Category: Sci-Fi Café


Review by C.J. Bunce

With the much anticipated ninth episode Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker here at last, writer/director J.J. Abrams has succeeded again at managing a major film franchise challenge and making the best of it.  With Star Trek in 2009, he took a waning property and shot new life into it, but came up short four years later when he tried again and delivered Star Trek Into Darkness, heavily milking the nostalgia of the fan base with its retread of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.  In 2015 Abrams was handed the keys to the other big space franchise, where he revitalized a left-for-dead movie saga and delivered Star Wars: The Force Awakens, notable for the introduction of Daisy Ridley’s curious and mysterious desert scavenger Rey, arguably one of the most fleshed out characters in the entire franchise with this final installment.  Fortunately Abrams’s return to Star Wars will likely net better results for its fanbase with a movie that rises to become the best in the final trilogy, or at least as good as his The Force Awakens.  Is this still George Lucas’s Star Wars?  No, but that just shows the power and unique status of the original trilogy–even Lucas couldn’t capture the magic again with his prequels.  The Rise of Skywalker is the kind of movie that could be judged on its merits as a J.J. Abrams movie and separately as a Star Wars sequel.  Whether you as a viewer like this installment or not will depend on your own expectations.

Abrams may be at his best, with his unique style, lens flares and all, when he gives fans what they want.  Abram’s success this holiday season is a bit of a salvage effort, bringing Rey back as the focal hero/heroine of the story, incorporating some of the saga’s best “Jedi being Jedi” sequences, and tapping into the nostalgia for the 1977 original in bite-sized bits instead of leaning on it like he did so unapologetically with Star Trek Into Darkness.  If only Abrams had made all three Star Wars films, this third chapter could have been much tighter, and the whole trilogy would likely be better received by most of the fanbase.  As a viewer if you don’t (or can’t) just sit back and enjoy the cameo performances, throwbacks, and Easter eggs, you’ll get the feeling that using two directors instead of one over the three films is the crux of any problems in The Rise of Skywalker.  Upon its release, the previous installment The Last Jedi felt like it belonged to an entirely different story than The Force Awakens.  Plot threads created by Abrams were summarily abandoned.  Key characters were eliminated without explanation.  New plot threads came from out of nowhere.  In short, the director-flipping was the big mistake from a storytelling perspective.  Abrams has the extensive portfolio behind him to demonstrate he would have been the right choice to direct all three films.  So this time Abrams had a greater task than ever before, because he was stuck making major course corrections, all to get this tale back on track, re-focused again on Rey.  The necessary patchwork aside, The Rise of Skywalker will go down as one of Abrams’ best works.

Will Star Wars, or more specifically, the Skywalker saga with this three-part conclusion, endure the test of time?  If audiences continue to believe in its value as entertainment, there is no reason why studios can’t keep going back to this material repeatedly–think Shakespeare’s plays, Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, Shelley’s Frankenstein, Dickens’s Ebenezer ScroogeRecall how even more recent stories like the Terminator, Predator, and Halloween (and Star Trek) film series have continued to make sequels and wholesale reboots, disregarding a film that doesn’t do as well and continuing like it was never made.  There’s no reason that can’t happen someday with Star Wars.  So those fans who still want to see the Expanded Universe on the big screen–the complexities and triumphs of both Timothy Zahn’s sequel trilogy and Dark Horse Comics’ many stories like Dark Empire that did so much more with heroes Luke and Leia–just wait.  Someday the right new visionary will step in and make it happen, but fans will need to accept new actors as their heroes, just like we saw with the latest Star Trek trilogy.

Want to dig in further?  Spoilers follow.

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ST Beyond poster

Along with a new poster, this weekend Paramount launched an attempt to save face from last year’s first trailer debacle with a more traditional sci-fi action film trailer attempting to hit all the marks detractors of the first trailer have long been hoping for.  But what is this about?  Is it really just an action-packed road race across the stars?  The first of the reboots–the 2009 J.J. Abrams film Star Trek–was a trek to the past.  The 2013 sequel Star Trek Into Darkness looked back to the series’ most popular and possibly darkest villains.  So what is the “beyond” in this year’s Star Trek Beyond?  The preview doesn’t provide much of a clue.

What does come through after about a dozen views and reviews is that the next Star Trek film, as with earlier Trek stories, looks back to earlier films for inspiration or all-out copying.  A scene with the Enterprise in spacedock conjures the long, long scene where Scotty flies Kirk to the Enterprise in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  The Enterprise is ripped apart here evidently for good, harkening back to the destruction of the ship in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.  If we’re back in STIII territory, can we at least see Commander Kruge again?  Please?

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The new trailer reveals a movie that appears to have more in common with Star Trek Nemesis and Star Trek Insurrection than any other past incarnation of Star Trek.  It is difficult to look at the prosthetics on Idris Elba’s lead villain and not think of Star Trek Nemesis’s Reman warriors.  And a planet-based story is something more along the lines of Star Trek Insurrection, Voyager’s “Basics” two-parter, and the original series episode “Arena”.

Is there going to be anything new for Star Trek fans in Star Trek Beyond? 

Check out this second trailer for Star Trek Beyond:

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Star Trek Beyond Fly spot USS Enterprise inside Starbase Yorktown

Review by C.J. Bunce

In the fiftieth year of Star Trek, fanboy Simon Pegg proved that the franchise has never been stronger.  Probably more so than any prior entry in the now 13-movie catalog, Star Trek Beyond found a way to be the most loyal to the original series, with the writers weaving a story you could also find comfortably set within Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek Voyager.  And director Justin Lin showed that an action heavy film can also tell a good story.

Get ready.  Star Trek Beyond, opening this weekend in theaters everywhere, is also the most fun of the Star Trek movies since Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, thanks to clever and witty dialogue and circumstances that put the Bones and Spock relationship at center stage.  By movie’s end, diehard Star Trek fans will find themselves trying to categorize the latest big budget blockbuster against the past even-numbered films, generally regarded as the cream of the crop.  That consideration alone elevates the movie into the top echelon of all Trekdom, a welcome jolt for the franchise.

Better than the admittedly good Abrams contributions Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness, Star Trek Beyond taps more subtlely into throwbacks we love, like a look at the Enterprise itself and spacedock in a way we haven’t seen since Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek III:  The Search for Spock.  And speaking of the original Star Trek III, this third reboot mirrors many key moments from that film, despite having an entirely different plot.

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What does it mean to serve on a ship on a long voyage?  What toll does it take on the captain and his or her crew?  Beginning with a humanitarian mission that we think Jean-Luc Picard would have appreciated, including an in-world guest actress (Sofia Boutella) like none other we’ve seen in Star Trek, featuring a strong actor–Idris Elba–as a brilliantly conceived unique–yet also familiar–villain, and dividing up the crew in twos to highlight the strengths of the characters–Star Trek Beyond is practically flawless.  Star Trek Beyond is not just good Star Trek, it’s great Star Trek.

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star-trek-beyond-alien

Review by C.J. Bunce

Star Trek Beyond is available this month on Digital HD, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D and DVD.  Consistent with the trend in big franchise releases, Star Trek Beyond is available in a variety of formats.  Fortunately one version makes the selection easy: Target has included an entire bonus disc of behind the scenes content in one its Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo edition.  The bonus disc accompanying the Blu-ray combo has so much interesting content you’ll want this edition for your Star Trek collection, but unfortunately 3D fans will also need to pick up the 3D Blu-ray separately, a failing of this type of scattered release.

The bonus disc includes more than 45 minutes of extra content, the best taking us into the workrooms for the prop and costume departments at Paramount.  “The Battle of Yorktown” shows how Lin and production crew created the action scenes involving the movie’s climax at the Yorktown space station.  “Properly Outfitted” gives great insight, including visuals, of concept artwork and prop design, including original series inspiration for the new phaser rifles and John Eaves designs.  “Set Phasers to Stunning” joins costume designer Sanja Milkovic Hays, who was also designer for Star Trek Insurrection, as she discusses the movie’s incredible variety and expanse of alien fashion and updates to Starfleet garb.  “Spliced” takes us through the editing process, “Beats and Shouting” provides a discussion with composer Michael Giacchino and his son, “Small World” provides a great look at the very classic feeling introduction of the film and a new alien race, and “Visually Effective” takes us through the work behind the show’s special effects creations.

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The behind the scenes extras that are included with the other versions also feature great content that illustrates the care and attention taken by this production team to improve upon past Star Trek films.  Where the extras are deficient is with the deleted scenes.  Included are only two, and they are so brief and irrelevant that you’re left thinking there must be more to be released later.  The gag reel, however, is full of fun, showing the camaraderie of the crew, including Zoe Saldana (Uhura) cutting a scene short to chide Chris Pine (Kirk) for sliding too far into a William Shatner impression.

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Spaceship chase

As with many movies these days it seems like studios release enough trailers that by the time you see the movie you already know it front to back and can even quote key lines.  It looks like the same may be true for the new Star Trek movie coming out soon, Star Trek Into Darkness, all previewed here earlier.  And this weekend Paramount released yet another preview.

Lots of great colors and “wow!” imagery, maybe even more so than with the earlier teasers and previews.  Even more story elements are revealed including many that make you want to sit down and list how many plot points it has in common with Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and the other Star Wars prequels.  Depending who you are and how much you liked the Star Wars prequels, a comparison like that may or may not be a good thing.  But with J.J. Abrams locked-in to begin directing Star Wars: Episode VII soon… you just can’t help draw the comparisons.  Here’s a few apparently obligatory prequel scenes to think about as you watch this trailer:

  • Jar Jar and Qui-Gon Jinn chased on foot across the fields of the planet Naboo
  • R2-D2 suddenly having the ability of flight across a planet’s surface
  • giant vertical cityscapes of Coruscant
  • female/alien bounty hunter Zam Wesell’s lavender outfit
  • space car chase scene with cocky Anakin and serious Obi-Wan Kenobi complete with joking banter
  • Jar Jar Binks, Qui-Gon Jinn and Kenobi in a submarine craft startled by a sea creature
  • and even though it’s not from the prequels, remember Han Solo’s line to Chewbacca before the jump to light speed?

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Enterprise from Into Darkness

Review by C.J. Bunce

After more trailers than we can count, more minutes of screen-time revealed in advance, and more advertising and hype than any Star Trek film in recent memory, Star Trek Into Darkness is not only better than you’ve heard, it’s the best Star Trek movie since Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.  Considering all my fellow uber-Trek fan friends had more negative to say than positive on this 12th motion picture entry, I was scratching my head to try to figure why this was the most fun I’ve had watching a movie in years–or maybe why they didn’t have as much fun as me.

Star Trek, the Original Series, is pretty much sacred, and not only sacred, its sacrosanct in the eyes of loyal fans, so J.J. Abrams was taking a risk by getting his claws into the franchise in 2009’s Star Trek.  When I read that he was taking on Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan material specifically, I thought he was just plain nuts.  But then I asked myself, if I had the keys to the candy store what would I do if I wanted to make my mark on the franchise?  Bring back Christopher Lloyd’s Klingon Commander Kruge or Ricardo Montalban’s regal Khan?  Kill off a main character?  Abrams did just what any of us would love to do, and I expect, this should set our expectations for what he will do with the third trilogy of the Star Wars franchise, which will have a much larger international audience and implications for Abrams’ own future.

STID

As a viewer well-versed in the minutia of Star Trek, I expected to nitpick this film to death when walking into the theater and actually put off watching the film instead of seeing it on opening weekend like I had historically viewed the past films back to Star Trek VI.  But not 15 minutes into the movie, when Kirk is being scolded by Admiral Christopher Pike (played deftly again by Bruce Greenwood) for violating the prime directive and then rightfully demoted, I was reeled into a cleverly twisting plot that delivered the goods at every level with a non-stop, action packed thrill ride that also managed to offer some of the best characterization for key roles than has been given to them in any prior Star Trek film, period.

Take for instance Simon Pegg’s Scotty.  Not since the TV series was Scotty given the opportunity to play a key role in the story of a Trek film.  Here he plants the seeds not as the throwaway silly Scottish chap, but as the moral voice for the film.  Karl Urban’s Bones similarly gets many lines–good lines– and we learn something about him other than his “wait a damn minute” grunting, which was all we ever saw from him in Star Trek: The Motion Picture through Star Trek VI.  We learn for example that he once gave a C section to a pregnant Gorn (with octuplets).  And that they bite.  Awesome!  This sheds some light on why he later would try to work on the dying Klingon ambassador in Star Trek VI.  And someone finally, onscreen, calls out Bones for his repeated metaphors.

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Journey from Krypton

Remember when summer movies were just plain fun?  No need for dark and dreary, just adventure and excitement?  No need for deep and poignant emotion, but an excuse to escape the heaviness of real-world problems for two hours?  Only one of the new preview releases seems to have that escapist romp vibe, and that film is The Lone Ranger.  Nothing serious there–just a goofy Western throwback with just a bit pulled from the classic original.  And Johnny Depp doing the kind of crazy characterization that earned him an Oscar nomination in the Pirates of the Caribbean series.  Who cares if they don’t have futuristic special effects and instead rely on a good old-fashioned train chase scene for their action and adventure?  To us it just looks like fun.  Check out this fun and action-packed new trailer for The Lone Ranger:

But you can’t have just one trailer and call it a trailer park so we have three more you may or may not want to check out.  Next up is the new longer preview for Man of Steel.  Man of Steel is starting to crystallize as a film that has a strange casting problem.  First, the lead, Henry Cavill, doesn’t seem to carry the mantle of Superman from any previews yet released–the zip, pizzazz, charisma, kindness and power of Christopher Reeve will forever be the comparison for anyone daring to fill the shoes of Clark Kent and his caped alter ego.  A chin dimple doesn’t make Superman.  Continue reading

Star Trek Into Darkness The Brig

Does anyone else think J.J. Abrams might kill off Captain Kirk at the end of the next Trek film, Star Trek Into Darkness?   Just look at that image at the end of the Japanese teaser trailer.   Look at the tears in the eyes of the entire crew.  If they could kill off Mr. Spock in the first Star Trek II, why not Kirk this time?  Then in Star Trek:  The Search for Kirk, Spock must figure out how to merge back into the original timeline to bring back Kirk?  Better yet, give us a movie or two to see what it would be like without Kirk.  Hmm…

Back to the subject in the title…

Didn’t we just see the first trailer for the sequel to 2009’s Star Trek reboot, titled Star Trek Into Darkness?  That’s right, we featured the first trailer here just ten days ago, along with an extended version released in Japan, and already we have another one.

It’s not the nine-minute preview that some got to see in front of certain showings of The Hobbit last weekend.  We’re anxiously waiting for that preview to hit the Internet.

Kirk and lens flares

Abrams returns as director, packing his lens flares and ready for action.

Meanwhile more has been released about Star Trek Into Darkness’s secret characters revealed by Movieline.com this week.  If you’re not afraid of spoilers check it out for some great details.  The high level disclosure by Abrams & Co. is that Benedict Cumberbatch is playing BALOK!  (OK, not really–but wouldn’t that be awesome?)  Actually he’s playing a terrorist named John Harrison, a non-lead background character from the original TV series, evidently now changed into a force of evil and major player by the new events and timeline shown in Star Trek 2009. 

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Cumbatch trailer cap

This one pretty much speaks for itself.  Very dark.  Earth under attack.  A starship crashing into the ocean.  Benedict Cumberbatch as blue-eyed villain… Gary Mitchell?  Or does Abrams have something else up his sleeve?

Here it is:

Nice line from Cumberbatch:  “Enjoy these final moments of peace, for I have returned to have my vengeance.” 

And there are 14 seconds of additional footage at the end in this Japanese trailer:

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Star Trek Into Darkness Copyright Paramount Spock heat suit

For those not hiding from spoilers, the new photos released late this past week don’t offer much new from what we have seen in the teaser and trailers.  But they do give us a chance to check out in better detail J.J. Abrams and Michael Kaplan’s uniform choices and a glimpse at prop details for next summer’s 12th Paramount big-screen Star Trek franchise effort, Star Trek Into Darkness. 

Paramount released a total of 12 stills for marketing the new movie to the public, one with Zachary Quinto as Spock with a new spacesuit (above)–a combination of the original space suits from the original Star Trek TV series, the vertical helmet style from the Next Generation movies and Star Trek Voyager, and the protective mini-space shuttle-type tiles worn in a deleted scene by Captain Kirk in Star Trek Generations and re-used by B’Elanna Torres in Star Trek Voyager.  It’s a nicely designed suit–giving the wearer good visual scope with good attempts at showing the protective nature of the outfit.

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