Thursday, June 27, 2013

Star Trek Into Jerkness

Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984) is underrated.

Sure, it's no Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). But a big part of that movie's appeal was that it got to not be Star Trek: The Motion Picture first.

It also had fantastic production design, near-perfect pacing, and an incredible music score by James Horner. Okay, most movies can't compare to Star Trek II. But Star Trek III is a worthy follow-up, and a clear outlier in the Even-Numbered-Trek-Movies-Stink theory. 

I re-watched it with the kids last night and took away a couple things:


First, I love Star Trek movies of the 80s.* 


* With the exception of Star Trek V: Leave The Theater Immediately and Go See Dead Poets Society (1989).


But my main takeaway ...

Starfleet is full of jerks.


Sure, exposing us to this weasel armada was a manipulative scripting choice so we'd cheer even more for our rebellious heroes as they stole a ship to a forbidden planet and broke a ton of other Starfleet regulations.

But I wouldn't want any of these guys representing my Earth in the United Federation of Planets:

Jerk 1:  Captain Styles, USS Excelsior 

"If he thinks he can get away with warp drive ... he's really in for a shock."

You had to like the casting of this guy, who perfectly straddled the line of cocky pilot and beaten-down bureaucrat. The poor man's Dabney Coleman.


Jerk 2:  "Mr. Adventure" 

"Well, maybe that's okay for someone like you, whose career is winding down. But me, I need some excitement, some adventure ... maybe even just a surprise or two."

A proud owner of the classic 80's antagonist kick-my-butt face. He gets bonus points for the extra smarmy disrespecting-your-elders delivery. Well-played, sir.


Jerk 3:  The Guy Who Shouldn't Have Called Sulu "Tiny"

"Don't get smart, Tiny."

I think this was his only line.

What was the recruitment poster like?

WHITE?

UNSOCIABLE?

GENERALLY THINK YOU'RE BETTER THAN EVERYONE?

CONSIDER A CAREER IN STARFLEET!


You should check this out on blu-ray. It hasn't been restored like Wrath of Khan, but it still looks better than it has since it was originally released.



Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Once and Future Mission



Early days of The Mission Theatre, Dalhart, TX
I was intrigued recently to see my hometown of Dalhart, TX, mentioned frequently in ‘The Dust Bowl’ (2012), the PBS documentary about life on the ravaged American prairie of the 1930s. This topic and All Things Great Depression is one that I’ve generally avoided over the years because it’s, well, depressing.

I had greatly short-changed my education.

As with any Ken Burns production, there’s much to learn and admire. The film weaves a compelling story that makes a fitting companion to ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ (1940), and not just because narrator Peter Coyote sounds a lot like Henry Fonda.

One of the key things I learned while watching 'The Dust Bowl' was that The Mission Theater (spelled "Theatre" on its old sign) hosted the world premiere of ‘The Plow That Broke The Plains,’ (1936) a U.S. government-produced documentary created to enlighten the public about the effects of improper farming techniques.

This film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry, and can be seen in its entirety several places on the web, including, below and also here.




It was interesting to discover this bit of history just a few months after I last stepped inside The Mission, to inspect the results of its conversion into the new home of the Dalhart congregation of Hillside Christian Church.

The building’s redesign was impressive. Though I was sad to see my old hometown lose its movie house, it was exciting to get a look at what its new mission would be.

After the tour, I had the opportunity to speak to the pastor, who made it clear that he, too, understood and appreciated the venue’s history in the community. I was ecstatic when he informed me that they planned to project family-friendly films for the public, on a screen even larger than the one the theater had previously used.

Below are some of the photos I took during the visit. But first, check out the following links that show what the theater looked like just prior to the building renovation.  

Final Google street view before renovation
A profile of the Mission Twins at CinemaTreasures.org.

A view from across the street in its final months as a movie theater.

A last look at the projection booth.

Several awesome pre-renovation photos from an area photographer.

Inside-out views from CinemaTour.com

And RoadsideArchitecture.com has a before and after of the front of the building.

Here are my photos of the building after renovation (click to enlarge):


Entry of the church from the front

The kitchen area, looking toward the front of the building, where
young moviegoers used to call their parents to pick them up
Old film reels now gracing the walls along the staircase
A view of the kitchen and upstairs
from the center of the building


A view from the balcony, formerly the projection booth
An old door from back of building,
re-purposed for the upstairs balcony


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Star Trek VI The Undiscovered Country (1991) Rediscovered


This blog usually focuses on movies I saw in the theater in the 80s, but I watched Star Trek VI (1991) recently and would like to digress. 

Litigate, suckas. I hadn't seen it in years and was due for a revisit.

My main thoughts:


A) Captain Von Trapp played an awesome Klingon. Look it up and be as impressed as I was to learn that it was Christopher Plummer's idea to go bald and dial back the prosthetics. 

Bless his homeland forever.

 
B) The murder mystery plot was solid. We hadn’t seen this before, and it was nice to detour from the standard story of the maniacal dude bent on domination/revenge.

C) DeForest Kelley was obviously having a great time. That guy always delivered the goods, and he was particularly fun to watch in this one.

My only beefs:

A) The movie suffers a bit from Let's-Give-Everyone-A-Line-To-Read-One-After-The-Other Syndrome. If I were a director, I'd make sure that characters in ensemble scenes talked over each other. Just like in real life. With their mouths full.

B) Kirk and much of Starfleet were way too prejudiced in this movie.

Shatner agrees. And to hear him tell it, he wanted to make it evident, by Kirk's expression, that there was immediate regret at saying, "Let them (the Klingons) die!" Director Nicholas Meyer was supposed to edit the scene so that it came across this way – even promising Shatner that he would do so – and didn’t. The stinkin' liar.

For me, it was just too difficult to buy that our hero would be such a full-on Captain Jerk. Sure, his son had been killed. But that was by renegades, not by an empire. He knew this. Now if the good captain had just recently discovered that his ex-lover, Carol Marcus, had died (as an earlier script draft had stated) then yeah ... rant away, Cap’n!

But as it stood, Kirk's crappy attitude made him less of a hero, and deflated much of the brotherly bond that had been built up so mightily between him and Spock in the previous installments. They roasted marshmallows together in Yosemite, for Gorn's sake!

But what do I know? I guess bitter, bigoted Kirk still served the story pretty well, and the eventual come-back-around that Kirk enjoyed with his Vulcan pal did give us the classic Spock line—

“Is it possible that we two, you and I, have grown so old and so inflexible that we have outlived our usefulness?"

It wasn't.

And lessons were learned … in the 23rd Century. I watched the closing credits satisfied.

Still, that doesn't stop me from considering these fun What-Could-Have-Beens:


·         COOL IDEA! Jack Palance was in the running to play a Klingon, but opted to be in City Slickers (1991) instead. An Oscar-winning choice on his part, but wouldn’t the galaxy have been a much better place with a Jack Palance Klingon? (The answer is “Yes.”) 

SPOILER ALERT!

Kim Cattrall in Mannequin (1987)
·         COOL IDEA! The female Vulcan should’ve been Saavik instead of ... Mannequin. This way, the conspiracy revelation would've been much more shocking and impactful. But there was some blah blah about Meyer not wanting to ruin the Saavik character, and that she was on Vulcan anyway—with Spock's baby(!), after one of his Genesis Planet episodes with pon farr. (Not to be confused with Jamie Farr.)


·         COOL IDEA! Captain Kirk getting killed while saving the president would’ve been a much better death than a bridge collapse. Sacrificing himself for the future—what a way to go, right? They could’ve easily time-traveled their way into a Kirk/Picard meeting later. Screw the Nexus.

SPOILER ALERT over.

Despite these missed opportunities, Star Trek VI was still a great way to wrap up the series with all of the original crew.

I welcome your own thoughts on this important matter.