Despite my crusade against the horrors of transporter technology, I’m a Trek fan from way back. In college, after final exams, I would set up my little TV/VCR combo and watch Star Trek movies into the night. Not sure why this ritual caught on, but I highly recommend it. It’s a great way to soothe your inner geek.
Not all Star Trek movies are created equal. The conventional wisdom that the even numbered films are better than the odd numbered films pretty much holds true, except Star Trek III is pretty good and Star Trek 10– i.e. Nemesis – is bloody awful.
Trek movies, from best to worst:
Wrath of Khan isn’t just the best Trek movie. It’s one of the best movies ever made. It’s airtight – not a wasted moment. The characters are note perfect, and Spock’s death is extraordinarily moving. My six year old son watched this with me and cried himself to sleep. We had to show him Star Trek III the next day to console him.
I’ve also memorized the dialogue from this movie, and it comes in handy in everyday situations. Walk into a crowded room and yell “This is Ceti Alpha V!” or “KHAAAAAAN!” and you’ll be sure to win friends and influence people. No complaints, other than it would have been nice if Khan and Kirk had been in the same room at some point, but there it is.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is an overlooked gem. I was actually given the script for this before it came out, and it included a fun opening sequence where Kirk gathers up his retired crew for one last hurrah. I went to a screening at the Paramount lot before it opened, and the crowd was pretty dang enthusiastic. That experience may be why this one holds such a fond place in my heart.
Even so, it holds up very well with repeat viewings. The plot is solid, but what I find truly interesting is what they do with Spock. His confrontations with Valeris take this character to places he’s never been before. A great last hurrah for the original series cast.
After the Generations debacle – see below – I expected Star Trek: First Contact to suck. But the Borg were too good a villain, and the whole Zefram Cochrane/First Contact idea worked too well. This is not, however, a character-driven film, which is a good thing, since the TNG characters aren’t iconic enough to carry a film. That’s why none of the other TNG movies worked. Other than Data and Picard, everyone else is interchangeable. (Maybe Worf, too, although he became something of a caricature as the series progressed.)
A strong plot and a great bad guy make this one work. (Love the creepy/sexy Borg queen!) It’s probably the last piece of good Star Trek that has appeared in any medium.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, i.e. “the one with the whales” is generally considered by the unwashed masses to be the best Trek film ever. Certainly its the most accessible to non-fans, but that’s what makes it off-putting to many die hards. It’s a bit too jokey, and the “Save the Whales” moralizing is pretty tedious.
Still, everyone’s having so much fun that it’s hard not to get caught up in it. Spock’s mind mild with the whale in the aquarium is hysterical, as is Chekov’s quest to find “nuclear wessels.” And Mormons everywhere guffawed when Kirk explained Spock’s eccentricities on his hippie days when he “took too much LDS.”
Shatner was a pretty smarmy date in the pizzeria, though.
In some ways, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock is one of my favorite Treks, because it’s the only one that’s almost entirely character driven. It humanizes the characters in a way that has never been done before or since. Sulu was a cardboard cut out throughout the series and in the first two movies. Then he gets to beat up a guard and say “Don’t call me tiny.” Suddenly, he’s a real person.
Everyone gets a moment. In one film, you discover these characters care about each other as people, which changes the dynamic of the whole film series going forward. This is actually a critical film in the series, and it gets dissed more than it deserves.
So why isn’t it higher on my list? Because the plot is a by-the-numbers expositional slog with a cookie-cutter villain. You’re always ten steps ahead of the characters, and there’s a perfunctory feel to the whole thing. It works as a set-up for IV, but it doesn’t stand well on its own.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a noble failure. It tries to be an embodiment of a Grand Idea in an attempt to sell a fairly interesting sci-fi concept, but this is the wrong vehicle to make it work.
I remember loving this movie when it first came out, because it was my chance to see Kirk, Spock and Co. back in action. It wasn’t until I saw it a couple of years later on TV that I realized how ploddingly dull the whole thing was. The V’Ger thing is somewhat interesting, but the delivery comes at the expense of the characters. We finally get to see Kirk and Co. back in action, and all we get to watch is them staring out the window.
The recent Director’s Cut made the stuff in the windows look better, but the film still doesn’t work.
Star Trek: Generations was a collossal disappointment. Contrasting the lifeless TNG ciphers with the boldness of Captain Kirk made his pathetic fall off of a bridge even more disappointing. The opening scene is kind of fun, and Picard’s actual meeting with Kirk was a thrill to watch. In total, that’s about seven minutes of worthwhile screentime.
Everything else blows, especially the goofy “emotion chip.”
Maybe I should rank Star Trek: Insurrection above Generations, since it isn’t really terrible; it’s just pointless. As I recall, it’s a fair to middling TNG episode put on the big screen. To be honest, I don’t remember much about it.
It clearly hasn’t made its way into my repeat viewing roster.
Star Trek: Nemesis just sucked. Dull, lifeless, out of character Wrath of Khan wannabe. Data’s pathetic death is, in some ways, even more embarrassing than Kirk’s.
Actually, no, Kirk’s was much worse. You knew what you were losing when they tossed him off the side of a bridge. When Data dies, you don’t care, and, judging from the fact that Spiner’s B4 now has all Data’s memories, it changed nothing.
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is unwatchable. Literally. I can’t sit through it. It’s not even good camp. The plot is preachy and anti-religious and incomprehensible, all at the same time. The jokes are painful. The art direction is muddy and cluttered. The story’s even worse.
William Shatner demonstrates that he has absolutely no understanding of the franchise that made him a star. He shows contempt for his characters, mocking them without affection and undercutting the reasons for their loyalty.
Everything’s wrong here. Gravity boots? Farting around the campfire? Uhura’s shudder-inducing fan dance? Spock’s New Age brother? I can’t think of a single thing I like about this film.
Look away. It’s hideous.
There’s a new Trek movie coming out next year. Nimoy’s in it, so it might be OK. I think Trek is pretty much spent, though. I watched The Next Generation, never much enjoyed Deep Space Nine, and ignored Voyager and Enterprise completely.
For my money, can Trek altogether and bring back Firefly.