Action, Not Story, Rules STAR TREK BEYOND (2016)

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My love for STAR TREK goes back to the original series with William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley, so when it comes to the Star Trek universe, I guess I’m a hard person to please.

That being said, I have enjoyed the new STAR TREK movies, but the problem I have with them is they rely too heavily on action rather than story.

It’s especially noticeable in STAR TREK BEYOND (2016), the third and latest installment in the rebooted series.  The actors here have really grown into their roles, and they are a joy to watch, especially if, like me, you’re a fan of the original series, because they truly capture the spirit of the original actors.  When these actors are on screen with actual dialogue, the film soars, but when they get drowned out in long action scenes filled with eye popping and often exhausting special effects, the film falters.

Maybe it’s just me.  Maybe for some fans the special effects and action scenes are the thing.  For me, I prefer the characters over the special effects, ideas over action scenes.  That’s the true spirit of STAR TREK, and that’s what’s missing in these movies.

In STAR TREK BEYOND, the Enterprise is in the third year of its five year mission of exploring new worlds and civilizations.  The ship and crew dock at the space station Yorktown to get supplies and some rest.  Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) ponders his decision to leave the Enterprise and become an Admiral, while Spock (Zachary Quinto) learns of the death of Admiral Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and begins his own soul searching, wondering if he too should leave the Enterprise and help rebuild the planet New Vulcan.  Meanwhile, it’s Jim Kirk’s birthday, and Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) helps him celebrate with some special ale, in a scene that’s a clear nod to a similar scene between William Shatner and DeForest Kelley in STAR TREK II:  THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982).

The respite is short-lived as the Yorktown receives a distress call from a ship inside a nebula, and of course the Enteprise heads off to investigate.   But all is not as it seems, and in the famous words of a character from that other science fiction series, “It’s a trap!

A trap indeed, as waiting for the Enterprise inside the nebula is a nasty group of aliens led by a cold-hearted villain named Krall (Idris Elba) whose superior technology makes short work of the Enterprise, literally ripping it apart, sending the shocked crew fleeing in separate directions.  The bulk of the crew, including Sulu (John Cho) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) are abducted by Krall, while the rest flee in escape pods only to crash on the planet below.  These separate groups include Spock and McCoy, Scotty (Simon Pegg) who meets an alien woman Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) whose help proves invaluable, and Kirk and Chekov (Anton Yelchin).

It’s pretty much the theme of the movie.  Together the Enterprise crew can do anything. They need each other, and so it’s up to these separate groups to reunite to rescue their abducted crew members and stop Krall from destroying the Yorktown and the rest of the Federation.  Working towards this goal, Kirk and Spock ponder that perhaps their destiny shouldn’t include going their separate ways.

STAR TREK BEYOND is silly fun.  I liked it most whenever the characters actually engaged in conversation.  When they navigated through CGI-immersed action scenes, I was less than impressed.  To me, these scenes should be saved for key moments in the movie, but when they go on nonstop one after another, as is the case during the middle of this movie, I quickly become bored.

For example, rather than a ridiculous ten minute sequence featuring Jim Kirk racing a motorcycle through a firefight to cause a distraction, a sequence that is so implausible I half expected to see Bugs Bunny riding the cycle, I’d rather have had a ten minute sequence where Kirk, Spock and McCoy actually discuss a real  rescue plan, one that is at least half way believable.  One of my favorite episodes from the original series, “The Corbomite Maneuver” has as its centerpiece not an elaborate battle scene, but a highly tense conversation on the bridge dealing with a no win situation in which Spock tells Kirk that in chess, checkmate means the end, and that loss is inevitable, whereas Kirk turns the tables by suggesting another game, poker, and he proceeds to bluff their all-powerful adversary into submission.  It’s moments like this that this new series misses the most.

The cast here, as has been the case throughout this series, is fun, and they continue to grow into these roles.

As Captain Kirk, Chris Pine seemed more influenced by William Shatner this time around. His performance here really hearkend back to Shatner’s in the original series, more so than in the previous two movies.

I’m still amazed at how good Zachary Quinto is as Spock and how successfully he nails the role.  It’s like Leonard Nimoy reborn.  Speaking of Nimoy, some of Quinto’s best scenes here are when he reminsces about the death of his parallel universe self, Commander Spock (Nimoy).  These scenes are poignant and special.

Once again, Karl Urban has a field day as Dr. McCoy.  More than any of the other actors in this series, Urban plays McCoy as a clear homage to the way DeForest Kelley played him in the original series.  As McCoy, Urban gets the best lines in the movie and delivers some genuine laugh out loud moments.

Simon Pegg, as you might expect, infuses more humor into the role of Scotty than James Doohan did.  Zoe Saldana as Uhura, John Cho as Sulu, and the late Anton Yelchin as Chekov all hold their own, but they don’t do as much as they could.

Idris Elba, while looking menacing underneath his alien make-up, is largely wasted as villain Krall.  Elba is a tremendous actor who if given the chance to act here could have made Krall a memorable villain, but other than a line here and a line there, there’s little development, until the end of the movie when we learn more about Krall, but that’s too little too late.

Sofia Boutella is very impressive as alien Jaylah.  Her scenes with Scotty are some of the best in the movie.

Director Justin Lin, taking over for J.J. Abrams, infuses this one with heavy action scenes.  No surprises here from the FAST AND FURIOUS director.  These scenes were okay.  The problem is I wouldn’t cite any one scene in this movie as being memorable or incredibly cinematic.  In fact, I’d argue the opposite.  There were some scenes that looked way too cartoonish and CGI infested for my tastes.  I felt like I was watching an animated STAR TREK movie at times.

The screenplay by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung is okay.  The overall premise- Enterprise crew must stop alien from destroying Starfleet- is pretty standard and not very thought-provoking.  Its strength, which again is no surprise since it was written by comedian Pegg, is its humor and the dialogue between the characters.  I also thought Scotty’s role was beefed up a bit here.  Again, no surprise since Pegg wrote it.

STAR TREK BEYOND doesn’t go beyond where any of the other STAR TREK movies or TV shows have gone, doesn’t explore new worlds or civilizations that we haven’t already encountered, but it still makes for a solidly entertaining two hours at the movies.

STAR TREK BEYOND seems to be STAR TREK for the 21st century audience, where action has replaced characters and story.  I wish it were otherwise.  And don’t get me wrong.  I’m not arguing for no action scenes whatsoever.  I just want them to matter.  To be few and far between, and when they occur, for them to have impact and resonance.

While I prefer the STAR TREK of old, I still enjoy these new films, mostly because of the nostalgia they resurrect, but also because the cast here truly does a bang-up job.  If only the directors and writers would follow suit and do the same.

—END—

 

 

 

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MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982)

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The poignant final scene between Kirk (William Shatner) and Spock (Leonard Nimoy) in STAR TREK II:  THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982)

The poignant final scene between Kirk (William Shatner) and Spock (Leonard Nimoy) in STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982)

MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES:  STAR TREK II:  THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982)

By

Michael Arruda

 

With the recent passing of Leonard Nimoy, it’s the perfect time to look at STAR TREK II:  THE WRATH OF KHAN here on MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES, the column where we look at fun quotes from some really good movies.

The STAR TREK films are chock-full of memorable lines, and STAR TREK II:  THE WRATH OF KHAN is one of the most frequently quoted STAR TREK films.  Appropriately enough, some of these oft-quoted lines are from Leonard Nimoy’s Mr. Spock.

Death is a central theme of STAR TREK II:  THE WRATH OF KHAN, and a recurring plot point in the film deals with the “no win” scenario and how one in command of a starship should handle that situation.  It’s a scenario which the crew of the Enterprise will ultimately face at the end of the movie, and it’s Spock’s decision on how to solve it that costs him his life.

The buzz that accompanied this movie when it was first released in 1982 was that the character of Mr. Spock would be killed off.  The filmmakers seemingly diffused the anxiety fans were feeling by having Spock “die” in a simulation in the opening sequence of the film, which put fans at ease, for a while anyway, until the end of the movie when Spock would die for real.

At the time, Leonard Nimoy was not interested in reprising the role of Mr. Spock in a series of STAR TREK movies, but as the story goes, he had so much fun making STAR TREK II, that Nimoy changed his mind, and even though they went ahead and killed off his character, the door was left open for him to be “reborn” from the Genesis project and return in the next movie, STAR TREK III:  THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK (1984).

Spock’s death at the end of STAR TREK II is probably the signature moment of the entire STAR TREK movie series.

Let’s look now at some classic quotes from STAR TREK II:  THE WRATH OF KHAN, screenplay by Jack B. Sowards.

In this scene, young Vulcan Saavik (Kirstie Alley) questions Kirk (William Shatner) about how he handled the “no win” situation:

SAAVIK:  Admiral, may I ask you a question?

KIRK: What’s on your mind, Lieutenant?

SAAVIK: The Kobayashi Maru, sir.

KIRK: Are you asking me if we’re playing out that scenario now?

SAAVIK:  On the test, sir… will you tell me what you did? I would really like to know.

MCCOY: Lieutenant, you are looking at the only Starfleet cadet who ever beat the no-win scenario.

SAAVIK: How?

KIRK: I reprogrammed the simulation so it was possible to rescue the ship.

SAAVIK: What?

DAVID MARCUS: He cheated.

KIRK: I changed the conditions of the test; got a commendation for original thinking. I don’t like to lose.

SAAVIK: Then you never faced that situation… faced death.

KIRK: I don’t believe in the no-win scenario.

As always, Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) enjoys some of the best moments in the film, including some of the best lines.  The following scene occurs as Kirk, Saavik, and McCoy are searching for the scientists working on the Genesis project.  They’ve disappeared after Khan (Ricardo Montalban) had ransacked the lab looking for them.  Kirk suggests that they use the transporter beam to follow them wherever they went.  It’s an idea McCoy doesn’t like at all.

MCCOY: Where are we going?

KIRK: Where they went.

MCCOY: Suppose they went nowhere?

KIRK:  Then this will be your big chance to get away from it all.

And who can forget when McCoy says to Spock:

MCCOY: Are you out of your Vulcan mind?

Of course, a great deal of suspense and excitement in STAR TREK II comes from the battle of wits between Captain Kirk and Khan.  In this scene, Khan thinks he has killed Kirk, but as Kirk reminds him in one of the better lines from the film, Khan keeps killing everyone but Kirk!  This conversation occurs as the two adversaries speak through their communicators:

KIRK: Khan, you bloodsucker!  You’re going to have to do your own dirty work now! Do you hear me? Do you?

KHAN: Kirk? You’re still alive, my old friend?

KIRK: Still, old friend! You’ve managed to kill everyone else, but like a poor marksman, you keep missing the target!

KHAN: Perhaps I no longer need to try, Admiral.

KIRK: Khan… Khan, you’ve got Genesis, but you don’t have me. You were going to kill me, Khan. You’re going to have to come down here. You’re going to have to come down here!

KHAN: I’ve done far worse than kill you, Admiral. I’ve hurt you. And I wish to go on hurting you. I shall leave you as you left me, as you left her; marooned for all eternity in the center of a dead planet… buried alive! Buried alive…!

KIRK: KHAN!  KHAAAN!

But the best lines from the film come from the movie’s most powerful moment, Spock’s death.

To save the ship, Spock has sacrificed his own life, exposing himself to a fatal dose of radiation in order to get the ship to safety.  But before he dies, he manages to have one last conversation with Kirk, as the two characters are separated by a pane of glass.

This emotional scene gets me every time.

MCCOY: (holding Kirk back):  No! You’ll flood the whole compartment!

KIRK: He’ll die!

SCOTTY: Sir! He’s dead already.

MCCOY: It’s too late.

(Kirk walks to the glass.)

KIRK: Spock!

(Spock walks weakly to the glass.)

SPOCK: The ship… out of danger?

KIRK: Yes.

SPOCK: Do not grieve, Admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many, outweigh…

KIRK: The needs of the few.

SPOCK: Or the one. I never took the Kobayashi Maru test until now. What do you think of my solution?

KIRK: Spock.

(Spock sits down.)

SPOCK: I have been, and always shall be, your friend.

[Spock places his hand against the glass and spreads his fingers in the Vulcan salute.)

SPOCK: Live long and prosper.

Pass me the tissues, please.  There aren’t many death scenes in STAR TREK or in any movie for that matter that are better than this one.

And we finish with another superb line, spoken by Kirk at Spock’s funeral, which provides yet another memorable moment from this movie:

KIRK: We are assembled here today to pay final respects to our honored dead. And yet it should be noted that in the midst of our sorrow, this death takes place in the shadow of new life, the sunrise of a new world; a world that our beloved comrade gave his life to protect and nourish. He did not feel this sacrifice a vain or empty one, and we will not debate his profound wisdom at these proceedings. Of my friend, I can only say this: of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most… human.

Nice stuff.

If you’d like to remember the work of Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock, watch STAR TREK II:  THE WRATH OF KHAN.

Live long and prosper.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael