Dissecting the Scene: Emotional Climax Moments From Star Trek Films (Part II)

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier- Release the Pain

Sybok, played brilliantly by Lawrence Luckinbill (in a role originally intended for Sean Connery) is Spock’s half-brother turned religious charlatan. He amassed a following by tapping into the emotions of a down-trodden people who later helped him gain control of the Enterprise. In this scene, Sybok uses his emotional trickery to tear apart the the Original Series triumvirate…Kirk, Spock, and McCoy…and nearly succeeds: McCoy is forced to relive the pain of euthanizing his father, and Spock is reminded of his half-humanness that caused him to be a pariah in Vulcan society and feel less loved by his father.

Kirk, meanwhile, sees through this bullshit and reject’s Sybok’s offer to be “released from his pain.”

Regardless of how you feel about Kirk’s rationale for clinging on to his pain (to me, Sybok and Kirk seem to have the same philosophy of “deriving strength through pain,” it’s just that Kirk kept his eye on the ball…regaining control of the Enterprise…while everyone else succumbed to Sybok’s charisma) this is actually a very well directed and well written scene. And it just so happens to be in the worst Star Trek movie there is (personally, I think Insurrection, Nemesis, Into Darkness, and Beyond and WAY worse, but whatevs).

This is why I think director William Shatner isn’t to blame for STV. When it comes to the character interactions, this might be the best that Star Trek has to offer. By the time this film was made, the actors had been playing these characters for over 20 years and it certainly shines through in this scene.

Shatner made the right decision to not create an elaborate set design. It’s like an intimate theatrical production and it’s one of the highlights of the franchise.

Star Trek: First Contact- “The Line Must Be Drawn HERE”

The Enterprise follows the Borg back in time to the late 21st Century and it’s up to the TNG crew to save history. Meanwhile, the Borg take over the Enterprise and Picard goes on a warpath.

Now this might be the most famous example of an “emotional climax” moment in Star Trek, but it’s got some problems. While Alfre Woodard delivers an Oscar-worthy performance, as any Star Trek fan could tell you, it should have been Beverly Crusher who confronted Picard. Additionally, Picard is out of character. While Patrick Stewart is an incredible actor, in my opinion, he never quite understood Star Trek OR the appeal of his famous character. And it was Stewart’s push to make Picard more vengeful and heroic in this installment. While that doesn’t make a lick of difference to the average viewer, things like that DO matter to Trek fans, which is why First Contact has fallen out of favor with some.

That being said, everything is well executed. This is also director Jonathan Frakes’ (who plays William Riker) first motion picture and it doesn’t show. Star Trek seems to excel when one of the actors is allowed to direct.

Oddly enough, science fiction is somewhat secondary to Star Trek. First and foremost, the franchise is about HUMAN stories that uses science fiction as a backdrop. That’s why Trek is such fertile ground for actors. And I think the sequence above highlights that point.

While the stuff between Woodard and Stewart is incredible, I also like the mini-arc between Worf and Picard. The Captain’s judgment had clearly been clouded and Worf was absolutely correct in confronting him. Picard was in the wrong, plain and simple. Which is why I love the payoff when Captain Picard makes his apology and states his admiration for his longtime security officer.

It’s a small moment, but for longtime fans, it was an impactful one.

Dissecting A Scene: Emotional Climax Moments in Star Trek Films (Part I)

So over the Thanksgiving weekend, I made my family watch arguably the worst Star Trek film, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. When the Sybok interrogation scene of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy came up, it occurred to me: “Star Trek is REALLY good at doing this.”

Doing what exactly?

They’re good at creating emotional climax scenes where character arcs come full circle. Trek films may not be the flashiest of the science fiction genre, but that’s not really their intention. Star Trek is at its best when it’s theatrical, or allowing the actors to fully explore their characters. Two of the franchise’s most notable faces, William Shatner and Patrick Stewart, are quite effective stage actors and that’s where Star Trek is at its strongest: being character driven.

So you have to let the actors ACT.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: Mutara Battle/Death of Spock

This is probably one of the most famous and most parodied death scene in all of film. But this sequence is quite remarkable on multiple levels.

It’s a shame that William Shatner didn’t get any accolades for his performance in Star Trek II. His portrayal of Captain/Admiral Kirk is often viewed as hammy, but in truth, Shatner was quite nuanced in his approach. Director Nicholas Meyer figured out that his leading man was far more effective when doing more takes, which caused the actor to slowly dial back his performance. In short, Meyer wore out Shatner, which perfectly suited a beat down and aging Kirk at the beginning of the film. Obviously, Meyer let Shatner return to form at the end which had a huge emotional payoff.

Not only does the villain Khan get his comeuppance by succumbing to his own wrath but…in pursuit of vengeance…he ends up becoming a force for creation. Spock, of course, delivers the ultimate sacrifice, but Kirk finally faces the very thing he’s cheated his way out of throughout his illustrious career: a no-win scenario.

Thus, everything comes full circle.

Of course, it also helps that there’s exceptional editing and the score that made James Horner a sought after composer is playing in the background.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock: Stealing the Enterprise

James Horner is typically given credit for the success of this scene. But you have to tip your hat to the editing and, again, the performances.

While we can criticize Shatner’s acting choices all we want, he always makes it perfectly clear what his characters are feeling. And James B Sikking’s arrogant-ass performance almost makes you forget how shitty the Excelsior bridge set is.

It’s a shame that Leonard Nimoy didn’t direct more movies. While he directed some television before, it’s hard to believe that this was his first motion picture because he REALLY elevated this scene. If you pay attention, not much happens here: the Enterprise slowly backs up to the space doors before they magically open and then the Excelsior begins its failed pursuit. But it’s fucking intense! The hairs on my neck always stand when the Enterprise clears space doors and Kirk orders warp speed. That’s a testament to Nimoy’s superb direction of an otherwise ‘meh’ script.

While this isn’t the “emotional climax” to the film, it is an emotional highlight for the Original Series crew; they’re sacrificing EVERYTHING to save Spock. Now Star Trek III isn’t the best Trek film, but the “stealing the Enterprise” scene is one of the best in the franchise.

Dirty Harold

I sometimes forget the impact that Dirty Harry had on me as a kid. I was expecting it to be some stupid exploitation flick from the 70s, but it turned out to be much more.

Unlike other gritty crime films from the 70s, like The French Connection or The Taking of Pelham 123, director Don Siegel and DP Bruce Surtees shot the movie like it was a western. Clint Eastwood looms large in mythic form over the screen, but he never completely dominates it. Like how the rough and tumble deserts and mountains are a major character in westerns, the streets of San Francisco play a similar role.

But Dirty Harry was slightly ahead of its time. While westerns were fading away, and with it the gunslingers delivering justice on the prairie, Clint Eastwood was offering the a audience a new hero: the pissed off cop that’s tired of rules and regulations and the constant whining from bureaucrats over the rights of individuals. Dirty Harry fit the mood of white conservatives during the age of Nixon and those that wished to return to a simpler ethos of good guys vs bad guys. In short, Dirty Harry was the predecessor to the Cannon Film craze of the 70s through the 80s.

But in my view, the unsung genius of the film is Andrew Robinson as the crazed villain. Even now, it’s an unnerving character…one that no one could get away with today. The closest comparison that I can think of is Heath Ledger’s Joker, but no sensible writer would permit Batman’s arch nemesis to kill, rape, and abduct children. THAT would be crossing the line. But Robinson’s Scorpio does it numerous times throughout the film.

Which is why the ending was so effective. Sure, it’s a cliche to hear Eastwood utter “do you feel lucky?” before blasting his last round into the bad guy. But you actually feel his rage as he asks Scorpio “well do ya? PUNK!!”. In my view, that was Eastwood’s finest moment as an actor.

While Dirty Harry might be synonymous with Clint Eastwood, I think it would be interesting to see the character return to the screen given its political undertones. Obviously Clint Eastwood is too old, and casting someone like Karl Urban to replace him would seem like parody. But now that the nature of masculinity on film has come under scrutiny, and the zeitgeist has turned skeptical towards law enforcement, it would be fascinating to see Harry Callahan return…especially to such a divisive city as San Francisco.

Skeetin

I’m a little under the weather so I’m just gonna phone this one in.

But I was doing my annual Paul Schrader marathon when I got to Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist. A few thoughts: 1.) it’s a shitty movie but 2.) Vittorio Stararo was the DP?!!! How did that get past me?

And it’s such a shame that this film didn’t work because it is very much in line with the themes that occur throughout Schrader’s work. I haven’t bothered with the retooled Exorcist: The Beginning, but I’m glad Schrader stuck to his guns and at least attempted to make a cerebral film rather than make a run-of-the-mill horror. That’s what made the original Exorcist so interesting: director William Friedkin stated that it never occurred to him that he was making a “horror film” (he could be bullshitting though).

Schrader probably should have had a bigger say in the screenplay. Much of the introspective philosophical back-and-forth that, in my opinion, slightly bogged down The Last Temptation of Christ (which clashed with Martin Scorsese’s rather “extroverted” direction) would have been quite effective for Dominion. Additionally, the event that caused Father Merrin’s lack of faith should have been revealed later in the movie. And while there was some good stuff with the British colonial troops, I felt that there was no payoff for any of it.

(Plus the special effects REALLY sucked ass)

I also saw Touch for the first time. I don’t remember a damn thing about it other than Skeet Ulrich was in it.

Whatever happened to that guy? That dude was like, super fucking hot. Shouldn’t he have had a bigger career?

Were people disappointed to find out that he wasn’t Danish?

who watches the watchers watching the watchers?

I’m a little late on this Alan Moore thing. But while I can empathize to a degree on Moore’s point here, I recall listening to his interview with Chapo Trap House’s Will Menaker from a few year ago where he stated “everything is politics” and it makes me want to beat my head on the wall.

I’m afraid that we’ve reached a point where audiences aren’t allowed to enjoy anything due to the hyper-politicalization of EVERYTHING. The last few years have been a wet dream for ideologues because finally people are as miserable as they are. And I’ll admit, much to my embarrassment, that I’ve played a hand in this. But people need their distractions from a world that’s seemingly falling apart all around them.

While I’m not a comic book fan, I’d venture to guess that most comic/superhero fans don’t connect this material to any sort of real world scenario. They recognize it for what it is: entertainment.

And that’s okay. Let people be happy.

I think Moore is projecting his “everything is politics” (🤢) worldview here. And that, in my opinion, is far more toxic than what the comic nerds are doing.

Blade runner

Soooo, did I ever talk about Blade Runner on this blog?

I’ve always had a lot of opinions about the film, but it seems like every film buff has wrote a dissertation on it. So what’s the point of clogging up the internet with one more, ya know?

But after ripping off it’s ending in my latest short story, I can’t stop thinking about it.

For the record, and I’ve been very open about this, Blade Runner 2049 is the superior film. By a fucking mile too. Ridley Scott is an interesting visual filmmaker, but all of his movies lack heart. This is true for not only Blade Runner, but Alien, Gladiator, The Martian, etc, as well.

Additionally, I find the script to be underwhelming. Even the film’s most memorable moment (the Tears in Rain monologue) was largely the result of actor Rutger Hauer’s ingenuity and not so much the writer’s. I don’t blame Hampton Fancher and David Peoples for this (the latter would later write Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven). The final script was probably the result of compromise during a troubled production.

Nevertheless, Blade Runner works because everyone else behind the scenes CRUSHED their role, from F/X artist Douglas Trumbull, DP Jordan Cronenweth, composer Vangelis, concept artist Syd Mead, production designer Lawrence G. Paull, and everyone in between.

In Scott’s defense, I believe he sees himself as more of a “CEO”-type filmmaker, or one that brings together highly talented people to do their thing, as opposed to being an auteur himself. So in that respect, he did his job really well. Nevertheless, likely because of this approach, there is an “it” factor that’s lacking in Blade Runner which prevents it from becoming one of the great classics in cinema.

Strangely, I think MOST cinephiles agree with this: Blade Runner is visually and conceptually one of the most influential films of all time. But is it a great movie?

Personally, I think that question is more interesting than the film itself.

But where I disagree with most other fans of the Blade Runner universe are on the Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) scenes. Hauer feels like he’s acting on an island in this film. While that’s a deliberate choice, his scenes drag the movie down. And to be completely honest, the movie is not nearly as interesting without Harrison Ford on the screen.

Now Ford’s performance is somewhat controversial. It’s noted for being his first “mature” role, and a lot of people don’t like it. He often comes across as detached, grouchy, and needlessly aggressive in some parts. Ford’s performance is a bit dialed back, as opposed to Hauer, who isn’t afraid to be hammy and childish. Unfortunately, Ford acting choices were better suited to the Blade Runner universe and, despite being the leading man, he doesn’t feel like he’s in the film enough.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got to say 🤷‍♂️

Rectuma, monsturd, and deadbeat at dawn

This was a STRONG week on Tubi. Right when I was about to give up (not just on Tubi, but on life in general) I got slapped across the face with three BANGERS.

Rectuma (2003)

This is why I say it takes a couple of decades after a film’s release before it can be properly critiqued. Audiences were probably pissed when they saw this in 2003. They probably discarded it as just another lame attempt at South Park-style humor, which many attempted, unsuccessfully, to emulate. But now, nearly 20 years later, Rectuma’s stupidity can be fully appreciated.

Just in case you forgot, I’ve taken a LOT of drugs. And as a result, my memory is nearly shot. So if you want an accurate plot summary, you’ll have to look elsewhere. But best I can recall, the story is about some schlubby dude who gets raped by a frog in Mexico and then he gets nuclear rods shoved up his rectum thus causing his ass to grow massive in size before it starts attacking LA. Plus his wife is trying to kill him.

In 2003, I was fully steeped in this low-brow, offensive, toilet humor (still kinda am, tbh). That was practically internet culture in those days. So watching this movie was like a walk down memory lane.

People forget, there was a time when “politically incorrect” humor (before it got relabeled as “anti-woke” humor 🤢) oddly lacked any political dimension whatsoever. Everyone laughed at it because it was after 9/11 and we all thought we would die soon anyway. Stuff like Rectuma was supposed to distract us from that horrible fact.

So to appreciate this movie, one must see it as an artifact of very early 21st Century life. It should be shown in colleges and history classes across the globe.

Monsturd (2003)

Both Monsturd and Rectuma were released in 2003 and were both seemingly filmed in Butte County, California. So I’m assuming there was some overlap in the productions of these two movies.

I don’t think Monsturd is quite of the same caliber as Rectuma, but I appreciate the effort nonetheless. The plot is simple: a gigantic, living turd -created by a mad scientist- terrorizes the citizens of a small community, and it’s up to the sheriff’s department to stop it.

Despite being the lesser of the two films, like peanut butter and chocolate, this goes well with Rectuma.

Deadbeat At Dawn (1988)

I saved the best for last. Outside of one Ouija Board scene, this really isn’t a “horror” film. But I’m glad, that in Tubi’s infinite wisdom, they recommended it.

Filmed on the mean streets of Dayton, Ohio, Deadbeat At Dawn is about one man’s revenge against rival gang members for killing his girlfriend. The final confrontation at a train station is simultaneously amateurish and utterly fucking brutal…and it concludes in the most satisfying way: the bad guy gets his throat ripped out (this was released a year before Road House, btw).

The violence in Deadbeat At Dawn is delightfully absurd, but the highlight of the movie is when, in his darkest hour, our hero goes from getting drunk to snorting coke to shooting up heroin before finally dropping acid. Self-destruction never looked more hilarious.

This is definitely one of the great underrated action films of the 80s.

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Breaking bad on Wall Street

Yeah, like everyone else in the early 2010s, I was addicted to Breaking Bad. It came at a turning point when we started evaluating the male ego in art and storytelling. Many bitch about this paradigm shift, but honestly it’s given me a fuckton of creative fuel to write my dumbass stories.

Without it, I wouldn’t have a writing career at all! So thanks Breaking Bad for all the digital trees I’ve wasted on the internet.

But as time has passed, it’s obvious that there were problems with the show. Now I try to evaluate art by the intentions of the artist. So what were the showrunners trying to do here?

https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/breaking-bad-creator-vince-gilligan-231701266.html

https://variety.com/2022/tv/news/breaking-bad-skyler-hate-vince-gilligan-1235347122/amp/

Apparently, creator Vince Gilligan didn’t know either. While I think everyone involved did their jobs in the most competent and effective way possible, in my opinion, there was a fundamental difference between Gilligan’s vision and Bryan Cranston’s portrayal of Walter White/Heisenberg.

I base this opinion on zero research, but hear me out…

I’m assuming, when the show was pitched, that the thrust behind the story was to watch the protagonist turn into the villain. At least this is what drew me into the show. But if that’s the case, we run into an age old Clark Kent/Superman problem.

Philosopher and film theorist Slavoj Zizek, while discussing The Joker, claimed that the real identity of a superhero IS the mask and the person beneath it is the alter ego. Or, in other words, the MASK is what permits us to be our true selves.

In that sense, Heisenberg-the “MASK”- is really what Walter White is. If Heisenberg was ever wearing a mask for a disguise, that mask was the man Walter White. Therefore, Walter White…or, more accurately, Heisenberg…was ALWAYS evil.

I’m glad all of that makes sense.

But the problem is Walter White doesn’t always ACT like the bad guy. In fact, he’s usually shown being a loving father and Jesse’s guardian. Sure, he poisons a child, watches a woman choke to death, etc etc. but Walter White…probably due to Cranston’s acting choices…seems to signal horror at some of his decisions. In fact, if memory serves, he shows a sigh of relief when he learns that the child WON’T die from the poisoning attempt.

He even begs for Hank’s life for fuck’s sake!

Would Gus Fring, Walter White’s arch nemesis, have done that?

Fuck no!

And therein lies the fundamental problem with Breaking Bad: the audience never severs its sympathy with Walter White. Nor, I would argue, were they ever encouraged to do so.

Was this a deliberate choice by the showrunners? Was Cranston too damn competent at his job? Did anyone think any of this through?

I don’t suppose that this undermines the quality of the show. It’s just annoying to consider while re-watching it. The show seems to fail at meeting its own objective.

In fact, this concept…displaying a totally deplorable character in the most engaging way possible…has been successfully done before. Perhaps you remember it: The Wolf of Wall Street.

To be fair though, Martin Scorsese has a knack for this kind of thing. In fact, the movie that put him on the map, Taxi Driver, does something similar. The audience is exposed to a deranged world of a protagonist, we even empathize with him to a certain degree, but we can’t ever imagine coming to his defense (as fans of Breaking Bad have done many times before with Walter White).

With the Wolf of Wall Street, Scorsese “let’s you in on the joke.” Jordan Belfort is an over-the-top nutcase, and Scorsese allows you to indulge in his depravity, but you know that the end will come crashing down at any moment.

Scorsese isn’t afraid to “pull the trigger”…or show you the moment when a protagonist looses his grip on reality.

While Walter White certainly had his over-the-top moments, the audience is never encouraged to lose sympathy for him. This is reinforced through the writing. White should have never of begged for Hank’s life, his relationship with Jesse should have been established as being purely manipulative and nothing more, his role as a father should have deteriorated, etc etc.

Perhaps that’s the limits of television. When you spend five or more seasons with a character, it’s hard NOT to have sympathy for them.

But it always felt as though Walter White never quite broke bad.

wings hauser

I’m sure Italy is a wonderful place: nice people, delightful food and wine, rich history, beautiful scenery, etc, etc. But ‘giallo’ films and Italian horror as a whole…I’ll just say they make me absolutely sick.

And I think I know why:

Caligula.

Now Caligula can’t be considered ‘giallo’ OR horror, but it might as well be. If you recall, that film absolutely scared the shit out of me as a kid and I never quite recovered. So my response to Italian horror is similar to having alcohol poisoning: if you get it once by drinking vodka, you can’t quite stomach vodka again. The Italian style of tight closeups, zooms, disorienting music and editing, and fixation on gore and nudity just make me a little queasy.

But I have a job to do. And that job is to watch EVERY cheapass horror film on Tubi. That includes the filmography of the legendary Lucio Fulci. So I started at the worst possible place:

A Cat in the Brain.

The movie forced me to do some research while I was watching it, largely because I had no idea what the fuck was going on. Fulci plays the lead: himself as a film director that’s slowly becoming disturbed by a movie he’s making. As we watch him descend into madness, we’re shown random clips from prior films, almost as if this movie was thrown together in the most halfassed way possible.

A Cat in the Brain was produced towards the end of Fulci’s distinguished career, so there’s no telling where he was mentally. But I’ll say this: Fulci did a much better job of cobbling together this Frankenstein of a movie than Godfrey Ho did for Robo Vampire.

I neglected to mention that A Cat in the Brain is considered a “comedy” (thus deploying the “covering your ass” method over decade before Tommy Wiseau did for The Room). Maybe the humor went over my head, but I was too petrified watching some guy beat his wife’s face off to laugh.

You needn’t worry though, because this movie has a happy ending: a disgusting Fulci sails off into the sunset with a bikini-clad woman that’s at least a third his age.

I hated A Cat in the Brain. But Fulci fans love it. Just check out the reviews at IMDB.

After watching that shitshow I needed a palate cleanser. That’s when I found the 1984 Wings Hauser and Bo Hopkins (RIP) classic , Mutant.

Perhaps calling Mutant a ‘classic’ is a bit of a stretch, yet despite its lackluster script, it is competently made. It’s a story we’ve seen a thousand times before: strangers roll into town, weird things happen, everyone turns into zombies, heroes save the day in the most ham fisted way, blah blah blah.

Of course, none of the character archs pay off. Least of all Bo Hopkins’, the alcoholic town sheriff with a dark past. Nevertheless, Hauser and Hopkins’ performances carry the day, ALMOST to the point where you don’t feel cheated out of your time or money.

Actually, I just LOVE saying ‘Wings Hauser’. It sounds like Wings of Desire, the 1987 Wim Wenders film. Then I imagine Wings Hauser being in Wings of Desire and it makes me happy. His might be my most favorite name of anyone who has ever had a name.

Wings Hauser

It’s not his birth name, but still…

klaus Kinski in your crawl space

I’m starting to really scrape the barrel of Tubi. I’ve probably seen every horror film from the 80s offered. So I might have to dip into some 90s and 2000s stuff soon.

This goes against my longstanding theory that it takes at least 30 years after the movie’s release before we can actually appreciate and judge its merits. Clearly I violated that policy by reviewing We Are The Flesh last week, but I only did that because I’m a disgusting pervert.

Yet, I have a duty to perform. And that duty is to find terrible and/or forgotten movies. I have to do what must be done.

The only thing of note I watched this week was a Dario Argento-produced joint called The Church. Really the only part that stuck out was it’s Philip Glass-inspired soundtrack. At one point, a woman is smashed to bits by a train to that inspiring score. If you’re a fan of Argento or Italian horror, this might be up your alley. Otherwise, fuck it.

The other film is Crawlspace starring Klaus Kinski.

Apparently this film has some notoriety, which I was unaware of when I started watching it. There’s even a short film called Please Kill Mr. Kinski that discusses the making of this movie.

Allegedly, Kinski was so disruptive on the set that the filmmakers tried to have him fired. Supposedly, a producer tried to have him killed (which wouldn’t be the first time someone tried to kill Kinski on a film set). The actor himself caught wind of this and became more disruptive.

But what about the movie itself? Is it any good?

Eh. It’s well made, I’ll say that much. Russian Roulette plays a big part in the story. And I give it bonus points for being really short.

But despite Kinski’s antics behind the scenes, he’s kinda subdued in a role about a Nazi doctor that rents out apartment rooms to unsuspecting women. Maybe I’m just used to watching Kinski be so insane that I forget that he was also an actor.

Anyways. That’s all I’ve got to say. Bye ✌️