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The Star Trek franchise is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year. It has become a sci-fi juggernaut, spanning six TV series with the seventh in production, 13 movies have been made, featuring the Original, Next Generation and Reboot casts and has spun-off into novels, comics and video games. It has a large mythology that spans hundreds of years with some of the greatest alien races and cultures to grace fiction.
To celebrate, we in Entertainment Fuse’s movie department will look at our favorite Star Trek movies. It is easily one of the more eclectic franchises, having movies that range in tone, genre, story and quality. I am a causal fan of the series, so think of my list as coming from someone with a more mainstream mindset.
5. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
When I started watching all the Star Trek movies, I dreaded Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, thinking it would be the one I would hate – it turned out to be one of the most fun films. “The Voyage Home” was made as a time travel adventure and an unashamed comedy that saw the crew of the Enterprise in a Klingon Warbird travel back to 1980s San Francisco.
“The Voyage Home” had a heavy handed environmental message, but it goes to show how versatile the Star Trek franchise can be – it can change tone and direction and take away some of the key elements – all that is needed is a strong director and screenplay and the chemistry of the cast. “The Voyage Home” allows all the members of the Enterprise to have a moment to shine as it shakes up the partnerships within the movie – it is the most balanced out of all the Star Trek films regarding character screen time. “The Voyage Home” also succeeds in one of the basics that a comedy needs to achieve: being funny.
The only drawback the movie suffered was the deal Paramount had to make to ensure William Shatner would come back – they let him have directing and story control for the fifth movie. That turned out to be Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
4. Star Trek Into Darkness
Star Trek Into Darkness is the most controversial movie to make it onto this list – it was hated by Trekkies to the point that it was voted the worst by fans at the 2013 convention in Las Vegas. As a casual fan to the series my opinions are much softer than the Trekkie consensus – it was the second ‘Trek’ film I ever saw.
Star Trek Into Darkness was A sequel to the 2009 reboot and follows the big sci-fi action approach that was used. It was a great continuation of what the 2009 movie set out to do – showing the impact of the destruction of Vulcan has on the Federation adding to the new politics of the universe, which is some of the most interesting aspects of the Star Trek franchise. The new paradigm of the series showed the Federation on the edge of war with the Klingons, making them a bad guys again and having Peter Weller as one of the villains of the movie.
The big criticism levelled at Star Trek Into Darkness was that it was a remake of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and it used mysterious box marketing to hide it was using Khan as the main villain. It also had the stupidity of casting a white actor to play an Indian character. These are valid criticisms, but Star Trek Into Darkness was still a fun sci-fi action movie and it improved on the 2009 reboot by having a memorable villain. Benedict Cumberbatch nailed the role – having great moments like when he kills off a platoon of Klingon soldiers, does a space dive into the Federation’s new flagship and the big reveal.
The Star Trek reboots are a great gateway for non-fans to enter the Star Trek series.
3. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is often regarded as the best Star Trek movie and one of the high points in the franchise as a whole. It is such a benchmark in the series that it spawned a mini-trilogy and elements have been used in following Star Trek movies like “First Contact”, “Nemesis” and “Into Darkness”.
Following the disappointment that was Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Nicholas Meyer (Time After Time) was hired to write and direct a follow-up that was more adventure based movie on a lower budget. He ignored the first movie and made “Wrath of Khan” as a continuation to the episode ‘Space Seed’ – showing what happened to Khan Noonien Singh and his followers after being exiled on Ceti Alpha V.
Khan is one of the best villains in the Star Trek franchise and for good reason – he is physically a great threat, even in his 60s actor Ricardo Montalbán was in fantastic shape, was ruthless when facing his rivals and as the title suggests driven by revenge. Weirdly Khan and Kirk are not onscreen together.
“Wrath of Khan” also has some of the most iconic scenes in the franchises – like when Khan abandoned Kirk on a desolate planet with Kirk yelling ‘KHAN’ and Spock sacrificing himself to save the Enterprise: uttering the famous line ‘the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few’. Even for non-Trekkies Spock’s funeral has plenty of emotional resonance – having Kirk’s eulogy for his brave friend followed by ‘Amazing Grace’ being played on the Bagpipes as Spock’s coffin is launched into space.
“Wrath of Khan” was such a big influence that Bryan Singer referenced the finale when making X2: X-Men United and Family Guy parodying the movie.
2. Star Trek: First Contact
Star Trek: First Contact is the second Star Trek movie to figure “The Next Generation” Cast and the first solo movie for Jean-Luc Picard and his crew: the previous entry featured William Shatner’s James T. Kirk. It is the best movie featuring the Next Generation crew and one of the best Star Trek movies as a whole.
Star Trek: First Contact shares some similarities with “Wrath of Khan” – both are a follow-ups to an episode: in “First Contact’s” case it was ‘The Best of Both Worlds’ and centers around one of the great villains of their respective series. In “First Contact” it was the Borg which is considered one of the best villainous races in Star Trek lore. While “First Contact” has some basic similarities to “Wrath of Khan” it also subverts what the second Star Trek movie did, with Picard, becomes blinded by revenge and goes against logic – leading to one of the great speeches in Star Trek history which was referenced in The Big Bang Theory.
When producing “First Contact” the producers wanted to make a movie about time travel and the writers Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore wanted to focus on the Borg so they combined their ideas to great effect. “First Contact” sees the Borg attempting to invade Earth and a small continuant go back in time to conquer the planet. It is up to the Enterprise to save Earth and the Federation as a whole.
As well was referencing “Wrath of Khan”, “First Contact” also has some homages to “The Voyage Home” where some members of the Enterprise help the first human to achieve the first Warp flight. This half of the movie was lighter and comedic in nature compared to the Picard’s struggles against the Borg.
“First Contact” works as a dark character piece looking at Picard at his lowest moment and has special effects and action scenes that still hold up today. The best moment being a tension filled spacewalk on the haul of the Enterprise. It also has a lighter heart that makes “First Contact” a more tonally balanced movie.
1. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was the final Star Trek movie to feature all the original cast and it was a perfect send off for them – the original cast literally sign off which was a touching moment in the credits. “The Undiscovered Country” was made to celebrate Star Trek‘s 25th Anniversary and developed by Leonard Nimoy and Nicolas Meyer (his last feature film).
“The Undiscovered Country” is a thinly veiled political commentary about the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall, but that doesn’t stop it from being a great movie. It helps that I am a political junkie who finds this sort of story fascinating. “The Undiscovered Country” sees Klingon Empire suffer their own Chernobyl and like the real Soviet Union, forced to open up to their nemesis because of the weight of their military expenditure. However there are forces within the Federation and the Klingons to continue their conflict.
Meyer wanted to make a Star Trek movie more in terms of a realistic universe with ideas of racism and distrust still existing, leading to conflict with Gene Roddenberg and William Shatner – Meyer had to misdirect Shatner when Kirk said ‘let them die’ to make it into a cold statement of vengeance.
As well as the political drama, “The Undiscovered Country” worked as a mystery and a sci-fi adventure that sees a creative assassination and Kirk and McCoy being sent to a Klingon version of a Gulag. It is one of the richest Star Trek movies in showing the world of the franchise. “The Next Generation’s” Michael Dorn even cameos as his character’s ancestor, defending Kirk and McCoy in their trial.
However “The Undiscovered Country” does have some small problems, like Uhura rushing through dictionaries to communicate with the Klingons. It was a scene played for laughs but Nichelle Nichols did question Meyer over this because she felt the ship’s communications officer and linguist should know the Klingon language.