Hey Nerd Faithful, it’s Commander Shipp here with a tough task during Trek Week. I’m trying to figure out the five best Star Trek films and it wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination. Some fell into place pretty easy and others … well, hopefully there won’t be any controversy. Here’s the five I picked with a few honorable mentions…
Star Trek III: The Search For Spock
STIII is a decent film and gets bashed a bit for being underwhelming after Wrath of Khan. However, that was an incredible film and banging up on this one for not matching Wrath is silly. That being said, the primary critique is that it takes too long to get going. Most kindergartners could have figured out how Spock was being brought back so using an entire film to do that seems excessive. It would have been different if there were less clues. Even after that, if the initial return to Starbase could have been shortened and give us more time in space or on the Genesis planet, then we could spent more time actually rescuing Spock rather than wasting 20-30 mins making sure we picked up the clues from Wrath.
Star Trek: Insurrection
There’s actually not much wrong with Insurrection, but it suffers from a script that stays at a TV level plot. It’s like if the latest Avengers movie was about capturing Rhino instead of a major villain. It would be funny and still look great, but you would walking away thinking, “I paid ten bucks for a episode of the show.” Jonathan Frakes still directs a great movie (And he honestly should be getting more calls to the chair), it’s just a bit lower level to be theatrical release.
Star Trek Beyond
Time will tell if this one could supplant a film on this list. Beyond’s script is really well paced and intelligent even if there’s a few typical Hollywood systemic issues holding it back from being exceptional.
The first question I had to ask each film was simply this: Does it represent Star Trek well? I already had an internal rating or published rating on some of these films. This main question would help me determine if someone had never seen Star Trek, would this film be a good representation of the series? With that in mind, not to mention my usual critiquing areas, here’s my Top 5 Star Trek films … ever..
5. Star Trek (2009)
I’ll get a little bit of flack, but I’m sticking to my guns. There’s certainly enough substance with this first entry in the reboot series to merit inclusion on this list. There were some entries in the series that almost made me swap this one out, but I think there’s something to be said for how solid this film is, how it connects to new and old fans well, and maintains the spirit of Star Trek.
Let’s not even get into how nitpicked this film continues to be. Look, I get it that Red Matter doesn’t make a ton of sense, but you sort of need more ammo than that. Given how much Star Trek inspired techno-babble in sci-fi shows, I think I’ll cut this one some slack. My notable reason for this film’s inclusion is how Kirk has to earn the Captain’s chair. It’s not just handed to him and he spends the entire film working his ass off to achieve it. His sparring with a young Spock and seeing them forge an eventual bond is priceless. The actors chosen for the new series really sank their teeth into this one. I would love watching this group in a new TV show (Never gonna happen, but I can dream.)
While ST 2009 would unfortunately (Or fortunately in the case of X-Men: Days Of Future Past) kick off a stream of other reboots and re-imaginings, it’s success transcended normal Trek fare and opened it to the masses. We may even owe this film a debt gratitude for keeping the series alive to see a new show dawn in 2017.
4. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Is it comical? Of course. Would it probably have been better as a TV episode? Not sure, but a good argument could be made for that. So why include this one in the Top 5? Because it gets everything else right. It’s full of hammy moments for sure; serving the fans in some humorous and often quoted ways. We were able to see this crew interact in a style we hadn’t seen before (At least not on the big screen). And the juxtaposition of the future with the past was so well done, it still holds up today as one of Trek’s better time-travel stories. This leads to some really comical moments and pointed conservation rhetoric. The fact remains that it still answered a great sci-fi question and gave us a fun romp with some of our most cherished characters.
The rest of the film is pretty structurally sound, which is more than can be said for a few of the other dishonorable mentions. But we’ll get there…
3. Star Trek: First Contact
Jonathan Frakes (Cmdr. Riker) never gets enough credit for how well he directs Star Trek episodes and movies. First Contact was his first feature film and it was a pretty great production. Add in veteran show writers Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore returning to craft a better script, and we secretly got one of the best Trek or sci-fi films ever.
It saddens me that only one TNG series movie makes it on this list, but the honest truth is there is only one great film out of their run. Contact makes up for the colossal blunders made in Generations, delivering us a solid time travel story that gives us a fight against the Borg, Data struggling with human sensation, Picard’s hate of the Borg, Zefram Cochrane’s warp drive test and subsequent first encounter with the Vulcans. That sounds like a lot, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way because of a tightly woven script and the best movie performances from the TNG crew. And those areas are well addressed in different moments and have great resolution points to each one.
Picard’s transformation is probably the best; If anyone moment sums up Contact, it’s certainly where he “draws the line here and no further!” This is when he realizes how much his experience with the Borg has shaped his bitterness. It ends up being a highly quoted moment among Trekkies, but it is certainly for good reason. This outburst by Picard feels like the resolution of his struggles in the show and coming to terms with his experience. It echoes back to a episode in the TNG series, “Family,” which occurred right after his Borg assimilation. Picard breaks down in front of his brother, Robert, and is forced to process his feelings over what happened. The hard exterior Picard normally puts forth is gone and that same feeling of vulnerability is palpable in both of these scenes.
**Plus, we got the Enterprise-E as a consolation prize for the ridiculousness of Generations; It’s personally been my favorite version so far.**
2. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Put your pitchforks down!! You won’t do that will you? Okay, skewer me if you like, but at least hear me out. After the major missteps from The Motion Picture, Nicholas Meyers and the returning TOS crew made a film that was a instant sci-fi classic. Pulling Khan from the show and pitting him directly against Kirk with a fit of rage and revenge was a stroke of genius. Khan is easily one of the best movie villains ever. Ricardo Montalbán’s delivery and presence would create a standard for future Star Trek and sci-fi villains to live up to. Visually, this was one of the most impressive for it’s time and within the series. The ship-to-ship confrontations that take place were masterfully done and helped drive home the tension and stakes between these two captains.
With Kirk and Spock being front and center, we have the Captain’s chair and all it’s splendor and weight fully presented. Kirk has lost plenty of people under his command, but the death of Spock would shake him down to his core. While many Hollywood scripts today will very early overstate the moral they are presenting, Wrath doesn’t suffer from that. We know that Kirk doesn’t handle death and loss well. This permeates the entire movie and comes out at key times: Spock’s death, his discussions about the Kobayashi Maru test, and his destiny as a Captain (A conversation he has with Spock early in the film). When Kirk is finally confronted with a situation he can’t beat, it’s a satisfying climax from all the hints and conversations that took place. For a more detailed review from our own W.T. Bane, check the link below.
1. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Even with all the platitudes that I gave to Wrath and internet pitch forks I just received in my side, if I wanted to give you a film that defines Star Trek, it has to be number six. Star Trek is certainly at it’s best when it provides commentary on our world. Armed with a idea from Leonard Nimoy, Nicholas Meyer and Denny Martin Finn set out to find out what would happen “If the Wall came down in space.” Undiscovered Country dares to ask what peace in space looks like after years of conflict with the Klingons, echoing the Cold War conflict between the USA and Russia.
This sets the stage for Meyer to wrap up a ton of themes that were explored in his own film, Wrath, and ones explored in the other entries into the series. Kirk has become prejudiced towards Klingons over the death of his son. He may be ready to relinquish the Captain’s chair, but now it has shaped him forever, for better or worse. Spock is attempting to pass on knowledge to another Vulcan protege. His heritage has been extremely important and now, like he did in Wrath, he wants to keep training up new Vulcan Starfleet officers in his ways. The remaining crew is starting to accept careers in other places, most notably Sulu taking over the reins of the Excelsior. Each of them have to come to terms with the new status quo, and this is personified by the central conflict of the film.
The enemy, while brought to life by Christopher Plummer’s performance as Chang and his secret alliance with key Starfleet members, is really the fear of the unknown. Peace is so distasteful to war hungry members of both sides that they would rather align and see the status quo maintained. When we talk about these two films, it’s really comparing two great apples. Wrath deals with Khan’s story of revenge and Kirk’s understanding how powerless he is over death. The human prejudice and fear displayed in Undiscovered is just as complex, and also gives us one of the better sendoffs for a series across multiple media forms.
So there you have it, my top 5 Star Trek films ever. It wasn’t a easy task at all given how many films are in this franchise. So, let me know what you think in the comments.
Do you think Commander Shipp is off his rocker? Let him know on this thread or follow him on Twitter.