Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984, Leonard Nimoy)

Layers. Star Trek III has no layers. It’s all id. Star Trek loses its ship, Kirk loses his son, Dr. McCoy loses his mind and none of it means anything. My fiancée pointed out that III is a bridge between II and IV, it brings Spock back to life. It fulfills a need. Forget the need. Forget the bridge–The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly knew what to do with bridges.

III isn’t bad, though. There are some great sequences (Nimoy is a damn good Panavision director, damn good), but they’re all too short. The film runs 105 minutes and it’s got too much to do for that time to be appropriate. The film deviates from the Enterprise crew to Kirk’s son and spends a bunch of time on the Genesis planet (sorry to go geek), the product of II. Well, that’s fine, but it’s all the McGuffin to bring Spock back. We get a long, tortured explanation that Kirk’s son–a scientist–flubbed his work to guarantee success. There’s an attempt at a rhyme to Star Trek II, but it’s incredibly forced and, even if it wasn’t, I’m not sure rhymes between films in a series should be so evident. The rhymes should be feelings, not plot points. To go geek some more… the planet was supposed to be made out of a moon or some “dead” planet. It was made, by accident, out of a cloud of dust. Maybe that could have been the reason it was unstable, not because the kid was a screw-up. There’s a trivia note on IMDb that the writers killed the kid because of this transgression–he “deserved” it. What a load.

All of the faults of the film, except the running time since Nimoy probably had the opportunity to insert scenes for the DVD, rest on the writer’s shoulders. Harve Bennett did a bang-up job producing Star Trek II through V, but he’s pood of a writer (oddly, there are some nice producing flourishes around).

I can think of two particular sequences that Nimoy does some amazing work with–a chase scene and the Enterprise burning up–and I desperately wanted more from these scenes. They really resonated. So did the early scenes on the planet, which lasted about fifteen good seconds before the “story” took over. Events are quality’s enemy… events are excellence’s enemy? I was trying for a rhyme thing, but I guess I’ll just have to be happy that I worked ‘pood’ into a post.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Leonard Nimoy; screenplay by Harve Bennett, based on the television show created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, Charles Correll; edited by Robert F. Shugrue; music by James Horner; produced by Bennett; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring William Shatner (Admiral James T. Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (Capt. Spock), DeForest Kelley (Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy), James Doohan (Montgomery “Scotty” Scott), George Takei (Hikaru Sulu), Walter Koenig (Pavel Chekov), Nichelle Nichols (Cmdr. Uhura), Merritt Butrick (Dr. David Marcus), Robin Curtis (Lt. Saavik), Robert Hooks (Adm. Morrow), Cathie Shirriff (Valkris), Christopher Lloyd (Cmdr. Kruge), Stephen Liska (Torg), John Larroquette (Maltz), James Sikking (Captain Styles), Miguel Ferrer (First Officer), Mark Lenard (Ambassador Sarek), Judith Anderson (Vulcan High Priestess) and Grace Lee Whitney (Janice Rand).


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Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982, Nicholas Meyer), the director’s edition

Layers. Star Trek II has a lot of layers. I couldn’t decide if, as a sequel, it had the time to work so many layers in (it runs two hours). It’s the human heart, in conflict with itself, others, and its environment. There’s so much going on and some of it is purely cinematic. The Star Trek films, for a while anyway, were the only “science fiction” films to show space with any sense of wonderment, post-2001. Star Trek II‘s layers are incredibly aided by the audience’s pre-existing knowledge of the situation. But the audience doesn’t need to know too much, only the general specifics one would get if he or she asked another person about the TV show. And the other person wouldn’t have needed to see it, maybe only heard of it. Star Trek II establishes itself very quickly.

I’ve been seeing a lot of Shatner lately, not just on “Boston Legal,” but in the fan-edit of Star Trek V last week, and it’s incredible how good he is in this film. Not incredible because he’s bad today, but incredible because it’s such a good performance. Star Trek and Shatner have both been devalued in modernity–Shatner because he lets himself be and Star Trek because of the new TV shows. Star Trek II would be best appreciated by someone unconcerned with a grand sense of “continuity,” because watching or reading with such a concern immediately makes the reader totally full of it. The toilet is overflowing in fact. Star Trek II is about what it does to you in two hours and it does a lot. It propels you through a range of emotions–I’ve seen the film six or seven times since I was six and it effected me more this time, when I was watching it most critically, than ever before. Nicholas Meyer directs a tight film. He doesn’t have a lot of sets, but all of them make a lasting impression. Besides the set design and the cinematography–you can watch Star Trek: The Motion Picture to see how else the same sets can be shot–there’s James Horner’s music. It’s as effective as the pieces Kubrick picked for 2001, it really is….

I read somewhere, a few months ago, that most people identify themselves as–generally–Star Trek fans. I imagine it’s that the geeks have taken over popular culture (Lord of the Rings), leaving intelligent folks almost nothing in the mainstream… since, what, 2000? Being a fan of something in no way means it’s good–quality doesn’t enter into it, since “fans” frequently argue that art is subjective. Well, Star Trek II is sort of an innocent victim in all this hubbub. It is, objectively, excellent (I think 1982 is probably the only year three “sci-fi” movies, Star Trek II, Blade Runner, and The Thing are in the top ten). Unfortunately, its excellence is assumed to be subjective (remember, the even number Star Trek films are the good ones?), doing the film an incredible disservice. It’s an achievement in filmic storytelling, nothing else.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Nicholas Meyer; screenplay by Jack B. Sowards, based on a story by Harve Bennett and Sowards and the television show created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, Gayne Rescher; edited by William P. Dornisch; music by James Horner; production designer, Joseph R. Jennings; produced by Robert Sallin; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring William Shatner (Admiral James T. Kirk), Ricardo Montalban (Khan Noonien Singh), Leonard Nimoy (Captain Spock), DeForest Kelley (Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy), James Doohan (Cmdr. Montgomery “Scotty” Scott), Walter Koenig (Pavel Chekov), George Takei (Hikaru Sulu), Nichelle Nichols (Cmdr. Uhura), Bibi Besch (Dr. Carol Marcus), Merritt Butrick (Dr. David Marcus), Judson Earney Scott (Joachim Weiss), Paul Winfield (Capt. Clark Terrell), Kirstie Alley (Lt. Saavik), Ike Eisenmann (Midshipman Peter Preston), John Vargas (Jedda) and John Winston (Cmdr. Kyle).


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It Came from Outer Space (1953, Jack Arnold)

I used to love this movie… I guess I should have checked movielens because it’s right on the nose for it.

It has Richard Carlson, who I like, and Barbara Rush, who I remember liking from The Young Philadelphians and Hombre, and it’s directed by Jack Arnold, who I like. Or do I remember liking them and am I misremembering? No, Creature from the Black Lagoon is good and Carlson is in it and Arnold directed it. It Came from Outer Space is not terrible (though I’m seemingly in a one and a half star rut the last couple weeks, starting with Azumi 2). It’s just not good. It’s too short (at eighty minutes) and it has problems with how time passes….

I think I’m upset. I’ve gotten used to watching films I used to like–used to love in some cases–and being underwhelmed or enraged at my former appraisal. It goes with watching something again and being more intelligent. Nostalgia only earns only so much credit. Nothing, for example, feels quite as good as something remembered as great turns out to be great again. People have actually frowned upon my whole “watching again” practice, from both ends–some people only watch something once and that evaluation stands and other people don’t change their initial evaluation. At six, you love Dracula so at twenty-six it’s got to be good. When I was six, I liked “Voltron” a lot. I’m not sure “Voltron” is good.

It Came from Outer Space isn’t dated, its relevance has not passed. It’s just not good. Arnold doesn’t use his sets right and he doesn’t take any time with the scenes. He rushes and it feels rushed. There’s a difference, of course, between short scenes and rushed scenes.

I rented this film and I can’t imagine if I bought it. That’s the great drawback of the evolving opinion. You buy something and it sits and you watch it and you think, “what the hell?” So I suppose there’s a benefit to not having disposable income. Still, I’m so glad it was only eighty minutes.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Arnold; screenplay by Harry Essex, based on a story by Ray Bradbury; director of photography, Clifford Stine; edited by Paul Weatherwax; music by Irving Gertz and Henry Mancini; produced by William Alland; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Richard Carlson (John Putnam), Barbara Rush (Ellen Fields), Charles Drake (Sheriff Matt Warren), Joe Sawyer (Frank Daylon), Russell Johnson (George) and Kathleen Hughes (Jane).


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36 Quai des Orfèvres (2004, Olivier Marchal)

Quick rule of thumb: do not set the present action of your movie over seven years and then skip six and three-quarters of those years. And I’m being generous with that three months. 36 Quai des Orfèvres is one of two films–it’s either a damn good cop movie (with some bad dialogue) or a piss-poor revenge drama. The director, with a ludicrous dedication at the end–almost as ludicrous as The Towering Inferno‘s dedication to firefighters, goes with the latter and it’s too bad, because there’s a lot of good stuff in here.

First, it’s got Daniel Auteuil, who seems to be in a lot of good films. It’s also got Gerard Depardieu, who’s astoundingly good as the conflicted–yet essentially “good”–cop. Until he becomes the bad guy. Once Depardieu becomes the bad guy, 36 is set down the road to its inevitable mediocrity. Even without the six year break from the story, I don’t think there’s anything they could have done to turn it around.

It’s also different to watch a French cop movie. Watching American movies and TV, you quickly become an authority on the American variation–for a while, in fact, 36 appeared to be a modern (and good) version of L.A. Confidential–so watching a French cop movie is different. The prisons are nicer and the cops tend not to shoot the criminals as often as they do in America. They also don’t beat them and French people make smoking look cool. Auteuil makes smoking look so cool, if I were single, I’d probably start smoking.

Of course, even though the film didn’t get US distribution or even a DVD release, Robert DeNiro is remaking it, directed by Marc Forster (who’s a native of Germany, incidentally) and written by Dean Georgaris (who “wrote” Tomb Raider). I suppose if DeNiro gets a reasonable co-star… No, scratch that. Remakes of foreign films do not fix the problems (Vanilla Sky). All they do is invite disrespect for the original piece. And there’s a lot to respect about 36 Quai des Orfèvres, just not enough to make it good. This film has four screenwriters. Very few films–modern films–are good with four screenwriters. (Very few modern films are good with any screenwriters, I suppose. Bring on the chimps!)

(Another thing about long present action–don’t cast too old: Auteuil’s French. When I see him with the grown-up daughter, who’s aged too much for seven years, I’m thinking it’s his girlfriend, not his kid).

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Olivier Marchal; screenplay by Marchal and Dominique Loiseau, from a story by Marchal, Franck Mancuso and Julien Rappeneau; director of photography, Denis Rouden; edited by Hugues Darmois; music by Erwann Kermorvant and Axelle Renoir; production designer, Ambre Fernandez; produced by Franck Chorot, Cyril Colbeau-Justin and Jean-Baptiste Dupont; released by Gaumont.

Starring Daniel Auteuil (Léo Vrinks), Gérard Depardieu (Denis Klein), André Dussollier (Robert Mancini), Roschdy Zem (Hugo Silien), Valeria Golino (Camille Vrinks), Daniel Duval (Eddy Valence) and Francis Renaud (Titi Brasseur).


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