Tag Archives: Star Trek

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager

The Captains - Star Trek The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager

Captains Picard, Sisko and Janeway

Around the time JJ Abrams semi-reboot of Star Trek was released, back in 2009, I set out on my own ‘on-going mission’ to rewatch (or in some cases watch for the first time) the entirety of the Star Trek TV and film canon.

I’ve already posted reviews of a few of the films (The Wrath of Kahn, First Contact and Insurrection) but here I’m going to focus on what is, for me, the main run of the TV show from the launch of The Next Generation in the mid 80s to the climax of Voyager in the late 90s.

Of course none of these could exist without Gene Roddenberry’s original 1960s show which was certainly groundbreaking in several ways but sadly petered off rather swiftly leading to its cancellation after just three of its five years.

Its success on syndicated repeats though kept the ideas it espoused alive and, following an animated series and the launch of the film series in the late 70s, led to the idea of the series’ first not quite reboot, Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Star Trek The Next Generation core crew

Star Trek: The Next Generation crew

While the idea is a little clichéd now (and was even then) ‘TNG‘ set its stall as a real development from the off with bigger budgets and bigger ideas permeating its seven seasons.

While the first few seasons are somewhat hobbled by some of Roddenberry’s more 60s ideals; there’s still a strong streak of the originals idea of a strapping Star Fleet officer having his end away with exotic aliens, they do hint at the greater development beyond.

The opening episodes, Encounter At Farpoint, strongly indicate a lot of this with new life form, Q (John De Lancie for the entire run), putting the human race on trial and exploring morality and ethics in a very obvious way that, as it goes on, becomes a slightly more subtly handled linchpin of the ongoing franchise.

While this is a bit of a one-off at first, as the series’ goes on and we get past the rather two-dimensional introduction to new races like the Ferengi, and on wider television we move into the era or Twin Peaks and The X-Files, things start to coalesce with deeper ideas being investigated in the traditional hard sci-if way of finding things in the future setting to reflect the current world and current ideas.

USS Enterprise-D

USS Enterprise-D

Along with this it introduces some characters who have become not just staples of the Star Trek world but, in some cases, have slipped into broader popular culture.

Of course there’s the crew, led by Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard, who’s phrase ‘make it so’ has entered the pop culture sphere as has the actor who would go on to become Professor X for much of the X-Men film franchise. Another notable character who has crossed over a little is the android crewman, Data (Brent Spiner) and, latterly, Wil Wheaton’s Wesley Crusher.

To my mind though the most important thing TNG gave us was one of the new ‘species’ it introduced, The Borg. Playing on particularly timely obsessions with technology, in many ways they prefigure the likes of The Matrix by a good decade and develop as the show goes on into one of TV’s most interesting villains and continue to develop into one of the main antagonists of Voyager.

Borg

An early example of a Borg drone

As TNG goes on it also develops from a standard ‘monster of the week’ style format into a broader storytelling context that grows into a universe building piece.

In its final episodes this allows it all to come full circle, back to elements introduced in the opening Q story making for a generally satisfying climax before the Enterprise-D crew headed onto the silver screen.

What the universe building also led into was the expansion of the franchise into other series, first Deep Space Nine and then Voyager.

In some ways ‘DS9‘ continues in the style of TNG with standalone episodes making the bulk of the first couple of seasons, but even then there are much more obvious overarching themes at play and heading into different directions than TNG dealt with.

Star Trek Deep Space Nine crew

Deep Space Nine crew

This is particularly focussed around the aftermath of war, foreign policy & diplomacy and religion due to its setting in the recently liberated Bajoran system following a lengthy occupation by the Cardassian Empire.

While all of these are dealt with in a way that still suits early evening prime time TV, DS9 does take things a step further than TNG as it goes on and actual war breaks out, taking up the bulk of the last few seasons in a largely ongoing story (with occasional asides).

In this it gets increasingly ‘dark’ (for wont of a better word) with lead characters even dying a long way into the run in very effective fashion and with the aftermath of this dealt with in surprising depth.

It’s during this that the already impressive practical special effects begin to dabble with CGI and, while rudimentary by today’s standards, it opens up the storytelling into more action oriented territory which is something Star Trek as a whole often lacked.

Deep Space Nine

Deep Space Nine

Thankfully it does this without losing the story or the ideas as has become a problem with over heavy CGI sci-fi since, including, sadly the last couple of Trek films, particularly Star Trek Beyond

While it’s often considered the lesser series, Voyager continues much of this and, in one sense, with the most ambitious concept of all as it launches its crew to the other side of the galaxy and traces their attempts to get home.

Across its seven seasons Voyager does have its wobbles and maybe a few too many moments of apparent luck and coincidentally bumping into past characters that doesn’t fit the epic trek of the ongoing story but, in between it has some of the more interesting stand alone stories as the conceit removes much of the galactic baggage that had built up across TNG and DS9.

Star Trek Voyager crew

Voyager crew

Of course it would be remiss to not also mention that it gives the Trek universe its first female lead in the form of Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) who grows and develops into probably at least an equal to DS9‘s Captian Sisko (Avery Brooks) – I’ll be honest no one is going to best Kirk or Picard.

The last few seasons again provide the highlights as The Borg loom larger and again CGI is used to create things more inventive than a parade of humans with forehead prosthetics (though there are still plenty of them), like Species 8472 who for TV at the time are quite a feat of animation.

What possibly hampers Voyager somewhat is that many of the ideas it explores are just retreads of what we’ve seen before, with new aspects in most cases but it still has a little too much of a hint of repetition, particularly with first the holographic Doctor (Robert Picardo) then former Borg Seven Of Nine’s (Jeri Ryan) explorations of humanity more than echoing TNG’s Data.

Voyager

Voyager

The other thing that feels a shame is that the series ends rather abruptly and, while it satisfies part of the main story, it feels there was more to tell and wrap up before coming to an end.

While it’s obvious that TNG is the superior of the three series in many ways they all have their share of merits and, on my personal ‘trek’ it was the concluding part of DS9 and much of Voyager that provided many highlights, possibly because I had seen them less than TNG.

Along with this though they stand as some of the foundations of the TV renaissance of recent years (along with The X-Files, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and others) that has led to the likes of Breaking Bad, Game Of Thrones and the Marvel Netflix shows with wider concepts and ongoing stories becoming the main focus of TV rather than the more easily disposable medium it had previously been.

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Star Trek: Insurrection

Star Trek Insurrection posterThere is a famous theory about Star Trek movies that if it is an even-numbered ‘episode’ it will be good and if it is odd-numbered it will be less so, to an extent The Wrath of Kahn, The Search For SpockThe Final Frontier, The Undiscovered Country and First Contact demonstrate this as being true.

Approaching Star Trek: Insurrection, the ninth instalment in the cinematic series, then my hopes were not high, based on the rule and my vague memories from seeing it in the cinema back in 1998. This was not aided by the opening credits stating that this one was directed by Jonathan Frakes, aka Commander William Riker.

The story of the film concerns two opposing alien races and what appears to be a kind of ‘fountain of youth’ type maguffin and the crew of the Enterprise have to sort things out. This is a fairly standard sounding plot for Star Trek, and it feels like it; though normally this would be one of the more disposable weekly 45 minute episodes rather than an hour and forty minutes of film time.

To try to make it seem bigger a few extra twists are thrown into the tale which largely just serve to over complicate the story in a totally unsatisfactory way so any revelations simply fall flat at best or at worst just make no sense at all.

Star Trek insurrection - Picard

Captain Picard (Stewart) has a ‘humourous’ encounter

Away from the story, which incidentally is entirely self-contained and strangely distant from the ongoing Dominion War raging in the then ongoing TV series Deep Space Nine, the entire production of the film just feels a little off.

The script is riddled with moments that appear to be adding a lighthearted air to proceedings but sit entirely at odds with the rest of the story while also being totally out of character for these very well established parts and the apparent internal explanation never quite rings true.

Added to this is the fact that Frakes direction makes the whole thing feel just like a bad episode of a TV show. At the time when Deep Space Nine was starting the development of the television series into the sort of thing it has become now with the likes of Game Of Thrones, this film feels more like a relative of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, just without being an intentional spoof.

Star Trek Insurrection - F Murray Abraham as Ru'Afo

F Murray Abraham as the forgettable villain Ru’Afo

It also seems Frakes and the writers felt the need to include a clumsily handled side plot about Riker’s beard which is simply surplus to any requirements, while another romantic entanglement for Picard just feels like repetition of several similar threads from the past – neither have the weird presence of William Shatner to pull off these sub-Kirk shenanigans.

To their credit it looks like the actors are having a good time doing something a bit more lighthearted than their previous cinematic efforts but with the script failing them so badly even the usually reliable Patrick Stewart is left with little and so hams it up a treat and little else.

Meanwhile the usually reliably Brent Spiner as Data is also left floundering with little that really fits his character and it seems the recently bereaved Worf (Michael Dorn) has just been crowbarred in and reset to his role at the end of The Next Generation TV series with barely a mention of his ongoing exploits.

Star Trek Insurrection - Riker and Troi

Riker (Frakes) loses his trademark beard thanks to Counsellor Troi (Marina Sirtis)

In the end of course all is sorted out and the status quo remains after a less than exhilarating battle both in space and on planet making Star Trek: Insurrection undeniably continuing proof of the evens and odds rule for the series and, while it may not be as bad as Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, it is probably a close second for worst Trek movie.

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Star Trek Beyond

Star Trek Beyond posterBack when JJ Abrams rebooted the Star Trek franchise with the ingenious time twisting Star Trek back in 2009, adding a modern, action-adventure edge to the formula laid out by Gene Roddenberry in the mid-1960s and developed through to the 1990s, it seemed the series had found a new life.

However following Star Trek Into Darkness, a film that while enjoyable was riddled with plot inconsistencies and riffed a little too much of the series stone cold classic The Wrath Of Kahn, it seemed it had all lost steam as Abrams headed off to breath new life into Star Wars with The Force Awakens.

With Justin Lin at the helm Star Trek Beyond hit cinemas in 2016 with somewhat less fanfare, dwarfed by ‘the other Star franchise’, and so catching it now at home my expectations were somewhat lower…

Left to right: Chris Pine plays Kirk, Sofia Boutella plays Jaylah and Anton Yelchin plays Chekov in Star Trek Beyond from Paramount Pictures, Skydance, Bad Robot, Sneaky Shark and Perfect Storm Entertainment

Kirk (Pine), Jaylah (Boutella) and Chekov (Anton Yelchin)

Interestingly for those of us who’ve followed the series for a long time, Beyond starts out three years into the Enterprise’s first five-year mission as Kirk and his crew are exploring the boundaries of the Federation.

Here they encounter a new alien aggressor with, as one would expect, a suitably weaponised maguffin to kick off the kind of action adventure we’ve come to expect.

As expected it is Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Bones (Karl Urban) who provide the main core of the film but even more so than previously the rest of the main crew are all part of the action, particularly Scotty (Simon Pegg), Uhuru (Zoe Saldana) and Sulu (John Cho) all having more pivotal roles. On top of this we meet new character, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) who fits in well with the established cast.

star trek beyond krall

Krall (Elba)

Scripted by Pegg and Doug Jung, Beyond is, for the most part, all fairly formulaic and never really does anything to break the mould of either the previous two films, or big budget blockbusters in general but for the most part is a fun romp. That said it relies a little too heavily on the action side for Star Trek which loses something of what makes the original series what it is.

On top of this it suffers from having an antagonist who never really feels properly threatening as, while Idris Elba’s Krall starts off looking fairly mean and nasty, it’s not long before he becomes somewhat ineffectual leading to a denouement strongly reminiscent of Into Darkness but I never had the sense that Kirk and co wouldn’t prevail.

bones and spock

Bones (Urban) and Spock (Quinto)

There are also moments that put this clearly post-Guardians of the Galaxy giving it an occasional ‘wacky’ tone that doesn’t really suit, including a fairly major and pivotal music cue.

Despite all this Star Trek Beyond was a fun way to spend a couple of hours and while it won’t stick in the memory like some of its forbears, it maintains some of their essence, but for a third film in a row the highlight is Quinto’s Spock.

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Star Trek: First Contact

Star Trek First Contact posterBack when JJ Abrams and Paramount Studios partially rebooted the Star Trek franchise in 2009 I embarked on my own now considerably more than five-year mission to rewatch the entirety of Trek.

That’s taken me to peaks (Start Trek II: The a Wrath of Kahn, the climax of Star Trek: The Next Generation) and troughs (Season 3 of The Original Series, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier) but now I’ve reached probably the highlight of my cinematic Trek viewing (I was too young for Kahn first time round), Star Trek: First Contact.

As this movie was something of a highlight of my teenage cinema going I’m pleased to report it stands up pretty well, enjoyment-wise. Taking the most popular villainous alien race from The Next Generation TV series, The Borg, and reuniting the cast last seen together in Star Trek: Generations it contains many of the standard tropes of Trek with much talking and debate, time travel and moral dilemmas aplenty.

In this it manages to be one of the most action packed of the original run of the Star Trek films with a spectacular space battle in the first act that sees a decimated Federation fleet going up against a single Borg cube and kick starting the story of the Enterprise crew heading back in time to save the future.

Picard, Data and some less fortunate crew members

Picard, Data and some less fortunate crew members

While it’s all very enjoyable for a Trek fan like myself, it’s hard to avoid the fact that, once the main story really kicks in, the movie does revert into feeling a bit too much like a longer, bigger budget, version of a TV episode.

It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what causes this but part of it is the way director Jonathan Frakes (also Cdr. William Riker) has the film shot.

I get the feeling much of this was to try to create a claustrophobic feeling on board the invaded ship, but it serves to make it look far cheaper and smaller in scale than it could be.

Along with this the scenes in the mountains of Montana on Earth come with very few establishing shots or cinematically impressive views of the bunker complex which continue the TV budget feel and Frakes doesn’t really come with a great pedigree in cinema before or since.

Thankfully many of the performances keep it enjoyable and lively.

Borg cube battle

The battle with the Borg

Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard does exactly what he does best throughout while the continuing story of Commander Data’s ‘becoming more human’ gives Brent Spiner the chance to continue his always mesmerisingly eccentric turn as the android officer.

Beyond that the guest stars feel like they’re going through the motions with James Cromwell’s Zephram Cochrane being rather one-dimensional, but fun, and Alice Krige’s Borg Queen doing little but giving a physical form to an antagonist previously notable for its lack of individual physical form, so somewhat spoiling the effect.

All this, if I’m totally honest, makes for a bit of a rough ride of a movie in many ways as it’s probably a bit too self-referencing, but comes with a certain extra joie de vivre often missing from Star Trek that makes it an entertaining couple of hours, even if it does feel like it could have been a TV special rather than a full-blown movie.

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Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan – Director’s Cut

Star Trek - The Wrath of Khan - Directors CutIn 1982 the Star Trek franchise was, for the second and not the last time, in a problematic state. The original series had been axed more than a decade earlier, two years before its original ‘five-year mission’ was complete, while attempts to revive the show on TV had failed and Star Trek: The Motion Picture had missed the mark somewhat trying to ape 2001 A Space Odyssey but landing in a world newly taken over by the mega-blockbuster that was Star Wars.

So, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn faced some bigger challenges than one might expect; first of all it was relegated to a lower budget, then followed issues with the original TV series cast, at least two of whom were disillusioned with the whole franchise and then there was the fact that the founding father of Trek, Gene Roddenberry, was all but removed from the production.

It’s no secret that despite all this the The Wrath of Khan went on to become arguably the most well-regarded of all the Star Trek movies, to the extent that the ‘second’ of the new run of films (Star Trek Into Darkness) all but replicates it, with far less success.

I’ve seen the film many times but this viewing was a little different as I was watching the recently released director’s cut which adds in new elements from Nicholas Meyer’s original vision for the movie, though, for a film made in many ways by committee and as part of a franchise, a director’s cut is a slightly odd idea.

Ricardo Montalban as Khan

Montalban as Khan

The over arching story and style remain unchanged of course, and its in this that the film really triumphs. While all the actors seem to be delivering their best – even William Shatner’s ‘unique’ delivery style is played in such a way that it feels true, while Leonard Nimoy continues to prove why he became the go-to face of the franchise in more recent years.

It is Ricardo Montalban though who is the highlight. Despite being best known now as a TV actor his performance comes with a gravitas that gives it a Shakespearean flair. This is backed up by the script that draws on classic themes, to the extent of directly lifting lines from Moby Dick. This all sounds like it could be quite ridiculous I admit, but something about Montalban’s performance is pitch perfect and plays off Shatner excellently.

William Shatner as Admiral James T. Kirk

Shatner as Admiral Kirk

As a whole the film focusses on the main trio of Kirk, Spock and McCoy well, far more than The Motion Picture, and this is where it’s story comes to life. While Khan is an excellent catalyst it is this trio, particularly Kirk and Spock, where a lot of the real emotional drama lies and there’s good reason why so much of their interaction here is so memorable with a few pieces having entered the general public consciousness more than anything else from the ongoing Trek canon.

Having been made on a comparative shoestring in the early 1980s there are a few moments where the special effects have dated but, for the most part, they stack up well. Having been created by ILM between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi this isn’t too surprising but is good to see none the less and the use of detailed models clearly helps.

Kirk and Spock

Kirk and Spock (Nimoy)

The additions from the director’s cut really serve to add a bit more depth and texture to a few of the ideas that crop up in the drama. These come in the form of old age and death most specifically and, to be honest, the additions are a little heavy-handed but do emphasise the point the director wanted to make, though they are far from essential and the ending, added on originally against the director’s wishes, remains intact.

Beyond that the film remains a stand out, not just as a Star Trek movie but in general, as it romps along like a fast paced adventure, but includes enough of the classic tropes of Trek to keep it clearly part of the same universe and style. While future films in the series may have come close to this combination none have yet surpassed it and I’d be surprised if any ever do manage to capture just what The Wrath of Khan brings to the screen.

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