So the running joke has always been that the odd numbered Star Trek movies are bad. By these, I mean the movies for the original show. Pretty much all the other ones are bad. Yes, I include the new films.
The even numbered movies are great, no question. The Wrath of Khan (2), The Voyage Home (4) and the Undiscovered Country (6) are brilliant as scifi movies, not just for Star Trek. I genuinely can’t decide which of those is my favourite.
But I love 1,3 and 5 too. Here’s why in 3 simple points:
1: Because it is a true Star Trek movie
3: Because of Klingons
5: Because of Kirk, Spock and McCoy
So we have Star Trek: the Motion Picture, followed by the Search for Spock, and then finally the Final Frontier. Yeah, I know each of these aren’t great viewing and none come close to matching the other three, but you know what, I do enjoy watching them. Each has something special for me. I would say maybe I’m such a Star Trek fan that I just love watching Trek, but there’s plenty of examples where that isn’t true. The Next Gen movies are passable at best for me. The new ones just don’t feel Star Trek at all.
Allow me to explain my fondness fully. The first movie, which I happened to see last weekend in fact, is known for being dull and long and dull. I get that. But it is Star Trek. It is something weird happening, finding it out and understanding it. No need to get into a fight. No need to blow things up. It is thoughtful and patient. I admire a film made that way. Again, it is Star Trek. It is how Star Trek is at its best. What defines it. Anything can be action and fast and dumb. Look at the Abrams movies. Ergh. But to be Star Trek you need a brain, a heart and a willingness to explore the unknown. It was about seeking new life to understand and know it, not to conquer or exploit. It might be idealistic. I know I have major issues with the Trek universe. Especially how boring humans are. But it is what it is and this movie is that utterly. No compromises.
Then we have the third movie. Not just a sequel to the second in terms of the list, but an actual follow on from where the last left off. I like it, saw it in the cinema when a kid. I remember the audience laughing at McCoy arguing with the weird alien. I love the message of the movie – the many sacrificing for the one. It goes against logic, it defies the norm, it boasts friendship, even to the point of selfishness – the characters almost throw their careers aside for this, which could be ‘unpatriotic’ and reckless. They aren’t thinking of the greater good, they just want to get their friend.
But here’s why I love this one. The Klingons. Christopher Lloyd’s commander especially. You see, this was our first time meeting the Klingons in the movies and they had been reshaped. They looked different, obviously, but they were less this militant race and much more ferocious. Klingons feel like a meeting of Viking and Samurai cultures. This is our first taste of it.
Kruge, Lloyd’s character, is the epitome of Klingonness. He is ruthless and fierce, a fighter and a leader. When one of his crew questions his decision to board the Enterprise, thinking they are vastly outnumbered, his response is: We are Klingons! That’s it. That’s all you need in life if you’re a Klingon. We are Klingons! Nothing daunts us, nothing defeats us, nothing outmatches us. Also, we see him attacked by a worm-snake thing that starts strangling him, so he strangles it back and wins. At the end, when he fights Kirk one-on-one, Kirk tries to reason with him. The planet is exploding. They are going to die if they stay. “Then that’s the way it shall be!” Kruge declares.
I’ve always liked the Klingons and Kruge is one of the best. Lloyd is great in the role too. Oh and this is the one the Enterprise is destroyed in. The old girl deserves that being mentioned. It is an important moment in Trek.
So yeah, I’d watch 3 any time. Might not keep my focus the whole way, but it has a lot going for it.
Finally, in 5, we have a meeting with God and naked Uhura dancing. Not enough for you? Well then there’s the trio we all know and love.
Kirk, Spock and McCoy. The body, the mind and the heart. The id, the superego and the ego. There are a number of concepts about a human being as made of three parts – Socrates had his version with the logos, the spirit and the appetite, although I remember something about a man, a beast and a god too. Same idea really. That we all have the thinking part of us, the feeling and compassionate part, and the part that urges us to act.
I have always loved and been fascinated by the relationship of these three characters – in the movies and the show. They would so often argue but also support each other and all wanted the right thing to happen. Spock was logical but not cold blooded, despite McCoy’s jibes. Kirk was a man of action but not utterly reckless. McCoy was hot tempered and cared about people. All in all, they were good men.
The snide remarks, the jokes and jests, the discussions from the different angles – I took to these characters early on and never lost that feeling. There is no one character I prefer. To me, they make a whole person. But each character stands alone too.
This fifth movie had Spock’s brother and a search for Eden and so on. Fine. Nothing great really, but passable. But it begins with the three old friends out in the middle of a forest. They bicker as they try to sing row your boat correctly. They enjoy each other’s company but still find each other irritable and happily let the others know it. They have bonded over years of comradeship. This works especially well in this movie as we have seen the same three actors play the same three characters for decades. You can really believe they are three old friends, capable of arguing and trusting. This movie ends this way too. We’re back at the forest with the three of them.
That’s what I like about this film. It feels like the focus is about them. Not the search for God or rescuing hostages. It is about Kirk, Spock and McCoy.
This is shown at its best when they are captured and Sybok tries to share their pain. Doing this, he has converted many to his cause, including the rest of the Enterprise crew. So he talks to McCoy and he remembers and also sees his dying father. Then Sybok talks to Spock but Spock is unmoved. Then Sybok tries to talk to Kirk. “I like my pain.” Great answer, sir.
But here’s the best bit. So Kirk won’t even let Sybok try. He’s staying a prisoner. Spock has not been converted either. He’s with Kirk. McCoy has had his pain shared. But when he has the choice of joining the rest or sticking with the other two, he chooses Kirk and Spock. You just can’t split these three up.
Having just been doing some reading on the Final Frontier to jog my memory and check a few things, I read that Shatner’s original idea was for Spock and McCoy to join the others. Nimoy and Kelley objected. I’m very glad they did. Funny how disagreement in real life results in brotherhood in fiction.
So when I watch the fifth film, I don’t watch it for the plot. I watch these three old friends who won’t let each other down, won’t split up, won’t betray one another. They bicker, they argue, sure, but they remain three parts of a whole. I see this movie as an ode to the Trek three. For that, I am fond of it.
That’s why I like those three movies. I don’t find them awful or terrible at all. Yes, they are weak in parts, and the other three are much better, but I still enjoy them. I enjoy Star Trek a lot.
And remember, when anyone questions you, when others doubt you, when everyone else is daunted by the way ahead:
We are Klingons! *fist pump*