The best and worst original series timeline Star Trek Movies.

Star Trek TOS cast: image from wikimedia)
Star Trek TOS cast: image from wikimedia)

The two Star Trek Timelines

With the recent screening of Star Trek Beyond in the cinema, interest in all things Star Trek has been renewed. The three new series have created an alternate timeline known as the “Kelvin” timeline because a Romulan ship went back in time and destroyed the USS Kelvin, killing Captain Kirk’s father, George Kirk. The Romulan ship then went on to destroy planet Vulcan and change history for all of the Enterprise crew.

I notice that fans are referring to all the films and series which conform to the original timeline as TOS. The Urban Dictionary defines TOS as standing for “the original series”. I would argue for Timeline Original Series, as the spin-off series and Next Generation appear to be obeying the TOS timeline.

(Next Generation: image from CBS.com)
(Next Generation: image from CBS.com)

A list of TOS movies in order of production

  • Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
  • Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
  • Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
  • Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
  • Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
  • Star Trek: Generations (1994)
  • Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
  • Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
  • Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)

I am not a “Trekkie”, I am a fan of all science fiction and fantasy movies. My judgement of these movies will be upon watch-ability, and accessibility to an audience who is not necessarily familiar with the full Star Trek canon. Therefore, my list may vary from other fan lists. I have included a column entitled "cult appeal" in my analysis to indicate the special interests of "Trekkies".

The Five Best Movies

1) Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) directed by Jonathan Frakes

Stardate 2375: the Ba'ku are almost immortal as their planet has a source of regenerative radiation and they live in harmony with nature and reject advanced technology. (This is a form of Shan-gri-la story and I love shan-gri-la stories.) However, there is usually an unseen evil lurking in any paradise, and the crew of the Enterprise-E discover the Son'a intend to take the planet for themselves and enjoy the benefits of regeneration. Captain Picard breaks the rules and rescues the Ba'ku. He also enjoys a romance with a Ba'ku woman.

Analysis

Narrative style
Plot
Cult appeal
Humour
Smooth and watchable
Simple with universal appeal
May be lower than usual as the film breaks the Star Trek "formula", becoming almost mainstream
Picard and Data interact humerously

2) Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) directed by Robert Wise

Stardate 2273: A massive ship shrouded in cloud enters federation space and destroys several Klingon ships. Captain Kirk is sent to intercept the mysterious vessel. Spock also senses a “consciousness” emanating from the ship. The consciousness identifies itself as V’Ger. Upon boarding the mystery ship, V'Ger is revealed as “Voyager 6”, a space probe sent from earth in the twentieth century.

This is the earliest Star Trek film and bore the weight of launching the series into the cinema. It has the least special effects and most primitive film technology. However, the cleverness of the plot punch line makes it worth while for me.

Analysis

Narrative style
Plot
Cult appeal
Humour
Classical science-fiction / mystery investigation, linear, some say slow
Essential discovery and surprise
first Star Trek movie ever
some attempts

3) Star Trek: First Contact (1996) directed by Jonathan Frakes

Stardate: 2373 the Borg begin attacking the Federation, causing traumatic flashbacks for Captain Picard who was tortured by them six years earlier. Picard is ordered to stand by as his performance may be affected by his trauma, but he is unable to remain inactive, deliberately contravening his orders and entering the combat.

The Borg then create a temporal vortex and return to earth Stardate April 4, 2063 (approximately ten years after World War III). Their intention is to prevent “first contact” between humans and Vulcans. The Enterprise follows. Borgs attack the enterprise and begin assimilating all the crew. The Borg capture Commander Data and attempt to sway him to their side with the offer of biological enhancements. The crew of the Enterprise-E are assisted by the crew of the Phoenix, who have retired on earth. Data tricks the Borg Queen, and the crew of the Enterprise-E get to watch “first contact” occur. They return to their own time-zone.

Analysis

Narrative style
Plot
Cult appeal
Humour
fast paced, action, camera cuts, flashbacks, special effects
revelation of details, battle, time travel loops
very modern fully developed Next Generation drama
the doctor offering the Borg a soothing cream for their irritation

4) Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) directed by Leonard Nimoy

Stardate: 2285 – Spock cannot be dead! No one can bear losing Spock. They must find or revive Spock for the fans! The Enterprise is being decommissioned and key crew members are due to be transferred to other ships. Kirk steals the Enterprise and goes to the forbidden Genesis planet to recover the body of Spock. However, Spock is existing in “katra” (spirit) within Bones McCoy while his body is degenerating on Genesis. The team have to prevent the Klingons from stealing the Genesis technology and using it as a weapon of domination. They find Spock’s body and return it to Vulcan, where an ancient Vulcan ritual is employed to return the “katra” to the body.

Analysis

Narrative style
Plot
Cult appeal
Humour
Space opera, posession of Bones by Spock's katra
Action mixed with mysticism
the Recovery of Spock, deep feelings shown amongst the crew, linear continuation from Wrath of Khan,
Not so much as the crew are more sentimental / emotional

5) Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) directed by Nicholas Meyer

Stardate 2293: the Enterprise crew are due to retire, but are asked to negotiate peace between the Klingons and the federation. The talks back-fire and Kirk and Bones McCoy are convicted of assassinating the Klingon High Chancellor. Spock determines that the torpedo fire must have come from another ship.

The original actors are beginning to look a little aged, but with modern special effects and a complex plot, this one remains one of my favourites. Court room dramas, escapes and detective work by the ever logical Spock - what else could a viewer ask?

Analysis

Narrative
Plot
Cult appeal
Humour
Linear, but changes between characters, detective story style
Who-dun-it
Last film purely starring the original crew - for good or bad!
Kirk and Bones dry humour
 
 
 
 

Countdown to the worst movies

6) Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) directed by Nicholas Meyer

Stardate 2285: There had to be a mad man bent on revenge and annihilation – as if this had not been done enough already by the James Bond franchise and early science fiction movies! Khan Noonien Singh, a genetically engineered villain from the television series episode #22 “Space Seed” (1967), re-appears after being sentenced into exile. He has stolen technology known as the Genesis project and threatens to destroy Kirk. Spock sacrifices his life to save the Enterprise.

This film is usually a fan favourite. However, I use it to introduce the count-down to the “worst” of the movies. The cast look young, and they keep walking off into corners to talk about the situation instead of doing something. I am actually tempted to put it at number 9: I really don’t enjoy seeing the death of Spock.

Analysis

Narrative
Plot
Cult appeal
Humour
Action, linear
Revenge
Highly rated by Trekkies
A little
 
 
 
 

7) Star Trek: Nemesis (2002) directed by Stuart Baird

Stardate 2379: The action begins on Romulus where a dangerous alliance is being considered. The Romulan council, however, is sabotaged. Meanwhile, a positronic signal leads the crew of the Enterprise-E to a prototype android. This takes them close to Romulan space, where the new Praetor, Shinzon, appears to want to make peace. Matters are complicated by an intrusion into the Enterprise-E’s computer system. Shinzon captures Picard and reveals he was cloned from Picard’s genetic material. Picard escapes and the enterprise battles Shinzon’s warbird to prevent him from destroying earth. Picard and Data both have to confront alternate versions of themselves and question their essences.

Despite having placed the film at 7, I have to admit Nemesis is often my second choice in a Star-Trek-athon. It is Wrath of Khan modernised for the Next Generation.

Analysis

Narrative style
Plot
Cult appeal
Humour
Slower than some, linear with voice over and internal soliloquies
Complex and mysterious, philosophical
lower than some as it also seems to break the "formula"; gives us a second android, Deanna Troy and Riker's wedding
limited to some interactions between data and B4

8) Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) directed by Leonard Nimoy

Stardate 2286: an alien probe threatens to destroy earth. Admiral kirk and the crew of the Enterprise travel back in time to twentieth century earth to save the whales, who are the only creatures which can communicate with the threat. Upon hearing whale song, the threatening probe becomes benign. This is a moderately watchable film, despite its banal, conservation lobby serving plot. It is saved by the inclusion of humour as the crew of the enterprise encounter the culture of the Twentieth Century.

Analysis

Narrative style
Plot
Cult appeal
Humour
Smooth and linear (except the time travel element)
weak as water
conservation themes
extensive as the crew visit 20th earth
 
 
 
 

9) Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) directed by William Shatner

Stardate 2287: it is interesting to learn Spock has a half-brother. Biographical information about this iconic character is always welcome. However, the brother is obsessed with finding god, or life-after-death or the edge of the universe or one of those philosophical phenomena at the centre of the galaxy. The outcome gives limited satisfaction.

Analysis

Narrative
Plot
Cult appeal
Humour
Linear, with hiccups
Travel, quest
Spock's Brother
Emotion versus logic
 
 
 
 

10) Star Trek: Generations (1994) directed by David Carson.

Stardate 2371: Kirk, Scott and Chekov are guests upon the Enterprise-B when it enters a nexus of energy. Around 78 years later, Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the Enterprise-D crew also encounter the nexus. The two captains, one from the Star Trek Enterprise and one from the Next Generation have to work together to save the universe. They had to mix them together … maybe to place the stamp of approval on the new team. Someone had to try it – it didn’t work very well story-wise, so get over it!

Narrative
Plot
Cult apeal
Humour
Extremely back and forth, disjointed
Uncertain
Both major crews are together
I'm not really sure
 
 
 
 

References:

http://www.imdb.com/list/ls003269814/

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120844/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_Star_Trek

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Seed

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0084726/

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0092007/

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0098382/

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0102975/

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0111280/

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