“STAR TREK BEYOND” (2016) Review

“STAR TREK BEYOND” (2016) Review

I might as well place all my cards on the table. I am not a fan of J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the “STAR TREK” franchise. I heartily dislike the 2009 movie of the original title. And I also dislike – to a lesser degree, 2013’s “STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS”. So when I learned there was to be a third movie in this new franchise . . . needless to say I was not enthusiastic over the news. 

The second thing I learned about this third TREK film, “STAR TREK BEYOND”, was that it was not directed by J.J. Abrams. Justin Lin, who had helmed the fourth, fifth and sixth “FAST AND FURIOUS” movies; served as director. And for once, Simon Pegg, who also co-starred as Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, and Doug Jung served as the movie’s screenwriters; instead of Abrams’ usual scribes – Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman. No disrespect to Abrams, Orci and Kurtzman, but I did not miss their presence in this production. If anything, I managed to enjoy the TREK reboot for the first time since it began in 2009.

“STAR TREK BEYOND” begins with the arrival of the U.S.S. Enterprise at the Federation Starbase Yorktown for new supplies and shore leave for the crew. Not long after its arrival at Yorktown, an escape pod drifts out of a nearby uncharted nebula. The survivor, Kalara, claims her ship is stranded on Altamid, a planet within the nebula. The rescue turns into an ambush when the Enterprise is quickly torn apart by a massive swarm of small ships. Krall and his crew board the ship, and unsuccessfully search for a relic called an Abronath that Kirk had obtained for a failed diplomatic mission. Krall captures and removes many crew members from the ship. Kirk then orders for the crew to abandon ship as the Enterprise’s saucer section hurtles towards the planet. After more crew members are captured, including Lieutenant Nyota Uhura and Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu, Kirk is forced to find those who have not been captured and find a way to stop Krall from carrying out his plans against the Federation.

If I must be honest, “STAR TREK BEYOND” is not perfect. I believe that it has a major flaw and it centered around the main antagonist, Krall. How can I put this? I found both his true identity and the reason behind his main goal – the destruction of the Federation with the use of a bio weapon – a bit on the lame side. Apparently, Krall was a former Human captain from the pre-Federation era named Captain Balthazar Edison, whose ship had crashed on Altamid. Believing the newly formed Federation had abandoned him, Edison and his surviving crew had used the technology of the Altamid’s natives to prolong their lives and mutate their physiology. I am sorry, but that seemed to reaching a bit. And the reason for Krall/Edison’s desire to destroy the Federation – the belief that the latter had deliberately abandoned him and his crew – definitely seemed a bit lame to me.

If the background of the film’s main villain and his reason to destroy the Federation seemed a bit lame, then why did I like this film? Whatever weaknesses that “STAR TREK BEYOND” had, I can honestly say that it lacked the multiple plot holes that marred 2009’s “STAR TREK” and that ridiculous final half hour from 2013’s “STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS”. The flaws for this film seemed minor in compare to the first two films. I also liked the fact that the characters seemed more mature and established in this movie. Even Krall seemed like an improvement over the first two villains. He did not engage in a convoluted plot that involved time travel. Nor was his character whitewashed and engaged in another ridiculously convoluted plot. Although Krall’s reason to destroy the Federation seemed a bit thin, at least his actual plot – involving the creation of a bio weapon – seemed to be on solid. And for that, I have to thank screenwriters Simon Pegg and Donny Jung.

I have to admit that when it comes to action sequences, the new STAR TREK movies never fail to deliver. There were a handful of sequences in “STAR TREK BEYOND” that definitely impressed me. First and foremost was the attack on the U.S.S. Enterprise by Krall’s fleet and the crash landing on Altamid that followed. Honestly, I feel that director Justin Lin really outdid himself in that particular sequence. I found the minor scenes featuring the Enterprise crew’s efforts to survive on Altamid very engrossing and once again, well handled by Lin. Now that I think about it, just about all of the movie’s actions scenes impressed me – including Kirk and the other non-captured crew members’ efforts to free those who had been captured, the Enterprise crew’s efforts to prevent Krall/Edison from using his new weapon to destroy the Federation’s massive space station, Starbase Yorktown; and Kirk’s final confrontation with the main villain. I also liked the fact that the movie’s two major female characters – Lieutenant Uhura and a castaway named Jaylah – also took part in many of the film’s action sequences. And both seemed more than capable of taking care of themselves.

“STAR TREK BEYOND’ marked a major improvement in the franchise’s characterizations. For the first time, the main characters seemed to be truly comfortable with each other. And all of them seemed to be more mature and believable as Starfleet officers. This especially seemed to be the case for Chris Pine’s performance as James T. Kirk. For the first time, I found it easy to see his Kirk as a worthy captain for the U.S.S. Enterprise. The prat boy from the 2009 and 2013 movies was gone. Zachary Quinto also seemed very comfortable in his role as the Enterprise’s First Officer, Commander Spock. I also enjoyed how both he and Karl Urban, who portrayed Medical Officer Dr. Leonard McCoy, managed to establish a strong and rather funny screen chemistry – something that I do not recall from the two previous films. Quinto’s Spock seemed even more comfortable than ever with Zoë Saldana’s Nyota Uhura. First of all, both had the chance to enact a private drama between Spock and Uhura that did not come off as forced. I find it hard to believe that I had once found the idea of a romance between the two as unbelievable.

The movie also featured solid performances from Idris Elba as the movie’s main antagonist, Krall aka Balthazar Edison, who managed to thankfully convey his character’s emotional nature without engaging in any histrionics. I also enjoyed one particular scene between Elba and Uhura that struck me as both tense and effective, thanks to the actors’ performances. I also enjoyed the performances of John Cho, who always managed to give a cool, yet wry portrayal of Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu; Anton Yelchin, whose Pavel Chekov seemed more controlled and mature than he did in the previous films; Simon Pegg, whose portrayal of Lieutenant-Commander Montgomery “Scotty” Scott seemed a great deal more controlled and still funny; and Sofia Boutella gave an intense and skillful performance as an alien castaway/scavenger named Jaylah with a grudge against Krull.

I understand that “STAR TREK BEYOND” had not performed well at the U.S. box office. Some critics claimed that the movie was not as good as the 2009 movie. When I heard that, I nearly coughed up a lung. Frankly, I think it is a lot better than the two previous films. I thought Justin Lin did a great job as the movie’s director. And he was ably supported by Simon Pegg and Donny Jung’s screenplay, along with a first-rate cast led by Chris Pine. As for why many moviegoers stayed away, I do not have the foggiest idea. What matters is my own personal opinion.

R.I.P. Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015)

R.I.P. Anton Yelchin (1989-2016)

Excessive Criticism of “STAR TREK VOYAGER”

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EXCESSIVE CRITICISM OF “STAR TREK VOYAGER”

For the past two decades, I have never encountered so much criticism of one particular Star Trek show than I have for the 1995-2001 series, “STAR TREK VOYAGER”

Ironically, I used to buy this negative opinion. Or accept it. One of the reasons I had ignored “STAR TREK VOYAGER” for so many years, because I had assumed that those fans who had deemed it inferior to the other shows in the franchise were right. When my sister found out that the rest of our family was ignoring the show, she fervently suggested that we watch it. This happened when the early Season Five episodes were going through its first run. Well, we did. We watched some of those early Season Five shows. We also watched the previous episodes from Season One to Season Four that were currently in syndication. And guess what? My family became fans of the show.

I am not going to claim that “VOYAGER” was perfect. Yes, it had its flaws. I have even posted a few articles about some of the flaws I had encountered. But I was also able to pick out both major and minor flaws in the other Trek shows at the time – “STAR TREK”“STAR TREK NEXT GENERATION”, and “STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE” – while still enjoying them. I never really became a big fan of “STAR TREK ENTERPRISE”, but there were a good number of episodes that I really enjoyed.

This fervent need to nitpick everything about “STAR TREK VOYAGER” in order to deem it as some kind of pop culture disaster is mind boggling to me. Every time I access an article on the Internet – especially on a Trek message board – about series, the criticism seemed to strike me as unnecessarily excessive . . . and constant. And most of the complaints I have come across are either about some ridiculously minor flaw or how Janeway was a terrible star ship captain. I do not understand this opinion. Janeway made her mistakes. So did the other Trek captains. What made her worse than the others? Her gender? Star Trek shows were not allowed to have women as the leads, or even worse, in the command position?

More importantly, these same fans seem very reluctant to point out the flaws – both minor and major – about the other Trek shows. At least not to this extreme degree. What is going on? If you are going to state that “VOYAGER” was simply the worst show in the Trek franchise, do not expect me to buy this opinion anymore. After seeing the show and the others in the franchise, I really have great difficulty in accepting this view. So what is it? What is the real truth? I guess in the end, these are questions that no one can really answer. After all, art and entertainment are subjective.

“THE OREGON TRAIL” (1976; 1977) Retrospective

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“THE OREGON TRAIL” (1976; 1977) Retrospective

Nearly forty years ago saw the premiere of the NBC Western series called “THE OREGON TRAIL”. Produced by Carl Vitale, Michael Gleason and Richard Collins; the series told the story about the westbound journey of an Illinois widower named Evan Thorpe and his family in the 1840s.

NBC aired a ninety (90) minute pilot episode of “THE OREGON TRAIL” in 1976. Rod Taylor portrayed Evan Thorpe, a widower with three children who had recently remarried. Blair Brown portrayed his newly married second wife, Jessica. Douglas Fowley portrayed Evan’s widowed father, Eli. And Andrew Stevens, Tony Becker and Gina Smika Hunter portrayed his three children – Andrew, William and Rachel. Set during the year 1842, the pilot episode featured the Thrope family’s journey to the Oregon Territory from Illinois to as far as Fort Hall in present-day Idaho.

Another year passed before “THE OREGON TRAIL” returned to the television screen. A few changes had been made to the cast. Evan’s second wife Jessica had died and he found himself attracted to an Irish-born woman named Margaret Deviln, who was accompanying her gambler father to the west. In other words, Blair Brown had been replaced by Darlene Carr as the series’ leading lady. Eli had completely disappeared from the cast of characters. And Charles Napier had joined the cast as Luther Sprague, a former mountain man recruited by Evan to serve as scout/guide for the wagon train. At first, it seemed that the Thorpes’ destination had changed from Oregon to California . . . and back again. NBC aired six episodes of “THE OREGON TRAIL” before the latter was permanently yanked from the network’s line-up. The series faded into obscurity for thirty-three years, until the Timeless Media Group (TMG) released the entire series – the pilot and the other thirteen episodes – on DVD in 2010.

For the next five years, I ignored “THE OREGON TRAIL”, despite a deep interest in movie and television productions about mid-19th century western emigration. I was more interested in finding a DVD copy of the 1979 miniseries, “THE CHISHOLMS”, of which I owned a VHS copy. But eventually, I could not ignore “THE OREGON TRAIL” and purchased it at a reasonably cheap price. I must admit that I was impressed. It struck me as a decent series that featured excellent drama and some first-rate performances. Rod Taylor did a superb job in carrying the series on his soldier – which is not surprising. And he clicked very well with not only his two leading ladies – Blair Brown and Darlene Carr – but also with Charles Napier, Andrew Stevens, Tony Becker and Gina Smika Hunter. The series also featured excellent performances from guest stars such as Kim Darby, Gerald McRaney, Stella Stevens, Robert Fuller, William Smith, William Shatner, Nicholas Hammond, Linda Purl, Claude Akins, Clu Gulager and Kevin McCarthy. The series featured story lines regarding racial discrimination, religious beliefs, Native American culture, military oppression and especially survival. I am not saying that “THE OREGON TRAIL” was perfect. But I believe that it was a solid television drama. So what went wrong? Why did it fail to draw viewers after six weeks on the air?

First of all, “THE OREGON TRAIL” had the bad luck to compete against ABC’s new ratings hit, “CHARLIE’S ANGELS”. But I suspect that in the end, the series’ premise – wagon train emigration – proved to be the series’ Achilles’ heel. If the Thorpes had spent the series merely traveling from one location to another, without any real fixed destination – for example, the 1960-64 series, “ROUTE 66” – perhaps the series could have survived. But the Thorpes had a definite destination – Oregon (or possibly California). If “THE OREGON TRAIL” had been an anthology series, like NBC’s “WAGON TRAIN” (1957-1965); and Rod Taylor’s character could have been some frontiersman that guided wagon trains across the continent on a yearly basis . . . perhaps it could have survived. But “THE OREGON TRAIN” was about a family’s westward journey to Oregon (or California). And Taylor did not portrayed a wagon scout. The traits behind this particular series made it difficult to last as a long-running series, let alone one that could last more than one season.

What made the premise for “THE OREGON TRAIL” even harder to swallow were the number of characters that the Thorpe train encountered during their journey. They encountered outlaws, Army personnel, mountain men, Native Americans, settlers, miners, etc. Encountering Native Americans and mountain men during a wagon train journey in the 1840s struck me as plausible. Encountering settlers, miners and Army personnel during that same period did not. “THE OREGON TRAIL” was set either in the early or mid-1840s. There were no non-Native American settlements between western Missouri and Oregon (or California) . . . at least as far as I know. The only Army outpost in this region was probably Fort Leavenworth, established in northeastern Kansas in 1827. Fort Kearny was established in 1848 and Fort Laramie became a U.S. Army post in 1849. I could see the Thorpes encountering outlaws in present day Kansas. But further along the Oregon Trail? I just cannot see it.

Despite these hiccups, I still enjoyed “THE OREGON TRAIL”. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I was able to list five episodes that truly impressed me, as shown below:

1. (1.01) “Pilot – The Oregon Trail”

2. (1.04) “Trapper’s Rendezvous”

3. (1.07) “The Man Who Wouldn’t Die”

4. (1.02) “The Last Game”

5. (1.11) “Evan’s Dilemma”

It is a pity that “THE OREGON TRAIL” did not last beyond thirteen to fourteen episodes. And it is even more of a pity that NBC lacked the good sense to either make it an anthology series or a miniseries. Oh well, I still have my DVD box set to enjoy.

Top 10 Favorite Episodes of the “STAR TREK” Television Franchise

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Below is a list of my ten favorite episodes from all five “STAR TREK” television series:

TOP 10 FAVORITE EPISODES OF THE “STAR TREK” TELEVISION FRANCHISE

1 - 5.12 The Bride of Chaotica VOY

1. (5.12 VOY) “The Bride of Chaotica!” – Ensign Tom Paris’ latest holodeck adventure, “The Adventures of Captain Proton”, takes an unexpected turn when the U.S.S. Voyager gets stuck in an interdimensional reef in this hilarious and imaginative episode.

2 - 4.18-4.19 In a Mirror Darkly ENT

2. (4.18-4.19 ENT) “In a Mirror, Darkly” – This surprisingly entertaining two-part episode features the back-stabbing antics of Jonathan Archer’s Enterprise crew in the saga’s Mirror Universe.

3 - 3.16 Blood Fever VOY

3. (3.16 VOY) “Blood Fever” – While enduring pon farr, a lovesick Ensign Vorik unexpectedly passes it to Chief Engineer B’Elanna Torres, affecting her relationship with Tom Paris during an Away mission.

4 - 4.10 Our Man Bashir DS9

4. (4.10 DS9) “Our Man Bashir” – While playing a 1960s secret agent inside one of Deep Space Nine’s holosuites, he is forced to make life and death decisions for those crew members, whose transporter patterns are stored in the program during an emergency in this wildly entertaining episode.

5 - 4.07 Scientific Method VOY

5. (4.07 VOY) “Scientific Method” – Unseen alien intruders used Voyager’s crew as specimens for series of experiments that affect their physical and mental health in this weird and spooky episode.

6 - 6.19 In the Pale Moonlight DS9

6. (6.19 DS9) “In the Pale Moonlight” – This fascinating episode depicted Captain Benjamin Sisko and former Cardassian spy Elim Garak’s efforts to manipulate the Romulans into joining the Federation in its war against the Dominion.

7 - 1.28 City on the Edge of Forever TOS

7. (1.28 TOS) “City on the Edge of Forever” – In this Hugo Award winning episode, Captain James Kirk and Commander Spock are forced to go back in time to the early 1930s to prevent Dr. Leonard McCoy from changing time, when the latter accidentally disappears through a time portal, while heavily drugged.

8 - 5.10 Rapture DS9

8. (5.10 DS9) “Rapture” – An accident causes Captain Sisko to have prophetic visions involving the Bajorans’ religious beliefs and their future with the Federation.

9 - 5.18 Cause and Effect TNG

9. (5.18 TNG) “Cause and Effect” – The U.S.S. Enterprise-D becomes stuck in a time loop involving another Starfleet ship, but the crew manages to retain some memories of previous instances.

10 - 7.24 Pre-emptive Strike

10. (7.24 TNG) “Pre-emptive Strike” – In this bittersweet episode, helmsman Lieutenant Ro Laren graduates from Starfleet’s advance tactical training and is eventually ordered by Captain Jean-Luc Picard to infiltrate the Maquis and lure its members into a trap set by Starfleet.