Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This is akin to beating a dead horse. Since Star Trek: The Motion Picture came out 38 years ago critics have been whipping it back and forth, the consensus being that it missed the Star Trek frame of mind from the 1960s. And it’s overly long. It’s from Paramount Pictures in 1979. Here’s a quick look and some personal comments. Everybody knows the characters. I’m only going to credit the newcomers. I just watched it on Hulu, but it’s also available on Amazon Prime Video. Details are from Wikipedia.

In the beginning we see Spock undergoing the Kolinahr ceremony, but he cannot complete it and accept the medallion. Apparently he returns to Star Fleet.

The movie is sprinkled with spectacular views of Star Fleet operations.

Admiral Kirk takes command of the Enterprise, displacing Captain Willard Decker (Stephen Collins), much to Decker’s displeasure.

Apparently Enterprise has undergone some refitting, and the shakedown is not going well. The scene moves to the Enterprise bridge, where much disarray is obvious.

Long expected, if you ever watched the original TV series, there comes the eventual transporter accident. Two people are lost when the transport malfunctions. Long faces all around.

Replacement crew comes in the form of navigator Ilia (Persis Khambatta) from Delta. She’s an old flame of Decker’s.

There’s eye candy in the form of graphics and visual effects. I could not help noticing the rounded corners of this display screen. Those are hold-overs of when display screens were CRTs.

The Enterprise‘s mission is a mysterious cloud approaching Earth. As the Enterprise draws near it encounters powerful forces, ominous warnings, and the invasion of the bridge by a plasma column and an arcing beam. The beam lands on Ilia, and she vanishes, clothing and all.

Ilia soon returns in the form of a mechanical reproduction, right down to Ilia’s personality. Except the mechanical Ilia has been sent as a communications device to the Enterprise. The source is also purely mechanical, and it wants to be connected to the Creator. Nobody can figure out who or what the Creator is. The alien life form (the cloud) refers to itself as V’Ger (veejer).

Penetrating deep into V’Ger, the Enterprise crew discovers at its heart the Voyager 6 spacecraft, a fiction reflecting on the Voyager spacecraft program of the 20th century. The spacecraft has lost its ability to send back its data, and developed V-Ger as a means to get our attention.

Decker melds with the mechanical Ilia, and both join V’Ger in its quest for knowledge. And it all could have been accomplished in little over an hour instead of two hours and 12 minutes.

This movie runs long scenes with nothing much happening. Too much attention is paid to atmosphere and not enough to the story.

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Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This is number two and also the best of the Star Trek movies. It’s The Wrath of Khan, starring Ricardo Montalbán in the title role. Most of the original crew from the TV series are aboard, this 16 years after the the first television episode. It’s from 1982, released by Paramount Pictures. I used to have the VHS, but I got rid of tapes years ago and never obtained a disk. I watched this on Hulu, but I’m taking the screen shots from Amazon Prime Video. Details are from Wikipedia.

James Kirk (William Shatner), previously Captain James Kirk of the Star Ship Enterprise, is now Admiral James Kirk, Star Fleet Commander. He’s out of action, pushing papers, and supervising training exercises. Here we see Hikaru Sulu (George Takei) at the controls with Lieutenant Saavik (Christie Alley) looking on. The training exercise is a complete catastrophe, with the star ship being defeated with all its crew “killed.”

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Meanwhile, an old flame of Kirk’s is Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch), lead scientist of Project Genesis. She works with David (Merritt Butrick), a biological product of Kirk and Marcus. Project Genesis is about to run into trouble.

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Captain Clark Terrell (Paul Winfield) and Commander Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig) of USS Reliant get themselves taken prisoner by the notorious criminal Khan Noonien Singh (Montalbán), who forces them to cough up details of Project Genesis.

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Meanwhile, Kirk has grown weary of watching the grass grow, and he sets out on the Enterprise for a training mission.

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Without getting into plot details, the enterprise is defeated in combat by Reliant, now under the command of Khan. Kirk, Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley), Saavik, Marcus, and David get themselves transported to the interior of a desolate planet, where the are marooned, without any chance of escape, because the Enterprise has lost power to beam them back.

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Of course, that was all a hoax. The Enterprise always had the power to beam them back, and Kirk resumes control of the Enterprise and defeats Khan in a final combat. It’s a great death scene, a stellar moment in Montalbán’s career.

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Another great death scene is Captain Spock (Leonard Nimoy), who saves the day by entering the radiation-flooded power room to restore power. His final message is “Live long and prosper.”

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The plot is supposedly inspired by Herman Melville, but the connection is thin. In Melville’s story, Captain Ahab says of Moby Dick:

Aye, aye! and I’ll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition’s flames before I give him up.

In the movie Khan says of Kirk:

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him. I’ll chase him round the Moons of Nibia and round the Antares Maelstrom and round Perdition’s flames before I give him up!

And that’s about it, except for references to “Botany Bay” and the finding of a copy of Moby-Dick right before the Reliant officers get captured. As did Ahab, Khan pursues Kirk to his own doom.

The plot is pretty much straight line, the only intrusion being the romantic tension between Kirk and his shadow family. Even in 1982, when this came out, viewers should have had a better appreciation of how a battle ship, even a star ship, ought to appear. Enterprise is, as in the TV series, dressed out as a cruise liner, a bit more plush than some of the finer hotels I’ve stayed in. A machine of war ought to have less comfort and a grittier countenance.

Writer Harve Bennett did not have the benefit of seeing the Star Trek series, but he plunged ahead and produced a script within two days. In this production he throws ships of war at each other like a kid playing with toys, taking little advantage of the history of actual naval battles. It’s sort of, “They got us the first time, but we’re going to get back in the fight and get them in the end.” Which is about how the movie goes.

Obviously this is not going to be Spock’s (or Nimoy’s) final appearance. You’re going to see him in subsequent renditions. Nimoy died last year, and in memoriam I reviewed one of his first movies. Here he is as an Air Force sergeant in an early science fiction classic.

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We originally saw Ricardo Montalbán as a police detective in Mystery Street, previously reviewed. Following this movie he went onto greater things, including leading role in the TV series Fantasy Island.

This is Christie Alley’s first feature film, and she performs spectacularly, standing around looking really good and speaking her lines without flaw. It’s a good use of her talents.

Movie Tribute of the Week

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This is not the first Leonard Nimoy movie I saw. That was Rhubarb, a movie about baseball. Nimoy’s film career goes back even further than that, appearing previously in Queen for a Day. I also saw Francis Goes to West Point. However, I don’t have any of those movies. And this may be the most notable of his early films. It’s Them! from Warner Brothers in 1954, and it stars James Arness and James Whitmore.

Opening shots show New Mexico police scouring the desert from an airplane. They are in communication with cops on the ground. We know this is the New Mexico desert because there are Joshua trees all over. Never mind that Joshua trees are only found in the Mojave Desert, which is not actually in New Mexico. However, for the story line this has to be in New Mexico.

The cops in the plane spot a little girl (Sandy Deschertrudging all alone in the wilderness, and the cops on the ground zero in and pick her up in their car. She appears to be physically unharmed but in a state of shock.

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The mystery deepens as police Sergeant Ben Peterson (Whitmore) and trooper Ed Blackburn (Chris Drake) come across the family travel trailer in the desert. It has been torn apart by something unknown. There is blood but no bodies. It would appear the girl is the sole survivor of the Ellison family.

The child safely off to the hospital in an ambulance, the police officers stop by a store along the road. It’s also been torn apart. The proprietor is dead in the basement, crushed and bloody. Here comes the part in all such movies. Trooper Blackburn is left behind to guard the premises while Sergeant Peterson drives back to report.

Everybody watching by now is shouting at the screen. “No, don’t go out side to investigate that strange noise!” Of course Trooper Blackburn does go outside, with his trusty service revolver. And that’s the last we see of him. We hear him firing his pistol and finally giving his last screams for life.

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The family in the desert belonged to an FBI agent on vacation. This brings in agent Robert Graham (Arness). A copy of the strange footprint found at the crime scene is sent off to FBI headquarters. This brings in two scientists, Dr. Harold Medford (Edmund Gwenn) and his glamorous daughter Dr. Patricia Medford (Joan Weldon). They arrive in an Air Force B-25 for some odd reason. This means of arrival provides some great optics as Graham and watch feminine legs descend from the bomber’s belly hatch. This movie is going to have sex.

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Dr. Medford senior has formed an idea about what’s behind the mystery. He specializes in ants. He passes a sample of formic acid beneath the nose of the young Ellison girl, causing her to break her state of shock and scream, “Them!” and giving the movie its name.

Without changing from their science conference clothing the Doctors Medford journey out to the desert crime scene to investigate. In a blinding sand storm glamorous Patricia wanders into the desert. We know what’s about to happen. She hears the high-pitched screeching noise. A monstrous ant appears. Graham and Peterson open up with their pistols. The giant is stalled. Peterson finishes off the creature with his tommy gun. The mystery is solved.

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A huge nest is discovered and soon wiped out using military weapons. But the scientists determine eggs have already hatched. There will be other colonies. The search is on.

At an Army base a sergeant pulls a message off a teletype machine. The sergeant is played by Leonard Nimoy..

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This flick is loaded with talent. Future talent, at least. The message is about a pilot who has seen flying objects. He’s been hospitalized in a psycho ward. It’s Alan Crotty played by Fess Parker. This is shortly before Parker went to great fame as David Crockett in the Walt Disney TV and movie releases. For the time being he must remain in the psycho ward. The secret must be kept to avoid alarming the public.

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The search continues. We see a ship at sea infested and attacked. Only two of the crew survive. Navy gunfire sinks the hulk, and the survivors are kept at sea. This must be kept secret.

Then in Los Angeles a rail car loaded with sugar is found destroyed. The search is narrowing.

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A woman reports her husband and two sons have disappeared. Graham notices how much the city’s enormous storm drains appear to be a perfect place for a giant ant nest. In the drainage channel they discover the remains of a model airplane associated with the missing father and boys.

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A huge military operation is assembled. Soldiers in Jeeps penetrate the drainage tunnels with heavy weapons. Sergeant Peterson finds the two boys alive (not the father) and rescues them. Too late. He cannot save himself. We knew all along that Arness was going to get the girl at the end of the movie.

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For some reason in movies like this all the original characters have to be in on the final action. This means that even glamorous Patricia dons Army gear and is in on the final assault in the tunnel, along with her soon to be sweetheart Graham, by now wounded and acting very heroic. Too bad the movie ends right there. No long, lingering embrace in slinky evening clothing in a romantic setting. Leaves a lot to the imagination.

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Production quality for this film is amazingly high. The cinematography is spot on. The plot fits together well, never mind the Joshua trees. The Joshua trees look good in a desert scene, but the desert setting has to be New Mexico, because that’s where the first atomic bomb was exploded nine years before, triggering the mutant ant population.

This is not just a straight line plot involving unimagined tragedy followed by discovery of the horrific menace followed by destruction of the menace. The plot develops into a detective story as Graham and others seek out remaining giant nests. Colorful characters are introduced without dragging down the plot. This is close to the cream of the monster movies from the 1950s, the very top being The Thing from Another World, also featuring James Arness. Arness was soon to ascend to fame as Matt Dillon on TV.

Gwenn is tops, as he always was, starting with the sinister assassin in Foreign Correspondent right on through as Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street. This was close to Gwenn’s final major film role. He died five years later.