The Star Trek Movies Ranked, Part II

Continuing this ranking of Star Trek films, we go from the undeniable classics to the lesser entries in the Star Trek film series. They range from being just okay to junk best seen on Mystery Science Theater 3000. As explained in the previous article, tier three films have their flaws but also boast some admirable qualities about them. Meanwhile, the tier four flicks are absolute junk that should only be seen by hardcore fans or the morbidly curious who want sleep aids.

Tier Three

7. Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984): The second Star Trek sequel has so many elements going for it, but for some reason it doesn’t search for spocktake off. After the triumph of Star Trek II, this direct sequel is a huge letdown. Trying to follow up Star Trek II is a difficult task and try as it did, Star Trek III couldn’t equal it, much less top it. For me, it’s hard to pinpoint why this film is a misfire, but for all the important plot developments it doesn’t have much passion.

In this sequel, James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and his core Enterprise crew risk everything, including their careers, to retrieve Spock’s (Leonard Nimoy) body from the Genesis Planet. Once there, they discover that he’s resurrected and now have to save him. There are many pivotal events in this movie; the Enterprise is destroyed, someone close to Kirk is killed, while his best friend comes back to life, and careers are jeopardized. Yet, most of these events feel ho-hum. One thing will happen, the characters reflect about it, then it’s on to the next development.

enterprise blows up

On the other hand, Star Trek III is not to be missed, not just because of what happens in the movie, but for its merits. The character interactions are fantastic and the actors all turn in solid performances. The villain of Star Trek III, a Klingon commander (Christopher Lloyd) is quite menacing and Lloyd plays him more nuanced than your typical Klingon, which was refreshing. The final battle between him and Kirk was also satisfying to watch. Production wise, Star Trek III hits the right marks and this is the movie that introduces the ubiquitous and iconic Klingon bird-of-prey ship and the Excelsior-class starship. Compared to the other films, Star Trek III is a good, but not an outstanding entry in this series.

crew8. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979): I’ll be frank and say this movie is boring in many parts. Yet, there is so much that I like about it. It is the one film that stays truest to creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision for Star Trek and humanity in the future. Out of all the films, this one is the most cerebral and takes its influence from pre-Star Wars films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, and it does so to a fault.

In the first Star Trek movie, an enormous, destructive energy cloud is headed towards Earth and a newly refitted Enterprise is dispatched to confront it. The lead up to encountering the cloud was pretty good. Remember, when the film came out, we hadn’t seen the original crew in anything since the series ended in 1969. So, the film reveled in re-introducing Star Trek’s many iconic characters like James T. Kirk, Spock and McCoy (DeForest Kelley). That reunion aspect worked very well thanks to Jerry Goldsmith’s majestic and triumphant score, special effects that still hold up today and the cast’s acting prowess–they’re clearly comfortable in their familiar roles.

Well, we’re building up to when the Enterprise confronts the energy cloud. The movie is self-indulgent at parts, enterprise refitbut it’s moving along. Then midway through it, the film comes to a snoozing halt after the first encounter reveals that the cloud is hiding an immense artificial entity that is seeking its creator. Overly long scenes of people staring at special effects plague the movie. They’re pretty to look at, but after a few minutes, it becomes overkill and enough is enough! There is a lot of pondering throughout, in fact, there’s too much of it. But in spite of its faults, Star Trek: The Motion Picture has an ethereal, contemplative quality that is hard to dismiss.

9. Star Trek: Nemesis (2002): This is probably the most underrated Star Trek film in the batch, which is unfortunate. Due to its dismal reception at the box office and with fans, this would turn out to be the last film to feature The Next Generation crew. It does have major faults, such as its by-the-numbers execution and that it outright cannibalizes plot elements from the TV show Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek II. At one point, it was the best ripoff of the first Star Trek sequel until Star Trek Into Darkness came along.

s3Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) is ordered to take the Enterprise-E to the enemy Romulan homeworld and meet that empire’s new leader in a peace initiative. This leader turns out to be Shinzon (Tom Hardy), a young clone of Picard and he has a major beef with Picard and the Federation. Shinzon’s unclear motives are one of the weakest elements about Star Trek: Nemesis and that is vital since this film’s premise hangs on the villain. He just lacks the gravitas to be an effective foil for Picard. What’s worse is his lack of reason for wanting to attack the Federation. All Shinzon does is spout corny lines about being Picard’s opposite. It’s probably the film’s clumsy attempt at addressing the theme of duality. Adding to that theme is a redundant sub plot involving the android Data (Brent Spiner) and his duplicate, which already happened n the TV series. The action is unexpectedly flaccid considering that the director (Stuart Baird) was known for helming action films.

Still, this film has some merits. It features interesting character scenes and it exudes an atmosphere of impending change. The scene where the Enterprise-E is rammed enterprise fightsagainst Shinzon’s warship is pretty cool though, but a major character’s death doesn’t generate much of a reaction from me. It felt forced and trite since it tried to evoke Spock’s death in Star Trek II. With all that, somehow, it serves as a decent wrap up for films featuring The Next Generation crew.  At the very least, the film isn’t dull and has superb special effects and the last score done by composer Jerry Goldsmith. Continue reading

The Star Trek Movies Ranked, Part I

Star Trek movies have been with us since the late ’70s and have received very mixed reactions. Some are revered as the very best of sci-fi films, while others received vicious barbs from fans and critics alike. Now that there is an even dozen films, it’s time to rank them in order.

The way my rankings work are basically four tiers. The first tier includes genuine classics that still hold up today and are iconic; the second tier features films that are undeniably enjoyable and worth watching, though they have their faults; the third tier is filled with flawed but noteworthy movies that have some good qualities and are sometimes underrated; the fourth tier, naturally is littered with the bottom-dwelling movies that are just terrible with little to recommend about them.

Tier One

1. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986): I know this may shock most fans who expected Star Trek II to be the number pick. Choosing the trek 4 sfvery best Star Trek film was quite difficult and honestly, it’s more of a tie between the two films. To those that would argue that Star Trek II is the best one, you won’t get an argument from me, but time and time again I keep going to the fourth film in the franchise.

Why? To me this one showed the original cast and filmmakers at the top of their game. Everything was top notch with this film: production values, special effects, acting, and the story. The movie which was about the original Enterprise crew time traveling to San Francisco in the late 20th century to find whales was a great example of a fish-out-of-water yarn. We got to see the crew out of their element, yet persevering in the strange environment of the past. The movie presented a lighter, more comedic side but it was still exciting and engaging. It also showed that a Star Trek film didn’t need a scene-chewing villain to carry a film.

klingon ship

Finally, this film allowed all of the cast members to have their moment in the sun. They contributed to the story and had many outstanding scenes. Still, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley were the highlights, especially Shatner. His James T. Kirk wasn’t morose as in previous films, he was more confident, surprisingly funny and showed off his famous romantic, charming demeanor. By the film’s end, you feel completely satisfied. The crew had a new ship, Kirk was doing what he was meant to do and there was the promise of new beginnings as the Enterprise-A headed out to the unknown.

2. Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1982): On a different day I might’ve ranked this as so many do, as the best Star Trek film ever made. trek 2This is still the most important film in the franchise because it’s the one that saved it in its infancy. After the wooden and pedestrian debut film, there was doubt another expensive Star Trek film would ever be made. The filmmakers’ challenge was to put out an exciting, edge-of-your-seat thriller that would leave people talking about it for a long time to come. And they succeeded.

One of Kirk’s enemies from the original show, Khan (Ricardo Montalban), commandeers a Starfleet ship and goes on a warpath against Kirk. He blames our hero for marooning him on a desolate planet and wants Kirk to suffer as he did. And boy khandoes he give it to Kirk. The battle of wits between the two adversaries became famous thanks in part to the performances from both actors. This is Shatner’s best performance as a Kirk, who finally faces middle age, while Montalban clearly relishes his role as the battered but regal Khan. His character is undeniably one of the best movie villains of all time.

Even though the special effects and Nicholas Meyer’s direction are exemplary, what makes the film endure is its focus on the characters and its themes about dealing with your past, the destructiveness of vengeance and facing the future with dignity. So why isn’t this my favorite Star Trek film? Well, it nearly is and on some days I’ll admit it. But the film feels a bit ponderous and pompous at times. The script tends to go overboard with its constant quoting from classic literature. Then there’s Spock’s (Nimoy) death, while it’s eloquent and heartfelt, given that the character returns in later films, the death feels a bit empty. Those are just minor quibbles though and this movie is a must-see classic for everyone.

picard borg queen3. Star Trek: First Contact (1996): It’s not only the best Star Trek film that features The Next Generation cast but one of the franchise’s very best efforts. Director Jonathan Frakes (who also plays Riker) and the production team hit all the right marks in this great Star Trek film. Its success started with this well-written time travel/alien invasion saga.

Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and his Enterprise-E crew time travel to Earth’s mid-21st century to prevent the evil cybernetic Borg from conquering the planet. Successfully incorporating action and horror elements, Star Trek: First Contact was both exciting and suspenseful with a morality tale about obsession and dealing with destiny. This film is full of so many cool moments. One of the best was when the experimental warp ship the Phoenix launches from a missile silo as its pilot, Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell) blasts Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride”. Another was Picard’s histrionic ranting about the Borg, which forced him to look within himself. The Borg themselves are presented as the fearful, unrelenting force they were meant to be. The movie’s main villain, the Borg Queen (Alice Krige), is one of the more interesting and unique foes. She isn’t some revenge-minded madwoman but is cold, calculating, and with a strange allure.

borg battle

As with the better films, this one showcased many of the supporting characters and featured smile-inducing nods and cameos from the other Star Trek shows. The best one had to be the cameo of Star Trek: Voyager’s EMH (Robert Picardo) who appears as the Enterprise-E’s own EMH. One of his lines is also a nice tribute to Dr. McCoy. After falling short with the previous entry Star Trek Generations, the filmmakers had to get the franchise back on track and succeeded with this one. Everyone involved is to be lauded, from the actors, to the composer, to the production team and, of course, the director, who like Nimoy understood Star Trek. Continue reading

Star Trek Movie Retrospective–Star Trek III: The Search For Spock

“Because the needs of the one…outweigh the many.”

Kirk to Spock on Vulcan

spock posterAfter the rousing Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, its sequel Star Trek III: The Search For Spock feels like a bit of a letdown. It’s an entertaining film but it could’ve been a lot better and the cast and crew give it a good try. It can be difficult to state exactly what is wrong with film. It’s not dull like Star Trek: The Motion Picture and moves along at a brisk pace. More than the other two films, this one feels more like an episode of the original series thanks in part to director Leonard Nimoy’s obvious familiarity with the characters and situation. But a careful examination would have to conclude that the script needed another pass before filming began. The film feels disjointed at times and seems to be in a rush to go from one plot point to another; in the meantime some unanswered questions pop up about plot developments.

shoot

The film begins not long after Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, the Enterprise is heading  back to Earth after Khan (Ricardo Montalban) and Spock’s (Leonard Nimoy) death. Commanding officer Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) is visibly depressed over the loss of his friend. Most of the young cadets onboard the ship during the last film have been transferred elsewhere. Saavik (now portrayed by Robin Curtis because Kristie Alley and the producers couldn’t agree on a salary) has been assigned to a science vessel called Grissom orbiting the new Genesis Planet (after Khan detonated the stolen Genesis Device, it created the planet). Assisting her with researching Genesis is Kirk’s son, Dr. David Marcus (Merritt Butrick), developer of the rapid terraforming process that created the planet. Even though his mother, Dr. Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch), was a major character in the previous film, her absence in this film is never explained at all. In reality, writer and producer Harve Bennett needed to make budget cuts and felt her character wasn’t essential to the story. That was the first clue that the script was off.

Meanwhile, Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley) is behaving strangely, actually he begins acting like Spock and even sounds like him. But there isn’t any effort to get him any help.

excelsior

The Enterprise arrives at a huge Spacedock orbiting Earth and sees the next generation of starships, the Excelsior, whose commandeered by an arrogant Captain Stiles (James Sikking). He would’ve been a good foil for Kirk but that is never explored. Throughout the film, members of Starfleet show an obvious disregard and disrespect toward Kirk and his crewmates that is a bit baffling and undercuts their supposedly legendary status. Perhaps they weren’t that highly thought of in their time.

Kirk and his crew learn from the commander of Starfleet, Admiral Morrow (Robert Hooks) that the Enterprise will be decommissioned because of its age. They are also ordered not to discuss the matter of Genesis, since it has become a political hot potato.

meldSpock’s father, Sarek (Mark Lenard) visits Kirk at his apartment and demands to know why he left his son’s body on Genesis and didn’t bring back his katra or his spiritual essence to Vulcan. According to Vulcan belief, when a Vulcan is dying, he or she mind melds with a close associate so that the katra can be transferred into that person. Both the katra and body are needed to give a proper burial and that if the katra remains with the associate it will mean that person’s death. The entire matter isn’t properly explained but that is the script for you. After looking at the Enterprise’s video logs, Kirk discovers that right before he died, Spock quickly performed a mind meld with McCoy. This explains the doctor’s odd behavior since he has Spock’s katra.

Kirk decides to risk everything to retrieve Spock’s body and soul because of his friendship. However, Admiral Morrow forbids Kirk from returning to the Genesis Planet and won’t budge. Kirk gets annoyed and resolves to go anyway as he tells the Enterprise helmsman Sulu (George Takei), “The word is no. I am therefore going anyway.”

escapeHe frees an imprisoned McCoy slated to be turned over to a “Federation funny farm” because he tried to hire a ship to go to Genesis and his behavior has people convinced he’s insane. Kirk also steals Enterprise out of the Spacedock with the help of his crewmates Sulu, Scotty (James Doohan), Chekov (Walter Koenig) and Uhura (Nichelle Nichols). Apparently the only other ship in Spacedock that can pursue the Enterprise is the Excelsior, which is stopped dead in its track thanks to some sabotaging from Scotty. It seems odd that in such a space faring society, Kirk is unable to procure a private ship to go to Genesis. Stealing a badly damaged starship while fun to watch, fails to quell the question of why do it? The Enterprise needs repairs and will make an easy target. It would’ve made more sense if they quietly took another ship and snuck away.

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Star Trek Movie Retrospective–Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan

Spock: “The needs of the many …”

Kirk: “…outweigh the needs of the few.”

Spock: “Or the one.”

An exchange between Spock and James T. Kirk onboard the Enterprise

khan posterStar Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan was a radical departure from its predecessor Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which is what Paramount Pictures wanted. Even though Star Trek: The Motion Picture made money it was perceived as a failure. Many people complained that it was dull and pretentious. In other words, they wanted action! And that is what director Nicholas Meyer delivered with Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, only he added a human element that elevated the film to classic status.

This film is the most personal Star Trek film out of the many that have come out. Its main characters go through some intense and heartfelt emotional journeys and are changed forever. Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner in his best performance as Kirk) faces the prospect of middle age and looking back at his life. His best friend Captain Spock (Leonard Nimoy) faces his mortality with a sense of bravery and nobility that touched audiences’ heart in a way that would have been more lasting if his fate had been final. On the other side of the coin, the main villain Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban) is wracked with bitterness and hate over his lot in life and in the end this anger consumes him.

trek 2 crew

In the original Star Trek episode “Space Seed” Khan was part of a group genetically enhanced despots from Earth’s violent past found hibernating by Kirk and his crew. After briefly capturing the Enterprise, Kirk defeats him and exiles him and the other superhumans to an uninhabited planet.

In between that episode and the film, the planet. Ceti Alpha V, underwent an environmental disaster that made it practically unlivable. Think of Tatooine on its worst day with blistering sandstorms. Most of Khan’s people didn’t survive, including his wife. Now, Khan is a seething cauldron of fury out to annihilate the one he blames for his predicament: James T. Kirk.

Even though the film is a sequel to “Space Seed” it skillfully brings viewers up to speed with only a few lines of exposition regarding Khan, who is portrayed magnificently by Montalban. The actor originated the role of Khan in “Space Seed” and testmade a solid impression in that episode but by the time that the first Star Trek sequel came around, Montalban was more known for his role in the show Fantasy Island. His performance as Khan demonstrated the true nature of his acting prowess thanks to his bringing to the role a sense of regal eloquence, animalistic charisma, and maligned fury.

The film opens with the Enterprise, commanded by a young Vulcan  named Saavik (Kristie Alley in her first role), being attacked by Klingon ships and losing the battle with main characters like Spock being killed. But it was a simulation at Starfleet Academy. Some time has passed between Star Trek: The Motion Picture and this film. One noticeable difference is that the Starfleet uniforms are now bright red jackets with black pants giving its personnel a more militaristic look. The filmmakers wanted to convey a sense of naval conditions with this film since they saw it as a retake of Horatio Hornblower. In fact, the feel of Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan feels more grounded, less lofty than in the first film. Sets look more cramped and a bit more lived in although not as severe as with Star Warsor Alien. A good eye will spot a No Smoking sign on the set, which alarmed some fans who hoped that the awful habit would’ve been gone by the 23rd century.

The actual Enterprise is now training vessel commanded by Spock for young cadets and officers, including Spock’s protogé Saavik. Kirk is no longer commanding a starship and feels like a relic, in spite of the fact that it’s his birthday. Gifts from Spock and Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley) do little to cheer him up, prompting McCoy to urge him to do something with himself and stop living in the past.

reliant

Around this time, the starship Reliant approach the barren Ceti Alpha V, which is to be used as a testbed for the Genesis science experiment. Kirk’s former lover Dr. Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch) and her son David (Merritt Butrick) have developed the Genesis Device, which can initiate rapid terraforming on inhospitable worlds for colonization. The Reliant’s captain Clark Terrel (Paul Winfield) and first officer, the former Enterprise navigator Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig) beam down to the planet investigate life signs only to find Khan and his people marooned there. After capturing the two men, Khan and his genetic superhumans gain control of the ship and set out on a mission of vengeance.

khan castKirk joins Spock onboard the Enterprise with his original crewmates to assist with a training cruise for Starfleet cadets. They receive a call from Dr. Marcus wanting to know why Kirk is taking the Genesis Device. What she and Kirk don’t realize is that Khan is trying to lure Kirk by manipulating a brainwashed Chekov into stating that Admiral Kirk wants the Device. Kirk takes the bait and orders the Enterprise to head out to Marcus’ science station Regula I, which orbits an asteroid the station is named after, and investigate. In a preemptive move, Spock relinquishes command of the Enterprise to his friend because as he famously said, “Commanding a starship is your first, best destiny; anything else is a waste of material.”

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Top 10 Summer Of 1982 Movies

While we’re in the midst of this summer’s crop of movies, one thing to remember is that it’s the 30th anniversary of the summer of 1982 films. That summer saw the release of many genre classics that are still revered today.

10. Firefox: Clint Eastwood’s stars as an emotionally fragile fighter pilot who is assigned to steal a Soviet stealth fighter plane. The sci-fi twist? The plane’s weaponry operates on thought. This underrated Cold War thriller is tense and riveting with some slick visuals of the plane in action.

9. The Secret Of NIMH: Former Disney animator Don Bluth showed up his old studio with this visually stunning animated feature. Beautiful layouts and designs highlight this tale of a mother mouse seeking aid from a society of rats with artificially enhanced intelligence.

8. Tron: Admittedly, the then-groundbreaking computerized special effects don’t hold up today, but Tron laid the groundwork for future CG productions. This film’s production design is very distinct and otherworldly and Tron gave viewers a fascinating cyberworld to explore in future follow-ups.

7. Conan The Barbarian: Arnold Schwarzenegger was perfectly cast as the title hero in this violent sword-and-sorcery film. While The Terminator truly made him a star, this film put Schwarzenegger on the map as he flexed his mighty muscles and hacked away at his enemies.

6. Poltergeist: Despite the ongoing controversy of who really directed this horror classic (either producer Steven Spielberg or listed director Tobe Hooper), this movie about evil spirits haunting a typical suburban family is very frightening with jump-out-of-your-seat thrills and special effects. It made many wary about falling asleep in front of a TV!

5. The Road Warrior: Technically this movie was released overseas in 1981 but didn’t premiere in the U.S. until the summer of 1982, so that is why it’s on the list. This sequel to Mad Max (about a renegade ex-cop in a dystopian future fighting crazy thugs that rule the highways in their custom vehicles) is actually a thrilling, white-knuckle action flick with kinetic car chases and stunt work.

4. The Thing: John Carpenter helmed this remake of the Howard Hawkes 1950s classic that is actually superior to the original thanks to a moody, paranoid setting and disgustingly gory makeup effects. Unfortunately, this movie about a deadly shape-shifting alien in an Antarctic research base bombed in theaters in the summer of 1982 but has attained a classic status over the years.

3. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial: Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece about a lonely boy who befriends a stranded alien won near universal acclaim and was the biggest box office hit for many years. It’s quite a wonder that still holds up today and would rank higher if not for the fact that E.T. hasn’t persevered in the popular culture and geekdom circles as much as the next two movies. Nonetheless, it’s still a terrific film that must be watched by film lovers.

2. Blade Runner: Ridley Scott directed this eye-popping, futuristic, detective noir movie. Blade Runner happens to be one of the earliest and best cyberpunk presentations ever filmed. Harrison Ford stars as Rick Deckard, a specialized cop who is brought out of retirement to hunt down renegade Replicants (synthetic humans). Along with the striking visuals of a crowded, deteriorating Los Angeles, this movie brings up many philosophical questions about what it means to be human and the impact of emotions and memories on souls.

1. Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan: As with The Empire Strikes Back, Star Trek II set standards for movie sequels. Generally regarded as the best Trek film, many subsequent films in the franchise (and other movie franchises) tried to copy Star Trek II’s winning formula. The movie has great character development, nifty special effects and an engaging storyline about growing old and being obsessed with vengeance. While other movie in this list may be considered superior in terms of the filmmaking talent behind them, Star Trek II is still emulated to this day. How many times has anyone screamed out “Khaaaan!” or talked about the Kobayashi Maru scenario? Also Ricardo Montalban’s classic portrayal of the revenge-minded Khan elevated that character as not just Star Trek’s best villain but as one of the best ever seen on film.

Lewis T. Grove