I’ve been a fan of “Star Trek” for as long as I can remember. Born in 1980, I watched the Original Series on TV when I was a child, not yet critical of the more trashier aspects, and the occasional outdated special effect. Obviously, I also seriously considered that this week, Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the others might actually die, thus I found many episodes to be quite thrilling and sometimes even scary (like “Doomsday Machine”, or the Death Cloud from “Obsession”). In hindsight, it’s difficult to say if I was that fascinated by “Star Trek” because I was already interested in space, the stars etc., or if it was the other way around. What I’m certain of, however, is that “Star Trek” began my lifelong love affair with Science Fiction entertainment, be it shows, movies or novels. And even though “Babylon 5” (which I consider the overall better show) ultimately might have made an even bigger impression than any of the Trek-shows, there’s just something special about your first love, isn’t there?
Today, “Star Trek” celebrates its 50th Anniversary. In honor of this occasion, I decided to present you with my first ever movie list. Below, I’ll rate the first 12 “Star Trek”-movies (out of protest over the new fan film-guidelines, I haven’t seen “Beyond” yet) from worst to best – all in my very humble opinion, of course. One of these days, I’ll get round to writing full reviews for all of them. Until then, this will have to do. Whether you agree with me or not – and I’m pretty sure that most of you won’t 😉 – I hope that you’ll at least find my ranking “fascinating”.
12.) Star Trek: Insurrection
While still mildly entertaining, “Insurrection” is easily the worst of the “Star Trek”-movies so far. Many have said that this feels like a TV two-parter brought to the big screen, but a) there have been a lot of TNG two-parters which were a lot better (and more cinematic) than this, and b) if anything, it feels more like a single, mediocre episode blown up to a feature film. There’s just not enough story for a two-hour movie, the whole film looks and feels rather cheap, and apart from a couple of interesting ideas, good moments and nice quotes (“Does anyone remember the time when we were explorers?” – which reflected my thoughts exactly, considering that by then, “Star Trek”, be it on the small or the big screen, was mostly dominated by action and war), it simply has nothing to offer. Even at “just” 103 minutes, it feels dragged out, and gets boring rather quickly. For me, it’s definitely the least watchable and/or interesting of the “Star Trek”-films.
11.) Star Trek: Nemesis
“Nemesis” is pretty much everything that I hated about the late 90s-, early 00s Trek: All action, no “boldly going”. The plot recycles “The Wrath of Khan” almost as closely – and badly – as “Into Darkness” (A tale of revenge, a doomsday machine, and the death of a beloved character where they nevertheless leave themselves an out, just in case), but Tom Hardy’s Shinzon never ever came even remotely close to Ricardo Montalban’s Khan (whether concerning the script or the acting). The action is quite impressive, and it features a couple of nice, new ideas (the ship-jumping, for example), but overall, it’s all smoke and mirrors, and no substance. Add to that the terrible telepathic rape-scene as well as a couple of continuity errors (for example, Picard did have hair when he was younger) which show the writer’s disregard for the material they were basing their movie on, and you’ve got a disappointing SF-action-film that’s probably the farthest removed from “Star Trek’s origins from all movies on this list. Overall, it’s an extremely unworthy swan song for Picard & Co. – the TNG-crew definitely deserved better.
10.) Star Trek Into Darkness
I’ll give “Into Darkness” that: Compared to the two aforementioned movies, it’s at least entertaining. However, it’s also quite shallow, and the moments where they copy “Wrath of Khan” are so damn terrible and show such an incomprehension of what actually made said movie so great in the first place, that it features some of the most annoying scenes in “Star Trek” history. It starts quite interesting and strong, with the away mission on an alien planet, and the cast (especially Pine, Quinto and Urban), once again, is great. However, once John Harrison reveals his true identity (which was such a non-surprise, it was staggering), the movie starts to fall apart. It increasingly loses itself in one action set piece after another, and offers a special effects overkill that I found tiresome. The showdown between Spock and Khan was laughable. And the reversed death scene is probably the worst moment from any of the “Star Trek”-films. It didn’t work at all, and was unintentionally hilarious at best, and incredibly frustrating at worst. What a disappointment after the charming first reboot-film!
9.) Star Trek: Generations
It actually was quite a cool idea: Take the two best and most beloved “Star Trek”-captains from the first two, highly regarded shows, and put them on an adventure together. That’s what the marketing campaign promised, and everyone – myself included – expected. Instead, we got a mediocre TNG-film with a TOS-prologue and about 10 minutes of Patrick Steward and William Shatner together on-screen. When they are, the movie finally starts to take flight, and I’m one of those who absolutely loved the death scene, and found it to be quite emotional (even though with a death of such an iconic character, the stakes could have been a little higher). Unfortunately, the middle part of the movie is just a bore, and the Nexus was probably one of the worst ideas that they could have come up with for having Kirk and Picard meet. It’s just a convenient plot device that serves a function, instead of an interesting concept in itself. It’s an ok movie, but given the fact that it features two of the most iconic characters of “Star Trek”-lore, it could – and should – have been much better.
8.) Star Trek: The Search for Spock
“The Search for Spock” suffers from the fact that its only function is to bring Spock back from the dead, and I still can’t decide if it’s commendable that they actually spent a whole movie on that (since that, instead of just dealing with it in the first act of a movie, gives the proceedings gravitas), or rather damning, since it also means that apart from Spock’s resurrection as well as a couple of standout moments (mainly David’s death and the destruction of the Enterprise), there’s nothing much really going on. Also, the explanation they devised in order to bring him back from the dead feels rather forced and implausible, when you think about it (the whole katra-stuff, and especially the fact that Spock’s rapid aging stops as soon as they get him away from Genesis – which conveniently happens when he was right about the same age as he was when he died). However, it features the old crew on their most personal mission, and really puts the characters front and center. That, together with its undeniably charm, definitely makes it easier to forgive the rather contrived way of Spock’s return.
7.) Star Trek: The Final Frontier
Surprise: The most hated “Star Trek”-movie is not my least favorite. Not by a long shot, in fact. Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely hurt by a really low budget, some cheap-looking effects, an uneven script, the rather weak beginning on Nimbus III (which mostly feels like it’s right out of a different movie), as well as an anti-climactic showdown. But its heart is in the right place, and I love that contrary to so many other “Star Trek”-Films, it’s not about the action, but about ideas. All of the characters get their moment to shine, but especially the friendship between Kirk, Spock and McCoy has never been more front and center than here. There are many great, memorable scenes, be it their talks at the campfire, the glimpses into their past, Kirks statement that he needs his pain, or the unforgettable “What does God need with a starship?”. Also, from a strictly visual standpoint, Shatners direction is brilliant; I’d even dare to say that it features more beautiful shots than both of Nimoy’s films combined. With a little more time and money, this could have been a classic. As it is, it might reek of failure – but at least it’s an interesting and fascinating one.
6.) Star Trek
I’m not a hater of either J.J. Abrams (I adore “Super 8”) nor the reboots per se. I think that they did a great job in terms of casting, finding exactly the right new people to reimagine these old, iconic characters. The entire movie has a lot of charm, and moves at a brisk pace. Abram’s direction is really good, too (even though it occasionally looks and feels more like a “Star Wars”- than a “Star Trek”-film), and Giacchino provides a score that isn’t far behind from the best works of his predecessors. Also, kudos for including Leonard Nimoy, who really elevated the movie whenever he showed up. And the beginning features right up there with the very best scenes that “Star Trek” has ever given us, be it on the big or the small screen. However, I’d argue that they didn’t really get Kirk, leaning more on the common (mis-)conceptions about his character than what was actually seen in the show and the films (then again, I guess you can explain those discrepancies away with the fact than in the Prime-Timeline, his father didn’t die). Like with many “Star Trek”-films, the bad guy is rather weak. The revenge plot isn’t that original. There are a couple of glowing continuity errors (like the warp-beaming). As much as I loved the new actors, I’m not a huge fan of the (interior) redesign (especially the machine room, which looks like a brewery). And the script is full of plotholes and convenient, implausible coincidences (like Kirk being exiled on the exact same planet and strolling into the exact same cave where Spock is waiting for him). However, it’s fun. That, and the great interactions between the characters, ultimately saved the day for me.
5.) Star Trek: The Voyage Home
For many, this is if not the best than at least the most entertaining of the Trek-movies. I beg to disagree. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really fun – and funny – movie, which also features an environmentalist message (always a plus with me). There are so many funny moments, be it Chekov – during the Cold War – strolling around the streets of San Francisco asking for the location of “nuclear wessels”, Kirk’s reaction to Spock taking a dive at SeaWorld, the escape from the hospital, or the culture clash of the “Star Trek”-crew with life in the 80s in general. However, it’s really a rather slight affair. I’m also very critical of them just taking Dr. Gillian along for the ride (what if she’d be Kirk’s grandgrandgrandgrandgrandmother?). And for me, Leonard Rosenman’s score for “The Voyage Home” is by far the weakest of all the “Star Trek”-movies. It’s good-natured fun, but ultimately, apart from a couple of nice moments, it’s rather forgettable.
4.) Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country
If only they would have had the guts to make Saavik the traitor, instead of a totally new character with whom we have no prior connection with, “The Undiscovered Country” would have gotten the third spot on this list, instead of missing out on the top 3 by a hair’s breadth. This tiny little detail just bugs me, because as it is, we don’t give a rat’s ass about Valerian; thus her betrayal feels hollow. Apart from that, though, it’s a great movie, and a worthy swan song for the old crew. I love how, inspired by events in real-life (the fall of the Berlin Wall), Kirk has to overcome his hatred of Klingons, and ultimately plays a significant role in making peace between them and the Federation possible. It’s also a really entertaining movie, that once again does to much with its characters, especially Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Chang is easily the second-best bad guy of all “Star Trek”-films, the effects are great, the action is gripping, the story is tense and mysterious (thanks to the investigation on board the Enterprise), Cliff Eidelman provides a rousing score, and Sulu finally got a command of his own. And in the end, when Kirk commands them to take the Enterprise on one last trip (“Second star to the right, and straight on till morning.”), it’s a beautiful, emotional conclusion, not just for the movie, but for a whole era. Marvelous.
3.) Star Trek: First Contact
By far the best of the TNG-movies, and arguably also the only really good one. What sets this apart from many other revenge-themed “Star Trek”-films is that here, the one who’s out for vengeance is not the bad guy, but rather the hero. Picard is blinded by his hatred of the Borg (after his experiences in “Best of Both Worlds”), willing to sacrifice everything and everyone to stop them. The scene in his quarters, when Lily confronts him, is one of the strongest acting moments in “Star Trek”-history. Unlike many lesser movies of the franchise, “First Contact” manages to present gripping, spectacular action, but without neglecting anything else at the same time (like “Nemesis”, for example). There’s also a really good story, some great character stuff (especially for Picard and Data), an important message about hatred and revenge, the idea of a besieged ship was quite fresh, Jerry Goldsmith offers up the second-best score of his entire career, I loved the time travel-aspect, and the ending – the titular First Contact – is one of Star Trek’s strongest moments ever. Goosebumps!
2.) Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan
“The Wrath of Khan” is, and probably always will be, the only “Star Trek”-movie that’s actually a sequel to one of the episodes (it might work in its own right, but I for one think that it’s appeal is definitely bigger when you’ve seen “Space Seed”). That alone lets it stand out from the crowd. However, it’s also an absolutely great movie in its own right, featuring the hands-down best bad guy of all Trek-films, and also one of the best villains in cinematic history, period. However, one of the things that I love about the movie is how it isn’t even really about Khan, and his thirst for revenge, but rather about Kirk, and his struggle with getting older. Khan is simply the catalyst that sets his catharsis in motion. It was also great to learn more about his past, and meet his former flame as well as his son. James Horner’s score is great, ILM’s special effects-work is flawless, and Nicholas Meyer does a great job in the directors chair. However, ultimately everything pales against one of the most devastating and emotional death scenes in cinematic history – one that, surprisingly enough, works for me even when taking into account that Spock returns in the following movie. “I have been, and always shall be, your friend.” Cue the tears.
1.) Star Trek: The Motion Picture
“The Motionless Picture” my ass. I understand everyone who doesn’t like the first cinematic outing of this franchise, but I for one just love “The Motion Picture”, from start to finish. For one, with the possible exception of “The Final Frontier”, Star Trek’s first cinematic adventure is the only movie of the series that puts one of Star Trek’s major themes, “To boldly go where no one has gone before”, front and center, with this great, big, mysterious space cloud that slowly makes its way to earth. Some may find the long sequence when the Enterprise enters the cloud boring, but I think it’s absolutely mesmerizing; my eyes were glued to the TV-screen when I saw it for the first time. Which is just as much due to the great effects as it is to Jerry Goldsmiths exceptional score (a career’s best for him, and one of my favorite three scores of all time). I also liked the slightly tense mood between Kirk, Spock and McCoy, as well as the fact that Kirk isn’t an infallible hero here. The Director’s Cut features a couple of insignificant new effects-shots (I could have done without seeing V’Ger without the cloud), but also reinstates a couple of great moments around Spock and his connection with the probe. And I absolutely loved the revelation at the end concerning V’Gers origins. Yes, it’s slow, and at times self-indulgent (like the five-minute celebration of the redesigned Enterprise), but I love every single second of it. For me, it’s the only movie of the franchise that’s deserving of being attributed with what should be the greatest honor for any “Star Trek”-film: Fascinating.
Happy Birthday, Star Trek! May you live long and prosper…