That was me imitating Malcolm McDowell in Star Trek: Generations, but then you knew that. As luck would have it, everyone’s favourite bald white Starfleet captain is back in the news, with the new third season of Star Trek: Picard having started last week. Early reviews are positive, but then you’d hope so after how poor the previous two seasons were. But what really matters is that it gives us an excuse to rank the Star Trek movies that featured the cast from The Next Generation. Engage!
5. Star Trek: Nemesis
One of the reasons season three of Picard has the entire TNG cast is because their previous send-off was received so poorly. The tagline for Nemesis was “A Generation’s Final Journey Begins”, and really, the end was just as rough as the beginning back in 1987. After a trio of movies directed by people with experience in Star Trek, Paramount decided to bring in an outsider in the guise of Stuart Baird, who is a fantastic editor (he was amazing on films like Superman, The Omen, and Casino Royale) but not a terrific director.
Despite this, the films went back to the same formula as before, i.e. ripping off Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Tom Hardy (before everyone knew who he was) was brought in as a clone of Picard who managed to become the head of the Romulans, and they went toe to toe, including having a big final battle in a nebula with a devastating weapon about to go off that is stopped at the last minute by a character sacrificing themselves. Sadly, Data didn’t get any bagpipes, and it was also completely hollow as they had an identical android who they could just download his memories into.
On the plus side, it had Jim Robinson from Neighbours in it. Ramsay Street is now on Romulus, apparently.
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4. Star Trek: Insurrection
Insurrection is an interesting picture, and it could have been even more interesting had Paramount gone with writer Michael Piller’s original idea, which had Picard on a Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now-style crusade to find a rogue Data. Instead, they used that for the first act and turned it into a bigger story about Federation ethics, which was always good fodder for the TV episodes.
In came F. Murray Abraham as the leader of an alien race who were rapidly ageing and thus wanted Starfleet to let them use metaphasic radiation from the rings of a small planet; the only problem being that people already lived there, so Abraham and his motley crew wanted them moved, which gave Picard something to stand up against, especially as he had started canoodling with one of the planet folk, who were all young and sprightly despite being hundreds of years old.
Cue lots of speeches and action sequences, as well as boob talk and Picard dancing the mambo. The film is quite funny, which is maybe a needed tonic to counteract the ethics storyline, although it never really feels substantial. People talk about these movies being extended episodes of the show, and I can understand that here – the special effects are all very good and stuff but it never feels like the story justifies the jump to the big screen.
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3. Star Trek: First Contact
Okay, this does justify the big budget. Picard versus the Borg with a brand new fancy Enterprise? Let’s fucking do this. But it’s also another time travel picture that kind of reheats The Voyage Home, which is a bit limp but works out for a cracking ending.
The problem again is the bloody Wrath of Khan, where they want a villain Picard can go against, so they decide to create a Borg Queen as a figurehead. You know, for the collective. This is stupid and narratively neuters the Borg. Despite this, it’s a good and enjoyable film with fine direction by Jonathan Frakes (who also directed Insurrection), and they still manage to make the Borg fairly scary, even if they are ripping off James Cameron’s Aliens wholesale.
The tension between the fighting on the ship and the ground stuff with getting Zefram Cochrane to make his warp jump is well-balanced, and the big deflector dish sequence is fun and innovative. I do wish the idea of never meeting your heroes was pursued more with Cochrane, as he’s only kind of a prick instead of an actual prick. The comedy on the ground is pretty bad, especially Deanna Troi getting drunk, which is just one of the worst scenes in any Star Trek ever. That said, Picard on his Captain Ahab crusade is a strong point and it ends beautifully with the Vulcans, which is very much in the spirit of Star Trek, and Jerry (and Joel) Goldsmith’s score is beautiful.
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2. Star Trek: Generations
Generations had a fair amount to do, including bridging the gap between the original series and the next generation, but it does it pretty well, despite several bumps. One of those is most of the original cast refusing to come back for what are basically cameos, so dialogue written for Spock and McCoy is put in the mouths of Scotty and Chekov, and man is that awkward.
Still, the sequence where Kirk “dies” is a good one, with the Enterprise-B getting a little bit of screen time. One of the best things about the film is the central theme of loss. Kirk is presumed dead, Picard loses his brother, sister-in-law, and nephew, and villain Soran is a refugee from a world that was destroyed by the Borg, which makes their actions and motivations a solid base to be built upon.
The Klingons get in the mix as well, which allows for a good space battle sequence with the Enterprise-D versus a bird of prey, and Brent Spiner gets a meaty role with Data’s emotion chip subplot. The worst bit is the bit where Kirk actually dies, which was reshot once and should have been done again. But it’s a fun time with an emotional resonance that works, and William Shatner and Patrick Stewart have good chemistry. It was… fun.
1. ‘The Best of Both Worlds’
Yes, I’m cheating, no, I don’t care. As you will know, The Best of Both Worlds was originally a two-part episode of The Next Generation; the first part was the cliff-hanger ending of season three, and the second opened season four, but it has also been edited into a movie version, so suck it.
The second season episode ‘Q Who’ had previously introduced the Borg into the series after they had been teased with the tracking of their shenanigans across the neutral zone and they were terrifying, which continued into The Best of Both Worlds where they abducted Picard to serve as a figurehead for the assimilation of humanity. There was a lot that went into this, with the unstoppable menace heading straight for Earth and all of Starfleet’s resources being put towards this, the Enterprise‘s crew having to deal with their Captain being lost, and the violation of Picard himself as he is assimilated.
It’s a tough one: how do you fight your best friend and mentor? It’s a haunting prospect, and while that’s going on, the human race is in clear danger of being wiped out, and the scenes of the interstellar graveyard after the battle of Wolf 359 are genuinely eerie. But that threat is met brilliantly and creatively, and it doesn’t end with Picard going man-to-man with anyone. That’s why it’s easily the best of the TNG movies.