As we celebrate the 49th anniversary of Star Trek (God, that makes me feel old!), some quick thoughts came to me regarding the beloved show and the franchise it spawned. Star Trek and its many incarnations had many highs and lows, but what stuck with me throughout the decades were the highlights and some general observations about Trek.
James T. Kirk, played perfectly by William Shatner, is the best Star Trek captain. Period. Nothing more to say.
Star Trek has many memorable villains that faced off against Kirk, Picard and others. The biggest and baddest of them all still remains as Khan, the first version played by Ricardo Montalban. While Benedict Cumberpatch did a menacing job reimaging Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness, Montalban’s Khan was just insane. The other great Trek villains are the Borg Queen (Alice Krige) from Star Trek: First Contact, General Chang from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Christopher Plummer had great chemistry with Shatner), Shinzon from Star Trek: Nemesis, Nero from Star Trek, Kurge (Christopher Lloyd) from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Q (John DeLancie) from Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Romulan Tomalak (Andreas Katsulas) of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Ron Perlman’s Nosferatu-like Viceroy in Star Trek: Nemesis, Gul Madred (David Warner) in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Gul Dukat (Marc Alaimo) in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. In general, I enjoyed the Klingons, Romulans and Borg. Finally, I have to give a shout out to the black oil spill creature that killed Tasha Yar. It proved that oil spills will be the death of us!
Star Trek is well known for its many distinctive space ship designs. Of course, one of the best has to be the original Enterprise from Star Trek. It’s simple, classic and culturally important. With that I will state that I loooooove the Enterprise from Star Trek: The Motion Picture! As for the Enterprise seen in the Star Trek reboot, I admit that I like it, but don’t love it like I did with the earlier movie versions of the Enterprise. I also thought the space station designs in the reboot didn’t work (but I loved the ones used in the early films, the same goes for the early space dock used in the first two Star Trek films).
Other great ships for me were the Enterprise D from Star Trek: The Next Generation with its amazing concept of having the saucer separating from the ship. Meanwhile, I also liked the Enterprise E first seen in Star Trek: First Contact because it had this neat, sleek look.
Starfleet also had other great designed ships. Let’s start with the shuttlecraft Galileo. It was a classic, and I’ll have to say that the updated shuttle designs seen in Star Trek: The Next Generation were nice. Two other great ships were the Defiant from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (it’s one great, tough, little ship!) and the Reliant from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It’s got the most innovative design and was actually a happy accident. Director Nicholas Meyer saw the blueprints for it upside down and approved it. This allowed for the designs of differently shaped Federation starships.
The alien ships used in Trek were also wonderful, take the Klingon Bird-of-Prey ships that were seen in most films and TV shows. It just showed what a great design it was. I also liked the Romulan warbirds from the Trek spinoffs and the Ferengi ships, too. Other ships that deserve mentioning should be the alien probes V’Ger and the whale probe. With V’Ger I didn’t know the full shape of it until I saw the director’s cut. I think it was OK, but the closeups of it are more spectacular than its outside silhouette shape. What I liked about the whale probe from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was that it kind of mimicked the elongated shapes of the whales.
I should point out that the Borg cube first seen in Star Trek: First Contact is Trek’s answer to the spherical Death Star. Maybe the next sci-fi franchise should have the enemy ship look like a cone! Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise had many more ship designs, but they weren’t very memorable to me except for the Bajoran solar sail ship.
A common thread in these musings of mine is how great the original Star Trek was and how it got so many things correct. Any so-called improvements made by the movies and spinoffs, while mostly good, just can’t compare to Classic Trek. A good example of this is the costuming of the original show. They used simple multi-colored costumes that made it easy to denote rank and division. The design and colors were so great and the 2009 movie reboot kept the same pattern, but improved on the fabrics and patterns used.
A close second would be the classic red uniforms that were used for most of the original cast movies starting with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. They had a naval design that was just perfect for the movie’s tone.
The spinoff Star Trek TV shows also had some nice costumes, especially the ones used in Star Trek: The Next Generation that followed the spirit of the original series in having different colors denoting rank and division.
As for costumes that didn’t work, that dishonor goes to the bland outfits used in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. They looked like grey pajamas! But the fancy white and grey uniform worn by Admiral Kirk and Spock’s black Vulcan tunic were great.
The original theme by Alexander Courage has a resonating hailing overture that builds to a sense of adventure thanks to the use of a singer and bongo drums. I just love listening to it. Composer Michael Giaccino built on that mood with his take of the original Star Trek theme in J.J. Abrams’ reboot. His version of the original theme is magnificent.
The second best Star Trek theme for me is actually a tie between Jerry Goldsmith’s majestic score for Star Trek: The Motion Picture and James Horner’s adventurous work in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Goldsmith’s fanfare is a hail to adventure and the rest of the soundtrack made the movie better than it was. Horner’s work meanwhile had the right tone for the movie which evoked naval ships and battles.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country had a score that I liked a lot. It was dark, intriguing, yet had fanfares that were sentimental farewells for the original cast. The signature send off at the film’s end was fantastic. Other noteworthy scores are the ones for Star Trek: First Contact, Star Trek: Voyager, while the one for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine grew on me.
Background Design and Cinematography
For me, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan had the best look on the whole because of its slightly darker lighting. It’s funny to think that the sets used in that film were the same ones from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It’s amazing what lighting can do! On that note, I’ll say that I hated the bridge lighting used in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, but loved the improved lighting in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country thanks to Hiro Narita, who also worked on The Hunt for Red October.
Star Trek: The Next Generation had the best computer interfaces, it still looks futuristic and I love the look of the graphics. Meanwhile the look of the Trek reboot sports a fresh interpretation. It’s like walking into an Apple store with mirrors that produce lens flares! I didn’t mind the look, but I know purists object to it.
Walter L. Stevenson