by Jason Koenigsberg
In honor of Star Trek‘s 50th Anniversary Pan and Slam is going to celebrate the franchises indispensable contribution to cinema by ranking the first ten Star Trek films. Gene Roddenberry’s vision for humanity and the universe is one that mankind should strive to achieve and is the closest we can come to utopia. In fifty years Star Trek has had five television series’ with a sixth one on the way, one animated series, countless books, and thirteen feature films.
Unfortunately Pan and Slam will only be ranking the first ten films in the series, sorry J.J. Abrams fans but we do not consider the last three films to be worth mentioning. Despite their popularity, we do not see Kirk, Spock, McCoy on screen, but kids fresh out of acting school pretending to be these iconic characters. Shatner will always be Kirk, the late-great Leonard Nimoy is the only Spock there will ever be, and do not even get us started on what they did to Khan.
Without any further ado, here are Pan and Slams Best and Worst of the Star Trek movies.
10. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) directed by William Shatner
The Lowdown: Captain Kirk and his crew must deal with Spock’s long-lost half brother Sybok who hijacks the Enterprise for a mission to meet God at the center of the universe.
Notable High Points: At times the humor, “Excuse me. What does God need with a starship?” may be one of Kirk’s greatest lines delivered impeccably by Shatner. Turning Scotty into a bumbling idiot was not without its charms.
What Doesn’t Work: Just about everything else. The rest of the attempts at humor fall flat and since so much humor from the previous film The Voyage Home worked, Paramount forced the writers to insert comedy throughout the film. Laurence Luckinbill is terrible as Sybok, Sean Connery was smart to turn down this role in favor of being directed by Steven Spielberg in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade instead of participating in William Shatner’s feature film directorial debut. But the worst part of Final Frontier is when they sit around the campfire and sing “row row row your boat”, and they do this in two separate scenes!
9. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) directed by Leonard Nimoy
The Lowdown: Kirk and his crew risk their lives and careers stealing the decommissioned Enterprise to return to the restricted Genesis planet to recover Spock’s body.
Notable High Points: Christopher Lloyd as Kruge, the Klingon commander, is a deliciously vile performance. His showdown with Kirk on Genesis as the planet is being destroyed is a pretty great scene. Otherwise not much else good can be found in this big bore.
What Doesn’t Work: We should have been devastated when Kirk’s son David is killed, but instead we are just kind of left with a very “meh” feeling. The dialogue heavy film just meanders around searching for a purpose more than it does for Spock. This is the biggest Star Trek snoozefest. Plus by the time it gets to the end, did you really not think they would find Spock being played by Leonard Nimoy? Come on.
8. Star Trek: Nemesis (2002) directed by Stuart Baird
The Lowdown: The Enterprise is diverted to the Romulan home planet Romulus supposedly because they want to negotiate a peace treaty. Obviously that is not all that they want and trouble ensues.
Notable High Points: Captain Picard’s character arc really comes full circle and we have great performances from Patrick Stewart and a young Tom Hardy as Shinzon, his half Romulan version oh himself. Some of the dark scenes they tried work…
What Doesn’t Work: … and some did not. When this film tries to be The Next Generation‘s rendition of Wrath of Khan, it fails and would have worked better as it’s own entity. The stuff with Data really did not work and some of the special effects are shoddy. Overall this film gets a bad rep for being the lowest grossing of all the Star Trek films, killed any chance of The Next Generation cast making another feature and nearly killed the franchise film series until J.J. Abrams came around and rebooted it with hyper kinetic action and special effects more suitable for a Star Wars movie and time travel to cover any and all continuity errors…but I digress.
7. Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) directed by Jonathan Frakes
The Lowdown: The Enterprise crew learns of a federation conspiracy to hurt the inhabitants of a unique and peaceful planet, Captain Picard leads an open rebellion so save the planet and their way of life.
Notable High Points: This film gets a lot of harsh criticism and I really have no idea why other than that it is an odd numbered Trek film and those are “supposed” to be the bad ones. Insurrection is a beautiful film with gorgeous cinematography, it can broaden your vocabulary, has great costumes and effects and a strong theme of peace and some quietly effective performances. Anthony Zerbe and F. Murray Abraham are well cast as the villains.
What Doesn’t Work: Some of the unnatural forced attempts at humor fall flat yet again especially moments with Worf and Data. Some aspects of the peaceful race the crew is trying to save would have made more sense if they were explained more like how they age and can manipulate time. As they have tried on the show and failed, once again Picard is unconvincing when the script calls for him to be romantic even though Donna Murphy who plays his love interest is very good. That Picard mambo dance was just silly and would have belonged better as a deleted scene on the DVD.
6. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) directed by Robert Wise
The Lowdown: The very first Star Trek film coming out on the heels of Star Wars, yet trying to be more in the vein of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. An alien spacecraft of enormous power is spotted approaching Earth, Kirk resumes command of the Enterprise and reassembles his crew in hopes to intercept, examine and eliminate the intruder.
Notable High Points: This is another beautiful movie with outstanding cinematography and one of the best music scores of any Trek movie, or any other movie for that matter, by the great Jerry Goldsmith. This is the one film in the series that may embody Gene Roddenberry’s vision for the future more than any of the other films about humanity coming together for the purposes of exploration, science and to benefit the greater good. Also, solid supporting turns by Stephen Collins and Persis Khambatta.
What Doesn’t Work: So at times it tries to be 2001 and fails. It is slow and has some great shots that linger a bit too long. The costumes are very drab compared to what they would look like in later movies. Some of the special effects really do not hold up well.
5. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) directed by Nicholas Meyer
The Lowdown: The original crew is asked to partake on a mission of peace with the usually ruthless Klingon rulers because their race is dying. There is an explosion and the Enterprise fired on the Klingon ship. Kirk and Dr. McCoy are charged with assassinating the Klingon leader, imprisoned and then the Enterprise crew must help them escape to thwart a conspiracy aimed at stopping the federations best chance for peace with the Klingons.
Notable High Points: This is a great political allegory which all great science fiction films should strive to be. David Warner as a Klingon composite of Lincoln and Gorbachev is symbolic for peace at the end of the Cold War. Nicholas Meyer’s direction is on point and keeps the story moving always with a purpose. A most appropriate film with themes from its story directly reflecting the times and the end of the Cold War. Great supporting performances from David Warner, Christopher Plummer and even Michael Dorn. A fond farewell to the original cast, the final time they are all together in a movie.
What Doesn’t Work: Not much, the score by Cliff Eidelman is not up to the standards of some of the best ones by Jerry Goldsmith or James Horner and that really hurts during some moments. The end to the central conflict is rather abrupt. Some of the make up and pink blood computer effects are dated and looked silly even in 1991.
4. Star Trek Generations (1994) directed by David Carson
The Lowdown: The perfect passing of the torch from one generations captain to the next. Kirk and Picard must work together to stop a madman willing to kill entire planets in order to enter the Nexus, an energy ribbon that does not follow the rules of time and can give whoever is in it all of their dreams and desires.
Notable High Points: This is a great Star Trek movie, handling the themes the series dealt with the best and providing a parable about life as a journey. The dynamic between the two captains on screen, the holodeck scene with TNG crew, Data’s emotion chip, even when Data sang “life forms” it was funny and endearing. Malcolm McDowell played a great villain.
What Doesn’t Work: Not a big fan of Kirk’s actual death, getting crushed by a bridge, how ironic, on a desert planet. Plus the actual showdown between the two captains fighting Malcolm McDowell should have been better than just a big fist fight, also highly illogical that there was no other way to stop him than going mano-a-mano.
3. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) directed by Leonard Nimoy
The Lowdown: Picking up right where part III ended, Kirk and his crew go back in time to the twentieth century to save Earth from an alien probe and need to bring with them the only creatures that can communicate with it, humpback whales.
Notable High Points: The Star Trek movie most beloved by non-Star Trek fans. It is a fantastic film laced with humor that feels natural and actually works to advance the story and develop new characters. The whole fish out of water act works great with the Star Trek cast and provides some characters their best moments on film like Chekov looking for the nuclear vessels and Spock dealing with a nasty passenger on a bus.
What Doesn’t Work: Once again not much, maybe it is a little too lighthearted at times coming right after the events from the very serious Wrath of Khan and Search for Spock.
2. Star Trek: First Contact (1996) directed by Jonathan Frakes
The Lowdown: Picard and his Enterprise crew battle the Borg and follow them back in time as they try to prevent Earth’s first contact with an alien species. The crew must ensure that Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell) makes his maiden voyage into space and becomes the first human to travel warp speed.
Notable High Points: Easily one of the best of all the Star Trek films, and definitely the finest one featuring the Next Generation crew. All of the performances are great especially Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, James Cromwell as the reluctant alcoholic explorer, Alfre Woodard as his assistant and Alice Krige as the Borg Queen. One of the most memorable and epic of all the Trek movies and guaranteed to improve your vocabulary. So many great scenes, everything with the Borg taking over the Enterprise, the long opening shot/dream sequence, the scenes on Earth with Cromwell, and the poignant scene with Picard willing to do anything to destroy the Borg once and for all after they imprisoned him. When he smashes the glass case with a gun in a fit of rage and talks about what Captain Ahab was willing to do to in order to catch the white whale. That scene alone you learn so much about Picard and his character that you may also learn something about yourself in that moment of epiphany. First Contact celebrates its 20th anniversary this November
What Doesn’t Work: Maybe some scenes with Data and the Borg Queen are a little creepy and uneasy but that is reaching for something negative to say.
1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) directed by Nicholas Meyer
The Lowdown: Kirk and his Enterprise crew stumble across an old nemesis from the series that they had banished to the farthest most isolated parts of the galaxy. Now Kirk’s greatest nemesis Khan is back and plans to use the new life creating Genesis device as the ultimate weapon to wreak havoc.
Notable High Points: Just about everything. The Wrath of Khan is not only the best Star Trek movie, but it is one of the best sequels of all time and one of the best science fiction films ever made. The top three films on this list transcend the Star Trek franchise and can easily be enjoyed by anyone as great stand alone movies, none more than this picture. The performances are all some of the best in any Trek film especially Shatner, Nimoy and Ricardo Montalban as Khan. His pets that crawl into ears, the climactic battle, Spock making the ultimate sacrifice, the ending. Even more impressive than all of that are the costumes, the James Horner score, the editing. Nicholas Meyer may understand how to direct a Star Trek movie better than anyone else. This is practically a flawless film.
What Doesn’t Work: Many people complain that Chekov is the one that discovers Khan yet he was not in the episode with Khan, but come on people, he was not on a cave with a blind fold on. Chekov was on the Enterprise at the time, just did not share a scene with Khan. Plus a lot of people make fun of Shatner’s Khaaaaaaan! scream so much that it has become more humorous and takes away from the dramatic impact. Very minor complaints indeed.