Star Trek films: A movie-by-movie overview and grading

Image

Now that Star Trek Beyond has past the spoiler point it’s time to do a periodic re-rating from the first feature film to the most recent installment, “Into Darkness.”  This list will not, however, be in the form of a ranking, but rather a grading of each movie on its individual merits.  Since there are a dozen movies, all that will be provided will be a list of pros, cons and the overall letter grade with a reason justifying said grade.  Enjoy!

Image

Star Trek:  The Motion Picture

PLOT:  The crew of the Enterprise is reunited when an unknown life form threatens Earth and the Federation.

PROS:  Having been released nearly a decade after Star Trek: The Original Series had been cancelled, it was remarkably well-received by the public (grossed $82.5 million on a budget of $30 mil.)  Stuck with the concept of “boldly go where no man has gone before.”  Vastly upgraded set.

CONS:  Lighting was horrendous.  Too much time spent reintroducing characters.  Costumes were reminiscent of a bad 1970s disco night.  Cartoonish dialogue typecast several cast members for years to come.  Special effects, while cutting edge for the day, were badly choreographed (movie nicknamed “The Motion Sickness” by one reviewer.)  Released after “Star Wars,” which had far better writing and direction, though its special effects were about the same.

GRADE:  C-.  To understand how far special effects have come, watch this movie.  A great story was mangled by terrible costume design, lousy directing, and an overall feeling of “are we there yet?”

Image

Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan

PLOT:  Kirk is confronted with not just one, but several ghosts from his past while on a training mission.  One of those ghosts, Khan, is trying to kill him.

PROS:  Outstanding direction and storyline.  Use of a bad guy from a TOS episode sparked Trekkies to watch, and creative carryover tied to a doomsday device concept was timely enough to get newcomers interested.  Special effects were state-of-the-art for the day.  More character focused plot minimized confusion.

CONS:   Aside from occasional overacting on Shatner’s part, few if any to speak of.  Mostly minor continuity glitches.

GRADE:  A+.  This movie remains the standard by which all Star Trek movies are judged.  Other series have quoted Khan’s lines (“He tasks me…he tasks me and I shall have him.”)  Learning of Kirk having a grown son added to the juice of the plot.

Image

Star Trek III:  The Search for Spock

PLOT:  Kirk and the Enterprise crew travel to Genesis to locate Spock’s body and bring him back to Vulcan in the hopes of resurrecting him.  Along the way, they run into some annoying Klingons.

PROS:  Great special effects.  First in-depth use of Klingon language and first real glance at Klingon culture.  First real look at Sarek’s love for his son.  Good writing, direction and acting offset lousy plot.  Two ships destroyed in one movie.  One of the few movies in which Shatner did not overact.  Shatner fighting a Klingon captain.

CONS:  Lousy plot.  “All for one, one for all” storyline a bit on the saccharin side.  Killed off Kirk’s son before we got a chance to really know him.  Robin Curtis subbing for Kirstie Alley as Saavik created some continuity issues.

GRADE:  B.  Not the worst, but far from the best.  ST3 was, at its core, an interregnum for its blockbuster successor.  It breathed new life in the franchise with the destruction of the original Enterprise, forcing the writers to think outside the box for the next movie.  Considering the plot, this the most anyone could really ask for.  McCoy holding Spock’s soul provided a humorous irony.

Image

Star Trek IV:  The Voyage Home

PLOT:  When a probe from deep space reaches Earth and begins crippling the planet’s ecosystem, Kirk and the crew travel back in time to the 20th century to return a long-extinct species in order to save the Federation.

PROS:  Outstanding, timely plot.  Excellent writing and dialogue.  Special effects unnecessary.  Made Star Trek relatable to casual viewers, and cemented the franchise as part of Americana.

CONS:  Minor continuity glitches.  Many questions left unanswered by antagonist (the probe).  Moments of environmental preachiness.

GRADE:  A-.  ST4 is considered one of the great examples of Trek taking on real-world issues.  The only real gripe about the movie is that its environmentalism theme did go over-the-top on a couple of occasions, but that was tempered by the campiness of the dialogue.  It was, perhaps, the only movie in which Shatner’s tendency to overact made him look merely tongue-in-cheek, and not stupid.

Image

Star Trek V:  The Final Frontier

PLOT:  Spock encounters his half-brother, Sybok, who is on the hunt for God and guess who’s along for the ride?

PROS:  Nichelle Nichols doing a semi-nude feather dance.  Campy moments made movie bearable to those who paid full admission.  Crash landing a shuttle inside the Enterprise.  Spock manning the gun position of a Klingon Bird-of-Prey.

CONS:  The rest of the movie.  Hint:  Shatner directed it.

GRADE:  D-.  Seeing Nichols dance and Spock blowing something up made this train wreck only slightly watchable.  Movie which nearly destroyed the franchise, had Nicholas Meyer not come up with a great send-off in the next movie.  Memo to Paramount Pictures:  never, ever, ever let William Shatner direct again!

Image

Star Trek VI:  The Undiscovered Country

PLOT:  While traveling to Earth to negotiate a peace treaty with the Federation, the Klingon Chancellor is assassinated, with Kirk left holding the bag and the crew to solve a murder mystery which threatens to spark an interstellar war.

PROS:  Fantastic plot, writing, and acting.  Intriguing guest stars (Iman, Kim Cattrall, Christopher Plummer).  Character-focused storyline.  Just the right amount of special effects.

CONS:  Minor continuity errors due to cutting room mistakes.  Obvious acting errors caught on camera.

GRADE:  B+.  This wasn’t the best Star Trek movie ever, but it did, in many ways, save the franchise following the disaster that was Star Trek V.  The only movie in which Shatner completely “played it straight.”  Instead, it was Christopher Plummer, as General Chang, who provided a delightfully hammy performance.  Some of the best lines of the whole movie were actually given to McCoy (“I’d pay real money if he’d shut up!”), but cut scene featuring Spock and McCoy in the torpedo room left watchers scratching their heads (“Bet you wish you stood in bed.”)  Novelization of the movie actually answers these questions.

Image

Star Trek:  Generations

PLOT:  Captain Jean Luc Picard meets Kirk, believed killed in a rescue mission 78 years prior, in a temporal anomaly in order to stop an obsessed scientist from destroying an inhabitant planet in his quest for immortality.

PROS:  Bridges TOS with The Next Generation.  First time seeing the Enterprise-D on the big screen.  Kirk meets Picard.  The last movie featuring William Shatner, James Doohan and Walter Koenig in their Star Trek roles.  Data’s humorous use of profanity.  Sets the stage for the Enterprise-E.

CONS:   Other members of TOS cast declined the movie.  Idiotic side plots.  Rick Berman as director.

GRADE:  B-.  This movie could have been a total disaster, but the acting of the cast offset some boneheaded plot concepts (emotion chip side effects, seeing the world through Geordi’s eyes).   Malcolm McDowell will go down in history as “the man who killed Kirk.”

Image

Star Trek:  First Contact

PLOT:  The Enterprise-E goes back in time to same Earth from a Borg invasion and keep humanity on schedule for first contact with extraterrestrials.

PROS:  Action-packed plot, including zero-gravity combat.  Great special effects.  Flawed heroes.  Borg Queen introduced.  First warp flight.  Excellent acting.  Well-timed moments of humor.

CONS:   Another Rick Berman job.  Childish dialogue.  Didn’t connect well with casual watchers.

GRADE:  B+.  This could have been a Khan style blockbuster, but under Rick Berman’s direction, it ended up being merely a good movie in which the talents of the cast were greatly outstripped by the director’s lack of ability.  Some moments of the movie were downright painful to watch do to really bad writing, but Patrick Stewart, et al, saved the day with a visible chemistry.  Unfortunately, the execution of the script had unnecessary elements, making it an entertaining film which saved TNG for two more films.

Image

Star Trek:  Insurrection

PLOT:  The Enterprise-E travels to a remote corner of space to assist in what turns out to a blood feud.

PROS:  Data’s character explored in great detail.  Troi and Riker finally admit they want each other.  Picard shows his badass side.  Good special effects.  Marketed well.

CONS:  Stupid plot and writing.  Rick Berman directed it (see a pattern here?)

GRADE:  B-.  Again, the cast’s acting talent and chemistry compensates for poor directing.  Berman’s apparent obsession with finding a “Khan” for Picard ends up with a villain who is both forgettable and melodramatic at the worst times.  Some funny moments, but the decision to “cowboy up” makes for a story which is better told in a TV movie than on the big screen.  This would have worked way better as a direct-to-home release.

Image

Star Trek:  Nemesis

PLOT:  Picard travels to Romulus on a peace mission, only to discover his opposite number is a clone bent on destroying Earth with an advanced ship.

PROS:  Great plot concept.  Decent writing with some shocking turns.  Troi and Riker get married.  First look at mysterious Remans.   Outstanding CGI scenes.  Final movie featuring TNG cast.

CONS:  Let’s say it one more time:  Rick Berman directed it…enough said.

GRADE:  B.  While nobody knew it at the time, this was to be the last movie featuring the cast of TNG.  Sadly, what should have been a first-class send off was horribly undermarketed by Paramount, which was focusing on Star Trek:  Enterprise and had already given up the ghost on TNG.  The character of Shinzon was a perfectly vile foil to Picard, but Thomas Hardy’s acting ability wasn’t anywhere near a match for Stewart.  Sadly, this should have been a crackerjack, Wrath of Khan style thriller to close out TNG, but ended up merely being an entertaining, albeit bittersweet, near-end to a franchise which was badly mismanaged following creator Gene Roddenberry’s death.

Image

Star Trek (The Future Begins)

PLOT:  When Romulus is destroyed by a supernova, a vengeful miner named Nero travels back in time to destroy the Federation, one planet at a time.

PROS:  Berman is gone, LONG LIVE J.J. ABRAMS!!!!  Alternate reality concept.  Gritty acting, story and writing.  Reboot of the Enterprise itself.

CONS:  Final moments of movie were clunky.  Continuity questions abound.

GRADE:  B+.  Time will tell if this movie gets a better grade, as it is still relatively new.  That said, J.J. Abrams brings the gritty, edgy style of “Fringe” to ST, and the result was a blockbuster reboot which converted movie watchers to Trek.  Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, et al, create an awesome chemistry, but the real scene stealer of this rebooted franchise may be Simon Pegg who, as Scotty, appears to be the heir apparent to DeForest Kelly’s smartass throne (“You bet your ass, Captain!”).

Image

Star Trek:  Into Darkness

PLOT:  One of the Federation’s top brass resurrects a longtime nemesis of humanity in order to destroy the Klingon Empire.  The plan badly backfires.

PROS:  Explores the dark side of the Federation.  Great special effects, writing and acting.   Warp speed combat.

CONS:  Takes on too much in one movie.  Confusing plot.

GRADE:  B-.  As if rebooting Khan wasn’t crazy enough, now the Klingons are completely rebooted to look like a cross between Immortals from “300” and something out of “Lord of the Rings.”  Add to that the rebooted “death” scene from Wrath of Khan, and generally confusing timeline of the movie, this goes from being a blockbuster to being a movie which dances all over the place.  That said, the acting was good, there were some very amusing plot points (“Niburi,” aka “Planet X” to conspiracy nuts, being primitive was a nice touch!), and some cutting edge special effects made the action scenes very intense.  The problem this movie has is actually a good one to have – it took on too much, too fast.  A lot of this movie could have been broken up into three or four movies.

Star Trek:  Beyond

PLOT:  The Enterprise crew travel to the Federation’s newest outpost and respond to a distress call for help only to face a ghost from the past in possession of a very nasty weapon and the will to use it.

Pros:  Returns to a mostly Trek style concept.  Awesome CGI and tributes to sci franchises.  Well timed humor and sense of impending doom.

Cons:  Minor questions about the Federation created an overused feeling of a dystopian future.

GRADE:  A.  Justin Lin finally brings Trek back to where it belonged, exploring.  Whether it is exploring the unknown, the past, or the psychological impact of a five year mission on the crew, Beyond did it right.  Easter eggs built in for enterprise TV series fans, callbacks to the Xindi war and even a few hat tips to other franchises along with Spock and McCoys burgeoning love-hate friendship makes this movie a fun ride for both Trekkies and casual watchers.

I welcome comments, questions and feedback of any sort.  I am also, as always, welcoming contributors to this blog.  Please feel free to contact me at jguzzardo1@gmail.com or go to http://www.getinjohnshead.com for more info.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s