Tag Archives: Stephen Collins

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979, Robert Wise), the director’s edition

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is one of those imperfect films. No matter how many versions, there’s no way to fix one thing without breaking another–or it might just be broken all together. For example, I don’t know if I’d ever realized how focused director Wise is–during the first hour–on William Shatner’s slightly dangerous desire to get back on the Enterprise.

While it continues to pop up occasionally throughout, it eventually goes away. Wise and screenwriter Harold Livingston apparently just couldn’t figure out how to make Shatner sensibly irrational in his actions. So, instead of Shatner’s obsession angle, the picture becomes a muted romance between Stephen Collins and Persis Khambatta. It had room for both things–poor Leonard Nimoy isn’t so lucky. His subplot gets jettisoned particularly forcefully in Wise’s director’s cut.

The film still has a lot going for it. The acting from Shatner is outstanding (the way he sells looking at the Enterprise is peerless), DeForest Kelley is great, James Doohan doesn’t have enough to do but he does it wonderfully.

Wise takes a long, long time with the film. Douglas Trumbull’s special effects work is awesome and the film might feature Jerry Goldsmith’s finest score. The long special effects sequences, set to Goldsmith’s music, are transfixing. Not sure what else they’re meant to accomplish but it’s enough.

Wise has a number of good shots, but he’s better with actors than the action.

Even with a heavy front, Motion Picture needs a much longer finish.

2.5/4★★½

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 and David C. Fein; 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: 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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Between the Lines (1977, Joan Micklin Silver)

There are some good scenes in Between the Lines and some good performances… but thanks to director Micklin Silver’s direction, a lot of it feels like a really unfunny episode of a sitcom. “A very special episode” or something. It’s like maudlin moments strung over ninety-some minutes only to bounce up at the end. The film also suffers from an aimless, meandering story. There are four subplots making up the film and it manages to go pretty well without a real plot, because the romance between John Heard and Lindsay Crouse, which is aimless and meandering too, but Heard’s good–for the most part–and Crouse is appealing. Micklin Silver doesn’t direct the actors very much and some of takes she went with really shouldn’t have been printed. Anyway, the film pretends it doesn’t have these plots and is somehow anti-plot… which only makes the plots more obvious.

There’s the love story, the young American author and girlfriend, the scandal and the buying of the newspaper. The first one gets a lot of attention, but none of the others get enough. It’s unbelievable, for example, anyone would date Stephen Collins before he signs his book contract and becomes a jerk who wears sunglasses in clubs, much less after. The scandal is stupid, gives Bruno Kirby something to do (like he’s being groomed for when the sitcom’s lead leaves). The buying of the newspaper is what it is–obviously and convenient, since the movie ends five minutes after the scene.

Where Between the Lines is not standard is in how much Micklin Silver shows of people’s interactions with each other. There some great raw scenes in here and there’s a real sense of reality (even if she does earn all those tickets she spends it all on a big dumb teddy bear in the shape of Raymond J. Barry–who is great in his scene, which consists of him, quite unbelievably, wrecking havoc in the newspaper office). So, by the end of the movie where Lane Smith turns out not to be the progressive, free-thinking new boss and is instead just corporate jackass… well, it came as little surprise. The subsequent day dream sequence, on the other hand, was simply inexcusable.

The performances, besides Stephen Collins and Jon Korkes and most of Gwen Welles (except her character is unbelievable), are all good. Jeff Goldblum’s funny, Marilu Henner has a nice small part; the big surprise is Jill Eikenberry, who is fantastic. Joe Morton has a small role and he’s good.

There’s actually an accounting geek in the office who wears bow-ties and is the butt of all the hip people’s jokes. It’s ludicrous and makes the whole movie feel a little like a self-aware farce. Until reality returns and it becomes clear… it isn’t a joke.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Joan Micklin Silver; screenplay by Fred Barron, based on a story by Barron and David Helpern; director of photography, Kenneth Van Sickle; edited by John Carter; music by Michael Kamen; produced by Raphael D. Silver; released by Midwest Films.

Starring John Heard (Harry Lucas), Lindsay Crouse (Abbie), Jeff Goldblum (Max Arloft), Jill Eikenberry (Lynn), Bruno Kirby (David Entwhistle), Gwen Welles (Laura), Stephen Collins (Michael), Lewis J. Stadlen (Stanley), Jon Korkes (Frank), Michael J. Pollard (The Hawker), Lane Smith (Roy Walsh), Joe Morton (Ahmed), Richard Cox (Wheeler), Marilu Henner (Danielle) and Raymond J. Barry (Herbert Fisk).


All the President's Men (1976, Alan J. Pakula)

In an American history survey class, when we got to Nixon, one student asked if we could cover it. She felt we hadn’t covered it well enough. The professor said we would not be covering it–everyone knew it. He was–obviously–wrongly assuming some knowledge of history from college students, a foolish presumption (I have MFA instructors who know nothing about history). I actually have some sympathy for that student, since unless she read a book, she might not know a lot about Watergate. I read the book before I saw All the President’s Men and I still remember a couple things from that first viewing. One, the immediately odd opening credit: ‘A Robert Redford-Alan J. Pakula Film’, and the halving of the book. Given the historical importance of its contents, it’s hard not to look at President’s Men as a historical document, but it is not. It might very well be the Harry Potter of its day, actually.

From the beginning, following that odd credit, I noticed the perfection of the film’s production. Every shot is perfect, every edit. That scene with Redford on the phone (President’s Men, particularly in the first act, is probably Redford’s best work) is beautiful. Alan J. Pakula outdoes just about everyone with this film. Even after the first act, when the film’s odd pacing takes over (it’s made for a person familiar with the events, another comparison to Harry Potter), Pakula’s composition is still striking. David Shire’s score is very quiet and Pakula uses it sparingly, instead going for great sound.

Once into the film’s action, once it’s established there won’t be any real character relationships, since the principals of the film aren’t involved with the film’s major events, the film does begin to lose some steam. The wonderful character moments, when Redford and Hoffman interact with “real” people (the film’s filled with great small performances from Lindsay Crouse and Jane Alexander–Alexander in particular), stop and, while the film doesn’t get repetitive, it loses some of the charm. For that first seventy minutes, it establishes all these great little performances, then whisks them away from the viewer. Instead, there are other great performances, from Jason Robards, Jack Warden, and Martin Balsam, but somehow, those performances are less engaging. Especially when Warden effectively disappears from the film. Maybe in those more varied scenes, there’s some additional William Goldman goodness. All the President’s Men is Goldman at, if not his best then certainly his most skillful.

I thought watching the film today would be… not difficult, but somewhat sullied by the knowledge of the modern stooge media and knowing Nixon and his goons were nowhere near as bad as Republicans could get (in fact, they weren’t bad at all, all things considered), but it isn’t. The film stands on its own qualities and while it is a tad of the empty side of humaneness, it’s the best film ever made with that distance. It’s the kind of film Soderbergh wanted to make with Traffic, but couldn’t. Because he’s not Alan J. Pakula.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Alan J. Pakula; screenplay by William Goldman, based on the book by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward; director of photography, Gordon Willis; edited by Robert L. Wolfe; music by David Shire; produced by Walter Coblenz; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Dustin Hoffman (Carl Bernstein), Robert Redford (Bob Woodward), Jack Warden (Harry Rosenfeld), Martin Balsam (Howard Simons), Hal Holbrook (Deep Throat), Jason Robards (Ben Bradlee), Jane Alexander (Bookkeeper), Meredith Baxter (Debbie Sloan), Ned Beatty (Dardis), Stephen Collins (Hugh Sloan Jr.), Penny Fuller (Sally Aiken), John McMartin (Foreign Editor), Robert Walden (Donald Segretti), Frank Wills (Himself), David Arkin (Bachinski), Henry Calvert (Barker), Dominic Chianese (Marinez), Lindsay Crouse (Kay Eddy), Valerie Curtin (Miss Milland), Richard Herd (McCord), Allyn Ann McLerie (Carolyn Abbot), Neva Patterson (Angry CRP woman) and Joshua Shelley (Al Lewis).


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