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Star Trek Movies

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When Simon Pegg, the British comedy writer and actor, was looking for a truism to put in the mouth of Tim Bisley, the character he played in the wonderful TV show Spaced, he came up with the following:

Sure as night follows day, sure as eggs is eggs, sure as every odd numbered Star Trek movie is s**t.

And thus did he endear himself instantly to a legion of fans. But was he right? Of course he was. But just saying that doesn't make for much of a Guide Entry, so let's take a closer look.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

Motionless picture, more like. Dull, dull, everything's dull! The story is a reheated version of the original series episode 'Changeling'. It would be best to avoid shaking hands with the supporting cast for fear of getting splinters in your hand, such is the quality of the acting.

One of the great things about the original series was how vibrant and colourful it all was - men in red shirts getting killed left, right and centre - it was great! So, of course, given a huge effects budget and a massive screen to show it off on, what to do with the uniforms? Let's make them grey. All of them. All grey. It'll save money for the special effects.

The special effects were so special that whole sequences were created just to show them off. Kirk, on arrival on the Enterprise, could simply walk on board from a boarding tube, or beam aboard from another ship, or just fly directly to the shuttlebay. But no - Scotty takes him on a complete circumnavigation of the ship, taking almost ten minutes (or did it just seem that long?) with no dialogue! Nothing happens for ten minutes except 'Look at our lovely new model of the Enterprise! Doesn't it look expensive? And isn't this music nice? We'll use it again in eight years time when we need a theme tune for the new TV series, but for now, try to stay awake while we fly round the ship again.'

Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

This is more like it. A tie-in with the original series, a proper villain played with gusto by Ricardo Montalban, great special effects which aren't lingered over, a new type of ship, Kirstie Alley as Saavik, some superb lines ('Khaaaaaaaaaaaan!') and a nicely handled acknowledgement that the cast are getting older.

And just when you think it can't get any better, Spock dies.

Star Trek 3: The Search for Spock (1984)

The search for plot more like. Terrible nonsense made all the more unforgivable by criminally wasting the talent of Christopher Lloyd as a Klingon loony. Saavik has a head transplant which nobody notices, and a lot of guff is talked about the Genesis planet. The sole redeeming feature of this film is that it set up the next one...

Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home (1986)

Still the most financially successful Star Trek film, this had the indefinable element Paramount have been trying to recapture ever since - 'crossover'. Even non-Trek fans loved this. It had the cast in a cool ship, time travel to the 'present' (ie 1986) and all the misunderstandings that can cause. Standout moments include Kirk's line 'No, I'm from Iowa, I only work in outer space', and Chekov wandering around the pre-Glasnost USA with a thick Russian accent asking for directions to the nearest 'nuclear wessel'.

A great movie for anyone, which gives pretty much the whole cast a chance to shine, including the most important member, who puts in a sterling performance near the end when an extended underwater sequence is featured. William Shatner's wig performs beyond the call of duty in this scene, remaining resolutely in place during his entire impression of Shelley Winters from The Poseidon Adventure.

Star Trek 5: The Final Frontier (1989)

A low point in Star Trek history; Paramount prefer to pretend that this never happened. Writers on the shows are advised that the events of this movie are 'considered apocryphal'.

Basically, Spock turns out to have a brother neither he nor his father ever mentioned to any of his very best friends in the world, even at the point of his death or resurrection. This brother turns out to be a messianic loony who, with the help of the brainwashed Spock, takes over the Enterprise and takes it to the centre of the galaxy to find God, who then tries to steal the ship, but is stopped by some fast-talking from Kirk. 'God', of course, turns out to be some sort of energy being and not God at all. If this sounds bad written down, imagine what it must be like to watch for two hours.

Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

Planned as the swan song for the old cast, and featuring a cameo from one of the Next Generation actors (Michael Dorn, playing Worf's great grandfather), this is a cracking movie. Basically it amounts to 'Glasnost with Klingons', and has plot twists aplenty and lots of good action, great special effects and plenty of scenery-chewing villainy from the main antagonist, played by Christopher Plummer - a very different role from Baron von Trapp. The special edition has even more plot twistery, with a human impostor posing as a Klingon assassin. A good movie in either version.

Star Trek: Generations (1994)

The numbers were dropped from the titles, but this is still an odd-numbered Star Trek movie, unfortunately. It suffers from trying to do too much, while simultaneously almost doing too little. Too much, in that a single film had to establish the actual last appearance of the old cast - in this case Scotty, Chekov and Kirk, while also introducing and establishing the Next Generation cast, giving them all something to do, finding an excuse to blow up the ship and land the saucer section, bringing the two captains together in an epic struggle, and killing Kirk in a suitably heroic way which would save the galaxy just one more time.

While the film does get all these things done, it is, for some reason, hard to care. It all seems so very paint-by-numbers, and despite the obvious enormous expense on special effects, the saucer section crash just doesn't convince.

It also marks the first time anyone swears in any incarnation of 'Trek', with the newly emotion-equipped Data letting fly with a forgivable 'Oh sh***********t!' as he crashes the ship. Ultimately this was probably the best of the odd numbers, but that's not saying much.

Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

An even number, and we're back on form. A fantastic villain - the Borg Queen's first entrance has to be seen to be believed - and fantastic special effects on the opening space battle set the tone for what is an excellent movie. Time travel is again a feature, but only as far back as the invention of warp drive, which the Borg want to interfere with.

Shorn of the need to refer to the old series, the Next Generation cast (and a cameo from Voyager's Doctor) get on with the business of being heroes and kicking villainous ass. Picard realises the depth of his obsession with the Borg, Riker and Geordi get to ride on the first Earth warp ship, Worf hits a Borg so hard he literally goes into orbit, and Deanna Troi gets falling-down drunk. Character development? It's all here. And of course, Data gets his end away. Or does he? Brilliant. The ending's a bit weak, though.

Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)

Oh, dear. Odd number, odd film. Data goes gaga and tries to protect a colony of immortals from the depredations of some nasty people with wrinkly skin (F Murray Abraham in almost as much makeup as he wore for the part of Salieri in Amadeus) and some crooked Starfleet people. The whole Enterprise crew revolt against their orders to join him and not a great deal happens, comparatively.

Oh, there are some space battles, a bizarre sequence involving a shuttle chase conducted while singing, and Picard gets romantically involved with a woman old enough to be his great-great-great-great-grandmother, but as with Generations, it is for some reason hard to care. This film fails to stir the blood the way any of the even numbers do. It's not that it's bad, particularly, it simply isn't that great. Damning with faint praise, indeed.

The Future

The next Star Trek film is (at the time of writing) to be titled Star Trek: Nemesis. Plot details have been leaked on various websites, and it's shaping up to be a cracker, and yes, reports that Wil Wheaton has been offered a cameo are believed to be correct, though whether he will appear as everyone's favourite character, Wesley Crusher1, is as yet unconfirmed.

It may well be the last film featuring the full Next Generation cast, which leaves the way open for subsequent films based on Deep Space 9, Voyager or the new TV show Enterprise. But most importantly of all, the next film has an even number. It therefore has a lot to live up to.

1There are, of course, whole groups and websites devoted to hatred of this much misunderstood character.

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