Tag Archives: Leonard Nimoy

Star Trek Movie Commentaries!

This week I watched commentaries for the first six Star Trek movies, the ones with the original cast. I know, I know, I’m supposed to be watching The Next Generation, but I suddenly realized I’d been sitting on collector’s editions of the movies from 2004 and had never even checked to see what kind of special features they had. Turns out a lot of behind-the-scenes documentaries, but also commentaries for each movie, which my fellow fans might find interesting. Summaries first, then overall thoughts:

Star Trek: The Motion Picture: Commentary with director Robert Wise, special photographic effects director Douglas Trumbull, effects supervisor John Dykstra, composer Jerry Goldsmith, and Stephen Collins (who played Decker). This commentary is almost entirely about special effects and how things were created. This is presumably a combined result of the commentator choices and the movie itself, but it’s just not that interesting unless you’re a budding effects wizard. They’re basically silent during any character conversations, which strikes me as more of a “meh, waiting for more effects to talk about” than a stylistic choice. That itself is more interesting as the movie progresses though, because that is really what this movie was about. It made me appreciate the beauty of the designs and the time they took, even if the overall movie ended up, er, bad.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: I knew seconds into this commentary that it was going to be way better than the first one. It’s just director Nicholas Meyer on his own, so it’s much more chill and relaxed, but also much more revelatory. At times it sounds like a rambling monologue, and yet it’s all supremely relevant to what’s onscreen and how the movie became what it is, demonstrating again why Meyer’s are the great Trek movies but also extending beyond them in significance. He’s talking about the movie, but the commentary gradually becomes an extended meditation on writing and how to put a story together, and its brilliant.

 

nicholas-meyer-leaonrd-nimoy-william-shatner

Nicholas Meyer, Leonard Nimoy, and William Shatner on the Wrath of Khan set.

 

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock: Commentary by Leonard Nimoy, producer Harve Bennett, director of photography Charles Correll and Robin Curtis (the second Saavik actress). It’s a relaxed chat about the movie, but I don’t think they were talking to each other, it sounds more like they recorded statements independently. The main focus was on how they managed to make the movie on their budget, with a sub-theme of the characters’ motivations and how the actors worked. So, most of the information I already knew from Leonard Nimoy’s memoirs, but it was nice to hear him talk about the movie.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home: Ah, this is Nimoy and Shatner in the same room watching the movie, so it’s a pleasure. They jog each other’s memories of what word they’re looking for, they laugh at jokes in the movie, they express their feelings at watching DeForest Kelley after his death. They share some behind-the-scenes stories and insights into filming, but they’re also quiet for a lot of the movie, and it creates a kind of intimacy. I just love how entertained they still were at the humor here.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier: This is William Shatner and his daughter Lisabeth, who served as his chronicler during the making of the movie. They mostly just describe what they see onscreen, and the tone here is much different from Voyage. Frequently Lisabeth reminds Shatner of a story or anecdote, and he just repeats what she says. I did, at a few moments, get a glimpse of the movie Shatner wanted to have made, and knew he hadn’t, and there’s something very poignant in that, especially combined with the “forgetful older man” dynamic he’s showing in the conversation, but otherwise there’s not much insight here.

 

William and Lisabeth Shatner

William and Lisabeth Shatner, in this case discussing Star Wars.

 

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered CountryBack to Nicholas Meyer, this time with his co-screenwriter Denny Flinn. So, there’s some of the pleasure and depth from Wrath of Khan, but a little more chat. I also enjoyed getting more details about the then-contemporary political allusions, because while I can follow “this is the Cold War and the Klingons are the Russians,” they actually had a few more layers and references that I didn’t catch because I wasn’t alive when that was the news, so it was cool to hear those and see how they added those resonances to a sci-fi plot with existing characters. Neither of them knew much about Trek before they got started, so their thoughts on writing longstanding characters, and now characters who aren’t young anymore, was really interesting.

In this collection — which is sometimes expensive but can also be found cheaply if you strike at the right time — Meyer’s Wrath of Khan commentary is absolutely the standout. The Undiscovered Country is a great complement to it, and The Voyage Home is a pleasure. The other three aren’t terribly compelling on their own, but I did enjoy watching them all as a unit. I especially noticed the difference between Meyer’s “constraints make the work better” attitude and the other directors’ litanies of what they couldn’t afford, and I’m fascinated by the way the commentaries matched up to the movies in terms of tone. Overly effects-laden and kinda boring, brilliant, technically good but not transcendent, funny and a bit touching, sad, and brilliant but a bit chattier. That’s the cycle of the movies, too.

These aren’t must-watches, certainly, although I recommend that second commentary to everyone. But if you’re a fan, I think you’ll appreciate the experience.

Trendy Star Trek Documentaries

Star Trek‘s 50th anniversary has brought a lot of attention to the franchise in the past couple of years, along with the release of Star Trek Beyond (which deserved better buzz than it got) and the sad death of Leonard Nimoy in 2015. One effect of all this is the appearance of several new, readily-available documentaries that may interest my fellow Trekkies. I’ve put them in order from best to worst.

For the Love of Spock (2016)

For the Love of Spock promo

The best of the four documentaries, and for me the saddest, is For the Love of Spock. Leonard Nimoy was working on it with his son Adam before he died, so what was intended to be a 50th-anniversary retrospective also became a kind of memorial. It’s the best quality of the four, with archival images and clips worth seeing, along with new interviews. It’s about Spock, it’s about both Nimoys, it’s about the fans. Again the tone can be odd, almost frenzied sometimes, but the emotion is real. You’ll probably have to pay a few dollars to stream this one, but honestly out of all four, this is the one that’s worth the effort.

To Be Takei (2014)

To Be Takei promo

George Takei has become one of the most visible Trek alumni thanks to his social media following and activism, plus his work on the musical Allegiance about the US’s Japanese internment camps during World War II. To Be Takei is basically an overview of his life and the issues he cares about, and it’s definitely worth watching if you’re a fan. It’s got a kind of quirky tone, but be warned, it tends to charge back and forth between his general goofiness and the very serious activism stuff. It’s sometimes available on Netflix, but even when it’s not you can usually find a place to stream it via educational services and things like that.

Chaos on the Bridge (2014)

Chaos on the Bridge promo

I discovered this 1-hour documentary through sheer happenstance on Netflix while looking up The Truth is in the Stars below. It’s a William Shatner-hosted tale of Next Generation’s harried beginnings. It’s not very good either. I mean, the interviews are interesting and I appreciate how they let people tell conflicting versions of the story, but I question whether a video documentary is the best venue for it when there are more cartoon recreations of historical events than actual interviews and pictures.

The Truth Is In The Stars (2017)

The Truth is in the Stars promo

This most-recent effort was essentially recommended to me as “Have you seen this? It’s painful to watch.” Accurate. The idea is that William Shatner interviews scientists about Star Trek‘s impact. But mostly he talks about horses. The first ten minutes is him talking about horses for no apparent reason at all. The next hour or so was interesting if only to see who he’d interview next. He starts with actors, people like Ben Stiller and Jason Alexander (who shows up in like every Star Trek thing ever), then transitions through Seth MacFarlane and Neil deGrasse Tyson (both associated with Cosmos) to additional famous scientists and astronauts (like Michio Kaku and Chris Hadfield) to the great Stephen Hawking. And somewhere in there at the end it becomes genuinely touching? Mostly because we’re seeing Shatner try to deal with his own mortality. So I don’t know whether or not to recommend this one, because it’s reeeeally awkward to see Shatner just ramble at random people like this, but it’s cool to see who’s interviewed and is sort of meaningful at the end. It’s on Netflix, so if I’ve piqued your interest it won’t put you out to find it.


What’s your favorite way to get behind-the-scenes Trek info? Did I miss any documentaries? Let us know in the comments!

Hey, Did You Know “Star Trek: The Animated Series” Was a Thing?

Even as an involved internet Trekkie for two decades, I was only vaguely aware that Star Trek: The Animated Series existed. It was a low-budget cartoon produced the early 1970s, intended to be a kind of fourth season for the live-action show. When I did hear about TAS, I assumed it was awful and just never cared… Until a few years ago, when I found out it was all original actors doing their characters’ voices! I saw a few episodes, but as part of this project to watch all the Star Trek ever, I definitely wanted to see it as a whole. There are 22 episodes, each about 24 minutes long, all currently available on Netflix.

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Re-watching the New Star Trek Movie

Star TrekI remember thoroughly enjoying the new Star Trek movie when it first came out. It has been a little bit since I had watched it so today I decided to take an opportunity to do so. Watching it again I am remembered how good that movie was. There could have been so much that went wrong with that movie because how do you reboot a franchise that is so beloved and already had so much story that was considered cannon? They really did keep the things that are loved about Star Trek, but put a new twist on the story. Now this is not to say that the movie is perfect, but it did start the new movies off on a strong foot.

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Spock — A Character Study

Spock promo picIf anyone is a geek icon, it’s Spock. Portrayed with understated skill by Leonard Nimoy, Spock is practically synonymous with Star Trek, and even people who’ve never seen an episode of Star Trek know his name. They know pointy ears and a weird hand symbol and “illogical.”

For fans, Spock is even more than that — he was the cool geek when it wasn’t cool to be a geek, you know? As the Enterprise‘s science officer, he helped represent Star Trek‘s ideal of an optimistic future created with science and cooperation. As the ship’s resident (half-)alien, he also embodied that future’s growing pains. He dealt with racism and bigotry from both sides, not to mention widespread misunderstandings of himself and his culture. He was an outsider who was one of us. He also has a singularly interesting character arc!

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