Saga Review: Star Trek

Set phasers to kill, this saga review is the biggest yet (a record not likely to be broken for a while!) with all eleven current Star Trek films!

While I am not a raging Trekkie, I certainly know a fair amount about the universe; I never watched the 60s Original Series (and I still haven’t, except for the Tribbles episode because it’s hilarious) but I was addicted to the early 90s The Next Generation series. Every Wednesday at 6pm, and Patrick Stewart has been one of my iconic actors ever since.
As for Deep Space Nine, the third series, I watched ninety-percent of it, mostly for the insane amounts of space battles and sieges it had (Trekkie-speak: the USS Defiant is still awesome). However the late 90s saw Voyager and then Enterprise, and while Voyager had its moments, a lot of its potential was completely lost by the end.
Enterprise…. we don’t talk about Enterprise
It killed the franchise stone dead.

But despite that, and whether you want to admit it or not, Star Trek is one of the longest running franchises ever made (perhaps only equalled by James Bond) with the first episode airing in 1966 and the first film releasing in 1979. That’s nearly five decades, and with the highly successful 2009 film and a sequel due June 2012, it looks to continue!

So let’s take a look at eleven movies, and for any non-Trekkies, maybe a little education!

Disclaimer: Ratings may be biased Trek-against-Trek, rather than with films in general.


Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

Star Trek begins its epic big screen adventure with a strange, mightily slow paced experience. For Gene Roddenberry’s universe to be realised “realistically” the filmmakers appear to have pinched several elements from 2001: A Space Odyssey; trading loveable character interaction for extremely lengthy abstract visuals of space phenomenon.

The story, simply put, sees a new but untested USS Enterprise reclaimed by a returning Captain Kirk and crew, sent out to explore and prevent a malicious energy cloud that approaches Earth.
Many people will find the movie’s lack of excitement extremely tedious, but for a Trek geek there is a lot of grounding here; the mantra of “going where no one has gone before” cannot be faulted here.
But personally, for what little romanticism there is, the film fails to use the excellent characters at all, and the final payoff is terribly flawed.

Really, this film is best suited for Trekkies and die-hard science fiction fans.


Additional Marshmallows: The director also did the original The Day the Earth Stood Still, A Sound of Music and West Side Story……. This explains a lot!


Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Virtually resetting the Star Trek movies, Wrath of Khan explodes onto the big screen, arguably becoming the best of the Original Series movies if not of all the movies.

Captain Kirk (now an Admiral) and crew are separated, and feel the woes of old age creeping up on them, but while aiding a science team Kirk is met by an old nemesis from the past who seeks vengeance. Khan’s plan involves stealing The Genesis Device, a powerful terra-forming device that can give life to entirely barren planets. In the process, it can also extinguish life on a global scale.

The film excels with plenty of dialogue between the three key characters – Kirk, Spock and McCoy – and encapsulates and empowers the show’s strengths. My personal favourite element of this film is how ninety percent of it takes place in space and aboard the Enterprise; this is the essence of the show!

William Shatner’s overacting matches wonderfully with Ricardo Montalban’s Khan, who returns from the character’s debut in the Original Series episode Botany Bay fifteen years previously – now that is dedication!
The pace is rapid, the effects are a little dated but still good, the score by James Horner (Aliens) is exciting, and overall I would say any sci-fi fan would enjoy! Trekkies undoubtedly adore it, and I’d dare say the movie is too short!


Say it with me:

KHAAAAAAN!!!


Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)

Trek’s own Leonard Nimoy directs his first film, and a theme of life and death runs through the third Star Trek instalment, as it continues straight off the back of Wrath of Khan with mixed results.

It even has the debut of Klingons in the Star Trek movies (ignoring the brief moment in The Motion Picture) though the casting of Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future) as their commander is truly bewildering!
Doctor McCoy finds he has become host to Spock’s soul, and Admiral Kirk must return to the life-giving Genesis planet to find Spock’s physical form. Meanwhile, a Klingon commander wants the Genesis device for himself.
The pacing is slower than with Khan, dealing with some metaphysical topics, but Kirk’s crew stealing the decommissioned Enterprise is a great sequence.

Characters weren’t used to as great effect as one might hope; I’m sure there is more comic material available for McCoy hosting Spock’s soul!
Not as weak as other Star Treks as it ties with Khan quite nicely, although better have been seen!


Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

Hold on to something… it is about to get silly.

So there is a gigantic black cylinder with an attached golf ball approaching Earth, and threatens to destroy humanity unless the Enterprise crew go back in time to 1986 San Francisco and rescue two humpback whales.

Leonard Nimoy openly admitted to wanting the Star Trek movies to be more “light hearted” and well, he got his wish. While there is nothing new about time travel in science-fiction, it is funny to realise that characters quipping 80s jargon ages sci-fi more than any wobbly space ships ever could!

Add to this an extremely heavy handed eco-friendly message against whalers, to the degree in which there is a documentary video shown, and the crew even pilot their Klingon Bird of Prey against a whaler frigate!
I used to think this film was decent, but looking back it is one of the weaker movies. The way they treat the poor Russian Chekov; having him run around asking American police “Where can I find the nuclear wessels?” is almost painful!
There are scenes that file under ‘guilty pleasure’, mostly Spock and Doctor McCoy’s interactions in the 20th century, but as a finale to the “Star Trek Trilogy” (2, 3, 4) it is overly preachy and hammed up!


Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

In the same way as I disliked A Voyage Home more than I remembered… I liked The Final Frontier more.
Helmed by William Shatner, Star Trek 5 probably has one of the most questionable premises of any of the films. Aboard the new Enterprise-A the crew rescue hostages held by a visionary Vulcan who is seeking the “source of all creation” at the centre of the galaxy. In short, he is looking for god.

While the story is questionable, the movie does have some of the best dialogue and character interaction between the crew! It isn’t even limited to Kirk, Spock and McCoy this time.

Some of the special effects are a little hokey; this is due to Industrial Light and Magic unfortunately unable to support this film, busy with Ghostbusters 2 and others.
It should also be noted that the sets used for the Enterprise-A were also being used (and would be used in future) for The Next Generation television show!
Overall the dialogue and characters are here in splendid form, somewhat lacking in the other films, but the plot is quite limited and the effects are not spectacular.


Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

A fitting and excellent end of the Original Series cast and crew movie franchise, in memory of series creator Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek 6 addresses endings and new beginnings.

The Federation finds itself potentially without need of Starfleet when the warrior race of Klingons looks to sign a peace treaty. Despite his justified hatred for Klingons (and a gulf of morality widening between him and his old friend Spock) the demoted Captain Kirk must escort the aliens’ ambassador. But when the Enterprise crew are set up for killing the ambassador, they must fight to uncover a conspiracy that threatens a new future of peace.
Easily the best Trek since Wrath of Khan, this film boasts the best visual effects, set design and costumes yet seen, and gives the old crew a bright and hopeful send off!

All of the characters get their moments of trademark witty dialogue too, while the Klingons have their best performance in the movie franchise (despite the malicious General Chang quoting Shakespeare every other line!)
It may feel a little long if only for its political trappings, and the ending is somewhat abrupt, however it feels like the proud send off these memorable characters needed.


Additional Marshmallows: Michael Dorn, The Next Generation’s / Deep Space Nine’s Worf plays Captain Kirk’s defence in the Klingon trial as the character “Worf”, there is never been a reference of this being the same character.


Star Trek: Generations (1994)

Star Trek 7 passes the torch of the franchise to the popular Next Generation crew and Patrick Stewart’s Captain Picard, proving to be a keystone Trek-fest, but a weaker movie.

78 years have passed since Captain Kirk was presumably killed by an “energy ribbon” while defending the Enterprise-B, and the new Enterprise-D crew are answering a distress call from a space station. They find an obsessed scientist who will stop at nothing to return to the Nexus, a heavenly otherworld within the same energy ribbon, even if he must destroy worlds to get there.

The film released not long after the Next Generation series ended (the same year in America) and it is obvious; there is little to no character development and it takes everything for granted, making the film very weak on its own.
The entire two hour length is a build up to the great final battle between the two Captains and the manic scientist Soran (played by the ever-capable Malcolm McDowell) and it is here we get the most character story and development, even referring as far back as Wrath of Khan.

Watching the Trek films in sequence, Generations is a moving experience for the final act, and while Kirk and Picard could have met within a better story, it isn’t half bad. There are some excellent visual effects now, and the crew have some funny moments; it feels like a new beginning.


Additional Marshmallows: An officer on the Enterprise-B bridge is played by Tim Russ, later seen as a Tuvok in Star Trek Voyager series.

The exploding Bird of Prey footage is reused from Star Trek 6: Undiscovered Country.


Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

Following the events of one of The Next Generation’s darkest episodes Best of Both Worlds, Star Trek 8 is perhaps the scariest of all the Trek films yet.
Captain Picard finds himself facing his greatest fear; The Borg, a race of cybernetic creatures united within a collective conscience, have returned to enslave the human race. Their plan takes the Enterprise crew into Earth’s ruinous past and to stop humanity’s crucial first contact with alien life.
The film is packed, every character has their time to shine, while the action is fast paced and relentless. The Borg are an unending wave, making most of the movie very similar to a zombie film! There are comedic moments too, not overly silly but charming and uplifting.

Perhaps Patrick Stewart’s best performance as Picard; a man of unwavering integrity is shaken by fear and the dread of that integrity being corrupted. Alice Krige (the first powerful female villain in the Star Trek films) does an excellent job, as does Alfre Woodard as Lily, a woman from the past who must confront and control Picard’s fearful revenge.
While it does link directly to the television show episodes, it is one of the best stand alone Star Trek movies ever made. Am I saying that because I grew up with Next Generation and adore The Borg? Maybe a little.


Additional Marshmallows: Asides Star Trek Voyager’s Robert Picardo’s obvious cameo as the hologram doctor, Ethan Phillips (who played Neelix in the same show) features as a waiter in the holodeck scene.


Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)

Jonathan Frakes (Riker from the Next Generation crew) reprises the role of director, but this time branches into the more light-hearted territory of Star Trek.
The crew arrive at an idyllic paradise when a covert observation team studying the native Baku is discovered. As it turns out, the Federation are aiding a race known as the Son’a against the Baku, to steal the planet’s youth-giving properties.
The film’s theme is youth, home and relocation, and while it is a noble theme I don’t feel it justified an entire feature. It is rife with goofball humour, some of which is quite good but most just grate on my patience.
The idea of youth is interesting, especially for Picard’s character since he is career-driven yet longs for a second chance at a family.

But corners are frequently cut; why does Worf go through Klingon puberty, the Baku do not youth that young, so why does he, except for a cheap laugh? WHY did Data have to turn into a sodding inflatable life-raft? Can everyone freeze time, or is it just the Baku, or does the planet allow them to? Why is Worf even there? Why does the Enterprise have an optional JOYSTICK control now!?
There is also a terrible scene at the finale where we see, clear as day, massive amounts of blue-screen visible. Whether they ran out of budget and hoped no one would notice… nobody knows.
I respect the attempt at character development of my favourite crew, but this was not the way to do it; lacklustre, full of holes and with only a few merits.


Additional Marshmallows: The film’s script was originally very different. It was dark and grim; involving Picard losing everything, including the Enterprise, and left with only his stern integrity. The studio rejected it, and so three writers amended it (and badly) into Insurrection.


Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)

So ends the adventures of Captain Picard and the Next Generation crew and unfortunately… the word here is: overcomplicated, a contrived end unfitting for the excellent crew.

Rumours of peace coming from Romulus prompt the crew to delay Riker and Troi’s honeymoon, only to find the Romulans under the command of Shinzon, a clone of Captain Picard, bent on mass genocide. Meanwhile, an android identical to Data is recovered.
In a bid to recover from the lacklustre Insurrection, the makers of Nemesis threw too much at the audience, while seemingly still unable to write a concise storyline. There are some great space battles in the finale, much more physical than previously seen (and without stupid joystick controls!) but this is too little too late.
Tom Hardy (now of Inception fame) plays the role of Picard’s younger clone, and here is the rub; he looks nothing like a younger Picard. For one, Picard had hair when he was younger. You cannot justify “Picard is bald, ergo a young clone must be bald to have likeness”, that is what we call laughable! I don’t deny that Hardy does his best with what little he has though.
A much, much simpler story lurks under this mess; ST:TNG had great episodes involving Romulans, and an exact clone of Picard (ie two Patrick Stewarts) could have worked, and the weird Reman aliens (which look like space Nosferatu) are completely pointless. The crew also bow out with one of the biggest, wretched cop outs in Trek film history, proving the writers had no gall.

Overall, some excellent space battle dramatics, an underlying character study for Picard and Data which is interesting but cluttered beyond recognition. An unsatisfying closure to an era.


Additional Marshmallows: Star Trek Nemesis is the lowest grossing film in the franchise. I would insist Insurrection had a part to play in the franchise’s demise however.


Star Trek (2009)

When a colossal Romulan ship travels back in time, its vengeful commander seeking war against Vulcans and the Federation, history is altered and Kirk’s father is killed.
After seven years the Star Trek franchise bursts back into life with extraordinary flare and confidence. The crew from the original television series are reborn with new actors yet with uncanny casting choices, especially Zachary Quinto (of Heroes television fame) as a young Spock. Even Karl Urban tackles the difficult role of filling DeForest Kelly’s shoes as Doctor McCoy.
The special effects, action direction and set designs are refreshing to the eye, bright colours and wide open spaces. Plus there are some great space ship designs (except maybe the colossal Romulan pinecone) as the old Enterprise has never looked so gloriously rendered.
Continuity with the original show and previous films remains and Kirk, although now with a different start in life, maintains the same neuroses – “facing death” – and provides insightful backstory. However I hold the worst for last; Spock and Uhura. Why? The relationship comes out of nowhere, and felt forced.
I am excited to see more from this series, and I hope they at least get three firm entries! Trust Star Trek to get away with a remake scot free.

Star Trek: Into Darkness does many things I love in its effort to extend a seemingly undying franchise!

After Starfleet has had enough of Captain Kirk’s reckless and complacent actions they have him demoted and his ship taken away. But no sooner does a mysterious terrorist called John Harrison emerge from the shadows with the desire to destroy all of Starfleet. Only Kirk and his crew can stop him.

The reborn Star Trek series did one thing right, and fortunately it is continuing to reap the benefits of that decision. The 2009 remake made it clear that these new series of events are a new, divergent timeline and as a result the writers can do almost anything! Into Darkness plays a lot of cards that the Star Trek fans will get instantly, and better still they cannot technically cry foul of any references or changes.

It might sound like I am saying this is a remake. Not at all. Part of this new series strength lies in its ability to be completely different, yet have some historically significant events. Awesome for those of us who know our Trek, because we are left in suspense; wondering if what we think we know will happen or not…
I cannot spoil anything for you all (a testimony to film these days: I’ve had several reviews recently where I have had to cut short of the juicy details!) but I can talk about how the continuity of the first film is still here. The music is bombastic and victorious, the ships are great to look at, the characters are still as loveable as before, reminding us why we like them so much. They each get their time to shine, Simon Pegg’s Scotty is great as ever.

However I still don’t buy into the Uhura/Spock romance… it has been four years and I still think its stupid, and this film does little to validate its existence. Some of the dialogue is a little repetitive, boiling down to the old “Kirk/Spock logic-vs-emotion” chestnut frequently. The editing is insane at times, we are flung around with characters moving place to place rapidly (if you aren’t awake you will slip up) and it does suffer from action sequences that are too fast (I saw this in 2D, I dread to think how this movement registers in the darker 3D.) I also found the addition of Alice Eve’s character Carol Marcus a little… pointless? (trailer fodder?)

But that’s all my negatives right there. Benedict Cumberbatch does not disappoint and steals every scene he is in without saying anything (and when he does speak, there’s a ton of gravity in it!) he makes the rest of the cast look incredibly vulnerable. This film takes on board what I always believe is true: set up your heroes first (ie Star Trek 2009) then hit them hard with a relentless villain.

The film is fast paced; you won’t feel the two hours pass by. And yes, there are still plenty of JJ Abrams lens flares. There are some little things that bother me, and it might be better on a second viewing, but it is still Star Trek, and that means it is a fun, exciting and entertaining science fiction adventure!


Additional Marshmallows: If you have already looked this up on IMDB these days, then a major element of the film has already been spoiled for you… I was lucky enough to not have this happen, and I strongly advise you do not look at the page until after you’ve seen the film!

As much of a fan of The Next Generation as I am (and always will be) watching the films again unnervingly tells me how much better the original crew are… They are just more likeable, more human and flawed.
This is likely due to the misfortune that befell the writing for their films… Generations was unique, Insurrection and Nemesis were appalling, leaving First Contact alone to support and give big screen life to my favourite crew. I could not ask for a better film to do it, however.

There were rumours of a Deep Space Nine film, and fleeting rumours of Voyager getting big screen treatment, but by 2002 those series weren’t regarded as strong enough. Insurrection is full of DS9 references, perhaps one too many as it only bludgeoned even harder the fact that Worf shouldn’t even be there; he should be (and was, somehow simultaneously) fighting the Dominion War! As for Voyager, Nemesis gave us a cameo from Captain (sorry, Admiral) Janeway. Whoopie-doo…

Given how awful Voyager’s conclusion was, and how unspeakably bad Enterprise became, the 2009 movie was truly unexpected in its excellence. I had doubts about Lost’s J.J Abrams abilities directing something as diverse and precise as Star Trek, but he did incredibly well.

And there you have it, all twelve Trek films! It has genuinely been a enlightening experience, and any Trekkies out there should try it (if you haven’t already!) and find all the subtle references throughout.

As for the rest of you, I hope you found at least some of it interesting 😉

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