I’ve ran down my top 20 SF films over the last month or so, but as I promised there’s one last bonus blog on the subject that I wanted to separate from the main list as it really is something of it’s own.
This is the Star Trek series of films…
I grew up like many kids watching Star Trek on TV on the BBC in the evening, and like many kids fell utterly in love with this very American, though at the same time, Humanist vision of the future. When as a bright-eyed 12 year old I saw Star Trek: The Motion Picture I was in awe.
Like a lot of the blockbusters of the 70’s, my memories of this is queuing in the cold, or the snow in Glasgow with one or my parents, but in this case both took me because they too loved Star Trek. My dad loved Kirk and Bones, while for my mum it was all about Spock.
So they took me to the ABC cinema in Sauchiehall Street on a dark winters night to see Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I’d been nagging them for months that I wanted to see it the minute I saw an ad for it on the back page of various Marvel Comics of the time.
I couldn’t wait. I wanted to see this more than any of the other blockbusters of the time, bar one, but I’ll get to that one another time but that night I remember vividly. We got the bus into the city centre, walked the short distance from the bus stop to the cinema and joined what was already a huge queue in the snowy winter cold. I remember being upset we wouldn’t get in but both parents convinced me we were early enough to get a good seat, and true enough as the queue grew behind us I became convinced we’d get in but I wanted to get near the front.
After what felt like an eternity, we got in and the three of us, (well me dragging my parents behind me) legged into into the vast theatre, strode down near the front by the aisle (I still sit in the same position if possible today when going to the cinema) and I positioned myself between both my parents. My dad vanished to get some ‘snacks’ via the cinema bar, but returned in time for the performance to start.
This is where I need to point out that in 2013 the cinema going experience is akin to a quick knee- trembler round the back of the bins. In 1979 it was like falling in love for the first time, not to mention it was the working class version of going to the opera. Films still had intermissions. Cinemas were glorious places of red and gold. Men and women in sharp suits guided you everywhere. It smelled of excitement, and of course screens were huge.
So we sat in our seat near the front by the aisle. A large cup of something fizzy in my hand, the lights dimmed, and the trailers and adverts ran. This still transfixed me though I wanted the main event and my heart sank as the lights came up, only for the screen to get wider, and wider as the main event came nearer, then the lights dimmed and the overture played…
See, this was part of the experience. This was the build up. Listening to Jerry Goldsmith’s still amazing score in the dark with several hundred impatient but obviously excited people, and then the film began….
A few hours later I’d seen my heroes return. I was tired, but I wanted chips and to talk about how awesome it was. Yes it didn’t have fights or anything but I didn’t care as the thing was simply majestic. I knew both my parents liked it too as they were talking to each other about it as I dozed on the bus home with my chips.
That night I went to bed exceptionally happy. It was simply a joyous night and for that night, I’m always going to love that first Star Trek film. As I was writing this I went to stick the DVD, but FilmFour was on and oddly enough, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was just starting. I watched it again with those same happy memories I’ve always and will always, have.
It’s my favourite of all the films because of this. There is however a close second.
A few years later things were a bit crap. My mother had died recently and I was 15 with a body full of raging hormones and a brain full of a lot of problems as I tried to make what I could of what was an increasingly depressing situation. One amazing lovely summers day I decided to go for a long walk and ended up walking along past the same ABC cinema which was showing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
I went up, checked the times and saw I could make the next showing easily so in I went. got myself a ticket for what was a pretty empty cinema because, well, it’s a beautiful summers day in Glasgow. Those don’t come along often. However a few dozen other people joined me, possibly because the ABC was air-conditioned or they were fans, either way I wasn’t alone but I decided to position myself in the third row from the front as there was all the room in the world there.
The lights dimmed, the trailers and ads ran, and then the lights came up with the screen getting wider, which is what I expected, but it continued to get wider, and wider and wider. Then I remembered this was in 70mm and the ABC was one of the few screens in the city which could show 70mm prints. The screen was massive. Imagine the biggest screen in today’s multiplex’s and double it, and you’re about halfway there.
I was in the third row.
When the film started my eyeballs were wide open for the rest of my time at the cinema watching what is in my mind, the single best film featuring starships in combat. Forget about anything else, this is about a battle of mind and will, not to mention it’s about heroism. It’s about not lying down when it seems like you’re staring defeat in the face. It’s about dealing with death and moving on.
This is immensely cheesy but those couple of hours watching one of the most enjoyable films you’ll ever see helped me through a very bad time. It gave me the strength of mind to go on. For that reason I’ll love this film.
One thing though, sitting three rows from the front of a film being shown in 70mm is an experience and a half. Imax has nothing on this!
By the time Star Trek III: The Search for Spock rolled into cinemas, I was more settled in life for a while. I was doing my exams at school, and had fell in with the comics scene in Glasgow and had picked up friends outside of school.
Star Trek III is the sort of film that would never be made today. It’s fun. Nothing too dark or broody. It’s a bunch of old friends trying to save another and in the meantime they have an adventure and fight baddies. It’s simple but not simplistic. It’s good, bit not a spectacular effort compared tot he first two but it’s huge fun.
Again let’s skip a few years to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
This is just a joy. Like Wrath of Khan I saw this at a dark time. I didn’t know what I was going to do with life, and frankly I needed cheering up. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home did that perfectly. It’s utterly impossible not to watch this film and come out smiling with a positive attitude to, well, everything.
This film captures what Star Trek’s enduring message is. Humanity sometimes fucks up but we’ll sort it out, and we’ll do it by sticking together. It’s a bit 1960’s and in today’s Hipster ridden cynical age, seems childish but I’ll take inspiring humanity over empty cynicism any day of the week.
By the time Star Trek V: The Final Frontier came out, I’d moved from Glasgow to Leicester. It’s also a terrible film, but not without it’s enjoyable moments. That’s the best I can say about it so let’s move on…
In the early 1990’s I was firmly stuck in the limbo of the East Midlands, and it’s here on a day out in Nottingham with a friend Roz, that I saw Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
This is the last film with the full original cast which as the years goes by is something that’s increasingly sad as your childhood heroes pass away slowly one by one, but this film gives them a fantastic farewell as it again drives home the message of humanity and decency that Star Trek should be telling us.
See, we need positive science fiction. Dark, dystopian SF is fine but we need something to aspire to rather than being told we;re all rapists, cannibals and murderers really. We need something like Star Trek to say that with all our problems, we have something to aim for, or simply we can be better than this.
Star Trek VI gives our heroes a great farewell, in a great story. It’s a fitting end and although on TV there was still Star Trek: The Next Generation to keep the flag flying, though everyone knew that the next film along in the series would see the Next Generation crew take their place.
That film was Star Trek: Generations.
Now I like Generations. Yes, it’s an awful film in places, but I spent a glorious Sunday at a cinema in Leicester with Roz and some other friends watching all seven films in a row, though there were a lot of people taking a drinks and food break during Final Frontier.
This was a passing of the torch from the old crew who people of my age grew up with, to the Next Generation crew who people my age came to love because it was Star Trek after all, but really it’s a film of some good scenes wrapped round a bad film.
Star Trek: First Contact proved to be the Next Generation film most people were waiting for.
When this one came out I was still living in Leicester,which meant any escape was to be welcomed, so a crowd of us piled into the cinema for opening night, including one chap who took his Trek love so far he stuck a Mars Bar on his forehead and had to put up with it melting for the first part of the film.
There’s cosplay for you!
I like First Contact a lot. It’s not really Star Trek but it’s a harmless enough action film that makes you switch off your brain, which sadly starts to become a trait with Trek films from here on in.
At this point I skim over the cinematic nightmares that are Insurrection and Nemesis. Though I do think Nemesis is at least a better film (just) they really aren’t worth wasting time over like I did when I paid money at the cinema to sit through them both.
After Nemesis, Star Trek as a cinematic experience was pretty much dead. That is until 2009 when J.J Abrams Star Trek came out.
This is how modern American blockbusters should be, even if it’s not really Star Trek. It’s still the sort of fun, fairly mindless space action film that passes for SF these days, but it’s so well made and at times, genuinely affecting.
It’s a film that’s meant to be just enjoyed. Best to treat it that way and it won’t insult you too much!
And this takes this blog to 2013 and the latest film, Star Trek: Into Darkness.
Now some fans hate this film. I don’t, apart from the ending. It’s conrtieved beyond belief but otherwise up til then it’s a solid action adventure film. Ok, again it’s not especially Star Trek, but it’s a fun film which passes the time.
Sadly, this is what Star Trek has become. It doesn’t give you an experience or make you think but it does allow you to pass a couple of hours now and at least enjoy those few hours. There are films there which don’t do that. These now at least are entertainment.
I’ll always go back to those first few films though, with the first two especially meaning an awful lot to me. Those films are always going to be a tough benchmark to beat, and hopefully one day someone decides to do a smart Star Trek film that isn’t all about the shooting and stuff.
So there you go, I’ve done my top SF films. I’ve poured my heart out about Star Trek and lived to tell the tale, and I’m going to carry on doing a few more Top 20 lists. Next time, my Top 20 Comic Books films…….