Tag Archives: Nichelle Nichols

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979, Robert Wise), the special longer version

In addition to being one of the more intentionally boring films ever made, Star Trek: The Motion Picture features some of the more amazing science fiction special effects. The work Douglas Trumbull does in this film is without equal–he makes the unimaginable visual. It’s astounding (and I was watching the pan-and-scan only “Special Longer Version” and it still looked amazing). So, since Trumbull did all the special effects and Jerry Goldsmith’s music went to all those special effects, it was kind of hard to figure out what–if anything–Robert Wise contributed to the film.

Simply put, he made it real. The Enterprise actually seemed to function on a believable level, people walking around doing menial, but necessary, tasks. Shatner and Kelley have a cup of coffee at one point, because they’ve been up forty hours straight. That cup of coffee is a significant contribution, because even though Star Trek fails in the final act, the film’s more about the journey than the outcome. But Wise also gets some really good performances out of the usually neglected supporting cast–Nichelle Nichols is good, but it’s really James Doohan (and, in a strange coincidence, usually with Shatner) who turns in the best performance. He doesn’t have many scenes, but he does a great job with them.

As for Shatner… Wise only knows how to direct him when he’s not talking. When Shatner looks at people with warmth in his eyes or wonderment (when he’s looking at the retrofitted Enterprise), he makes Star Trek work. Nimoy’s got problems throughout, DeForest Kelley is good as usual (though some of his dialogue makes absolutely no sense and suggests a cut scene involving Romulan ale–not really, but it’d help… Star Trek: The Motion Picture has an utter lack of humor for the first hour and a funny scene would be totally alien), but the real trouble comes from the new additions. Stephen Collins and Persis Khambatta are both terrible–Collins being so bad, he makes Shatner look great in their scenes. Khambatta manages to do better as an android than in the (supposedly) emotive part of her role… I’m not sure how much they affect Star Trek, however, besides simply annoy.

The film is in two distinct parts–little surprise since it was originally a two-hour pilot–and neither part particularly wins over the other. While the first half does offer the deliberately paced, boring but competent (enough qualifying?) look at life in Star Trek’s future, the second half does feature Trumbull’s best work in the film and the “action.” As the film enters the final act and the big revelation, which might not have surprised audiences in the 1970s but is probably fine today since NASA is less familiar than Nabisco), Star Trek becomes rushed and silly. Wise managed to make it anything but silly–not a small feat given an entire cast in their pajamas–but he’d obviously checked out, mental involvement-wise, by the conclusion. Then there’s the summing up scene on the Enterprise bridge–another television throwback–and it almost undoes any positive regard for the film. Luckily, Trumbull’s back for the close and the Jerry Goldsmith music doesn’t hurt.

Oddly, I think Star Trek: The Motion Picture is far more influential than Star Wars. No one of any serious concern ever attempted to ape Star Wars, but bits and pieces of Star Trek–particularly its storytelling (which everyone says they dislike) and the special effects integration–have entered the standard film lexicon.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is one of those films (and there are not many of them) to partially succeed simply because it does not entirely fail.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Wise; screenplay by Harold Livingston, based on a story by Alan Dean Foster and on the television show created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, Richard H. Kline; edited by Todd C. Ramsay; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Harold Michelson; produced by Roddenberry; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring William Shatner (Admiral James T. Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock), DeForest Kelley (Dr. Leonard McCoy), James Doohan (Cmdr. Montgomery Scott), George Takei (Lt. Cmdr. Hikaru Sulu), Majel Barrett (Dr. Christine Chapel), Walter Koenig (Lt. Pavel Chekov), Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Cmdr. Uhura), Persis Khambatta (Lt. Ilia), Stephen Collins (Cmdr. Willard Decker), Grace Lee Whitney (CPO Janice Rand), Mark Lenard (Klingon Captain), Billy Van Zandt (Alien Boy), Roger Aaron Brown (Epsilon Technician), Gary Faga (Airlock Technician) and David Gautreaux (Cmdr. Branch).


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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).


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).