Sunday, October 26, 2008

Stallone: A Career Retrospective: Part II

Over The Top
As much as I loathe Cobra, it's still possible to dismiss it alongside Rhinestone as a well intentioned failure. I forgive him for wanting to make a musical comedy, just as I forgive him for wanting to make his generation's Dirty Harry. After all, the main villain and Clint's sidekick from Harry were both in Cobra.

But Over The Top marks the turning point in Stallone's career where he literally goes over the top, into all-out film insanity. There's no going back from this point. After making Over the Top, his career as a laughing stock becomes complete, and the two Oscar nominations he received for Rocky are nothing more than distant memories.

In other words, this is just a stupid, stupid movie. It's just your typical coming of age movie about a widower who tries to reconcile with his son by taking him on a cross-country road trip in his tractor trailer truck so he can compete in an armwrestling championship in Las Vegas. You know, that old plot.

The coda of this movie is that the winner takes it all, loser takes the fall. That was either based on a line written by Shakespeare, or maybe Sammy Hagar. Anyway, this is a terrible movie, but it's one that's a definite must-see for Stallone fans.

But, you know, you won't like it.

Rambo III
In all seriousness, Stallone's greatest talent as a filmmaker has always been his ability to capture the cultural zeitgeist of his time. This has also been one of his greatest faults, because while his films perfectly appeal to a contemporary audience, they don't always hold up perfectly for posterity. And few of his films hold up worse than Rambo III.

Just watch this scene:

Those freedom fighters Trautman is talking about? Some of them grew into the Taliban. That's right, this movie is about how the Americans aided the Afghan freedom fighters against the evil Russian empire. We aided them by giving them guns, supplies, and that most dangerous weapon of all, John J. Rambo.

So you can see how that speech warning against getting into a land war with insurgents in the middle east has taken on a far different meaning these days. And that's a shame, because this is otherwise an awesome action film with some amazing set pieces. Sure, it's also stupid and impossible to believe, but it's also awesome. It's also far too cartoonish and turns the formerly laconic, brooding Rambo into a wisecracking jackass. But that's ok. Most of his jokes are pretty funny.

It may not hold up -- or, at least, it holds up in a vastly different way -- but it's still a pretty good, dumb action movie.

Lock Up
I love this movie.

Now, when discussing Sylvester Stallone, you have to remember you're referring to two men. There's the fantastically talented actor/writer/director who has made such films as Rocky, First Blood, and Nighthawks. Then there is the big, dumb jackass who coasted his way through films like this one. And, damn it all, I love both of those men, but I sure wish we had seen more movies made by the first one.

But I'll settle for watching Lock Up.

Here's the plot: Stallone plays Frank Leone, a convict a few months shy of his release, who is transferred to a maximum security prison because the evil warden wants revenge because he was the only man who ever escaped on his watch... or something. That plot was later ripped off by Frank Darabont when he made Shawshank Redemption. Just kidding.

It's hard to argue that any Stallone film could be stupider than Over the Top, but Lock Up sure tries to give it a run for its money.

I wish I was watching this movie right now.

Tango and Cash
Say what you will about Stallone's movies being dumb and violent and hard to believe, at least they're never boring. But this one kind of comes close. It's just not that good of a movie, but maybe because everybody expected so much more.

In the late 80s and early 90s, the buddy cop film was king. Buddy films have been around since the dawn of cinema (I'm pretty sure Alexander Graham Bell filmed the first buddy film about Sacco and Vanzetti), but this period was the golden age of the buddy cop film. So the idea of teaming Stallone up with Kurt Russell should've been the greatest buddy cop film of all time. But it didn't really work out that way.

Why did this film fail? Who's to say? Was it because both Stallone and Russell are such larger than life leading men that pairing them up only served to dilute each's star power? Maybe, but I think it was because the script sucked and because Andrei Konchalovsky was a terrible director. I've seen this movie. I've sat through this movie. But I hardly remember this movie. It was neither good enough to be worth watching nor dumb enough to stand out amongst Stallone's other films. But I'm sure somewhere, on aother blog, some fan of Kurt Russell is giving a respective of his care5er and loved this movie. And, if not, I guess I'll have to do that one too.

Oh, and just for the record, Stallone played Tango.

Rocky V
A lot of people hate Rocky V, but I don't get it. Sure, it's not a very good movie, but when was the last time Stallone made a good movie, let alone a very good movie? What, Rocky V doesn't live up to the high standard of quality left by Rocky IV? The reason Rocky V isn't as beloved as the other films in the series is because it isn't bad enough.

In fact, Rocky V is actually a pretty good movie, and that's why it leaves Stallone fans in such confusion. Stallone fans aren't familiar with movies that are pretty good. They are familiar with films that are great (Rocky, First Blood) and films that are terrible (well... every other film he's made), but not with films that are, you know, pretty good.

This film's main fault is that it's not as stupid and over the top as Rocky III and IV. That's probably because it was the first Rocky film since the first one that was directed by John Avildsen. John Avildsen is a different kind of director than Stallone in that he actually allows scenes to unfold with a certain amount of subtlety, and he champions story over spectacle.

But, more than that, this is a story that is about character instead of plot, which is a huge 360 after the last few Rocky films. So don't ask me if this is a good film or a bad film. All I know is that it's a Rocky film. So that means I watch it whenever it's on, no questions asked. But I'd rather watch any of the other ones, for whatever that's worth.

When I first started this post, I forgot I'd have to talk about movies like Oscar.

Now, Oscar is a bad movie. Let's just get that out of the way. It's a boring, unfunny, obnoxious film billed as a comedy. It's bad. It's not funny. But we don't need to rub that in.

Let's look at this film from Stallone's perspective. Let's say you were offered to star in a comedy film directed by John Landis, a true legend of the genre. Let's say the script was written by Michael Barrie, a former writer for Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. And let's say it was based on, well, some kind of stage play. You'd turn it down? What if you conveyed your fears about being to pull it off to John Landis and he assured you you'd be hilarious? You'd still say no?

So let's lay off Stallone, ok?

But it's still a horrible movie.

Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!
Remember how I just went out of my way to defend Stallone's decision to star in Oscar? Well, I can't do that with this movie? After the disaster that was his last movie, his next movie should've been Rocky VI or Rambo IV. But no... he followed it up with another comedy.

I just don't know what to say. This is the beginning of the end for one of my all time favorite actors. Reviewing these movies now is like being a time traveler who is forced to go into the past even though he can't change anything for the better.

Finally another action movie! And it's a pretty good one! I still remember when this movie first came out in the theatre. Specifically, I remember finally not being embarrassed to see a new Stallone film in the theatre. And I wasn't disappointed. This is one of my favorite of Stallone's non Rocky/Rambo films.

It's a film about a cliff... guy who... has to fight John Lithgow in... some mountains. Or something. Wait a minute... what is the plot of this movie? I just remember a bunch of cool action sequences that take place in the mountains. And that's the sign of a great action movie, in my opinion. If you come away from a movie remembering the action and not the plot, you probably had a good time.

Demolition Man
Now that's what I'm talkin' about! Demolition Man is important for two reasons: First of all, it's one of Stallone's most entertaining movies. Second of all, it's his last great movie for a long, long time. Oh, and it's also his first foray into the sci-fi genre. Unless you're counting Over the Top. There's no way that movie took place on the planet Earth.

This movie is so much fun for so many reasons: The dopey future society they created, Wesley Snipes's over the top performance as the bad guy, Dan Cortese as a lounge singer who only performs jingles from TV commercials. This movie has it all. It's sci-fi, it's an action movie, it's a comedy, it's a cultural satire. But, bottom line, it's one of Stallone's best and one of the most entertaining movies of all time.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Stallone: A Career Retrospective: Part I

Stallone. Pathetic hack or misunderstood genius? Wait... can't he be both? Stallone has always held a special place in my heart. His was a talent that could've reached the heavens, but instead he chose to waste it on films like Rhinestone. But still, I think he's a wonderfully charming and talented filmmaker who's deserving of a closer examination. And since nobody else is going to do it, I guess I have to.

So here is my comprehensive look at the entire film oeuvre of one Sylvester Gardenzio Stallone. We're in for a long ride.

Oh, and I'm going to begin with Rocky, because that was Stallone's first breakout film. Everything he did before that he did because he was young and starving. I can't judge a man for what he did because he had to.

The first Rocky is a masterpiece. This is one of my top five favorite movies of all time. Maybe it's even my favorite movie of all time, I dunno. All I know is that it's brilliant and absolutely deserving of all of the fame and praise it has received since it was first released. It has also been unfairly maligned, but mostly because it has been parodied so many times that most people have forgotten which was the film and which was the parody. But it's still a wonderful, charming, funny, and dare I say inspiring film that holds up to this day.

Stallone's follow-up to Rocky was a period piece based loosely on the life story of... Jimmy Hoffa. It's an interesting and well done film, and definitely a product of the auteur-driven films of the 70s. And as great as Stallone was in Rocky, he was even better here, giving a far more interesting and nuanced performance. Had he kept making films like this, he could've become the next Robert DeNiro. And, yes, I actually believe that. But then, who would've starred in Demolition Man? But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Paradise Alley

In the interest of full disclosure, I decided to list this movie even though I actually haven't seen it. But it exists if you're interested, but good luck finding a copy. I sure haven't. This is also Stallone's directorial debut.

Rocky II
After Rocky became a world-shaking smash hit, it was inevitable that there would be a sequel. And the premise is simple: What if we completely remade the first film, but had Rocky win in the end?! It's a little strange. That'd be like if they made a sequel to Titanic where they made a newer, bigger ship that didn't sink this time. What would be the point? But, silly premises aside, this is a fantastically entertaining movie. It's funny while still being sweet and uplifting, and it was the last Rocky film that actually felt genuine, and not like a parody of itself.

Another lost Stallone film that nobody's heard of. Stallone and Billy Dee Williams are cops on the hunt for terrorist Rutger Hauer. And if that does't sound like an awesome film, I don't know what planet you're from. This is just a classic late 70s/early 80s style cop film. This is just a really good film and Stallone is really good in it. How come nobody ever remembers his good films?

Another film made back when Stallone was young and powerful and made interesting acting choices. Ok, get this... Stallone, Michael Caine, and Pele (!!) play Allied POWs in a Nazi prisoner of war camp, and they're only chance to excape is by agreeing to play a soccer game against the Nazis. It sounds dumb, but it's fantastic.

Rocky III
Remember that Titanic 2 analogy I made above? Ok, now imagine in Titanic 3 if they changed the ship to an Aircraft Carrier and shipped it off to the Persian Gulf to kill Saddam Hussein? That would be pretty dumb, right? Well, if you haven't seen Rocky III, you don't know what dumb is. This has to be one of the silliest, most over the top, dumbest movies ever made. In fact, this movie is more over the top than Over the Top, but we'll get to that one too. Oh, and this movie is also awesome. This is dumb and silly and a complete betrayal of everthing the original Rocky stood for, but it's also one of the most entertaining movies ever made. I love it.

First Blood
The history of the Rambo movies is very similar to the history of the Rocky movies. Both are world famous and widely ridiculed for being cartoonish pieces of fluff that glorify violence... and rightly so! But they are also notable for the fact that the first films in each series are actually brilliant pieces of filmmaking. If you can believe it, First Blood is actually anti-violence in a way. The violence is almost metaphorical for its story about a Vietnam vet's attempt to reaclimate himself to society. Yeah, that's right! This is a great movie and an absolute classic of the action genre.

Staying Alive
The less said about this film the better. This is notable for being the first film Stallone directed that wasn't meant to be a vehicle for his acting. In fact, he only really has a brief cameo. This was a sequel to Saturday Night Fever that is even more ridiculous and removed from its predecessor as Rocky II and III were from the first Rocky. But where those films were great fun, this is a huge piece of garbage. This is one of the worst films I've ever seen. This is probably the worst film of his career, in fact, and as you'll see as we go on, that's saying a lot.

Oh god.

I guess I can't blame him for making this movie. Afterall, if I was the biggest star in the world and somebody offered me a chance to make a romantic comedy where I get to act and sing opposite Dolly Parton, I wouldn't turn it down. But still, a musical comedy starring Sylvester Stallone and Dolly Parton? Who thought this was a good idea? They aren't exactly Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds, or even Jim Nabors and Burt Reynolds.

This has gone down in history as a joke, but it's interesting to note that this was actually the first misstep of Stallone's career. This was his first truly bad film and his first flop. Everybody makes mistakes, but what makes this mistake so interesting, was how colossally huge it was. Anyway, I have said far too much about a film that really needs to speak for itself:

Rambo: First Blood Part II
Perhaps one good thing came out of Stallone's experience making Rhinestone: He ran back to playing one of his most lucrative characters of all time: John J. Rambo. Only the real fans remember First Blood, this is the film that cemented Rambo - maybe even Stallone himself - as a world-wide phenomenon. This is one of the biggest, most popular films of all time. This film may have helped Reagan become the most popular president of all time. This film may have ended the Cold War. This film... well.. now this is a film.

It's also really dumb and actually doesn't hold up all that well. It has a reputation as a mindless action film, but it's actually really talky and kind of boring in places. It's also really strange. Remember how Stallone remade Rocky so Rocky would win the second time around? Well, now Stallone is remaking the Vietnam War so America can finally win. It's just a strange concept, considering how the first Rambo film dealt with how war effects a man and makes it almost impossible for him to return to a civilized society.

But, whatever. This film is awesome.

Rocky IV
Oh wait... did I say Rambo ended the Cold War? I meant to say, the one-two-punch of Rambo and Rocky IV ended the Cold War. Think about it: Both of these films came out in 1985, which was the year Reagan and Gorbachev had their first summit in Geneva, then after that Perestroika came into effect, with the Berlin Wall finally coming down in 1989. All because of Sylvester Stallone.

But we were talking about Rocky IV. This is the most entertaining movie ever made. It's also really, really stupid. Sensing a pattern here? Rocky IV is almost an art movie in that it is told almost entirely in montages. Seriously, every major plot point or epiphany in this movie is conveyed by a long montage. And they're awesome. Just check this out:

No wait... this one is better:

Oh, but here's my favorite scene. It's not actually a montage, but the way the music carries the scene makes it seem like it's a music video. Forgive the Russian. It's the only clip of the scene I could find:

I don't even want to talk about this movie. It just makes me feel dirty. Stallone has made a lot of terrible films over the course of his career, but this is the only one that's actually reprehensible. This is a film for all of the people who didn't think Rambo was violent and gory enough. This movie actually used to give me nightmares. As an adult, I still wake up sometimes in the middle of the night, covered in sweat, with my heart beating in my chest, being paranoid about something that's wrong in the world. But then I remember that I sat through Cobra when I was a kid, and I try my best to calm down and fall back to sleep.

This is just a dirty, slimy, vile little film. It's Stallone's attempt at a Dirty Harry style, renegade cop who plays by his own rules, kind of film, but in the end, it's just about a cop who kills people and a criminal gang who are so evil they make Nazis look tame by comparison.

Ok, you need another reason to skip this movie? Stallone's character is nicknamed Cobra because his real name is Marion Cobretti. Ugh.

Please, for the love of all that's good and holy in this world, do not let your kids see Cobra.

I need to go take a shower and take a break. I'll post part 2 later on.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ranking the James Bonds

Who was the best James Bond?

Well, now... that's a question for the ages. I'm just asking for trouble by even bringing up the subject in the first place. But, like James Bond himself... trouble is my middle name.

No, wait, it's Walter. Anyway, I actually think James Bond fans have been lucky in that all of our leading men who played the part have been fantastic. That isn't to say they've all been in fantastic films... and that's what I think it comes down to. The question of which Bond was "best" is a false one, in my opinion. I don't exclusively watch films by any one of the six actors, since all of them have been in some that were good and some that were terrible (except for Lazenby, who was only in one... and it was awesome!).

So while I'm admitting it's stupid to rank them at all, rank them I must. But I'm going to take into account several factors, including charm, acting ability, and the quality of the films on which they appeared. That might not seem fair, but let's face facts: Roger Moore in For Your Eyes Only is better than Sean Connery in Never Say Never Again. But you can rest assured that Roger Moore isn't going to win this competition.

And, also for the record, I'm only going to be discussing the EON Bond films, and not the original Casino Royale or the original Bond film starring Barry Nelson. Casino Royale was a parody and I never saw the Nelson film, and I don't really care to.

Sean Connery


Dr. No
From Russia With Love
You Only Live Twice
Diamonds Are Forever
Never Say Never Again

In the minds of most people, Sean Connery is James Bond, while all others are just trying to fill his shoes. And, for the most part, they're right. Connery is a wonderful actor and his charm can't be denied. The character Ian Fleming created was no doubt a stroke of brilliance on his part, but it's hard to believe the series would have taken hold of the world in such a way without casting the perfect actor in the leading role. And Sean Connery was the perfect actor. He was amazing, and when at his best, his films were some of the best in the series.

But, out of the seven films in which he appeared as James Bond, only three are actually all that good. But that's ok because they actually aren't just good, they're amazing.

Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and GoldFinger are brilliant films by any account, with perfect scripts, great direction, and wonderful, charming performances by Connery. When people think of the James Bond films, whether intentionally or not, they're thinking of these three (the three first).

But after that, the series went downhill. Thunderball wasn't bad, it was just boring. But what film wouldn't be boring after GoldFinger, arguably the very best Bond film of all. Then came You Only Live Twice, which was probably the first truly bad film in the series. Diamonds are Forever was a little bit better, but only because it was so bad it was campy fun. But, even at their worst, Connery's lesser films are worth watching because he's always so good. And that doesn't just for for his Bond films, but for all of his films in general.

And then, over ten years later, he returned for the non EON (and, thus, no cannon) Never Say Never Again. What a piece of crap. Let's NEVER SAY anything about this film (N)EVER AGAIN.

Bottomline, Sean Connery is handsome, athletic looking, charming, funny, and a great actor. He's the only Bond actor to have won an Oscar, though not for a Bond film.

Final Score: 6 out of 6

George Lazenby

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

How to judge poor George Lazenby, the long forgotten second James Bond? The Australian model-turned-actor only starred as Bond in one film, but it's one of the absolute best of the series, and one of my all-time favorites. But, as likable as Lazenby is, this is a great film because the script and story and direction and action are fantastic. Lazenby is ok, but this movie would've been amazing had Sean Connery agreed to star.

But how was Lazenby? To be honest, I like George Lazenby and think he deserved better. Had he not quit from the series (because he honestly thought it was holding back his career, if you can believe that), I think he would've improved and received a far better judgment from history. But as his only film indicates... he was ok. He was definitely the weakest actor who ever played Bond, but he's also pretty charming and likable in his own way. He's very good at the physical stuff, and his comic timing makes him well suited for the one liners, but he's pretty wooden when he's doing anything else.

The highlight of the film is the middle section when he's going undercover at Bloefeld's hideout. When I first saw this film, I was blown away by Lazenby's performance. His entire voice and inflection changed completely when he went undercover as a posh, British professor. But, years later, I learned that a different actor actually dubbed over his lines for that entire section of the film. So that pretty much explains why his performance in that section of the film was so great.

But, still, I like Lazenby. He wasn't a great actor, but he was a pretty good Bond. I wish he had made some more films so I could judge him better.

Final Score: 2 out of 6

Roger Moore

Live and Let Die
The Man With the Golden Gun
The Spy Who Loved Me
For Your Eyes Only
A View to a Kill

While Roger Moore and Sean Connery have both technically played James Bone seven times, Moore gets the career win because Never Say Never Again doesn't really count as a part of the EON series of films. And it sucked. But it was still better than Moonraker. Or maybe not. Once the series gets that bad, it's hard to decide which of the films are the absolutle worst of the worst. But to be sure, many of Moore's films are on that list.

But still, Moore was a great James Bond. It's a true testament to his talents, and his charm, that he was able to keep the series alive and financially successful over the course of seven fairly mediocre films. While some of Moore's films are my very favorites (like Golden Gun, Octopussy, and Eyes Only), they're all actually pretty bad.

And Moonraker, Live and Let Die, and (ugh) A View to a Kill are completely worthless pieces of crap.

Moore will always have a place in my heart, however, because was James Bond when I was born. In fact, while A View to a Kill wasn't the first Bond film I saw, it was the first I saw in the theatre. And I loved it! The opening ski chase was off the hook, and the rest was just incredibly silly and cool and fun. But, rewatching it again as an adult, it sucks. It's just a terrible, terrible movie. Tanya Roberts is so bad, the plot about an evil microchip salesman was laughable, and Chris Walken hammed it up in his of his all-time worst performances (long before he turned hamming it up in bad movies into an art form). Oh, and the scene where James Bond actually had sex with Grace Jones was the absolute low point in the series.

But he was still a really good actor, incredibly handsome, funny, and a convincing physical presence. He was also the first Bond who was actually English. He was classy. I also think he was the best at being genuinely funny. I liked the guy. Connery's performance helped to create the character in the public conscious , but Moore's kept it alive and relevant for over ten years.

Final Score: 5 out of 6

Timothy Dalton

The Living Daylights
License to Kill

Like George Lazenby before him, Dalton has the distinction of never appearing in a bad Bond film, though a lot of people will argue with that claim. But Lazenby got off lucky by being forgotten. Tim Dalton is almost universally hated.

But he's my personal favorite.

After Moore's almost cartoonish entries in the series, the powers that be decided to go darker with the character. That resulted in casting Tim Dalton, who brought an almost Shakespearan air to the character. In my opinion, he's probably the finest classically trained actor who's ever played the part. But most people found him a little too dark and maybe a little too dry. I will admit that he doesn't quite have the charm of, well, all of the other actors in the series, he was closer to the character in the books than we had yet seen. But people didn't want the character from the books. They wanted Sean Connery or Roger Moore.

Another thing a lot of people will tell you is that Dalton's films were bad, but I would disagree with that as well. The Living Daylights is one of the best spy thrillers of all time, even if it doesn't really feel entirely like a James Bond picture. And License to Kill is just an awesome action movie, with Robert Davi as one of the best Bond villians of all time.

Another reason why these two films failed to register all that much with the public is how the late 80s saw the appearance of a kinder, gentler James Bond. The character went darker, true, but he also became somewhat... monogamous. And where's the fun in that?

But if you want to watch a couple of well written, action-packed thrillers, you can't go wrong with Dalton's two entries in the series. But they maybe aren't as much "fun" as some of the others. But I love them.

Final Score: 3 out of 6

Pierce Brosnan

Tomorrow Never Dies
The World is Not Enough
Die Another Day

Who doesn't love Pierce Brosnan? He's a wonderful, talented, effortlessly charming actor. Riding high off of the success of the much loved detective series Remington Steele, Brosnan had more good will coming into the series than any other actor in history. It was generally accepted as fact that he was the perfect actor to play the part. And he would've been... if only his movies hadn't sucked so bad.

Well, maybe it's not fair to judge the Brosnan films against the earlier films, since by that time the Soviet Union had collapsed, long time producer Albert Broccoli had died, and cold war had come to an end. How then to make relevant a character that, at his very essence, was a product of the 1960s? Well, had I been in charge, I would've made all of the Bond films period pieces that took place in the late 50s/early 60s. But I wasn't asked so they just completely changed the character, making him a product of the 90s.

And therein lies the problem. They just weren't making James Bond movies anymore. With each new actor, the series was that much different than the character that came before. By this point, we were so removed from the original character that he may as well have been a completely different character with a completely different name.

Anyway, I hate these movies. They're unwatchable, in my opinion. They are perfectly competent action movies, but they aren't James Bond movies. And Pierce Brosnan's charm and undeniable action talent did nothing to save them. He was better as Remington Steele.

Final Score: 1 out of 6

Daniel Craig

Casino Royale
Quantum of Solace (Yet to be released)

After the era of Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig (and his film Casino Royale), appeared as something of a revelation. The first Bond film that was actually based on one of Fleming's original novels in over 25 years, Royale was a reboot for the franchise that attempted to bring the character back to his roots. Gone are Q, the silly gadgets, and outlandish plots and terrible one liners.

And it worked to smashing success. It's one of the best films in the entire series, but not quite my favorite. Afterall, I like Q and some of the silly gadgets. With the Craig films, they managed to finally find a tone (and acting performance) that combined the dark realism of the Dalton films and the over the top action sequences of the Brosnan films.

So it was a great film. But how was Daniel Craig?

He was amazing! In just one film, he somehow managed to combine all of the best traits of every actor who came before him. To be honest, I was actually a fan of him even before he was announced as Bond, so when I heard he got the part, I knew this latest chapter in the series would be good.

He's still somewhat young and new to the part, so he isn't quite as indelible in the public memory as Connery or Moore, but if I redo this list after he's made a few more films, he might someday surprise us all.

Final Score: 4 out of 6

Overall winner: Sean Connery

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Worst Episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation

Well, since I dedicated my last post to the ten best episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, I figured it was only fair to devote this one to the worst episodes. And as much as I love this series (it's my all-time favorite), buy did they have some stinkers.

It pains me to do this (especially since I had to go back and rewatch some of these in order to refresh my memory), here are the absolute worst episodes, ranked in order from "best" to worst:

#10. The Royale

This was back in the first season, when the series was still stealing ideas from the Original Series and hadn't yet found its own voice. Because of that, I can kind of forgive the first season for its truly terrible episodes. But this one is particularly stupid.

The crew beams down to a planet that... I dunno... based some room on an old, cliched crime novel they found in an old Earth spaceship. Yeah, it's a rip off of A Piece of the Action, that classic episode of the Original Series. So why did that episode work while this one is a piece of crap? To begin with, Action took place on an entire planet with a whole civilization based on mobsters from America's past. This episode pretty much only takes place in one room. And it's just not fun, it's not clever, and it's completely unoriginal.

#9. Emergence

Next Gen's 7th season is one of its most enigmatic and controversial. By the time most series reach a 7th season (if at all), they tend to run out of ideas. Next Gen's finale season actually suffered from having too many ideas. The show's writers decided to get cerebral, high concept, and metaphysical. This writing style gave us some of the best, most original, and brilliant episodes of all time (like Genesis, All Good Things, and Parallels), but mostly it just sucked. And no episode better captures the essence of season 7 than Emergence.

Honestly, I don't understand this episode. You won't understand this episode. I have a feeling the writers didn't understand this episode. It has something to do with the Enterprise's computer becoming self aware (yeah, that's right), which manifests itself by filling the Holodeck with various mobsters, hillbillys, and train conductors. Huh? Yeah, that's right... it's a Holodeck episode. Can anybody tell me why the Holodeck even has "safety parameters" if they are always accidentally being shut off?

Anyway, this episode makes no sense. But, even worse than that, it's just boring. And that's unforgivable.

#8. Force of Nature

This was Next Gen's attempt at an episode with an envirornmental theme. A couple of aliens mysteriously appear and tell the Enterprise crew that warp travel may be destroying the fabric of the universe! Seriously? You really want to take one of the most fundamental plot devices of the entire Star Trek universe and reveal that it has actually been hurting the universe all this time? It's an itriguing story idea to be sure, but come on. That's just too much. We didn't need that.

So from this episode on, just about every episode has some line about how "Starfleet has agreed to let us ignore the warp limitations for this mission." If this episode reveals that warp drive hurts the episode, and imposes standards on its use, why ignore that for the rest of the series? And every other series that came after?


#7. Dark Page

I like Majel Barrett. I think she's a charming, handsome woman and her contributions to Star Trek over the years (both behind the scenes and on camera) can't be denied. According to all sources, her input helped Roddenberry create and mold the series, she has appeared in almost every incarnation of the series, and I would NEVER want to watch any incarnation of Star Trek that didn't have her voice as the ship's computer. Her voice IS the voice of Starfleet and is every bit as iconic as the Enterprise, Spock's Ears, or the shape of the com badges.

But boy is she a horrible dramatic actress.

I can understand what they were thinking when they wrote this episod. The character of Lwaxana Troi has never been used as much more than comic interest and they wanted to show a different, darker side to her. Ok, nice idea in theory, but the script sucked and Barrett's performance just wasn't good enough. Barrett is wonderful in the funny episodes, and Lwaxana troi is a wonderfully fun character, but who needed to see her breakdown emotionally over the death of her first child? We just didn't need to go there, especially not when the episode was so hokey.

This episode is notable for the appearance of Kirsten Dunst in one of her first acting performances. But that's about it.

Also, why does that one alien guy look just like Kevin Nealon? We really need two actors in this world who look like Kevin Nealon? And why is Lwaxana's subconscious reality based on the corridors of the Enterprise? She doesn't live there. Because the producers were too ship to build another set, that's why. Stupid.

#6. Angel One.

Oh man. Now we're really getting into deep shit territory. This episode is terrible no matter how you look at it. The Enterprise has to beam down to a matriarchal society to save some Federation hostages, or something. Of course, Riker has to dress up like a cheap cheap gigolo and attempts to seduce every chick on the planet. It doesn't work.

#5. Sub Rosa

As much as I like and respect Majel Barrett, I like and respect Gates McFadden even more. She's a beautiful, talented actress and the one episode that she directed (Genesis) is one of my all time favorites. But still, Dr Crusher episodes are always the pits. It's not her fault, it's the fault of the writers and producers who never gave her anything to do. Her character just wasn't interesting or explored enough, so the few episodes that centered around her character always fell flat.

And this episode, some kind of weird gothic ghost story, was just terrible. It didn't feel like a Star Trek story, it wasn't engaging, and it's completely forgettable. In fact, I don't even rememeber it enough to hate it as much as I think I do.

Let's just move on.

#4. Code of Honor

This episode is so bad. Tasha Yar (remember her?) is kidnapped by Space Africans! The king of the Space Africans wants her to join his harem, or something, and she has to fight one of his wives to the death, or something. It's just terrible and borederline racist.

#3. The Chase

I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate this episode. This is one of those ridiculous "retconn" stories that attempts to solve a problem that was never actually a problem to begin with. Why do all of the alien races on Star Trek look humanoid? Well, according to this episode, it's because an original, progenitor race sprinkled their DNA across the galaxy, allowing the Humans, Romulans, Klingon, etc to evolve with similar traits.

Come on! Who really had a problem with the fact that the alien races looked humanoid because, you know, they were all played by human actors? And even forgetting the pointless premise, the episode itself is just hokey, bland, and boring.

#2. The Game

What the hell? The entire Enterprise crew (with the exception of Data, Wesley, and... Ashley Judd?!) become addicted to a ridiculous looking VR game that gives you an orgasm every time you put a disk into a funnel. Lord how I wish I was making that up. There are few scenes in Star Trek history more uncomfortable than when Wesley watches his mother orgasm over and over again and then attempts to force him to play along with her. And I'm not making that up either.

Sure, they don't actually say that the game makes you orgasm, but just watch the performances of the actors and you can figure out what they were going for. I've seen pornos where the actors gave more subtle orgasms than these. Also, the game is first introduced to Riker when he's in bed, making love to a woman with a giant butt on her forehead. Remember the Buttmans from In Living Color? Apparently that skit was ripped off by the writers for Next Generation.

I also love how the only person who doesn't give into the temptation of playing this videogame is the biggest nerd on the ship. Seriously? Wesley of all people won't play a videogame that gives you orgasms? Then again, who needs that when you get to mack on Ashley Judd. I bet John Frakes was pissed after he learned that Will Wheaton got Ashley Judd while he had to role around in bed with one of the Buttmans.

What a piece of crap.

And if that clip wasn't gross enough, check out the opening teaser where Riker got it on with the Buttman chick:

And here's a BONUS clip:

#1. Shades of Gray

Are you kidding me? Next Gen actually resorted to a clips episode? And for their second season finale of all things? The writers of the best sci-fi show of all time actually ripped off a money-saving idea from Family Ties?

Here's the plot in a nutshell: Riker is stabbed by some alien plant (or something) that kills him by bringing up bad memories (in other words, distressing clips from previous episodes), and the only way the doctor can cure it is be bring up good memories (happier clips from previous episodes). There's seriously about 15 minutes of new footage in this episode, the rest is all clips from earlier episodes.

According to what I've read, this episode was put together in just 3 days because of the impending writers strike of 1988, but that's still no excuse. This isn't just the worst episode in Next Gen history, it's the worst episode in Star Trek history. And, yes, that means it's worse than Spock's Brain, the last episode of Enterprise, and all of Voyager.