I wouldn't call myself a Star Trek fan, but somehow I'd found myself buying the movies on DVD. I'll start with the ST:TOS ones: 1-6. Of these, I ended up enjoying the "good movies" least. 2 & 6 appear to be generally reckoned the best, but I found them the least diverting. 2 is overrated in my opinion, not much to write home about except when it kills Spock. It's the nastiest of them, with ear-burrowing parasites and some gore during the starship battles, but it's still a Star Trek movie. Its big climax is space-chess. Star Trek movies aren't exciting, thrilling or anything like that... they're just Star Trek. I enjoy them for the incidental pleasures, to which I'll proceed now.
1. The sense of wonder, which is mostly in the odd-numbered ones. There's some serious SF in these films, with The Motionless Picture being out-and-out Arthur C. Clarke material. The Final Frontier has wonder too, especially with God. The more you think about them, the cooler those last scenes get. What is that thing? Who imprisoned it? What would happen if it got out? On first viewing it just comes across as Big Talking Head with a bad temper, but there's actually some seriously high stakes at the end of the fifth movie. And the Genesis project with the resurrection of Spock is pretty mind-expanding too.
2. The regulars. Nimoy and Kelley are excellent, but Shatner rules! The man is awesome! The man's a demigod, one of the most endlessly watchable actors of all time. For entertainment value you can't beat him. We're talking "rewind the DVD to watch that bit again" performance levels here. He's perhaps at his best in the early movies. He's not Shatner-ing it up quite so much in 5, perhaps thanks to directorial duties getting on top of him, though that film does give the regulars some lovely quiet scenes together. Then in 6 he's not yet back on form either. However I could watch those three actors reading the telephone directory together. They're charming.
3. The films' internal continuity is lovely. There are lots of little details to reward the Trek-a-thon viewer, such as return visits for Saavik, the Excelsior, etc., and quite a few films carry on directly from the one before.
Going through individually:
I - THE MOTIONLESS PICTURE, director's cut. Awesome! Serious SF sense-of-wonder and I love the Voyager concept. I liked Sexy Bald Woman too, but funkiest of all is the Battlestar Galactica look. Star Trek pretty much slept through the 1970s, but for this one outing it couldn't be more seventies if it was on the disco floor with John Travolta.
II - WRATH OF KHAN. Kinda underwhelming, except for the death scene.
III - SEARCH FOR SPOCK. That's better! Fascinating sci-fi, good scenes for the regulars and Christopher Lloyd makes a great Klingon. He's a smart Klingon too, showing far more intelligence than Khan the supposed super-genius.
IV - THE VOYAGE HOME. Could the ecological message be sledgehammered home any less subtly? But goddamn it, this film's hilarious! I was howling!
V - THE FINAL FRONTIER. I saw this in the cinema. God, it was shite. Gene Rodenberry's Other Idea gets rejigged for the big screen after being done half a dozen times on the original series. On rewatching, the script felt disjointed. The last act comes straight out of left field and chucks out everything we thought was important until then. But the passionate Vulcan is the series' most interesting bad guy so far and I dig this movie. Maybe I'd be less keen on it had I seen all the TOS episodes that I hear have exactly the same premise, but the mad god rattling the bars of his cage tickles my imagination. However I can't leave without mentioning Uhura's fan dance. NO! No no no. Bad mistake. Had this been in the first film in 1979, no problem. She was still distracting back then. Ten years later she just looked like someone's Mum. Dammit, why was this the only film without a sexy intellectual chick to fulfil these vital plot roles? Ouch.
VI - THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY. I saw this in the cinema too and went away happy. Again, it's a good movie. It has a stronger plot and more menace than some of the others... but unfortunately it's still a Star Trek film. Political allegory isn't as thought-provoking as sci-fi high concepts, and the Trek crew get fewer chances to be charming. However I liked the Shakespeare-quoting Chang.
As far as I'm concerned, so far my odd-numbered Trek movie rule is the opposite of everyone else's. With the exception of The Voyage Home, I enjoyed the odd-numbered ST:TOS films more than their even-numbered counterparts. As for the ST:TNG films... er. Um. The ST:TNG crew. I like Worf and Patrick Stewart is a good actor, but get them wrong and collectively they're almost unbearable. Riker is a personality-free zone. Why's he there? Ditto with the women and the black guy with the visor. Their scenes go nowhere and feel like dead air even when they're actually important set-up for, say, the Charles Dickens Christmas scenes in the Ribbon. Look, Picard's having an angst attack! Meanwhile scenes of Data getting emotional made me want to gnaw my own leg off.
Nevertheless watching all the movies together brought up my opinion of the ST:TNG crew somewhat, even if I still find their four movies less entertaining than even the worst Kirk-Spock-Bones film. They're fine in Nemesis, even at the wedding, and downright charming in Insurrection. There they made me laugh, and in a good way.
Another problem with the ST:TNG movies is the scriptwriting. I'd rank Generations and First Contact somewhere below Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers as examples of the scriptwriter's art. Berman and Braga are pretty much hated by all Trek fans as far as I can see, which makes perfect sense to me based on these the films. Generations gives far too much screen time to the regulars, without even beginning to understand what it's doing or why. After that, every single good thing about First Contact is in spite of its script, which does its darndest to undermine it all. The crew are better here... except (a) in the Earthbound scenes with Cochrane, and (b) any scene with Data. It's "gnaw your leg off time again".
I'd also like to challenge the notion that Star Trek should make action movies. Star Trek isn't exciting. Charm and high-concept SF are what make this franchise memorable, not rather sad attempts to outdo Star Wars. Nemesis looks good and First Contact has the Borg, but by and large these films go downhill fast during their gunfights and space battles. Although having said that, in fairness these four films all have strong bad guys. There's nothing like a good villain to spice up audience interest.
VII - GENERATIONS. I like it. Of course there's a lot wrong with it, mostly involving the words "Next" and "Generation". The holodeck scene at the beginning on the sailing ship made my Dad start asking me if Americans found these people interesting and whether it might be a cultural difference. Yes, they bored the arse off him too. However that aside there's a lot I like about this film, which I remember finding interesting on first viewing. Shatner is great. Obviously. Cool villain, too. In addition it has some intruiging concepts and for the last time sense-of-wonder SF in a Trek movie.
VIII - FIRST CONTACT
. The Borg are cool, but otherwise I hate this so much that I've given it a separate review. Shocking.
IX - INSURRECTION. Possibly the best of the four to my mind. It flirts with dullness, yes, but it comes nearest to capturing that Trekkish charm. I'd have preferred it without the hard edges sanded away, but for once they're playing to ST:TNG's strengths. They can't help being stomach-turningly nice whether it's appropriate or not, so why not make it a virtue? A story about ethical dilemmas and clever detective work is right up Picard's alley. It's quite funny, too. I also don't understand the "TV episode" criticism, since if you filed off the serial numbers and did this as a generic SF movie, the plot would bear up fine. I found it quite absorbing. It's a good film.
X - NEMESIS. Has a real snap to its visuals, showing the benefits of hiring a real director. This film looks good and by Trek standards is startling. Random comment: obviously there's a big twin thing going on. Picard-Shinzon, Data-B4 and even Romulus-Remus for the classicists out there. However is it just me or does it not really do anything with this? There's lots of talk between Picard and Shinzon, but at the end of the day he's just another baddie. Personally I don't even think he looks much like Patrick Stewart. He's shaved his head, but Tom Hardy's lips are much fuller. Ah well.
If I had to rank all the films in order, I guess it would go:
- 4: The Voyage Home
- 3: The Search For Spock
- 1: The Motionless Picture (director's cut)
- 5: The Final Frontier
- 2: Wrath of Khan
- 6: The Undiscovered Country
- 9: Insurrection
- 10: Nemesis
- 8: Generations
- 7: First Contact
I had to think about Insurrection versus Nemesis. Nemesis is better directed and makes more of a pretence at being exciting, but it's basically an action flick while Insurrection doesn't lower itself that far until nearly the end.
That said, I freely admit that I'm missing the point of Star Trek. It's about a noble vision of the future, in which mankind has conquered prejudice and is working as one to expand knowledge and make the universe a better place. It's optimistic. It's a message to believe in, for the future. I think that's great. I really do. However I can't help remembering the time when Star Trek basically got sued for being crap. The movies looking dead and Enterprise limping towards cancellation didn't please a computer games company with whom the Star Trek people had a ten-year licensing agreement.
Obviously I prefer Doctor Who. However I'd be mad not to acknowledge the importance of the Star Trek phenomenon. I just don't think it was ever the same after Shatner left.