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IMDb/Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
Directed by Robert Wise  ·  Rating: 9 of 10
9 of 10

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Summary: Stunning visuals, stunning music

Star Trek usually is all about story and little about effects, it is about the characters. They usually dominate the scene. The music - judging from the tv series up to then - had been rather secondary, not of the kind the movie would feature. But what a music - and what effects shots! Nothing spectacular perhaps today, but for its time, surely fascinating. Those who like beautiful Jerry Goldsmith music and a ballet of visual effects accompanying this music: they would love it.

From a visual and musical standpoint, the first Star Trek movie went into the direction of '2001: A Space Odyssey', but this could never have really been communicated to a Star Trek audience. Nowadays, with the later movies and tv series and the direction sf has taken during the last decades, such a movie would have made much more sense. But in 1979, to revive the series, 'Star Trek: The Motion Picture' (seemingly) abandoned almost everything the tv show was about. At least so it had to seem. While the solution was rather typical for the show, and also the premise, to discover new life, proved working, the new format, cinema, and a slower direction, rather that of a so-called "art film", created a different picture.

Suddenly Star Trek was about visuals, about music, about direct philosophical and religious questions, being asked directly, not hidden behind a story to trick the network. The big screen demanded for big screen action, the space setting for a space feeling: and that the movie did. The feeling of space, of empty, cold, aggressive but beautiful space was conveyed by a beautiful and spacious setting and atmosphere. The story was still there, but for the first time it had to compete with other cinematic elements. Even Shatner's acting could never have been able to outdo such a competitor.

The few scenes where there is character development are quite astounding for Star Trek - the way Kirk gets his ship does show a person we never would have suspected within the Captain. In fact, each of the major characters gets some really good lines, and the occasional conflict between some crew members is refreshing. The new sets are amazing, especially the ships and space stations. But these uniforms...

So at the end, this remains a bold move to start the movie series. But it would have been a disappointment when there would not have been the following films. For those who awaited Star Trek in a conventional and traditional sense, this film had to be a strange experience. Star Trek is very conservative and traditional regarding its own format, whereas it is rather progressive in its ideas and topics. It really is expectation which is killing this movie. It doesn't seem to fit in, and it is amazing that the franchise survived this shock. The movie is great as a piece of cinema, but it just isn't a typical Star Trek. The next one had to decide about the fate of the show; just with this, it would have been a disaster. Luckily, it worked out - and perhaps in the future the first Star Trek movie will be judged a bit more positively for what it is, not for what it should have been.

February 5th, 1998 / March 15th, 2000

IMDb/Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
Directed by Nicholas Meyer  ·  Rating: 10 of 10
10 of 10

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Summary: A classic conflict

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

Revenge is a dish best served cold.
(old Klingon proverb)

After the previous movie, some changes had to be made. Less money, less effects ballet, more character interaction. Everything which was untypical for Star Trek had to be removed, typical elements reinforced. So it made sense to resurrect an old enemy, the only real enemy Kirk had ever had during the series: Khan Noonian Singh.

Technical errors aside, i.e. Khan knowing Chekov, and not counting the much cheeper and cheesier special effects on the bridge during battle scenes, this movie may not be as bold as its predecessor, but where it loses grond on the boldness and art section it definitely surges to greatness in story, intensity and tragedy. This is a war movie, it is a movie about two old men and their vendetta, it is about two shattered lives, of which only one can remain.

One of the positive elements of the first movie is retained here: the space feeling, this actually being underlined by the starships having to move slowly after some engagements, so the contrast between distance and speed is increased. When you move with warp speed, it is easier to forget you're in space. But with impulse or thrusters, it takes endless and is noticed. And it enforces maneuvers and tactics which can translate into the understanding of a pre-warp civilization. And the necessity to repair the warp drive introduces a new critical element: sacrifice. Spock's sacrifice.

Not every story can have a happy ending, a story even gets stronger when it doesn't have anything like that. Loss is part of life, it definitely is tragic, but it is a necessary ingredient. In fiction, the greatest tales like Homer's Iliad or Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet or Goethe's Faust are filled with both tragedy and learning to live with it. A nice little tale in which everything will eventually end up well might be pleasing at first, and not cause much despair. But in the long run, it will be forgotten because of the high risks not taken. Conflict matters, tragedy matters. This is the difference between beauty and sublimity: While beauty will succeed at once, but has to decay over time, sublimity runs deeper and is a deeper realization of a deeper truth. Tragedy and death in real life, or in the story, are not aimed for (only in fiction from the position of the alleged author-god, but playing god in society will always end up in a worst-case scenario). Fiction has the same innate rules as reality if you don't leave the framework of the story. Within the story, the characters suffer and have to learn from their loss. Outside of the story, the writer can easily kill off any character he wants to. In 'Star Trek II', Spock gets a glorious death scene and a worthy farewell. The ending is utmost ambiguous when seen in the light of part three, but in itself, it is a comforting image even. Life goes on.

'Star Trek II' continues the liaison of Star Trek with literature, this time it is Charles Dickens' A Tale of two Cities which sets the frame. Not only does the movie try to prevent any of the mistakes made in the first part, but it also aims at being a great movie in itself. It is not only directed against a development, it has created the basic groundwork for everything to follow. From now on, it will be as if the V'Ger tale had never happened. James Horner's soundtrack is different from Goldsmith's, but nontheless great. The only problem with the film is the direction in production design and atmosphere set by Nicholas Meyer: a more military tone, something which would eventually evolve into a major disaster within 'Star Trek VI'. But 'Star Trek II' would be the best movie of the classic series, an all-time high which its successors wouldn't come near to.

February 5th, 1998 / March 15th, 2000

IMDb/Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
Directed by Leonard Nimoy  ·  Rating: 6 of 10
6 of 10

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Summary: The middle child

The needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many.

The death of Spock was as crucial for 'Star Trek II' as was his resurrection for the continuing movie series. The solution found proved to be inventive, it even seemed that this was intentional, judging from the end of part two.

Part three now is an adventure movie, it is no direct mission to encounter something, nor is it an accidental stumbling into a dangerous situation. It is rather a story about moving from A to B to C to get D. That's always problematic, it seems too constructed, looks like a road movie in space. The end result thus can only be more or less predictable, even more so when the enemy is a rather weak figure, easily disgusting and just not the worthy adversary. An enemy without an attitude, just with an outside political agenda, that's simply not interesting. The Klingons are still too one-dimensional, but we have already seen better players, like Kang and Kor and even Koloth. This guy here, although being played by Christopher Lloyd, may have an interesting pet, but that's about it.

What is interesting is how the crew has to gather together and get going on their mission, leading to one high point of the movie, the stealing of the Enterprise. While the humor is rather cheesy, this is a general malaise of Star Trek. Star Trek is always trying to be funny, but as it is always so deliberate, the humor has to look rather contrived and thus cheesy. Star Trek wants to be seen as a serious show, but the only thing closely resembling humor is its self-irony (which, however, works perfectly). Its situation humor mostly turns into slapstick, see part five for details...

The portrait of the Excelsior captain and the position of Starfleet against Kirk aren't quite well constructed. Another problem is the change of actresses for Saavik. Robin Curtis is no adequate exchange for Kirstie Alley. But the strangest thing of all is David's death - while Spock's death made sense, that of David seems so senseless, it affects Kirk for a time, but later it seems forgotten. It raises the stakes, but only for a moment. That can be done with one of these poor security guys, but the death of Kirk's son should have a greater impact in the long run; which is missing. Shatner plays a great reaction to the scene, but there should have been more.

As average the first parts of the film are, as great are the maneuvers by which Kirk beats his enemy. The loss of the Enterprise is a shock, and the scenes on Vulcan not only cure and resurrect Spock but the entire movie. But that's not enough. Overall, the film can only claim to be of average quality, its already rather weak story potential not even fully played out. Nimoy would do a better job next time.

February 5th, 1998 / March 15th, 2000

IMDb/Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
Directed by Leonard Nimoy  ·  Rating: 7 of 10
7 of 10

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Summary: Somewhat funny, somewhat silly

'Star Trek II' was made to kill Spock as well as 'Star Trek III' was made to resurrect him. And 'Star Trek IV'? To make him take a swim with a whale and teach him some curses. Although the setting of the movie is a bit strange, the message is clear and the film is fun. Every one gets some fine scenes, and Kirk gets a new Enterprise.

After two rather dark movies, a bit of comic relief was badly necessary. To do a time-travel story had only been a matter of time anyway, as the tv show featured quite some of them. So it was to be save-the-whales now, thus also returning to a more philosophical approach after two very adventure-oriented movies.

The humor of this movie, however, seems to me highly overrated for it is largely cheesy and even silly. But it is nevertheless fun to watch these characters do things they'd usually not be doing in their usual environment, they have left their habitat and have to survive in the 20th century now.

Something else manifests itself as a problem with this one: the characters getting old. In the military, there are of course also older people, mostly in higher positions. But somehow the wild bunch of aging heroes sticking together seems rather strange, a problem which were to be growing worse with each following movie.

A movie like this would have to be a one-time only in a series of serious sf, especially if character interaction only works with three persons. The problem of Roddenberry's original setup is showing more and more: With Kirk, Spock and McCoy he may have created a wonderful and timeless trio supplementing each other, but the rest of the cast is constantly shoved aside, a problem persisting also in TNG even after Rick Berman strengthened the positions of some supporting actors. Who cares about Scotty, Sulu, Chekov or Uhura out of other reasons than just familiarity? They are just equipment, completing the diversity of the crew. But none of their characters really gets the development they'd deserve, only in the novels this will happen. But in the movies, it's just not happening. That's sad, and precisely a movie like 'The Voyage Home' could have fixed this problem. But there it failed, at the end it is just the trio again, the rest smiling happily, but nothing really mattered except that the humpback whales and the world have been saved and Spock has increased his vocabulary.

February 5th, 1998 / March 15th, 2000

IMDb/Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
Directed by William Shatner  ·  Rating: 8 of 10
8 of 10

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Summary: Underestimated, weighty material

A movie which wants to be taken seriously, starting in a serious and great way, but then falling back into some cheesy scenes - that's an odd mixture, even when it tries to tie both parts together, the deadly serious one and the fun part. And when this occurs in a movie with a highly philosophical and even religious theme, it is almost unbelievable that something like this is being tried. It might work with writers like David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, Picket Fences) or Darin Morgan (The X-Files, Millennium), but here it has to fail. This is too much of a balancing act to being able to end well.

There has been a lot of bad talk against this movie, and most of this aimed against Shatner as a director. But that seems a bit unjustified, as most of the film actually is solid work, nowhere worse than 'Star Trek III', nor are the visual effects as catastrophic as has been said so often. The problems seem to run much deeper actually, being the same as in 'Star Trek IV': aging, character interaction, cheesiness. The difference is only that the topic and setting of part four rather allowed for a humoristic approach than this one.

For me, however, this movie scores even a bit better than its two predecessors, as the story has more potential. It is also more personal than part four, the Sybok/Spock relation really being quite interesting. There is a lot of character development here, even the supporting cast has a bit more to do, although Uhura's dancing could really be spared from us.

This is the first time the Klingons are more thorougly portrayed since 'The Day of the Dove'. Seen superficially, they're just a bunch of punks, but they are indeed willing and able to rise above that. Here, Klingon culture is tried to be re-introduced, a first step probably being motivated by TNG already being on the air: It was time preparing for a positive future development, while the tough work was to be performed by the next part.

The search for a material God turning inside, that's a bold move here, while it could easily have been stated in the old, dumb way that if God wasn't found, he wouldn't exist. This is actually one of the rare moments of religiosity within the otherwise rather carefully neutral Star Trek framework. Perhaps that's the main reason for this movie's PR problem. In whole, the film doesn't rise to full potential but dares to go where the franchise hadn't dared to go before. Jerry Goldsmith is again the composer of the soundtrack, and the final scene where 'Row Row Row Your Boat' is fading into the Star Trek fanfare is just great.

February 5th, 1998 / March 15th, 2000

IMDb/Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
Directed by Nicholas Meyer  ·  Rating: 9 of 10
9 of 10

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Summary: A bit too dark for Star Trek

As it was clear that TNG would be able to save and continue the franchise, there was both no need for the old crew to continue aging on screen any longer, as was its continuing presence now rather hindering the new show from getting along on its own. Thus a way had to be found to close the file of the original series with dignity, with a final surge, also leading the way into the new era of the 24th century.

That the Klingons would have to be the focus of this movie seemed natural: This was the story to be told. 'Star Trek V' had made the first move since a long time towards a more diverse picture. Also, the Klingon Empire as a mirror of the Soviet Union had to arrive at a crucial point, Gorkon, the Klingon Gorbachev, being the right figure at the right time. But where there is light, there is also shadow, and so there needs to be a General Chang, there needs to be an assassination, a thickening of the plot and sacrifices to be made in order to bring the story to its fullest Shakespearean dimensions.

This is a wild ride, a tough ride, and for this last time, the original series succeeds in the task to (finally) draw a great story from its infinite potential. The supporting actors have gotten more importance also, Sulu finally having been promoted to Captain. Spock proves his diplomatic and detective abilities, and the effects are breathtaking for a Star Trek movie, the music the best since Goldsmith's joyride for part one.

The film turns out to be a tough political thriller, and so far, there aren't any problems with it. Except one, a major one: Nick Meyer. Somehow he succeeded in turning a great story, which could otherwise have resulted in a perfect movie, into a great story with a vengeance. There should've been some continuity between Star Trek V and TNG - but what he does is to create the darkest atmosphere possible, a harsh and crude military look, something absolutely and totally wrong for Star Trek. This is the film all of those calling DS9 a dark show should consider first. Nick Meyer's view of the Enterprise is really disgusting.

Apart from this and the heavy over-usage of Shakespeare (while it seems to be a little strange that the Klingon General Chang would be citing an English writer, the enemy, so whole-heartedly), the message of the movie corresponds nicely to the end of the US-Soviet cold war. It could have been better if Nick Meyer had followed the Star Trek feeling more closely, but this nevertheless proves to be an utmost worthy good-bye of the first Trek crew.

February 5th, 1998 / March 15th, 2000

IMDb/Star Trek Generations

Star Trek Generations (1994)
Directed by David Carson  ·  Rating: 8 of 10
8 of 10

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Summary: Eliminating loose ends

'Generations' was made to kill Kirk. Kill Kirk? What a nasty idea. But then, all heroes have to die, and Kirk gets the chance to die twice and survive in the Nexus at the same time.

'Generations' is remarkable, although Crusher, Geordi, Troi and Riker don't get a lot of scenes. But concentrating on Picard and Data doesn't prove wrong at the end. 'Generations' is quite an emotional film, and David Carson as the director was the right choice. The reflections of the explosion that Picard sees while being in the nexus, his decision not to just nexus back again and again just to make sure Kirk survives at the end seems strange, but then this is the right choice.

There couldn't have been a better film for establishing the TNG movies. Dennis McCarthy proves that he can write not only TV but also movie soundtracks, Data finally gets his emotions, we get rid of Lursa and B'Etor (and this seems to mark the real end of the Klingon civil war), and we again need a new ship.

February 5th, 1998

IMDb/Star Trek: First Contact

Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
Directed by Jonathan Frakes  ·  Rating: 10 of 10
10 of 10

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Summary: An intense horror film

Resistance is futile. But now it seems that this might become the Federation slogan against the Borg after how Picard and Data again save Earth from the cyborg nightmare that the Borg intended to create just another time for the Federation.

It is possible for just one Borg cube to penetrate the Federation lines, and just Locutus/Picard is able to destroy it. The step into the past, the time travel to the very first contact between Humans and Vulcans gives us some comic relief, which arises from the scenes with warp drive inventor Zephrem Cochrane and the away team. But as almost always within Star Trek, every comic or romantic relief has some very hard scenes following. This has been true since the Classic episode 'Balance of Power', and it also counts for latest DS9's 'A Call To Arms'.

'First Contact' is the most hard-edged Star Trek film, and some scenes even look like it was meant to create some mixture of horror and sf. This is not anymore Roddenberry-Trek, this is more serious, this is the late nineties. But is it still Star Trek? Yes, definitely! Patrick Stewart's performance is brilliant, he again dominates the whole cast, even Spiner and James Cromwell. Star Trek again alludes to literature, but in the end Ahab/Picard sees the white Borg whale dead while he himself stays alife.

'First Contact' is Star Trek at its peak, and this might not have been possible without Jerry Goldsmith's beautiful score and Jonathan Frake's directing abilities. 'With First Contact' as well as with DS9 and Voyager's new course of action this may mean salvation for the Star Trek universe which seemed to fade away a bit after TNG's death on the television screen. But with a new style like this, and with integrating traditional Star Trek values, Roddenberry's creation probably will live long and prosper for quite a while again.

January 28th, 1998

IMDb/Star Trek Insurrection

Star Trek Insurrection (1998)
Directed by Jonathan Frakes  ·  Rating: 10 of 10
10 of 10

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Summary: Philosophical, funny, Star Trek

Can anyone remember when we used to be explorers?
[time index 7'43" / DVD: chapter 2]

I won't let you move the Ba'ku. I will take that to the Federation Council.
I'm acting on orders from the Federation Council.
How can there be an order to abandon the Prime Directive?
The Prime Directive doesn't apply. These people are not indigenous to this planet, they were never meant to be immortal. We'll simply be restoring them to their natural evolution.
Who the hell are we to determine the next course of evolution for this people?
[time index 46'30" / DVD: chapter 9]

... Our partners are nothing more than petty thugs.
On Earth, petroleum once turned petty thugs into world leaders, warp drive helped to form a bunch of Romulan thugs into an empire. We can handle the Son'a, I'm not worried about them.
Somebody probably said the same thing about the Romulans a century ago.
[time index 47'27" / DVD: chapter 9]

They don't want to live in the Briar Patch. Who would?
The Ba'ku. - We are betraying the principles upon which the Federation was founded. It's an attack upon its very soul. And it will destroy the Ba'ku, just as cultures have been destroyed in every other forced relocation throughout history.
Jean-Luc, we're only moving six hundred people.
How many people does it take, Admiral, before it becomes wrong? Hm? Thousand? Fifty thousand? A million? How many people does it take, Admiral?
[time index 48'42" / DVD: chapter 9]

I have encountered any kind of review concerning this movie, ranging from best to worst. To make it clear, as I'm stating my opinion now: This is the best Star Trek movie ever made. This is the only true Star Trek movie ever made, also; true in the sense that this is the very first time Star Trek is Star Trek. To discover strange, new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before. This movie is about exploration, it is also about the very principles of the Federation, it is about an allegory to our past (see my paper on Native American history), it is also staying true to the tradition of science fiction to deliver us visions of the future and alternative lifestyles. This is a bold movie.

Concerning the characters: This time, there is a much more balanced share of screen time each TNG actor gets. Of course, Picard is the main character, but what the heck, he's being played Patrick Stewart, and he is the Captain, and he is Picard. We see a bit more of Worf, Riker and Deanna, also of Geordi, just the Doc has a bit less lines to say, it appears. Who said one couldn't out-Borg the Borg? The Son'a, and with them Ru'afo, and with them the Admiral, are much more frightening: The Borg are mere drones, but those guys really represent mankind's darkest moments in some respect. And then, there is also character development: Picard dancing the Mambo (well, it was just a short moment), the girls' anatomy tightens up, Deanna and Riker are together again, Data discovers humanity again. Geordi gets to see a sunshine (but we don't, regrettably), Worf can work off his anger and sorrow about his wife's death.

Concerning the effects: Very well done, although the CGI character shines through a bit. But whatever, there's definitely more action on the screen, and it looks good, better than I expected when I first heard extensive use of CGI would be made. The music works perfectly together with the images and the action, some moments are even more frightening than 'First Contact'. We also get a connection to the people in danger; and the trek of Ba'ku Israelites fleeing the hordes of the Son'a Pharao is quite an impressive picture. Just one thing: Why do they let Ru'afo die at the end instead of beaming him away (maybe they couldn't locate him and searched only for the Captain, but then this is really something to clear up. You do not let bad guy die just because he is the bad guy).

Concerning the directing: Frakes has a good pace, and a good feeling for atmosphere: The beginning is just great, the escape scenes could count among the most dramatic Star Trek has ever seen. The humor works almost every time, and some things which might seem too radical (like the Mambo and the joystick) we just get a glimpse of. There is no time to be wasted, but there are moments of calmness also, perfectly balanced. There are those saying this would look less movie-like and more like television. I can't share this view: This definitely is a big screen adventure. Well, unless you could imagine a tv episode with that much action, outdoor scenes and visual effects, and with that great a soundtrack. I doubt it.

Of course there are also very contrary views out there, but while I can accept them, I can't share nor understand them. Perhaps some want Star Trek to be transformed into a 'Star Wars'-like thing; perhaps some would like to have a five-hour-movie where every single detail (like what Picard had for dinner or so) would be explained into great length; but I doubt that would work. The things some are complaining about (like: Why is Worf on the Enterprise? or: What is Data doing on that planet?) are simply not important: Is there any other movie where such decisions are that transparent? Well, for a TNG movie, it is obvious why Worf is in it: He is a TNG actor. Simply as that. So why constructing any senseless justification? He wants to see his old fellows or so, why bother? And for Data: He's a science officer, so why not let him join a cultural investigation of the Ba'ku? I like the way Frakes solves that stuff: By quickly mentioning the fact as it is and then blending away. No explanation needed, no explanation given. Concerning expectation, this movie has exceeded all my hopes and proved to be just right and even better than that. A perfect moment.

see also: Soundtrack Review

January 1st / July 29th, 1999

IMDb/Star Trek Nemesis

Star Trek Nemesis (2002)
Directed by Stuard Baird  ·  Rating: 9 of 10
2 of 10

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Summary: An acquired taste

I was totally devastated when I first saw Nemesis, I considered it horrible. I didn't even want to buy the DVD. Well, I did, but at a discount. I needed to see some TNG again. And I wanted to hear Goldsmith at his finest again, now that he sadly passed away. Maybe I had a bad day watching Nemesis the first time in the cinema. Now, everything seemed different. Some tastes are rather acquired, like coffee for instance. I hated coffee at first, now I've come dependent on it. First lesson ever, never, ever, be afraid to change your opinion. Regarding Nemesis, I have. The last review from Jan 16, 2003, gave it 2/10, now it's 9/10.

Why? Has the film changed in the mean time? Well, I've seen the deleted scenes, but they, to my surprise, make no difference. No, the film's the same. And some of my criticism still remains (lots of recycled plot elements: the Data/Spock sacrifice, the singing B4 holding Data's memory and McCoy holding Spock's Kathra; questions of accuracy of physics in the ramming scene, a lack of depth in the Romulan and Reman sets, a feeling of lacking sustance sometime), but they partly fade away or can be seen as delivering some kind of continuity.

There's something terribly right going on in the film, the highly philosophical elements that address the core of what Star Trek has been about all along. There it is, again, which has kept the series en route for such a long time, pronounced best, as usual, in a Next Generation setting: humanity as a quest for self-improvement, as outgrowing the raw material, as civilizing the primal needs and entrusting mankind with that progress. Picard personifies that much more than any other captain in Trek history, the soldier-philosopher with a touch of Marcus Aurelius.

I still have to cope with some too modernist designs, and too much reliance on action, but, honestly speaking, it's the action scenes that make the rewatching really worth-while. One complaint though. I've been missing the truly great philosophical exchanges with Q. Otherwise, I don't want to speak any more. I'm just humbled by how wrong I was back then.

August 4th, 2004

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