Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Proustian Slog

I suspect that my current Star Trek renaissance will end soon, which means that the Rambler won't be so suffocating in subject matter - I'll admit that it seems like I'm either talking about Star Trek, my crumbling home, or the content and direction of the blog itself (and there I go again!), but for now, that's what I've got a huge hard-on to watch, and therefore:

Back-to-Back ST:TNG Movie Reviews!

Please contain your excitement.

Star Trek: First Contact
Generally regarded by most as "The second best Trek movie, after The Wrath of Khan," and, you know, that's about right. Where Khan is a model of entertainment efficiency, First Contact meanders around its plot with a little less purpose. It opens big (that whole Syd Field grabber opening), although I give it major points for actually having a little bit of character quiet before the first action scene. Nicely done. And I also give it points for having all of the space battles out of the way in the first fifteen minutes, with the rest of the action in the film mostly being sort of a Fort Apache siege, with the Borg invading the Enterprise and taking it and the crew over deck by deck.

The only real flaw in the structure is the sort of soft middle section, which works very well as a set up for the excellent ending, but you can tell they knew it was probably too "Trekish" for mainstream audiences, so they threw in a pretty pointless action scene where Picard, Worf and the Red Shirt (named "Hawk") do an EVA to stop the Borg from building a "Housing Beacon" (apologies to Spalding Grey) on the deflector dish. The whole thing is fun while it lasts, but there's no denying that it takes away from some character development that would have been better.

The companion scene to the deflector battle is the extra-extra pointless Holodeck scene, which is totally random in its placement and plot function, and not nearly long enough to even give good nostalgia for fans of the show. It's almost a blink-and-you'll-miss-it "Look! Dixon Hill!" thing, minus all the bits that made the Holodeck episodes super-fun TV. I mean, let's face it: the Holodeck concept was just created so that it wouldn't seem odd that the Enterprise crew keeps ending up on the Paramount backlot, on Chicago Mobster planets and the like. So just randomly throwing it into the middle of the film where they have to pay money to build the extra ballroom set and not even making it a good Holodeck moment is assed-up logic, and it's the one part of the film that Frakes' really excellent direction can't make work.

I should note that the deflector battle has one very fun moment: I'm always a fan of moments of Worf bad-assery, and having him first chop up a Borg Drone and then use the Borg's own hand/cable assembly to tie-off a leak in his own spacesuit is right cool. Probably Ron Moore, who was writing the best Worf ever over at Deep Space Nine simultaneously. I also appreciated the appearances of the Defiant and EMH. What of it?

Anyway, really good performances all around from the regulars, and excellent casting for Woodard, Cromwell and Krige (As Lily, Cochrane and the Borg Queen, respectively). Frakes really kicked ass directing it, and it's a shame that his directing career kind of stalled, because it's still got some of the best sci-fi action sequences I've seen on film. I could do with more of that kind of thing.

Also: great score. I neglected to mention how great James Horner's score is for Khan, so I'll note it here.

Star Trek: Nemesis
The follow up to First Contact was Insurrection, a total muddle of a film. For Nemesis they took the directing chair away from Frakes and gave it to some Brit named Stuart Baird. A shame, because that's transporting the baby out with the bathwater. In fact, the only thing Insurrection had going for it was the strength of the direction, with some nice action scenes and character moments in a story that really sets out to prove that the odd-number Trek rule is unbreakable. Lousy, stupid story, one in which not only do you not agree with the motivation of the protagonists, but the stakes are so low and the playout so diffuse that it's hard to give a shit at all.

Lord knows why they never worked out that when they pick up threats directly from the show - Khan and the Borg - they make excellent movies, and when they come up with plots out of whole cloth for the films, things go south. V'ger and Sybok? Pfft. Why they couldn't just make a film with Q and get the big cosmic crazy Trek film that I've always wanted is a mystery to me.

Anyway, I guess they sort of figured it out and brought in the Romulans for Nemesis, but instead of having the Romulans be the bad guys, they make up 1) a clone of Picard named Shinzon, with a vinyl fetish and 2) some sort of Romulan/Mexican Fruit Bat hybrids called the Remans, whose big trick is mind-raping, which I guess is a twist on the mind-meld, but not a particularly interesting one.

In fact, Shinzon and the Remans (sounds like some obscure band from the old Nuggets compilation) first overthrow the Romulan government and take over the military, which means that the only action any Romulans see in the film is a lot of policy planning in the Senate chamber. Exciting! So the opportunity to use the Romulans as the anti-Vulcans is pretty much wasted.

Another 'oops, almost got it' is to bring Data's evil twin Lore back, only not have it be Data's evil twin (more like Data's Slow Cousin), and then never even bring up Lore's existence. Maybe it's just me, but having Data's opposite be more assertive would have made for better conflict.

Still, Nemesis has a lot of good action, even if it has to rip-off Khan to do so. It suffers from the fact that Shinzon is neither as bad-ass or as compelling as the filmmakers obviously think he is - they clearly know that the better the villain, the better the film, but they can't quite work out what said villain is supposed to be all about, so he just sort of putters around and be's all evil 'n stuff, without having much of a point.

All that aside, the regulars do good, the action is very well done, the dialogue is as a good as a good episode of the show (which is to say, better than most movies), and the final big battle is final, and big, and has the "Data Leap," which is so boss that it makes up for a lot of the shortcomings of the film just in that one moment.

One more quibble: the production design on Nemesis is terrible, and the effects aren't quite ILM sharp (no-one else ever is). The Reman warship looks like an accident with some crazy glue and about 12 Swiss Army Knives in full bloom, and its bridge looks more like the set for the color commentary team for Ultimate Fighting than the command center of a warship. The Romulan senate is also a really dull place, which only adds to the dullness of the scenes that take place there - including the opening scene, which was a major pacing error on someone's part.

I do like all the green in the last part of the movie. Glowing green nebulas are always cool places to have your grudge matches.

All right. I'll make a point to watch something non-Trek in the next few days so that I can get off the Trek subject. Maybe... Buck Rogers? I could go on for hours about the chunky grace of Gil Gerard...


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