Sunday, November 15, 2009

Rating the Star Trek Films

To celebrate the DVD release of Star Trek (2009), I'm going to rate the all eleven films, starting with the worst and finishing with the best. First, let's get some introductory issues out of the way. I grade all the Star Trek films from excellent (A) to average (C). There are no bombs in the Star Trek movie library. Second, here are some notes to Bad Robot, who is developing the next Star Trek film. Stop making Wrath of Khan. I'm sick of seeing a plot with a bad guy seeking revenge. See Star Trek: Insurrection, Nemesis and the new film. Don't let actors develop the screenplays. See Star Trek V and Star Trek: Nemesis. Finally, could we have some space exploration? I'm not talking about a lot here. But the opening monologue talks about exploring strange new worlds, and seeking new life and civilizations. Now let's boldly go and rate the Star Trek films.

11. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) Spock's half brother steals the Enterprise to find God. What?! Directed and partly written by William Shatner, this silly movie is the worse of all the Trek films. In it, you have Kirk, Spock and McCoy sitting around the campfire singing, "Row, row, row your boat." You've got Uhura doing a fan dance. Scotty knocks himself out walking into a support beam. Ha. Grade: C.

10. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) A massive alien cloud called V'ger heads to earth with possible harmful intentions. The Enterprise must stop it. It's the return of Star Trek after the classic series was cancelled. You had a film helmed by Robert Wise, of The Day the Earth Stood Still and the Sound of Music. What could go wrong? Well, the film is similar to the second season episode "The Changeling." There is also a lack of dramatic tension because the cloud is well, nebulous. The saving grace is Jerry Goldsmith's majestic score. The main theme is so good, it's used again as the theme for the Next Generation television show. Grade: B Minus.

9. Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) Capt. Picard (Patrick Stewart) must stop the Federation from exploiting a planet inhabited by a bunch of New Age aliens. We are introduced to F. Murray Abraham's Ru'afo who also wants to exploit the planet and also seek revenge on the planet. See Khan.

This movie feels like an elongated episode of the Star Trek: Next Generation. The aliens look like humans probably to allow for a romance between Picard and the lead female alien, Donna Murphy. Ru'afo also has a disgusting skin stretching procedure to keep feeling young. What's the point here? I'm sure Abraham was saying to himself, "Wasn't I in Amadeus?"Writers Rick Berman and Micheal Piller who come from the TV side of Star Trek put together a story that feels like an inside joke. Still, it's well made and somewhat entertaining. Grade: B Minus.

8. Star Trek: Generations (1994) Picard must stop an addicted scientist from destroying stars to move an energy ribbon which has trapped Captain James T. Kirk. (William Shatner) Look, rather than having Kirk stuck in an energy ribbon why didn't the writers just have a way for him to travel into the future? And how do you travel from the ribbon into the real universe? Tap your magic slippers? Additionally, there's no need to kill off Kirk. This movie is saved by great action set pieces, humor and Dennis McCarthy's dynamic score. Grade: B.

7. Star Trek: Nemesis (2002) Picard's clone seeks to kill Picard and destroy life on earth. You see the clone was created as a replacement and spy for Romulus. Once the plan was abandoned, the clone was exiled on Remus, a planet of mines to die. If this sounds all like Khan, it should. There's even a heroic sacrifice and death. Data. Of course, the story allows for a resurrection of sorts like Star Trek 3 because at the end of the movie there exists a prototype of Data. Excellent action sequences but we've seen this before. There's a story assist by Brent Spiner. I hope the future producers of Star Trek will ignore story ideas by the stars because having Data sing "Blue Skies" is goofy. Okay, use them only if they're good and original Grade: B.

6. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) Kirk and McCoy on a diplomatic mission are framed for the assassination of the Klingon leader. This film is the swan song for the original crew. It does them justice. There's action. Intrigue. Who framed Kirk and McCoy and why? There's humor. You got to give it to Shatner for some of the jokes at his expense. And there is a great message, about letting go of hate and changing for the better. Grade: B.

5. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) Remember Star Trek II where Spock dies? Well, they left a way to resurrect him. You see the Enterprise fired Spock's torpedo towards the Genesis planet which creates life from matter. Meanwhile McCoy has Spock's katra, his living soul inside of him. To save Spock, Kirk steals the Enterprise and goes to Genesis to find Spock. Then they must go to Vulcan so the soul and body can be united. Whew. Trust me you'll like it. Leonard Nimoy directs this solemn and enjoyable journey of the crew of the Enterprise. Grade: B.

4. Star Trek (2009) Romulan Nero goes through a black hole trying to enact revenge on Spock and goes back in time changing the timeline. The film then traces how the crew of the Enterprise got together. We see young Kirk and Spock before Starfleet Academy. But the timeline has been significantly changed as evidenced by the destruction of Vulcan, one of founding planets of the Federation. However, some of the forty years of Star Trek canon survive. Update: What has happened is that Nero's appearance in the past has caused a second or alternte reality. It is in essence a parallel universe. So, Trek canon has survived but now Bad Robot can alter old canon in this new universe.

The good. Director J. J. Abrams has crafted a well made and entertaining film. The special effects are spectacular. The cast does a great job. There's some very funny moments. The movie is going to get young people to look at Star Trek.

The bad. This is a shallow film. Kirk (Chris Pine) comes off as an insolent jerk. The humor at times comes at the expense of Star Trek canon. See Kirk munch on an apple while defeating the Kobayashi Maru test. There's some strange logic too. See Chekov run to the transporter room to teleport Kirk and Sulu as they are falling to their death. Okay, by the time he gets there, Kirk and Sulu should be road kill. And altering the timeline is a cheap way to reboot the series. There was no need to do this. There's a galaxy of stories that could be told within the existing timeline. Why destroy Vulcan? That leaves the Federation with the alien pig race Tellarites and Andorians to protect us from the Klingons and Romulans. Heaven help us.

(From "Journey to Babel" TOS, the alien pig race, Tellarites. These guys against the Klingons, I smell bacon.)

Abrams is more of a Star Wars fan. (Entertainment Weekly, Oct. 24, 2008, pg. 29) But Star Trek is not Star Wars. Star Trek stands for intelligent science fiction not fantasy. Heck, the series had science advisors. Yet, this movie at times felt more like Star Wars not Star Trek.

One quick note on the soundtrack. Micahel Giacchino is wonderful composer. But on this one, he struck out. The main theme is in a minor key. Now, I like minor key melodies too, but for Star Trek? The dour theme could be Spock's song but the main theme of any Star Trek movie must inspire. And by inspire, I mean make one yearn to explore the stars. Thankfully, he adds Alexander Courage's optimistic original TV theme for the end.

Does all that criticism mean I hate this film? No. It's still a lot of fun. I just want the next one to be smarter. Grade: B.

(Data and the Borg Queen from Star Trek: First Contact.)

3. Star Trek: First Contact (1996) Bad ass Next Generation villains, the Borg, go back in time to stop man's first warp flight to alter the future so they can more easily assimilate mankind. The twist? It's Picard who has revenge issues since he was previously assimilated in the TV episode, "The Best of Both Worlds."

This is the best of the Next Generation films. What can I say about the Borg? They exist to assimilate you into their culture. They phyiscally change you into a hideous cyborg creature. You lose your individuality. And who can forget their line, "Resistance is futile." But as scary and evil as they seem, there's a twisted logic behind it. They seek perfection by absorbing other races. This is what I call a grade A villain. There's great acting by Patrick Stewart as he wrestles with his desire for revenge. Action sequences are tense as the Borg try to assimilate the Enterprise. There's also a great Star Trek moment as mankind makes first contact with an alien race. Grade: A.

2. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) Khan (Ricardo Montalban), who was exiled on a planet in the original TV episode Space Seed, seeks revenge on Captain Kirk.

This movie revitalizes Star Trek. Ironically, it does so as it deals with the ideal of aging. Kirk laments that he is getting older. Montalban is a tour de force as Khan. His portrayal as a superhuman who loses his wife after being abandoned is sympathetic. Leonard Nimoy's performance as Spock brims with wisdom of a man who has learned much from life.

Produced and co-written by Harve Bennett, who undertook the job by watching the complete original series. He got it. He understood Star Trek. With direction by Nicholas Meyer, they made a great film. The battle in the Mutara Nebula is tense and exciting. There's Trek humor and sacrifice. The naval score by Jack Horner (who would write the score for Titianic) is inspiring. The grade is A.

1. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) An alien probe wrecks havoc on earth while searching for extinct humpback whales forcing the crew of the Enterprise to go back to the year of 1986 to bring some whales into the future. Trust me, when you see this movie, you'll love it.

So, why is this film without space battles, number one? Here's why. After two very serious movies, they decided to do a little comedy. And it works. The movie is actually a fish out of water story. The crew of the Enterprise turn in funny performances as they try to adapt to twentieth century earth. It also has a message as does all great Star Trek stories do. Ecology. Save the whales to save the future. This is in harmony with the TV show's sixties roots and is in tune with Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's vision. Of course, it's unknown if a giant alien probe will come to the planet in the twenty third century but the metaphor is what this film is about. Save the planet's ecology to save the future. A hilarious, and fun film. Grade is A+.

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