Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Movie Anniversaries - 4,6,8

1986, 1991, 1996 - three years, two decades, two different generations of Star Trek, three anniversaries to honour and all within a few weeks.

My memories of first seeing Star Trek IV, VI and First Contact are pretty strong to this very day. I watched The Voyage Home (30 this year) in a cinema in Truro in Cornwall. Not the biggest screen by any stretch of today's imaginations - or reality - but a proper cinema where there was an intermission and you could nip to the loo or get a tub of ice-cream for 50p. Ah - those were the days. I think that place has long since gone but I can still recall seeing the poster for the movie along side one for Superman IV...

With The Undiscovered Country - now celebrating 25 years on December 6th - it was also in a now long-gone cinema turned-pub in Lincoln. Star Trek VI actually sneaked up on me pretty impressively and it was only after it had been released in the US that I knew about its existence.       

Not so with the second of The Next Generation's movies by which time intermissions were a thing of the past and the multiplex had firmly arrived in the UK. I also followed its evolution at every step although news wasn't the easiest thing to come by in those dark pre-(decent) internet days.

It wasn't quite as intimate an experience as viewing The Voyage Home but it was a bigger screen in Lincoln. I think I saw it on opening weekend where as I'd waited a week or so to go to Star Trek IV.

Of course we in the UK got these movies slightly later than our US friends so the official UK anniversary isn't until (wait for it) April 10th 1987 (wow - can you imagine if we had to wait that long now?!), 14th February 1992 for The Undiscovered Country and for First Contact it was a shorter wait until December 13th 1996 (that's TODAY! I was just in the first year of A-Levels).

Being even-numbered installments they are (of course) stronger movies from the series and oddly both are directed by actors in their respective shows (and both played first officer of the Enterprise) but my initial experiences with either are different again because of the time in my life I saw them.

With The Voyage Home I wasn't a huge Star Trek fan at the time and I was only six and a half. I do remember watching it because the lack of a starship kinda confused me. Where was the Enterprise? What were they doing on Earth and what had happened to Spock?  I think I must've caught The Wrath of Khan at some point on TV shortly before Star Trek IV came out so I knew of Spock's death but I had little idea of what had gone on during The Search for Spock (bar the obvious). I enjoyed it a lot, the whole movie was a lot more lighthearted and it's done well to stand the test of time and gives a nice snapshot of 1986. Seeing a Bird of Prey land in San Francisco and the crew rescue a pair of humpback whales was little more than a good plot back then but I do appreciate it in a lot of different ways.      

The Undiscovered Country was the first Star Trek movie I really fell in love with as it entered the cinema. I was there on opening weekend, I had the novel, the magazine, knew lots about behind the scenes - and probably more than usual since this was the 25th anniversary movie. For me it's the second best of the original crew's six outings behind the legendary The Wrath of Khan. It has a real heart and a very determined sense of finality about it. Times have moved on, these guys really are getting old and that story of change and acceptance makes for a brilliant story. Undoubtedly the addition of Christopher Plummer, David Warner and a Bird of Prey that can fire while cloaked were elements that made it even more amazing but for once it's a movie that uses every member of the cast effectively, has elements of humour lurking in there as well as some stellar action sequences. 

This also means that it's 25 years since the monumental Unification which acted as something of a warm tease for the sixth motion picture and while it does have that all important appearance from Spock it's not one of the show's stronger episodes. On the big screen Star Trek VI looked beautiful and sounded just as good; I still get excited by that choral opening theme every time I hear it - it's just that distinct a piece of music. For me though, The Undiscovered Country marks the real beginning of my dedicated following of Star Trek that continues to this day in every sense. From the day that I left that cinema as the credits rolled and the cast signed off for the final time, I was fully onboard. This was my passion.

By the time First Contact came around I had the bug and was thoroughly enraptured.  A more solid entry than Generations it was the peak of The Next Generation's movies in every sense. Equally it's held up just as well as The Voyage Home - perhaps more so because it's a decade younger. It also deals with time travel as a key point to the story in which returning to the past is the key to save the universe. One thing that the earlier movie does disregard is a Big Bad if you will. There is the Probe but it's effects are unintentionally destructive (as Spock notes) and only The Motion Picture otherwise takes this stance with V'Ger. In the case of every other movie from the franchise there is some grand enemy to be vanquished. 

I don't have a huge preference over which one I would rather sit and watch because they come at the franchise from very different angles. The Voyage Home is the conservation hammer, doing the "right thing" and being all environmental and righteous while still retaining that humourous edge. That's probably why I loved it back in the 80's and again when I watched my recorded copy from the TV. It's a much lighter film testing the crew in other ways and backed by a rather tinkly soundtrack which has an awesome closing theme as the new Enterprise is unveiled (which is just the old one with a new sticker).

The Picard-era First Contact is a polar opposite; darker, murkier but with just as much riding on the outcome. It too has a new Enterprise but this one is there from the start and would go through some modifications during Insurrection and Nemesis. It's a film filled with pioneering spirit, determination and utter fan indulgence and at times I do wonder how both this film - and to some extent The Voyage Home are accessible to non-fans since both contain big chunks which will rely on a decent level of knowledge of the shows which bore them. As a newbie to The Voyage Home there was a "previously on..." style intro sequence to hep catch up on two movies worth of plot but First Contact really did cross its fingers that you already knew of the Borg and what they did to Picard. Honestly, I don't know if it was possible to go to this film and not have known about Locutus. 

The Queen might have been a bit of a curve-ball but we all had to deal with that little revelation. What is apparent is that this quality aging is apparent to all because I can probably quote from either of these movies just a little less than I can from The Wrath of Khan (which is nigh on the whole damn script if I'm honest) but there are many times when "I love Italian and so do you..." or "I'm from Iowa I only work in outer space" get thrown into a random conversation. Heck, how many times can you recollect at least muttering Picard's "The line must be drawn..." demand? IV and VI also carry a lot of throwbacks into Star Trek II, perhaps unavoidable since both were co-written by Discovery writer and The Wrath of Khan director Nicholas Meyer. 

The Undiscovered Country certainly plays on the age card that Kirk is tracked with through the second film although his time he is a captain rather than a desk-bound admiral wanting to be out in the stars. IV and VI really connect, hitting much closer to home than III and especially V since they are more focused on character and development rather than action. Looking to First Contact likewise it's a much deeper story than any of its The Next Generation movie counterparts providing real threat, danger and again more than a hint of Meyer within the ton of Moby Dick references that are strewn liberally throughout the story. Perhaps the oddest thing though is that "Eddie Murphy" has been trending on Facebook this week and not for any of the movies he was in. It seems that 30 years after he didn't appear in The Voyage Home it's still big news. Amazing to think that these were two of Paramount's biggest properties at the time and look where they both are now. I guess with the recent release of Altman and Gross' superb 50 Year Mission books there were bound to be a few bits that would pique interest.

Twenty-five years on from The Undiscovered Country (the sixth movie) we have another seven movies on top from two different aspects of the Star Trek universe and there's no sign of it slowing for the time being.  In the last 25 years more episodes and movies have been produced than there were from 1966 to 1991 (just six films, four and a half seasons of The Next Generation and The Original Series) compared to seven movies, two and half seasons of The Next Generation plus all of Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise.  

While right now we might not be in that 1990's 'Golden Age' where there was Star Trek at every corner, it's certainly heading in a better direction. Less perhaps in this instance is more. Certainly the next 25 years are getting a great send off with the arrival of Discovery and the knowledge that there will be a fourth Star Trek movie from the Kelvin Timeline landing in the next few years. However, who is to say what will happen beyond that - nothing is set in stone just yet. Fingers crossed that in 2041 we are looking back to Beyond and Discovery are remembered with just as warmly.

Where did you first see these movies? What's your first memory of watching them?

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