Friday, June 8, 2018

Ranking the Star Trek films

Oh good, something grown-up at last.




14. Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

I was going to give all of these films the benefit of a rewatch, but there's no need to be a masochist. These new films aren't aimed at me, and if I'd ignored them like I'm supposed to, I would have been much happier in ignorance.

13. Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)

The only advantage this has over fellow Wrath of Khan rip-off Into Darkness is that I recognise the characters, at least outwardly. Its predecessor was derided for just being a run-of-the-mill episode, but at least it felt like Star Trek. This tries to out-grim Deep Space Nine and just comes off ugly.

12. Star Trek (2009)

I convinced myself that this insulting reboot was acceptable at the time, mainly because the previous generation had gone out on an extended whimper. If I'd seen it when I was eleven, it might have had the same explosive effect First Contact did. But I'm not eleven, I'm a grumpy old man who likes what he knows, and this has nothing for me.

11. Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)

The first Star Trek film was basically an elaborate adaptation of an old episode, so I never minded that this one's a mash-up of three identifiable Next Gen sources. It's a further, forgettable adventure with that gang, which is fine. The main problem is the missed opportunity of the worthwhile film that might have taken its place in a better reality.

10. Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Maybe I'm getting soft, but this latest installment that I'm too old to be watching without the excuse of children or nostalgia didn't make me angry at all. It's still largely a big, dumb, predictable action movie with another forgettable villain and overlong CGI sequences that confuse my brain, but it felt more like a Star Trek film than any since Insurrection. The public didn't care for it? There's a surprise.

9. Star Trek Generations (1994)

This is an absolute mess of a film that can't even decide which uniforms its characters should be wearing when they're in the same scene, but this random chaos at least means some good stuff gets spewed out among the bad. The Undiscovered Country already did a swell job of passing the generational torch, so this project was superfluous from the start.

8. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

The fact that this famously inept and disappointing film made it so high says a lot about some of the dregs that came after. But my scorn's tempered by the chance to spend a little more time with the old timers, even if they're acting like bizarre morons most of the time. There's one very good scene and Jerry Goldsmith's score is nice, it's only every single other thing that's shite.

7. Galaxy Quest (1999)

I only saw this recently, since humourless Paramount was effective at keeping it hidden from fans who relied entirely on licensed publications for their Trek news back then. It's fair to say I would have found its in-and-out-of-universe parodies funnier and more revelatory at 14, but it's still enjoyable. And more worth watching than most of the actual Star Trek films, apparently.

6. Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

This was the big one when I was a kid. I only happened to see it in the cinema because I wasn't enthusiastic about joining my family to see the live-action 101 Dalmations (still haven't seen it), and I was instantly converted to the Trekkie religion that would ruin my life. Back then, it was the Borg and the big, dumb action stuff that got me going, but now I'm more appreciative of the smart time travel decision to show us how Star Trek began. Aesthetically, it's probably the second best-looking of the films too, after:

5. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

If you were to cut out all the character scenes with their robotic acting, dreary dialogue and weird costumes (like this guy's done), this makes an incredible music video. I love it solely on the strength of those iconic visuals and the soundtrack, the same way I feel about Blade Runner and Conan the Barbarian. It's even more impressive if you haven't seen 2001 and don't realise how much it's trying to be that.

4. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)

I've wrestled with the II-IV trilogy for most of my life, but have to accept this functional middle entry is the weakest link. It expands the visual universe more than any other installment in the franchise by introducing those Excelsior, Grissom, Bird-of-Prey, freighter and Spacedock models that would be re-used extensively through the 90s. It has two of the all-time classic scenes, both involving the Enterprise, and the weird Spockless dynamic gives the supporting cast a rare chance to shine. On the downside, Spock's hardly in it, Saavik's different, the planet looks cheap, the soundtrack's largely reuse and Vulcans have convenient magic souls.

3. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

The first Star Trek I remember seeing, when it was on TV one night, I liked the strange Spock man and the jokes my dad had to explain to me, but I didn't have the sense of it being part of a larger story and universe. It felt like the same sort of thing as E.T. and Escape from the Planet of the Apes (apparently part of a series too). It's a refreshing change of pace for the films with its light comedy and strong (if bludgeoned) ecological message, and there's still some proper Star Trek at the start and end if you don't like any of that. One of my ultimate comfort watches.

2. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

For some reason, I've always felt a little distanced from this one compared to its neighbours. That's probably down to its BBFC 15 rating meaning it wasn't in rotation in the daytime bank holiday slots when I saw most of the films growing up, and in terms of escapist enjoyment I'd put it below III & IV. But with all its Biblical and literary allusions, and for making the ageing of the characters part of the story rather than an embarrassing inconvenience, it's finally won me over. There's also James Horner's soundtrack, which will continue to provide inappropriately dramatic accompaniment to my day-to-day life inside my head for as long as I go on.

1. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

It's probably not the best, but I think it's my favourite. It has the same alienating militarism as Wrath of Khan, with added utopian racism, but it feels more quintessentially Star Trek to me. Maybe because I'm a DS9 fan, which inherited this film's paranoia. It's interesting to see the series' thinly-cloaked allegories adapt to changing events in real time as Klingon Chernobyl explodes and old hostilities thaw just in time to usher in the next generation. Seeing Sulu get command of the ship he used to fawn over is overly satisfying too, they should have given him a series.

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