29 April 2013

Trek Review: Star Trek VI - The Undiscovered Country

Still my favourite of the films featuring the cast from the Original Series, The Undiscovered Country brings us the last voyage of the original crew. A devastating explosion of a Klingon moon could spell the end of the Klingon Empire who come to negotiate a treaty with the Federation to allow for their continued existence. While escorting the Klingon High Chancellor to Earth, the Enterprise appears to attack the High Chancellor's ship and he is assassinated. Kirk and McCoy are detained and it's up to Spock and the rest of the Enterprise crew to piece together what happened. It is also nice to see Sulu get his own ship - the Excelsior.

Following a less than stellar performance with The Final Frontier, The Undiscovered Country returns to 'good Trek' by being an even numbered film, having Nicholas Meyer back in the directors chair and instead of searching for God, we're dealing with real world issues - the fall of the Klingon Empire akin to the fall of the Soviet Union.

We begin with Captain Sulu in command of the Excelsior, encountering a shockwave emanating from what is left of Praxis, a Klingon moon. The incident sparking dire consequences for the Klingon Empire.

At a meeting of officials within Starfleet, we learn the Klingon Empire has roughly 50 years left in it and that Sarek and Spock have been in contact with Gorkon, the Klingon High-Chancellor to begin peace talks between the Empire and the Federation. Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise are selected to meet with Gorkon's ship and escort them to Earth.

In Spacedock, we meet Lt Valeris, the new Vulcan helm officer aboard Enterprise and we are soon on our way to meet with the Klingons where Kirk makes a log entry about his feelings towards Klingons and Spock talks to Valeris about her replacing him aboard Enterprise.

After meeting their ship, Kronos One, Kirk surprises the crew by inviting the Klingons over for dinner aboard Enterprise where we meet Gorkon, his daughter Azetbur and General Chang. An interesting 'dinner from hell' comes together with the sharing of Shakespeare, interesting table manners and clashes of cultural ideals. After dinner, recovering from what they've just gone through and headaches from too much Romulan Ale, Spock detects a large radiation concentration emanating from Enterprise, right before two torpedoes strike Kronos One, disabling her artificial gravity and sending her spinning out of control.

While the Enterprise crew work to find out what happened, two officers in Starfleet space suits and gravity boots board Kronos One and shoot Gorkon and some of his crew. Kirk surrenders when Chang regains control and prepares to attack. Kirk and McCoy attempt to assist Gorkon but he passes away before them.

General Chang arrests Kirk and McCoy. They are put on trial and sentenced to life imprisonment on the penal asteroid, Rura Penthe. Once there, the duo meet Marta who offers them information and a possibility of escape. Once outside the barrier that prevents beaming, Kirk suspects Marta isn't all she appears - aside from the fact she's a shapeshifter. They are soon discovered by the prison guard and on the cusp of finding out who's responsible when Kirk and McCoy are beamed aboard Enterprise.

Putting some theories together, Kirk and Spock work to oust a mole aboard Enterprise and reveal Lt Valeris is involved in a conspiracy that goes to the highest levels of Starfleet and the Klingon Empire as well. On top of all this, it is discovered that the Klingon's have themselves a prototype Klingon Bird of Prey that can fire whilst cloaked (which was used to disable Kronos One).

Sulu and the Excelsior stand ready to help Kirk and the Enterprise as both ships and crew head to Khitomer to prevent another assassination attempt. The Enterprise takes the first few hits from Chang's Bird of Prey before Excelsior arrives on the scene, also taking damage. Spock and McCoy reconfigure a Photon Torpedo to track the Bird of Prey's ion trail and are able to defeat Chang and continue to Khitomer.

Kirk and crew barely save the Federation President and uncover high-ranking Starfleet officers involved in the attempted shooting.

Nicholas Meyer returns to the director's chair after his work on The Wrath of Khan and it shows. The Enterprise looks her best in this film with nice details throughout the interior. Cliff Eidelman composes a wonderful score for this last instalment including the building and climatic opening theme. The score for VI is also among my favourite of the Trek scores, even though it was Eidelman's only effort in the franchise.

The Undiscovered Country takes us through light and dark and talks of endings, suited to this film's position for the Original Series crew. While keeping a humour about itself, it also takes a look at people's prejudices and opposition to change and in classic style, it pits Kirk once more against the Klingons.

The final adventure for Kirk and crew is a great ride and puts events in motion that would lead to peace between the Federation and Klingons as seen in the series Star Trek: The Next Generation. The final sign-off by Kirk and the signatures of each cast member before the closing credits is an excellent and fitting way to bring the Original Series to an end.

My Rating: 4 Stars or 8/10
Eleonor's Rating: 4 Stars or 8/10 (as well!)

Interestingly, my favourite of the Original films doesn't out-score The Wrath of Khan (4.5 stars) but who says that favourites have to also be the best? :)

20 April 2013

B5 Review: Ceremonies of Light and Dark & Sic Transit Vir

Following the action-packed trilogy that turned the series on its head, we take a short break with these next two episodes of Season Three - that's not to say that wheels aren't continuing to turn...

Ceremonies of Light and Dark
Sheridan in a gunman's sights Some of the remaining Nightwatch on the station have plans to remove the Minbari ships protecting the station while Delenn and Lennier try to put together a rebirth ceremony following the hardships and changes the station has recently gone through.

Delenn begins rounding up people to attend the rebirth ceremony, but sadly meets a lot of resistance with many such as G'Kar, Londo and Marcus busy with other affairs or reluctant to attend. When the Minbari fleet Captain comes aboard for a tour of the station, the Nightwatch team capture him and Delenn before alerting the command staff and providing the ultimatum of removing the Minbari ships or their hostages will be killed.

Londo meets with Lord Refa to dissuade his further dealings with Morden as the Centauri are deeply embroiled in conflict on multiple fronts and Londo fears they are weakening their forces foolishly should Morden's associates decide to turn their attention to the Centauri at some point. Refa initially refuses until Londo reveals he has introduced a poison into Refa's system.

Marcus and Lennier set out to find who is responsible for Delenn's capture and Lennier reveals a secret to Marcus about his feelings for Delenn. Sheridan and crew, battling an annoying artificial intelligence that was resurfaced in the computer system, are able to flush out the Nightwatch in Grey Sector and free the Minbari hostages.

With Delenn in Medlab from injuries suffered, the time for the Rebirth ceremony has nearly passed. Sheridan, Ivanova, Garibaldi and Franklin bring the ceremony to her. Handing in their uniforms (giving up something they truly believed in) and offering a secret that no one else has been told. In return, Delenn provides them with new uniforms...

Ceremonies... is an excellent episode to follow on from the events of Severed Dreams. Many other shows would have just moved on and assumed that everything was cleaned up in the previous episode but this shows that all things continue to remain imperfect and how this affects our characters and the station. Add to that the realisation of the relationship between Sheridan and Delenn as well as a new look for our command staff and at the halfway point in the series we are beginning anew...

My rating: 6.5/10

Sic Transit Vir
Sheridan and Ivanova on helping the Narn escape the Centauri Vir receives a surprise visit from his wife-to-be while it is discovered that he has been a busy many during his appointment to Minbar - what exactly has he done to over 2000 Narns?

This is one of those obscure episodes of the series that can so easily go unnoticed but has many great moments in it. From Ivanova's dream about turning up to work naked to Londo's hatred of bugs and a realisation about what the Centauri are doing to the Narn population on their homeworld. Aside from seeing Minister Virini again, we get to meet Lyndisty, Vir's betrothed and she opens a window to the way other Centauri view the Narn and it's quite horrific at how easily she justifies their treatment. This of course is mirrored with Vir's own actions of attempting to save as many Narn as he can whilst assigned to Minbar.

Sheridan prepares a meal for Delenn which also has some funny moments and Ivanova finds her purpose with trying to help continue Vir's cause.

A short review as there aren't many other issues covered in this episode. There's finally some decent concentration on Vir's character and how far he has come since the show's start. I give it a 6.5/10.

13 April 2013

Trek Review: Star Trek V - The Final Frontier

On Nimbus III, the planet of intergalactic peace, a renegade Vulcan captures the Earth, Klingon and Romulan Ambassadors in the hopes of attracting the attention of their governments. When Kirk and crew investigate, the Enterprise is captured and put on a course for the centre of the galaxy in search of God.

The Final Frontier is often talked of negatively among Trekkers and even my memories of it weren't too great. However, a recent re-watch left me thinking the movie wasn't all bad. So I'll try to focus on the positives...

We are introduced to Sybok, a Vulcan that appears to embrace emotion - something we have not seen before (except when Spock was under some other, outside influence) and something we didn't know was really possible. Sybok is able to take away a person's 'pain', helping them be free and he then enlists them into his cause. He is searching for Sha Ka Ree, the Vulcan equivalent to Eden or the home of God. After Sybok captures the Earth, Klingon and Romulan ambassadors in a bar he hopes to attract a starship they can use for their quest. How Sybok figured he'd get a Federation starship as opposed to a warship from the Klingons or Romulans, we're not too sure.

A Klingon commander learns that Starfleet has dispatched the (still teething) Enterprise to Nimbus III and in the hopes of having his own glory in a confrontation against Kirk, he sets a course. Arriving at Nimbus III as Sybok and his followers have Kirk and crew hostage in a shuttle heading for their ship. Using a plan to quickly get their shuttle aboard the Enterprise, our crew are successful in evading attack by the Klingons. Sybok then detains Kirk, Spock and McCoy before proceeding to take over the ship.

It's here, in the holding cell we learn that Sybok is in fact Spock's half brother. Scotty has realised what is happening and works to free the trio from the cell, letting them know how to access the emergency transmitter. Unfortunately for them, the transmission is received by the Klingon ship in pursuit, portraying themselves as Starfleet and promising to send assistance.

Sybok finds the escaped trio and relieves McCoy and Spock of their pain, but Kirk refuses. The Enterprise then encounters the galactic barrier. Sybok relinquishes command to Kirk after being convinced the Captain will continue them on course through to see what is on the other side.

Encountering a strange planetary body, Sybok takes Kirk, Spock and McCoy in a shuttle to have a look. Watching from the bridge, no one notices the Klingon Bird of Prey on an intercept course on the aft tactical screen.

On the planet, the landing party encounter a being that introduces himself as God but Kirk soon becomes suspicious when he starts to show increasing interest in their starship and using it, prompting Kirk to ask 'What does God need with a starship?' Unimpressed, the being attacks both Kirk and Spock before Sybok realises what he has done. Sybok distracts the being to allow the others to escape but the shuttlecraft is inoperative. Kirk orders McCoy and Spock beamed back to Enterprise and he soon comes face to face with the angry being before a Klingon Bird of Prey appears and destroys it with a single disruptor shot. Kirk is then brought aboard the Bird of Prey and introduced to Klingon Ambassador Koord who orders the ship's commander to apologise for their pursuit and aggression towards them. Koord also introduces the ship's gunner, none other than Spock.

While the idea of searching for God is overly ambitious, what we find with The Final Frontier is that it tries but ultimately fails on many accounts. There are plenty of good character moments for our trio of Kirk, Spock and McCoy with the other characters getting their screen time as well, although the Scotty/Uhura relationship was questionnable, but at least not over done. Sulu and Chekov get decent roles with Sulu's piloting skills put to the test and Chekov getting to sit in the captain's chair for a bit. There were even some decent moments from the shore leave sequences including the mountain climb/fall, 'Row, Row, Row Your Boat' and Sulu & Chekov not wanting to admit they're lost in the forest. - perhaps the biggest crime relating to the characters was Uhura's 'dance of distraction' in the desert?

There are others areas for nitpicking as The Final Frontier ultimately hit problems during production and underperformed after its cinematic release. This is clearly a science fiction movie of the late 80's with a similar feel to others of the time period including Total Recall - down to Jerry Goldsmith's familiar sci-fi musical score and an alien tabletop dancer with no less than three boobs! Another scene that disappoints fans is when Spock, with his rocket boots assists Kirk and McCoy in a turbolift shaft which clearly represents Decks 52 and 78 on a 23 deck starship ascending from bottom to top (when we all know Deck 1 is the Bridge at the top and Deck 23 is at the bottom of the ship).

Star Trek V's wiki entry at Memory Alpha cites strong criticism of the poor special effects that were used. Industrial Light and Magic weren't involved in this movie as it appears another choice was selected and ILM were involved in the production of several other (competing) movies at the time. I would suggest that the space scenes didn't suffer so much as the 'Mountain' scenes did and those portraying the 'God' being.

Jerry Goldsmith brings back the familiar Star Trek theme and Klingon motif he first used in The Motion Picture in this movie while William Shatner this time takes on the role of director. Laurence Luckinbill plays the villain in Sybok and I thought he actually played the role really well.

For all its failings, there are some things to appreciate in The Final Frontier. But thankfully this was not the final instalment of the Original Series movies, as my favourite, The Undiscovered Country would not have been possible otherwise.

My Rating: 3.5 stars or 7/10
Eleonor's Rating: 3.5 stars or 7/10

07 April 2013

B5 Review: Point Of No Return & Severed Dreams

Things continue to intensify for Earth and our crew following the events in Messages from Earth.

Point Of No Return
Garibaldi confronts the NightwatchEarth is thrown towards civil war in the wake of President Clark's declaration of Martial Law. On the station, Emperor Turhan's third wife, Lady Morella arrives at the request of Londo for a tour of the station, but he actually has something else in mind.

The Earth Alliance is in disarray following the Martial Law order. Clark has dissolved the Senate so his orders go unchallenged. Sheridan receives orders to implement Martial Law on the station and hand over security to the Nightwatch.

Lady Morella arrives for a tour of the station but Londo, knowing she is a seer, wants her to determine if the future that he has seen in his dreams is what will be, or if he can avoid it.

ISN reports a firefight between Earthforce ships near Io which is broadcast across the station as Sheridan implements Martial Law. A fight breaks out on the Zocalo as Nightwatch security attempt to break up the crowd.

Sheridan analyses the message sent to him about the handover of security duties to the Nightwatch and finds a loophole. He and the command staff work to bring Zack in on their plans and with his help, they alleviate the Nightwatch problem. G'Kar offers his assistance (after prematurely being released from prison) by enlisting Narn on the station as security officers.

We are left with the realisation that our staff are on their own after General Hague is revealed to be on the run and outgunned by Clark's forces. Morella also makes an interesting announcement to both Londo and Vir before she leaves.

The title episode for the third season, Point Of No Return holds up as the centrepiece of a trilogy surrounding the mayhem in the Earth Alliance where "Everything's gone to hell". Our crew take a bit of a backseat to the action in this one but there is certainly a feeling that they will be embroiled in it sooner or later.

There is much to be learned from Lady Morella's perspective in this episode as well with the alliance between Centauri Prime and Earth in the spotlight while fighting is breaking out amongst the Earth Alliance. There is also much to be appreciated by the fact that Lady Morella is played by Gene Roddenberry's wife, Majel Barrett-Roddenberry.

An excellent episode, enjoyable and tense, my rating is 8/10.

Severed Dreams
Earth TaskforceFighting has broken out across the Earth Alliance and General Hague's ship, the Alexander has taken serious damage in a firefight with a Clark loyal ship, the Clarkstown. With nowhere to turn, they head to Babylon 5 for refuge. Meanwhile, President Clark orders attacks on Earth colony's failing to implement Martial Law and has Babylon 5 in his sights...

The crew receive word that the Alexander is on its way and make preparations for her arrival. Meanwhile, Delenn is troubled by the report of a Minbari Ranger bringing news of Shadow movements and conflict springing up among the League of Non-Aligned Worlds. The Grey Council have not intervened as they believe "the problems of others are not our concern". With this news, Delenn sets off to confront the Council.

Major Ryan arrives aboard the Alexander, explaining that General Hague was killed in the recent firefight with the Clarkstown. During his briefing with the Babylon 5 staff, they receive word that President Clark has ordeered Mars to be bombed for not implementing Martial Law on the colony.

Another Earthforce destroyer, the Churchill arrives with Captain Hiroshi bringing news that Orion VII and Proxima III have seceded from the Earth Alliance in response to Clark's bombing of Mars. Hiroshi also informs Sheridan and Ryan that they intercepted attack orders to a fleet headed to Babylon 5 who are to arrest and detain the command staff and restore the Nightwatch as security in order to stop the station from seceding as well. Sheridan makes the difficult decision to make their stand with the two Earthforce destroyers.

Delenn puts herself before the Grey Council and tells them they have lost their way. She breaks the council, as was prophesied and calls on the Religious and Worker castes to pool their forces into fighting the Shadows since the Warrior caste will not.

Sheridan calls home to his father to wish him well and then makes a stationwide announcement informing of his decision to stand with Orion VII and Proxima III, declaring independence from the Earth Alliance until President Clark is removed from office. 

Ivanova requests permission to join a Starfury squadron to assist their crews who will potentially be going up against their own people. Captain Dexter Smith of the Agrippa arrives with his taskforce ordering Babylon 5 and the renegade ships to stand down and surrender. Sheridan attempts to appeal to the Earthforce Captain that the orders they have received are illegal but they are fired upon and a firefight ensues. Sheridan coordinates the station's defense while Ivanova takes charge of the Starfury's. Garibaldi works with security forces against a breaching pod bringing large casualties.

The Churchill takes massive damage and in their final actions rams the Agrippa and takes them out of the equation. Ivanova loses her Starfury after a collision but is able to eject to safety amongst the battle. Babylon 5 and the Alexander take out the Roanoke but before the dust can settle another group of Earthforce ships arrive ordering Babylon 5 to surrender. Feeling beaten, Lt Corwin reports that multiple jump points are opening above the station - when all seems lost, three Minbari War Cruisers appear led by the Whitestar.

Delenn communicates with the Earthforce fleet telling them that Babylon 5 is under their protection and to withdraw or be destroyed. Initially refusing, Delenn informs them that the only human Captain to survive battle with the Minbari is behind her - they are in front of her. Valuing their lives, the Earthforce ships retreat.

This is a fantastic episode for it is mostly a special effects showcase of battles and explosions. But it is also very emotional. Eleonor was feeling quite concerned about Ivanova's decision to join the Starfury squadron, the scenes of the Narn security officers taking hits from the intruding Earthforce's is extremely powerful and poignant from G'Kar's recent vision about sacrifice. John's call to his Dad before announcing Babylon 5's independence and even the realisation that they may have lost when the reinforcements arrive to take the station. 

Severed Dreams is a great conclusion to the trilogy of episodes that turns the show on its head. Our crew are now renegades to the Earth Alliance but in doing that they are not alone as Delenn has managed to bring support from Minbar.

Just because I will always love this episode for all its action, I give it an 8.5/10.

03 April 2013

B5 Review: Exogenesis & Messages From Earth

Babylon 5's third season continues with these two episodes. Exogenesis was the first episode I managed to watch after a long hiatus in the series' initial run on television and Messages From Earth grabbed me by the hook...

VendriziMarcus enlists Dr Franklin's help in investigating what appears to be an invasion by parasitic aliens while Ivanova investigates Corwin's loyalties and whether he can be brought into their conspiracy group.

A bit like Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and its Ceti Eels, I always remembered this episode for the somewhat graphic scene where one of the parasitic aliens, a Vindrizi, bonds with a human host. While not an important 'arc' episode, we do learn more about Marcus in this one, including his interest in Ivanova, which I had forgotten had been so outrightly spoken about.

The other part of the story involves Ivanova attempting to find out whether Corwin can be trusted and brought into their secret circle. The recently promoted Lieutenant, not sure himself about a meeting arranged by Susan in her quarters which leads to some fun and awkwardness surrounding the purchase of some flowers.

Not the strongest installment in the season but it did reintroduce me to the series and most of the characters I remember from Season One. There was enough in it to keep me interested in what was to come, 6/10.

Messages From Earth

Shadow Ship uncovered on Mars Marcus ensures the safety of Dr Mary Kirkish, coming to Babylon 5 with information that forces Sheridan to take action and possibly go up against Earth sooner than expected...

If Exogenesis (above) is what reintroduced me to the series after a hiatus, Messages From Earth made sure I kept on watching as I realised there was much I had missed regarding the overall arc but also that there were some very serious stories to come. 

Dr Kirkish brings her story to the crew, of finding a Shadow ship buried beneath the surface of Mars and how their IPX expedition was told to leave the area and another ship coming to dig it out. Garibaldi backs up her story and shows a Psi-Corps badge that he found near the site. Kirkish also brings news that another dig is underway on Ganymede where another Shadow ship has been found but this time it's being kept a secret as though someone in Earthdome wants to harness the ship's power themselves. After telling her story Delenn has Lennier look after Dr Kirkish and take her to safety in Minbari space.

Sheridan must then make a decision about what to do and decides to take Delenn and the Whitestar to Earth space to destroy the Shadow ship on Ganymede before it is brought online. The rest of the crew cover their absence, particularly under the watchful eyes of the Nightwatch. Ivanova has trouble coming to terms with the fact that Sheridan may be forced to attack an Earth ship and blames Marcus for sending him and Delenn on a suicide mission.

The Whitestar jumps into Earth space near Jupiter and heads straight for Ganymede picking up transmissions from the site where the ship is being held. A 'subject' is entering the ship to merge with and activate it and upon doing so the ship goes out of control and attacks the base. Sheridan orders the crew to engage the ship and hopes that if the merge didn't go as planned, they may have an advantage. Forcing the ship to pursue them to Jupiter, Sheridan out-maneuvers the Shadow vessel in Jupiter's gravity and has it destroyed. Preparing to return home, the Whitestar comes under attack by the Agamemnon, John's old ship. Boxed in, Delenn orders the Whitestar perform an atmospheric jump into hyperspace to escape.

On ISN, reports are that an alien ship attacked the Ganymede colony and was pursued to Jupiter where it was destroyed by the Agamemnon. Shortly after, President Clark signs a decree declaring Martial Law on Earth.

This is a fantastic episode on many levels. The story, realising that the Shadows have hidden their ships everywhere in preparation for the coming darkness, realising the Psi-Corps may be involved, the audio with that awakening Shadow scream that we get to hear twice and the special effects throughout make this a great episode to be reintroduced to the series and its larger arcs. The stakes are high and just when it looks like our crew got away with everything, I still get chills when we are informed that Earth is under Martial Law.

Rating: 8/10