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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Star Trek at 50 – A Beginners Guide to the Films



Star Trek is 50 years old this month! To celebrate Geek Pride is bringing you a series of articles in recognition of one of the greatest science fiction franchises in history as well as exclusive coverage of Destination Star Trek, the largest Trek Convention in Europe this October.

In 1979 Star Trek returned, not as a television show but on the big screen. Trekkies, starved of new live Trek for nearly a decade, lined up in droves to see their favourite characters reunited on celluloid, thus kick starting the run of movies that make up a huge financial backbone of the franchise.

Whilst you may have heard about the odd number, even number curse of Trek flicks and heard of die hard fans vehemently dismiss the 2009 reboot films (aka The Kelvin Timeline) this article will not attempt to rank the movies in any order. Instead we’re going to give you a brief synopsis and the pros and cons of each picture and let you dear reader work the rest out. Oh and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t seen these films yet.

The Original Cast Movies


Star Trek The Motion Picture (1979)

Kirk re-joins the crew of the Enterprise to stop a mysterious alien cloud that threatens all life it its path.

Pros – It’s a gorgeous film to look at. The Special FX by Douglas Trumbull hold up extremely well even for a film made nearly 40 years ago. That fly by of the Enterprise is to die for as are the many amazing 2001:A Space Odyssey influenced sequences.

Cons – It’s slow, dry and ponderous; dubbed by many as Star Trek The Motionless Picture, many feel the pace of the film really lets the story down. I have a rather love hate relationship with this one which I will go into further detail in another article so watch this space. The pyjama uniforms didn’t go down with the cast and fans either although I will discuss that at a later time.

Star Trek II- The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Kirk meets an old foe from the original series and has to weigh up whether or not the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.

Pros – There’s nothing more that needs to be said about this film that hasn’t been written already. It’s ruddy brilliant.

Cons – I have to say the most glaring errors are the films rehashed special effects sequences taken directly from the previous film. As if we Trekkies wouldn’t notice?!?

Star Trek III – The Search for Spock (1984)

Kirk and crew go rogue to save their old friend whilst facing a no win scenario of their own.

Pros – Riding off the back of the back of the success of TWOK the SFX are stunning. The approach on spacedock and the final destruction of the Enterprise are stunning moments in this film.

Cons – Stand alone it’s not the greatest Trek film however it serves to bridge II and IV together quite well and offers some truly memorable moments. The recasting of Kirsty Alley with Robin Curtis is also too obvious for us continuity obsessed fans.

Star Trek IV – The Voyage Home (1986)

Kirk and the gang have to go back to 1986 to find two whales and bring them back to the future. Sound mental right?! But seriously it’s amazing fun!

Pros – Last of The Genesis trilogy that started with Wrath of Kahn, this has the most ridiculous plot lines you’ll ever hear but at the same time is one of the best and the funniest Trek movies ever made! In fact I’d put this down as one of my favourites. 

Cons – It’s lack of budget caused producers to set in modern times. Whilst this isn’t a huge flaw some purists find it a tad goofy but there’s no denying its box office return.

Star Trek V – The Final Frontier (1989)

Kirk fights God at the end. Kirk wins.

Pros – Not many in this film which fans regard as the weakest of all the new Trek films. There are nice moments in it though, in particular the campfire scenes between Kirk, Spock and Bones in Yosemite Park. I would have to say the title is pretty good. But that’s about it.

Cons – This is what you get when you let the star of the show write and direct it. Shatner’s hubris oozes out of the screen. Couple that with the weak plot, the obviously reused sets from TNG, the plot holes, the cheap SFX and “that” fan dance this makes for a rather weak Trek outing.

Star Trek VI  The Undiscovered Country (1991)

Some old habits die hard and old enemies need to reconcile. The movie that paralleled the fall of the Berlin wall that was happening at the same time, the Federation and the Klingon Empire make moves towards the rocky road of peace.

Pros – Fantastic last outing for the crew and one that they finally deserved. Tense plot points, great characterisation from all the main stars and memorable sequences from the Gorkon assassination and General Chang’s salubrious use of Shakespeare, this is one of the underrated even number films. Nicholas Mayer proving that directorial lightening can strike twice.

Con – I would say the only draw back would be the age of the actors. As parodied in the Simpsons this film can feel like it really is Star Trek 12, So Very Tired. Thankfully this is addressed in the film at various points so don’t let that put you off.

The Next Generation Movies


Star Trek – Generations (1994)

Kirk dies. Then he comes back again in the future inside some dream Nexus where he has to fight a vexed El-Aurian with Picard.

Pros – The Enterprise saucer section crash sequence is amazing although heartbreaking to see a ship that we all spent the past seven years loving on the Next Generation. The Enterprise B is spectacular looking even if its commanded by Captain Cameron from Ferris Bueller. Malcolm McDowell makes for an interesting if not underwhelming villain but brings his thespian zeal to the screen with great aplomb.

Cons – Shot immediately after The Next Generation finale the movie was firstly a shameless cash in on the immediacy of the show and secondly an awkward shoehorning of Kirk into the TNG era. The previous movie gave our heroes the ride into the sunset and many fans were outraged at the death of Kirk in such an ignoble fashion. The uniforms seem to swap about a lot giving the sense of in-cohesion on the Enterprise bridge. And once more with the reusing of shots; the destruction of the Klingon Bird of Prey is exactly the same as The Undiscovered Country. Sticking with a single Bird of Prey, how the heck could a Galaxy class starship be taken out by such a small ship? Surly Mr. Worf just had to remodulate the shields and phasers and blow it up in one shot.

Star Trek First Contact (1996)

The first stand alone adventure of the Next generation crew is a sequel to the Best of Both Worlds and is possibly one of the best films in the series. It has action, adventure, time travel and the bad ass Borg returning to harass earth. With epic space battles, fight scenes and stunning episodes throughout this is the most high octane Trek film of the series.

Pros – The Enterprise E. “The line must be drawn here, this far, no further” James Cromwell (aka the farmer from Babe) rocking out to Steppenwolf and Buddy Holly. The Borg Queen. The Borg. The Battle of Sector 001. The Defiant cameo. The Phoenix Warp Ship. The Vulcans at the end. Barclay’s cameo. The EMH cameo. The Holodeck sequence. The new starships; Akira, Steamrunner, the new uniforms, the portrayal of a pivotal moment in Trek history, the fact the title “Star Trek” gets mentioned …I could go on.

Cons – I do have one about gripe about this film albeit a minor one. Director Jonathan Frakes gives his own character Will Riker all the cheesy lines. The smug is strong with this one.

Star Trek Insurrection (1999)

A mysterious planet in a mysterious part of the galaxy holds a mysterious power to the mysterious fountain of youth. (It’s very mysterious.) The Enterprise crew have to come to odds with following orders or the idea of what is right.

Pros – Again the VFX are very nice to look at, the Briar patch gives a lovely crimson feel to the film. The shuttle sequence with Data singing Gilbert and Sullivan is quite fun. Jerry Goldsmiths musical nod to the 1976 film Capricorn One. F Murray Abraham is always a delight even if he is playing the bad guy with stretchy skin. Oh and who could forget the Enterprise E’s Atari Joystick! Also Riker and Troi end the years of will they, won’t they and get married in the next film.

Con – The movie is just so beige, quite like the costumes. Plot wise it’s the exact same plot as Journeys End but in this case its Picard that goes rogue which left a lot of fans perplexed as to the sudden change of character. Overall it’s a watchable two part episode but nothing like First Contact or TWOK.

Star Trek Nemesis (2002)

Picard and co travel to Romulas to confront an old enemy only to find his younger more evil Tom Hardy clone looking back at him.

Pros – Starts off promising, has a great soundtrack, fairly good VFX and got the old gang back together. It was also about time the Romulans got their big screen break being one of TNG and TOS’s most prolific protagonists. The Scimitar is also a bad ass ship. And the Enterprise ramming it was cool too but aside from that it had a lot of problems. In fact at a previous Trek convention Marina Sirtis who played Troi just came out and said that the director “was an idiot!”

Cons – Where to start? I remember that this being an even numbered film would bring balance to the old trope regarding the numbering. But boy we were let down. The plot holes, the mind rape, why the clone would be so PO’d at Picard, the obvious ripping off of TWOK, the way the film was left hanging, that it wasn’t a good farewell the TNG crew deserved on the big screen, the dune buggies, no one questioning that B4 could have been Lore and that that particular plot line had been done before. Unnecessary mind rape. The existential feeling of emptiness that you had when you left the cinema.

The Kelvin Universe Movies


Star Trek (2009)

To be honest I like the JJ Abrams reboots for what they are; big blockbuster Hollywood adventures. I remember being kinda taken aback that I was told I was witnessing an alternative time line of events from the original series. What about the universe with all my favourite characters and stories? Then I figured that by retconning the entire thing in the most Star Trek way possible was actually fine by me. Star Trek had in a way out Star Trekked itself. I think what makes these films quite watchable are the excellent casting choices in particular Karl Urban as Dr McCoy. Love it or loathe it the reboots have breathed new life into the franchise and paved the way for a new TV series to be released in 2017!

Pros – The aforementioned great casting. Solid re-realisation of the Enterprise. They way they didn’t mess about with the uniforms too much; classic with a modern twist. Leonard Nimoy. A decent villain. The exploration of Spock’s human side. Winona Rider as Spock’s mother Amanda Greyson. Chris Hemsworth as Kirks dad. More varied aliens. The visit to Starfleet Academy that we’ve all been waiting for. The music score. The Beastie Boys. Young Spock and Kirk.

Cons – Bloody lens flare everywhere. Red Matter (?!?!) The rebooting of the universe which irked some of the hardcore faithful. The departure of the more thoughtful Trek ideals for a more action based plot. Simon Pegg’s Scottish accent.

Star Trek Into Darkness (2012)

After a bomb destroys a Federation facility in London, New Kirk and New Spock face off with an new but familiar foe.

Pros – There’s a lot of the same elements that are there from the previous film, the ship, the crew, the style so pretty much see above. It’s fast and it’s action packed so you probably won’t notice the plot holes and errors unless your a massive Trekkie.

Cons – Whilst a sterling actor Benedict Cumberbatch is, he doesn’t really look like Ricardo Montalbán causing many to cry out about typical Hollywood whitewashing. Alive Eve is there as a character with brains then is for no reason objectified in the infamous shuttle craft scene. That plus loads of other plot holes and technology inconsistencies and yet another re-hash of TWOK. Plus all the secrecy surrounding whether or not Khan was going to be appearing in the film fooled no one and served absolutely no purpose. And magic Tribbles?!?! Give me a break

Star Trek Beyond (2016) 

The latest Trek film focuses on the main characters in a classic survival story stranding them on a planet with a dangerous foe to contend with.

Pros – The Yorktown fly through; just spellbinding. “Cut her throat.” the Enterprise gets destroyed….again. The Beastie Boys. The USS Franklin. A solid adventure film which was sadly the last for actor Anton Yelchin who died tragically and onscreen salutes to Leonard Nimoy. Get the tissues at the ready for those nods to the past too with the crew photo. And all the cool references to the past 50 years.

Cons – I felt Idris Elba’s character was a little too undercooked; the explanation for his decent into madness wasn’t focused on enough. I know Trek kills off a lot of its secondary characters but the killing of Ensign Syl in the death chamber was a tad heartless. Also we Trekkies like our technobabble. The mcguffin weapon was a bit too simplistic. Also did any realise that our heroic female protagonist Jaylah was a bit too much like Rey from The Force Awakens? Still she was a great character all the same.

­­Bonus Film


Galaxy Quest (1999)

Such a good Star Trek film I got it included at a conventions Top Ten Trek Movies list. No other film does better to send up the goofiness of the fan culture and the show that everyone loves so much. So much so that the Trek cast adore it too!

Pros – Best parody film ever.

Cons – None.

Stay tuned for more articles celebrating Trek in the coming weeks as well as our exclusive coverage of Destination Star Trek 50 in October.

Mark lives in Belfast where he runs a ukulele club, plays board games and watches old TV shows. His interests include Cold War architecture, trawling for vintage toys on eBay and reading Starship schematics on Memory Alpha. He was a finalist on the UK version of King of the Nerds.

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