Star Trek: The Next Generation: season five (1991/92)


Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of season five…

Best episode:
* Conundrum. The crew of the Enterprise lose their memories after being scanned by an alien… A fun, gimmicky episode where our characters have to rediscover everything afresh. The regulars are having a ball playing with expectations and there’s some good humour too.

Honourable mentions:
* Ensign Ro. A disgraced Starfleet officer joins the Enterprise crew… Another no-easy-answers story about terrorists, and a good debut for a new semi-regular character.
* Silicon Avatar. A mysterious space creature that has killed millions returns… There’s a fine guest performance from Ellen Geer in this story about the crystalline entity from season one.
* Unification I. Picard and Data go undercover in Romulan territory to find a famous Vulcan ambassador… SPOCK!
* Unification II. MORE SPOCK!
* A Matter of Time. A man called Berlinghoff Rasmussen arrives and claims to be an academic time-traveller from the future… Matt Frewer plays Rasmussen and is a lot of fun.
* Hero Worship. A young boy latches onto Data as a new father figure… A sweet episode.
* Violations. There’s a delegation on the Enterprise, and one of them mentally abuses crewmembers… A nasty story about a rape metaphor with some trippy dream-like sequences.
* Power Play. Data, Troi and O’Brien get possessed and take control of the ship… An enjoyable enough go at a hoary old concept.
* Cause and Effect. Unbeknownst to the crew, the Enterprise becomes trapped in a time loop… Gimmicky and full of holes, but still very entertaining and well staged.
* The First Duty. At Starfleet Academy, Wesley Crusher is involved in a colleague’s death… A talky but enjoyable episode – a courtroom drama.
* I, Borg. An individual Borg is captured and the crew decide to use him as a weapon… A decent examination of moral issues.
* The Next Phase. Everyone thinks Geordie and Ro have been killed… An enjoyable sci-fi idea, though it’s a shame the solution is so rooted in meaningless science terminology.
* The Inner Light. Picard is unconscious for 20 minutes but in that time experiences decades’ worth of life on an alien planet… Very touching. An excellent performance from Patrick Stewart, as always.
* Time’s Arrow. After finding Data’s head buried on Earth, the android travels back in time to San Francisco in the 19th century… Tremendous. A foot-to-the-floor time-travel romp with comedy, Samuel Clemens and a terrific turn from Brent Spiner.

* Redemption II. Picard visits the Klingon homeworld to oversee a new leader’s coronation… A horrendously boring exercise in fanwank. The hoops the storytelling jumps through in order to justify Denise Crosby’s return to the show are risible.


Star Trek: The Next Generation: season four (1990/91)


Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of season four…

Best episode:
* First Contact. Riker is injured while undercover on an alien world… A great concept, done entirely from the alien characters’ point of view – it’s their story, really, and our characters are the guests. The whole episode is really well directed, has a funny cameo from Cheers star Bebe Neuwirth, and there’s good character stuff all round (no one’s an idiot and the alien culture feels textured and believable). Maybe my favourite episode of the whole series, in fact.

Honourable mentions:
* The Best of Both Worlds, Part II. The conclusion of last season’s cliffhanger… Not in the same league as the first part – you get the sense they’d written themselves into a corner – but still entertaining.
* Family. Suffering from the after-effects of his Borg conversion, Picard goes home to France… A lovely change of pace: a quiet character episode with no sci-fi gubbins. Sadly, the episode keeps cutting back to subplots on the Enterprise featuring Worf and Wesley – it’s a shame, as these strands are nothing special.
* Brothers. Data hijacks the Enterprise! As this series goes along, the frequency with which Data goes loopy does get tiresome (how is he still third in command of the fleet flagship?!), but Brent Spiner plays three characters here and does it very well.
* Remember Me. Crusher starts to notice that crewmembers are vanishing, but no one else remembers them… A fun and intriguing sci-fi concept. It also pulls off a neat twist when we later switch to another POV.
* Legacy. During a civil war on an alien world, the crew meet the sister of their fallen colleague Tasha… This has a meaner, tougher tone than most episodes.
* Future Imperfect. Riker is knocked out cold and when he wakes up 16 years have passed… Another terrific gimmick episode, but pulled off with style. There’s a good double bluff going on too.
* Data’s Day. Various goings-on are seen through Data’s eyes… A pleasing exercise in style, and another fine Data episode.
* Qpid. When Q tries to play matchmaker for Picard, the regulars end up in a Robin Hood fantasy… Basically an excuse to get the characters in silly costumes and playing out clichés, but hugely entertaining.
* Half a Life. Lwaxana Troi falls in love with a man whose culture says he must commit suicide at a certain age… David Ogden Stiers guests stars in a lovely and measured story about euthanasia. Majel Barrett gets a chance to round out the comic-relief Lwaxana too.
* The Mind’s Eye. Geordie is kidnapped and brainwashed… A pastiche of Manchurian Candidate.
* In Theory. When a crewmember falls for him, Data takes his first steps into the world of romance… The first episode directed by Patrick Stewart is enjoyable enough.

Worst episode:
* There are quite a few that are more boring – The Loss, Night Terrors, The Drumhead, the finale – but Devil’s Due fails by being a rehash of concepts we’ve already had. It features a Q-type character, a courtroom drama, one of crew having to argue against another… All things the show has done before and better.

Red Dwarf IV (1991)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Written by Rob Grant & Doug Naylor. Directed by Ed Bye. Broadcast on BBC2.

Regulars: The same as series three.

Episode 1: Camille (14 February 1991): The crew find a genetically engineered life form that appears to individuals as their heart’s desire… A Kryten-heavy episode to start the series. Not only does Lister try to break the mechanoid’s programming so he can lie, but he encounters love for the first time. The concept of Camille looking like different people is really well done, just with simple editing rather than any special effects. An okay episode.
Observations: Kryten sees Camille as another android (played by Robert Llewellyn’s wife, Judy Pascoe); Rimmer sees her as an attractive female hologram (Francesca Folan); Lister sees her as a Liverpudlian version of Kochanski (Suzanne Rhatigan); and the Cat sees… himself. (The Cat gag is greeted by whoops and applause from the studio audience. Presumably Red Dwarf fans are getting hold of tickets in big numbers now.) The story is a spin on Casablanca. Starbug is featured.
Best gag: Flirting with Camille, Kryten asks, “What is that fragrance? It smells divine.” Camille: “WD-40.”

Episode 2: DNA (21 February 1991): The crew find a UFO, which contains a machine that turns Kryten into a human… The episode’s worth seeing for Robert Llewellyn’s terrific performance as the confused human version of Kryten.
Observations: As well as human-Kryten, Robert Llewellyn plays three of Kryten’s spare heads. The show’s backstory is rejigged in this episode: Lister is said to be from the 23rd century (it was the 21st in series two) and he claims he actually dated Kristine Kochanski, a woman he barely knew in series one.
Best gag: Kryten’s list of medical problems now that he’s human. His eyes don’t have a zoom facility, for example, while his nipples no longer regulate body temperature and pick up Jazz FM. He then shows Lister a double Polaroid of something strange that’s happened to his penis…

Episode 3: Justice (28 February 1991): The crew find a pod in space, which contains either a female prison guard or a psychotic android. They take it to a penal colony so it can be opened safely, but Rimmer is put on trial for multiple murders… There’s a convoluted set-up, but once we get to the trial scene it’s good stuff.
Observations: The penal colony is represented by fantastic location filming at a disused water-pumping station… and some of the most basic sets ever seen in a BBC sitcom. Seriously, the courtroom must have cost £3.50. There’s also more retconning going on: the original crew of Red Dwarf has changed from 167 people to 1,167. Nicholas Ball guest stars as the android in the pod. Starbug features again.
Best gag: Lister’s space mumps are funny, but the trial scene steals it. Kryten is acting as Rimmer’s lawyer. He says of Rimmer, “A man of such awesome stupidity–” and Rimmer objects. Kryten continues: “A man of such awesome stupidity he even objects to his own defense counsel.”

Episode 4: White Hole (7 March 1991): Kryten forms a plan to restore Holly’s massive IQ, but accidentally reduces her run-time to just a few minutes… A rare chance for Hattie Hayridge to shine as Holly, this is a slick, funny-throughout episode. The “So, what is it?” scene is especially good.
Observations: Talkie Toaster appears for the first time since series one (he’s now voiced by David Ross, the original Kryten). Starbug is used yet again.
Best gag: Kryten speaks of a mechanoid friend who suffered from senility: “His name was Gilbert. But he preferred it if people called him Ramses Niblick The Third Kerplunk Kerplunk Whoops Where’s My Thribble?”

Episode 5: Dimension Jump (14 March 1991): A charming, likeable and talented Arnold Rimmer – known as Ace – arrives from another dimension… After two episodes not really ‘about’ anything, this is an enjoyable character story for Rimmer – even if once Ace arrives nothing much actually happens. Chris Barrie is excellent playing the two incarnations, and Ace is a fantastic creation. A cross between Bond and Biggles, he even has his own catchphrase: “Smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back for breakfast.”
Observations: The episode begins with a prologue set years earlier: Simon Gaffney and Kalli Greenwood return from series three to play young Rimmer and his mum. There’s then a sequence in the alternative reality: as well as Chris Barrie as Ace Rimmer, we see Craig Charles playing mechanic Spanners, Danny-John Jules as a padre, Hattie Hayridge as a secretary called Millie, and Robert Llewellyn as Bongo, Ace’s boss. The whole thing is a kind of Top Gun spoof, complete with incidental music not a million light years away from Berlin’s Take My Breath Away. Starbug is used again. A crawl of text at the end of the episode tells you that Ace continued to search other realities for versions of Rimmer (he’ll be back in this universe in series seven). Rather than the usual theme tune at the end, there’s a chintzy organ version to tie in with a gag about Rimmer’s musical tastes.
Best gag: Lister’s tales of fishing trips in Liverpool canals. “Used to go condom fishing. I swear, one time I caught a two-pound, black-ribbed nobbler!”

Episode 6: Meltdown (21 March 1991): Kryten finds a matter-transportation device, which teleports the crew to an Earth-like planet where droids of famous historical figures are fighting a war… It has its moments, but the ‘production’ scuttles the comedy. It’s half-arsed at times. It comes off like a student video.
Observations: This episode has series four’s only scenes filmed outdoors (an exterior scene in Justice was cut). Sadly the locations are pretty terrible. The production team have clearly just gone to some non-descript fields and – in one lacklustre scene – someone’s back garden. There’s also some truly awful stock footage used to represent some dinosaurs. (At least Kryten says the creatures look unconvincing.) Tony Hawks has his most substantial Red Dwarf role yet: he plays the Caligula droid in a funny scene with Lister and the Cat. As well as Caligula (AD 12-41), other famous people represented as droids include Pythagoras (circa 570-495 BC), Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), Albert Einstein (1879-1955), Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), Stan Laurel (1890-1965), Noel Coward (1899-1973), Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980), Mother Teresa (1910-1997, the only one still alive when this episode was made), Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962), Elvis Presley (1935-1977) and Father Christmas. For the second episode running the end music has been replaced: here it’s sung in the style of Elvis.
Best gag: Rimmer’s boring stories about games of Risk he played when he was 17, including gleeful retellings of specific dice throws. Bored Lister asks how he can remember such detail. Rimmer: “I jotted it down in my Risk campaign book!”

Best episode: Dimension Jump. Worst episode: Meltdown.

Review: This run of episodes is superficially the same as 1989’s batch, and has the same regular cast, but there are some interesting changes. Rimmer is more of a nerd now, rather than just an egotist. He has an anoraky love of telegraph poles, Hammond-organ music, diesel engines and board games. Kryten, meanwhile, has found his role within the team. He’s become Mr Exposition, who can rattle off reams of information on DNA, white holes, simulants, etc, as the plot demands it. Stories tend to come from outside Red Dwarf itself now, rather than being generated by the core characters, and all the plots are based on sci-fi gimmicks (even if Camille and DNA both give Llewellyn stuff to play and Dimension Jump is about Rimmer). One big change within the series itself is that the intended running order was switched. The start of Operation Desert Storm in Kuwait on 19 January 1991 resulted in the BBC delaying the transmission of the two military-themed episodes – a well-intentioned if oversensitive move. (Dimension Jump was planned to be the series opener, but ended up being screened fifth.) Enjoyable stuff, if never quite matching the heights of series two and three.

Eight kippers out of 10

Aliens: Special Edition (1991, James Cameron)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Director James Cameron revised Aliens in 1991 and the resulting ‘Special Edition’ was released on Laserdisc. It came out on VHS the following year, which I when I first saw it – thanks to my mate Dom Wint lending me his copy. An extra 16 minutes of footage has been surgically added to the 1986 film, which does make it a very different watch. I’ve already reviewed the original, so here’s a list of the changes I spotted and think are interesting…

* An entire subplot has been restored. Turns out, Ripley had a young daughter who was left behind on Earth before the events of the original movie. We learn about Amanda in an early scene of Ripley sitting on a bench. At first we think she’s in a park, but as the camera dollies round we realise the background is actually an image on a huge screen. Burke tries to brief her about the inquest she’s about to face, but she just wants to know about her daughter. Burke reports that Amanda Ripley-McLaren died, aged 66, just two years ago – ie, while Ripley was in her 57-year hypersleep. Ripley is given a photograph of Amanda and clutches it as she cries. Sigourney Weaver was reportedly furious that this strand was cut out in 1986 and it’s easy to see why. In a stroke it adds emotional weight to Ripley’s maternal bond with Newt.
* After the inquest scene – which has been slightly extended – there’s a whole new sequence on LV-426. In the original cut, we didn’t see the planet until Ripley and the others arrive. Now we meet the colonists of Hadleys Hope before they were wiped out. First off there are some splendidly atmospheric model shots of vehicles and buildings during a storm. Then we cut inside the main control room. It’s a thriving, busy place with a lot of workers and families. Mac McDonald from Red Dwarf plays the colony’s administrator and gets some exposition as he tells his second-in-command (William Armstrong) that a nearby area is being surveyed by some prospectors. As this is the characters’ only scene, McDonald and Armstrong had been cut out of the 1986 version completely.
* The action then cuts to another scene on LV-426. The prospectors turn out to be a married couple played by Jay Benedict and Holly De Jong. They have their two kids with them – one of whom is Newt, the only member of the family who’s in the original cut. The family are in a futuristic truck, which is battling its way across jagged terrain. They find a derelict space ship – recognisable to us as the craft from the first Alien film. The adults go inside it to investigate, but soon return in a panic. The dad has a facehugger attached to his head. It’s lovely to actually *see* what happened to Newt’s parents (and by extension all of the colonists), rather than just be told about it. It also works well because (on a first viewing) the film tricks us into assuming Newt dies along with everyone else. Oh, *and* the whole sequence looks and sounds sensational.
* The scene between Ripley, Burke and Gorman in Ripley’s cramped quarters has had a few lines added in. The best comes when Burke cites his company’s catchphrase – “Building better worlds” – and Ripley deadpans, “Yeah, I’ve seen the commercials.”
* There are some new shots of the empty space ship before the marines wake up. Very reminiscent of the equivalent scene in Alien, actually.
* A nice moment between Hicks and Ripley: just before she enters the colony for the first time, she pauses and he asks if she’s okay.
* Another entire subplot has been added: we see the marines set up a number of automated sentry guns to cover the approaches to their hiding place. We later see the guns in operation as the aliens attack. They fire and fire, but the creatures keep coming. The characters know the ammo won’t last forever. It’s tense stuff. But just as the last gun nears its end, the aliens stop attacking – Ripley suggests the plan to scare them off has worked. This is a substantial amount of action, which is neatly threaded through pre-existing material.
* Newt asks Ripley if she has any children. Ripley tells her she had a daughter who died.
* Near the end, as Ripley is about to head off to rescue Newt, she and Hicks tell each other their first names. Even the admission that Hicks is called Dwayne can’t spoil the nice character moment.

Review: James Cameron has a mixed record when it comes to these after-the-fact re-edits. Three times now he’s gone back to a successful film and rejigged things. The Abyss (1989) was a good enough sci-fi movie to begin with, but the extra 15 minutes added in a 1993 special edition lift the whole thing to a new level. Conversely, Terminator 2 (1991) was pretty much perfect on release. So the longer home-video version has many superfluous scenes and the pace of the middle third sags. With Aliens, the changes are a total triumph. The rhythm of the story is not damaged at all, we learn more about Ripley, and her connection to Newt has extra meaning. This is James Cameron’s preferred version of the film – and mine.

Ten wildcatters out in the middle of nowhere out of 10

Next time: An Alien movie directed by David Fincher? What could go wrong?

Omen IV: The Awakening (Fox, 20 May 1991, Jorge Montesi and Dominque Othenin-Girard)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

US Congressman Gene York (Michael Woods) and wife Karen (Faye Grant) adopt a baby girl from an orphanage, but as Delia (Asia Vieria) grows up a number of strange deaths begin to occur…

Best performance: Michael Lerner shows up in the second half as a private eye called Earl Knight. The actor refers to his character as a ‘low-rent Columbo’ on the DVD extras, and that’s not far off. He’s fun and has a lot more life to him than anyone else. That is, until…

Best death: Moments after posting some vital information to Karen, Earl is looking in some shop windows. He sees a toy crane, then a small model of the Nativity scene. He has a vision of the baby Jesus turning evil and starts to panic. In a cut, it’s suddenly raining and a dazed Earl stumbles through the town. He then has a vision of macabre, ghostly people singing the incidental music to him. Meanwhile, a crane on a nearby construction site swings a wrecking ball into action. Earl is clutching his heart and sweating, but comes to a rest outside the building site. He begins to calm down. However, in the background the enormous crane is silently turning towards him. The wrecking ball gains momentum, smashes through an office, and – in a super-slo-mo POV shot – heads directly for Earl…

Pilot: Fox had another attempt at The Omen on TV in 1995. A one-off episode staring William Sadler, Brett Cullen and Chelsea Fields was broadcast on 8 September. Richard Donner, the director of the original movie, put his name to it as executive producer – but quickly denounced the episode as garbage. A series didn’t follow.

Review: “I’ve got an idea,” some executive at the Fox network must have said. “Let’s take the Omen franchise and turn it into a lacklustre TV movie!” Almost everything in this film reeks of daytime-soap dreariness. The story heads down a predictable road – Delia starts to act oddly, threats to her are killed off, we find out she’s the daughter of Damien Thorn – and it’s very hard to care about anything that happens. It doesn’t help that the cast is largely bland and the film was clearly shot on a budget. (Despite the story being set in Virginia, it was filmed in Vancouver – so even though the events take place over a long period, it’s *always* wintery!) The script also references a large number of non-Catholic beliefs – Native American culture, tarot, auras, healing crystals, general New Age mysticism, cults – but never uses them for anything interesting. This general lack of attack might be because of a troubled shoot: the producer wasn’t happy with the first director so replaced him halfway through. In the film’s favour, the switcheroo plot twist – that Delia is actually a bodyguard and the Antichrist is Karen’s newborn son – is inventive and works well. But overall this is rotten.

Three snakes out of 10

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


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

A delicate peace negotiation has begun between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. The Enterprise is sent to collect the Klingon Chancellor, but when he’s assassinated the blame falls on Captain Kirk…

We don’t get the full “Space, the final frontier…” narration, but Kirk paraphrases it at the end of the film when he says the new Enterprise crew will, “continue the voyages we have begun and journey to all the undiscovered countries, boldly going where no man – where no one – has gone before.”

Regulars: At the start, Kirk is called to a secret meeting of Federation bigwigs, while he and his crew are due to stand down in three months. He doesn’t trust the Klingons and can’t forgive them for his son’s death three films earlier. After Gorkon’s murder, Kirk is arrested, put on trial and sent to a Klingon penal colony. At that special meeting, Spock reveals he is the Federation’s envoy and has been seeking peace with the Klingons – Kirk’s not happy about this. During the mission, Spock acts as mentor to Vulcan officer Valeris, grooming her to be his replacement. He gets to play Poirot after the assassination, putting the clues together to work out what happened (or should I say Sherlock, given that he quotes the maxim about eliminating the impossible?). He’s indignant when he realises Valeris is a traitor. When the Klingons are on board, McCoy toasts them during the meal, then later beams aboard their ship to help with casualties (a rare scene of Bones being a doctor) but is arrested and convicted of the assassination. Sulu is not part of the Enterprise crew any more – he’s now a captain and, for three years, has been in command of the USS Excelsior. The ship witnesses the explosion of the Klingon moon that kick-starts the plot, then later Sulu disobeys orders in order to help Kirk. (Janice Rand from the TV show and some early movies is one of the Excelsior’s crewmembers.) Chekov gets a hangover after the meal with the Klingons, then later finds the blood that proves the killers are aboard the Enterprise. Uhura is disgusted by the Klingons’ eating habits, invents static to explain why the crew are ignoring messages from HQ, and suggests using the ship’s new equipment to detect a cloaked ship. Scotty has just bought a boat for his retirement, conspires to pretend the Enterprise is damaged so they can avoid going home, and shoots the assassin at the end before he can kill Valeris.

Guests: The Klingon chancellor, Gorkon, is played by David Warner, who was also in the previous film. Mark Lenard returns briefly as Sarek. Valeris is played by Kim Cattrall – post-Porkies/Police Academy/Mannequin, pre-Sex and the City. The part was originally meant to be Saavik, last seen in The Voyage Home, but then rewritten as another Vulcan. Christopher Plummer hams it up entertainingly as Shakespeare-loving Klingon provocateur Chang. Iman plays shape-changing prisoner Martia. Michael Dorn, who was by now a regular in Star Trek: The Next Generation, appears as a lawyer at Kirk and McCoy’s trial: he’s meant to be his Next Gen character’s ancestor, it seems.

Best bits:

* Sulu’s got his own ship!

* The energy wave hitting the Excelsior.

* Spock vouching for Kirk.

* Valeris denies she’s ‘proud’ that she graduated at the top of her class. “She’s a Vulcan all right,” quips McCoy.

* The dinner scene – the Klingons unsure of etiquette, everyone uneasy, tension constantly under the surface.

* The Klingon ship losing its artificial gravity, and the Klingon blood floating around.

* McCoy passionately trying to save Gorkon’s life.

* The Federation president’s office – which is in Paris, judging by the backdrop visible out of the window – is decorated with some lovely knickknacks: an Art Deco lamp, an ornate desk, etc.

* Valeris’s story about the origin of the word sabotage.

* The harshly lit show trial (and its cinematic trick for getting everyone speaking English).

* During the trial, McCoy is asked what his current medical status is. “Aside from a touch of arthritis, I’d say pretty good,” he jokes, momentarily enjoying the laughter from the galleries.

* Prison planet Rura Penthe has guard dogs with massive saber-toothed mouths (domestic dogs wearing masks, in other words).

* The prison has a huge variety of aliens – an attempt to out-cantina-scene Star Wars’s catina scene?

* Spock: “If I know the captain, by this time he is deep into planning his escape.” Cut to: Kirk being punching during a prison brawl.

* Christian Slater’s cameo as s Starfleet crewmember. (His mum was the movie’s casting director.)

* The look on Kirk’s face when he realises a big, ugly monster is actually Martia.

* Chekov triumphantly announcing that crewman Dax is the murderer… then Spock pointing out that Dax’s webbed feet mean he can’t have wore the incriminating boots. (Has this guy ever been ‘retconned’ as an early incarnation of Dax from Deep Space Nine, I wonder?)

* The locations used for the snow-covered surface of Rura Penthe.

* The crew anxiously searching through Klingon translation guides and dictionaries as they ineptly reply to a listening post’s radio message.

* Martia shape-changes into Kirk, so William Shatner gets to do a scene with himself. “Can’t believe I kissed you!” “Must have been your lifelong ambition!”

* Kirk and McCoy being beamed to safety *just* before the Klingon commander is about to reveal who framed them. (“Son of a –”)

* Valeris is a traitor!

* Spock’s forced mind-meld with Valeris is very nasty (we’re getting into rape-metaphor territory here, right?).

* Kirk and Spock’s quiet discussion about age, regrets, mistakes and what it means to be human.

* When the crew are ordered to return to space dock so the Enterprise can be decommissioned, Spock says, “If I were human, I believe my response would be ‘Go to hell.’” Chekov then asks Kirk for a heading. Smiling, the captain quotes Peter Pan: “Second star to the right and straight on till morning.”

TV tie-in: For Star Trek’s 30th anniversary in 1996, Star Trek: Voyager produced an episode called Flashback. It restaged some of The Undiscovered Country’s scenes aboard the Excelsior and filmed new material around them. Sulu and Rand popped up for cameos. Fun on a fan-boy level, it’s a pretty tatty piece of drama.

Review: We geeks tend to revere The Wrath of Khan, but this is equally as impressive. Both films were directed by Nicholas Meyer, surely no coincidence. The Undiscovered Country has a very smartly structured plot – it zips along and builds to a terrific climax. Along the way, we get a mystery element, plenty of character and lots of action. At the heart of it is a Cold War analogy with the Klingons as the decaying, bankrupt, defeated USSR. It was a brave move, therefore, to make our regulars (representing the USA, in effect) so prejudiced. Early on, Kirk says of the Klingons, “They’re animals… Don’t believe them, don’t trust them… Let them die.” When the diplomatic party is invited aboard the Enterprise, Chekov has the line “Guess who’s coming to dinner…” (racially loaded dialogue originally given to Uhura, but the actress refused to say it). Kirk implies his guests are analogous to the Nazis. And there are crewmembers who say Klingons all look alike. But by being so blunt, the film has an edge – and a dramatic complexity. The regulars have a moral journey, rather than being stuck in their opinions. There’s also a general sense that this is the end (not for the first time in this run of films, it has to be said). There’s talk of retirement for the characters and the ship being decommissioned. The movie ends with a postmodern flourish: the signatures of the seven main regulars unfold on screen one at a time. Next time, we’ll have a whole new crew to get to know.

Ten dogs of war out of 10.

Barton Fink (1991)


Written by Ethan and Joel; directed by Joel; produced by Ethan

A successful Broadway playwright moves to LA to work on the movies. He faces writer’s block, but a gregarious neighbour comes to his aid when tragedy strikes…

Seen before? No.

Best performance: Seeing Steve Buscemi in these films – he had a small role in Miller’s Crossing too – reminds me pleasantly of when I was a teenager and he seemed to be in every other great movie.

Coen regulars (running total of appearances): John Goodman (2) plays Charlie, the larger-than-life neighbour. Buscemi (2), Jon Polito (2) and John Turturro (2) all return from Miller’s Crossing. John Mahoney (1) and Tony Shalhoub (1) also feature.

Best bit: John Goodman’s first scene. It covers menacing to hilarious and the skillful gear changes are a joy. Goodman and Turturro are both terrific.

Review: It’s fun seeing how these films are developing. Blood Simple had mood but no complexity; Raising Arizona had panache but no truth; Miller’s Crossing had genre conventions but no soul. Thankfully the Coens’ fourth feature, Barton Fink, combines style *and* substance into one really entertaining film. Instead of 80s noir or Prohibition gangsters, this is 1940s Hollywood glamour and sleaze. It’s still an off-kilter Coen-esque world, but everyone in it feels more plausible than in previous movies (there are great actors in every role, although women are shortchanged again). This gives the film a solid foundation for the quirky stuff to build on and/or undermine. Therefore it’s all the more enjoyable and – especially after the story takes a dark turn halfway through – all the more effective. It’s often very funny too.

Eight wrestling movies out of 10.

Hook (1991)


Peter Pan has grown up and forgotten his magical past, but then old archenemy Captain Hook kidnaps his children…

Seen before? I saw it on VHS when it first came out.

Best performance: Dustin Hoffman has long been on my list of people who can do no wrong. Sadly, this film challenges that placement. A fun Phil Collins crops up in a one-scene cameo.

Best scene/moment/sequence: It’s a struggle to think of anything that especially impressed me. The baseball game in Never Never Land maybe?

Review: Twee, naff, overlong and so, so dull. The first real stinker of this #SpielbergWatch process. Not only is its overall effect vapid, sugary schmaltz, but the movie has such little momentum to it – a long, dreary middle section featuring the Lost Boys seems to never-never end. Also, perhaps because it’s deliberately a children’s film, there’s no real menace or danger. A man’s kids are taken away from him, yet neither Peter nor the kids ever seem that concerned. Hoffman’s Hook, meanwhile, is an unentertaining, impotent villain. On the plus side, the Never Never Land sets are superb, especially the intricate piratic ships, docks and wharfs. Spielberg’s folly. I doubt I’ll ever watch it again.

Three Tinkerbells out of 10.