Monday, April 23, 2018

Star Trek Films, Ranked from Best to Worst

Yes, I am a Trekkie.  Not quite one that has an accurate cosplay outfit stuffed away in his closet, however that it not to say that I did not build a TNG bridge set in my parents' basement and act out my own stories when I was kid. 

I made what I could out of cardboard, construction paper and markers (i.e., communicator badge, pips, bridge stations) and saved up to buy what I couldn't make (a phaser and tricorder).  I developed my own series and wrote a handful of scripts, improvising other adventures.  Yes, dear tweeps, I was a Star Trek nerd.

Yet, as with the population's general enjoyment of Star Trek, my love of Star Trek waned once I graduated from high school.  I wanted to continue my love affair with the Enterprise and her crew, however the films following First Contact did not help.  Additionally, I never could get into Deep Space Nine (I mean Star Trek is about exploring cannot do that when you are stuck on a space station) or Voyager.  By the time Enterprise came along, I had hidden my love for boldly going where no one had gone before deep within my soul.

Then came the rebooted films from J. J. Abrams.  Old feelings of warmth and enjoyment sprung to the surface of my typically logical soul.  I even began to wonder if my parents had kept any of my old Trek artifacts in their garage.  I went to see this new incarnation of Captain Kirk and company ... and was pleasantly surprised.  I liked what I saw.  Was it spot-on?  No.  Were there (significant) problems?  Absolutely.  Was it better than fan-fiction?  Yes.  And, in the words of ScreenJunkies, "Star Trek is cool again!" 

How the new voyages of the new Starship Enterprise are not the only reason why I am once again finding my joy in Star Trek.  Last year, I reviewed The Gospel According to Star Trek: The Original Crew by Kevin C. Neece.  The first fully faith-based discussion of Gene Roddenberry's sci-fi series brought me humbly before Netfilx to go back and re-watch the entire original series, animated series and original series films.  Now I am proudly and comfortably back in my universe, working through The Next Generation (I am almost finished with Season 7 as of this writing).

So, without any further plot exposition, I offer another ranking: the best and worst of the Star Trek films:

  1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) -- This has it all.  Action, suspense, a genuinely creative sci-fi plot device (the Genesis device) and a compelling villain in Khan (Ricardo Montalban).  Add to this Nicholas Meyer's direction, James Horner's scoring and that scene in Engineering, and you have a film that captures all that Star Trek is meant to be.
  2. Star Trek: First Contact (1996) -- If Q was the great thorn in Captain Picard's side, then the Borg were his one great enemy.  The Borg had spent years ravaging the universe, including the Federation.  In this fun, thrilling time-travel piece, the Enterprise-D crew must prevent the Borg from stopping the first human warp-speed experiment.  In every way, it is made just as well as Star Trek II, which is my only reason for placing it second on this list.
  3. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) -- In many ways, this film is a espionage thriller set in space.  Although the original cast is starting to show their age, there is still plenty to be excited about.  From the battle sequences to the "who dunnit" detective story, this is not redemption from the abysmal Star Trek V, but also serves as a great send off the Captain Kirk and his crew.
  4. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) -- With Spock in tow, the crew begins making their way home only to discover that Earth is on the brink of destruction when a giant alien Hostess cake shows up and begins playing havoc with our weather patterns.  Back to the past they go again to find ... whales.  Yes, "There be whales here!"  This part is hokey, however watching the crew adapt to the twentieth-century is lighthearted and fun.  In many ways, this film is more akin to the original series than any of the other films.
  5. Star Trek: Generations (1994) -- With the series over, producers rushed to get the TNG crew on the big screen.  As a result, this film feels more like an unproduced two-part arc than a feature film.  However it has some good elements -- the production value is certainly ramped up, Malcolm McDowell's villain is one of the better Trek villains.  The highlight here is the scene between Kirk and Picard, where Kirk has one last adventure and Picard finally learns what it means to be "captain of the Enterprise."
  6. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1985) -- Who is the central character of the Original Series?  Some will say it was Kirk, some will say that it was a great ensemble.  I say that Spock was the central character, and has remained so throughout all incarnations of Star Trek.  We see it here.  Kirk and company put everything on the line to rescue Spock from the Genesis planet, reuniting old friends.  Unfortunately, Christopher Lloyd's turn as Klingon villain is wasted on an otherwise incomplete story.
  7. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) -- Okay.  Pretty much from here on, I am simply listing the films.  This film had two things going for it: 1) it proved the original crew needed one mroe outing, and 2) it gave us Kirk giving a soliloquy on why he was a starship captain.  However it also gave us this awful line: "What does God need with a starship?"
  8. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) -- Riding high off of the success of Star Wars, the Enterprise launches onto the big screen to prove that sci-fi could be a big-budget product for flagship studios.  However, this movie is more Kubric than Spielberg, which makes it really difficult to watch...let alone enjoy.  Still, it is visually compelling and has a deep-theme plot.  Too bad it takes so long to get anywhere.
  9. Star Trek: Nemesis (2002) -- There are only two reasons why this film is "better" than Insurrection: 1) Tom Hardy's breakthrough performance as a genetically-engineered Romulan clone of Picard is worth watching, 2) Data becomes human by making the ultimate sacrifice, and 3) it's not Insurrection.
  10. Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) -- Although Sir Patrick Stewart thought this film offered a more accurate portrayal of Captain Picard's character, especially following the final engagement with the haunting Borg (we see Picard's moral center on full display here), and it is just as visually appealing at First Contact (kudos to Jonathan Frakes in this way on both films), this installment is generally considered to be muddled, slow and lacking the ethical depth presented in other TNG episodes that served as inspiration for this film.
You will note that I have not added the Kelvin timeline films to this list.  My reason is simple: the films directed/produced by Abrams are from a new timeline and do not play into the progression of events portrayed in the Original Series, the Next Generation and its "spin-offs" (of which I am not including Discovery).  I enjoy these films, however I think they must stand apart from the canon.  If, however, you are interested in hearing my thoughts, let me know.