Star Trek Celebrates 50 Years
To commemorate 50 years of boldly going where no one has gone before, And There Came A Day presents a weekly countdown to September 8, 2016 – 50 years to the day of the premiere of Star Trek.
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With the release of Star Trek Beyond and the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, it seems every media outlet has done a ranking of the 13 films from Worst to Best. Though And There Came A Day is not media outlet, I feel compelled to join in as we reach the end of our Star Trek at 50 Years countdown – we’re literally weeks away from the anniversary of the airing of the first episode of the original series!
The Star Trek Films – Worst to First
13. Star Trek: Nemesis
There is so much wrong with this movie, it’s hard to know where to start. Its plot is convoluted. It introduces elements to the canon of Star Trek that make no sense. It wastes a young Tom Hardy. It features a sexual assault. It kills a beloved character. It has characters acting completely against their histories. It is the worst of Treks and the trek I’ve watched the least. I think I’ve seen this one only twice. Bad movie on every count.
12. Star Trek: Insurrection
Any Star Trek movie that features a musical number has to be questioned. Any Star Trek movie that has Worf dealing, not with terrifying enemies, but with terrifying acne must be reviewed harshly. Any Star Trek movie that holds to very little internal logic must be judged. Insurrection – which was originally based on The Heart of Darkness – is such a missed opportunity. Too bad. There are some good ideas here, they are just terribly mismanaged and the movie tries way too hard to be funny. Way. Too. Hard.
11. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
William Shatner co-wrote and directed The Final Frontier. In creating the story, he reached for an old Gene Roddenberry outline about the Enterprise searching for God and finding God was really just a petty alien. Nice. This movie charm is only found in the interactions among the “magnificent seven” and some of those interactions are poorly written. It introduces Spock’s half brother Sybok, an addition never to be mentioned again. Oh, and Kirk, Spock and McCoy make s’mores. Ick.
10. Star Trek: Generations
This film promised to bridge Star Trek: The Next Generation to the original series and featured Admiral Kirk in what was more than an extended cameo. It gave us Picard and Kirk together – for a moment. This was the best part of the movie and fun to see. William Shatner and Patrick Stewart really seemed to enjoy their time together on screen. Then Generations killed Kirk in a less than heroic fashion. As a movie that was supposed to bring The Next Generation to to big screen in grand fashion, it played more like a bloated episode of the television series. (And it destroyed the Enterprise)
9. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
This is where the list gets tougher as I really like most of the rest of the Star Trek movies, almost without reservation. The Search for Spock is a solid Trek outing. Directed by Leonard Nimoy, it suffers a little from a Robin Curtis Saavik (never a match for Kirstie Alley) and an all too pat dispatching of David Marcus – we hardly knew ye. But it has a wonderful caper sequence in the stealing of the Enterprise, some very touching moments as the crew is reunited with Spock and the promise of grand adventures to come. It also spotlights the chemistry of the original cast – most especially Kirk and McCoy and gives us, arguably, the best Sulu scene ever – don’t call him “tiny.” This one holds up on repeat viewings and brings a smile to my face each time the revived Spock raises his eyebrow. Well done, Leonard Nimoy. The best for you is yet to come. (And it destroyed the Enterprise – the first time this was done)
8. Star Trek Into Darkness
I struggled putting this one after The Motion Picture because I really, really like Into Darkness. I wasn’t troubled by the inclusion of the Kelvin Timeline Khan. In fact, I thought Benedict Cumberbatch was wonderful as Harrison/Khan and the movie actually does something The Wrath of Khan never did: it puts Khan in the same room with the Enterprise crew. Chris Pine is terrific in this movie and there are some genuine thrills in the movie. Now, one can argue that Star Trek is not about delivering thrills, and that perspective has some merit, but this movie starts quickly (the wonderful opening sequence is a lot of fun) and keeps up the pace throughout. All of the seven main characters have their moments and Zachary Quinto delivers a powerful performance as Spock. I don’t understand why many Trekkers have such a strong hate-on for this movie. I really don’t.
7. Star Trek: The Motion Picture
My grandmother fell asleep in the theater when she took me to see The Motion Picture. It’s dry. But it’s Star Trek! It’s Kirk getting the band back together. It’s Spock in long hair and robes. It’s McCoy wearing what can only be described as hipster get-up – and he has a beard! And we can complain all we want about how long the effects shots go on, but, man, they hold up and they are simply beautiful. Lost in the negativity around the movie and the concerns that it borrows a little too heavily from the original series episode “The Changeling” is the fact that this is the most Star Trek-y of the Star Trek movies. It has big ideas. It doesn’t feature a space battle. It truly comments on the human condition. The only reason I rank it higher than Into Darkness owes to my devotion to the original cast and it was lovely to have them back!
6. Star Trek Beyond
This movie manages to do something almost no other Star Trek movie has: in Jaylah, it introduces a character audiences like and want to see more. That’s no mean feat. It also returns to and explores Star Trek territory – strange new worlds, new civilizations, et al, and does so in a modern context with excitement and adventure. Surprisingly serious and more than a little melancholy (in a good way), Star Trek Beyond feels somehow like the most grown up of the Kelvin Timeline movies. The movie also sets up great interplay among the characters and the Spock/McCoy moments are tremendous and wonderfully touching. This is the only incarnation of filmed Star Trek where Spock feels moved to call McCoy “Leonard.” Great moment. The stakes feel high, the relationships feel real and the movie is excellent because of this. I liked Idris Elba and I appreciated the twist at the film’s conclusion. I applaud the revelation of Sulu as a gay man (and how it was such a non-factor, in a good way, in the movie). I loved the tribute to the original Trek and was surprisingly moved by mentions of Nimoy and Anton Yelchin. I want more Jaylah, more of this crew, more movie Star Trek! (And it destroyed the Enterprise).
5. Star Trek: First Contact
Without question, First Contact is the best of the Next Generation movies. It’s grand and witty and clever. It gives Patrick Stewart his best moments as Picard, Brent Spiner his best as Data and, in the Borg Queen, gives audiences something they’ve never had: a real and formidable adversary. The two story structure – what’s happening on the Borg-infested Enterprise and what’s happening on Earth – works beautifully and, while the idea of time traveling villains trying to disrupt a crucial moment in history isn’t the most original, it’s incredibly well handled. While First Contact is very much an action movie, it has much to say about identity – Data’s, Picard’s, Cochran’s – and it is, counterintelligence, the deepest of the Next Generation films. “The line must be drawn here,” indeed. If you only watch one Next Generation movie, make it First Contact.
4. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
The Undiscovered Country is a terrific send-off for the original crew. Could there have been a better story-line to choose for their swan song than glasnost with the Klingons? Could there be a more Star Trek choice than mirroring real-life events on film? We begin with Sulu – finally! – Captain of the Excelsior and we end with Kirk and crew saving the galaxy, again, but it all works. Every piece of the movie does (well, there is one BIG miss – Uhura needs to look up Klingon? Ah, no. I don’t think so). Christopher Plummer’s Shakespeare quoting General Chang is a cut above the typical Star Trek adversary and he chews scenery with knowing aplomb. The time lock conclusion of the movie, the arrival of the Excelsior, the affirmation of the mission of Starfleet brings me (metaphorically) to my feet. The “sign off” of the stars brings (literally) tears to my eyes.
3. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
The top three are TOUGH to rank. I love these movies. I contend they are not simply good Star Trek movies, they are good movies. The Voyage Home is the best example of Star Trek put on film. There is no villain (save us, ourselves). The is little to no violence. There is no darkness. What there is is a timely story about the environment and conversation told through the eyes and actions of a crew of seven characters we’ve come to know and love. At times madcap, at times hilarious, this heart-warming story holds up so well that, if anyone is asking for the best example of Star Trek whether on television or on film, this is the one to recommend. Leonard Nimoy showed that he was a top tier director with this one and his cast responds. They are all at the tops of their collective game. I dare you to watch this movie without smiling and, yes, much of the “nuclear wessels” scene was improvised with unknowing extras.
2. Star Trek (2009)
This might be the perfect Star Trek movie. It overflows with energy, optimism and excitement and opens up the world of Star Trek to potential it, in some ways, hasn’t had in decades. Considering how difficult it must have been to cast young versions of these most iconic characters, one could forgive a miss on one or two of them. There is no miss. All the new actors (especially Karl Urban as McCoy) are spot on in their roles. The seamless inclusion of Leonard Nimoy as Spock Prime is really just icing on a perfectly baked cake. As far as reboots go, this is the standard by which all should be judged. Paying homage to the original history while charting a new one, Star Trek was a monster and surprise hit. The new Enterprise is lovely. The new cast is terrific. The new universe works. I love the unpredictability of this film. I love the chemistry of the cast. I love that this Kelvin Timeline exists. This is another movie that brings a smile to my face. At turns funny and thrilling, Star Trek delivers. It belongs in any Star Trek Top Five.
1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Wrath of Khan is the consensus favorite for a reason. It is, hands down, the best of the Star Trek films. It has the best villain. It has the best space battle. It has the best Kirk moment of, perhaps, all time. It also features the death of Spock which, in the context of the movie and, at the time, felt permanent. The only sequel to an original series episode, Wrath of Khan brought back Ricardo Montalban at at time when he was best known as the kindly Mr. Roarke from Fantasy Island and made him the bad-ass villain by which all others in this movie series (and others) are judged. He shares no screen time with Kirk and yet is the most deadly adversary the Enterprise ever faced. It’s a terrific performance. There is no way a Trek fan (or a human being) doesn’t tear up at the death of Spock or, again, at his funeral. The movie has laughs, has character moments, has pathos and has stood the test of time (and a partial revisiting in Into Darkness). It’s the best Trek. Period.