Saturday, October 17, 2015

My Ranking of the Star Trek Films

I'm going to do something a little different this week. I spent a good chunk of this morning reading some articles about how other people rated the Star Trek films, and it got me thinking about how I would rank them.

I know it's not about gaming per se, but Star Trek is at least as nerdy as gaming, and besides, there have been more than one game (some of them roleplaying games, even) set in the Star Trek universe. Anyway, it's my blog, and I'll blog about what I want.

So here we go.

Before we get started, I want to give you a little background. I grew up on Star Trek. As a young boy, I loved looking up at the stars and thinking about the vast cosmos in which we lived. So naturally, any story set in outer space strongly appealed to me. I watched Buck Rogers and Battlestar Galactica. I was a fan of the original Star Wars trilogy (although, apparently unlike other young male fans, I wanted to be Luke Skywalker instead of Darth Vader) ­– the new trilogy destroyed my love of the series so thoroughly that I no longer count myself a Star Wars fan at all; after I saw Episode II, I took a long hard look at the entire franchise and realised that the only thing about it that had kept me a fan was nostalgia – remembering the joy I had once gotten as a child from the films, but no longer had.
But of all of these, Star Trek has always remained my favourite. Unlike other fictional universes based around space travel, it focused more on exploration and lofty ideals than on action.

As a child, I would watch the reruns every chance I got. When the first episode of The Next Generation aired, my father let me stay up late to watch it, even though it was a school night. I didn't get to see many episodes when they first aired; the time slot was too late at night. But I've since seen them all. Many of them didn't appeal to me; I found them boring or too focused on technology instead of ethical issues or exploration. My favourite episodes are the ones that deal with fascinating moral dilemmas, like 'The Pegasus,' 'Who Watches the Watchers,' or 'The Measure of a Man.'

I also tend to enjoy those episodes that serve as character study (such as 'Lower Decks') or dealt with particularly interesting physics or temporal issues (like 'Cause and Effect'). But as a whole, I much preferred the original series, in large part because the characters were more compelling. Especially the three main characters (Kirk, Spock, and McCoy), who had a fascinating dynamic and played well off of each other. My favourite original series episode was 'The Tholian Web,' because I got to see Spock in command of the Enterprise. Another favourite was 'For the World Is Hollow, and I Have Touched the Sky,' in which not only are some fascinating social issues examined, but we get to see Dr. McCoy take centre stage.

I was never very fond of Deep Space Nine; the characters didn't appeal to me, and the stories weren't all that interesting. I did, at the suggestion of a friend, watch the entirety of Voyager, which was good, though not as good as the original series or TNG. There were some really good episodes (my favourite being 'Prototype,' which analysed some hefty social issues), but also some really hokey ones (in particular, I found the episodes dealing with spiritual topics, like 'Barge of the Dead,' to be most annoying, as they violate the Star Trek universe's lack of supernatural phenomena).

Anyway, that's a really lengthy prelude, but I think it's important to understand why I rank the films the way that I do. And with that out of the way, let's get to it!

Needless to say, there will be spoilers ahead.

Did you catch that? Because it's really super important. Let me say it again, just to be sure: if you have not seen the films I'm describing below, you will encounter spoilers ahead. One more time, for emphasis:

SPOILERS AHEAD.

12. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

This movie blows chunks. Ok, sure, several original series episodes dealt with the question of god or gods, but finding 'god' at the centre of the galaxy (to say nothing of the tired trope of 'there's an extreme radiation barrier at the edge/centre of the galaxy) was a little obnoxious. Not to mention that this film tried too hard to recapture the success of Star Trek IV with its lighthearted-humour, only to fail miserably. The worst moment was when Scotty hit his head immediately after saying that he knew the ship like the back of his hand, only to be captured upon knocking himself unconscious. If he had hit his head and continued on unimpeded, it would have been funny. Instead, it was lame.

The characters didn't have their usual charm, the story was lame, the humour fell flat, and the very premise was odious. I watched this film once in the cinema, and was so disgusted that I have not seen it since.

11. Star Trek: Insurrection

This movie was boring. As the Next Generation crew did not appeal to me like the original series crew had, it was harder for me care about what happened to them. But in this film, I just could not bring myself to care about what was happening. Especially since the script didn't seem to have been written by anyone who knew anything about the characters. For example, the scene where Troi and Crusher discuss the effects of rejuvenation on their boobs was appallingly out of place.

10. Star Trek: Nemesis

As much as this film was confusing, incoherent, and nonsensical, it didn't bore me as much as Insurrection did. Data's death was a serious anticlimax, and the story didn't make much sense. But at least I wasn't bored watching it. I don't really know what else to say about it. I've watched both this one and Insurrection at least twice (the second time, fairly recently, primarily to remind myself what happens in the films, as they were apparently not sufficiently memorable. Turns out I wasn't failing to remember anything important).

9. Star Trek: The Motion Picture

This film was actually, in some ways, the most boring of the Trek films. However, it had one thing going for it that Insurrection and Nemesis do not: it had the original cast. Getting to see Kirk et al helps to make up, at least in a small way, for the lack of affection I feel when I'm watching Picard and his crew. Especially getting to see the kolihnar ritual on Vulcan; that was a nice touch. And besides, the idea of a man-made probe returning to earth to seek out his creator is at least a moderately interesting concept, even if they did drag it out for twice as long as was really necessary and try too hard to achieve Star Wars-style special effects and a 2001: A Space Odyssey-style narrative feel.

An interesting side note, however: as I was fact checking this article, I found a video on youtube that condenses this film down into 10 minutes. It was surprisingly improved. I think that 10 minutes is probably a little too condensed; if someone were to edit this down into 45 to 50 minutes, I think it would probably be a really good film that was worth watching.

8. Star Trek: Generations

This movie had potential. The attempt to connect the crews from the original Enterprise and the Enterprise D was a noble effort. Unfortunately, there were too many weak characters and shaky premises. I wonder if, had the film had a stronger script and didn't rely on so many of the obviously contrived deus ex machina elements necessary to bring Kirk and Picard together, the film would have been a better success. But from the first scene, with the slowly rotating champagne bottle, the pace was set a little too slowly, and it remained that way through most of the rest of the film. The bizarre scene on the 17th century sailing vessel in the Enterprise D's holodeck didn't really do much to add to the feel either.

7. Star Trek: First Contact

A lot of Trek fans really like this film. Quite frankly, I don't understand why. Sure, it's got the Borg, but I don't seem to find them as intriguing as most other Trek fans do. Sure, it's got a lot of action, but I don't watch Star Trek for the action. I'm here for character, exploration, and idealism. All of that is lacking from First Contact. They made the character of Zefram Cochrane an unlikeable jerk, they robbed Dr Crusher (probably my favourite character from TNG) of screen time, they focused too heavily on the Borg Queen, and they spent too much time packing in action. About the only saving grace is watching Picard's inner turmoil regarding his experience with the Borg. I'd much rather watch numbers II through IV, VI, or one of the Abrams reboots.

6. Star Trek: Into Darkness

This may get me lynched by other Trek fans, but I don't care. Sure, it's a rehash of previous material. Sure, it tries to cheat its way into success by copying scenes from Wrath of Khan. Sure, it kills Kirk in a rather gimpy manner, only to play take-backsies by bringing him back to life. In fact, pretty much everything that happens after the restart-the-engines scene (including that scene itself) could be deleted from the film and the overall quality would skyrocket. But everything up until that point is still, in my opinion, good fun. I liked the character interaction between Kirk and Spock, as well as the development of the relationship between Spock and Uhura. The loose cannon aspect of Kirk's character in the opening scene is a nice touch. And sure, McCoy didn't get nearly enough screen time or character development, and sure, there's not much in the way of exploration, and only a hint of idealism, but I can't help it. For the majority of this film's duration, it's just fun. I can't help but get swept up in it all. I can't put it any lower on my list than this.

5. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock 

This is, admittedly, not a great movie. But as was pointed out in the cracked.com article that ranks the Trek films, Search for Spock is sort of the middle chapter of an unofficial trilogy, and that pulls it up a bit in my rankings as well. The characterisation is a bit weak, the villain a little pointless, and (I'll admit it) the lack of Kirstie Alley in the role of Saavik make this film a little harder to watch that it really should be. But the quest to rescue Spock after the climax of the previous film, the emotionally charged destruction of the Enterprise, and the resolution in which Spock is restored all serve to secure this film's place in the top 5 for me.

4. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

'The one with the whales.' That's how the Dork Spouse always refers to this one, as she is not as much of a Trekkie as I am and can't keep the movies straight by their numbers. And even worse, she always gets it wrong. I say, 'Star Trek 3 (or whatever number),' and she asks, 'Is that the one with the whales?' The one time I said, 'Star Trek 4,' and then looked at her expectantly, she said, 'That's not the one with the whales, right?'

Sigh.

Anyway, I hate to say it, but because of the comedic aspect of this film, it was perhaps the most popular with non-trekkies before the Abrams reboot, and I kind of resent that a little bit. Still, for all of that, it's a good film, with a strong story, good characterisation, and the humour is enjoyable. It's earned its spot at number 4.

3. Star Trek (the J.J. Abrams reboot)

There's not much idealism or exploration in this one. There is quite a lot of character development though. And, so help me, it is just fun. I'll be honest; I'm really disappointed that Abrams has abandoned Star Trek for Star Wars; I was really hoping that, now that he's got the rehash out of the way in Into Darkness, he'd be able to follow up with another really good reboot film that returns to the essence of what Star Trek is really all about: exploration, character development, and idealism that doesn't shy away from tackling some tough social and ethical issues.

2. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Not everyone likes this one as much as I do. I don't know why. The character development was superb, it talks about some very meaty social and ethical issues, there's some level of exploration (maybe not always exploring space, but still...), and there's even a decent amount of action and a sprinkling of comedy. What's not to love? Seriously, director Nicholas Meyer brings with him the exact same magic that made Wrath of Khan so wonderful. The only thing, in my opinion, that keeps this from equalling or exceeding Khan is the fact that we don't have the extreme tension resulting from the interplay of two old rivals who are very nearly evenly matched. This is the only film other than the reboots and Khan that I will be excited to watch multiple times.

And finally, the grand prize winner, in the top spot...

Drum roll please...

1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Yeah, no surprise here.

Anyway. I think that's plenty for this week. I'll see you back here next time. Until then,

Game on!

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