This weekend has seen Film Four (the film TV channel run by the Film producing wing of UK’s Channel 4) doing a long and, for those of attempting to watch it at least, arduous marathon of all the Star Trek Films prior to the new re-invention of the series. This means that everything from way back in the early days of Star Trek: The Motion Picture right through to abismal monstrosity of Star Trek: Nemesis. Its an interesting look in a way as to the way in which the series has changed and it shows some amazing insights into science fiction.
One notable thing at least for me is that the Science Fiction element (or what I often call the hard sci-fi to avoid conflict of meaning with people) becomes progressively less and less important to the films as you go on. The first one is the purest of them all in the sense of being an exploration of an idea that has been expanded into a story. It’s shots and aesthetics are very reminiscent of films such as 2001, with sweeping panoramas of space showing the scale and enormity of it all. The fact that Gene Rodenberry himself was pushing for the bigger scale on this from everything that had appeared on the original series.
Films 2,3 and 4 or rather The Wrath of Khan, The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home, in a way need top be considered almost like a mini-series of their own rather than separate films. Especially in the latter two films where Leonard Nemoy directed, there is a distinct feeling that the scientific ideals are still the central remit despite everything else.
The then there was star trek 5 where Shatner took over as director. This brought god to the equation and was kind of a religious exploration, questioning what god is. While in some respects this can be seen as a bad thing to do, it is still a nice exploration of an idea. It’s a shame that the directing lacked something and meant that the film was a little lacking in coherence. Star Trek 6 was the last of the old crew, before the TNG cast took over the role of appearing in films. This dropped the exploration of ideas for politics.
Beyond this we descend into the realms of the realms of politics and soap operas wrapped up in little bubbles of space porn. I don’t believe that the science in these is that big a consideration and the prevalence of Science mumbo jumbo solutions to any problems that are encountered doesn’t exactly scream scientific solutions. One could argue that these aren’t sci-fi, they’re just drama in space, although I’m not sure this is entirely a fair way to them. Instead, bringing me back to the one of my earlier comments, I think it’s better to phrase this as the phase out of the hard sci-fi and consider it instead as a shift in focus.
The magic problem solving though still bugs me, however fortunately the TNG films don’t suffer from the same preachiness as the TV series so we’ll just let it slide for now.
I kind of miss the older contemplative styles of the first film. It was a thinking film, not rushed, and for its time the effects were given front stage emphasising the awe.