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'Star Trek' at the Movies

By Matt Slovick
WashingtonPost.com Staff
Friday, November 15, 1996

Do you have trouble keeping your "Star Trek" movies straight? Since this series has almost as many sequels as "Friday the 13th," it's easy to forget which one has Khan or the whales, or in which films Spock and Kirk die (and Spock comes back to life).

Below are film capsules to set you straight. And although Jason hasn't been in any "Trek" film, The Borg in the latest movie is almost as scary.

"Star Trek": The TV Series (1966-69): You'd think a show that spawned eight movies must have been an initial hit. It wasn't. During its peak, "Star Trek" finished at No. 52 in the ratings. Network advertisers weren't interested because the core audience was children and teens. Its five-year mission was cut to three. But those youngsters grew up in the '70s, and the fanatical "trekkies" helped make "Star Trek" a cultural phenomenon.

"Star Trek: The Motion Picture" (1979): Even the first feature film, which was made after the box-office hits "Star Wars" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," was only marginally successful. The plot: a deadly force of unprecedented size and power (V'ger) is approaching Earth, destroying everything in its path. James T. Kirk (William Shatner), now an admiral, is called upon to take command of the USS Enterprise after a three-year layoff. He rounds up the usual suspects -- Spock, Bones, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu and Chekov -- and tries to save the world.

When Spock comments that V'ger is mentally a child, Dr. McCoy responds: "Spock, this 'child' is about to wipe out every living thing on Earth! Now what do you suggest we do? Spank it?" Ya gotta love their rapport. Picked up Oscar nominations for visual effects, score and art direction. Rated G.

"Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" (1982): Or, "Star Trek II: Spock Dies." Ricardo Montalban took some time off from "Fantasy Island" to reprise his role as Khan, who appeared in the TV episode "Space Seed." This is considered one of the better films and closest to the spirit of the TV series. The Enterprise is now a Starfleet Academy training ship. Bones and Spock talk Kirk into going along on a two-week cadet cruise. Along comes Khan. He wants to be the self-made master of the Genesis Project, which is designed to introduce living organisms on long-dead planets. This one had that scene in which Khan puts that yucky, slug-like thing (Ceti eel) in Chekov's ear. Paul Winfield and Kirstie Alley also appear. Rated PG.

"Star Trek III: The Search for Spock" (1984): You can't keep a good Vulcan dead. This picks up where No. 2 ended. The crew finds out the Enterprise is to be scrapped. James Tiberius Kirk steals his old ship back and flies across space to a lonely planet to save Mr. Pointy Ears. Same cast, but four others play Spock as he "grows up." Also starred Christopher Lloyd and John Larroquette. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) directed himself back to life. Rated PG.

"Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" (1986): The whale movie is the best "Star Trek" film -- so far. Even non-Trekkies (or Trekkers) paid to see "IV," which earned almost $110 million at the box office. A comedic tone made for an entertaining film that sent the familiar Enterprise crew back in time to the 20th century. A space probe shows up sending strange sounds toward the planet. While waiting for a response, the huge probe causes major storms on Earth. The sound is actually the call of the humpback whale, now extinct. The only solution is to go back in time, grab a whale and bring it back to 23rd century to reply to the probe.

Remember when that punk on the bus won't turn down the music blaring from his boom box? Spock gives him the old Vulcan pinch on the shoulder and turns off the music, bringing applause from the other bus riders. This film got Oscar nominations for score, sound, sound effects and cinematography. Rated PG.
Read reviews from Style and Weekend.

"Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" (1989): James T. decided to take a seat in the director's chair. As Bones would say, "Are you nuts, Jim?" This is the worst of the series. The starship Enterprise is called to Nimbus III, the Planet of Intergalactic Peace. A Vulcan named Sybok, a relative of Spock, has taken several ambassadors hostage. Sybok has been obsessed with finding the planet Shaka-Ri, which is supposed to be the source of all life. Sybok forces the Enterprise to journey to the center of the galaxy in search of the Supreme Being. Would people really sit around a camp fire in the 23rd century and sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat"? Rated PG.
Read a review from Style.

"Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country" (1991): An explosion on the Klingon moon means extinction for the race in 50 years. Their lone choice is to join the Federation and end 70 years of wars. A peace summit is threatened when a Klingon ship is attacked -- a setup by Gen. Chang (Christopher Plummer). Kirk and McCoy are convicted of assassination and sent to Rura Penthe, a snowy hard-labor prison. It's up to the crew to help them escape so they can find the real culprits. The cast also includes Kim Cattrall and Iman. Rated PG.
Read reviews from Style and Weekend.

"Star Trek: Generations" (1994): Or, "Star Trek VII: Kirk Croaks." This was the first film to star the cast of the TV series "Star Trek: The Next Generation." It also brought together the two commanders of the Enterprise, James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). The original crew of the Enterprise -- except Spock -- embark on the newest version of their ship as honored guests. They answer distress calls of two cargo ships caught in a ribbon of energy. The starship meets with disaster and Kirk disappears. Forty years later, the new Enterprise -- with Capt. Picard at the helm -- answers a similar distress call. A Dr. Soran (Malcolm McDowell) is the sole survivor. Soran is obsessed with the ribbon, The Nexus, which he believes induces great joy. Soran will do anything to re-enter the Nexus. Picard must venture into the Nexus to find Kirk and save his ship. Whoopi Goldberg also appears. Rated PG.
Read reviews from Style and Weekend.

"Star Trek: First Contact" (1996): The first film to feature the new cast. The Borg -- a hive-minded, cybernetic life-form, thousands of years old, which is part organic, part artificial life -- fails in its attempt to attack Earth. It goes back in time to just after the third World War to stop humans from making their first contact with aliens. Directed by Jonathan "Cmdr. William T. Riker" Frakes. The cast includes Alfre Woodard and James Cromwell. Rated PG-13.

Find out all you need to know before you see this movie with our Web Expedition: Three Steps to a Trekkie.

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company

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