About Me

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I'm Chris. I'm 22 years old and I'm into a large variety of music, from Metal in its many forms (mostly the extreme ones) to Goth and Postpunk, Reggae, Jazz, Prog, Techno, Ambient and Film Scores. This is where I rave about albums I really like, and other stuff.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Released: November 26, 1986
Directed by: Leonard Nimoy
Producer: Harve Bennet
Screenplay: Nicholas Meyer, Harve Bennet, Steve Meerson & Peter Krikes

 “Everybody remember where we parked...”

Time travel plots are a staple of sci fi, especially in the world of Star Trek. Frankly, its a bit of a cliché. However, there are some examples of the idea being pulled off really well, and one of those is The Voyage Home. This film was the most successful of the Star Trek series to date, and is still held in high regard by many fans including myself. Its certainly one of my very favourite Trek films, up there with The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country all sharing the top spot in my mind for the best of the TOS era features. The thing that makes The Voyage Home so successful is just how different it is to either of those aforementioned films, and indeed how different it is among all the Trek films. In a noticeable change of pace, our heroes find themselves on 20th century Earth in a “save the whales!” adventure marked with priceless comedy thanks to the unforgettable onscreen chemistry of the cast. There’s no real violence, no Klingon bad guys, no space battles. Star Trek IV is pure, light-hearted fun, and that’s precisely the reason why its so good.

As the final part in the trilogy of films that began with The Wrath of Khan, The Voyage Home sees Admiral Kirk and co. and returning to Earth to face judgment for their actions in the previous two films. What starts out as something that seems to be along the lines of the other films, takes a sharp right turn. An alien probe is harassing the planet Earth, looking for Humpback whales. In the 23rd century, they’re extinct. Of course, the natural answer is to attempt time travel by the ludicrous means of flying around the sun at warp speed, and after a surreal time travel sequence where do they end up? San Fransciso, 1986. The first shot of our heroes, wandering around the streets of the city, looking sorely out of place and accompanied by roaring contemporary Jazz Fusion replete with impossibly 80s programmed drums and synth (indeed the entire soundtrack is a noticeable departure from standard Trek film music), is one of the most charming, funny and priceless moments in the entire history of this franchise. Their interactions with the “primitive and paranoid culture”, as Kirk puts it, are just effortlessly funny, as are their interactions with themselves. The chemistry between these actors to generate humour was never so obvious as in this film. Having recently just seen this again after several years, the “save the whales” mentality of the film has also never stuck out to me as much. This is undoubtedly a sign of the times, and its nice that they were able to put a relevant and contemporary message into the film. The rest of it is filled with non stop examples of effortless humour and great character interactions; I forgot how funny this film really is. This is one that has me laughing almost all the way through, every time. Let's not forget the inherent humour in a Russian guy, in 1980s America, stopping people in the street to ask where the nuclear vessels are kept.

Of course, everything works out in the end as it should, with our heroes making a successful return to the future bringing with them two Humpback whales and a disenfranchised 20th century marine biologist. For saving the day yet again, they’re rewarded with a brand new shiny Enterprise and the chance to fall flat on their faces in the underwhelming and largely derided follow up, The Final Frontier. The Voyage Home, though, is a fantastic film and one that even non Trek fans will be able to enjoy due to the setting. For many Trek nuts, myself included, The Voyage Home is one of the unmissable highlights of the film series. As with Star Trek II, the version I have discussed is the 2009 remastered DVD, which presents excellent picture quality. The packaging and bonus features are again somewhat minimalist, but the only other version of this film I've owned is an older VHS so the improved picture is very apparent to me. If you want more comprehensive bonus features, nicer packaging and perfectly adequate picture quality, get the 2003 2-disc collectors edition, or indeed the newest BluRay version which combines this edition's image quality (except probably even better, being a BluRay) with the 2003 edition's extensive bonus material.

My rating: 5/5

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

 Released: June 4, 1982
Director Nicholas Meyer
Produced by: Robert Sallin, Harve Bennet (executive)
Screenplay: Jack B. Sowards, Nicholas Meyer (uncredited)

"Can I cook, or can't I..."

I'm sure that's what went through Nicholas Meyer's head when he watched the final edit for this. Star Trek: The Motion Picture, while not an inherently bad film, was a less than ideal start to the Star Trek movie series. It just took a bit too long to make its point, and the story wasn't exactly A-grade material. Put it up against the smash hit A New Hope that came out a year prior, and the winner is obvious. For the next film in the Trek series, I'm sure they realised they had to step up their game a little bit and come out with a film that would make an impression. In that they succeeded, and also created a film that is still regarded by many as the definitive Star Trek feature.

I have never seen Space Seed, the original series episode featuring Khan that serves as a backdrop to this movie. I'm not as big a fan of TOS as I am of TNG, DS9, and so on. If you have seen that episode then you'll know exactly what's going on from the beginning. Thankfully this film is successful enough that it doesn't require you to have seen the episode to get into it, though it may help if you have an idea of just who Khan is to explain the connection between him and the rest of the characters. Put simply, the film center's around Khan's obsession with revenge on Kirk that untimately proves to be his undoing, while Kirk survives and is free to save the galaxy and spout one liners another day. At the center of all this lies Genesis, a world-creating device of unimaginable power which Khan sets his eyes on, that provides the foundation for the film after this one, and the one after that in part, too. This is the first film to introduce many elements that would become synonymous with the Trek features, including the distinctive red uniforms (not like the “space pyjamas” of The Motion Picture). Ricardo Montalban gives an unforgettable performance as Khan, subtly menacing and explosive when needed, without ever going over the top. If you want to see a top actor doing a classic villain role, watch this. He and Kirk face off in their respective ships in one of the most memorable space battles in film history. Like a classic submarine fight, both ships are effectively running blind in a nebula and almost collide with each other in one instance. Its a tense, dramatic battle scene that leaves both ships crippled. In the end, a certain crew member sacrifices himself so the Enterprise can escape to safety, while the Genesis device goes off aboard Khan’s stolen ship and creates a new world which becomes the focus of the next film in the series. The rest of the cast is on top form, the screen chemistry between these people (especially the classic Bones, Kirk and Spock trio) is undeniable and just a joy to watch...and isn’t Kirstie Alley just stunning? There are some good awkward moments between Kirk, his ex wife, and son that he didn’t know about. James Horner’s score is one of the most memorable of the movie series, and there are some great visual effects from stunning matte paintings to charmingly dated CGI that was doubtless the absolute cutting edge in its day.

Unlike some, emptier sci fi, The Wrath of Khan is really classic character drama in a futuristic setting, topped off with some great action and the moral/political take on things, the reflection of the human condition that defines classic Trek in the minds of so many fans. This film is the first part of the classic 3 film series of Treks II, III and IV that are basically one big story arc. This is the film that was so good, so classic, that they ripped it off like you wouldn’t believe for 2013’s style over substance Star Trek Into Darkness. I just got hold of the newest 2009 DVD edition of this film, remastered in 1080p from the original print, which apparently needed a bit of restoration work as it wasn't in great shape after all those years. Before this I was accustomed to the lower quality of my VHS copy, I have to say the difference is remarkable and I have never seen this film look so good. The bonus features on this DVD version are decent, though not as good or comprehensive as on the 2003 2-disc special editions. The trade off is the much improved picture quality. If you want to know just what this remarkable cultural phenomenon is all about, you could pick a much worse place to start than Star Trek II.

My rating: 5/5

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Released: June 9, 1989
Director: William Shatner
Produced by Harve Bennett
Screenplay: David Loughery

             "I can't help but notice your pain...it runs deep...share it with me!"

That line, which I think is just great, is one of the few things that stands out about Star Trek V, a film that is commonly seen as being the single weakest film in the series. It confuses me that, coming off the back of the brilliant and massively successful Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the followup could be so average. A sub standard plot involving a journey to the center of the galaxy to find "God", combined with noticeably weak visual effects compared to the previous outings, caused William Shatner's first turn at directing to be the thing that almost killed the franchise according to some.

Its actually quite a funny film at times, but you get the impression that a lot of the humour was either unintentional or there to pad out the fact that the story wasn't quite up to scratch. The visual effects aren't as good because ILM couldn't do it, and the poor guys they drafted in to do it had half the required time to get it together. Surprisingly, the film apparently did alright when it opened, but it wasn't long before the critics began hurling words like "mess" and "shambles", and not without some justification. Now, that said, The Final Frontier isn't a complete failure. The campfire scene between Kirk, Bones and Spock is cool. You can't help but laugh when Scotty walks into the wall and knocks himself out, while in the middle of saying "I know this ship like the back of my hand..." (then again, this is such an obviously slapstick moment), and the scene where the character's inner demons are brought out into the open is one that I've always remembered. Then of course, we have Kirk questioning "God" like only Kirk would. I agree, what the hell does God need with a starship? The brilliant David Warner also makes an appearance, but as we know he would return in the next film and do much better. Was that a conscious decision, I wonder?

If you're a fan of Trek, even the weaker movies have some value and are worth watching, if only to get an idea of just how much better the high points of the series really are. The Final Frontier is more of a curiosity than anything else, as it does show some glimmers of potential. Had they had more time and the budget they needed, I'm sure it would have turned out a lot better. Thankfully, with the next film in the series, they got back on track in a big way and produced a fitting end to the series of original Trek films. That film is unmissable. You can safely skip this one, however.

My rating: 2.5/5