Star Trek Into Darkness. This one does not compare well to the other Star Trek movies. Fun, maybe, kinda, but there’s all kinds of narrative whiplash, and the non-Kirk, non-Spock characters aren’t quite there for me. Slapdash effort. Oh, well. I’ve still got my top 5 or 6 in the series to fall back on:
- Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
- Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
- Star Trek: The Motion Picture
- Star Trek: First Contact
- Star Trek
- Star Trek: Nemesis
- Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
- Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
- Star Trek: Generations
- Star Trek Into Darkness
- Star Trek: Insurrection
Star Trek: Nemesis. I can see why they put the brakes on the movies for a while. This one might be too blockbuster for it’s own good. It lost some Trekkiness. A very safe film. Definitely better than Insurrection, though, and I think the better production values are a big part of it. As you might suspect from the title, there’s some identity issues explored here. The Picard/Shinzon relationship feels a bit portentous (although one of the saving graces is that young Tom Hardy shows he’s had that incredible screen presence all along, even though his villain is one we’ve seen before: smart, pale, bald, leather.); it’s the relationship between Data and B4 that’s really cool. It’s sort of a Ship of Theseus problem–if you give a physically identical android the same memories, is it the same android? Brent Spiner is a life-saver for all the TNG movies, which seem like they give their supporting cast a lot more screen time. I admit that I enjoyed the dune buggies.
And that’s that. I’ve seen every Star Trek film. Here’s how I rank them:
Star Trek: Insurrection. There are a couple of main themes here that I really like. One, aging and youth. And two, the forced relocation/Lebensraum/irredentist refugee thing, with the Federation getting involved in some less obviously noble politics. But these themes come up in a pretty ho-hum story that never breaks the TV feel like First Contact does. Even the opening titles are kind of cheap. Add in some truly stupid moments (the beaded headdress; the Gilbert & Sullivan; the life raft), and some good drama that starts and ends too abruptly (Geordi and the sunrise; the slow-time moments). Missed opportunity. Riker kicks ass on the bridge, though. One more to go!
Star Trek: First Contact. I hear this is the best of the TNG cast, and it is good, but doesn’t measure up to the best of the original cast. Definitely darker. Some of that innocence and optimism is gone (which makes some of the humor and goofiness just… awkward), though thankfully the special effects are finally worthy of the setting. Highlights? I loved the editing and cuts between the scenes on Earth and the various ship scenes–so fluid. Patrick Stewart breaks out of Shatner’s shadow at last. The scenes with Data and the Borg are really good. The spacewalk scene is one of the most typically movie-theater-type fun set pieces in the whole series. There’s also a thematically appropriate opera reference in the solid soundtrack. I liked it.
Star Trek: Generations. It is simply not as good as the others, and Shatner’s exit is woefullly mishandled. What a shame. Three more to go. Rankings so far:
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. This one is intense! Such a good way to close out with the original stars. It seems to have the most traditional blockbuster feel: political intrigue, betrayal, blatant emotionalism, heroes in peril, a mad dash to prevent calamity, last-minute rescues, one-liners and philosophical banter. I think this one also built up the biggest sense of dread and risk out of the series. Also a nice thematic change, rather than exploring the frontiers of space and encounters with strange beings or energy forms or whatever, they’re easing into universal civics, basically, and trying not to let their baggage screw it all up. Same director as the excellent Star Trek II… and I think this one gives it strong competition.
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. The star trio is reunited! Kirk is also more bad-ass than usual. Director’s privilege? A good bit of the humor attempts fall flat, but I think the story is decent overall. The camera in this one is definitely more fluid than the previous entries in the series. Lots more long, arcing movements and mobile in-your-face stuff. I think the soundtrack was influenced by Scheherazade. If I had to describe the Star Trek films in one word, it would be idiosyncratic. The changes in tone, the weird plotlines, the ambivalence toward traditional villains… there’s a lot you don’t see in other movies. Star Trek rankings so far? Tough call, but maybe:
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Yeah, the one with the whales. The plot is loony, funny, and it’s a great change of pace from the previous three. The fish-out-of-water scenes are a nice chance for the lead actors to separate and shine a little bit. This film also has some of the most trippy visuals out of the Star Treks I’ve seen so far. Highly recommended.
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. The team goes rogue! But there is a pervasive sadness here. Even the end of the mission is bittersweet. I enjoy more and more how much conversation there is in Star Trek, even when it’s super-explanatory. Christopher Lloyd as a dramatic Klingon is awesome.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It really is really good. Best of the Star Treks I’ve seen so far, for sure. Parable aside, one thing I’m growing to appreciate in this universe is the space battles. There aren’t always hordes of TIE fighters and X-wings buzzing in frantic clouds. Just a couple gigantic-ass ships lumbering around. You’ve got torpedoes, phasers, shields, and engines. Pick one, because you can’t go full power on everything. Every choice has a cost.
Star Trek. This is more space opera than intellectual scifi salon, for better or worse. The best comparison I can think of is Rise of the Planet of the Apes: It’s not an all-time great movie, not really even close, but it’s great at what it does. Silly adventure that’s nice to look at. The cameo is dopey. But I do hope that movies following this reboot are a little more nerdy.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture. And so it begins. I’m not sure if I want to watch all of the Star Trek movies, but at least the first few and the most recent one. Spoiler: there are no dramatic gun battles or explosions at the climax. This is mostly brainy. I thought the 10-minute interlude with Starship Enterprise flyby porn was a nice touch. I miss the days when they’d build big crazy sets instead of using CGI. The soundtrack here has a case of Last of the Mohicans-itis: when in doubt, play the rousing main theme. I didn’t remember that I’d seen this one until the last scene, which I take as a good sign. Nice twist.