Time to return to the future of Star Trek in our second feature looking at the movies of this generation-spanning franchise. This time the baton is passed from one famous Captain to another before poor box office performance and negative reviews saw a reboot that created an alternate universe.
Star Trek: Generations (1994)
The seventh Star Trek movie appeared onscreen shortly after the end of The Next Generation television series and saw the cast of that show make the leap to the big screen. The beginning of the film saw the apparent death of William Shatner’s Kirk due to an energy ribbon known as the nexus. Later said energy ribbon returned, as did Kirk, who assisted Patrick Stewart’s Captain Picard in stopping Malcolm McDowell’s Soren – a villain intent on finding a way into the Nexus (which provides a fantasy world for any occupants) no matter what the cost; even destroying planets. Unfortunately the film is a mediocre tale that, despite impressive effects, simply plays as an extended episode of the series and fails to provide an adequate platform to launch The Next Generation’s adventures on the big screen.
It was planned that the entire original cast would return however only three characters appeared; Kirk, Scotty and Chekov. Leonard Nimoy in particular felt there was little need to return and that the few lines of dialogue spoken by Mr Spock could be uttered by any character.
Scotty witnessed Kirk’s apparent death which created a contradiction with his appearance in an episode of The Next Generation. The episode found him stuck within a transporter beam for years before being revived by Geordi LaForge; upon revival and learning that the Enterprise (although not his Enterprise) is in orbit Scotty states that Kirk has no doubt came to rescue him. This episode was chronologically set after the beginning of Generations meaning Scotty should have been aware that Kirk was dead- an official explanation states that Scotty was ‘disoriented’ after spending decades within a transporter loop.
Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
The next instalment in the Star Trek franchise focused entirely on the cast of The Next Generation and is one of the strongest films in the franchise. One of the greatest villains from the television series, the unstoppable technological based Borg, successfully made the transfer to the big screen in an action-horror hybrid that allowed Patrick Stewart to flex his acting muscles in a film directed by Jonathan Frakes (Commander Riker). The Borg attack Earth and, after the Enterprise stops the attack, then head back in time to take over the planet in the past. Picard and his crew follow them, arriving at a point in time which saw a war recovering Earth make first contact with an alien species – the Vulcans. Splitting the storyline (and cast) between fighting the Borg and making sure first contact happens allows for a mixture of humour, excellent action and multiple hints of the horror genre while keeping the momentum flowing at a fantastic pace. A rival to The Wrath of Khan and never matched by any further entries from The Next Generation crew, the film took an impressive $146 million from a budget of $45 million.
Two actors from sister television series Star Trek: Voyager appeared; Robert Picardo played a version of his Emergency Medical Hologram who attempted to distract the Borg while sick bay was evacuated (delivering a version of the famous ‘I’m a Doctor, not a ….’ line) while Ethan Phillips, normally covered in make-up as Neelix, appeared as a human hologram on the holodeck.
Worf, who had joined the other series Deep Space Nine, was in charge of the Defiant ship and temporarily rejoined the Enterprise crew for the movie. Bizarrely no other Deep Space Nine crew members were aboard their ship at the time. This became the first in a series of coincidences which allowed actor Michael Dorn to continue to appear in the films while also being a main crew member of DS9.
Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
A title that created expectations of action. Promotional trailers that continued that expectation. A film that failed to deliver and subsequently was judged rather harshly. Once again the film felt more like an episode of the television series despite its $58 million budget and only managed to take $112 million at the box office. The storyline focused on the crew of the Enterprise turning against their orders and siding with the Ba’ku, a race of people whom an admiral in Starfleet wants to move in secret to a different planet, which would allow the villainous Son’a access to the rejuvenating qualities of the Ba’ku’s planet. The movies sluggish pace and aforementioned issue of creating an expectation for all out action but not delivering were the main issues in the second feature to be directed by Frakes, who failed to capture the magic of his previous effort.
At various stages in the script development the Romulans were the villains and Captain Picard had to kill Data. Patrick Stewart had some say on the script and advocated an Alamo-like defence for the besieged Ba’ku. Due to budget restrictions we were left with the original idea- that the Ba’ku would flee into the mountains.
Worf again appears despite his regular role on Deep Space 9, this time with little explanation; he was in the area on an assignment and needed a lift.
Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
The final film to feature the crew of The Next Generation finally saw the Romulans appear on the big screen, being led by an out-of-control never before mentioned clone of Patrick Stewart, played by a young Tom Hardy. His character, Shinzon, held a grudge against the leaders of the Romulan empire and Picard himself while a subplot resulted in another ‘Data’ model android being discovered. Unfortunately the film is a mess, never quite as exciting or emotional as it thinks it is as and lacking any sense of menace or cohesion, playing like a number of average ideas stuck together with tape. Despite some strong performances the movie never fully engages and some of the harshest reviews of any Star Trek film, plus word-of-mouth, meant the $60 million production crawled to a poor $67 million box office. The era of The Next Generation went out with a whimper.
Deep Space Nine had finished at this point with Worf leaving the station to become the Federation Ambassador to the Klingon Empire. Either he got bored or the role is part-time as he’s back at work on the Enterprise.
Wil Wheton’s Wesley Crusher returned to Star Trek however his scenes were almost entirely cut from the movie. Wesley had gone off to journey with a being called The Traveller and had returned (off-screen) to rejoin Starfleet and was now a Lieutenant onboard the USS Titan, Riker’s new command.
Several extended ending clips were included in a special edition release including Picard and Riker’s goodbye, Worf adopting the deceased Data’s cat and the introduction of a new first officer. The final scene included automatic restraint straps on the Captain’s chair which triggered during an alert- Picard wryly states ‘It’s about time’ when discovering these additions.
This was the last movie to feature the cast of The Next Generation; Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard, Jonathan Frakes as Riker, Marina Sirits as Deanna Troi, Gates McFadden as Dr Crusher, Michael Dorn as Worf, Levar Burton as Geordi and Brent Spiner as Data.
Star Trek (2009)
Seven years went by without a new Star Trek movie until JJ Abrams hit big with a reboot that aimed to honour the past but allowed viewers into a brand new Trek universe. Simply titled Star Trek, the new movie launched an alternative timeline when a Romulan called Nero travelled back in time (with Leonard Nimoy’s Spock in tow) which created a divergent universe. This allows the old universe to still be real while the new movies could feature brand new adventures for Kirk and co. The story featured the coming together of Kirk’s crew against Nero as all the classic characters were introduced in their new forms. Made for a budget of $150 million the movie opened to strong reviews and took $385 million, guaranteeing further sequels.
At the 1968 World Science Fiction convention Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry first voiced his desire to make a prequel film set before the series.
Zachary Quinto was cast as Spock despite the fact he cannot perform the Vulcan salute without having his fingers ‘glued’ into position. Adrien Brody was also considered for the part.
The rest of the core cast are Chris Pine as Kirk, Zoe Saldana as Uhura, Karl Urban as McCoy, Simon Pegg as Scotty, John Cho as Sulu and Anton Yelchin as Chekov. They were joined by Eric Bana as Nero, Winona Ryder as Spock’s mother, Bruce Greenwood as Captain Pike, Ben Cross as Sarek (Spock’s father) and Chris Hemworth as George Kirk (father of James).
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
JJ Abrams returned for another outing, bringing with him the same cast as his earlier effort for a film that brought home the box office numbers, taking $467 million against a $185 million budget. Benedict Cumberbatch joined the cast as John Harrison who, to a complete lack of surprise thanks to multiple rumours and leaks, turned out to be a new take on classic villain Khan. The movie struggles to add anything new to the Star Trek mythos as it spent most of its time retreading parts of the story of The Wrath of Khan however the action is fast paced, the effects are sublime and the actors play their roles well. Not as good as its predecessor, this entry is far from the worse instalment of the franchise and brought home $467 million on a $185 million budget.
The film received some criticism for its casting of Cumberbatch as Khan, a villain who had Indian heritage. Another focus for critics was the inclusion of a gratuitous scene of newcomer Alice Eve as Carol Marcus in her underwear. Screenwriter Damon Llindelof apologised for the supposedly exploitive scene, accepting full responsibility on twitter.
Rumours persist that, as the script was still being written during production, the villain of Khan was not always a guarantee and that Cumberbatch was going to play a version of Gary Mitchell, a friend of Kirk who gained godlike powers in the original series episode Where no Man Has Gone Before. The physical appearance of Cumberbatch and some scenes, in particular one that had Khan in a containment cell, echoed the original episode. Den of Geek did a full article here.
Leonard Nimoy made a final cameo as the original Spock, trapped in this alternate timeline and now residing on New Vulcan. He passed away a year later. In the year prior to Into Darkness’ release he had made an uncredited cameo in an episode of The Big Bang Theory, providing the voice of Spock for an action figure that acted as the consciousness of the character Sheldon.
Star Trek Beyond (2016)
The latest film finds Kirk somewhat disheartened by his ‘dull’ mission of exploration however a brand new threat and a villain played by Idris Elba soon shake things up. Positive reviews reflect an improved storyline which, when added to amazing special effects and brilliantly shot action sequences, creates an impressive film. The difference in style between this film and the previous efforts is noticeable, with cast member Simon Pegg co-writing and director Justin Lin adding his style to the movies multiple set-pieces. Splitting the characters up allows for more screentime for characters who had fallen into the background in the two previous efforts while new character Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) is an instant hit. A solid movie to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and leaves hope for the future of the franchise.
Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin (Chekov) (who passed away shortly after filming wrapped) both received tributes as the film ends. Nimoy’s death was incorporated into the story as Quinto’s Spock hears of his older self’s passing and a tribute to the entire cast of the original series was smoothly incorporated; young Spock goes through the possessions of the original Spock and finds a photo of the original cast.
The first teaser trailer debuted in December 2015 and was heavily criticised for its focus on action and the use of The Beastie Boys song Sabotage. Simon Pegg expressed his lack of enthusiasm for the trailer, stating that there was more to the movie and that the marketing department had made a mistake. Future trailers were more balanced and critical response proved Pegg was correct – this wasn’t just an action flick and had plenty more to offer both casual fans and Trekkies alike.
Check out part 1 here