Celebrating the five full decades of Star Trek should be a yearlong event, so I thought I would spread the love of all things Trek. Previously in this series I touched on why I loved the Original Series, the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise. I then looked at the Kelvin timeline movies, and most recently looked at the animated series. Now, it’s time to look at why I love the ten motion pictures from what is now being referred to as the Prime Timeline. Yes, we are looking at everything from Star Trek: The Motion Picture to Star Trek: Nemesis. I wanted to look at this list of movies separately from the more recent J.J. Abrams movies because the two groups are very different. Many fans enjoy both, but a significant number see the recent trio of films as not true Trek. The two sets of films are different entities, and they are treated as such here.
December 1979, after more than a decade since the live action original series first appeared on television, the crew of the USS Enterprise returned for their next adventure. Many have rightfully given credit to Star Wars, being released a couple years before, as the catalyst that allowed Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the rest another shot at telling us important stories. There was a desire to see more space movies on a big scale, and Paramount had just the franchise to mine. From 1979 to 2002, it was not uncommon news to have new Star Trek movies to look forward to. Some, such as Star Trek V, were duds, but we had some great gems of movies (Wrath of Khan, Voyage Home, and First Contact usually topping your typical fan’s favourite list). While it may not have made as much money as other franchises, it was generally successful and quite often well received. It allowed a new generation of fans to discover the show, and the critical success of movies 2-4 allowed interest in a new live-action series to grow. This resulted in the Next Generation, who would carry on the movie tradition with four films of their own. Despite the flaws and misses of some of the movies, there is so much to love about them that it has been hard for me to come up with my Top 5 reasons for loving them, but here we go!
1. Even when bad, there is something to love – Many will argue that the odd numbered films were inferior to the even numbered (except for Nemesis, which many found to be sub-par). While some will speak of “The Motionless Picture” and “Shatner’s Folly” (The Final Frontier), we still have something to love about each of the movies. The Motion Picture was heavily criticized for its slow pace, it is hard to argue that the special effects were brilliant. The Search for Spock is often overlooked because it was not at the same level as the two films that book-end that trilogy, but it struck some fairly emotional cords with its story. Yes, the Final Frontier was loopy, but I have yet to find a film that was able to capture the friendship of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy better than what we saw on their camping trip. Many thought Insurrection was nothing more than a glorified two-part episode on the big screen, but we did get to see some great moments when our beloved characters were able to be in different roles (plus, Geordi finally gets to spend some quality time with his full and proper vision). As for Nemesis, well, we get to see some great cameos of old favourites (Wes Crusher, Guinan, and Admiral Janeway). There is always something good in each of the movies.
2. Big name stars – In Hollywood there are movie stars and television stars. It is difficult to find one who is huge in both. This means that some of our favourite movie stars were only likely to show up in Star Trek in a movie role. We were able to have legends like Malcolm McDowell, Christopher Lloyd, Tom Hardy, and Christopher Plummer take to the stars in memorable roles. The movies were even able to help launch the careers of some great future stars (Kirstie Alley being the most notable).
3. Actor-director precedent – Star Trek III: the Search for Spock set a precedent in the Trek franchise by allowing Leonard Nimoy to work from behind the camera as director. This was a first in the franchise. While many may feel that it was not a big deal as Nimoy was barely in the movie, it was important for a few reasons. First, at the time, many fans were uncertain as to whether or not Spock would return. He had died in the previous movie, and people just did not know how to embrace Trek without our favourite Vulcan. This at least let us know that Leonard Nimoy had not left the Trek family, but was still integrally involved in telling its story. Second, because it was a success, this not only allowed Nimoy a chance to direct “The Voyage Home”, but opened the door for William Shatner to direct the fifth movie (for better or for worse), as well as start people thinking about letting some of the actors in the TV shows direct episodes. This paved the way for the likes of Johnathan Frakes (who also directed back-to-back Next Gen movies), Levar Burton, Michael Dorn, Patrick Stewart, Gates McFadden, Avery Brooks, Rene Auberjonois, Avery Brooks, Roxann Dawson, Alexander Siddig, Robert Duncan McNeill, Robert Picardo, Tim Russ, and Andrew Robinson to have their turn behind the camera. It became a great tradition that all started with the movies.
4. The “You Don’t See That Every Day” factor – the movies allowed Star Trek to do things that had been previously unheard of in Star Trek. It started with Spock’s death in the Wrath of Khan. Never before had a major character been killed, and this led to some great moments for several movies to come. We also were witness to other big events as both Enterprises were destroyed (the original in The Search for Spock, and Picard’s ship in Generations). We were able to see the inside of the Borg cube in much more detail as well. There’s something about having a big movie budget that allows you to do more than you could in a TV series. Everything from climbing a mountain to taking a stroll along the hull of the Enterprise was on the table. We saw the deaths of beloved characters in Khan Singh, Data, and Captain Kirk himself. More could happen than was allowed on the television, and that is what the movies are supposed to be.
5. The stories – Generally speaking, the story-telling in the original movie series was mostly very good to excellent. Yes, looking for God was a bit hokey, the V’Ger story was slow, and the planet of eternal youth was not revolutionary by any means, but the stories told in the movies were, for the most part, engaging. Death, sacrifice, vengeance, forgiveness, war, peace, loss, rebirth, hope, new beginnings, and the end of a journey were all focused on during the course of ten movies. There were great moments that showed our beloved characters doing something new or in a situation that allowed them to shine in unique ways. Think of a drunken Troi trying to get info out of an equally drunk Zefram Cochrane, Chekov stealing his scenes in late 20th Century San Francisco, or McCoy trying to give a Starfleet security officer the Vulcan neck pinch. Lots of “fish out of water” moments for so many of our crew members, and they were all due to great story writing.
So, there we have it, my Top 5 Reasons for Why I Love the Original movies. If you want to see how the movies rank against each other, check out Part 1 and Part 2 of my movie article. This also concludes my look at the many reasons why I love all aspects of Star Trek. It has been a fun year celebrating a half-century of this beloved franchise. I hope yours has been equally enjoyable.