THE FEATURE FILMS
|The Motion Picture|
Ten years after Star Trek's cancellation and on the heels of the aborted Star Trek Phase II TV series, the entire cast returned to a refitted Enterprise in a $44-million special effects adventure - one of the most expensive feature films of its day. The basis of the script used for the film was a script from Star Trek Phase II - "In Thy Image." Both Stephen Collins and Persis Khambatta, originally slated to appear in Phase II, were then cast in The Motion Picture. Despite mixed reviews from critics and fans alike, the film still managed to bring in a respectable $82 million at the box office.
Due to production problems with the special effects and pushing up against a release date set in stone by the studio, the resulting film, while visually stunning, was overly reliant on the special effects. It also seemed as if all of the cast had forgotten the characters they played a decade ago. Still, the film was a success and fans later lobbied Paramount to re-release the film with footage reportedly cut from the original release. Paramount, relatively gun-shy on the subject of re-releasing a film so quickly to the theaters, instead issued a video version with 12 minutes of previously unseen footage.
In 2001, director Robert Wise, who had tried for many years to distance himself from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, decided to embrace the film once more. Working with the studio, new special effects shots were created in line with what had been originally intended by the renowned director and the film was released on DVD.
The film also introduced a new look for the Klingons, which would carry over to the other Star Trek series including The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and even to the 'prequel' series Enterprise which is set 150 years before Kirk. Bjo Trimble, the woman who helped orchestrate the 1967 letter-writing campaign that kept Star Trek from being cancelled after the first season, appears as an extra.
On repeated viewings recently, I found that while the film is terribly stiff, it isn't really bad. And a theory put forth in William Shatner's novel The Return - that the 'machine planet' that Voyager 6 encountered after coming out of the black hole was actually the Borg homeworld - seems to actually play really well in hindsight.
|The Wrath of Khan|
While The Motion Picture could hardly be called a disaster, it failed to produce the fire at the box office that Paramount was expecting. They had hopped to tap into the fan base and reap some of the windfall that had been created by Lucas with "Star Wars". Stinging from the expense if The Motion Picture, the studio decided to give the franchise another go on the big screen - but this time with very strict controls on the budget. Paramount tapped famous television producer Harve Bennett to produce this next big screen adventure for the crew of the starship Enterprise.
Bennett screened all seventy-nine episodes of the original series to get a feel for the characters and what had been done before. The 1967 episode Space Seed struck him as having the potential to bring the continuation of that story to the big screen. Work began and Bennett was able to regroup the entire cast of the show, plus the added bonus of Ricardo Montalban returning to his role of Genetic Superman egomaniac Khan Noonian Singh.
Produced on what was literally a 'made for TV' movie budget of $11 million, The Wrath of Khan was steered by Nicolas Meyer and provided the film with the feel of a high-seas adventure. The crew interaction, little more than stick figures in The Motion Picture recovered in this film, returning to the camaraderie so familiar during the three years of the series. The Starship Enterprise took a beating at the hands of Khan in a hijacked Federation starship and fans were shocked into silence as the death of Spock. Paramount could not have been more pleased with The Wrath of Khan at the box office. While it did not gross as much money as the first feature film, taking in $79 million in domestic ticket sales, it did prove the franchise was viable. Could a third installment be far behind?
During the years after the theatrical release and perhaps as a result of the interest generated by the extended version of The Motion Picture, Paramount restored several minutes of footage to The Wrath of Khan for airings on network television. Fans requested this extended cut be released on video for years, but they were met with disappointment. However, in early 2002, Nicolas Meyer returned to his first Star Trek outing and issued The Director's Edition which included the footage cut from theatrical release, but included in the television airings. That version was released on DVD in August of 2002.
|The Search for Spock|
This Star Trek II sequel served as a bridge between two much better movies. The Search for Spock is not considered the weakest of the series, but it was this film that triggered what is now referred to as the odd-numbered curse. There isn't much done to move our characters along, really - what we have is a story that ties up all the loose ends left by The Wrath of Khan. Spock's death. The mind meld that gave McCoy Spock's katra. The creation of the Genesis Planet - and it's destruction. One thing about the Genesis Planet that always bothered me - if the Genesis matrix was so unstable that the planet literally ripped itself apart in just a few short days, how on earth was the Genesis Cave in The Wrath of Khan so stable? And, let's be honest for a minute - would Carol Marcus really have allowed something as unstable as proto-matter in her research? And where is she through this whole film? She didn't strike me as the type that would create a planet an then just disappear into the cosmos. Perhaps it was felt that recasting Saavik was shocking enough and adding a new actress for Carol Marcus would have put us all over the edge.
In what would become a trend in Star Trek films, those which focus too much on just a few characters seem to suffer the most. Star Trek III is no different. Our focus this outing is mainly on Kirk, Spock and McCoy (just like the poorly received Star Trek V). And even then, Spock wasn't in the first 70 minutes of the film. Scotty doesn't have much to do except help steal the Enterprise. Chekov gives a third of the self-destruct sequence that destroys the Enterprise. Uhura runs a transporter platform in Space Dock and Sulu wears a flowing leather cape. Stories that are strong actually give all the characters something to do - a purpose that moves the story along. This point alone is where The Voyage Home and The Undiscovered Country excel.
The Bird-of-Prey made its first appearance as a Klingon ship - the term had been Romulan in The Original Series. Apparently, in early working drafts of the script, Kruge stole the ship from the Romulans. The Romulans were eventually cut from the film, the ship made into a Klingon vessel, but the ship class retained the name. The Bird of Prey has gone on to became part of all subsequent Star Trek adventures.
The third theatrical installment in the Star Trek franchise was produced for just $17 million. And like the previous outing, the box office take was very promising - pulling on over $76 million in domestic ticket sales. And since the death of Spock proved to be a gut-wrenching twist for the fans, the producers decided to do it again - but this time the character that was lost was the Enterprise herself. Watching the saucer section literally melt away and then explode brought a lump to my throat. But with such a box office performance, I knew the mighty Starship Enterprise would return.
|The Voyage Home|
The juxtaposition of the Star Trek future and 20th-century Earth creates a wealth of comedic moments in a cautionary tale about environmental exploitation. A continuation of Star Trek III, the film returned Kirk and comrades to duty, aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise-A.
|The Final Frontier|
The subtle comfort of the Enterprise-A (crafted by Herman Zimmerman, ST:TNG's production designer) foreshadows the Enterprise-D, which would take the notion of quality of life even further (on-board school, bar, arboretum).
|The Undiscovered Country|
The sixth movie, which would mark the last time the original cast appears together, is a good chronicle of the events leading up to the Klingon-Federation alliance in ST:TNG. And Michael Dorn was cleverly cast as Worf's grandfather.
Star Trek: Generations was the first in a series of films planned for The Next Generation crew, and opened at the box office with greater success than any previous Star Trek film - mostly because it promised to unite the ST:TNG cast with the Kirk-Scotty-Chekov trio of the classic series. (Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelly declined.) Star Trek: Generations was considered by many to be the swan song for the original cast, and the much-rumored climax involving Kirk's death was another draw for Trekkers. The hit film was visually stunning from start to finish, with a renovated Enterprise-D (complete with a stellar cartography lab) and outstanding special effects - topped by the amazing saucer-section crash. In terms of dramatic appeal, there were riveting scenes between the steely-edged Picard (while mourning the loss of his brother and nephew) and the hot-tempered Kirk as they confront the evil Dr. Soran, who is deliciously played by science-fiction veteran Malcolm McDowell. Brent Spiner does another fine turn as Data, who, equipped with an emotion chip, loses control and succumbs to fits of laughter, cowardice and remorse. Also neatly woven into the story line are the Klingon Duras sisters, who meet their demise in a spectacular battle with the Enterprise-D.
Star Trek: First Contact is the first film for the The Next Generation crew to carry alone. As with the previous film, the opening box office was greater than any previous Star Trek film. The film is action packed, from start to finish, bringing the series more towards the action-adventure theme than the previous outing had been. Director Jonathan Frakes, who has cut his directorial teeth on eight Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes as well as several episodes of Deep Space Nine and Voyager makes his feature debut here and keeps the pace lively and moving. This time out, the Borg have returned and plan on assimilating Earth, of the 21st century. New to this feature is the V.I.S.O.R.-less Geordi LaForge, Data with the fully integrated emotion chip and the all-new Enterprise-E. Special effects are once again masterfully done by Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic and Jerry Goldsmith returns as the composer.
Star Trek: Insurrection returns the crew from The Next Generation to the big screen. Back at the helm once again is director Jonathan Frakes who seems to have a firm grasp on the franchise and understands how the characters are supposed to interact. The ninth feature film outing opened to underwhelming numbers and bested only The Final Frontier in opening weekend grosses. The final box office numbers would be disappointing as well, pulling in just $70 million in domestic grosses. Clearly superior to Star Trek V's $55 million numbers, it still ranks eighth overall in domestic gross. It is not clear if one could attribute these problems to what has been called "the odd number curse." Insurrection has highly imaginative special effects and a few surprises, but the troubles with the film rest almost solely on the story. This outing was penned by long time series veterans Rick Berman and Michael Piller and while the screenplay would have played wonderfully on the television screen, the outing hardly seems fitting for our large screen entertainment dollar. Very little about Star Trek was new in this outing. The re-kindling of the relationship between Commander Riker and Counselor Troi marked the final closure of the relationship between Troi and Worf. Jerry Goldsmith returns to compose his third Star Trek feature.
Star Trek: Nemesis, billed as the final journey of The Next Generation crew, launched with a new set of players behind the scenes. Screenwriting Academy Award nominee John Logan, a self proclaimed Star Trek fanatic, prepared the story along with Rick Berman and Brent Spiner with uncredited support from Patrick Stewart. The Logan penned screenplay was directed by Star Trek newcomer Stuart Baird. This tenth outing for the series continues to underperform - opening to mixed reviews from both critics and fans, opening weekend proved a dismal $18.5 million - the second worst opening for Star Trek. The second weekend proved even more disastrous, dropping 76% to bring in only $4.4 million. Nemesis proves to be the most expensive production to date (reported at $70 million). The domestic box office stalled at $47 million, with the worldwide totals bringing in another $50 million. With such poor numbers, it is the first to not break even. Even The Final Frontier managed to clear it's $27 million budget.
Unsure of where to place the blame, many feel the director's unfamiliarity with the material could be a bulk of the problem. The story, however is not without its faults. Several have drawn parallels between our story of the long lost Remans (offshoot of the Romulan empire) and the films last half in particular to events of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. As with all previous outings of The Next Generation crew (with the exception of First Contact), this story would have played out much better on the television screen, and is the weakest outing of the series for our crew of the Enterprise-E.
Little is done with our crew except to further splinter the cast. Riker and Troi finally get married and their wedding night on Enterprise provides one of the films several out of place elements. The invasion of Troi's thoughts during the lovemaking scene by our head villain (Tom Hardy) does nothing to further the story and seems this thread is the only reason for Troi's appearance in the film at all. Also around for what seems like set dressing are Worf - whose absence from Deep Space Nine is never explained, Geordi - who spends less time in engineering than ever before and Beverly Crusher - who does little more than declare that our villain is Captain Picard's clone. While he has no functional part in the film, Wil Wheaton makes an appearance at Troi's and Riker's wedding in full Starfleet dress uniform. Didn't he leave Starfleet to become one with the cosmos? Clearly this outing is the "Picard & Data Show". Anything of interest in the story whatsoever happens to these two. How sad it is to see what was once an ensemble cast be reduced to two headliners and a bunch of bit parts.
Jerry Goldsmith returns to score his fourth and final Star Trek feature.
Material for ST: IV, V, VI & VII summaries taken from Star Trek: Thirty Years - Special Collectors Edition ©1996 Paramount Pictures Corporation.
Updated: May 3, 2006
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