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Josh Ranks the Star Trek Movies From Worst to Best

September 11th, 2013
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Quite a lot of websites picked up the story of how, at a recent Star Trek convention, fans ranked the twelve Trek films from worst to best.  Badass Digest’s Devin Faraci wrote a terrific piece on the ranking, sharing his thoughts on all the films.  It’s a hoot to read, and well worth your time.  There were a few things out of wack in the fan ranking (Star Trek: First Contact is better than The Undiscovered Country??  Madness!!) but for the most part it’s a decent ranking of the films.

Here is my personal ranking of the Trek films, from worst to best:

12. Star Trek: Nemesis a heartbreaking disappointment, all the more so because this wound up being the final Next Generation film.  I have often lamented on this site how often great stories (be they movies, TV shows, books, comics, etc.) fail to get a proper ending.  (With exhibit A being The X-Files.  Sigh.)  I think it is a huge shame that Star Trek: The Next Generation, a hugely popular and successful TV show, didn’t ever get the dignified wrap-up it deserved.  Instead, we got this mess, a misguided attempt to remake The Wrath of Khan (seriously, the last 30 minutes of this flick is almost an exact duplication of the ending of Wrath of Khan).  The whole story about faux-brothers (Picard/Shinzon, Data/B-4) was ill-conceived.  Shinzon as a clone of Picard never made any sense (and though Tom Hardy has proven to be a magnificent actor, Shinzon is a whiny brat and a terrible villain) and the imbecilic B-4 was a dumb retread of the Data-Lore stories that had already been done on The Next Gen series.  The plot was stupid (what was the point of that crazy dune-buggy chase early in the film?  Just who were the aliens shooting at Picard and co.??) and most of the ensemble was wasted (Dr. Crusher had zero to do, and the mind-rape of Troi was just terrible).  Add the pointless death of Data on top and you get the worst Trek film, by a wide margin.

11. Star Trek Into Darkness What was I just saying about misguided attempts to remake The Wrath of Khan?  After the flawed but fun 2009 Star Trek reboot, this was a big bucket of cold water on the heads of Star Trek fans.  A stupid, stupid script (I defy you to explain to me why Khan does anything he does in this film.  Why does he go to the Klingon home-world?  Why does he put his frozen friends into torpedoes?  Why does he let himself get captured by Kirk and then sits and does nothing while Admiral Marcus almost destroys the Enterprise with him on board??) filled with plot holes a quadrant wide (the most imbecilic being Khan’s death-curing super-blood.  Oh, and Spock chasing after Khan for his afore-mentioned death-curing super-blood when they had seventy frozen super-humans — all with the same super-blood — sitting right there up on the Enterprise), and a total waste of the character of Khan.  The film looks beautiful and the special effects are astounding.  It’s awesome to see a Star Trek adventure realized with such a big budget (which is why I ranked this film one better than the cheap-looking Nemesis, though it will be interesting to see whether, in a few years, my opinion of this film improves or worsens), but Into Darkness is an empty, brain-dead film.  What a disappointment.  (Click here for my original review.)

10. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier I actually like quite a lot about the much-maligned Star Trek V, though there’s no doubt that over-all the film is a failure, a near-disastrous mis-step after the brilliance and successes of Star Trek II, III, and IV.  (Thank the heavens that Star Trek VI managed to right the ship and give the classic Star Trek cast the swan song they deserved.)  The comedy is tin-eared and borderline parody.  (Scotty whacking his head on a corridor ceiling?  Come on.)  The Klingons are wasted.  The great David Warner is wasted.  The mind-control aspect of the story is stupid.  Kirk’s “I need my pain!” speech is ridiculous.  Uhura’s fan-dance is, ugh, I can say no more.  The ending falls hugely flat.  Still, I sort of love the renewed focus on the Kirk-Spock-McCoy triumvirate, I love the beauty of the opening rock-climbing sequence, I love Jerry Goldsmith’s score, and even if in the end it amounts to little, I like the ambition of the the-Enterprise-crew-meets-God storyline.

9. Star Trek: Insurrection I actually just recently re-watched Insurrection, so I’ll have more to say about this film soon.  Just as Star Trek V was a mis-step into bad comedy following the life-and-death adventures of Star Treks II-IV, so too was Insurrection a mis-step into comedy and lightness after the action-packed First Contact.  As a two-part episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Insurrection would have been great.  The story is actually pretty good and it is decently well-executed. As a movie, though, it’s a complete mis-understanding of what Star Trek fans are looking for from a movie.  The film is light and inconsequential, which is its biggest sin.  When we were only getting one movie adventure every few years, fans wanted an epic story, and this wasn’t it.  Trying to make something out of the Enterprise crew defying orders for the hundredth time didn’t work, and the important story-lines (Riker and Troi finally getting back together) were glossed over in favor of Picard’s relationship with a woman we don’t care about and will never see again, and Worf going through Klingon puberty.  The film looks cheap, the bad guys aren’t threatening.  I like that the filmmakers wanted to return to a story that would be closer in tone to the Next Generation TV show than were the movies Generations and First Contact, but in the end that was the wrong approach to take.

8. Star Trek: The Motion Picture the DVD Director’s Edition re-edit improves TMP somewhat, but this is still a very boring, wooden film.  I rank it higher than the four films just listed for three reasons.  1) To acknowledge the miracle of a big-screen, big-budget resurrection of a cancelled TV show.  This remains something incredibly rare, a miraculous resurrection.  Flawed though it is, without TMP, the Star Trek franchise as we know it — and the hundreds of hours of amazing adventures we have enjoyed in the follow-up movies and TV shows — would not exist.  2) Because this film gave us the refit Enterprise, which I think still stands as the absolute best, most gorgeous version of the Enterprise ever, and one of the very finest space-ship designs of all time.  3) Because for all that it is a talky, boring film, I love that this is a movie all about BIG IDEAS.  This is not an action movie.  There are no shoot-em-ups and very few phasers fired.  No, like the very best of Star Trek, this movie is one that explores heady concepts about humanity.  I love it for that.

7. Star Trek J.J. Abrams’ re-boot of the Star Trek franchise is hugely flawed, dragged down by a weak script filled with plot-holes.  (Click here for my original review.)  But the film is so much FUN it’s easy to overlook those problems.  The cast is note-perfect and the action is tremendous.  The film is gorgeous to look at.  It’s great fun seeing Trek finally realized on a big budget, with a visionary director at the helm.  (Say what you will about J.J. Abrams, but there is no denying that he has a strong visual style.)  If I was being totally impartial, I might have to rate this as a better film than either First Contact or Generations, my number six and number five selections, but those two films got the nod from me because they are “my” Star Trek, the Star Trek I grew up with, while this rebooted Trek, though fun, is something else entirely.

6. Star Trek: First Contact Picard’s melt-down scene in his ready room with Lily (“the line must be drawn here!”) could be my very favorite scene in any Star Trek film or TV show.  It’s such a nuanced, perfectly written, perfectly performed scene, filled with raw emotion and potent dialogue beats, that for me it elevates the entire film.  First Contact is a very well-made film.  It looks great.  The visuals by ILM are terrific (including a spectacular but all-too-brief battle between Starfleet and a Borg Cube at the start of the film).  It’s terrific fun to see the Borg realized on the big screen.  The film is brought down, though, by the foolish decision to make a Borg story a time-travel story, something totally out of character for the Borg.  I like all of the business with Zephram Cochrane (a terrific James Cromwell) and the invention of warp drive, but all that time-travel silliness just doesn’t fit into a Borg story.  And how exactly did the Enterprise crew get back to the future, anyways…?  (Click here for my full review.)

5. Star Trek: Generations Only in recent years have I begun to rank this film above First Contact.  Generations is a film that doesn’t entirely work, and the ending with the death of Kirk is terribly-executed and completely misguided.  But I like everything that comes before that final 20-30 minutes a whole heck of a lot.  The opening on the Enterprise B is a lot of fun, and the middle hour of the movie is the best representation of the Next Generation crew on the big screen that we ever got.  I love the scenes on the HMS Enterprise.  I love the story-line with Data’s emotion chip.  I love seeing the stellar cartography lab.  I love seeing Lursa and B’Etor.  I love the battle between the Enterprise and the bird of prey.  I love all the stuff with Guinan.  I love the crash of the Enterprise.  There’s a lot of great stuff in this movie!  If only they hadn’t bungled the ending.  (Click here for my full review.)

C’mon back next week for the completion of my list!

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