The Inverted Pyramid of Star Trek Movies

star trek into darkness nemesis insurrection first contact generations the undiscovered country the final frontier the voyage home the search for spock the wrath of khan the motion picture

I consider myself a bit of a trekkie. I grew up watching and loving The Next Generation, dabbled in reruns of the original series,  quite liked DS9, religiously watched Voyager and tried my best to like Enterprise. But one thing has always eluded me: the movies. To date, I have only seen some of the original movies, all the Next Generation ones and the JJ Abrams “Star Wars” years.

To finally rectify this, I decided to watch every single Star Trek film in the run up to Into Darkness. My mission, if you will, was to explore strange, old movies, to seek out dated special effects and receding hairlines, to boldly go where millions of geeky men have gone before.

Oh, also I decided to rank them from good to bad in a classic inverted pyramid style, so… ya. As always, lists are dangerous, so for fear of the wrath of die-hard Trek fans, this list is entirely my own opinion and I do not wish to be embroiled in any arguments about whether Kirk or Picard is better, because Picard is.

Here are my brief thoughts on each movie aswell as some random notes I wrote down during each viewing:

SPOILERS FOR ALL

Star Trek 8: First Touching

star trek first contactThis is my absolute favourite Star Trek movie. It has everything – space battles, shootouts, cyborg zombies, time travel, science, 50s rock music, zero G, drunken Deanna, Barclay, Data kissing the Borg, the Holodeck, Picard smashing stuff. It crammed so much brilliant into one movie, it’s no wonder there was so little left to go around in the rest of the next Gen flicks.

Notes:

– “Prepare for ramming speed” – how fast exactly is ramming speed? Is it like a pre-programmed setting?

– Brannon Braga is responsible for so many of the most memorable TNG episodes. And this. So hats off to him.

– The Moby Dick simile is brilliant

– Some great rage moments from Picard and great chemistry with Lily – “You broke your little ships”

– Jerry Goldsmith’s score is absolutely outstanding and one of the best of the series

– “Who said that?” “You did!” If I can have at least one moment in my life where I can say this to someone and it will make sense, I will die happy

Star Trek 11: The New (Old?) Class

star trek 2009I’ve seen this four times now and it really holds up. Abrams has been criticized for losing the thoughtful and philosophical core of Star Trek in favour of fast quips and faster explosions, but I think a bit of excitement was in order. Besides, there’s time to explore philosophies and grand themes over dozens of episodes of a TV show, but with a 2 hour movie, you don’t have time to stand around and think. JJ Abrams reinvented every single beloved character, made us love them all again, created an entirely separate timeline, destroyed Vulcan and tied it all together with a solid plot and some amazing action scenes. That’s no easy feat and it’s a joy to watch.

Notes:

– Chekhov’s voice is too rididulous

– I don’t see everyone’s problem with the lens flare, I think it totally works

– Some of the references are really clunky – McCoy’s “I’m a doctor” and old Spock’s “I am and forever will be your friend” are completely out of place

Star Trek 12: Are You Afraid of the Dark?

star trek into darknessWhile it doesn’t quite surpass its predecessor, I loved Into Darkness. It was exciting, hilarious, thrilling and all the other generic adjectives that grace movie posters. It was a straight-up enjoyable piece of movie entertainment and exactly the kind of slick adventure that proves Abrams will do a great job on Star Wars. Sure, like the last one, it has kind of missed the essence of Star Trek, but who cares? These characters are great fun to watch and how rare is it to get a beloved fan property presented in an exciting package like this? Great performances, brilliant action scenes, great comedy moments, a hot woman in her underwear, there’s a lot to like in there.

Notes:

– The Kirk/Spock dynamic is outstanding and probably the best thing in the movie, but it’s a shame that McCoy has been sidelined to a minor role. The interplay between those three worked so well in the older films. Maybe it’s because Karl Urban is the weaker of the three – he seems to be attempting a straight-up (and poor) imitation of DeForest Kelly, while Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto have carved out their roles as sufficiently different to their predecessors

– Where are the planetary defences in this movie? It seems fairly easy to pilot an unauthorised ship anywhere you like on Kronos (wouldn’t they have seen them approaching the planet? whatever happened to sensors?) And does Earth have absolutely no other ships or defences hanging around the planet? Seems strange when they’re expecting a war. It seemed like the Enterprise and that Federation warship were the only souls around for light years

– I spent the first half of the movie thinking Peter Weller was Lance Henriksen before I realised he was actually Peter Weller. Also, how good is it to see Peter Weller?

– Yer wan who played Carol Marcus was a terrible actress

– Poor old Chekhov got a bit sidelined, but Scotty got some deservedly great screentime

Star Trek 6: Shakespeare in Space

star trek 6 the undiscovered countryThis is my favourite of the older movies for several reasons – it abandoned the silly tone of Voyage Home and Final Frontier, the klingons were at their most interesting, I love alien politics, it’s a genuinely interesting mystery and Christopher Plummer.

Notes:

– Kirk’s a racist. That kind of makes sense

– Great screenplay – love all the Shakespeare and Hitler references

– It’s quite moody and tense

– The dinner scene with the Klingons is brilliant

– Is the Klingon chancellor the same guy who played the human ambassador in Final Frontier? Yes, yes he is. David Warner. He’s also the bad guy in Tron and the scientist from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. Obviously.

– Love the shakespeare in Klingon line

– The zero g blood effects have dated badly

Kurtwood Smith’s facial hair and wig are amazing

– Michael Dorn is playing his own grandfather, also called Worf

– Christian Slater shows up for two minutes

– The shapeshifting effect is surprisingly convincing

– The ending is ridiculous, they actually went for the slow clap

Star Trek 2: Khan is Angry

star trek 2 the wrath of khanThis tends to be the most referenced and respected of Star Trek movies and while there’s definitely a lot to like, I didn’t take to it as much as everyone else seems to have. I just didn’t feel like Khan was a particularly interesting villain or that this movie gave him enough to do. It does have the most emotional moments of all the older Trek movies though, and it’s pulled off superbly.

Notes:

– This movie’s biggest problem is that it steals all the best bits from Into Darkness

– Don’t put ear aliens into Chekhov please

– I love how Kirk’s Khaaaaan scream is so loud that it can be heard off-planet

There is an indecent amount of Khan man cleavage in this movie

Star Trek 9 and the Planet of Eternal Youth

star trek insurrectionInsurrection isn’t remembered as one of the best Star Trek entries, but on reflection, it’s a solid and interesting movie that more than any of the next gen flicks, recaptures the heart of the show. Plus, a dude’s face gets stretched off and Data sings the entire score to the HMS Pinafore, Sideshow Bob style.

Notes:

–  I’m convinced the opening scenes of Insurrection and Commando are the same

– The invisible suit stuff is suitably cool

– Worf’s reasons for being on the Enterprise are starting to grow very thin. “Worf, shouldn’t you be on DS9?” “No, they’re spraying it for cockroaches”

– The Gilbert and Sullivan joke with Worf is brilliant

– Jonathan Frakes’ directing style is a bit too televisual at times

– The movie can’t decide if it wants to be an allegory for Israel/Palestine or for the effects of cosmetic surgery

– Geordi sees his first sunrise – yay! Data learns to have fun – yay! Riker shaves – umm….

– Worf goes through puberty, Deanna Troy gets in a bubble bath, Dr. Crusher’s boobs apparently firm up

– Riker steering the Enterprise with a joystick is just… insulting

– Took me ages to realise who the bad guy was – it’s Oscar winning F Murray Abraham, from Amadeus (I cheated and looked it up)

Star Trek 4: Let’s Go Home

star trek 4 the voyage homeIn my opinion, this movie has not dated well. A lot of the comedy comes across a little too broad, with a terrible “comedy” soundtrack, playing like one of the later Police Academy sequels. Some of it hits home and there’s a lot of good Spock stuff in here, but their blatant disregard for the timeline I found incredibly troubling. Plus, the plot is about whales. However, it was mostly harmless fun and quite interesting to have almost an entire Star Trek movie without the Enterprise.

Notes:

– “Spock, start your computations for timewarp” – This is the only explanation we’re given as to how time travel works. If it’s that easy, why don’t they do it all the time?

– “Admiral, I am receiving whale song” – This is my favourite Uhura line of all time

– “Admiral, there be whales here” – This is my favourite Scotty line of all time

– The love interest is the mom from 7th Heaven, completing the Star Trek/7th Heaven circle that began with the Dad’s starring role in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

– Why are they in such a rush to leave that they can’t drop the whale expert home before time travelling? It’s freaking time travel, they can leave at any time! Not to mention the effects that removing a person out of history could have on the future.

Star Trek 7: When Jean Luc met James T.

star trek generationsStar Trek Generations is a tricky movie – it feels like the awkward teenage years of Star Trek The Next Generation, trying to phase into its movie years, but having to also pay tribute to what’s gone before. This was a big ask and for the most part, they pull it off. The problem is that the movie is just a bit underwhelming and forgettable. There’s no standout moments in the whole film and it all feels a bit haphazard and muted.

Notes:

– All the stuff with Data’s emotion chip is very enjoyable

– It’s great to see the classic Enterprise D set all lit up nice and movie-like

– Patrick Stewart giving it the big acting guns about his nephew’s death, nice work

– It is cool to see Kirk and Picard together, and his death is quite nicely handled

– The Enterprise crash landing is very well done

– The final fight feels very classic Star Trek TV show. i.e. a bit shit

Star Trek 5: The Search for Spock’s HoverBoots

star trek 5 the final frontierThe Final Frontier is a pretty stupid movie for the most part. Spock wears hoverboots, they go camping and they meet God (sort of). It’s a pretty bonkers film, but you know what, I actually really enjoyed it because of this. While I can’t really recommend it and comparably it’s certainly one of the weakest movies, it’s quite fascinatingly weird and has some great moments. Plus, it’s the first time since the first movie that they recaptured that sense of awe and mystery that comes with exploring “strange new worlds”.

Notes:
– Directed and co-written by William Shatner – uh-oh

Captain Kirk is climbing a mountain, why is he climbing a mountain?

– Hover boots! – uh-oh

– Paradise City is basically the cantina from Mos Eisley with the three boobed lady from Total Recall

– At one point, Spock says they have 1.9 hours to do something. You can’t go metric on time, if you’re still using hours, can you?

– The naked Uhura dance is just…. wrong

– I don’t know what’s more upsetting, the thought of Uhura dancing naked on a sand-dune, or of her and Scotty getting frisky

– Vulcan neck pinch on a horse – brilliant

– A lot of these sets look like they were leftover from The Next Generation

– Sybok is actually an interesting villain, I like that he’s not actually evil at all, he’s just a happy go-lucky Vulcan looking for God

– Great soundtrack, which was sampled again in parts of First Contact

Star Trek 1: The Moving Picture

star trek the motion pictureStar Trek The Motion Picture is a bit of a slog. I don’t have the exact numbers, but I would estimate the movie’s running time breaks down to 103 minutes of slow tracking shots of the outside of the Enterprise and a cloud, and 7 minutes of characters talking about the cloud. If slow, tracking shots of models are your thing, you’re in for a treat.

Notes:

– The director seems so preoccupied with the “majesty” of the special effects, that he forgot to spend any time on story or characters.

– It’s the Dad from 7th Heaven!

– Why is Decker the only person given any sort of emotional core? Because he’s likeable, it actually makes Kirk seem like more of a dick for taking over his ship

– However, this is addressed in one of the film’s best scenes, when Bones calls Kirk out for being a dick. Kudos to Shatner for playing what I think was dawning self-realisation, but very well could have been mild indigestion

– The biggest shame is that the plot reveal is actually a really good sci-fi idea – one that could have made a decent episode of the show. But if you’re going to drag this out to movie length, dear god, make something happen

– The soundtrack is the best thing about this film and the only reason you won’t fall asleep during the starship masturbation scenes

Star Trek 10: The Clone Wars

star trek nemesisStar Trek Nemesis is just terrible. A dark, lifeless, uninteresting slog of a movie that thinks it has created some epic villain in the mould of Khan and a memorable rivalry for the ages, but in fact, it hasn’t earned anything of the sort and just faffs about for a few hours until Data dies.

Notes:

– This was the last film director Stuart Baird ever directed, but he’s a very accomplished editor – recently edited Skyfall and collaborated frequently with Richard Donner

– Good to see the Romulans back as villains though

– Wil Wheaton and Whoopi Goldberg, look at you there, with nothing to say

– Picard does give the best best man speech ever

– At the beginning of the film, they land on an M class planet, with a prewarp civilization, and they’ve no problem going down there and shooting shit up – isn’t that exactly what they were trying to avoid in Insurrection?

– Nice cameo from Janeway

– The Remans are clearly evil, just look at them

– That’s one really young Tom Hardy, before he was famous. With terrible teeth

– They cloned him from a hair follicle – not easy to get from Picard

– Some interesting thoughts on nature versus nurture, but it’s not really fully realised

– It feels like the whole movie is shot on one soundstage and could have really benefited from some location shooting, it’s very claustrophobic

– Why does Shinzon want to destroy Earth? His motivations are unclear and unconvincing – he’s angry, that’s about it

– Their shiny black costumes are ridiculous

– Why would the Romulans call Romulan Ale Romulan Ale? Wouldn’t they just call it… ale?

– The whole climax is a great space battle though, the view screen being destroyed is very cool. Just a shame that everything that came before it was complete kak

– Random cameo – Bryan Singer shows up for about a second

– Data’s space jump is cool, but why didn’t he bring two emergency transport devices?

– His death is quite sad though, and I like the throwback to the very first episode with Riker trying to remember the song Data was whistling

Star Trek 3: Where is Spock?

star trek 3 the search for spockWhatever followed Wrath of Khan would have a bit of an uphill battle, but Christ, this was a pretty pointless movie. The whole thing was basically an awkward two hours of filler as they try to figure out how to not have Spock be dead. I struggle to remember anything I liked in this beyond the Enterprise blowing up.

Notes:

– Begins with a previously on with the sad bits of Wrath of Khan and the end monologue. This is the best part of the movie.

– Picks up exactly where the last one left off, but with everyone looking two years older and Kirstie Alley having a different face

– Still a great score, mind you

– I never knew Christopher Lloyd was in this, as a pretty boring Klingon

– The Enterprise blowing up is great though

– David’s death has got to be one of the least eventful movie deaths I’ve ever seen. I didn’t even realise he’d died until someone mentioned it later on

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6 responses to “The Inverted Pyramid of Star Trek Movies

  1. Drunken Deanna sounds like an outtake from the Bad studio sessions.
    Fair play to you for rewatching them though; I know I couldn’t.

    • The ones really worth rewatching are star trek 2009, first contact, undiscovered country and wrath of khan. Then just watch the captain kirk is climbing a mountain video and you’re golden.

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