On his English sitcom "Spaced," Simon Pegg affirmed the geek truism that only the even-numbered Star Trek films are decent, and the rest are crap (or words to that effect). Since Pegg plays Scotty in J.J. Abrams' reboot Star Trek -- the 11th in the franchise -- he's now hoping to be proved wrong. So does the odd/even rule hold up? Sort of, with two conspicuous exceptions. Here's a ranking of the 11 Star Trek films, from first to worst. Check out the narrator voices in the trailers.
1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
The Enterprise's big screen debut in 1979 was a financial success (and currently ranks as the third-highest grossing film in the series) but something of a critical and aesthetic let-down. Director Nicholas Meyer put wind in the series' sails in part by crafting Khan as a futuristic maritime adventure, like a Horatio Hornblower novel or World War II submarine film. A sequel to the original series episode "Space Speed," Khan features the late Ricardo Montalban as Captain Kirk's best bad guy, but also brought the Trek regulars (as well as Kirstie Alley's scene-stealing Lt. Saavik) to vivid life as well. Plus, the (temporary) death of Spock makes grown men cry.
Famous line: "KHHAAANNNN!!!" -- Captain Kirk (William Shatner)
2. Star Trek (2009)
Director J.J. Abrams takes an approach similar to his treatment of Mission Impossible III, offering a Trek thats bigger, louder, younger and above all faster than any previous model of the Enterprise. If conspicuously low on the humanism that originated with Gene Roddenberry and informed the rest of the films, the new, odd-numbered Star Trek provides superb escapist entertainment and will enlist the next generation of fans. Oddly enough, Eric Bana's vengeful villain in a Romulan warship has striking parallels to the adversary in the franchise's tenth and previous film, Star Trek Nemesis (see below).
Famous line (so far): "I like this ship! It's exciting!" Scotty (Simon Pegg)
3. Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
Like Khan, the eighth Trek outing offers a sequel to TV episode, this time the "Next Generation" two-parter "The Best of Both Worlds 1 and 2" (which, incidentally, qualifies as one of of the most nail-biting cliffhangers ever seen on television). The zombie-like, hive-minded Borg lend the film the sci-fi creepiness of the Alien franchise, while Alice Krige's freaky, seductive Borg Queen stands second only to Khan in the film series' rogue's gallery of villains. The Deanna Troi drunk scene is pretty embarassing and it has some clunky moments, but First Contact features a fascinating time travel plot, in which Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and company must ensure that a mid-21st century space flight keeps Earth's bright future on track. By far the best film from the "Next Generation" crew.
Famous line: "You're all astronauts on some kind of... star trek!" -- Zephram Cochrane (James Cromwell). (Brent Spiner's Mr. Data also puts a nice spin on the Borg's catch-phrase, "Resistance is futile!")
4. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
The highest-grossing Star Trek film (at least until Abrams' films starts breaking records) also happens to be the most overtly comedic, as Kirk and company travel to the 1980s to save 23rd century Earth from a devastating alien probe. Director Leonard "Spock" Nimoy shows faith in the casts' (and his own) ability to carry a humorous, fish-out-of-water situation. Plus, it offers a highly satisfying resolution to the de facto trilogy begun with The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock.
Famous line: "Well, double-dumbass on you!" -- Kirk
5. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
The last voyage of "the original series" crew brings back Khan director Meyer and delivers the goods, as the Enterprise tries to broker a peace with the Klingons, only to get caught up in a galactic conspiracy. Fun, even though the script and the actors feel a little creaky.
Famous line: "There is an old Vulcan proverb: Only Nixon could go to China." -- Spock. (A friend of mine loves the Shatnerism "Let them die!")
6. Star Trek Generations (1994)
The trouble with Generations, the seventh Star Trek film, is that the big scenes -- the Enterprise's crash onto a planet's surface, the extradimensional "Nexus" that permits Kirk to meet Picard, a holographic visit to a sailing ship, the final fight with the evil Dr. Soran (Malcolm McDowell) -- mostly underwhelm. The relatively smaller moments prove fairly satisfying, though, like Kirk christening and then rescuing the Enterprise B and Picard advising Data on how to deal with newly-discovered human emotions. On the other hand, it gives Whoopi Goldberg's alien bartender Guinan a prominent role, and she's one of the weakest, most space-wasting characters in the whole franchise.
Famous line: "It was... fun. Oh my..." -- Kirk's last words. (I kind of line McDowell's line-reading of "Time is the fire in which we burn!")
7. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
Where Generations seems constrained by the need to pair up Picard with Kirk, and kill off the latter, Spock seems encumbered by the need to reunite Spock's soul with his artificially-aging body and thus bring him back to life. The rest feels like connecting the dots. Christopher Lloyd makes a surprisingly ineffectual Klingon villain and the film kills off Kirk's son in weirdly cavalier fashion. Probably the best elements are the caper-type scenes of Kirk's crew stealing the Enterprise, and later, ordering its self-destruction. Another downside: Robin Curtis replaced Alley as Saavik.
Famous line: "I! Have! Had! Enough! Of! You!" -- Kirk
8. Star Trek Nemesis (2002)
After a terrible start involving a wedding party and the suspiciously convenient discovery of a spare version of Data, Nemesis turns into an adequate space adventure that pits Picard against a younger, cloned version of himself, wearing what appears to be a Bob Mackie gown. In a striking failure of sci-fi imagination, the hostile aliens, a race of Romulan off-shoots, look exactly like Nosferatu. Data's noble sacrifice feels like a cheat and the film wants to be The Wrath of Khan in the worst way, but Nemesis features some decent space battles and nice discussions between Picard and Data about nature vs. nurture. It's a shame that the Picard Enterprise didn't get to go out on a stronger note. Undoubtedly the worst of the even-numbered Trek films.
Famous line:Now, if you'll excuse me, gentlemen, I am heading to the gym. -- Picard, preparing for a nude wedding on another planet.
9. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
I ate this up when I saw this on its original theatrical release, but these days it makes for pretty ponderous viewing. An unattributed remake of the original series episode, "The Changeling," the film features one of Voyager space probes returning to Earth as an omnipotent sentient machine that calls itself "V'Ger." (Because it possesses near-unlimited power, but can't wipe the space dust off its own name plate.) Directed Robert Wise (who helmed the sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still) seems to have been adversely inspired by the space warp of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and permits seemingly endless shots of the crew gawking at the special effects. Wise's director's cut on DVD is worth attention, though, and on the plus side, the film introduced Jerry Goldsmith's exciting score and the bony-browed Klingon makeup.
Infamous line: "I intend to calculate thruster ignition and acceleration rate to coincide with the opening of the VGer orifice... I have successfully penetrated the next chamber of the alien's interior" -- Spock, sounding like he needs to get laid.
10. Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
More like Star Trek: Insubordination. The trouble with the "Next Generation" movies is that they usually feel like two-part episodes of the TV series, particularly with this one, the ninth Trek film. The Enterprise protects a population of about 600 peaceable, ageless humanoids from the evil Son'a (led by a stretchy-faced but forgettable F. Murray Abraham) and a Federation conspiracy. A misguided attempt to graft the humor of The Voyage Home into the script has bizarre, unsatisfying results, like Picard rebooting a malfunctioning Data by singing from Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore. Meanwhile, the Dominion War arc on "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" kicked all kinds of ass, but only Trekkies knew about it.
11. Star Trek: The Final Frontier (1989)
Supposedly The Final Frontier's special effects budget was slashed in mid-production, badly undermining the finished product. Even so, it's difficult to imagine smoke and mirrors redeeming the silly script, broad performances and thin premise. William Shatner directs a film that combines the franchise's campiest space opera, an unconvincing, pop-psychology spewing antagonist (Spock's heretofore unmentioned half-brother), slapstick, bad puns and a kooky final confrontation with God (who turns out to be an alien impostor). If judged solely by The Final Frontier, Star Trek would neither live long nor prosper.
Famous line: "Excuse me, what does God need with a starship?"
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