With the release of the third Star Trek film, Star Trek Beyond, of the new rebooted version of Star Trek, I thought it would be nice to look back at the earlier films. Maybe the new films will inspire more people to seek out the older series and films, but they should be prepared to see something that is quite different from the current rebooted films. I’d like to run through the films as a quick guide on what to expect. The films so far have brilliant moments, but there are also some turds.
All films can be divided into three series, more or less.
- The first 6 films feature the crew of the original series: Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the rest. There is a general rule that says that all the even films are good, and the odd films suck. The rule holds for the first series.
- Films 7 to 10 feature the second crew of Picard, Data, Worf and so on, from the Next Generation TV series. The rule of even and odd falls apart, because most of these films suck, with the exception of film 8.
- The third series is where we are now with the reboot.
Second series: The Next Generation crew in their later years.
Star Trek: Generations (1994)
The point of this movie was for the old crew of Kirk, Spock and Bones to step aside and hand over the torch to the new crew of Picard, Data and the rest. To force this, a bland plot pushes some kind of space anomaly into the story, and entering this space anomaly leaves you in some timeless dimension. The story revolves around a bad guy, and all plot twists set aside, Picard enters the anomaly to search for Kirk because he needs his help in defeating the bad guy.
It doesn’t make much sense, and the only point was to get the two actors together in the same scenes for the effect of “OOooohh the two captains are together on the screen”. The rest of the old crew is absent. Leonard Nimoy, who plays Spock, didn’t want to have anything to do with this movie, and right he was.
In addition, they give the new crew the “movie-treatment”. Meaning, the new Enterprise is darker inside, and it crashes too, and Data gets an emotions chip. Both story elements are actually not that bad. But they also try to turn Picard into an action hero and this is a mistake that is hence repeated in every subsequent movie. You could safely skip this one, because the next one is much better. None of these four TNG movies get the characters from the series right though, even though it’s the same actors playing them. Generations actually comes closest in this regard, but it isn’t good.
Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
This is the only The Next Generation film that I occasionally consider rewatching. First Contact combines a couple of great things: first of all, the Borg, perhaps the greatest Star Trek villains. They never seem as scary on the screen as the very idea of them, but maybe they’ve just never been portrayed to their greatest potential, but the film does its best with some good production values. Secondly, humanity’s first contact with aliens, the Vulcans, when humans test out a warp drive for the first time. First Contact ties both stories together when the Borg travel back in time to stop first contact and so prevent the birth of the Federation.
Captain Picard has a history with the Borg from the TV series, because he was once turned into one but got saved. Patrick Steward shows some passionate acting to show the effect it had on Picard. He turns him into a captain Ahab, out for revenge. It’s an action film with a good build-up of tension and exposition, and carried by the skill of Steward to give it all some gravitas. There are still loads of plot holes and the story sacrifices logic for action, but I forgive most of it. There are lots of memorable moments, good music, and most of all it turned out to be the quintessential The Next Generation film, with their best villains and Picard’s best acting.
Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
Star Trek: Insurrection is like a second-rate two-parter from the Next Generation TV series. It’s a bland, low-budget exercise that lacks all flair that you would expect from a theatrical experience. After the action-packed First Contact, Insurrection aims to bring Star Trek back to the heavier moral dilemmas and philosophical disposition of the series. Which is all good and well, but the story and the production is so lackluster that the whole thing devolves into blandness.
Moreover, so little attention was really paid to the script that the story is full of holes, and again Picard acts out of character from how we know him. The story revolves around the observation of a primitive society that is forced to move because they’re sitting on valuable resources. Like in the series, the aliens look just like humans dressed up in simple clothes. It all ends in an out-of-character action scene in which Picard battles the evil, ugly alien. There is no vision or inspiration behind anything in this film. It’s just half-assed.
Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
Star Trek: Nemesis was the gurgling death rattle of the old Star Trek films. They all failed, except First Contact, and after this one seven years would pass till the reboot. After the boring Generations, the good First Contact and the uninspired Insurrection, you didn’t know what was coming, but the hopes were that Nemesis would be a good one again. But it was uninspired garbage that once again pitted Picard as an action hero against a Khan-like adversary, in a story that didn’t make any sense.
The scriptwriters conjured up a villain out of the mines of the Romulan empire, who also happened to be a clone of Picard, played by a shaven Tom Hardy. Genetic bad-looking ugly aliens build a giant ship to attack the Earth, and Picard beams over to fight his clone. No thought was put into this movie at all. It looked cheap too. Skip this one and go straight to the reboot of 2009, which ALSO is about a villain out of the mines of the Romulan empire who seeks revenge, also with a giant ship. Does the reboot plagiarize Nemesis? Yes, but Nemesis stinks anyway, so that’s ok.