Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Flash Backtime: Where No Blog Has Gone Before

Alright, we're just a day away from Star Trek Into Darkness. The JJ Abrams "reboot" (Hollywood lingo) of the signature series is not a perfect homage to Roddenberry, but should be more than entertaining enough.

The cast is terrific, and expect that Benedict Cumberbatch in a complex, villainous role would raise the stakes up a notch.

It's rare that I anticipate a movie this much, but I have good reason. I've seen them all, blogged them all, and here are the previous eleven films with the definitive rankings, best to worst.

July 10, 2009

I have seen every Star Trek film.

Does it make me a nerd? No. I may fit that description, but not from my love of Star Trek. I have never attended any kind of Trekkie convention, never dressed in Federation uniform, or tried to translate authentic Klingon.

I have, however, repeatedly encroached the Neutral Zone, violating terms of any corresponding cease-fires. Mostly with sarcasm.

So fire up the red alert, and set phasers to stun. Here is Backtime's official ranking of all 11 Star Trek flicks.

1. Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

This is the best Star Trek film by far. It should have been nominated for multiple Oscars, and if Will Shakespeare had written it, they’d be teaching it in English Lit classes all over the globe.

When Captain Picard defies orders to assume control of the Federation fleet, he leads them to victory over their most indomitable enemy, The Borg.

But a Borg escape pod slips back in time to take over earth in the mid-21st century by preventing Earth’s “First Contact” with an alien race. The Enterprise is forced to follow and prevent the assimilation of humanity.

A great guest starring performance by James Cromwell as Zefram Cochrane, the drunken anti-hero, hailed as earth’s warp-drive pioneer. Also from Alfre Woodard who plays Cochran’s colleague who has a number of magnificent exchanges with Picard – in Patrick Stewart’s best performance as well.

And a top-notch villain, Alice Krige as the Borg queen who abducts and seduces Commander Data, en route to taking over the Enterprise.

The film isn’t just filled with action, revenge, and further developing character from actors in their roles that we’ve seen a hundred times. It introduces the history of space exploration Star Trek-style, and it all fits.

2. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
Coming off the first Star Trek film, which I felt was a broad and boring flop, the franchise needed this – and did it ever deliver.

While the story was full of layers, the arch-villain was the show stealer. The late Ricardo Montalban played in his career role as the exiled criminal Khan, and his lust for payback against Admiral Kirk carries the movie.

But the subplots were great too. There was Kirstie Alley as the ambitious Vulcan Lieutenant Saavik, Spock’s protégée. There was the introduction of the Kobayashi Maru – the no-win scenario that Kirk would not adhere to. There was the mysterious “Genesis” project, creating planets out of nothing, whose creator was an old fling of our favorite lothario Federation captain. And Kirk has a son, who knew?

Once Khan is defeated, he nearly takes down the Enterprise with him. But Spock sacrifices himself to save the ship in an epic finish (before being re-born for future chapters of course).

3. Star Trek (2009)

The untold story of how Kirk met Spock and how the Enterprise crew that we know and love was formed.

Director JJ Abrams re-invents the Star Trek brand, a la Batman Begins, with an awesome cast and a number of references that fans can relate to. But how does it all make sense? The planet Vulcan is destroyed? A young Spock in love with Uhura? An old Spock lecturing a young Kirk?

The keywords in all this were actually mentioned within the body of the script – an “alternate reality.” Just like the second round of the Batman franchise, the new Star Trek franchise has a fully-loaded ensemble and a new direction, while remaining true to the original Star Trek mission.

4. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
This is the last of the top-tier Star Trek movies. I feel bad placing it this low because I really do love this film. And again, a huge rebound from the awful Star Trek V.

Captain Kirk is the fall guy in a conspiracy at the highest level to preserve war between the Federation and the Klingon empire. War is profitable and familiar, while peace is, as from Hamlet, “The undiscovered country” – just too hard for everyone to change their long ingrained prejudice.

Another especially strong supporting cast with Christopher Plummer as Klingon General Chang, Kim Cattrall as the traitorous Vulcan Lieutenant Valeris, and the sexy Iman as Kirk’s shape-shifting bunkmate on the frozen prison outpost he’s been condemned to.

It’s a sprint to the finish as the Enterprise races back to prevent the assassination of the Federation president (Kurtwood Smith), with a heroic assist from Captain Sulu of the USS Excelsior.

5. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
While aboard a cloaked Klingon Bird of Prey (the continuation of Star Trek III), the Enterprise crew is forced to travel back in time to the late 20th Century in search of a pair of some now-extinct humpback whales.

It is the whales’ homing communication that is needed to respond to an entity that is chewing up the galaxy and threatening humanity.

Seeing the crew fumble around the streets of San Francisco is priceless. It’s capped by the capture of Chekov by the US military, who calls him “Russki” despite seeing his United Federation of Planets ID.

Good chemistry with Kirk and guest star Catherine Hicks, the marine biologist who is the caretaker for humpbacks George and Gracie.

6. Star Trek: Generations (1994)
Though there were some good moments with Captains Kirk and Picard sharing the same space within the surreal “nexus” battling brilliant evil scientist Tolian Soran (Malcolm McDowell).

Also the kidnapping of Lieutenant LaForge and the use of his visor to steal the Enterprise’s shield frequencies, and the troubles of Commander Data with his new emotion chip were nice runners in the plot.

But it’s a little too introspective, with Picard mourning the loss of his favorite nephew. And finding the way to nexus is supposed to equal ultimate happiness for all who enter, including a former inhabitant, Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan. She was good in the series, but her use here seemed forced.

7. Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
Nice plot. Intricate enough. The Romulans had cloned Captain Picard several years ago in an attempt to take over the Federation from within. But after a regime change, the Romulans had given up on Shinzon (Picard’s double).

Shinzon was then banished to Romulus’ twin planet, Remus, a miserable slave state that remains dark at all times. Shinzon, who owns Picard’s intellect, spirit, and DNA, builds an army, and is bent on the destruction of Romulus as well as Earth.

It is truly a case of environment trumping heredity (much like Trading Places), as Shinzon is Picard, but is cold, brutal, and merciless because of his tormented past.

Anyway, it’s the last we see of The Next Generation gang, as Data is destroyed while thwarting Shinzon and his ultimate weapon, and Earth is saved. But Data has a double too, that is of inferior quality, and Data's return is left open.

8. Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984)
The storyline of Spock’s resurrection is a little hard to believe, even by Star Trek standards.

Admiral Kirk disobeys orders, and steals the Enterprise after learning the Spock may be alive on the newly-formed Genesis Planet.

Christopher Lloyd is colorful as an unstable Klingon commander bent on Kirk’s destruction. He kills Kirk’s son.

Kirk wipes out the Klingons while self-destructing the decommissioned Enterprise. At the end, Spock lives on for further adventures.

9. Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
Picard ignores the Federation’s Prime Directive, interfering with the course of another planet’s events. He leads the Enterprise to Baku to save a small, unique civilization of people who live without aging.

Star Fleet gets coerced into siding with their invaders, and Picard of course does the right thing, falling in love in the process.

Too much talk. Not enough action.

10. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
A feeble attempt to turn a cult series into a mainstream film.

Admiral Kirk takes over the Enterprise from the ill-equipped Captain Decker as a seemingly all-powerful entity threatens the galaxy.

What it turns out to be is a 20th century Voyager probe which was sent into space to collect information, and never returned – until it collected all the information in the universe.

Too many sprawling shots of the new Enterprise, since we hadn’t seen it in years. Not nearly enough action. Pretty hot bald chick.

11. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
Sentimental and dumb opening sequence with Enterprise crewmates paired off bonding at Yosemite. The best films about friendship don’t hit you over the head with it.

Spock’s half-brother (didn’t know he had one) is a 23rd century shaman, attracting legions of followers of the great unwashed. He has some type of psychic healing ability, and is leading the masses on some type of vision quest to find God, taking over the Enterprise in the process.

Captain Kirk defies this, choosing to hold on to his pain and guilt, because it makes him who he is, and his rationality saves the day.

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