captain Kirk’s gravitational pull holding them in orbit, Spock and McCoy collapse toward each other, with both flares of real anger and strangely helpless openness. Ultimately, they have a profound understanding built out of the shared knowledge that they will each do anything for Jim Kirk. It’s a really interesting connection, existing only between two people but because of a third.
In The Search For Spock, their leg of the triangle has gotten collapsed, Spock having placed his mind in the soul of Dr. McCoy through a Vulcan safekeeping measure to preserve life in the event of the body’s death. This obviously renders the triangle unsteady as hell. Which is how Kirk ends up accosting a senior officer like, “listen, my two best friends have fused their spirits and I have to get them into separate bodies so that I can resume my proper place in the middle of this emotional sandwich — now give me my damn ship back so that I can fly off to literal Forbidden Eden.” Which, in turn, is how I often ended up feeling like this movie was a weird gift for me personally.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
“Admiral! There be whales here!”
Proposal: that there probably could not be a more perfect Star Trek movie than one where a giant space cylinder is very dramatically humming the Earth into a powerless rain-ravaged cloudball… just because it wants to say ‘hey’ to some whales, which our team of renegade explorer-scientist best friends must TRAVEL BACK IN TIME to fetch up in their STARSHIP. Honestly, I kinda want to put this movie in a vault on behalf of Humanity.
What I think’s so special about The Voyage Home is that even with its big movie budget and big movie shape, it still has that culty, far-flung zany sweetness that characterized TOS. It is so ridiculous, and so ridiculously pure. The stakes are the planet, but the stakes are also Spock tearing off a strip of his monk bathrobe and tying it around his head to hide his ears, while Jim gazes at him like he’s the weirdo sun that gives off all the light in his life. It’s the horrified hilarity of realizing they’ve sent the Russian to seek out the “nuclear wessels” in Cold War San Francisco. It’s adding a lady scientist who is as wonderfully independent as she is curious and kind. It’s Dr. McCoy shedding his fantastic flight jacket and sneaking into a 20th century hospital to Save Chekov, and also Be Appalled. It’s watching Sulu deftly figure out how to fly a helicopter, learning that Uhura adorably pronounces the ‘H’ in ‘whales’, and getting completely overcome with emotions when the crew sees their Enterprise again. Though perhaps most of all, it’s Spock explaining gently and seriously: “They like you very much, but they are not the hell your whales.”
Basically, The Voyage Home was just two hours of me grinning and placing a hand on me cheek. This is a perfect movie.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
“Quite correct, Mr. Chekov. What is required now is a feat of linguistic legerdemain and a degree of intrepidity, before the Captain and Dr. McCoy freeze to death.”
I instantly agreed to watch this one when I was told it involved Kirk and Bones getting stranded on an ice planet, given my fondness for ICE PLANETS. It did not disappoint. In fact, through a series of events I’ll not bother to explain, this ice planet was the setting for one of my favorite moments of this entire TOS journey: Bones, completely bedecked in furs and scarves, conked flat out on his back like an unconscious snow angel, and then a tango of William Shatner grappling with William Shatner literally rolls over him. There seems to be a metaphor for McCoy’s life in this, I think.
Other highlights included:
– multiple sightings of starship-issue tea sets, which I must have immediately
– Sulu being the captain of his own ship
– a reference to Shakespeare “read in the original Klingon” that was so not a one-off that by the end I swear one of the Klingons was speaking exclusively in Shakespeare lines
– GRAVITY LOSS
– learning James Kirk’s middle name is Tiberius
– and that time the Enterprise became an Agatha Christie “the killer is among us” murder mystery
Overall, a pretty solid send-off for the original cast! Come for Bones in the snow, stay for Bones in the snow chattering fondly, “Why that cunning little Vulcan…”
Star Trek (2009)
“Don’t be such an infant.”
WELL THIS WAS REALLY DISORIENTING.
If it were just stylistic differences due to the staggering advances in film technology over the decades, well that would be one thing. I could totally settle into contemporary lighting and camerawork the way I settled into the ‘80s Star Trek movies after watching TOS. But the style shift spilled over into the spirit of the movie too. To be honest, it’s probably partly due to how many filmmakers these days like to show off their movie magic abilities through destruction — more explosions, more stunts, more shatter and boom — and so in turn, their plots tend to revolve around conflict, conflict, conflict. So I guess this could be responsible for how we went from cozy colorful space adventures with your friends, to a lot of flashy hostility in a high-flying Apple store.
And y’know what was so demoralizing? That I distrusted even the eventual tableau of camaraderie in the final shots, because I still distrusted the heart of this new Captain Kirk. But thank god, I went to see Star Trek Beyond before writing anything, so I can spare you all a lengthy discussion of what is lovable and heroic about William Shatner’s Kirk’s grandiose self-confidence, compared against the entitled arrogant jerk they saddled Chris Pine with at first.
One thing I do want to mention quickly though before jumping ahead to — against incredible odds, Zachary Quinto found something really wonderful here in his impossible task of being New Spock, while our beloved Leonard Nimoy was also there being Spock. And that’s on top of having to make his way through a plot expressly designed to Break This Sad-Eyed Vulcan in every act. My god, that got so cruel…
Anyhow, most everything else I’d have to say is either irrelevant now or AMPLIFIED IN GOODNESS in:
Star Trek Beyond (2016)
“Mr. Sulu, you can…fly this thing right?”
“You kidding me, sir?”
AND I WEPT WITH HAPPINESS, AND MY TEARS WERE THE *STARS*
I hardly even know where to begin! Literally everything was better, I mean they even smashed up that cold, glossy white ship and put the crew back in THE ENTERPRISE, with grays and colors and proper Treksome blockiness. And this one was about Hope again, and being brave & brilliant not for your own glory, but always to help one another. This is what I love about Star Trek.
It is high time to mention Karl Urban, who must have a circle of rose quartz in his trailer and is keeping a steady channel open to DeForest Kelley. He is a perfect Leonard McCoy, his Bones feels good and right and sometimes I get all teary and emotional just watching him. He also brings something fresh and interesting — which is an important thing in these reboot projects and I’m a staunch advocate for it — in how his Bones is significantly more able and likely to just manhandle you into sitting still and getting healed, damnit, which is a look I find I really like on Dr. McCoy.
And then they paired him off with Spock for the significant majority of this one, so I was on SPACE CLOUD NINE. Bones’ constant grumpy attentive doctoring! Spock’s constant collapsing and begging McCoy to leave him and go save Jim! Having real talks about ~feelings~ because fuck it, we’re probably gonna die. My morbid bickering sweethearts. Plus, another rendition of one of my favorite things from the series: Spock and Bones’ tacit agreement to each shoulder a share of some painful knowledge they must keep from Jim, following their unspoken accords as the members of the Jim Kirk Protection Squad. Roll me into an alien sun about it honestly.