Star Trek films, ranked

Because lists are fun to make.

Also, this is a direct response to The Christian Nerd’s own list.

Let’s go with the best and work our way down.

Star Trek II :  The Wrath of Khan

I will be attacked for this…Here goes. Gene Roddenberry’s departure was the best thing to happen to Star Trek.

He made Star Trek up. He resurrected Star Trek, after it was gone for ten years (well, gone from live-action. I happen to love The Animated Series that Gene himself openly maligned.) But the franchise survived, thrived, and produced some of its best hours after he had backed away. And he started backing away before The Motion Picture was even finished. Long story short, Harve Bennett and Nicholas Meyer came in and, with this movie, built Trek into what it would remain for the next decade.


The show and the first movie were platforms for action, comedy, the wonders of the universe, and the hope of the human race. These are big ideas. These are big ideas that many probably believe adequately summarizes Star Trek. But this movie changed more than the Starfleet uniform. This movie changed Captain Kirk and Co. into titans. The heroes become larger than life. They are now part of a modern day folklore, starting with this movie. This is the big change that I think Bennett and Meyer effected. I’ve never heard them mention that before, but the timeline of Trek bares it out.

Folklore and larger-than-life heroes appeal to me more than any paradisal future for mankind. That’s just a personal interest. Given that this movie is generally regarded as the best of Trek, I might guess that many other people share my boredom with a perfect future and would prefer to watch a battle between people who are greater than us. And here we get Kirk and Khan, presented as if it were a rivalry to span the centuries. They met only once before, in an episode made great by its two leads.

All of Star Trek to this point has reigned Shatner in. No one could match him. Though mostly talented, the supporting cast (including Spock and McCoy) had no champion able to stand toe-to-toe with Shatner. He’s too skilled or he’s too hammy. Or he’s too rich a combination of the two.


Against the full-blooded terror of Ricardo Montalban’s Khan, William Shatner finally faced an actor willing to go to the depths of character immersion with him. This movie marks not only Shatner’s finest performance, but also his rebirth as an actor. The difference between pre-WoK Shatner and post-WoK Shatner is obvious. He hasn’t always managed to recapture what made his performance here so special, but he exercises the same abandon. It’s theatrical. He’s taking the bombast of the Shakespearean stage and putting into a civilized world.

What he really needs is an actor that is extremely skilled and willing to go over-the-top. He had it with Montalban, especially in the movie. He had it with Plummer in Part VI. Christopher Lloyd let Shatner exercise his one-of-a-kind ham/Shakespeare talent. I would even argue that he had it, to an extent, with Catherine Hicks in Part IV.

This is my favorite Star Trek movie because Shatner is amazing in it. This is his best performance. From the tired old professor to the overwhelmed new father to the universe’s best eulogizer to the grown up Peter Pan, this is Shatner’s best work.

He’s not alone.

Of course, Montalban delivers a great performance. “From hell’s heart etc,” is among the most moving villain soliloquies in the history of theater. And, in the tradition of classic Tragedy, his character is doomed from the second he first appears onscreen. His ego battles his fate and there is a pivotal moment where the two forces become aligned. Khan’s buddy suggests they just run away. “He tasks me. He tasks me and I shall have him! I’ll chase him ’round the moons of Nibia and ’round the Antares Maelstrom and ’round perdition’s flames before I give him up!” Montalban doesn’t just say the words, “No. We’re gonna still fight cos I hate Kirk.” He delivers the above poetry with the verve of a man tapping into the powers of the universe itself. “I will be my fate,” you can almost hear him say.

Nimoy brings Spock to earth in a way that’s not gaudy, like I might accuse him of doing whenever Spock had to be more…yooman on the TV show. Spock, like Kirk, is growing up too. The rigidity of the Vulcan philosophy is almost childish to him by now. Oh he never says any such thing aloud, but it’s behind his eyes. He doesn’t sacrifice himself because it’s the logical thing, though it is. He sacrifices himself to save this family he’s found himself in.

DeForest Kelley, usually a bright spot whenever on screen, provides the kind of no-nonsense country doctor that I believe Dr Boyce was meant to be. A kind of bartender to listen to the Captain moan about his problems. I guess Guinan eventually filled that role on TNG, though a bit smugger than McCoy does here.

James Doohan really set himself apart from the pack here. I’ve never heard how he managed to escape the supporting cast and enter a stratum just below the Kirk-Spock-McCoy layer. God knows that Takei was always trying to get up there and, except for a memorable scene in Part III and Part V, didn’t get much attention until he was finally made captain of his own ship in Part VI. And even that achievement is mired by rumors of his agent wooing Meyer to see things their way. Anyway, enough gossip. Doohan stretched out here and got a great crying scene, which he rocked in.

This one also has my favorite score. The rousing wave-crashing was borrowed by composer James Horner for several subsequent projects. But here it is for the first time. The swirling mists of space seem to be sonically represented in a way not achieved since Mahler himself scored the solar system.

Star Trek is no longer about what’s out there. It’s about what’s in here, which is a fascinating topic to investigate and which we, the human race, know much more about. And that is what elevates this movie above most other Star Treks. From great performances, to titanic heroes, to the pains of getting old, this one got it right.

*

Star Trek VI : The Undiscovered Country

As I said in my gushing post about Star Trek II, the movies elevated Kirk and Co. to the rank of titans. They’ve become folk heroes. And this movie invites us to join them on one last adventure.

This movie used to switch with Wrath of Khan when I was younger. I still love it, and it still gives those goosebumps at every one of its big moments. This is my second favorite Star Trek movie.

Conclusions are usually a tricky business to get right. In all my years of media consumption, I’ve never seen a franchise go out on a note quite as sweet and satisfying as Star Trek. Meyer succeeds in this endeavor with a few tricks:

He gives this story a good conclusion.

All the players converge on a two-pronged attack for the final scenes.

Traitors are exposed, bad guys stopped, and the heroes make it in time for a last-minute rescue (or two).

If this one story didn’t have a satisfying conclusion, then the conclusion given to the first cast would have felt lacking. Even with all the sad music and warping off into the sunset.

He provided a coda to the loose trilogy formed by II, III, and IV.

Meyer was arguably the main creative force on Wrath of Khan. Though he didn’t work on The Search for Spock, that movie is basically a response to its predecessor, so the hand of Meyer is felt. And he co-wrote The Voyage Home. This trilogy was Star Trek to me for many years. I like the TV shows, but I loved these three movies. And Meyer’s familiarity with them made his version of Kirk’s last voyage perfectly aligned with my wishes for what Kirk’s last voyage might look like. Giving the bulk of the movie series a nod added to the feeling that this movie was more than just a single 2 hour adventure.

This film acts as a segue to the politics of The Next Generation.

Before even Star Trek V came out, we knew that it was going to be okay to have a Klingon on the bridge. Is Worf a member of Starfleet because of events that happen after Kirk’s time? This movie reveals that peace between the Klingons and the Federation started with Kirk’s last adventure.

There is a poetry to this. It reminds me of the John Wayne movie The Searchers. Wayne and Pike save Natalie Wood, but they have to become somewhat savage and uncivilized to achieve that. When John Wayne delivers her to her parents, he never even enters the house. He drops her off and walks off, into who-knows-what. He tamed that little part of the world, but what it cost him to do so prevents him from living in it. And here is Kirk, the last of the cowboys, sealing the peace that would make the universe ready for Picard and simultaneously unsuitable for himself.

Kirk’s final captain’s log (*sniffle*) is an overt passing of the center seat to Picard. Not only is the next crew referenced, but Kirk even corrects his famous closing phrase: “boldly going where no man…where no one…has gone before.” Besides omitting the “5-year mission” part of the speech, the only change in Picard’s opening monologue is the pc “man-to-one.” And Kirk’s final delivery alters that too.

Worf’s grandfather played the bridge between the Klingons and the Federation first.

There is a sterility to this movie that is not present in previous stories featuring the original cast. Everything looks very tidy, like Kirk hovers over the captain’s chair of the Enterprise-A and never really felt at home. This sterile feeling recalls The Next Generation. It is as much to do with the ship feeling tidy as it is to do with the galaxy feeling smaller. Maybe it’s the peace with the Klingons, or the fact that the Excelsior could travel from Klingon space to Federation space in the span of a movie, but the world feels small somehow. Watching the Original Series, the world feels infinite. If they wanted to go home, it could take weeks or months. Enterprise captured that same feeling. In this movie, and on The Next Generation, the galaxy is not being explored as much as it is being charted and managed. And duplicating that feeling for this final movie sets it apart from all previous adventures.

Classic Star Trek is referenced all over this thing

First of all, the whole plot is a cut-and-paste of the end of the Cold War, which was in full swing when Star Trek first premiered. In fact, the whole US space program on which Star Trek is based, got a lot of its momentum from the Cold War with Russia.

The structure of the movie feels like two Star Trek TOS episodes bookended by a movie. The Klingons coming over for dinner is easy for me to picture as an episode of the old show. And the trial and imprisonment feel like another episode. These stories are tied together for the movie masterfully, but it’s easy to imagine them as individual episodes from the 60s.

The most Star Trek-y scene is Kirk vs Kirk. In perfect Meyer’s fashion, this scene not only recalls a great tradition in Star Trek (duplicate Kirks!), but also comments on it. In perhaps the funniest exchange in any episode of Star Trek, real Kirk says, “I can’t believe I kissed you.” And faux-Kirk retorts, “Must have been your life long ambition!” I’m chuckling just typing that out. Is that Shatner saying that line to himself? (“I’m in on the joke.”)

Peace with the Klingons has been achieved, fulfilling a prophecy from Ayelborne in Errand of Mercy, answering the question of Klingon/Federation peace that we already knew the TNG era was enjoying, and ending a racial feud that had been ongoing between the Federation and the Klingon Empire since the TV show and between Kirk and his newly-grown racism since his son was murdered in Part III.

But classic Star Trek isn’t constant

Change hovers over the whole movie like the Phaser of Damocles above Kirk’s head. Despite many familiar details, so much has changed and is changing. The movie starts with another captain and another space ship. It’s Sulu, so we don’t feel totally lost, and Janice Rand is sitting behind him, which is nice. But it’s the Excelsior, which threatened to end the further adventures of the Enterprise once or twice. And it’s not Captain Kirk. We saw the previews and knew Kirk and Spock would be here, but the fact that the movie opens with another captain and ship starts the whole thing off with an edge of imminent change.

It’s not as serious as I or III. It’s not as funny and light as IV. And it’s not dark, like II. It nears the edge of being dark like II, talk of getting too old, etc. But this one’s not about the bitterness of middle age. It’s about the bittersweetness of being old. It is time to stop playing Star Trek and everybody in this movie knows it. I swear, every time a character sits at their post on the bridge or says, “Aye, Captain,” or flashes a phaser, they have a look behind their eyes that says, “This could be the last time I ever do this thing…”

Meyer lays it on a little thick.

Echoing scenes from Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Wrath of Khan, this one starts with a “getting-the-band-back-together” sequence.

Kirk and Spock are first seen in a meeting. On earth. About politics. This is a different chapter in the lives of these characters. When they get on that space ship it does not feel right like it did back in Part I and Part II. In fact, the modern looking ship accentuates the age of the team.

Anything less than peace with the Klingons would seem a small task for the final adventure.

But they get to blow up a few Klingons one last time, for old times’ sake.

Everybody clears the bridge for the final shot. It’s just Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, and Chekov on the bridge. Sulu even anticipates Kirk’s retirement: “Nice to see you in action one more time, Captain Kirk.”

Uhura tells us that the Enterprise itself is being put down. (I don’t really like the “Go to hell,” line they give to Spock. That is like, Data-level tackiness.)

The space ship actually flies off into the sunset, after Kirk gives that wonderful, “Second star to the right,” line.

And, in case you somehow missed the finality surrounding this whole movie, the cast all sign off, one by one.

This movie has more going for it than just providing a conclusion to the adventures of the original crew. It’s also a fun little (not-so-mysterious) murder mystery. It’s got some of the best space action of the first ten movies. The story takes a few surprising turns, but somehow remains really tight. It’s genuinely funny, unlike the movies on either side of it. The music is great, which is an achievement after Goldsmith and Horner developed some of the most memorable work of their entire careers on previous Trek movies.

This is a very good movie and a great Star Trek movie.


**

With Into Darkness ranking last on the big fan list of favorite Star Trek movies and a few blogging friends posting their lists, I’ve decided to review my own ranking, with commentary of course.

Here’s my third favorite:

Star Trek IV : The Voyage Home

Man o day, do I love this movie. It is the most fun, funny, and breezy of all. It has its flaws, sure. They all do (except for Wrath of Khan, that’s perfect). But I love it. I’ve seen this one more times than any other. When I was a kid, the thought of casually watching Wrath of Khan or The Undiscovered Country, which I preferred, was unacceptable. Those movies deserved to be taken seriously. This one was built to be light and fun, so I was generally in the mood for this one more often.

I still quote it nearly every weekend. “Everybody remember where we parked.” This is the Star Trek that tried to be funny and actually was. I hate those funny Data scenes. Data is funny when his oddness is a natural expression of his character in events that he would naturally find himself in. Data is not funny when asking Joe Piscopo for advice, or when he’s singing about tiny little lifeforms (sorry). It’s forced. And this one somehow skirts the forced comedy problem, even though its entire premise is to force the cast to be comedic. They pull it off by setting up a crazy premise and just following it. That’s how comedy works. Set the premise and follow it through.

The funniest line in the movie, maybe the franchise, comes at the end. Here!


Kirk is so confident that he’ll fit in the 80s. He comes off like an 8th grader going to a high school party. Then all his D&D friends want to come with him. He’s charming enough to get them in, but far enough out of his element to raise suspicions about just cool he really is.

One special thing about this movie is that everybody gets to do something! Uhura and Chekov go looking for nuclear wessels. Scotty and McCoy invent skinny plastic. Poor Sulu had an apparently great scene that the dumb kid ruined. George Takei probably blames Shatner for that one too.

***

Star Trek III : The Search for Spock

First Contact might be better, but this is my list of personal favorites, and the original cast trumps the Next Generation almost every time. (Guess which movie with the original cast gets ranked lowest.)

When I was a kid, I loved this one for all its great moments. Stealing the Enterprise, thwarting that jerk captain, and hanging around in weird alien bars. But as I got older, I found those fun scenes to be only bright spots in a movie that just felt like it was a dreary in-between for better movies. And I do still prefer II and IV to this. But I thought of it as only a linking movie, in which nothing really happens. I mean there’s no Khan and there’s no whales. C’mon!

I haven’t watched it in years, but I have thought about it a lot. (That’s usual for me, by the way. I rarely re-watch movies.) On reflection, it’s a totally necessary Star Trek movie. Spock demonstrated his love for his team in the previous movie. He and Kirk showed us how close they had become, and how well they were able to work together. And here we get a whole movie to see Kirk without his Spock. The ramifications of Spock’s death are surprisingly long-lasting for a sci-fi franchise. Characters usually spring back to life (to protect the precious fans?) within the same movie, or story.

The DC Comics published between movies II and III present a fascinating alternate Trek. Saavik becomes the new science officer (and maybe first officer too…I can’t recall). And business carries on. We get what amounts to a whole season of adventures for the Spock-less Enterprise. Then the comic creators jumped the gun and revived Spock, only to learn that they had to hurry up and kill him again if they wanted their stories to dovetail into the beginning of the third movie. They do work it out. For any Trek fans who want to freshen the movies up, reading the comics alongside them can offer another perspective on the whole series.

I will admit that this movie has its problems. Spock’s absence was a brave choice. I know that the first time in the director’s chair occupied most of Mr Nimoy’s time, but excluding Spock from 95% of a Star Trek movie was still pretty gutsy. It worked as far as demonstrating Kirk’s need for a Spock. Shatner plays Kirk confident, as usual, but he seems lacking something in his confidence. Maybe it’s direction? Or structure? Whatever it is that Kirk is missing, it’s apparently present when he and Spock are together. The benefits of showing Spock-less Kirk might not outweigh the detriment of not having Spock around.

I’m very sensitive to the size of the world any given story is set inside of. Not that I can visualize what a light year really is. But I have what I can only describe as a feel for the scope of the world. The old show felt like space was as it is now. We’ve seen the view of earth from the moon, but it is blackness past that. Some pioneers ventured out, but who knows what’s happened to them? (A good few episodes will tell us.) The world of TOS is massive. The crew just huddles inside the Enterprise and rockets (or warps) to the next bright spot. The world of the Next Generation is much smaller. That show has always struck me as less about exploration and more about management. It seems that there are starbases conveniently placed throughout the Enterprise-D‘s supposed path of exploration. Each movie offers another scale to the universe. The Search for Spock presents my personal favorite size of the Star Trek world. Here is Star Trek in the Hyborian Age. Points of civilization are separated by vast deserts of space. Illicit trading is easy because the wilderness is everywhere. The reach of the Federation, which seems all-powerful by the time we get to TNG, is localized around earth but stretches across the quadrant in thin tendrils of occupied space and a thousand unreliable outposts. The wildness of the original series is felt here, but with a peek at the underbelly that would logically exist in a world like that.

Of course the big moment that sells this movie, the pivotal scene that makes this movie soar is the destruction of the Enterprise. Kirk kills his ship to get Spock back. Sort of. I guess he kills his ship to get rid of the Klingons to facilitate getting Spock to life. Spock died to save the Enterprise. Kirk killed the Enterprise to save Spock. There’s something there… Anyway, it gives us one of the great images from any episode. There’s also an intriguing bit of dialogue, which I admit to not fully understanding.

“My god, Bones. What have I done?”

“What you had to do. What you always do. Turn death into a fighting chance to live.”

First of all, is Bones saying that Kirk always does what needs doing? Or is he saying that Kirk needs to do what he’s always done before? Or, am I missing the point that what Kirk always does is what needs doing, which is to death into a fighting chance to live? It’s probably that. McCoy wasn’t talking about the death of the spaceship though. He was talking about the death of Kirk’s only son, a horrible act, being leveraged by Kirk himself to end this battle and ultimately to save the lives of the crew and restore the life of Spock.

Geeks of Christ could spend a whole year in this movie.

I should note that these first four movies on my list are all beloved by me. How one movie gets ranked higher than another is a question of which I like more. The latter eight movies are ranked by which I like better AND by which I dislike more. So far, I only have affection for the movies on the list. These are my top four.

****

I love the original cast.

Except for one movie, all of theirs get ranked ahead of both the Next Generation and the remake casts. Out of the twelve Star Trek movies, this one is my fifth favorite:

Star Trek : The Motion Picture

This is the one everybody hates. “It’s boring!” “What’s the point of it?!?” “Why are they wearing pajamas?”


These are all good points/questions. I was lukewarm about this one through my childhood. Then I heard that it was okay to hate it, so I joined with that crowd. But after a rewatch in my late teens, I discovered a spiritual sequel to what I consider the greatest film ever made, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Many others have made this comparison, so I won’t belabor it.

First of all, this is Star Trek. It doesn’t have a little asterisk next to it. There’s no parentheses around the title. It is Star Trek. Even without Kirk, Spock, and the Enterprise, this movie is so entrenched in what Star Trek is all about.

This might be the most Star Trek of all the movies actually. What I mean is that this is the movie that is about exploration, which is supposedly a main theme of the franchise. Anyone just watching the movies might not pick up on that. The TV shows all show a good amount of exploratory adventures. The movies resort to more basic good guy/bad guy stuff. This is the one movie, out of all of them, that is purely about the crew exploring an unknown thing.

It is telling that the unknown thing being investigated is really not so unknown. The strange ‘alien’ presence that has been nearing Earth is really an artifact of our planet’s early space explorations of the 1970s. Looking out always seems to lead to looking in.

The franchise itself bears out this concept. TOS and TNG are both shows about going out, exploring, seeing “what’s out there.” Deep Space Nine shifted the series to sitting still, showing the trials of managing just a small corner of the Star Trek universe. Then Voyager comes along and sets the goal on earth. Each episode of Voyager is about seeing new things and meeting new aliens, but the big goal is to just go home, which is very different from what came before. The last Star Trek show reverted even further. Again, the week-to-week stories showed exploration and new experiences. But the premise of the show was to go back to what we used to be. Somehow this show about the future stopped asking, “What might we become,” and started asking, “How did we become that?”

That trend towards reflection starts here. Sort of. Star Trek as a show about exploration hits its height with this story, and also begins its detachment from that. It’s sort of like the roller coaster car getting to its highest point, and then immediately beginning its descent.

Not to say that that’s a bad thing. Stories about extra-human exploration can be wonderful. And this story, which is the closest Star Trek has yet come to pure exploration, is sort of wonderful in its own way. But once that gorgeous, 2001-ish journey through V’Ger is completed, the story comes back down to ground level.

We are no longer looking into the unknown. We are, for one thing, looking at a human creation. The Voyager deep-space probe was built on earth, by humans. For another, the climax of the story rests completely on three people. The solution to the V’Ger mystery is solved by Spock connecting to it, which shows us more about Spock and his humanity than about V’Ger. And the question of, y’know, what to with V’Ger is to send Decker and Ilia into the thing, to become its imagination. (Waitaminnit. Is Ilia the Borg Queen?)

So the whole film tells us that there is more out there. And the more out there comes near. And it turns out to know pretty much everything. What else is there? The answer might be the mostly crassly humanistic point made in any Star Trek (which is saying something). The V’Ger alien super-intelligence needs a human’s creativity if it’s to continue learning. It’s all about us.

There’s a theological truth in there though. Star Trek never answers what makes us so darn special. The Bible says that we’re made in the image of God. With a source like that, maybe we would have something to offer to a super-intelligent alien robot thing. Without the image of God, what do we have? We’re so evolved that now we’re creative? Eh, that calls into question how the aliens that accepted V’Ger got to be so evolved and never bothered about creativity or imagination.

Anyway. I love this movie. It can get boring. It can feel like they’re trying to bug the audience by moving super slowly. But this movie has so much wonderfulness to it. I love the look. I’ve never been too bothered about the space pajamas. In fact, I think they’re more practical and realistic than the TNG uniforms. (Best to worst Trek uniforms: Enterprise, red ones from TOS movies, Deep Space 9/TNG movies, Voyager, TOS, The Motion Picture, Next Generation). The special effects are top-notch. The cast looks amazing on movie film. Decker and Ilia are interesting and valid additions to the crew. He’s like a version of what Kirk might have become if he hadn’t achieved command so young. And she is like an interesting version of my least favorite Star Trek character ever, Deanna Troi.

I want to watch this movie right now. Who wants to come over this weekend?

*****

I was still pretty unfamiliar with the Next Generation when this one was released. The first Star Trek movie I saw in the theater was Generations. And the crew of the 1701-D does not make much of an impression. I knew Picard, Data, Worf, and Riker. The others were a little hazy for me. I remember wondering if Troi and Dr Crusher were played by the same actresses, or were meant to be the same characters, in this movie that were on the TV show. At twelve years old, my primary interest in Star Trek was see the guys kick butt. The last time I’d seen the actresses was on vague airings of the first season, in which both ladies looked very different from their movie appearances.

The women of the Next Generation fared much better on TV than in the movies. Really, everybody fared better in the TV version. The attention paid to all characters on the show was now narrowed to make all four movies the Picard and Data show. All the development on secondary characters like Worf, Wesley, and Geordi was abandoned to squeeze them into character types for the movies. “We need a cranky strong guy to intimidate other crewmen (and to make jokes about). Use Worf.” “We need a whiny scientist to doubt the success of the mission (and to make jokes about). Use Geordi.” Or to skip them altogether. I know that Wesley had left the show before the final episode aired, but his presence was really a big part of the TV show. After seeing this movie, I read up on the Next Generation and was surprised to find that a few characters had been on the show and not made it to the movies. Wesley left for the Academy, so he wasn’t in the movies. Yar died. (Imagine my surprise! “There was another crewmember, who died on the show! And stayed dead?”) I thought Whoopi Goldberg was a guest star in the Generations movie. I was surprised to find that she was in a bunch of episodes prior to that. And after that first movie, she’s no where to be seen. Enisign Ro was made into a kind of big deal and then left aside.

The movies really become the Picard and Data show, which is okay if you like Picard and Data. I mostly do. Though Data can get pretty annoying. Some of his most annoying scenes are in the movies. (“You little lifeforms” might be bad, but it’s got nothing on Data’s standup comedy in “The Outrageous Okona.”) The Picard of the movies is a cool character. He’s played by the same actor that played an earlier version of the same character for seven years on TV. They dress him the same, and he’s given the center seat on a space ship called the Enterprise. The peaceful, negotiating, curious Picard on TV must have disappeared in the Nexus. He might start his big screen career weeping over a photo album, but it doesn’t take long for movie Picard to morph into a kind of ride-em-cowboy action hero.

But that’s okay. The old show became something new when its sequel movies were made. And now the Next Generation becomes something new for its movie sequel series. Something stupid, sure. But it’s new.

And when I was twelve, seeing my second Star Trek movie in the theater, this was just what I needed to be convinced to look further into the mysterious Next Generation.

Star Trek : First Contact

That long introduction can be easily summarized: What I knew about the Next Generation was learned two years earlier, at a single screening of Star Trek Generations.

This movie does what its predecessor failed to do: introduce the crew for the uninitiated and tell a story worthy of the big screen.

This Picard is different from TV Picard, in that he’s an action hero. But he’s no goober. He is a thinking action hero. He is troubled by what he has to do. And his gradual descent into potentially dangerous obsession is so unlike what we expect from blow-up kinds of flicks. This is how Picard should be introduced to the big screen. The movie zeroes in on Picard, giving him an Ahab complex, which is a classic Trek conceit. Picard’s obsession is justified though, given the extreme danger the Borg present. So there’s a nice tension between Picard doing the right thing and going too far. I don’t know where the line is drawn for him. Oh wait. Hee-yah! it is.


The rest of the cast is good, but given little to do. Data fills the screen more than any other crewman. His nature is introduced, challenged, and slightly changed. That is how you introduce a TV character to the big screen. The emotion chip stuff from the previous movie is just confusing to new viewers and unsatisfying to dedicated fans. (Trust me. I’ve watched that movie as both.) Here, Data is introduced as an android who wants to be human. He is then offered the chance at something like humanity. And he finally decides that his mission is more important than any personal goals he might have.

Riker, who was part of the big three of the TV show is like, barely present in any of the movies. Even when he’s given a wedding or a joystick for a space fight, he still barely registers. On the show, he was the action guy and Picard was the sit-back-and-think-about-it guy. Here, Picard gets to do the action. This leaves the thinking to Riker. Hence Riker’s smaller role in the movies.

Worf’s role is trumped up a bit, thanks to the practical necessity of getting him on the Enterprise in the first place.

The rest of the cast just sort of hover around, waiting for Picard to initiate the next plot point.

The guest cast is excellent. This may be the greatest guest cast assembled for any Star Trek movie. Into Darkness had a majorly impressive one, but the movie sucked. The 2009 reboot had a great one, with Bana as Nero, Nimoy as Spock, Hemsworth and Morrison as Kirk’s parents, and Bruce Greenwood stealing the show as Captain Pike. Montalban, Besch, Butrick, Winfield, and Alley were great in Wrath of Khan. Pound for pound, my money for best guest cast goes to this movie. James Cromwell’s Cochrane is hilarious and sad at the same time. Alice Krige is creepy and slimy and evil. But what is most impressive about her performance – and please don’t tell me I’m alone in this – she plays it kinda sexy. It is very uncomfortable. Great villain.


The standout among the guest cast is Alfre Woodard. This movie would not be one of the greats if it weren’t for her. She’s the forgotten hero of history and she knows it. For whatever reason, she’s hanging around this loser who will someday become the hero of the galaxy. And Picard gives her a peek at what her work will accomplish. She will be forgotten, but her work will lead to amazing technologies and unprecedented peace within mankind. She gives us the sense that she doesn’t understand, but sees the edges of it. And her scenes with Picard, challenging this future boy, are fantastic.

This is a big, loud action movie, but it’s not vapid, like the modern big, loud Star Treks. This action movie hinges on time travel, another classic Trek conceit, and somehow builds suspense, a classic Trek trick. The big baddie is a perfect choice for the movie. They’re popular among fans. And they’re about six or so years old at this point, so if they’d waited much longer the creepiness would have expired. They’re famous enough that lay fans know enough about them to keep up. And they’re creepy enough, and easily explained, so the complete newbie can get what’s going on. (It’s me. I was the newbie. We all gotta start somewhere!)

The story is great. The performances are top-notch. And, best of all, the style of story-telling is different from the TV show. As great as the show was, this is how a Star Trek movie is made.

There’s a new Enterprise too! I wasn’t anticipating this, as I’m sure most Trekkies were at the time. I can dig it. I like it more now than I did at first. My problem with the design was that it undermined what made the classic ship so cool. Aerodynamics are pointless in space. This ship seems overly reliant (so to speak) on the flying saucer, which I don’t like. The Enterprise doesn’t need to look fast. But this design has grown on me over the years. Exploring it in Elite Force II helped me to appreciate what they were going for. It’s basically an upgraded war-class version of the D. That’s what comes across anyway. That makes sense for the direction the movies take the otherwise peaceful explorers, plunking them into dangerous places. There are no kids on this ship!


As franchises go, Star Trek is my favorite. Hands down. I’m not a huge TV-watcher, so I haven’t seen every episode of every Star Trek. And I rarely re-watch movies or TV shows. But the show that I have watched more of, and in more repeated viewings, is Star Trek. Even the last film on this list will probably be viewed several more times by me. Even though I love it all, I am also capable of viewing it critically. This is the last of the “which I like more” Star Trek movies. From here on out, the movies are being ranked by which I dislike less.At this point on the list.  I’m still going from best to worst. This is just where I stop loving the movies, and start disliking them.

******

Star Trek

Between Nemesis and the 2009 reboot, I became a massive Star Trek fan. I loved it growing up. I fell away as a teenager. But in those years after Nemesis and Enterprise (which I never watched until recently) I became a big fan of the entire franchise. Those years were spent reading books, watching reruns whenever I could, and of course, grabbing at any comics I could find. This was the first Star Trek movie I went to see as a fan.


One of my favorite sequences in any Star Trek movie or show is the opening of this movie. The legend of Captain Kirk gets an origin story. One part Superman, one part Luke Skywalker, one part Greek Mythology. Captain Kirk may have grown up in Iowa, but he’s given an explosive entry into this world. This is one of the few retcons that can’t really be explained by Nero’s messing with the timeline. But, more on that later. I mostly approve of this change.

Captain Kirk is born in space. During a battle. While his father is commanding a ship. And giving his life to save the crew and his family. Heroic act is piled on top of heroic act is piled on top of amazing action. And then they make you cry. This is such a beautifully constructed scene. From George Kirk taking the center seat, recalling our memories of his iconic son to Mrs Kirk flipping the communicator open, doing her best William Shatner, this is about the physical and spiritual birth of James T Kirk. By focusing on the smallest details, the olympian emotions are given humanity.

Captain Kirk is not a Greek god. But he’s kinda like one. Captain Kirk is not a mere man. But he’s kinda like one.

Wrath of Khan promoted Kirk to the rank of superhero, or titan, or god, or whatever. He was an action hero before. And action heroes enjoy a degree of immortality, which can make a character look like he’s part of a modern mythology. By giving him a backstory that suggested he was always made of greatness, he was elevated to the rank of god. (Let’s just settle with that term. And don’t get buggy, I mean little ‘g’ god.) The appearance of immortality granted an action hero is shallow.

Wrath of Khan also gave Kirk an adversary, against whom he could finally have a mythical battle. Out of their war was born a world. Kirk’s victory cost him his closest companion. It’s like Gilgamesh and Inkydoo! Factor in the long-lost son, the power to make worlds, the Shakespearean dialogue, and the trickery employed by Kirk, and it’s undeniable. Our TV character has entered modern myth. Kirk truly graduated to immortality in the second movie and his legend is expanded here by giving him a proper, and satisfying, origin story.

The movies of JJ Abrams build on this. Maybe not as thoughtfully as I would wish. They might cut corners to elevate Kirk to superhero/god status. But I think continuing the mythologizing of Kirk is one of the goals of Abrams. In this movie alone, this theory can be proven. Kirk is given a fantastic origin story, which shows that he was destined for greatness from his earliest moments.

Nimoy’s Spock tells Kirk that the friendship between Kirk and Spock could become legendary. This weird prophet in the cave adds more to the Kirk myth.

But.

This is a lot of build-up for a movie not starring William Shatner. The movie itself is good. It’s one of the best Star Wars pastiches ever made. But it’s building on forty-five years of TV shows, books, comics, and movies. It doesn’t just dismiss all those great adventures. It honors them and seeks to publicly enshrine those heroes and characters into the Western mythological canon. I’d say all the scenes about Kirk accomplish this. When Kirk is there, he kind of undermines that goal. Chris Pine is great as a Bruce Willis-type action hero. He’s cocksure and impulsive. He’s always got an ace up his sleeve. These are attributes of Kirk, sure. But Shatner didn’t play him as only cocksure, impulsive, and arrogant. William Shatner’s Kirk is a hero. Chris Pine’s Kirk is an adorable jerk that is frustratingly (to everyone around him) lucky.


The build-up of the coming legend of James T Kirk is tear-inducingly exciting to this Star Trek fan. It just sort of fizzles though when Shatner is nowhere to be seen.

Besides the Kirk stuff, I do really enjoy this movie. The rest of the cast was enthusiastic and fun. Some did better than others. Most seemed to ignore their character’s history, which is okay. Karl Urban’s McCoy stands out as the one actor that seemed to cherish DeForest Kelley’s history with the character, while infusing him with his own take. That’s the best a fan could hope for, and it’s a lot to ask. Urban pulled it off. The others may have tried. They may have even succeeded. But the original characters they were trying to play are generally not very defined. Besides Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, the crew can interchangeably say, “Aye, Captain.” It was in the spin-off media and the movies that the supporting characters were allowed to grow.

John Cho’s Korean Sulu was a great surprise. At first I was a little dismayed at a Japanese character being played by a Korean. It just felt a little too much like old Hollywood smarm. But man, did Cho bring Sulu to life. Dynamic and thoughtful, Sulu is in much better hands with Cho than he ever was before.

The story of this one is a little … Voyager maybe? TOS season three? The bad guy’s motivation is that he’s crazy because his planet blew up. The tie-in comic, Countdown, explores his relationship with Spock a bit more. That fleshes out some of his reasoning, which seems only bizarre when watching the movie. And insanity as a motivation for evil doesn’t make the audience root for the good guys. It makes us pity the supposed villain. Maybe that’s what they were going for. But in the midst of explosions and space ships, complicated emotions have to be handled just right or it all just falls flat.

I respect Abrams for forcing the reboot into continuity, more or less, by making this new version of Star Trek the result of Nero’s contamination of the timeline. He didn’t have to do that, but it was cool that he did.

The Enterprise looks amazing. I don’t dig the interior though. This version of the ship is fantastic in motion. The shaky cam in space is an inspired choice, I think. You get the feeling of being in a nearby shuttlecraft watching. Which, aside from being on the ship itself, is the dream of most Star Trek fans.

Thanks for bringing Star Trek back. I dig what you’re going for. It’s just not quite…there.

*******

Star Trek : Insurrection

The one with the aliens that are into plastic surgery.

Yeah…I barely remember this one. I saw it when it came out and then again at home sometime five or so years ago. One viewing is usually enough for me. But even after two viewings, this one is still pretty forgettable.


The opening is cool. But Data’s exposure to the locals is awfully reminiscent of a better TV story. “Who Watches the Watchers,” from season three, has the Federation’s surveillance of a primitive race exposed, leading to one of the most interesting missions for Picard and crew. The similarly themed movie turns this premise into a story about Picard bucking the system. While somewhat cool, putting Picard in that position just doesn’t feel right.

The Federation doesn’t seem like a government likely to indulge some a smarmy villain for such a risky gain. So forcing the Federation into the role of smug imperialists rings false. Really the movie fails because it fails on this point. The Federation has acted against our heroes in the past. It’s believable when Kirk is in trouble for activating the Genesis device. The Federation doesn’t go bad at that point. Kirk’s the one that goes rogue, for reasons his bosses don’t understand. The other big anti-Enterprise action committed by the Federation, Starfleet this time, is in the final episodes of TNG’s first season. In this story, some wormy, insect-y aliens have taken over some key positions in Starfleet Command. Big deal. An infiltration is hardly the government itself going bad. Neither is Starfleet’s pursuit of Kirk really indicative of anything besides an organization maintaining its laws and principles.

This movie attempts something very bold in showing evil inside the Federation, and in power. But it just comes across as petty. Like, I get that maybe they were going for a bit of social commentary. That’s a cool concept, but … well, I guess I don’t really have strong reasons for why I think they fail in this. I just have feelings. So I’ll shut up about that.

One complaint I’ve heard a thousand times is that this movie feels like a long episode of the TV show. I don’t entirely disagree. The scope of the Federation’s turn to the dark side is a bit expansive for a TV episode. It’s a concept too big for a two-parter TV episode. But the botched first contact would, and did, make a great episode. And the exodus of the village people does seem like a story more fitting an hour of TV than a Star Trek movie. The attempts to expand the scope of the story kind of fall flat and are mostly unmemorable. The bad guy’s sail ship space ship (which might come from the opening pages of the Planet of the Apes novel) is cool, but I honestly forget why he even used it, and where he was going to.

I need to watch this one again. I truly can’t remember much of anything.

So I’ll watch it again, but I doubt it will move up the list at all. Maybe I’ll do a fan-edit, if it looks like there’s enough cool stuff to salvage it.

Oh. And is this the one with the joystick on the captain’s chair?

********

I was a strict Original Series only kid. This has less to with personal preference and more to do with availability of anything post-Kirk. The Next Generation aired on our local Fox station, which never ‘came in.’ I think it might have aired around 6 or 7 at night, which was dinnertime. Even if I could overcome those two massive hurdles, dinnertime and tuning in Fox 43, I also had three older sisters who were strangely ambivalent about my youthful Star Trek needs.

My main exposure to Trek was through the box set of the first five movies, the random VHS packed with two or three episodes of the old show, the other random VHS packed three or four animated episodes, and of course, the comics. Gold Key, DC, the odd Marvel from the late 70s. So when I thought of Star Trek, I thought of Captain Kirk, Spock, and the 1701 (no letter).

But there was another image. I didn’t know anything about The Next Generation until it was nearly over. I knew it was on. I may have known there was a Klingon. But I knew nothing else. But deep in the back of my mind there was a memory from when I was four years old. I remember tracing, with the tip of my finger, the shape of my nose. Around the nostrils, to the top of my lip. I did this while laying on the couch, with some fuzzy show on the TV. And in this memory, I recall saying, “This is Star Trek.” What? My nose is Star Trek. Well…that fuzzy image on the TV had to be on Fox. And what would my dad try to watch on Fox, even though it was usually hopeless? Star Trek, duh!

So I was stuck with that strange memory of tracing the shape of my nose and somehow identifying that with Star Trek. That nose incident must have been around 1987. (Another detail I remembered was a tar monster…so that didn’t take long to pin that date on the calendar.) The first Star Trek movie I went to see in the theaters was Star Trek : Generations, in 1994. One look at that bridge set and I realized why my nose had been reminding me of Star Trek for all these years!

We’re getting down to the end of my list of favorite Star Trek movies.

Here’s my 9th favorite, or 4th least favorite.

Star Trek : Generations


There are so many things wrong with this movie. You know them. From the cardboard opening sequence on the “B,” to the lame-o introduction of the TNG crew to the silver screen, to the underwhelming Kirk-Picard team-up, to the nasty pointless Klingons, and on and on. This movie is so full of bad choices, from its very concept all the way to the apparently lazy post-production (where have I seen that bird-of-prey before…), this movie should just be considered an utter failure.

But it’s not. Not by me anyway. It bugs the heck out of me, sure. But I do, for the life of me, kinda like this movie. So what are its strengths?

As anticlimactic as the team-up was, it is just still so cool to see Kirk and Picard together. I had the trading card of the two of them in the kitchen. I loved the card because it promised something interesting. kirk picard They could be on the bridge of either ship, or on the Klingon homeworld, or going back in time, or anything. I’d already seen the movie, but I was ten and a Star Trek fan, so I could imagine anything I wanted to. The people manufacturing these trading cards had to make the movie look exciting, so they wisely took a great shot of Picard and Kirk and filled in the kitchen background with some glowy green tin foil. They weren’t about to print a card with the description: “Heroes of space cross the generations to cook eggs together!”

But from that poorly conceived first meeting comes something cool. My friend first pointed this out to me. Years after I had written this movie off, my buddy told me that he watched it again recently. He said that even though the scene is a major disappointment, the two actors were fully in character. Kirk is bossing Picard around. And Picard is obeying because he thinks Kirk is cool. Despite the anticlimacticism of the scene, the actors elevate the scene to something memorable.

The story is pretty wobbly. With a force like the Nexus, the movie has two choices: 1. Build a super-tight narrative, or 2. Make a fun movie. Neither of these was accomplished. So we have a drab movie with a moth-ridden plot. Plot-holes are inherent to time travel stories. “The City on the Edge of Forever” deals with them brilliantly. That episode narrows the field to Kirk and Edith. So the story is really about two time-stream-crossed lovers whose romance could shatter the world. That episode also restricts the heroes. They can’t just ride out of 1930 and end up wherever they want to. They’re at the mercy of the Guardian, who might just be using Kirk and Spock to set the timeline right. Star Trek IV deals with the problem of time travel plot holes by making a fun movie. Why can’t they just swing around the sun whenever there’s a problem? Eh, because they can’t. There’s a unique effervescence to that movie that can’t be revisited whenever the creators feel like it. And since the lightness of that movie can’t be revisited, neither should the lightness of its science be revisited.


But the Nexus isn’t about science. The Nexus isn’t even a very interesting concept. It’s a migrant beam that destroys things but somehow sends people into a temporary bliss. Like, maybe if they played up the God as giver-and-taker aspect, it could have been interesting. Or if they had built up a cultural myth about the Nexus, so Kirk and Picard had to confront Soran’s religion the movie could have been more interesting. But the Nexus is just there. And I mean it is just there. It’s never mentioned again. And in this movie, it’s just so convenient. The good guys don’t get wrapped up in the fantasy of it, maybe because Picard’s perfect world is so lame. It’s like he entered Janeway’s stupid holonovel. The same kid is even there!

Picard’s resistance to the Nexus is unexplained. Guinan inhabited a Christmas tree ornament and twinkled at him? Guinan ex machina does not make for a good movie. But Picard doesn’t need a good story for his rejection of the Nexus because he’s there to team up with Kirk. Once he’s decided to leave the Nexus and stop Soran he just sort of appears in Kirk’s fantasy. An explanation might have been helpful, at least. Did Picard jump fantasies because his new greatest joy in life would be to stop Soran, so the Nexus accommodated that dream? Do inhabitants of the Nexus have the power to will themselves other places? It’s never mentioned and it was probably never thought about. Picard walks into a bland bright white light and stumbles into Kirk’s dream.

Kirk’s dream world is a little more believable than Picard’s, but still doesn’t seem quite right. My first thought was that Kirk’s fantasy would be as captain of the Enterprise. Being earthbound and with one woman would be a wonderful life for most guys. It might even be the best life for Kirk. But it wouldn’t be what Kirk would fantasize about. For the twenty-eight years this character had existed his one joy was being in the center seat and whenever he wasn’t, his goal was to get back to it. But there he is, on earth, chopping wood, waiting for Antonia to return. That was another thing that bugged me. Of all the women Kirk had loved, they had to make up a new one? Since Antonia is only seen from a distance, they could have used a stand-in and just said, “There’s Carol.”

That’s kind of the point of this movie though. It is one missed opportunity after another.

I’ve heard that the final episode of the show, “All Good Things…,” was written simultaneously with this movie. The writers themselves have admitted that the show was better. And while I agree, the show was only better as a capstone for the series. Taken out of context, that episode would fall a little flat. And frankly, it did. It was one of the first TNG shows I watched and, not really caring or knowing much about those characters, I was bored. I think they made the right choice in putting this story on the big screen and “All Good Things…” on the small. But they should have applied the same care and attention to this script as they did to that.

As an adventure for the TNG crew, this isn’t even good. There is a Kirkless Generations floating around out there. Take Kirk out and you still have, as you say, a TV story. And I don’t think it would be a particularly good TV story. In fact the characterizations are not right, so it would seem like a regressive TV story. Riker says, “Fire,” pretty well. But that’s about all he does. Data is extremely annoying, having been casually tossed a conclusion to his seven-year journey to human-ness. Worf has regressed into a grunting idiot. Geordi says, “…Not funny,” and that’s about it. Crusher doesn’t do anything. Troi crashes the ship, and that’s it. All of these characters were developed over years and none of them are treated well on the big screen. It’s really the opposite of what the TOS cast enjoyed. They were barely characters at all on the old show, but the movies gave them all room to move and grow.

For all its faults, I do still like it. It might be nostalgia. This was the first Trek movie I saw on the big screen. I know one thing I do love is the way the D looks. The space ship shots are truly gorgeous and the interiors were cleverly updated for the big screen. But that’s not enough to make me like a movie. I think just seeing Kirk and Picard together is what keeps me coming back. As lame and anticlimactic as it is, you’ll never see those two greats together anywhere else.

*********

Here is my 10th favorite…or 3rd LEAST favorite Star Trek movie:

Star Trek Into Darkness

What more can I say? This is a bad movie, with a few redeeming qualities.

I think I can quickly summarize what I hate about it: This movie expects viewers to be invested in characters based on the foundation of old Star Treks and then lamely recreates favorite climactic scenes from those same old Star Treks. These recreations might be powerful for the uninitiated, but then they would lack the foundation necessary for emotional investment in the characters. For fans, who have these scenes memorized, these recreations are about as dramatic as cosplayers play-acting at a convention.

Here’s what I like:

Cool ships doing cool things.

The score was better this time.

**********

2nd to last!

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

I defended this one for years, based on a viewing from a very young age. Then I watched it again, in my twenties.

My reasons for defending it to that point had expired. Sulu’s docking maneuver was not cool anymore. The big questions about God and what makes us human were revealed to be petty and thoughtlessly answered. I did pick up a few good pieces from this later viewing. “What does God need with a starship?” tops any list of good things in crappy Star Trek shows. I like the opening scene too. A lot of mystery and danger is conjured in that scene. Sadly, the story quickly shifts to the antics of the supposed crew of the Enterprise. I say supposed, because they look the same and their names are all the same, but otherwise these characters bare little resemblance to the real Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov.

Sybok’s attempt to lure McCoy and Spock away from Kirk are very well-done. Okay, maybe a bit burnt. But you can scrape off the worst of it and still enjoy it. The cinematography and lighting is quite good in this movie, particularly evident in the opening scene and in the temptations of McCoy and Spock sequence. One truly has the sense of going into McCoy’s memories. While the actual events of that scene might bug some, and the outcome might bug some more, it must be admitted that this sequence is technically superior. It’s frightening, arresting, and memorable.

But the conclusion of that scene speaks to the larger problem the whole movie suffers by. The scene ends with Kirk saying, “I don’t want my pain taken away. I need my pain!” That’s a great line, delivered expertly by Shatner. But just before that, Kirk says, “Dammit, Bones, you’re a doctor!” And…okay, I get why Kirk says this, and it fits with the scene. But it just makes Shatner’s ego look hungry. He has to take McCoy’s catchphrase?

The music is good. Goldsmith returned. Though this is the least of his Star Trek scores, it is still of a higher quality than the movie deserved.

I do have some sentimental attachment to this bad movie. I had the poster hanging in my room for years and years and years. I also had cardboard cut-outs of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, nearly life-sized, stuck to my walls as a kid. Shatner was holding up a copy of the VHS for this movie. I would change out the cover with covers of other Star Trek movies or Batman pictures.

I also had this: 

This movie also restarted the adventures of the Enterprise crew in DC Comics. While I prefer the first series produced by DC, this second one is full of great Trek adventures. I just wish that DC, or whoever is allowed to, would make trade paperbacks collecting all the Star Trek comics published by DC. Titan Books, out of the UK, have made a few. But, like William Shatner, I want it all!


***********

Star Trek : Nemesis

My brother is always getting on my case about this. I love going to the movie theater. The joy of the experience has been known to blind my good taste. I loved the fourth Indiana Jones movie after seeing it in the theater. When I saw this one, I was convinced I had just seen the greatest of all Star Trek movies.

Now it’s on the bottom of my list.

The overblown action scene at the beginning, with Picard driving a dune buggy, is wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. It’s dopey, and pointless, and out of character, and indulgent on a Shatner-level.


The Romulan stuff is also wrong. First of all, what’s with the Remans? A whole side of the Romulans that we’ve never seen before just pops up in the final adventure of the D crew? You’d expect that kind of thing from Voyager, but the Next Generation is made of sturdier stuff. They don’t need to rely on creepy Romulan monsters. Thanks to the invention of the Remans, we have a confusing Romulan-vs-Romulan plot. I think it’s meant to mirror the political upheaval of Star Trek VI, but it does not work here. Part of the failure is to due to the newness of this whole situation. The peace with the Klingons achieved in Star Trek VI had been building since the very first appearance of the Klingons in “Errand of Mercy.” The Romulans played a minor part on TNG, popping up once or so every season. But they never dominated the attention of TNG the way the Klingons did. So the selection of the Romulans and the invention of a new Romulan subspecies is a weird choice for the final movie. It creates an unruly world, which is nearly impossible for a non-fan to understand.

Then there’s Shinzon. He is a problematic character. Tom Hardy does an okay job. Neither he, nor anyone working on the movie, nor the story itself seem to know what he is though. What is he for? Were they trying to give Picard a send-off by forcing him to face … what? What he might have been? What his career as a famous captain has earned him? I mean, having an evil cloned son would be strange as an episode of the show, but it is even stranger in this movie. This is the last movie with the TNG crew, so everything in it is watched through that lens.

Star Trek VI is a perfect finale. The crew are given versions of their best-known actions. So we get the delight of seeing them do this or that one last time. But it’s not just a nostalgia trip. There is a real story where those phrases and actions have a point. (I’m thinking of McCoy’s “He’s dead, Jim,” moment on the Klingon ship and Spock asking McCoy’s assistance with the torpedo, to which McCoy should say, “I’m a doctor, not a torpedist,” but he instead relents and says Spock’s catchphrase.) Star Trek VI is also a story of a world on the verge of not needing these heroes.

Nemesis offers no such conclusions. The final adventure of the crew is just another dumb mission. It doesn’t really build on anything we’ve seen these characters go through before. A more appropriate final adventure might have had the Q facing destruction by some alien force and Picard has to confront his old tormentor one last time, maybe sacrificing himself or his ship or something to stop some super-Q. I don’t know. Anything that built on what came before and gave the crew a proper send-off would have been preferable to what we got.

This movie seems reluctant to reference the past. They were probably afraid of alienating non-fans if they mentioned the shocking similarities between the Lore and B4 situations. That’s a constant, and annoying, fear among producers of Star Trek. If continuity is so terrifying to new viewers, don’t introduce a Romulan subspecies. New viewers weren’t treated to a one-off adventure, like Star Trek IV. They weren’t given a quick summary of what went on in the TV show, like in Star Trek: First Contact. This movie seems to think it’s being welcoming to new viewers by not referencing their characters’ histories. But instead, it’s introducing new aliens, a tantalizing new villain, and a hollow conclusion to one of the more recognizable characters. In other words, the makers of this movie are saying, “If you new viewers liked what you saw, just buy the DVD when it comes out, because you’re not going to find anything like this in Star Trek’s vast history.”

Riker and Troi finally married. That was fine. The idea for that had been planted in the first episode. It hadn’t been revisited too often, but it was still nice to see it wrapped up.

That’s the only wrap-up we get though. Data’s death is meant to be a powerful moment. But it’s just a pale reference to Spock’s death. This whole movie was built on pale references to the past. It’s a lot like Star Trek Into Darkness in that way. Both have their own stories, but both punctuate every significant action with a reference to a better movie. And again, if avoiding continuity is meant to attract new viewers, what function do these references serve? Are these just scraps thrown to the faithful Trek fans?

This might be what bugs me about this movie. The Next Generation stopped being a pale imitation of the original. It started out being that but it grew into its own show and produced some of the best hours ever seen on TV. But they never found their footing in the movies. This last movie sent them back to their origins: riffing on the original show. A whole big chunk of the audience is made up of people who watched the first few episodes of TNG, didn’t like it, but go to see the new Star Trek movie, whoever might be in it. For all those people, TNG was nothing but a lame version of TOS.

And it is so not! This movie could have been action-packed and thoughtful and a great farewell to those specific characters. Is that asking too much? It would be if this were any other franchise.

This movie fails in another way. It reflects the time in which it was produced. This can be a powerful tool, if it’s used to satirize, or criticize our culture’s thoughts on this or that. But to just take the mood of the times and patch that over Star Trek is not only lazy, but probably the reason Star Trek died in the movies after this. Those were dark days. 9/11 happened the year before and all international politics were thrown into shadows. People were nervous and they were right to be. The US entered into war with Iraq just a few months after this movie came out. Instead of surrendering to the dark feelings of the time, Star Trek should have shined brighter.

Again, is that too much to ask?

************

The list:

The Wrath of Khan

The Undiscovered Country

The Voyage Home

The Search for Spock

The Motion Picture

First Contact


Star Trek

Insurrection

Into Darkness

Generations

The Final Frontier

Nemesis

The Road

I watch movies once and I’ll wait for them. Four years after Cormac McCarthy’s The Road was adapted to film, I have finally seen it. I’ve waited longer for other movies.

The movie was right up my alley; asking more questions than it provided answers. I’ve gleefully read some exuberant analyses of the ending, that have been floating around the ether for four years or so.

This was nearly a perfect movie. I’m reminded of Terry Gilliam’s comments regarding 2001: A Space Odyssey: “2001 had an ending. I don’t know what it means…I have to think about it. I have to work. And it opens up all sorts of possibilities and probably the next person I speak to has a different idea of what that ending means.” Oblique endings are extremely satisfying to me. They speak to real life more directly than any ‘happily ever after’ could.

My problem with story’s endings is deep and I really just need to sit down and hash it out one day. I can summarize it, maybe: All stories reflect the story of Christ. That’s the point of this blog. We don’t know how the story – we don’t know if the story – of Christ has an ending. It doesn’t. He’s immortal. We don’t know how the story of His work of salvation will end. We have a nice climax on the Cross, but we’re promised a lot more action to come. So if the stories of mankind reflect the story of Christ and we don’t know how the story of Christ ends, what do mankind’s endings look like?

Of the possible endings, the mysterious one best suits my worldview. I don’t know what the new creation will be like. I don’t know what my work will be like. I don’t know how much of my current understanding of who I am and what life is will continue on into that next world. It won’t be horrible, but it might be terrifying. It won’t be dangerous, but it might be painful. And I don’t know what events have yet to transpire to get us from here to there.

One theme that’s appropriately common to most endings is the new world. The new world, or the new life, of the characters can be good or bad. But the point of every story is that this part of existence needs to be told because things were one way before and they’re another way after.

A story could end on a wedding, which explicitly indicates a new way of life for characters, or it could end more subtly. A new way of thinking, after the death of someone close or the perseverance through something hard, can be suggested at the end of a movie. “After all, tomorrow is another day.” “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” “I’ll be right here.” “It’s too bad she won’t live. But then again, who does?” Even Leia’s final comments tie up the love triangle and hint at the possibilities: “It’s not like that at all. He’s my brother.”

These all indicate a larger world than the story they’re inside of. There’s more to come. There’s more here. Keep watching the skies.

Even the tidiest endings suggest a bigger world than the story can contain. The messier endings indicate a world infinitely bigger than the story. Even the author can’t conceive of this world’s scope. Endings of this type are much more sympathetic to my worldview. The implications of Christ’s work, not to mention the stuff He’s done that we don’t even know about yet, are beyond our understanding.

The mysterious ending of The Road indicates that the world of Man and Boy is much stranger and larger than their journey.

One thing that this movie, and its bizarre ending, accomplish is to make the viewer think. Not many movies can do this.

Here’s an excerpt from an interview with McCarthy:

I have the same letter from about six different people. One from Australia, one from Germany, one from England, but they all said the same thing. They said, “I started reading your book after dinner and I finished it 3:45 the next morning, and I got up and went upstairs and I got my kids up and I just sat there in the bed and held them.”

Any story that can inspire that reaction is worthy of our species’ narrative heritage. Let’s keep The Road.

Kirk’s Pain

Here’s a little video I pieced together, imagining Sybok’s attack on Kirk.

Sybok converted each of the Enterprise’s crewmembers by aggravating painful memories. We don’t see what he did to the four supporting players, but we do witness his attacks on McCoy and Spock. Just as Sybok is about to dig into Kirk’s memories, the captain stops it short. Kirk’s resistance may have been more impressive if Sybok had tried and failed, rather than not even getting the chance to try.

If Sybok was allowed to dig a little bit, the painful memories from Kirk’s past that he probably would have played on include the death of David, the hurt that Kirk felt at the death of Spock, and the tragedy of the transporter accident from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. That may seem like an odd story to include. But one of those people is meant to be Lori Ciana, with whom Kirk fell in love, revealed in the novel The Lost Years.

The scenes from the TV show don’t fit very well visually, because of the unfortunate discrepancies in aspect ratio. I could have adjusted it, but that would reduce the image quality of the clips from the show, which already are of a lower quality from the films. For a two-minute fan compilation, I can afford to shrug that one off.

From the show, I’ve included a shot of Kodos the Executioner, playing on Kirk’s childhood trauma which was explored in Shatner’s novel Collision Course, a shot of Kirk’s old friend Gary Mithchell in his last lucid moment, Kirk discovering the dead body of his brother, and the death of his father. This bit is non-canonical, and doesn’t make any sense to include in this timeline. But it’s cool, so I threw it in there. The greatest pain in Kirk’s life may have been the death of Edith Keeler. He loved her, but he’s loved other people who have died. The real pain associated with Edith is the terrible choice he was forced to make. Captain Kirk is a man who always finds a way out, even if the situation is grim and the odds are against him. (Okay, so he didn’t find a way out of that one either.) The death of Edith marks the first time Kirk was forced to face his own limitations. He lost a woman he loved, which is painful enough. But being forced to allow her death hits at the deepest insecurities the character has.

But of course, it was that experience that strengthened him for the challenges ahead. Steeling his will to bring justice to the frontier, nothing could scare him. If his pain was taken away then he might not have the courage to confront the evil God-imposter, or to surrender his prejudice against the Klingons.

The music is taken from the episode “The City on the Edge of Forever.” Since I believe Kirk’s pain finds it home in the events chronicled in that story, it makes sense that all of his pains would be scored likewise.