It’s been a while since we’ve talked about Star Trek. Of course, the original series was revolutionary, but cut short. Then, it became hugely successful in syndication. There were plans to bring the series back, and the success of Star Wars finally led to a series of films and eventually a new tv show (which we’ll be discussing shortly).
So, why did it take until movie six for the series to get recognition? Four of the first five were nominated for Hugos, but failed to win. My views of those films, which are pretty much in line with most peoples are: first movie – dreadfully dull but pretty; second movie – excellent; third movie – short and sloppy but kind of fun; fourth movie – silly but very fun. The fifth movie was directed by Shatner and is so appalling bad that it should probably win some sort of award of evil. The second film was great, but had to go up against Blade Runner.
For the sixth film, the producers decided to remove the unpleasantness of Shatner’s movie by handing the reins back to the second film’s writer/director, Nicholas Meyer. The result is the second best Star Trek movie.
The Klingons (now with ridges!) have always been the Federation’s main enemy, and they managed to kill Captain Kirk’s son in the third film. At the beginning of this film, the moon of the Klingon homeworld explodes, and their entire Empire in endangered. Their need for Federation supplies creates a unique diplomatic opportunity and a real chance for peace. It could end the “cold war” between the two powers. Get it? Yep, the Cold War (which was a big topic when we were covering the ‘50s) has just ended, and this becomes an opportunity to do something topical.
A conspiracy among hardline elements within both the Federation and the Klingon Empire threatens the peace process, and there’s a great zero-g assassination scene. Meyer also adds the great touch of making the Enterprise crew into Cold Warriors themselves. They’re not sure they want peace with the Klingons, who killed Kirk’s son, after all. The cast fought this, and Roddenberry would’ve hated it, but I’m all for bringing a little moral complexity to the show’s central characters.
This is the last film with the original cast (though a few appear in the next film), and there were already a lot of jokes at the time about their general oldness and expanding waistlines, but Meyer makes great use of the fact in his scenario while still getting in some fun action scenes (there’s a nice escape from a Klingon prison planet and a tense space battle). This is a really great piece of space opera filmmaking. It might not be as thrilling as Abrams' recent take, but it’s about 10 times smarter.