Updated: May 22
After years in development limbo, Star Trek finally translates from small to big screen.
Boldly going where no man or woman has gone before, the original TV series with the enthusiastic fanbase takes to the big screen to show those Star Wars whippersnappers what’s, you know, out there.
Begins badly in a flurry of big-spending with Star Trek: The Motion Picture and then continues, unbelievably, for twelve years, until Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country closes the original movie series. So, set your faces to stunned, suck in those bellies and adjust your toupees, because it’s time to beam into the weird and rather wonderful universe of Star Trek the original movie franchise!
THAT TRANSLATES INTO?
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
The most expensive American film of all time when it was produced (illogical, Captain!), Star Trek: The Motion Picture is slow, sedentary, obsessed with its own brilliance and stern-faced. Sound of Music director Robert Wise throws all the fun out the window and takes the audience on a slightly pinched journey across the universe to prevent a mechanical entity from destroying the human race.
Quite a clever story, if you can stay awake to appreciate it.
Originally went head to head with Disney’s equally misfiring The Black Hole, at the Box Office and won!
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
By far the best (and campest – the two could be related) of the original movie franchise instalments. Everyone lets their hair and/or wigs down, jokes are injected, and Shatner blows a raspberry at the critics by demonstrating that he can indeed act.
Kirk’s evil nemesis Khan re-appears and the two go head to head in a battle of the special effects. Kirstie Allen is along for the ride, Spock dies (an act of genuine creative bravery) and even the critics go home happy.
Huzzah for director Nicholas Meyer, who can really make this kind of schlock work.
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
Oh dear, the act of creative bravery from II now totally undermined by bringing Spock back from the dead in a clunky, not entirely convincing scene-grinder that almost erases all of the good inherited from the previous entry.
By now a pattern was emerging; even Start Trek movies good, odd movies bad.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
Kirk and crew head for Earth in a Klingon Bird of Prey and then travel back in time to kidnap a couple of whales from 80s San Francisco in an attempt to save the planet from a pining alien intelligence.
Almost as enjoyable as II and much loved. Leonard Nimoy directs with panache and the whole thing bobs along with a certain charm.
Good news, the franchise is back on track.
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
Bad news, V sucks.
Shatner directs (so he has no one to blame but himself) this fatuous tale of the Enterprise taking off across the universe in search of God, and ending up facing a malevolent force that has tricked Kirk and co to get its hand on their ship, or something.
Even the fans went a bit quiet over this one on its original release.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
Don’t worry, because Meyer is back in the writing and directing saddle for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and closes the original movie franchise with a clever, dramatic and evocative tale about empires rising and falling, and the commonality of life.
That’s right it’s really about the collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War, and what happens next (it was 1991, after all).
Kim Cattrell puts on some pointy ears, Shatner sucks it in and the whole thing succeeds despite the franchise starting to creak a bit by this point.
THE BEST OF THE LOT IS?
It’s a tough one: II is fun, VI affecting and both were products of a gang at the top of their game, dancing perfectly to Meyer’s tune.
The Wrath of Khan has playful energy and good humour, however, so it deservedly takes the prize.
AND, OH DEAR, THE WORST?
An equally difficult choice: V is woeful; III lumpen and grinding, but nothing beats the almost physically painful experience of sitting through the tortoise-paced Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Watching Wise individually burn each of the $35 million spent on this movie would have been more dramatic and entertaining than viewing this at the cinema on its original release.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture has, however, made back its investment over time (for which Paramount weepingly thanks Trekkies everywhere).