George Takei

To Be Takei (2014, Jennifer M. Kroot)

To Be Takei is unexpected, even though everything it presents about its subject’s life is somewhere between common knowledge and readily accessible knowledge. Even though director Kroot opens the film on a jovial note–George Takei (the titular Takei) and his husband, Brad Takei (sort of also the titular Takei), taking their morning walk and bickering about whether they’re walking faster for the benefit of the camera–Takei is serious. Kroot has a lot of fun, but her thesis is it’s serious.

Of course, she also opens the film with Howard Stern introducing it, so she has to work uphill to get to serious. And George Takei’s life certainly has a lot of serious in it. Kroot often saves clips (and discussions) of William Shatner for when she needs to relieve some of the stress in the film.

The film does have a somewhat set narrative; it tracks Takei as he opens his first musical, based on his experiences in internment camps. Along the way, Kroot covers everything else Takei’s famous for–“Star Trek”, Facebook, being gay. The Facebook stuff is almost an aside, ditto the “Star Trek” stuff. Takei’s experiences–both as a gay man in the mid-to-late twentieth century and in Hollywood at that time–are exceptional. Kroot never draws attention it, but Takei’s life is uncommon on almost every level. Except maybe the bickering married stuff.

To Be Takei is surprisingly good. Sure, the protagonists are engaging, but Kroot’s presentation and conclusions make it work.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Jennifer M. Kroot; director of photography, Christopher Million; edited by Bill Weber; music by Michael Hearst; produced by Kroot, Gerry Kim and Mayuran Tiruchelva; released by Starz.

Starring George Takei and Brad Takei.


Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991, Nicholas Meyer)

From the second scene of the Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, it's clear director Meyer is going to be somewhat merciless in how he presents the film. It's not just a story about a sea change in the franchise's mythology or about the familiar cast members retiring, it's also about it being the final Star Trek movie.

Meyer gets phenomenal performances out of his cast; there's the light stuff, usually with DeForest Kelley or Walter Koenig, but he also goes dark with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. Somehow, Meyer manages to balance the film between serious–it's about violent bigotry, after all–and a dark gray genial. The film opens with space disaster followed with a jolting dose of that bigotry.

Playing a new crew member, Kim Cattrall gets the most comedic relief moments. Not as the target of them, but as the perpetrator. Meyer relies on her to be the audience's entry into some of the picture; she's the regular person among the titans. It's a nice narrative trick and one of the more successful ones. There are some less successful ones, which mostly get by due to the abilities of the actors. The big example is Shatner's character arc. It doesn't work because Shatner can't play it bigoted enough; Meyer tries to edit around it but still. Also less successful is Christopher Plummer's character. Plummer's great, but the part's too thin.

At the same time, lots of subtle narrative moves work out great.

The film's problematic, but incredibly successful.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Nicholas Meyer; screenplay by Meyer and Denny Martin Flinn, based on a story by Leonard Nimoy, Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal and the television series created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, Hiro Narita; edited by William Hoy and Ronald Roose; music by Cliff Eidelman; production designer, Herman F. Zimmermann; produced by Ralph Winter and Steven-Charles Jaffe; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring William Shatner (Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (Spock), DeForest Kelley (McCoy), James Doohan (Scotty), Walter Koenig (Chekov), Nichelle Nichols (Uhuru), George Takei (Sulu), Mark Lenard (Sarek), David Warner (Chancellor Gorkon), Kim Cattrall (Lt. Valeris), Rosanna DeSoto (Azetbur), Christopher Plummer (Chang), Kurtwood Smith (Federation President), Brock Peters (Admiral Cartwright), Paul Rossilli (Kerla), John Schuck (Klingon Ambassador), Iman (Martia), Leon Russom (Chief in Command) and Michael Dorn (Klingon Defense Attorney).


Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989, William Shatner)

In some ways, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is an ambitious movie pretending to be popcorn entertainment pretending to be an ambitious movie. There's a lot of nonsense about self-help, not to mention the whole God thing, and none of it works. Partially, it doesn't work because David Loughery's script is too thin, but it also doesn't work because Final Frontier is paced as an action movie, not a self-reflective sci-fi outing.

But there's a definite subtext–not quite subplot, the film ignores any subplots it starts–regarding the continued bond between William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley. About the only thing the movie does really well is the character stuff, not just for those three principals (it's often a comedy showcase for Kelley), but also for the rest of the regular cast. Of course, the script forgets about developing these good character moments, but they're nice to have around.

There's also a good performance from Laurence Luckinbill as the film's de facto antagonist. The handling of his character is another positive about the film. He gets more of a character arc than any of the regular cast.

As far as directing, Shatner does a fine enough job. The action's fast-paced, with excellent editing from Peter E. Berger. Andrew Laszlo's photography is decent too. A lot of the special effects are fantastic. Except the end when it really needs them.

The Jerry Goldsmith score's trying.

The Final Frontier's about as good as any "Star Trek finds God" picture could be.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by William Shatner; screenplay by David Loughery, based on a story by Shatner, Harve Bennett and Loughery and the television series created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, Andrew Laszlo; edited by Peter S. Berger; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Herman F. Zimmerman; produced by Bennett; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring William Shatner (Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (Spock), DeForest Kelley (McCoy), James Doohan (Scotty), Walter Koenig (Chekov), Nichelle Nichols (Uhura), George Takei (Sulu), Laurence Luckinbill (Sybok), Charles Cooper (Korrd), Cynthia Gouw (Caithlin Dar), Spice Williams-Crosby (Vixis), Todd Bryant (Captain Klaa) and David Warner (St. John Talbot).


Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986, Leonard Nimoy)

In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, director Leonard Nimoy establishes a light-hearted, but very high stakes, action-packed environment. Voyage Home is in no way an action movie–the action sequences mostly consist of chases and comedic subterfuges–but there’s a new one every few minutes. The screenwriters came up with a scenario where there’s always danger, but always an almost immediate comic relief.

Flipping between that danger and relief is where William Shatner is so important. He’s able to activate the intense concern momentarily, a grin ready for when the implications have surfaced. Shatner has the most to do in the film, but owns it the least–he’s got some flirtation with Catherine Hicks, but nothing as substantial as most of the other cast members. When he’s out with Nimoy in modern day San Francisco, he’s usually just there to set up Nimoy’s laughs.

The modern day setting is an incredible success too. Nimoy is able to so convince his audience of the 23rd century setting at the start, the trip to the audience’s own time takes them out of water too.

DeForest Kelley gets a lot to do, sort of switching between sidekick for Shatner, Nimoy and finally James Doohan. Kelley and Doohan are great together.

As a director, Nimoy’s sensibilities–especially for comedy–are strong. For a Star Trek film, he’s surprisingly uninterested in complicated space effects. He sticks to the grounded stuff.

Nimoy and company engage the franchise’s iconography to excellent result. Just great.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Leonard Nimoy; screenplay by Steve Meerson, Peter Krikes, Harve Bennett and Nicholas Meyer, based on a story by Nimoy and Bennett and the television series created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, Donald Peterman; edited by Peter E. Berger; music by Leonard Rosenman; production designer, Jack T. Collis; produced by Bennett; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring William Shatner (Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (Spock), DeForest Kelley (McCoy), James Doohan (Scotty), George Takei (Sulu), Walter Koenig (Chekov), Nichelle Nichols (Uhura), Mark Lenard (Sarek), Jane Wyatt (Amanda), Robert Ellenstein (Federation Council President), John Schuck (Klingon Ambassador), Brock Peters (Admiral Cartwright), Robin Curtis (Lt. Saavik) and Catherine Hicks (Gillian).


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).


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).


Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984, Leonard Nimoy)

Layers. Star Trek III has no layers. It’s all id. Star Trek loses its ship, Kirk loses his son, Dr. McCoy loses his mind and none of it means anything. My fiancée pointed out that III is a bridge between II and IV, it brings Spock back to life. It fulfills a need. Forget the need. Forget the bridge–The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly knew what to do with bridges.

III isn’t bad, though. There are some great sequences (Nimoy is a damn good Panavision director, damn good), but they’re all too short. The film runs 105 minutes and it’s got too much to do for that time to be appropriate. The film deviates from the Enterprise crew to Kirk’s son and spends a bunch of time on the Genesis planet (sorry to go geek), the product of II. Well, that’s fine, but it’s all the McGuffin to bring Spock back. We get a long, tortured explanation that Kirk’s son–a scientist–flubbed his work to guarantee success. There’s an attempt at a rhyme to Star Trek II, but it’s incredibly forced and, even if it wasn’t, I’m not sure rhymes between films in a series should be so evident. The rhymes should be feelings, not plot points. To go geek some more… the planet was supposed to be made out of a moon or some “dead” planet. It was made, by accident, out of a cloud of dust. Maybe that could have been the reason it was unstable, not because the kid was a screw-up. There’s a trivia note on IMDb that the writers killed the kid because of this transgression–he “deserved” it. What a load.

All of the faults of the film, except the running time since Nimoy probably had the opportunity to insert scenes for the DVD, rest on the writer’s shoulders. Harve Bennett did a bang-up job producing Star Trek II through V, but he’s pood of a writer (oddly, there are some nice producing flourishes around).

I can think of two particular sequences that Nimoy does some amazing work with–a chase scene and the Enterprise burning up–and I desperately wanted more from these scenes. They really resonated. So did the early scenes on the planet, which lasted about fifteen good seconds before the “story” took over. Events are quality’s enemy… events are excellence’s enemy? I was trying for a rhyme thing, but I guess I’ll just have to be happy that I worked ‘pood’ into a post.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Leonard Nimoy; screenplay by Harve Bennett, based on the television show created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, Charles Correll; edited by Robert F. Shugrue; music by James Horner; produced by Bennett; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring William Shatner (Admiral James T. Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (Capt. Spock), DeForest Kelley (Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy), James Doohan (Montgomery “Scotty” Scott), George Takei (Hikaru Sulu), Walter Koenig (Pavel Chekov), Nichelle Nichols (Cmdr. Uhura), Merritt Butrick (Dr. David Marcus), Robin Curtis (Lt. Saavik), Robert Hooks (Adm. Morrow), Cathie Shirriff (Valkris), Christopher Lloyd (Cmdr. Kruge), Stephen Liska (Torg), John Larroquette (Maltz), James Sikking (Captain Styles), Miguel Ferrer (First Officer), Mark Lenard (Ambassador Sarek), Judith Anderson (Vulcan High Priestess) and Grace Lee Whitney (Janice Rand).


Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982, Nicholas Meyer), the director’s edition

Layers. Star Trek II has a lot of layers. I couldn’t decide if, as a sequel, it had the time to work so many layers in (it runs two hours). It’s the human heart, in conflict with itself, others, and its environment. There’s so much going on and some of it is purely cinematic. The Star Trek films, for a while anyway, were the only “science fiction” films to show space with any sense of wonderment, post-2001. Star Trek II‘s layers are incredibly aided by the audience’s pre-existing knowledge of the situation. But the audience doesn’t need to know too much, only the general specifics one would get if he or she asked another person about the TV show. And the other person wouldn’t have needed to see it, maybe only heard of it. Star Trek II establishes itself very quickly.

I’ve been seeing a lot of Shatner lately, not just on “Boston Legal,” but in the fan-edit of Star Trek V last week, and it’s incredible how good he is in this film. Not incredible because he’s bad today, but incredible because it’s such a good performance. Star Trek and Shatner have both been devalued in modernity–Shatner because he lets himself be and Star Trek because of the new TV shows. Star Trek II would be best appreciated by someone unconcerned with a grand sense of “continuity,” because watching or reading with such a concern immediately makes the reader totally full of it. The toilet is overflowing in fact. Star Trek II is about what it does to you in two hours and it does a lot. It propels you through a range of emotions–I’ve seen the film six or seven times since I was six and it effected me more this time, when I was watching it most critically, than ever before. Nicholas Meyer directs a tight film. He doesn’t have a lot of sets, but all of them make a lasting impression. Besides the set design and the cinematography–you can watch Star Trek: The Motion Picture to see how else the same sets can be shot–there’s James Horner’s music. It’s as effective as the pieces Kubrick picked for 2001, it really is….

I read somewhere, a few months ago, that most people identify themselves as–generally–Star Trek fans. I imagine it’s that the geeks have taken over popular culture (Lord of the Rings), leaving intelligent folks almost nothing in the mainstream… since, what, 2000? Being a fan of something in no way means it’s good–quality doesn’t enter into it, since “fans” frequently argue that art is subjective. Well, Star Trek II is sort of an innocent victim in all this hubbub. It is, objectively, excellent (I think 1982 is probably the only year three “sci-fi” movies, Star Trek II, Blade Runner, and The Thing are in the top ten). Unfortunately, its excellence is assumed to be subjective (remember, the even number Star Trek films are the good ones?), doing the film an incredible disservice. It’s an achievement in filmic storytelling, nothing else.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Nicholas Meyer; screenplay by Jack B. Sowards, based on a story by Harve Bennett and Sowards and the television show created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, Gayne Rescher; edited by William P. Dornisch; music by James Horner; production designer, Joseph R. Jennings; produced by Robert Sallin; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring William Shatner (Admiral James T. Kirk), Ricardo Montalban (Khan Noonien Singh), Leonard Nimoy (Captain Spock), DeForest Kelley (Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy), James Doohan (Cmdr. Montgomery “Scotty” Scott), Walter Koenig (Pavel Chekov), George Takei (Hikaru Sulu), Nichelle Nichols (Cmdr. Uhura), Bibi Besch (Dr. Carol Marcus), Merritt Butrick (Dr. David Marcus), Judson Earney Scott (Joachim Weiss), Paul Winfield (Capt. Clark Terrell), Kirstie Alley (Lt. Saavik), Ike Eisenmann (Midshipman Peter Preston), John Vargas (Jedda) and John Winston (Cmdr. Kyle).