Star Trek, refashioned by director J.J. Abrams into an origin story even a non-Trekker could love, beamed up a big $76.5 million at the weekend box office. Expect a sequel to be announced pronto and salary hikes for Chris Pine’s Kirk and Zachary Quinto’s Spock. Many fans were rooting for the gross to break $100 million and put the newbie in reach of last summer’s Iron Man. But the miracle didn’t happen — yet! Star Trek is, let’s face it, a tired franchise. A paltry $30 million debut for 1996’s Star Trek: First Contact was the best opening in the 10-film series, until now. Thanks to Abrams and his young cast, the Starship Enterprise is looking good to live long and prosper. Which begs the question. What is the best Star Trek movie and what is the one you wouldn’t watch again even with a gun at your head?
BEST: Until No. 11, my vote would have to go to 1982’s Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan. At the risk of incurring the wrath of Trekkers, the first Star Trek movie in 1979 was a snore. The sequel has the real juice, namely a roaringly comic Ricardo Montalban as the evil Kahn, a role he created in the Space Seed” episode of the TV series in 1967. His hair gone white and his skin like Corinthian leather, Montalban is a sight to see as he lures Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner is pure ham on wry) from his desk job and back into command of the Starship Enterprise. Leonard Nimoy is also splendid as Mr. Spock, showing a half interest in a half Vulcan officer (Kirstie Alley). Director Nicholas Meyer digs deep into the tensions between Kirk and Kahn. “Let them eat static,” orders Kahn when the Enterprise tries to establish radio communication. And I totally loved Kahn springing his secret weapon — it enters through the ear and makes the target “extremely susceptible to suggestion.”
Honorable Mention: 1986’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Nimoy directed this one and did himself proud. A giant, cigar-shaped alien probe is threatening to vaporize Earth unless it can talk turkey with a humpback whale. But this is the 23rd century, and humpbacks are extinct. That’s the spur to send Kirk, Spock and the Enterprise crew to boldly go back to San Francisco, circa 1986, and steal two humpbacks to mollify the probe. Save the whales and you’ll save the Earth. It’s a good joke with a pertinent kick, especially when the crew deals with pizza, beer, Health Care and other artifacts of a primitive time.
WORST: For me, it’s no contest: 1989’s Star Trek V: The Final Frontier dominates the wall of shame. Directed by William Shatner, the film is deeply, irredeemably embarrassing. With Shatner in command — not only does he star and direct, the story was his idea — Kirk is the whole show. Called back to the Enterprise (despite the budget, it still looks like a flying waffle iron), Kirk must rendezvous at the center of the galaxy with — get this — God! The trip gives Kirk time — way too much time — to consider the big who-and-what’s-out-there questions of existence. The dull gab never stops, heaven looks like the California desert tinted red, and the film is devoid of grace, wit or the excitement needed to rouse you out of a justifiable coma. In my review, subtitled Windbags At Warp Speed, I noted that “Shatner can’t direct for diddly.” For my troubles I received a wonderful letter from the man himself. Actually, it wasn’t a letter. The man who would be Denny Crane simply tore the review out of Rolling Stone and wrote on it in red pen four words pithier than any in the movie: Fuck You, Bill Shatner. I treasure the note. Not the movie.
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