Pulling out the pin, tossing the grenade, and waiting to see what will happen

(I posted something very similar to a much smaller forum late last April, and was fascinated by the reactions I got. I expect reactions from a larger group would be even more interesting. So off we go…)

About a year ago, I watched all the Star Trek movies in sequence, more or less in preparation for the reboot movie.

It had been a very long time since I’d seen 2, 3, or 5. I remembered that I had not been overly impressed by my initial viewing of 3 or 5. And I knew that the conventional wisdom, at least among the louder members of my social circle, deems 5 the worst of the set. I remember a conversation in which someone jokingly pretended that there was no 5, because it was that bad. My husband and I decided to include it in our “watch them all” adventure anyway, for the sake of completeness.

And now I want to hear somebody seriously defend the proposition that 5 is worse than 3.

Because, seriously? I mean, 5 is not that great a movie. It has some real problems, most of them involving characterization and acting. There are many scenes that are glib, corny, trying-to-but-funny-but-fail, and/or deeply, deeply, deeply stupid.

But 3 is just bad. Nothing in 3 works. Not many actors could have done much with the wooden dialogue, but the ones playing Saavik and David didn’t even try. The Klingons in 5 have personalities that at least sorta make sense and sorta have depth, and the Klingons in 3 do not.  (The Klingons in 3 have a further strike against them in the form of that dog thing on the bridge, which prompted my husband to comment, “They should have saved the $50 on the muppet.”)

The premise of 3–the apex of the Kirk-Spock-McCoy story, the question “To what lengths would you go to save your friend?”—should have made it an emotional and moving movie. But it fell utterly flat in evoking any emotion whatsoever. I seem to remember the tie-in novel, which I also read a good many years ago, exploring with some intelligence what’s going on with McCoy. The movie, not so much. David’s death scene is totally flat, and is followed by Kirk roaring at the camera, and that is followed by the most unsuspenseful final battle against the most uncreative set I’ve ever seen. (My husband’s comment: “They could have spent the $50 from the muppet on some music for the battle…”) The final scene, again, could have been tremendously moving—should have been tremendously moving—and isn’t.

I really want to hear someone explain how 5 is worse. Are you honestly going to tell me that Sybok is a less well-rounded villain than the Klingon captain in 3? That the final battle sequence in 5 is less well-done than the one in 3? I mean, at least it has music. There is a lot of 5 that is pretty dumb, but frankly, a lot of 4 is pretty dumb too, and we all love 4.

Sybok was, in fact, much more interesting than I remembered him being or than he is usually given credit for being. He does actually bring hope into the lives of the folks on the planet where the action starts, he does actually ease the psychological pain of the people with whom he mind-melds (terrible acting aside), he does actually believe in his holy quest, and he still does a lot of damage in furtherance of said quest. When it’s been proven to him that the thing he thought was God is actually not, he does sacrifice himself to allow the trio to escape. And the ending implies that the lives of the non-Enterprise folks who followed him are improved by having known him. He has, for example, inspired the three diplomats to pull themselves together instead of spending all their time drinking. I thought he was an interesting balance of doing both damage and good for the sake of (what he firmly believed to be) the greater good. If you were inclined to so interpret the movie, you could call that a really fascinating commentary on the role of religion in society.

I do not think anything in 3 is a fascinating commentary on anything.

But you never know… I could be missing something important. If you think I’m wrong here, jump on in! Convince me otherwise. (I can’t wait to see what sorts of arguments take place in the comments. 🙂 )

Comments (4)

Ken SchneyerMay 3rd, 2010 at 2:02 pm

What is good about #3, for me, is the piracy sequence: The succession of scenes from when Kirk receives the order not to go looking for Spock and the later line, “I intend to recommend you all for promotion — in whatever fleet we all end up serving.” Both the actors and the characters in that sequence were having genuine fun, and it showed the Enterprise officers doing what they do best: ignoring, perverting or doing end-runs around rules. The music in the scene where the Enterprise is backing out of the station, and when the Excelsior fails to catch them, is thrilling too.

I do think it went downhill after that, although I thought the scene on Vulcan went rather well — until the last tableau, anyway, which was kind of nauseating.

I agree with you about the concept of Sybok, and the plot points. But the execution was miserable.

NinaMay 3rd, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Honestly, I fundamentally think they’re about equally bad, but that people *like* Spock and like to *mock* William Shatner, and 3 was all about Spock while 5 was all about Shatner. 🙂

AdamMay 3rd, 2010 at 6:08 pm

I think 3 is quite likely the worst Star Trek movie ever, although for reasons that are quite different from the ones you point to.

When I first watched 3, I enjoyed it for the most part. It was exciting, and dramatic, and you got McCoy acting like Spock, and everyone sacrificing their careers for their friends, and the David-Saavik romance, and a seemed-at-the-time clever switcharoo with the ships, and the dramatic destruction of the Enterprise. I’m not saying that these stand up from an adult perspective–I’m just saying that I enjoyed them as a kid.

However… I later realized that Star Trek 3 represents that most destructive of all narrative devices: the reset button. It systematically goes through and destroys all of the development, change, and significance of the best Star Trek movie, leaving us back almost where we started. (Star Trek IV, which I think is grossly overrated, then finishes the clean-up to complete the job of putting us back to status quo ante, but the heavy lifting is done by Star Trek 3.) What’s the point in telling stories if we’re going to undo them at the end so that the stories never really had any effect? Kirk meets the son he never knew he had and ruminates about parenthood and choices foregone; Spock sacrifices his life to save the crew of the Enterprise; people advance and get promoted and stop being “the crew of the Enterprise,” moving on to being “that group of officers who learned to be great in the ‘five’ year mission of the Enterprise.” By the end of 3, Kirk’s son is (a) dead and (b) basically forgotten, Spock is back to life, the old gang is back together. By the end of 4, they’re back on the “Enterprise,” Kirk’s a captain again, everyone else is back to their old jobs, logic be damned, and Saavik is forgotten. (They even cut the one bit of 4, the implication that Saavik is pregnant with Spock’s child from the appalling pon farr scene in 3, that left some consequences to all of 3 and 4.) It’s as if Star Trek 2, and indeed everything after the TV show, never happened.

For that, I will never forgive Star Trek 3 (and will continue to disparage 4, fun yet silly big-screen TV episode that it is otherwise).

Star Trek 5 is in comparison harmless– a basically pointless waste of time, but not actively destructive.

JohnMay 4th, 2010 at 1:53 am

Yeah, I rewatched them several years back, too, and I was surprised at 5. It was actually rather like an extended version of a cheesy third-season episode, combining features of the intentionally-silly episodes with the over-the-top ones. And after all, Kirk basically challenges God to a fistfight! That’s just awesome by itself!

With 3… I enjoyed it on a different level. It’s the one of the movies where we get the longest look at non-Starfleet culture, IMO, and I’ve always been fascinated by that. And there’s that inevitable progression as they throw more and more of their lives away in order to get Spock’s body back, up to and including the Enterprise itself. It more or less created modern Klingons. And it ended on a wonderfully bittersweet note, the same as (to name another modern malignancy) “The Phantom Menace”, where you’re happy because the main goal has been achieved, and then when you relax and your gaze widens a bit, there’s a realization that a lot of bad stuff just happened, and will continue to happen. (From that angle, 4 disappointed me, because it completely sidestepped the wonderful possibilities of the crew being turned loose on their own.)

That said, I also found 3 a very frustrating movie, because there was so much wasted potential. David and Saavik and young Spock could have had much more depth. Uhura felt wasted; they could have done so much more with her with only a few lines. The Klingon commander was an utter doofus.

And I do agree that 5 was a movie About Something, in the best tradition of the show. While 3 was inherently more of a character story, a what-happens-next type of exploration of the group dynamic, and while I love those in their own right, 3 just wasn’t any good at it, really. It’s like they didn’t even know what they were doing.

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